Thursday, 30 September 2010

Generation | Film | For No Reason, Let's Compile Some Lists

What an interesting article from Totalfilm. ‘Horror Icons on their Favourite Horror Movies!’ Admittedly towards the final third, the top ten lists are no longer by horror icons so much as by journalists who make a living out of things like compiling lists of their top ten horror movies. But still.

The list delighted me specifically because the icons’ stated preferences confirmed ingrained snobberies I already hold. Smart and ironic filmmakers like Joe Dante and Edgar Wright enjoy smart and ironic films like Don’t Look Now and Night of the Demon. Eli Roth plumps for dim-witted gorefests that are cool because nobody’s heard of them except him, Quentin Tarantino, and losers who actually ask themselves, “Hey, I wonder what’s on the Horror Channel tonight,” like me. Kane Hodder picks an upcoming movie of his as his second favourite, and consequently comes across as a self-publicising boor, whereas Robert Englund speaks passionately about the sound and cinematography of Turn of the Screw adaptation The Innocents. In terms of overall votes, John Carpenter goes all-out with a two-by-four on the craven Wes Craven. Nobody voted for Saw. (Oh, hang on – oh, no. They did. And for Hostel. Damn you, Kane Hodder!)

I probably couldn’t have predicted that the writer of Slumber Party Massacre 2 would admire the cinema veritie style of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In fact, in spite of their names, I might not have considered that the two films had a great deal in common. But still.

                                                               Pictured: horror.

What was more interesting was the preponderance of films from the late Seventies up to 1980 – I guessed the final punch-up must have been between Turner Classic Movies Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Alien and The Exorcist. A golden age for the genre, certainly, but so very dominant? Note the lack of love for films that were only, relatively speaking, very slightly earlier – 1963’s The Haunting is only mentioned once or twice. And films that came later – Blair Witch Project, for example. And, thinking about it, I don’t think this is simply a question of the era these film-makers and film-stars were informed by. It’s also an issue of generational cool in a genre that prides itself on being outsider-ish. Blair Witch/The Descent/Let The Right One In are too new to be considered classics, and certainly too new and too mainstream to be considered cool for real horror connoisseurs. The Exorcist, in its own way, was an exceptionally mainstream movie, but it gets far, far more votes than Poltergeist, which is still tainted with the mark of the mainstream period of Steven Spielberg. Jaws gets a pass because it was his breakthrough film. Freaks is old enough and cultish enough to be cool. Carnival of Souls is maybe too cultish for its own good. The Thing, to my surprise, gets more votes than Halloween – because it’s still an outsider’s movie, perhaps? Because it remains under-acknowledged by that mainstream, passed aside, un-remade? At least until that prequel comes out, that is. But still.

So I decided to generate an enormous, utterly meaningless flow-chart, to document the various peaks-and-troughs of horror opinion, making use of this vast new repository of information.

As with all statistics, I made some fairly arbitrary distinctions; I would only include the lists that were being made by someone chosen for actually working in the business, rather than commenting on it, no matter how knowledgeable they may be. So the guy who did make-up on Scream is in. Nigel Floyd is out. If someone didn’t bother to put their votes in order, only their first vote counts (sorry, John Landis. But for God’s sake, play the game! I don’t care how restricting and pointless it is!). And, to make the generated chart even more meaningless, all of Rob Zombie’s votes count as minuses. Not really. But to add a further note of randomness to the equation, I’m not particularly good at maths.
Each film gets a score out of ten depending on where it stood in the top ten list. First place gets ten points, tenth place gets one point. Bon? Bon.

Most Popular Horror Movie

1) The Exorcist; 182. The run-away victor. 22 appearances on the lists, almost always in the uppermost regions.

2) Alien; 119. Less-often picked than TCM – fifteen times - but more highly-rated.

3) Texas Chainsaw Massacre; 110. Sixteen votes.

4) A tricky tie at 101 between Jaws and The Thing. Thing gets more votes (eighteen), but Jaws is more highly rated amongst those who’ve picked it.

Lone Defender: Highest Rated Horror Movie picked by only one participant who wasn’t being hipsterish and ironic, or trying to promote his forthcoming sequel Hatchet 2

With a 10 from George Romero, the original Thing From Another World clinches it, beating Wes Craven’s lone 10 for Nosferatu because I don’t care for the films of Wes Craven. Soon after come the Twin Peaks movie, with a 9, and Inferno, also with a 9 (curiously, Steven Shiel, who voted for it, didn’t include Suspiria on his list; I’d like to hear his argument.)

Best Overall Average

Peeping Tom; two nines.

Least Favourite Most Favourite: Lowest Rated Horror Movie Overall

Cult of the Cobra (Romero again), Who Can Kill A Child?, The Other, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Seventh Victim, Duel, Braindead, Fright Night, Son of Frankenstein, Martyrs, 10 Rillington Place, Friday 13th Part VII (HODDER!), and Day of the Beast all manage a lowly one.

Most Questionably An Actual Member of the Genre

Scanners, at one vote of four. Exploding heads don’t make it a horror film. Points go to those who correctly identified Picnic at Hanging Rock as a horror film.

Most Likely to Get Bullied By The Other Participants

Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, score of two? Not Dracula, not Nosferatu?Get out of here, Larry Fessenden, director of Wendigo, you prissy Twilight lover.

Most Intriguingly Overlooked

Silence of the Lambs and Blair Witch scrape a couple of votes each, but Hellraiser and Les Diaboliques are the winners here, managing only four and three respectively, with a single vote. Hm. Intriguing.

Pictured: horror.

My point is, we’re obsessed with this sort of thing. On the Internet in particular. You could actually speculate about how the mechanical processes of the online world are turning us into obsessive-compulsive automatons, forever making lists and comparing statistics and telling ourselves that this stuff actually means something objective. I’d do it myself, but I’m far too busy. As an addendum to this article I’m planning to make a new flowchart that only compares the preferences of the people whose opinions I happen to personally agree with. Kane Hodder will be nowhere in sight.

Jon Ware
Fiction Editor Strolling Briefly And Recklessly Out Of His Remit

p.s. The full 121-film flowchart is available to anyone who wishes to see it, providing they first put their signature to some documents I happen to have lying around.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Generation | Introduction | Diversions for Writers Block

Week 19 | Generation | Contents

Tuesday | Poetry | TS3L10T
Thursday | Music | Generation Xzibit

(Image above - What happened when I put the Silkworms RSS feed through Wordle, 'Equality Values Cultural Opinion)

The best piece of advice I was given about writing came from my former tutor David Morley – he said, ‘just write’. When stuck, confronted with a blank page or paragraph that has no foreseeable conclusion – don’t plan how to fill the void or try to see a conclusion, simply write. Otherwise, you may find after an hour of ‘writing’ you have written nothing, you may be jotted down a thousand first sentences and deleted them with button or score, they are sentences that count for nothing. What would have been valuable is 3 pages of stream of conscious nonsense, automatic writing and at some point begins with shape itself into sense – and it does often do that, meander from drivel and incongruency into something that can be used as a brick to subsequently build on.

However, there are lots of ways to spark inspiration – each writer has their own method of breaking out of a rut (some haven’t discovered it yet), although what often links these means is a sense of play. A commitment to a word is serious writing, it has consequence – however just playing around with words is liberation that leads to some interesting results.

A while back I was introduced to the work of the Oulipo group (Ouvroir de litt̩rature potentielle) roughly translated, "workshop of potential literature". French-speaking writers and mathematicians which sought to create works using constrained writing techniques. Constraints that trigger inspiration, just as any game has its rules. My favorite of their studies was the n+7, where every noun in a text is replaced with the noun seven entries after it in a dictionary. Just like their cooking, this French method takes a long time, fortunately there is now a microwave equivalent available. The N+7 Machine, bang in a text, click the button and voila Рwhy not try it for yourself, use a sample of your own writing to experiment with different source texts and see what happens.

Another cracking website for machining yourself out of an uninspired spot is The Seventh Sanctum – a collection of generators that make random characters, plots, ideas etc. There are quite a few available, the below list is by no means exhaustive.

For characters….

Anthropomorphic Animal Generator

The educated male anthropomorphic black-feathered Bird. His wardrobe is strange.

For names….

Weird Name Generator

The Steel Sleeper

For settings…

Tavern Generator

The Owl's Stein

For plots…

Story Generator

This is a coming-of-age story with an emphasis on bigotry and making ones own destiny. The story is about a fearsome anthropologist and a monk. It takes place in a port city. The story begins with a compromise. The effect of globalization on religion plays a major role in this story.

It’s all quite good fun, although probably only best used as a leaping point from which you can impose some authority. Also, a point to bear in mind, we can't rely to heavily on these machines for writing because one day they will travel back in time and kill Sarah Conner.

James Harringman

Monday, 27 September 2010

Post | Chapbook | Vol XXX, Afterwards by Jamie Baxter

Vol XXX, Afterwards

Youth | Competition | Echo Location

OK, so it has been a good few months since our feature on Youth, but this seemed somewhat relevant to the manifold semantic shapes flexed by the iron filings of your mind when the magnet of the 'Y-word' is held underneath it.

This photograph was taken on Saturday 25th September 2010 at roughly 4pm.

But where?

Answers sent to ... a prize will be awarded for the closest answer.

-Silkworms Ink

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Post | Fiction | Where Have All The Postmodernists Gone?

Thank you, Nick Clegg, for finally providing me with something I could possibly write about on the theme of ‘post’, which for the past week has seemed to me so utterly impenetrable that I’d started to try and rearrange the letters in an attempt to get an article, any kind of article, out before the end of the week. (‘Stop’ and ‘pots’ were my favourites.) And thanks also for reminding us that there may actually be a thoughtful and even well-read person behind the mask of the politician. Possibly a speech-writer. But still.
It seems in his speech to the UN – which apparently some delegates idly chatted over, the poor bastard – Clegg stated the following;

“The work of international institutions must continue to be guided by the values on which those institutions were founded: the rule of law – both domestic and international; the right to freedom of expression and belief; democracy; and equality before the law.”

Little Nicky: "The US was not responsible for 9/11."

"These values are sometimes described as 'western' values – but only by people who do not know their history. Four centuries ago, the great Mughal emperor Akbar was legislating for religious freedom and equality in what is now India, while in parts of Europe 'heretics' were being burned at the stake.

"The truth is that these liberal ideals of equality, law and self-determination cannot be claimed by any nation, or hemisphere.

"They are global values with global force. They are also the values at the heart of the UN charter."

Pissy nasal historical reference aside, this is a pretty forthright kick in the face towards cultural relativism, isn’t it? A reminder of the insidious rhetoric of rulers worldwide who like to equate religious freedom, sexual equality, et al. with corporate greed and cultural decadence by labelling them all as ‘Western’, and of various cliques who justify their questionable practices by telling outsiders they have no right to judge them.
Hell, I thought, sitting back in my chair, was cultural relativism the most lasting and widespread effect of post-modernism? I mean, I don’t know that many people – one or two, perhaps – who would try and use Derrida in an ordinary conversation. But all too often, if you start a debate about any important subject with someone who disagrees with you, you’ll hear those horrifying words,

“Well, I’ve got my opinion, and you’ve got yours...”

"Who are you to tell me what the truth is?"

“No!” I want to scream, grabbing them by the lapels. “No! Don’t put up these barriers of the equal value of opinion between us! Let me into your opinion, where I can dissect it for you, lovingly and near-erotically, and you can do the same to mine, and let our combined research bring us closer to objective truth.”

What, in short, the hell happened to post-modernism?

When I first started reading Seamus Heaney, I was struck by one of Faber’s blurbs (I can’t now remember where it was from) that lauded the great poet for – and I paraphrase – “avoiding the abyss of post-modernism.” A strange place to be in, you might think, that (what is presumably still) the major cultural movement of our day should be noted only as a pitfall that our best writers manage to dodge. And, when you think about it, when was the last time an author who described themselves emphatically as post-modern was accepted by the literary establishment? Caryl Churchill?

If I was being optimistic, I’d suggest that perhaps this was the final, noble, unacknowledged sacrifice of the post-modern; by attempting to show the relativity of all cultural movements it rendered itself, and all movements to come after it, meaningless. That from now on, there will simply be authors, and their surges will be individual, not as part of a larger wave. Fractism, we can call it (ironically), and it will contain every sort of opinion and every sort of movement.

This is probably balls. But, my God, I’d like to imagine it’s not. And anyway, who the hell are you to tell me I’m wrong?

Jon Ware
Fiction Editor

Saturday, 25 September 2010

See a LIVE Silkworm!

Phil Brown working the podium.

As you are all aware, 7th October is National Poetry Day. Silkworms Ink are chipping in by donating our poetry editor, Phil Brown, to do a live reading in the Poetry Library in Royal Festival Hall at 8PM. Also reading at the event will be 3 other 2010 Eric Gregory winners - a guaranteed treat for all. 

The event has been organised by one Simon Armitage, who we have discussed on numerous occasions on this website.

Tickets are free but you need to reserve a place by following this link here.

See you there!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Post | Introduction/Poetry | Suffix To Say

Week 18 | Post | Contents

Tuesday | Poetry | Suffix To Say
Friday | Chapbook | Afterwards, by Jamie Baxter

Post 9/11,
is it possible to post
anything resembling
a postulate without

In this world of postal strikes
and lamp-post hangings
is there any point posting bail?
To be allowed to re-enter

Years after the last post,
when this poor planet’s
post-nuclear detonation
and some inquisitive alien
species floats over
to do the post-mortem
on the rubble, what
will they make of us?

In the postlapsarian age,
what will they make of this
post-Modern post?
Be gentle,
fickle posterity.

I am no imposter
(and have no repost).
I’ve no posterior motives
and have posed no threat.
I’ve no wish to postpone
the inevitable postcoital coyness.
I’m the post-op poster child
for the poseurs, post-dated
for posthumous obscurity.

What was I supposed to say?
My post-graduate was a posterized ploy
dreamt up by postilions and priests
– poorly signposted pratfalls.
Please, fresh postpartum parents
poised to provide,
practice your postprandial prayers
for the postmen,


Who was the last notch on your bed post?

Answers on a postcard.

-Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Present Tense and Jam Tortillas: Phillip Pullman in Discussion With A Straw Man

PP: Nowadays, it seems to me that every young writer is writing about marmalade sandwiches. How I loathe this monstrous, heathen trend! Sandwiches are, at heart, flawed because they are layered. There is no depth to a sandwich – only endless layers. I pray heartily that we may go back to writing about jam tortillas instead. All of our noblest authors – Henry James, Chekhov, Colin Forbes – wrote about jam tortillas. And that was because only jam tortillas can explore the true nature of reality.
Writing about marmalade sandwiches is exactly like using hand-held cameras in cinema, in that they’re both moderately popular in their media at the moment, or, at least, they’re getting a lot of media coverage at the moment, which is the same thing. Two years ago I might have said that writing about marmalade sandwiches is exactly like torture porn.
Of course, to suggest that marmalade sandwiches are currently popular because writers are attempting to reflect our more immersive, more heat-of-the-moment culture, with varying degrees of success, is nonsense. No, it’s all the fault of creative writing courses. As usual! Damn them to hell! It’s all because they want their students to write more ‘vividly’ without fear of the consequences! What’s that you’re mumbling, straw man?

SM: Let these creative writing students write about marmalade sandwiches if it interests them; the talented ones will find new ways to play with the form and the less talented ones will soon be forgotten.  Those who constantly blame creative writing courses for the state of modern literature seem to forget, 1) that storytelling itself is open to all, 2) that mediocre writers who copy fashionable trends have always been about, and 3) that good writers can use the same technique and produce something marvellous.

PP: Well, that’s crap, clearly. It is very important to our art that we denounce a stylistic choice, across the board, as flawed and worthless, unless it appears in the larger context of a stylistic choice I personally favour.

What’s that, straw man? You’re going to drop the satirical facade and talk candidly about the present tense?

SM: Neither Phillip Pullman nor Phillip Hensher can put their finger quite on why they dislike the present tense. Undoubtedly they have read bad examples of it. Pullman claims it only has one mode of expression (a “scream”), which is patently untrue. If that’s the case, then the act of living itself would be nothing but a scream, the present tense being the tense of experience, not of recollection.  There is no reason in the world why the present tense should have less variety of expression than the past; indeed, it will be able to do some things the past tense cannot.  It may appear to have less variety of expression because unlike the past tense, it has not been the status quo for the vast majority of classic literature.

Let these words be written on the mountaintop.

“Literary techniques, like technology or a text that attempts to sum up the meaning of life, are morally neutral. Each one will have flaws that a bad writer will succumb to, and that a good writer will overcome; and, likewise, it will have possibilities that a bad writer will ignore, and that a good writer can use. Dismiss no technique, and praise no technique. Their worth is not in themselves, but in their application.”

PP: You really think that will work?

SM: No. I think next September we’ll be reading about how three stories written in the second-person are shortlisted for the Booker, and talking heads will be complaining about how the industry’s being swamped by a flawed technique. Oh, and it’ll be all the fault of creative writing courses.

As eavesdropped upon by Jon Ware

Gonzo | Chapbook | Vol XXIX, Material Questions by Gary Beck

Vol XXIX, Material Questions

Gonzo | Music | The Great Gonzo's Guide to Musical Theatre

The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best of all the Christmas films. ‘In your opinion,’ my sister would surely reply, as she does whenever I make an assertion about anything, as though my making an assertion doesn’t automatically contain the unspoken assertion that this is my opinion (although my opinion is, essentially, more important than the truth) contained within a tone of voice that would, I daresay, irritate the fuck out of me if I wasn’t myself. ‘What,’ I then usually counter, ‘about when you say, for example, that the time is twenty to eleven? In my opinion, the time is 10.40 – what gives you the right to assert that the time is to be expressed in your own terms without first establishing that you are expressing as unambiguous fact merely one approach to telling the time among many? You dogmatic, hypocritical slut.’

(My sister is in no way a slut.)

I consider myself permitted to say that The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best of all the Christmas films because Christmas films exist in a sphere utterly removed from conventional intellectual notions of what good filmmaking can and should represent. A sphere defined entirely by unfashionable concepts such as childhood, nostalgia, entrenched Christmas routine, what you’ve seen so many times the vhs makes rodent noises und so weiter. To the point that subjectivity becomes the point. Everybody’s favourite Christmas film is a different Christmas film, but they are all essentially the same because everybody watches these different films in the same way.

Indeed, to attempt to actually apply a model assessing Christmas films’ respective scripts, cinematography, editing, direction, individual performances and so on in order to ascertain what constitutes the best of all the Christmas films in dispassionately qualitative terms, would be to commit an act of unbelievable critical point-missing – on a level with Tarantino’s recent interpretation of his role as Venice Jury President as a license to hand out major awards to mentor, ex-girlfriend and best friend whilst winking behind his HORRIBLE GODDAM SUNGLASSES.

With this in mind, the five best Christmas films of all the Christmas films are:

5. Elf
4. Mighty Ducks 1
3. Home Alone 2
2. Die Hard

And number one, The Muppets Christmas Carol. No Holiday Inn/34th Street/Wonderful Life bullshit here. TMCC is a joy for uncountable reasons. Michael Caine. Select Dickens quotations getting burned (Scrooge: ‘There’s more of gravy than of grave about you.’ Marley (either Statler or Waldorf): ‘What a terrible pun? Where’d you get these jokes?’). Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker (the latter the coolest muppet there is: wikipedia describes him as having a drawbridge mouth. A drawbridge mouth!) trying to collect money for charity…
The Great Gonzo: appearance-wise, not unlike Adrien Brody

Mainly, though, The Muppets Christmas Carol is completely awesome because of the Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat’s narration. A bit of Great Gonzo background first though, because he is, self-evidently, the peg for all this. First of all, Gonzo is not a puppet-version of a human or an animal (although Kermit does suggest, at one point, that he’s ‘a little like a turkey’). Rather, it is revealed in Muppets from Space that he is an alien from a distant planet (in the same film, we actually meet a family member, Ubergonzo). This doesn’t stop him from both amorously pursuing Camilla the Chicken and, indeed, representing the muppets’ resident expert on chickens as a whole. Gonzo is, in fact, the muppets’ resident intellectual – ‘I shall now defuse this highly explosive bomb while simultaneously, and at the same time, reciting from the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley,’ ‘I shall now eat a rubber tire to the music of The Flight of the, maestro!’ etc.  – combining intelligence with what Wikipedia summarises perfectly as a ‘wild-eyed, optimistic attitude’. Thus making him the perfect candidate for a 20th century re-imagining of Charles Dickens as charismatic raconteur rather than, I don’t know, wife-hating childhood-fetishising curmudgeonly anti-Semite.

Here are some of the many highlights of Gonzo and Rizzo’s narrative:

Rizzo [on top of barred gate]: There are two things in this life I hate: heights, and jumping from them. 
Gonzo: Too late now. Come on, I’ll catch you. 
Rizzo: God save my little broken body! 
[Jumps and falls to the ground. He looks at Gonzo] 
Gonzo: Missed. 
Rizzo: Oh wait a second... I forgot my jellybeans. Um... 
[Slides through the bars to retrieve them, and joins Gonzo back on the other side. Gonzo stares at him] 
Rizzo: What? 
Gonzo: You can fit through those bars? 
Rizzo: Yeah... 
Gonzo: You are such an idiot.

Rizzo: Rats don’t understand these things. 
Gonzo: You were never a lonely child? 
Rizzo: I had twelve hundred and seventy four brothers and sisters. 
Gonzo: Boy! Rats don’t understand these things!

Rizzo: How do you know what Scrooge is doin’? We’re down here and he’s up there! 
Gonzo: I told you, storytellers are omniscient; I know everything! 
Rizzo: Hoity-toity, Mr. Godlike Smarty-Pants. 
Gonzo: To conduct a proper search, Scrooge was forced to light the lamps. 
[the lamps come on] 
Rizzo: How does he do that?

Glorious as all this is, what is its relevance to the heading, Music? Well, The Muppets Christmas Carol is technically a musical, see. Not a lot been said on Silkworms about musicals, mainly because musicals are horrid, awful things the vast majority of the time. But with Les Mis representing a musical rendering of Victor Hugo, and Phantom (please watch the second link, it’s the tits) a musical remake of a (before Lloyd Webber got to it) relatively obscure 19th century gothic novel, musicals actually constitute an important model of Music As Reading entering the popular consciousness. A useful model? Probably not – it would be a brave advocate of musical theatre who made the case for Les Mis representing an intelligent reading of Hugo’s text, rather than a melodic reduction of it into nuance-less constituent parts. But that’s where Gonzo and the muppets come in.

For The Muppet Christmas Carol takes a classic text (admittedly, one of Dickens’ worst) and turns it into something both musical and sublime. In it rests, I would therefore argue, the key to transforming musical theatre into an intelligent expression of music interacting with literature. Well, in it or in Brecht and Weil’s Threepenny Opera, but unfortunately that doesn’t contain a character called Gonzo. Here, then, are eight things that musicals should probably do if they wish to sidestep the kind of mistakes Lord Frogjowls made when turning Gaston Leroux into a two-hours-long power ballad – and, rather, evoke the spirit of past, present, future and fucken Gonzo in their adaptive efforts. Sondheim, I hope you’re listening.

1. Use vegetables instead of a regular chorus (‘If he became a flavour you can bet he would be sour – even the vegetables don’t like him!’)
2. Combine endearing grammatical inaccuracies with references to other canonical texts (‘He charges folk a fortune for his dark and draughty houses / Us poor folk live in misery / It’s even worse for mouses (Please sir, I want some cheese)’)
3. Disguise genuinely disturbing images with loveable character mannerisms (‘There was the year we evicted the entire orphanage! I remember the little tykes all standing in the snowbank. With their frost-bitten teddybears. Hahahahahahahahaha!’)

Oh, and one more thing: write rhythm parts befitting Animal. That guy knows how to swing. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem is, incidentally, the greatest band name of all time. But that’s a story for another day.

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Gonzo | Fiction | The Professor and I

So I get an e-mail in my inbox, telling me this week’s article will be about ‘gonzo’.

“Shit,” I murmur, lighting up a Stogie. “You just know everybody’s going to be writing about Hunter S. Thompson.”

The Professor looks at me askance. His fingers are fumbling for the bottle of Tesco Value whiskey.

“You could write about Tom Wolfe,” he says. “Or the Muppets.”

I coil up into a shivering foetal ball and mumble incoherently, the Stogie between my teeth,

“I can’t think about Tom Wolfe without thinking about Bruce Willis in the appalling movie adaptation of Bonfire of the Vanities. And now I can’t think about the Muppets without making that horrifying mental connection either. Damn your eyes, Professor.”

The prostitutes are getting impatient. They don’t see why they have to be here.

“Quiet!” I snap. “If I’m writing an article about gonzo I’m going to have to have prostitutes around. Don’t you ladies read?”

Apparently one of them has a Master’s in English Literature from Oxford. They spend some time shouting me down.

Gonzo,” I ruminate, much later, on the bonnet of the Professor’s car. “Extremity. Invention. A winking joke and a shaggy dog story which the reader is complicit in, but which does have a rambling, explorative purpose to it.”

The Professor sticks his head out of the side-view window as he’s turning a corner.

“Could we consider I’m Still Here a piece of gonzo film-making?” he shouts.

“Yes, I think so,” I reply. “Because it’s a joke that spills out into reality, even threatens it, by insisting on being true while all the time giggling insanely at us. How much Hunter S. came to believe in his own persona and how much madness was in him all along is up for debate.”

“You know, Professor,” I say, patting my pockets for another Stogie, “if I’m going to discover the true nature of gonzo, we’re going to have to live our lives like a gonzo article.”

“Great idea!” he yells, and mounts the pavement, hitting a small cat. Blood goes in my mouth.

“Jesus Christ,” I weep. “You made me hit a cat! You turned me into a cannibal, you bastard. How could you? How could you?”

“So if gonzo journalism thrives on extremity,” he yells, back at me, unhearing, “does it find a line between extremity and gratuitousness, or ignore it?”

I spit out a small chunk of cat intestine.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I mean, you could argue that extremity played for a laugh is less gratuitous than extremity that's pompous enough to believe it’s making an important point by trying to shock you. Take Funny Games, for example. Michael Haneke is far more gratuitous than Quentin Tarantino. And his remaking of that film suggests he was always more concerned with getting a new reaction, shocking new people, than exploring the ideas within in any detail.”

Something’s caught between my teeth. I chew thoughtfully on it for a moment.

Tapping on the bonnet. The Professor is trying to pass me the vermouth bottle.

“So what you’re saying is,” he yells, slipping near-effortlessly over the central reservation and onto the other side of the street, “we can only discover the true nature of gonzo by holding Michael Haneke’s family hostage in their house by the lake.”

I consider this for a moment, but decide against it. It’d be playing into his hands, really.

“Alternatively,” he suggests, “we could set Damien Hirst’s cow on fire.”

“But isn’t it meant to have a political element as well as a cultural one?” I ask him. “Capturing the zeitgeist of modern times and all that? Nixon, yadda yadda?”

He asks me how much I’ve really researched the history of gonzo.

“Not much,” I tell him. “It’s sort of a gonzo thing. Speaking of which, to be truly gonzo, this article should be handed in late, strictly speaking. It’s the rules, I guess.”

“But gonzo’s meant to be about breaking the rules,” the Professor says. “And it could be argued that, in a sense, it’s never been able to truly get over Hunter S., because it’s just tried to imitate him. You can see his echoes in Borat. But it all makes the joke too obvious, especially because cinema, which has become the main bearer of the flame, doesn't lend itself so easily to half-truths. An author personally describes an experience, but a film needs an entire army of helpers. That’s why, in the end, we cannot believe that Joaquin Phoenix vomited in a bush while twenty people stood watching him. Even if it’s true.”

“And extremity itself kills its own fertility and its own subtlety,” I murmur, “because once you’ve marketed yourself on being extreme you’ll be expected to be more and more extreme with every subsequent creation.”

“Quite,” he shouts.

So I lean forward, on the car bonnet, raising my Heckler & Koch PSG1 sniper rifle, and shoot Sarah Palin in the face.

 “And guns, too,” I yell back to the Professor. “There have to be guns. Perhaps gonzo is so popular amongst young men because, at heart, it’s little more than an adolescent bacchanalic fantasy.”

He disagrees with me, and presents some compelling arguments that I refuse to listen to.

Instead, I lie back, kicking my heel to the rhythm of Tom Waits, and smoke another Stogie.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Gonzo | Poetry | Two Thumbs Up

I got to the Hunter S. Thompson party too late. By the time I discovered who he was, I was about nineteen and the narcotic-dabblers, goths and pseuds had already claimed him for their own. Hands off, Phil.

It’s a shame though, I really think I would have got on with him. In fact there were times when I thought it was going to work out. His writing on the Hell’s Angels is some of the finest journalism I have ever read. His political savvy and unfaltering outsider-ness were (and are) astounding. The 2008 documentary of his life paints one of the finest portraits of a writer I could imagine.

It is too late though. Sorry Hunter… I’ve had too many of the most heinous human beings on the planet tell me that “ya know, I’m only doing this while I’m putting my book together, I’m working on some kinda Hunter S. Thompson shit, ya know?” Sadly, yes I do know.

(ed. I am not saying that all Thompsonites are horrible people… I know at least three Hunter fans who are out and out thoroughly good sorts.)

The main thing that stayed with me when finding out about HST however, is the bizarre arrangements he made for his own funeral. The affair was apparently bankrolled by one Johnny Depp and involved some very particular preparations, but the salient facts are that his ashes were shot out of a cannon and there was a giant two-thumbed fist erected in honour of the event. I don’t know which hymns he chose.

So, with all this thinking about a suicidal, drug-abusing genius (the main demographic we seem to write about on this site) and his intricate funeral plans, I got to thinking about what sort of public send off I’d have if I was being bankrolled by a quirky A-List actor. Uplifting stuff, right?

Go on then, have a poem. You’ve earned it.

Last Orders

Let my grave be three-feet square and twelve deep
and rest my cadaver on its head so that in the months
following my fleeting my brain can finally absorb
everything I was at my end.

Let those I have offended worst in life be first
to toss gloating soil at my upturned feet
and let my past pupils pour gallons of red ink
over the hands that marked their juvenilia.

Advertise my send-off as a facebook event
and send malicious messages
laced with expletives
to those aloof hundreds who RSVP as ‘Maybe’.

Sit my ex-girlfriends together in a row
and let them all (even that one!) get on famously
before eventually arguing over which of them
is being snidely swiped at in this poem.

Set up a ‘lost-property’ stall by my tombstone
filled with the myriad items I’ve borrowed,
let Lewis take back his snooker cue and give
Emily the magazines I’ve no right to cling to

Hold the service on a 213 bus
for this has been my place of prayer
and silent introspection for over half
my sleepless life.

Arrange for no music, but provide a stereo
and invite my hipster friends to make mix-CD’s
watch them fight over which obscure B-Side
will best provide the funeral frisson.

Finally, mould my grip around my wife,
twist my hard arms around her waist
and let the suitors queue up to try
prising her from my cold, dead hands.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

Gonzo | Introduction | The Legend of Gonzo

Week 17 | Gonzo | Contents

Tuesday | Poetry | Two Thumbs Up
Wednesday | Fiction | The Professor and I 

Woman Found in Hunter Thompson’s Cesspool

“Miss Snap, wearing only a pair of men’s boxer shorts and a polka-dotted purple kerchief tied around her chest, told reports who had gathered at the scene that Dr. Thompson held her captive in the cesspool, a dry cement pit measuring 15 x 8 feet, and after repeatedly “indulging his perverted appetites,” had forced Miss Snap to write his biography.
“He made me compose this revolting record of human calamity,” said the red-haired pavologist, who is 5 feet, 3 inches tall, 106 pounds, and a former Miss Indiana. “It’s all here,” she said, removing a thick manuscript from a broken leather case, “the history of the biggest degenerate of the 20th century.”
Miss Snap, who said she has not slept in many days because of “seal bombs being dropped in the cesspool,” declared that she was giving the manuscript to James Harringman, an acquaintance of Dr. Thompson, to be edited, and added: “And then the world will fairly call him a hog.”

“Dr Thompson, the inspiration for Uncle Duke in the “Doonesbury” comic strip, told reporters that “Miss Tishy Snap is an inebriated nymphomaniac.”

The Life of Hunter Stockton Thompson

an Account of His Miraculous Existence
From the Time of his Birth to the Present in
Chronological Order

The Seduction and Torture
Of His Own Biographer

The Whole Exhibiting a View of Debauchery
And Felony Never Seen in a Literary Man
The Marquis de Sade

Laetitia Snap

3:00 p.m. rise
3:05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills
3:45 cocaine
3:50 another glass of Chivas, Dunhill
4:05 first cup of coffee, Dunhill

Did you hear about the time Hunter Thompson ran for sherrif of Placcid Aspen?

His manifesto consisted of the following three principles.

1.    Sod the street at once
2.    Change the name ‘Aspen’ by public referenced to ‘Fat City.’
3.    …Intall on the courthouse lawn, a bastinado platform and a set of stocks – in order to punish dishonest dope deals in a proper public fashion….
-The Aspen Times, political ad, September 17,1970

A victory would have been a landmark on the political landscape. He claimed to represent freedom, but his demographic spread to the weird, wasted and wonderful – a campaign so strange that it might just win.

His main contender to the badge was a man named Carol Whitmer. Whitmer was the old-school crew-cut kind of guy. Preceding a series of scheduled debates between Thomspon and Whitmer, HST shaved off all his hair so he could refer to Whittmire as “my long-haired apponent”.

Marks, certainly, for style.

The man who ran the bar where Hunter ran his campaign from named Michael Solheim, was later quoted to say “It was very clse. And we would have won it if we had taken the thing a drop more seriously”.


Glen Ricks…………..….171
Carol Whitmire………...1533
Hunter Thompson……..1065


Dr. Charles Williams….1836
William Noonan……….910

-The Aspen Times, Novemeber 5, 1970

Aspen Rejects Bid of Hippy Candidate For Sheriff’s Office
“If we can’t win Aspen, we can’t win anywhere”
- Hunter Thompson, quoted in the New York Times, Novemver 5, 1970

I suppose it is somewhat like green party winning a seat at Brighton, if it was going to happen, it would have happened there, the only difference is, the green party actually won.

No doubt he was a great writer, but what always troubles me with the legend of Hunter S. Thompson is he lived his own myth. He had a hat made from unborn wolf – reportedly an entire litter.

So we shall let the reader answer the question for himself. Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?
-Hunter Thompson (written at age 16)

-Hunter Thompson (written at age 67)

(1) Miss Laetitia Snap actually gave the manuscript to Jean E Caroll, this is the introduction to the subsequent book. Well worth a read.

James Harringman