The following is a text of an introduction I gave to the film at the Historic Cedar Theatre on October 27, 2012.
Poltergeist (1982) is a unique and unusual film, even within the horror genre, where the unique and unusual are expected. A haunted house movie in which no one is killed, with a cast of characters that is punished for no obvious reason, and a PG-rated film that is about as anti-family friendly as it can be, Poltergeist can be regarded as a truly classic horror film that continues to frighten audiences even 30 years later.
          One of the most discussed aspects of the film is who is actually responsible for directing it. Tobe Hooper, the acclaimed director of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is listed in the credits, and his style can certainly be detected in the film’s second climax, which challenges many of the aspects of the suburban dream that was such a major component of early 1980s American culture. But members of the cast and crew, including Executive Producer Frank Marshall and actress Zelda Rubinstein, have stated that Spielberg cast the film, directed the actors, and designed every single storyboard for the movie himself. Based on this evidence, the Directors Guild of America actually opened a probe into the matter, but found no reason that co-director credit should go to Spielberg (IMDB).
          One of the reasons Spielberg brought Hooper in on the film was that, at the time, Spielberg was busy working on another film, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Spielberg was contractually prevented from directing another film while working on E.T., and the two films were released only a week apart from each other in 1982: Poltergeist on June 4, E.T. on June 11 (IMDB). The two films also share a suburban setting, and offer different examples of suburban lifestyles. The kids in E.T. live with their recently divorced mother and are brought together by a visiting alien; the family of Poltergeist finds a renewed bond after they are horrifically divided by the spirits haunting their home. The mother in E.T. is emotionally distanced from her children, while the mom in Poltergeist is sexually assaulted by a ghost. The little girl in E.T. takes her new friend trick-or-treating, and the little girl in Poltergeist is sucked into a closet.
          Clearly, the suburbs of Poltergeist are no safe place for families or aliens, and it is hard to imagine a director like Spielberg demonizing them. On the other hand, many of Spielberg’s films deal precisely with the intrusion of the alien into suburbia: Jaws, Close Encounters, 1941, A.I., and even The Color Purple depict families encountering unexpected disruptions in their normative environments.
          Poltergeist is also unusual in offering a cast of characters—a family—that has seemingly done nothing to invite the punishments routinely offered in many other horror films, which are usually morality tales. “Do Diane and Steve tempt fate by smoking dope at bedtime? Is Steve culpable because he's a salesman for a developer raping the land? Diane struggles to get out of the muddy hole dug for her swimming pool -- is she being punished for the crime of owning a home?” (Erickson) A popular misconception about the film is that the Freeling’s home is built on an ancient Indian burial ground, a plot device that has been used in many other films and a memorable Family Guy parody of Poltergeist. But this potential cause is actually dismissed in the film, though the misconception remains.
          Whatever the cause, one of the most subversive aspects of the film is its suggestion that television itself is “the greatest threat to the familial bond” (Henderson), an idea that would have obvious appeal to film-makers like Spielberg and Hooper.  And the real fun of the movie is seeing how scary a PG-rated film can be: the film was originally given an R-rating in the U.S. and an X certificate in the U.K., prohibiting anyone under 18 from seeing the film. (Both ratings were appealed successfully.) (IMDB) Though Poltergeist did not ultimately change horror movies, it remains a frightening example of how, in the right hands, every member of the family can be terrified by the same film.
Erickson, Glenn. “Poltergeist: Savant Blu-ray Review.”
Henderson, Eric. “Poltergeist.”  Slant Magazine. 


Raiders of the Lost Ark (part 2)

NOTE: The following is a work in progress. The entry here will be lengthened as writing continues. This is, as yet, unedited. Any comments and/or suggestions are welcome. Right now, I'm trying to get down all the details and see if this ends up going anywhere.

The flyer was otherwise vague on details, offering only a brief, inexplicable summary and tantalizing lines like this: “Raiders contains romantic interludes, dangerous liaisons and terrifying chases—high action elements that leave audiences on the edge of their seats.” In 2011, such descriptions seem sweetly innocent, almost naïve, but in 1981, coupled with promo photos and the now-iconic font of the film’s title, they seemed revelatory.

“OPENS THEATRES EVERYWHERE JUNE 12, 1981,” the flyer promised, and I believed.

As spring progressed, and the end of school approached, news came of another, slightly less exciting, event: my aunt and uncle were planning a summer road trip, and would be staying with our family for a number of days in early June. Accompanying them would be my aunt’s younger sister, Star, who was situated in age between me and my brother. What this basically meant to me was that I would soon be subjected to another ongoing round of my uncle’s puns involving the hateful coincidence of an advertising campaign featuring a tuna fish with my name and the brand name of a canned tuna that the fish promoted, seemingly unconcerned with the implications of his advertising a product made from the flesh of his own species. “Sorry, Charlie,” I could hear my uncle leer. “Star-Kist. Get it?” he said as his mouth widened into an obnoxious grin. “Star kissed?” I wanted to beat him.

An additional cause for annoyance was Star’s tendency to act older than she was, and her willingness to mingle with adults and join in their conversations. This struck me as not only highly pretentious (though I did not know what that word meant at the time), but as needlessly provocative, as if Star wanted to show us how much she deserved to join the company of adults, while lesser mortals were corralled in the rumpus room. She was, in short, snotty, and this provoked in me an irresistible urge to mock her at every turn (though never in the presence of the adults whose company she so craved). I simply could not fathom the idea of wanting to spend more time than was necessary with adults and their dreary conversations about money, or liquor, or sports, or unfunny jokes. Why, I wondered, would one not prefer the privacy of one’s own bedroom, where the drone of adult conversation could be drowned out by turning up the volume of one’s cassette recording of “Weird Al” Yankovic? (My attitude in this regard has not changed much in the last 30 years.)

Star, we learned, would be bringing a friend along on the road trip. This information I processed with a shrug, though if it had come only a year later, I would have experienced near-fatal paralysis at the prospect of an unknown girl spending a week in my house. And I had larger concerns—namely, how many days remained before I could go see Raiders of the Lost Ark. These otherwise meaningless days were filled by such activities as reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels, watching movies that were neither well-promoted nor mysterious (like Flash Gordon), and going to the mall, which, according to the diary I kept, was “full of chicks.” Though I felt life was largely pointless until I could see Raiders of the Lost Ark, it did serve the arguably valuable purpose of allowing me time to further establish for all the world to see that I was a highly credentialed and hopelessly doomed nerd. (Tarzan novels. Seriously.)

In the early days of June, my uncle, aunt, and grandmother arrived, along with Star and her friend, Jamal. Jamal seemed to me a peculiarly exotic name for a girl, and in my later years (post-Cosby Show, that is) would seem even more peculiar. Though I never thought to ask the origins of her name, I suppose it might have had something to do with her own origins as a girl born in the early 1970’s to parents residing in Northern California. Jamal was short, blonde, and situated somewhere in that awkward phase between “spunky” and “sassy.” I am pretty sure she had not yet reached puberty, because there is no mention in my diary of her breasts.

I had not seen Star for a year or two, but, though initially shy and reserved, she didn’t seem much different. As someone who was just beginning to sense the social ostracization that accompanied higher-than-average intelligence (remember: I was reading Tarzan novels), I recognized in her a kind of kindred spirit, though, as the daughter, sister, and sister-in-law of professional educators, Star was probably far less ostracized—at least at home—than I was. This in no way prevented the deployment of my scorn, though this was done as subtly as possible, or as subtly as possible for a 13-year old nerd who enjoyed listening to Dr. Demento.


Raiders of the Lost Ark

NOTE: The following is a work in progress. The entry here will be lengthened as writing continues. This is, as yet, unedited. Any comments and/or suggestions are welcome. Right now, I'm trying to get down all the details and see if this ends up going anywhere.

In the spring of 1981, the greatest movie ever made was The Empire Strikes Back, the greatest band in history was E.L.O., and I was 13 years old. The clarity of my mind and opinions at that age was aided by several key factors: the Star Wars films did not yet need to be designated by their episodic chapter numbers, for one, and there was no reason to believe that whatever sequel followed in 1983 (or whenever it showed up) would not raise the bar as high as it had been raised by Empire. For as jaw-droppingly great as Star Wars had been, The Empire Strikes Back had taken everything that worked in the first film and somehow made it even better—the dialogue, the special effects, the characters, the power of the Imperial Fleet—everything. The future of the Star Wars Saga seemed bright.

Another key factor: I hadn’t heard of many other bands that could do what E.L.O. seemed to do routinely and with ease, which was to make songs that were not only within the range of my vocal abilities, but to package them in grandiose album cover art that depicted spaceships in bright, primary colors that were replicated as massive stages when the band went on tour (not that I would ever see them live at my tender age). And the lyrics of the songs were about things like lions giving speeches in the jungle about our “great blue ship,” and aliens visiting Planet Earth from “a distant place and time.”

I had nearly completed my first year of junior high, doing well in most of my classes, other than P.E. and shop, and I had started getting the attention of others. Certainly not any girls and few, if any, of my male peers, but my English and journalism teachers seemed to think I was worth special attention. “You have some very real talents,” my 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Dobson, had written in my yearbook. “Use them.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it sounded encouraging.

There was no reason to think that things would not just keep getting better and better. NASA had even successfully launched a Space Shuttle, a reusable orbital spacecraft! My phone call request for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Another One Rides the Bus” had been played on the Dr. Demento Show! I was the King of the World.

And sometime that spring came yet another indication that all the stars were aligned in my world. A mysterious letter, sent from the Official Star Wars Fan Club, showed up in the mail. The Official Star Wars Fan Club and I had joined forces shortly after I first heard news of an impending sequel to Star Wars. The Official Star Wars Fan Club, in those pre-internet days, seemed the only reliable source for news and updates of the latest chapter in the Star Wars saga, and I happily submitted my $15 membership fee, which, in addition to several tangible benefits like stickers, posters, and patches, ensured bimonthly delivery of Bantha Tracks, the official newsletter of the Official Star Wars Fan Club. I was an Insider, a status I proudly demonstrated to the world by repeatedly wearing my Official Star Wars Fan Club jersey to school, hastening the separation of myself from my peers, particularly the girls.

But such concerns were trivial once the mysterious letter was torn open in my shaking hands. For there, on an 8X12 flyer, were four color photos from something called Raiders of the Lost Ark, “the result,” the flyer declared, “of one of the most significant filmmaking collaborations in motion picture history.” Directed by Steven Spielberg! Conceived by George Lucas! Starring Harrison Ford! Holy crap!


Chazzbot II

Since ending this blog in 2009, I have received 36 comments on my final post, more than I recall receiving on any other post in the 3 1/2 years this blog was active. Since that time, I have gravitated toward Facebook, where I can share my opinions and rantings among those people who already know me, and where I seem to receive much more immediate feedback than I did with this blog.

For those of you who don't know me personally--and since most of those 36 comments have been written in a language I can't read, I'm assuming that includes many of you--and who wish to continue the dialogue that began on these pages, I encourage you to follow me on Tumblr, where I have started a new blog, creatively named Chazzbot II.

Chazzbot II is different in kind and purpose than this blog. On the new blog, I generally post quotations and images that I find interesting, amusing, or engaging in some way. If there is a theme or guiding principle behind Chazzbot II, it comes in the form of lyrics from Neko Case's song, "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood":

It's not for you to know
But for you to weep and wonder
When the death of your civilization precedes you.

(The only video I can find for the song consists of, appropriately enough for me, a montage of scenes from Battlestar Galactica. Enjoy?)

Chazzbot II, then, is less of an editorial page and more of a Victorian-style memory book. Though I rarely comment on my postings, and I haven't set up the blog for outside comments, it is my hope that the new blog serves as a kind of launching pad for new ideas, or at least as a means of promoting authors and other creators who I think might be worth your attention.

Anyway, if you have find my comments here of interest, please visit my new site. And, for those of you who commented on any of my postings here, thank you for bringing me out of the wilderness, at least for a time, and for your willingness to listen to my ramblings.

Chazzbot is dead. Long live Chazzbot II!


Goodbye Is Too Good a Word

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together:
A hunger-striker's father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, "Don't hope
On this side of the grave."
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

--Seamus Heaney
The Cure at Troy


The Official Theme Song of the George W. Bush Presidency

The Final George W. Bush Press Conference

A clueless, pathetic fucking embarassment, to the last.