26 July 2006

Mr Florence

I am visiting the US and have acquired a Pandora's Box of sorts. Here in the small southern town where I spent my high school years, there is an old cinema that's been around since the mid-1930s. It is called the Cameo Trio. At one time it was one of three cinemas in town, but as people here became more conservative and inward-looking along with the rest of America, the other two shut down. Today, people who want to see blockbusters usually drive to one of the huge multiplexes in one of the surrounding towns. The Cameo has never had a reputation for cleanliness nor for offering any kind of great, movie-going experience. Nonetheless, I and many others feel affectionate towards the place, in no small part due to Mr. W.P. Florence.

Mr Florence ran the Cameo from at least the late 1930s (I have in my possession documents that verify this) until just before his death a few years ago. He was a well-known "character" around town, always dressed in a scruffy gray suit and large black lather shoes, his hair greased back messily. His parents had money, he himself apparently had oil interests (as correspondence of his from senators Fulbright and McClellan suggests), and he attended the same liberal arts university that I did, before a brief stint in the military. Despite owning two residences in town, in his later years he was apparently living out of a backroom of the Cameo. My dad recalls once leaving some reading glasses behind in the cinema, and being led to this room to retrieve them; it was filled on all walls, ceiling to floor, with old newspapers, with only just enough room for a rickety old cot.

The state of this makeshift living space is indicative of the state of the cinema as a whole. It had amazing tile and mirror bathrooms, complete with a huge powder room for the ladies which connected to the "Crying Room" that was attached to the downstairs auditorium. However, everything was always a complete mess. The joke around town was that if you went to the Cameo you might just stay there, as it was impossible to pry your feet from the sticky floor. The viewing experience was less than ideal as well; movies might sometimes cut out in the middle and only if you were lucky would sound come from all speakers and be present during the whole movie.

Mr Florence was apparently well aware of the state of his theatre. My parents once observed another town "character," a strange and moneyed old lady we knew, tell him off about sticking to the floor as she tried to leave her seat. He promptly sent her a bouquet of flowers, and others concur that this was a common deed with him. He never changed the things people complained about, but he did charm everyone.

A few years ago Mr. Florence sold the Cameo to a family who own one of the large multiplexes in a neighbouring town. At the Christmas parade, they promoted the Cameo and their refurbishments on a float with a huge banner that read, "We cleaned up the Cameo!" Bizarrely, trailing behind them on foot was old Mr. Florence himself, holding up a sign that read, "And they did a good job!"

The day after I arrived here, we attended a huge "tag sale" of the estate of Mr. Florence and his late mother. Their two houses had been completely cleaned out, their contents put up for sale by an antiques auctioneer we know. She told us it took weeks to clean out the houses, and at least 5 days to clean everything up--in line with the Cameo itself, some items were so dust-covered you couldn't tell what they were, and the water they used to clean them with frequently became as dirty and thick as mud. I went along hoping to see some cinema memorabilia, and especially to see if there might even be some old film equipment going. From what I heard, there may have been, but it was thrown out due to the house clearers not knowing what it was. Two 16mm projectors were left when I got there, but someone had bought them, and I heard that a few items of what seemed to be antique cinema projectors were let go for $5 apiece before I arrived because no one knew what they were.

There were still a number of interesting items when I arrived, however. In addition to a $5 box load of correspondence with senators and now defunct film distributors such as RKO, vintage puzzles, and an antique rubber stamp set, I made a rash (given its weight and the fact that I don't live in this country) decision to buy Mr Florence's trunk pictured above. I've always wanted an old travel trunk. This was one of three at the sale, and this one cost next to nothing because, you see, it is locked, and no one seems to have the key. I'm sure it's empty, and I'm not sure I want ever to open it. I like that Mr. Florence's name is on its side, and I like owning a little piece of the ongoing death of cinema.

20 July 2006

RIP Green Boots

There is, of course, a yet-to-be-fleshed-out reason (see the colour tinting in Blithe Spirit, the ectoplasmic logoing of Ghostbusters, photographs of the number of Green (and Gray) Lady ghosts that permeate our fair British Isles, and Michael Taussig's colour project) that I chose a GREEN representation of Mark E Smith below, but in the process of posting that image I was sadly reminded that my favourie green suede boots suddenly ripped irreparably the other week.

19 July 2006

Wonderful and Frightening

I think few people realise that the title of this blog is inspired by The Fall, perhaps my favourite band of all time (the other half of my blog title--the title in the address--is inspired by one of my favourite texts on surrealism, by Hal Foster; I myself am neither a beauty nor compulsive). Listening to Mark E Smith ranting about computers this evening, I remembered I'd bookmarked this piece of writing that hints at the hauntological possibilities of the Fall; right up my alley, obviously. It happens to be written by one of the contributors to the recent Cultural Fictions conference I attended at Goldsmiths.

At the conference, and while I'm thinking about it (and I really should take notes when I think of these things), I especially enjoyed Mark Broughton's talk on dyschronia in relation to the excellent vintage sci-fi/ghost-fi, made-for-TV flick, The Stone Tape. However, I contend that ghosts are ALWAYS dyscrhonic, not just on the occasions when they're inaccessible through technology and "buried in time," as in The Stone Tape. It's not that technology is used to combat the mysticism surrounding ghosts; in my research on electronic voice phenomena (EVP) and the use of other digital methods of "scientific" ghost hunting, it's the technology that reinforces and redefines the uncanny nature of ghosts--and isn't dyschronia just one more example of the uncanny (being lost in, or TO, time goes beyond other forms of disorientation)? Ghosts are always dyschronic experiences, and even more so when they are stored as endlessly repetitive visual and sonic phenomena in out-of-time-and-space digital archives. Ghosts are irreversibly out of time--through technology they both symbolically and discursively keep repeating (and I don't buy exorcism film-myths and hate how Catholicism has ruined many an otherwise good horror film, but that's a topic for another post). This potential (or inevitable) link of ghosts and technology reinforces Mark B's suggestion (and my own hunch) that ghosts are the ultimate sci-fi figures; they are the ultimate uncanny, as my interminable thesis suggests.

18 July 2006

Lost and Found Cat

Look what spent the night last night!
Our neighbours found this strange little kitty wandering around in panic mode in the middle of the street, and came to us "cat people" for advice. We took it in for the evening (well, into the hallway, along with some food and water and a litter tray and bed) and this morning located its grateful owners who gave me a bottle of wine as thanks.

His name is JJ.

17 July 2006

It's officially tourist season in Brighton, and I can't even work out on the balcony because the square below has been taken over by European teenagers from various language schools who insist on taking pictures of me on their mobile phones. They are like a plague. The beach (above) has been overrun with the same, so I'll stay indoors and wait for everyone to leave in August.

13 July 2006

12 July 2006

Summer has returned, after a couple of cloudy sea-breezy days. I took my work and my bikinied self out onto the balcony this afternoon. At one point, a lovely tan women in a summery dress arrived in the square carrying a picnic blanket, some paper cups, and a tasty-looking cake on a crystal cake stand. How nice, I thought, she's setting up for a little afternoon garden party with friends. Maybe it's someone's birthday, and they'll be surprised by the cake. I watched as the woman spread out the blanket, and then herself, in the dappled shade and lush grass underneath a tree, and wondered when her friends would arrive. Then I realised what she was doing. A huge camera and little tripod had emerged from her bag. And so ensued 15 minutes of angling herself and the cake and cups around on the blanket, and lots of snapping and adjusting of lenses. And then as quick as she came she went: cake, cups, blanket and camera were briskly packed away and she strode past the usual group of drinkers, the older lady who feeds the pigeons and that guy who's always practicing juggling, back to some hot and stuffy office or maybe to her work-from-home studio and a computer full of emails from her advertising clients, one of whom is obviously a seller of cakes, or cake stands, or paper cups, or picnic blankets.

Singapore Fling

Ryan Chin (whoever you are), look what you've caused.

11 July 2006


I had an erotic dream about Pete from Big Brother the other night. He was working or living at this salon that was doing some kind of charity breakfast that I was of course sceptical of. His messy bedroom had a couple of concrete steps that led up to it and he was such a good kisser. I watch too much telly lately.

09 July 2006

"Kenneth, What Is the Frequency?"

I'd forgotten the Donald Barthelme connections to the bizarre incident that happened to newsreader Dan Rather 1980s, when he was attacked by two mysterious men in white coats yelling, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" You can read about it in this Harpers article.

This unsolved mystery of those men and their origin, identity and destination, and especially that line the repeated over and over, really thrilled and disturbed me. In the same way, I suppose, that "the rhythm" became a concept of mystery and dread for my little brother, owing to the fact that I told him that the Gloria Estefan song "The Rhythm is Gonna Get You" referred to some deadly nighttime presence that haunted little brothers who annoyed their sisters.

Frequency--electricity!--worries and fascinates me in a different way now, and shows up in my thesis alot, which reminds me that I really should post some of it here sometime to ensure even less people stop by this blog regularly.

07 July 2006

Donald Barthelme and Ghetto Reference Librarians

I'm a big fan of the late writer Donald Barthelme, some of whose (very) short stories you can access online thanks to the good work of a radical librarian called Jessamyn.

Speaking, however, of librarians, I clicked on a random blog link today of a woman who works in the reference section of a "ghetto library" in the Bay Area. Maybe I'm out of touch with public libraries, but do workers in the reference section provide a service whereby patrons can ask them random questions about soil, alcoholism, vacation destinations, and even the meanings of dreams and expect to get actual answers (rather than just instructions on how to obtain the answer using the library's resources)? No wonder the blog-writer seems like such a bitch. Her blog describes being trapped in a cubicle smothered by co-workers she hates as drunks and weirdos approach her with impossibly weird and random questions that she must provide answers to, while worrying about other issues such as the lethargy of housekeeping services when it comes to cleaning up after patrons' incontinent guide dogs.

I particularly like her entry about a woman who regularly calls up asking the reference librarians to interpret her dreams for her--which they obediently do, using a whole little section of dream interpretation books they've set up just for her. My whole point being that the blog entry has a Barthelme-esque tone to it, while the scenario itself is reminiscent of Bunuel's absurd film scenarios, or maybe Hans Richter's Dreams That Money Can Buy. I'm just saying I think there could be a surrealist film in there somewhere.

06 July 2006

Jerry Eleison

Went to see Jerry Springer the Opera the other night cause it's not selling well at the Dome so M had some free tix. I was excited to see some protesters outside holding placards urging us not to support the show (and according to this this, some of them may have even been fasting in anticipation! Wow, and all I did was change out of my flip flops into some sensible shoes in case the theatre was cold.). When we went in, the protesters handed us some brochures spelling out their quibbles, which were fair enough given these folks have probably not been burdened by so much of the annoying high theatre/performance art that I have, and are therefore unable to interpret the show as the slightly unsuccesful postmodern dig at opaquely grandiose and absurdist opera themes that I think it's, in part, meant to be. Which was what was kind of disappointing about it. When I was in high school, back when the Springer show was a late night treat focusing less on freaks and more on the freakish situations arising out of inequalities in class, race and gender exacerbated by a mass-media saturated US (and of course, by the show itself) I loved watching it as I love playing GTA: San Andreas now. It's a sort of self-critical anthropology served up on a plate. But there's no critique of media in Jerry Springer the Opera, no political messages. In that respect, it's simply pretty tame, West End humour. I liked the chorus line of many Jerrys at the end, though. Tap dancing chorus lines are great, so I don't know where these crazy Christians get off saying there's nothing uplifting here.

Oh, and the photo is not of a Jerry Springer the Opera protester, but rather of a man who was demonstrating with his family outside of a SuperWalMart in Arkansas. My dad had a new camera and decided to make them his first subjects and stopped and chatted. Nice folks, he said. I love how each state on his sign has a different sin attached to it. I think it's funny that Kansas's sin is "Effeminate." Hmmm.