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Inherent Vice / Thomas Pynchon in Los Angeles

Partly due to writer’s block, but mainly for tactical reasons, a long hiatus was taken on the unfinished post “Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club: The Fappening Part Three”. It will most likely be completed this week. In the interim, to keep ourselves busy, we made this.

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Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club: The Fappening Part Two

In an attempt to avoid infinite delays on this very long post, I’ll be putting it up unfinished, with additions made every so often, so that the thing is complete by the end of the week, Friday, March 27th, 2015 Friday, April 3rd 8th (sometime in April), 2015…let’s aim for early May. This might be seen as the third part of a three part series, “The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings: Gawking at the Wreckage” and “Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club: The Fappening”.

IRVING WALLACE’S THE FAN CLUB: THE FAPPENING

PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE

THREE WOMEN / THE AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE

“I found out something I never knew,” Bobby Kennedy said of Dallas not long before his own murder. “I found out my world was not the real world.”

The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and its Hold on America by Sally Denton & Roger Morris

Mindy McCready, Kari Ann Peniche, Michelle Braun

Mindy McCready, Kari Ann Peniche, Michelle Braun; photos taken, respectively from “Mindy McCready weeps as she confirms affair with Roger Clemens” (no credit), WENN.com, and “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure”, photo credit Broward Sheriff’s Office.

It ends with stolen rubies. It begins with ridiculous dreams. “You are one interesting girl,” said Howard Stern when he interviewed Kari Ann Peniche. “How do you get to be Miss Teen USA? That seems like a big deal, Miss Teen USA.” “Miss United States Teen,” Peniche corrected him. “I was modeling at a modeling agency and the receptionist, she was like, “Oh, I’m giving up my crown next weekend,” and I was like, “What crown?” and she’s like, “I’m Miss Teen Oregon,” and I was, “I wanna be Miss Teen Oregon! So…” Stern: “And after you win the whole thing, you think, something’s going to happen, but nothing really big happens, does it?” Peniche: “Um…no. Playboy came along.”1 Shandi Finnessey, Miss USA 2004: “Playboy, for some reason, has these little tentacle feelers that go out and girls in pageants are like, “My year’s over. Playboy!””2 “My initial reaction to the offer of doing Playboy was absolutely not,” said Peniche. “My mom raised me with honesty and integrity. There was no amount of money that could basically screw over the pageant, or make the pageant look bad…After talking more and more with my agents about it, and my mom, we came to an agreement to do it.” Finnessey: “A lot of people also think that Playboy is this big door that opens up, and provides all these other opportunites…”3 Does the obvious qualifier need to be added? Okay: no, it doesn’t.

Peniche seemed like a soft edged creature, whose soft edges you were never sure were entirely a pose, or whether it was genuine vulnerability occasionally employed for her own ends. “What’s your favorite song?” she was asked on the Sin City Sessions podcast. “I’m like an Air Supply, Kenny Loggins, Carpenters kind of girl. My favorite song, in the whole wide world has to be Kenny Loggins, “Danny’s Song”, because my dad used to sing it, when I was little…and I also love “Let Me be the One” by The Carpenters…I’m such a nerd when it comes to music.”4 Right after “Bush or brazilian?” (“Oh, brazilian,” said with a kind of obviously dismissiveness, from a time before hair made a comeback) on the same podcast, she was asked, “What turns you on?”: “Someone who makes me laugh…you know what turns me on? Someone who does my errands,” and then she gave a charming laugh. “Yeah, that turns me on.” Which was punctuated with another laugh5.

Peniche was one point in the trio, along with Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart, who appeared in the sex tape which Gawker and the current editor of The New Republic, Gabriel Snyder, had published: “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker”. “Every young woman I know was violated when the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and other successful women were posted on the internet for public consumption against their will,” Reut Amit would write in “That Type of Girl Deserves It”, which was also published on Gawker; the gossip platform Gawker, as well as on Gawker Media’s porn division, Fleshbot, had also published (the following links are all NSFW) “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics: ‘Lick My Tight Asshole and Choke Me'” (archive today link), “New Super Dirty Olivia Munn Pics: ‘I Want Your Big Dick Right Here'” (archive link today), “Christina Hendricks Says These Giant Naked Boobs Aren’t Hers, But Everything Else Is” (archive today link), “This Week’s Naked Celebrity Phone Pics: Glee’s Heather Morris” (archive today link), “Are These Nude Photos Of Scarlett Johansson The Real Deal? [UPDATED 9/16/11]” (archive today link), “First Cassie, Now Rihanna: It’s Naked R&B Star Week” (archive today link), “Ashley Greene: Naked on the Internet?” (archive today link), and “Double Whammy Celebrity Nudity: Kat Dennings and Jessica Alba Topless!” (archive today link), all of them hacked celebrity nudes. Amit’s essay bluntly equated viewing such stolen pictures with rape: “We are not concerned with what it means to violate a young woman by viewing her unwilling naked body. We see hacking a computer as a crime but viewing the hacked image as a misdemeanor rather as an act of sexual violence.”

“Your bared body can always be used as a weapon against you. You bared body can always be used to shame and humiliate you,” wrote Roxane Gay in “The Great 2014 Celebrity Nude Photos Leak is only the beginning”, published in The Guardian. A follow-up post to Snyder’s “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker” was “More People Know Kari Ann Peniche’s Boobs Than Her Face” by Brian Moylan, might be an example of what Gay was writing about: you are nothing but your decaying body, you dunce. Peniche, wrote Moylan, “walked right up to Chambers (who plays Dr. Alex Karev) at a party in L.A. Problem is, even after all the kerfuffle, he had no clue who she was. Harsh…Damn, we give it a month before she’s somewhere in Hollywood knocking over tables and screaming, “Don’t you know who I am? I was the other girl in the McSteamy tape!”” Gay writes of these on-lookers and debasers as if they are some crowd distant and faraway from The Guardian; well, at the time that her piece was published, Moylan was one of her colleagues at the paper6. “It’s not merely tawdry that the private sexual conversations of partners are now being disseminated like memes,” wrote Zoe Williams in “If you click on Jennifer Lawrence’s naked pictures, you’re perpetuating her abuse”. “It’s an act of sexual violation, and it deserves the same social and legal punishment as meted out to stalkers and other sexual predators.” Williams’ essay was published in The Guardian; she was a colleague of Moylan as well. That John Manese, the man behind the reddit, “The Fappening”, identified as asexual, did not seem to excuse him of complicity in the matter. Does Moylan being a gay man excuse him of complicity here?

I think you can look at this as a violation, though not equal to sexual assault – and Gawker, which had perpetrated this violation many, many times in the past, had better hope like sweet hell it’s not equivalent to sexual assault – but whatever degree of violation you want to assign it, this was just one more violation in the life of Kari Ann Peniche. This was revealed, not by the enlighteneed, noble souls of Gawker, but by a degenerate with a special place in my heart, Howard Stern. A degenerate, as well as a great interviewer. From his episode with Peniche, recorded after the sex tape went public and she was briefly on a rehab program called Sober House7:

HOWARD STERN [HS]: They sit her down in the first episode. They sit Kari down, in the first episode, and they…right away, you come clean, and you say, hey, I was molested…

KARI ANN PENICHE [KAP]: Mmmhmm.

HS: Raped…

KAP: Mmmmm.

HS: I mean, no wonder you got sex issues.

KAP: (laughs)

ROBIN QUIVERS [RQ]: Well, who, what was happening, how old were we, what was going on?

KAP: My next door neighbour molested me when I was five, six, seven.

HS: How old was he?

KAP: Older. Much older.

HS: Like a teenager?

KAP: No, like fifties.

HS: Like fifty?

RQ: Ewwww.

KAP: Yeah, but he also had a mental, like, thing.

HS: But how does he get alone with you? Where the fuck are your parents in all of this?

KAP: Um, well, my parents they worked, my mom worked a lot. My dad was working or passed out, one or the other. We had a nanny. And I had two other brothers. So, I would just go to the backyard fence, and…

HS: And he would take advantage of you?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: And you didn’t know what was going on, you were a kid.

KAP: No, I looked forward to it. Because he would bring candy…or give me games…

HS: And what was he doing to you at five? I mean, that’s the sickest Goddamn thing ever. Touching your vagina?

KAP: Mmmmhmmm.

HS: No kidding.

KAP: And then he would have me touch his.

HS: Through the fence, no less.

KAP: Mmmhmm. And then, oh my gosh, once he cut his finger, and the nanny had come out right, right when…he had pulled his finger out his finger from the fence, and it was one of those metal fences with wood on the other side. And the nanny went and got him a band-aid, and didn’t realize that my panties were down.

RQ: Wow.

HS: What kind of people were watching you, wolves?

RQ: Blind people.

HS: Nobody cared about you.

RQ: Well, that’s what it would seem, I suppose.

KAP: No, I had great parents. My mom-

HS: No, you didn’t.

KAP: Yeah, I had a good mom.

HS: Really?

KAP: She’s amazing.

RQ: You said your dad might have been passed out, what do you mean?

HS: He’s a drunk.

KAP: Yeah, he was like a musician/drug-addict.

RQ: You didn’t have good parents. I’m gonna-

KAP: My mom was great, though.

HS: Still alive? Both parents?

KAP: Mmmhmm.

HS: Do you ever see your dad? Or do you have nothing to do with him?

KAP: No, I do. I have a relationship with him as I choose to. I go see him. He’s not a bad person, he just made poor choices.

“How long was that going on?” Stern would ask. “For two or three years,” Peniche would answer. Stern: “Two or three years. And you say you looked forward to it, as a kid, because you got candy.” Peniche: “Isn’t that sick, isn’t that weird? But I didn’t know better.” Stern: “The bad part in this whole story is, nobody ever offered me candy for any kind of sexual thing.”8 They would then move on to a decade later9:

HS: And then, terrible stories as you’re growing up. Rape occurred.

KAP: Mmmhmm.

HS: How did this happen to you?

KAP: I was raped when I was fourteen and again when I was seventeen.

HS: How as a fourteen year old? Because you mentioned you were a sexy, hot model, you were going overseas modeling. So, were any parents around, or were you just out of their supervision?

KAP: When I was raped at seventeen it actually happened overseas. And no, there weren’t parents…we would go over…you know, I was the youngest one, like the next youngest girl was nineteen, from Australia. And we would live in a models’ apartment for six to eight weeks.

HS: Right. And what happened when you were fourteen?

KAP: I was raped by college boys. I had snuck out of the house, and…like, I had unscrewed my alarm system, and superglued it together so I could go out the window.

HS: You went to go to a party, have parties with friends? What happens, you go to a party and they all jump on you?

KAP: Nah, I just got drunk. And, you know…put myself in a bad situation, basically.

HS: You were drunk, and they took advantage of you. Wow. How many guys?

KAP: Just one.

HS: Oh, one guy. You never reported him.

KAP: MmmMmm [No].

HS: Why do you think that is? Why not report the fucker?

KAP: Because I think uh…at fourteen I was also getting into trouble. I was getting caught smoking cigarettes, or ditching school, and so, if you try to, you feel if you say something like that time, you’re just coming up with an excuse. Nobody’s going to believe you, you know.

HS: Everybody’s going to think you’re just…

KAP: And then you have to admit that you snuck out.

HS: Right. So did you ever tell anyone, or just kept it to yourself?

KAP: I didn’t tell anybody until I was nineteen.

HS: Did you ever say anything to the guy afterwards, or did you-

KAP: Uh Uh [No].

HS: -you fuck, you raped me.

KAP: MmmMmm [No].

HS: What did you do, you just got up and left?

KAP: I really, I never saw him again. It was a college party I’d gone to.

HS: He passed out after he did it.

KAP: No, he actually dropped me off at my house.

RQ: Wow, that was nice. Nah, I’m only teasing.

HS: Well, it wasn’t all bad, I guess.

KAP: Yeah.

HS: Oh my god. Where does he rape you? At the party?

KAP: Mmmhmm.

HS: And then says, “Get in the car, I’ll take you home”?

KAP: No, I asked him to take me home.

HS: And isn’t that crazy, that you got into the car with him and it could have happened again?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: You weren’t thinking.

KAP: Yeah. I was fourteen and drunk.

HS: Jesus christ. Who knew this was going on when I had you in the tickle chair [a reference to her previous, first appearance on the show, when they had a prop chair which women sat in]?

KAP: But it’s okay. It doesn’t matter, really.

HS: I wouldn’t have tickled you.

KAP: Who cares? It doesn’t matter really.

HS: You keep saying that about the sex. It so matters.

KAP: Well, it doesn’t matter, really. Why would you let some sick fuck, basically, like, affect your future, your forever?

RQ: Don’t you think it has?

KAP: It has, yeah. And that’s what I learned in sex rehab. I used to think, it doesn’t bother me, like, it’s not going to affect me. And actually it did. A lot of ways about my personality, my relationship.

HS: Sure.

HS: When you were seventeen, and modeling, how does a guy get a hold of you like that? You have no parents around…were you at a modeling session when you were raped?

KAP: No, I was actually in Itaewon [district unit in Yongsan District of Seoul], in Korea. Itaewon is like the American area. It’s like, there’s a lot of military guys. It was by a military guy [a military guy raped me]. And again, I was…I don’t drink at all, anymore, so…

HS: No kidding. Stop.

RQ: It wasn’t good for you.

HS: You were drunk. Where did this guy meet you?

KAP: At one of the bars.

HS: And so he says, “Hey, come back to my place”?

KAP: No, all I remember is…I remember very little of it, in a hotel room. And then not being able to fully wake up…and then I woke up behind a dumpster when the sun was coming up, and I was covered like in shitwater and…

RQ: Do you think this was a roofies situation?

KAP: Absolutely.

HS: Somebody slipped you something?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: You don’t even remember being raped?

KAP: I barely remember any of it.

HS: You’re kindof hazy about it. And then you wake up behind the dumpster?

KAP: Mmmhmm.

HS: Wow. Boy, guys are cold.

KAP: Yeah.

HS: Phewww.

KAP: But I was a virgin by choice till eighteen (laughs).

HS: That’s the weird thing, right? Yeah. Tough stuff.

Peniche would go on to win Miss Teen Oregon, then Miss United States Teen, then pose for Playboy while Miss United States Teen, after which, “Playboy came along,” Stern summarized, “and you did Playboy, and then you got booted out of being Miss United States Teen.” Stern: “And then things went downhill…did you get addicted to drugs? What was your whole thing?” Peniche: “Sex and drugs.” Stern: “Sex and drugs. What drugs were you doing? Meth?” Peniche: “All of them.” Robin Quivers: “You didn’t have favorites? You just did them all?” Peniche: “No, I had favorites. I went through phases.”10

Another follow-up post to “Dane’s Anatomy”, this one by Foster Kamer, would hint as to how Peniche paid for her habits: “Who’s Calling McSteamy Trio Participant Kari Ann Peniche A Hooker?” What takes place on the tape is very mundane – the three in various states of undress talk on a bed, and the two women get together in a bath – with only two moments that might concern us here. The first, is right before Peniche gets into the tub with Gayheart, when Dane tells them they’re “two of the fucking hottest girls”, Gayheart then says, “I know, you’re so nice…I was so bummed when you said that, you know…” Peniche: “That what?” Gayheart: “We had to call one of your girls.” Peniche gives her charming laugh. Gayheart: “Remember what I said to you?” Peniche: “Yeah.” Gayheart: “And then you’re like, “We can pay you.”” Peniche: “No.” Gayheart: “I was like, “No, you. You’re normal, you’re funny, you’re smart, you’re nice, you’re fun.” She was like, “No, I don’t do it.”” Gayheart’s line, “We had to call one of your girls,” touched on the point that was the theme of “Nude video pal of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has madam past, claim sources”, whose contents were summarized in “Who’s Calling McSteamy Trio Participant Kari Ann Peniche A Hooker?”, and this was the original essence:

Three on-the-record sources tell us the dethroned Miss United States Teen queen freely admitted to once being in the sex-for-hire business.

Country singer Mindy McCready tells us Peniche revealed that she hooked up guys with hookers when the two ladies were roommates on VH-1’s “Celebrity Rehab” show.

“Did she say she’d been a madam?” says McCready. “She sure did.”

Bodyguard Joey Gonzalez recalls, “Kari Ann wanted to hire me to follow a girl who worked for her – who she said was skimming money and stealing clients. I declined. But she bragged about how her girls could make $15,000 a month. She introduced me to one girl who told me she’d just gotten a boob job Kari Ann had paid for.”

Author Mark Ebner says Peniche told him she used to “subcontract” for big-time madam Michelle (Nici) Braun, who pleaded guilty this year to money laundering and prostitution.

“Kari Ann said that, unlike Nici, she’d only take 40% of what a girl brought in,” recalls Ebner, adding that Peniche admitted having turned tricks herself. (Another source says Peniche once joked, “I’ve gone from labor to management.”)

An obvious question would be how exactly this sex tape had ended up at Gawker. We know of one part of the route: journalist Mark Ebner (who gets a shared by-line with Gabriel Snyder on the original piece featuring the video, “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker”) brought the video to Gawker, something openly stated in “Nude video pal”: “Ebner says he was present on July 30 at an L.A. Starbucks when an unnamed informant gave LAPD vice cops the Dane-Gayheart-Peniche tape. “The police said they already had Kari Ann under surveillance,” says Ebner, who admits bestowing the tape on Gawker.com, which first invited us to the frolic.”

Kari Ann Peniche would be allowed to give her most in-depth explanation of how the tape ended up with this unnamed informant on, where else, Howard Stern11. It was an intricate tale that involved Mindy McCready, a country singer who had long term addiction issues and was on Celebrity Rehab alongside Peniche:

HS: I’ll get into the whole night. According to what I’m reading…the claim is, you lived with a girl, she was your roommate for a couple of years. Somebody got into your personal computer-

KAP: Oh, Mindy McCready from Celebrity Rehab?

HS: From Celebrity Rehab?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: You lived with Mindy?

KAP: No, I never lived with her. After Celebrity Rehab, she had called me, and said, “I don’t want to be alone in my hotel.” And I said, come on over to my house, like, she’d invite me over to her house. Or her hotel. I was like, “I have six bedroom house. I’ll take you to the airport in two days.” She was supposed to stay for two days, because that’s when her flight was. Well, she ended up staying three weeks. Like, taking over my bedroom…like, I slept in the bunkbeds of my own house. Like, in my guest room. I was like, she’s taking over my room. And at first it was fun, like we cooked, we were going to go to Nashville, be country singers together, and then all of a sudden when I got the offer for Sober House, and she didn’t, she got really, really nasty with me. We were driving home from dinner one night, and she grabbed the steering wheel while I was driving, screaming at me, telling me how my career’s a joke, and Dr. Drew has asked her to help me. And I was like, what are you talking about?

KAP [continued]: And anyhow, when I left for Sober House, I said, “Mindy, when I leave, I need you to leave as well, because I’m having a housesitter here, and I want to blame her if anything happens in the house, you know.” Because I have a dog there, too. And she goes, “I’m not going anywhere.” And so then, I got to set, and asked the other producers and Drew to get her out of the house, and they were like, “Just call the cops.” So, I called the cops, but then when the cops were calling me, I’m at Sober House, I’m not even at my house, and Dr. Drew wouldn’t let me answer my phone. And I’m like, “It’s them.” And they’re like, “We’re filming right now.” So, anyhow, Mindy had told the police that, I guess, she was on the lease. So, they left. And, you know.

HS: Couldn’t get her out of your house. Now, you blame her, for taking out of your computer, the video…

KAP: She stole my external hard drives.

HS: Alright. So, in other words, this video, which I want to ask you about…with you, Rebecca Gayheart, and the other one…

RQ: Eric Dane.

HS: Eric Dane. That video was living in your computer. You think she took it out of there, released it on the internet…

KAP: Oh, I already know. I have the text messages from her, and everything. She was extorting me, basically. She wanted a certain amount of money from me, if I wanted my hard drives back.

HS: Now, everybody in the video thought you were a prostitute, working for Rebecca and Eric, right?

KAP: Right.

HS: Because at one point, they see him on the phone with his credit card?

KAP: No, that was me on the phone with my credit card.

HS: Right. And checking his credit card.

KAP: No, (laughs) if you actually watch the video – I’ve only watched it twice – but, you know, I had an assistant who used to videotape me doing everything, and I was actually buying a plane ticket to go to Hawaii. You see the suitcases on the edge of my bed too. And it was a completely different day, you could totally see it. And I was reading it to the airline people.

RQ: So they matched up those two pieces of video?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: So, in other words, you’re saying, you’re not a prostitute…

KAP: No (laughs).

HS: …you’ve never been a prostitute…

KAP: No.

HS: You weren’t charging people for sex?

KAP: No.

HS: And so, when you were with Eric and Rebecca, it was a friendly thing.

KAP: Yeah. We were at a party, and, like, we just wanted to continue the party. And then we came back to my condo.

HS: You’ve only watched it two times?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: I’ve watched it four thousand times.

The relevant details of Peniche’s version are that McCready had gotten the sex tape when she’d stolen Peniche’s hard drives, she had never charged anyone for sex, and she hadn’t charged anyone that night. There is one point she makes here, that is not under dispute, and it’s the second point of interest of this sex tape: the video consists entirely of footage with Peniche, Dane, and Gayheart, when abruptly we shift to an entirely different moment. Where the footage with Dane and Gayheart in the bed has candles lit on a side table, this brief scene features no candles or inside lights on, which suggests it’s taking place during the day. Peniche is lying on the bed, topless, reading someone’s credit card numbers into the phone while somone films her, and an open suitcase is on the bed. Dane and Gayheart are neither seen nor heard here, again suggesting that this is shot at an entirely different time. The footage seems to serve no purpose at all – Peniche is topless in the other parts of the video as well – except to serve as possible proof that Peniche is paid for her services.

In the bedroom.

A post shared by Goto Tengo (@gototengo) on

Gawker sex tape table night and day split screen - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/AdmirableDeadlyGoldenmantledgroundsquirrel

A split screen of the isolated fragments with the bedside table, one section showing a lit candle during the night when Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart were there, and another without light from the table, during the day when Kara Ann Peniche was reading someone’s credit card information over the phone.

Later in the Stern interview, McCready’s version of events would be brought up12:

HS: Now, the girl who…Mindy McCready…the one who you feel went in and got your hard drive. And released it, so you’re accusing her of that. She says about you, listen to this, this is what she says about you. “Kari Ann is the one that stole my hard drive, and copied it to two mini drives. She also stole money from me. I think she probably wanted to sell my music. I was the one trying to keep Kari Ann out of trouble, steering her away from drugs during the taping of the show.”

KAP: (laughs)

HS: But you’re saying, she was the-

KAP: We came home and did drugs the second we walked in the door, from her hotel. She was like, “I have to lose this weight. Give me those drugs that we were on celebrity rehab for.” I relapsed with, because of her. Not because of her, but she definitely influenced me, and, from after rehab…and then, um…why would I…she was in my house! How would I steal money from her? She’s a guest in my home.

RQ: How does anybody know how to get these download to mini drives…

KAP: No, they were just external hard drives sitting on my desk. You know, when I left for Sober House, I didn’t think someone was going to steal them off my desk, you know, in my house.

McCready and Peniche in happier times

McCready and Peniche goofing around in happier times; image taken from “Kari Ann Peniche Part 2: ‘I Know’ Mindy Released The McSteamy Nude Tape”.

Lee Ann Peniche, Kari’s mother, would back the version of events where McCready was staying at Peniche’s house and had to be forced out, in “EXCLUSIVE: Mindy McCready Wouldn’t Leave My Daughter’s House Says Kari Ann’s Mom”:

“Kari opened up doors and welcomed her when she had no place to stay and that’s a typical Kari Ann,” Lee Ann said. “The only thing I knew about Mindy McCready was that there was a problem and that she’s had to have her removed from her house.”

Lee Ann also revealed that McCready did not pay rent and “was only supposed to stay a few days but weeks went by and [Kari Ann] couldn’t get [McCready] out of her house.” Visiting her daughter last week, Lee Ann was already well aware of some tension: “I knew something was up when I was down there. As much as I knew she had some problems, not this, but problems with Mindy McCready, getting her out of her house.”

Over the course of two Access Hollywood segments, Mindy McCready would give her own perspective of what took place, one crosscut with a Kari Ann Peniche interview that provided her narrative. The first segment, “Kari Ann Peniche Part 1: ‘I’ve Never Been A Prostitute,’ Mindy McCready Is ‘Insane'”:

SHAUN ROBINSON, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD HOST[SR]: Did she tell you that she was a madam?

MINDY MCCREADY [MM]: Yes.

SR: She did?

MM: Absolutely.

SR: Did she tell you that she was a prostitute?

MM: Yes she did.

SR: Did she tell you that there were celebrities that she employed to work for her?

MM: Yes she did.

SR: Are you now, or have you ever been, a madam?

KARI ANN PENICHE [KAP]: I’ve never been a madam. I’ve never been a prostitute. Mindy is the craziest person I’ve ever met in my life, like, she’s insane.

SR (Voiceover): From the mouth of Kari Ann herself, the twenty five year old made infamous after appearing as a third player in the naked Rebecca Gayheart-Eric Dane video, maintains that the married couple were not her clients in a prostitution ring, as Mindy McCready alleged to me.

SR: Who did she say were her celebrity clients?

MM: She talked about Eric Dane. And his wife Rebecca. So um-

SR: She said both Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart were clients of hers?

MM: Absolutely.

KAP: It’s almost funny…I don’t know where she gets this shit.

SR: So, she, Mindy McCready is lying?

KAP: Flat out lying. Okay, flat out lying. She stole my hard drive.

SR: You think Mindy actually put it on the internet?

McCready and Peniche confrontation

Image taken from “Kari Ann Peniche Part 1: ‘I’ve Never Been A Prostitute,’ Mindy McCready Is ‘Insane'”.

This hanging question would receive an answer in the second segment, “Kari Ann Peniche Part 2: ‘I Know’ Mindy Released The McSteamy Nude Tape”:

KAP: I know Mindy, for a fact, is the reason that’s out on the internet.

SR (Voiceover): Keri Ann alleges Mindy McCready stole the video from her computer and brokered a deal for it to be released. According to Keri Ann, the theft occurred inside her home, where Mindy was a guest after VH-1’s Celebrity Rehab, Mindy denies the allegations but still claims that Keri Ann told her she was a prostitute.

SR: To say somebody a prostitute is libelous.

KAP: Yeah.

SR: If you say that about somebody, you’re in jeopardy of being sued.

KAP: Yes.

SR: But nobody’s suing Mindy for saying these things, these libelous, horrible things. Why? Why is that not happening?

KAP: I have absolutely no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know.

SR: But that’s one way to shut her up.

KAP: I might look into that. I’m just, uh, not really into that. What am I going to save?

SR: Your reputation?

KAP: Yeah okay, how does that fix my reputation?

SR: Because if she’s proven to be a liar, doesn’t that vindicate you?

KAP: Yeah, I guess…I just think the truth is the truth, karma is good enough. You know, if it continues, maybe I’ll have to do something about that.

Kari Ann Peniche on Access Hollywood

Image taken from “Kari Ann Peniche Part 1: ‘I’ve Never Been A Prostitute,’ Mindy McCready Is ‘Insane'”.

In a third Access Hollywood segment, “Did Mindy McCready Poison Kari Ann Peniche’s Puppy With Crystal Meth?”, Peniche would accuse McCready of poisoning her dog with crystal meth, allegations which McCready would deny: “That’s insanity. That could not be further from the truth. I’ve never used crystal meth in my life. This is just another out and out lie.”13 McCready would in turn allege that Peniche had poisoned her dog herself in order to gain sympathy from the producers of Celebrity Rehab, a program from which she would eventually be kicked off due to misbehavior. Stacy Kaiser, a body language expert amd author of How to be a Grown-Up: Ten Secret Skills Everyone Should Know, would be brought in at the end of the third segment to analyze the two women:

What I’m seeing over and over in this interview [Kari Ann’s] is that this is a person who is protecting herself. Her body language is tight, her shoulders are slightly raised, she’s nervous, she’s licking her lips. This is someone who’s uncomfortable with the conversation, and could be avoiding the truth. One of the things I notice when Mindy speaks, in contrast to Keri Ann, is that Mindy is calm and cool and relaxed. And that is very common in a person who is relaxed. You don’t have anything to be nervous about. In addition, I’ve noticed, under some of the more uncomfortable questioning, Mindy is getting reserved, as if she is uncomfortable to share that information, as if she’s revealing too much about someone.

In an interview conducted by Gayle Thompson a year after these tumultuous events, “Mindy McCready ‘Still Here’ After Weathering Scandalous Storms”, McCready would reiterate her version of events:

Your ‘Celebrity Rehab’ roommate, Kari Ann Peniche, blamed you for leaking her provocative homemade video with Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart. What’s your response to that accusation?

She is an extremely disturbed and very sick individual. The thing that she craves the most — to be famous, is also the worst thing for her, because she is such a sick person. I do want people to understand what happened in that situation is not at all the story that she’s told, and everything that comes out of her mouth is complete and utter bull. I did nothing to her but try to help her, and all she did was steal from me and lie and try to use every situation she possibly could to be more famous and get more attention … I hope that she does get help, and I hope that she does get better.

Do you want to tell us your side of the story?

Kari Ann had copied my computer on her hard drive. She stole all my information. Not only did she steal every bit of my new record coming out, my phone, my bank account information … she also stole thousands of dollars from me. When I took those hard drives, I took them because my stuff was all over them. Never in a million years was I going to leave my entire life from my computer and everything personal to me at her house on those hard drives. I didn’t even know what else was on there.

I went back to Florida and got a phone call a few days later from Eric Dane saying, “I understand you have a video that belongs to me,” and I said, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” I didn’t know it was on there. He said, “How can we work this situation out?” I said, “I have no problem giving you whatever you want. You can have the hard drives back. I just want to get my information erased off of them.”

Of course, you can never really erase anything. So I sent my computer person the hard drive and went to Eric Dane’s lawyer’s office. What they did was take the information that belonged to Eric and put it on his hard drive. They took Kari Ann’s information on a separate hard drive. Those two hard drives that had information of mine were destroyed. We all signed the confidentiality agreement that said none of us would talk about what was on there, none of us had any other copies of it. Except, the day that Kari Ann was supposed to sign the agreement, she didn’t show up. And the next day the video was on Gawker.com. And to this day, she still has not signed the confidentiality agreement. Eric Dane and I both know very much beyond any shadow of a doubt that I didn’t have anything to do with that.

If I were to try to dissect the truth of both narratives, my opinion would be that both women were lying, but about different things. Whether or not Kari Ann Peniche was working the night recorded in the tape with Dane and Gayheart, she had worked as an escort and she did work as a madam, and this forms what is the most fascinating part of the story. For proof that Peniche worked as an escort and madam, we have the various confirming statements in the Rush & Malloy piece, as well as Gayheart’s quotes on the tape. But it was McCready who took the drive with the tape on it, and she was instrumental in getting it to the police. McCready’s account in the Thompson interview makes no sense to me: she apparently was at Peniche’s house, had access to drives on which Peniche had copied her personal information, and her course of action was to take these drives out of the house. She did not call a technical person to the house to erase the drives there, nor did she check Peniche’s own laptop or take that – even though copies of the same personal information might have been stored there as well.

The statement quoted by Howard Stern offers a further entanglement: “Kari Ann is the one that stole my hard drive, and copied it to two mini drives.” Peniche stole McCready’s hard drive, presumably while she was staying at Peniche’s house, copied the valuable material to two mini drives while Peniche was still staying at her house, after which Peniche left for Sober House, and while alone in the house, McCready discoverd the data theft, after whcih she left the house and took the mini drives with her. I go with what seems like a far simpler explanation than this, that McCready was kicked out of Peniche’s house, McCready took Peniche’s mini-drives with the sex tape, and made sure they got passed to law enforcement. Everything that Peniche says about her friendship with McCready in the Howard Stern interview rings true for me; I do not doubt that they became quite close and Peniche told McCready about her secret life, about working as an escort. McCready leaked the sex tape not just to humiliate Peniche with footage of her naked, but over the secret that she was a prostitute. This is why you have the abrupt scene of Peniche topless on her bed reading someone’s credit card numbers into the phone, to establish clearly to the outside world what Peniche’s line of work is. Peniche’s explanation for this moment on the Stern show, “I had an assistant who used to videotape me doing everything, and I was actually buying a plane ticket to go to Hawaii. You see the suitcases on the edge of my bed too. And it was a completely different day, you could totally see it,” rings slightly false to me. You see the suitcases, yes, and yes, it looks like a completely different day, but it doesn’t feel like the camera holder is a personal assistant, but a man she is comfortable and physically intimate with, someone who she has no problem filming her topless on her bed.

McCready would begin her career with an extraordinary burst of success, her debut album Ten Thousand Angels selling two million copies, and “Guys Do It All the Time” a #1 Country single. This first album was the peak of her career, with her second record selling half as much, and her third a commercial failure. In 2005, her ex-boyfriend, another country singer, would be charged with trying to choke her to death. “With her eyes still showing injury, McCready testified in horrifying detail the beatings she says she received Sunday morning at the hands of this man, 38-year-old William Patrick McKnight,” was the clip that played on her interview with Larry King (“Interview With Mindy McCready”). “So you tried to commit suicide by doing what?” was one question (anwer: “I took a bunch of pills and drank a bottle of wine and went to sleep.”) Other questions: “And when did you attempt the second suicide?” and “You were how long pregnant then?” (answer #1: beginning of September, answer #2: a month and a half). Larry King: “Do you ever look in the mirror and say “I’m a train wreck”?” Mindy McCready: “Yes, yes I do, yes, all the time. I have got to be more careful about everything I do.” McCready would get arrested for an illegal OxyContin prescription in 2004, a DUI in 2005, and by 2007, the headline was “Mindy Mccready arrested again”: “She was arrested last week in Fort Myers when she scratched up her mom’s face and then resisted [arrest], leading to three violations: being charged with a new offense, not reporting those charges to her officer and assaulting someone.” She would admit to an affair with baseball player Roger Clemens that started when she was fifteen14, and it was after all this that she met Kari Ann Peniche and they were on Celebrity Rehab together. She would go on to overdose again in 2010, the same year in which her own sex tape, one called Baseball Mistress which capitalized on her affair with Clemens, would be released by Vivid Entertainment. The next year she would abduct her son with Billy McKnight, after which both McCready and her child were declared missing persons and a nationwide search was launched, the two eventually found hiding in a closet. Two years later, her record producer boyfriend, David Wilson, would kill himself with a gunshot to the head. A month later, February 17, McCready killed herself with a gunshot to the head as well15.

Those who believe that this post considers Kari Ann Peniche more truthful than Mindy McCready on some details out of arbitrary bias should consider some of McCready’s accounts of well-publicized incidents which appear to be very much at variance with actual established facts. There is, for instance, her charge of prescription drug fraud, for which she pleaded guilty16, and which she explained on Larry King Live this way:

KING: So you were addicted to prescription drugs?

MCCREADY: No, I was not buying that medication for myself. That’s why it’s prescription fraud. I was buying it for my doctor.

KING: Explain that.

MCCREADY: The doctor that wrote me the prescription I was buying the medication for my doctor and had been for several years. I mean I didn’t always buy him a pain…

KING: This was the doctor who gave various patients prescriptions for them so that he…

MCCREADY: Yes, he saw my band. He saw my parents. He saw my family, you know, Josh and T.J. my brothers on a regular basis and he would call me and say, you know, “Can you get me some cough medicine? Can I write you the prescription and you go get it for me” and I would.

KING: What happened to him?

MCCREADY: I don’t know. I don’t think anything. I think he lost his…

KING: He’s never been charged?

MCCREADY: No, I think he lost his license.

KING: When you were arrested did you tell them that you were filing this for a doctor?

MCCREADY: Absolutely, yes. I told them the whole thing. It never came out[,] unfortunately for me.

In 2005, McCready would be charged with identity theft and hindering prosecution because of her involvement with a con artist named Jonathan Roda. Supposedly, Roda would openly brag about his con schemes to McCready. Shortly after these charges, McCready would make one of her suicide attempts17. She would give this version of events on Larry King Live:

KING: And you were also this year charged in Arizona with identity theft, unlawful use of transportation and hindering prosecution, what was that?

MCCREADY: Those were all false charges. I never did any of that. I was never involved in any of that. I met a con artist earlier this year and this con artist was gallivanting all around the country pretending to be someone else and I met up with him and traveled with him for over a week.

I was going to Los Angeles and he was — he had a tour bus. He misrepresented himself that he was a record label owner and just unbelievable con artist. The guy spoke five languages. He was amazing.

KING: Where is he now?

MCCREADY: I hope in jail.

After McCready kidnapped her son and both went missing for two days, authorities would report to the press that they found both hiding in a closet at home she shared with her then boyfriend, David Wilson. From “Mindy McCready’s son found in Arkansas”:

Country music singer Mindy McCready was hiding in the closet with her son when authorities took the 5-year-old boy into custody in Arkansas, officials said early Saturday.

Authorities found Zander McCready and his mother in a home in Heber Springs, Arkansas, according to David Rahbany, the chief deputy U.S. Marshal in eastern Arkansas.

“The child appeared to be in good condition when we found him … he was in the closet with his mother,” Rahbany said.

Local sheriffs and marshals had placed the home — believed to belong to the singer’s boyfriend — under surveillance for hours before they found the boy late Friday, he said.

McCready would deny this basic fact, that she was found hiding in a closet in an interview for ABC’s “20/20” (on Youtube, “Mindy McCready Tells Her Story”, excerpt runs from 2:36 to 2:56):

ANDREA CANNING (V.O.): The U.S. marshals tell 20/20 McCready was hiding in a closet with Zander [her son] in a neighboring house. McCready tells a different story.

CANNING: Were you hiding out in a closet, like everyone has said?

MCCREADY: No.

CANNING: Where were you?

MCCREADY: We were sitting on a couch.

CANNING: Where did this come from that you were hiding in the closet?

MCCREADY: I think that…it just makes a better story.

In the days before her last suicide attempt, McCready would tell a close friend, “[The] point of me living is waiting to die so I can be with him,” a reference to David Wilson, the boyfriend who killed himself just two months earlier. A part of this audio of a phone call to a close friend was handed over by this close friend to Radar Online. This friend was Danno Hanks18, and Danno Hanks was a private detective. Hanks, along with his late partner Fred “Mad Dog” Valis, were two fascinating characters who somehow remained on the fringes of the press, while far more banal types took up space. They had worked decades doing paid undercover and surveillance work, for mundane workers compensation cases where they’d check in to see if an employee was actually sick or injured, as well as paid work for the DEA and tabloids. Their long career was written up in “Watching the Detectives” by Paul Cullum, and their involvement in the bust of Ron Sacco, who ran a billion dollar a year off-shore gambling operation, got them a prominent appearance on 60 Minutes, which can be found on Youtube under “Fred Valis & Danno Hanks On 60 Minutes”. Hanks had also been involved with the federal investigation of another prostitution ring, that of bygone Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. Hanks had been paid by Fleiss’s competition, pimp Ivan Nagy, to tape her phone calls in order to acquire her client list. Hanks would play the tapes for the producer of Hard Copy who had him on retainer, as well as Shawn Hubler, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times; the phone calls were especially noteworthy for the top name Hollywood people among the clients. “That whole story was filled with this whole Hollywood demimonde that trades in gossip, intrigue and information gathering,” said Hubler. “This league of rogues They were just two in a cast of hundreds of people who lived in that gray area.” Hanks would end up selling the tapes to Fleiss, and after her bodyguard threatened him, he would hand them over to the FBI as well19.

There was another profile of Hanks and Valis, also headlined “Watching the Detectives”, and this one was by Mark Ebner, an excellent old school shoe leather reporter, and the man who provided the Rebecca Gayheart sex tape to Gawker. The piece would discuss how the detectives helped Ebner out in dealing with a stalker. It would also go into deeper, grittier detail than Callum’s “Detectives” when exploring the careers of Hanks and Valis; how Hanks scaled a telephone poll to install the recorder that would tape Fleiss’s phone calls and how they got booked to record a sex tape with O.J. Simpson. In the account given here of the Fleiss tapes, however, they never hand them over to the FBI, only to Ebner and his then writing partner, Andrew Breitbart:

When the Feds turned Hanks’ apartment upside down on a mistaken identity drug-search, comically, they missed the Heidi tapes. They were sitting in full view on his bookshelf the whole time – secreted in the video box from the 1937 Shirley Temple classic, Heidi. And, in August 2003 – right when the statute of limitations had expired on his wiretap crime – Danno turned the tapes and transcripts over to me and my partner Andrew Breitbart, for inclusion in our tell-all best-seller, Hollywood, Interrupted. Verbatim, we published a sampling of septuagenarian sybarite Evans [producer and former Paramount head Robert Evans] arranging liaisons with an underage girl he affectionately called “the little one.” Heidi was not happy.

The book by Breitbart and Ebner which dealt with Heidi Fleiss, alongside many other episodes of Hollywood tawdriness, was Hollywood Interrupted. This blog had previously written on this book in a profile of its co-author, Andrew Breitbart, and it had many nasty things to say about the book, Breitbart, and maybe Ebner as well20. A few relevant excerpts from Interrupted featuring Fleiss’s recordings, of Fleiss and mogul Robert Evans:

In August 2003, private eye Dan Hanks of Backstreet Detectives [the detective agency of Hanks and Valis] gave us the transcripts and tapes. And he did it for free. Though burglars and police turned Hanks’ home upside down in their futile attempts to find the tapes, Hollywood, Interrupted got hold of them the old-fashioned way. We asked for them. The tapes, recorded over the soundtrack portion of two videotapes, had been sitting on Hanks’ living room bookshelf with his movie collection all along. In full view, the video box containing the tapes was from the 1937 Shirley Temple classic, Heidi…

Evans: “What did that little girl think of me? Did she like me?”
Heidi: “How could she not like you?”
Evans: “No, no. I’m curious.”

Heidi: “The first thousand dollars she made I think is the first thousand dollars she’s ever seen in her life.”
Evans: “I knew it. And she’s a good girl basically. I don’t think she could—I can be so wrong and naive, but I don’t [think] she wants to be a full-time hooker.”

Evans: “Here’s a 17-year-old vagrant who’s a fairly attractive girl, who could be very attractive . . . because she has presence and she’s not afraid. And she’s attractive in an interesting way, and she’s sort of sensual too, by the way. That’s a good combination. But she has to be able to open her mouth.”

On an episode of Crime Time, hosted by another solid journalist, Allison Hope Weiner, Ebner would bring up the fact that he worked as a private investigator under another detective’s license (presumably that of Hanks), that he sometimes worked for the Backstreet Investigations agency in collaboration with Hanks, and the modus operandi of detectives – all part of a discussion of another fascinating case, that of the shooting of Kameron Segal (which would be talked about more fully in another episode of Crime Time, “Ponzi Scheme Ensnared Hollywood Shooting Victim Kameron Segal”). From the Crime Time episode “Scientology Secrets, Bill Cosby Rape Conspiracy + Hollywood Murder” 21:

As you may or may not know, during my downtime, as a result of writing crime stories, I got myself godfathered into private investigative work. And I work under a guy’s license, Backstreet Investigations, my buddy Danno Hanks, and I found a little side industry to do during my downtime in-between writing projects. Well. I was introduced to Kameron Segal about two years ago. And I became his in-house P.I.

Two days later, I was sitting with my wife having dinner, I get a call from Danno. “Hey,” [Danno says] “weren’t we at this office, about two days ago, collecting money?” I was like, “What office?” And he said, “Sunset and Gardner. The guy in the rolls royce. Helicopters.” I said, “Danno, come pick me up.” He came, picked me up, we went to the crime scene. Now, in respect to Danno’s P.I. license, anytime we’re aware of a crime, it’s like being a journalist. It’s a license to be a rat. In other words, we took our files, on the guys that owed him money, gave them right to the cops. Said, detectives: this is where this is coming from.

One might focus first on what Ebner says here: “Now, in respect to Danno’s P.I. license,” Mark Ebner says in reference to the separate case of Kameron Segal, “anytime we’re aware of a crime, it’s like being a journalist. It’s a license to be a rat.” After which, Ebner and Hanks then gathered the documents they had, and handed them over to the police. Now I return again to “Nude video pal of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has alleged madam past”, and this sentence with my bolds: “Ebner says he was present on July 30 at an L.A. Starbucks when an unnamed informant gave LAPD vice cops the Dane-Gayheart-Peniche tape.” Fred Valis, as Ebner’s “Watching the Detectives” tells us, died in 2005. Who could this unnamed informant be? Someone who perhaps knew both Mindy McCready and Mark Ebner, who had done past work in breaking a prostitution ring, who worked several sides at once, and had in the past leaked taped evidence to tabloids? My guess, plausible, I think, given all that has just been shared with you, is: Danno Hanks.

All this, however, was far less interesting than what Kari Ann Peniche may have been part of. “Author Mark Ebner says Peniche told him she used to “subcontract” for big-time madam Michelle (Nici) Braun,” wrote Rush & Malloy in “Nude video pal of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has madam past, claim sources”, “who pleaded guilty this year to money laundering and prostitution.” A post made after #TheFappening by a Gawker commenter aliased “Magister”, “Recapping McSteamy v. Gawker from 2009”, was Gawker Media’s sole look back on the Dane-Gayheart-Peniche sex tape episode, one which would give none of Peniche’s perspective and only McCready’s voice, with the overriding implication that Peniche leaked the tape for publicity. Mark Ebner would comment there: “[B]elieve me, that video would never have been proffered to Gawker without me being sure that it had been bagged and tagged as evidence in an investigation by the LAPD vice squad.”22 This investigation, no doubt, was not just one looking into Peniche’s sex work activities, but that of the woman she used to work for, Michelle Braun. Who was Braun? Well, in “Charlie Sheen’s War” by Mark Seal, about the actor and well-known client of Heidi Fleiss’s services, this is her introduction: “I called Michelle Braun, the former Hollywood madam who became Fleiss’s chief successor on the strength of landing Sheen as her first client. She said Sheen had contacted her three months after Fleiss’s sentencing, in 1997.” “I show up with three girls,” is Braun’s opening line, “and he’s in this amazing condo…laid out on the floor in silk pajamas embroidered C. MA SHEEN on the pocket with some girl sitting on his face.” For a solid decade after, Braun ran a legendary escort service, before it was finally taken down by the FBI in 2007. Rush & Malloy’s “Hollywood madam Michelle Braun cozies up to federal agents” would tell their readers about one person who’d been very helpful to the Bureau in their investigation of Braun’s escort ring, a name unsurprising to anyone who’s read this post so far: “Investigators obtained evidence from private investigator Dan Hanks, who got to know Braun while working for “Fox Undercover.” “Michelle would ask me to do background checks on potential clients and girls, which I did in order to find out more about her,” Hanks tells us.”

Braun’s escort ring was, as said, legendary, eclipsing that of her infamous predecessor. Mark Ebner, in “Hollywood madam Michelle Braun cozies”, would say, “The things she knows make Heidi Fleiss look like Mary Poppins.” Braun was “planning to write a tell-all about her 11-year career hooking up centerfolds and porn stars with the men who could afford the $10,000 minimum for a date,” threatened Page Six23, but that book was never published, if it was even ever written. Whatever secrets Braun held appeared to be radioactive; no one touched the story of Michelle Braun. Even TMZ, the famously sleazy and well conntected gossip site which had the financial backing of colossus Time Warner24, only ponied up one Michelle Braun related story, “Madam: Two Alleged Tiger Mistresses Are Escorts”. “According to multiple sources, the only coverage TMZ steered clear of was anyone, like Ellen DeGeneres, involved in Telepictures productions,” reported the definitive history of the site, Anne Helen Petersen’s “The Down And Dirty History Of TMZ”, “other Time Warner properties were, however, fair game.” Whether the executives and properties of Time Warner fell within or without the bounds of fair game territory is an unanswered question, and along with all other questions related to Braun, one which the Hollywood and entertainment press had no interest in.

In the series “E! Hollywood Secret Societies”, focusing on the hidden prvileged worlds of the holy niche of Tinseltown famous, one episode was devoted to the subject of secret clubs accessible only to the elect, detailed with a few choice memorable and picturesque images, which conveyed well the idea of a hidden decadent world just out of plain sight25:

The Sayers Club, you actually go through a, what used to be a hot dog stand, it’s an indiscriminate front entrance, no signs, and you’re either in, or you’re out. There’s no line. There is a club in Hollywood Boulevard, where they open three different doors, and only one door actually opens, once you get inside, the girl on the bed asks you a question, and if you answer it right, a hydraulic system pulls pulls the bed away, with the girl on it, and it reveals a stairs that takes you down into the bar. So elitist, you don’t even do a red rope. You don’t even know where it is.

Michelle Braun and her ring, for a few years, were very much part of that hidden decadent world. One of the few to pierce its veil was the very good reporter Vanessa Grigoriadis, who profiled Braun in “The Sex Queen of L.A.”, which revealed why Braun’s prostitute ring was such an astonishing thing. Her stable of girls didn’t resemble, or were carved into resembling, fashion models, Playboy cover girls, actresses, and other coveted women – they were top models, centerfolds, actresses…the coveted women themselves. Playboy had its tentacles in beauty pageants throughout the country, according to Miss USA 2004, Shandi Finnessey, and Michelle Braun had her tentacles in Playboy, according to Braun. “I only worked with famous girls, mostly Playmates,” said the former madam. “At one time, seven of the eight girls living in the Mansion were working for me. I had one of [Hugh Hefner’s] girlfriends in the Mansion just to recruit for me.”26

Michelle “Nici” Braun grew up middle class in Bakersfield, California, the daughter of parents who owned a Baskin-Robbins franchise, but Braun had no plans to hang out in her small town for long. “I wasn’t going to stay in Bakersfield,” she made clear. “No way.” She was a popular, confident girl who knew how to build a computer on her own but also won hundreds of dollars in a wet t-shirt contest. Her way out of Bakersfield didn’t come through San Diego State University, where she dropped out, but through her work at the Century Club, where she’d pick out the pretty girls at the velvet rope, and seat them with the big spenders inside. “We’re really busy tonight,” she’d tell the couples trying to make it inside, “I don’t know if we have room for all of you, but the girls can come in.” After one man inside tipped her over eight thousand dollars to be set up with one of Braun’s girlfriends, she figured out quickly how you could make a lot of money quickly in Los Angeles27.

Her ring would end up consisting of over seventy girls, including at various times, 1999 Playboy Playmate Tishara Cousino, WWE wrestler Ashley Massaro, 2002 Playmate Tina Jordan, porn star Krystal Steal, 2003 Penthouse Pet Lanny Barby, porn star McKenzie Lee, Playboy model Patricia Ford, Maxim model Jody Palmer, porn star Angelique, porn star Taryn Thomas, porn star Victoria Paris, porn star Naomi, and Playmates Christi Shake, Alexandra Karlsen, and Victoria Silverstedt28. Anna David, another solid journalist, and the only one along with Mark Ebner and Vanessa Grigoriadis to really investigate this milieu, would provide the following revelation of another of Braun’s escorts in “My Time With Less-Than-Hip Hookers”, where she discusses the laptop contents of an unnamed associate (though those with some familiarity with the surrounding characters will figure it out easily) of a “well-established madam who’s since been busted” AKA Braun, I bold the relevant part:

Another bit of data that sent me reeling came about because I ended up getting a hold of a disc that contained the contents of a laptop which belonged to a pimp who’s now serving time in a Cuban jail. This disc contained many juicy elements, including IM conversations between the incarcerated guy and a well-established madam who’s since been busted and lists of clients and girl. While I expected to see Charlie Sheen and his ilk on there, instead I was privy to names I was unfamiliar with but which were all highly Google-able: the biggest car dealer in a Midwestern city, for example, and successful attorneys and bankers from across the country. Still, the most interesting piece of information was a list of his girls — for smack in the middle of the porn stars, Penthouse Pets and Playmates was the name of an actress who still works regularly and whose romantic travails are considered relevant enough to be covered in the tabloids. [for context, this piece was published in 2010] If she was willing to delve into such side work, I could only imagine how much the Cuban jail dwelling guy had been able to get [for] her.

That this was a world without clean borders, that it was not the muck in the pool of a shabby hotel, but flowed in the currents of the tippity top of the wealthy and famous is there in another anecdote from David’s “Less-Than-Hip Hookers”:

A guy who called himself a photographer but had served time for pandering (and was well-known in the community for supplying Hollywood’s highest rollers with women) [again, for context, this piece was published in 2010] invited me over to see the many portraits he had taken of one of the world’s most beautiful women, a multi-Academy Award nominated actress, when she was just starting out.

“Okay,” I said. “But what does this prove? And how do I even know you took them?”

He shrugged. Then I noticed, among his photos, an old issue of a now-defunct women’s magazine, this beauty on its cover. I turned the page and saw that he had the photo credit.

“How did this come about?” I asked, knowing that I knew there was no way he’d ever been established enough to have been handed such a high-profile assignment. “Did she request you for the shoot in exchange for you keeping quiet about her previous career? Was it a pre-condition for her appearing in the magazine?” He only shrugged again and I finally understood that the shrug wasn’t a proclamation that he was telling the truth but an indication that he would let the photos do the talking.

“Sex Queen” would make the allegation that “Nici even claims she once spoke with a teenage Paris Hilton, who offered to meet any client who paid $10,000 a night.” Hilton would call this charge “completely false and totally absurd.” An enforcer who collected debts for various madams would describe the essence of what was sought after in Anna David’s “The State Of Hookers in Hollywood”: the escorts are “right out of high school, with plastic surgery on whatever body parts aren’t already perfect.” How many famous women were part of this industry, and whether Hilton was one of them was an open mystery, but it was without question that this was a playground in which many of the topmost sheiks of the industry played. “State Of Hookers” mentioned a roving “strip club and brothel that requires a constantly changing password for entry and is attended by big players such as a top action-movie director and his producer.” Sometimes it was at someone’s house in the Hollywood Hills, sometimes it was in a Valley restaurant closed for the night, but it always featured women who could be paid to play. “You can get lap dances, blow jobs, or whatever,” said one participant. “It’s an unspoken law-no one will say anything about what goes on there.” And the escorts would be open to things to which a regular, open-minded girlfriend might not. “These girls will get with each other, stuff things up their asses, or put a dog collar on the guy and drag him around his house,” said one pimp. One player invited a group of men over to a party, then went missing for hours. “Finally we found him in the corner of his front yard, naked, on all fours, with a collar around his neck and a hooker standing over him, lifting her leg and peeing on him,” said one guest.

It was a not-so-secret business that overlapped with that other not-so-secret business, the porno world of San Fernando Valley. From an interview with Anna David on “Red Eye”, hosted by Greg Gutfeld (“Anna David Bought Interview on Red Eye”, this segment runs from 1:50 to 2:19):

GUTFELD
Don’t all porn stars do this? They always say it’s an overlap between these call girls and porn stars, but the fact is, once you’re being paid for sex on camera, this is no different?

DAVID
I mean, they call it side work in the industry, you know, and it is, I mean, we can’t say a 100%, every single porn star is doing it, but I think we can say 99.999 are doing it.

GUTFELD
There can’t be any difference between…the only difference is, there’s no camera there. And they’re probably getting paid more.

DAVID
A lot more.

“Many companies in the adult-entertainment industry, estimated at $13 billion annually, have seen their fortunes plummet by a third,” Grigoriadis would write in “Sex Queen”, “with video rentals and sales down nearly 50 percent over the past decade.” The decline in the industry would force more adult performers into escort work, which in turn made porno work riskier. Despite the image, women in the adult industry work with a relatively small circle of men, having sex with the same partners over and over, with everyone tested for STDs before their scenes. “It used to be that [performers] who escorted, if that was known, weren’t hired, because they were considered a higher risk factor w/ STDs,” Kayden Kross said in E.J. Dickson’s “When porn stars become escorts: Lucrative new trend could also be risky”, about the intersection of the two industries. That, however, was before the porno business completely fell apart, with piracy and tubing. “When the bottom started falling out of the porn industry, work started drying up, and you had an oversaturation of girls who wanted work,” says Mike South, a former producer and reporter of the scene. “You had people who were shooting 25 percent of what they were the previous year, so what you had was a lot of hungry girls who needed to pay the rent.” When you did escort work, you were now having sex with a larger circle of men, with some escorts offering the comdomless bareback full service (BBFS). This would lead to the greater possibility of an infection being brought into the closed porno industry. “What Porn Stars Do When The Porn Industry Shuts Down” by Susannah Brelin would report on what took place when the industry went on hiatus over an STD scare in December 2013, the third time that year. “Despite the amount of money that performers make, most still live paycheck-to-paycheck, so having your income cut off for a few weeks is a huge damper financially,” said one adult perfomrer, Chanel Preston. “Most successful adult film stars understand that financial success is a result of cultivating multiple revenue streams,” said Donia Love, head of Slixa, an on-line escort site which included adult performers in its stable. You had to escort in order to supplement the smaller paycheques of the porn industry, but that meant the possibility of more STDs, which shut down the industry, which meant you had to spend more time escorting, which meant increased risk in your porn scenes, and a greater likelihood that things would shut down again, and it was an obvious vicious circle.

Retired porn star Mariah Milano would write the following editorial, “Mariah Milano on Porn Stars Escorting, A Double Standard” (linked page features very NSFW ads) at porn blog Luke is Back, on September 4, 2011:

With the recent HIV scares and the big controversy over cross over talent there is one subject that seems to be constantly ignored that is a very serious double standard.

Porn stars escorting. I have been over this before and taken quite a beating for speaking out but I don’t fucking care. It needs to be said. If a girl goes and fucks some random guy in a hotel room and then continues to show up to sets to shoot how is that not being addressed as high risk for the rest of the industry? If a girl gets her test on August 20 and fucks strangers in hotel rooms and does movies until September 19 when she tests again how is that not a very serious concern for OSHA and all the people screaming about the recent HIV crisis? It’s almost as if it isn’t really happening.

The reality is there are very few “Porn Stars” anymore. The huge majority are escorts who shoot some movies on the side to keep their per hourrates high. And please try and tell me that these girls who are being flown to Dubai for weekends for $50,000 are using condoms and tests are being provided by sheiks and princes!

One commenter on Mark Ebner’s “A Brief History of a Hollywood Madam: Nici’s Girls, Clients and the Sting that Stung Her” would link to an ad on the site of Luke Ford, a gadfly and reporter who covered the industry, an ad which featured a long list of girls available as dates for the 2006 Adult Video News awards (the adult equivalent to the Oscars), including Chasey Lain and Krystal Steal, who were mentioned in “Sex Queen” by Grigoriadis, but other name performers as well, such as Kendra Jade, Monica Mayhem, Puma Swede, and Sativa Rose. They all worked for Bella Models. And who was behind Bella Models? From “Sex Queen” by Vanessa Grigoriadis:

In 2005, when one of the largest escort agencies for porn stars, Exotica 2000, was shut down by authorities in New York, Nici quickly maneuvered to fill the open niche with a new agency. She named it Bella Models, a dig against a madam in London named Bella with whom she had fallen out.

A screenshot from “Looking for an AVN Date??” (ads on page are very NSFW):

Ad for porn stars as escorts at Luke Ford

The following is an excerpt from an interview with the adult performer known as Gauge, conducted by Billy Watson, a porn director (see his AMA: “I am Billy Watson. I’ve shot porn for the last decade, a lot of which is interracial porn for Blacks on Blondes.”), in 2013. Gauge had returned to porn that year after several years of civilian life, and this portion of the interview dealt with what had changed with regard to escorting and the industry (though this interview was once on youtube, it’s now been taken down; the excerpt in the original runs from 9:5 to 11:56):

BILLY WATSON
Now, your big years were ’98 to 2005, about.

GAUGE
Yeah.

WATSON
Plus or minus.

GAUGE
Yeah.

WATSON
Okay. Try to be honest with me here.

GAUGE
Okay.

WATSON
Your contemporaries, your peers. From ’98 to 2000, the girls that you were working with, or around, how many of them were escorts, as opposed to just being porn stars? What would the percentage be?

GAUGE
You know, honestly, I really don’t know. I’m gonna just do a guesstimate here…maybe only a few. One of the girls that I just knew for sure was Brittany Andrews [listed in the roster of “Bella Models”, in their “Looking for an AVN date?”], but she’s always been open about that, her own website advertising it, and everything.

WATSON
A few, is the point. Because here’s my point now. You just jumped back into this game. Let me tell you what the brutal news is now. Because this business is getting so crushed by piracy, by people stealing content and stuff, most of the girls now are escorts as well as porn stars.

GAUGE
Right.

WATSON
The escort[ing] is their primary work, almost, because they can’t make enough money shooting scenes.

GAUGE
Yeah. Well.

WATSON
Which wasn’t the case when you were involved.

GAUGE
Right.

WATSON
Like, you could be a porn star and make plenty of money and not have to escort or do anything.

GAUGE
Right. Right. Well, you know, yeah, I didn’t really know anybody’s personal business and I don’t ever recall talking to anybody about their escorting deals. I know it’s pretty more open now…I think what it is, is that now that…through the internet, and gentlemen with money are able to, you know, buy their time with a porn star, a lady of their choice, if they’re escorting. You know, I would hope that…I’m not going to judge anybody, but I hope that if they’re doing that, then they’re careful because then the gentlemen who can afford I’m sure a porn star, can also afford to be tested just like we are…and still keep in mind, to keep the business safe. Whether it’s your personal life, escorting, in the business…

Gauge interviewed by Billy Watson

Though “side work” must be as prevalent now, if not more so, than it was in late 2013 when “What Porn Stars Do” was posted and early 2014 when “Lucrative new trend” was put up, the topic appears to still be largely verboten. Molly Lambert’s “Porntopia”, for instance, a lengthy account of this year’s AVN awards and an adult industry beleaguered by piracy and falling DVD sales, would not mention escorting or prostitution a single time. The focus of the piece is Carter Cruise, who goes on to win the AVN award for Best New Starlet; the 2007 winner of the very same award, Naomi, would work for Braun.

Though she never got around to publishing a book naming names, Michelle Braun was open and proud of the prestige of her girls. From an interview with CBS Correspondent Peter Van Sant, “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam” (beginning of video to 1:12):

VAN SANT
So, you’re a nice little Jewish girl, if I may say, from Bakersfield, California…

BRAUN
Yes. Nice Jewish girl from Bakersfield, California.

VAN SANT
…who rose to become the most influential, wealthy madam on planet Earth.

BRAUN
Right. My business was called Nici’s Girls, and I operated Nici’s Girls for eight years.

VAN SANT
And what kind of girls were available through your service?

BRAUN
I only worked with famous women. Penthouse Pets, Playboy Playmates, porn stars, actresses, models…unless a girl had a title or, I used to say, if she was “googleable”, then…if she wasn’t, then I wouldn’t work with her.

VAN SANT
How did you convince these girls, who’d been in the pages of Playboy magazine, Penthouse, to become one of Nici’s Girls?

BRAUN
Well, I offered them a lot of money. [laughs] And then I would tell them about some of my clients. You know, some of my clients were very famous, others were, you know, very famous in the business world. I would encourage them, “Look, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, this guy could really like you, could really fall for you, you know you could have a real Cinderella story. And if not, I have a hundred others just like him.”

VAN SANT
So for some men, this [holds up a copy of Playboy magazine] was like a shopping catalog?

BRAUN
Correct.

Peter Van Sant interviewing Michelle Braun

Michelle Braun interview

Peter Van Sant and Michelle Braun, taken from “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”.

The ring may have been known as “Nici’s Girls”, but it was run under the corporate title, “Global Travel Network, Inc.” The escort ring was “disguised as a travel and security business and was used to facilitate the laundering of Braun’s prostitution proceeds,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank D. Kortum29. “I never discussed sex with the girls or the clients,” Braun would tell Van Sant. “What I was being paid for was an introduction…I never considered it prostitution. I thought these people were very fortunate to have somebody to put them together and naturally, there would be an attraction, and sex would occur.”30

Braun’s ring laid bare the illusion, that the modes of Playboy were the girls next door, that they were within reach of the average ordinary man. Yes, these fantasy women were available, yes, they were accessible, but for a very, very steep price. Clients were charged $50K or more for a night. Despite Michelle Braun’s talk of introduction services and attraction, Braun’s lawyer was more blunt about the arrangement: “I’m not sure people would pay money to meet a porn star and talk about Stephen Hawking’s newest book,” said Marc Nurik31. The other side of the equation was a con as well: the illusion was of woodland nymphs embraced by new industrial barons, the molten steel of dynamic, vital capital, the marriage of guileless beauty and the astonishingly efficient engine of business. But the women were paid beautires, pricey delicacies like rare oxen or squid, commissioned artwork for a skyscraper office, and many of the men weren’t prophets of capital who owed their fortune to innovation, effectiveness, or genius, but were simple keepers of delicate, ephemeral trophies of hollow wealth, the loomwork of simple frauds, cons, and theives.

There was small fry like one name in Braun’s black book32, Gregory Turville Harry, who would be involved in a classic pump and dump scheme, issuing millions of shares of two shell companies, Austin Chalk Oil & Gas Ltd. and Amtex Oil & Gas, then boosting the share price by getting buys from investors for whom they promised returns like 500% on their investment in Amtex. In 2012, Harry would plead guilty, admitting that the shell companies had asset of less than $130K and that he’d sold his shares at peak price for millions33.

At the other end of the scale was Hakan Uzan, brother of Cem Uzan, son of Kemal Uzan, a wealthy Turkish family that had its hands on an extraordinary range of assests, including the country’s Telsim mobile network and the Imar Bank. Hakan Uzan would be Braun’s whale, a man who wanted a harem ready for him at an Istanbul hotel every week, a harem thick with Playmates, porn stars, and others of the distaff sexual elect. What was even better, this guy didn’t even necessarily fuck them every week, or even see them; he was willing to throw down to cash just to know that the harem was there34. Braun had at least one connection in the Playboy mansion, with a Hef “girlfriend” (those quotes were always a safe bet) willing to bring over other girls from the mansion to Braun for work opportunities. When they heard they could make $25K by flying to Turkey, the pussy literally started to fly. “Hakan would send me an instant message at 3 a.m., and I would have to get four Playmates ready right away,” Braun was quoted in “Sex Queen”. “The first flight to Istanbul was around 6 a.m. through Paris, and sometimes I’d wake them up in the middle of the night for that flight.” Again, from “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”, which starts off on Braun’s success as a madam before seguing into her work for her Turkish client (1:53-2:41):

VAN SANT
And you became a millionaire from this?

BRAUN
Yes. I made over twenty million dollars.

VAN SANT
And so, the girls who worked for you, did they become millionaires?

BRAUN
Oh absolutely. I had one girl make a million dollars in one month.

VAN SANT
And would they sometimes provide transportation, a private jet to fly them wherever-

BRAUN
Yeah. They’d fly them on their private jets, I had a tobacco billionaire who had a private 747, he would pick the girls up and fly them. You know, he would spend minimum hundred thousand dollars on a weekend. Every time. Then I had, you know, my Arabic clients, my client in Turkey. He would fly five Playboy playmates a week out to Turkey. I mean, it got to a point that I had almost every playmate in L.A. on standby 24-7 with a suitcase packed, ready to fly off to either Abu Dabai or Istanbul.

Grigoriadis gives us a picture of escorts who are overall happy with their madam. “It was like a paid vacation,” says porn star Angelica, “There were eight girls there, and I was doing the math: like, at least $200,000 is being spent here, and these guys don’t even care.” Another escort in “Sex Queen”, would concur. “Nici was the least shady of all agents,” is a quote from an unnamed Penthouse Pet who made over $200K a year working for Braun. “Other people made me feel like I was a product, and she treated me like a buddy. We would gossip for hours on the phone. She made me feel like it was us against them. She tooled her clients, and most agents tool their girls. That’s the difference.” Anna David, who would cover Braun’s ring as part of an investigative piece into Hollywood prostitution for Details magazine, “The State of Hookers in Hollywood”, would pick up a different sentiment. “How’d you do it?” Caleb Bacon would ask her about how she managed to write about this secretive milieu, in the bluntly titled “Anna David Knows A Lot About Prostitutes”. “I ended up sort of infiltrating this world, and spending about six months in it. Luckily everybody in this world hated this madam, so all these people talked to me for this story.” There are only two madams mentioned by name in “State of Hookers”, and one of them is the retired Heidi Fleiss; the other is Michelle Braun. The section from David’s “Less-Than-Hip Hookers” iterating the list of prominent Braun girls – “the porn stars, Penthouse Pets and Playmates” – found in the files of an associate stuck in a Cuban jail, has already been excerpted; afterwards, David writes of meeting them in person and the story of one madam’s callous treatment of girls she’d sent to Turkey, and the identity of this unnamed madam can be guessed as falling on the same co-ordinates as the madam which everyone hated, which may well be the same x-y of, as CBS’s Peter Van Sant puts it, “the most influential, wealthy madam on planet Earth”, and that noteworthy section receives bolds:

But these girls looked a lot different up close than they did in documents. Once I was sitting across the table from them, looking into their eyes, I didn’t see seductresses who, with their bodies, wielded power over the world’s elite. I saw fear, confusion, a ridiculous amount of plastic surgery, and a strong desire to do something — anything — else. I saw people who spent outrageously, at least in part to dispose of income they were ashamed to have earned, and who would thus have nothing to show once their years of hard living caught up to them and their looks were gone. I saw women blotting themselves out with chemicals and constantly chasing the next thing so they wouldn’t have to examine too closely what they were doing.

It wasn’t only the men they needed to forget about, either. I heard tales of madams that treated the girls far worse than any client ever could. One in particular would send girls on jobs to places like Turkey and then shut off her phone so that if they ran into trouble, they’d have no one to call. Girls would have to literally beg her for the money they were owed (one told me about having to “send someone” — a guy you didn’t want to mess with — to collect) and deal with a series of lies, shady excuses and threats. “If you were unavailable when she wanted you, she’d threaten to tell your boyfriend that you were a hooker,” a girl told me over the phone.

In an interview with Marty Beckerman, “The Complex Lives of Escorts”, David would emphasize the point made in this excerpt, on the damage done to the women by their work, despite the high pay and them being in the high end of their profession:

Did the hookers you interviewed have hearts of gold, or were they drugged-up pains?

Every girl was extremely damaged and doing a lot of drugs to numb themselves. You can see the damage in their eyes, and you can see how in denial they are. I’m not saying every hooker is like that, but I wouldn’t say they had hearts of gold.

Though this is a fascinating byway of a major business, which bisects the entertainment capital of the United States, it remains almost entirely unspoken of. For one of the few accounts of such overseas escorts who are flown to Dubai, we again have to rely on the investigative work of Howard Stern, who would discuss the subject in-depth with porn star Kacey Jordan. This interview is on youtube (“kacey jordan 2 1 11”) with a transcript on pastebin (“Howard Stern Interviews Kacey Jordan Full Transcript”), and it’s of interest not just because of the details that Jordan provides, but because her client in this case was the crown prince of Dubai, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum34, and so she provides some major insights about a rather important figure. The reason for Jordan’s interview here is her cameo in the breakdown of another of her clients, Charlie Sheen, with her making appearances in such profiles of that fiasco like “Charlie Sheen’s War” by Mark Seal and “Coke, Hookers, Hospital, Repeat” by Amy Wallace. What follows are two lengthy excerpts from the interview dealing with Jordan’s experiences as an escort in Dubai. First excerpt runs from 8:02 to 15:28 in the interview, second excerpt is from 24:53 to 28:44:

Key: KJ=Kacey Jordan, HS=Howard Stern, RQ=Robin Quivers

KJ
So, at the AVN, AVN Vegas, okay. See, I had a ton of money.

HS
Right. Where’d you get it all?

KJ
[laughs, knowingly]

HS
You blew some guy or something?

KJ
[laughs, a “correctumundo!” laugh] No, I got, uh, I got a gripload of money, just as much as Charlie Sheen [just as much as she was paid by Charlie Sheen].

HS
You had about thirty grand on you?

KJ
Like, thirty five thousand.

HS
Where’d you get that?

KJ
I got it…overseas.

RQ
Somebody paid you to party?

KJ
It was just a gift.

HS
Do you ever go overseas, to these rich arab dudes, who, like, you go over and they make you put you part of their sheik-

RQ
Harem.

HS
-harem, or whatever you call that?

KJ
I dunno. [said this way: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, officer.”]

HS
Was it Hosni Mubarak, that guy?

[laughter]

KJ
No. [laughs] No, it’s-

RQ
Or that Italian prime minister. [Silvio Berlusconi]

HS
What’s the deal on that? They hire you to go over there…

KJ
They just hire me to go over there35 and then I-

HS
And then you fuck the prince, right?

KJ
Who was saying- Who is saying this? [trying not to laugh]

HS
I’m saying it. Because I had a girl on here who told us this whole story.

KJ
Okay. It’s true, and he’s under investigation now, he’s in a lot of trouble now, he’s a pill popper, because it’s against their religion to drink?

RQ
Right.

HS
Right.

KJ
-and he gets three girls to go over there, and yeah.

HS
Do you ever get nervous, they’re going to kidnap you and keep you there? When you go over to these arab countries?

KJ
No, I was really freaked out by all their turbans and stuff. I was like, oh my god.

HS
They were fucking you with a turban on?

KJ
[laughs]

HS
Does that freak you out?

RQ
Do they keep their turban on?

KJ
No, but they have this thing, where like, when you go into the room, it has the AC on, like you’re in a freezer. Because it’s against their religion to have me sweat onto them.

HS
You know what? This is what this girl said. Remember that girl we had in, who wrote a book about this. [I think this is Jillian Lauren, who wrote Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, about her experience as a member of the harem of the Sultan of Brunei]

RQ
Who wrote the book, yeah.

HS
She said it’s so cold, she said she would shiver the whole time. And that’s because, when you fuck a prince or something, you’re not allowed to sweat on them?

KJ
I’m not allowed to sweat on him. I’m like, why do you have the AC on, he wouldn’t turn the AC off, and I’m sitting there, shaking. And I’m like, what the hell, can you just turn it off for a second?

HS
What’s the whole deal on that? So, in other words, somebody hooks you up, you fly over to this arab country, they fly you, what, on a private jet?

KJ
Uh, well, he owns the airlines.

HS
He owned the airline.

KJ
Yeah.

HS
So, you go over…

KJ
First class.

HS
How long you gotta stay there?

KJ
Uh, I was supposed to stay there for three days…and he wouldn’t let me leave till eight days.

HS
He kept you over.

KJ
Kept me over. Wouldn’t let us leave. And it was okay, we just stayed at one of his hotels, that he owned, and I sat there, let’s room service this up, let’s start ordering shit we don’t eat…I went to the spa, like twelve times…

HS
So when they fly you, first class accommodations too, right? I mean, gorgeous rooms, the whole thing?

KJ
Yeah.

RQ
Sometimes they even give you shopping sprees.

KJ
We stayed at the world’s only seven star hotel.

HS
Yeah.

KJ
I forget what it was called. [Burj Al Arab] It’s some…lalalala, whatever arabic jabber or whatever. But it’s seven stars, that’s all I know.

HS
So, you go to the seven star hotel. You’re there with two other chicks, right? Are you all in the same room, or different rooms?

KJ
We get…it’s like, two chicks per room. It was four girls…

HS
Are the chicks hot? Or are you like the hottest one? Honestly. It’s okay, you don’t have to be humble.

RQ
Are you ever going to see these girls again?

KJ
One girl, uh, is a cunt, so…

HS
Cunt, or smelly pussy.

KJ
She just has too much plastic surgery. She’s just like…

HS
You were not attracted to her at all.

KJ
No.

HS
Personally…

KJ
But the other girl, she was really nice, but she’s kinda shady, kinda, she’ll still screw you over for money.

HS
Right.

KJ
But I ended up hooking up with her, like the first night we got drunk and I was like, I don’t know, I’m straight, but once in a while, how about some random lesbian fling, I’m like, the fuck’s wrong with me? It’s the alcohol.

HS
Yeah. Absolutely. So you mean she ate you out and everything?

KJ
Yeah.

HS
So, wait, let me understand, back up. So you go over there, the prince or whoever the hell he is, he flies you over, you don’t even meet him the first night, right?

KJ
Uh, no. No, we didn’t meet him for like three days.

HS
Alright. So you’re there, you’re like, hey, this is a cush gig, because-

KJ
Yeah, but we have to be back by eight pm.

HS
Why?

KJ
Because, in case he calls.

HS
Right. You’re on call.

KJ
You’re on call. During the day I went out, I went to Atlantis [Atlantis The Palm Hotel & Resort], and, you know, we got to go do…I went to a mosque, where I wore those robes and stuff. I did cutesy stuff during the day, but I had to be back at eight at night.

HS
So were you bored out of your skull?

KJ
Nah, I just drank.

HS
So, you started drinking in the morning. So, the chick that you’re in the room with, she was the good looking one who maybe would screw you over, but that’s the one you had lesbian sex with?

KJ
Yeah, she’s alright, you know.

HS
You went out drinking, and you’re slutting around, you’re having a good time, and then suddenly, you say, hey fuck it, I’m drunk, I’ll have some sex with her.

KJ
Yeah, we were just in the room, and fucking drinking, and just sitting there, like, we’re all taking little pictures of each other, trying to tweet the photos, and because we had to keep hushhush while we were over there, we’re still trying to sneak photos.

HS
Did you girls just run around naked in the room the whole time? Or, like, what’s the fun?

KJ
Yeah, we’re all walking around naked.

HS
Getting all comfortable with your bodies, and you’re all naked…

KJ
Yeah.

HS
She’s naked, and you’re naked, and you’re talking on the bed, and taking pictures, and you’re tweeting, drunk out of your mind.

KJ
I’m always just like naked, I’ll always rock the robe. I always have a drink in my hand, I’d have a robe that’d be open, and not even shut. I always sit on the couch, with my legs wide open, like this, like the Al Bundy.

HS
Are you doing it? Like that. Because you’re totally comfortable in your body.

KJ
Yeah, I’m just like, just, I’m always…

HS
What are you wearing today? Let me see.

KJ
Well, actually, I put on a dress. But because it’s so fucking cold outside…I don’t know how you guys deal with this weather.

HS
We don’t deal well with it. Look at us. [laughter]

RQ
We’re falling apart.

KJ
I have a dress on, but I was like, I’m going to put on pants, and then put on jacket, so I’m all bundled up.

HS
Yeah, it’s hard to tell what’s doing there.

KJ
Yeah.

HS
So, wait a second, so when you’re over there, I want to get to Charlie Sheen, but this is fascinating to me. So, you’re over there, you’re hanging out for three days, you don’t see this guy, you don’t even know what he looks like, right? I mean, you don’t even know who you have to fuck?

KJ
Well, I googled him.

HS
You did? Is he gross?

KJ
No, he’s hot.

HS
He’s a good looking guy?

KJ
He’s hot. He has a huge dick.

HS
He does?

KJ
Yeah, and he’s really aggressive during sex.

HS
This prince?

KJ
Yeah.

HS
So, you’re waiting around, nobody’s allowed to fuck you, because you’re for the prince, or for some party or something. So, what happens in the three days that you meet the prince? Like, where do you meet him?

KJ
He has, like, a secret house.

HS
Cool.

KJ
Like a little secret hidden house.

HS
Does he bring you there alone, or with the other two?

KJ
I was thinking I was going to go the palace and stuff, but of course, he has to keep it on the low, and so he has this like, hang out spot. And he’s obsessed with America, he has MTV…each girl was like, we’re comparing our stories, he does the same routine with each girl. He makes us play games to test to see how smart we are. He like, makes us do crosswords, he wants to prove that his english is better than us.

HS
Wait a sec. He walks into the room, he’s dressed…are you naked? What do you have to wear to prepare for the prince?

KJ
I just wore, I dunno, I wore, like, we have to cover up over there? So I wore this dress, but then I wore one of their weird arabic shawls over, and I come over, and the first thing he does is, alright, we’re going to play a game.

HS
Yeah.

KJ
And he makes us play games. And I’m like, this is so weird, this is, I thought I was just come over-

HS
And what is the game?

RQ
It’s like school!

HS
Play the game with me. What is it?

KJ
It’s like- He has like a machine, from like a casino-looking, and it has these optional games, and he’s like, okay, we’re going to play this, and he’s like, compare the photo, and figure out which one’s missing, or which one’s different than the other.

HS
It’s an IQ test.

KJ
Yeah.

HS
And what, what, aren’t guys weird like that? Why doesn’t he just fuck you, and get it over with?

KJ
It’s because he has so much. He has so much, and he’s so fucked up.

HS
So, get back to the prince, and then we’ll get to Charlie that night. So, just finishing up with the prince, so you finally get in there, he gives you the IQ test, where he’s testing you out.

KJ
Yeah.

HS
Are you there with the other girls, or are you all alone?

KJ
We all go individually.

HS
Individually. So you’re there alone, and finally, does he put a move on you, and say, hey honey, take your clothes off and let’s get to it?

KJ
No, he just goes, “Okay,” he’s like, he’s always “I promise you I beat you in anything. I beat you in any game. I love MTV, I love America,” he just tries to prove, he just wants to be cool. Like, I wanna be like Eminem. And then he gives this spiel, and he brings me upstairs to the room, where it’s freezing cold, and I’m like, “Can you turn it up, can you turn that down, please?”

HS
And he says, “No I can’t because you can’t sweat on me.”

KJ
I didn’t know that. He’s like, oh no, I don’t want to get too hot.

HS
Right.

KJ
And I didn’t figure it out until someone later told me, why.

HS
Right.

KJ
And uh, so anyways, so, you know, we fuck, and he’s, he’s really aggressive, fucking my throat, and everything-

HS
Jesus. Did he see some of your movies, or he didn’t know who you were?

KJ
He’s just get sent photos, and he says pass or no pass.

HS
Right. And so, did he undress you, is there anything romantic about it?

KJ
No…it was really like, he was like, and after we were like having sex, we had sex a total of three times-

HS
When you have sex with this guy, and he’s fucking your throat, do you to moan like he’s the greatest ever-

KJ
I’m gagging, I’m not moaning. I’m like [gagging sounds].

HS
And are you like, hey dude, could you back off a little?

KJ
Uh…I was just trying to do the best I could…

HS
Right. So, when he’s fucking you, do you fake an orgasm, do you go “oh my god, this is so good, ohoh”-

KJ
I did come with him. I didn’t have to fake with him.

HS
Oh, you did come?

KJ
Yeah, he’s, like I said, he’s-

HS
Huge.

KJ
-and they’re really aggressive, and after you’re done, he’d just hold me down, like, on the bed, where I was like, can you kinda just not put me in a headlock. He would do that. He kept putting me in a headlock.

HS
What’s that about?

KJ
I don’t know.

HS
Does he use condoms?

KJ
He did that with every girl.

HS
Did he use condoms?

KJ
No.

HS
No.

RQ
No condoms with him!

HS
And you wouldn’t mind getting pregnant with him, right, because that’s a pay fucking day like you wouldn’t-

KJ
I dunno, because matter of fact, if they found out I got pregnant, the guy would probably get assassinated.

RQ
I was going to say, you might never show up again.

KJ
Take the baby, and kill him.

HS
Yeah. I was thinking you could own Dubai, but maybe you’re right. They could take the baby and kill ya.

RQ
Women have no power there, Howard.

HS
Yeah, right.

KJ
I would be, like…it would be…

RQ
There’s no court to go to.

KJ
I would not wanna be in some robe, stuck in a room…

HS
Isn’t it weird that these guys don’t use condoms? They don’t know you, they don’t know what you’ve done, they don’t know anything. They don’t know if you’re clean…

KJ
I should’ve used a condom because…of how many girls he sees?

RQ
Yeah!

HS
I can’t believe you didn’t, yeah. I can’t believe you didn’t make him put one on.

KJ
I was a little drunk.

HS
You were drunk, that drinking’s going to do you in, I’m telling you, you’ve gotta back off a little bit. You think of ever going into rehab, or just, fuck that? You would never do that. Because you don’t want to stop, right?

KJ
Well, what’s the point?

HS
What do you mean?

KJ
I mean, it’s not like it’s ruining my life.

HS
You’re enjoying it.

KJ
Yeah.

HS
And you’re not going through your money, you’re saving some money and stuff.

KJ
I dunno…I’m blowing some of my money.

HS
You are?

KJ
Yeah.

HS
What are you blowing it on?

KJ
Uh, well, that’s what Vegas, I blew a lot in Vegas. I went to Christian Louboutin, I bought the thirty two hundred all diamond shoe. I blew all my money from Dubai and I was like, after AVN-

HS
So, Dubai, you get the thirty grand, does he just give it to you there?

KJ
Yeah. Cash.

HS
Cash?

KJ
Yeah. I had to wire it.

HS
No shit. Thirty grand.

KJ
Thirty five.

HS
Nice money.

KJ
Mmmhmm.

HS
And you only fucked him that once?

KJ
Right, that’s it. And then I had a free vacation, spa…I just raped the spa. I was like, I need, I got every treatment that they offered…

HS
Women would rub you down, or men? You get a massage from men?

KJ
They’re not allowed to…men are allowed to only do facials. [tries not to laugh]

HS
Do you ever get massages from guys-

RQ
Did you do some of those guys over there that were giving you a facial-

KJ
Yeah. [laughs]

HS
You did?

KJ
Well, that’s part of the facial, right?

The money for Braun’s women to be flown, kept, and fucked in Turkey came from Hakan Uzan, and though the thievery of the Uzans went almost entirely unreported in the American press, it was a heist on a scale that placed them in the same infamous league as Bernie Madoff or Jeff Skilling. Their fortunes began with father Kemal’s construction company, which won contracts for soccer stadiums and dams thanks to Kemal Uzan’s friendship with Turgot Ozal, first the country’s prime minister and then the country’s president. The Uzans would go on to buy Imar Bank, founded another bank, Adabank, and set up a news empire of radio, TV, and newspapers called Star TV. In 1992, they bought 11% of the shares of Cukurova Elektrik, a Turkish hydroelectric and gas utility, after Franklin Templeton’s Emerging Markets Fund had bought up a big investment stake. They then managed to gain a majority stake in the utility, replaced the board members with their own proxies, and put the utility’s cash balances with their Imar bank. Cukurova Elektrik shares went from fifty cents to $3.50 after the Uzan share buy, then hit a low of eighteen cents after the cash balance transfer. Cukurova Elektrik went from $41 million net to an $18 million loss after the cash transfer, and Franklin Temleton was hit with an $18 million dollar loss36. It was a variation on Gregory Turville Harry’s pump and dump, on a much larger scale.

Cukurova Elektrik was a preview of the next scam by the Uzans. They were given the license to set up a private cell phone network in the country, through a company they set up called Telsim Mobil Telekomunikasyon Hizmetleri [Telsim Mobile Telecommunications Services]. In order to gain access to the market, Motorola loaned Telsim over two billion in equipment, services, and cash, with Nokia loaning a little under a billion in equipment, services, and cash as well. The Uzans pledged 66% of Telsim shares to Motorola, and 7.5% to Nokia as loan collateral. And after that, Telsim missed the loan payments. The collateral of Telsim shares were transferred to a private Turkish foundation, out of reach of creditors. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by Motorola and Nokia afterwards, would reveal that over two hundred million in cash and assets from Telsim was transferred to entities controlled by the Uzans, to pay for apartments in the Trump Tower, several aircraft, and four yachts. And though the report was perhaps too discrete to mention it, a reader could make the obvious additional inference: and Michelle Braun’s women. The Uzans must have thought that with their connections, they could somehow outsmart or outlast the suits brought by Motorola and Nokia against them; but their empire would collapse before Michelle Braun’s37.

Kemal Uzan, son Hakan Uzan, and son Cem Uzan

Kemal Uzan, son Hakan Uzan, and son Cem Uzan.

Cem Uzan, Hakan’s brother, would set up a new political party with a nationalist appeal, The Youth Party, and ran in the 2002 election. There he would pitch the scandal as a story where the Uzans were Robin Hoods, using the family’s Star TV network to promote his campaign. “Everyone steals from Turkey, the people think,” said one Turkish Foreign Ministry official. “But here is a guy who steals from rich Americans. And they admire that.” Cem Uzan hoped to gain ten percent of the vote and a seat in Parliament, which meant immunity from prosecution. Cem Uzan got neither. The Turkish government would first cancel the licenses of Uzan utilities Cukurova Elektrik and Kepez Elektrik, then seize them. The seizure would have a devastating impact on the Uzans’ Imar Bank, which relied on these utilities for raising capital. About a month after cancelling the utility licenses, Turkey seized control of Imar Bank, after which they discovered an astonishing level of widespread theft, with dummy accounts created in order to transfer over $5 billion dollars out of the bank and over to the Uzans. Account information was distorted to keep the fraud going. Retrospective invoices were created and real invoices were deleted. A raid at the bank’s hub would discover hard drives detached and stolen, back-ups deleted, and computers that were empty shells, the damning hardware circuits inside taken away. A July 31, 2003 cable from the American embassy in Turkey would give some idea of the problem; from “BRSA PRESIDENT ON IMAR BANK PROBLEMS (ACTION REQUEST)” at Wikileaks:

Summary: Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BRSA) President Engin Akcakoca confirmed to us July 30 that the agency is facing serious difficulties trying to address the problems resulting from the discovery of massive fraud in the Uzan family-owned Imar Bank. The fundamental problem is that BRSA is being beseiged by bank depositors waiving their bank books and demanding their money back (to the tune of billions of dollars), but the agency has no ability to verify accounts because Imar Bank owners/managers destroyed virtually all of the bank’s records during and immediately after the takeover. Akcakoca believes perhaps 50 percent of the accounts are fictitious — bank books with no corresponding account — and speculated that the Uzans may have handed out bank deposit books (not backed by any account) to would-be voters.

On July 30, BRSA President Engin Akcakoca provided us with his views on the problems associated with the agency’s recent take over of Uzan-family owned Imar Bank. As reported in reftels, BRSA took over management of the bank and responsibility for its $800 million in deposit liabilities early this month. However, it has subsequently learned that the bank was keeping a second set of books and that total deposit liabilities were many times greater than officially reported, perhaps as high as $5 billion.

That same July, a judge would find in favor of Motorola and Nokia in their fraud suit seeking $5 billion dollars against Telsim and the Uzans38.

The Turkish government would seize all two hundred businseses of the Uzan empire and all the company’s assets within the country in the wake of the outstanding five billion dollars in debt of the Iman Bank after its collapse39. All three men connected to the fraud – Cem, Hakan, and Kemal Uzan – would go into exile. Cem Uzan would flee Turkey in one of his yachts. He would eventually be granted temporary residency in France, while being sentenced to three and a half years in abasentia in Turkey for fraud. In July 2012, the Turkish paper Today’s Zaman would note that “Wanted Turkish tycoon spotted on Jordanian king’s boat”, after Hakan Uzan was spied amongst those in a speedboat alongside his good friend, King Abdullah of Jordan. Hakan Uzan was piloting the speedboat40. A diplomatic cable on January 27, 2006, “TURKEY/JORDAN: JORDANIAN PM BAKHIT FINDS BROAD AGREEMENT IN ANKARA” (again, at Wikileaks), from the American embassy in Turkey would contain the following item when Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit visited the country:

Bakhit was reportedly asked at a press availability about the rumored presence in Jordan of fugitive Hakan Uzan and members of his family. The Uzan family is sought for corrupt financial dealings that led to the collapse of the Imar bank and the loss of billions of dollars. According to Turkish press reports, Bakhit acknowledged the Uzans came to Jordan as investors and received some kind of residence documents, which the Jordanian government has since revoked. Bakhit told the press he had no information on the Uzans’ current whereabouts. The MFA [Minister of Foreign Affairs] told us the Uzan affair was not discussed officially with the Jordanian delegation.

At the time of this writing, these three members of the Uzan family are still wanted in Turkey for prosecution, and all three are still at large.

The Uzans were the largest fraudsters who were also customers of Michelle Braun; but it was Mark Yagalla who was the fruadster discovered first, who was part of the most noteworthy plot, whose theft was the start of a path that led to murder and stolen rubies. It was the arrest of Yagalla which first brought the Michelle Braun ring into bright light, and it might give some hint of the disinterest, wariness, or fear about the possible consequences of shutting down an escort ring patronized by so many wealthy and powerful men, that even years after her exposure in the Mark Yagalla case, Michelle Braun was able to continue operations, with her business pulling reportedly pulling in over eight million dollars before she was finally stopped, far from L.A.41

It was all there in the best account of the Yagalla affair, published in 2001, six years before Braun’s arrest, “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace. Yagalla was an isolated Pennsylvania kid who stopped growing at 5’3″, who insistently wore khakis, button down shirts, thick glasses in high school, and who other kids called “Urkel”. He watched movies about the corruption of the eighties, Wall Street and Other People’s Money, over and over again, not as polemics, but heroic narratives. “Most young boys dream of being a professional athlete, or something like that. What were your dreams?” asked Peter Van Sant of Yagalla. “I wanted to be Gordon Gekko,” he replied. “He seemed to possess a Disney-manufactured filter that transformed every story into a fairy tale,” Wallace would write in “The Prodigy and the Playmate”. “Even when he watched morality plays like Wall Street, what he took away was the glamorous premise, not the unhappy ending.” Indecent Proposal was a love story, and so was the movie that was even closer to his heart, Pretty Woman. A love story involved making a fortune in business, finding a beautiful woman, then spending heaps of cash on her, after which she fell in love with you. “I had sortof developed this fairy tale from movies,” Yagalla said, “that if you get money, you get the girl.”42 And if you cut a few corners in business, if you maybe engaged in outright fraud, if you built a ponzi scheme that robbed people of their savings, that was part of the love story, too. Yagalla didn’t go to his high school prom. He stayed home, and made $23,000 trading stocks.

After graduating from the prestige Wharton business program, Yagalla would go on to found two hedge funds, Apex Investments and Ashbury Capital, with a focus on tech stocks and a goal of over a billion dollars in assets. Yagalla took the profits he got from these funds, and spent it on prostitutes. From “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”, an interview with Yagalla by CBS’s Peter Van Sant (segment runs from 1:06 to 1:54):

PETER VAN SANT
And how old are you at this time?

YAGALLA
Twenty one.

VAN SANT
And were you having a good time?

YAGALLA
I was having a great time…it started with prostitutes.

VAN SANT
How often did you do this?

YAGALLA
Daily. Sometimes three, four girls a day. I was spending anywhere between six hundred to a thousand an hour at this time, for the girls. It was one day when I was on the internet, I came across a website that linked me to nicisgirls.com. I had a conversation with a girl [Michelle Braun43], and she had a pin-up model available, and I said, “Well, I’m going to Puerto Rico this weekend, I’d like for her to come with me.” And she said, “That’ll be $28,000 dollars.” And I looked at the girl’s picture, and I was like, “OK.”

Mark Yagalla on Forty Eight Hours

Mark Yagalla, from “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”.

Yagalla put down a $5000 admission fee for the prvilege of paying another $10,000 to $20,000 to “Nici”, openly identified in “The Prodigy and the Playmate” as a madam, and openly identified by her actual name: “Nici was fast becoming the new Heidi Fleiss, L.A.’s reigning madam, and Yagalla, as a preferred (and relentless) customer, ended up befriending her and learning her real name: Michelle Braun.” “She was the first person to really use the Internet to offer prostitutes,” said Yagalla. One of the women he was set up with is a woman identified nowhere else as part of Braun’s harem, though it is a very big name that Yagalla drops here: “Eventually, he started flying to L.A. to rendezvous with Nici’s “specials,” including porn megastar Jenna Jameson.” This, however, was just a prelude to even more expensive merchandise44.

For $40,000, Yagalla got a weekend with May 1999 Playboy Playmate Tishara Cousino, a candidate for what Yagalla called “The Program”, which was something like the plot of Pretty Woman, which meant it was something like Pygmalion, where a young woman would be styled into something greater through the power of money. On her Playboy form, Cousino had put down that her ambitions were “To see how far I can go as a model and actress, while studying naturopathic medicine,” and that her turn-ons were “Intellect, a big heart, sensitivity and passionate energy.” On their first weekend together, in a 125-foot yacht sailing through the Florida Keys, Cousino reclined on the bed of this yacht leased by Yagalla, and asked, “Do you want to do anything with me?” Yagalla was repulsed. He wanted a fairy tale, not a business transaction. He wanted her only when she wanted him. That weekend, he bought her a new Mercedes anyway. “When I was dealing with the playmates,” Yagalla would tell Van Sant, “I was giving out Mercedes like they were tennis bracelets.”45 Cousino would deny that she met Yagalla through a madam or that Yagalla put her through “a program”.

Tishara Cousino, photo by Arny Freitag

Excerpt of a photo of Tishara Cousino from her May 1999 Playboy shoot, photo by Arny Freitag.

Tishara Cousino's Playboy form

An excerpt from Cousino’s form in Playboy.

It was through Cousino that Yagalla met Sandy Bentley, one half of the Bentley twins, both of whom were supposedly Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. In the pictures and talk show appearances where the wizened satyr and the nymph duo appeared, it was a relationship that was romantic, but in the raw fact, the relationship appeared entirely contractual. Neither woman were supposed to have other boyfriends, though both did, each had to call in and touch base with the “old man” (as they called him) every day, and both were contractually required to appear with him at the mansion on Christmas and New Year’s. “Won’t Hef mind?,” Yagalla asked Cousino. “He wishes,” said Sandy. “The Prodigy and the Playmate” was cold in the details of the nocturnal rituals of Hef and the twins: “The heterosexual icon, Sandy had told Yagalla, had trouble finding satisfaction through intercourse; instead, he liked the girls to pleasure each other while he masturbated and watched gay porn.” The last detail made no sense to me until I read “The Playboy After Dark” by Sharon Waxman, where Carrie Leigh, a long-term girlfriend of Hefner’s from the ’80s, would say that she and other Hef girlfriends were “disturbed by Hefner’s propensity for sexual encounters with men. Leigh says she interrupted Hefner’s liaisons with men a couple of times.” And: “The irony that this symbol of heterosexual male virility was involved homosexually was not lost on her.” Hefner would deny that he was gay, while acknowledging that he’d slept with men. “There was some bisexuality in the heterosexual, swinging part of my life,” he said in Waxman’s piece. Yagalla would go with Bentley and Cousino to a Cher concert at the Las Vegas MGM. After, they went to The Crazy Horse Too, a strip club where Bentley used to dance, and Yagalla sat between Bentley and Cousino, the object of their affection, the gentle target for their kisses. A stripper at The Crazy Horse Too wondered what Yagalla’s secret was. “I’m fucking loaded,” said Yagalla. Sandy Bentley was a willing subject for “The Program.”

Sandy Bentley

Sandy Bentley, with Hugh Hefner. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

Sandy Bentley grew up in Vegas, with the various surgeries that helped make her a Playboy cover girl and Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend paid for by Herbie Blitzstein, a one-time mob enforcer who worked alongside mafioso Tony Spilotro, who was the basis for the figure of reckless menace played by Joe Pesci in Casino. After time in prison over federal income tax and credit card fraud charges, Blitzstein would die a used car salesman, shot in the head in his own home. “Blitzstein, 63, might have been robbed by someone he knew,” said an obituary. “Property was missing from his townhouse and there were no obvious signs of forced entry,” said Las Vegas Metro Police homicide Lieutenant Wayne Petersen46. This, is what’s referred to as dramatic foreshadowing.

Herbie Blitzstein

A photo of Herbie Blitzstein, taken from a 1980 arrest. Photo was found at the page “The Mob in Vegas: Fat Herbie Blitzen”, a site promoting the book The Mob Files: The Illustrated Guide to the Mob in Vegas by John William Tuohy.

Yagalla would get Bentley and Cousino Platinum American Express cards and a monthly allowance of $20,000 to $25,000. He would buy Cousino a house worth close to half a million. He bought Sandy Bentley a six thousand square foot plus two floor Spanish Villa in Vegas for over a million and a half. He bought her a Mercedes SL 500, a red Ferrari FL 355 Spyder, a Range Rover, a black Cadillac Escalade SUV, a pair of fur coats from Bloomingdale’s, and two Rolexes. He bought her $190,000 worth of jewelry from Venetzia in Vegas. He bought her more furs, a shaved mink and a monogrammed chinchilla. Possessions meant nothing to me, Sandy Bentley told Yagalla. On one of their first dates, they watched Pretty Woman together at his Delaware home. She flew up from Vegas, though she refused to fly commercial; he chartered a jet. When they were in Vegas, they’d walk into a high roller room accompanied by two bodyguards, Sandy Bentley decked in furs and blinding jewels, and the croupier would casually say, “Mr. Y’s here,” sliding a million dollars in chips toward his place on the table. They’d met in August 1999. In December, they were already talking marriage. That month, Yagalla bought his girlfriend a white Bentley Azure convertible. On a piece of stationary at the dealership, Bentley wrote out: S. Yagalla. S. Bentley-Yagalla. That Christmas, Yagalla bought Bentley a necklace of rubies and diamonds modeled after that worn by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Fairy tales, sometimes, do come true. That fall, Yagalla told some Apex investors that their portfolio had grown by more than fifty percent in one month. Ashbury also showed extraordinary growth, with a return of more than seventy percent over the course of half of 199947. “And where was all this money coming from?,” asked Peter Van Sant of Yagalla about the millions of dollars of gifts spent on Bentley and Cousino. “I was robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Yagalla. “I was taking client money to fuel my addiction,” said Yagalla. “I was running one big Ponzi scheme.” Van Sant: “How much money are we talking about…that you scammed people out of?” Tagalla: “All together, debt wise, I’m probably fifty, sixty million in debt,” Yagalla answered, years after the fact, years after Sandy Bentley left him and two people were killed48.

Close-up of the reproduction of the ruby necklace that was in Pretty Woman

Close-up of the reproduction of the ruby necklace that was in Pretty Woman. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

One of the only flaws of Wallace’s “The Prodigy and the Playmate”, is that it understated the length and breadth of corruption in Yagalla’s career. It was left to something like Armstrong v. Collins, a suit by Michael Armstrong, receiver for Apex and Ashbury against investors Ronald Collins and his family over assets transferred by Yaglla to Collins as part of his ponzi scheme, which laid out a life of fraud which didn’t spin out of any later moment of desperation, but began with the very start of his obsession with investing. “Prodigy” has Yagalla start out at fifteen getting a chunk of money from his mom that he’d made helping his dad, who drove a truck for a tree nursery. Yaglla would lose half, then decided to do more research before his next investment. He got five thousand from his cousin, and sunk it all into Dell. After that paid off, his cousin gave him more money, which he put into Microsoft and Intel. His investing streak presumably continued, with Yagalla buying a Corvette and a Chevy Blazer while in high school, his high school success capped by his prom day trading when he made over $23,000. That is all accoring to “Prodigy”. Armstrong v. Collins gives us a different picture.

“Carl and Pat Dias, the owners of a business near Weatherly, had the misfortune of being Yagalla’s first clients,” is the second paragraph under Armstrong v. Collins‘s “History of the Yagalla Scheme”, and the first devoted to his sorry investment history. “and in 1995, they invested approximately $15,000 with Yagalla.” The whole 15K was a wash. “Responding to a Canadian telemarketer’s pitch, Yagalla used the money to purchase what he believed were rubies. But the purported rubies turned out to be nearly worthless and Yagalla lost virtually all of the Dias’ money.” This all was according to Yagalla’s own trial depositions. He told the Diases that they’d actually made a profit, gave them a false statement, and then used money from other investors to give the Diases a fake return on their investment. That same year, according to Armstrong v. Collins, Yagalla got $15,000 from the same cousin mentioned in “Prodigy” who gave Yagalla the money for Dell, Intel, and Microsoft, a man named Francis Dolinsky. Yagalla invested the money in worthless rubies and worthless baseball memorabilia. Yagalla told Dolinsky that the investment was profitable, and paid him back with money from other investors. He invested $50K in Kentucky oil and gas leases, and lost it all. He invested $150K in stocks, and pulled in a $120K loss. He told the lucky investors that the investment was sucessful, and gave them fake profits, again taken from others.

All these investments were done at his hedge fund, Apex, and since the perception of Apex as a sound, financial success was so different from the fund’s actual performance, Yagalla founded another hedge fund, Ashbury Capital. Though Yagalla said that he intended to run Ashbury separately from Apex, and as an actual legitimate investment fund, Ashbury Capital investors ended up subsidizing the fraud at Apex. No effort was made by Yagalla to keep the funds of Apex and Ashbury Capital – or his personal funds – separate from each other. Again, this is all according to Yagalla’s own depositions, cited in Armstrong v. Collins. At some point, Yagalla would discover that the brokerage Kensington Wells was manipulating stocks. Armstrong v. Collins would explain what happened next (citations indicating that all statements come from Yagalla’s trial depositions have been removed):

After meeting the individuals he was told were manipulating stock, and until his arrest in October, 2000, other than some sporadic and minor day trading, Yagalla traded exclusively in stocks that he testified were manipulated. The manipulated stocks included: United Energy Group, Franklin Opthalmic, Delsoft Consulting, Logpoint Technologies, Page International, Hydrogiene, Intelliworxx and TravelNow.com. Yagalla explained that in each case he and his criminal partners would identify new private companies, merge them with public shells, and by controlling the float and paying off brokers, manipulate the price of the securities. According to Yagalla, he broke even on the United Energy Group and Franklin Opthalmic manipulations; made $500,000 on the Delsoft Consulting manipulation; made $250,000 on the Logpoint Technologies manipulation; lost $750,000 on the Page International manipulation; made $450,000 on the Hydrogiene manipulation; and lost a “substantial amount” of the $500,000 to $750,000 he invested in the manipulation. On his most profitable manipulation, TravelNow.com (“TravelNow”), Yagalla made over $6 million between August, 1999, and January, 2000. Yagalla, however, spent the money “[o]n airplane travel, . . . [his] former girlfriend Sandra Bently [sic], jewelry, cars, houses, [and] gambling.”

Yagalla was planning on asking Sandy Bentley to marry him that Christmas, the first Christmas of the millenium. He was going to have a connection shut the Eiffel Tower down, and propose to her at the top. They were going to have the biggest wedding New York had ever seen. In late July, he’d promised investors in Ashbury Capital that they could expect a fifty percent return, around the same time of the Republican Convention at Philadelphia, where he’d been the second largest donor from Delaware, right after MBNA, a regional bank that specialized in credit card debt, which would soon be bought up by Bank of America. The stock market was collapsing because of the dot com implosion, but no worries. “We have invested in stocks that have explosive growth potential and aren’t too heavily tied to the slowing growth of the economy,” Yaglla wrote to Ashbury Capital investors in a newsletter of that summer. His investment letter of September sounded an equally confident and sagacious note. “The days of the individual investor buying stocks blindly and making money are gone,” he wrote. “Our strategy has faired [sic] well during the markets’ topsy-turvy ride this year, and we think it will serve us well going into 2001.” September was the month he lost over half a million in the failed Intelliworxx manipulation. He bought the Intelliworxx shares through a margin account at Lehman Brothers. Three days after he promised to wire the funds, he showed up with a personal check of four and a half million dollars. That check didn’t clear. He then showed up with a check for over a million dollars. That check didn’t clear either49.

He flew to Bentley’s home in Vegas and told her he was in serious trouble. “As long as it’s just fines,” she said. He tried to make some money to keep investors happy by playing baccarat and blackjack. He lost another $800K. He had an emergency phone call with his right hand man, Frank Luppo. “Were all the statements phony?” asked Luppo. “Ah, last year was not,” said Yagalla. “This year was the problem.” Luppo: “So they were all phony this year?” No, said Yagalla, it’s just “within the last three or four months.” Before they ended the conversation, Yagalla said, “It’s a shame all this happened, because I really think six months from now we’re goin’ to be rockin’ and rollin’ with big money…I just got myself in a jam. I made a lot of mistakes.” It didn’t really matter what Yagalla believed and what he actually did, and it didn’t really matter here if he was lying or telling the truth about when the fraud and the phony statements began, because he’d already admitted to fraud and phony statements over the phone to Frank Luppo, and Luppo was an FBI informant, and this call was being taped. Yagalla was arrested five days later50. “Sandy stayed loyal to Yagalla,” wrote Benjamin Wallace in “The Prodigy and the Playmate”, “until she learned the government was going to take away all the things he gave her.”

Sandy Bentley would leave Yagalla, but she would hold on to all the jewelry he gave her, including the Pretty Woman necklace. After they broke up, she went to the Garden of Eden, a nightclub she’d gone to before, with Yagalla, with Hefner, where every celebrity and semi-celebrity went, and where she met her next boyfriend, the Garden of Eden’s doorman, Michael Tardio. She was with Tardio when she started to lose everything, when everything she had was being confiscated as proceeds of Yagalla’s ponzi scheme. “The judge ordered Sandy Bentley to hand over the house, the jewelry, the cars,” said Eugne Licker, the attorney in charge of hunting down where Yagalla had stuck his ill gotten millions51. “Playing With Fire” (transcript is at “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”), an episode of 48 Hours devoted to the murder of Michael Tardio, would explain what happened next:

Faced with losing everything, a desperate Sandy Bentley went to her new boyfriend, Michael Tardio, for help.

“So, Sandy literally had nothing now. They were kicking her out of her house,” Cox explains. “So, at this point, Michael says to her, ‘Well, why don’t you just take a little bit of the jewelry. Could sell it.'”

And that’s just what happened according to surveillance video a private investigator shot at Sandy Bentley’s Las Vegas mansion the week those two allegedly took those jewels.

It’s estimated that Michael Tardio and Sandy Bentley made off with nearly $1 million in jewels and furs.

“He was doing it for his girlfriend,” [Los Angeles Times crime reporter Andrew] Blankstein says. “He wanted to sell the stuff off, give her money, and obviously satisfy her.”

“Now, Sandy Bentley claims this was Tardio’s idea… but Tardio, of course, is dead,” notes [CBS reporter Peter] Van Sant. “Do we really know the ultimate truth there?”

“No, we don’t know the ultimate truth,” says [LAPD Detective Bill] Cox.

Eugene Licker was videotaped taking inventory of the jewels that were left behind after Sandy was evicted.

“The ‘Pretty Woman’ necklace wasn’t there. It was definitely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Licker says. The Canary diamond ring wasn’t there and I know [it] was at least invoiced at a half a million dollars.”

Police inventory of Benton's jewelry

Police inventory of Sandy Bentley’s jewelry box. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

Missing jewelry

Police videotape of the evidence after Yagalla’s arrest, which shows missing jewelry. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

Bentley would originally tell Licker that the jewels must have been stolen by someone else, or were lost. “Sandy Bentley not only lied to us about what had happened to the so called missing jewelry, but she took it. She stole it,” said Licker. Bentley would eventually co-operate with police in the murder investigation of Michael Tardio, after being granted immunity on charges related to the theft of the jewels. Bentley said that Tardio had found a buyer for the jewels at the Garden of Eden. “Michael Tardio had been talking to a guy at the nightclub and the person said he knew someone was interested in the jewelry. So Michael Tardio asked to set up a meeting,” said LAPD Detective Bill Cox. September 1, 2002, nearly two years after the arrest of Mark Yagalla, was the night of the meeting, and the last day Michael Tardio was alive52.

Before he left for the meeting, Tardio gave Sandy Bentley a phone number. “If anything happens, call this number,” he told Bentley, according to Cox. The phone number belonged to a convicted felon named Michael Jacobs, and it’s believed that Jacobs was the man who introduced Tardio to a potential buyer, a man whose name remains unknown at this time, and who Tardio, along with his close friend Christopher Monson, travelled to meet on September 1, 2002. The closest we get to Jacobs is the attempt by CBS 48 Hours to interview him about the Monson-Tardio murders for their program, “Playing With Fire”. Jacobs would refuse to give a public interview to 48 Hours, or allow them to use his voice. From “Playing With Fire” (transcript is at “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”):

Jacobs confirmed that Sandy Bentley called him that night looking for Tardio, but refused an on camera interview. He also refused to answer any questions about the jewelry deal, except to say he had nothing to do with the murders and that he “sleeps well at night.”

“He’s the one who can actually, I feel, blow this case open,” Cox says. “But he just doesn’t wanna be cooperative.”

At the time of the murders, Jacobs was questioned extensively by police, but they never had evidence to charge him. For now, this investigation has hit a wall.

Michael Jacobs

Michael Jacobs, who told Michael Tardio about the fence for the rubies. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

For the meet, Tardio would rent a black Mercedes SUV and a cash counter machine. Detective Cox thought he had no idea of what he was doing. “Like, the guy you’re gonna sell this stuff to is gonna sit in the car while you feed money through the cash machine to count it?” he said. “I think Michael just either was a victim of too much television or too much reading.” Tardio and Monson left for the meeting at 9:30 PM, Sunday, September 1, 2002, the night before Labor Day. They met the buyer at a restaurant at Sunset Boulevard, an unidentified man, referred to on “Playing With Fire” as “Mr. Big”. “Do you have a sense of who this ‘Mr. Big’ is based on your own investigation?” Peter Van Sant asked Detective Cox. “No, not a clue,” said Cox. At 11:30 PM, Michael Tardio would call his girlfriend, Sandy Bentley. “Hey we’re driving through the Mount Olympus area,” he told her, and that was the last thing she ever heard him say. Less than two hours later, Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson were in the Hollywood Hills, where they were shot dead in the black Mercedes SUV. “I think it was a surprise attack. These guys were caught completely off guard,” said Cox on 48 Hours. “And then the car is driven down to the North Hollywood area where it’s set afire.” What was left of the car after an attempt to set it on fire was found in the early morning of that Labor Day. “There was no identifiable fingerprints found on there – there was no really useable evidence,” said Cox. The necklace was, no doubt, cut up for its jewels. “It’s long gone. You can’t even trace it,” said Cox.

Re-creation of the burning Mercedes in which Tardio and Monson were found

Re-creation of burning Mercedes in which Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson were found.

Burnt out car after murder from CBS 48 Hours

The burnt out remains of the Mercedes in which the bodies of Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson were found. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

Without any arrests a year after the double murder, police would release new information and announce a $25,000 reward, as described in “Police Revisit 2002 Homicide Case” by Richard Fausset and Andrew Blankstein. Nearly a decade after the murder, police would again seek leads to the unsolved double murder, through the broadcast of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to the Monson-Tardio murders and the posting of a $75,000 reward53. From “Police seek help solving 2002 LA double killing” by Thomas Watkins:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Almost a decade after the bodies of two men were found in a burned Mercedes SUV, police detectives said Friday they need the public’s help in cracking the case, which has ties to designer jewelry, a Wall Street Ponzi scheme and a former Playboy cover girl.

The case dates back to the early morning of Sept. 2, 2002, when firefighters doused a vehicle that was ablaze in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. In the SUV, they found the bodies of nightclub doorman Michael Tardio, 35, and his close friend Christopher Monson, 31.

Both had been shot to death.

The men were well-known in the Hollywood club scene. Detectives said Friday they hoped former customers of the Garden of Eden nightclub, where Tardio worked, would come forward with information. A $75,000 reward was being offered in the case.

“We believe the nucleus of this case is around the Garden of Eden,” Detective Dennis English said.

The jewelry had been in the possession of Sandy Bentley, Tardio’s girlfriend at the time, who became a minor celebrity after appearing on the cover of the May 2000 Playboy with her twin sister.

Bentley previously dated Mark Yagalla, a Wall Street wonder kid who in 2002 pleaded guilty to securities fraud and was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for stealing $50 million from clients.

Yagalla lavished the money on girlfriends and expensive living, including spending more than $6 million on Bentley, buying her six cars, three Rolex watches, a ruby and platinum necklace, other jewelry, furs and a Las Vegas mansion.

English said Tardio persuaded Bentley to try to sell off her jewels, even though a court-appointed receiver seeking to recoup some losses for Yagalla’s victims had demanded that Bentley turn over the gifts.

It was not known how Tardio was trying to find buyers for the jewelry, but “word of mouth would go around, especially at a place like the Garden of Eden,” English said.

Sandy Bentley, said Detective Dennis English, has “moved on with her life”. At the time that this sentence is written, April 4th, 2015, the Monson-Tardio case remains open. “The case is definitely solvable,” said Detective Cox in “Playing With Fire”. “I would love more than anything to just have one little lead. It’s amazing what we can do with one little lead.”

Christopher Monson and Michael Tardio

Christopher Monson and Michael Tardio, taken from the 48 Hours episode “Playing With Fire”.

Christopher Monson Michael Tardio Information Wanted Poster

A poster advertising the $25,000 reward for information on the double murder, issued February 17, 2011.

The Braun escort ring wasn’t broken in Los Angeles, and it might never have been broken at all if Braun hadn’t expanded outside of the city. Anna David’s “The State Of Hookers in Hollywood”, published in 2004, would report that two different sources, “one of whom is an FBI informant, said that the agency is investigating Braun.” David’s “My Time With Less-Than-Hip Hookers” referenced a disc containing the “contents of a laptop which belonged to a pimp who’s now serving time in a Cuban jail,” and this sounded a lot like information taken from a laptop that only one other person seemed to have access to, and that was Mark Ebner, who wrote about the contents of the laptop and its owner, Dillon Jordan, an associate of Michelle Braun who served time in a Cuban jail, and who would end up suing Ebner over a chapter devoted to him in Ebner’s book about Hollywood’s sleazy underside, Six Degrees of Paris Hilton. The person who provided Ebner access to the information on Jordan’s laptop was Danno Hanks, who provided information to investigators related to Michelle Braun, and who might be the “unnamed informant” who handed over the Dane-Gayheart sex tape to investigators and Mark Ebner, and who might also be the unnamed informant in David’s piece54. Benjamin Wallace’s “The Prodigy and the Playmate” would explicitly state in 2001 that Michelle Braun ran a call girl ring, whose girls had been paid with the proceeds of a fraud scheme, while David’s piece in 2004 would mention that the FBI had an interest in Braun, but only in 2006 did things fall apart, far from L.A., perhaps because no one in L.A. actually wanted to break such a ring.

First, there was Braun’s sister, Mandy Gray, who Braun brought in to help her run the operation. When Gray left her husband, he went to the FBI and told them that Braun had a safe full of cash from her business buried eight feet deep in her garage. But it was in 2006, at the “Nici’s Girls” satellite operation in New York City, “Bella Models”, where things fell apart. An FBI Agent using the name George Tarpinsky paid the $2,500 fee to join the Bella premium club. In October of 2007, “George Tarpinsky” booked a Playboy cover model and a Playboy.com model in Boca Raton. The FBI raided Braun’s house, arrested her, and brought her in for questioning. “What do you do for a living?”, an agent asked Braun. “I think I’m here because you know what I do,” Braun answered. In 2009, Braun would end up pleading guilty to two prostitution related counts55.

Michelle Braun would forfeit her millions, and at the time of this writing, would never know such great fortune again. After the end of the escort ring, she seemed unable to make much money at all. A year after her arrest, she busted a boyfriend’s Rolls Royce, which cost over ten grand to fix. She paid for the repairs with a cheque, and the cheque bounced. The next year, she deposited a cheque in her account at a Boca Raton bank, and the cheque bounced. She ordered $16K in furniture from a furnishing company, putting it on her plastic, and her plastic was rejected. “We don’t deal with Ms. Braun anymore for obvious reasons,” said a spokesperson for the furnishing company. She had a bill for a little over five hundred dollars for moving and storing her possessions. She didn’t pay that. In 2010, Braun declared herself flat broke, unemployed, and in debt for over $700K56.

In February 2011, CBS would air “Playing With Fire”, on the Monson-Tardio murders, and featuring interview segments with Braun. Five months later, she was charged with the kind of stock fraud her past clients had engaged in. She was alleged to have run a company called Sterling Capital Trust, which was a boiler room that sold non-existent shares in an energy company. Braun and another Sterling Capital executive went to the energy company about selling shares to raise capital, the energy company declined the offer, but Braun and Sterling Capital sold shares in the energy company anyway, taking in over $400K. Marc Nurik, Braun’s lawyer for the prostitution charges, was her lawyer for this as well. “The amount of money she received is totally inflated,” said Nurik. “I’m confident once we get to the bottom of this, it will all be cleared up, at least as far as Michelle is concerned. This is not something she bears responsibility for.”57 In March 2013, Braun would plead guilty to operating a boiler room, and would be sentenced to a year of house arrest, plus four years probation58. Braun, listed as vice president of Sterling Capital, was facing twenty years in prison for the felony, but she might have gotten leniency by paying over $100K in restitution. Brian Dunlevy, another defendant in the scam, who had no money to pay any such restitution, got fifteen years. “Everyone else in the case who was able to provide restitution was given straight probation,” said Dunlevy’s lawyer. “You look at this and you say these people bought their way out of prison,” asked reporter Bob Norman. “It certainly looks that way,” said Dunlevy’s lawyer59. Terrence McCoy, the author of “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure”, a 2013 article which detailed Braun’s difficulties after her prostitution arrest, tried to contact Braun for the story. “Do not call me again, seriously. Don’t call me again.”60

Though Braun’s escort ring was broken, what looked like another elite escort ring had taken place its place in Los Angeles, and was stll in existence at the time that this sentence is written, May 8, 2015. Like Braun’s ring, it is another invisible colossus, one I would never have heard about were it not for research into links between Dubai and escorts, prompted by the convincing stories told by Kacey Jordan61. The Luxury Companion featured a harem filled with various name girls of the porn elite – Anna Bell Peaks, Jynx Maze, Abby Brooks, Brittany Banxxx, Puma Swede, Dana Vespoli, Helly Hellfire, Jada Fire, Sara Jay, Angelica Taylor – many of these names are unfamiliar to my virgin eyes, but those stood out. Though Molly Lambert’s “Porntopia” gives no mention to escorting, a brief mention of the banners hanging everywhere at the AVN Awards, “The banners for the AVN Awards hanging all over the premises feature promo shots of Alexis Texas and Tommy Pistol…along with life-size posters of starlets Mia Malkova, Tori Black, Riley Steele, and Veronica Rodriguez clad in red spandex hot pants, tube socks,” mention one woman, Veronica Rodriguez, who is also one of The Luxury Companions. Kacey Jordan, whose fascinating stories prompted this search, and Melanie Rios, the girl who invited Jordan to Charlie Sheen’s house, are part of the harem as well.

From their page “See The Companions” (archive today link), both links contain NSFW content without blurring:

The Luxury Companion roster

The Luxury Companion roster

The Luxury Companion roster

The Luxury Companion roster

The Luxury Companion roster

“What I was being paid for was an introduction…I never considered it prostitution,” Michelle Braun firmly emphasized, and the About page (archive today link) of The Luxury Companion was equally careful in the distinction.

An infusion of luxury and companionship begins here with T.L.C. where fantasies become your reality.

Meet your favorite adult star up close and personal. For those with a discriminating taste for Adventure, Beauty, Passion and Companionships will find themselves friends of The Luxury Companion. Whether it may be a night out on the town with one or more of our beautiful companions around your arms or spending a weekend or an extended evening stay with a true companion will surely make a difference and bring about memories of a life time.

All adult models and Adult performers are Independent contractors. All independent contractors understands they are not employees Of The Luxury Companion, TLC. Independent Contractors are responsible for paying any taxes earned as a Independent Contractor of The Luxury Companion, TLC. All Independent Contractors Makes their own schedules of availability. The Luxury Companion does not schedule specific days and Hours of availability.

The Luxury Companion About page

Kari Ann Peniche would record a song, “You and me and Tiger makes three” (lyrics on pastebin), which made fun of the fact that she worked as an escort and her sex tape and Miss America scandals with a playfulness that seemed perfunctory. Her voice was autotuned, and her joyful mischief was autotuned as well. Her life since the videotape scandal has been a dispiriting series of TMZ headlines. Like “VH1 Star Checks into Non-Celebrity Rehab” (9/10/2010) and “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Bails on Real Rehab After 3 Days” (9/19/2010). “You keep on saying that it’s time for my therapy / All this sobriety is really freaking scaring me” sang Peniche in “You and me and Tiger makes three”. “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Preggo — Hubby Doubts Paternity” (7/7/2011): “TMZ has obtained the divorce papers, in which Justin Williams states that Kari Ann is pregnant — and wants a judge to order genetic testing to determine if “this is a child of the marriage.”” “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Exposed Baby to Meth … Says Husband” (7/25/2012): “Justin Williams has filed documents in L.A. County Superior Court…claiming he took his 10 month old son for a hair follicle drug test earlier this month after he began to suspect Kari Ann had fallen off the wagon and was using drugs around the kid…Williams says he was initially concerned because the baby “has a habit of sucking on Kari Ann’s hair and clothes and I became concerned that he could be affected by drug residue.”” “Hey doctor doctor / Think I need some help,” sang Peniche, “Sometimes I can’t seem to control myself”. “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Cheating Drug Tests with Bogus Urine” (12/4/2012): “TMZ has learned…Peniche’s friend filed a declaration in which he claims he accompanied the former Miss United States Teen winner to a drug-testing facility in July and witnessed her injecting the urine into her genital area…so she would “secrete the purchased urine” in the event a staffer at the facility followed her into the bathroom.” “When I say I’m ready, you don’t really want to help this girl,” sang Peniche, “I’m good for ratings in your made-up make-up TV world”. This story was about three women. It began with ridiculous dreams. It’s now over. “You are one interesting girl,” said Howard Stern when he interviewed Kari Ann Peniche.

IRVING WALLACE’S THE FAN CLUB: THE FAPPENING

PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE

(On April 2, 2015, additional material about Michelle Braun’s escort ring and the Uzan scandal was added. On April 4, 2015, material on the Mark Yagalla ponzi scheme, as well as the Michael Tardio-Christopher Monson murders was added. On April 5, 2015, additional material on Michelle Braun and the Sterling Capital Trust scam was added; some details were tweaked in the last paragraph of “Three Women”, devoted to to Kari Ann Peniche. On April 5, 2015, this post underwent a badly needed session of copy editing. On April 6, 2015, the interview excerpt with Gauge was added. On May 5, 2015, the excerpts from Howard Stern’s interview with Kacey Jordan were added. On May 6, 2015, footnote #34, explaining the certainty of the identification of “Fazza” Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum as the prince refered to by Kacey Jordan, was added. On that same day, the gif featuring excerpts from the sex tape which supplemented explanations of the tape being made up of segments shot at different times was added. May 6, 2015 was also the day that footnote #35, on Jordan denying that she worked with Braun, was added, and the footnote was expaned on May 7, with material from the Howard Stern Porn Star pageant. On May 7, 2015, the gif with the split screen comparison of the bedside table was added. On May 8, 2015, the excerpt from Mariah Milano’s editorial was added. On that same day, the material on The Luxury Companion was added. On July 10, 2015, the additional material about Peniche’s rape allegations was added to footnote #7.)

FOOTNOTES

1 All five parts of the Kari Ann Peniche interview with Howard Stern are: “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 25 [part 2 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 35 [part 3 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 45 [part 4 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 55 [part 5 of 5]”. Transcript for selected portions of this interview is on pastebin: “Kari Ann Peniche on Howard Stern Selected Transcript”.

From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, fragment runs from 0:56 to 1:35.

2 From “Kari Ann Peniche on Beauty Queens gone wrong”, from 3:08 to 3:18.

3 From “Kari Ann Peniche on Beauty Queens gone wrong”, from 3:20 to 3:36, from 3:43 to 3:50, and from 4:02 to 4:07.

4 From “#25 – Kari Ann Peniche Returns”, relevant fragment runs from 21:26 to 21:58.

5 From “#25 – Kari Ann Peniche Returns”, relevant fragment runs from 19:59 to 20:23.

6 For example: “I don’t regret outing Anderson Cooper”, “James Corden’s Late, Late Show: winning debut with room for improvement”, “Community’s sixth season: still smugly self-referential”, and more.

7 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, first fragment runs from 2:36 to 3:36, second runs from 3:50 to 4:43.

I find the allegations which Peniche makes here to be very believable based on the extent of her details, and her emotions throughout the interview; she does not collapse into tears, but tries to put a happy face on so many things, and then will suddenly become very withdrawn, as if she suddenly feels the pain again and doesn’t want to go on. All of this, to my mind, rings true. There’s also the fact that Peniche relates the same cases of molestation and rape in a December 2008 interview, a few months before this one, “Kari Ann Peniche talks about her rape: A steppin out interview” (archive today link) on the site Times Square Gossip:

ON BEING RAPED AS A TEEN MODEL/BEAUTY QUEEN:

I’m currently writing a book about my life called “Beautifully Abused.” I’ve been though a lot of sexual abuse in my life. I was raped twice before I turned 18. It happened while I was modeling. The first time I was raped I was just 13. I was living in Texas and it happened on by a stranger [sic]. The second time was by a Military guy while I was modeling in Korea. I woke up in a dumpster and I was just 14 years old. But I wouldn’t take any of it back because it’s made me who I am. My book is about empowerment. I’ve moved ahead in my life. I’m not a victim.

I was also molested by my next door neighbor from the time I was four to seven years old. I was living on Tasman Ave in San Diego. I’ve never shared this with anyone before. But I want to talk about it. I want to deal with it. All of these people are still walking around but what can I do about it now?

8 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, fragment runs from 5:41 to 6:03.

9 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, first fragment runs from 6:12 to 8:44, second fragment runs from 9:05 to the end, continues onto “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 25 [part 2 of 5]”, from beginning to 0:16.

10 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, 1:35 to 2:10.

11 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 25 [part 2 of 5]”, fragment runs from 1:25 to 4:36.

12 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 35 [part 3 of 5]”, from 2:26 to 3:32.

13 A full transcript of this third episode, as well as the other two, is on pastebin: “Mindy McCready Kari Ann Peniche Interview Transcripts”.

14 The main source for this revelation is “Mindy McCready weeps as she confirms affair with Roger Clemens” by Teri Thompson, Michael O’Keeffe, Nathaniel Vinton, and Christian Red.

15 Overviews of the life of Mindy McCready that were useful for this paragraph were her obituaries in the New York Times, “Mindy McCready, a Singer Long Troubled, Dies at 37” by N.R. Kleinfeld, and CNN, “The long, tortured journey of Mindy McCready” by Chelsea J. Carter.

16 Her guilty plea is noted in Country Weekly’s brief news item, “Mindy McCready Pleads Guilty”: “Nashville’s The Tennesseean reported that Mindy McCready pleaded guilty to prescription drug fraud in a local court on Monday. In exchange for her plea, Mindy will serve three years of supervised probation, perform 200 hours of community service and pay a $4,000 fine.”.

17 From “Mindy McCready’s Downward Spiral” by Jill Smolowe:

During the spring the singer, once engaged to Lois & Clark actor Dean Cain, became involved with a suspected scam artist named Jonathan Roda, 32. “He came to me under the guise of being some kind of record label owner-producer,” she says from Florida. “I didn’t realize he was a con man until they took him out in handcuffs.” But a witness told the police that Roda openly bragged about his schemes in McCready’s presence. Roda was arrested for identity theft and attempted fraud on June 24 in Tucson, and McCready was charged with hindering prosecution. “I am confident I will be exonerated 100 percent,” she says, adding that she actually supplied Arizona authorities with evidence against Roda. While the arrest warrant has since been downgraded to a subpoena, Arizona police say the charges stand.

From “Mindy McCready Leaves Hospital after OD” by Todd Peterson:

Country singer Mindy McCready was released Tuesday from a Florida hospital, four days after she was found unconscious in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in a reported suicide attempt.

The country singer was discovered in the Holiday Inn Harborside in Indian Rocks Beach on July 22. With her was her on-again, off-again boyfriend, William McKnight, who told the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office that McCready had consumed “large amounts of two unidentified substances” and drank a lot of alcohol, the Associated Press reports. McCready also left behind a four-page suicide note, the contents of which were not released.

18 From “Mindy McCready’s Heartbreak Over Death Of Her Soul Mate: ‘The Point Of Me Living Is Waiting To Die’ – Hear Her Tragic Call To A Friend” (no author):

Just days before she killed herself, country singer Mindy McCready called a friend and told him she couldn’t bear to live without her boyfriend David Wilson – who had died just weeks earlier after shooting himself in the head – and RadarOnline.com has exclusive audio of their heartbreaking conversation.

The grieving mother-of-two reached out to her longtime friend Danno Hanks shortly before she committed suicide herself on Sunday — and the level of pain and suffering she was attempting to deal with following her tragic loss is all too apparent.

“[The] point of me living is waiting to die so I can be with him,” Mindy admitted, in a chilling admission.

“Danno, this is a real love story. It is… I have been with people before. I have loved. I have done all kinds of things where I could say that I was in ‘something’ with that person.

19 From “Watching the Detectives” by Paul Cullum:

But probably the local story they had the most to do with was Heidi Fleiss. Because Hanks was the man behind the infamous Heidi Fleiss tapes.

“On the Heidi Fleiss thing, [Brennan] came to me, and he said, ‘You know, there’s talk about this Hollywood Madam,'” says Hanks. “I started putting Heidi under surveillance, and I saw all these celebrities coming and going. And then I decided to tap Heidi’s phone. The wiretapping was not for Hard Copy. Heidi’s competition had come to me — Ivan Nagy [Fleiss’ former lover and ongoing nemesis] — and he said he’d pay me to get tapes of her telephone activity. But he didn’t want it for anything other than he wanted her client list.”

When Hard Copy‘s parent company, Paramount, ordered them off the story, Brennan continued paying Hanks out of his own pocket. The story was finally broken in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Shawn Hubler, who later identified Hanks in an accompanying sidebar as “The Man With the Tape.” Hanks claims the Times paid him $2,000 to listen to all 13 hours and promised not to identify him in print.

“That whole story was filled with this whole Hollywood demimonde that trades in gossip, intrigue and information gathering. This league of rogues. They were just two in a cast of hundreds of people who lived in that gray area. But they were a hoot.”

Hanks later sold the tapes to Fleiss herself — for $5,000 — before turning them over to the FBI, after she subsequently threatened him as well.

“She called me up and said, ‘I’m going to cut your throat and shit down your neck.'”

Fleiss also had her enforcer — the mysterious Cookie, who director Nick Broomfield had been famously unable to identify in his documentary Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam — call Hanks and threaten him. He gleefully recounts his response:

“I said, ‘Is this the same Cookie whose real name is Jacob Orgad, who lives at 1311 whatever, whose Social Security number is et cetera? Because if this is the same Cookie, try to remember: I ain’t one of Heidi’s girls that you’ve beaten up.’ And I basically advised him that I’d been threatened by professionals. But just to cover my ass, I decided that just in case the guy did have the balls, I wanted to have a backup plan.” Hence, the FBI.

Hanks shows up in Heidi’s Arrest Is the Talk of Tinseltown : Vice: Celebrities are rushing to help or distance themselves from alleged madam to the stars. by Shawn Hubler and James Bates, on page four of that story, as well as in “Amid a Media Crush, Fleiss Pleads Not Guilty”, where he shows up on page three, where he is “THE MAN WITH THE TAPE”.

20 Hollywood Interrupted is brought up in “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part Two”, and Breitbart is discussed at great length in “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part One”, and to a lesser extent in “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part Three” and “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part Four”.

21 From “Scientology Secrets, Bill Cosby Rape Conspiracy + Hollywood Murder”, first fragment runs from 33:02 to 33:31, second fragment runs from 34:50 to 35:34.

22 Taken from “Recapping McSteamy v. Gawker from 2009” (direct link to the comment), the following is a screenshot:

Mark Ebner Gawker comment

23 See “Madam bares Playboy links”, credited to Page Six Staff.

24 Why a gossip blog backed by the massive resources of a corporate behemoth like Time Warner was such a game changer is well explained in Anne Helen Petersen’s “The Down And Dirty History Of TMZ”.

When Time Warner merged with AOL in 2000, the idea was to use AOL’s internet muscle to exploit Time Warner’s media holdings. But the two companies had very different corporate climates, and struggled to foster the originally imagined cross-platform synergies. According to Jim Bankoff, then president of AOL (and current CEO of Vox Media), Bankoff hit it off with Paratore at a 2005 meeting between AOL and Warner Bros. executives designed to kindle increased collaboration. Paratore regaled him with stories of thousands of hours of unused Extra footage — the perfect candidate for an AOL collaboration. Neither Bankoff nor Paratore knew what, exactly, they wanted to do with that footage, save put it on AOL and establish a brand that was something other than “AOL Celebrity.” That vague, amorphous idea was enough to pique Levin’s interest.

Plus, following the historic summer of 2005, gossip was percolating at an alarming rate. A cottage industry of blogs, almost entirely run by women and queer men wholly outside the industry, were exploiting that interest — most visibly Perez Hilton, but also D-Listed, Lainey Gossip, Pink Is the New Blog, Just Jared — all of which were proving, to the somewhat startled old guard of gossipmongers, that the future wasn’t in syndicated television or print, but online. Constantly updated, dynamic, with a strong authorial voice; snarky, immediate, and originating outside the carefully cultivated celebrity sphere.

These bloggers were defined by their outsider status — and their very lack of access — but that outsider status (and lack of capital) also proved problematic. Hilton, for example, was sued multiple times — more than once for copyright infringement. What these bloggers lacked was infrastructure and capital to expand and bolster their operations, all while keeping the same all-important outsider ethic.

Which is precisely what an operation housed at Telepictures, with the larger launching pad of AOL (which, in 2005, still boasted an amplifying power of 22 million subscribers), could achieve.

25 The full series can be seen in a single video on youtube, “Secret Societies of Hollywood (All 3 Episodes)”, and this fragment devoted to elusive club entrances runs from 4:11 to 4:45.

26 Taken from “Madam bares Playboy links”, credited to Page Six Staff:

Braun, who now lives in Florida with her two daughters, won’t name names yet. Of one very single TV personality, she said, “If I dropped his name to Page Six, I certainly wouldn’t be his idol.

“I only worked with famous girls, mostly Playmates. Hef couldn’t keep any of his girlfriends in the [Playboy] Mansion,” she said. “At one time, seven of the eight girls living in the Mansion were working for me. I had one of his girlfriends in the Mansion just to recruit for me.”

27 From “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis:

As a kid, Nici enjoyed the privileged lifestyle of a small-town California girl. Her Jewish parents owned a Baskin- Robbins franchise in Bakersfield, an oil and agriculture town, and showered her with gifts, like a purple Chevy truck that sported pink flames along its sides and the license plate YOOSEXY. After school, she worked at a gym and a tanning salon, hanging out in the apple fields at night to drink beer with her friends. A popular girl who loved wielding power over a clique of friends, she plastered her bedroom with posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and dreamed of moving to Hollywood. “I wasn’t going to stay in Bakersfield,” she says. “No way.” As a freshman at San Diego State University, Nici spent most of her time partying at frats. Her roommate got on her case for not having a job, but she never wanted for money: On one trip to Rosarito, Mexico, she entered a wet T-shirt contest and won hundreds of dollars. Her primary skill involved the computer – her father, an electrical engineer, taught her to build one for a school project. “From the beginning of the Internet, I was obsessed with communicating over the Web,” she says. “I was a computer geek with a party-girl persona.”

One day, while she was window-shopping for sequined miniskirts on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, Nici was picked up by a handsome fashion designer 14 years her senior. She soon dropped out of school and moved to L.A. to be with him full time. When he dumped her, she took a job working the door at the Century Club, where a manager offered her extra money to find pretty girls to sit at the tables with the big spenders. Nici quickly proved to have a knack for separating girls from their dates. “We’re really busy tonight,” she’d tell people straining at the velvet rope. “I don’t know if we have room for all of you, but the girls can come in.” Eager to get into the club, the women would ditch their boyfriends without a thought. Then one night, a big spender asked Nici to set him up on a date with a girl she had befriended – and tipped her $500 for the privilege.

“That,” she says, “is when I realized this was a business.”

28 This partial list of women who worked for Nici Braun is compiled from “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis and “A Brief History of a Hollywood Madam: Nici’s Girls, Clients and the Sting that Stung Her” by Mark Ebner. The names Ashley Massaro, Tina Jordan, Krystal Steal, Lanny Barby, McKenzie Lee, Naomi, Jody Palmer, Taryn Thomas and Angelique are taken from Grigoriadis; Patricia Ford, Christi Shake, Alexander Karlsen, Victoria Silverstedt, and Victoria Paris are taken from Ebner.

An accompanying picture from “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis:

Lani's Girls taken from Vanessa Grigoriadis Sex Queen of L.A.

29 From “Woman accused of $8.5 million porn star prostitution business” by Rachanee Srisavasdi:

Braun allegedly operated an online business through her corporation, Global Travel Network, Inc., with the assistance of her husband and sister, according to court records in a separate money-forfeiture case involving Braun.

The company was “disguised as a travel and security business and was used to facilitate the laundering of Braun’s prostitution proceeds,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank D. Kortum.

30 From “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”, fragment runs from 1:31 to 1:51.

31 From “A-listers nervous as woman admits running Hollywood prostitution ring” by Helen Pidd:

Braun’s lawyer admitted the men who used Braun’s service did so to get sex. “I’m not sure people would pay money to meet a porn star and talk about Stephen Hawking’s newest book,” Nurik told the Daily Mail.

32 This name is taken from the excerpts of this black book featured at “A Brief History of a Hollywood Madam: Nici’s Girls, Clients and the Sting that Stung Her” by Mark Ebner.

33 Information on Gregory Turville Harry, his associate Daniel Sifford, and their pump and dump scheme is discussed in “2 accused of `pump-dump’ stock scheme” by Bloomberg News and “Man pleads guilty to inflated-stock scheme” by Salvador Hernandez.

34 We can make the identification that the prince Kacey Jordan refers to is Dubai’s crown prince, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, popularly known as “Fazza”, (wikipedia entry) without difficulty and great confidence. “We stayed at the world’s only seven star hotel,” says Jordan, and there is only one seven star hotel in the world, it’s in Dubai, and it’s the Burj Al Arab. This extraordinary hotel is owned by the Jumeirah Group, which is a subset of Dubai Holding (Jumeirah Group page on Dubai Holding site, archive.today link), whose majority shareholder is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Hamdan’s father (information taken from Dubai Holding FAQ page: “Who owns Dubai Holding?” “The major shareholder in Dubai Holding is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.”, archive.today link). “And it was okay, we just stayed at one of his hotels, that he owned,” says Jordan. “So, in other words, somebody hooks you up, you fly over to this arab country, they fly you, what, on a private jet?” asks Stern. Jordan: “Uh, well, he owns the airlines.” Though Hamdan does not personally own the airlines, his family does – from “A tale of two desert dynasties” by Christopher M Davidson references Ahmed bin Said Al-Maktoum, Hamdan’s uncle as the head of Emirates Airlines, and this is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is one of the emirates, owned by the Dubai royal family. In “Charlie Sheen’s War”, Mark Seal would also state openly that the country of this prince – never explicitly said by Jordan in the Stern interview – was Dubai. The most relevant portion from the article is bolded:

“They call me the Whore Whisperer, because I’m really good at talking to these girls,” says the Bizzle, who went by his real name, Kevin Blatt, before Snoop Dogg crowned him K-Bizzle at a porn convention. Balding, with a soul-patch goatee, he is wearing a blazer over an open shirt when I meet him for lunch in February. He says he has hardly eaten since he met Kacey Jordan less than a week ago. “I really care about these chicks,” he continues, devouring oysters. “Most people consider them throwaway sperm receptacles, but these girls have a place in the world.”

Best known for peddling the sex tape of Paris Hilton and for representing Capri Anderson when she went public about her torrid night with Sheen, the Bizzle says he got wind of Jordan from “underbelly sources.” On January 27, she had barely unlocked the door of the house she shares with a friend in the environs of Los Angeles, which she calls “the sticks, Bumfuck, Egypt,” when her cell phone rang. It was the Bizzle, who said, “I know you were at Charlie’s house last night.”

He would also soon know that she was supplementing her work in standard porn films such as Rocco’s Bitch Party 2 with low-budget, non-titled segments for the Internet. Furthermore, he would learn that she was eking out an income by escorting, that she had just returned from eight days in Dubai, and that she had already blown through the $35,000 she had been paid by her client there, a prince. More important, he knew that the $30,000 check Sheen had written that night—which she had already cashed—was chump change compared with the bonanza she now had to sell.

“Is he gross?” asks Stern of the prince. “No, he’s hot,” answers Jordan, and Hamdan fully matches Jordan’s description of a very good looking man. A Fangirls Guide to Fazza, for example, is a tumblr that is a tribute to the man’s doe eyed beauty. The U.S. embassy cable from February 12, 2008 on Wikileaks, “Dubai Designates Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler” carries the information on the appointment:

Summary: On February 1, 2008, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MbR), Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, appointed his second eldest son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad Al Maktoum (HbM), Crown Prince of Dubai. The appointment of the 25-year-old heir apparent was not a surprise; MbR had been increasing his son’s visibility through high level government assignments and unofficial publicity campaigns over the past several years. Consolidating the Dubai government’s succession planning, MbR also appointed another son, Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammad Al Maktoum (MbM), as Deputy Ruler of Dubai. For now, MbM will share responsibilities as Deputy Ruler with Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. (Hamdan bin Rashid is MbR’s older brother who was named Deputy Ruler of Dubai in 1995, the same year MbR assumed his role of Crown Prince. Sheikh Hamden [sic] also serves as the UAE Minister of Finance and Industry). End summary.

That Hamdan was made crown prince, rather than his older brother and the oldest son, Rashid, is given an unsettling explanation in the same cable. I bold the significant detail:

MbR’s oldest son, Rashid, does not play a public role in Dubai affairs. (Note: It is alleged that Rashid killed an assistant in the Ruler’s office, thereby forfeiting his opportunity to be heir. Post believes MbR has a total of 20 children from both his official and unofficial wives. End note).

35 In a later interview with Stern, Jordan would claim that she had no connection with Michelle Braun or her escort ring. From “Howard Stern – Pageant”, part of a 2011 show devoted to a porn star contest pageant (11:40-12:54):

STERN
Weren’t you sent over by that lady pimp who was in the, who was coming forward also, or you have a different person who puts you in charge with these parties?

JORDAN
I take care…it’s all through like, mutual acquaintances, like one guy, and then it’s their friend, and then it’s the doctor, and then it’s the dentist. Which…I fucked my dentist. Which is so hot.

STERN
You fucked your dentist?

JORDAN
My biggest fantasy when I was growing up, getting my teeth cleaned, I just wanted to fuck my dentist. And finally I have a dentist I can fuck. And-

STERN
How does that work? In other words, you-

JORDAN
Oh, I’m going to get a complete set, it’s like, forty grand worth of veneers for free.

STERN
Let me ask you, are those your real teeth?

JORDAN
Yeah.

STERN
Your teeth are gorgeous! Don’t put those veneers on, they always end up looking fake.

JORDAN
Nonono, this guy is amazing. And he’s-

STERN
Let me see, move to the side, and give me a smile. [JORDAN does so] Don’t touch those teeth!

QUIVERS
What do you want!

STERN
Why would you do that!

JORDAN
I can’t achieve the whiteness.

STERN
Listen to me. These girls who get these veneers. They make these white chiclets, and they never look hot anymore. Don’t touch your teeth.

QUIVERS
You’ll look so fake. You look so natural.

STERN
So what is it, the dentist agrees to give you veneers if you fuck him?

JORDAN
Yeah. Well, he had to fuck me in my ass the other day, because I couldn’t have sex yet.

STERN
Because of your abortion?

JORDAN
Yeah. It was a big fat load. I always see how long I can keep it in for.

This pageant was a contest between three women who’d known Charlie Sheen – Jordan, Amanda Rios, and Capri Anderson. Most of the hilarity comes from the hatred between Anderson and Jordan; Anderson had been invited to Sheen’s hotel room in 2011 when he wrecked it and allegedly threw a lamp at her, and it was this hotel room wrecking incident which prompted a call to the police and brought a spotlight to Sheen’s excesses. Jordan felt that Anderson was playing the card of a helpless victim, and she wasn’t buying it. Jordan was especially hostile to the idea that Anderson was suing Sheen after he apologized, which led to Jordan, one of those people a writer loves because they’re an endless fountain of quotables, coming up with one of the best lines I’ve heard in a while. From 39:12 to 40:28.

ANDERSON
…as soon as he [Sheen] started getting physical with me, I got really nervous, I resisted, I started to get off the bed, and weasel my way away, and he picked up the lamp next to the bed and just tossed it, like baseball style…

JORDAN
Question for Capri.

ANDERSON
…smashing everything around the room.

STERN
Go ahead, Kacey.

JORDAN
So, if he apologized and everything, why do you want to sue him?

ANDERSON
He apologized two days later. Because people have to suffer the consequences and the repercussions of their bad actions.

JORDAN
He even offered you money, and you still want to sue him?

ANDERSON
Yeah, I’m suing him to make a point.

JORDAN
Okay. That’s kind of mean.

ANDERSON
Yeah, it is kind of mean. Somebody was kind of mean to me. A lot of people have been kind of mean to me. The paparazzi have been mean to my family-

JORDAN
[repulsed sigh]

STERN
What have they been doing?

JORDAN
So people have been mean to me too! That’s what comes along with this. It’s just-

ANDERSON
I’m not complaining about people being mean to you. You asked me, so I’m answering.

JORDAN
Cunt.

"You're complaining about people being mean to you…"

A post shared by Goto Tengo (@gototengo) on

QUIVERS
But this is the problem, Howard. A lot of the girls don’t like the way Capri has handled all this. They say it’s part of the job.

STERN
Kacey, you think this is unprofessional of her, even though she was attacked physically, she claims.

JORDAN
Yeah. Well. Okay. I don’t blame him.

STERN
You think she’s in it just for the money.

JORDAN
Yeah.

ANDERSON
Attacked physically, emotionally. My entire life. I mean, they went to Philly, to my sister’s, where she’s doing her internship-

JORDAN
You suck dick for a living. You’re afraid of a lamp getting thrown at you?

"You're afraid of a lamp getting thrown at you?"

A post shared by Goto Tengo (@gototengo) on

36 The details in this paragraph on the Uzan family’s beginnings and their involvement with Cukurova Elektrik are taken from “Dial ‘D’ For Dummies” by Matthew Swibel.

37 Details in this paragraph are taken from “Dial ‘D’ For Dummies” by Matthew Swibel, “Turkey’s Berlusconi?” by The Economist staff, and “Motorola’s fraud lawsuit a story of global intrigue” by Barbara Rose and Catherine Collins.

38 Information in this paragraph on Cem Uzan’s attempts at election are taken from “Turkey’s Berlusconi?” by The Economist staff, “Motorola’s fraud lawsuit a story of global intrigue” by Barbara Rose and Catherine Collins, “Neophyte status a plus for hopeful” by Catherine Collins; I found the best source for information on the fall of the Imar Bank to be the Hurriyet Daily News, among them “$5 billion lost in Imar Bank” (no author credit fro Hurriyet Daily News stories), “Share sale reminds of a dark chapter in Turkish banking”. A PR release on the judgement was released by Motorola on July 31, 2003, and published on PR News Wire: “U.S. District Court Issues $4.26 Billion Judgment Against Uzan Family of Turkey for Perpetrating Massive Global Fraud, According to Motorola”. Further information on this initial verdict can be found at “Uzan says he sought deals” by Catherine Collins and David Greising.

39 Information on this seizure is taken from “Turks take over 219 companies of family” by Catherine Collins.

40 Except for the cited article from Today’s Zadan, all information on the exile of the Uzans here is taken entirely from Hurriyet Daily News: “PM accuses France on Uzan move”, “Uzan row may worsen Turkey-France ties, reports say”, “Turkish court issues another warrant for former media mogul” (a reference to Cem Uzan), “President Gül to ask Jordan to cooperate over Uzan case”.

41 The figure of over eight million is taken from “Woman accused of $8.5 million porn star prostitution business” by Rachanee Srisavasdi; in “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”, her interview with Peter Van Sant, we get a slightly different answer, that she made over twenty million dollars.

42 The quotes from Yagalla in this paragraph are all taken from his interview with Peter Van Sant, “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”.

43 We are told it was Michelle “Nici” Braun that he talked to, via the account of the phone call from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace:

He churned through strippers as if sheer numbers could fill the hole in him. But again he grew bored, and this time he turned to the Internet. It was there that he stumbled on Nici’s Girls, a website that was just then taking the online escort business to a new level. Men willing to pay a $5,000 “admission fee” could gain entrée to Nici’s “Millionaires Club,” billed simply and mysteriously as a harem of unnamed porn stars, Penthouse Pets and Playboy Playmates. That was enough for Yagalla. He called Nici, who was herself just 21, and said he was young and had a lot of money. She matched him with a pin-up girl who came to his home and flew with him to Puerto Rico. The four days only cost him $28,000 plus airfare.

44 The details in this paragraph are all taken from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace, except for the quote “She was the first person to really use the Internet to offer prostitutes,” which is taken from the transcript of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to Marc Yagalla, Michelle Braun, and the aftermath; transcript is here: “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”. “Playing With Fire” was produced by Chris O’Connell, Ira Sutow and Greg Fisher.

45 Taken out of “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”, fragment runs from 2:28 to 2:32.

46 Details on “Fat” Herbie Blitzstein’s life and death are taken from “Slaying of ‘Fat Herbie’ Evokes Mob’s Heyday” by Robert Macy. The association between Bitzstein and Bentley is taken from Benjamin Wallace’s “The Prodigy and the Playmate”: “Sandy, close to five-foot-nine, had hair extensions and breast implants (the latter paid for by a pre-Hefner boyfriend, slain Vegas mobster Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein), and ambitions centered on fame and fun and wealth.”

47 The details in this paragraph are all taken from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace.

48 Taken out of “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”, fragment runs from 2:33 to 2:58.

49 The details in this paragraph are all taken from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace.

50 The details in this paragraph are all taken from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace.

51 Details in this paragraph are taken from the transcript of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to Marc Yagalla, Michelle Braun, and the aftermath; transcript is here: “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”. “Playing With Fire” was produced by Chris O’Connell, Ira Sutow and Greg Fisher.

52 Details in this paragraph are taken from the transcript of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to Marc Yagalla, Michelle Braun, and the aftermath; transcript is here: “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”. “Playing With Fire” was produced by Chris O’Connell, Ira Sutow and Greg Fisher.

53 Information on the reward was taken from “Police hope new show, $75,000 reward will solve cold double slay case linked to pinup’s jewelry” by Nancy Dillon.

54 For legal reasons, information on Dillon Jordan is left out of this post. However, I have read the missing chapter of Ebner’s Six Degrees of Paris Hilton devoted to him. An account of the lawsuit can be found at Courthouse News, “Hollywood Blogger Accused of Defamation” by Che Akiba, and the effect can be found in a “Archive Note” (published April 1st, 2012) reprinted on Ebner’s site, Hollywood Interrupted: “All publications concerning Dillon Jordan have been removed due to a legal settlement agreement (with prejudice) reached in litigation with Plaintiff.” The detail that Danno Hanks provided investigators with information can be found at “Hollywood madam Michelle Braun cozies up to federal agents” by Rush & Malloy: “Investigators obtained evidence from private investigator Dan Hanks, who got to know Braun while working for “Fox Undercover.” “Michelle would ask me to do background checks on potential clients and girls, which I did in order to find out more about her,” Hanks tells us.”

55 The details of the end of Braun’s ring and her arrest are taken from “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis; the plea by Braun can be found at United States of America v. Michelle Louise Braun.

56 Details of Michelle Braun’s difficult post-madam life in this paragraph are taken from “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure” by Terrence McCoy.

57 Details on Sterling Capital and Braun’s arrest for fraud are taken from “Former California madam charged in South Florida stock fraud” by Peter Franceschina.

58 Details on Braun’s plea in the Sterling Capital fraud can be found in “Former Hollywood madam sentenced in Fort Lauderdale stock scam” by Jon Burnstein:

A Boca Raton woman who once ran Southern California’s most exclusive escort service was sentenced Friday to one year of house arrest for her role in a Fort Lauderdale scam that bilked investors out of more than $200,000.

Michelle Braun cut a deal with state prosecutors in January to avoid prison time in exchange for paying a sizable chunk of money in restitution and pleading no contest to a felony charge. She had served as vice president of a company, Sterling Capital Trust, that sold nonexistent stock to investors, according to court records.

She pleaded no contest in January to unlawfully operating a boiler room operation, a first-degree felony under Florida law punishable by up to 30 years in prison. A boiler room typically is a fraud operation in which telemarketers use high-pressure sales tactics to lure the gullible and the greedy into purported investment opportunities.

As part of her plea deal, Braun agreed to house arrest followed by four years’ probation. She already has handed over $100,000 in restitution for the victims and will be on the hook for more if her co-defendants don’t cover the rest.

59 Details on the disparity between Michelle Braun’s sentencing and that of Brian Dunlevy are taken from “Did high-priced madam bought her way out of prison” by the great reporter Bob Norman.

60 Quote is obviously taken from “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure” by Terrence McCoy.

61 I was prompted into looking at The Luxury Companion from the sentence, “Jessie seems an odd choice to talk about the dangers of unprotected porn sex, when it’s well known Derek and Adonia sent her on the sheik tour of Dubai for unprotected prostitution sex,” a line I came across in a long thread devoted to retired adult performer Jessie St. Rogers (“Jessie Rogers Official Thread. New 18yo brazilian (page 43)”, thread content and ads are very NSFW). It was porn veteran Rob Black (see “Extreme Porn, Xtreme Wrestling and Solitary Confinement: The Life and Times of Rob Black” by Daniel Dylan Wray) who alleged the owner of The Luxury Companion was Karen Adonia on his podcast, “The Rob Black Show (2013/07/02)” (he makes the allegation at 1h52m, both the show and time I got from XXXpornTalk‘s “The Pornarium (page 8)” thread, contents and ads very NSFW). Derek is presumably Derek Hays of the porn talent agency, LA Direct Models.

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Isaac Woodard, Officer X, and Orson Welles

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

(photo of Isaac Woodard and his mother taken from New York Post article, “Ask U.S. to Probe Negro Vet’s Blinding by Carolina Cops”, article by Ted Poston, no photographer identified. The distance of the victim from major press centers and the obscurity of the case has caused Woodard’s name to be consistently mis-spelled, as it is in this New York Post story; the proper spelling is Woodard, no “w” in the middle.)

What follows is a product of laziness and procrastination. While working on something else (which I hope to have done in the next day or two), I thought of breaking away from work to transcribe parts of this startling episode that I came across in Simon Callow’s Orson Welles: Volume 2: Hello Americans. The sad contemporary relevance of the following need not be spoken of, it’s so obvious, nor why it might carry greater immediate urgency, now, than when I read it earlier in the summer. I do not think I am entirely ignorant of history, the life of Orson Welles, or Hollywood of the forties, and yet it was a story I had never heard before. The label “story” feels like a misleading, as if this is something made gentle and constrained, when this story resists all such constraints, and bleeds into our present.

I do not excerpt Callow’s work in any attempt to purloin readers from his book, which stands (to my humble mind) as one of the great achievements in film scholarship. I do not make any attempt to elevate Callow’s account of this moment over others; I give extensive space to Callow’s account because it’s the most extensive I’ve come across and which I had easy access to. As said, this project began out of laziness; only after starting it, did I give myself more work to try and track down additional material, including the radio broadcasts of Orson Welles, which I’ve since uploaded to youtube. I am deeply indebted to archive.org as a resource for this audio, which can be found here: “1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”.

Given the length of excerpts used here from Callow’s book and other sources, for purposes of readability, I’ve avoided using the usual quote tags. Quoted excerpts within Hello Americans are given the quote tags.

After the break Hello Americans begins, with occasional interruptions by me. I have often relied on scans made by Andrew Myers, whose conference paper “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard” is accompanied by an on-line bibliography which is currently the premier source for documents related to the Woodard case, and whose work I’m deeply grateful for. I have transcribed many of these scans, again, not for the purpose of purloining readers from Myers’ site or his conference paper, only that this case and its details be better known.

These events begin in the summer of 1946, five years after the release of Citizen Kane, as Welles is ending an unsuccessful tour of a stage adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days. At the time, Welles had a program on ABC Radio called “Commentary”, and each Sunday he would deliver a fifteen piece on contemporary political or social issues. In this memorable historical episode, Welles would put this program to very good use, and the boy wonder would show that he still had one or two magic tricks left, wielding the power of radio to astonishing effect.


Two days before Welles put up the sign backstage at the Adelphi Theatre giving his Around the World company a week’s notice, he received a letter from Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; they had an urgent matter on which they wanted to communicate with him. The following day White, the executive secretary of the organisation, visited him in his dressing room with Oliver Harrington, famous in the black community as creator of the radical cartoon Bootsie in the Pittsburgh Courier, but now starting his new job as publicity director for the NAACP. The story they brought Welles cannot have been unknown to him, because a fortnight earlier Harrington had secured headlines for it in the left-wing press to which Welles subscribed, and which – not least because of the incessant search to find material for his weekly Commentary programme – he studied assiduously. His old rage the populist New York Post [this is before the paper was taken over by new owners, and became infamous for its hard right reactionary and racist attitudes, examples of which can be found amongst “Bottoms Up! Here’s to the End of Sean Delonas” [archive link] and “Is the New York Post Edited by a Bigoted Drunk Who Fucks Pigs?” [archive link] by Tom Scocca, “The Post’s ‘Person of Interest’ Is a Local High-School Track Runner” [archive link] by Max Read, and “A Letter To The New York Post” by Public Enemy] had carried a front-page story, but it was the Daily Worker‘s headline that put the story as succinctly as shockingly as possible: SOUTH CAROLINA COP GOUGED OUT EYES OF NEGRO VET WHO FOUGHT IN PACIFIC; in a boxed inset was the phrase GET THAT COP!

The story had first broken in the Lighthouse and Informer, South Carolina’s leading black paper, after which the NAACP had taken it up, approaching the War Office for redress. It was the rejection of responsibility by the War Office’s legal department on the grounds that Sergeant Isaac Woodard Junior, the veteran in question, had been officially discharged (albeit only five hours earlier) that provoked the NAACP’s release of the material to the major newspapers; and it was the determination of White and Harrington to secure not only justice for Woodard, but also maximum publicity for the cause, that led them to Welles. Welles’s access to the airwaves, however relatively small his listenership, meant the possibility of a nationwide campaign. They, like everyone else, never ceased to think of him as the man who brought America to a standstill with The War of the Worlds – radio’s Barnum and Bailey, its unparalleled showman. They also knew him and profoundly respected him for his absolutely consistent and unwavering support for racial equality, not merely as an ideal, but in professional and personal practice, from as early as the Harlem Macbeth ten years before, through his constant sponsorship of black jazz musicians, his plan to film the life of Duke Ellington, and the rumours of how he had intended in It’s All True to feature the black population in the Rio de Janeiro favelas. He was, in a way that few of even his most liberal colleagues were, genuinely ‘colour-blind’.

Welles had long anticipated the growing demand among black people for equal opportunities and eights and constantly – in speeches, in articles and on radio – warned of the lurking dangers of the continuing privation and humiliation of a large section of the populace. The war, as he frequently observed, had changed everything; black servicemen had seen a world in which racial prejudice was not institutionalized, and had fought side by side with their white companions-in-arms, experiencing a proximity and a parity, almost a camaraderie, that they would never have known at home, especially if they came from the South. Moreover, the particular circumstances of war had given black activists at home a lever with which to extract concessions; the establishment in 1941, under threat of a mass protest in Washington, of the first all-black flying squadron, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, at Tuskegee in Alabama (lyrically celebrated on the Broadway stage the following year in ‘Flying Man’ from Oscar Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones), was a giant first step towards self-respect. Similarly, but more sombrely, the return from war of veterans accustomed to being treated at the very least as human beings – and no longer prepared to tolerate their former servility – had given rise to a series of incidents of which the Isaac Woodard story was not necessarily the worst, but was certainly the most poignant. The NAACP, keenly aware of the historical moment, was understandably eager to make the very most of it, and looked to Welles to fan the flames.

They knew that he was fearless. After a recent Commentary (7 July 1946) in which he had mildly suggested that, on the face of it, there was no reason why a black man and a white woman might not get married [I have searched for this radio broadcast, and been unable to find it] – a broadcast for which he had received the enthusiastic support of Negro organisations – he had received a letter from a young woman in Los Angeles, Mrs. Edna Fraser, which showed something of what he was up against.

My dear Mr Welles

You are not advocating inter-racial marriages between the Whites and Negroes, are you Mr Welles? Your commentary last Sunday, July 7th, would lead me to believe that perhaps you are. It is very difficult for me, who have believed in you so much, to believe that a man possessing the intelligence that I have credited you with possessing, could be swayed by a trend of insidious propaganda, or would lend his time and talents to championing such an unworthy cause. – No, Mr Welles, I am not prejudiced against the Negroes…but the Negro, as a race, is mentally incapable of taking a place alongside the white man. He is not competent to make intelligent decisions for himself.

[Etc.]


The full text of the letter continues on like this in Hello Americans, but for the purposes of this post, the opening paragraph captures its perspective in its entirety.


The emotions inspired by the case that White and Harrington brought to Welles in his dressing room at the Adelphi were of an entirely different order – both in quality and in intensity – from the petty racism of Mrs Fraser and Miss Houston: for one thing, it happened in the South, which was presently in a state of uproar, bellowing and lashing out wildly like some cornered animal. The profound sense that something had indefinably changed, and that the tide of history was, however gradually, flowing irreversibly away from it, its entrenched world-view dissolving in the wake, sent a wave of terror through the Southern states. It was a time of extraordinary ferment: in February of 1946 the riots in Columbia, Tennessee, had rapidly descended into what the black writer and activist, Langston Hughes, described as “a hate-filled orgy”; twenty-eight Negroes were charged with attempted murder in the first degree, and although (thanks to the NAACP) they were all finally acquitted, it was, as Hughes wrote, “a dangerous, costly and heart-breaking process – one hardly calculated to bolster a returning veteran’s faith in democracy.”

The very day before the NAACP delegation’s visit to Welles at the theatre, there had been a particularly brutal quadruple lynching of two men and their wives in Walton County, Georgia, where the governor-elect, Eugene Talmadge, had called for mob action to “keep negroes in their place”. Walter White, that heroically tireless campaigner against lynching, had issued a statement to the Associated Press denouncing the deaths as “the inevitable, inescapable result of Talmadge’s and the Ku Klux Klan’s advocacy of outright violation of the laws of the Federal Government and human decency”. Describing Talmadge as “a man as brazen as Hitler in his racial theories”, White observed that his election made “other such dastardly crimes” inevitable, calling on the Federal government and public opinion to halt it. “Negroes were the victims yesterday,” he said. “Other minorities and eventually democracy itself will be the victims tomorrow.” The Federal government had failed to stop mob violence.


Welles would single out Talmadge in one of his broadcasts, and a FOIA request in 2007 would uncover that the FBI considered the possibility that Talmadge may have given full license to members of Monroe county to pursue justice however they wished, after Roger Malcom, a black man, stabbed Barney Hester, a white farmer. A day after this incident, Talmadge visited the county and allegedly made this promise, and a day afterwards, the state election was held. Eight days after the election, Roger and his wife, Dorothy Malcom, along with another couple, George and Mae Murray Dorsey, were driving home when they were swarmed by a mob, dragged out of their car, and shot dead. This episode and Talmadge’s possible involvement is described in detail in “FBI Investigated Ga. Gov in Old Lynching” by Greg Blustein. Though I’m often hesitant to link to wikipedia, I think the entry “1946 Georgia lynching” gives a good description of the events.


“What other alternative is left to these citizens, many of whom are veterans?” Other NAACP officials linked the outrage in Walton with what they called “the bestial gouging out of the eyes of veteran Isaac Woodard in South Carolina”; while White forwarded a telegram to the Attorney General, Tom Clark, pointing to suspected police complicity in the lynchings and, by implication, sympathy with the Klan. “At a time when our statesmen are demanding democracy and a restoration of morality in Iran, Germany, China, Japan, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, it seems ironic that Americans are dying because of a lack of this same democracy in Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina (the home of our Secretary of State) and other parts of the South.” Welles had been saying the same thing for years: there were atrocities in America’s own back yard that ranked with the atrocities of the Axis powers.

The NAACP was an organisation after Welles’s own heart: radical without being doctrinaire. Few of its members belonged to any other left-wing grouping, and virtually none was communist (though Oliver Harrington was eventually to leave America in disgust, first for Paris and finally East Berlin, as he recounts in his autobiography, Why I Left America). Welles scarcely needed persuading to take up cudgels on Isaac Woodard’s behalf.

When he heard the full story, and read Woodard’s affidavit describing precisely what had happened to him, Welles knew that he could do full justice to it; moreover he knew it was exactly what he was looking for. “It was on Friday night. When I and my associates read it in my backstage dressing room, we knew we must begin the fight immediately.” Just as the NAACP knew that it was an ideal story to make their case, both human and particular – who cannot respond to a story about a blinding? and the blinding of a soldier returning victorious from war at that – so Welles was aware that it would give sharp focus to his radio programme, which was in danger of becoming a catalogue of complaints against non-right-thinking people; a couple of weeks before he had taken on A-bomb tests and the ending of rent and price controls [both of these episodes are part of “1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”, “The OPA Is Dead”, broadcast date June 23, and “Bikini Atomic Test”, broadcast date June 30], and had struggled to make the programme cohere. Woodard’s affidavit (no doubt composed with a little help from his friends at the NAACP) was a clear and credible statement of events, but was shot through with a sense of bitter irony and injustice, its opening paragraph setting the tone: “I, Isaac Woodard Jr. being duly sworn, do depose and state as follows – that I’m 27 years old and a veteran of the United States Army, having served 15 months in the South Pacific and earned one battle star…when they discharged me from Camp Gordon, I’d given four years of my life to my country. I had survived the war and come home to “the land of the free”. I became a casualty five hours later.”


A scan of this affidavit can be found at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”, “Affidavit, April 1946 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 1012-1013)”. A transcript of this document, along with a transcript of Woodard’s deposition to the FBI, the scan “Statement to FBI, September 1946 (NAACP Papers, REel 28, Frame 911)”, is at this footnote1.


As he described it, on the afternoon of 12 February 1946, Sergeant Woodard had been discharged from the army at Camp Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia. That evening he boarded a bus for Winnsboro, South Carolina, where his wife lived. At Aiken, South Carolina, the bus stopped and he asked to be allowed to disembark and use the toilet; the driver was aggressive, accused him of being drunk (which he was not) and told him to sit down. Woodard persisted in asking to use the toilet, which he was finally allowed to do, but when the bus next stopped, he was taken off it by police and arrested. When he protested, he was viciously beaten around the head with a blackjack, a lead-weighted bludgeon, and taken to jail. Next morning, his eyes red and swollen, he found that he was unable to see. Brought to the mayor’s court, he pleaded guilty to being drunk and disorderly, for which he was fined $50; he only had $40 in his wallet, plus another $4 in his watch pocket, which the court accepted. At first they wanted him to cash in the cheque for his army discharge payment, but gave up after ascertaining that he was unable to countersign the cheque because he could no longer see it. From court he was taken to the Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina; three months later, in May, he was discharged, totally blind, the bulb of both eyes having been irremediably ruptured. On leaving the hospital, he was helpfully advised by the doctor to enrol at blind school. After that, he went to New York to be looked after by his sisters. His wife stayed behind; and that was the end of his marriage.

Once in New York, Woodard went to the NAACP, where he met Thurgood Marshall, the chief legal counsel, and his assistants. They approached the War Office which, as we have seen, denied responsibility because Woodard had been discharged – even if only for five hours. After the NAACP broke the story in the Daily Worker, the Post and PM, the FBI finally sent someone to Aiken to investigate, while Woodard himself started to talk publicly about his story, with extraordinary calm and modesty. “Down South they think we are worse than dogs,” he said. “Nobody would treat a dog like they treated me. But the harm’s done now and I’m not near as bitter as my mother and father.” It was the NAACP’s offer of $1,000 for the arrest and conviction of the policeman who beat and blinded Woodard that finally resulted in headlines in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune as well as the Post, which in turn stirred the War Office and the Department of Justice into action at last.

The crucial thing Welles seized on was the fact that no one had yet identified the policeman responsible for the crime, GET THAT COP! the Daily Worker had declared, and that is what Welles set out to do. Working closely with Oliver Harrington, who spent each Saturday night after the show working with him on the broadcasts, and using the latest unpublished on-the-spot reports from the Lighthouse and Informer, Welles wrote what were in effect a series of dramatic monologues, which are among the most deeply felt, revealing and personal utterances he ever made, recklessly outspoken on a subject that, as we have seen, was a matter of deep ambivalence for many (if not most) Americans in 1946. In the broadcasts he plays the role of a kind of omniscient avenger determined to track down the perpetrator of the assault. It is a role – pitched somewhere between The Shadow and Inspector Javert from Les Misérables, with maybe a touch of Captain Ahab thrown in – and yet it is Welles, too, recognisably the same commentator who had been engaged in intense, urgent dialogue with the American public for nearly a year now – passionate, rhetorical, now angry, now lyrical. These weekly fifteen-minute Sunday afternoon programmes had developed a distinct identity, building on the telephonic intimacy of the early programmes (still sponsored by Lear [Les Lear]) to become almost confessional in tone, expounding Welles’s deepest political feelings, communicating his hopes for democracy and his frequent disappointments with it.


The following is the Welles broadcast that is referenced in the text, “Affidavit of Isaac Woodard”, broadcast date July 28, 1946. Transcript for broadcast is at this footnote2.

Times listed in brackets are the sections in the youtube clip where the quote can be found; the link in the starting time in the bracket will take you to the exact point in the broadcast.


From his first words, there can be no question that Welles is deeply and genuinely scandalised by what has happened to Woodard the man, and to Woodard the unwitting representative of his race. Welles starts quietly, evenly, with the affidavit: “I, Isaac Woodard Jr. being duly sworn, do depose and state as follows…” He reads it quickly, almost casually, slowing down only for the doctor’s advice to Woodard to enrol in a school for the blind. Then, leaving Woodard’s statement hanging in the air, he segues, in a characteristic device, into a story – almost a parable – told to him, he says, early that morning when he went for a coffee with Woodard’s affidavit burning a hole in his pocket. The story, told to him as a joke by someone in the coffee shop, concerns a commercial traveller, a white man who stays in a black hotel, sharing his room with a black man. The next day he goes to get on the train, but is refused admission and told to go to the Jim Crow part of the train. He protests, but as he reaches out his hand he realises that he’s turned black, and realises why. “They woke up the wrong man!” [3:05-4:50] Welles then comes back to Woodard [5:55-6:23]:

Now it seems that the officer of the law who blinded the young negro boy has not been named. The boy saw him while he could still see, but of course he had no way of knowing which particular policeman it was who brought the justice of Dachau and Oswiecim to Aiken, South Carolina. He was just another white man with a stick, who wanted to teach him [it’s actually “a Negro boy” in the broadcast] a lesson – to show him [again, it’s “a Negro boy”] where he belonged: in the darkness. Until we know more about him, for just now, we’ll call the policeman Officer X. He might just be listening to this. I hope so.

He continues, “What does it cost to be a negro? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his eyes. What does it cost to wear over your skeleton the pinkish tint officially described as white? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his soul.” [9:42-9:59]

He returns to the question of price. “What are they quoting for one eye? An eye for an eye? You had eyes to see, but you have never seen. You were born in a pit.” [these are two different sections, with “What are they quoting…” 10:17-10:21 and “You had eyes to see…” at 12:32-12:42] Then suddenly, passionately, he asks: “Where stands the sun of common fellowship? When will it rise in your dark country? When will it be noon in Georgia? I must know, Officer X, because I must know where the rest of us are going with our American experiment.” [11:57-12:05] In this phrase, Welles articulates the despairing, underlying quest of his past few years. He returns to Officer X [Callow’s excerpt leaves out a middle section, “a moment from the philosophers”, 7:39-11:22]:

We invite you to luxuriate in secrecy. It will be brief. Go on, suckle your anonymous moment while it lasts. You’re going to be uncovered. We will blast out your name, your so-called Christian name. We will give the world your given name, Officer X. If he’s listening to this, let him listen well: Officer X, after I have found you out, I’ll never lose you. If they try you, I’m going to watch the trial. If they jail you, I’m going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won’t be free of me. I want to see who’s waiting for you at the prison gates. I want to know who will acknowledge that they know you. I’m interested in your future. I will take note of all your destinations. Assume another name and I will be careful that the name you would forget is not forgotten. I will find means to remove from you all refuge, Officer X. You can’t get rid of me. We have an appointment, you and I – and only death can cancel it.

The effect is rousing, certainly, but also somewhat disturbing. Who exactly is speaking, one wonders? The tone is personal, vengeful, obsessive, but also melodramatic, stagy. As if to answer the unspoken question – and to puncture the theatricality – Welles asks: “Who am I? A masked avenger from the comic books? No sir. Merely an inquisitive Citizen of America. I admit that nothing on this inhabited earth is capable of your chastisement. I am simply but quite actively, curious to know what will become of you. Your fate cannot affect the boy in the county hospital for the blind. We want a word to lighten his darkness. You’re sorry for him? He rejects your pity. You are ashamed? He doesn’t care. We want to tell him soon that all America is ashamed of you.” [11:25-12:24] The rhetoric resumes, mounts; the sentences become shorter. There is endless play on the idea of eyes and seeing. Woodard will never see, but the lids are merely closed on Officer X’s eyes. One day, Welles hopes, he will learn “to try the wild adventure of looking…then there will be a shouting of trumpets to raise the dead at Gettysburg. A thunder of cannon will declare the tidings of peace and all the bells of liberty will laugh out loud in the streets to celebrate the good will toward all men. The new blind can hear. It would be very good if they could hear the news that the new blind can finally see. Then, Officer X, you’ll find you can wash off what should be washed, and it will be said of you – yes, even you – that they awakened the right man.” [12:58-13:37] He pants, seems to be shaking with emotion. The programme ends with him broken-voiced as he signs off “Obediently yours.” There is nothing obedient about it: the commentator is no one’s servant, except perhaps blind justice’s.

It is a remarkable performance, both in conception and execution, a passionately eloquent affirmation of human values; but – certainly at this distance – there is a quality of hysteria about it that seems curiously solipsistic. In dramatizing the events, the feelings of the pursuer come to seem as important as those of the victim, while the perpetrator of the crime – however loathsome he might be – is elevated under the weight of this onslaught to an almost sacrificial status.


There is the notable fact here that Welles moves the issue here away from the abstractions of race and differences in treatment before the law, to the immediate. This is not an in-depth essay on racial inequality, but a practical detective thriller: there is a monster on the loose and I am going to find him. Despite his question and answer, “A masked avenger from the comic books? No sir,” it is almost not to think of such figures who are there when justice fails, as well as the necessity of there being something like this. The blinding of Isaac Woodard took place because he believed there would be no justice, that no law would come into effect, and Welles countered that a moral force would be there, and this was not embodied in Welles, but a universal justice which would have to be answered, just as Abel had to answer for his crime.

The other final point is how exotic this approach is to us now, and this lies with the difference between television and radio. Welles has an astonishing power here, but I think that power would vanish were he to give the same speech, word for word, on television, a cold medium. Anyone acting outside a narrow range of calm and temperate feeling on television news comes off as a lunatic. Those who claim this area of emotional hysteria are not from the left flank of the aisle, but on the right, the most notable example being Glenn Beck, a long-time enthusiast of Welles’s radio work, and who is no doubt familiar with the Isaac Woodard broadcasts. That we now find this hysteria on the right is in part due to the convergence of religious feeling with the political right, and we see a precursor of this in the movie Network, which, despite being considered a movie about liberal frustration, I have always thought to be about, first and foremost, the conservative anger of the silent majority which elected Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (for more on this, see “Network: Song for the Silent Majority”). Welles is nearly panting by the end of his monologue, while Howard Beale collapses after one of his speeches hit a fevered pitch. The rightward concentration of unrestrained passion is also a consequence of the simple asymmetry that exists with regard to the ideas of the left and right. Liberals must make thoughtful, rational cases for a higher minimum wage or better working conditions, and still these opinions are barely tolerated to hold space in the room. On the other hand, demagogues are allowed to shout out about welfare cheats, mortgage freeloaders, liberal fascists and criminals, and these ideas are always expected to be heard, and they are heard, for the simple reason that these opinions coincide with the interests of whatever large corporation owns that press, while those arguing for better wages and worker treatment are always the enemy.

We return to Hello Americans:


The impact of the broadcast on his listeners was understandably electric. “Orson,” Les Lear, his former sponsor, wrote in a letter after the first Woodard programme, “I can’t begin to express the profound administration you have won on the part of thinking America for the magnificent manner in which you are championing everything and anything that has to do with the American way of life. I am confident that, should you ever elect to head a world-wide movement to further tolerance, your followers would outnumber all other mankind-benefiting societies a million to one.” Another letter of support, more personal, came from the all-Negro Santa Fe Waiters’ Union: “as soon as your broadcast message were reported to all the waiters and bartenders on the Santa Fe Railroad from LA to Chicago, at union meeting we suggested someone should send our appreciation to such a loyal an [sic] liberal white person…the young negro appreciates people like yourself, Mrs Roosevelt and other liberals in America for fighting peaceful for we believe the pen is mightier than the sword – We thank you very very much for ever your loyal friendship from over 1,500 people we remain yours, Al Laster.”

It was not all roses: someone signing himself A FORMER FAN wrote to Welles that Woodard was trying to get away from flight with another Negro; and the flagrantly reactionary Congressman John Rankin sent a copy of the broadcast to J. Edgar Hoover at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

More disturbingly, at the urging of Police Chief Sprawls, Aiken mayor Odell Weeks wrote to Welles: “Since your Sunday night broadcast went out to the nation, and the locale of the story was wholly untrue, I urge that you have the courage and forthrightness to retract the wrong you have done this city in your broadcast next Sunday night, giving to your retraction the same emphasis that you placed upon your original broadcast of the story.” The city of Aiken, a former health resort, prided itself on its southern charm; once a winter colony for the wealthy, it had become an equestrian sporting centre, and its population included a number of well-heeled socialites. Mayor Weeks was genuinely affronted by the slur on the city’s good name, although the county of which it was the seat was rather less fastidious, boasting as it did a sign on its borders that stated: NIGGER, DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOU IN AIKEN COUNTY. But the mayor had a point. No one had been able to trace either the policeman who had assaulted Woodard, or the incident itself: there was no record of it in Aiken’s jail or its courtroom. In fact, both the FBI and the NAACP had good reason to believe that Woodard had mistaken the place where the bus had stopped, but both were biding their time until they had made thorough investigations; they did not let Welles into their suspicions.

He took to the air again the following Sunday (the day after the closing night of Around the World, which may have affected his mood). It was a typical Commentary, starting with Welles musing on the betrayal of Yalta and the Peace. He denounces all the Allies: Stalin, who has reneged on the terms of the treaty a mere week later in Bucharest; Roosevelt’s party, which follows a Republican programme; the Labour Party in Britain, which is dancing the Dance of Death of Tory ignorance and Tory cowardice; it is the eleventh hour for mankind, as people prepare for a Third World War. He brings to his bitter reflections a tone of scathing despair at the post-war world: is this, he asks, what we fought for? The feeling is very personal and hurt – above all, weary – but it is something of a harangue, and listening to it is like being trapped in a bar with a very gloomy fellow on New Year’s Eve; it is almost impossible to believe that the speaker is only thirty years old. After a general survey of the world and the state of democracy, delivered in a listless monotone (even the jokes are weary: “some people feel Mr Truman should stay out of local politics; some people think he should never have left it”), he introduces Woodard, and suddenly becomes lively.


This full broadcast, “The Peacemakers”, broadcast date August 4th, 1946, can be found at “1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”. The following is the segment devoted to Woodard. Transcript for this segment is available at the footnote3.


Quoting from Mayor Weeks’s letter, Welles turns the tables on him, inviting him to join the manhunt. He hopes, he says, to be able to retract the story and be able to apologise to Aiken. “There are thousands of cities where negro soldiers have not been blinded. I hope that it will be my privilege to announce that your city is one of these…I’ve sent investigators to your city who should bring out the truth, unless it is too skilfully hidden…there is an American soldier who believes that it did happen in your city. And I cannot forget that. It is to him, Mr Weeks, that you should address your first and most indignant letters. They will of course have to be transcribed in Braille.” He is on curious ground here, arguing that there are more important things in life than Aiken’s amour-propre; but if you pose as the champion of truth, it doesn’t do to get your facts wrong – far less to hurl around false accusations. The tone is, again, worrying: “I’ve sent investigators to your city.” Who does he think he is? Aiken was certainly not mollified, and duly delivered to the New York Times a packet of evidence exonerating itself from the indictment, securing itself a front-page headline the day after the broadcast: AIKEN IS ANGERED AT WELLES CHARGE. Welles<s answer was to broaden the terms of the debate in the following week's broadcast. His text was drawn largely from the speech he gave at the great Peace Rally in Chicago in 1943, subsequently published in pamphlet form under the title Moral Indebtedness, as he acknowledged: “I’ve said this before: to be born free is to be born in debt; to live in freedom without fighting slavery is to profiteer.”


The broadcast, “To be born free”, broadcast date August 11, 1946:

Transcript is at the footnote4.


It is fine rousing stuff, delivered with the sweeping rhetorical power that was uniquely his, and it produced a passionate response. “Keep up the marvellous work,” said an anonymous correspondent. “We’re all behind you 100%. Too bad you’re not in politics…we need such men as you.” Another note said: “I wonder if anywhere in the world today [a Sunday, of course] was preached a sermon that was comparable to your expression.” Yet another listener wrote: “I can think of nothing nobler expressed by anyone at any time in world history. You deserve the deep gratitude of everyone that has a spark of nobility and I hope you continue to devote your great ability to the same noble purpose.” Quite separately from his work an actor, writer, director, Welles’s impact as an inspirational non-party-political figure was immense; for many people, he was a beacon.

The momentum in the Woodard case was building inexorably. The NAACP arranged a huge rally in the vast Lewisohn Stadium in New York under the sponsorship of the black newspaper Amsterdam News and the Isaac Woodard Benefit Committee; the singer Carol Brice and the great boxer Joe Louis were prominent members. Thirty thousand people heard Louis read a statement by Welles, who was by now in Los Angeles, preparing the film he was to direct for Harry Cohn:

Isaac Woodard is on the conscience of America. – The sin which was committed against him is the sin committed every day against his race – which is the human race. We cannot give him back his eyes. But we can make tough new laws – laws to drive the concentration camps out of our country – we can make laws to stop lynch law. – We can make prejudice illegal, and see to it that our American Nazis are punished for their crimes. – If Woodard had to lose his sight to show us that we need those laws, the least that we can do for him is to make those laws and make them now and make them stick. – If we don’t, we are more blind than he. – The only defence against the mob is the people.

Woodard himself spoke with his characteristic simplicity and dignity, and then – to what he later said was the most tumultuous reception he ever received. Woody Guthrie sang the specially written “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard” [a cover of this song is on youtube, “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard” by Raymond Crooke], sung to the tune of “The Great Dust Storm” [also on youtube, “Woody Guthrie- The Great Dust Storm”].


A fragment of the speech Joe Louis gave here would later appear in a profile of the man in Jet magazine, from the issue of July 13 1978, now on google books, page 55:

In New York, he made one of his rare public speeches, at Lewisohn Stadium inside the City College to protest the beating of Black war veteran Isaac Woodard, whose eyes had been punched blind with billy sticks of some southern policemen.

“Nobody in America should have to go through second class citizenship,” he told the crowd. “Me and a whole lot of Black guys went out fighting for the American cause, now we’re gonna have to get America to give us our civil rights too. We earned them.”

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Isaac Woodard flanked by Joe Louis and unidentified man. Photo taken from Blackpast.org, “Woodard, Isaac (1919-1992)”


That afternoon from California Welles broadcast the fourth of his programmes devoted to Woodard, armed with a telegram from the NAACP saying that the attack probably took place in Batesburg, South Carolina, nineteen miles from Aiken. HOSPITAL RECORDS AMAZINGLY BRIEF NO MENTION NAMES POLICEMEN WHO DELIVERED VET TO HOSPITAL NOR PLACE WHERE ATTACK OCCURRED THIS EXTREMELY UNUSUAL FBI REPORTS CONFIRM OUR INVESTIGATORS.

Welles starts the broadcast with Aiken.


The broadcast, “Welles film banned”, broadcast date August 18, 1946. Transcript is at the footnote5:

It was on this broadcast that Welles identified Officer X as Lynwood Shull, of Batesburg, South Carolina:

I have before me…wires and press releases to the effect that a policeman of Batesburg…a man by the name of Shaw, or Shore, or Shull, it is given three different ways here…the flash is just before us…

Chief L.L. Shaw. Pronounce it however you want it. Or want to. Has admitted…that he was the police officer, who blinded Isaac Woodard. Thirty miles from Aiken. In South Carolina. This is in Batesburg.

Back to Callow’s Hello Americans.


He repeats another promise in the identical words with which he ended the first programme: “If Chief Shaw or Shawl or Shull is listening – and I have good reason to think that he is – I say: if they try you, I’m going to watch the trial…we have an appointment, you and I – and only death can cancel it.” And then he moves on to deal with the Texan gubernatorial election.

Chief Lynwood Shull (as opposed to Shaw or Shawl) had indeed been found, and admitted to having struck Woodard with his blackjack when he became unruly, taking the stick from him. “I grabbed it away from him and cracked him across the head. It may have hit his eyes.” Thus vindicated, the NAACP took the case to the Department of Justice, which – purely because it was an election year, in the view of the judge who finally tried the case – finally intervened, filing federal charges.


The best background on Lynwood Shull I’ve found comes from NAACP documents at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”, “Background information collected by local black newspaper editor, September 1946 Part 1 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 893-894)” and “Background information, September 1946 Part 2 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 895-896)”, scans at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”. We are not given the convenience of an all-out villain. He, like many children of the South, was raised by a black woman and he played and socialized with the children of the black farm hands. We are told that many of the farm hands think him considerate, and then abruptly the record stops: “some of them admit hearing of several atrocities against other Negroes attributed to him”. We are faced with the stark truth that this cruelty does not stem from who you do or do not socialize with, but who the law protects and who it does not, and what takes place when you may be cruel without penalty or consequence. The Shulls ran a large farm, and they were a major power in the town. The mayor, H.E. Quarles, was an in-law, and considered part of what the NAACP papers refer to as “Shull’s machine”, with Shull’s position as sheriff a consequence of this machine. Except for sundays, the day of rest, the sheriff would always dress in a uniform of blue serge suit, white shirt, black tie, black shoes, and black hat. No one can remember the names of his deputies anymore, and refers to them always by their nicknames of “High Pocket” and “Dood all”. The sheriff is kind, considerate, and wordless except: when he is accompanied by his deputies, and then he is “a roaring maniac”6. We have all the elements that might make this into a folk tale, with not simply a wound, but a blinding, and a sheriff who is calm and unthreatening, unless near deputies who are nameless except for their nicknames, who exert almost a magical power to render him into a violent animal. These qualities give us the luxury of seeing all this as unreal, a world only of folk tales, when the violence, the cruelty, the lack of ward or protection for the assaulted man was very much our world, then and now.

Back to Hello Americans.


Oliver Harrington had no doubt about Welles’s influence on the outcome: YOUR TRULY GREAT COMMENTARIES IN BEHALF OF ISAAC WOODARD ARE RESPONSIBLE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE FOR THE APPREHENSION OF THE POLICE TORTURER IN BATESBURG COUNTLESS THOUSANDS OF AMERICANS ARE BETTER HUMAN BEINGS FROM HEARING YOUR BROADCASTS AGAINST FASCIST SADISM NOW SWEEPING A LARGE SECTION OF OUR COUNTRY. Samuel Proctor, a black man who fought in the Second World War, wrote: “The crying need of the minorities, particularly, the colored man, is a spokesman. I believe you can fill that job, even though it means being a martyr…I hope you will accept the enclosed check to help defray expenses involved in making America conscious of its duty and its opportunity” – a phrase that must have moved Welles, because that is exactly what he hoped and believed he was doing. Someone else wrote to say that he had fought in the war, but “it seems that I was fighting in the wrong place”, a common reaction. A nameless fan was even more enthusiastic: “Thousands of years ago/ God gave to the world Moses – the great teacher / Then Jesus the Saviour / Then Abraham Lincoln the Emancipator / The Franklin Delano Roosevelt the great Humanitarian / and now Orson Welles – the most wonderful fighter for the rights and freedom of all mankind.”


I am not the only reader, I think, who is made queasy by some of this sentiment. This grateful feeling arises not just from the heroic actions of Orson Welles – and they were very much heroic, and very much against the norm in 1946 – but the powerlessness of the indivudals requiring help. I think people may well see something of white saviorhood here, and I think we see it arising not out of the self-indulgence or arrogance of Welles, but the asymmetry of power itself, the legacy of a vast and cruel history.

Again, back to Hello Americans.


Aiken felt a little differently. “Please don’t come to Georgia,” said one sinister little note, “we don’t think it would be very healthy for your down this way.” The Republican county chairman John Willingham had issued a ghoulish invitation – COME OVER HERE SOMETIME WE ARE ANXIOUS TO ENTERTAIN YOU – followed by a more explicit threat of a libel suit: YOU MUST REALISE THAT AN IRRESPONSIBLE PERSON OF YOUR CHARACTER CANNOT MERELY HAVE ACCESS TO THE WAVE FREQUENCIES AND DEFAME A WHOLE COMMUNITY WITHOUT PROVOCATION. No doubt it was this that put the wind up Adrian Samish, vice-president of ABC, and his colleagues: OUR NEWS DEPARTMENT HAS BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION, he wired Welles, THE PROBLEMS THEY HAVE BEEN HAVING LATELY ABOUT TRYING TO GET YOU TO WRITE A SCRIPT AND TRYING TO GET YOU TO SUBMIT IT IN SUFFICIENT TIME FOR THEIR REGULAR REVIEW OF ALL COMMENTATORS FOR LIBEL, GOOD TASTE AND APPROPRIATE NEWS AUTHORITY. His script, Samish continued, must be submitted at least two hours before broadcast time. Welles will not be permitted to ad lib; if he persists, they will be forced to cut him off the air, explaining that he is broadcasting material he has refused to submit to ABC. WE ARE HAPPY TO GIVE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY OF UTILISING YOUR GREAT TALENT BUT UNDER THE FCC LAW THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF BROADCASTS ARE ABC’S I AM SURE YOU WILL UNDERSTAND OUR POSITION AND I AM TELLING OUR NEWS DEPARTMENT THAT I PERSONALLY KNOW YOU WILL CO-OPERATE. And he added, a little desperately, PLEASE DON’T LET ME DOWN. It was scarcely to be imagined that Welles would be allowed to get away with it for much longer.

Ignoring Samish and with only the merest nod in the direction of Aiken’s offended civic pride, he returned to the fray the following week. “The place was Batesburg,” he says firmly, then recapitulates what happened the week before in Aiken: the banning of the movie, the stripping down and burning of the posters, the hanging in effigy.


The broadcast, “The Place Was Batesburg”, broadcast date August 25, 1946. Transcript is at the footnote7:

It should be noted that Welles here misidentifies the perpetrator as M.L. Shull, when it was L.L. Shull (for Lynwood Lanier Shull), as he properly named the accused in “Welles film banned”.

It is possible, given the testimony we have, to locate where all this took place in Batesburg. Woodard would testify during a later civil suit against the Greyhound bus company, in detail, on where he was arrested and the beating began. An excerpt from this testimony, “Sworn Testimony for Civil Lawsuit, November 1947” (along with parts two, three, and four), taken from “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”:

I gets up and walks out of the bus and there was two polices standing there when I walked out. He was standing out there talking to the police.

He said, “This soldier has been making a disturbance on the bus,” so I goes to explain to the police that I had not been doing anything for them to arrest me, I was explaining to them what the bus driver said to me and what I said to him, but before I could explain it the police hit me with a billy across my head and told me to shut up. So I hushed, so the bus driver finished talking and after he finished talking the police said to me, “You won’t ride this bus out of here. You will catch the next bus out, otherwise I am going to look you up.” So then he grabbed me by my right wrist and twisted it behind my back and walks me down the street twisting my arm and looking at me just like he wanted to hit me. I don’t know but that is what I was thinking to myself.

So he was not saying anything to me and I was not saying anything to him, and he comes to the corner where one street goes down straight and another goes around a corner this way, and he turned right but instead of him telling me to turn too, he just turned the corner and twisted my arm all at the same time, and so then I lit into him. I still did not say anything, so he asked me, “Have you been discharged?” and I says “Yes,” just like that. So he said, “Don’t say ‘Yes’ to me, say ‘Yes, sir,’ so I begged his pardon and I told him I would say ‘Yes, sir’ to him if he wanted me to, which I did.

So he started beating me all at the same time, just as soon as I said “Yes,” so then I throwed up my left arm and blocked a few licks and he continued to beat me until I had to do something so I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand, and when I did that some other officer throwed a revolver in my back and says, “Drop that billy. If you don’t I will drop you,” so I drops the billy and he picks it up and walked me on up to the jail and started beating me again.

“So he was not saying anything to me and I was not saying anything to him, and he comes to the corner where one street goes down straight and another goes around a corner this way” is the key phrase for the location, the corner of an intersection, at which point Shull jerks Woodard’s arm without warning him of the turn – “he turned right but instead of him telling me to turn too” – and then it begins: “So he started beating me all at the same time”.

We are told what specific corner this is, in the testimony of the bus driver, Alton C. Blackwell, in this same civil suit. From a transcript of this testimony, at “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 1” and “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 2” 8:

Q According to this map, at right angles to North Railroad Avenue appears to be Oak Street and Granite Street down here. In which direction did Officer Shull take Woodard, did they go toward Oak or Granite Street?

A Toward Granite Street.

Q You spoke about seeing them approaching, I believe you said a corner when Woodard was apparently trying to jerk away from Chief Shull or the corner, is that right?

A The corner at Granite and North Railroad Avenue, yes, sir.

Q Did they go around that corner in the direction fo Granite Street?

A Yes, sir, around the corner down Granite Street.

Q Did you see them any more?

A No, I did not.

Q State whether at any time in your presence or so far as you saw, Officer Shull struck Woodard with his hands or with any weapon.

A No, sir, I did not see him strike him at all.

“The corner at Granite and North Railroad Avenue, yes, sir.” Woodard alleges the beating began on this corner, and this is the corner identified by Blackwell as the one at which they turn. I was unable to find anything labeled Granite Street on the Google map of Batesburg – but this is because Fulmer Street is also known as Granite Street, and this Fulmer Street intersects with West Railroad Avenue. That Granite Street is also known as Fulmer Street I discovered from the book South Carolina Postcards Volume 4: Lexington County and Lake Murray. This book is on google books, with a 1912 photo of Granite (Fulmer) Street (page 57):

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Fulmer was a busy thoroughfare of Batesburg. It was where the cotton was sold. Page 55 of South Carolina Postcards:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

This avenue divides in two, a northern strip and a southern strip, and this intersection is with the northern strip of Railroad Avenue, North Railroad Avenue. Oak Street runs parallel to Fulmer alongside it. There appears to something off in the google map of Batesburg – when I try and save the location on North Railroad which is the corner of Fulmer, I end up a block over. This may be due to my inexperience with this app. On Google Street View, this is the corner of Fulmer and North Railroad Avenue.

Here is a screenshot from Google Street View, the intersection of Fulmer and Railroad Avenue.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Many of the buildings in Batesburg are the same structures from a century ago.

This is the corner of Oak Street from 1908, page 58 from South Carolina Postcards:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

This is the building today, where we can see the same half moon windows alongside Railroad Avenue. On Google Street View here:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

This is what used to be the opera house at the end of Oak Street, South Carolina Postcards page 59:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

It’s now a florist’s, and one can see the same windows immediately. On Google Street View here. A screenshot from my Google Street View:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

That I locate this event, is not to provoke any violence, for violence sickens me, and I think it often the cowardly fantasy of those who’ve only enjoyed it at a distance, for the simple purpose of memory. What happened to Isaac Woodard was of historic significance, and where it took place is of historic significance as well.

Back to Simon Callow’s Hello Americans:


Welles sums up his own contribution to the story, returning to his Shadow mode [1:31-2:19, for most of the following, after which he reads the letter from an angry listener then reads his response, with the closing moment, “Well, that’s enough of that for now…” coming in at 6:22-6:31]:

When I stumbled upon this story several weeks ago…the name of the guilty policeman was unknown and it looked as though it always would be. I promised to get that name. I have it now…we won’t let him go. I promised I’d hunt him down. I have. I gave my word I’d see him unmasked. I have unmasked him. I’m going to haunt Police Chief Shull for the rest of his natural life. Mr Shull is not going to forget me. And what’s more important, I’m not going to let you forget Mr Shull. Well, that’s enough of that for now. We’ll come back to Mr Shull next week. And the week after that. And the week after that.

He moves on to a retelling of the story of the Unknown Soldier, one he had already written up for Free World, to which he bring exactly the same degree of emotion as he brought to Woodard’s story. “The people want world government,” he cries, “standing side by side, when the tools of war are put down forever.”

There is no contradiction in this, no insincerity: but in the end it is rather like being at Hyde Park Corner, with Welles, the radical gun for hire, on his soapbox, ready to sound off on the good causes of the week. In fact, he didn’t return to Woodard, or Chief Shull, until the penultimate Commentary some weeks later; after which Samish, true to his word, cut him off the air, selling his space instead to Chimney Sweep, the latest in a long line of ignominious substitutions that had started with Tarzan at RKO. Samish offered him a lifeline: if Welles was interested in doing a Commentary that completely ignored politics, Samish believed he had “a commercial spot where he can be sold”. It was not a proposition Welles cared to entertain.


For the moment, this penultimate Commentary broadcast I have been unable to find.


Then, with justified pride, he quotes the telegram Oliver Harrington had sent him, informing him that Lynwood Shull had been made the target of a criminal information charge by the Department of Justice for violating the Civil Rights Statute, a seldom-used statute passed by Congress in 1870 giving civil rights to black people: ACTION OF JUSTICE DEPT IS HISTORIC MOVE PROFOUND IMPLICATIONS I PERSONALLY FEEL YOU MORE THAN ANY OTHER RESPONSIBLE PLEASE ACCEPT DEEP GRATITUDE OF THE NAACPS 700,000 MEMBERS.

In a letter to radical Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, Welles said that he had had thousands of letters, almost all of which were commendatory, and hundreds of requests for the script. “You will all be disappointed to know,” he said, alluding to the 1870 statute, “that the penalty is only one year and the fine an extremely nominal one…Attorney General Clark has stated that he will ask for an amplification of the penalties…we must hold him to it…and use the publicity generated by this case to guarantee other minorities’ rights.” It was the single most effective political action of his life, though not in its immediate outcome, because as the trial judge J. Waties Waring feared, Truman and his Attorney General – “alarmed at the increased racial feeling in the country” – were more interested in being seen to have done something about the situation than in actually doing it. Waring was none too impressed by Welles’s involvement, either, directing the jury not to be influenced by “publicity seekers on the radio agitating for the prosecution of this case, or by politicians, mindful of the ballot box”. The prosecution case was at best half-hearted, crucial witnesses were not called, defence witnesses were indulge, and despite Waring’s instruction to the jury that they were trying “only one white police officer, not the South’s racial customs”, the defence attorney declared: “If delivering a verdict against the federal government means that South Carolina will have to secede again, then let’s secede.” The judge had to force the jury to discuss their verdict for at least twenty minutes. The instant they re-entered the courtroom, they returned a “not guilty” verdict. Chief of police Lynwood Lanier Shull resumed his job, ending his days, covered in respect and affection, in a retirement home in Batesburg, South Carolina.


This court case and its aftermath is well-described in the book, A Passion for Justice: J. Waties Waring and Civil Rights by Tinsley E. Yarborough, a biography of judge Waring which is scanned at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”, “Tinsley Yarborough, A Passion for Justice, pp. 48-53”, and whose relevant sections devoted to the trial are transcribed here.


The early case which apparently had the greatest influence on Judge Waring’s growing commitment to civil rights, however, concerned Isaac Woodward, Jr., [sic] a twenty-seven-year-old black [sic] whose wife was then living in Winnsboro. On February 12, 1946, Woodward was discharged from the Army at Camp Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia. That evening, he boarded a bus bound for his wife’s Winnsboro home. At Batesburg, a sleepy village thirty miles from Columbia, he was taken off the bus by police and arrested. The net morning, he pleaded guilty to public drunkenness and disorderly conduct in the Batesburg mayor’s court. Mayor H. E. Quarles imposed a $50 fine, but Woodward only had $44. Quarles collected that and suspended the rest of the fine. Woodward’s eyes were red and swollen. Later that day, he was admitted to the veteran’s hospital in Columbia. Three months later, he was released from the hospital – totally blind.

Civil rights groups soon complained that Batesburg police chief Lynwood Shull had gouged the veteran’s eyes with his blackjack, and by late summer, the Woodward case had become a national cause in the black press. Woodward’s parents lived in the Bronx borough of New York City. In mid-August, 20,000 supporters, including a number of prominent entertainment figures, attended a benefit rally at a New York stadium sponsored by the Amsterdam News and the Isaac Woodward Benefit Committee. In a speech read to the gathering in his absence, New York’s Mayor O’Dwyer, honorary chairman of the benefit, condemned the “brutal treatment” to which Woodward had been subjected and announced that New York police had recently been issued a policy statement forbidding discrimination in the performance of their duties. In an interview with reporters the day before the benefit, Chief Shull readily confirmed that he had hit the veteran with his blackjack when he became “unruly.” “I hit him across the front of the head after he attempted to take away my blackjack,” Shull explained. “I grabbed it away from him and cracked him across the head.”

Through the NAACP, Woodward also told his story to the Department of Justice. Ordinarily, federal officials might have considered the incident a state matter, best left to the discretion of local authorities. But 1946 was a congressional election year. In late September, the Justice Department telephoned U.S. attorney Claude Sapp in Columbia, informing him that charges had been prepared against Shull and were being mailed to South Carolina for filing in the district court. Fearing that a grand jury would be unlikely to indict Batesburg’s constable on felony charges, the Department had decided to bring misdemeanor charges against Shull under an information or affidavit of the U.S. attorney. On September 26, Sapp filed the information in the district court, charging Shull with a violation of Title 18, Section 52, of the U.S. code.

A remnant of the Reconstruction era, Section 52 made it a crime for persons acting “under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation or custom to interfere with rights “secured or protected” by the U.S. Constitution or federal law. Conviction carried a maximum punishment of one year, $1,000 or both. The information charged Shull with violating Woodward’s

right to be secure in his person and to be immune from illegal assault and battery; the right and privilege not to be beaten and tortured by persons exercising the authority to arrest; the right and privilege not to be beaten, tortured, and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because of having committed any offense; the right and privilege not to be denied equal protection of the laws; and the right and privilege not to be subjected to different punishments, pains, and penalties by reason of his race or color.

Following the filing of federal charges, South Carolinians closed ranks behind Chief Shull. In October, the state law enforcement association adopted a resolution protesting the “high-handed” interference of federal authorities in a “purely local matter,” and a movement was begun to raise a defense fund in the constable’s behalf. Three prominent Batesburg citizens, including Mayor Quarles and a former state highway commissioner, posted his bond. Civil rights groups continued to give the case extensive attention.

The trial was set for November 5, election day in Columbia. Shortly before it was to begin, however, Claude Sapp visited Judge Waring’s chambers and told the judge that he had been directed by the Justice Department to file the information against Shull, that the department had furnished him with no witnesses, and that the attorney general was now instructing Sapp to seek a continuance in the case.

Judge Waring now suspected that the filing of charges had been a mere election-year ploy, and that, following the election, the charges would be quietly forgotten. He was shocked and furious. He told Sapp that he would deny any motion for a postponement of the trial. Instead, he would dismiss the charges against Shull and issue an order detailing his reasons.

After Sapp left his chambers, Judge Waring prepared a rough draft of a memorandum order. Nothing that the charges against Shull had been prepared in Washington and forwarded to South Carolina “for immediate filing,” he asked: “Why this haste in [the] start of a prosecution and reticence in trying it?” Then, appearing to answer his own question, he observed:

I am not unmindful of the fact that this matter has attained unpleasant and undesirable publicity. It is probable that agitators for prosecution and agitators against prosecution are not averse to the publicity which they themselves receive from the advocacy of these measures. I am also aware of the fact that a national election is impending.

Such factors, he asserted, should have no influence on the judicial process.

I do not believe that a criminal prosecution in the courts of this country should be influenced one way or the other by the desire of any of such parties for publicity and the resultant benefit to seekers for public exhibitionism or for political preferment. I am of the opinion that justice in the courts should [be] administered irrespective of race or color and that judges and jurors must be color-blind in rendering justice. If this case is based upon facts and the defendant committed the acts as charged, he is guilty of a heinous offense and prompt trial should be had. If these charges cannot be sustained, then he is being subjected to grave injustice to allow the case to continue upon the calendar of the court. I am unwilling that a matter of this kind should be allowed to drag on and perhaps disappear after the national election. And I do not believe that this poor blinded creature should be a football in the contest between box office and ballot box. The case must be tried or dismissed and the government announcing that it is not ready for trial, accordingly it is ordered that the cause be dismissed for want of prosecution. The defendant is hereby discharged and his bail bond exonerated.

It is not known whether Judge Waring shared his draft order with Claude Sapp. After conferring further with the Justice Department, however, the U.S. attorney reported to Waring that a department attorney and several witnesses would be available and that the case would go to trial on schedule. On Monday, November 4, the first day of the term, Judge Waring disposed of near fifty cases including nineteen revenue violations, three cases of automobile theft, and an embezzlement count. On Tuesday, a jury heard the Shull case.

Isaac Woodard was the government’s principal witness. Dressed in a brown suit and wearing sunglasses with green lenses, the slim black veteran testified that a few miles outside Augusta, when the bus made a stop to pick up passengers, he asked the driver to wait while he went to a restroom. The driver, he said, cursed him and told him to return to his seat. “[T]alk to me like I’m talking to you,” Woodard said he retorted. “I’m a man just like you.” Woodward then went to the restroom. When he returned, the driver said nothing. When the bus reached Batesburg, however, the driver summoned Woodward off the bus to meet “someone I want you to see.” Once outside, Woodward encountered Chief Shull and another policeman. Woodward testified that when he attempted to explain his difficulty with the driver, Shull told him to “shut up” and hit him on the head with his blackjack. Then he twisted Woodward’s arm behind his back and led him up a street and around a corner, out of the view of the other bus passengers. Approximately a hundred feet beyond the corner, according to Woodward, Shull asked him whether he had been discharged from the Army. When Woodward indicated that he had, the police chief began beating him with his billy club and shouted, “You don’t say ‘yes’ to me, say ‘yes sir!'” Woodward complied but then struggled with Shull, wresting the blackjack from the officer. Another policeman ran up at this point, Woodward testified, and threatened him with his pistol until Woodward dropped the blackjack. Woodward conceded that he had “a drink or two” but denied that he used profane or abusive language on the bus, or that any passenger had complained to the driver about his behavior. After his appearance in the Batesburg mayor’s court, he added, he had been returned to his jail cell; no physician had examined him until his transfer to the veteran’s hospital.

Two passengers on the bus, a University of South Carolina student and a white veteran, testified that they had not seen Woodward drinking, that he was simply the one among many Army dischargees “jollying around” on the bus who had been singled out for arrest. The testimony of most witnesses, however, differed markedly from Woodward’s version of the events. Bus driver A. C. Blackwell of Columbia testified that Woodward was drinking on the bus and offered a drink to a white soldier. “He was drunk,” Blackwell said, “he was pretty drunk,” and had “caused commotions” at several points along the bus route. “Boy,” Blackwell said he told Woodward at one stop, “I’m going to leave you somewhere.” The black’s language had been so profane, Blackwell added, that an offended white couple had asked that he be removed from the bus.

Lynwood Shull, dressed in a blue suit and appearing clean-cut, pleaded self-defense in the line of duty. Shull conceded that he may have “bumped” Woodward lightly with his nightstick at the bus station but insisted that he had hit the defendant only when Woodward attempted to seize his blackjack.

I kept trying to hush him…The next thing I knew he caught the loose end of my blackjack and pulled me right into him. I didn’t have time to pick a spot. I’m sorry I hit him in the eyes and blinded him. I had no wish to blind anyone. I had no tention of hitting him in the eyes, but I had to hit him in self-defense because he was advancing on me.

Had Woodward “hushed up” his cursing, Shull said, he would not have arrested him. When Woodward first declined the police chief’s offer to seek a physician following his court appearance the next day, moreover, the policeman had bathed the soldier’s swollen eyes with warm water and a cloth.

Other witnesses backed Shull’s position. Another policeman testified that he had not been present when the defendant and Woodward were struggling for the nightstick. But he agreed that the veteran had been cursing. Mayor Quarles reported that Woodward had admitted in his court to being drunk and disorderly. A Batesburg physician, who said that he had examined Woodward at the jail before his transfer to the veteran’s hospital, testified that the injuries to both Woodward’s eyes could have been caused by one blow, as Shull had testified. Under questioning from a government attorney, the doctor did concede that such a blow would have to be “perfectly timed.” Three character witnesses, including the county sheriff and a black Methodist minister, declared that Shull was a man of fine character and reputation.

Throughout the trial, Judge Waring attempted to thwart the appeals to racism of Shull’s counsel. In his charge to the all-white jury, moreover, he observed that the case’s racial elements had attracted “unwanted and undesirable” publicity and urged the jurors to “put aside prejudice and give due justice…You are trying only one police officer,” he warned, not the South’s racial customs or “black against white.” In their summations to the jury, however, Shull’s attorneys used a distinctly different approach. One claimed that Woodward belonged to “an inferior race” and that his “vulgar” talk was “not the talk of a sober South Carolina Negro…If Lynwood Shull is convicted today,” he warned, “you will be saying to the public officers of South Carolina that you no longer want your home, your wife, and your children protected.” Another of Shull’s counsel alluded heavily to the Confederacy and the Civil War. If delivering a verdict against the federal government “means that South Carolina’ll have to secede again,” he told the jurors, “then let’s secede!”

Judge Waring doubted that the jury would deliberate more than a few minutes before returning to the courtroom with a verdict of acquittal, but he wanted to give the proceedings, ” a little more atmosphere of respectability.” “I’m going out for a walk,” he told the bailiff ager discharging the jury, “and I’ll be back in twenty minutes’ time.” “But Judge,” the bailiff responded, “that jury ain’t going to stay [out] for twenty minutes.” “They’re going to stay out twenty minutes,” Waring countered, “because they can’t come in until I come back, and I’m not going to be back here for twenty minutes.” Judge Waring briefly walked the streets of Columbia, then returned to the courtroom. The bailiff met him at the door. “Judge, the jury’s all ready; they’re rapping on the door and say they want to come in.” The case had gone to the jury at 6:30 P.M.; its verdict was delivered at 6:55. That verdict, as Judge Waring expected, was acquittal.

Like other white-owned South Carolina newspapers, the Columbia State applauded the jury’s decision. Evidence presented in the case, The State editorialized, established that “the Negro had caused trouble on the bus all along its route…that he was boisterous and caused offense by unseemly language,” and that Shull had “struck the veteran in discharge of his duty and in self-defense.”

A special prosecutor was sent to Columbia from Washington to try the case. This may have been an implied insinuation that the case would not receive fair and unbiased treatment in the South, but it also removes the possibility of any possible future implications of the sort….

Such intercession on the part of the central government in the affairs of the states can lead only to a renewal of argument over states’ rights. It is therefore an unwholesome influence against unity in the Union, and something to be studiously avoided whenever possible.

While hardly agreeing with The State’s assumption that justice had been served, Judge Waring had no quarrel with the Shull jury’s verdict. “I made no comment,” he later recalled.

I have no comment or criticism of them now. I couldn’t ask them to find [Shull] guilty on the slimness of that case, but I was shocked at the hypocrisy of my government and your government in submitting that disgraceful case before a jury. I was also hurt that I was made a party to it, because I had to be a party to it, however unwilling I was.

Isaac Woodward’s plight, the racial appeals of Shull’s counsel, and the Justice Department’s failure to pursue the prosecution aggressively had a tremendous impact on Judge Waring. The case was also, he would later say, Elizabeth Waring’s “baptism in racial prejudice.” Partly to escape the increasingly chilly atmosphere of Charleston, Elizabeth often accompanied here husband when he heard cases in Columbia and other communities where they were still graciously received by the local bar. A March 1946 society column in the Columbia State noted, for example, “Mrs. J. Waties Waring, attractive wife of Judge Waring, lending a breath of spring to the federal courthouse yesterday with a lovely silk dress and charming straw hat.” Elizabeth heard the Woodward case, then returned to their hotel room in tears. She told Judge Waring that she had “never heard such a terrible thing and had no idea how bad the situation was.” When she confessed her shock to a Columbia matron, her acquaintance wearily responded, “Mrs. Waring, that sort of thing happens all the time. It’s dreadful, but what are we going to do about it?”


We return to Callow’s Hello Americans:


The event nevertheless had a considerable long-term effect. Among other things, it politicised Judge Waring, who became a close associate of the NAACP; he lived to be the first judge of modern times formally to declare segregated schooling unequal. The path to racial integration, the bare minimum for civilised interracial relations, was a long and stony one, and one that has perhaps not ended, but the Woodard case was a valuable step along it. His testimony illustrated as vividly as anything could have done that the issue was, above all, one of the right to respect. The whole incident had begun in the bus when the driver had cursed him for making him stop so that Woodard could use the toilet. “Talk to me like I’m talking to you,” the mild Woodard had said. “I’m a man just like you.” It was for this outrage that the driver reported him to the police. And when he got off the bus at Batesburg to meet “someone I want you to see”, and Shull had hit him on the head with his blackjack, Woodard answered the question as to whether he’d been discharged from the army with the single word “Yes”. “Don’t say yes to me,” Shull had said, “say yes sir.” And then, enraged by Woodard’s impertinence, he laid about him again with renewed vigour.

Welles did not often speak of his involvement in the case, but some years later, in London in 1955, he recounted the story on his television programme Orson Welles’s Scrapbook. And having recounted it, he observed:

We’re told that we should co-operate with the authorities. I’m not an anarchist. I don’t want to overthrow the rule of law, on the contrary, I want to bring the policeman to law. Obviously individual effort won’t do any good. There’s nothing an individual can do about protecting the individual in society. I’d like it very much if somebody would make a great big international organisation for the protection of the individual. It would be very nice to have that sort of an organisation, be nice to have that sort of card. I see the card as fitting into the passport, a little larger than the passport, with a border around it in bright colours, so that it would catch the eyes of the police. And they’d know who they were dealing with…and it might read something as follows. “This is to certify that the bearer is a member of the human race.”

This mellow and rueful tone was not available to Welles in the forties. Too much was at stake.


Callow is a superb and thorough researcher, but here he gets a detail wrong. In his first volume, he eloquently describes the abilities of Welles as a painter and sketcher, able to draw up easily the appearance of a character, with this sketch carrying a succinct essence of the character, and this programme for the BBC was not a memory book, but a tribute to the skills of the director in this area, Orson Welles’s Sketchbook, with each episode featuring Welles sketching various episodes and characters while telling his stories. This episode, along with the rest of the Sketchbook series, is currently on youtube: “Orson Welles Sketchbook – Episode 3: The Police”. The opening of the episode is devoted to the Woodard case, with Welles sketching the man, and his description leaving no doubt of the importance of the case to him. During this opening, he appears to commingle details from the case. The policemen did wish to make Woodard appear drunk, and they offered him something to drink, and they poured water over his head to wash the blood from his wounds, but here they now pour alcohol from a bucket on his head. Full transcript of this program is at the footnote9:

I was, uh, many years, a radio commentator…in America. During that time, of course, I had occasion to speak on a great variety of subjects. *tears paper out of sketchbook* Of all those subjects, one of the most interesting stories, the one that sticks most vividly in memory, had to do with a Negro soldier. Here he is:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Boy had seen service in the South Pacific, he was on his way home. Home was in one of the Southern states…he was on a bus, on the way he felt ill, he asked the bus driver to let him off. Bus driver refused, abusively. There was an argument, at the end of which a policeman was called in, who dragged the boy out of the bus, took him behind a building, and beat him viciously. And when he was unconscious, poured gin over him, put him in jail, charged him with drunkenness and assault. When the boy regained consciousness, he discovered that he was blind. The policeman had literally beaten out his eyes. Now, of course, that sortof policeman is the exception. That’s when a policeman is a criminal in uniform. I had the satisfaction of being instrumental in bringing that particular policeman to justice. Case was brought to my attention, and I brought it to the attention of the radio public, and we did finally manage to locate this man, and bring him into a court of law.

This episode would be an ending for the Welles in the venue which allowed him to make such an extraordinary debut in movies, the medium of radio. The crucial importance of radio for Welles in shaping his sensibility and his movies is often understated, if not ignored entirely, because the medium of episodic radio was moribund – if not extinct – for decades until its revival by This American Life, a revival further sustained by programs like The Moth. These, however, are still a different creature than what Welles was working with, fictional drama in contrast to non-fictional reporting, essays, and memoir. Radio had sustained Welles in between his film work, and though it is now entirely forgotten, one can count the Woodard case among his greatest triumphs, a result of his genius for this medium. That his film career would go into an advancing and steep decline with the end of radio is a possible connection to any reader of Callow’s Hello Americans, yet one seemingly little noted by many. Hello Americans:

The Commentary of 1 September was not only Welles’s last appearance in the series, but his last appearance on American radio, the medium in which he had earned a living for most of his professional life, and which he had loved in so many and various ways – some admittedly not wisely, but too well. He had understood its possibilities from the moment he started to work in it; he had brought what he learned there to the theatre and to film. Latterly, he had seemed to lose his youthful interest in it as a medium per se; he had become captivated rather by its possibilities as the most direct means of conveying his ideas, unmediated by production of any sort, to the American people. It was a very pure form: just his voice and the listener’s ear.

Lynwood Shull would outlive both Woodard and Welles. The legendary film director would die in 1985 (given his celebrity and status, there is no question of the date of October 11 1985, and his New York Times obituary is here: “Orson Welles is Dead at 70; Innovator of Film and Stage”), while Woodard would die at 73, on September 23, 1992, a date which I get from the less reliable wikipedia and the entry, “Isaac Woodard”, which carries no citation for the date of death. Lynwood Shull would die at age ninety-five in 1997, a detail which can be found alongside a description of the Shull descendants in The Grace of Silence: A Family of Memoir. This memoir by NPR correspondent Michele Norris focuses on her own family, and her father being shot by the police during the same era of Isaac Woodard’s blinding. While exploring her own family history, Norris investigates the Woodard case and interviews surviving family members. From Grace of Silence:


The man accused of blinding Isaac Woodard, Police Chief Lynwood Shull, pretty much disappeared from the historical record after his acquittal in November 1946. He stayed in and around Batesburg for most of his life. He had a daughter and worked for a time as the county road commissioner. He died in December 1997, at the age of ninety-five. Eager to know more about him, I called up some of his relatives: not a one had a clue that Lynwood Shull had been a figure in the national news for his involvement in the Woodard case. They had no idea that Shull had been the subject of a series of radio tirades by Orson Welles, the creator of Citizen Kane and The War of the Worlds. Most were dumbfounded to discover that their relative had been accused of a crime so heinous as to prompt executive action by a sitting U.S. president. Some were eager to get me off the phone, but others wanted to hear more.

Patsy Quarles, who married into the family, learned of the story from news clippings she discovered while cleaning out her in-laws’ farmstead. “It was hush-hush,” she said. “I was married thirty years before I even heard it mentioned. At that time a newspaper article turned up and I said what was this about and [my husband] said it is not something the family talks about.” Quarles told me that she wants to know more but is afraid to press the subject.

Hugh Shull, who lives in Lexington, South Carolina, is a nephew of Shull’s. His father, Cothran, was the youngest of six Shull siblings; Lynwood was the oldest. When I asked Hugh if he had ever heard of Isaac Woodard, he said, “Never heard a word of any of this, and I am fifty-seven years old.” In one of the most uncomfortable conversations I’ve been party to, I read Woodard’s affidavit to Hugh Shull on the phone; he gasped time and again at the other end of the line.

“He is my uncle Lynwood,” Hugh Shull said. “It is a shock to me. Yes, ma’am. Not so much a shock that things like that happened in that period. But a shock that he would do that.” I explained that my father was a black veteran also wounded in a police shooting, and that he, too, had kept the story to himself to avoid passing his pain on to his loved ones. Shull told me, “They say that was the greatest generation, the ability to try to protect their family, and I guess that is what they did. They protected their families.” The Shull family had also been burdened, it appears, and in some ways shaped, by the weight of silence. Hugh Shull seemed conflicted about what he’d heard. “It makes me feel ashamed that something like that happened, and I don’t know if I should apologize or what, but I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Davis and Betty Shull live in nearby Aiken County, South Carolina. They were not close to Lynwood Shull; they last saw him at a livestock market years before his death. They, too, were in the dark about Lynwood, but, as they see it, the connection of their family name to the Woodard scandal is no cause for apology. “It does not bother me,” Davis Shull, Lynwood’s cousin, said. “I did not know it. I would assume the man could have been at fault. If he [Shull] was acquitted, [Woodard] probably did something.”

Davis Shull is troubled by the notion that all Shulls – all southerners, for that matter – should be besmirched by any one incident. “We’re all supposed to be haters,” Davis said. “But hey! We have relatives who are black. We know who they are. Goes back to my great-granddaddy. We knew who they are and one of them was even raised up in the same house with my grandmother. In some way we see things clearly.” His wife, Betty, noted that the South’s tortured history vis-a-vis race makes it hard for whites to wade into racial discussions. “Nowadays everything is racist,” she told me. “No matter what you say. You can’t tell the truth without being racist. You can’t say anything.”

Listening to Davis and Betty Shull, I couldn’t help but think of the newsreels from the civil rights era’s most vicious conflicts. Lynwood Shull is dead, but many of the people who threw bricks at college students, or spat at ballplayers, or yelled awful things at schoolchildren are still alive. And if America is as determined as it appears to be to have a frank conversation about race, those very people, who’ve been denounced and derided – demonized – must have a seat at the table, so that they can be a part of the dialogue. For often discussions about race are one-sided, driven only by those who have experienced directly or through family ties the burden of rampant and vicious discrimination. The “success despite oppression” trope is quite common in politics, business, and the media. Less common – more muted, perhaps – are the viewpoints of people who enforced, enjoyed, or evolved past presumed white privilege. Their stories and sentiments, too, must be considered for greater understanding, as all of us try to explore and explain a country that has moved from the legislated marginalization of people of color to their predicted attainment of majority status in less than forty years.


The voice of Isaac Woodard, his own voice, is almost entirely missing from all these accounts. The closest I have come is his testimony as part of a lawsuit against the Greyhound company. He would lose the lawsuit, as described in the contemporary piece, “Greyhound Not Liable For Beating” by A. H. Calloway, and for which I am grateful to “jimgaines” for clipping. What follows is Woodard’s testimony. Nutter is T. Gillis Nutter, attorney for plaintiff, while Morris is Stanley C. Morris, attorney for the defendant. This testimony is transcribed from the scan, “Sworn Testimony for Civil Lawsuit, November 1947” (along with parts two, three, and four) at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”.


Q I wish you would turn to the jury there on your left and state in your own language what occurred or what happened to you between Augusta, Georgia and Batesburg, South Carolina.

A What occurred after I boarded the bus?

Q Yes.

A Well, a few miles out of town, about an hour’s ride, the bus driver stopped the bus. I asked him did he have time to wait until I go to the rest room, I mean the latrine. He says to me, “Hell, no.” He said, “God damn it, go back and sit down. I ain’t got time to wait.” I says, “God damn it, talk to me like I am talking to you. I am a man just like you.” He said, “Go ahead then and hurry back.”

Well, I goes ahead and hurried back and takes my seat again. That was all of that. So he did not say anything more to me and I did not say anything more to him until we come into Batesburg, South Carolina. He gets in Batesburg and he stops and gets off the bus and I don’t know what he got off the bus for, but he came back to the bus and walks up to me and taps me on the shoulder and says, “Get up, some one outside wants to see you.” He turns around and walks back out of the bus. I gets up and walks out of the bus and there was two polices standing there when I walked out. He was standing out there talking to the police.

He said, “This soldier has been making a disturbance on the bus,” so I goes to explain to the police that I had not been doing anything for them to arrest me, I was explaining to them what the bus driver said to me and what I said to him, but before I could explain it the police hit me with a billy across my head and told me to shut up. So I hushed, so the bus driver finished talking and after he finished talking the police said to me, “You won’t ride this bus out of here. You will catch the next bus out, otherwise I am going to look you up.” So then he grabbed me by my right wrist and twisted it behind my back and walks me down the street twisting my arm and looking at me just like he wanted to hit me. I don’t know but that is what I was thinking to myself.

So he was not saying anything to me and I was not saying anything to him, and he comes to the corner where one street goes down straight and another goes around a corner this way, and he turned right but instead of him telling me to turn too, he just turned the corner and twisted my arm all at the same time, and so then I lit into him. I still did not say anything, so he asked me, “Have you been discharged?” and I says “Yes,” just like that. So he said, “Don’t say ‘Yes’ to me, say ‘Yes, sir,’ so I begged his pardon and I told him I would say ‘Yes, sir’ to him if he wanted me to, which I did.

So he started beating me all at the same time, just as soon as I said “Yes,” so then I throwed up my left arm and blocked a few licks and he continued to beat me until I had to do something so I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand, and when I did that some other officer throwed a revolver in my back and says, “Drop that billy. If you don’t I will drop you,” so I drops the billy and he picks it up and walked me on up to the jail and started beating me again. He hit me and knocked me unconscious and I fell; so when I come to myself he hollered to me to get up, and when I went to get up he knocked me back to the ground. He had the end of his billy driving it into my eyeballs. So when he did that I gets up and he grabbed me by the left shoulder and shoved me inside the cell and shut the door. So I walked over to the bench and leaned up on the bunk there and in a few minutes he come in, opened the door and said “Here’s your wallet,” and passed my wallet in and it fell near my feet, which I could still see a little at that time. So I picks up my wallet and puts it in my pocket, so I scuffled around and lay down on the bunk, so after a while I goes to sleep. The next morning —

Q Let me interrupt you there. How many times did he hit you, if you know, between the bus station and the turn of the corner?

A Well, I can’t say just about how many but my estimate about it is at least six or seven times, I know.

Q That was before you got to the jail?

A That is right.

Q After you turned the corner there facing the jail how many times did he hit you then?

A I wouldn’t know about how many times he hit me then, but it was more than one or two times. I know that.

Q You spoke of him punching you in the eyes. When did he do that?

A That is when I was right in front of the jail.

Q How many times did he punch you in the eyes?

A I don’t know how many times he punched me in the eyes, but I do remember that he was jabbing into my eyes when I come to myself.

Q Did he jab you more than once in the eyes?

A I believe he did.

Q What do you mean by jabbing you in the eyes; what did he do?

A He had the end of his billy longways driving it into my eyes like that (demonstrating).

Q Now, you say you lay down on the bunk. Then what did you do after that?

A So I goes to sleep, so the next morning he came in and said, “All right, come on out. Let’s go up and see what the judge has to say to you.” I says, “I can’t see.” He says, “You can feel, can’t you?” So I did not make no move to come out, so I guess he saw then that I could not see anything, so he walks on back to me and catches me by my left arm and leads me up to the fosset [sic] and tells me to wash my face. So I washed my face. He leads me on up to the judge and he told the judge, he says, “This soldier was making a disturbance on the bus last night, drunk and disorderly.” The judge asked me, “Do you have anything to say?” I says, “Yes, sir.” So I explained to him what I asked the bus driver and what the driver says to me and what I said to him, about him cursing me and me cursing him. When I said that the judge said, “Well, I will tell you, we don’t have such stuff like that down here.”

He says, “I find you fifty dollars and give you thirty days hard labor on the road.” I says, “I will pay the fifty dollars but I don’t have it all at the time.” The Chief of Police says, “You have some money in your wallet though,” so he took my wallet and I had forty dollars in it. He took the forty dollars out and he said, “Is that all the money you have?” I said, “No, I have some more in my watch pocket.” I had four one-dollar bills in my watch pocket and I pulled it out and they took that. So I had a check in my pocket for $694,73 and he pulled that out and he says, “I see you have a check from the Government. Sign your name here.” I said I could not sign my name because I never had tried to sign my name without seeing, so he gave me that check back, so the judge told the police to carry me back and lock me up then.

Q When you were taken for trial there did you have an attorney in the court that morning, a lawyer to represent you?

A No, sir.

Q Did you have any friends there?

A No, sir.

MR. MORRIS: I do not believe that is material, Your Honor.

THE COURT: It is not prejudicial to give the background of the entire affair.

MR. NUTTER: We also allege in our bill of complaint that he was afraid, that he did not resist.

THE COURT: Very well, you may go ahead. The objection is overruled. (Exception)

MR. NUTTER: You say you paid forty-four dollars?

A Yes, sir.

Q Why did you pay it?

A Because I was scared. He had done beat me up so bad I couldn’t see, so I paid it.

MR. NORRIS: We object to that last question and the answer, and move to strike them out.

THE COURT: That is the explanation of why he paid the fine. In your opening statement, Mr. Morris, I believe you said that he pleaded guilty. I think it is proper for the witness to say why he pleaded guilty, if he did so plead, and why he paid the fine. The objection is overruled. (Exception)

MR. NUTTER: After your trial where did you go then?

A I goes back down and in a few minutes, after I am back in the cell and laying down, the Chief of Police he comes in and he says to me, “We have some whiskey upstairs. Here, take a drink,” but I did not accept, so he goes out comes back and says he brought me a hot towel to put across my forehead. He says, “I am going to get a doctor for you.” So he goes out to get the doctor and come back and said, “I did not find no doctor but I have some eye wash,” so he poured that into my eyes, so I lie back down until later on they brought my lunch in and set it down beside the bed and said, “There is your lunch,” so I tasted it but it made me sick, so I did not eat it, I left it there.

Q Then what happened?

A So then about 5 o’clock that evening he come in and he says, “Get up and put your clothes on. I am going to carry you to the hospital.” I asked him what hospital and he said he was going to take me to the Veterans’ Hospital at Columbia, South Carolina, so I gets up and puts my clothes on and he leads me out and puts me in the car. I asked him just as we left the jail house, I says, “What town is this?” He said, “It is Aiken, South Carolina.” He carries me then on to the hospital, so the doctor went in and he lays me down on the bench or a chair or something, anyway I know I lies down. So one of the nurses or a clerk or somebody, anyway, she commenced quizzing me, asking me where I was born and things like that, and I told her. After a while the doctor came in, and the doctor says to the police, “What is the matter with this fellow here, this soldier?” The police says, “He was drunk and disorderly last night on the bus.” so the doctor asked the police where he was from and he told him Batesburg, South Carolina — I mean Aiken, South Carolina, is where he told him he was from. So he asked me was I drunk and I told him no. So he had the nurse take me on into the room and put me to bed. In a few minutes after that the nurse come around and started giving me shots; so I stayed there for two months.

Q You were there two months, you say?

A yes. So when I got ready to leave the doctor told me that I was permanently blind and the best thing to do is to go ahead and join a blind school, and one fellow come in and took out a pension for me for fifty dollars a month, but I never did receive it, I don’t [know] what become of it.


The question of any great issue is always, “What is to be done?” I do not believe that remembering necessarily requires an immediate answer to this question, or that the simple act of remembering is contingent on providing an answer. I believe the first step in any resolution will always, and can only be, remembering.

(Substantial edits, including new material and spellchecking were made on September 3rd, 2014, though no doubt further additions will still be made.)

FOOTNOTES

1 Woodard’s affidavit, transcribed from “Affidavit, April 1946 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 1012-1013)”:

I, ISAAC WOODARD, JR., being duly sworn, do depose and state as follows:

THAT, I reside at 1100 Franklin Avenue, Bronx, New York, Apartment 2. I am 27 years old, and a veteran of the United States Army, having served from the 12th of October, 1952, to the 12th of February, 1946, when I received an honorable discharge from Camp Gordon, Georgia. I served for 15 months in the South Pacific with the 429th Port Battalion. I served in the Philippines and in New Guinea and earned one battle star.

I was discharged about 5:30 P.M. on February 12, 1946, from Camp Gordon, Georgia. At 8:30 P.M. at the Greyhound Terminal in Atlanta, Georgia, while I was in uniform, I purchased a ticket to Winnsboro, South Carolina and took the bus headed there to pick up my wife to come to New York to see my father and mother. About one hour out of Atlanta the bus driver stopped at a small drug store. As he stopped, I asked him if he had time to wait for me until I had a chance to go to the rest room. He cursed and said, “No.” When he cursed me, I cursed him back. After I cursed him, he said, “Go ahead and get off and hurry back,” so I got off, hurrying back as he said.

About half an hour later, when the bus got to Aiken, he stopped again and got off and went and got the police. I did not know what he was doing and thought it was just a regular stop. He came back and came in the bus and came to me and said, “Come outside for a minute,” and I got off the bus. When I walked out, the police were there. As I walked out, the bus driver started telling the police that I was the one that was disturbing the bus. When he said that, I started explaining to the police that I was not raising a disturbance on the bus, but they didn’t give me a chance to explain. The policeman struck me with a billy across my head and told me to “shut up.” After he finished talking he said to me, “You won’t catch this bus out of here, you catch the next bus.”

After that, he grabbed me by my left arm and twisted it behind my back, and walked me down the street, continually twisting my wrist. I figured he was trying to make resist. I did not resist against him. He asked me was I discharged, and I told him, “Yes.” When I said, “Yes,” that is when he started beating me with the billy; hitting me across the top of my head. After that, I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand. He ran behind my back and grabbed my arm again. I had him by his right shoulder. After that another policeman came up and throw [sic] his gun on me and told me to drop the billy or he would drop me, so I dropped the billy.

After I dropped the billy, the second policeman hold his gun on me while the other one was beating me as we were walking down the street. I did not see anyone on the street. When we got to the door of the police station, he struck me again and knocked me unconscious. After I commenced to come to myself, he hollered, “Get up.” When I started to get up, he started punching me in my eyes with the end of his billy. I finally got up, and when I got up, he pushed me inside the jail house and locked me up. I could still see for a few minutes as I can remember, because I was hardly conscious.

A few minutes after he locked me up, he came in and threw me my purse. He went back out and locked the door. I picked out a cot and lied down.

I woke up the next morning and could not see. Someone brought me my breakfast to the bed. After that, a policeman came to the door and opened the door and told me to come out. He said, “Let’s go up here and see what the judge wants.” I told him that I could not see how to come out, I was blind. He said, “Feel your way out.” I did not make any move to come out, so he walked in and led me to a sink and told me to wash my face, and said that I would be all right after I washed my face. He then led me up to the judge, and the judge said to me, “You were raising sand on the last night – – – stubborn.” So I said to him, “No, sir,” and I told him what happened. After I told him what happened, he said, “We don’t have that kind of stuff down here.” After he said that, the policeman spoke and said, “He wrung my billy out of my hand, and I told him that if he did not drop it, I would drop him.” That is how I knew it was the same policeman as had beat my eyes out.

After that, the judge spoke and said, “I fine you $50.00 or 30 days on the road.” I said I would pay the $50.00 but I did not have the $50.00 at the time. So the policeman said “You have some money there in your wallet.” He took my wallet and took all I had out of it, which was a total of $40.00 and took $4.00 form my watch pocket. I had a check for $694.73, which was my mustering out pay and soldiers deposit. He said to me, “Can you see how to sign this check — you have a government check.” I told him, “No, sir”. So he gave it back to me after that.

He took me back and locked me up in jail. I stayed in there for a while and after a few minutes he came in and asked me if I wanted a drink of whiskey — if I took a drink of whiskey I would probably feel better. I told him, “No, sir,” I did not care for any. He went and got some kind of eye medicine and came back and poured it in both my eyes. He went and got a hot towel and spread it across my head. I stayed there for the rest of the day until about 5:30 that evening. I could tell about what time it was because I asked a policeman and he told me it was late. I do not know if that was the same policeman. At that time he came in and get me and told me that “We’re going to take you to the hospital.” I did not hear anyone else in the room.

He took me to the Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, S.C. When I got there, the doctor was not in at the time, so he laid me on a bench. A nurse took my name and asked me where I was from and everything, so I told her I was from Winnsboro, N.C.

The doctor came in and he questioned the policeman and asked him what was the matter. The policeman told him that I was raising a disturbance on the bus and drunk. The doctor asked the policeman was I drunk then, and he said “No.” So the doctor had an attendant carry me in a room, and the attendant undressed me and put me to bed.

About 5 or 10 minutes after I was in the bed, the nurse came around and started giving me shots in my arm.

One of the contact men came around one day and said to me they were going to take out a pension for me. I believe that the doctor who cared for me was named Dr. Clarence. I told him what had happened to me. He made no comment, but told me I should join a blind school.

I stayed in the hospital for two months — I went in on the 13th of February and came out on the 13th of April. My sisters came down to see me, and since they discharged me while they were down there, they brought me back up to New York to my father’s home in the Bronx, where I am still staying.

Sworn to before me
this 23rd day of
April, 1946.

Woodard’s FBI statement, transcribed from “Statement to FBI, September 1946 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frame 911)”:

New York, N.Y.
Sept. 25, 1946

I, ISAAC WOODARD, Jr. make the following voluntary statement to Leon C. Kelmer and Edward F. Stiles whom I know to be Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No threats or promises of any kind have been made to me in connection with this statement. I realise it may be used in a court of law.

I was discharged from Camp Gordon, Georgia, between 6 and 6:30 pm on February 12, 1946. At about that time I boarded a bus for Augusta, Ga. On the bus were about 30 passengers, including about 10 civilians and about 20 soldiers. The soldiers I believe were discharges. The bus was driven by a white civilian. I did not recognize anyone on the bus which was en route to Augusta, Ga. I observed no drinking on the bus. The ride to Augusta, Ga. took about 1 hr. and we arrived there between 7:15-7:30 pm. on February 12, 1946. I went to the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Augusta and purchased my ticket for Winnsboro, South Carolina. I sat down in the terminal for about 5 or 10 minutes and then went to the restaurant next door where I purchased 10 Hot Dogs. I had nothing to eat or drink in the restaurant and took the Hot Dogs out with me. I ate 5 or 5 [sic] of the Hot Dogs and later gave the rest away on the Greyhound bus to some colored soldiers. I did not take any intoxicating beverage while I was waiting for my bus, nor did I take any such beverage at any time that day of Feb. 12 nor later that evening when I rode from the rear, next to a colored soldier, whose name I do not know. I know nothing about this soldier or any other passenger on the bus which could assist in identifying them. About 30 or 40 minutes after the bus left Augusta, a colored girl came on the bus and the soldier who was seated next to me offered her his seat. I do not know this girl’s name or address. On the opposite side of the bus from me 5 or 6 white soldiers were passing a bottle of liquor among themselves. I did not observe any of the colored soldiers on the bus drinking or passing a bottle of whiskey. I was never offered a drink from a bottle of whiskey on the bus nor did I take any such drink. I was absolutely sober on the bus.

I have had the above statement read to me by Special Agent Kelmer in the presence of my brother Saul Woodard and it is true and correct.

(*) ISAAC WOODARD, JR.

Witnessed:
(s) Leon C. Kelmer, FBI, NYC, 9-25-46
(s) Edward F. Stiles, FBI, NYC.
(s) Saul Woodard

2 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: Affidavit of Isaac Woodard”:

Good morning, this is Orson Welles speaking.

I’d like to read to you…an affidavit. I, Isaac Woodard Jr, being duly sworn to depose and state as follows: that I am twenty seven years old and a veteran of the United States Army, having served fifteen months in the South Pacific, and having earned one battle star. I was honorably discharged on February 12, 1946, at Camp Gordon, Georgia, at 8:30 pm at the Greyhound terminal at Atlanta, Georgia. While I was in uniform I purchased a ticket to Winnsboro, South Carolina, and took the bus headed there to pick up my wife to come to New York to see my father and mother. About one hour out of Atlanta, the bus driver stopped at a small drug store, as he stopped I asked if he had time to wait for me until I had the chance to go to the restroom. He cursed and said no. When he cursed me, I cursed him back. When the bus got to Aiken, he got off and went and got the police. They didn’t give me a chance to explain. The policeman struck me across the head with a billy, and told me to shut up. After that, the policeman grabbed me by my left arm and twisted it behind my back. I figured he was trying to make me resist. I did not resist against him. He asked me, “Was I discharged?” and I told him, “Yes”, when I said “Yes”, that was when he started beating me with a billy, hitting me across the top of the head, after that I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand. Another policeman came up and threw his gun on me and told me to drop the billy or he’d drop me, so, I dropped the billy. After I dropped the billy, the second policeman held his gun on me while the other one was beating me. He knocked me unconscious. After I commenced to recover myself, he yelled “Get up!”, I started to get up, he started punching me in my eyes with the end of the billy. When I finally got up he pushed me inside the jailhouse, and locked me up. I woke up next morning, and could not see.

A policeman said, “Let’s go up here and see what the judge says.” I told him that I could not see, or come out, I was blind. He said, “Feel your way out.” He said I’d be alright after I washed my face. He led me to the judge, and after I told the judge what happened, he said, “We don’t have that kind of stuff down here.” Then the policeman said: “He wrung the billy out of my hand, and I told him if he didn’t drop it, I’d drop him.” That’s how I know it was the same policeman that beat my eyes out. After that the judge spoke and said, “I fine you $50 or thirty days in the row.” And I said I’d pay the fifty dollars, but I did not have the fifty dollars at the time, so the policeman said, “You have some money there in your wallet.” He took my wallet and took out all I had, it was a total of forty dollars, and took four dollars from my watch pocket. I had a cheque for six hundred and ninety four dollars and seventy three cents, which was my mustering out soldiers’ deposit. He said to me, “Can you see how to sign this check? You have a government cheque.” I told him, “No, sir.” So, he gave it back to me after that. Took me back, locked me up in the jail, the policeman did, I stayed in there for a while, and after a few minutes, he came and asked me if I wanted a drink of whiskey. If I took a drink of whiskey, I’d feel better. I told him, “No, sir.” I didn’t care for any.

At 5:30 that evening they took me to the veterans’ hospital, in Columbia, South Carolina, one of the contact men came round one day and said to me they were going to take out a pension for me. I believe that the doctor who cared for me was named Dr. Clarence. I told him what had happened to me, he made no comment. But told me I should…join a blind school.

Sworn to me, on this 23rd day of April 1946.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I had that affidavit in my pocket a few hours before dawn when I left off worrying about this broadcast long enough for coffee at an all-night restaurant, I found myself joined at the table by a stranger. A nice, soft-spoken, well-meaning, well-mannered stranger. He told me a joke. He thinks it’s a joke. I’m going to repeat it, but not for your amusement, I earnestly hope that nobody listening will laugh. This is the joke.

Seems there’s a white man who came on business to a southern town, it could be Aiken, South Carolina…and found he couldn’t get a bed in any of the good hotels. He went to the bad hotels and finally the flophouses, but there was no room for him in any of the inns reserved for white folks, in that southern city, so at last, in desperation, he applied to a Negro hotel where he was accepted with the proviso that he would consent to share a double room with another guest. In rueful gratitude, this white man paid his bill left a call for early in the morning, he rested well, quite undisturbed by the proximity of the sleeping colored man beside him, and he was awakened at the hour of his request. After breakfast, he left for the railway station where he boarded his appointed train, but the conductor would not let him into any of the regular coaches. The man was told quite rudely to go where he belonged, the Jim Crow car. The hero of this funny story allowed he hadn’t washed in the morning, and the dust of travel must be responsible for the conductor’s grievous social miscalculation. He went to the washroom, he started to clean his hands.

They were black. An even hued black. Then he looked into the mirror. His face was the same color. He not only looked darker than white, he was quite visibly a Negro. A great oath precedes the final line which is presumed to be the funny part of this little anecdote: “I know what’s happened,” are the next words of the man. “It’s very simple.” “They woke up the wrong man!”

I left the teller of this tale in the coffee shop, but I found I couldn’t leave the tale itself. Like the affidavit I read at the start of the broadcast, it seems to have become a permanent part of my mental luggage. I sketched in my imagination a sequel to the stranger’s funny joke. I saw the man of business who’d gone to bed a white man getting into an argument with a conductor, I saw a policeman boarding a train at the next station, and taking the man of business out on the platform, and beating the eyes out of his head, because the man thought he should be treated with the same respect he’d received the day before when he was white. I saw a man at the police station trying to make him take a drink, so the medical authorities could testify that he was drunk. I saw the man of business bleeding in his cell. Reaching out with sightless hands through unseen bars, gesturing for help that would not, could not ever come. And I heard his explanation echoing down the stone hallways of the jail: “I know what’s happened, it’s very simple.” “They woke up the wrong man.”

Now it seems the officer of the law who blinded the young Negro boy in the affidavit has not been named. The boy saw him while he could still see, but of course he had no way of knowing which particular policeman it was. Who brought the justice of Dachau and Oswiecim to Aiken, South Carolina. He was just another white man with a stick, who wanted to teach a Negro boy a lesson – to show a Negro boy where he belonged: In the darkness. Till we know more about him, for just now, we’ll call the policeman Officer X. He might be listening to this. I hope so. Officer X, I’m talking to you. Officer X, they woke up the wrong man. That somebody else, that man sleeping there, is you. The you that god brought into the world. All innocent of hate, a paid up resident member of the brotherhood of man. Yes. Unbelievably enough, that’s you, Officer X. You. Still asleep. That you could have been anything, it could have gone to the White House when it grew up. It could have gone to heaven when it died. But they woke up the wrong man. They finally came for him in the blank grey of dawn, as in the death house they come for the condemned. But without prayers. They came with instructions. The accumulated ignorance of the feudal south. And with this particular briefing they called Cain, for another day of the devil’s work. While Abel slept. Wash your hands, Officer X. Wash them well. Scrub and scour, you won’t blot out the blood of a blinded war veteran. Nor yet the color of your skin. Your own skin. You’ll never, never change it. Wash your hands, Officer X. Wash a lifetime, you’ll never wash away that leprous lack of pigment. The guilty pallor of the white man.

We invite you to luxuriate in secrecy, it will be brief. Go on. Suckle your anonymous moment while it lasts. You’re going to be uncovered! We will blast out your name! We’ll give the world your given name, Officer X. Yes, and your so-called Christian name. It’s going to rise out of the filthy deep like the dead thing it is. We’re going to make it public with the public scandal you dictated, but failed to sign.

We pause now for a word from the philosophers. A short reminder regarding the matter of payment and cost. Nothing is paid back. That does not happen. Not on earth. A favor cannot be paid back, neither can a wrong. We say a criminal pays for his crime, when we lock him up, a murderer pays for his murder when the state murders him, but really the state is hiding an unsightly object. Society is merely sweeping its dirt under the carpet. We may sometimes manage to cure the thing called “crime”…but the man called a criminal is never punished; he can be inconvenienced, or tormented, or done away with, but he can never pay for what he has done. If the ledger is ever balanced, it is not by him, but by some other man having nothing to do with him. It is balanced by deeds of virtue. By unrelated good works. The evil-doers agony doesn’t show up in the books. Only that fiction known to us as money can be paid back. The true debt, the debt of a friend to a friend, or a foe to a foe outlives the principles involved. So much for payment.

Price. That’s something else. There’s a price for everything. There’s nothing that does not have its cost. Joy and inspiration and mere pleasure have a market value precisely computed in terms of their opposites. The cost of youth is age, the cost of age is death. You want love? The cost of love is independence. You want to be independent, do you? Then pay the price, and know what it is to feel alone. Your mother paid for you with pain. Nothing nothing in this living world is free. The free air costs you the life consuming effort of breath. Freedom itself is priced at the rate of the citizenship it earns and holds. What does it cost to be a Negro? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his eyes. What does it cost to wear over your skeleton a pinkish tint officially described as “white”? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his soul.

Officer X may languish in jail. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible he’ll serve as long a term as a Negro would serve in Aiken, South Carolina, for stealing bread. But Officer X will never pay for the two eyes he beat out of the soldier’s head. How can you assay the gift of sight? What are they quoting today for one eye? An eye for an eye? A literal reading of this Mosaic law spells out again only the blank waste of vengeance. We’ve told Officer X that he’ll be dragged out of hiding. We’ve promised him a most unflattering glare of publicity. We’re going to keep that promise. We’re going to build our own police line-up to line up this reticent policeman, with the killers, the lunatics, the beastmen, all the people of society’s zoo. Where he belongs. If he’s listening to this, let him listen well. Officer X. After I’ve found you out, I’ll never lose you. If they try you, I’m going to watch the trial. If they jail you, I’m going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won’t be free of me. I want to see who’s waiting for you at the prison gates. I want to know who will acknowledge that they know you. I’m interested in your future. I will take careful note of all your destinations. Assume another name and I will be careful that the name you would forget is not forgotten. I will find means to remove from you all refuge, Officer X. You can’t get rid of me. We have an appointment, you and I. And only death can cancel it.

Who am I? A masked avenger from the comic books? No sir, merely an inquisitive citizen of America. I admit that nothing on this inhabited earth is capable of your chastisement. I’m simply but quite actively curious to know what will become of you. Your fate cannot affect the boy in the country hospital for the blind, but your welfare is a measure of the welfare of my country. I cannot call it your country. How long will you get along in these United States? Which of the states will consent to get along with you? Where stands the sun of common fellowship? When will it rise over your dark country? When will it be noon in Georgia? I must know where you go, Officer X, because I must know where the rest of us are going with our American experiment. Into bankruptcy? Or into that serene tomorrow, that plenteous garden that blind soldier hoped for when he had his eyes, and with eyes open, he went to war. We want a world that will lighten his darkness. You’re sorry for him? He rejects your pity. You’re ashamed? He doesn’t care. We want to tell him soon that all America is ashamed of you. If there’s room for pity, you can have it, for you are far more blind than he. He had eyes to see and saw with them, they made out if nothing else, at least part of the shape of human dignity, and this is not a little thing, but you have eyes to see and you have never seen.

He has the memory of light. But you were born in a pit. He cannot grow new eyes to open the world again for his poor bruised ones. Never. No. The only word we can share with the martyr to carry him from the county hospital to the county grave is word concerning your eyes, Officer X. Your eyes, remember, were not gouged away. Only the lids are closed. You might raise the lids, you might just try the wild adventure of looking. You might see something, it might be a simple truth. One of those truths held to be self-evident by our founding fathers and most of us. If we should ever find you bravely blinking at the sun, we’ll know then that the world is young after all. That chaos is behind us and not ahead. Then there will be shouting of trumpets to rouse the dead at Gettysburg. A thunder of cannon will declare the tidings of peace, and all the bells of liberty will laugh out loud in the streets to celebrate goodwill towards all men. The new blind can hear, and it would be very good if they could hear the news that the old blind can finally see them. Officer X, you’ll find that you can wash off what should be washed, and it will be said of you, even you, they awakened the right man.

Now it’s time to say goodbye. Please let me call again. Next week, same time. Until then, I am always…obediently yours.

3 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: The Peacemakers”:

Last week, I read you an affidavit from a Negro soldier named Isaac Woodard. You remember he was taken off a bus in South Carolina by a policeman and beaten until he was blinded in both eyes. I have a formal letter from a Mr. H. Odell Weeks, who, it seems, is the mayor of the city of Aiken in the state of South Carolina. Where, according to the soldier’s affidavit, he was blinded. The mayor encloses affidavits of his own, sworn to by the city recorder, by the city chief of police, by a couple of patrol officers. Now, these gentlemen deny all knowledge of the incident.

“It is indeed unfortunate,” writes Mr. Weeks, and these are his exact words, quote that you did not fully verify this story. Before you broadcasted it. Unquote. The mayor goes on to say that since my broadcast went out to the nation, and since, according to the affidavits, whose accounts are wholly untrue, he the mayor urges that I have the courage and forthrightness to retract the wrong I’ve done his city. Giving to my own retraction the same emphasis that I’ve placed on the original broadcast. Well, Mr. Weeks…I hardly know how to make affidavits of your city recorder and city policeman as emphatic as Mr. Woodard’s in the hospital for the blind. If it turns out to be true that the city of Aiken is blameless of this hideous scandal, it is my duty to make that innocence as public as possible. I hope to be able to. But: I must warn you that denials are never dramatic. And if I’m to say something exciting about Aiken will have to be something better than that a Negro boy was never blinded in its streets.

I look forward to giving the subject of Aiken all the emphasis it deserves. But I am bound to fail without some affirmative material. There are thousands of cities where Negro soldiers have not been blinded. I hope it will be my privilege to announce that your city is one of these. But since the broadcast is going to go out, as you put it, to the nation let’s spice up the retraction with a little good news. I won’t ask you what the city of Aiken has done for Negro soldiers, or for Negroes, or for the blind. I’ll only ask you if you’re willing to join with me in a manhunt. A man dressed as a policeman blinded a discharged veteran. The blinded boy swears that his tormenter told him he came from the Aiken police. It is surely a more urgent matter for you to apprehend this impostor before he commits further outrages in your city’s name, then it is to exact from a commentator the cold comfort of apology.

You’ll get the apology when the facts are clear. Until then you must understand why it must be deferred. After all, Mr. Weeks, I have not only the affidavits of your policemen, I have also the affidavits of the blinded soldier. Working on the meagre clue that there’s also an Aiken county, I’ve sent investigators there and to your city. Who should bring out the truth. Unless it is too skillfully hidden. The soldier might easily have made a mistake, but there’s a man in a policeman’s uniform who made a worse mistake. And all the retractions in the world won’t cleanse the name of Aiken. Till we find that man. I assure you Mr. Weeks, I do not doubt the word of your police chief. Your patrol officers, or your city recorder. But neither do I doubt the word of the blinded Negro boy. His suffering gives his oath a special validity. And I would take it against the Supreme Court and the President of the United States.

Let us say he misunderstood what was said to him. Or let us say he was lied to. But just saying that isn’t enough. Your city’s honor is certainly more important than my pride. But honor and pride are piddling trifles beside a pair of eyes. If it is your point that the boy was lied to, it is my point that we must refuse to rest until we’ve unmasked the liar. If you want me to say that this awful thing did not happen in your city, then there’s an American soldier who believes that it did happen in your city. And I cannot forget that. It is to him, Mr. Weeks, that you should address your first, and most indignant letters. They will of course need to be transcribed in braille.

And now I see my time is just about up. That’s all I have to say to you, for the moment, Mr. Mayor of Aiken. And you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to this part of your dial at this part of a Sunday. Please let me join you next week at this same time and…
let me hear from you. Your letters are much appreciated, I like reading them on this program. Till next week then, same time, same station. I remain as always, obediently yours.

4 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: To be Born Free”:

This is Orson Welles. I’ve spoken these words before, but not on the radio. To be born free, is to be born in debt. To live in freedom without fighting slavery, is to profiteer. By plane last night, I flew over some parts of our Republic where American citizenship is a luxury beyond the means of the majority. I rode comfortably in my plane above a sovereign state or two where fellow countrymen of ours can’t vote without the privilege of cash. I bought my breakfast this morning where Negroes may not come except to serve their white brothers. And there I overheard a member of some master race or other tell all those who listened that something must be done to suppress the Jews.

I have met southerners who expect and fear a Negro insurrection. I see no purpose in withholding this from general discussion. There may be those in that outcast ten percent of the American people who someday will strike back at their oppressors, but to put down that mob, a mob would rise. I’d like to ask please, who will put down that mob? The scaly dinosaurs of reaction, if indeed they notice what I’m speaking here, will say in their newspapers that I’m a communist. Communists know otherwise. I’m an overpaid movie producer with pleasant reasons to rejoice, and I do, in the wholesome practicability of the profit system. But surely my right to having more than enough is cancelled if I don’t use that more to help those who have less.

My subject today is the question of moral indebtedness. So, I’d like to acknowledge here the debt that goes with ownership. I believe, and this has very much to do with my own notion of freedom, I believe I owe the very profit I make to the people I make it from. If this is radicalism, it comes…automatically to most of us in show business, it being generally agreed that any public man owes his position to the public. That’s what I mean when I say I’m your obedient servant. It’s a debt payable in service and the highest efforts of the debtor. The extension of this moral argument insists no man owns anything outright since he owns it rent free. A wedding never bought a wife. And the devotion of his child is no man’s for the mere begetting. We must each day earn what we own. A healthy man owes to the sick all that he can do for them. An educated man owes to the ignorant all that he can do for them. A free man owes to the world’s slaves all that he can do for them. And what is to be done is more, much more, than good works, Christmas baskets, bonuses, and tips, and bread and circuses. There is only one thing to be done with slaves. Free them.

If we can’t die in behalf of progress, we can live for it. Progress, we Americans take to mean, a fuller realization of democracy. The measure of progress, as we understand it, is the measure of equality enjoyed by all men. We can do something about that. The way our fighting brothers and sisters looked at it, some of them dead as I speak these words, the way they looked at it: we’re lucky. And they’re right, we’re lucky. We’re lucky to be alive. But only if our lives make life itself worth dying for. We must be worthy of our luck, or we are damned. Our lives were spared, but this is merely the silliest of accidents. Unless we put the gift of life to the hard employments of justice. If we waste that gift, we won’t have anywhere to hide from the indignation of history.

I wanna say this. The morality of the auction block is out of date. There is no room in the American century for Jim Crow. The times urge new militancy upon the democratic attitude. Tomorrow’s democracy discriminates against discrimination. Its charter won’t include the freedom to end freedom. What is described as a feeling against some races can’t be further respected. Feeling is a ninnyish, mincing way of saying something ugly. But the word is good enough for race hate when we add that it’s a feeling of guilt. Race hate isn’t human nature, race hate is the abandonment of human nature. But this is true: we hate whom we hurt. And we mistrust whom we betray. There are minority problems because minority races are often wronged. Race hate distilled from the suspicions of ignorance takes its welcome from the impotent and the godless. Comforting these with hellish parodies of what they’ve lost. Arrogance to take the place of pride. Contempt to occupy the spirit emptied of love of man. There are alibis for the phenomenon, excuses, economic and social, but the brutal fact is simply this: where the racist lies are acceptable, there is corruption. Where there is hate, there is shame. The human soul receives race hate only in the sickness of guilt.

The Indian, the Red Indian, is on our American conscience. The Negro is on our conscience, the Chinese and the Mexican American are on our conscience. The Jew is on the conscience of Europe. But our neglect gives us communion in that guilt. So that there dances even here the lunatic spectre of anti-semitism. This is deplored. But it must be fought. And the fight must be won. The race haters must be stopped. The lynchings must be stopped. No matter who’s going to be governor of Georgia, the murders in Monroe must be avenged. Gene Talmadge might call it foreign meddling, but the governor-elect who, you remember, campaigned on the Bilbo platform of race-hate needs to be told: that all the states in the Union and all the people in them are concerned. Immediately, personally concerned when a mob forms in the sovereign privacy of Georgia. The mob said it was taking care of things in its own way, well then, we’re going to have to take care of the mob. In our own way.

Those who take the law into their own hands are going to learn about some laws that’ll tie their hands. We’ll write those laws, and we’ll enforce them. To do him justice, old Gene went and issued himself a statement. After the killings in Monroe were public knowledge, he said the killings were regrettable. But old Gene’s made it plenty clear, he doesn’t figure any foreigner has the right to poke around asking embarrassing questions. I am sending old Gene a copy of the dawn sermon of the tolling bell, but I don’t suppose he’ll get the point. The point is, of course, that no man, even Gene Talmadge, is an island entire of itself. Point, of course, is that even Georgia is a piece of the continent. The American continent. And if a clod be washed away by the sea, or if a colored man and his wife are murdered on a dusty country road, America is the less.

And then there’s the soldier in the hospital. The blind soldier. The soldier said he was blinded, and the mayor and the chief of police in the place where the soldier says it happened, are most indignant with me for repeating what he said and swore to. The Times the other day was full of their official protests. Sent under seal all the way up to New York City via the inviolable borders of Aiken county, in South Carolina. My investigators are still hard at work on the case. If the soldier was wrong about the place, I’m going to do something about it. But he isn’t wrong about his eyes. He lost them. I’m going to do something about that. All the affidavits from all the policemen in the world won’t protest his eyes back in his head. Somebody, somebody who called himself an officer of the law, beat that boy with a stick, until he lost his sight. Now, that somebody is nobody. He’s vanished, he’s never been heard of, he hasn’t any name, well…he’s going to be heard of. The blind soldier has my promise of that. That somebody is going to be named. Editorials, and lots of newspapers, and lots of people, are writing me to demand to know what business it is of mine. God judge me if it isn’t the most pressing business I have.

The blind soldier fought for me in this war. The least I can do now is fight for him. I have eyes. He hasn’t. I have a voice on the radio, he hasn’t. I was born a white man. And until a colored man is a full citizen, like me, I haven’t the leisure to enjoy the freedom that colored man risked his life to maintain for me. I don’t own what I have until he owns an equal share of it. Until somebody beats me and blinds me, I am in his debt. And so I come to this microphone not as a radio dramatist, though it pays better, not as a commentator, although it’s safer to be simply that, I come in that boy’s name, and in the name of all who in this land of ours have no voice of their own. I come with a call for action. This is a time for it. I call for action against the cause of riot. I know that to some ears, even the word “action” has a revolutionary twang, and it won’t surprise me if I’m accused in some quarters of inciting to riot. Well, I’m very interested in riots. I’m very interested in avoiding them. And so I call for action against the cause of riots.

Law is the best action, the most decisive. I call for laws prohibiting what moral judgement already counts as lawlessness. American law forbids a man the right to take away another’s right. It must be law that groups of men can’t use the machinery of our republic to limit the rights of other groups. The vote can’t be used to take away the vote. It’s in the people’s power to see to it that what makes lynchings and starts wars is dealt with. Not by well-wishers, but by policemen. And I mean good policemen. Oh, for several generations there may be men who can’t be weaned away from the fascist vices of race hate. But we should deny such men the responsibility in public affairs exactly as we deny responsibility to the wretched victims of the drug habit. There are laws against peddling dope, there can be laws against peddling race hate. But every man has a right to his own opinion as an American boasts, but race hate is not an opinion, it’s a phobia. It isn’t a viewpoint, race hate is a disease. In a people’s world, the incurable racist has no rights. He must be deprived of influence in a people’s government. He must be segregated, as he himself would segregate the colored and semitic peoples. As we now segregate the leprous and the insane.

Anything very big is very simple.¸ If there’s a big race question, there’s a big answer to it. The big answer is simple. Like the word no. This is my proposition: that the sin of race hate be solemnly declared a crime. What makes this difficult is the conservative fear of raising issues. Well, let’s admit that this fear is often no more sinister than an honest dread of going to the dentist, but let’s respect the effectiveness of reactionary manipulations of that fear, which is the fear of anarchy and revolution. It is put to wicked use against the same general welfare conservative opinion seeks to protect. Forced to acknowledge Hitler’s enmity, conservatives are loathe to admit that even as he surrendered in Europe, he succeeded in America. Let conservatives evaluate the impudent candor of fascism in Argentina today. And be reminded that the heroic survival of our liberty is no proof of its immortality. Our liberty every day has to be safe from marauders whose greed is for all things possessed by the people. Care of these possessions is the hope of life on this planet. They are living things, they grow. These fair possessions of democracy. And nothing but death can stop that growth. Let the yearners for the past, the willfully childish, learn now the facts of life.

The first of which is the fact of that growth. In our hemisphere, the growing has begun, but only just begun. America can write her name across this century, and so she will, if we, the people, brown and black and red, rise now to the great occasion of our brotherhood. It will take courage. It calls for the doing of great deeds, which means the dreaming of great dreams. Giving the world back to its inhabitants is too big a job for the merely practical. The architects of freedom are always capable of hope. The lawmakers of true democracy are true believers. They believe quite simply in the people, in all of them. Only the devout deserve the trust of government, for only the devout can face the unimaginable vistas of man’s destiny. God grant them steadfast hope and the rest of us enduring patience. For we must not expect from any leadership a shiny ready made millennium in our time. No one of us will live to see a blameless peace. We must strive and pray and die for what will be here when we’re gone. Our children’s children are the ancestors of a free people. We send our greetings ahead of us to them.

To history yet unmade, our greetings.To the generations, sleeping in our loins.Be of good heart. The fight is worth it.

That just about means that my time is up. When my time’s up, it’s time for me to say goodbye, and to invite you please to join me, the same time, the same station. Next week. Until then. Thank you for your attention. I remain as always…obediently yours.

5 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: Banned Film”:

This is Orson Welles speaking. A motion picture in which I play a part was scheduled for a couple days running last week in Aiken, South Carolina. But the film was banned. Well, I’m used to being banned. I’ve been banned by whole governments. The Nazis in Germany have banned me, and the fascists of Italy and Spain have banned me. Here at home, the merest mention of my name is forbidden by Mr. Hearst to all his subject newspapers. But: to be outlawed by an American city is a new experience.

The movie in question is neither controversial, nor obscene. But I’m in it, and for the taste of Aiken, that makes any movie too offensive to be endured. Not only was the actual celluloid driven out of the city limits, as with a fiery sword, but in defense of civic sensitivities and to protect the impressionable of Aiken’s youth from the shock of my name and likeness, a detachment of police officers working under the direction of the city council itself solemnly tore down such posters as the local theatre manager had been rash enough to put up by way of advertisement. And burnt same, together with all printed matter having reference to me, in a formal bonfire in the public streets.

I’m also informed I’ve been somewhat less officially “hanged” in effigy. And while I have an apology to offer Aiken, it’s been suggested that I would be ill advised to deliver it in person. Since I brought to your attention the case of Isaac Woodard, the case has grown to an issue of the most heated popular concern. It deserves all the national interest it’s getting. Isaac Woodard is the veteran whose eyes were beaten out of his head by a policeman, in the streets of a place in South Carolina, that Isaac Woodard thought was Aiken. He said so in an affidavit, and when I read his affidavit on this program, the mayor of Aiken, the chief of police and others, subsequently preoccupied with the public burning of my name and picture, sent affidavits of their own protesting innocence.

My problem was the choice of affidavits. The boy had been blinded. That was the one clear, brutal fact. And I stuck to that with a promise to Aiken’s officialdom that I would apologize for publishing the veterans’ testimony when and if my investigators could show a decent doubt. The records were amazingly brief. The policeman who delivered Woodard to the hospital was not named. This is most unusual. The place where the attack occurred was not mentioned in the report. This is almost unheard of.

But my investigators, the investigators of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the investigators of the FBI, have together, narrowed down the search to the town of Batesburg, some nineteen miles from Aiken. And this morning comes word that the search has been narrowed still further. I have before me…wires and press releases to the effect that a policeman of Batesburg… a man by the name of Shaw, or Shore, or Shull, it is given three different ways here…the flash is just before us…Chief L.L. Shaw. Pronounce it however you want it. Or want to. Has admitted…that he was the police officer, who blinded Isaac Woodard. Thirty miles from Aiken. In South Carolina. This is in Batesburg.

I give you a few more of the facts. He has corroborated an army statement. Has police chief Shull or Shaw. That ex-serviceman Isaac Woodard was struck on the head with a blackjack. Chief Shull or Shaw says he was called to the bus one night last February to arrest Woodard who, and I’m reading from a Press Association, he said was drunk. Shaw claimed to have hit Woodard across the head when Woodard tried to take away his blackjack. He added that the blow may have landed in the veteran’s eyes. Shull or Shaw, the police chief, described the eyes as swollen the next day when Woodard was fined and the record’s his court, and says he then drove Woodard to a veterans’ hospital, at a doctor’s suggestion. Now, you remember from the affidavit, and from further reports of our investigators, that Woodard said he’d been offered liquor, after he was attacked by the police, which he refused. And investigators at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples, have discovered three other occupants of that bus. All of whom claim, in affidavits, that Woodard was not drunk, nor was he drinking. Woodard, you might remember, appealed for medical aid. And also according to the UP, Shaw, or Shore, or Shull, brands these stories as lies. He has volunteered no information, for this, he was unearthed by investigation. Well, the good citizens of Aiken must be surely so glad to hear this, that my apology tendered here with and as promised, most abjectly, will come as merely incidental comfort.

Batesburg, unlike Aiken, has turned out to be to blame. The search is narrowed down. We’re getting close to the truth, we have the admission of a man that he was the officer, the officer whom I call X. I would like to remind Officer X, otherwise known as Shull or Shaw, of another promise, a promise I made to the blinded Isaac Woodard. If Chief Shull or Shaw is listening to me now and it’s more than possible that he is, it gives me pleasure to repeat that promise. Officer X. We know your name now. Now that we’ve found you out, we’ll never lose you. If they try you for your crime, I am going to watch the trial, Chief Shull. If they jail you, I’m going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won’t be free of me. I want to see who’s waiting for you at the prison gates. I want to know who will acknowledge that they know you. I’m interested in your future, I will take note of all your destinations. Assume another name, and I will be careful that the name you would forget is not forgotten. Officer Shull or Shaw. Police chief of the city of Batesburg. I will find means to remove from you all refuge. You can’t get rid of me. We have an appointment. You and I. Only death can cancel it.

6 From “Background information collected by local black newspaper editor, September 1946 Part 1 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 893-894)” and “Background information, September 1946 Part 2 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 895-896)”, scans at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”. These documents refer to Lynwood as “Leonard”, the only documents to do so – “Leonard” may have been his familiar name, while Lynwood was his formal one.

MEMORANDUM FOR ORSON WELLES’ PROGRAM

From: John H. McCray
10322 Washington Street
Columbia 20, S.C.

LIGHTHOUSE and INFORMER
John H. McCray, Pub.

Leonard L. Shull

SEP 19 1946

Leonard L. Shull, son of Mr. and Mrs. T. H. Shull was born 41 years ago in Lexington county, South Carolina — not more than eight miles from Leesville nor more than 10 miles from Batesburg, where he now serves as chief of police.

Leonard is the oldest of five children and was nursed and cared for by a colored woman, Eunice Summers, who is still in the employ of the elder Shull, who is now 49 years of age and has worked with the Shull family without respite since she was 8.

Leonard Shull grew up under the care and friendship of the colored farm hands about his father’s farm. He played ball, games, hunted, fished and occasionally fought with the young boys of his father’s tenants. And although today he has achieved greater success than they, he visits the few still alive who work for his father, the children of others whom he knew and is most cordial with the tenants who came after he grew up.

The older hands think well of him and his father. They speak of him as being considerate, as having always been good to them, some of them admit hearing of several atrocities against other Negroes attributed to him but react differently. One woman said: “Maybe it’s because some people feel they have to act mean when they’ve got a certain job.” Another, an elderly attendant of cattle and other stock owned by T.H. Shull, said, “He’s always been good to me. I hear how he done that soldier (Isaac Woodard) and some other people but I don’t know for sure. He has been good to me personally but maybe he had a reason for not hurting me”.

Leonard Shull had no “bad habits”. To this day nobody will say that he either drinks or smokes. To this day nobody will say that he either drinks or smokes. This is perhaps accounted for in the rather strict upbringing of T.H. Shull. All of the Shull children had to attend Sunday School and services in the Methodist Church near Leesville. Today, Leonard is a member of the Methodist Church at Batesburg. His father and other members of his family belong to the Methodist Church in Leesville, a town just two miles away. Persons who have been arrested by chief Shull in Batesburg describe him as of two characters. If Shull is alone, he is nice, civil and “hardly says a word to you”. If, on the other hand, either of his two aides is present, he is more often than not a roaring maniac.

It is interesting that none, or at least a negligible few, of the colored residents in Batesburg know the actual names of either of the two officers working under Shull. They have assigned their own names and have used them so long that the real names are forgotten. One of the men is known as “High Pocket” and the other, “Dood all”.

Leonard Shull attended the Batesburg-Leesville high school, at Batesburg, after which he worked on his father’s farm, whiling away his idle time around the train stations, alternately at Batesburg and at Leesville. In this manner he came to learn many of the people in the two towns and laid the groundwork for his present position.

About 16 or 17 years ago he married a young woman he met in Batesburg but who is a native of Charleston county and had moved here with her family. Today, Mamie Shull is about 35 years of age, sort of plump, has brown hair and blue eyes. To this union was born a daughter, Heloine, who is about 14 years of age and attends the Batesburg-Leesville School. Having acquired much of her father’s obesity, she appears older and larger than her actual age.

Leonard Shull, himself, is about 5 feet 9 in height, weighs about 225 pounds; has blue eyes, brown hair which is slightly grey-stroked.

He dresses plainly, come Sundays when he doffs his customary uniform, he dons the only attire he has been known to wear for years: blue serge suit, white shirt and black tie, black shoes and tops it off with a black hat. Last year, the TWIN CITY NEWS, weekly newspaper published for the two towns, listed his weight at 215.

The chief has always loved Ford cars. Presently, his is a 1946 Ford sedan (black) model in which he usually rides Heloine to and from school in, and give the family a Sunday outing in or shuttles back and forth between his father’s present home, located on U.S. Highway No. 1 between Batesburg and Leesville, where he visits his mother and two brothers who live with their parents.

Leonard’s brothers are Shuford and Carson. Both are veterans of World War Two, Carson having been wounded in action in Europe, Carson is also married but Shuford isn’t, Leonard’s two sisters are both married. One married a man by the name of Charles and makes her home with him now in Edgefield county. The other married a man from Orangeburg county, where she now lives.

The older Shull, while credited by his farm hands and house servants as being a “good white man”, doesn’t enjoy a similar reputation from men released from the Leesville camp of the Lexington county chain gang system. For a number of years, T.H. Shull has been superintendent or supervisor Captain of the Louisville camp which enjoys a reputation as unsavory as any other of several camps in the county. His office is located in the county courthouse at Lexington. Officially, he is listed as one of three county commissioners for Lexington county, renominated to the office in July’s democratic primaries.

Leonard’s present position, while probably accentuated by his own elbow rubbing, is attributed to his father’s political influence. It is believed that his father had a direct hand in his appointment. It is known, however, that mayor Quarles of Batesburg, an in-law of Leonard’s is a part of the elder Shull’s machine and owes his office largely to Shull’s interest.

Servants report having heard the elder Shull counsel his son to “be careful” several times after rumors spread that a Negro had been mistreated by Batesburg officers. They quote the younger Shull as saying his men were “too hard”. When news of the Woodard blinding broke, the younger Shull, after conferring with his father, left Batesburg for a “vacation” and stayed away a month, Mayor Quarles also took a sudden vacation but stayed away about fifteen days.

Leonard consulted his father on his return and was told “things have died down but for goodness sake, be more careful the next time”. No serious incidents have been reported at the hands of any Batesburg officer since that time. However, residents still plead with you to “be careful” and “don’t let them (police) know you are here”. These people believe that Batesburg officers operate under an extensive “stool pigeon” system, in which in return for safety to themselves, Negroes “stool” on other Negroes.

NOTE: Please protect identity of Denice Summers mentioned in this memorandum. Others involved, from whom much of the information contained herein came, are A.C. Bernos [maybe – this last is very difficult to read in the original], stockyard attendant for the older Shull who, by the way has extensive land and dairy holdings in the county, Mrs. Archie Beacham, Mrs. Annie Mae Cortmann and Mr. Amos, the town’s undertaker. Some of came also from a filling station attendant, a packer [again, maybe – this last is very difficult to read in the original] a few doors from the Shull home and several other persons.

Leonard Shull and his family live in a beautiful bungalow in front of the Batesburg post office and diagonally across from the Batesburg railroad station.

7 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: The Place Was Batesburg”:

This is Orson Welles speaking. The place was Batesburg. Isaac Woodard thought it happened in Aiken. He was wrong. I’ve repeatedly explained Woodard’s mistake, and repeatedly apologized. But I broadcast his affidavit, and now the city of Aiken having banned my movies burned the posters in the streets, and hanged me in effigy, is threatening to sue me for the sum of two million dollars.

Well, if I had all that money, honestly, I wouldn’t mind owing it to Aiken for the pride of having finally put the blame where it belonged. The blame belongs, as I say, in Batesburg. Batesburg, South Carolina. It was Monday, February 13th, 1946. A minister and several workmen saw the police chief of Batesburg and a highway patrolman, pouring buckets of water over the head and body of a soldier who’d been arrested the night before. What the policemen were washing away was blood. And between each bucket they stopped and asked the soldier, “Can you see yet?” Each time the soldier answered, “No.”

The soldier was a Negro. We know now that his name is Isaac Woodard. And that the police chief had beaten him the day before. And blinded him. With a blackjack. When I stumbled on the story several months later, and brought it to public attention on this program, the name of the guilty policeman was unknown and it looked as if it always would be. I promised to get that name, I have it now. The minister and the workmen provided our investigators with one clue, and there were other clues, all led to a single man.

All clues led to Mr. L. L. Shull. Chief of police in Batesburg, South Carolina. Now we have him. We won’t let him go. I promised to hunt him down. I have. I gave my word I’d see him unmasked. I’ve unmasked him. I’m going to haunt police Chief Shull. For all the rest of his natural life. Mr. Shull is not going to forget me. And what’s more important, I’m not going to let you forget Mr. Shull.

Now, here’s a letter. It goes like this: Well, Mr. Welles. You’ve just lost yourself an ardent fan. That little speech you made on the radio about that Negro got his eyes poked out did it. You don’t know a thing about this case, and I’m quite sure I heard the correct side of the story. Being as I live in the very state in which it happened. And proud of it. But it seems as if the Yankees always have to pick on somebody about something, and especially the South. Well, I’m going to put you wise for once. If the North would let the South alone a while, and not try to bully them, everything would soon turn out just right for everybody concerned. We want the Negro to have a fair chance, we don’t believe the two races should mix. However, it seems as if the North is trying its darndest to make a mulatto nation of the whole South. Well, it isn’t going to work. I believe that we would all die fighting – men and women, side by side. Before we would let a calamity like this happen to the glorious homeland of gallant men and their women, who have certain well-founded beliefs, and never take anything from anybody. Now to get back to that story. I’ve been around associating with the policemen, or round about, and I happen to know the Negro who received the eye injury was extremely insolent, very unruly, tried to make a getaway from a police officer. Seems like you all want to give the Negro a better chance than you would a white man. And my dear man, I shall present a startling fact to you: the policeman in question did not cause the eye injury to the Negro, it was due to a fight the Negro had with another Negro. And he is trying to put the blame on the officer so he will draw a pension. Think that over, Mr. Orson Welles. Doubtless you have lost quite a few fans from that little dramatic speech you made so full of emotion and tragic tears for the man. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Signed, Your former fan.

Well, we’ve been getting a lot of those anonymous letters since we broke the Isaac Woodard case on this program. But this answer answered them all. Dear former fan, You say the north is bullying the south. That if the yankees would stop always picking on somebody for something, everything would turn out just right for everybody concerned. I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Batesburg isn’t another battlefield of the civil war. The sides contending over the scandal of Isaac Woodard, aren’t the blue and the gray. They are the right and the wrong. And on your side of the Mason Dixon line, as on mine, most of the people are on the right side of that argument. Course you’re proud to live in South Carolina, you ought to be. I think you’ll find that most of your neighbours in South Carolina are ashamed of Mr. M. L. Shull, the police chief, who beat out the Negro soldier’s eyes with his blackjack. I’m proud to live in America, but I’m ashamed of Chief Shull and his blackjack. I’d be ashamed of him if I was a citizen of Tibet. Isaac Woodard was not involved in a conspiracy to make a mulatto nation of the South. He was just taking a bus trip to Winnsboro to meet a young woman who belongs to his race and who bears his name. But Isaac Woodard never got to see his wife. He’ll never see her. Never. Isaac Woodard is blind. Why? Because the North is bullying the South? My dear former fan, your startling fact about the eye injury, “eye injury”, those are your words, “eye injury”, being the work of another Negro is meaningless. In the face of Chief Shull’s own confession, he did it himself. And even Chief Shull doesn’t claim he was defending the sanctity of white womanhood. Even Chief Shull doesn’t claim he was keeping Isaac Woodard from marrying his sister. Well, that’s enough of that for now. We’ll come back to Mr. Shull next week. And the week after that. The week after that.

My time remaining is dedicated to a man whose name we’ll never, never know. Before the year now generally called “Munich”, perhaps a season or so earlier, there was a treasure hunt, in Paris. Please visualize the celebrants, not as Parisians, but as notables as they mostly were of a very publicly gay wing of international society. You may know that a treasure hunt proposes a number of unlikely quests. When the list is imaginative, it can be fun. Here was a treasure hunt for the history of the game. There was no limit to the mad invention of it, one item was something unmentionably intimate, and that’s all I know about it, a possession of the mistress of a cabinet minister. Another prize was a legal certificate of marriage binding between a couple who hadn’t considered any such solemnity. There were a dozen more of these treasures, all as extraordinary, and for a climax, nothing less than a cigar still smoking lit at the flame which burns forever, by the tomb of the unknown soldier. Now, decency expects of a tomb that it guard for the lifetime of stone what was once the habitation of the spirit of man. The conscience of the world defends the memorial of those who in the last war, as in this, died for peace. You agree we catch a glimpse here of something worse than mere bad taste, picnicking on an old grave, something…perverse. Wickeder than any casual defilement of god’s image. Only another bad peace could make anyone laugh at a dead soldier again.

‘Course, whoever lit his cigar from that flame may have thought the unknown soldier wasn’t anybody he knew. It’s true there isn’t anyone in particular to mourn for the man who is buried there, so…everybody mourns for him. The marker can’t have known that he profaned his brother’s grave. But how could he forget? The sense of man’s brotherhood is all that can sustain the human spirit for the loss of god. And this man had no god. By what did he live? The loss of faith is the condition of despair and the alternative to despair is the worship of Caesar. What’s sure is the marking of sacrifice cannot survive elsewhere, but in that evil climate of the soul where fascism prepares its subjects. Very probably the man with the cigar was one of these pre-fabricated pagans who rode the joyless carousel of the twenties and thirties, one of those, you know, who doubted if anything is ever really bad or really good. If the man with the cigar is alive then he might have changed his mind, he found something bad enough to fight. He might even think something good is real enough to defend. I think we know these things, but never say them enough. Bad and good have been at war, god knows, since the first morning of the world. Men do the fighting, if they didn’t, this planet would be nothing better than a zoo.

Faith is the tinder of man’s greatness. So long as he shields it from despair, he is going to keep the gift of fire. There is one choice, no more. One choice, and no exemptions. Those who believe this recent war can be the last, are those who won it. Those who lost suppose that war itself breeds without cure in the nature of all people. These are the same who fattened on this war, they’re the same who plan the next one. The slaves doubt their kind’s capacity to learn and change. The slavers curb with doubt the people’s righteous will to abide by its own laws. They are all the same, we have this to be glad of them. These who are of little faith, the blasphemers, experts in chaos, or the sick in spirit, these who can’t or won’t affirm the plain magnificence or decency of human folk, all such on this our brightening world, are rallied in the shadows now, under the banners of despair. Defeat if their profession. And their destination. Victory rises even today. Before the men of faith.

This last war might have been the last war. If it was, and only if it was, we’ll know the world’s first peace. But let’s have an end, to the old stalemates and manipulations. The people want a government of all their nations, the chance to know each other better, to visit neighbors and make friends. They want open borders. They want everything printed in the newspaper, so they know whether they like what’s going on or whether they don’t. They’re tired the people are, of secrets and spies, they’re tired of striped pants. The people want their own diplomats. And all these things, the people are going to have. Unless they’re cheated out of them. Paris notwithstanding. If free men who fought for freedom, aren’t going to be allowed to destroy fascism, if anything that looks like fascism is suffered to sit down among us, the cynics will be right again, an ordered world where everyone is free to prosper and improve is still a far off dream. The fuhrer gave his sway a thousand years. His doom was sure. He lost. But those who fought him know they might not win.

That thousand years of his was a good guess. At least a thousand years waits on the chance of another war, another war means worse than the leveling of all the cities, we know that. It means retreat, a setback longer than the quarter of a century, wasted since the unknown soldier died for us. A thousand years is a long march. We are the ancestors of unknown soldiers who must go that bloody length again. Unless we who are weary of marching, go on marching. Forward is the way, forward, beyond peace, on into the free world which depends on it. A free world means just that, we must refuse all substitutes. A free world depends on that refusal. Liberals have a lot to say these days about the dangers of reaction. Reaction is no danger, it’s a certainty. Maybe it won’t amount to much, maybe it’s going to be a tidal wave, the answer isn’t written in the stars, it’s up to the democratic man. He must stand fast now. This time he daren’t lose, or nothing will be left. Nothing even to start with. And they’ll build a new war monument, not to the unknown soldier, but to the unknown cause.

Maybe they’ll keep an enigmatic flame alive, to show where freedom died. But nobody will start a cigar on that sepulchre. Wouldn’t even be funny. The alternative, of course, is civilization, a bookish and uneasy word, that civilization. Our languages will bare fairer names for it when we’ve struggled closer to what we describe. Peace then will go as unremarked as the free air. Peace after all is no more than the victory of the farm over the wilderness. As probable as that, no more hard earned. But never think our work is over when we’ve won that peace. We’ll know better. And even when the world is free, we’ll know we’ve just begun. Here it is: here is the peace, we’ll say. Standing in the midst of it, like ploughmen, content with the good order of their fields. Standing together, since mankind will be every man’s family. When the tools of war are put away for good. Here is peace. Here is peace, we’ll say to each other. Proudly, undismayed. Nobody will confuse it with the millennium. Then the abundance of the human spirit will be ready for harvest.

And even the children will see the final peace, is merely history’s first important date.

Now I see my time’s up. Thank you for letting me come to call, please make a date for next Sunday at this same time. Until then. I remain as always, obediently yours.

8 Transcript from “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 1” and “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 2”. T. Gillis Nutter is the attorney for the plaintiff. Stanley C. Morris is the attorney for the defendant:

ALTON C. BLACKWELL, having been first duly sworn as a witness, testified as follows:

DIRECT EXAMINATION

BY MR. MORRIS:

Q What is your name?

A Alton C. Blackwell.

Q Where do you live?

A Columbia, South Carolina.

Q What is your age?

A Thirty-four.

Q What is your occupation?

A Bus driver for the Atlantic Greyhound Corporation.

Q How long have you been a bus driver for the Atlantic Greyhound Corporation?

A Approximately 5 years.

Q Please state whether or not at or about the time you were employed, or early in your employment, you were given a course of training in that work.

A Yes, sir, I was trained.

Q Did you attend one of their drivers’ schools?

A Yes, sir.

Q At what place?

A Charleston, West Virgina.

Q What was the lighting in the bus at that time? Were there some dim lights on?

A A small light across from the emergency door was burning.

Q All right, what happened as you went on toward Edgefield or as you got to Edgefield or after you got there?

A After I got to Edgefield stepped off the bus directly behind me and requested that I wait for him.

Q Did he assign any reason?

A Yes, he said he had to go around the corner and take a piss.

Q Was that the language he used?

A That was the language he used exactly.

Q Did he speak that in confidential tones or loud tones?

A Well, it was loud enough that anybody could hear it in front of the bus, I don<t know whether they could hear it in the back or not, but they could in the front.

Q Did he get off the bus then?

A Yes.

Q Was he back as soon as you were ready to go?

A Just a few minutes later.

Q What happeend then after you left Edgefield?

A I said, "Boy, go on back and sit down and keep quiet and don't be talking out so loud. Everybody can hear you."

Q Did he say why he wanted you to stop?

A Yes.

Q Did he use the same kind of languge?

A He used the same language.

Q What did you say about his opportunity to releive himself at Batesburg or get off later?

MR. NUTTER: Your Honor, I object to all these leading questions.

MR MORRIS: Q Well: did you tell him anything else besides telling him to go back and sit down?

THE COURT: Yes, that question was leading, Mr. Morris.

MR. MORRIS: Very well, Your Honor.

Q Did you tell him anything else other than to go back and sit down, on that occasion?

A I believe I told him he could get out at Batesburg, that it would not be but a few minutes before we got there.


Q According to this map, at right angles to North Railroad Avenue appears to be Oak Street and Granite Street down here. In which direction did Officer Shull take Woodard, did they go toward Oak or Granite Street?

A Toward Granite Street.

Q You spoke about seeing them approaching, I believe you said a corner when Woodard was apparently trying to jerk away from Chief Shull or the corner, is that right?

A The corner at Granite and North Railroad Avenue, yes, sir.

Q Did they go around that corner in the direction fo Granite Street?

A Yes, sir, around the corner down Granite Street.

Q Did you see them any more?

A No, I did not.

Q State whether at any time in your presence or so far as you saw, Officer Shull struck Woodard with his hands or with any weapon.

A No, sir, I did not see him strike him at all.


Q All right, now did you go back to the sidewalk or where did you go from there, you and Officer Long?

A I believe I went back outside the bus to check the bus before leaving.

Q What was happening at that time as between Chief Shull and Woodard?

A They were leaving, I believe, going on to the jail.

Q Going away from the bus?

A That is right, and I could see them rounding the corner down there and he was puling back, resisting arrest.

Q Where was that?

A And he was using loud and boisterous talk. That wasn’t the corner down from the drugstore and the bus station.

Q Have you examined this map sufficiently to identify where the bus stopped there in Batesburg?

A Yes, sir.

9 Transcript from “Orson Welles Sketchbook – Episode 3: The Police”:

I was, uh, many years, a radio commentator…in America. During that time, of course, I had occasion to speak on a great variety of subjects. *tears paper out of sketchbook* Of all those subjects, one of the most interesting stories, the one that sticks most vividly in memory, had to do with a Negro soldier. Here he is:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Boy had seen service in the South Pacific, he was on his way home. Home was in one of the Southern states…he was on a bus, on the way he felt ill, he asked the bus driver to let him off. Bus driver refused, abusively. There was an argument, at the end of which a policeman was called in, who dragged the boy out of the bus, took him behind a building, and beat him viciously. And when he was unconscious, poured gin over him, put him in jail, charged him with drunkenness and assault. When the boy regained consciousness, he discovered that he was blind. The policeman had literally beaten out his eyes. Now, of course, that sortof policeman is the exception. That’s when a policeman is a criminal in uniform. I had the satisfaction of being instrumental in bringing that particular policeman to justice. Case was brought to my attention, and I brought it to the attention of the radio public, and we did finally manage to locate this man, and bring him into a court of law.

But there is, another sort of police abuse. Of which I think we all suffer, more or less. We suffer it at the hands of good policemen. Decent policemen. Policemen doing their duty. These are all the little petty annoyances, that don’t seem very important, but add up to an invasion of our privacy, and assault against our dignity as human beings. I’m brought in mind by all this, because just now I had my passport renewed. That made me think of all the forms, police questionnaires we have to fill out. One of the unpleasant things about your passport, getting a new one of course, is that you have to get a new picture, in which you invariably look older, and sometimes, a little worse than older.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

I wonder why it is that so many of us tend to look like criminals in a police line-up when we have our picture taken for our passport. I suppose it’s the unconscious foreknowledge of the…scrutiny to which our likeness will be subjected that gives us the hangdog guilty look. Really, theoretically, a passport is supposed to be issued for our protection. But on how many frontiers, and how many countries I’ve handed over my passport with all the emotions of an apprentice forger trying to fob off a five pound note on the Bank of England. A guilty conscience, I suppose. But, there’s something about being ticketed and numbered, that gives a man the feeling of being a piece of baggage, a convict. You can’t help thinking of our fathers’ day, when the world hadn’t grown so small. You could move about in it without being watched so closely.

Nowadays of course, we are now treated as demented or delinquent children. And the eyes are always on us. In our fathers’ day, of course, there weren’t any passports. The only countries that required an entry visa were Montenegro and Russia.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Here I am in the hands of the police. This is an illustration of a story. It happened in a country that I think had better remain nameless.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Enough trouble in the world as it is. First of all, I better explain that I carry, or at least carried, what Mr. Roosevelt once described when I showed it to him as the cheapest diplomatic passport in the world. In an American passport, I don’t know whether it’s true in an English one, on the front page there’s a place that says: “In case of death or accident, please notify…” and then you usually put the name of some near or dear one. In my case, I put “In case of death or accident please notify Franklin D. Roosevelt, Washington, D.C.” But at the time of this story, when I was stopped by the police, Mr. Roosevelt had died, Mr. Truman was president, and an election was coming up in which Truman was running against Dewey. Now, I made the mistake that a great deal of my fellow countrymen did, that Mr. Dewey was going to win. And because I wasn’t very fond of Mr. Dewey, I had written in my passport, “In case of accident, please notify Thomas Dewey, Washington, D.C.” My thought being, the least I could do to devil Mr. Dewey was to arrive in a coffin some morning. And it was therefore that passport that I handed to the police at eleven o’clock one wintry night in the mountains. And they jumped out of the road which, as I say, is going to be nameless, and with drawn guns, demanded what I had in my baggage.

Now there wasn’t any frontier, there couldn’t be any question of customs, so I asked them cheerfully, by way of conversation, whether this was a raid on dope smugglers, black marketeers, or whatever; they didn’t feel like joking, they said “It is not for you to converse with the police. Open your bag!” And I said, “Well, I’m afraid to, because the bag will blow up.” And they asked me what I meant by that, and I explained I had an atom bomb, a small one, in the bag – so wired to the catch that if you opened the bag, there would be a dreadful explosion. Why? I said I was going to La Scala, that I didn’t like the opera, and I was angry at the management, I was going to make an outrage, and that was what I had in my bag. And they said, you mustn’t joke with the police, the argument went on some time, very unpleasant, it got to be about two in the morning, one of those long drawn out practical jokes that you’ll regret, and finally they got around to looking at my passport. I was, of course, grateful, most grateful that they did, because when they saw the name Thomas Dewey, they said, “Oh! Excuse us Mr. Dewey, please continue!” And I don’t know quite what that story illustrates, except that it shows that a passport does have its purpose.

I don’t want you to think from this story that I’m an anarchist, or that I’m against the police…on the principle that I believe in fighting them with practical jokes, much less by lawlessness, just the contrary.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Now, I know I was wrong to make all that trouble for those police, in the mountains of that…nameless country. But, you see, I do a lot of travelling, I’ve been travelling all my life in fact. I was born in America, raised partly in China, and sent about the world a good bit before the war, and a great deal during it, and more afterwards. An office in one country, a studio in another, the last film, for instance, was made in four countries. So I have a good deal of experience in crossing borders, and coping with the coppers all over the world. And it is true, you know, that we’re invited in the travel posters be tourists, but once we attempt it, we do discover we’re guilty until proven innocent.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

That being so, I think a word or two on red tape-ism and bureaucracy, particularly as it applies to freedom of movement, might be in order. Sure that’s true of all of us. Think of all those forms we have to fill out, for example, you know what I mean by police forms, we get them at hotels and frontiers, in every country all over the world. We’re asked, state your sex, male or female, for example. Well, obviously I’m a male, I’m a man, why should I have to answer that? State your race and religion in block letters…well now, why should I have to confide my religion to the police? Frankly, I don’t think anybody’s race is anybody’s business. I’m willing to admit a policeman has a difficult job, a very hard job. But it’s the essence of our society that a policeman’s job should be hard. He’s there to protect…protect the free citizen, not to chase criminals, that’s an incidental part of his job. A free citizen is always more of a nuisance to the policeman than a criminal. He knows what to do about the criminal. I know it’s very nice to look out of our window in our comfortable home and see the policeman protecting our home, we should be grateful to the policeman, but I think we should be grateful too…for the laws which protect us against the policeman. There are those laws, you know, they’re quite different from the police regulations.

But the regulations do pile up. Forms keep coming in. We keep being asked to state our grandmothers, fathers’ name in block letters, and to say whether we propose to overthrow the government, in triplicate, why, that sort of thing, but you see, the bureaucrat, and I’m including the bureaucrat with the police, is part of one great big monstrous thing. The bureaucrat is really like a blackmailer, you can never pay him off, the more you give him, the more he’ll demand. You fill in one form, he’ll give you ten. And what are we going to do about it? Obviously, we can’t go on giving into this thing. Well you say just a minute, why shouldn’t we give into it, why should we make trouble for the policeman? Well, the truth is, why should the policeman make trouble for us? Why should he ask these things that are stated quite clearly enough in our passport? Our passport tells us everything that the policeman doesn’t need to know. Why should we make trouble, well…we don’t, because we don’t want to get into trouble with the police.

We’re told that we should co-operate with the authorities. I’m not an anarchist. I don’t want to overthrow the rule of law, on the contrary, I want to bring the policeman to law. Obviously individual effort won’t do any good. There’s nothing an individual can do about protecting the individual in society. I’d like it very much if somebody would make a great big international organisation for the protection of the individual. That way there could be officers at every frontier. And whenever we presented with something unpleasant, instead of having to fill out one of these idiotic questionnaires, we could say, “I’m sorry, it’s against the rules of our organization to fill out that questionnaire.” And when they say, ah, but it’s the regulations, we could say, “Very well, see our lawyer, because if there are enough of us, our dues would pay for the best lawyers in all the countries of the world.” We could bring to court these invasions against our privacy and test them under law. It would be very nice to have that sort of an organisation, it would be nice to have that sort of card. I see the card as fitting into the passport, a little larger than the passport, with a border around it in bright colours, so that it would catch the eyes of the police. And they’d know who they were dealing with, something like this.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

The card should look like a union card, the card of an automobile club, and since its purpose is to impress and control officialdom, well, obviously it should be as official looking as possible, with a lot of seals and things like that on it. And it might read something as follows. “This is to certify that the bearer is a member of the human race. All relevant information is to be found in his passport…and except when there’s good reason for suspecting him of some crime, he will refuse to submit to police interrogation on the grounds that any such interrogation is an intolerable nuisance. And life being as short as it is, a waste of time. Any infringement on his privacy or interference with his liberty, any assault, however petty against his dignity as a human being, will be rigorously prosecuted by the undersigned, I.S.P.I.A.O.,”…and that would be the International Association for the Protection of the Individual Against Officialdom.” If any such organization is ever organized…you could put me down as a charter member.

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Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: A Maze of Death

(What follows is a modified and expanded version of the Disqus comment, “Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: Suicide Mission”. Various errors in that comment, such as the constant mis-spelling of Boxer Santaros’ name, are corrected here. What follows contains spoilers for Southland Tales, Knowing, and End of Days. Though an attempt is made to dis-entangle the plot by writing about the surrounding events of the movie in roughly chronological order, the assumption is made that any reader has seen the movie at least once and is somewhat familiar with its story. The prequel script referred to in this post can be found on scribd, a link I arrived at via the very helpful “The ‘Southland Tales’ That Never End: An Interview With Richard Kelly” by Abraham Riesman.)

The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described… . It was that beauty the great poets dream about but describe most poorly and inadequately. Thirty seconds after, the explosion came first, the air blast pressing hard against the people and things, to be followed almost immediately by the strong, sustained, awesome roar which warned of doomsday and made us feel that we puny things were blasphemous to dare tamper with the forces heretofore reserved to The Almighty.

Kenneth Bainbridge, the supervisor of the test, turned to Oppenheimer and said, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”

From a description of the first A Bomb test, in Eric Schlosser’s essential Command and Control.

A film that plays the apocalypse completely for laughs, and which gave me a great deal of joyful laughter when I first saw it and badly needed such relief. The movie’s strength lies in the fact that its scenes work (or don’t work) as self-contained episodes, with any larger issues of structure or comprehensibility lessened by your focus on the immediate action. Were I to compare it to anything, it would be the strange skits that Saturday Night Live leaves for its very end, a sample of which might be found in “10-to-1 odds: 19 bizarre sketches from Saturday Night Live’s last 10 minutes” by Claire Zulkey, Steve Heisler, Erik Adams, Phil Dyess-Nugent, Ryan McGee and Will Harris, though perhaps the best example comes from Commander Blop in the comments: “How did “Potato Chip” not make it? I think of that as the quintessential example of the last fifteen or so years.” (link) This skit involves a NASA job interviewee stealing a single chip from the interviewer’s precious bowl of thirty five chips. The humor doesn’t really lie with the premise, or any single element, but the combined absurdity of it all: the anachronistic speech and manner of these Southern Country Gentlemen at NASA, Mr. Greenblatt’s petulance over the single missing chip, the baroque anguish of the secretary. “Potato Chip Thief” is on the Yahoo! SNL archive, though an excerpt from a transcript at SNL Transcripts (“Potato Chip Thief”) might convey the tone:

Mr. Greenblatt: Well, I got that space test right…

[ Mr. Greenblatt stops mid sentence and stares at the bowl of chips on the desk. He quickly scuttles towards it and begins thumbing through the bowl counting quickly under his breath. ]

Mr. Greenblatt: Thirty four. (stares at Mr. Aymong as he sits down.) Thirty four! (yells to get Janelley’s attention) JANELLEY! Could you come in here, please!

[ Janelley enters the office and approaches Mr. Greenblatt. ]

Janelley: (In a quivery quiet voice) Yes, Mr. Greenblatt?

Mr. Greenblatt: Janelda, how many potato chips did you put in there today?

Janelley: Thirty five.

Mr. Greenblatt: (with conviction) I thought so. I thought so! Janelley, what would you say if I told you that that man right there is nothing but a common potato chip thief!

Janelley: (In an overdone scream of horror) AHHHHHHH! POTATO CHIP THIIIIIEEEEFFFFF!!!!

The scenes in Southland Tales rarely fall under quotable humor, or things that can be easily summarized to explain why they’re funny. It’s this quicksilver quality which, for me, makes the movie so enjoyable, as the jokes keep coming in unpredictable sizes and shapes. The movie bears the influence of Philip K. Dick, an influence which it openly acknowledges with a witty reference: “Flow my tears,” says a policeman (in other words, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said), while both the prequel script and prequel comics feature a scene with the characters bonding over, respectively, The Man in High Castle and the already mentioned Flow My Tears 1. That its apocalyptic premise is coupled with absurdist dialogue makes Southland Tales feel closer to the books of Dick than adaptations like Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly which keep the vertiginous elements, while dropping the discordant hyperbolic writing that often sounds like an unintentional ten-to-one SNL skit, the beatnik daughter of Ayn Rand hanging out at the space disco. One might pick a few examples from an obvious and near-by choice, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

These excerpts all involve the book’s lead, Jason Taverner (and of course, Seann William Scott’s protagonist in Southland is Roland Taverner), and his ex-girlfriend, Ruth Rae:

That was one factor about Ruth Rae: her obsession with sex. One year that he recalled she had laid sixty men, not including him: he had entered and left earlier, when the stats were not so high.

And she had always liked his music. Ruth Rae liked sexy vocalists, pop ballads and sweet– sickeningly sweet–strings. In her New York apartment at one time she had set up a huge quad system and more or less lived inside it, eating dietetic sandwiches and drinking fake frosty slime drinks made out of nothing. Listening forty-eight hours at a stretch to disc after disc by the Purple People Strings, which he abominated.

“Hi,” she rasped in her bourbon-bounded voice. “Who are you?”

Jason said, “We met a few years ago in New York. I was doing a walk-on in an episode of The Phantom Baller. . . as I recall it, you had charge of costumes.”

“The episode,” Ruth Rae rasped, “where the Phantom Baller was set upon by pirate queers from another time period.” She laughed, smiled up at him. “What’s your name?” she inquired, jiggling her wire-supported exposed boobs.

“I’ll go punch the stove-console.” Ruth Rae skittered barefoot, wearing only a box bangle, from the bathroom into the kitchen. A moment later she returned with a big plastic mug of coffee, marked KEEP ON TRUCKIN’. He accepted it, drank down the steaming coffee.

“I can’t stay,” he said, “any longer. And anyhow, you’re too old.”

She stared at him, ludicrously, like a warped, stomped doll. And then she ran off into the kitchen. Why did I say that? he asked himself. The pressure; my fears. He started after her.

Southland replaces this unintentional absurdity with its own intentional, utterly strange jokes. One of the first scenes, when Zora Charmichaels buys a gun and blanks for the staged shooting from a weapons dealer who works out of an ice cream truck:

ZORA
You know, there would be a lot less violence in the world if everyone got a little more cardio.

WALTER MUNG
Yeah…

ZORA
HEY. Is that a bazooka?

WALTER
What the fuck is this?

ZORA
What…you won’t take a personal cheque?

WALTER
No, I won’t take a personal cheque. Get the fuck out of my ice cream truck, you cro-magnon bitch.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

There’s the reunion of Santaros with his in-laws, along with the woman who protected him during his time of exile, porn star Krysta Now:

MADELINE FROST
Cock Chuggers 2? Cock Chuggin? Who the fuck makes this shit? Huh?

BOXER
Hey, hey. She just cut her own pop album.

SENATOR FROST
“Teen horniness is not a crime. Keep an open heart and an open mind.”

KRYSTA does the “love you, too” signal to the Senator.

BOXER
She’s developing her own reality show. Clothing line. Jewelry, perfume, and not to mention, energy drink. Which I tried. And her drink tastes really really good.

KRYSTA mouths thank you.

BOXER
Can I see the Cock Chuggers?

MADELINE FROST
No!

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

A conversation on Krysta Now’s talk show, which is kind of like The View, except all the table mates are porn stars, and where they discuss the important issues of the day, like teen horniness and quantum teleportation:

SHOSHANNA COX
I have a question…for the Supreme Court. What happens…when a woman has sex on a flight from London to Los Angeles. Then takes the morning after pill. While flying across the time zone.

KRYSTA NOW
I don’t know.

COX
Then it becomes the morning before pill.

DEENA STORM
You are a genius.

NOW
Holy shit.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The Dickisian influence is there in the ways I see the movie: as a satire on the American fascination with the apocalypse, and as the briefly realized dream world of a dying man, Roland Taverner. Dealing with the first gives me an opportunity to lay out the surrounding timeline of the events of the movie, in chronological order, as described in the film, the prequel comics (Southland Tales: The Prequel Saga on Amazon), and the prequel script (Southland Tales: The Prequel Saga on scribd) – though they overlap in many ways, the prequel script and the prequel comics have their differences. Though “Everything you were afraid to ask about “Southland Tales”” by Thomas Rogers is very effective in disentangling the various plot details of the movie, it spends less time on the events leading up to the movie’s plot, which I think are equally important in understanding what takes place.

What should first be noted is that a central part of Southland‘s plot is the idea of various world religions in a competition for apocalypse (a kind of Death Race 2000, I guess), with one winner emerging from these sweepstakes. This is why Boxer has tattoos on his body of so many symbols and words representing various faiths, and when Christ’s head bleeds through at the end, this is the chosen (and expected) winner. This crude competition is very much satirical, and mirrors the religious bigotry of Bobby and Nina Mae Frost who express an opinion that doesn’t make it into the movie, but is very much there in the prequel works – that the war on terror is a war for Christian supremacy. In “The ‘Southland Tales’ That Never End: An Interview With Richard Kelly” by Abraham Riesman, Kelly confirms all this:

In the graphic novels, we learn that boxer’s tattoos represent all the major world religions, and that whichever one bleeds, it means that religion is the one true religion. Jesus ends up bleeding, of course. So, why Christianity? Why does it win?

Why does Jesus win? (Laughs) Well, because it’s Revelation and it is the Second Coming. And the joke is, someone *has* to win, and it’s part of the satire.

Sorta like a parody of the Bush administration’s invocations of god?

Well, I mean, it’s the foundation of that entire administration, was Christianity. And Southland Tales is very much a reflection of that administration and those eight years.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

These are the Frosts in the comic, on the intersection of war and religion:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

These are the Frosts in the script, on the same subject (page 83):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The screenplay that’s mentioned several times in the movie, The Power, is a script which serves as a prophetic work predicting the events leading up to the apocalypse, and excerpts of the script appear in the prequel comics. Though it will be discussed at greater length later, we might look at the scene in the script where Jericho Cane gets his tattoos, after which Boxer Santaros will get the very same set of tattoos to play the role of Jericho Cane2. This is Jericho Cane getting the “armor of god”, the religious tats:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

This is Boxer getting the same set of tattoos, in the script (page 66):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

In the comic:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Serpentine: “When da true Messiah returns…da tattoo of the winning religion will bleed da blood of da serpent.” Fortunio: “The winning religion? Is this some sort of competition?” Serpentine: “Of course it is…you fool!” (page 80)

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Perhaps the best place to start the chronology is with an exposition scene in the prequel script, where we discover the Defense Department has been funding research into the Book of Revelations for decades. The conversation is between General Teena MacArthur (Janeane Garafolo) and General Simon Theory (Kevin Smith); Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake) is in the scene because he’s participating in a military experiment involving Fluid Karma (page 91):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The primer is Martin Kefauver, the man who fires the rocket launcher at the end, and whose name is deciphered later by Krysta Now.

As we know from the opening scenes of Southland, the expanded war in the Middle East has led the U.S. to research alternative energy resources. Baron Westphalen has solved the problem through Fluid Karma, a mysterious substance that generates electricity when exposed to oxygen. In the Baron’s presentation from the movie’s opening, he seems unable to quite explain how his energy system, powered by the ocean’s waves, quite works – this is because the explanation is a deception. Fluid Karma isn’t produced, but mined from the ocean floor, a place called the Serpent Trench.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

By mining this material, they’ve unleashed something unforseen unto the world. The first sign of something gone awry is the incident involving Flight 23, going from Los Angeles to Dallas, where passengers and crew were struck by a massive outbreak of hysteria mid-point in the flight. Everyone on board afterward suffered from amnesia, except for one person – Krysta Kapowski, also known as Krysta Now.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

During interview sessions after the event, it’s discovered that Kapowski now has psychic powers. It’s after this discovery that Dr. Katarina Kuntzler has her dictate the script The Power.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The script is supposed to be a kind of modern Book of Revelation, predicting the events leading up to the end of the world. Instead of the porn actress, the script features Krysta Now’s doppelganger, oceanography expert Dr. Muriel Fox, who describes Krysta’s experiences on United 23 as her own. Before the outbreak of hysteria, the passengers fall into a coma in which Krysta is the only one awake. She sees a vision of a multi-headed snake beast ridden by the whore of Babylon, Krysta Now. This perhaps is how Kapowski sees herself, as two selves separated by the transforming incident – Krysta Now and psychic Dr. Muriel Fox. This vision explains exactly what will take place before the apocalypse, events mirrored in the end of the movie:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Simon Theory has come across an anagram of letters that must be deciphered, F R E A K M A N V I R T U E, which also unscramble to Martin Kefauver, the man who’ll fire the rocket launcher at the movie’s end. This is the “trigger” they’re seeking, the man who’ll set off the apocalypse. From the prequel script, when Simon discusses the anagram with Teena MacArthur (page 113):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

From The Power script in the comic, when Muriel Fox unscrambles the letters:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Muriel explicitly identifies Kefauver as “the executioner” in The Power script:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Much of Kapowski’s script is excerpted in the comics, and the impression given is of a prophetic document disguised as a juvenile Michael Bay movie. Two cops, Jericho Cane (played by Boxer Santaros) and his partner, Chuck MacPherson (not Roland Taverner, but an older man in his fifties), along with Dr. Muriel Fox, are trying to unravel the mystery behind a baby named Caleb that has mystic qualities and may well be the messiah. It ages at an accelerated rate, and never has a bowel movement, but its farts are so powerful that they shake the earth. Eventually, Jericho Cane takes the baby to a farmhourse where he finds the mysterious sorceress named Serpentine, the very same Serpentine of the world outside the script. Serpentine is surrounded by snakes, and one of them swallows the baby, before the serpent is destroyed by one of the child’s cosmic farts. Serpentine declares the child the messiah. It’s after this point that Serpentine explains the idea of the “armor of god”, the tattoos which must be printed on Jericho Cane’s skin.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Though it’s omitted in the general release cut, there’s a lengthier discussion of the script in one of the ridealong scenes in the Cannes cut. I know that some have accused this movie of pretentiousness, and yet the full cut of the scene gets close to the tone which the movie aims for all the way through, one that has a serious undertone, but is also through and through ridiculous. The recurrent phrase, “nobody rocks the cock like Krysta Now”, is something like an advertising jingle which ends up in the heads of everyone, though for a product more demimonde than we might expect for these infectious mantras.

BOXER
So, I’m fucking her last night…and right before I come, I puke all over her tits.

TAVERNER (impassive, blase, unperturbed)
It happens.

BOXER
No, I’m telling you, nobody and I mean nobody, rocks the cock like Krysta Now. Nobody.

BOXER CONT’D
Nobody.

TAVERNER
I got it.

BOXER
Fucking nobody.

Back to the Neo-Marxist headquarters. DREAM talks into the mic, which TAVERNER hears over the earpiece.

DREAM
Ask him about his wife.

TAVERNER
So what does your wife think about your new girlfriend?

BOXER
My wife?

TAVERNER
Yeah. She cool with the fact that you have a porn star girlfriend on the side?

BOXER
I’m not married.

TAVERNER
You’re not?

BOXER
No, I’m not.

TAVERNER
I could have sworn you were married to the daughter of a Texas senator. Senator Bobby Frost.

BOXER
Well no, I’m not. I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t know who he is. Furthermore, I don’t want to talk about this. Why are you asking me questions? I just want to talk about my movie.

TAVERNER
Okay, let’s talk about your film. What’s it really about?

BOXER now interested, leans closer
It all hinges…on a top secret experiment. Young couple comes home from the hospital. With their new-born baby. A week goes by, and the baby still hasn’t produced a bowel movement.

TAVERNER
Maybe the baby’s just constipated.

BOXER
No no no no no. This is a very special baby. This baby processes energy differently. Every time it farts, it creates a small earthquake. The prophecy of Jericho Cane says there will be one final thermonuclear baby fart which will then trigger the apocalypse.

TAVERNER
I haven’t had a bowel movement in six days. I haven’t taken a piss either.

BOXER looks down at TAVERNER’s pants.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Though it’s never stated explicitly, somehow this baby Caleb is also Roland Taverner. The baby’s growth is so accelerated in the script that we can conceive this baby being of the age and appearance of Taverner when he first shows up. They both share a distinct trait: like Caleb, Taverner cannot have a bowel movement no matter how hard he tries. This is a point made several times in the comic:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The various researchers of the movie – General Simon Theory, Dr. Soberin Ex, Dr. Katarina Kuntzler – pinpoint that the strange incident on board Flight 23 took place over Lake Mead, Nevada, where an unusual structure has come into existence: a vast maze in the shape of Texas. Within the maze is a rift in time and space. Kuntzler believes the maze’s shape to be a reference to the nuclear detonation in Abilene, a communication by a sentient intelligence – the Serpent Trench.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Attempts are made to research this time rift. The best description of what takes place is in Southland when Satoro discovers his own dead body, and Soberin Ex tells him what led up to it:

EX
And what did we do when we discovered a rift in the fourth dimension? We launched monkeys into it.

BOXER
Only a human subject can survive that challenge. The soul of a human monkey can’t survive the dimensional threshold.

KUNTZLER
So we learned. At which point we decided that the first human subejct to travel through the rift would be a movie star.

BOXER
Why me?

KUNTZLER
Your celebrity and your political ties proved an irresistible combination.

EX
At 10:59 AM, and this is sixty-nine minutes before you passed through the rift, a duplicate Boxer Santaross appeared.

SIMON
You traveled sixty nine minutes back in time, sir. At which point your future self…and your past self, confronted one another.

BOXER
So, I’m my future self. And I’m the dude who traveled through the rift.

EX
And this…[nods to the burned out body] is all that’s left of your past self. This body…this artifact. This dual existence of a single human soul could unlock the secret of creation, the secret of humankind.

BOXER
I don’t understand. I’ve never considered committing suicide. I’m a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.

EX
We don’t know what would happen if two human souls were to come into immediate close contact with one another.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

This may be a deception as well; Boxer perhaps isn’t taken to the maze because he’s a movie star, but because of the prophecy of The Power script. Boxer is at a campaign event on June 27th where he’s with his in-laws, Vice Presidential nominee Bobby Frost and their family, when he’s kidnapped (page 74):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Afterwards, Boxer Santaros has forgotten everything in his life – except the moment of being in the maze. He comes across the monkey that’s already been sent through the time rift. This monkey’s gone to heaven:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

In the prequel script, park rangers searching the area come across the dead monkey as well (page 8):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

He wanders the maze and comes across a giant snake which then attacks him. This might be taken as a metaphor for the entire movie, characters wandering a maze ruled by a snake, Serpentine. Boxer escapes by ascending the stairs to a gauzy field marked by an open hand: the time rift. He jumps through and afterwards sees Taverner. When asked his name, he says “Jericho Cane”, even though he hasn’t read Krysta’s screenplay yet.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

After Boxer jumps through the time rift, his past self may have gone back into the Treer vehicle where it was destroyed by a remote self-destruct trigger, according to this conversation at the end of Southland:

BOXER
You made sure to have no one go through the time rift with me. Then you hit the SUV self destruct trigger. By remote. Which means I didn’t kill myself.

SERPENTINE
You’re a pimp. Pimps don’t commit suicide.

BOXER
You got that right.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Though Roland Taverner suffers from amnesia as well due to the time rift, he too remembers the maze as a dream, which he tells Boxer about when they sit down to eat during a break from the drivealong. The upbeat “Oh My Angel” by Bertha Tillman plays in the background, making things even more unsettling.

TAVERNER
I’ve had this recurring dream.

BOXER can tell that he wants to tell someone, anyone about this dream.

BOXER
Tell me about it.

TAVERNER
I wake up in this dungeon…the walls are made of sand. As I slowly make my way through this…maze. Approaching a light source at the end. Guess who’s standing there, waiting for me?

BOXER
Who?

TAVERNER
You.

BOXER is now very interested.

BOXER
Do you ever feel there’s a thousand people…locked inside of you?

TAVERNER
Sometimes.

BOXER
But it’s your memory. That keeps them glued together. Keeps all those people from [makes Rock’em Sock’em motions] fighting one another. Maybe in the end that’s all we have. The memory. Gospel.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

It’s after this point that Boxer is picked up in the desert by Foruntio Balducci, while Roland Taverner ends up on the houseboat of his parents, along with his double, his past self. They’ve been gone in the maze for three days, since it’s now June 30th:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Whether Tab and Eve Taverner are actually Roland’s parents, or just actors playing a part, I’m not sure. They’re Neo-Marxists, and his father lies to Roland that the other body is his twin brother, and not a copy of himself:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Taverner is transferred by his parents over to the custody of fellow Neo-Marxist Zora Charmichaels, while Balducci drives with Boxer to a strip club where Krysta Now is headlining. The comic’s opening has many of the characters clustered all together on the Taverner houseboat, with Krysta Now and Balducci there for a gambling junket, where high stakes card games are played against, amongst others, U.S. soldiers stationed in Syria. We are told that Tab is on his way to drop off some very important cargo in Los Angeles – Roland Taverner and his copy. Balducci goes off into the desert, with a necessary state travel pass given to him by Krysta. Though it’s never stated explicitly in the comic, I make this assumption: Krysta is psychic, and Krysta knows Balducci will pick up Boxer in the desert, after which she’ll see them at her strip club. In the comic, they simply meet at the club, whereas in the prequel script, Krysta makes a beeline for Boxer. Again in the prequel script, she presents him with the prophecy script, The Power, which carries a co-writing credit for Santaros, while in the comic she enlists Balducci to convince Boxer that The Power is entirely his script. He’ll be playing a part in other people’s games, but it’s important that he thinks it’s all a product of his own imagination, his own creation.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

When Krysta meets Boxer in the prequel script (page 17):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Towards the end of the prequel comics, there’s this moment between Krysta and Boxer which suggests she knows exactly what will happen to all of them, that they’re going to bring about the apocalypse:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

A contingent point, revealed only at the comic’s ending: Krysta has been doing this all for the Baron. We’re told this in a scene where Krysta tells her friends, Deena Storm and Shoshanna Cox, that they’ve received an invite to dance on the Westphalen zeppelin for their fourth of July party:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Zora is an agent of the Baron as well:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The burnt out body of Boxer Santaros is found by park rangers. After they put the body into storage, mysterious figures come into the ranger station, kill the rangers and retrieve the body. In both the prequel comics and the script, the body then ends up in Westphalen laboratories, but in the prequel script, it’s more explicit that the kill orders come from the Baron:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The park ranger discovers the body in the prequel script (page 10):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Baron gives the order to shoot in the prequel script (page 11):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

That Taverner ends up with the Neo-Marxists and Boxer ends up at Krysta’s, is also part of an elaborate plan, chess pieces in their proper place, as it’s made clear in the comic book:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The purpose of it all is to bring about the apocalypse. Janeane Garafolo shows up in Southland only for a few seconds in a mute appearance towards the end, alongside Pilot Abilene in the Utopia 3 Station; she’s there, according to the prequel script, after waiting it out at a remote command center. We have here the obvious irony, that she has to be at a remote location so she’s not destroyed, while waiting out the three days until all of earth is annihilated (page 116):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

A compilation of Teena MacArthur’s scenes from the Cannes cut of Southland Tales:

The drive along with a staged shooting and the drive along disrupted by a real shooting are all parts of a larger plan. It’s Balducci who tells Dion and Dream to take the scenario for the faked shooting from a scene in The Power (page 82):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The scene of the couple from The Power:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

That various characters are used as instruments shouldn’t imply that they know the full plan. Fortunio thinks the idea of a competition among the religions a ridiculous idea; all he knows is that he’s paid to do certain things, though these very tasks end up being necessary steps towards the apocalypse. One of the last scenes in the prequel comics is Fortunio confronting Krysta about what exactly she knows:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Though he doesn’t know the full plan, Balducci is still very much in the pay of these same shadowy forces. Southland, the movie, opens with Balducci welcoming Taverner as an old friend; he actually doesn’t know the man at all. He has been paid by Serpentine to bring about the meeting of Taverner and Boxer:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The last scene of the comics is Boxer overwhelmed by all the things he’s experienced, and going out to the beach where he collapses after injecting himself with Fluid Karma – which is not only a source of energy, but a potent drug as well. It’s in the morning after this that we see him in the movie’s opening, waking up on the beach. Fluid Karma is used in various military experiments on soldiers, in order to try to endow them with psychic abilities, and among the experimental subjects are Roland Taverner and Pilot Abilene. Those who inject themselves with Fluid Karma tend to experience time breaking down, or “bleeding”, and Boxer runs into this at the house where they first find baby Caleb, with the dead father of Caleb speaking to Boxer through a mirror. It’s this same phenomenon of bleeding that Taverner experiences in his opening scene, where his mirror reflection appears to be a few microseconds behind.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

SUICIDE MISSION

This is a movie where the apocalypse does not come about as an unexpected by-product of anything else, or by accident, but out of exact intent. Southland gets at the lunacy of nuclear madman theory and at the madness at the heart of the apocalyptic thinking now so prevalent among evangelicals in the U.S. The movie says the unsayable: that the destruction of the entire earth is actually part of a divine plan. We have it stated very well in the excellent study of the Book of Revelation and its modern misinterpretations, A History of the End of the World by Jonathan Kirsch:

Revelation achieved its first penetration into American politics with the unlikely rise of Ronald Reagan, first as governor of California and later as president of the United States. Raised in a church with roots that reached all the way back to the era of the Second Great Awakening – and reportedly an early reader of The Late Great Planet Earth [a book from 1970 which repurposed the Book of Revelation to predict the apocalypse in contemporary times] – Reagan was perhaps the first national figure outside of fundamentalist circles to openly and unapologetically affirm his belief in the imminent fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

“Apparently never in history have so many of the prophecies come true in such a relatively short time,” said Ronald Reagan, then serving as governor of California, in an interview that appeared in 1968 in Christian Life magazine. And he was even more forthcoming at a political dinner in Sacramento in 1971 when he commented on the significance of a recent coup in Libya: “That’s a sign that the day of Armageddon isn’t far off,” declared Reagan. “Everything’s falling into place. It can’t be long now.”

Reagan, in fact, was able to cite chapter and verse to support his prediction. The incident in Libya apparently put him in mind of a Sunday-school lesson on the apocalyptic prophecies of the Hebrew bible: “For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near,” goes a passage in the book of Ezekiel. “Ethiopia, and Libya, and Lydia, and all the mingled people…shall fall with them by the sword.” And Reagan, apparently inspired by the sight of waiters igniting bowls of cherries jubilee in the darkened dining room, was mindful of God’s vow to bring down on Gog, the biblical enemy of Israel, “great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.” Reagan alluded to these passages during his table talk and concluded: “That must mean they’ll be destroyed by nuclear weapons.”

In Southland Tales, the only caveat to this armageddon being part of some larger divine cosmogony is that this plan seems to be entirely the design of a less than divine figure, the comic book dragon lady Serpentine. It’s a movie that plays like a parody of a conspiracy theory, with almost every character acting as a double agent for someone else, whether it be Zora, Krysta, and Fortunio acting on behalf of the Baron, or the members of U.S. Ident, the NSA subdivision that oversees the internet, that are actually Neo-Marxist moles. Southland ends with the revelation of double dealing at the very tippytop of the hierarchy, with Baron Von Westphalen declaring himself a Neo-Marxist: “Our mission, is to destroy capitalism…dethrone god…” The very same credo uttered by a Neo-Marxist in one of the comics:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The mohawked Neo-Marxist who says this line is the ubiquitous Hermosa, who also applies the religious tattoos to Boxer, and makes a silent and enigmatic appearance in the movie, conferring with Taverner during a break in the ride along:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Baron Von Westphalen is actually a relative of Karl Marx on his wife’s side3, so the fight in this movie which at first appears to be a conflict between the left and the right, the Neo-Marxists against the establishment, is actually between the Neo-Marxists versus the Marxists, or, if we take the Baron’s final words as sincere, between the Neo-Marxists and the Neo-Marxists. This is a massive conflict where both factions are on the same side, where the outcome has already been foretold by Krysta Now’s screenplay, all orchestrated by a single, sinister force behind the scenes. Serpentine has all the qualities of a conspiratorial figure, qualities which approach the level of magic, being able to travel seemingly everywhere and, though she wears an eye-catching outfit, is near invisible to everyone around her, who never notice her ubiquity. This is a movie marked by characters who we assume to have great power, whether it be Boxer Santaros, one of the biggest stars on the planet, Bobby Frost, vice presidential candidate, Nana Mae, deputy director of the NSA, Baron Von Westphalen, said to be the most powerful man in the world (described as the wizard, presumably because his inventions resemble something close to magic), General Simon Theory (nicknamed the Dungeon Master, presumably because he stick to subterranean locations and the sense that he’s the hidden power behind everything) – and yet all their power is for naught in the face of this larger plan. Again, we have another standard feature of conspiracy theory, where the most powerful individuals are apparently helpless pieces in a plot. Though all these figures help bring about apocalypse, the only one who actually gets what they want is Serpentine. Again, we have the destructive paradox involved in the planning of various kinds of warfare: what else did you expect to happen when this plan was put into effect?

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Kelly confirms this view of what takes place, of Serpentine orchestrating everything, in Abraham Riesman’s “The ‘Southland Tales’ That Never End: An Interview With Richard Kelly”:

What’s Baron’s endgame?

Well, I mean, that’s part of the ending that I’d like to eventually restore. The Baron has been duped by Serpentine, and Serpentine is aware of the handshake and shutting existence down with the handshake. The Baron has dreams of floating over the apocalyptic landscape in his MegaZeppelin and ruling over humanity, and Bai Ling tricks him and shuts down all existence. That’s why she’s—there’s more of it in the Cannes cut.

Who in the movie wants to bring about the end of the world?

Bai Ling and Zelda Rubenstein. Katarina Kuntsler. Inga von Westphalen is aware of it, somewhat. But basically, Serpentine and Katarina hoodwink the Baron into shutting down all existence because the Baron is drunk with power and intends to destroy humanity and lord over humanity in his MegaZeppelin, so they decide it’s better to shut down all existence.

The cut of Southland that appeared at Cannes has footage which establishes this point strongly. Following the scene where Cyndi Pinziki threatens Vaughn Smallhouse (“Let me tell you something, Terri. When the shit hits the fan, it all smells the same”) and which closes with Krysta’s line, “I don’t know what it is you’ve done…but you have to promise me he won’t get hurt. He’s not the person you think he is”, we have this brief scene at the Vaughn Smallhouse estate between Katarina Kuntzler and Serpentine, about the Baron:

KUNTZLER
The world is merely an object being manipulated by him. Your Baron is drunk with power. The tidal generator is driving everyone mad. And this madness, this religion of chaos will not abate, until the end of all things.

SERPENTINE
Today the world ends.

KUNTZLER nods and mouths a silent “yes”.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

After the Baron’s line “Our mission is to destroy capitalism…”, we also have this:

BARON
Our mission is to destroy capitalism…dethrone god…

BOXER
Officer Roland Taverner. That’s who you want.

We cut to the TAVERNERS shaking hands in the ice cream truck, the one in the sweatshirt pointing a gun to his head. We go back to the zeppelin.

KATARINA KUNTZLER
He is the one who can dethrone god.

BARON is puzzled. Though he usually knows everything, he wasn’t notified of something.

BARON
Mother…he wasn’t supposed to go through the rift. The car was supposed to be on auto-pilot!

INGA VON WESTPHALEN is impassive.

BARON (desperately)
Serpentine!

SERPENTINE
This is the way the world ends…not with a whimper, but with a bang.

She places her hands together.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Both of these scenes, as well the other deleted scenes from the Cannes version mentioned here, are in the following compilation of clips on youtube, “Southland Tales Deleted Scenes”:

Southland tips its hat a few times to Philip K. Dick, it shares common obsessions with the late author’s work, and I find some of its DNA in Dick’s novel, A Maze of Death. In that book, (I think the SPOILERS tag needs to go here, if you want to remain unsurprised by Maze‘s final twist) a group of space colonists are trapped on a ship stranded near a dead star, as a result of an accident years ago. They pass their time by creating virtual worlds they can wander about in. The worlds are a consensus effort of the various passengers, the religion a synthesis of their beliefs, consisting of four divinities – the Mentafacturer, the Intercessor, the Walker-on-Earth, and the Form Destroyer. After all these years, the ship passengers despise their fellows, and they end up murdering each other on the virtual world. Inevitably, the world collapses and the Form Destroyer, their death god, overwhelms everything. The passengers are outwardly sane, yet secretly mad, and there is a secret, unacknowledged madness to not just the planning of nuclear war, but all war planning. Southland Tales is often about illusions that are suddenly real, and the anticipation of war is the expectation of both an illusion of heroism and physical genius, as well as a reality so cruel and sordid that it pierces all veils. It is supposedly a baptism, in which you will be re-born into something greater, and it is a secret lake into which you descend, and never come up for air. This is the veiled lunacy at the heart of Southland Tales, and here too, a Form Destroyer prevails.

Dick was obsessed with theology, and his books benefit and suffer from this, with his fascinating plots often metaphors for religious ideas, and these plots in turn trapping their characters like flies in amber, the entire book stiff with reflection on a particular idea, rather than focusing the reader’s interest page by page. We might get some sense of his obsession from the story related in the film Waking Life, told by the Pinball Playing Man (Richard Linklater) to the Main Character (Wiley Wiggins). I am grateful to the transcript from the site Waking Life, which offers transcripts by James Skemp to all the scenes in the complex and in-depth conversations of the movie, including “Trapped in a Dream”:

PINBALL MAN
I’m gonna tell you about a dream I once had. I know that’s, when someone says that, then usually you’re in for a very boring next few minutes, and you might be, but it sounds like, you know, what else are you going to do, right? Anyway, I read this essay by Philip K. Dick [“If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others”, I believe, from The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick].

MAIN CHARACTER
What, you read it in your dream?

PINBALL MAN
No, no. I read it before the dream. It was the preamble to the dream. It was about that book, um Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. You know that one?

MAIN CHARACTER
Uh, yeah yeah, he won an award for that one.

PINBALL MAN
Right, right. That’s the one he wrote really fast. It just like flowed right out of him. He felt he was sort of channeling it, or something. But anyway, about four years after it was published, he was at this party, and he met this woman who had the same name as the woman character in the book. And she had a boyfriend with the same name as the boyfriend character in the book, and she was having an affair with this guy, the chief of police, and he had the same name as the chief of police in his book. So she’s telling him all of this stuff from her life, and everything she’s saying is right out of his book. So that’s totally freaking him out, but, what can he do?

And then shortly after that, he was going to mail a letter, and he saw this kind of, um, you know, dangerous, shady looking guy standing by his car, but instead of avoiding him, which he says he would have usually done, he just walked right up to him and said, “Can I help you?” And the guy said, “Yeah. I, I ran out of gas.” So he pulls out his wallet, and he hands him some money, which he says he never would have done, and then he gets home and thinks, wait a second, this guy, you know, he can’t get to a gas station, he’s out of gas. So he gets back in his car, he goes and finds the guy, takes him to the gas station, and as he’s pulling up at the gas station, he realizes, “Hey, this is in my book too. This exact station, this exact guy. Everything.”

So this whole episode is kind of creepy, right? And he’s telling his priest about it, you know, describing how he wrote this book, and then four years later all these things happened to him. And as he’s telling it to him, the priest says, “That’s the Book of Acts. You’re describing the Book of Acts.” And he’s like, “I’ve never read the Book of Acts.” So he, you know, goes home and reads the Book of Acts, and it’s like uncanny. Even the characters’ names are the same as in the Bible. And the Book of Acts takes place in 50 A.D., when it was written, supposedly. So Philip K. Dick had this theory that time was an illusion and that we were all actually in 50 A.D., and the reason he had written this book was that he had somehow momentarily punctured through this illusion, this veil of time, and what he had seen there was what was going on in the Book of Acts.

And he was really into Gnosticism, and this idea that this demiurge, or demon, had created this illusion of time to make us forget that Christ was about to return, and the kingdom of God was about to arrive. And that we’re all in 50 A.D., and there’s someone trying to make us forget that God is imminent. And that’s what time is. That’s what all of history is. It’s just this kind of continuous, you know, daydream, or distraction.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Southland is afflicted with the opposite problem, as the subject is very much religion, but without anything like the depth of knowledge or obsession which Dick brought to his work. The apocalypse feels like an appendage to the often very funny skits, and it’s perhaps relevant that Kelly worked on a script for the apocalyptic fantasy, Knowing, before moving on to Southland. I turn to Eliot Kalan, Dan McCoy, and Stuart Wellington of The Flophouse for a summary of this film. From “Episode #44: Knowing”:

ELIOT KALAN
Nicolas Cage is a single father, widower- [DAN: Just trying to make it in the world.] Yeah. His son acquires from a time capsule a piece of paper buried fifty years ago, with lots of random numbers on it, written by a creepy girl in the 1950s. It soon turns out, however, that Nicolas Cage discovers by applying his eyes and bourbon-

DAN WELLINGTON
By applying whiskey to paper.

ELIOT
That these numbers match up to disasters or catastrophes, or things where lots of people died, where they say the date and the body count.

ELIOT
He finds out that it’s also predicting other disasters, he finds out that the numbers match up to the longitude and the lattitude that he just happens to be on one day and a plane crashes. And people are stumbling out of the plane on fire and he can’t save any of them, because he’s incompetent.

STUART MCCOY
And he can’t dispel CGI flames.

ELIOT
Yeah, exactly. To make a long story short, because the movie was way too long [STUART: Super long.] He meets up with the daughter who wrote these numbers-

DAN
-played by Rose Byrne of 28 Weeks Later, and the hit show Damages.

STUART
She looks like, I think you put it really well, Eliot, when you say she seemed like an achievable Selma Hayek.

ELIOT
Was I the one who said that?

STUART
Or I said it.

ELIOT
One of us said something like that.

STUART
If you were at a bar, and you were hitting on Selma Hayek, and she turned you down, you’d be like, “OK, Rose Byrne’ll do.” It’d be like a cabana bar.

ELIOT
Cabo wabo.

DAN
My wife saw her on the subway once, so she seemed attainable.

STUART
For realz?

ELIOT
I saw Hope Davis on the subway once.

Anyway:

ELIOT
Anyway, he meets up with Rose Byrne, who’s also a single parent with a daughter-

STUART
Oh, that’s convenient, because it’s like puzzle pieces.

ELIOT
-the daughter and the son-

STUART
It’s like Step by Step.

ELIOT
It’s just like Step by Step, except without the wacky older cousin…who lives in a van?

STUART
Or The Brady Bunch, which is more appropriate.

ELIOT
Except less of them.

STUART
Yeah, or more well known.

ELIOT
Well, Step by Step is basically The Brady Bunch. Anyway, I’m glad we made that point. It turns out the son and the daughter have both been hearing whispers, from mysterious beings, and disasters happen and disasters happen, and it turns out there’s going to be a big solar flare that’s going to wipe out all life on earth. Mysterious beings turn out to be alien angels that take the son and the daughter up into the stars, and the earth is destroyed in a fireball.

DAN
The end.

ELIOT
And then we see the son and daughter on an idyllic planet, where there’s also a tree, representing the garden of Eden and Tree of Knowledge.

DAN
Not the ending one would expect at the beginning of the movie, based on the beginning of the movie.

Of some note is that the son of that movie, the only male survivor of humanity is named Caleb; and, of course, the Messiah baby in The Power script who appears to develop into Roland Taverner is also named Caleb. But is Knowing any good?

STUART
I really didn’t like this movie, it was long and boring, it was shot kinda cool, and the music was nuts.

ELIOT
He was stealing from everything.

STUART
Yeah, it was crazy. It was boring, it was way too fucking long, and it was not exciting, so don’t watch it. Although some of the explosions were cool. The CGI flame was awesome.

ELIOT
I agree. This was a bad, bad movie. And I didn’t enjoy it, it was slow and boring and long, with Stuart. Although there were some scenes that looked pretty. That were shot nicely.

STUART
Oh, that moose that was on fire? The CGI moose that was on fire?

Knowing, despite its CGI moose on fire, takes very seriously what Southland plays for laughs, and given the success of Knowing and its barely veiled religious references, the question that might be asked of the audience and its makers is: how seriously do you take this? The apocalypse of Knowing is not presented as a disaster, or a sick joke, but a good, just, and necessary thing. Southland‘s satire of apocalyptic thinking isn’t mockery of straw men and women, but the ribbing of a sensibility that is very much in existence. The counter-argument is that the perspective isn’t actually prevalent, that the belief is unimportant, that politicians who profess such belief don’t actually believe it – and Southland‘s counterargument in turn is, suppose they do?

Though it makes this counterargument, the apocalyptic plotline which comes to the fore in the last hour is Southland‘s weakest aspect. The characters of this movie are broad types, a necessity for the kind of comedy they’re doing, yet broad types should still have details and nuances that make them inextricably part of a profession, time, or region. No such knowledge is displayed of employees of the NSA or the military. Southern politicos are probably the most interesting politicians in the United States, but Bobby Frost is a rote combination of a Texas accent and religious fanaticism. Fanatics, as Flannery O’Connor has taught us over many stories, are not dull, and as Orson Welles said, quoting Renoir, “Everyone has his reasons.”4 This last problem overlaps with the movie’s insufficient depth when it comes to religious thought, a flaw that marks too many movies now, a result of the perhaps commendable development of a less ardently religious culture in the United States. The movies are characterized by knowing religious belief seemingly only from the outside, as a lifelong agnostic. Somehow this sensibility marks the movies of the believers as well the skeptics, whether it be Knowing or 2012: they have the feel of chintzy, sentimental “Yours in Christ” greetings by a printing shop that makes most of its money with dirty postcards.

Southland Tales might be connected with Knowing, but even more with two other movies about the apocalypse, End of Days and Kiss Me Deadly. Jericho Cane is the name of the cop that Boxer Santaros plays in the script, The Power, and though his last name is never dropped in the movie, it’s the credited name for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former cop in End of Days. The ridiculousness of The Power script featured in the comic book is very much the ridiculousness of End of Days, as two streetwise former New York cops go up against Satan himself. In The Power, Serpentine tests whether the baby Caleb is the messiah by having a snake swallow him, while End of Days opens with a woman giving birth, after which it’s determined that the baby is the fated one, the woman who will in turn give birth to Satan, by feeding her snake venom, and seeing that the poison has no effect on her. The finale of End of Days takes place among the roaring crowds and celebrations of the millenium; the finale of Southland Tales is set among the hoopla of the fourth of July. Mysterious figures in The Power come to take the baby Caleb, and mysterious figures (who turn out to be Knights of the Holy See) come to kill the woman who’ll serve as the vessel for the devil’s spawn. Krysta of Southland Tales is a woman who is afflicted with psychic premonitions of the future, and the woman at the center of Days suffers from visions as well, and her name is Christine.

There’s another Christine in Kiss Me Deadly, the woman in the trenchcoat who Mike Hammer picks up, and who starts the case off. Krysta Now wears the same style trenchcoat at the Smallhouse estate, Boxer’s car when he races off from the estate is Mike Hammer’s car, and the backview shots of him racing away are just like the over the backview shots of Hammer in his car at the beginning of Kiss Me. The very beginning of the movie plays at the opening of Southland when Krysta wakes up, and its ending plays on the zepplin’s screens near the movie’s closing. These two moments supplement other appearances in the comics and prequel script. “What are you watching?” Boxer asks Krysta in the script (page 110). “Kiss Me Deadly,” she says. “I think it’s based on the Lita Ford song [“Kiss Me Deadly” by Lita Ford].” In the comic, Boxer asks, “Who does Ralph Meeker play?” Krysta: “He plays Mike Hammer. The hard boiled private eye. This is your favorite film. You based the character of Jericho Cane on Mike Hammer.” The doctor who explains to Boxer what happened in the desert is Soberin Ex, and the chief villain of Deadly is Dr. Soberin. “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot and “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost recur in Southland, whild the center of Deadly‘s mystery is “Remember” by Christina Rossetti, “the darkness and corruption leave”, hinting at the destructive capacity of a new weapon. As Deadly moves towards its end, Hammer’s secretary Velda falls apart. She’s deeply in love with Hammer, who doesn’t return anything like her affection, and this might parallel Starla’s obsession with Jericho, and her erotic hunger for him is like the immediate and fervent hunger every woman in Deadly has for Hammer. That movie ends with a kind of small apocalypse, with a small box containing a strange and devastating energy, an antecedent for the unrestrained apocalypse of Southland. The horrific revelation of Santaros comes in a box as well – the sealed container with his double’s body. There are no martyrs in Deadly, but there are in Southland, with Boxer surrendering himself to whatever comes next, and there’s a martyr in End of Days as well. In the finale, the bodily host of Satan is destroyed, which leads him to take over Jericho Cane, and Cane defeats Satan by sacrificing himself.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales - juxtaposition of Southland Tales and Kiss Me Deadly - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/WillingSoftAfricanporcupine

A compilation of moments from the movie and comic of Southland Tales which intersect with Kiss Me Deadly.

Opening the magic box in Kiss Me Deadly and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A post shared by Goto Tengo (@gototengo) on

Another movie which references Kiss Me Deadly.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Southland Tales is a movie obsessed with movies and pop culture, and where Kelly displays his aptitude, where he shows a real familiarity, is in the area of performers and the entertainment industry, and it’s this world which dominates Southland‘s first half. All the performers have an exaggerated sense of their self-importance, they’re solipsistic, and they see everything in terms of the entertainment world they live in. They may be broad types like every other character in the movie, but Kelly has the speech and manner down pat. Vaughn Smallhouse, the political advisor to Vice Presidential nominee Bobby Frost, asks Krysta Now if she’s the mysterious figure that’s been leaking information against them: “Are you Deep Throat II?” Krysta: “I’m not in that movie.” Smallhouse picks up a tape that might damage their political reputation from the Neo-Marxist porno director Cyndi Pinziki. “Is this the only copy?” Smallhouse asks her. Pinziki: “I’m not in distribution.” All the artists, even the Neo-Marxists, are hustlers. “I write poetry. I’m developing my own pop album, reality television show, clothing line, jewelry line, perfume and energy drink,” Krysta says in the prequel script. “So… you guys are spoken word poets now?” asks Roland of Dion and Dream in the prequel script. “We’ve released four folk albums. We’re publishing a memoir of free associative thought… and we’re in final negotiations to bring our tantric dance revue to Broadway,” Dream answers. “You know, I still don’t see why facial prosthetics are necessary,” says Zora of the disguises that Dion and Dream sport for the faked shooting. “I’ve told you a million times, genius,” says Dream. “Dion and I are cultural icons. We cannot afford to get recognized by the camera.” The movie’s characters cannot see outside themselves, and this is something shared by the protagonists of Maze of Death, as one of them laments: “Everyone in this colony had a dream. Maybe that’s what was wrong with us, he thought. We have been lodged too deeply in our respective dream worlds. We don’t seem able to come out of them; that’s why we can’t function as a group.”

This is a movie about the movies themselves, and the way movies offer a hypervivid imitation of life which derives its power from its hypervivid resemblance to life, but which we end up preferring to life itself. A good example of this might be found in “A Drug Dealer Threatened To Kill Me Because Of A Feature Script” by Molly McAleer5, where McAleer’s association with a name TV network is a kind of magic, though she doesn’t like the work or think it’s any good. She only plays the part of a successful TV writer, and her dealer buys more fully into this image than anyone else, thinking she has the cachet to produce a script written by one of his jailmates:

At the time I was working for a premium cable network that had a comedy website that was supposed to be their answer to Funny Or Die/ Huffington Post. Their vision was v. unclear and we were all getting paid a crazy amount of money for writing shitty sketches then hiring decent comedians to perform them for us. I would be stoned pretty much every day at that office and never treated it like a real job because it was so obvious that the whole thing was going to fall apart soon. But being young and naïve and again, new to the city and life, basically, I’d tell people, “Oh yeah, I work at [insert premium channel’s name here.]” and they’d be all like, “Wow, you’re so impressive,” and I’d be like, “I know.”

During one of our chats, Greenie asked me what I did for a living and I told him what I told everyone. It didn’t even occur to me that I might not want to tell my drug dealer where I work and what I do. As soon as he heard the flashy name, he started to tell me about his friend who was in prison for murder (and how he was totally innocent) who had written a movie about his days as a martial artist. He started to pitch the project, basically. I listened politely because like, why not, and then he told me he was going to get me the script to read and give notes on. I explained that I had limited experience with any kind of screenwriting and absolutely no pull at my company. I wasn’t even in the feature department. I wasn’t even in any department, really.

Boxer Santaros rides along with Roland Taverner to learn how to be a cop, though Taverner isn’t a cop at all, but has learned how to talk and act like a cop from Dion and Dream. The feuding couple are simply a reprise of a scene from Krysta Now’s script. The script is a piece of prophecy by Krysta Now, but it also resembles how movies are self-actualization, the screenplay written and movie made because of characters the actors want to be, and which the audience wants to pretend to be as well. Krysta Fox blends into Dr. Muriel Fox, who is both Krysta and not Krysta, an oceanography expert who moonlights at a strip club. Santaros is going to be playing the part of Jericho Cane, but he’s already started being Jericho Cane. “Who are you?” asks Roland Taverner in the maze, and Boxer gives this as his name. “Are you ready to become Jericho Cane?” asks the tattoo artist before applying the religious tats. Southland is about how movies approach the real, for the frisson of reality, and then pull back into the realm of fantasy – except Southland doesn’t. In what might be the most powerful effect in the comic, a young couple at 1400 Wanito Place are killed in various ways, over and over again in variations of fantasy, hallucination, and reality. In the script, Jericho Cane and his partner show up at a domestic disturbance, Rick and Tawna fighting. Cane, just like Bart Bookman, shoots Rick dead. A bunch of black Suburbans then show up, carrying a security detail acting on behalf of the Baron, and they raze the house with gunfire which kills Tawna. Jericho and Muriel Fox go to a McDonald’s where they meet a cashier, Shawna, who’s Tawna’s identical twin. Again, the black Suburbans show up, and flail the place with gunfire, and Shawna is killed – and it’s as if Tawna dies again. Boxer and Krysta visit the actual Rick and Tawna for research, but Rick is already dead, having overdosed months ago. Boxer goes to the bathroom and sees a vision of Rick from months before, a channel opened up between the past and the present. When Rick discovers he’s dead in the future, he overdoses as Boxer looks on. Dion and Dream reprise the couple’s lives, and they’re shot dead by Bart Bookman. We’re suddenly outside of the world of performance, but we also never leave it; earlier, Dream scolded Zora, “Just because it’s loud doesn’t mean it’s funny,” and now Zora listens in as they’re shot dead, giving the counter-critique: “Now that was loud. And that was funny.”

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Dion and Dream are two people playing, while Bart Bookman is very very real, an actual cop whereas Boxer is reproducing an imitation of an imitation. The question of the sincerity of the performance, whether something said is false or actual feeling underlies one of the best scenes in the movie, a moment in the ridealong. The scene is memorable, without any of the flop sweat usually produced through self-importance or attention getting provocation:

We assume that both BOXER and ROLAND start out from prepared parts, prepared by others – BOXER reads his initial questions from index cards, while ROLAND wears a very visible earpiece.

BOXER
Roland, let me ask you…what goes through your head when you sit behind the wheel? Cruising the streets. Digesting humanity. Is it a process of elimination? Each car that passes. The person inside…are they a mere suspect? Or, are we all innocents, our chariots mere chess pieces waiting to be thrown from the gridlock and into the arms of the wolves?

ROLAND
Well, I say we act like concerned citizens. We look at all the people, all the cars. We look for any unusual and erratic behaviour, speed changes and lane changes, see what’s safe.

BOXER
Yeah, but don’t you think emotions come into play? Judgement calls. Affected. By whatever mood you’re in on that particular day. Emotional responses based on your past events.

ROLAND
Well, there is one thing.

BOXER
I knew it. I knew it. Tell me. Be honest.

ROLAND
To be honest…we’re just looking out for the niggers.

There is a very long pause here. BOXER takes off his sunglasses, and gives ROLAND a look of loathing that he’s finding it difficult to suppress.

BOXER
The niggers.

ROLAND
Yeah. They’re everywhere.

ROLAND has turned to BOXER when he says this, and he gives an ugly laugh.

BOXER smiles, and though part of him seems to want to let this go, he’s not quite ready to let this go.

BOXER
You’re joking?

ROLAND
No, I’m not joking.

BOXER’s smile leaves his face.

ROLAND
I’m just fucking with you, man.

ROLAND gives a small laugh, and BOXER gives a laugh that’s obviously false, contemptful in its falseness.

BOXER
That’s a funny joke.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

These moments preface the movie’s ending, where we once again wonder: are you for real, or are you playing? This very question was there about Ronald Reagan’s belief in the apocalypse, and again Kirsch’s End of the World addresses it well:

“We may be the generation that sees Armageddon,” he [Reagan] told televangelist Jim Bakker in 1980. “You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about,” he told a Jewish lobbyist in 1983. “I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly described the times we’re going through.”

Such notions were wholly unremarkable in the fundamentalist churches of America – and they reached an even wider audience through the radio and television broadcasts of various apocalyptic preachers, both famous and obscure – but they were deeply unnerving in the mind and mouth of a man who is accompanied wherever he goes by the launch codes of the American nuclear arsenal. If the president of the United States is a true believer who is convinced that “the day of Armageddon isn’t far off,” would he not be tempted to take it upon himself to rain fire and brimstone down on the latest enemy to be seen as the Antichrist?

That troubling question was raised by network correspondent Marvin Kalb during the televised debates of the 1984 presidential campaign, Nancy Reagan could be heard to mutter “Oh no!” in the background, but the president himself was prepared with a reasonable and even statesmanlike answer. Reagan conceded that he had a “philosophical” interest in the biblical prophecies about the battle of Armageddon, and he argued that “a number of theologians” had suggested that “the prophecies are coming together that portend that.” But he concluded that it was impossible to know whether Armageddon “is a thousand years away or day after tomorrow.” And he insisted that he “never seriously warned and said we must plan according to Armageddon.”

We expect Southland Tales to finally veer away from the apocalypse, but no, all these silly games are leading up to an end of the world that won’t be blinked away. The link between the real and the unreal, life and movie life, is there in the relation between Taverner and Santaros. The latter is a movie star, on whom we bestow the qualities of the divine and the sacred6 In the prequel comics, there’s a gathering of Neo-Marxists who wave giant glow sticks powered by Fluid Karma, and the crowd of light forms Jericho’s face – pagan worship and modern idolatry at once. This idolatry surfaces again with Starla’s worship, literal worship, of Jericho Cane. We expect this actor to carry all the qualities of an action movie character, the embodiment of will, but the actor who plays these parts is the exact opposite. Boxer tells us his exact character in a brief confession when he’s first picked up by Balducci in the desert: “I am a pragmatic prevaricator with a propensity for oratorical seniority, which is too pleonastical to be expeditiously assimilated by any of your unequivocal verities.” Boxer is a pragmatic prevaricator – when he’s confronted with a crisis, like the killing of Dion and Dream, he runs away. He’s constantly putting a seemingly random loud emphasis on words – a propensity for oratorical seniority – which he does to give himself authority, but instead conveys the entirely opposite impression, that he has no idea what he’s talking about7. We are given a lead-up to Santaros confronting his secrets in the zeppelin, with some standard motifs of action movies – it’s scored to Beethoven’s Ninth just like Die Hard, Santaros picks out a conveniently located gun – all of which leads up to Santaros drawing his gun on General Simon Theory, only to be easily outdrawn by the general. We’re surprised by this, but only because Boxer plays action heros, and is played by an action star (Dwayne Johnson), while Simon Theory is played by Kevin Smith – in terms of the characters themselves, it’s not surprising at all. Simon Theory is a military veteran with decades of experience, and Boxer Santaros is an actor.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

This character calls to my mind Hal Incandenza’s essay in Infinite Jest on contemporary television heroes of the time, Frank Furillo of the police drama Hill Street Blues and Steve McGarrett of Hawaii 5-0 (this section can be found on google books, page 103 – however for this excerpt, I am grateful for the transcript on the tumblr My Infinite Jest: A Record of the Bookmarks I Made While Reading Infinite Jest, “3rd November Y.A.D.U.”):

What kind of hero comes after McGarrett’s Irishized modern cowboy, the lone man of action riding lonely herd in paradise? Furillo’s is a whole different kind of loneliness. The ‘post’-modern here was a heroic part of the herd, responsible for all of what he is part of, responsible to everyone, his lonely face as placid under pressure as a cow’s face. The jut-jawed hero of action (‘Hawaii Five-0’) becomes the mild-eyed hero of reaction (‘Hill Street Blues,’ a decade later).

And, as we have observed thus far in our class, we, as a North American audience, have favored the more Stoic, corporate hero of reactive probity ever since, some might be led to argue ‘trapped’ in the reactive moral ambiguity of ‘post-’ and ‘post-post’-modern culture.

But what comes next? What North American hero can hope to succeed the placid Frank? We await, I predict, the hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulus, carried here and there across sets by burly extras whose blood sings with retrograde amines.

Though Santaros has all the marks of the divine, a figure that is distinct and unique, in the movie’s theology he’s not the messiah, but only the guardian – Taverner is the messiah, though a seemingly powerless one. That Taverner is the messiah of this world makes sense to me, because I think he’s very much its creator, and this world is one entirely of fantasy, the last vision of a man on the verge of death. The movie might be likened to “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce, or “A Torture by Hope” by Villiers De L’Isle-Adam, though the theme has been reprised in countless other movies and stories which cannot be named without spoiling their twists. We have here another similarity to Maze of Death (though this effect is often used in fiction), where the characters do not simply cease consciousness when killed in their virtual world, but persist in imagining an existence:

A terrific _bang_ boomed at her eardrums; deafened, she moved a step back and then she felt great pain in her chest; she felt her lungs die from the great, painful shock of it. The scene around her became dull, the light faded and she saw only darkness. Seth Morley, she tried to say, but no sound came out. And yet she heard noise; she heard something huge and far off, chugging violently into the darkness.

She was alone.

The clear, white light appeared. She yearned toward it, and something helped propel her. Are you angry at me? she thought, meaning the enormous presence that throbbed. She could still hear the throbbing, but it was no longer meant for her; it would throb on throughout eternity because it was beyond time, outside of time, never having been in time. And–there was no space present, either; everything appeared two-dimensional and squeezed together, like robust but crude figures drawn by a child or by some primitive man. Bright colorful figures, but absolutely flat. . . and touching.

“Mors stupebit et natura,” she said aloud. “Cum resurget creatura, judicanti responsura.” Again the throbbing lessened. It has forgiven me, she said to herself. It is letting the Intercessor carry me to the right light.

Toward the clear, white light she floated, still uttering from time to time pious Latin phrases. The pain in her chest had gone now entirely and she felt no weight; her body had ceased to consume both time and space.

Wheee, she thought. This is marvelous.

Throb, throb, went the Central Presence, but no longer for her; it throbbed for others, now.

The Day of the Final Audit had come for her–had come and now had passed. She had been judged and the judgment was favorable. She experienced utter, absolute joy. And continued, like a moth among novas, to flutter upward toward the proper light.

This imaginative experience is described eloquently in a passage which attempts, however, to convey only the sense of the brief life of a literary character ending with the closing of the book, by a writer focused intently on books only as books. The passage would be the very last sentences of Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov:

Rings of blurred colors circled around him, reminding him briefly of a childhood picture in a frightening book about triumphant vegetables whirling faster and faster around a nightshirted boy trying desperately to awake from the iridescent dizziness of dream life. Its ultimate vision was the incandescence of a book or a box grown completely transparent and hollow. This is, I believe, it: not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being to another. Easy, you know, does it, son.

I do not arrive at this possibility capriciously, and I don’t think it’s anything like a kludge, but one that fits well with all the other aspects of the movie. One might observe certain recurrent notes, the way an obsessive thought occurs in variations like a dream. The woman controlling everything is Serpentine. Fluid Karma is mined from the Serpent Trench, which has the shape of a serpent. The secret project where Santaros and Taverner are dropped into the time rift has the peculiar code name Serpentine Dream Theory. There is the strange fact that there is nothing inherent in the project which might make one associate it with dreams, yet the word is there in the title; there is the strange fact that the project title is made up of three character names: Serpentine (the woman who controls it all) Dream (the partner of Dion) Theory (General Simon Theory). The bill which would stop surveillance of the internet is Bill 69, and both Santaros and Taverner are sent sixty nine minutes into the future. The juvenile associations with this number are not accidental. This is a movie filled with dualities, feeding off of each other. The dream consciousness of a man dying from a suicide attempt reacts to that man’s actions: the mirrored selves of Roland Taverner, inextricably bound in a handshake, with which this movie ends. The Neo-Marxists are fighting the Baron, himself a Neo-Marxist. It’s a kind of ouroboros, the classic image of a snake swallowing its own tail.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

We are told in the comic that Pilot Abilene and Roland Taverner are best friends who serve together in Iraq. By accident, Taverner throws a grenade, which hits Abilene. It’s an event that has a horrific impact on Abilene, but on Taverner as well. “Fallujah,” Abilene narrates in the comic. “My face haunted his dreams. It was an accident. They call it friendly fire…and Private Taverner could not forgive himself.”

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

I think Abilene is killed by this, and afterwards, Taverner commits suicide in grief. All the events of the movie – the expanding war, the mining of Fluid Karma as an alternative energy, the creation of the time rift as a result of this mining – are an outgrowth of the event at the movie’s beginning, a nuclear bomb going off in Abilene, Texas. Though Pilot Abilene and Taverner are now stateside, are best friends, and very near each other in Venice Beach, they make no attempt to meet. In the comic, Taverner finds a letter from Abilene, a letter which is also featured in the movie.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

What is “the other side”? Both men are now stateside. There is the other curiousity about Pilot Abilene in the movie – though he remains always in one location, the energy depot of Utopia 3, his narration suggests he’s all seeing and all knowing, an omniscient narrator who can travel to whatever point in the world he wishes to. This is intertwined with the other strange point of Abilene, that he doesn’t interact with any of the other characters in the movie, except one, and that’s Martin Kefauver: the trigger, the executioner, the man who’ll bring this dream to an end. In the movie’s most bravura sequence (and its best known), Abilene sings along to The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” while a group of Marilyn Monroesque women in nurse outfits dance alongside him – the clip is, of course, on youtube: “The Killers – I’ve Got Soul But I’m Not A Soldier”. The choice of song is not arbitrary, but the one that Abilene was listening to when hit by the grenade. The women dance with electric happiness, while Abilene moves with sullen anger, his mood becoming more and more grim as the song goes along. The sequence captures better than so many other attempts the contagious happiness of popular music, but also the sense of isolation when one feels outside the audience. Abilene is at the center of the song – he’s singing it – and at the same time he’s apart. This is not the usual rock star pose of indifference at the orgy, but of a man surrounded by the physicality of life who’s already kissed life away.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

This is a movie where Taverner has given himself a companion in this dream life, Boxer Santaros, the way some people find comfort in the images of celebrities – yet Santaros, a pragmatic prevaricator, offers no comfort at all. The lives of the men mirror each other: both are together in the desert maze and both enter the rift in time. They come together for the drive along, then are set apart, though their fates are intertwined again by the movie’s end. On the zeppelin, Santaros finally discovers the most horrific secret: his double is actually dead, a burnt out corpse. It’s after this point that the theme of suicide shows up again and again, among different characters. On seeing the body, Boxer’s first response is: “I don’t understand. I’ve never considered committing suicide. I’m a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.” Boxer interrogates Serpentine, and the most crucial point for him is that the dead body is not the result of him committing suicide:

BOXER
You made sure to have no one go through the time rift with me. Then you hit the SUV self destruct trigger. By remote. Which means I didn’t kill myself.

SERPENTINE
You’re a pimp. Pimps don’t commit suicide.

BOXER
You got that right.

There is two very major, very relevant differences here between the Cannes cut and the final release; in that cut, when Boxer discovers his double in the zeppelin, he’s also told that he most definitely committed suicide:

BOXER
I’m a pimp. And pimps: don’t commit suicide.

BOXER gives a wink to Dr. Kuntzler.

EX
We don’t know what would happen if two identical human souls, and the vessels that they traveled in, were to come into immediate close contact with one another. Your quick, decisive decision to commit suicide was a sign to us: that humankind cannot go on with two, identical human souls walking the face of the earth.

KUNTZLER
Humankind owes you a great debt…for your sacrifice.

And in that cut, after all of Boxer’s denials, when we come to the moment where Boxer points a gun to his head, the Baron states explicitly that Santaros did commit suicide:

BOXER fires the gun into the air.

BOXER
EVACUATE THE ATRIUM! MOVE TO THE REAR OF THE MEGAZEPPELIN!

MEGAZEPPELIN COMPUTER VOICE
Evacuate.

BARON
No. Everybody…go back to your seats.

BOXER
Or I’ll kill myself. And I swear to gooooood…I’ll do it.

BARON
Now, Mr. Santaros, put down the gun. You killed yourself once already, there’s no need to be redundant.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Jericho Cane’s initials, as one character points out, are the same as that of a well-known martyr. Jericho Cane wishes to martyr himself, and a suicide that’s the result of Taverner’s kind of grief is a kind of martyrdom. What is the last name of Jericho’s character? Cane, the soundalike for the man who killed his own brother – Taverner killed his best friend and fellow soldier, Pilot Abilene. At the movie’s end, Jericho Cane ends up on the zeppelin’s stage, points a gun at his head, and says the following line: “This is all in my head. And I can pull the trigger now, and this whole nightmare will be over.” We then move to the floating ice cream truck, where the Taverner doubles confront each other. Taverner began the movie looking at his reflection, and the film ends with him looking at his reflection again. One double points a gun at the other, and then at his own head. His left eye is smashed in from the accident, just like the left eye of the double of Santaros. All along, Taverner has suffered from amnesia, and now it stops. “Do you remember Fallujah?” one double asks the other. “I remember everything,” the other answers. Then one double says to the other, the one holding the gun to its head, “I forgive you” several times.

Both TAVERNERS are in the floating ice cream truck, their hands locked tight in a clasp.

TAVERNER #1 (SWEAT SHIRT TAVERNER)
You have to let go!

TAVERNER #2 (UPU2 TAVERNER)
I can’t!

TAVERNER #1
You have to let me go!

TAVERNER #1 picks gun up off floor, points it at TAVERNER #2.

TAVERNER #2
The truck will fall and we’ll both die!

TAVERNER #1 points gun at his own head.

TAVERNER #1
Let me go or I’ll pull the fucking trigger.

TAVERNER #2
No you won’t.

TAVERNER #1
I swear to god, I will!

TAVERNER #2
No, you won’t!

We go outside, to a sweeping shot of Los Angeles, alongside a skyscraper with various apartments on fire. We go back inside the blimp.

BOXER
Officer Roland Taverner, that’s who you want.

We return to inside the ice cream truck.

TAVERNER #1
Don’t you remember, Ronald?

TAVERNER #2 shakes his head, no.

TAVERNER #1
Do you remember Fallujah?

TAVERNER #2
I remember everything.

TAVERNER #1 collapses for a moment in grief.

The zeppelin explodes from the missile, and we return back inside the ice cream truck. TAVERNER #1 is back to pointing a gun at TAVERNER #2.

TAVERNER #2
It wasn’t our fault.

TAVERNER #1 points the gun at his own head.

TAVERNER #2
It wasn’t our fault.

TAVERNER #1
Friendly fire.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you.

TAVERNER #1
Friendly fire.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you.

TAVERNER #1
Friendly fire, friendly fire.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you, I forgive you.

TAVERNER #1 lets the gun fall to the floor.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you, I forgive you.

PILOT ABILENE (V.O.)
Revelation twenty five: and god wiped away the tears, so the new messiah could see out to the new Jerusalem. His name was Officer Roland Taverner, of Hermosa Beach, California. My best friend. He is a pimp. And. Pimps. Don’t. Commit. Suicide.

What exactly is he forgiving him for? I take the scene as a parallel of what happens with Santaros – he is both dead and alive, knows that he is dead, yet some consciousness persists on, and in denial of what took place. The dream life Taverner forgives the Taverner that pulled the trigger and ended it all. In the comic, Rick “bleeds” into the future only to discover he’s dead. We see in his first scene the mirror reflection of Taverner a few microseconds behind the actual Taverner – a side effect of this time bleeding, but also like the microseconds before physical death finally consumes this last bit of consciousness. We even have Taverner point the gun at his own head and watch as the reflection follows suit, with Taverner even firing the gun – though away and into the ground.

Various characters quote T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”, but they also frequently quote “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost; this movie is about a chosen side path before inevitable death. So, this is a vision incited by the destruction of Abilene (the death of Pilot Abilene), which brings about the split of the Taverners (the dying physical Taverner and this dream life Taverner), a split which takes place in a maze shaped like Texas which is believed to be a reference to the destruction of Abilene and a signal from an outside intelligence: again, the death of Abilene shapes all this. Pilot Abilene is given the movie’s last line, and gives Taverner an epitaph: “His name was Officer Roland Taverner of Hermosa Beach, California. My best friend. He is a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.” Though I think the film touches here on a subject that is a more live wire than it suspects, this scene is keenly felt, and it makes the movie about one thing and nothing else. This is Roland Taverner’s apocalypse.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

(Illustrations for the Southland Tales prequel trilogy by Brett Weldele; prequel trilogy comic books copyright Graphitti Designs, View Askew, and Darko Entertainment; all images from Southland Tales and End of Days copyright Universal Pictures; all images from Kiss Me Deadly copyright United Artists.)

(Though there are still other things that might be mentioned here, for the moment this post is long enough, and I’ll leave it as is.)

(On August 7, 2014, the notes on the Cannes cut were added. I give grateful thanks to those unnamed persons who let me see it. On August 8, 2014, some additional notes were made on Boxer’s suicide in the Cannes cut and on Taverner’s suicide in the last paragraph. On August 9th, the compilation of several of the deleted scenes from the Cannes version was uploaded to youtube and links to this compilation were added to this post. On August 10, 2014, the dialogue between the Taverners at the end of the movie was added. On August 11th, the following additions were made: the excerpt where Boxer is told by doctors Ex and Kuntzler that he committed suicide; so was the excerpt from Waking Life on Philip K. Dick’s religious obsessions; the excerpt from Roland Taverner telling Boxer about his dream; and the section on the connections between this movie, End of Days, and Kiss Me Deadly. On August 21st, the sections on Jonathan Kirsch’s History of the End of the World and “A Drug Dealer Threatened To Kill Me Because Of A Feature Script” were added. On August 22nd, the introductory excerpt from Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control was added. On August 27th, the section on Hal Incandenza’s essay was added. On May 17, 2015, the gif of Kiss Me, Deadly and Southland Tales comparisons was added.)

FOOTNOTES

1 From the prequel comic:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

From the prequel script:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

2 Thanks to “Southland Tales Breakdown & Analysis??” by TheStrangeVerse, an intersting though restricted examination of the movie, I found out that Jericho Cane is a reference to End of Days, where the Schwarzenegger protagonist carries the same name.

3 The lineage is succinctly described in the comic books, accompanied by the irony that this incredibly rich family, seemingly an exemplar of capitalism and repudiation of its name, owes its wealth entirely to military contracts with the state:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

4 The following quote is taken from Arena – The Orson Welles Story:

Q: There’s always that, for the viewer anyway, a kind of moral ambiguity about the characters in that, Quinlan…

WELLES: Yes.

Q: -although he’s sort of vile, he’s-

WELLES: Well, you know what Renoir said? He said everyone has his reasons. And that really sums it up. You know, there’s no villain who doesn’t have his reasons. The bigger the villain, the more interesting it becomes, the further you explain his villainy, not psychiatrically, not because mama didn’t love him…but because you humanize him. The more human you make the monster, the more interesting the story must be, it seems to me.

5 Though I cite a story from ThoughtCatalog which I consider to be very good, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up some of the controversy surrounding the service, as described in “Why 53 Writers Have Asked Thought Catalog To Remove Their Work” by Callie Beusman and “Thought Catalog Is Now a White Supremacist Publication” [archive link] by Rich Juzwiak.

6 A lengthy post which connects fame with the idea of the sacred is “David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: Bad Religion”.

7 This comes out most clearly in the beach house when Taverner and Santoro first meet, a transcript of which can be found at “Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: The Beach House Scenes”.

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Under the Skin: This Woman’s Work

(What follows contains SPOILERS for the movie and the novel on which it’s based, as well as Jonathan Glazer’s Birth. However, given that this is an in-depth discussion of the movie, no attempt is made to summarize the film’s plot. Some further edits need to be made, and will be done on the 27th of July. While writing this, I found the following to be insightful and helpful: “Under the Skin Takes the Horror Genre in Infectiously Strange New Directions” by David Edelstein, “Under the Skin” by Noel Murray, “Under The Skin’s Alien Seduction Will Get You Where It Hurts” by Charlie Jane Anders, “Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Under the Skin Review” by Tina Hassanmia, and “Under the Skin- Movie discussion including looking at the novel that inspired it”, a reddit thread by dalong75.)

There was a time I was one of a kind
Lost in the world out of me myself and I
Was lonely then like an alien
I tried but I never figured it out
Why I always felt like a stranger in a crowd
Ooh that was then, like an alien

“Alien” by Britney Spears

Jonathan Glazer’s movie is like a fable, like Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête), a children’s fable turned upside down, Cocteau in color. I make this identification, and I immediately hesitate if it’s entirely right. The mix of subject and the approach, a fable told from an adult perspective, but without discarding the surreal imagery of fables, makes me think of Cocteau; the movie itself, with its long takes and frequent stretches without dialogue, make me think of Robert Bresson. The obvious choice not taken here is Stanley Kubrick. The score by Mica Levi reminds one in many places of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Dream of Jacob”, the early part features a breathing effect on the soundtrack that’s like the sound of 2001‘s David Bowman’s breathing in his spacesuit, and the sense of being alone with the movie, as if stranded in the arctic wilderness, suggests Kubrick as well – but his movies tend to hint at the epic, an enigmatic obelisk of larger significance. This story, on the other hand, is relatively straightforward, small in scale, the obvious focus this single character. The lengthy shots allow us the possibility to mine them for nuance, but there is nothing like a riddle we might feel compelled to solve.

We might easily speak of this fable in more traditional (or ancient) terms, to see its connections to the past: this is a story about a witch who lures men to her magical house, where they are transformed into food – just as the witch of Hansel and Gretel would bring in children and cook them into gingerbread. Though she wishes to cease playing the role of a witch, she cannot, and cannot be an ordinary woman either. When this witch abandons her home, she loses her power over men, and now she is vulnerable. She is attacked by a man, loses her human form, and like many witches before her, is burned alive. The images which, for me, most strongly link this fable with those of the past are the witch’s decaying, magical house and the end where she’s destroyed by fire.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

The movie opens as an object, entirely dark except for a beacon light, moves to dock with a torus, the vast emptiness lit only by a single nearby star. We hear a voice over the soundtrack, the alien (Scarlett Johansson) learning english – except for a football player named Andy, there are no character names in the movie or the credits, but for ease of writing, I’ll give the alien the name she carries in the book, Isserley1. These objects conjoin while Isserley slowly learns this earth language, and then our perspective shifts. The movement of these objects in space becomes an eye, and we’re left uncertain if these two sets of images are separate or identical. The mechanics of the docking ship might imply the underlying mechanics of sight, or it may be more explicit than that – these objects are not in outer space at all, but the various parts of the mechanical eye in Isserley’s human mask locking into place. This entire sequence, ending with the camera pulling back from a tight focus on the pupil, ends with a smash cut of the title in black on white: UNDER THE SKIN. This is a movie about looking and its underlying mechanics. Seeing is a voyage across a distance, it is a mechanical sequence whose inner workings we are unconscious of, and yet there is an aspect that can be considered imprisoning. The cold darkness of space becomes the darkness of the pupil, and the men are lured to the witch’s haven by her looks, and she in turn traps them in a room of infinite blackness. Given this connecting point, we might see the areas of the eye reflected in the movie itself. Isserley first gets her clothes from a dead woman in a room that’s of endless white, like the eye’s sclera2. She is entirely unmoved by the dead body, her curiousity only roused by an insect’s motion, and we are given a close-up of the crawling ant; Isserley is a worker drone and a predatory insect as well. Isserley then goes out to hunt for men, the colored area that is the iris, and brings them home to the confining darkness, the pupil. Whether or not we see the union of the spaceship with the torus as a metaphor for sexual union, this movie is not just about looking, but the sexual gaze. Isserley slowly comes to grips with the sounds of english – “Ba-Ba- T- T- K- Kuh- Ch- Th- V- Th-” – in order to learn this new language while the ship docks and the camera pulls back from the eye; this movie is about learning to look again as if it were an unfamiliar tongue.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Isserley is now dressed in the other woman’s clothes, and she goes to a mall to pick up a few other things, lipstick and a fur coat. We follow alongside her at waist level as her behind swishes back and forth. We are stalkers, we are hunters, vision is a kind of travel, and now we travel with her; vision is also a trap. She is the one who’ll be doing the hunting. Isserley starts talking up a series of men, and it’s these conversations that make up the overwhelming majority of the movie’s dialogue, and these conversations are entirely superfluous for the traditional purpose of learning something about Isserley or her victim. They are a simple flip of the predatory male who seeks out women for biological release, with the conversation only a tactic for getting to the main action. Isserley talks to a man, and her mouth is a warm and inviting smile; the man walks away, and her face shuts down and goes cold completely.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

This is a movie where shots are held and held and held, designed so we might examine its multiplicities. Nothing is given away easily, nothing is given quickly, and any observations you make are perhaps uncertain and unresolved. Isserley’s eyes peek through the dark hair that falls over her eyes, and it’s like a sniper peeking out from a foxhole; she’s shot in the rearview mirror, her mouth blank and her eyes absent; she drives along, and her eyes give away nothing except the focused hunt for game; we catch her in the rearview mirror as light and shadow pass over, and her face conveys something, melancholy, regret, exhaustion, something. Isserley looks at her first victim, and there is something unsure in her come hither look, and it might be something like a girl trying out the unfamiliar, alien customs of adult seduction games. Isserley looks on a happy couple at the beach with loathing, and this could be an exile stranded far from home hating the possibilities she cannot have.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

In the forest sequence at the movie’s end, Isserley moves like a woodland animal given human shape, and this sensibility guides her behavior throughout the first half of the film, an animal whose focus is entirely on hunting, and nothing else. Outside the circumstances in which she might engage her prey, she is suddenly fearful. She travels Glasgow at night, unworried of what might befall her, and on these journeys, she engages in conversations with strange men, indifferent to what will happen next. Yet when she finds herself amongst a group of women, she is suddenly scared. She doesn’t know how to act in these circumstances, she’s worried as if her true form will be found out. They drag her to a club, and the noise scares her, the man who wants to talk to her frightens her. When she realizes that he’s trying for that thing, she is abruptly at ease. This is familiar territory, she knows how to handle this, she’s handled this many times before.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

In moments when we might expect any woman to feel some kind of fear, she is indifferent to threat. This film is often a horror movie in reverse. She meets The Nervous Man (Adam Pearson), who suffers from neurofibromatosis, and she asks him the kind of intimate questions, without feeling or empathy, that we might expect a man to ask a woman, especially a plain or ugly woman, as if no courtesy is owed. Together, they suggest a monster movie, the disfigured creature and the beautiful woman, though the monster in this movie is very much her. Isserley sits in her van and she sees a possible target up the street. We cut close to Isserley in the van and we have what should be a standard horror scare: suddenly another man appears, right by the driver’s side window. We are not, however, fearful for her, but for him. He turns out to be a group of hoodlums who smash at her car, trying to get in, and Isserley coolly starts up her engine and drives away, barely paying them mind; if you’re a woman, you may well envy and wish for her unflinching nerves in such situations. Yet there’s also a frightening absence in this Isserley. A man attempts to rescue a drowning couple, while Isserley stands by. This is the tradition we expect: the man acts, the woman watches. The man fails in his task, and we expect Isserley to give him a comforting hug and reassure him that it’s okay. She brains him with a rock. The next variation is the most horrific, and perhaps the most disturbing scene in the movie. She drags the man’s body, nothing self-conscious in her bent over figure, ignoring entirely the weeping of the baby nearby: this woman is without any maternal feeling whatsoever, and gender makes a definite difference here: we have become accustomed to this inhumanity from men, but not from women.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

We are left to read these images however we can for some insight into Isserley, who is an uncompromisingly alien character. When we try to discern what’s there in a look of hers, there’s no possibility of thinking in terms of, say, her relation to her family, the great loves of her life, or her childhood, but exclusively that of an animal struggling to adapt – and yet without the pejorative quality in that word, animal. She has had like experiences, and yet they’re outside our ken, the experiences of alien life, an alien knowledge. She has been placed in a strange landscape of unknown life, and her experience mirrors ours as we watch this movie, lacking any comfort or intimacy we might have come to expect. This character remains distant enough, and this movie remains sufficiently opaque, that we might see these images as not simply connected to this specific character.

From “Director Jonathan Glazer on Under The Skin’s complex honesty” by Scott Tobias:

The Dissolve: This seems to be self-consciously playing with her [Scarlett Johansson’s] image. She’s an icon, like David Bowie is more than just an actor in The Man Who Fell To Earth. She has an otherworldly quality.

Glazer: Well, we use that for sure. We’re using how Scarlett’s objectified, the glamour of her image. And she’s using all of that as well. There’s a deconstruction going on.

In the novel, Isserley attempts to break away from her alien society, and she tries to consume various human foods, often without success. Here, we have Isserley breaking away and the first food she tries is a large slice of chocolate cake, which is given an endless close-up. She spits it out soon after trying the first piece, and this seems not just about Isserley, but a woman’s relationship to cake itself, a toxin that will annihilate her body, that will destroy her entirely. Isserley’s physical appearance is examined from every angle by her supervisor, The Bad Man (Jeremy McWilliams)3, and it’s like a colonel inspecting a recruit’s uniform for dust, or a Pygmalion overlooking his Galatea4. We can place endless Svengalis and Trilbys in these roles, idolmakers and their starlets made of clay. The men are beguiled by Isserley into her dark room, they follow as if in a trance, moving towards her as she undresses, as they sink step by step into a gelatinous liquid that’s like a quicksand. They lust at the sight of her, never actually touching the woman, and this sight entraps them. Isserley walks off, indifferent to their fate. They are kept alive and their bodies prepped and fattened, before their essence is drained, and the husk is left floating behind. We have a variation here on the serial killer who embalms his victims, but we also have a reversal of the starlet industry, where a woman briefly enraptures the world’s imagination, an idealization that is momentarily trapped in amber, and then she’s thrown away.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

I add here what might be seen as a predecessor to these entrapments, one incongruous and ridiculous, and that’s Monty Python’s “Seduced Milkmen” sketch. There, a woman lures a milkman into her house, where he finds himself locked in a room with a group of other milkmen, some grown old, and one now dead. A brief description is on wikipedia, “Seduced Milkmen”, and the sketch can be found at the moment on youtube, “Monty Python – Milkman”:

Isserley’s questions which she asks without any interest in the answer, and are simply part of her routine to string the victim along, can be likened to those of any pick-up artist, but they also suggest the endless questions any celebrity is asked, which are given a calculated answer, and which seemingly give no sense or depth to the person. We might take some of the questions Isserley asks, and those asked of Scarlett Johansson at various interviews, and their banality blends together:

“Am I keeping you from something?” “Where are you going?” “Where are you from?” “You have family here?” “Do you have a special connection with your twin?” “So you live alone?” “How are you different now?” “And you love it?” “Where do you call home?” “What do you love about living alone?” “So you all go out in your sneakers?” “What about your friends?” “So you don’t have any friends?” “How about a girlfriend?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “How old were you when you had your first real boyfriend?” “How old are you?” “What is the major difference between men and women?” “So don’t you get lonely then?” “You mean something fungal?” “Have you spoken to any skincare professionals about your interest in dermatology?”5

Isserley begins in the city and, after leaving behind her master, The Bad Man, goes to the country. This, I think, is obvious and necessary because the communion she seeks out is not with humanity, but what might be called the natural world, the untrammelled landscape outside humanity. She is already outside of humanity, for good and for ill: it’s why she walks by the wailing baby entirely indifferent, but it’s also why she doesn’t notice at all the disfigurement of The Nervous Man. She knows that there’s something which places this man outside of humanity as well, but she doesn’t know what exactly it is – the species is an undistinguished blur of strangeness to her. She brings The Nervous Man to her house, and she lets him sink into the pit. One of the aliens without his human covering (not The Bad Man, but one who will be part of the crew that will hunt down Isserley) is there at the pit, looking on. The alien blends with the image of Isserley, grouping her with them, and then she’s not with them at all. She walks down the stairs, and catches sight of herself in the mirror. We might guess she sees her alien surface, but also how alike she is to this man she just imprisoned. A fly buzzes against the glass, trapped, like the man in the pit. We see a close-up of her eye, something changes in her, and then the feet of Isserley and The Nervous Man together; she’s released him. She began in the white room, and now she is re-born in white, a long transitional moment in the fog.

Another man (Krystof Hadek) now gives her comfort and shelter. She leads men into a pit of liquid; when this man and Isserley reach a pool of water, he lifts her up and over it. They are on their way towards a castle, another touchstone of fables. They go back to his house to have sex, but something goes wrong: though Isserley is designed to attract men, she is not designed for actual sex, and her genitalia are for appearances only – there’s something missing. She flees into the forest, and where before we saw the dissolve which paired her with the alien, now an image blends her face with the trees. The Woodsman (Dave Acton) holds her down and starts to rape her, and Isserley looks up and finds consolation in the vast sky. The Woodsman sees the tear in her skin, and runs away. She holds her own head, entirely outside of her physical self, the beauty that is apart from her. This a movie where the human landscape is made alien, which moves further and further outside of human codes and judgements – the nude body of Scarlett Johansson becomes just one more nude body like that of the football player and The Nervous Man. The Woodsman returns and lights Isserley on fire. She began in a white room, was re-born in the white fog, and now she is re-born in the white snow-filled sky. This movie opens with a union, and in the closing moments, Isserley burns into ash, drifts into the sky, and unites with the pastoral world forever.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

A HEART THAT’S FULL UP LIKE A LANDFILL

This is a movie that emphasises film’s power outside of language, on creating a world of sound and images where things have nothing of the explicitness that we associate with words. Jonathan Glazer’s movie before this was Birth, and that felt as if it wanted to move towards something closer to this, something smaller, more intimate, more cryptic. That movie opened with an upbeat whimsical theme as a man jogged in a park, then collapsed in death. What followed was a sick twist on the kind of romantic comedy that might accompany such a buoyant piece of music, a boy telling a woman he’s the reincarnation of her dead husband after he finds a pile of their old love letters. The boy later reveals that he lied, that it’s all a hoax, but the woman now believes in the idea obsessively. If the obvious subtext of Under the Skin are images and fantasies of women, then the obvious subtext of Birth is the impossible fantasy of Hollywood romance, and movies in general, where all that is required is for you to belive. Anna (Nicole Kidman), the dead man’s wife, does believe in her movie’s fantasy, more and more fervently, and we see her as a disturbed obsessive, unhinged from reality. That the boy, Sean (Cameron Bright), is from a background that is commonly described as “working class” while Anna and her husband are wealthy lawyers who live in a coveted skyscraper apartment, only gives further emphasis to the point: somehow belief in these impossible Hollywood dreams of wealth and happiness is sufficient to bring us into such a life. This is a common part of any get rich pitch in any self-empowerment seminar or infommercial: do you believe in getting rich? Can you see a future where you are massively wealthy? Do you believe enough?

The power of the fantasy is such that it overwhelms both Anna and Sean. By the movie’s end, she runs away from her wedding because of this better possibility, while he, knowing best of all that the story is entirely false, returns to believing in it; we hear his voiceover of a letter he writes her, and it doesn’t suggest someone who no longer believes, but someone who’s had to stop expressing belief out of practicality and under pressure: “I’ve been seeing an expert. They sure talk a lot. They say I’ve been imagining things…They said they still haven’t figured out what was wrong with me, but the good thing is, nothing really happened. Well, I guess I’ll see you in another lifetime.” The voiceover plays as he gets his school photo taken, a smiling pose, a posed artifice like so many movies. The issue is not whether there should be any more school photos or Hollywood movies, but how much we should consider them close to anything like the true essence of life.

As said, Birth seemed too big for what was at its heart, with too many characters (the enviable supporting cast included Ted Levine, Arliss Howard, and Lauren Bacall) hanging on its vital center. The movie felt as if there should have been a culminating third act, when there wasn’t. Under the Skin avoids all this, paring away any superfluous parts of its story, keeping the focus on its lead, and slowing the pace down so that the final act follows naturally from what came before. Under the Skin derives its power from prolonged shots where the audience must simply pause and look, rather than move on to the next event or plot point, and we see this approach already in Birth‘s most bravura moment, when the camera stays on a close up of Anna for a minute and forty five seconds (from 26:15 to 28:00 on my copy) a little while after Sean has revealed that he’s the reincarnation of her dead husband:

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Under the Skin, the movie, makes the most of film as a non-verbal medium, something closer to painting or photography, something that too few films do, and making it a very different creature from Under the Skin, the novel by Michel Faber. The movie appears to take a lesson from Birth, viewing the obligations of narrative itself as an impediment to its effects, by extracting only a fragment of the book’s plot and growing it in a separate plot of soil. I think the book is a separate treasure that gets somewhat discounted in the reviews I’ve read of the movie. “The film is quite a departure from Michel Faber’s novel, which is grisly, chatty, borderline satirical,” is the description in David Edelstein’s Under the Skin Takes the Horror Genre in Infectiously Strange New Directions”, and I wish this gifted writer had included at least one adjective of praise. The book is science fiction and an easy read, so perhaps these things count against it, but its ease stems largely from being cleanly and clearly written, the narrative never weighed down by pretense. Isserley is enraptured by the beauty of the Scottish landscape, and its virtues are conveyed well, without faux lyricism. Where the movie is opaque, the book is explicit, but never head-thuddingly so, and though in other hands we might call the novel preachy, the story and characters are never contoured for the message and life is never made simpler than it is for the necessity of a thesis.

We might see the skill of the writing in the very first passages. Isserley appears to be looking for men, but she’s just looking for grades of meat. There’s a paragraph about the road that is especially well done – the hitchers are like the forest creatures run over by passing cars, thinking they are in a safe place, when they’re near nothing of the kind. An atmosphere is conveyed well of the Scottish countryside in the last paragraph (she hunts there, while the movie’s Isserley sticks to Glasgow), but it’s also the earth as seen by an alien, a primitive, uncivilized, newly born place:

Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs. Puny, scrawny specimens were no use to her.

At first glance, though, it could be surprisingly difficult to tell the difference. You’d think a lone hitcher on a country road would stand out a mile, like a distant monument or a grain silo; you’d think you would be able to appraise him calmly as you drove, undress him and turn him over in your mind well in advance. But Isserley had found it didn’t happen that way.

Driving through the Highlands of Scotland was an absorbing task in itself; there was always more going on than picture postcards allowed. Even in the nacreous hush of a winter dawn, when the mists were still dossed down in the fields on either side, the A9 could not be trusted to stay empty for long. Furry carcasses of unidentifiable forest creatures littered the asphalt, fresh every morning, each of them a frozen moment in time when some living thing had mistaken the road for its natural habitat.

Isserley, too, often ventured out at hours of such prehistoric stillness that her vehicle might have been the first ever. It was as if she had been set down on a world so newly finished that the mountains might still have some shifting to do and the wooded valleys might yet be recast as seas.

The novel’s Isserley might be one of the best and most memorable fictional characters I’ve come across in a while. Her appearance is very different from that of the movie’s, as well as an example of the book’s expertise at working in several modes at once without abrasion or discomfort. The central idea of the movie remains the same, with Isserley luring men to her car so they might be processed as food for her species. One key difference is that in the book, Isserley’s species is not bipedal, but a furred race which navigates on all fours with a powerful tail. Various surgeries have been made on her so she might walk on two legs and have human form. She is in almost constant pain when upright – the swish swish walk on heels that the movie’s Isserley does in the mall would be impossible for the book’s. This Isserley regards her human form as a horrible, humilating disfigurement. Her appearance features two striking physical details. There are the massive eyes of her species which have not been corrected by surgery, so she must wear glasses several inches thick to make their size appear to be a distortion of the lens. The engineers have also been crude and direct about what might attract men, so her own breasts have been sheared off, and massive human teats been implanted. At the same time, neither she nor anyone else in her species has any astuteness about human fashion sense, so we have oversized glasses, rather dowdy clothes, and a blouse with a plunging neckline. Isserley is both a frightening serial killer and utterly ridiculous in appearance.

The book uses more practical mechanics for the capture of these men, nothing like the magical darkness of Isserley’s house in the movie. After she’s certain from their conversation that the hitcher has no family or mate that might notice they’ve gone missing, she flips a switch and needles in the seat jump up and pierce their body, injecting them with an alien sedative called icpathua, and then she takes them to a farm where others of her species process them into food. We get some sense of Isserley’s comical look from two good descriptions in the book from two different hitchers. Details that might need explaining are that her short legs are, of course, a result of being from a quadrupedal species, that she has to blast the heat in the car because her missing fur makes her feel the cold acutely, and that the bodies of her species sweat far more than ours do, something that Isserley’s always does excessively in her excitement in the moments before she injects her passengers with icpathua. Description one, from the first hitcher:

Fantastic tits on this one, but God, there wasn’t much of her otherwise. Tiny – like a kid peering up over the steering wheel. How tall would she be? Five foot one, maybe, standing up. Funny how a lot of women with the best tits were really really short. This girl obviously knew she had a couple of ripe ones, the way she had them sitting pretty on the scoop of a low-cut top. That’s why this car was heated like an oven, of course: so she could wear a skimpy black top and air her boobs for all to see – for him to see.

The rest of her was a funny shape, though. Long skinny arms with big knobbly elbows – no wonder her top was long sleeved. Knobbly wrists too, and big hands. Still, with tits like that …

They were really odd, actually, those hands. Bigger than you’d think they’d be, to look at the rest of her, but narrow too, like … chicken feet. And tough, like she’d done hard labour with them, maybe worked in a factory. He couldn’t see her legs properly, she was wearing those horrible flared seventies trousers that were back in fashion – shiny green, for Christ’s sake – and what looked like Doc Martens, but there was no disguising how short her legs were. Still, those tits … They were … like … they were like … He didn’t know what to compare them to. They looked pretty fucking good, nestled next to one another there, with the sun shining on them through the windscreen.

Never mind the tits, though: what about the face? Well, he couldn’t see it just now; she had to actually turn towards him for him to see it, because of her haircut. She had thick, fluffy hair, mouse-brown, hanging down straight so he couldn’t even see her cheeks when she was facing front. It was tempting to imagine a beautiful face hidden behind that hair, a face like a pop singer or an actress, but he knew different. In fact, when she’d turned towards him, her face had kind of shocked him. It was small and heart-shaped, like an elf in a kiddie’s book, with a perfect little nose and a fantastic big-lipped curvy mouth like a supermodel. But she had puffy cheeks and was also wearing the thickest glasses he’d seen in his life: they magnified her eyes so much they looked about twice normal size.

She was a weird one all right. Half Baywatch babe, half little old lady.

Description two, from the middle of the book:

Her hair was matted, with streaks of something that looked like axle grease slicked through it, and tufts sticking out at odd angles. Here was a woman who hadn’t looked at herself in a mirror for a while, that was for sure. She smelled – stank, really, if he could be so judgemental – of fermenting sweat and seawater.

Her clothes were filthy with dried mud. She’d fallen, maybe, or had some sort of accident. Should he ask her if she was all right? She might be offended if he commented on the state of her clothing. She might even think he was trying to harass her sexually. It was so hard to be friendly, in any genuinely human way, towards female strangers if you were a male. You could be courteous and pleasant, which wasn’t the same thing at all; it was the way you’d treat the staff at the Job Centre. You couldn’t tell a strange woman that you liked her earrings, or that her hair was beautiful – or ask her how she came to have mud on her clothes.

The more he looked at this girl, the weirder she appeared. Her green velveteen trousers were very seventies retro-chic, if you disregarded the muddy knees, but she definitely didn’t have the legs of a nightclub babe. Trembling slightly under the thin fabric, so short they barely reached the pedals, they might have been the legs of a cerebral palsy sufferer. He turned his head to glance through the space between his seat and hers, half expecting to see a foldable wheelchair wedged into the back. There was only an old anorak, a garment he could well imagine her wearing. Her boots were like Doc Martens, but even chunkier, like Boris Karloff clogs.

Strangest of all, though, was her skin. Every part of her flesh that he could see, except for her pale smooth breasts, had the same peculiar texture to it: a downy look, like the hide of a cat recently spayed, just beginning to grow back the fur. She had scars everywhere: along the edges of her hands, along her collarbones, and especially on her face. He couldn’t see her face now, hidden as it was behind the tangled mane of her hair, but he’d got a pretty good glimpse of it before, and there was scarring along the line of her jaw, her neck, her nose, under her eyes. And then the corrective lenses. They must have the biggest magnification known to optometry, for her eyes to look that big.

We have perhaps here the biggest difference from the movie, one perhaps impossible to transfer over. Each pick-up of a hitch-hiker has the same structure, with us first hearing the thoughts in Isserley’s head as she evaluates the new victim and gives him a lift, then we shift to the thoughts of the hitcher. As the conversations go on, some men are allowed to simply get off at their destination because they reveal a wife or girlfriend is waiting for them, and therefore they’ll be noticed when they go missing. There is no justice to this: easily the most sympathetic of the hitchers, the man who makes the observations in the second excerpt, is sedated even though he has a girlfriend – he doesn’t start talking to Isserley because he doesn’t want to cause her any fear. Another hitcher carries a knife with him and attempts to rape her, and this man has more of a chance of escaping than the kind, silent man. She picks up louts, but good men as well, a brutal dog trainer followed by a melancholy figure devoted to his dog; both end up at the farm. The reader is allowed no satisfaction that any rough justice is done.

That Isserley traps and sedates a series of men, often sympathetic, after which they’re held captive in inhuman conditions and eventually killed, should alienate the reader from her, but it doesn’t. One reason is that Faber never attempts to be sentimental, or plead sympathy for this protagonist, but simply presents her as she is. She is placed as part of a larger alien society that is briefly but sufficiently detailed, and the comic aspect is this: though Isserley has contempt for the primitives of earth, her culture mirrors entirely that of contemporary British society, now. On her own world, she was a beauty born to a low caste, and she’s still bitter about all the false promises made to her by higher born men, instead being left behind to work deep underground in the abysmal conditions of the oxygen factories of her home planet, her only escape this job for which she had to suffer such disfiguring surgeries:

What about all the men who’d promised to keep her safe as she neared the grading age? ‘The Estates? A beautiful girl like you? Just let them try, Iss, and I’ll have a word with my father.’ Spoilt little poseurs, the lot of them. Fuck them, fuck them all.

But then no linguist would ever have applied for her job, that was for sure. Only desperate people with no prospects except being dumped in the New Estates would have considered it.

And even then, only if they were out of their minds.

She had been totally crazy, looking back on it. Deliriously insane. But it had all turned out for the best, after all. The best decision she’d ever made. A very small personal sacrifice, really, if it avoided a lifetime buried in the Estates – a brutishly short lifetime, by all accounts.

In fact, whenever she found herself grieving over what had been done to her once-beautiful body in order for her to be sent here, she reminded herself what people who’d lived in the New Estates for any length of time looked like. Decay and disfigurement were obviously par for the course down there. Maybe it was the overcrowding, or the bad food or the bad air or the lack of medical care, or just the inevitable result of living underground. But there was an unmistakable ugliness about Estate trash, an almost subhuman taint.

Most crucially, Faber never has Isserley transcend her society’s perspectives. She despises the system she’s in, but she does not question it. She never stops seeing the sentient species of earth as primitives, and in one of the novel’s most insightful touches, Isserley and her species refer to themselves not by some alien name, but as human, and it’s the humans of earth who are given the alien name, vodsels. The following is one excerpt of Isserley’s observations:

The thing about vodsels was, people who knew nothing whatsoever about them were apt to misunderstand them terribly. There was always the tendency to anthropomorphize. A vodsel might do something which resembled a human action; it might make a sound analogous with human distress, or make a gesture analogous with human supplication, and that made the ignorant observer jump to conclusions.

In the end, though, vodsels couldn’t do any of the things that really defined a human being. They couldn’t siuwil, they couldn’t mesnishtil, they had no concept of slan. In their brutishness, they’d never evolved to use hunshur; their communities were so rudimentary that hississins did not exist; nor did these creatures seem to see any need for chail, or even chailsinn6.

The member of her society who has transcended its attitudes, who is able to offer a critical perspective, is Amlis Vess, the son of the head of the corporation that runs the meat processing operation. He visits the Scottish farm where the processing operation takes place, and she is very attracted to him – attracted to his rich fur, his regal stature, all the marks of privilege:

Like all of Isserley’s race (except Isserley and Esswis [a male alien on the farm who’s also had surgery in order to appear human], of course) he stood naked on all fours, his limbs exactly equal in length, all of them equally nimble. He also had a prehensile tail, which, if he needed his front hands free, he could use as another limb to balance on, tripod-style. His breast tapered seamlessly into a long neck, on which his head was positioned like a trophy. It came to three points: his long spearhead ears and his vulpine snout. His large eyes were perfectly round, positioned on the front of his face, which was covered in soft fur, like the rest of his body.

In all these things he was a normal, standard-issue human being, no different from the workman standing behind him, watching him nervously.

But he was different.

He was almost freakishly tall, for one thing. His head was at the level of her breast; were he to be surgically made vertical, as she had been, he would tower over her. Wealth and privilege must have excused him from the typically stunted growth of Estate males like the one who was guarding him now; he was like a giant, but slender with it, not massive or lumpish. His colouring was unusually varied (gossips sometimes suggested it wasn’t natural): dark brown on his back, shoulders and flanks, pure black on his face and legs, pure white on his breast. The fur was impossibly lustrous, too, especially on his chest, where it was thicker, almost straggly. In musculature he was lean, with just enough bulk to carry his large frame; his shoulder-blades were startlingly prominent under their satiny layer of fur. But it was his face that was most remarkable: of the males Isserley worked with, there was not one who didn’t have coarse hair, bald patches, discolorations and unsightly scarring on the face. Amlis Vess had a soft down of flawless black from the tips of his ears to the curve of his throat, as if lovingly tooled in black suede by an idealistic craftsman. Deeply set in this perfection of blackness, his tawny eyes shone like illuminated amber. He breathed, preparing to speak.

The book is about the objectification of women7, but it’s also about objectification itself. She is the only woman who is part of the processing operation at the farm and she looks upon the other men and a physical appearance marked by rough and poor living with revulsion, because these are markers of a lower caste, even as she is able to perceive the vast process which brought them all to this place. The vodsels are fodder for this industry, and they are fodder as well:

Isserley’s arrival in the dining hall caused much guttural murmuring among the men. They obviously hadn’t expected her to reappear so soon after her humiliation, but that was because they were stupid and understood nothing. Wouldn’t they just love to have had a bit longer to gossip about her! What a stir her breakdown and her expulsion from the Processing Hall must have made in their stagnant little world! How the legend would have grown if she’d hidden away for days in her cottage, paralysed with shame, until at last she was so weak with hunger she was forced to crawl down to them! Well, she refused to give them the satisfaction. She would tough it out, show them what she was made of.

She cast her eyes disdainfully over the entire herd of them. Compared to Amlis Vess, they were scabrous grotesques, pea-brained savages. She should never have felt shame about her own deformity; she was no uglier than they were, surely, and infinitely better bred.

Isserley looked down at him, as he grinned back at her with decayed teeth and a glisten of gravy on his snout. Yet despite her distaste, she understood all of a sudden that he was harmless, an impotent drudge, a slave, a disposable means to an end. Imprisoned underground, he was living out an existence scarcely better than what he would have known if he’d stayed in the Estates. To be brutally honest, all these men were falling apart, hair by hair and tooth by tooth, like over-used pieces of equipment, like tools bought cheap for a job that would outlast them. While Isserley roamed the airy spaces of her unrestricted domain, they remained trapped below the barns of Ablach, labouring mindlessly, grubbing in tungsten-lit gloom, breathing stale air, eating whatever offal was too gross to be of value to their masters. Amid much fanfare about escape and pioneering, Vess Incorporated had simply dug them out of one hole and buried them in another.

One of her co-workers has a skin condition, “he had some sort of disgusting skin ailment that made half his face look like mouldy fruit,” and Isserley refers to him forever afterwards as the mouldy man, the way a man in another novel might refer to a woman as french smalltits, or some such thing. When Vess suggests the possibility of looking beyond these things, she rejects it, one more opinion of Vess that he’s privileged to have, the way the wealthy can declare that money doesn’t matter:

‘Of course I can see what’s been done to you, but what I’m really interested in is the inner person,’ he pressed on.

‘Oh please, Amlis: spare me this shit,’ groaned Isserley, looking away from him as the tears squirmed out of her eyes and ran down one cheek to disappear inside the ugly stoma of her mutilated ear.

Isserley is drawn to Vess because he is high born, yet she is repelled by the know nothingness of her own life that this high born man has. Vess does not manage to persuade her to take his view, but rather she despises him for having the luxury of this opinion – only a scion from the wealthiest class has the ability to laze around and examine the system. Vess’s opinion is, of course, entirely right, and yet we identify utterly with Isserley and how his righteousness is so connected with a particular pet cause, rather than remedying the immediate realities of a life like hers. He has the privilege of not having to partake in the brutalities of the system, while she must, and she despises the fact that he cannot see that participation in the system has nothing to do with moral choices, and everything to do with practical need. He has the luxury of having the power to change the system, where she feels as if she is only a prisoner within it. “That meat you’re eating,” Amlis Vess says to her of the food they process, “is the body of a creature that lived and breathed just like you and me.”:

With Amlis’s words still ringing in her ears, Isserley took courage, as she had done last time, by focusing on his upper-class accent, his velvety diction groomed by wealth and privilege. Deliberately, she recalled being petted and then discarded by the Elite; she pictured the authorities who’d decided she would be more suited to a life in the Estates, men with accents just like Amlis Vess’s. She invited that accent in, listening to the sharp chord of resentment it struck deep inside her, letting it reverberate.

A few fragments from their conversations together:

‘I had to see for myself what’s going on here,’ he growled.

Isserley tried to raise herself again, and covered her failure with a sigh of condescension.

‘There’s nothing so unusual going on here,’ she said. ‘Just … supply and demand.’ She spoke these last words in a sing-song, as if they were an eternal, inseparable pairing like night and day, male and female.

‘Well, I’ve confirmed my worst fears,’ he went on, disregarding her claim. ‘This whole trade is based on terrible cruelty.’

‘You don’t know what cruelty is,’ she said, feeling all the places on and inside her body where she had been mutilated. How lucky this cosseted young man was, to have a ‘worst fear’ that concerned the welfare of exotic animals rather than any horrors he himself might have to face in the struggle for survival.

‘You know,’ he said, almost dreamily, ‘I sometimes think that the only things really worth talking about are the things people absolutely refuse to discuss.’

‘Yes,’ snapped Isserley, ‘Like why some people are born into a life of lazing around and philosophizing, and others are shoved into a hole and told to fucking get busy.’

The processing of the humans, or vodsels, is exactly like that of any factory farm. The reader is warned that the following passages involve content more disturbing than anything in the movie adaptation. The alien Unser is their butcher:

The Cradle, constructed from pieces of farm equipment, was a masterpiece of specialized design. Its base was the cannibalized mechanism of an earthmover, welded to a stainless-steel drinking trough. Mounted on top, chest-high to a human, was a two-metre segment of a grain chute, artfully beaten into an amended shape so that its sharp edges were curled harmlessly in on themselves. Gleaming and elegant like a giant gravy boat, the chute was being tilted mechanically on its unseen fulcrum, assuming a perfectly horizontal position.

The person adjusting the balance of the Cradle was Ensel, smug in his responsibility of personally assisting the Chief Processor; his two cronies were engaged in the less precise task of undressing the vodsel, lying nearby.

Real music, human music, was being piped into the hall by loudspeakers nestled in the walls. Soft singing and the strumming of instruments imparted a reassuring flavour of home, a pervasive smell of melodies half remembered from childhood. They hissed and hummed soothingly.

‘Careful, careful,’ muttered Unser as the men scrabbled clumsily at the vodsel’s ankles to remove tight woollen socks. An animal’s shanks were close to where its faeces would fall once it was in the pens; any lacerations would be liable to fester.

Isserley strained to see, but Unser’s big wrists and the twisting motion of his fingers obscured the view as he carved out the vodsel’s tongue. Blood began to gurgle out onto the vodsel’s cheeks as Unser turned to drop his tools on the tray with a clatter. Unhesitatingly he snatched up an electrical appliance resembling a large star-point screwdriver and, squinting with concentration, guided it into the vodsel’s mouth. Flashes of light glowed through the gaps in Unser’s nimble fingers as he searched out the incontinent blood vessels and fried them shut with a crackling buzz.

He was already busy sluicing out the vodsel’s mouth with a suction pump by the time the smell of burning flesh had permeated the air. The vodsel coughed: the first real evidence that, far from being dead, it was suffering from nothing more serious than icpathuasi.

‘That’saboy,’ murmured Unser, tickling the Adam’s apple to make the creature swallow. ‘Uhr-rhum.’

As soon as he was satisfied with the state of the animal’s mouth, Unser turned his attention to the genitals. Taking up a clean instrument, he sliced open the scrotal sac and, with rapid, delicate, almost trembling incisions of his scalpel, removed the testicles. It was a much more straightforward job than the tongue; it took perhaps thirty seconds. Before Isserley had registered what had happened, Unser had already cauterized the bleeding and was sewing the scrotum closed with an expert hand.

The experiences of Isserley do not make her more sympathetic to the brutal experiences of the vodsels, but less so. She enjoys being superior to them, and the anger she feels towards the system itself and what it’s done to her she channels against the vodsels. When a vodsel has his throat sliced in front of her, a sentimental type might expect Isserley to be aghast or scream in horror, but she cries out in joyful catharsis. That the powerless find the only pleasure they have in dominating those with even less power is not, to say the least, an uncommon theme in history:

So intently was the vodsel striving now to retrieve his memory of Isserley that he seemed not to notice something being lowered towards his forehead that resembled the nozzle of a petrol pump, attached to the base of the Cradle by a long flexible cable. Unser touched the metal tip of the instrument to the unwrinkled flesh of the vodsel’s brow, and squeezed the handle. There was an almost imperceptible dimming of the lights in the building. The vodsel’s eyes blinked just once as the current travelled through his brain and down the filament of his spine. A subtle plume of smoke curled up from a darkening smudge on his brow.

Unser yanked the chin up to expose the neck. With two graceful flicking motions of his wrist, he slashed open the arteries in the vodsel’s neck, then stood back as a jet of blood gushed out, steaming hot and startlingly red against the silvery trough.

‘Yes!’ screamed Isserley involuntarily. ‘Yes!’

That this is pleasure in a violence re-directed, that she wishes violence, unremittingly cruel violence, on those who have power over her, is made explicit in one of the last chapters, when she speaks of her surgeons:

She crawled out of bed, crippled as usual. What heaven it would be to get revenge on the surgeons who’d done this to her! She’d never even seen their faces: she’d been drugged into oblivion by the time they’d stuck their knives in. And now they were probably boasting to Vess Incorporated how much they’d learned from their mistakes, how there was no comparison between the miracles they could perform now and the crude experiments that had been Esswis [a male alien on the farm who’s also had surgery in order to appear human] and Isserley. In a fair world, she would be given the opportunity, before she died, to tie those surgeons to a slab and do a bit of experimenting of her own. They could watch, tongueless, as she carved their genitals away. To keep their noise down, she’d give them big chunks of their own severed tails to chew on. Their anuses would clench as she penetrated their spines with iron skewers. Their eyes would blink blood as she sculpted brave new faces for them.

There is no Nervous Man in the book, and it is not Isserley who releases any vodsels, but Amlis. In fact, it is Isserley who helps to hunt down these vodsels and kill them, and she takes pride in her ability to do so. That the gesture of freeing these vulnerable naked vodsels out into the open is an entirely futile one, is to be expected from privileged creatures like Amlis who have no practical sense, and who are enraptured by the virtuousness of their gestures. At the very same time, Isserley knows there is something unnecessarily brutal in this life, one lacking in an essential quality even though her own language may have no word for it. Amlis and Isserley visit the prison in which the various hitchers are kept before they are processed, and one of them writes something in the dirt:

‘Look!’ Amlis urged.

Isserley watched, disturbed, as the vodsel scrawled a five-letter word with great deliberation, even going to the trouble of fashioning each letter upside down, so that it would appear right-way-up for those on the other side of the mesh.

‘No-one told me they had a language,’ marvelled Amlis, too impressed, it seemed, to be angry. ‘My father always describes them as vegetables on legs.’

‘It depends on what you classify as language, I guess,’ said Isserley dismissively. The vodsel had slumped behind his handiwork, head bowed in submission, eyes wet and gleaming.

‘But what does it mean?’ persisted Amlis.

Isserley considered the message, which was M E R C Y. It was a word she’d rarely encountered in her reading, and never on television. For an instant she racked her brains for a translation, then realized that, by sheer chance, the word was untranslatable into her own tongue; it was a concept that just didn’t exist.

Isserley does not want to try to pronounce this word for Amlis, because she feels this act would debase her:

She considered trying to pronounce the strange word with a contortion of her lips and a frown on her brow, as if she were being asked to reproduce a chicken’s cackle or a cow’s moo. Then, if Amlis asked her what it meant, she could honestly say that there was no word for it in the language of human beings. She opened her lips to speak, but realized just in time that this would be a very stupid mistake. For her to speak the word at all dignified it with the status of being a word in the first place; Amlis would no doubt go into ecstasy over the vodsels’ ability to link a pattern of scrawled symbols with a specific sound, however guttural and unintelligible. At a stroke, she would be dignifying the vodsels, in his eyes, with both writing and speech.

Shortly afterwards, in perhaps the book’s most powerful scene, Isserley gives a ride to the hitchhiker who rapes her, and she pleads for this same concept. We have here again the book’s casual, expert use of a variety of tones, none of which undercut the other: the horror of the scene alongside the comic mispronunciation which is also a heartbreaking plea for some relief from not just this moment, but her whole existence:

Without warning, he grabbed her elbow and pulled it upwards. Isserley didn’t have time to tense her muscles into a characteristic vodsel shape, and her arm bent freely at several joints, a zig-zag of unmistakably human angles. The hitcher did not appear to notice. This, more than anything else so far, filled Isserley with nauseous terror.

Once she was standing, the hitcher nudged her further along the car until she was against the bonnet.

‘Turn around,’ he said.

She obeyed, and he immediately grasped her green velvety trousers and tore them down to her knees with a single jolt.

‘Jesus,’ he growled from behind her. ‘You been in a car accident?’

‘Yes,’ she whispered. ‘I’m sorry.’

For a heady moment she thought he was discouraged, but then she felt the flat of his hand on her back, pushing her forward onto the car’s bonnet.

Desperately, she searched for the right word, the word that might make him stop. It was a word she knew, but had only ever seen written – in fact, only this morning, a vodsel had spelled it out. She’d never heard it spoken.

‘Murky,’ she pleaded.

Isserley escapes this by knocking out the man’s eyes through the powerful distorted arms of her race, but there is no happy end for her. She and Amlis never draw close into anything like sexual union or love, and he returns to his home planet. Her work exhausts her, and though she does not acknowledge it, her work is slowly destroying her: again and again in the book, tears fall from her eyes, and she’s unable to account for why. She lives in a morally indifferent universe where the kindest of souls end up trapped in the cages of her farm, and yet the book’s perspective is not itself indifferent to the fates of its characters. We see the juxtaposition of the two in the book’s ending, where a gesture of consideration leads to her destruction. Isserley stops for a hitcher whose wife is pregnant and he urges her to speed up, and she does so, but she is as clumsy at driving as she is at other human behaviors, and the car swerves off the road into a tree. The hitcher is thrown from the wreck and badly injured, while the steering column slices into Isserley, destroying her human bosom:

She looked down. Her green velvet trousers were sprinkled with broken glass and saturated with dark blood, and a twisted wedge of metal was taking up all the space where she would have expected her knees to be. She felt very little pain, and she guessed this must be because her spine was shattered. The crescent of the steering wheel had penetrated her breasts, leaving her torso uninjured. Her neck, though, felt better than it had for years, and this realization jerked a hysterical sob of laughter and grief from her. Something warm and gelatinous, trapped inside her top and Pennington’s pullover, slid down her abdomen and into her lap. She shuddered in revulsion and fear.

The Isserleys of the novel and movie both have a devotion to the earth’s landscape, perhaps the only love they can feel deeply, the only one undamaged by malice or distrust for the book’s protagonist. She joins this world in the movie as her body burns to ash and drifts into the sky, and the novel’s Isserley achieves the same transcendence through self-annihilation in what is probably the book’s best moment, an ending for this essay which I cannot improve on:

Isserley removed the spectacles and dropped them into her lap, where they landed with a patter of windscreen glass. She blinked, wondering why things were still out of focus. Tears ran down her cheeks, and her view through the shattered windscreen cleared.

Isserley checked the top of the dashboard, where Yns [an engineer], at the same time as he’d set up the icpathua network, had installed the other little alteration to the car’s original design: the button for the aviir. Unlike the icpathua connections, which involved fragile electrics and hydraulics that had obviously been damaged in the accident, the connection between the dashboard button and the cylinder of aviir was one simple, sturdy tube, waiting only for a squirt of something foreign into the oily liquid.

The aviir would blow her car, herself, and a generous scoop of earth into the smallest conceivable particles. The explosion would leave a crater in the ground as big and deep as if a meteorite had fallen there.

And she? Where would she go?

The atoms that had been herself would mingle with the oxygen and nitrogen in the air. Instead of ending up buried in the ground, she would become part of the sky: that was the way to look at it. Her invisible remains would combine, over time, with all the wonders under the sun. When it snowed, she would be part of it, falling softly to earth, rising up again with the snow’s evaporation. When it rained, she would be there in the spectral arch that spanned from firth to ground. She would help to wreathe the fields in mists, and yet would always be transparent to the stars. She would live forever. All it took was the courage to press one button, and the faith that the connection had not been broken.

She reached forward a trembling hand.

‘Here I come,’ she said.

(All images from Under the Skin copyright A24 Films and associated producers; images from Birth copyright New Line Cinema.)

(On July 27, 2014, some edits for aesthetics, grammar, and clarity were made; footnote #4 was added, as was a new footnote #1, on the name of the film’s protagonist; the section on how Isserley sees her co-workers only in terms of their physicality was added as well. On August 25th, 2014, the section on Monty Python’s “Seduced Milkmen” was added.)

FOOTNOTES

1 Though it’s never said in the movie, a number of sources state the protagonist’s name as “Laura”, such as Grantland‘s “‘Skin’ Deep: Jonathan Glazer, Scarlett Johansson, and the Incurious State of Sci-Fi in Hollywood” by Sean Fennessey – “Glazer’s movie follows Laura, an alien played by a bewigged Scarlett Johansson” – and The Dissolve‘s review, “Under the Skin” by Scott Tobias: “Glazer’s main character—now named “Laura,” and played by Scarlett Johansson—reveals nothing of herself directly.”

2 Though I originally thought this first woman was simply a human The Bad Man had killed so they could use her clothes, I think this observation from SpaceMonkey23101 in “Under the Skin- Movie discussion including looking at the novel that inspired it”, a reddit thread by dalong75, is very solid, and in fact the best interpretation.

SpaceMonkey23101 (link):

I like to think that the first woman (who Scarlett gets her first set of clothes from) is her predecessor, and that she died by committing suicide. This is why she sheds a tear during the scene where Scarlett undresses her. She did it by drowning herself in the ocean, since she had seen so many men go into the black pool, and her limited intellect could only conceive of that as a method of suicide. She was driven to do this by her guilt for what she had done, luring so many innocent men to their deaths. It shows that she achieved the same sense of compassion that Scarlett does during the film. It basically turns the film into a much more optimistic story, since it suggests that the drones always develop empathy. This is what her supervisor (motor bike guy) is checking for when he’s staring at her so intently in her house. He is searching, in a strange alien way, for a sense of empathy or compassion within her. It’s almost as if the drones always fail because maybe living beings always grow towards compassion. It actually kind of suggests an ultimate – almost spiritual – morality and justice behind the film. Just a thought.

dalong75 (link):

Love it.

8th_Dynasty (link):

This is pretty close to my interpretation as well – however, and maybe it was just my eyesight, but I took the first girl to be “the same model Alien”, having the same skin. The Alien of our story that we watched was a sort of replicated replacement to pick up where the first one left off after she ultimately started to feel emotions. Sort of like a defective model that will work for a certain amount of time before breaking down and the Motorcycle Boss was constantly checking for signs of inevitable failure.

I feel like that first female character was also played by Scarlett [though there is a strong resemblance, the girl on the floor of the white room is played by Lynsey Taylor Mackay].

3 McWilliams is actually a “world champion motorcycle ace.” The short profile, “McWilliams is ‘bad man on mission for Scarlett Johansson'” details his background.

The name of this character as well as The Woodsman I got from “Under The Skin: Casting”, an interview with the movie’s casting director, Kathleen Crawford.

4 Again, “Under the Skin- Movie discussion including looking at the novel that inspired it”, a reddit thread by dalong75, contains valuable insights on this matter, from tesla86, EnsignMorituri, and dalong75.

tesla86 (link):

I was thinking about this movie for some time after seeing it, the affect of any momentous movie wether good or bad i might add.

I was particularly drawn to the ‘inspection’ scene, it was as though they (the aliens) are drone-like creatures, with the Motorcyclist as a soldier bee inspecting the worker bee (Johnansson) even the way ‘he’ articulates and postures around her is akin to their behaviour. Just a thought but the motorbikes themselves are quite bee/wasp like; driving handles = antennae , fuel tank = thorax, engine hums like wings etc

EnsignMorituri (link):

Absolutely. I think the closeup of the ant reflects the colony insect theme as well. To use a wasp or bee in that scene would have been too on the nose.

dalong75 (link):

Good point. I liked how mechanical it was. A simple four point inspection of her. Not at all how humans would inspect each other. Also perhaps looking for any breaks in her skin.

5 Questions were taken from “The Scarlett Johansson Interview” by Alex Bilmes, “Scarlett Johansson Interview” by Holly Millea, and “Scarlett Johansson 2.0: Glamour’s May Cover Star on Finally Knowing What She Needs in a Relationship” by Logan Hill.

6 These terms of alien vocabulary are never given an explanation.

7 The book is more explicit about this than the movie, as seen in these excerpts from a conversation Isserley has with one hitcher:

‘You know what gets me?’ he said, slightly more animated now.

‘No, what gets you?’ Isserley was sagging in relief, gratefully feeling the air grow less dense, the molecules moving more calmly.

‘Them supermodels,’ he said.

Isserley thought first of sophisticated automobiles, then thought he must mean the animated drawings which flickered on television early in the mornings: stylized females flying through space wearing elbow-length gloves and thigh-high boots. Just in time, as she opened her mouth to speak, she remembered the true meaning of the term: she’d glimpsed one of these extraordinary creatures on the news once.

‘What mystifies you?’ said Isserley, quite lost.

‘Where’s the tits on ’em, that’s what I want to know!’ he exclaimed, cupping one huge hand in front of his own chest. ‘Supermodels, and they got no tits! How’s that work?’

‘I don’t know who decides these things,’ conceded Isserley miserably, as the atmosphere in the cabin swarmed once more.

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David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: Bad Religion

“She kissed his cheek, and the flesh against her lips felt as cold as the snowflakes at the window.”
–“Mojave” by Truman Capote, from Music for Chameleons

“And so it is “I,” the person among other persons, alone yet inseparable from the community of others, who sees as if for the first time and who reflectively comes to know the meanings that awaken in my consciousness.” – Clark Moustakas, Phenomological Research Methods, quote taken from “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomology of Fame” by Donna Rockwell and David C. Giles

(This contains spoilers for Videodrome, though it is very much written for those who have seen and are familiar with the movie. Given this, no attempt at a plot summary is made. There are spoilers for Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch as well. Script excerpts are taken from on-line transcripts at Script-o-rama, for Videodrome and Naked Lunch. I am indebted to The Rule of Metaphor by Paul Ricoeur, as a helpful, though often difficult, guide on the subject.)

One of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen. Some do not wish to attempt to examine the mysteries of why a certain film works, especially if it has this kind of memorable power, disturbing or otherwise; that this is like sealing beautiful flowing smoke in a glass. The hyptnotizing, electric flow ends with the entrapment, and there is perhaps something unfeeling as well – this kind of examination can be close to trapping insects in jars, and plucking their wings off. I know all this, and I look closer anyway1. What follows are my brief explorations of Videodrome. As with all explorations, they are unfinished.

The first thing to be looked at might be the quality so often remarked about this movie, its prescience. That it features a man who becomes obsessed with a virtual reality, to the point that he can no longer distinguish between the real and his hallucinations, this all is taken as an anticipation of our internet dominated lives, now. Properly placed, Videodrome is not a prediction, but simply a reiteration of past themes. Cronenberg himself would dismiss the idea of a conscious, intentional attempt at augury in many places, among them his introduction to a showing of the film in 2009, “Cronenberg Videodrome Intro” (from 1:30-3:00 in the clip):

The movie has been seen as being quite prophetic, as you mentioned, of everything from the internet to virtual reality, to interactive television and so on, I suppose you could say, “Did I anticipate all of that stuff?” and I suppose I could say, “Yeah.” But so what? Because nothing happens as a result of that. I wasn’t really trying to be prophetic. I was trying to…when you, if you’re an artist, all you’ve got, that might be unique, are the antenna that you have, that are sensitive to things that are in the air, that are around, that perhaps other people are not sensitive, as sensitive to, for whatever reason. And so I think that was what I was really doing then. Because there is a character in this movie [Brian O’Blivion] who is modeled after Marshall McLuhan, and he was certainly around the University of Toronto when I was there. And his thoughts, and his presence, and his prophecies, which were quite astonishingly accurate, I must say, so for me to…I was really trying to…to distill something of the zeitgeist of the time, I suppose, and also make something that was entertaining and sexy and perverse, I think. And you’ll let me know if I did that or not.

The director would again dismiss the possibility, as well as explain the genesis of the movie in “Cronenberg on Cronenberg” (15:55-17:42 in the clip):

CRONENBERG
Videodrome really came from the limitations of television at the time. Which was, I remember as a child, we had an antenna that would rotate, to pick up, each station needed the antenna to rotate to get the best image. So, you’d be watching your TV set, rotating the image, and seeing it come into focus in a way. And sometimes, when the major…this is something else that people don’t think of. It wasn’t twenty four hour a day television. It was…at eleven o’clock, eleven thirty, television was finished. Until the morning. You didn’t go all night. After all the television stations had shut down, you could sometimes pick up some strange signals, from…now, in Toronto it would be mostly from America, maybe Buffalo. Maybe from New York. Maybe from Detroit. And those signals were very weak, but you could pick them up late at night. And you would see things, but it would never be clear. And you wouldn’t know what you were watching. And it was very mysterious. And sometimes very disturbing. And very intriguing. And so I used that experience with Videodrome. In other words, old technology at the time. I even have scenes of a satellite dish, and so on, but of course when I was doing it, it was an antenna, not a satellite dish. There were no satellites. And it was just that idea of picking up a mysterious, forbidden signal. That somehow you had access to, via accident. And that’s really what it had to do with. Videodrome.

INTERVIEWER
This idea of a hidden channel, is something very relevant, powerful, even today. [CRONENBERG: Yes.] When you think of the internet [CRONENBERG: Yes.], this darknet, there always seems to be a place where people are hoping to find something forbidden, or…

CRONENBERG
Yes. That’s actually true, and it’s why people sometimes think Videodrome is anticipating the internet, of course I wasn’t really thinking about it, but it’s true that some of the things that I was playing with, which is to say interactive television, television that would respond directly to you, was, is, in a sense, an anticipation of something…that has become the internet. Really. So, it hasn’t changed, and yes, there are some very forbidden…imagery and videos on the internet which….I mean, it’s quite extraordinary that the police could come to your house and discover that you had downloaded some images and arrest you and put you in jail for a long time. Mostly, child pornography and so on. But…that’s an extraordinary thought. That the images condemn you, immediately. And that, even though you just sat in your room and clicked to access them. But you were condemned by doing that. That’s extraordinary.

One should note the key element in the TV signals picked up from across the border, and that is the lack of control. The TV signal is described as “mysterious, forbidden”, a transmission where “you wouldn’t know what you were watching”. We have perhaps the exact inverse of the contemporary internet, which is defined by the search engine google, along with content filters like facebook and twitter, whose orderly and authoritative results arguably disciplined a wild and unruly place. Whereas the Videodrome signal is something like an unnamed ghostland, unknown and invisible to all atlases. It exists as a result of technology, and yet it also has the qualities of a hallucinatory vision which might seize a character, and whose meaning they must decipher, whether it has an implication for the here and now, or a portent of the future. This, of course, is a near exact description of the visions of another movie, which resemble old TV transmissions, the transmitted warnings of Prince of Darkness.

John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness - We are transmitting - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/AdoredDeadlyIbisbill

Given that Videodrome is seen as a prescient vision, it might be useful to look at someone else from the very same time whose work is seen as predicting the internet, though that was not his intent, either. This would be the writer William Gibson, and his book Neuromancer, published only a year after Videodrome‘s release. I do not link the two out of any intent to make kleptic accusations; I think Gibson himself properly answers why you might have a similar focus in the movies and books of the time in “William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211”:

There’s an idea in the science-fiction community called steam-engine time, which is what people call it when suddenly twenty or thirty different writers produce stories about the same idea. It’s called steam-engine time ­because nobody knows why the steam engine happened when it did. Ptolemy demonstrated the mechanics of the steam engine, and there was nothing technically stopping the Romans from building big steam engines. They had little toy steam engines, and they had enough metalworking skill to build big steam tractors. It just never occurred to them to do it. When I came up with my cyberspace idea, I thought, I bet it’s steam-engine time for this one, because I can’t be the only person noticing these various things. And I wasn’t. I was just the first person who put it together in that particular way, and I had a logo for it, I had my neologism.

The neologism, the one Gibson put together, was cyberspace, before there was anything substantial outside of his fictional world that the name could be applied to. In this same interview, Gibson mentions his strongest influences: “William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon.” He gives special mention to Burroughs and Naked Lunch, describing it as a kind of science fiction without being hidebound to the traditions of the genre2. Lunch has been named by Cronenberg as his favorite book, and he, of course, took on the Sissyphean task of making it into a movie. Again, however, we are not speaking of A simply leading to B. “One of the reasons Burroughs excited me when I read him was that I recognized my own imagery in his work,” says Cronenberg at the time of the Lunch movie’s release. “It sounds only defensive to say, ‘I was already thinking of a virus when I read that!’ But there is a recognition factor. That’s why I think you start to feel like you’re vibrating in harmony with someone else. It’s the recognition, not that they introduced you to something that was completely unthought of by you.”3 Our thoughts slowly congeal into a metaphor, and we see elsewhere the public expression of someone else’s thoughts in similar metaphors. Lunch‘s Interzone is the unruly mix of many peoples where fantasy is unleashed; Neuromancer separates these two worlds with the vast crowd of the Sprawl, several interconnected North American cities – and the unrestricted virtual life of its cyberspace, the Matrix (a term native to this book and not the later movie series)4; Videodrome takes place in the interethnic mix of Toronto with a hero whose business is buying and selling pornography, and where its virtual fantasyland shares the movie’s title.

This is how I see Videodrome: as a partial expression of the themes of Naked Lunch, but one that is ultimately truer to the book than the actual movie adaptation. Though Lunch is often taken as surreal nonsense, with no connection to the actual, I think it is very obviously an attempt to express the author’s life experience, specifically his drug experience and his queer life, and the truest method of expression would be through often hallucinatory imagery. Burroughs had little involvement with hallucinogens, and the images of Lunch do not feel like any attempt at reproducing the experiences of such drugs, but at conveying a specific physical and emotional sense. A gay man, a drug user of the time must have felt like a hunted man, and so the protagonist of Lunch is someone literally hunted: a man wanted by cops who is also an undercover spy. The images are unreal, but not without purpose. The repulsive figures of the Mugwumps and Reptiles are visions of the addict himself, his flesh in a state of accelerated decay, his body deforming into something others consider monstrous, and about which he is indifferent:

On stools covered in white satin sit naked Mugwumps sucking translucent, colored syrups through alabaster straws. Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. (In fact all longevity agents have proved addicting in exact ratio to their effectiveness in prolonging life.) Addicts of Mugwump fluid are known as Reptiles. A number of these flow over chairs with their flexible bones and black-pink flesh. A fan of green cartilage covered with hollow, erectile hairs through which the Reptiles absorb the fluid sprouts from behind each ear. The fans, which move from time to time touched by invisible currents, serve also some form of communication known only to Reptiles.

During the biennial Panics when the raw, peeled Dream Police storm the City the Mugwumps take refuge in the deepest crevices of the wall, sealing themselves in clay cubicles, and remain for weeks in biostasis. In those days of grey terror the Reptiles dart about faster and faster, scream past each other at supersonic speed, their flexible skulls flapping in black winds of insect agony.

The Dream Police disintegrate in globs of rotten ectoplasm swept away by an old junky, coughing and spitting in the sick morning. The Mugwump Man comes with alabaster jars of fluid and the Reptiles get smoothed out.

The air is once again still and clear as glycerine.

The Sailor spotted his Reptile. He drifted over and ordered a green syrup. The Reptile had a little, round disk mouth of brown gristle, expressionless green eyes almost covered by a thin membrane of eyelid. The Sailor waited an hour before the creature picked up his presence.

It is perhaps helpful to look at this imagery next to that of the excellent memoir of addiction, White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, by Michael Clune. Though the book goes through the expected arc of such experience – introduction, addiction, descent, and many attempts at recovery of a pre-addicted life – it never falls into the monotony of detailing the endless days of addiction as if such dull accounting is charged with interest to the outsider, but effectively conveys this difficult life through often surreal images. This imagery never suggests an affect, an attempt at novelty, or simple writing games, but an honest relating of the addict’s inner life, so involved in inner twistings as to often break from reality. We have it in early description of a dealer:

In that bare front room at Dominic’s there is a trembling joy in the air. The thick sun of June gets trapped, pools, and grows cloudy. Proto-organisms form in the cloud of wood-color, heat, and sheet-light. I’m full of angels who fasten their lips and wings and hands to Dominic’s body, until he looks like a beach a thick flock of seagulls has landed on. By the time we get to the kitchen he doesn’t even look human.

We have it in this monologue about invisible spirits and creatures as a junkie injects, as intricate and solid a world as that imagined in Lunch:

He held the syringe before all of us. I could never have afforded a shot like that. It should have been in a museum. “Inducing the creature,” he said softly. He felt expertly along his neck till he found the pulsing vein. There was a black tattoo of a cross running down his neck and the vein pulsed along the cross. He slid in the needle and pressed down on the syringe.

“The creature is induced to crawl. Induced to walk. Induced to beg. To soil itself or not to soil itself. The sin is not the inducement. That’s what those old Christians in the joint never understood.”

“The sin is not the inducement,” Fathead continued. “That He may raise up the Lord casts down. Even unto the pit. This shit we think we’re doing here.” He laughed. “Another eye burns in our eye, another hand reaches through our hand. This,” he held up his thick, needle-scarred hand, “this is a glove.” He gazed thickly on it. “An abode for any spirit of the air. Every unrighteous and unclean spirit.”

“And that’s what God is,” Fathead said. “When the creature is induced to crawl out of the creature. I’ve seen it myself. The whatever leaving his eyes, ‘dying.’ Crawling into the invisible world. A thousand spirits curled up in a spoon. You should see the spirit leaving a man’s face; you can feel the room get thicker. I’ve done it myself. I’ll do it again.”

It is there in the sequence where Clune creates for himself a fictional refuge as he tries to stop using, a refuge which cannot contain the piercing cold, and this imagined sanctuary conveys better than any simple physical details the deeply frightening sense of naked vulnerability when trying to kick the drug:

That first night of kicking, I imagined I was living in a castle. A blizzard was raging outside. I’d been trudging though the blizzard, carrying my sword and shield, fleeing the enemy. I knocked on the massive oak door of the castle. I heard the slow sound of the bar being raised and the door swinging open. The friendly warmth rushed out, strong friendly hands pulled me, fainting, inside.

“You must be exhausted,” said a tall, handsome man in chain mail. “Well, everything is going to be fine. We have everything you need in this castle. The walls are strong; the enemy will never get in. And we have enough supplies to last for years in here.” I nodded and tried to smile.

They showed me to a room high in the walls. A big fire roared in the fireplace. A clean, white bed piled deep with cushions lay in the corner. I stood for several minutes gazing at it. I repeated the contents of this room in the castle over and over to myself. I was shivering terribly.

“They have hundreds of soldiers to protect me in this castle. The blizzard rages outside. It is warm and safe and deep inside the castle. I’ll fall asleep now.” But the shivering cold came through the thick castle walls. They had to move me deeper inside the castle, where I’d be warm.

They had to move me again. Deep in the castle’s heart, to a windowless room, with an ancient glowing furnace and a fire burning in the fireplace. They’d never heard of drugs. I heard hundreds of soldiers rushing in the corridors.

“They’re going to their battle stations.” I invented the name of the enemy. The history of the country. The names of the people in the castle army. “Henry Abelove, Lieutenant.” I counted their weapons. Lieutenant Abelove led me on a tour of their supplies and armaments.

But something was missing. Despite the plentiful stores of food, everyone in the castle looked starved and crazy. Despite the vast fires, the huge furnaces, the halls piled high with entire felled forests, I could not stop shivering.

“There is no sleep in this castle,” Lieutenant Abelove said sadly.

“But,” I said, “I thought that one first enters the castle, and then passes through into sleep.” He shook his head.

“This entire structure is built along the wall of sleep, but at no point does it penetrate it.” I tried to follow his words.

“Can’t we use some of these weapons, some of this fuel to break through?” He shook his head sadly. I tried to stop thinking about the castle.

Naked Lunch is a book that is unremitting in its nihilism, though at the same time full of cheerful laughter. We are lecherous, we are wicked, we are cruel; virtue and good works will not save us from suffering and painful death, both of which can be very funny to a passerby. The outlook might be that of someone fallen to the bottom of the pit, at a dead end bar, laughing at the fellow cripples alongside him. The humor is not that of a superior type looking down, or the cheerless kind of someone pining for some lost paradise and wanting to bring it back, but of a writer deep in muck who has no inclination to leave it. The landscape is unsettling – though not a Nowhereland, but very much America. New York City is life-like, and so is the book’s Missouri, filled with American types:

He stands up screaming and black blood spurts solid from his last erection, a pale white statue standing there, as if he had stepped whole across the Great Fence, climbed it innocent and calm as a boy climbs the fence to fish in the forbidden pond-in a few seconds he catches a huge catfish-The Old Man will rush out of a little black hut cursing, with a pitchfork, and the boy runs laughing across the Missouri field-he finds a beautiful pink arrowhead and snatches it up as he runs with a flowing swoop of young bone and muscle-(his bones blend into the field, he lies dead by the wooden fence a shotgun by his side, blood on frozen red clay seeps into the winter stubble of Georgia) . . . The catfish billows out behind him . . . He comes to the fence and throws the catfish over into blood-streaked grass . . . the fish lies squirming and squawking-vaults the fence. He snatches up the catfish and disappears up a flint-studded red clay road between oaks and persimmons dropping red-brown leaves in a windy fall sunset, green and dripping in summer dawn, black against a clear winter day . . . the Old Man screams curses after him . . . his teeth fly from his mouth and whistle over the boy’s head, he strains forward, his neck-cords tight as steel hoops, black blood spurts in one solid piece over the fence and he falls a fleshless mummy by the fever grass. Thorns grow through his ribs, the windows break in his hut, dusty glass-slivers in black putty-rats run over the floor and boys jack off in the dark musty bedroom on summer afternoons and eat the berries that grow from his body and bones, mouths smeared with purple-red juices . . .

By rooting the book so solidly in the United States, rather than create a separate new universe of obscenity, it makes clear that its world – of drugs, queerness, and nihilism – is a part of America and always has been. “American humor is a really angry rube humor,” a point made by Michael O’Donoghue, insightful observer and comedy legend. “Very mean and aggressive. I’ve always liked American jokes.”5

The movie adaptation junks this nihilism, and junks the mean-spirited laughter. One example: a story about becoming consumed by one’s own asshole, which might be about the junkie’s physical sense of self-destruction, but is most definitely a nasty joke, is given in the movie a portentous setting of a dark highway, as if there were some deep meaning at its heart, and the deep meaning were its purpose. We might look at the original story in the novel, told there by Dr. Benway, and immediately hear the distinction in the lively patter which might remind one of Lenny Bruce, or other comedians of the time:

BENWAY: “Why not one all-purpose blob? Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down you dig farting out the words. It was unlike anything I ever heard.

“This ass talk had a sort of gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose? Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell.

“This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventriloquist act. Real funny, too, at first. He had a number he called ‘The Better ‘Ole’ that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it but it was clever. Like, ‘Oh I say, are you still down there, old thing?’

“‘Nah! I had to go relieve myself.’

“After a while the ass started talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time.

“Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy incurving hooks and started eating. He thought this was cute at first and built an act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth. Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him: ‘It’s you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we don’t need you around here any more. I can talk and eat and shit.’

“After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpole’s tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call un-D.T., Undifferentiated Tissue, which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body. He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly and grow there, grow anywhere on him a glob of it fell. So finally his mouth sealed over, and the whole head would have amputated spontaneous-(did you know there is a condition occurs in parts of Africa and only among Negroes where the little toe amputates spontaneously?)-except for the eyes, you dig. That’s one thing the asshole couldn’t do was see. It needed the eyes. But nerve connections were blocked and infiltrated and atrophied so the brain couldn’t give orders any more. It was trapped in the skull, sealed off. For a while you could see the silent, helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes went out, and there was no more feeling in them than a crab’s eye on the end of a stalk.”

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The movie has a tragedy in its first act, and this tragedy is its narrative heart, a re-play of Burroughs killing his own wife when he tried to shoot a glass on top of her head, and missed. This is all played sincerely, the protagonist even shedding tears, whereas an event like this in Naked Lunch, the book, would be played as a Buster Keaton pratfall. The tragedy pushes Bill Lee (Burroughs himself, for all intents and purposes) away from New York City (a very ersatz one, compared to the very real one of the book) and his fellow writers (a barely disguised Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg), to the mysterious Interzone. The book’s Interzone is very obviously the Tangier that Burroughs stayed in, full of spies, thieves, and disreputable characters; the paranoid scenes of the book are an attempt at capturing the paranoid setting6. The movie’s Interzone has vague references to the middle east, but is another place entirely, of the imagination, the prevalent spies a seemingly arbitrary feature. There, Bill Lee meets a couple who are Paul and Jane Bowles, but given the names Paul and Joan Frost. This Joan is somehow a reborn version of the other Joan, Joan Lee, the dead wife. There is the suggestion that somehow Bill Lee must overcome his inhibitions about his own queerness, and that this will lead to finally becoming an accomplished writer. The movie hints that Bill killing Joan was an unconscious expression of a desire to rid himself of his female mate, in a conversation with the gay Paul Frost: “They say you murdered your wife,” says Paul Frost. “It wasn’t murder. It was an accident,” replies Bill Lee. “There are no accidents. For example…I’ve been killing my own wife slowly, over a period of years,” Frost replies. “Well, not intentionally. I mean, on the level of conscious intention, it’s insane, monstrous,” Frost adds. “We appreciate,” says a typewriter agent, “that you might find the thought of engaging in, uh, homosexual acts, morally and, uh, possibly even…physically repulsive.” Bill Lee himself speaks of the dread he feels about his own identity: “I shall never forget the unspeakable horror that froze the lymph in my glands, when the baneful word seared my reeling brain. I…was a homosexual. I thought of the painted, simpering female impersonators I had seen in a Baltimore nightclub. Could it be possible I was one of those subhuman things?” This also shows up as an unfinished phrase in his typewriter, with one word made ominous through its absence: queer.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

“Hank”, also known as Jack Kerouac, and “Martin”, also known as Allen Ginsberg.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

“Paul and Joan Frost”, also known as Paul and Jane Bowles.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

Taken from the real life adventures of William and Joan Burroughs.

“Are you a faggot?”, asks a young man who wants to pick up Bill. “Not by nature, no. I’m not. I wouldn’t say…faggot. No.” The young man wears a centipede on a chain, and when Lee picks up a centipede body at the marktet, he has a slow realization of dramatic revulsion. “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” says the young man. “He specializes in sexual ambiguity.” Lee is introduced to the Mugwump, whose head, covered in phallic tubes that spit jism, also changes into a typewriter. Both with the various typewriters and elsewhere, we have a theme of hermaphrodite sex, Lee’s aversion to queerness ovecome as the male blends into the female. Bill carresses with powder the sensual orifice of a typewriter. Bill sits with Joan as she types away, the typewriter transforming into a mixed gendered beast turned on by the erotic story Joan is typing. Bill and Joan have sex, and this same mixed gender beast joins in. Joan’s domineering female housekeeper, Fadela, is also her lover, a woman who actually turns out to be a man underneath, Dr. Benway. Bill first accepts, and is then repulsed anew by his own sexual identity: he finally sleeps with an Interzone double of the young man who propositioned him, and right after he is given a nightmare vision of queer life, a monstrous decadent piercing the same boy like a captured animal. In this movie with such a heavy debt to Burroughs’ own life, that Lee ends in a state of revulsion at queer sex is perhaps supposed to explain the frightening, malevolent sex of Burroughs’ books. Bill Lee gets Joan Frost back, ransoming her with the Mugwump’s head, the creature of sexual ambivalence. Lee leaves Interzone for Annexia with this new Joan Lee, who must die again before he can cross over to the new country. Her death is unavoidable, an experience that the writer will annex for his own books, and the moment she dies, Lee is given entrance. All this – the idea of the tragic, the necessity of confronting the tragic in your writing, along with the idea of queer life as an issue – is alien to the wiseacre universe of Naked Lunch, the novel.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

Videodrome lacks the humor of Lunch, the novel, but it does have the book’s nihilism. At no point does it seem that there ever was a right choice for Max Renn to make, to avoid this increasingly strange and dangerous world. The two factions of Videodrome, headed by Barry Convex and Bianca O’Blivion, seem both equally unsympathetic – though Convex takes a slight lead in malice. Neither offer salvation or safety from the bleakness. Where Lunch the movie is set in a phantom New York City, Videodrome takes place in a very real, squalid, unpolished Toronto, and placing the exotic horror in a specific place makes its fearsome effects more acute: this is really happening. “Toronto. I was terrified to come to Toronto,” said Roberto Benigni to Cronenberg, several years after Videodrome‘s release. “Because all I knew of it was from your films.”7

There are several points in Videodrome where, if we’re looking, we might see similarities to Naked Lunch, the book, but these are in terms of broad concept, rather than anything borrowed for the movie’s distinct and memorable imagery. The book tells us of the Senders, who are able to practice a kind of devastating mind control comparable to the way Max is manipulated by the rival parties of Videodrome. Overusing this form of telepathic control transforms the Sender into a centipede8 and there is a brief moment in Lunch when a man’s flesh drips away as green ooze, revealing a massive centipede underneath; Barry Convex is shot, and it’s as if something primordial emerges from within his dying body9. A character pulls a black furred egg from inside a boy, an alien object taken out, just like Barry Convex inserting a videotape into Max10. Lunch‘s Interzone is a place of unrestrained sadomasochistic fantasy, just like the virtual torture chamber of Videodrome11. The book ends with Bill Lee shooting two detectives that are hunting him, and then escaping off into the unknown, somewhere outside time and space. This might bear a passing resemblance to the killing spree of Renn, which climaxes in his leaving for a different kind of unknown12.

Were I to begin to try and get at the source of this movie’s power, I would say that it lies with the movie’s visual metaphors lacking anything like a structure, didactic or otherwise, which defines them. The context of Naked Lunch, the movie, gives a strong definition to its own metaphors. The creature of mixed genitalia that entangles itself with Bill Lee and Joan Frost, the typewriters with sensual openings, the jism spitting creature of sexual ambivalence, the Mugwump, are all part of the theme of a man unwilling to admit some aspect of his sexual identity, who is unable to admit to his complicity in his wife’s death, and who must try to admit to both in order to become a great writer. The metaphors of Videodrome may well be equally didactic, but lacking anything like the rigid surrounding organization, their power and mystery is enhanced.

For example, the metaphor, “my love for you is a rose bush in flames,” whatever its many flaws, is ambiguous in meaning without setting. Is this love like a holy one, a holy love profaned, a great love destroyed, or one so intense that it must be ephemeral? If this line is placed in the context of a short story about a man discovering his wife having an affair, the line is reduced to a singular meaning: our great sacred love is now destroyed. The metaphors of Videodrome may well lend themselves to didactic readings, but the story offers no direction one way or the other. I find this sense of stepping into something uncertain is there at the movie’s very beginning when Bridey James wakes Renn from sleep:

ANNOUNCER
Civic TV, the one you take to bed with you.

BRIDEY JAMES
Max, it’s that time again. Time to slowly, painfully ease yourself back into consciousness. No, I’m not a dream, although I’ve been told I’m a vision of loveliness. I’m your faithful girl Friday, Bridey James, here with your wake-up call of today, Wednesday the 23rd. You got that? Wednesday the 23rd.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

I always hear ease yourself back into consciousness as having a slight air of menace, as if Bridey knows of the dreamworld that is soon to come, and you can wonder to what extent she’s a conspirator with the other players in what comes next. Bridey has this ambiguity because like all the other characters in the movie, there really is no character there. They do what’s necessary for the plot and provide exposition, but do not have much more substance than that. Nicki Brand is an enigma of unreconciled elements. She hosts the “Emotional Rescue Show” (“You want help. You need help.”), and she’s clear that she thinks Renn’s movies are dangerous, “We always want more, whether it’s tactile, emotional or sexual. And I think that’s bad” Yet her first words at Max’s are, “Got any pornos?” She always wants more as well, a needle through the ear, a cigarette burned in her breast, and finally giving it all up to live her dream to be on Videodrome. An actual character might give an intuitive coherence to these polarities, but she does not. Brian and Bianca O’Blivion are the movie’s only guides to the hallucinatory technology, and they may be villains as well – but that is left entirely to us. There is nothing in their character that implies one thing or the other, and we might read what we want.

The metaphors of the movie, as said, could be read in the simplest terms, of movies transforming men and women into the ideals of their gender. The identification with these ideals, our approaching these ideals, gives us a sense of power, yet ultimately we are submissives, submitting to media, whose ability to reproduce and distribute images throughout the world can be thought of as a near divine power. Nicki is submissive, longs to play a role where she’s constantly submissive, and she disappears to be an image, though it’s as an image she becomes dominant. We see her choke O’Blivion to death, and we see her take over Renn’s video system, where she entices Max to bury himself within her. This last, where he sticks his head inside the tumescent screen of her lips, doesn’t suggest male penetration so much as male surrender. Max becomes the movie ideal of his own gender, a man with a gun, and yet it’s also a position without power or choice. The gun seals itself to his hand, and he becomes only one thing, an assassin, just as Nicki becomes only one thing, an image. He kills at the command of others, for their reasons, first his work associates and then Barry Convex. The gun should be a symbol of dominance, and yet he’s only submitting to the commands of someone else. Before the gun melds to his hand, it first sinks into the genital crevasse of his stomach, the same place where the tapes are inserted that give him his kill orders. “When I first got on this picture, I was an actor. Now I feel like I’m just the bearer of the slit,” James Woods would say to Debbie Harry during production. “Now you know what it feels like,” she replied13.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - Max and the TV - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/PalatableLongKiwi

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The newspaper story featured in the corner of this still is its own separate epic, detailing the adventures of rogue CIA agent Ed Wilson, who would sell weapons to Qaddafi in 1981. The Times story featured here is “Records show Wilson made millions on C.I.A. Experience”; this site early on reviewed Peter Maas’s excellent book on the subject in the post “A Libyan Footnote, The Sorry Tale of Edwin Paul Wilson, or: Manhunt – The Incredible Pursuit of a CIA Agent Turned Terrorist (Peter Maas)”.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - Max gets his programming - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/SecretPoisedCockatoo

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

This, I think, is a credible reading, but one without certainty. There is nothing in the surrounding plot or characters to push us towards this reading, only our own experience and the suggestibility of the metaphors themselves. There is something of the unconscious in the movie – “the film drifts along like a dream from one disturbing episode to another,” Keith Phipps wrote in an excellent discussion of the film14. We might compare it to another movie of the unconscious, seemingly untainted by rule-making or restriction, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Here, we are also given images in which a great deal can be read, whether it’s Sandy staring at Jeffrey with newfound fear on the way to Dorothy’s, the sensual mouth of Dorothy open with pleasure and holding a chipped tooth, a crippled mute father, a woman commanding a boy for sex, an abusive man dominating a woman who call each other mommy and daddy, etc. There is something beguiling in what is unseen in Velvet, that we’re never given the full truth of the conspiracy between the Booth gang and the police department, and that there’s something to the characters of Sandy and Dorothy that remains unknown.

This makes sense as part of the movie’s perspective, of an adolescent boy who has just touched on the world’s secrets, and will only know more of them much later. The characters of Dorothy and Sandy may not be fully seen, but they are full characters, with what we do see hinting at what’s beneath. Though Blue Velvet may be dream-like, it at least gives us some context for these images, connecting them to sex and sexual roles. The father’s physical decline pushes the son into the role of an adult, at the same time that he moves into the frightening and alluring world of sex beneath happy domesticity. Sandy is drawn to Jeffrey, and she might be drawn to him because he’s a detective, because he’s a pervert, or because he’s both. He wants to play the role of a hero and help Dorothy, but he wants to play the role of Frank as well, and hurt her. He wants to be with Sandy the way he’s with Dorothy, and Sandy wants that as well. The movie gives us this context for these images, so they undulate around a specific possible meaning, without ever becoming head smackingly specific: the secret revelation of Blue Velvet is not that Jeffrey’s father abuses his mother, or anything else of tangible fact. There are no secret revelations, only endless dreams.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

We are given a context, in the characters and story of Blue Velvet, through which we might see these images, where we are given nothing comparable in Videodrome. There is nothing equal to those characters, which are not hidden, but seemingly not there at all, letting us, say, read as much mystery as we want in Bridey’s opening lines. Velvet allows us to reduce its images to a possible haze of meaning, while Videodrome gives us no such net. We are left with only the limits inherent in the images themselves, a vaginal gulf erupting in a man’s stomach, a gun falling within, and the gun grafting itself to his hand. The metaphors imply ideas that are not foreign to us, though the images themselves are alien. In a book with a realistic setting, these images would be acceptable similes, with obvious meanings of longing and violence. You are like the lips on the TV screen in which I bury myself. I am like the gun from which a man extends. I feel like TV is killing me. In Videodrome, these similes become metaphors that the characters inhabit. You are the lips on the TV screen in which I bury myself. I am the gun from which a man extends. TV is killing me.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - TV turns into a gun - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/BruisedFlatImpala

I have attempted to use Naked Lunch as a helpful prism through which to see Videodrome, as images that are not unprecedented or some discrete island, but a set of metaphors kindred to Lunch, both of which find more felicitous expression in the fantastic than the literal. The other helpful perspective, which I don’t think is mentioned often enough, is to see Videodrome through the lens of faith. Max Renn lives in a squalid, decaying city trafficing in a product that has value but no substance, and little or no utility. Capitalism is decadent, his city is in decline, like Rome’s, and here we have an interesting setting for his introduction to the mysteries of Videodrome. It is Masha who leads Renn to the O’Blivions, and in her first scene, she sells him a video of a roman orgy, Apollo And Dionysus (the gods are greek, but it looks very much like a roman bacchanal), and the second opens with a dancer and a restaurant, both clearly in a faux oriental style15. We might see here references to the two capitals of a past empire, Rome and Byzantium, before the arrival of a new creed. Where do we find the O’Blivions? At The Cathode Ray Mission, where they evangelize the poor and abandoned, just as any church might. Max: “You think TV can help them?” Bianca: “Watching TV will help patch them back into the world’s mixing board.”

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

A book I found very useful for looking at this movie in this light is Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, an attempt to find the essential underlying forms of religion by investigating the religious life of the tribes of Austrlia and North America. How much of its scholarship has been superceded by later efforts I am uncertain; I have found it a valuable source of insight whatever was published afterwards. The book’s description of how the concept of a soul may have come about is especially striking:

In order to find the elementary form of the religious life in these animistic beliefs and practices, three desiderata must be satisfied: first, since according to this hypothesis, the idea of the soul is the cardinal idea of religion, it must be shown how this is formed without taking any of its elements from an anterior religion; secondly, it must be made clear how souls become the object of a cult and are transformed into spirits; and thirdly and finally, since the cult of these spirits is not all of any religion, it remains to be explained how the cult of nature is derived from it.

According to this theory, the idea of the soul was first suggested to men by the badly understood spectacle of the double life they ordinarily lead, on the one hand, when awake, on the other, when asleep. In fact, for the savage, the mental representations which he has while awake and those of his dreams are said to be of the same value: he objectifies the second like the first, that is to say, that he sees in them the images of external objects whose appearance they more or less accurately reproduce. So when he dreams that he has visited a distant country, he believes that he really was there. But he could not have gone there, unless two beings exist within him: the one, his body, which has remained lying on the ground and which he finds in the same position on awakening; the other, during this time, has travelled through space. Similarly, if he seems to talk with one of his companions who he knows was really at a distance, he concludes that the other also is composed of two beings: one which sleeps at a distance, and another which has come to manifest himself by means of the dream. From these repeated experiences, he little by little arrives at the idea that each of us has a double, another self, which in determined conditions has the power of leaving the organism where it resides and of going roaming at a distance.

Of course, this double reproduces all the essential traits of the perceptible being which serves it as external covering; but at the same time it is distinguished from this by many characteristics. It is more active, since it can cover vast distances in an instant. It is more malleable and plastic; for, to leave the body, it must pass out by its apertures, especially the mouth and nose. It is represented as made of matter, undoubtedly, but of a matter much more subtile and etherial than any which we know empirically. This double is the soul. In fact, it cannot be doubted that in numerous societies the soul has been conceived in the image of the body; it is believed that it reproduces even the accidental deformities such as those resulting from wounds or mutilations.

This idea of a double, exactly like us but enhanced in some traits, comes to us from a century old book, and yet it describes well the avatars people have in videogames, and the proxies they seek out in movies and TV. The ability for men or women to identify with a particular actor is often considered essential to the actor’s success, for the audience to be able to see themselves as this person and live vicariously through them, on-screen and off. Hollywood is called the dream factory, and celebrity life is often thought of as dream-like, with the on-going question of how “real” it is. In one disturbing moment, Max slaps Bridey, but he’s actually slapping Nicki, but no – he’s not slapping anybody at all. Here, and elsewhere, we have something not unlike when we find ourselves in a very real-like dream, only to act, and to find ourselves awake. We also have the worry that long precedes any concerns about violence in videogames and movies, about whether the subconscious brutality and sex that emerges in our dreams is something dangerous.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - Max slaps Nicki, then Max slaps Bridey - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/MagnificentYawningHeifer

We might also find something insightful in its description of the ways in which animist beliefs arose, which might apply to the imagery of the movie:

Since the first beings of which the child commences to have an idea are men, that is, himself and those around him, it is upon this model of human nature that he tends to think of everything. The toys with which he plays, or the objects of every sort which affect his senses, he regards as living beings like himself. Now the primitive thinks like a child. Consequently, he also is inclined to endow all things, even inanimate ones, with a nature analogous to his own.

The world of Max Renn is one where objects take on a kindred human sensibility; he is transformed by the Videodrome signal, and these objects are as well. He imagines himself slapping Nicki, whipping a TV carrying her image, he is moved to sexual ecstasy by the masochism of Nicki and the idea of sexual violence. The tape’s pockets stick out like teeth, eager to bite, with the same appetite for violence as Max, his TV swells with a veined tumescence, turned on by the image of Nicki. The child transposes his feelings on his toys, and Max sees his essence animating his objects as well.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - tape that bites - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/ZestyUnevenArrowana

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - TV comes alive - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/UnacceptableSecondhandHog

Brian O’Blivion is a leader in this new faith, and his explanation of how he acquired his gift of sight suggest something like the paradox of god and the first cause. The universe requires a first cause, which is god, and that in turn brings up what was the first cause of god, where we might say the divine is its own first cause, or that cause and effect breaks down in the field of the divine, or some other solution. Brian O’Blivion, we are told, helped create Videodrome, after which he was killed by his fellow creators:

BIANCA
My father helped to create Videodrome. He saw it as part of the evolution of man as a technological animal. When he realised what his partners were going to use it for, he tried to take it away from them and they killed him, quietly.

Yet at the same time, the very hallucinations of Videodrome create it:

BRIAN
I had a brain tumour. And I had visions. I believe the visions caused the tumour, and not the reverse. I could feel the visions coalesce and become flesh, uncontrollable flesh. But when they removed the tumour, it was called Videodrome.

We have a phenomenon, that like the divine, is its own first cause, and where orderly cause and effect disappear. Brian O’Blivion is dead, but his words continue to guide the living. “This is him. This is all that’s left,” Bianca says, pointing to shelves and shelves of tapes. He is seemingly dead, but he isn’t. Max: “But he was on that panel show.” Bianca: “On tape. He made thousands of them, sometimes three or four a day. I keep him alive as best I can. He had so much to offer.” Again, this might be seen as something strange and new, when it is simply a transposition of a tradition common to any religious faith, where adherents consult the words of beings of the past, no longer on earth, but who have prescription, guidance, or wisdom for every occasion, whether they be Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, or another.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The conflict between the O’Blivions and Barry Convex might be seen as that between different schisms of the same faith, with the O’Blivions wanting to achieve transcendence through the creed, while Convex wishes to use the creed for practical ends, as a force to shape a hard nationalist ethos.

HARLAN
North America is getting soft, patrón, and the rest of the world is getting tough. Very, very tough. We’re entering savage new times and we’re going to have to be pure and direct… and strong…if we’re going to survive them. Now, you and this…cesspool you call a television station…and your people who wallow around in it and your viewers… who watch you do it…you’re rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot.

This is a movie where the villain runs Spectacular Optical, a business that sells glasses, and the villain is named Barry Convex; a convex lens is one that focues light to a particular point. He wishes to use this new religion as a directed force, while the goals of the O’Blivions are separate from any state or any earthly purpose. Convex is killed during the presentation of his new Medici line, and perhaps the name is not idly chosen. The Medicis, as most know, would come into conflict with the fanatic Savonarola, who wished to reform the catholic church which had close ties to the merchant family. We might see the fight between Convex, who wishes to use the creed for secular objectives, and the O’Blivions, who see the faith as an end in itself, as echoing this old division between the Medicis and the zealot.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The O’Blivions genuinely wish that people achieve a final stage, the new flesh, which Max attempts in the movie’s ending. We have here another similarity with religion, where the apotheosis of faith is considered the abandonment of flesh itself. Durkheim touches on this phenomenon as well, when discussing the shared trait of all religions of keeping separate the profane and sacred worlds. The most dedicated of the faith attempt to avoid the profane as much as possible, with the most extreme answer the avoidance of all profanities of the flesh by forsaking it completely through suicide:

The two worlds are not only conceived of as separate, but as even hostile and jealous rivals of each other. Since men cannot fully belong to one except on condition of leaving the other completely, they are exhorted to withdraw themselves completely from the profane world, in order to lead an exclusively religious life. Hence comes the monasticism which is artificially organized outside of and apart from the natural environment in which the ordinary man leads the life of this world, in a different one, closed to the first, and nearly its contrary. Hence comes the mystic asceticism whose object is to root out from man all the attachment for the profane world that remains in him. From that come all the forms of religious suicide, the logical working-out of this asceticism; for the only manner of fully escaping the profane life is, after all, to forsake all life.

There are many examples of this, but I turn to one of the more well-known of recent ones, when thirty nine members of the Heaven’s Gate cult peacefully committed suicide. This was not considered by them a rejection of life, but an attempt at a kind of space travel, which required them to leave their physical bodies. “We are all choosing of our own free will to go to the next level,” says one of the women who died16. The “next level” was one way they referred to it; “Evolutionary Level Above Human” was another. The process of leaving their bodies was called “exiting the vehicles” or “disengaging from the body or vehicle”. This exodus was initiated by the return of the Hale-Bopp comet, after which they were to return to their homeworld of Sirius. Before death, they recorded messages of calm happiness: “I’ve been looking forward to this for so long” or, “I couldn’t have made a better choice.”17 Ten years after the event, the L.A. Weekly piece “Heaven’s Gate: The Sequel” by Joshuah Bearman, would describe the belief system and place it as part of a long tradition: “Updating esoteric, early Christianity by way of science fiction, their millennial paradise could be found only by renouncing terrestrial attachments and shedding one’s “container” or “vehicle” to ascend into space and live eternally with the Chief of Chiefs, or God.” In the context of such events, the movie’s final moment where Max Renn says “Long live the new flesh”, then shoots himself, does not seem alien at all, but part of a larger tradition as well.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

A LIQUID PRISONER PENT IN WALLS OF GLASS18

That the O’Blivions are equally malicious as the Convex faction is strongly hinted at, I think, in this final scene. Only a little while earlier, after Max’s failed attempt to kill Bianca O’Blivion, we have this dialogue:

BIANCA O’BLIVION
They killed her, Max. They killed Nicki Brand. She died on Videodrome. They used her image to seduce you but she was already dead.

Given that the image of Nicki Brand was used before to seduce and manipulate Max, and given that Barry Convex and Harlan are now dead, the only source for the movie’s closing image of Nicki must be Bianca. Since this is an image that has been used in the past to manipulate Max, it might be asked if it’s being used here for the same purpose, this time by Bianca, in order to dispose of an inconvenient leftover assassin. Even the same line said earlier, “Come to Nicki”, and the same seductive tone, is now used again:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

NICKI
I want you, Max. You. Come on. Come on. Come to me now. Come to Nicki.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

NICKI
Don’t be afraid to let your body die. Just come to me, Max. Come to Nicki.

So, Max Renn is perhaps being lured by another kind of illusion, the possibility of a transcendent afterlife. We might also note the non-specificity of the devastating phrase, “They used her image to seduce you but she was already dead.” What seduction is Bianca speaking of, and from when on was Nicki already dead? It’s right after Max Renn is exposed to the videodrome signal that he meets Nicki on the talk show, and I’ve always felt the dialogue in that scene to be unnatural. I try to think of what their banter reminds me of, and then I remember: the strange, uncomfortable talk in between the action of old soft-core porn.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

RENA KING
What about it, Nicki? Is it socially positive?

NICKI
We live in overstimulated times. We crave stimulation. We gorge ourselves on it. We always want more, whether it’s tactile, emotional or sexual. And I think that’s bad.

MAX
Then why did you wear that dress?

NICKI
Sorry?

MAX
That dress. It’s very stimulating. And it’s red. You know what Freud would say about it?

NICKI
And he would have been right. I admit it. I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.

MAX
Listen, I’d really like to take you out to dinner tonight.

RENA KING
Nicki…is Max Renn a menace to society?

NICKI
I’m not sure. He’s certainly a menace to me.

Is this lack of versimilitude an unintentional effect, or a very intended one, of a man who isn’t meeting a live woman at all, but only the image of a dead one? I hear “they used her image to seduce you”, and I think that there can be only one possible meaning, because Renn is first seduced by Nicki on the talk show. From which it naturally follows: Nicki is already dead, only an image, throughout the movie.

The idea of an image superceding the life that inspired it, is one more exotic idea not native to Videodrome, but a commonplace of our world, where the living are often an impediment to the power of the icon’s image. We might return briefly to the work of William Gibson, to see him touch on the idea of the supremacy of the image in Idoru, where a living singer marries another singer, one who is only a hologram. This, however, is only the use of the near future as a metaphor for the ever present. To take another, more obvious example, the image of Marilyn Monroe is eternally that of a woman who never reaches forty, without anything alive to grow old, anything to remind one of Monroe as anything human, anything other than an icon. One anecdote told in Goddess by Anthony Summers, is of Monroe’s interest in Juliette Récamier, who commissioned a nude statue of herself. As Récamier aged, and her figure started to go, she had the breasts of the statue smashed. When Monroe began to age, she smashed herself19. The cruelest thing that can be said of Elvis Presley’s death is: good career move. The cruelest thing that can be said of Marilyn Monroe’s death is: good timing.

This kind of image, an icon that persists and supercedes the actual performer’s existence, derives its power from being an engima whose questions are never answered – who exactly was Marilyn Monroe? – which is intertwined with its second quality, someone intimate yet always at a great distance as if we are seeing them as part of a massive crowd. There is an exact moment in Monroe’s life which captures this, when she appears before thousands of troops in South Korea, and it was this moment that made obvious how big a star she would become. From The Genius and the Goddess by Jeffrey Meyers:

Performing for the first time before a live, rapturous audience, Marilyn did ten shows in four days and entertained 100,000 troops. The soldiers were muffled up in fur hats with ear flaps, heavy winter jackets and thick combat boots, while she gamely appeared, outdoors and in the extremely cold Korean winter, in high heels and a tight, strapless, low-cut dress. She enlivened the show with some suggestive jokes, and asked, when describing sweater girls, “take away their sweaters and what have you got?”

She sang four songs: “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Bye Bye Baby,””Somebody Loves Me” and “Do It Again.”The refrain in the last song – “Come and get it, you won’t regret it” – was considered too provocative for the sexually starved troops and had to be dropped from the repertory. She excited the audience, who screamed with delight and craved what she was offering, and brought the shows to a frenzied climax.

This allows us to move easily into the life of another woman who became focused on the ecstasy of the crowd’s reaction, and wanted something likewise in her own life. From Sinner Takes All by adult performer Tera Patrick with Carrie Borzillo:

How bad do you want what you want? I wanted to be famous and adored so bad it nearly killed me. Well, in all honestly, I nearly killed me. But before we get to that, let me start at the beginning….

In 1986 I was ten years old and my mother had already left us. It was just me, Linda Ann Hopkins, and my dad, David Hopkins, a carefree hippie of English, Dutch, and Irish descent. I was born in Great Falls, Montana, but was living with my dad in Fresno. On a rare father-daughter day out, he took me to a thrift store in town to do some shopping. We were on a budget. As we made our way though the tiny, cramped shop, I saw her hanging on the dusty wall behind some cracked vases and rusty candelabras. It was a beautiful black-and-white photograph of Marilyn Monroe from the Korean USO tour she did in 1954. She was beaming as she posed for hundreds of handsome men in uniform, who in turn were ogling her in all her blond-haired, blueeyed glory.

Something lit up inside me when I saw that photograph. I thought, “Someday, men are going to look at me that way.”

I couldn’t stop staring at this photo, thinking how much I wanted to be that girl. The girl everyone adores. The girl whom fame made so happy (little did I know what a sad wreck she really was). All I knew about Marilyn at the time was how much I wanted to exude the power that she did. I wanted to be famous like that. I just didn’t know what for yet. I never thought it would be for porn.

That what Patrick wished for, what she wanted fulfilled, was fame more than anything else, is stressed in two other places in the memoir:

She [photographer Suze Randall] followed through. We shot that Friday for Penthouse. It was just a few days before my scheduled Monday meeting with Playboy. I couldn’t believe it was happening so fast. All I could think was, “I’m going to be in Playboy and Penthouse, make tons of money, and be famous!”

When I entered the adult industry, it was not my goal to become a mainstream actress or star. If that’s what I wanted to do, I would’ve gone the typical route of taking acting lessons, going in for auditions, and trying to get bit parts like every Hollywood hopeful does. But that wasn’t my quest. I’ll be honest, I just wanted to be famous and I liked to model and to be nude.

Patrick would eventually achieve her goal, and she gives us a scene in her memoir comparable to Monroe’s, of a crowd infatuated with her presence. She herself states that “it’s easier to perform for a larger audience than a more intimate one,” and it might be argued that this is what the fan wants, not intimacy, but intimacy combined with distance, the woman nude on-stage amongst a crowd of thousands. The meet and greet afterwards does not involve meeting a person separate and apart from the image, which the image reproduces, but rather, meeting a person who is a live reproduction of the image, and so the distance on the stage and the brief meet do not impede the wanted effect, but are necessary for it to take place.

One of the biggest conventions I ever did was the Sexpo in Sydney, Australia, in 2004. I appeared at the convention for a whopping fee of $20,000 (and first-class airfare and accommodations, no less!), but where we really made bank was when they booked me to dance at a venue that normally hosts big rock bands and seats eight thousand people. I had eight nearly sold-out shows in four days there.

Before we knew how big the venue really was and that it was sold out, Evan [Evan Seinfeld, her husband] gave me this pep talk: “Don’t worry if there’s only two hundred people there. You’re new to the market. Don’t worry.” And then we show up and there were thousands of people there. Once again there wasn’t a stripper pole on the stage because it wasn’t a strip club, so we decided to improvise a bit and use a chair in the center of the stage as a prop. But that didn’t help much. The huge stage made our tiny chair look like Stonehenge from the movie This Is Spinal Tap. We were cracking up over that. Evan decided to just treat it like a rock show and use the video monitors at the venue to show my performance. That did the trick.

The large crowd didn’t freak me out at all. In fact, it’s easier to perform for a larger audience than a more intimate one. It’s easy to be great when you have thousands of people screaming for you. The intensity of the crowd really got me going, and I killed!

The line for photos and merchandise afterward was the longest line I’d ever had in my entire career. It was so long and so slow that Evan got a megaphone and was walking down the line telling people, “Due to the large volume of fans, we are selling one thing. It’s a package with a DVD, a Polaroid with Tera, and an autographed eight-by-ten photo for fifty Australian dollars.” He was embarrassing me. He’d stand up on the table and shout out: “Cash only!”

The relationship of the audience to the famous individual here, which also transfers over to the image of the famous individual, is expressed well in dialogue from one of Patrick’s films, Tera Patrick Filthy Whore 2. Whatever happens after this dialogue is of no importance here. I bold the most important point:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

BELLA DIAMOND
The fans are out there by the thousands.

RUDY PARADISE
You know I had it with those damn premieres, all those screaming people. Those great unwashed.

DIAMOND
We’re royalty to them, honey. Dollar Diamond and Ruby Paradise. The great screen lovers. They support us in grand style. The least we could do is let them worship us once in a while. What’s that?

PARADISE
Oh, honey that’s not you think, it’s-

DIAMOND
IN MY DRESSING ROOM!

PARADISE
No, no-

DIAMOND
YOU SCREWED ANOTHER WOMAN IN MY DRESSING ROOM!

PARADISE
It’s not what you think. It’s a present for the premiere. C’mon.

DIAMOND
Are you telling me the truth?

PARADISE
Would I lie?

DIAMOND
Glamour puss?

PARADISE
You’re my glamour puss, sweetie. C’mon, you’re the glamour puss of the century.

DIAMOND
It is beautiful. You have great taste, Rudy. Where did you find it?

PARADISE
Oh, from a guy down in de Vandeville. I put a little money on layaway, just for the right time.

DIAMOND
Pay her the rest, darling, because this baby has found a home.

PARADISE
Oh come on, that’s not a kiss.

DIAMOND
You can fuck me darling, but you can’t mess up my make-up.

This idea of worship is not so remarkable or noteworthy to stand out at all in this movie or anywhere. I think it’s only by looking at the connections between this kind of idolatry and the religious form that we might have a sense as to why it’s so important for Tera Patrick to be famous, that she “wanted to be famous and adored so bad it nearly killed me”, a feeling which is not some isolated pathology but considered a common desire. We might find some insight by returning to Durkheim, who pinpoints something called mana as being central to the religion of various Melanesian tribes:

Now among these peoples, we find, under the name of mana, an idea which is the exact equivalent of the wakan of the Sioux20 and the orenda of the Iroquois21. The definition given by Codrington [The Melanesians : Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore by Robert Henry Codrington, link is to the full text on archive.org] is as follows: “There is a belief in a force altogether distinct from physical power, which acts in all ways for good and evil; and which it is of the greatest advantage to possess or control. This is Mana. I think I know what our people mean by it…It is a power or influence, not physical and in a way supernatural; but it shows itself in physical force, or in any kind of power or excellence which a man possesses. This mana is not fixed in anything, and can be conveyed in almost anything. . . . All Melanesian religion consists, in fact, in getting this mana for one’s self, or getting it used for one’s benefit.”

This idea of mana, and the related concepts of wakan and orenda, are not parochial concerns, but arguably underlie all the religions which follow:

This is the original matter out of which have been constructed those beings of every sort which the religions of all times have consecrated and adored. The spirits, demons, genii and gods of every sort are only the concrete forms taken by this energy, or “potentiality,” as Hewitt calls it, in individualizing itself, in fixing itself upon a certain determined object or point in space, or in centring around an ideal and legendary being, though one conceived as real by the popular imagination. A Dakota questioned by Miss Fletcher [a reference to The Import of the Totem by Alice C. Fletcher, link goes to full text on archive.org] expressed this essential consubstantiability of all sacred things in language that is full of relief.” Every thing as it moves, now and then, here and there, makes stops. The bird as it flies stops in one place to make its nest, and in another to rest in its flight. A man when he goes forth stops when he wills. So the god has stopped. The sun, which is so bright and beautiful, is one place where he has stopped. The trees, the animals, are where he has stopped, and the Indian thinks of these places and sends his prayers to reach the place where the god has stopped and to win help and a blessing.” In other words, the wakan (for this is what he was talking about) comes and goes through the world, and sacred things are the points upon which it alights.

We are now in a better condition to understand why it has been impossible to define religion by the idea of mythical personalities, gods or spirits; it is because this way of representing religious things is in no way inherent in their nature. What we find at the origin and basis of religious thought are not determined and distinct objects and beings possessing a sacred character of themselves; they are indefinite powers, anonymous forces, more or less numerous in different societies, and sometimes even reduced to a unity, and whose impersonality is strictly comparable to that of the physical forces whose manifestations the sciences of nature study.

The wakan is the cause of all the movements which take place in the universe. We have even seen that the orenda of the Iroquois is “the efficient cause of all the phenomena and all the activities which are manifested around men.” It is a power “inherent in all bodies and all things.” It is the orenda which makes the wind blow, the sun lighten and heat the earth, or animals reproduce and which makes men strong, clever and intelligent. When the Iroquois says that the life of all nature is the product of the conflicts aroused between the unequally intense orenda of the different beings, he only expresses, in his own language, this modern idea that the world is a system of forces limiting and containing each other and making an equihbrium.

The Melanesian attributes this same general efficacy to his mana. It is owing to his mana that a man succeeds in hunting or fighting, that gardens give a good return or that flocks prosper. If an arrow strikes its mark, it is because it is charged with mana; it is the same cause which makes a net catch fish well, or a canoe ride well on the sea, etc. It is true that if certain phrases of Codrington [The Melanesians : Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore by Robert Henry Codrington, link is to the full text on archive.org] are taken literally, mana should be the cause to which is attributed “everything which is beyond the ordinary power of men, outside the common processes of nature.” But from the very examples which he cites, it is quite evident that the sphere of the mana is really much more extended. In reality, it serves to explain usual and everyday phenomena; there is nothing superhuman or supernatural in the fact that a ship sails or a hunter catches game, etc.

This idea of mana, a universal, ubiquitous force, is already well-known to us as an abstraction in a fictional universe, so well-known that I can quote a monologue devoted to it, and I have no need to identify the source movie as most readers will know immediately from where it comes:

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.

We might take the divine as something like an infinitely dense cluster of a quantity like mana. At the same time, it is not something outside of society, but contained within and dependent on the society itself:

But a god is not merely an authority upon whom we depend; it’s a force upon which our strength relies. The man who has obeyed his god and who, for this reason, believes the god is with him, approaches the world with confidence and with the feeling of an increased energy. Likewise, social action does not confine itself to demanding sacrifices, privations and efforts from us. For the collective force is not entirely outside of us; it does not act upon us wholly from without; but rather, since society cannot exist except in and through individual consciousnesses, this force must also penetrate us and organize itself within us; it thus becomes an integral part of our being and by that very fact this is elevated and magnified.

That the veneration of those in society overlaps with this idea of someone having great mana, great divine power, is obvious to Durkheim as well:

Also, in the present day just as much as in the past, we see society constantly creating sacred things out of ordinary ones. If it happens to fall in love with a man and if it thinks it has found in him the principal aspirations that move it, as well as the means of satisfying them, this man will be raised above the others and, as it were, deified. Opinion will invest him with a majesty exactly analogous to that protecting the gods. This is what has happened to so many sovereigns in whom their age had faith: if they were not made gods, they were at least regarded as direct representatives of the deity. And the fact that it is society alone which is the author of these varieties of apotheosis, is evident since it frequently chances to consecrate men thus who have no right to it from their own merit. The simple deference inspired by men invested with high social functions is not different in nature from religious respect. It is expressed by the same movements: a man keeps at a distance from a high personage; he approaches him only with precautions; in conversing with him, he uses other gestures and language than those used with ordinary mortals. The sentiment felt on these occasions is so closely related to the religious sentiment that many peoples have confounded the two. In order to explain the consideration accorded to princes, nobles and political chiefs, a sacred character has been attributed to them. In Melanesia and Polynesia, for example, it is said that an influential man has mana, and that his influence is due to this mana. However, it is evident that his situation is due solely to the importance attributed to him by public opinion. Thus the moral power conferred by opinion and that with which sacred beings are invested are at bottom of a single origin and made up of the same elements. That is why a single word is able to designate the two.

Thus, we can explain the desire of Tera Patrick and others to be famous. They wish to be touched by mana, they wish to become sacred objects. The sense of a sacredness mentioned here, the necessary “distance from a high personage”, is something recognizably intertwined with celebrity, where the famous are seemingly kept excluded and away, in private planes, high class restaurants, the VIP room of the club, a secret society outside of sight. For the famous to be seen in our world, in public and without make-up, seemingly ordinary, is treated as a revelation. The only moments when the sacred and the profane are officially to meet, when the profane might gaze on the sacred is during tightly organized ceremonies, as carefully planned and supervised as anicent religious rituals, such as red carpet events and the Oscars. Durkheim’s passage here on the prohibition of the profane touching the sacred, the negative cult as one organized around such contact, is helpful when we consider celebrities and their environs as the sacred, prohibited objects:

There are religious interdictions whose object is to separate two sacred things of different species from each other. For example, it will be remembered that among the Wakelbura the scaffold upon which the corpse is exposed must be made exclusively of materials belonging to the phratry of the dead man; this is as much as to say that all contact between the corpse, which is sacred, and the things of the other phratry, which are also sacred, but differently, is forbidden. Elsewhere, the arms which one uses to hunt an animal with cannot be made out of a kind of wood that is classed in the same social group as the animal itself. But the most important of these interdictions are the ones which we shall study in the next chapter; they are intended to prevent all communication between the purely sacred and the impurely sacred, between the sacredly auspicious and the sacredly inauspicious. All these interdictions have one common characteristic; they come, not from the fact that some things are sacred while others are not, but from the fact that there are inequalities and incompatibilities between sacred things. So they do not touch what is essential in the idea of sacredness. The observance of these prohibitions can give place only to isolated rites which are particular and almost exceptional; but it could not make a real cult, for before all, a cult is made by regular relations between the profane and the sacred as such. But there is another system of religious interdictions which is much more extended and important; this is the one which separates, not different species of sacred things, but all that is sacred from all that is profane. So it is derived immediately from the notion of sacredness itself, and it limits itself to expressing and realizing this. Thus it furnishes the material for a veritable cult, and even of a cult which is at the basis of all the others; for the attitude which it prescribes is one from which the worshipper must never depart in all his relations with the sacred. It is what we call the negative cult. We may say that its interdicts are the religious interdicts par excellence.

The sacred ultimately resides exclusively in images, with the actual encounter with the celebrity behind the image often a disappointment, not due to their own inherent failings, but simply because they are not an image. When the celebrity dies, any such impediment to the process dies, and if they die at thirty-six like Marilyn Monroe, any evidence of a life of aging, disease, or physical deterioration which might imply the limits of the image, this dies as well. The image divests itself of all connections with life, like Max Renn in Videodrome or any other devotee to a religious ideal, and becomes even more sacred. The image, even and especially the sexual image, is only that, without the element of the tactile or the tangible. Something of this is gotten at in this discussion from 1991 with Norman Mailer, on the idea of people who become objects of desire. I pay no attention to the digressions into feminism. From “Norman Mailer on Bookworm, Part Two [1991]” (15:20-17:28 in the clip):

MICHAEL SILVERBLATT [program host]
I don’t think I’ve heard anybody say this…there’s an enormous fear…on people’s part…to be the object of desire. To cause desire.

MAILER
Well, there you may have something. Certain people, not all. [SILVERBLATT: Not all people.] You gave me an idea. I think it’s people who have set their course in life, and they’re what I would call uni-souls…that is, they do not really want to have a deep relation with anyone else. Because that’ll deter them from their objective. It’s as if the navigator in them has lined up their sights, and said to them, “You are a torpedo. And if nothing deters you, you will be a huge success. You will blow up that huge target that is the very end of your ambition, and you will be immortal. And so, don’t let anything get in your way, just be a torpedo.” Well, people like that, sexual harassment’s absolutely outrageous. And it’s interesting that women who are leading feminism very often are that way. That is, they are singleminded in their goals. Feminism is their life. They see nothing to the left or the right of feminism. It’s not like, let’s improve men and women together, or: let’s try to rise to a higher level of human relations. It’s: feminism is the most important single thing in their lives, and they work for it twenty-four hours a day. They’re devoted to it. And they too are torpoedoes. You know, they got one goal.

SILVERBLATT
I don’t know if it’s even characteristic of feminism. What I notice, living here in Los Angeles, which people call nowadays, “the least sexy city in America.” The most beautiful looking people, and the least sexually in kind people. Very low libido levels. The look is meant to create attraction, but there’s a strong “do not touch”. Because of exactly that torpedo factor you are talking about. People wanting to spring themselves into the future, and land at the center of the bullseye, and along that trajectory, attraction and dalliance can only be an interruption.

The place that Marilyn Monroe and other dead icons hold in our culture might be found in Durkheim’s distinction between ghosts and spirits, with Monroe very much a spirit:

[A] ghost is not a real spirit. In the first place, it generally has only a limited power of action; also, it does not have a definite province. It is a vagabond, upon whom no determined task is incumbent, for the effect of death has been to put it outside of all regular forms; as regards the living, it is a sort of a exile. A spirit, on the other hand, always has a power of a certain sort and it is by this that it is defined; it is set over a certain order of cosmic or social phenomena; it has a more or less precise function to fulfil in the system of the universe.

But there are some souls which satisfy this double condition and which are consequently spirits, in the proper sense of the word. These are the souls of the mythical personages whom popular imagination has placed at the beginning of time, the Altjirangamitjina or the men of the Alcheringa among the Arunta; the Mura-mura among the tribes of Lake Eyre; the Muk-Kurnai among the Kurnai, etc. In one sense, they are still souls, for they are believed to have formerly animated bodies from which they separated themselves at a certain moment. But even when they led a terrestrial life, they already had, as we have seen, exceptional powers; they had a mana superior to that of ordinary men, and they have kept it. Also, they are charged with definite functions.

That there is this kinship between ancient mana and fame, that we might speak of wanting mana when we say we want fame (and vice versa), is perhaps why there is a constant necessity to see some benevolent order in celebrityhood. Mana is divine material, god is inherently and eternally good, and therefore mana and fame are distributed according to virtue. The most famous are supposed to do good work, adopt children, and otherwise make obvious that this organization has the quality of divine sanction. This, of course, is utterly false. We might see the gulf in the life of Jenna Jameson, as described in her memoir How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale. Patrick and Jameson were engaged for a while in a not entirely friendly rivalry, and I make no attempt to weigh favor in that larger dispute when I say that Cautionary Tale is my preferred book of their memoirs, whether because of Jameson’s ghostwriter Neil Strauss (who played the same role for the memorable Long Road out of Hell by Marilyn Manson), or the raw materials of the life described. I do not elevate Jameson’s book out of any attempt to be a provocateur, only the virtue of the book itself, and only for that reason I think it serves as an honest and invaluable document in capturing what life was like now, more insightful than many books more distinguished and higher browed.

That I speak of a divine order of fame that would include pornography is perhaps unexpected, but not without basis. We might speak of a system of organization and distribution, in the manufacture and sale of products whose power is so great as to suggest the divine. This system might be called capitalism, whatever its actual qualities, a system which transmits the images of any beauty throughout the world, that produces powerful computer technology, that gives you access to affordable food and shoes. Pornography is part of this system’s god-like power, because it is through this vast system that beauty, the beauty of Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick, a beguiling surface that might be called something like a divine ideal, is exposed and unveiled for the billions. It is an order of divine power, with an underside that hints at the infernal. The disgusting conditions of the Amazon warehouses, the workers who are poisoned while making iPads, the children who make my shoes. There is the literally infernal as well, the hundreds who burned to death last year in the clothing factories of Bangladesh. The life of Jenna Jameson is the raw amoral anarchy that lies underneath, a godless world where there are only the strong above and the weak below, of contempt and control.

There is nothing here like the humble submission and divine benevolence as that between the worshipper and say, the Holy Virgin. Jameson is a picture of blonde innocence, a ruthless survivor, and a proud cash machine. “I was in control-of myself, and the men around me,” she writes of her first time dancing in a strip club. “And I loved it: I loved the attention and the confidence it gave me.”22 The strip club is a classroom, and the class is social dynamics. Once geeky and asocial, she learns how to talk. She learns how to act. She learns how to lie. While the customer mumbles on, she pretends to be open and caring. “Everything that came out of my mouth was complete bullshit. I could tell by looking at each person what he wanted to hear.” She is soon someone else. “Within weeks at the club, I began to transform from a geeky teenage girl into a money-crazed psycho. And I loved it.” Her look of innocence becomes even more innocent. “Since most of the men were into me because I looked so young and innocent, I decided to amplify that…I put my hair up in pony-tails, wore little pink shoes, and carried a plastic Barbie purse, which further contrasted me from the hardened girls.”23 She gets two lessons from another girl. Number One: “Be personable. Make him like you. Talk to him. Ask about his job. Act like you are interested.” Number Two: do shots with the customer, and make sure his are extra strong and yours complete water. “Get him as drunk as possible,” the other girl says, “and rack those songs up.”24

This is about money, but it is more about control. “It was a high to get the upper hand over a customer. They were dumb, they were drunk, and they deserved it.” The woman is naked, the woman is powerless, the woman has more power than the customer ever will. “The mentality is that if these guys are going to victimize us, we’re going to totally victimize them right back.”25 A local politician was into her and liked to be dominated. She pees in his beer and forces him to drink it. He buys her a corvette. “If you can walk into a room, lead on a bunch of guys, and then leave with thousands of dollars in cash in your pocket and no obligation to anyone…life is good.”26 She dances for celebrities, and she doesn’t care. Those assholes were Pantera? That old weirdo was Jack Nicholson? “Did you know you were just dancing for Whitesnake?” “Really, like I give a crap.”27 She moves on to photo work, and she has to contort herself into an aching pose that has nothing to do with the ecstatic state she appears to have in the picture. She looks over her shouldeer, nude, at the camera. “I had to arch so hard that my lower back cramped,” she writes. “When I see those photos now, it seems obvious that the sexy pout I thought I was giving the camera was just a poorly disguised grimace of pain.”28

She gets into porn as an act of revenge when a boyfriend cheats on her29. She stays in for the money. She starts out girl-girl, then shoots her first boy-girl scene when she’s eighteen with Randy West, who she describes as a decent guy, but a little old (forty six or forty seven), with the fashion sense of a homeless wrestler30.

Randy: So, are you interested in coming out to L.A. to shoot a video?
Me: Absolutely not. I only want to do high-end stuff.
Randy: The pay is three thousand dollars for one scene.
Me: What day you want me there?

Randy: How about doing a shoot with just me tomorrow?
Me: How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t really want to do that.
Randy: How about I pay you two thousand dollars more?
Me: Two thousand more than today?
Randy: Yes.
Me: Is tomorrow good for you?

Chris Nieratko, from a 2013 interview (“Jenna Jameson Interview”): Did you feel any of that when you were eighteen, really grossed out by these greasy men?
Jameson: Absolutely. Oh my god, you have no idea. I hate to throw him under the bus, but Randy West, god bless him, but he creeped me out so bad. I was just watching a documentary, I was on NetFlix, and they did this documentary called After Porn [After Porn Ends]…and I was, like, okay I wanna watch this. It’ll be interesting, it’s kinda my generation. So, he’s talking about this, there’s this little blonde girl, they called me and asked me if she can do a movie, and when I saw her, I saw dollar signs in my eyes, and I was like, okay, that’s creepy. I had just turned eighteen years old, and he had to have been at least fifty [the scene is from Up And Cummers 11 (link is relatively SFW, contains no pictures) which was released in 1994, and West was born in 1947, according to the same database, so he was either 46 or 47.]. And he was just so gross. And he totally lied about everything that happened that day. But I’ll just give it to him though. You know, whatever, he can have his little fantasy.
Nieratko: How do you get a girl boner to make a scene with a guy who’s fifty when you’re eighteen?
Jameson: You don’t. You’re just a good actress.

Randy West, from After Porn Ends: I used to say it’s like borrowing somebody’s body to masturbate with. “Excuse me, if you’re not busy, do you mind if I jerk off in your pussy, with my dick?” It’s kinda like that, which is not bad…you know, better than real jerking off. Right after I started producing Up And Cummers, I get this letter in the mail, I opened it up, and I see this unbelievably good looking, very young looking blonde girl…with beautiful natural boobs, little baby face, and she wants to know if I can help her get into the porn biz. The girl’s name was Jenna Jameson. I remember saying to someone, “Holy christ, if I get this girl to shoot for me, we’re going to sell some tapes.” I said, “Well, if you don’t wanna do guys, I’ll let you pick whatever girl you want to do that. She liked girls, so she picked this girl that I happened to be working with that day, who was doing her first movie, Kylie Ireland, so Kylie and Jenna were doing their thing together, and everything was going good, and they took a little break, and I said something like, “Man, Jenna, that’s a tasty looking pussy you got there.” And I believe she said, “Why don’t you come in and taste it?” And I went, *taken aback motion* “Okay!” I was doing the camera, but I handed it to my assistant, “Bob, hold on to this, start shooting.” So I get in there, and I start going down on her, and she starts squealing that squeal that she had…I’m guessing she’s kinda liking it, she seems like she’s getting off, and everything is good, I said, “Man, I am so fucking horny now, you guys mind giving me a double blow job or something?” She said, “Sure, we can do that.” *makes a prayer of thanks motion* “Oh thank you.” And they did, and it went well, and a week later, she kinda called me back, and said “You know what? You weren’t so bad, I could probably do a boy-girl scene with you,” the rest is kinda history after that.

A summary of the scene can be found in a review on an old mailing list, “Dunbar Reviews: Up and Cummers #11”:

Jenna Jameson. A sweet-looking, young little blonde. Nice natural tits, cute ass. I’ve heard told that she has since destroyed her body with fake tits (which she definitly did not need) and tattoos? Why do they do that? They do missionary and cowgirl shot from both the front and the back, and finally doggie. Randy finishes by coming inside her. It looks like he manages a decent load as she squirts it out of her cunt and it oozes into a puddle on the bed spread. Kind of gross if you ask me, but definitely out of the ordinary.

Jenna Jameson starts doing meth, then becomes entranced as she watches her boyfriend take apart a lightbulb, cook the meth in the glass, and inhale the smoke from the open base. She takes her turn, and the air comes in glassy smooth against her lungs. She lets out a three foot column of smoke from her lips. “Everything seemed to move in slow motion, and then someone pressed fast forward. My heart felt like a woodpecker was inside, hammering hard enough to burst through my chest at any moment.”31 She starts smoking every day. She organizes and re-organizes her bathroom a thousand times. She endlessly builds artwork with a gluegun. She plays so much handheld poker that her fingers bleed. In photo shoots, her bones stick out of her body and she starts clenching her jaw hard. “Jenna, relax,” the photographer says. “Let the tension out of your face.”32 The drug nearly kills her, then she comes back to life and has an even bigger career. She goes to Cannes with two other porn stars, Kaylan Nicole and Juli Ashton. “They had realized that with their beauty, boobs, and status, the rules that applied to the rest of the world didn’t apply to them,” she writes of Nicole and Ashton. “They had the attitude that they could do absolutely anything they wanted.” 33 She emerges from the plane into another world, the one she’s always wanted to be in, the one that Tera Patrick also longed to join. “It was one I’d dreamed about since I was a little girl, imagining what it would be like to be an international jet-setting model. In fact, it was wilder than my dreams. Flashbulbs went off everywhere.” The photographers have no idea who she is, only that she is a kind of sacred object, which their flashbulbs make more sacred. “The paparazzi screamed and fought to take pictures of me, even though they had no idea who I was. It was so overwhelming and disorienting being pushed through the admiring crowd toward a waiting limo. I knew, for the first time, what an actual celebrity must feel like.”34

She becomes a big star, and does some reporting for the E! Channel. “So you’re the reporter from the E! Channel,” says Wesley Snipes. “Why don’t you join us?” She accepts the invite. “So,” Wesley Snipes asks. “do you like it up the ass?” Anal sex, she writes, “is an exchange of power. And every man I’ve ever met loves the idea of dominating a woman by pushing his massive dick into her tight sphincter so that she loses control.”35 There are few people she’ll trust with anal. And she doesn’t like the closeness after sex. She sleeps with a waiter at Cannes. “When it was all over, he wrapped his naked body around mine. Instantly I stiffened. I hate cuddling.”36 She starts hooking up with the Anti-Christ Superstar, Marilyn Manson. They sleep together. “Why don’t you just stay and cuddle?” he asks. “Did you just say the c-word?!” she asks. “I don’t cuddle, but I lay with him for a little while longer and listened to him talk about religion.”37 Marilyn Manson likes to cuddle, and he’s a little too into anal. “Every time we were naked, he’d be going for my butt like a rat to cheese.”38 This is an act of power, of control, and you only do it with those you absolutely trust. “I’ve been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to do anal,” she writes, explaining why she’d only done it with three men up until then, and never on camera. “Doing it on camera would be compromising myself.”39

Anal is about control, porno is about control, though the power isn’t always where you think. “It’s time to meet the man you thought you envied,” we’re told about the boyfriends and husbands of porn stars who also act as their managers, “the suitcase pimps.” We’re given an overview of a manipulative wretch burdened by an emasculating fanny pack, which carries the porn star’s baby wipes, her lighters, and all other conveniences. These men are filled with get rich plans that never work, who buy the porn star dinner with her money while insisting she only eat salads, and is hooked on oxycontin, cocaine, steroids, or many other possibilities. The last instruction on playing this role: “Finally, when she is addicted to drugs, aged beyond her years, and can’t work anymore, help start the career of a fresh girl.”40 As Jameson’s own marriage fell apart, her director husband would wreak vengeance through the roles given. She does a scene where she gets hosed down surrounded by electric wires, one where she rides half naked on a blind horse, another where she plays a firewoman in balloon pants and a defective oxygen tank. In this last one, she has sex near a wall of actual flame while wearing a long blonde wig. “Will her flesh fry? Watch and find out!”41 A brief interlude featuring questions and answers with a male perfomer includes the most obvious query: “A lot of guys want to get into porn to get laid. What are your thoughts on that?” Answer: “Getting into porn is a death sentence. As a male performer you are doomed to be single for the rest of your life.” Why? “A guy performs seven to ten scenes per week at least. The number one performers do fifteen scenes per week. So what girl is going to go out with a guy who’s pounding fifteen other girls every week? No one. The guys don’t have any social life, because they are on set so much. And when they do go out, they are like lepers. Girls won’t touch them.”42

Jenna Jameson’s most frightening dream, the one that always recurs, is that there is someone nearby who can hurt her and she gives herself away.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the same nightmare. I am being chased through a large dilapidated house. There is someone directly behind me, but I can’t see him. I hide in the closet. I’m terrified. My heart is heaving in my chest. I know he’s right outside. I try to hold my breath so he can’t hear me. But I can’t stop gasping. It’s deafening. I know if he hears me, he’s going to open the door and get me. But there’s nothing I can do to quiet my fear. He’s coming closer. He can hear me now. It’s over. I’m going to die.

And then I wake up. To this day, I’ve never seen that person. Knowing that someone who wants to hurt me is so close by and that I am giving myself away is the worst feeling in the world.

The book ends with Jameson at the height of her powers. She tours as a feature dancer, and each night in each city she tells the crowd it’s her birthday. Instead of celebrating it on her own, she’s decided to spend it with them. “So I’m here, happy birthday to me,” is her secret thought. The grateful crowd always throws in extra cash. “That’s right, fuckers. Cough it up.”43 She knew who had the power:

So if I caught a guy saying something obnoxious to his friends, I’d knock his hat off or spill a drink on his pants. At one show, when a guy threw a penny at me, I kicked him in the throat with my heel. I got in constant fights with local dancers-I even hocked a loogie in one girl’s face-and had guys thrown out of the club on a nightly basis. If some asshole dared to touch me, I’d reward him with a backhand to the skull. I was out of control. It was awesome.

She goes out on another feature tour with a dancer who’s an occasional girlfriend, Nikki Tyler, and a man known as Mr. 187, after California’s code for murder, and who’s a sergeant-at-arms with the Hell’s Angels. “Mr. 187 was a badass motherfucker who was angry at the world and enjoyed nothing more than snapping a guy’s arm for looking at him wrong. So naturally, we took him on tour with us.”44 A few years later, Mr. 187 was charged with murder for killing a club patron, then acquitted, on grounds of self-defense. A few years after that, he was killed at the funeral for another member of the Hell’s Angels45. But back then he was still alive, and they were a three person wrecking crew. “They had realized that with their beauty, boobs, and status, the rules that applied to the rest of the world didn’t apply to them,” she said of Kaylan Nicole and Juli Ashton, when they were veterans and she was a newcomer. She knew now what they knew then. She and Nikki would demand $5000 a night, and they would get it. With merchandise and tips, they’d get $100,000 for a three night booking, plus limos, plus security, plus a five star hotel with room service, and a rider complicated enough to make sure that people got their shit right46. And…did I say already they were an utter wrecking crew?

Nikki and I were angry at the world in our own way, and Mr. 187’s function was to justify and enable it. He’d fan the flames of our Vicodin-and-vodka-fueled rage to the point where we got so out of control that even he couldn’t handle us. I’d smash out mirrors in dressing rooms; Nikki would clamp guys in leglocks until their heads turned purple; we’d kick drinks in guys’ faces; and we’d pass out on top of each other onstage.

There may be a habit of thought which sees Jameson as the chaotic exception, the intruder into elysium, distinct in an otherwise placid landscape. One reads the account of her childhood, and she is re-seen as something else, one more point in a mass that is raw, violent, savage. The movie Naked Lunch has nothing to do with the nihilist tumult of the book, but How to Make Love Like a Porn Star very much does. We are given excerpts of Jameson’s diary, before her stage name, when she was Jenna Massoli, and the girl there is bright eyed, tender, vulnerable. She is an unhappy iterant, moving from Vegas, to Florida, then Colorado, back to Vegas, then Montana, then Vegas again.

January 1, 1983

Dear Diaree,

I’m 8 years old.

I watched funny car racing. And I took tinsel off the Christmas tree. “real exciting,” My dads off tomoro. I watched a new show “Battle of the Beat.” I have a dog named “Ming.” My Grandma came over. My brother keeps on singing “You don’t want me anymore.” We had a good Christmas. I got a canopy. And my brother got a gun.

I watched the Black stallion.

April 1, 1983

Dear Diaree,

I broke my arm about 5 weeks ago. I just got my cast off. While I’m talking about hospitals my dads getting a chin augmentation. Hes getting it tomoro at 10:00. He’s nervous. He wants it to come in two minutes. I played a joke on my mommy Marjorie. I pretended to see a giant spider. She was scared, then I said APRIL FOOLS! She said you dirty rat. I laughed so hard. She was really mad. It was funny. Then we played Lego’s. It was fun. Were going to paint easter eggs.

Its going to be fun.

Bye Diaree

tomorrow
tomorrow
tommorow

June 24, 1984

Dear Diarree Diary,

Sorry it’s been so long. I’ve had a lot on my mind. Well I’ll tell you all what’s happened. We moved in with grandma. We live on 7th & Franklin. I go to John S. Park school. I past into 5th grade. I turned 10 April 9th. My brother’s thirteen’s. Weve been having bad troubles. My mom and dad are getting separated. These last few days have been awful. Its been really hard on me a lot more than Tony cause he hates her.

I’ve had her as a mother since I was 2. My poor dad is feeling awful. She’s moving out today or tomorrow.

My heart is so broken I could just cry.

July 30, 1984

We moved to Boulder City and I’m doing fine. Today I saw my old friend beth. She does toe. She had an extra pair and let me have them. I can do toe at ballet class now.

There black. It’s about 10:07 at night. My dads home late at about 12:00. I can’t wait till then. I feel safer. We called into MTV Friday night video.

Duran Duran won. Ming’s sitting right beside me watching me write.

My Most Treasured Things

Diary
toe shoes
canopy bed
white dress
Real mothers neckless
dad
beth
Unicorn Collection

December 21, 1986

Dear Diary,

This is Jenna reporting from the cold region of Elko Nevada. I really like it down here. I have a lot of friends such as Natalie Glass, Kristine Poljak, and Ginny Richey. We got a new puppy. He’s a black Labrador. His name is Digby & he’s two months old. Welp, it’s almost Christmas & I don’t know a thing I’m getting! I’m in the bath writing this! Well I’ve finally gotten hair and I’m starting to get some boobs.

Well I better wash my hair.

Bye,

Jen

November 24, 1987

Hello. I’m in Las Vegas now. We moved back. Vivian [her father’s ex-girlfriend] is history. Oh well. I will probably look back on my childhood and laugh. I laugh at it already. I have a lot of friends but I never go anywhere. It’s very depressing.

I went to State and I won young Miss Modeling Queen. And then I went to Nationals Recently and I got top ten in the country in my pageant.

I had a lot of fun.

September 20, 1989

Hi there! Well I moved to Montana and I’m not really very happy here. I miss Owen. He was my latest boyfriend in L.V. [Las Vegas] before I left.

Well here is whats been happening since I got to this place. Well, I am very popular but some fo the girls at school don’t like me.

October 1, 1990

Dear Diary,

The WORST thing in the WORLD happened today.
It’s so horrible I can’t even write it down or tell my dad or my brother anything.

I HATE Montana. I WANT to KILL MYSELF.

But that wouldn’t be fair to my dad. I am not going to write anything down anymore. I am going to get out of here and forget all about this place.

I am so sad and torn apart and confused. I don’t understand people. How could this happen to me? I don’t know what to do. Life sucks.

Goodbye Forever Diary,

Jenna

From a series of family interviews in the book, with Jenna, her father Larry Massoli, and her brother, Tony:

Larry: I’d like to know what happened in Montana.

Jenna: I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to talk about it.

Larry Massoli, Jenna’s father and easily the most interesting character in the book, worked as a police officer when they were first in Vegas, and that’s where he got caught in a war between two rival borellos. Mobsters tried to kidnap his children, Jenna and Tony, they put out a contract on him, they came to kill his family. The Massolis move to Florida. “I guess Florida was awful,” says Larry. “Ugh, Florida was ghetto,” agrees Jenna. Her school had a barbed wire fence and the kids’ tricycles were chained down together because otherwise they’d get stolen47. Someone tries to break into their house, but it’s okay: Tony has a gun. Tony slept with guns since he was six years old48. When they are back in Vegas, Jenna and her brother act like utter hellions. They steal fire extinguishers and spray passers-by. “We would go down to cracktown and see the crack hos on the corner and we’d fog ’em up!,” she remembers. “I remember one time we got this kid on a skateboard and there was a cop that saw us. We were in this total car chase, and we got away.”49 They would build giant sculptures in people’s yards, Jenna would light them up, and then-

Jenna: Finally, boom! Everything would explode in flames. People would be coming out of their houses freaking out. And then a couple days later on the news, “There’s been a rash of arsons across the Las Vegas valley.” And we’re all like, “Yaaaayyy!” Our dad had no clue.

Her father moves them again to Montana, to raise cattle and try to keep Jenna out of trouble. At school, the boys liked her and the other girls didn’t. They would chase her, throw her down, and punch her in the stomach. “One girl would get me by the back, and one would punch me in the stomach. They didn’t really hurt me, but Jesus Christ I got the wind knocked out of me. Or they would rip out my hair.”50 Before finally leaving Montana, Jenna saw the girl who picked on her the most getting something from her locker. She goes up and smashes the locker door so hard, it splits the girl’s head wide open51. This last act takes place after the worst thing in the world happened to her, after she’s stopped going to school because of it, after she’s decided she wants to get as far away as possible from Montana. She finally reveals in her memoir what it is, when writing about her first time on “The Howard Stern Show”:

He kept saying that something didn’t compute. He asked if I had a screwed-up childhood, and I said no. He asked if my parents had been strict, and I said no. He asked if my dad and I still talked, and I said we did. He asked if my mom minded what I was doing, and I said no. I had decided in advance that it was better not to discuss her death on the air. I didn’t think I could handle it.

But then Howard asked me if I’d ever been molested or abused. It was the one question I wasn’t prepared for.

This is the moment on the show, “Jenna Jameson first appearance on Howard Stern (1995) Part 1” (3:25-4:24):

STERN
You know what, sometimes I look at porno movies, and I go, man, that girl is so good looking. How could she be in porno movies? And I can’t figure it out. You know what I mean?

JAMESON
Right.

STERN
Listen. I have a lot of porno stars in here, but a lot of them I reject, because it’s like, how many times can you have a porno star? But then when I saw your pictures, you were such a piece of ass, I mean, look at this, is that a modeling ad, or what?

QUIVERS
I thought that was some Sports Illustrated model.

STERN
Look at that. So then I said, she’s gotta have a screwed up story, she’s so damned beautiful. I see beautiful women in these pornos, and I go: how the hell do they get them to have-

QUIVERS
Why are they in there.

STERN
-wild monkey sex in these pornos. You have to have had a screwed up childhood, right?

JAMESON
No. Actually-

STERN
Oh, come on. Something happened-

JAMESON
My dad was a cop.

STERN
And he never molested you?

JAMESON
Maybe it’s a rebellious thing.

QUIVERS
Were they strict or what?

JAMESON
No. Not at all. I ran wild.

STERN
What happened? You just ran wild.

QUIVERS
You had no supervision whatsoever.

JAMESON
Not really.

QUIVERS
There you go.

STERN
They weren’t strict at all?

JAMESON
No.

STERN
They let you do whatever you want?

JAMESON
I was out of control.

What happened was simple: she was beaten and gang raped by four boys after a football game. We are not allowed the comfort that these boys were something alien or obviously monstrous: she describes them as funny, good-looking guys. They raped her anyway. The family moved back to Las Vegas, and there, she was raped by her boyfriend’s uncle, a man named Preacher. “I’ve never told anyone about either the Montana experience or the one with Preacher because I don’t want to be thought of as a victim,” she writes. “I want to be judged by who I am as a person, not by what happened to me.”

This is someone who appears to live in a society without the protection of laws or social codes. Gangsters try to kidnap her, attempt to kill her family, indifferent to her father being a policeman. No taboo, restriction, or moral perimeter keeps women from punching her in the stomach, men from misusing her, men from raping her. The only guaranteed protection against home invasion are your own guns, the only thing that keeps other people from hurting you is your own spine. That the image of this woman is known to billions is a result of the most advanced technology, and yet the world she lives in appears to be lawless, modern America and pre-modern America, the west described in Orwell’s “Mark Twain: The Licensed Jester”: “The State hardly existed, the churches were weak and spoke with many voices, and land was to be had for the taking.” However, the law that Orwell emphasizes as absent, economic pressure, is overwhelming in Massoli’s life, is the only law that seemingly exists. It is because of money that she is able to act with fuller freedom than ever before – “I was out of control. It was awesome”. She has the license to be out of control because she’s pulling down five grand in three nights. This might be one of the few books where a woman speaks of sleeping with other women without any mention of it being a perceived transgression, a rebellion, or a violation of society’s rules. “As I was talking, she suddenly reached across the table, put her hand under my chin, pulled my face into hers, and kissed me,” she writes of another stripper she’s tutoring in necessary work skills, when the student makes a move on her.

It wasn’t a peck on the lips, or one of those fake sexy kisses that girls do with other girls to turn men on. It was a full-on tongue-exploring-mouth soul kiss. My breath quickened, and my mind raced. I was in shock. But, at the same time, I wasn’t. This was why I had really come up to her. I didn’t want to help her become a better stripper at all. I wanted to run my hands through her hair, feel her cheek against mine, and hold her in my arms. I had to make a split-second decision. And that decision was yes. Yes, I wanted to throw down with this girl.

She released my mouth and looked softly into my eyes. I wrapped my right hand behind her head, and she pressed her lips once more against mine. She kissed with the confidence and passion of a man.

Scenes such as this are not written for the appetites of men, but only as a blunt description of events that took place. From an account of times with another girl: “She could come fifteen times in a single session, and always wanted to eat me out when I was on my period. She called it war paint.” There is no mention of a contrast with what other women do, or what society expects of a woman to act, or any larger gay culture. These women and this society doesn’t exist in her life, and may as well be on a distant planet. If society does not exist to protect you from rape, robbery, and kidnapping, why should it even be acknowledged for such humble acts as this? In the review of the book by Charles Taylor, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson”, this often insightful critic writes of Massoli as part of a larger group of sex workers in opposition and outside the values of the middle class:

What could seem a better way to flout middle-class values than going into stripping or nude modeling or adult movies (even though, for some of the people who go into them, they are the quickest route to middle-class stability)? But though sex workers have often been looked down on in the name of middle-class propriety, it’s interesting to think about what they share with the middle class.

Taylor re-assures us that these people are finally us as well: “Often those people wind up living traditional middle-class lives — they get married, have kids, buy a home.” This overlooks that Massoli was never middle class at her most successful, she was a multi-millionaire and part of the one percent, and it makes the mistake of placing Massoli as part of a larger group. Her life is the most extreme expression of unrestrained independence that might be found, without reliance on the government or solidarity with anyone, her career born in the ruthless desert state whose lack of gambling laws allowed its foremost industry to exist. “Fuck Gloria Steinem,” she writes52. You are alone in this world, so you’d better figure out how to handle it quick. There is no ethos or philosophy that can be connected to this life, except for one thing: Jenna Massoli has been able to survive a great deal.

That there is something lost in existing like this, in having to live like this, is suggested in one of Jenna Massoli’s longer diary entries. She expresses something that might be called innocence, and to find it appealing might seem like a longing for a pristine state that cannot exist in harsh life, like orchids that cannot survive outside the hothouse, but I think it is only a state possible for a person who can allow themselves to be vulnerable, for the possibility of giving themselves away, without feeling unsafe. Those who’ve read this book will find one sentence especially striking: “The next day I found myself alone in his room, him holding my body close to him.” Jenna Massoli had no issue with snuggling then.

June 9, 1988

Victor,

A boy or should I say a man moved into our apartment yesterday or the day before. Amy and I were walking & we encountered one of her classmates. We talked awhile out at the swimming pool. He spoak to me about an attractive friend of his named Victor. He described him as blonde buff & tan. And of course he sounded attractive to me. I secretly inside wanted to meet this mystery man. But I was very timid about meeting strange men. But Amy said to just come and sit in the grass in front of his so called apartment. So I did.

We sat and had a few meaningless conversations, until I saw 2 dark figures moving at a somewhat fast pace. All at once they sat down in our huddle in the grass. One was dark haired and very old looking, sitting on his motorcycle helmet. The other, he was hard to take my eyes off. He struck me as the wild type, someone who could release my secret desire to be wanted in a seductive manner & to be treated & looked at as an attractive woman. And to throw away peoples tendency to look at me as a cute pretty but young girl. As time went on, he became more and more sexy. But I couldn’t show my secret desire to touch him. I think he realized how much I wanted him & he came and made himself comfortable unusually close to my warm body. He made me feel like no other boy or man ever made me feel. It was getting quite late so I got up and started to leave-thinking to myself it was silly of me to even think of being able to satisfy his needs.

But as soon as the thought ended and I was within two arms lengths away from him, a phrase I was secretly wishing he would say left his mouth, “When will I see you again.” My heart filled with joy and passion. “Tomorrow,” I said. The next day I couldn’t see him at all. But at about 11:30 p.m. I peered through my window and there he was. No, he wasn’t a figment of my imagination. He was real. He was standing beneath my open window, staring up at me. We greeted each other and I yearned to hold him close to me, like I so often thought about. He gave me his telephone number and he disappeared into the darkness. The next day I found myself alone in his room, him holding my body close to him.

He gave me a few playful pecks on my arms and my face. Then he gave me the most passionate and deep kiss I have ever even assumed there could be. My god. I wanted to stay here in his arms and make love to him over and over again until my body was so tired it had to stop. But I had to leave. He is the one that I want to be with day & night. But I don’t think you know that. Try to understand how much I want & need to be with you. Sorry for making it so long but I couldn’t tell you in any other way.

I will never ever stop wanting you.

There is the interesting contrast that Jenna Jameson has said in several places that she’s submissive when having sex with men (she is dominant with women), so the mass of images is of herself submitting to men, when she has a very different attitude in actual life, outside the bedroom: of being very strong, of someone giving orders, someone who never wishes to be vulnerable53. We have something similar with Tera Patrick, who gives her sexual likes as “rough sex, hair pulling, mild choking, getting tied up, playing the submissive, strong, tough, tattooed men”, yet this also is not to be taken for emotional fragility. Her attitude when she first entered this industry, and one that fit so well with it: “I was enjoying life. I was free. And I was horny. My motto was: ‘Get it up. Get it in. Get it off. Get it out.'” The obvious question is: to what extent we are in control of this role? Are we playing at dominating, or are we actually dominating? Are we playing at submitting, or are we actually submitting? At various points in Patrick’s Sinner Take All, her then husband Evan Seinfeld, takes over the narrative and gives his perspective:

Tera and I went back at it. We did everything. We were being silly, taking these photos of each other. We were having a lot of fun. I was trying to take a P.O.V. picture of myself peeing on her. Some people don’t understand what peeing is all about. Peeing on each other isn’t about the pee. It’s about domination and submission. It’s when she lays down on the floor of the shower and gives herself fully and says, “Go ahead do whatever you want. I’m yours.” We are a perfect match because I am so overdominant and she is super-submissive All of her friends’ worst fears came true: I made her my cock puppet. But she loved it.

Tera agrees: “I never let a man pee on me, but I let Evan. It’s about submission, trust, and giving yourself freely to someone, and that’s a turn-on.” Patrick’s memoir, which appears to be reaching the crescendo of a happy marriage to Seinfeld, a man she deeply loves, instead twists to an unexpected halt. We are put abruptly in an entirely different space in the book’s last chapter, with Patrick fallen out of love with Seinfeld and the two divorced. Patrick suspects that her husband always wanted to be in porn, and used her to achieve this fantasy:

Evan achieved his goal, but in the end I suffered. He was the dominating male who ran my life, and in that I lost a lot of myself. He was living the dream–he was going to bed with Tera Patrick at night and going to work in the morning and fucking another girl. I wanted a husband for life who only loved and wanted me. I wasn’t living my dream.

Again: are we just playing a role when we submit, or are we actually submitting?

This is all there in Nicki Brand, who is a submissive throughout the movie, yet who gives the orders to Max Renn, commands which he always obeys, including the final one to destroy himself. Again, we have the question of whether the power is truly our own. The image of Nicki Brand gives these orders, yet this image is manipulated first by Barry Convex, and later, presumably, by Bianca O’Blivion. Bianca is the other powerful woman in the story, yet she sees herself as only exercising her father’s will – “I am my father’s screen.”

If we might see Jenna Massoli’s life as part of a broken symmetry, the unsheltered life in the wake of a collapsed universe, then her own father’s life might be its mirroring arc. As said, Larry Massoli, Jenna’s father, is easily the most interesting character in the book. Where she lives seemingly outside of any state, he worked as its servant, a military advisor in Vietnam before the United States had officially entered the war54. Later, his job is to organize and train fighters to suppress the Simba rebellion in the Congo. Something there changes him. “It’s interesting because when you first go over you try to be so righteous,” he says in one of the book’s interviews with the Massoli family. “I grew up with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and they never shot anybody in the back. It was the white hats against the black hats. You have to do everything fair.” I’m very sympathetic to this man, and I’m not sure what I would see if I were to look closely at what took place where he was in Vietnam, or more crucially, what he says took place in Simba in response to his own side suffering massacres: “I would come up to a village and, instead of going house to house, I would level the whole place…We went from village to village killing them all. We just didn’t care. We didn’t care.” One is struck by this entire passage, gone somehow unnoticed, perhaps since this is a book about pornography and therefore nothing it says about war or America is to be given thoughtful consideration. This phrase, especially: “When I got to Africa I still had some humanity left.”55 When Larry Massoli returns, it takes him a decade to fit back into society. Like Freddie Quell in The Master, he turns to Scientology for structure and comfort; they get him a job at a Las Vegas TV station56. His dear wife dies of cancer when Jenna is two, the woman Jenna’s memoirs is dedicated to, and who continued to dominate their lives, in memory. Afterwards, Larry Massoli decides to do “what I had always wanted to do. I became this big crusader asshole. Because I couldn’t save your mother, I was going to save the world.” It’s when he refuses to look the other way or take a bribe during a war between two bordellos in Vegas that there are the kidnapping threats and a contract is put out on his life. Most important business in Jameson’s book is handled unofficially, and Larry Massoli settles this unofficially as well. He goes out to the brothel owned by those who threatened his family and put out a hit on his life, drives his patrol car through the front door, and empties two clips of a Thompson submachine gun into their bar. “I want you fuckers to stop fucking with my family.” Problem solved57.

After this, he enters a descent, a dark mirrored image of his previous life. He ends up on the run with his son, Tony, and out of contact with Jenna after another contract is put out on their lives, having to do with some other Vegas business that goes awry. He does acid with his kids. He does coke with Jenna and Tony. When they all do coke together, Jenna looks over at Tony and says, “Go, Dad.” Larry: “I completely reversed myself from being the self-righteous stupid ass that I was to a psycho.” Jenna: “Get down with your bad self, Dad.”58 He ends up dating a stripper, running a strip club with his brother where his daughter is a feature dancer, and smoking meth. Larry: “You know what? I don’t miss any drug. But the only drug I ever liked was crank. It’s the best drug on the planet, but smoking it. Not sniffing it.”59 He had left the world of heroic duty, whatever might be underneath, for his daughter’s world, a place of raw anarchy.

Tony: …it’s always been us against the world…

Jenna: That’s right.

Larry: …and it always will be.

That I write of these women, Tera Patrick and Jenna Jameson, as being something like sacred objects to be kept away from the profane, when they are in an inherently profane medium, pornography, is not a contradiction. There remains an elevation, a creation of distance, an abstract image to be worshipped, though the profaning of these sacred objects is different than it might be for other celebrities. What profanes the sacred for this kind of performer is anything that erases the distance between themselves and the general population, and these are tied almost entirely to their beauty: age, bad surgery, drugs, desperation, humilation. These all affect other celebrities as well, though they can be humiliated, or profaned, in ways that Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick cannot, through nabbed nude selfies and sex tapes.

That we might liken fame to this religious phenomenon of mana, and that it should be so prevalent in a secular society, perhaps explains why there are the constant countervailing impulses of making people famous, creating these sacred objects, and profaning these same sacred objects, humiliating the famous. An example of this might be seen in the career of Britney Spears, who was especially suited for the kind of sacred image making that resembles Marilyn Monroe’s. She was seemingly innocent, by which we mean sexually innocent, somehow unconscious of the electric sexuality of her poses, and so we have, literally, the sacred vessel unprofaned, as well as the cryptic quality of her image. This is perhaps best expressed in Chuck Klosterman’s “Bending Spoons with Britney Spears”:

Over the next ninety minutes, I will sit next to a purportedly fully clothed Britney and ask her questions. She will not really answer any of them. Interviewing Britney Spears is like deposing Bill Clinton: Regardless of the evidence, she does not waver. “Why do you dress so provocatively?” I ask. She says she doesn’t dress provocatively. “But look what you’re wearing right now,” I say, while looking at three inches of her inner thigh, her entire abdomen, and enough cleavage to choke a musk ox. “This is just a skirt and a top,” she responds. It is not that Britney Spears denies that she is a sexual icon, or that she disputes that American men are fascinated with the concept of the wet-hot virgin, or that she feels her success says nothing about what our society fantasizes about. She doesn’t disagree with any of that stuff, because she swears she has never even thought about it. Not even once.

“That’s just a weird question,” she says. “I don’t even want to think about that. That’s strange, and I don’t think about things like that, and I don’t want to think about things like that. Why should I? I don’t have to deal with those people. I’m concerned with the kids out there. I’m concerned with the next generation of people. I’m not worried about some guy who’s a perv and wants to meet a freaking virgin.”

And suddenly, something becomes painfully clear: Either Britney Spears is the least self-aware person I’ve ever met, or she’s way, way savvier than any of us realize.

Or maybe both.

A blunt contrast to this attitude can be found in Tera Patrick’s Sinner Take All:

Is it weird to think that people you know and people you meet have seen your porn and masturbate to you?
–MIKE, 23, VAN NUYS

Yeah, it’s a little weird to know that someone talking to me has seen my innermost parts and I haven’t seen theirs. But it’s not weird that they masturbate to me. They also masturbate to Cameron Diaz and Carmen Electra and Jessica Alba and the girl at the grocery store. Men are just visual. I’m no different, except they have a little bit more to masturbate to, they see a little bit more of me. It’s just humbling.

When we speak of this unprofaned innocence, we end up speaking almost exclusively about Britney Spears’ image, one that allows the viewer to project a multiplicity of things that may not be there. Such a phenomenon takes place in a recent article on her Vegas show, “Miss American Dream”, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. It is a very good article, one where the author never actually interviews Spears, but discusses her image alone, in the preparation time up to this premiere. She speaks to one woman who became a fan when Spears shaved her head. “She was just saying fuck you to the world over and over. This was who I knew she was,” says the fan. “In the early 2000s, she was a phony. This was really her.”60 The obvious question is: are you sure? Is it not possible that she simply had a nervous breakdown? That perhaps whatever we, the public, see of her, is always phony, always false, out of the celebrity’s own emotional necessity. “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomology of Fame” by Donna Rockwell and David C. Giles (I came across this study via the Alice Robb piece, “The Four Stages of Fame: How Celebrities Learn to Accept — and Regret — Their Popularity”), describes one survival strategy: “The celebrity copes with intense public scrutiny through character-splitting. He or she divides into two identities by contriving a celebrity entity, a new self presentation in the “public sphere.” Arguably, there are people whose private personality works extraordinarily well as a public one, an enigma never to be resolved, a riddle that cannot be answered, under which there is nothing. Spears is asked over and over again, “What do people not know about you?”, and “Miss American Dream” treats the answer, “Really that I’m pretty boring,” as a defensive gesture when it perhaps is not61. The image alone implies that this cannot be the full answer, that the enigma cannot be unending, when it may well be62.

The metaphors of Videodrome have such a variety of meanings because there is so little to restrict any and almost all interpretations. The character of Nicki Brand is a blank, and that’s what makes her image so beguiling, and the public character of Britney Spears is a blank as well, making her image equally powerful. We are left to guess at whether shaving her head is a nervous breakdown or an expression of strength, whether the song “Work, Bitch” embodies the sadistic grinding of life now, or whether it’s a subtle rebellion against all these forces. The video of “Work, Bitch” features Britney dominating a group of dancers in leather and gimp masks, holding them fast in leashes, whipping one like Max Renn whipped a TV. We might read whatever we wish into either image, with nothing in the characters to guide us. This image might be provocation for laughs, it might be ironic, it might be sincere. Britney Spears was a sacred object and everything was done to try to profane her, to humiliate her, yet she has remained sacred anyway. She has kept her power, and now she’ll exercise it. She’s in control. It’s awesome.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The fan in “Miss American Dream” who loved her post-breakdown is the only one who ends up not liking the Vegas show. This fan, a dominatrix, compared it to the time she threw a party where she had to hire a prostitute who clearly didn’t want to be there. She had a vacant look in her eyes that killed the whole vibe, and Britney had the same look63. Again, I wonder: what is the difference between Britney’s enigmatic look and her vacant one? We might see whatever we wish, just as we might read life or death in the eyes of Nicki Brand. The apotheosis of being able to read whatever we want is when anything human no longer exists, and the image remains as a riddle to be puzzled over infinitely, something like Marilyn Monroe. One tradition described in Durkheim is the use of tattoos to mark someone as being affiliated with a totem worshipped by their clan; another is the idea of a mythic ancestor who is a protecting genius, a protecting spirit64. Megan Fox used to carry a tattoo of what might be thought of a mythic ancestor, giving an explanation in “The Self-Manufacture of Megan Fox” by Lynn Hirschberg, which coheres well with these ideas:

On her right forearm, Fox has an intricate tattoo of Marilyn Monroe. Although she has read biographies of Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and other movie-star icons, Fox is particularly fascinated by Monroe. While Gardner led a wild life, her work is forgotten. Monroe created a legacy: her persona is instantly recognizable. It’s not a character she played in a particular movie like, say, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.” Monroe was her own brand before branding existed.

One might note that word which perfectly matches a character’s last name, suggesting it’s not arbitrary: Nicki Brand. Yet Fox does not keep this tattoo, perhaps because this spirit does not protect at all, it’s an image whose eternality is connected with its own creator’s early self-annihilation. It’s almost entirely gone in the infamous piece, “Megan Fox Saves Herself” by Steve Marche: “All that remains of Marilyn is a few drops of black against skin that is the color the moon possesses in the thin air of northern winters,” and [Fox] says why: “I started reading about her and realized that her life was incredibly difficult. It’s like when you visualize something for your future. I didn’t want to visualize something so negative.” Marche took a great deal of flack for invoking the idea of Aztec sacrifices in connection with celebrity (say, “Esquire’s Interview with Megan Fox Is the Worst Thing Ever Written” by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete), yet I don’t think there’s anything flawed or foolish in finding connections between our idol worship and that of the past, that the similarities compel you to look in such areas.

After she erased the tattoo, Fox would compare Monroe to one of her contemporaries. “She wasn’t powerful at the time. She was sort of like Lindsay. She was an actress who wasn’t reliable, who almost wasn’t insurable…. She had all the potential in the world, and it was squandered.” Despite being a sound assessment, in a conflict averse industry, even this mild claim required self-censure65. A recent story, “Bungalow 89” by James Franco, describes an actress who very much resembles Lindsay Lohan, and even carries the name “Lindsay Lohan”. The same countervailing factors mentioned earlier took place in this woman’s life. We want you famous. We want you sacred. We want you wasted. We want you naked. We want you humiliated. We want you destroyed. The sacred is profaned, it ceases to be sacred, and the interest ends. That this “Lindsay Lohan” has none of the magnetism of the central character of the well-known piece, “Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie” by Stephen Rodrick, is because it’s not enough for fiction to evoke the real-life character, it must also re-create the essence of their potent beguiling qualities. In this case, it is the mixture of the actress’s incredible talents and her self-destructiveness, and this, the story does not convey, giving only a few squalid details that would make the story go completely unnoted if the author and his subject were untouched by our modern mana. There is one line, however, that contains great insight, of especial value here, a piece of direction given by Nicolas Winding Refn to Franco. “Less is more; nothing is everything.”

(Images from Videodrome and Prince of Darkness copyright Universal Pictures, images from Naked Lunch copyright 20th Century Fox, images from Blue Velvet copyright De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. Artwork from How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Bernard Chang.)

(On July 15th, some small edits were made: the section about Tera Patrick and submission, and moving the Chuck Klosterman excerpt from a footnote to the main text. On July 16th, some further very small clarifying edits were made, mainly to the paragraph dealing with control and Nicki Brand. On April 16, 2015, this post underwent a copy edit. On April 18, 2015, the gif of Max slapping Nicki, then Bridey was added. On April 23, 2015, still images of the vision from John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness were replaced with a gif of same, and various supplemental gifs made from clips of Videodrome were added. On May 18, 2015, footnote #1, referencing William Empson, was added.)

FOOTNOTES

1 This tension is an old one and stated more eloquently in William Empson’s classic, The Seven Types of Ambiguity:

Critics, as barking dogs on this view, are of two sorts: those who merely relieve themselves against the flower of beauty, and those, less continent, who afterwards scratch it up. I myself, I must confess, aspire to the second of these classes; unexplained beauty arouses an irritation in me, a sense that this would be a good place to scratch; the reasons that make a line of verse likely to give pleasure, I believe, are like the reasons for anything else; one can reason about them; and while it nay be true that the roots of beauty ought not to be violated, it seems to me very arrogant of the appreciative critic to think that he could do this, if he chose, by a little scratching.

2 From “William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211”:

INTERVIEWER
When did you encounter the Beats?

GIBSON
More or less the same time I found science fiction, because I found the Beats when the idea of them had been made sufficiently mainstream that there were paperback anthologies on the same wire rack at the bus station. I remember being totally baffled by one Beat paperback, an anthology of short bits and excerpts from novels. I sort of understood what little bits of Kerouac were in this thing-I could read him-but then there was William S. Burroughs and excerpts from Naked Lunch I thought, What the heck is that? I could tell that there was science fiction, somehow, in Naked Lunch. Burroughs had cut up a lot of pulp-noir detective fiction, and he got part of his tonality from science fiction of the forties and the fifties. I could tell it was kind of like science fiction, but that I didn’t understand it.

3 From “Which Is the Fly and Which Is the Human?” by Lynn Snowden, hosted on Reality Studio: A William S. Burroughs Community:

“It’s a limited kingdom,” Cronenberg says with a proud smile, “but it’s mine. One of the reasons Burroughs excited me when I read him was that I recognized my own imagery in his work,” he says. “It sounds only defensive to say, ‘I was already thinking of a virus when I read that!’ But there is a recognition factor. That’s why I think you start to feel like you’re vibrating in harmony with someone else. It’s the recognition, not that they introduced you to something that was completely unthought of by you.

4 From Neuromancer, the witty point made in the description of the Sprawl is to liken this physical entity to an electronic one, so that even though the Sprawl and the Matrix are separate, they merge in their likenesses.

The Matrix:

A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void … The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy.

The Sprawl:

Home was BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.

Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta . . .

5 From “Mr. Mike’s America: A Comic’s Trek with SNL’s First Head Writer” by Paul Slansky:

O’Donoghue counters with one that Belushi used to tell about Adam and Eve. He doesn’t remember the setup, but the punch line has Eve washing her private parts in the river and God shouting down, “You asshole! Now all the fish are gonna smell like that!”

“American humor is a really angry rube humor,” O’Donoghue says. “Very mean and aggressive. I’ve always liked American jokes.”

6 Some sense of the place can be found in the very good biography of the author, Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs by Ted Morgan:

Tangier being by definition a place where everything was freely bought and sold, it gained a reputation for wickedness. In his widely syndicated column, “As I Was Saying,” Robert Ruark wrote in 1950 that “Sodom was a church picnic and Gomorrah a convention of Girl Scouts” compared to Tangier, which “contained more thieves, black marketeers, spies, thugs, phonies, beachcombers, expatriates, degenerates, characters, operators, bandits, bums, tramps, politicians, and charlatans” than any place he’d ever visited.

In 1955, Burroughs began to see that Tangier could serve as a model for the setting of his novel, which he called “Interzone.” Tangier was as much an imaginative construct as a geographical location, a metaphor for limbo, for a dead-end place, a place where everyone could act out his most extreme fantasies. On one level, Tangier was a reconstruction of the world in a small place.

7 From “Cronenberg Videodrome Intro” (from 3:23-4:00 in the clip):

Speaking of Toronto, by the way, Roberto Benigni, who did the movie Life is Beautiful, italian film-maker…when he came to Toronto, and I met him…of course, this is when he won his Oscar for Life is Beautiful…he immediately got on his knees and started to kiss my feet, my shoes. “Great, Roberto.” Then he got up, and he said: “Toronto. I was terrified to come to Toronto. Because all I knew of it was from your films.”

8 From Naked Lunch:

Techniques of Sending were crude at first. Fadeout to the National Electronic Conference in Chicago. The Conferents are putting on their overcoats . . . The speaker talks in a flat shopgirl voice:

“In closing I want to sound a word of warning . . . The logical extension of encephalographic research is biocontrol; that is, control of physical movement, mental processes, emotional reactions and apparent sensory impressions by means of bioelectric signals injected into the nervous system of the subject.”

“Louder and funnier!” The Conferents are trooping out in clouds of dust.

“Shortly after birth a surgeon could install connections in the brain. A miniature radio receiver could be plugged in and the subject controlled from State-controlled transmitters.”

Dust settles through the windless air of a vast empty hall-smell of hot iron and steam; a radiator sings in the distance . . . The Speaker shuffles his notes and blows dust off them . . .

“The biocontrol apparatus is prototype of one-way telepathic control. The subject could be rendered susceptible to the transmitter by drugs or other processing without installing any apparatus. Ultimately the Senders will use telepathic transmitting exclusively . . . Ever dig the Mayan codices? I figure it like this: the priests-about one percent of population-made with one-way telepathic broadcasts instructing the workers what to feel and when . . . A telepathic sender has to send all the time. He can never receive, because if he receives that means someone else has feelings of his own could louse up his continuity. The Sender has to send all the time, but he can’t ever recharge himself by contact. Sooner or later he’s got no feelings to send. You can’t have feelings alone. Not alone like the Sender is alone-and you dig there can only be one Sender at one place-time . . . Finally the screen goes dead . . . The Sender has turned into a huge centipede . . . So the workers come in on the beam and burn the centipede and elect a new Sender by consensus of the general will . . . The Mayans were limited by isolation . . . Now one Sender could control the planet . . . You see control can never be a means to any practical end . . . It can never be a means to anything but more control . . . Like junk . . .”

9 From Naked Lunch:

Blast of trumpets: The Man is carried in naked by two Negro Bearers who drop him on the platform with bestial, sneering brutality . . . The Man wriggles . . . His flesh turns to viscid, transparent jelly that drifts away in green mist, unveiling a monster black centipede. Waves of unknown stench fill the room, searing the lungs, grabbing the stomach . . .

The death of Barry Convex in Videodrome:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

10 From Naked Lunch:

The boy felt a silent black clunk fall through his flesh. The Sailor put a hand to the boy’s eyes and pulled out a pink scrotal egg with one closed, pulsing eye. Black fur boiled inside translucent flesh of the egg.

The Sailor caressed the egg with nakedly inhuman hands-black-pink, thick, fibrous, long white tendrils sprouting from abbreviated finger tips.

Death fear and Death weakness hit the boy, shutting off his breath, stopping his blood. He leaned against a wall that seemed to give slightly. He clicked back into junk focus.

11 An excerpt from Naked Lunch, when a woman has sex with a character who’s just been killed in a hanging:

She locks her hands behind Johnny’s buttocks, puts her forehead against him, smiling into his eyes she moves back, pulling him off the platform into space . . . His face swells with blood . . . Mark reaches up with one lithe movement and snaps Johnny’s neck . . . sound like a stick broken in wet towels. A shudder runs down Johnny’s body . . . one foot flutters like a trapped bird . . . Mark has draped himself over a swing and mimics Johnny’s twitches, closes his eyes and sticks his tongue out . . . Johnny’s cock springs up and Mary guides it up her cunt, writhing against him in a fluid belly dance, groaning and shrieking with delight . . . sweat pours down her body, hair hangs over her face in wet strands. “Cut him down, Mark,” she screams. Mark reaches over with a snap knife and cuts the rope, catching Johnny as he falls, easing him onto his back with Mary still impaled and writhing . . . She bites away Johnny’s lips and nose and sucks out his eyes with a pop . . . She tears off great hunks of cheek . . . Now she lunches on his prick . . . Mark walks over to her and she looks up from Johnny’s half-eaten genitals, her face covered with blood, eyes phosphorescent . . . Mark puts his foot on her shoulder and kicks her over on her back . . . He leaps on her, fucking her insanely . . . they roll from one end of the room to the other, pinwheel end-over-end and leap high in the air like great hooked fish.

“Let me hang you, Mark . . . Let me hang you . . . Please, Mark, let me hang you!”

12 From Naked Lunch, Bill Lee killing Hauser and O’Brien:

I squirted a thin jet of alcohol, whipping it across his eyes with a sideways shake of the syringe. He let out a bellow of pain. I could see him pawing at his eyes with the left hand like he was tearing off an invisible bandage as I dropped to the floor on one knee, reaching for my suitcase. I pushed the suitcase open, and my left hand closed over the gun butt-I am right-handed but I shoot with my left hand. I felt the concussion of Hauser’s shot before I heard it. His slug slammed into the wall behind me. Shooting from the floor, I snapped two quick shots into Hauser’s belly where his vest had pulled up showing an inch of white shirt. He grunted in a way I could feel and doubled forward. Stiff with panic, O’Brien’s hand was tearing at the gun in his shoulder holster. I clamped my other hand around my gun wrist to steady it for the long pull-this gun has the hammer filed off round so you can only use it double action-and shot him in the middle of his red forehead about two inches below the silver hairline. His hair had been grey the last time I saw him. That was about 15 years ago. My first arrest. His eyes went out. He fell off the chair onto his face. My hands were already reaching for what I needed, sweeping my notebooks into a briefcase with my works, junk, and a box of shells. I stuck the gun into my belt, and stepped out into the corridor putting on my coat.

The narrator’s exit:

I hung up and took a taxi out of the area . . . In the cab I realized what had happened . . . I had been occluded from space-time like an eel’s ass occludes when he stops eating on the way to Sargasso . . . Locked out . . . Never again would I have a Key, a Point of Intersection . . . The Heat was off me from here on out . . . relegated with Hauser and O’Brien to a landlocked junk past where heroin is always twenty-eight dollars an ounce and you can score for yen pox in the Chink laundry of Sioux Falls . . . Far side of the world’s mirror, moving into the past with Hauser and O’Brien . . . clawing at a not-yet of Telepathic Bureaucracies, Time Monopolies, Control Drugs, Heavy Fluid Addicts:

“I thought of that three hundred years ago.”

13 From “Which Is the Fly and Which Is the Human?” by Lynn Snowden, hosted on Reality Studio: A William S. Burroughs Community:

And in which scene, Cronenberg wants to know, does he actually show a horror of female genitalia? I point to Videodrome when James Woods looks on in fear as he grows an enormous vaginalike slit in his abdomen. “He seems to like it!” Cronenberg laughs. “It’s almost like he’s proud of it and happy to have it!” Yeah, and then he loses a gun in it? Isn’t that highly symbolic of a well-known male fear? “Well, I’ve known some women who thought they lost their Tampax and were just as freaked out as anybody else.”

He tells a story from the making of Videodrome, when Woods is forced to spend days with rubber appliances glued to his chest to attain the previously mentioned orifice. “And he turns to Debbie Harry and says, ‘When I first got on this picture, I was an actor. Now I feel like I’m just the bearer of the slit.’ And she said, ‘Now you know what it feels like.’ So I’m forcing him to be the bearer of the slit! Reality is what he perceives it to be.”

14 From “The sex, violence, and new flesh of Videodrome by Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, and Scott Tobias:

Keith: Videodrome fits snugly between the films Cronenberg made before and the films he made later, but it still feels like a leap forward. I think his early films are terrific, and value them in part because of their crude directness, like the way Shivers literalizes every sexual anxiety drifting around in the midst of the sexual revolution. There’s an elegance to Videodrome that’s absent in the earlier films, though, which I know is a weird thing to say about a movie most famous for putting a sexualized, videotape-hungry orifice in its protagonist’s belly. Yet the film drifts along like a dream from one disturbing episode to another.

The note of unconscious creation is souned in an earlier post from a series on The Dissolve (other than the two listed here, there is the third in the series, “Kill your television (before it kills you)” by Keith Phipps) devoted to this movie, “The prescient analog nightmare of Videodrome” by Scott Tobias:

But the key to Videodrome‘s prescience is that Cronenberg isn’t interested in being prescient at all. He’s simply turning the present into a nightmare, and that nightmare is what the dark side of progress looks like. At the height of the VHS era, when the illicit pleasures of the movies-and the outlands of cable television-could be indulged, without shame, from the privacy of one’s own home, Cronenberg starts with that desire and watches it grow. Here, that means following one man’s quest to find the limits of what’s possible and go beyond it, to where the television isn’t just transmitting a signal, but is an active partner and biological component, “the retina of the mind’s eye.” As brainy as Videodrome is-like Cronenberg’s work in general-the film has an intuitive, id-driven quality, one that transcends logic by creating its own.

15 Although the sentence refers to it as a “roman orgy”, I now think its fairer to say that both meetings with Masha have references to the cultures which would influence the separate capitals of the Roman empire. So, we have the eastern “oriental” restaurant, and all the greek elements of the movie – the togas, the laurels, the columns – that would end up in Roman culture. Of course, there is the well known allegation that the roman empire simply took greek culture (art, philosophy, mathematics, etc.), and gave it practical application without any further intellectual development.

16 From “Families Learning of 39 Cultists Who Died Willingly” by B. Drummond Ayres Jr.:

The farewell tape, broadcast by ABC television, was especially strikingly for its upbeat tone, considering what lay ahead for those speaking and peering into the camera. On it, one cult member — none identified themselves — said his death would bring him “just the happiest day of my life.” and added, “I’ve been looking forward for this for so long.”

A woman who appeared to be in her 20’s looked intently into the camera and said, grinning broadly, “We are all choosing of our own free will to go to the next level.”

17 From “Heaven’s Gate: The Sequel” by Joshuah Bearman:

A secretive, itinerant group of self-described monks following the teachings of their leader, who was known simply as DO, they’d recently moved into a 9,000-square-foot mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, which they called “the Monastery” and “the Craft,” and was paid for by members doing Web design and other technical services. The group had many names over the years but by that time had settled on Heaven’s Gate. They’d waited patiently for a sign, and DO thought the sky was now speaking. When another amateur astronomer announced on Art Bell’s conspiracy-minded radio show that he’d taken a picture of Hale-Bopp showing an elongated fuzzy brightness lurking in the tail, word quickly spread in UFO circles that there was an alien spacecraft accompanying the comet. Remote-sensing practitioner Courtney Brown collected clairvoyant “data” that also suggested an extraterrestrial presence. DO’s followers went out and bought a telescope. They couldn’t see the ship themselves, but that wasn’t important. When Hale-Bopp passed too close to Jupiter, and the giant planet’s gravitational pull altered the comet’s orbit so that it would return every 2,000 years, DO became certain: This was their long-awaited “indicator,” perhaps even the star Wormwood described in The Revelation. The group updated its Web site. “RED ALERT” flashed across the top; below came the announcement “HALE-BOPP BRINGS CLOSURE TO HEAVEN’S GATE.”

For years, they’d been hoping to return to the Kingdom of Heaven, which they called “Evolutionary Level Above Human,” or the “Next Level.” Day in, day out, the group – which they always said was not a cult but a “classroom for growing a soul” – had learned to transcend human existence through rigorous discipline. In preparation for the final step of leaving their human bodies, or “exiting their vehicles,” the group assembled uniforms: matching black Nikes and homemade black pants and shirts, each adorned with a custom-made triangular patch that said “HEAVEN’S GATE AWAY TEAM.”

The Exit Videos are so important to Rio that he includes full transcripts in his book. The videos are short; each of the 38 statements (one member chose to say nothing) is less than five minutes long. I watched them all. Instantly noticeable was how similar everyone looks. In preparation for their future lives as immortal, androgynous beings in space, the men and women of Heaven’s Gate were all required to wear matching bowl cuts and baggy, unflattering jump suits.

Equally striking is their uniform serenity. Seated outside, with San Diego’s pleasant spring dawning in the background, every single member calmly explained their enthusiasm for the wondrous existence awaiting them: “I’ve been looking forward to this for so long”; “I couldn’t have made a better choice”; “Thirty-nine to beam up!” Thomas Nichols, who had been a member since 1976 (and was the brother of Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek), said: “I’m the happiest person in the world.”

18 This subhead is taken from How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, which in turn gets it from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet #5”:

Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel;
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter, and confounds him there;
Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness every where:
Then were not summer’s distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.

19 From Goddess by Anthony Summers:

The Greenes watched bemused as Marilyn plunged into their library. She started reading about Napoelon, discovered Josephine, and scooped up every book she could find about her. Supper conversation in the Greene household was dominated for a while by Marilyn enthusing about Josephine and her entourage.

“She was fascinated,” says Amy Greene, “by women who had made it.” Marilyn especially enjoyed learning how Josephine’s friend, Juliette Récamier, who was renowned for her figure, treated a specially commissioned nude statue of herself. As she aged, and her breasts started to droop, she had the marble breasts smashed.

20 This concept is explained earlier in Durkheim:

Now among these peoples, above all the particular deities to whom men render a cult, there is a pre-eminent power to which all the others have the relation of derived forms, and which is called wakan. Owing to the preponderating place thus assigned to this principle in the Siouan pantheon, it is sometimes regarded as a sort of sovereign god, or a Jupiter or Jahveh, and travellers have frequently translated wakan by ” great spirit.” This is misrepresenting its real nature gravely. The wakan is in no way a personal being ; the natives do not represent it in a determined form. According to an observer cited by Dorsey, ” they say that they have never seen the wakanda, so they cannot pretend to personify it.” It is not even possible to define it by determined attributes and characteristics. ” No word,” says Riggs,” can explain the meaning of this term among the Dakota. It embraces all mystery, all secret power, all divinity.” All the beings which the Dakota reveres,” the earth, the four winds, the sun, the moon and the stars, are manifestations of this mysterious life and power” which enters into all. Sometimes it is represented in the form of a wind, as a breath having its seat in the four cardinal points and moving everything : sometimes it is a voice heard in the crashing of the thunder, the sun, moon and stars are wakan. But no enumeration could exhaust this infinitely complex idea.

21 This concept is explained earlier in Durkheim:

Among the Iroquois, whose social organization has an even more pronouncedly totemic character, this, same idea is found again; the word orenda which expresses it is the exact equivalent of the wakan of the Sioux. “The savage man,” says Hewitt, “conceived the diverse bodies collectively constituting his environment to possess inherently mystic potence . . . (whether they be) the rocks, the waters, the tides, the plants and the trees, the animals and man, the wind and the storms, the clouds and the thunders and the lightnings,” etc. “This potence is held to be the property of all things . . . and by the inchoate mentation of man is regarded as the efficient cause of all phenomena, all the activities of his environment.”

22 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

I was in control-of myself, and the men around me. And I loved it: I loved the attention and the confidence it gave me. Even though I had no idea how to hustle guys for lap dances, I was the new girl, and they all wanted me.

By my last dance of the night, men were crowding around the stage and throwing money at me. It was then that I knew not only could I make it as a stripper, but I could get each and every one of those other girls back for laughing at me.

23 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The Crazy Horse Too was the best high-school class I ever took. The subject was social dynamics. It was amazing how the incentive of cash made it so easy to talk to people; before, I’d had no motivation to learn to be polite or carry on a conversation with a guy. They all wanted the same thing anyway. Within weeks at the club, I began to transform from a geeky teenage girl into a money-crazed psycho. And I loved it.

It wasn’t that I discovered some dormant ability to be a natural conversationalist. Instead, I learned to be an actress, because I was still not outgoing naturally. My job was simply to put up with the poor conversational skills of the customers, to seem open and caring while they talked about themselves. When my turn came to talk, I learned to lie. Everything that came out of my mouth was complete bullshit. I could tell by looking at each person what he wanted to hear. I’d tell him I was studying to be a real-estate agent, a lifeguard, a construction worker. Anything to steer them away from what was really going on in my life.

Since most of the men were into me because I looked so young and innocent, I decided to amplify that. As my grandmother always said, “What you can’t fix, you feature.” So one night I put my hair up in pony-tails, wore little pink shoes, and carried a plastic Barbie purse, which further contrasted me from the hardened girls.

24 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

“When a guy comes into a club, most girls come up to him and say, ‘Do you want a dance?'” she told me. “That’s the last thing you should do. Be personable. Make him like you. Talk to him. Ask about his job. Act like you are interested.”

That was lesson one-the basics. Lesson two was to prearrange a deal with the waitress to put water in my shot and extra alcohol in the guy’s, and then order a round of drinks as soon as I sat with him.

“Get him as drunk as possible,” she said, “and rack those songs up.”

25 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

For us, these schemes weren’t only about the money; they were also for the adrenaline rush. It was a high to get the upper hand over a customer. They were dumb, they were drunk, and they deserved it. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Strippers can be vicious. The mentality is that if these guys are going to victimize us, we’re going to totally victimize them right back. It seemed like a fair exchange. And it was character building: I was finally learning to take control of people instead of being so passive in social situations.

26 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

They say that money can’t buy happiness, but that is an oversimplification. It actually depends on how you earn your money. If you’re juggling high-stress investments or managing scores of employees or deluged with phone calls or hiding something from the authorities, life is no fun. But if you can walk into a room, lead on a bunch of guys, and then leave with thousands of dollars in cash in your pocket and no obligation to anyone-not even an obligation to show up to work the next day-life is good. If I wanted to I would splurge on six bottles of Cristal champagne for my friends without a second thought. I wasn’t concerned about the future. My main objective was making money, and I met that objective night after night.

One local politician liked to be dominated and, although I had such a submissive personality naturally, one night I took his beer into the bathroom, peed into it, and then made him drink it. He loved it. The next night, he tipped me with a pink slip: for a brand-new Corvette.

27 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

“Did you know you were just dancing for Pantera?”

“Really, those assholes were Pantera?”

“Did you know you were just dancing for Jack Nicholson?”

“Really, that old weirdo was Jack Nicholson?”

“Did you know you were just dancing for Whitesnake?”

“Really, like I give a crap.”

“Did you know you were just dancing for David Lee Roth?”

“Yeah, what a letdown. I used to have wet dreams over him. But he was rude, irritating, and babbled incoherently the whole time. And my friend Carrie just left the club with him. I’ve lost all respect for both of them.”

28 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Next, she put me on all fours for a butt shot and asked me to turn my head back to look at the camera. But since my head looked teeny in comparison to my ass in that position, she asked me to bend my body so that my face and my ass were the same distance from the camera and both in focus. I had no idea what she was talking about.

It was such a challenge to look sexy and relaxed while manipulating my body into the various uncomfortable contortions Julia was running me through. Even for what Julia considered the simplest pose, like looking over my shoulder with my back to the camera, I had to arch so hard that my lower back cramped. When I see those photos now, it seems obvious that the sexy pout I thought I was giving the camera was just a poorly disguised grimace of pain.

29 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

STEP THREE

Teenager becomes a stripper.

REASON

Work, money, and approval of boyfriend.

STEP FIVE

Teenager starts acting in soft-core all-female adult movies.

REASON

Revenge.

30 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

Randy, who of course volunteered to be the man in the shoot, was a decent guy. He was a little old and had the fashion sense of a homeless wrestler, but I didn’t have to touch him if I didn’t want to.

31 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

Usually, he just ripped a strip of foil off a cigarette pack, and inhaled the smoke through a sliced-up straw. But one night around 4 A.M., Jack and some of his friends came over and none of them had any cigarettes. So someone came up with the bright idea of unscrewing a lightbulb in the kitchen. They heated the base of the lightbulb until the glue on it melted, then they pulled off the metal base. After emptying the bulb, they drilled a hole in the top and stuffed a little meth inside. They heated the side of the bulb with a lighter and smoked out of the hole where the metal used to be. I just stood and watched the whole thing. It was a beautiful process, and the smoke smelled so sweet. When Jack offered me a hit, I decided to try it. It couldn’t hurt to do it just one time.

I inhaled a little, and the smoke filled my lungs. Unlike pot or even cigarettes, it was so smooth I could hardly feel it. When I exhaled, a thin three-foot-long column of smoke escaped from my lips. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, and then someone pressed fast forward. My heart felt like a woodpecker was inside, hammering hard enough to burst through my chest at any moment.

After that, I never wanted to snort meth again. Smoking it was amazing. At first, I only smoked it when Jack was around because he was the only one who knew the mechanics of the whole foil and straw contraption. But since I had no other challenges in my life at the moment, I set my mind to figuring out how to do it for myself. And once I did, smoking meth became a daily pastime. The high was more dreamy and intense, but it didn’t last as long. Every ten minutes I wanted another hit, so I constantly asked Jack for more.

32 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

Throughout the photo shoot, they told me, “Jenna, relax. Let the tension out of your face.” I was clenching my teeth so hard from the crystal. Even more embarrassing, in certain poses my bones were sticking out so badly that they had to artfully drape my clothes over them so that I wouldn’t repulse readers. There were no magazines for guys with fetishes for anorexic meth freaks at the time.

I vacuumed so much that the carpets were actually disintegrating. The house looked perfect, but if it seemed too perfect, then I had to rearrange all the furniture to make the place seem more natural. I must have organized the frigging bathroom cupboards a thousand times, sorting each item according to size or function or owner or frequency of use-all in the same night.

Some girls who get high pick at their skin all night. I was not a picker. I was a maker. I was constantly amazed by the innovative and profound avant-garde artwork I could bring to life with a glue gun. My pieces should have been hanging somewhere, like a mental institution. Though I was infamous amongst Jack’s friends for making papier-mâché dragons in the closet all night, my greatest creations were my self-collages. I would go through adult magazines and cut my pictures from the phone-sex ads in the back. Then I’d glue them to a piece of paper and stick funny little phrases from Cosmopolitan below them, like, “Is it a do or a don’t?” “What procedures have you had done?” or “7 ways to make him beg for more.” Then I’d pick up my little handheld poker video game and play it all night, until my hands literally bled.

33 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Afterward, I spent twenty-four hours packing ten suitcases, because I knew Cannes was a big deal and I wanted to be prepared for anything. They were bringing over two other girls, Juli Ashton (a former high school Spanish teacher) and Kaylan Nicole (the reigning queen of anal at the time), both of whom were more experienced and popular than I was. As catty as it sounds, I wanted nothing more than to prove myself over these chicks. But it was going to be hard, because I was trying to learn from them at the same time. They had realized that with their beauty, boobs, and status, the rules that applied to the rest of the world didn’t apply to them. They had the attitude that they could do absolutely anything they wanted.

34 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The minute we got off the plane, we were in another world. It was one I’d dreamed about since I was a little girl, imagining what it would be like to be an international jet-setting model. In fact, it was wilder than my dreams. Flashbulbs went off everywhere. The paparazzi screamed and fought to take pictures of me, even though they had no idea who I was. It was so overwhelming and disorienting being pushed through the admiring crowd toward a waiting limo. I knew, for the first time, what an actual celebrity must feel like. I had only been playing at being one, but I now felt it was within my grasp.

35 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

I walked past a table full of beautiful girls, with Wesley Snipes sitting smack in the middle of them all. He waved me over.

“So you’re the reporter from the E! Channel.” He smiled. “Why don’t you join us?”

Hesitantly, I sat down next to him, and all the other girls at the table shot me dagger looks. He was trying to get in their pants; they were trying to get in his pants; and I was confused. “So,” he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “do you like it up the ass?”

Being a porn star, I was used to such questions. But Wesley had no idea I was a porn star. Either way, I was offended.

Anal sex is an exchange of power. And every man I’ve ever met loves the idea of dominating a woman by pushing his massive dick into her tight sphincter so that she loses control.

For me to allow a man to have anal sex with me, I must have trust first. Because to be on the receiving end of anal sex is to give yourself completely to your partner. And that’s why, despite the fact that it is practically an industry standard to have anal sex in every sex scene, I’ve never done it in a film.

36 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

When it was all over, he wrapped his naked body around mine. Instantly I stiffened. I hate cuddling. When I’m hot and sweaty and sticky, the last thing I want to do is be pressed up against something else that’s hot and sweaty and sticky. I pulled away, and he looked hurt.

37 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

“Why don’t you just stay and cuddle?” he asked.

“Did you just say the c-word?!”

I don’t cuddle, but I lay with him for a little while longer and listened to him talk about religion. Then I made my escape. Rod was still waiting in my room for me.

38 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

And he wanted to fuck me in the ass a little too often for my comfort. Every time we were naked, he’d be going for my butt like a rat to cheese.

39 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

It has become a constant issue for me. I’ve been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to do anal. But even if I walked away with $300,000 for having done it, I would also be taking away the feeling that I gave up something that was really important to me. This is almost embarrassing for a porn star to admit, but I’ve only given that up to three men, all of whom I really loved. Doing it on camera would be compromising myself. Sex, on the other hand, is something I’m comfortable giving up-albeit not often-to a stranger in a one-night stand. The fact is, I’ve only had about fifteen different male partners on camera.

40 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, artwork by Bernard Chang:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

41 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, artwork by Bernard Chang:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

42 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

A lot of guys want to get into porn to get laid. What are your thoughts on that?

Getting into porn is a death sentence. As a male performer you are doomed to be single for the rest of your life. A contract girl does eight to ten scenes per year. A guy performs seven to ten scenes per week at least. The number one performers do fifteen scenes per week. So what girl is going to go out with a guy who’s pounding fifteen other girls every week? No one. The guys don’t have any social life, because they are on set so much. And when they do go out, they are like lepers. Girls won’t touch them. Even girls in the industry avoid them, because it’s bad for their career to get stuck having sex with just one guy on camera.

43 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Every night became my birthday. I realized I could pull in more money if I told them that I blew off the chance to celebrate my birthday because it was so important to me to be there dancing for them instead. “So I’m here, happy birthday to me,” I thought. “That’s right, fuckers. Cough it up.”

44 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The Pink Poodle was a wild place, an all-nude strip theater that was always at the epicenter of some major scandal. The girls there were among the raunchiest performers I’ve seen onstage in this country. Nikki and I weren’t willing to do much more than get fucked-up and fall all over each other onstage, so our tips suffered accordingly.

The only thing that redeemed the night was meeting Mr. 187-a former marine, an erstwhile middleweight boxer, and the sergeant-at-arms for the West Coast chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Mr. 187 was a badass motherfucker who was angry at the world and enjoyed nothing more than snapping a guy’s arm for looking at him wrong. So naturally, we took him on tour with us.

45 “Anatomy of a Murder” by Will Harper, describes the killing at The Pink Poodle. “Hells Angels member gunned down at San Jose funeral” by Sam Webby and Tracey Kaplan is about the killing of Steve Tausan aka Mr. 187 at a funeral.

46 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

We were as destructive-and self-destructive-as a rock band. With both of us at the top of our game as porn stars, it was our greatest-hits tour. Most guys will watch a favorite porn clip more than they watch Star Wars or Zoolander, so when they saw us standing three inches from their faces, they went insane. Hundreds of people would chant our names before each show and fight to get close to the stage.

We brought feature dancing to a new level: Where some girls were getting $250 a show, we were getting $5,000, simply because we had the balls to demand it. Add to that Polaroids, tips, and merchandise, and we were pulling in over $100,000 for a three-night engagement. We insisted on five-star hotels with room service, limos to and from the club, and at least two security guards accompanying us at all times.

47 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Larry: You always lived in great houses. You always had swimming pools. You always had great cars. You always dressed the best.

Jenna: I don’t know about that, Dad.

Larry: To me you did. At least, as much as a $40,000 a year policeman could give you. I guess Florida was awful.

Jenna: Ugh, Florida was ghetto.

Tony: I remember going to school and it was so bad. There was a barbed-wire fence around the courtyard. All the tricycles were chained to a pole in the middle so the kids wouldn’t steal them. So the only way you could play with them was if everyone got on their tricycles in unison because they were all tied together. I was in shock. I sat back and went, “Oh my God.”

48 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Tony: Remember that guy who tried to burglarize our place? Me and Jenna were at home. I think he knew we were latchkey kids. We thought someone had come onto our little porch area. Then we heard the doorknob wiggle.

Jenna: And Dad and Marjorie didn’t believe us. They thought we were insane.

Jenna: Tony started sleeping with guns under his pillows when he was about six years old. It was insane. Dad would never give him bullets but he gave him little Derringers and shit.

Tony: Yeah, but every time Dad dropped a bullet in the house, I picked it up and kept it in a box. So I was pretty well armed.

49 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Tony: It all started when we were younger and would egg people. Then we decided to take it to a different level.

Jenna: I came up with the idea of the fire extinguisher. I was like, “They’re readily available at every apartment complex. We just gotta go break the glass and take the fire extinguisher, which sets off the fire alarm. But if we get out of there fast enough, we’re fine, right?” So we had a collection of them. And we would go “fog people up,” as we called it.

Tony: I’d call someone over to the car to get directions …

Jenna: … and I’d psssssshhht out of the window. It was great because it’s like a cloud of death. And the people afterward are just coated in white. We would go down to cracktown and see the crack hos on the corner and we’d fog ’em up! I remember one time we got this kid on a skateboard and there was a cop that saw us. We were in this total car chase, and we got away.

50 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Jenna: Yeah, the way I dressed worked in Las Vegas; it didn’t work in Montana. But I was popular with the boys, and I wasn’t going to give that up for these jealous girls in school. So it just got more violent because their boyfriends would leave them for me. There was this one corner that I had to pass on my way to school, and the girls would wait for me there and chase me. They were corn-fed, so they were pretty tough. One girl would get me by the back, and one would punch me in the stomach. They didn’t really hurt me, but Jesus Christ I got the wind knocked out of me. Or they would rip out my hair. During school, they would draw on the back of my shirt with markers, put gum in my hair, stuff like that.

51 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Larry: One day they called me and said, “We are going to put your child in a foster home if you don’t get her to go to school.”

Jenna: Oh, Dad. The worst thing happened in Montana. I never told you but I just can’t talk about it. It was so bad. And that’s why I stopped going to school. So when you told me that, I slipped a gear. I was like, “Okay, these people are threatening my life and trying to send me to a foster home? They want to play a game? Fine! We’ll play a game!” I wasn’t going to take this shit anymore. So I marched into school, and the girl who picked on me the most was leaning into her locker to get a book or something. I walked up full force and, boom, I slammed the locker door so hard and busted her head wide open.

52 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The job of porn star is not a calling—or even an option—for most women. However, if you make the right decisions and set the right boundaries for yourself, it can be a great living, because you’ll make a lot of money while doing very little work. And you’ll get more experience in front of the camera than any Hollywood actress. Though watching porn may seem degrading to some women, the fact is that it’s one of the few jobs for women where you can get to a certain level, look around, and feel so powerful, not just in the work environment but as a sexual being. So, fuck Gloria Steinem.

53 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

One local politician liked to be dominated and, although I had such a submissive personality naturally, one night I took his beer into the bathroom, peed into it, and then made him drink it. He loved it. The next night, he tipped me with a pink slip: for a brand-new Corvette.

From “Jenna Jameson: The Interview”:

Q: I was preparing for the interview and noticed that you have been in movies with both men and women. Do you have a preference to do a scene with a gentleman or a female?

They are very different. With men, I am very submissive. With women, I am very dominant. Which is weird. I try not to be dominant, and it would be nice to do a scene where I get my butt kicked. But I always end up being the man in the relationship (laughs). I get to be two different people.

Q: That is ironic, given your personality, I would expect you to be dominant with men as well.

Actually, I am very submissive. I think that has to do with my business, when I get home, it is nice to be a different self.

From “Jenna Jameson – Hotter Than Ever” (NSFW) by Bryan Keith:

Xtreme: I don’t know man, you’d have to tie a tourniquet around me for it not to end. But what do ya think your husband Jay’s biggest turn-on is?

Jenna: Wow, there’s so many. He likes, doggy style, he likes to be the dominant force in sex, which is great because I’m submissive when it comes to having sex with men, so I like a man who can show me who’s boss. And he’s one of those guys, that’s what turns him on…seeing a girl whimper, and I’m a good whimperer.

54 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Jenna: Dad’s had an amazing life. He went into the service right after he graduated high school.

Larry: That was in 1957. I was an, um, advisor for 729 days 16 hours and 27 minutes in Vietnam in the seventh armored division. But who’s counting?

Jenna: It’s hard to believe that you witnessed and participated in such violent scenes.

Larry: I’ll give you an example. I took twenty nuns and some orphans out of a little village sixty clicks southwest of Nha Trang and was waiting for helicopters to pick them up. But we were being followed by North Vietnamese regulars and some Viet Cong. So I placed myself halfway between the helicopters and the tree line. I had my Thompson machine gun on my back and my M14 rifle in my hands. When they came out of the tree line, I just started picking them off. The next day, they found sixty-one bodies that I had killed lying there. And that doesn’t include the bodies the North Vietnamese hauled off into the tree line.

Jenna: He killed all those guys without batting an eyelash, but he was scared of bugs.

55 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Tony: Later, he was sent to Africa to fight against a communist revolution over there.

Larry: The government came to me and said I could finish out my time if I’d organize and train soldiers in the Congo to fight the Simba communist revolution. It’s interesting because when you first go over you try to be so righteous. I grew up with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and they never shot anybody in the back. It was the white hats against the black hats. You have to do everything fair.

Well, I found out in war the best way to come home alive is to sneak up on people and shoot them. When I got to Africa I still had some humanity left. When we captured the rebels, we would have a trial and then we would pass judgment: we would imprison them, execute them, or send them back to their village. But after four months of walking in the bloody wake of Simba massacres, we flew the black flag. If you ran, you were a Simba rebel. If you stood still, you were a well-disciplined Simba rebel. So we shot everyone. I would come up to a village and, instead of going house to house, I would level the whole place. I would call in the P51 Mustangs. We used Napalm. I had a contingent of howitzers. We went from village to village killing them all. We just didn’t care. We didn’t care.

56 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, from a letter Larry Massoli sends his daughter when she’s writing the book:

And you don’t know this either, but we became Scientologists for a while. Judy’s brother, Dennis, was always a spiritual seeker. He gave me a job at the TV station and then turned us on to Scientology. He had been on L. Ron Hubbard’s boat with him.

Dennis [his late wife’s brother] found Scientology a little expensive, but it did us a lot of good and made me a little more compassionate and empathetic.

57 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Larry: It was very scary at that time. They had put a contract out on me. I was so worried about the kids. What happened was that a guy named Walter Plankinton had opened a place called the Chicken Ranch, and a couple of cronies from a rival bordello came and burned the place down. So my lieutenant told me, “You are going to get a call to go to the other side of the valley. When you get that call just do what you’re told and wait it out, no matter what happens.”

And I said, “Not on my watch.” So I kept them from getting revenge. I refused to take bribes or turn a blind eye to anything illegal, so everybody wanted to chase me out of town. It was like the Old West out there, and they didn’t want anyone trying to tackle the corruption.

Tony: Remember when we had to go hide out in Johnny Whitmore’s attic?

Jenna: I forgot about that.

Tony: I was sleeping in the dining room at the time, on a day bed. And I heard a crunching on the rocks, so I knew someone was out there. I looked outside and I saw a shadow. So I went to dad’s room. He was married to Marjorie then.

Larry: Oh, Christ, Marjorie. I needed someone to help me with the kids. That was a mistake.

Tony: So I knocked on their door, and Marjorie was like, “Shut the fuck up. Go back to bed.” I looked out the window and saw this guy in a bandanna, and he was wearing gloves and had a brick in his hand. I was so scared I couldn’t breathe. Then the brick came right through the window. And you came running out buck naked and grabbed a Thompson submachine gun and ran through the front door shooting. The gun lit up the night, and all I could hear was the brrrraaaaappp brrrraaaaappp from the machine gun.

Larry: He got away, so I put my uniform on and code three’d it over to the Shamrock, which was one of the brothels that had fire-bombed the Chicken Ranch. I drove the patrol car through the front door and unloaded two clips into the bar with that Thompson submachine gun. Then I said, “I want you fuckers to stop fucking with my family.” And we never had a problem after that.

58 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Larry: You know, the incident that sticks with me is when we were at the corporate apartment and we did coke. I did it with you, and you looked at Tony and said, “Go, Dad.”

Jenna: Get down with your bad self, Dad.

Larry: That’s exactly what you said. I will never forget that. I completely reversed myself from being the self-righteous stupid ass that I was to a psycho.

59 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

My dad, a former cop, whose sense of righteousness was so strong when I was growing up that he neglected his own children and risked his job to fight corruption on the police force, was now living this squalid life on the margins of society—running away from some sort of trouble in Vegas, dating a stripper, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, smoking the exact same drug he had seen nearly kill his daughter.

Larry: You know what? I don’t miss any drug. But the only drug I ever liked was crank. It’s the best drug on the planet, but smoking it. Not sniffing it.

Jenna: When did you smoke crank?

Larry: When I was managing the strip club. I did just enough to stay high all day.

60 From “Miss American Dream”, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

Andrea is not the real first name of a New York-based dominatrix who is a Britney obsessive. She is very skinny, with long hair, a pointy nose, smiley eyes, and perpetual excitement. We met on BreatheHeavy and I’d asked if we could meet the day of the show. She had texted me to look for her — “I’m in a cowgirl look” — and she was, boots and hat included.

She’s been a Stan (an obsessive fan, a term plucked from Eminem liturgy) since 2003; that was when Britney, to Andrea, became Authenticney, less Bubblegumney and dropping that bullshit wide-eyed Virginey act. It was Meltdowney circa 2008 that sealed the deal for her, though. “Oh, I loved it,” Andrea said. “She was just saying fuck you to the world over and over. This was who I knew she was. In the early 2000s, she was a phony. This was really her.”

61 From “Miss American Dream”, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

[Britney Spears] was sitting in a room in the semi-dark, slightly hunched over, a little bored, at the tail end of a daylong junket in which TV journalists asked her questions like “What do people not know about you?” (“Really that I’m pretty boring.”) and “What was the craziest rumor you ever heard about yourself?” (“That I died.”) and who her secret famous crush is, a question that she’s been asked for years and years and that she’s been giving the same answer to for years and years (“Brad Pitt”).

Everyone wants her most personal album and her most personal interview ever—we are a nation riveted by Britney’s personhood—and no matter how many times she answers our questions, still she is a whore and a liar and an idiot and a fraud.

Instead she answers the same questions she’s always answered: The crazy rumor, the favorite city to visit, the secret crush (that she died, for Christ’s sake; London, but she’s not sure why; Brad Pitt! Brad Pitt! For the love of god, it’s always Brad Pitt!). They’re gonna try to try you but they can’t deny you.

So now we get nothing, either because she’s wary of us or because she knows that if you’re reading this, your decision has already been made. Now she’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle bound together by a hair extension. Now, the weatherman gets to interview her.

62 I don’t know if I necessarily agree with the tone of this review, and I’ve often been hostile to this writer’s work in the past, but this very point is made in Jody Rosen’s review of the album Britney Jean, “Britney Jean is DOA”:

People who dislike pop music will sometimes point to Spears as Exhibit A — as evidence that pop is soulless industrial product, assembled by committee and performed by singing mannequins. Of all the major pop divas, Spears is the only one who resembles a singing (in her case, “singing”) mannequin. But her body of work is conclusive evidence that great pop — forsooth, art — can result from industrial production. Consider: “…Baby, One More Time,” “Oops!…I Did It Again,” “Toxic,” “Piece of Me,” “Til the World Ends,” “How I Roll.”

These songs are amazing, and they’re amazing not despite but because of Spears’s limitations. Spears has been one of the most reliable record-makers in music by playing to her strengths: by accentuating the synthetic, by making herself a vessel for songwriters’ ideas about celebrity and sex and other juicy topics, and by letting some of the world’s most talented producers treat her voice like sonic Laffy Taffy, a thing to be coated with sugar, dyed garish hues, and stretched into all kinds of preposterous shapes. It should be noted that credit for this aesthetic must go to Spears herself. Whatever she lacks in other areas, Britney has shown exceptional taste and judgment when it comes to what songs to record and release.

Unfortunately, on her eighth album, Spears had a wacky idea: to try to impersonate a sentient she-human. Britney Jean is, per Britney, “my most personal album ever.” The thing about personal albums is that they call for a personality, and a voice to project it. Britney Jean is dead on arrival.

“Miss American Dream” slightly mis-states what the review is reacting against, the nasty quality of the first single, “Work, Bitch”:

On the surface, “Work Bitch” is a bizarre dance song with depressing lyrics.

Vulture published a disgusted review, calling her not just the most boring singer on the planet but “the most boring person,” and “anti-matter in a belly shirt.”

Rosen’s review is not disgusted with the song, but actually likes it:

It has a couple of moments. I happen to like the stentorian career-counseling session “Work, Bitch,” in which Britney affects a bizarre “Euro” accent to bark out boasts and warmed-over RuPaul commands: “Go call the governor / I bring the trouble … You better work, bitch.

63 From “Miss American Dream”, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

The only fan I met who didn’t like the show—and I did meet so many fans—was, if you can believe it, poor Andrea. A few days later we talked on the phone and she told me that Britney had seemed so unhappy to be there that Andrea, in her catsuit and still with her cowgirl hat, almost wanted to leave. Andrea had once thrown a sex party where she’d had to hire prostitutes to have sex with a group of people while she stood over them with a whip. There was this one prostitute who technically did a good job—“She got fucked and sucked, which is all I asked her to do, right?”—but there was something so vacant in the prostitute’s eyes, something so unwilling that it kind of killed the whole thing for Andrea. That’s what this felt like.

64 From Durkheim:

Collective sentiments can just as well become incarnate in persons or formulae: some formulae are flags, while there are persons, either real or niythical, who are symbols. But there is one sort of emblem which should make an early appearance without reflection or calculation: this is tattooing. Indeed, well-known facts demonstrate that it is produced almost automatically in certain conditions. When men of an inferior culture are associated in a common life, they are frequently led, by an instinctive tendency, as it were, to paint or cut upon the body, images that bear witness to their common existence. According to a text of Procopius, the early Christians printed on their skin the name of Christ or the sign of the cross; for a long time, the groups of pilgrims going to Palestine were also tattooed on the arm or wrist with designs representing the cross or the monogram of Christ. This same usage is also reported among the pilgrims going to certain holy places in Italy. A curious case of spontaneous tattooing is given by Lombroso: twenty young men in an Italian college, when on the point of separating, decorated themselves with tattoos recording, in various ways, the years they had spent together. The same fact has frequently been observed among the soldiers in the same barracks, the sailors in the same boat, or the prisoners in the same jail. It will be understood that especially where methods are still rudimentary, tattooing should be the most direct and expressive means by which the communion of minds can be affirmed. The best way of proving to one’s self and to others that one is a member of a certain group is to place a distinctive mark on the body.

For the same reason, the personages who for centuries have been the subject of myths respectfully passed on from mouth to mouth, and periodically put into action by the rites, could not fail to take a very especial place in the popular imagination.

But how does it happen that, instead of remaining outside of the organized society, they have become regular members of it?

This is because each individual is the double of an ancestor. Now when two beings are related as closely as this, they are naturally conceived as incorporated together; since they participate in the same nature, it seems as though that which affects one ought to affect the other as well. Thus the group of mythical ancestors became attached to the society of thé living; the same interests and the same passions were attributed to each; they were regarded as associates. However, as the former had a higher dignity than the latter, this association takes, in the public mind, the form of an agreement between superiors and inferiors, between patrons and clients, benefactors and recipients. Thus comes this curious idea of a protecting genius who is attached to each individual.

65 From “Megan Fox Clarifies Lindsay Lohan-Marilyn Monroe Comparison in Esquire” by Bruna Nessif:

“In the newly released article that I did for Esquire, there is a reference that is made to Lindsay Lohan that I would like to clarify before it snowballs into something silly,” Fox wrote.

“The journalist and I were discussing why I was removing my Marilyn Monroe tattoo, especially since in his opinion, Marilyn was such a powerful and iconic figure for women. I attempted to draw parallels between Lindsay and Marilyn in order to illustrate my point that while Marilyn may be an icon now, sadly she was not respected and taken seriously while she was still living,” she added.

Fox continued, “Both women were gifted actresses, whose natural talent was lost amongst the chaos and incessant media scrutiny surrounding their lifestyles and their difficulties adhering to studio schedules etc. I intended for this to be a factual comparison of two women with similar experiences in Hollywood. Unfortunately it turned into me offering up what is really much more of an uneducated opinion. It was most definitely not my intention to criticize or degrade Lindsay. I would never want her to feel bullied, as she does not deserve that. I was not always speaking eloquently during this interview and this miscommunication is my fault.”

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Brian De Palma’s Blow Out: “Good Scream.”

(Everything I post is to some degree unfinished, but a movie about which so much can be said and so dear to my heart as this one, I will no doubt have more to say about, and so this post might be considered more unfinished than others. An invaluable resource on all things De Palma, which I have already mentioned here is the site De Palma a la Mod; an excellent resource for this specific post was the three hour plus episode devoted to this movie by The Projection Booth podcast, “Episode 140: Blow Out” hosted by Mike White, Rob St. Mary, with guest Jamie Duvall, and featuring interviews with Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz, and producer Fred Caruso. The podcast is frequented quoted in the following and I’m grateful for their diligent and in-depth work. SPOILERS for Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, The Fury, The Black Dahlia, Casualties of War, and The Parallax View. Since this is a fairly in-depth examination of this movie, it is assumed that whoever reads it has already seen Blow Out and requires no summary or description of the plot, and none is given.)

Something’s Got to Give had portrayed Marilyn as a shipwreck survivor who has been out of the world for years. She was to ask her rescuers, “Who’s President now?” Told it is Kennedy, she would respond, “Which Kennedy?”

Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Anthony Summers

PAULA
Where were you when Kennedy got shot?

HARRY MOSEBY
Which Kennedy?

Night Moves

SEGISMUND
A dream!
That seem’d as swearable reality
As what I wake in now.

CLOTALDO
Ay-wondrous how
Imagination in a sleeping brain
Out of the uncontingent senses draws
Sensations strong as from the real touch;
That we not only laugh aloud, and drench
With tears our pillow; but in the agony
Of some imaginary conflict, fight
And struggle – ev’n as you did; some, ’tis thought,
Under the dreamt-of stroke of death have died.

Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

There came Death expertly threading his graceless bicycle through traffic at the intersection of Wilshire and La Brea where, because of street repair, two westbound Wilshire lanes were funneling into one.

Death so swift! Death thumbing his nose at middle-aged horn honkers.

Death laughing, Screw you, buddy! And you.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

SEGISMUND
In all the shining circuits you have gone
About this theatre of human woe,
What greater sorrow have you gazed upon
Than down this narrow chink you witness still;
And which, did you yourselves not fore-devise,
You registered for others to fulfil!

Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

I face the difficulty that anyone does who writes about one of their great passions, that the insights you have, the details you wish to point out, all an expression of the fervent excitement I have for this movie, these things have already been pointed out, are already well known, and your analysis is ultimately a self-centered demonstration, only of your own devotion, rather than giving off anything of valuable luminescence. I do not think what follows is an entirely well worn path, and I try to avoid the rote or the obvious, but given that this is one of Brian De Palma’s most cherished films among his fans, I no doubt repeat things others have many times before. As always, it carries the value and disadvantage that it is only my view, an idiosyncratic map of a movie that has meant so much to me for many years.

STRONG AS A COBWEB IN THE WIND1

It’s often classed as a conspiracy theory movie, and though this is definitionally correct, it’s also a misrepresentation that might disappoint viewers expecting a creature of this zoological class. The approach of most of this genre of movie is polemical, and the conspiratorial schematic it presents is part of the polemic: such a conspiracy is possible, now. The Parallax View might be the most memorable example of this, attempting to make the implausible plausible, a conspiracy theory without melodrama in music, direction, or characterization, told in the language of social realism; where the assassination of political figures in the United States takes place, a cover-up with the accompanying murder follows, and the very man investigating the conspiracy becomes its patsy, the assassin’s weapon placed in his dead hand. There is the outlining of a plausible schematic, and at the same time the conspiratorial group is invested with powers that verge on the mystic. They are able to travel everywhere, they are near invisible, they can kill whoever they wish, and they are flawless in their actions, never giving themselves away or making a mistake – when they appear to do so in Parallax, they are actually just laying down a trail of breadcrumbs to lead the hero to his doom.

Blow Out inverts this almost immediately; it is not the villains who possess a power that might be considered almost divine, but the hero. Jack Terry goes out into the park to record sounds, and we see him able to hear at vast superhuman distances, the same mechanical gift which gives him entry into the world of the twisting plot that follows. He moves his microphone and picks up what to the viewer’s ears sounds like the leg rubbing clicks of some night insect, yet Jack’s knowledge of sounds is superior to ours, and he already hears something unnatural, mechanical in these insect-like sounds. They are not insect noises at all, but Burke pulling the wire back and forth of his watch, a nervous tic he falls into whenever he waits before pulling one of his acts of subterfuge, and we hear this same sinister noise when he is lying in the car before going into the garage to change the tire, and finally, before killing the prostitute at the train station.

Blow Out: the sound of the wire in the watch.

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After the sounds of the wire snapping in and out, Jack hears another sound from Burke at extraordinary distance which no one else nearby hears, the crunch of leaves as the man adjusts his position on the ground. The soundman then focuses on the owl, and the two briefly share the sides of the screen, both creatures of superhuman hearing. The owl cocks its head, picking up a sound so faraway it doesn’t even appear on the soundtrack and not even Jack hears it, the senator’s car approaching. The owl then turns its head entirely as the car drives quickly down the road and Terry shifts his attention as well, hearing the squeal of the tires long before the car is anywhere near in view.

Blow Out: hearing at a distance.

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The other trope of conspiracy movies, unused in Blow Out, is a hero moving along the nodes of the conspiracy before reaching its nexus, the heart, or one of several hearts of american power. This might be the Parallax corporation in Parallax, the top echelons of the CIA in Three Days of the Condor, the White House, no matter – but we have a sense of the hero navigating through the labyrinth and getting closer and closer to a center of the universe, the truth finally unveiled. By contrast, Blow Out begins on the fringes and stays on the fringes, with Jack’s position remaining essentially static. Jack and Sally are portrayed as being on the edges, of being unimportant people, not the Jim Garrison of JFK, but something like a face in the Dallas crowd and a minor dancer at Jack Ruby’s, through the movie’s compositions. There is Jack, on his listening expedition, the camera moving further and further out, till he is an insignificant point in the landscape.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack as a tiny speck on the bridge

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack on the bridge, a small point

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack on the bridge, a smaller point

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack on the bridge, an even smaller point

A similar sequence, after Jack rescues Sally:

Blow Out: figures in the landscape.

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Jack is in the hospital, after the rescue, and he is sealed off in rooms while the frenzy erupts outside.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - frenzy outside

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack in hospital, frenzy outside

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack smoking in hospital, frenzy outside

Jack is given a condescending point and summoning finger, as if he were a delinquent child, by a cop on behalf of one of the Philadelphia brahmins:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack gets pointed at

Jack and Sally meet for a drink as he tries to persuade her from leaving the city, and we have a prolonged establishing shot where the focus is split between them and the men at the bar.

Blow Out: Jack, Sally, and the men in the bar.

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There is the obvious culmination of this in the moment where Sally fights for her life, as we shift from the justly famous shot of her screaming in terror with the flag behind her, a woman in trouble whose suffering is briefly made operatic and epic, her screams heard on Jack’s earphones and this is the center point of his life, the point to which he has moved towards and whose effects will radiate out for the rest of his existence – and then, Sally is an unnoticed and indistinct point in the tower as the unhearing crowd celebrates below, as she’s caught under Burke’s wire again:

Blow Out: a figure in the distance.

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That Jack and Sally remain on the edges of the conspiracy is a function and a necessity of the plot, but it also is very much to do with the position of these characters in society itself. They are part of the overly broad, overly general category “working class”, and though the label is overly vague, there is the obvious marker in both characters, which is that neither goes to university and there appears to have been no expectation that they would get a degree, joining one of the coveted professional classes, of doctors, lawyers, engineers, or tenured professors. Jack’s only recourse for acquiring a technical education is through military service – his family does not have the money for university, and Sally is not surprised that this would be his only option. America is both supposedly a classless society while being very much a country with a class hierarchy, and we can see the prevalence of such a hierarchy by the fact that characters from this class – other than cops, firefighters, and soldiers – rarely appear in movies unaccompanied with a polemical theme about their economic status. The movie must be about bettering themselves, about being someone other than themselves, about acquiring a university education – Blow Out, in contrast, is simply about these characters on their own terms. They are not made stupid, crude, or ugly as an expression of their class, they are not seen solely by those outside of their class, but rather, the movie’s perspective is their own. It’s difficult to conceive of Jack Terry having much interest in a university education, not because he’s unintelligent or incurious, but because his interest is so focused, so specialized around sound technology, that he would rightly wonder what a degree in any field would offer him. That Jack Terry fails by the movie’s end is not because of any lack of education or lack of intelligence, but because he sees the unveiling of the conspiracy as a redemption for the failed police sting, and he wants that redemption so badly that he becomes careless. This sin is not made into a problem or issue of any particular class, but a fatal error possible of every member of the audience.

I have written of an assassination plot and its cover-up, at which Jack and Sally are positioned at the very far fringes, and we now reach the final point which makes Blow Out very distinct from other conspiracy thrillers: there is no conspiracy. The events of the movie are not the result of a convergence of shadowy figures and forces, but the result of only one man, and that’s Burke. He has been given the simple assignment of having Manny Karp take photos of Sally and the governor together, and either by accident or on his own maverick initiative, he commits a murder. Everything that follows, the cover-up, the serial killings, the erasing of Jack’s tapes, the death of Sally, is Burke acting on his own, with campaign manager Jack Manners wanting nothing to do with this out of control lunatic he hired for a very simple piece of campaign sabotage.

The conversation between Burke and Jack Matters, campaign manager for the president:

JACK MATTERS
You were supposed to get some pictures of McRyan, not kill him.

BURKE
I understood the objectives of the operation…I never concurred with them. But I didn’t kill him, it was an accident.

MATTERS
You accidentally shot out the tire of his car!

BURKE
As you may recall, this was my initial plan as proposed at our meeting of June the 6th.

MATTERS
We rejected that plan, don’t you remember?

BURKE
Course I do admit I had to exceed the parameters of my authority somewhat, but I always stayed within an acceptable margin of error. After all, the objective was achieved. He was eliminated from the election.

MATTERS
Burke. I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you. Don’t ever call me again.

BURKE
Just a minute, sir. We’ve got some loose ends. I’ve changed the tire, made it look like a blow out. I’ve erased the sound guy’s tapes, so everybody will think he’s a crackpot. Karp’s disappeared, but I’ll find him. That still leaves the girl. I’ve decided to terminate her, and make it look like one of a series of sex killings in the area. This would completely secure our operation.

MATTERS
WHAT OPERATION!

Brian De Palma's Blow - Burke on the phone

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Matters on the phone

The Projection Booth podcast put together an episode, “Episode 140: Blow Out”, full of vital details on the movie in which they touched on the way information on the conspiracy is conveyed, far different from that in other movies of the genre. Mike White is the co-host, along with Rob St. Mary (fragment is at approximately 24:19-26:12 in the recording):

MIKE WHITE
So, it’s an interesting story of who’s watching who and who knows what when. Because that’s the other thing that I find very interesting about this one is the way we’re being handed information, like I was talking about with the television earlier, which kinda comes back a few times. I mean, there’s Manny, we see him on the TV, and that’s when Jack’s buddy comes in, and turns on the television set for him. But this whole idea of when do we know things versus when Jack knows them? Like, Burke putting the tire, the replacement tire, with the car, Nick Ryan’s car. We know that before Jack knows, and Jack is insisting “Check the tire! Check the tire!”, you know. It’s like, okay, we already know that that’s going on, and then we know as well, because we have Burke saying “I’ve erased all of his tapes,” so they’re going to think he’s crazy, we know that before Jack knows, and we get that amazing scene, of Jack going in, and playing all of his tapes, and having everything coming out blank, and that whole camera move, you know, I don’t wanna say three sixty, because that would imply the camera was in one spot and just turning around, cuz that camera is really exploring the space and going around, throughout the entire room, and just the way we run into Jack as you’re going around clockwise, it’s just a remarkable set piece.

This unveils a crucial aspect of Blow Out, but this is only a partial aspect. It is not simply that the audience knows things before Jack learns of them, but that we know things with certainty, that Jack only hypothesizes about – and of which he never gains hard evidence. Only the audience is able to clearly see that there is no conspiracy, that all the malice which takes place is caused by Burke. For Jack, this is all a cloud of unknowing, on which he projects a vast network which doesn’t exist onto this opaque expanse. “Who’s ever in on this thing has a contacts in the police, because they want McRyan to sink without a trace,” Jack tells Sally. “They don’t want to hear about my gunshot.” There is not Burke alone, but a they: “They have erased my tapes, they’ve made you disappear, and next it’s going to be me.” The asymmetry of information between Jack and the audience begins almost immediately after the accident, when Jack dives into the water to save Sally, at the same time the audience clearly sees Manny Karp move away from his hiding place under the bridge and run away, a figure entirely unseen by Jack.

Blow Out: Manny Karp under the bridge.

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Blow Out: Manny Karp fleeing the scene.

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By the end of the movie, he still has no idea whether the attempt to compromise McRyan came from the opposing camp, or McRyan’s own campaign manager, the man who asked that he lie about being at the scene of the accident. Jack’s suspicion is not glib paranoia, but comes from difficult worldly experience. He worked for the King Commission2, where he saw cops take money from gangsters to avoid prosecution, and he saw cops turn on their own when these crimes were revealed. Mackey hates him for his part in this, “I know all about you and your fucking tapes, you put a lot of good cops away”, and Jack must consider the obvious possibility that Mackey is working against him out of vengeance for what he did in the past3. In something like Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, or even All The President’s Men (if we’re unfamiliar with the real-life basis of the last), we learn things at the same pace as the heroes, while in Blow Out we’re given a situation that is entirely its opposite. Jack Terry has a gift of far reaching and discerning hearing which exceeds ours, yet he learns almost nothing more of the plot behind the accident, while we are shown all.

THE DROWNING POOL, THE BAGMAN, THE BURGLARS,
ASPIRIN ROULETTE

The approach of Blow Out places an emphasis on the intimate, and the vivid sensual of noise and light, rather than the traveling of a convoluted plot which twists through the nodes of the conspiracy. As already said, this conspiracy has a node of one, Burke – there is no conspiracy – except that which Jack Terry has past basis to imagine. Instead of explorations of the echelons of power, we are with the characters close-up. We are given a lengthy sequence as Jack splices together the photos of the crash accident and syncs the audio with this film where we see his dedication and skill in his work; the well-known scene where Jack discovers the disorienting violation of his audio tapes having been erased, as the camera spins dizzyingly around and we hear the absence in what’s been left, not silence, but a chugging rumble and a whirring siren; the squalid scenes between Manny and Sally where we see the desperation and misery of her life. This is the core of the movie, rather than a murder plot, which, as said, remains largely a mystery to Jack by the film’s end.

I would liken the movie’s relationship to the historical scandal which initiates the plot with Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates, which takes the event of Chappaquiddick and rather than dwell on the specifics of that actual scandal, turns it into a kind of novella of vivid, often fantastic, sensation, where a woman drowns in a senator’s car, only to be revived, and the revival revealed to be an illusion, and again she dies, but no, by some miracle survives, all on an infinite loop, the recurrence of the death and the false promise of survival an unending nightmare. The senator’s tongue down the girl’s throat melts into the choking dark water, then into the suction hose that pumps her stomach in a revival attempt, the hose becoming the senator’s tongue again. The senator is obviously Edward Kennedy, but those wishing for a scathing satire will be disappointed; no mercy is shown by Oates in the portrayal, but her focus is more abstract, creating a fantastic horror world, and portraying the liberalism of the early nineties as a kind of a church in decline, where novices such as the dead woman have lost interest in the tenets of the faith and community good works, preferring idolatry of the church elders like the senator.

A fragment of Black Water, one of the many describing the crash, conveys the hypervivid sensation which takes precedent over plot points or attempts to parallel historical fact:

She heard the single expletive “Hey!” as the car skidded into a guardrail skidding sideways, the right rear coming around as in a demonic amusement ride and her head cracked against the window a red mist flashing across her eyes but she could not draw breath to scream as the momentum of their speed carried them down a brief but steep embankment, an angry staccato tapping against the car as if dried sticks were being broken, still she had not breath to scream as the car plunged into what appeared to be a pit, a pool, stagnant water in the marshland you might think only a few feet deep but black water was churning alive and purposeful on all sides tugging them down, the car sinking on its side, and Kelly was blinded, The Senator fell against her, and their heads knocked and how long it was the two of them struggled together, stunned, desperate, in terror of what was happening out of their control and even their comprehension except to think This can’t be happening, am I going to die like this, how many seconds or minutes before The Senator moaning “Oh God. Oh God” fumbled clawing at the safety belts extricating himself by sheer strength from his seat behind the broken steering wheel and with fanatic strength forcing himself through the door, opening the door against the weight of black water and gravity that door so strangely where it should not have been, overhead, directly over their heads, as if the very earth had tilted insanely on its axis and the sky now invisible was lost in the black muck beneath – how long, in her terror and confusion Kelly Kelleher could not have said.

Because Blow Out‘s focus is on the world of its two major characters, the initiating event incidental, the accident itself has the quality of a dream of overlapping scandals, of the Kennedy assassination, Chappaquiddick, and the government cover-up of Watergate. I would argue that the movie’s lack of focus on the conspiracy event, its disinterest in outlining a surrounding labyrinth, leaves us with images, the vast park, the sinking car, the drowning woman, the dead governor, abstracting the accident like Black Water does, and partly disconnects the event from actual history – when it is very much connected to past history, in the characters of Burke, of Manny Karp, of the accident, all of which are taken from the hard details of the intersection of Watergate and Chappaquiddick, and of which I think De Palma was familiar.

Richard Nixon was obsessed with all of the Kennedys, their good looks, their charm, their wealth, their connections to the eastern establishment that he despised, an animus that ran from the brother he ran against and lost, to the last survivor, even after the debacle of Chappaquiddick. This obsession shows up in that other movie which touches on Watergate, All the President’s Men, when Carl Bernstein talks to a secretary who used to work in the White House about one of the Watergate burglars, E. Howard Hunt:

BERNSTEIN
Did you know…Howard Hunt? Didn’t he work in the office?

SECRETARY
Yeah, I knew Howard. He’s a nice person. He’s secretive. He is secretive. But. A decent man.

BERNSTEIN
Do you have any idea…what he did?

SECRETARY
Well, the White House said he was doing some investigative work.

BERNSTEIN (smiles)
What do you say?

SECRETARY
He was doing investigative work.

BERNSTEIN
On what?

SECRETARY
Different things.

BERNSTEIN
Like what? I’m just asking you.

SECRETARY
Well…the scuttlebutt for a while was that he was investigating Kennedy.

BERNSTEIN
Why?

SECRETARY
White House is real paranoid about Teddy Kennedy. I remember seeing a book about Chappaquiddick on his desk. And he was always getting material out of the White House library, the library of congress, anything he could find.

(the previous dialogue is not from the published script of All the President’s Men, which can be found here, but is a direct transcript from the movie since there are substantial differences between the lines in the movie and that of the script.)

This obsession is also revealed in the Nixon White House tapes, in these moments where the president tells his close advisors that he wants Ted Kennedy’s Secret Service protection to be used for surveillance, in order to gather damaging information which can be used to destroy him in the 1976 presidential campaign:

(Transcripts are taken from Stanley Kutler’s Abuse of Power and the transcript at whitehousetapes.net, Thursday, September 7, 1972 – 4:47pm – 6:15pm. Audio for the first segment is the file rmn_e772_06.mp3 taken from the nixontapes.org audio archive, specific page “Chron 4 Oval Office Conversations: July 1, 1972 – November 1, 1972”, entry OVAL 772-006. Audio for the second segment is the file rmn_e772_15b, also taken from the same site, same page, entry OVAL 772-015b. The tangential issue dealing with the names Schultz and O’Brien has to do with George Schultz, then head of the Treasury and Larry O’Brien, head of the Democratic National Committee. The Nixon administration was trying to go after O’Brien through IRS audits.)

The ongoing attempt to find dirt on Ted Kennedy intersected with the Chappaquiddick drowning, which prompted the Nixon White House to send out a private detective to research the area to find any witnesses or dirt they might use to further damage the Massachussetts senator. The man they sent out for the assignment, Tony Ulasewicz, is described by another Watergate burglar, G. Gordon Liddy in his memoir Will. The Caulfield mentioned is Jack Caulfield, another private detective in the pay of the Nixon White House:

We found “Tony,” later identified at Watergate hearings as Anthony Ulasewicz, at Apartment 11-C, 321 East 48th Street, Manhattan. Caulfield had described the place as “a very elaborate pad – beautiful, wait’ll ya see it. My guy Tony’s puttin’ the make on one of the Chappaquiddick broads. The joint’s wired for sound. He gets her in the sack a few times, wins her confidence, and we get the facts.”

When “Tony” opened the door, I couldn’t believe what I saw. First there was “Tony” himself; a big, overweight middle-aged man who in his best day would not exactly rival Redford. Still, Casanova himself was an ugly man, and maybe “Tony” had something only a woman could appreciate. The apartment itself was something else. It was small, so small that the “bedroom” was nothing but a tiny converted alcove with a pitiful, homemade wall erected across its opening and a curtain for a door. The wall, in which he was trying to hide a tape recorder, was covered in the fake brick sold at Montgomery Ward stores in poor neighborhoods to dress up aging kitchens. A white shag rug was on the floor, and the windows were hung with red imitation velvet drapes. The decor was strictly better-grade Juarez whorehouse circa 1951.

I note two things. Jorge Luis Borges praises the magical precision of the phrase “half as old as time,” in a poetic stanza4, as opposed to the more banal and obvious “as old as time,” and this magical precision is there in describing an apartment as “better-grade Juarez whorehouse” as opposed to simply “Juarez whorehouse”. The other, more important point, is that the description of the sleazy Ulasewicz and his tiny, squalid apartment is very reminiscent of a character we are already well familiar with, Manny Karp.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Sally and Manny in his room

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Sally and Manny in his room

Ulasewicz’s voice, a practical, matter of the fact, guttural well familiar with the ass end of politics, comes across well in a BBC documentary on the Watergate scandal (“Watergate 1/5: Break-in”, “Watergate 2/5: Cover-up”, “Watergate 3/5: Scapegoat”, “Watergate 4/5: Massacre”, “Watergate 5/5: Impeachment”), showing up in “Cover-up”, when the detective is recruited for another assignment, to pay off hush money to the Watergate burglars.

Segment running from approximately 24:24-26:35:

NARRATOR
Five days after the break-in, the burglars were brought to court to be released on bail. The president’s men set about organizing their hush money. Richard Nixon’s private lawyer, Herb Kalmbach, got the assignment.

MAURICE STANS (CAMPAIGN FINANCE CHAIRMAN)
Herb Kalmbach was a close personal friend of mine, and I trusted him in every respect. So, when he came to me and said he’d like all the money I could find up to a hundred thousand dollars, I said, “I can’t find a hundred thousand dollars,” but I know where there is some money, can you tell me anything more about it? He said, “I can only tell you it’s a matter of the White House needing some money – related to the campaign.

NARRATOR
Kalmbach collected seventy five thousand dollars of Nixon campaign funds. But he had to find someone to deliver it.

TONY ULASEWICZ
I got a call…to come down to Washington. And to meet with Mr. Herbert Kalmbach. I came to the hotel in Washington, D.C., I came up right away…he didn’t have his socks on, and he apologized for that. And I’d been in the army, in the navy, and he apologized for not having his socks on. At any rate, he got into this story, he’d met with John Dean. A park bench across from the White House. Dean said that on the highest authority, it was decided, that Herb Kalmbach would provide funds and that Tony Ulasewicz, the only one they could trust, would distribute said funds, to those who broke into the Watergate building. So now, he has an attaché case, and he’s got seventy five grand in there. The seventy five thousand now, he’s taking it out of the attaché case, and putting it on a bed. Now, seventy five grand, you know, is quite a bit of lettuce. And there was a laundry bag in the closet, one of these, very thin brown paper that you put your laundry in and leave it out by the door. And I plucked all that cabbage, and I put it into the bag, tied it up with the string, maybe twice over, put it under my arm, and said we’ll be in touch. Now, I’ll await your instructions.

Segment running from approximately 40:16-41:43:

NARRATOR
Nixon’s re-election machine looked unstoppable. But he knew that if the Watergate burglars started talking, it would be all over. So his campaign funds were used to buy more than just rallies, they bought silence. Howard Hunt and his wife began taking delivery of the hush money to distribute to the burglars.

TONY ULASEWICZ
I’m gonna do these drops at the airport. And I would- Because lockers were always handy. I’d get a locker number, I’d take the key, put the money in the locker, take the key out. And I’d tape it underneath the telephone. Then I would call on another phone, I’d call the person, whatever name we’d use, Mrs. Hunt at that time, one time Mr. Hunt appeared and picked it up, and I’d say the key is taped- Take that key and go to the locker and pick up your drop. And that’s the way we did it. And it worked very well.

If Karp is made in the image of Ulasewicz, then Burke is a replica of the Watergate burglar already mentioned, G. Gordon Liddy. There is a constricted, lunatic fanaticism to Liddy, and a blind worship of force, both of which can be seen in Burke. It is possible that Liddy’s later behavior can be traced to his overwhelming desire to serve in the army, and fight in Korea, the latter hope dashed when he busted his appendix after a bout of drinking followed by a sit-up contest. This failure to serve may have caused him to overcompensate later on, where he invested every aspect of life with the rigor of a Prussian and coiled violence of a Cossack. Liddy would work in the White House, ostensibly as legal counsel to the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), but really to perform intelligence gathering and sabotage of their democratic opponents. The political aides inside the Nixon White House would brag and brag about the presidential rallies they’d organized, which soon ran on Liddy’s nerves. “Hey, you guys,” he’d ask, “you want to see a real rally?,” after which he took them to one of his favorite movies, Triumph of the Will.

Liddy would present something called GEMSTONE to Nixon’s Attorney General for approval. GEMSTONE was a series of plans to disrupt Democratic rivals and gather information on these rivals through spies and surveillance, each element named after a gem or mineral element. Liddy does a thorough job describing the presentation in Will, and the following are some representative excerpts:

DIAMOND was our counterdemonstration plan. At the time, we still expected the [Republican convention] to be held in San Diego. I repeated my objections to the site, then pointed out that the best technique for dealing with a mob had been worked out years before by the famed Texas Rangers.

I pointed out that we would be dealing with skilled and determined urban guerillas who had been distributing manuals for violent guerilla tactics against the convention, including homemade bombs; that the Sports Arena area would be impossible to hold against a well-led mob attack; and that I proposed to emulate the Texas Rangers by identifying the leaders through intelligence before the attack got under way, kidnap them, drug them, and hold them in Mexico until after the convention was over, then release them unharmed and still wondering what happened.

RUBY concerned the infiltration of spies into the camp of Democratic contenders, then the successful candidate himself. COAL was the program to furnish money clandestinely to Shirley Chisholm of New York to finance her as a contender and force Democratic candidates to fight off a black woman, bound to generate ill-feeling among the black community and, we hoped, cause them difficulty with women.

EMERALD outlined the use of a chase plane to eavesdrop on the Democratic candidate’s aircraft and buses when his entourage used radio telephones.

QUARTZ detailed emulation of the technique used by the Soviet Union for microwave interception of telephone traffic, and I explained in detail the way it was done by the Soviet Embassy.

For use in gathering information at the Democratic National Convention at Miami Beach, Hunt [this is the already mentioned Watergate burglar, E. Howard Hunt] and I had an option to lease a large houseboat moored within line of sight of the Fontainebleau [a hotel in Miami]. This would enable it to be used as a communications center for CRYSTAL – electronic surveillance. It was an opulent barge, with a lush bedroom featuring a large mirror over the big king-sized bed. We’d get our money’s worth from the houseboat. It would double as headquarters for SAPPHIRE because it was from there that our prostitutes were to operate. They were not to operate as hookers but as spoiled, rich, beautiful women who were only too susceptible to men who could brag convincingly of the importance of what they were doing at the convention. The bedroom would be wired for sound, but I disagreed with Hunt’s suggestion that movie cameras be used. That wouldn’t be necessary to get the information, might cost us the women recruited who might object to being filmed in flagrante, and, as I pointed out to Howard, there wasn’t room to install them overhead anyway.

I presented a plan for four black-bag jobs, OPALs I through IV. They were clandestine entries at which microphone surveillances could be placed, as well as TOPAZ: photographs taken of any documents available, including those under lock. As targets I proposed the headquarters of Senator Edmund Muskie’s campaign on K Street, N.W.; that of Senator George McGovern on Capitol Hill; one for the Democratic National Convention at any hotel, because we had access to just about anything we wanted through all the Cuban help employed in the Miami Beach hotels. One entry would be held in reserve for any target of opportunity Mitchell wished to designate as we went along. I looked at him questioningly, but he just kept sucking on his pipe, suggesting none.

The total cost of these operations, Liddy would tell Attorney General John Mitchell, was one million dollars.

John Mitchell made much of filling and relighting his pipe and then said, “Gordon, a million dollars is a hell of a lot of money, much more than we had in mind. I’d like you to go back and come up with something more realistic.”

As I restacked the charts, John Mitchell continued, “And Gordon?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Burn those charts; do it personally.”

“Yes, sir.”

Again, these plans for illegal wiretaps, break-ins, use of prostitutes for surveillance of members of an official political party of the United States were all presented for approval to the highest arbiter of justice in the land, Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell. In Blow Out, Burke receives his orders from the president’s campaign manager, Jack Manners, with the killing of the governor and the later cover-up all rogue operations which had been presented to the campaign manager, and which he has already rejected. Who does Manners look uncannily like? John Mitchell, Nixon’s attorney general and, in the 1968 and 1972 elections, his campaign manager.

There was another operation that Liddy was involved in, outside of the command structure of John Mitchell, and that dealt with a reporter named Jack Anderson, who’d infuriated the White House by his publication of stories reliant on insider leaks that were devastating to the administration. Liddy is forthright in Will about the plan of action against Anderson, put forth by fellow Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt at a luncheon, also attended by a medical doctor named Edward Gunn. Both Gunn and Hunt were formerly of the CIA.

The purpose of the luncheon, Hunt had explained to me previously, was to take advantage of the expertise of Dr. Gunn in preparing, for the approval of Hunt’s “principal,” a plan to stop columnist Jack Anderson. Even with each other, Hunt and I often, when discussing the most sensitive of matters, used the term my principal rather than identify our superiors. I, at least, had several. Hunt, to my knowledge, had only one: Chuck Colson.

Anderson, Hunt reported, had now gone too far. As the direct result of an Anderson story, a top U.S. intelligence source abroad had been so compromised that, if not already dead, he would be in a matter of days. That was too much. Something had to be done.

I took the position that, in a hypothetical case in which the target had been the direct cause of the identification and execution of one of our agents abroad, halfway measures were not appropriate. How many of our people should we let him kill before we stop him, I asked rhetorically, still not using Anderson’s name. I urged as the logical and just solution that the target be killed. Quickly.

My suggestion was received with immediate acceptance, almost relief, as if they were just waiting for someone else to say for them what was really on their minds.

Liddy would also explain in Will his justification for assassinating a journalist:

There is a point beyond which I will not go, and that is anything my conscience tells me is malum in se (evil in and of itself) or my judgement tells me is irrational. I have no problem with doing something that is malum prohibitum (wrong only because of the existence of a law prohibiting it).

An example of malum in se would be the sexual assault of a child. In every society such a thing would be recognized as wrong. It would require no act of the legislature forbidding it to inform people that it was wrong. An example of malum prohibitum, on the other hand, would be the statute prohibiting driving through a stop sign without coming to a complete halt. Absent such a law, to do so would be a morally indifferent act.

Common sense tells us that minor problems require and justify but minor responses, and only extreme problems require and justify extreme solutions. In the case of killing it is well to remember that the Ten Commandments, translated correctly from the original Aramaic, do not contain the injunction “Thou shalt not kill.” It reads, “Thou shalt not do murder.” Quite another thing. There are circumstances that not only justify killing but require it (when one is charged with the safekeeping of a child, for example, and the only way to prevent its death from another’s attack is to kill that other person). These are all situations that require informed and responsible judgements.

A number of methods of assassination were discussed. There was the possibility of applying LSD to the steering wheel of Anderson’s car, which might trigger a disruption of motor functions, causing Anderson to fatally crash his vehicle. You could play a game called aspirin roulette, where one of Anderson’s aspirins was substituted with a lookalike pill that was a lethal poison. Another suggestion from Liddy: “I submitted that the target should just become a fatal victim of the notorious Washington street-crime rate.” One more was to smash into Anderson’s car, killing him, but making it look like one more traffic accident. Liddy would recall this last approach when he was a guest on “The Howard Stern Show” (this interview is on youtube, “G Gordon Liddy on Howard Stern Show Full Interview 2015”, and this section comes at 13:35):

STERN
If you had killed Jack Anderson, like you proposed to the Nixon Administration, what would you have used? Because you did advocate an assassination.

LIDDY
Yeah. Well, what we decided to do was…we knew the route he came into the office…and it included a traffic circle.

QUIVERS
You’re going to shoot him in the circle?

LIDDY
No, you’re not gonna shoot him in the circle. There’s a way you hit the car in a certain way, and it would flip and kill him.

STERN
The bullet, when they-

LIDDY
There’s no bullet, there’s a car accident.

QUIVERS
You’re hitting the car with a bullet, right?

LIDDY
No. No. You are hitting the car with another car.

This background is brought up to make obvious that the elements of the conspiracy in Blow Out are neither radical nor fantastic, but a very real part of American history, with a few small paths changed. Rather than gather information after Chappaquiddick, imagine if Tony Ulacewicz had been tasked with getting damaging information before it had taken place. Instead of Hunt and Liddy hiring prostitutes for purposes of surveillance as part of the SAPPHIRE section of the GEMSTONE plan, Ulacewicz would bring in a woman with the objective of destroying a candidate. Instead of assassinating a journalist for the greater good of the country, we might imagine Liddy, or a figure like him, believed that the killing of a governor was one of those situations that served a greater and necessary purpose. Rather than kill the man through an ersatz car accident, he would take the suggestion of Robin Quivers, and hit the tire with a bullet. It was a situation that required “informed and responsible judgement,” to use Liddy’s phrase, and perhaps the killing of a senator or a governor fell under the category of malum prohibitum rather than malum in se. Perhaps the killing of three women to cover up the assassination might fall under malum prohibitum as well. If anything, Blow Out is perhaps more conservative in its conspiracy, because we have only the actions of a rogue agent. As we can see in the excerpted section, however, one of the top officials in the White House may well have been behind the initial order to kill Jack Anderson. We now have audio tapes of Nixon personally ordering a break-in at the think tank, the Brookings Institute5. In this movie, we have a single agent acting on his own. In reality, we had a White House that went rogue.

Recording of Richard Nixon and his aides on June 17, 1971, when Nixon ordered a break-in at the Brookings Institute in order to steal coveted documents. This would be one of several times when Nixon would order a break-in at the Brookings and the theft of such documents; other incidents recorded on tape, and on youtube, include “Richard Nixon Orders Brookings Institute Break-in on June 30 1971” and “Richard Nixon Orders Brookings Institute Break-In July 1 1971”.

AUDIOPHILIA / PERSONAL EFFECTS / I AM OF BOTH YOUR DIRECTIONS

Blow Out was at first not called Blow Out, but something else entirely, as described in The Projection Booth podcast, fragment going from 46:50 to 48:00:

MIKE WHITE
The title, Blow Out, was not the original title for this film. Personal Effects was the first title for it…which I found to be a very interesting title, really, because you’ve got both the idea of the sound effects and them being your effects, but then the whole idea of personal effects, usually, when you talk about someone passing away, you are given their personal effects. And so it’s just this kind of nice play on words, and him going to Blow Out was definitely much more of a throwback to Blow Up, which I think is a very nice homage that he’s doing with the title, and you’re right, there’s definitely some nods back to Antonionni but…I don’t know, the thing when it comes to Antonionni’s films, at least the few that I’ve seen, it always feels like somebody took his movies and put them in a pot of boiling water, boiled out all the emotions, and then what’s left is what gets projected on screen? Because it just never feels like I care about any of the people in his films, it always feels like a bunch of sleepwalkers going through the motions, whereas with Blow Out, I definitely felt like there was so much emotion, and I really cared for these characters.

There are several associations with the phrase “Personal Effects”, the most obvious that it’s the name of Jack Terry’s sound engineering company, never said aloud, but there in the print on the glass of the door:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Personal Effects

Personal effects, as White says, are the possessions you might acquire after someone’s death, which immediately makes one think of Sally, but I find the phrase hints at Sally in another way: Jack works in sound effects, while Sally works in make-up, which might be thought of as personal effects. De Palma’s movies are often extraordinarily succinct, wasting few words on lengthy exposition or backstory. We sense characters visually, through their expressions, their posture, movements, clothes, and their work. Kate of Dressed to Kill is one of the most memorable characters in any of his movies, yet she has almost no dialogue, with Kate made a tangible, memorable presence entirely in her face, as she observes, reacts, is chased, and chases back. The vocations of Jack and Sally are handy metaphors for aspects of these characters which, in another movie, might be made more explicit.

The sensibility of a conspiracy theorist, or simply someone looking deeply into a particularly obscure world and discerning a pattern, is well captured in the profession of a sound engineer. Jack Terry doesn’t just hear at great distance through his technology, his hearing is extraordinarily acute through years of experience, able to discern small subtleties of sound. “You heard the blow out,” the cop tells Terry of what he heard on the night of the accident. “Yes I heard the blow out, but the first sound I heard was the bang.” Replies the cop: “That’s some kind of an echo.” Jack: “No. Look. I know what an echo sounds like, I’m a sound man, and, the bang was before the blow out.” He insists that the sound is there, though no one else can hear it – when Jack plays back the tape for Sally, she says, “I mean, I heard a noise, maybe it was a gunshot.” Only when she hears the sounds accompanied by Karp’s film is she able to clearly recognize the gunshot. This is very much like the closed off world of someone who might be investigating a historical or political mystery; they insist they perceive a pattern, yet others, not knowing the details of the various minor characters and coincidences of this unilluminated corner of the world cannot say with certainty whether their theory is credible, only seemingly credible, or false.

Blow Out: hearing the gunshot.

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This is also something like what a movie director feels – whatever the setbacks and problems in filming, whatever others say, they see a vision in the screenplay and the footage that others do not, and sometimes these certainties crashes thuddingly to the ground, and other times this mad vision is exhilaratingly right. The viewer has the luxury of certainty, the movie showing us that Burke clearly was behind the governor’s death. This certainty is often expected on the part of the audience, that the hero’s suspicions are always right, that the hero is always correct and righteous in his actions, and this very attitude is upended by the movie’s finale. De Palma is well aware of how easily the audience can fall into unquestioning assent that a movie’s protagonist is always right, and later in his career he uses this to play a rather nasty trick in Mission: Impossible. There, in an early scene, we are shown footage of a senator speaking on TV, who Ethan Hunt will impersonate at the embassy. This speech is played loud enough for the audience to easily make out every word, for us to easily discern its meeting, and this senator is greeted with withering disdain by the television host, and dismissive laughter by our heroes:

ETHAN HUNT
We’re using Waltzer?

JIM PHELPS
He’s our guy.

HUNT
Isn’t he chairing the arms services committee?

PHELPS
Not this week. This week he’s fly fishing, at the Oughterard Slough in County Kildaire with one of our best Irish guides.

CLAIRE
He won’t be back anytime soon.

WALTZER
-irrelevant at best, or unconstitutional at worst.

TV HOST
With all due respect, Senator, it sounds as if you want to lead the kind of charge that Frank Church led in the nineteen hundred and seventies.

WALTZER
No- No-

TV HOST
…and in the process destroyed the intelligence capability of this country.

WALTZER
I wanna know who these people are. And how they’re spending our tax payers’ money. We were living in a democracy, the last time I checked6.

Brian De Palma's Mission Impossible - the gang laughs at Senator Walzer

Brian De Palma's Mission Impossible - John McLaughlin interrogates Senator Walzer

Brian De Palma's Mission Impossible - Senator Walzer explains why an overreaching national security state is a bad idea

De Palma, I think, is very much a skeptic of the national security state, and he puts what is probably the sanest attitude in this movie, and the one he probably most likely agrees with, in this marginal character who simply wants greater accountability and transparency for an intelligence agency that might well be acting outside of the constitution. This attitude may well have greater resonance in the present time than at the time of the movie’s release, given what we now know. Yet how can this senator possibly be right, if he is some reedy voiced senior, dripping in earnestness and piety, looked on with ridicule by a heroic character played by the biggest movie star in the world and mocked so mercilessly by the host of a TV show? It is perhaps helpful to note, and allows us to return to the subject of Blow Out, that this same TV host is John McLaughlin, an alumnus – like G. Gordon Liddy and John Mitchell – of the Nixon administration, where he was a speechwriter and one of the staunchest defenders of the president, even after Watergate broke7. Yet how could this Nixon devotee possibly be wrong, if a character played by Tom Cruise agrees with him?

There is nothing obviously unsympathetic about Jack Terry, there is no karmic payback in Sally’s death. Jack is more heroic and virtuous than most of us; he worked to end corruption in the Philadelphia police department, and he saves Sally from drowning. Jack is a man who is the audience’s heroic proxy, and his quest for redemption is our quest for redemption as well – we wish him to succeed as it gives us hope that we too might begin again, that we will have second and third chances. There is the expectation of movies that they will affirm our heroic fantasies, and Blow Out gives us a partial affirmation, providing us the concrete proof that Jack is entirely right in his belief in an assassination attempt, and then pulls the rug out from us – Jack fails in his mission because he badly misjudges the situation, and this misjudgement is a result of his quest for redemption by exposing the conspiracy, yet we in the audience wish him on in this reckless mission. We expect the very mechanics of the type of movie we’re watching – a thriller with a charismatic Hollywood star – will save him, that a hero in this context cannot fail. Yet he does.

Sound effects are Jack’s specialty, and make-up is Sally’s. Though we are never told any exact details about the matter, I think it can be inferred that she has suffered great abuse, and had to abide such abuse. We see her with Manny Karp as he paws at her, as she initially resists with little energy, as if she has become conditioned to expect a steady dose of such maltreatment in this life. This might be what allows Jack to act as he does in his worst moments in the movie, sending her back to get the film from Karp, humiliating her and then intimidating her into doing this, knowing that she won’t fight back.

SALLY
What are you going to do?

JACK
What do you mean what am I going to do? What are we going to do?

SALLY
What do I have to do with this?

JACK
Oh, will you cut the shit, Sally. I know what you were doing in that car.

SALLY (quietly)
What do you know.

JACK
That you and your friend Karp were setting up McRyan to be blackmailed, getting scummy pictures of you and the candidate getting laid after the Liberty Ball, right? What did you do, tell him that running water under a well-lit bridge gets you hot?

SALLY (quietly)
Who told you that.

JACK
I got a look at your earlier work. Some motel candid camera shots. You got nice tits. Who was paying you to flash them at McRyan?

JACK
Nobody wants to know about conspiracy, I don’t get it. Let me tell you something. I know what I heard and what I saw. And I’m not gonna stop until everyone in this fucking country hears and sees the same thing. And you’re gonna help me. Yeah you. You’re gonna find your pal Karp, and you’re gonna get that original film. Because this isn’t any good, I need the original. Because if we don’t get this out and in television for everybody to see, they’re gonna close the book. And any loose ends that happen to be hanging out like you or me, are going to be cut right off. So you got your choice. You can be crazy or dead, either will do.

SALLY (on the verge of tears)
Alright, alright. I’ll try and get the film. Then will you just leave me alone about all of this?

JACK
I wish I was the only one you had to worry about.

SALLY
You know if you’re trying to scare me, you’re doing a good job.

JACK
I’m trying to save our asses.

SALLY
I’ll look after my own ass, thank you.

When Jack tells Sally, “And you’re gonna help me. Yeah you. You’re gonna find your pal Karp, and you’re gonna get that original film,” he gives her the same condescending, commanding pointed finger that he received from the cop, when he was told to change his story:

Blow Out: "…and you're going to get that original film!"

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There is an economic element to this intimidation as well: we see the sizes of their respective places, and Jack’s is clearly bigger, a two storey house. Money determines your importance, and whatever the miseries of his work, he is doing far better than her, has more money, is relatively more important, and this intimidates her as well. The assassination film is his project, and he forces her to do what’s necessary that it be completed. Jack stashes the audio tape away in the ceiling, and the camera takes its perspective, looking down, Jack’s guiding polar star which he makes Sally’s guiding polar star as well. When we shift to the scene at Karp’s, it ends with Manny unconscious, the camera looking down again from the ceiling on the wreckage, the outcome of Jack’s obsession.

Brian De Palma's Jack and Sally at Sally's

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack and Sally at Jack's

The respective houses of Sally, and then Jack’s.

Blow Out: looking down from the ceiling.

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Sally tells Jack, “I know how to fix a face”, and he asks her in the conversation at the bar, “How about if I broke a nose? How would you deal with a broken nose?”, and she says, “Ah, that’s easy.” You’re reminded that make-up is a useful skill to have to hide bruises, to conceal the personal effects of a man kicking the shit out of you. Sally, of course, knows how to apply make-up so that it doesn’t even look like she’s wearing make-up, and she’s equally able to adopt a pose where one cannot easily tell how much of it is natural girlishness, and how much a survival strategy to forget past hurts and avoid further suffering.

She is a particularly nettlesome character to some viewers, and the discussion on The Projection Booth with regards to her is especially enlightening. This excerpt conveys succinctly the broad range of feelings towards her, as well as what her character embodies, fragment running approximately from 18:54 to 22:49:

MIKE WHITE
Jack saves Sally, pulls her out of the sinking car. We’ve got the governor, who might have been the next president, in the car with them, setting off this whole political intrigue. So, what did you guys think about Nancy Allen as Sally?

ROB ST. MARY
She seems almost child-like. At times. And child-like to a point, for me, is a bit annoying. It’s almost like she’s so oblivious to what’s going on, is so sorta naive, that it’s almost, it’s kinda hard for me to have sympathy for her at times, because I’m like, you are so dumb. You can’t even kinda figure this out. There are parts where she just seems way too ten years younger than she should be, she seems like a girl in her early teens or something, and I don’t know why I got that feeling, but I definitely got it in the early go, and as she progresses, it gets better, like the character gets a little hip to what’s going on, and sorta realizes the implications of what she’s dealing with.

JAMIE DUVALL
It’s a tough performance to grapple with in many ways, and I think it was a completely brave choice the way she chose to play it. Because you could see her as a complete air-headed bimbo at the movie’s start, with the high voice and the, you think it’s too exaggerated, but I think she starts with a stereotype, and she slowly humanizes it. And I think that her idealism, her kinda wide eyed idealism, is very fitting with the theme of the movie, because she’s the stereotypical hooker with the heart of gold. In her position, she has probably seen a lot of terrible things in life, and yet she maintains that kind of wide-eyed dreamy innocence in some way. While Travolta’s character, he’s grasping at the last straws of his idealism. And this is his, through the course of the movie, this is his one chance to try and make things right. I like the contrast between those two characters and I like that the innocence in her is exaggerated.

WHITE
Yeah, there’s a telling moment towards the end of the film, I know we’ll eventually get to it, kinda want to throw out this here now: do you guys see her as just being, I know this is going to sound really frickin ponderous, but: do you see her more as a symbol of America’s innocence and, you know, Jack is maybe someone who is post-sixties whereas she is maybe pre-sixties kind of thing? Do you see her as kindof that desire for a simpler, better time and that she kinda lets some of these things, because she has been in these bad places. I know that you said, Jamie. I know that you- you see her caught in one of these candid motel photograph kind of things and yet, she doesn’t seem like she’s that person. She just seems to be kinda oblivious and wants to move on with things, and look for the better way whereas Jack doesn’t, do you see her as that symbol of innocence?

DUVALL
I do think you can very easily see her as that. She’s got her blinders on, to the dangers of the world around her. But she can’t escape them forever. And- I think there’s a reason why she’s killed in front of a big American flag, at the end of the film. I mean-

WHITE
Oh, SPOILERS.

DUVALL
Oh, I’m sorry. It’s pretty hard to avoid when you’re talking about where that character goes and what she means to the story. You know, her demise. Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful reading, and I love how you used the term countercultural, because De Palma is a countercultural film-maker. He’s always been a political minded film-maker. And I think that both of these characters kinda represent that in some way.

The startling, iconic shot just mentioned is, of course, this one:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Sally at the flag

Though an outwardly simple character, Sally has several fascinating ambiguities, such as whether she ever worked as a prostitute, how much she was involved in that work, and how she reconciles the frequently rough life of sex work with a kind and trusting disposition. The sections of The Projection Booth when Nancy Allen speaks of her character might be its most insightful moments, as she seemingly acknowledges that Sally worked as a prostitute while also denying it. We sense perhaps the protectiveness actors adopt for their own characters, but perhaps also the way an actor cannot express a detail about their character without also adopting the perspective of the person portrayed: I wear the kind of elegant expensive boots that a prostitute of the time would wear, but I’m not a prostitute since I’ve insisted on forgetting that I was ever such a thing, and so how could I be something that I don’t remember being?

A fragment that runs from 2:15:08 to 2:15:54:

MIKE WHITE
Your character, even though I sense she’s a prostitute, is one of the nicest people in the film.

NANCY ALLEN
Well, she’s not exactly a prostitute (laughs) as I said before. She is in her- She is working with this guy, this creepy detective, to expose these horrible cheating men. So, in her mind, she’s really doing a service to other women. Of course, she’s in complete denial of what she’s doing. As I am of her character, because I don’t see her as a prostitute. I see her as a very sweet, well-intentioned, young girl, who was easily manipulated and trusting, of men. So, you know, I can relate to that.

Another fragment, running from approximately 2:28:55 to 2:33:51:

MIKE WHITE
Where did you come up with that voice to do?

NANCY ALLEN
The voice came after, I had a visual, sometimes I try, just when you think about a character, and I had this visual of her as a, just a little rag doll, just a little raggedy ann, curly red haired, I don’t know, it kinda floated through me as I was walking around, as I tend to do, just mulling over characters, and I had a visual of her, and Brian wanted me to do a Philadelphia accent, which I had a really hard time with. I just hate accents so much, I was really resistant to doing it. We talked about characters like Giulietta Masina in, god, I’m going blank now- You know, not so bright, well intentioned, kindof character, do you know the movie I’m thinking of? With Giulietta Masina and Anthony Quinn? What is that movie, I know you know what one I’m talking about, I know what one I’m talking about.

WHITE
Is it La Strada?

ALLEN
YES! Thank you. Brilliant. You win the prize. So, we were talking about that, and I said, what if I just do kindof a New York-ese, not well educated kind of way of talking that, and just- The idea of, I was trying to think, why do women, certainly the women that I know, [goes into higher pitched, babyish voice, which sounds a lot like Sally] You know, this is kind of one of their voice days. [back to normal] And I thought, well, you know what? These are women who are resistant to growing up, keep their child like qualities, it works for them to a point, I mean, obviously, as you get older it’s a little bit unappealing. But- so- Maybe that’s going to justify- Take that idea and apply it to this character. And so, that’s where that came from. I will tell you, I think one of the first things that I shot was the hospital scene. With John. Who was unshaven, and wouldn’t wear make-up, and poor George Litto, who was producing at that time, came to the set, and he said “I’m paying three million dollars to a movie star, and he won’t wear make-up?” And then he looked at me and said, “Are you…you using that voice throughout the whole picture, or just in this scene?” And he just walked away, shaking his head, he didn’t know what to do with either of us. That’s where all of that came from.

WHITE
Whenever I think of you in the film, I think of your voice, but I also think of that coat, that you wear.

ALLEN
Oh, yes! [laughs] YES. There were many of those. Ann Roth made, six or eight of those, with the fox collar and…yeah yeah yeah, it was a great coat.

WHITE
It was like crushed velvet?

ALLEN
EXACTLY! Very good. Indeed it was. And I had very expensive boots. Always very expensive boots, because Ann Roth had done Klute, and she’d done a lot of research about hookers and girls like that, and they always had good shoes. Great boots.

WHITE
But you weren’t a hooker?

ALLEN
Well, THAT’S RIGHT. That’s what I say. [laughs]

WHITE
I guess the coat helped my perception of that.

ALLEN
She [Ann Roth] had such a great touch of detail, I don’t know if anyone has noticed it, because there’s probably only one scene where it’s visible to the eye, but when I talked to her about the character and I told her my visual concept, and things I was thinking about with her, and the idea, that some day she was going to be a make-up artist, a movie star. I liked the idea that this young girl had an idea about lucky charms, and things like that. So, she put together, I still have it somewhere, it’s a rabbit’s foot, on a thin pink satin ribbon. That I always wore, and it was either under- but I always wore that charm when we were shooting. It was, those little details really make a difference when you have something like that. That’s what’s so great about the collaboration of film, where an actor can work with another actor, and a director, and a costume person, and make-up person, and really great costumes, and wonderful hair and make-up, it really fleshes out a character, and all of a sudden you look at yourself, and you go, yeah, that’s her. That’s it. This is it exactly, and you start to feel it in a big way.

This mixture of ambiguity and simplicity, the kindness, the voice, all make me link this character to an actress now inextricably connected to the Kennedys, and that would be Marilyn Monroe. The accident at the heart of the movie, which might feel like a dreamy conflation of american tragedies, might also carry the echo of a lost hypothetical: what if Marilyn Monroe had hooked up with the one Kennedy brother she didn’t, and was there in the car with him at Chappaquiddick? Though I think Allen has a wider range, I can see Monroe’s peculiar genius making her a perfect fit for the part of Sally had Blow Out somehow been made in the 1950s, one of those roles where she would have been great, but which would also provoke the question of whether she was acting, or just playing Marilyn Monroe…or whether she’s always playing Marilyn Monroe. This tragic icon would get paid $50 to be photographed nude by Tom Kelley, who would sell the pictures for $500, which then went into a calendar that made a profit of three quarters of a million dollars; “He says he heard all about our fine divorce work and offers us six grand,” says Manny Karp, explaining the meeting with Burke for the McRyan job. “Six? You told me three,” says Sally. “Yeah, well, three before and three after,” says Karp. Sally: “When were you going to tell me about the three after?” Monroe, we’re told in The Genius and the Goddess, “was a prostitute, in cars on shady side-streets, in return for small amounts of money to buy food,” just as Sally had to do paid sex work to survive; the most striking similarity is that Monroe, despite the very grim circumstances of her life, was able to exhibit a girlish, open-eyed, friendly attitude, and how much of that was affect beneath which the actual Marilyn was enwrapped is an open question. Nunally Johnson, a screenwriter and friend of Monroe would say that she was “generally something of a zombie. Talking to her is like talking to somebody underwater“, and this might be something like the exasperation people have with Sally, where you might ask, what part of you isn’t gauzy cotton candy?8

I don’t think I’ve ever had this complaint with the character, because Sally has always made perfect sense to me, someone who has been very badly hurt over and over again, and has made herself into a strange kind of creature, an unknowable amnesiac submissive, to avoid being hurt again. In her first scene after the drowning, Sally moves about drugged, finally so comatose she has to be pushed onto her bed. In her last scene, she’s dragged about in a tight grip by Burke. Manny gets her in the beds of men for divorce work. Jack pushes her into retrieving the film from Manny. Throughout the movie, she acquiesces to being a device in other plots, culminating in the last, which she finally resists, a victim in a series of killings. We might see in the three characters of Jack, Burke, and Sally, a trinity, with Jack the middle point. Burke is technically adept like Jack, able to tap into and re-wire the phone system much like the title character of Three Days of the Condor, yet he is a sociopath, a man entirely without any sense of the humanity of others. Jack does have this feeling, along with Burke’s precision and focus, yet when his obsession overtakes him, when he forces Sally to retrieve Karp’s film, he loses this empathy. Sally has none of the engineering gifts of these two men, but is far more compassionate, with a far greater sense of the feelings of others, and this makes her guilt ridden, and it compels her to forget, to sometimes act as if some things never took place. “Manny, we got him killed,” she says tearfully to Karp, about governor McRyan’s accident. “Don’t give me any of this conscience shit,” says Karp. “You’re a pig, Manny,” she says, “And I’m a pig too.” Though it’s never said openly, one reason why Sally connects with Jack, feels such sym