On rare occasions I’ll feel a bit sad that my days of being a stupid kid are coming to a close. When that happens, I tend to envision myself doing something like smoking one of these Sobranie cigarettes––kinda kitschy, but undeniably glamorous. I can probably have one a year or so even now that I’m a grown-up, right?
We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a moment of unadulterated showing off: I knew that William Powell, author of The Anarchist Cookbook, passed away, it appears, before the Timesdid. Last year, I reached out to his wife to ask if I could interview him about his conversion to Anglicanism. I was sorry to hear he had died, as it sounds like although he was a bit of an angry young man, and his writings had unfortunate repercussions (the perpetrators Columbine and the Oklahoma City bombing were said to be partially inspired by the Cookbook) he really had turned his life around by devoting it to education. RIP William Powell.
As some of you may remember, many moons ago, I wrote an essay that I suspect is probably my best work of all time, about the Broadway show Xanadu! Looking back now, I can see it’s a bit of a flawed piece, but ultimately, the heart of it is still genius. As many of you also know, I happen to have become, in the aftermath of the election, obsessed with a website called 366 Weird Movies, which is, as you might have guessed, a list of weird movies, and supplementary materials. Well, today, my loves collided, because 366 Weird Movies did a post on Xanadu! Let’s just say they weren’t too enthused…
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Xanadu is campy, kitschy and appalling, but it’s not weird. It’s just one of the last death rattles of the disco era.
COMMENTS: La La Land may have revived the movie musical, which has been on life support for decades because of flops like Xanadu. This film spawned a soundtrack album (deliriously overproduced by the Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne) that was a monster hit in 1980, spawning five top 20 singles. The movie itself, however, bombed, and rightfully so. It’s inoffensive, embarrassing piffle. Made on a big budget, Xanadu still looks cheap, and director Robert Greenwald , who later made The Burning Bed and several progressive-minded documentaries, doesn’t really seem to know how to stage musical numbers, despite choreography from Kenny Ortega (High School Musical). Michael Beck, fresh off the macho action classic The Warriors, looks embarrassed (he never starred in a movie again), and poor 68-year-old Gene Kelly makes his unfortunate farewell to musicals in this dud. Olivia Newton-John is beautiful but cannot act—although she was much better in Grease—-while director Don Bluth (An American Tail) contributes a weak animated segment.
Practically all memory of the film vanishes right after you’ve seen it. Xanadu is sort of a remake of the indifferently received 1947 Rita Hayworth musical Down to Earth, while Kelly also played a character named Danny McGuire in the 1944’s Cover Girl opposite Hayworth. Either of those films has to better than Xanadu, which only Newton-John may still remember fondly: the young Danny McGuire is played in flashback by dancer-actor Matt Lattanzi, who later became her husband. No amount of fake glitter and flash can salvage this Lattanzi-Newton John family album, however: the climactic musical number involves a series of revolving stages that reminded me of the old Disneyland show “America Sings”. I’d rather sit through “America Sings” again. In fact, those who want to experience Xanadu should listen to the soundtrack album (featuring Newton John, ELO, Cliff Richard, and the Tubes) instead of slumbering through this decidedly non-weird musical relic of the Studio 54 era.
Someone apparently had pleasant, perhaps drug-induced memories of the picture, because in 2007 Xanadu was adapted into a modestly produced Broadway musical (starring “30 Rock”‘s Cheyenne Jackson) that was nominated for a few Tony awards. In the end, Xanadu may be recalled chiefly as being part of the “great”—or awful—disco musical trend of 1980, which also gave us the infamous Village People vehicle Can’t Stop the Music. Anecdotally, unfortunate moviegoer John J.B. Wilson saw both films at a 99-cent double feature and came up with the idea of the Razzie awards, “honoring” the year’s worst films, which are still held today. At least Xanadu has better songs than Can’t Stop the Music.
Things have been––well, let’s say, harried around here recently, so I am half-assing this post by pointing you in the direction of an incredible piece of writing someone recently reminded me of. It’s more than half-assed, in fact: it’s a selfish move, because I want to pretend that I have some affiliation with someone who can write so well, even though we’ve emailed twice and I’m resorting to cutting and pasting her words. Ah well––extenuating circumstances! Here’s a teaser of “What’s in a Necronym?” by Jeannie Vanasco:
I am named after the daughter my father lost.
I remember the day I first learned about her. I was eight. My father was in his chair, holding a small white box. As my mother explained that he had a dead daughter named Jeanne, pronounced the same as my name, “without an i,” he opened the box and looked away. Inside was a medal Jeanne had received from a church “for being a good person,” my mother said. My father said nothing. I said nothing. I stared at the medal.
Later that day, in the basement, my mother told me Jeanne died in a car accident in New York when she was sixteen, many years before I was born. Two other girls were in the car. Jeanne sat between the driver and the other passenger in the front seat. The driver tried to pass a car, hesitated, then tried to pull back into her lane. She lost control and Jeanne was thrown from the car and killed instantly.
“Your father blames himself,” my mother said. “He can’t talk about it.”
“Why?” I asked.
“He gave her permission to go out that night.”
After Jeanne died, my father bought two burial plots next to one another, one for Jeanne and one for himself. When he and his first wife divorced, she stipulated that he forfeit his plot, and he agreed. Soon after the divorce, he went to court again, this time for beating up a bum on the street. “Why should you be alive?” my father had asked him. “You’re not working and my daughter’s dead.” The judge remembered my father and let him go.
“Did you know his first wife?” I asked my mother.
“No, he was divorced long before I met him. All this happened in New York.”
I lived in Ohio, where my father and mother met. In my mind, New York was made of skyscrapers, taxicabs, and car accidents.
“What did Jeanne look like?”
My mother said she had never seen a photo.
That spring I painted portraits of Jeanne in watercolor. I titled them Jeanne. My art teacher told me she was disappointed that such a good student could misspell her own name. From then on, I included an i.
I don’t usually read letters to the editor, but in a recent New Yorker, I happened upon this one, which I thought was quite astute:
“As a child psychologist, I find Barry Blitt’s cover depicting Donald Trump in a child’s limo terribly sad. It suggests that the problem with Trump is that he is a child. this is an affront to children everywhere: children are not inherently narcissistic, ignorant, cruel or vindictive. They tend to accept other human beings with an open mind and heart, without prejudice. Would that a five-year-old were our President.”
Find out fun things about your personality this Monday morning!
From a NYRB review of the biography of Angela Carter:
“Psychologists have suggested that there are two classic early fears, both deftly portrayed in the folktale ‘Hansel and Gretel’: the fear of being abandoned and the fear of being consumed. For most of us, one of these anxieties is dominant.”
First of all, I know conservationists will fault me for this, but anyone else think we should abolish zoos? They’re kind of loci of horror these days, more often than not. I mean, at the very least, Sea World has to go.
On that note, though, someone please write a dramatic opera about this utter clusterfuck:
The founder of a zoo where almost 500 animals died bragged that his management style was better than “textbook” weeks before government inspectors condemned his practices.
Inspectors at South Lakes Safari Zoo, in Cumbria, found that 486 of its animals had died as a result of mistreatment between December 2013 and September 2016, a report said yesterday.
Shortly before the inspection David Gill, 55, the owner, said that the recent birth of a baby rhino was a “fitting tribute to my work and expertise in zoo animal management”.
He wrote on Facebook in December that he had enjoyed “huge success”, having “always pursued a different style of management to the norm”.
“I wish many other zoos would watch and learn from our example as it is not worth copying books and guidelines if they don’t actually work,” he added. “In my opinion you simply do not listen to people who have had far less success than you in any area of life.”
Inspectors have recommended that Mr Gill’s application for licence renewal be rejected and called on Barrow council to consider prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act.
In 1997 Mr Gill was found guilty of endangering the public after a white rhino escaped from its enclosure. The animal fell down a ravine and had to be shot. In the same year a Sunday newspaper reported that he was having an affair with a teenage zoo hand, Shelley Goodwin, who had left school at 16 and began looking after his kangaroos.
His wife left him, taking their two children, and Mr Gill and Ms Goodwin married. They have since separated. In 2001 a pregnant zoo keeper who incurred Mr Gill’s wrath when she expressed fears about feeding lions was awarded £30,000 in compensation.
Mr Gill’s personal life was given another public airing in 2008 during the trial of a jilted husband who slashed the zoo owner’s neck when he discovered him in bed with his wife.
Richard Creary, then 38, attacked Mr Gill, who fled in his Ferrari dressed only in his pyjamas. Creary was later jailed for five years. In 2014 Mr Gill was forced to apologise after saying that the legalisation of gay marriage signalled the end of the world, and that gay lifestyle was “abnormal” and “anti-natural”.
Last year his zoo was fined £297,500 after a keeper, Sarah McClay, 24, was mauled to death by a Sumatran tiger in 2013. Ms McClay’s boyfriend, David Shaw, 27, told The Times that she was considering setting up a trade union at the zoo because of a “cloud of fear” that existed for staff.
“Sarah and I spent some time looking to implement trade union,” he said. “We were looking towards suitable trade unions because the staff were mistreated at the time — the staff were managed by fear.”
Ms McClay’s brother, Stephen, 31, who lives in London, said: “It absolutely baffles me that anyone would still visit the zoo after my sister died there and now that this report about the conditions has emerged people must surely be put off visiting.
“Had he done the right thing four years ago and stepped down after an employee died on his watch, the animal mistreatment over the past four years at least could have been avoided.”
The zoo was awarded a six-year licence to operate in June 2010 and the council received an application for renewal from Mr Gill in January 2016.
The council rejected the application in July, agreeing with inspectors that he was “not a fit and suitable person” to manage the zoo.
However, the law dictates that if the licence holder reapplies for a new licence, the existing licence continues in force until the application has been processed or withdrawn.
Mr Gill, who remains the licence holder, handed over the responsibility of managing the zoo to Cumbria Zoo Company Limited.
Mr Gill’s lawyer said that his client believes it would be “inappropriate to comment” during the regulatory and legal process.
Barrow council will decide on the renewal of the zoo’s licence on Monday.
KM sent me this incredible opportunity, with an accompanying note that read: “I’m at once deeply confused and yet desperate to do this.” ME TOO KM!
In 2017, Mall of America® celebrates its 25th birthday. As part of this special celebration, we think it’s crucial to capture how much we’ve evolved over the course of the last 25 years. Rather than do it ourselves, we’re giving that job to a gifted writer.
The Writer-in-Residence Contest will give a special scribe the chance to spend five days deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words. The contest winner will stay in an attached hotel for four nights, receive a $400 gift card to buy food and drinks and collect a generous honorarium for the sweat and tears they’ll put into their prose.
To apply, visit the application page before March 10, 2017, midnight Central Time. Tell us about yourself and, in 150 words or less, pitch your idea for how you would approach this assignment if you won the Writer-in-Residence prize. Would it be a personal story? A blow-by-blow account of your experiences? The Mall as seen through the eyes of a first-time tourist or a regular guest?
This application is open to everyone from all writing backgrounds and levels of experience, from seasoned journalists to aspiring poets. We’re not only looking for writing skill, but also creativity in your pitch. Heck, if you can make the assignment work as a musical-comedy screenplay, by all means make it so!
Twenty-five semifinalists will be selected from the first round of applications, judged on creativity and skill. Though not required, previous experience will be considered as well. Those 25 semifinalists will have the opportunity to expand on their story idea in a 500-800-word essay. The contest winner will be chosen based on the strength of this essay, judged by experienced writers and journalists.
Where will the winner’s lovingly crafted story end up? Just wait and see!
We strongly recommend reading the full contest rules before applying.
No Purchase Necessary
Void where prohibited
Entry Period begins on February 20, 2017 and ends on March 10, 2017
Legal residents of the U.S. & D.C
To enter must be 18 or older
For Official Rules, prize description and odds, read the full contest rules.
Sponsor: MOAC Mall Holdings LLC