Sunday, April 18, 2004

Book: Zeppelins West, by Joe R. Lansdale (2001)

An utterly demented pastiche of Old West history and popular fiction. Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull head to Japan on zeppelins to put on a Wild West show. Buffalo Bill Cody is there, too, but he’s just a head in a Mason jar filled with charged pig urine. They’re intercepted by Captain Bemo, skipper of the submarine the Naughty Lass, who takes them to the Island of Dr. Momo. (I prefer Lansdale’s solution to copyright problems over the one used by the makers of the movie THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. “How about this? He’s not The Invisible Man. He’s an invisible man.” “Great! Let’s go to lunch.”)

The book is a brief 168 pages, some of them taken up by Mark A. Nelson’s striking illustrations. It’s more of a concept than an actual novel, but still fun to read. Nobody does description like Lansdale; one of Dr. Momo’s half-man, half-monkey experiments “seemed nervous, as if ants had taken to his rectum.” And nobody does dialogue like Lansdale. Dr. Momo explaining himself: “And these friends of yours (like Charles Darwin and Samuel Morse) ... Good minds compared to yourself and the average moron, but compared to mine, their brains are doo-doo.”

It would make a hell of a movie. Except for that part where Frankenstein’s monster has sex with the Tin Man. There might be clearance issues there. And I don’t think people want to know what actually happened to Dorothy when she tried to leave Oz. I mean they really don’t.

TV: South Park, 4/14

Cartman disguised as a robot to fool Butters. A lesser effort from Matt & Trey in a season that’s been a bracing return to form. Oh, well. They can’t all be ‘The Passion of the Jew.’ I enjoyed it because it’s one of those episodes where Cartman gets what’s coming to him. He’s such an evil little kid that I think he’s the most realistic character on television. He makes Tony Soprano look like Agarn on F-TROOP.

Video: Yeah, Right! (2003)

A compilation of skateboarding footage co-directed by Spike Jonze. Spike was one of the producers of MTV’s JACKASS; there’s obviously a side of him that’s fascinated by bored kids daring each other. The video proved fun to watch. Beautifully shot, good choice in music. There’s a sequence where all of the skateboards are removed, so that these surly punks appear to be floating on air. It conveys a sense of the physical skill and the artistry demanded in skateboarding.

The locations where the kids skate are all prosaic. Loading docks, college campuses, barren municipal plazas. And somehow in these drab settings they’re able to challenge themselves. It reminded me in an odd way of the Hong Kong aesthetic in action films: this is where the fight is going to be, use what’s at hand to survive. There’s something noble about that approach to life. That said, I’m still going to curse the little bastards when they cut too close to me on the street.