Aug 13, 2022

"The Sandman": Endless/King of Dreams is Trapped in a Bottle for 50 Years, and There are Gay Guys


People keep praising Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels, so a few years ago I bought The Overture to familiarize myself with the complicated postmodern meta-narrative.  Couldn't understand anything, not a word!  Netflix just dropped a Sandman series, so I'm trying again.  Hopefully they'll dumb it down sufficiently so someone with just a Ph.D. and eight published books can follow the plot.

Scene 1: An old-fashioned car driving through woods, while the King of Dreams (Tom Sturridge, left) tells us that the dream world and the waking world are interconnected.  Its occupant hugs a mysterious satchel.  Meanwhile, a bird flies into outer space and through a spooky graveyard to a castle, where the man in the car is waiting with his satchel.  But it doesn't stop: on and on, into the castle, through the library, and into a chapel, where it lands on the King of Dreams' shoulder. 

Flashback: in spite of the misgivings of his servant ("Dreams rarely survive in the waking world"), the King puts on a gas mask and ventures into the waking world to prusue a "rogue nightmare."  Couldn't you send a dream-world cop, or rogue-nightmare-control officer?

Scene 2:  1916, Wych Cross, England.  The driver awakens the man in the car, Dr. Jonathan Hathawy of the Royal Museum: they've arrived at Fawny Rig, a spooky old mansion.  A boy named Alex answers the door.  He wants to know if Hathaway has come to join the Order of Ancient Mysteries, but he's actually going to see the Magus, Roderick Burgess.  

Alex leads him to a chamber where robed figures are performing a ritual, but actually the Magus is in the study!  He led Hathaway to the wrong room just to mess with him!

The Magus (an old guy) enters, sends Alex scurrying out to fetch tea.  Plot dump: the Magus wanted a book, the Magdalene Grimoire, to summon and trap the Angel of Death and force him to resurrect his son, who was killed at Gallipoli.  At frist Hathaway refused to bring it, but then his own son was killed, so ok.  

Scene 3: A procession of robed figures holding candles. Alex takes Hathaway's hand and leads him with the procession to a crypt. "Tonight we will capture Death," the Magus announces.

The scene abruptly shifts to Berlin, where a motorist, nattily dressed with a Panama hat, is shocked to see the gas mask-clad King of Dreams materialize.  The motorist is the rogue nightmare, killing people in the waking world for fun.  "Isn't that why you created us?" he exclaims. The King disagrees, and starts evaporating him -- but then he is evaporated himself!

Meanwhile, back in England, the Magus is offering various gifts to the gods or whoever, to draw the Angel of Death into a magic circle.  After some chanting and fireworks, the King of Dreams appears instead, gas mask and all,  unconscious! The Magus strips him and steals his magical implements: a ruby, a feather, and a bag of sand -- leaving him naked,  helpless, trapped in the magic circle.  The boy Alex is upset by his brutality.

Having the King of Dreams incapacitated causes havoc in the dream world and the waking world, like nearly a million people who were asleep not being able to wake up.  Millions of others could never fall asleep again.

Scene 4:
The rogue nightmare from Scene 3, now named the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), visits the Magus.  He explains that the ritual accidentally summoned Dream, an Endless ("more than a god").  To keep him contained, put him in a glass sphere, and never fall asleep in his presence -- take amphetamines to stay awake. If he ever escapes, into the waking or the dream world, he will kill you all.

Scene 5: The Magus knows that he got the wrong guy, but he still orders  Dream/Endless to return his son from the dead.  If he can't do that, then how about providing  "power, wealth, and immortality" instead?  But Dream/Endless refuses to speak.  Alex feels guilty about keeping someone prisoner.  The bird from Scene 1 hovers around.

Scene 6:
Ten years later.  The Magus and his cult  used Dream/Endless's ruby, feather, and sand to acquire "youth and prosperity," while the rest of the world languished.  The 20-year old Alex (Laurie Kynaston) tells a roomful of people that  the Magus can't see anyone else today.  Two men get angry and start to yell, but the Girl scares them off by claiming that Alex has magical powers, too.  She flirts her way into getting in.

Scene 7: Was it a magical consultation or a wild party?  In the morning, booze bottles and semi-naked women are scattered around.  The two daytime guards are late, so Alex offers to guard Dream/Endless.  

After feeling guilty for the last ten years, Alex asks Dream/ Endless "Are you all right in there?"  Dream/Endless stares: What do you think, jerk?  "I would let you out, if I could...."  

Uh-oh, the Magus overhears!  He drags Alex upstairs, beats him, accuses him of conspiring with Dream/Endless, and tries to kill him.  The Girl and Deram/Endless's pet bird intervene.  "Ok, to prove your loyalty, shoot the pet bird!" the Magus yells.

Scene 8: While Alex is out hunting for the bird, it sneaks into the mansion, starts a fire, and uses the distraction to --- well, nothing.  Alex shoots it, then feels guilty. Dream: "The savagery of my captors bespoke a world whose dreams in my absence turned darker still."  What, exactly, is his job?  Does he put people to sleep and wake them up again?  Decide what people dream about?  Or keep them from having nightmares?  

Scene 9:  Alex, dozing in the park while reading Evelyn Waugh, has a meet-cute with Paul (Christopher Colquhoun)  Wait -- he's gay?  I thought he was dating The Girl.  

Later, the Girl (Ethel) tells Alex that she's pregnant.   The Magus is irate, and wants her to get an abortion.  So she's dating the Magus, and she and Alex are just friends?

Scene 10: Instead, she steals Dream's magical items and the Magdalene Grimoire (and 200,000 pounds) and vanishes.  Snarling, the Magus uses this as a bargaining chip with Dream: "Give me what I want -- youth, wealth, and immortality -- and you can go after her and get your stuff back."  It used to be power, wealth, and immortality.  I guess he's getting older.  Still, seems like an odd wish list.  

He starts beating Alex, who pushes him away -- right into the glass cage.  He bashes his head and dies.

So, now Alex can release Dream, right?  No ---  the Magus told him that if the Dream gets out, he'll kill them all.  So -- "I have to think."

Scene 11:  Alex is comforted by Paul.  In the rain.  They hold hands.  Dream: "Out of loss, new love was born."  Wait -- I thought Alex hated the Magus.  

"And new life."  Ethel, the Magus's ex-girlfriend, is still in the story: she tells her baby son, Johnny: "We're going to make our dreams come true.  And nothing is going to stand in our way."  Ulp, a villainess in the making.

Scene 12: Alex and Paul visit Dream: "Do you promise that, if we let you out, you won't harm us?"  Dream refuses to answer.  Many years pass, and Dream still refuses to answer.  Alex and Paul get old.  Darn, they'll be out of the story  in the next episode.

I'll stop the scene-by-scene there.

Beefcake: The naked Dream.  But he's a little too emo to be attractive.  

Other Sights: Other than a glimpse of Dream's palace, just the mansion.

Gay Characters: Alex and Paul, but all they do is hold hands, and they probably won't appear again.

Inconsistent Motives:  The Magus keeps asking for wealth, but he's already got wealth.  Dream refuses to speak, even though he will be released by promising not to harm Alex.   And the guy at the beginning vanishes from the story.

Pretentiousness:  Lots.

My Grade: B

Aug 12, 2022

Bix Beiderbecke: First Gay Jazz Musician

If you grew up in the Quad Cities, you couldn't help but hear about Davenport, Iowa native Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931).  We listened to him in music class, and researched him in Mr. Manary's American history class.  Scott, the cornetist who died, was a fan.

There was a  Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival every year.  There was a bust of him in Leclair Park in Davenport. (My Grandma Davis wasn't from Rock Island, but she had some of his records.)

 But no one told us, or no one knew, that he was gay.

Beiderbecke was one of the pioneers of jazz, playing and composing for the cornet and piano. He performed with the legendary Paul Whiteman's Band in New York. He influenced Hoagy Carmichael, Bing Crosby, and the "cool jazz" of the 1950s.  But he had a tortured personal life, became an alcoholic, and died of pneumonia brought on by exhaustion in 1931, only 28 years old.

His first biographies, and the teachers in Rock Island, never suggested for a moment that he might be gay.  

But in Remembering Bix: A Memoir of the Jazz Age (2000), Ralph Berton writes that Berton's brother Eugene, a gay opera singer, took Bix  to a gay sex party in 1920s New York.  Bix kept exclaiming "Iowa has nothing like this!"

In Bix: The Definitive Biography of a Jazz Legend (2005), by Jean-Pierre Lion, Eugene and Bix have a brief romantic escapade.  But, Eugene complains, "It meant absolutely nothing to him. His attitude toward sex, with men or women, was 'What the hell?'"

What women?  His biographies try to pair him up with this or that woman, but with limited success and lots of conjecture.  But it's not hard to find Bix talking to men, working with men, spending his life with men.  His roommates include Eddie Lang,  a young Bing Crosby, and gay musician Jimmy McPartland (left, with his future wife Marian, who knew that he was gay and didn't care).

Of course, the "accusation" has some jazz fans up in arms.  Even more than country-western music, the world of jazz is known for its homophobia.  There have been some lesbian jazz singers, but very, very few gay men, and even fewer open gay men, especially in instrumental "pure" jazz, where macho men in smoky rooms refer to non-aggressive musical styles as "faggy."

 "I don't even know one jazz musician who is [gay]," Dizzy Gillespie said.

I know one.

Aug 10, 2022

Going to Movies in the Spring of 1984: Lambert Grunts, Estivez Repos, Guttenberg Goes Down, and Lamar Swishes


In 1983-84, during my second year in grad school at Indiana University, working toward a M.A. in English, I was sharing an apartment in downtown Bloomington with my Viju, hooking up two or three times a week, and going to a lot of movies, so many that I had to divide the list in two.  Here are the movies I saw in theaters in the spring of 1984:

 El Norte: A brother and sister make a perilous journey from Guatemala to el Norte, where they experience all sorts of hardships. They both die.  Supremely depressing, but at least brother (David Villalpando) doesn't meet the Girl of His Dreams.

February: Footloose.  A conservative preacher outlaws dancing in a small town, so the teens rebel.  Coming from the Nazarene Church, I could relate.

: Repo Man: The trailers made it look like this would be about the hilarious misadventures of a repo man (confiscating your car when you're behind on the payments).  Actually it's a surreal, convoluted mess involving aliens, government conspiracies, drugs, and lots of people getting killed.  And Emilio Estivez didn't even show a bulge.

March: The Hotel New Hampshire, because I heard that there was a gay character.  There is, Frank (Paul McCrane), just one of the bizarre siblings who run the Hotel.  He doesn't actually do anything gay, but who has time, with all of the disturbing crazyiness going on?

March: Police Academy, because it starred Steve Guttenberg (sigh) as a ne-er-do-well who is given the choice of becoming a cop or going to jail.  Huh?  His wild antics disrupt the stuffy academy; I particularly liked the scene in which he pretends that he has given the uptight commandant a blow job.  

March: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.  A new version that tried to stay close to the original novels: after being raised by apes, John Greystoke (Christopher Lambert) has trouble adjusting to human society.  Plus he falls in love with Philippe D'Arnot AND Jane Porter.

Swing Shift: During World War II, Kurt Russell falls in love with two women, one of whom has a husband overseas.

May: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  The one where Indy, the Girl, and their East Asian stereotype kid, Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) run afoul of evil, superstitious, duplitious South Asians.

June: Ghostbusters.  Who you gonna call?

June: Gremlins, because Zack Galligan (top photo) was cute.  He and the Girl fight cuddlies that turn vicious if you feed them after midnight.  The movie turns out to be far darker than the trailers suggested.

June: The Karate Kid: baby-faced Danny clobbers the bullies with the help of the mystic faux-Asian wisdom delivered by his sensei.

Conan the Destroyer.  Arnold is back, this time with a dead wife to prevent the barbarian hero from falling in love with Grace Jones.  He picks up a male companion (Mako), but doesn't fall in love with him, either. 

July: Revenge of the Nerds: Problematic now, but in 1984 adding limp-wristed, swishy gay stereotype Lamar to the misfit fraternity counted as LGBTQ representation.  Except, why are his fraternity brothers shocked and disgusted when he dates a guy?  Did they think that "gay" means "swishy heterosexual"?

Larry B. Scott, who played Lamar, refused further gay roles to avoid being typecast.  He states in an interview that he is constantly being praised for being a champion of gay rights, but "it was just a job."

July: Purple Rain: Prince's songs were playing constantly in the gay bars in 1984, so of course we assumed that he was gay.  But this biopic is all about the Kid meeting, winning, and arguing with the girl.

Aug 8, 2022

Movies in the Fall of 1983: Tom Cruise's Gay Panic, Lou Ferrigno's Muscles, Christopher Atkins' Frontal, and Robby Benson's Everything

In  1983-84, I was in my second year of my M.A. in English at Indiana University, working at the Eigenmann Hall Snack Bar, living in an upstairs apartment in downtown Bloomington with my friend Viju, and hooking up with impunity: I was 22-23 years old, new to gay bars, and AIDS was just whispered rumor, with no connection to everyday life.  But I was still interested in a monogamous romantic relationship, so I expected every hookup to end with a date.  Some did; I managed to go to 20 movies in theaters that year, so many that I have to divide this list into two. 

Risky Business. The movie that made Tom Cruise a star.  I don't remember what the "risky business" is -- a brothel, maybe? I just remember the racist, homophobic scene with the drag queen sex worker who shows up at high schooler Tom's house when he calls an escort agency.  Not to worry, he recommends a young, attractive female-presenting person who turns out to be the Girl of Tom's Dreams.  The drag queen, Jackie, is played by Bruce A. Young, who is heterosexual and masculine-presenting in real life.  In 1983, it took guts to play even an offensive stereotype gay character.

Hercules.  Bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno in a peplum-style sword-and-sorcery adventure.  He wins the Girl of His Dreams.  I would hook up with him, briefly, in a couple of years.

September: Educating Rita: my friend refused to go to this, assuming that it was a sex comedy ("Educating Rita in how to do it better"), but actually it's a My Fair Lady-style "opens a lower-class girl to the joys of academe" drama.  Michael Caine doesn't fall in love with Rita, and in the end, she's admitted to Oxford. 

October: All the Right Moves.  We would see anything with Tom Cruise (sigh).  Of course we thought he was gay; who knew that he was actually homophobic?   This one is about a high school boy named Stef, who and wins the Girl of His Dreams.  Or something.  Who cared?  You got to look at Tom Cruise for two hours.

Running Brave.  We would also see anything with Robby Benson (sigh), even another sports movie.  A First Nations guy leaves the reservation to compete in the Olympics as a runner and win the Girl of His Dreams.

November: A Night in Heaven.  AND we would see anyting with Christopher Atkins, hoping that his full-frontal spot from Blue Lagoon would repeat itself.  Here he plays a college student who works as a stripper, and ends up falling in love with one of his customers, who happens to be his professor (a lady, of course).  Her husband does not approve.  No gay content -- Chris strips only for the ladies.  But at least he gives us a full-frontal scene.

December: Scarface.  A nauseating number of guys being machine-gunned to death.  I felt sick.  But Al Pacino as a modern day drug lord has ample buddy-bonding going on with his "mentor" Robert Loggia.   Ok, they betray each other, but what do you expect with the heterosexist mandate: all women are good and nice and kind, all men either brutish bullies or snakes-in-the-grass.

Aug 7, 2022

Thermae Romae Novae: An Anime about Ancient Roman Bath Houses

Thermae Romae Novae
: "The New Roman Baths," an anime based on a manga about bath houses.  And not the sexual kind, the ancient Roman/modern Japanese bath houses that you use when your apartment doesn't have a shower.  Sounds like a very limited premise, but there will doubtless be lots of scenes of semi-naked hunks.

Scene 1: Montage of people in ancient Rome getting hot and sweaty: a gladiator, a chariot racer, some guys at a feast.  A boy named Lucius (David Wald), running to bring lunch to his grandfather, is accosted by bullies.  The leader, Titus, throws the lunchbag over the bridge -- lost forever!  It's not that big a deal -- you're obviously not poor, and they had fast food stands in ancient Rome. Just buy him a new lunch.

Scene 2:  Sobbing, Lucius approaches Grandpa, an architect working on a new construcgtion project.  Grandpa consoles him, but Apollodorus, the manager, yells at him for being a wimp.  He runs away -- past a fast food place, where his teenage friend Marcus offers him a kebab.  

Scene 3:  Lucius and Marcus eating.  They discuss the new tower, built to commemorate Emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars (105=106 AD).   Marcus helped build it; he wants to be a stonemason when he grows up.  Lucius doesn't know what he wants to do. (Does he have a choice?  Don't Roman boys follow their fathers' careers).

Scene 4:  After Marcus' extremely muscular father drags him back to work, Lucius walks past the bath house, and flashes back to his own extremely muscular father telling him that thermae are not just places to bathe: "They're a celebration of our way of life."  I could say the same thing about gay bathhouses.  We zoom across the extremely muscular patrons, all men; two look like they're going to wrestle or have sex.

Next, Lucius flashes back to hearing about his father's death in a scaffolding accident.

Scene 5:  Lucius in his room, reading a scroll.  Grandpa announces that he's going to take a bath, and forces a reluctant Lucius to go with him.  Whoa, beefcake fest! A few butts, no penises.   

Grandpa explains the procedure: first a soak in the hot caldarium, then the cold frigidarium, then a body scrub and back to the caldarium.  Uh-oh, while Grandpa is off getting scrubbed, the bullies attack.  Lucius ducks under water to escape them, and comes up in a bath house in modern day Japan!  I hope there's a Latin scholar around.  

He screams, ducks under water again, and is back home, disoriented and confused.  "What just happened?"  

Grandpa is rhapsodizing about the bath house, "an essential part of our culture," where men go to "share moments together in hot water" (tell me more, tell me more, did you get very far?)   Flashback to his father going even farther: "We have the duty to build the future of Rome."  Ok, this is getting too hyperbolic.  It's just a bath house, not a temple.

After Grandpa leaves, the bullies return.  Titus insults the thermae.  This makes Lucius angry.  They fight.  The bully pounds him, until the other men pull him off.

Scene 6: Night.  Lucius and Grandpa stop by the fast-food stand for a beverage.  Lucius says that he wants to become a thermae architect.  Grandpa makes him promise to make baths "that wash away anger."  

Scene 7:
Years later, the adult Lucius (Hiroshi Abe in the 2012 movie) is living in Athens.  He goes home to visit his mom and grandma.  I'm glad he's not going to be a ten-year old through the series.  He wants to take a bath before dinner, so it's off to the old bath house of his childhood, where he runs into his former bully, the extremely muscular adult Titus.  They catch up: Titus is a butcher with a young son, and Lucius, of course, is a thermae architect.  

When Titus tells him that he is married with children, Lucius gets a strange wistful look.  Is he interested in Titus, or is he upset because he doesn't have a girlfriend?  

Postscript: A documentary about the manga artist, Mari Yamakazi, conducting research on Japan's bath house culture.  First up: the Kusatsu Onsen hot springs.  The water is so hot that it has to be cooled down through a splashing-technique called yumomi, which she will incorporate into her stories.

Everywhere, in the bath or out.  Except everyone has weird hashtag marks on their cheeks.  At first I thought they were dirt smudges, but they never go away.

Other Sights:  Lots of exteriors of ancient Rome.

Time Travel:  Barely mentioned.  One would expect it to be an ongoing theme.

Gay Characters:  No one except Titus expresses any same-sex interest, or any heterosexual interest. In the manga series, Lucius gets girlfriends in both ancient Rome and modern-day Japan, so maybe that will be happening in future episodes.

My Grade: B. 
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