Thursday, May 25, 2017

"In the Cutting Room" in Fiction Southeast

My latest story, "In the Cutting Room," has been published online in Fiction Southeast, an online literary journal of short fiction. Fiction Southeast has previously featured work by Joyce Carol Oates, Aimee Bender, and Robert Olen Butler.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sean Gill's "Edifice and Artifice in Buda and Pest" wins the 2017 Micro-Fiction Prize at River Styx

River Styx has announced that my short story "Edifice and Artifice in Buda and Pest" is the winner of their 2017 Schlafly Micro-Brew Micro-Fiction Contest. The story will appear in print this summer in River Styx #98.

River Styx is a St. Louis-based literary journal (active since 1975) that has published work by writers such as Margaret Atwood, Rita Dove, Derek Walcott, and Czeslaw Milosz.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

R.I.P., Powers Boothe

It saddens me to report that we've lost another one of the greats. While he was known to most for his booming voice, cast-iron stare, and pants-shittingly terrifying performances (like DEADWOOD, U TURN, EXTREME PREJUDICE, TOMBSTONE, NIXON, SUDDEN DEATH, etc.), I always personally enjoyed Powers Boothe as the good guy, whether he was assisting high school guerrillas in RED DAWN, surviving the bayou in SOUTHERN COMFORT, handing out helpful handkerchief tips in CRUISING, or solving crimes as PHILIP MARLOWE, PRIVATE EYE. I also was happy to see his late career, post-DEADWOOD resurgence, where he seemed to pop up in everything from 24 to THE AVENGERS to SIN CITY. Suffice it to say, he's the only reason I will ever watch MACGRUBER.

It certainly takes a special breed, not only to be named "Powers," but then to actually live up to the name. So load your VHS of EXTREME PREJUDICE, pour one out for Powers, bite a scorpion or whatever, and bid farewell to an inimitable character-acting powerhouse... you will be missed.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Film Review: NATION AFLAME (1937, Victor Halperin)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 74 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Victor Halperin (WHITE ZOMBIE, PARTY GIRL). Story by Thomas Dixon, Jr. (THE BIRTH OF A NATION, MARK OF THE BEAST). Starring Noel Madison ('G' MEN), Lila Lee (BLOOD AND SAND, THE UNHOLY THREE), Harry Holman (MEET JOHN DOE, BARBARY COAST), and Douglas Walton (MURDER MY SWEET, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN).
Tag-lines: "Exposé of a Hooded Menace!"
Best one-liner(s): "Boy, the suckers will eat it up!"

In what's coming to be a regular feature of this blog, I find myself writing about American hate groups, fascists, and their cinematic depictions. Today's film happens to be written by Thomas Dixon, Jr., whose early novels celebrated hate and formed the basis for the racist, denialist 1915 epic THE BIRTH OF A NATION, which casts the Ku Klux Klan as the heroic saviors of the South during the "dark days" of Reconstruction.

However, sometime in the 1930s (upon witnessing the revived Klan and the rise of European fascism) Dixon underwent an apparent evolution of character. In NATION AFLAME, his final work, he delivers a formidable condemnation of the Klan, American Nazism, xenophobia, and political hucksterism that's more than worthy of our attention in 2017. If Thomas Dixon's mind can be changed––a mind that was directly responsible for the second wave of the Klan in the 1920s––then truly the sky is the limit: NATION AFLAME is as remarkable in this aspect as it would be if Steve Bannon were suddenly to produce a film denouncing the white nationalist movement.

Allow me to begin by offering a rundown of the plot, which unfolds with the simplicity of a fable across a slim, 74-minute runtime.

Enter: Roland Adams, the political huckster. A rich, aging clown-prince who has a certain way with crowds, and rules them with the wave of his jester-faced scepter: he wears the absurdity of this persona as a badge of pride.

With his eldest daughter reining in his more outrageous peccadillos, Adams once was Mayor of a typical middle-American city.

Against his daughter's wishes, however, he has made some dangerous friends; career criminals who know that the the huckster's power over the uneducated mob can be exploited, a fast lane to power and riches. His new right hand man is an Italian immigrant named Sandino who has re-fashioned himself as "Sands," and, in a believably hypocritical path to personal agency, becomes a true master of the xenophobic rhetoric that was once leveled against his friends and family.

He becomes Adams' brain, his attack-dog, his Richelieu. Adams' daughter has very little power over him now, though it pleases her to pretend. Sands and Adams make their xenophobic, "America First" pitch at a political cocktail party, and while it fails to impress the intelligentsia, the seeds are planted for a Populist campaign. The following clip is well worth watching:
And so the Avenging Angels are formed; a "grassroots" organization subsidized by gangsters and protected by corrupt politicians, whose members wear black hoods (patterned after the Black Legion and the second-wave Klan) and commit acts of political, racial, and anti-intellectual violence.

 Sands lays out their mission in a manner that is straightforward and unfortunately prescient:
"The only way that we can save the youth of our nation is to organize them in one single group, and through them, enforce the precepts of 100% Americanism! Corruption and politics must go! Civic virtue and patriotism must be our goals! We must enforce a reverence for our flag and our Constitution!  And what is more, protect our American womanhood, and guard the sanctity of our homes! We must guarantee that the wealth of America must be shared only by real Americans! To maintain and declare absolute boycott against foreigners is our only salvation!"
We are treated to extensive scenes of Adams, Sands, and their cronies practicing their bluster as an acting exercise, repeating the same lines over and over again until they feel they've attained the proper patriotic fervency.

"Boy, the suckers will eat it up!" says Adams. And they do. The gang is able to enrich themselves financially and politically, selling Avenging Angels memberships and apparel for $25 a pop.

"For twenty-five dollars, be true Americans!"

It should come as no surprise that Adams rides this wave of hate to ascend to a fresh political office: the Governorship. Under his rule, and amid a mosaic of domestic terrorism, the Avenging Angels beat to death reporters who dare to criticize them.

Now Governor Adams has the Oval Office in his sights, an idea planted by Sands, who grows more power-hungry by the day. Sands doesn't care much about the scandals and inquiries piling up at the Governor's doorstep, because he operates in secrecy and will still wield the full power of the Avenging Angels no matter Adams' fate. Adams' daughter makes regular visits to his office in an attempt to save his soul:

"Daddy, I'd rather see you resign than be impeached," she says...

But Sands always visits afterward, and the Governor happens to be the kind of man to take the advice he's heard most recently.

With political opponents closing in, Adams eventually decides to buck his gang and forge his own path. This, unfortunately, is short-lived as he is immediately assassinated by Avenging Angels who, at Sands' insistence, believe he has betrayed them.

Governor Adams is dead, his jester-faced scepter smashed. And the power of the Angels lives on, vindicated by the destruction of those who were not pure enough; those who were less than "100% American."

Adams' daughter aligns herself with the Angels' progressive foes and is burned in effigy amid growing misogynistic rhetoric.

Fearing her reputation already ruined, she sacrifices her remaining stature to take out Sands, entrapping him in a sex scandal that, in 1937, proves to be enough to sink the Avenging Angels for good. The end.

For me, NATION AFLAME film can only reframe Dixon's body of work, not rehabilitate it. However, like other films of the era such as BLACK LEGION and LEGION OF TERROR, it is very much the product of 1930s American Progressivism, fearful of fascist movements in Germany, Italy, and Spain worming their way into the American South and Midwest. That it comes to us courtesy of a man who never would have described himself as a progressive, and in fact publicly wore the mantle of "white supremacist," is staggering. I suppose this is evidence that even the harshest, most monstrous ideologue can have a breaking point: a crisis of conscience. This is something we must bear in mind.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

R.I.P., Michael Parks

Dammit––another great one gone.

Parks as Ambrose Bierce in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3.

From playing "Adam" in THE BIBLE to "Josey" in THE RETURN OF JOSEY WALES to the scariest Renault brother in TWIN PEAKS to Norris antagonist in THE HITMAN to his latter-day Rodriguez and Tarantino-fueled resurgence, Michael Parks always brought his A-game. Whether he was in a television bit part, or a villain in a straight-to-video actioner, he was bringing Shakespearean complexity and Strasbergian specificity to his roles, fusing the diligence of a craftsman with the fervency of a true believer.

I'll leave you with a true celebration of his acting chops––a brief scene in DEATH WISH 5 that can only be described as "Michael Parks forcing Charles Bronson to question his sexuality":
You'll be missed, Mr. Parks.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Interview with Sean Gill in Scrutiny

Scrutiny, a literary journal of magical realism (that recently published my short story "Past Lives, Now Available on Videocassette") has interviewed me for their website, and you can read the whole exchange here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... LOST IN AMERICA

Only now does it occur to me... that a throwaway line in Albert Brooks' road-trip satire may have influenced the TERMINATOR franchise.

During a brief exchange between Brooks, Julie Hagerty, and a motorcycle cop (that ends with a ticket being avoided due to a mutual appreciation of EASY RIDER), Brooks says:

"Did you see THE TERMINATOR?" 

–"No, I didn't. Heard about it, though."

"You should see it. You look like him."

"Thank you."

Now, since LOST IN AMERICA was made in 1985, Brooks must be referring to Cameron's original TERMINATOR (from 1984), drawing a humorous comparison based on the cop's demeanor and sunglasses, comparing him to Arnold Schwarzenegger's titular character. However, while the cop doesn't actually resemble Arnold in any meaningful way, he is a dead ringer for Robert Patrick's motorcycle cop-impersonating T-1000 in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY...

...which was not released until six years later, in 1991. So maybe James Cameron was watching LOST IN AMERICA when he decided he needed a motorcycle cop Terminator? Or perhaps Brooks is referring to Patrick, whom he glimpsed in a time-traveling VHS copy of TERMINATOR 2. (Which must have been the splitting point for the Berenstain Bears parallel universe.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... SPEED

Only now does it occur to me... that the SPEED franchise shares peculiar connections with the David Lynch universe. Now: to merely cite that it contains Dennis Hopper doing a poor man's Frank Booth from BLUE VELVET
is obviously not enough, because most post-1986 Hopper villains are some variation on "poor man's Frank Booth."

We could go the philosophical route and examine how Hopper's retired cop character is a corrupted, insane, dark-side-of-the-mirror version of Keanu Reeves' young, clean-cut, and aggressively Boy Scout-ish cop––in a similar way to how Hopper's and Kyle MacLachlan's characters mirror each other in BLUE VELVET... or we could point out Hopper's penchant in both instances for calling himself "Daddy":

...or the gruesome particulars of how each of these Hopper villains makes their exit:

"He lost his head."  –Keanu Reeves

Or we could consider the fact that SPEED 1 takes its villain from BLUE VELVET and that SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL casts Willem Dafoe as its baddie (who was the villain of Lynch's WILD AT HEART). Does this mean that if there ever were a third film, let's say, SPEED 3: FAST AND LOOSE, that the villain would have to be Robert Blake, portraying his character from LOST HIGHWAY?