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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Marie Menken Day

 

‘There is no why for my making films. I just liked the twitters of the machine, and since it was an extension of painting for me, I tried it and loved it. In painting I never liked the staid and static, always looked for what would change the source of light and stance, using glitters, glass beads, luminous paint, so the camera was a natural for me to try but how expensive!’ — Marie Menken

‘The realist sees only the front of a building, the outlines, a street, a tree. Marie Menken sees in them the motion of time and eye. She sees the motions of heart in a tree. … A rain that she sees, a tender rain, becomes the memory of all rains she ever saw; a garden that she sees becomes a memory of all gardens, all color, all perfume, all mid-summer and sun.’ – Jonas Mekas

‘Marie Menken (1910-1970) is the unsung heroine of the American avant-garde cinema. Best known for her role as a protagonist in Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, she was, far more importantly, a mentor, muse and major influence for such key experimental filmmakers as Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas and Andy Warhol. Menken created an extraordinary body of exuberant and stunningly beautiful films shaped, above all, by her intuitive understanding of handheld cinematography. Beginning with her celebrated first film, Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945), Menken used the hand-cranked Bolex camerafavored by avant-garde filmmakers to introduce a new agility, grace and spontaneity into experimental cinema, a lightness of camera and form hitherto unseen in American film.

‘With Noguchi, Menken also began a spirited dialogue between cinema and the plastic and painterly arts that extends across her films in a witty yet deeply insightful exploration of the formal language and methodology specific to those schools and painters with whom Menken was close – from the Abstract Expressionist drip painting humorously critiqued in Drips in Strips (1963), to the factory production of Pop art in the revelatory Andy Warhol (1964) and the Fluxus practice of Robert Watts in Watts with Eggs (1967).

‘The longtime creative and marital partner of poet-filmmaker Willard Maas, Menken began as an accomplished painter whose eccentrically textured and effulgent canvases incorporate all manner of reflective media – phosphorescent paint, crushed glass, sequins – in a playful challenge to the traditional boundaries of the painted canvas. Light remained a major focus of Menken’s films, most notably in major works such as Notebook (1940-62) and Lights (1964-66) which transform her Bolex into an instrument for painting marvelous sculptural forms from neon and city lights.

‘Like the painters-turned-filmmakers Robert Breer and Carmen D’Avino, Menken (who animated the chess sequence in Maya Deren’s At Land) embraced various animation techniques – collage, stop-motion cinematography – as a direct extension of her painting. Yet for Menken, animation also became a way of radically transforming the world around her, reimagining postwar New York City, for example, in her masterpiece of single frame cinematography Go! Go! Go! (1962-64), a work that condenses two years of patient documentary filmmaking into a delirious and exhilarating vision of a hyperactive city.

‘An important first step towards the recuperation of Menken as a major artist and figure in the postwar avant-garde scene, Martina Kudláček’s recent documentary Notes on Marie Menken (2006) includes rare footage and revealing interviews with a number of close friends and colleagues such as Anger, Mekas, Gerard Malanga and Alfred Leslie.’ — collaged

 

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Stills

























































 

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Further

Marie Menken @ IMDb
Marie Menken @ Wikipedia
‘Notes on Marie Menken’
‘Making Light of IT: Marie Menken’
Marie Menken @ The Filmmakers Coop
‘Who’s the Source for ‘Virginia Woolf’?’
‘More Notes on Marie Menken’
‘By Marie Menken’
Marie Menken @ mubi
Video: Jonas Mekas talks about Marie Menken
‘Marie Menken and the mechanical representation of labor’
Marie Menken’s works @ Ubuweb

 

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Documentary

 

View an excerpt from Martina Kudlácek’s 2006 film on the influential New York experimental film maker, artist and woman-about-town, Marie Menken. Given access to Menken’s archive by her nephew, Kudlácek mixes rare footage with a soundtrack by John Zorn and interviews with Menken’s contemporaries, including Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Gerard Malanga, Jonas Mekas and Billy Name. Written and directed by Martina Kudláček, camera: Martina Kudláček, editor: Henry Hills, sound: Judy Karp, original Music: John Zorn.

 

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Paintings

 

‘Marie Menken was known initially not for her films but for her paintings she made from sand and other nontraditional materials. Her first show opened at the Betty Parsons Gallery in November 1949 (the show that followed hers was Jackson Pollock’s), and her paintings were described before the opening by F.Y.I, the employee newsletter of Time, Inc., where she worked as a night clerk on the overseas cable desk. According to F.Y.I., her paintings were made from “stone chips, stone powders, marble chips, marble dust, ground silicate, sand, cement dust, luminous paints, glass particles, glues and lacquers, occasionally string and fiber. ” So Dwight was perhaps right to call these paintings desertipicti; the species epithet means “of the Painted Desert.” Menken had a second show at Betty Parsons in February 1951, and her third, held at Tibor de Nagy the following month, featured Pollock-like swirls of phosphorescent paint that glowed in the dark.


Marie Menken, If Earth in Earth Delight, 1951, oil, sand, glass, and thread on masonite, 11 ½ x 17 ½ inches.

‘Menken’s paintings are . . . “idiosyncratic” is the word likely to be employed. She experimented with sand, string, glass–like a Julian Schnabel aforehand, though on a human scale. The paintings are on masonite (board), not canvas. Except for one, which is on brown paper that has been crumpled, rubbed with what appears to be colored pencil, and then stretched more-or-less flat again. The masonite, at least in the case of IF EARTH, appears to have been trimmed by hand–which explains the irregular edges of the image I sent you.


Marie Menken, Untitled, [1951], oil, sequins, shells, and phosphorescent paint on masonite, 12 x 18 inches. Not signed, not dated.

‘The paintings on masonite, including IF EARTH IN EARTH DELIGHT, are stuccoed with sand, strings, beads, glass, etc. They are not all so brown as IF EARTH. One is mostly green, as I remember, another reddish. Another has Pollock-like swirls of phosphorescent paint studded with tiny shells. I did not know it was phosphorescent until one night I went into the dark basement where all the Ripley stuff was being unpacked . . . and got quite a start. It seems pretty clear Menken liked the play of light, just as she says somewhere. Because of the raised and encrusted surfaces of the paintings the light dances or changes patterns according to your angle of viewing–even in the work made from dull crumpled paper.


Marie Menken, Doctor Coon’s Ghar Hotu, 1951, oil, sand, and thread on masonite, 11 ½ X 21 inches.

‘While Martina [Kudlacek] was making her documentary of Menken, she preserved for Anthology Film Archives footage Menken shot in Guadix Spain [Gravediggers of Guadix] during the same 1958 trip with Kenneth Anger which resulted in her Arabesque for him at the Alhambra. The Guadix footage is unforgettable. Spooky monks, who look like they will retire to their cells to flog themselves or each other, are repetitively spading, spading, spading the red Spanish earth . . . and Menken’s camera goes to that earth as if it can’t help itself. The effect, I remember, is exactly as you say about her camera: it’s stop-start, momentum infused with the potential of interruption, lingering and delay. I even seem to remember that the earth hits the lens at some point….


A Green Dream, 1946, oil, sand, glass, and thread on masonite, 13 x 13 inches.

‘The comparison to IF EARTH IN EARTH DELIGHT is dramatic. The painting was shown at Betty Parsons in 1951 and the film wasn’t shot until 1958 but in each the texture, the color, the granularity–even in a way the non-translucent limits of the dull, unreflective medium of earth–are made to do a lot of esthetic work on our behalf. Put this similarity together with her George Herbert title (it’s from the poem “The Priesthood”) and one could work up a whole exegesis. Speculative, but then, she’s the one that picked the title.


Ten Cents’ Worth of Tears, 1954, oil, sand, beads, and thread on masonite, 9 3/4 x 13 3/8 inches.

‘The stanzas in the middle, where the title comes from, are so much to the point that she could not have been innocent of them. “Yet have I often seen, by cunning hand / And force of fire, what curious things are made / Of wretched earth.” And next: But since those great ones, be they ne’er so great, / Come from the earth, from whence those vessels come; / So that at once both feeder, dish, and meat, / Have one beginning and one final sum: / I do not greatly wonder at the sight, / If earth in earth delight.’ — Douglas Crace

 

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9 of Marie Menken’s 24 films

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Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945)
Visual Variations on Noguchi is a riveting visual study of the dynamic relationship between film movement and sculptural form. Marie Menken made the film while looking after Isamu Noguchi’s MacDougal Alley studio in 1945. It is both Menken’s first film, and the first within in a series of her films that study the work of prominent modern artists including Piet Mondrian, Dwight Ripley and Andy Warhol. Produced at a particularly rich moment of innovation within the avant-garde, the film can be read as an important intermediary between visual art and cinema in post-war North America. As such, it is an indispensable film for contemporary viewers of cinema and modern art alike.’ — Senses of Cinema


Excerpt

 

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Glimpse of the Garden (1957)
‘Marie Menken was a pioneer of experimental film in the New York avant-garde scene; known as The Body by Andy Warhol and her peers she struck an imposing figure at a formidable six-foot-two inches tall. Her marriage to poet Willard Maas and their wicked arguments inspired playwright Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Viriginia Woolf and her salon-home was a sort of proto-factory, the place where Warhol met Albee, Marilyn Monroe and filmmaker Kenneth Anger.At odds with her size Menken’s ‘little, little’ films are often feminised, described as lyrical and ephemeral they are known for their fragility of movement and intuitive sense of pace. Glimpse of the Garden (1957), filmed through a magnifying glass is a visual poem that illuminates the strange in the ordinary. In a collage of textured close-ups flowers and plants take on a surreal quality, shifting streams of foliage dance to a phonographic recording of birdsong and Menken’s somatic camera delicately captures the everyday act as an act of art.’ — The Plant


the entire film

 

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Dwightiana (1959)
‘Menken’s 16mm, stop-motion tribute to the art of Dwight Ripley was filmed in 1959 in his apartment at 416 East Fifty-eighth Street in New York. She used his drawings as flats.The remarkably contemporary soundtrack for steel drum, guitar, flute, and voice was written for the occasion by Maya Deren’s young husband, Teiji Ito, and is available in his album Music for Maya (Tzadik). Stan Brakhage called Dwightiana a pioneer example of the film portrait, abstract rather than narrative (the colored pencils represent Ripley’s palette). Ripley was also a botanist, and Menken’s unusual title alludes to botanical nomenclature as if Dwightiana might be the name of a species as well as a work “about” Dwight.’ — Dwight Ripley Info


the entire film

 

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Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (1958 – 1961)
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger is Marie Menken’s tribute to her fellow avant-garde filmmaker, Kenneth Anger, whose influence obviously looms large over this expressive, evocative short. The film, shot in a Moorish palace in Spain over the course of an afternoon, is concerned, as Anger always was, with light and color, and especially with the ways in which forms could be made to interact with the tempos of music and cutting. The film is set to a lively score by composer Teiji Ito, who combines Spanish guitar and castanet motifs with Japanese-influenced reeds, resulting in a driving, vivacious score that’s perfectly suited to Menken’s imagery. Although the score was made later, to fit the short, the film sometimes seems to move with the tempo of the music, as when the circular ripples in a puddle dance to the beat of the snapping castanets. Even better is a wonderful section where the film takes on the stuttery rhythm of the percussion as the frame seems to jump and skip, giving the illusion of a sideways motion through a courtyard but in fact repeatedly returning to the same spot again and again. The black edges of the frame take on the function of cutaway walls, so that the viewer is faked out into believing that the camera is moving from one room to the next. It’s a compelling image of being in constant motion while never quite going anywhere; the camera is essentially running in place.’ — Only the Cinema


the entire film

 

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Mood Mondrian (1965)
‘”A film of a painting of a sound. Piet Mondrian’s ‘Broadway Boogie-Woogie’ is translated into visual boogie rhythm.” –M.M. “Mood Indigo can already be described as an extraordinary and perhaps revolutionary cinematic achievement.” — Joseph LeSueur. In 2006, John Zorn wrote a belated, ideal score for Menken’s film Mood Indigo. It was included in the album Filmworks XVII: Notes on Marie Menken/Ray Bandar: A Life with Skulls (Tzadik Records).’ — collaged


Imaginary score

 

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Moonplay (1964 – 1966)
‘An expansion upon an idea put forward in Marie Menken’s film Notebook; single-frame footage of the moon shot on various nights, blinking and darting around within Menken’s field of vision.’ — David Lewis, All Movie Guide


Teiji Ito’s score for ‘Moonplay’

 

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Go! Go! Go! (1962 – 1964)
‘In transit across the Brooklyn Bridge, cables and railings whirr and weave, interrupted by lampposts beating across the frame. Now in Manhattan, window grids pulse and ripple. Reflected sunlight off the metal of cars and trucks, strikes the screen. Wooden crates, iron railings, construction barriers flutter by. Blocks of stuttering bricks and windows are punctuated by foreground figures–pedestrians, cars, broad sides of trucks–popping in and out of frame. Sometimes the frame of the car window from which Marie Menken is capturing these single-frame samples hovers in view. A flurry of images mark out the density and clutter of vendor’s wares. A collage of urban signage stamps its imperatives of grabbing and directing attention; these signs fly at the screen too quickly to be read, leaving viewers instead with their collective impact of attraction.’ — Angela Joosse


the entire film

 

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Lights (1966)
‘”Made during the brief Christmas-lit season, usually between the hours of midnight and 1:00 A.M., when vehicle and foot traffic was light, over a period of three years. Based on store decorations, window displays, fountains, public promenades, Park Avenue lights, building and church facades. I had to keep my camera under my coat to warm it up, as the temperature was close to zero much of the time.”‘ — M.M.


the entire film

 

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Sidewalks (1966)
‘Marie Menken points her camera downward and picks up the rhythms of walking and its visual counterpoint in the patterns of sidewalks.’ — David Lewis, All Movie Guide


‘Sidewalks’ projected behind a performance by Richard Barone

 

 

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p.s. Hey. ** Will VanDenBerg, Hi, Will. Welcome! That link didn’t work for some reason, but it looks like a temporary Walmart-created problem, so I’ll try again in a bit. You having worked in a costume store gives me flutters. I’m sure I’m way over-romanticising the gig. Anyway, that’s cool. Thanks a bunch for coming in and commenting. Please do again whenever anything here catches your fancy. ** Armando, Hi. It’s okay. It’s just … you said yourself that you sometimes use a lot of hyperbole. Thing is there’s always the chance that I or someone else here either knows the person you attack so vehemently or has an emotional connection to that person’s work. And seeing someone one likes or knows trashed can really piss one off, and I don’t have the feeling that pissing people off is your intention. So maybe just keep in mind that this is a place occupied by people with strong feelings and opinions as well and not a blank wall or whatever?  Anyway, no worries, everything’s cool. Re: my archives, I collected a ton of serial killer related things and articles and ephemera and whatever back when I was researching the sex/death axis for the George Miles Cycle books. So much stuff that I don’t remember what’s there exactly. ** David Ehrenstein, Ha, nice quote. ** Sypha, Hi. Okay, I’ll definitely have at least a good look at ‘Deus Ex’. I’m very curious now. Thanks a lot. I too, when I was making handmade books of my terrible adolescent writings when I was young, wrote fake blurbs. It’s kind of a cool form to work in, ha ha. ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh. Me totally too about the youthful Universal Monster thing and especially about reading monster magazines. I used to practically live for the newest issues. Similar about David Cassidy, and my early poetry is full of evidence that I seem to lusted after him rather intensely in my younger form. Thank you very kindly about the blog efforts. That means a lot. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I don’t remember Live On Release at all. Now I have to hear the song. Thanks about the masks post. Yeah, when I got a whim to try a post re: them, I didn’t expect the windfall at all. I knew Ahwesh is Syrian-American, but, you’re right, I don’t remember her addressing that in her work much at all. I don’t know ‘Novitiate’. I’ll find out. Everyone, Here’s a new review by Mr. Erickson of the new film ‘Novitiate’. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi, D! Hopefully Anita is right as rain by now and my wishes were just icing on the cake. Really bad mixed metaphors there, oops. Oh good that you won’t have to sit hugely bundled up at the Xmas fair. I always think it must be so disheartening to sit inside one of those Xmas fair booths and have so many potential buyers stopping by for a second to glance briefly at what you’re selling and yet ultimately so few buyers. But maybe the gallery’s stuff will sell like hot cakes. I always have the impression that apart from the booths selling beer or maybe churros, people see most everything else being sold at those fairs as just pretty decorations. Thank you for the Force! I think I’ll need the Force, ha ha. I can be a very impatient person. Good for getting things made, but terrible when waiting for others to decide. My yesterday was one of those days when I just stayed home and worked on various things all day and tried to catch up on my emailing. Nothing exciting. I’ll try to up the ante today. How was yours? ** Derek McCormack, I’m obviously so very happy that you liked it! I was hoping. 16 and 19 … hold on. Oh, yes, very interesting. The Flintstones, ha ha, you’re right. I made a decision to try to stay away from Herman Munster masks just to try to seem kind of purist, but there were some rather unholy Munster/Stein hybrids in there.  Awesome, Derek, and thank you, and much love to you! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hey, Ben. I think Frankenstein’s face must be in the public domain because I really can’t imagine Universal Studios having signed off on most of those. ** Jeff J, Thank, bud. I will, I will, on the reaction, tomorrow at the latest. There’s definitely a lot to do on the new film script, but we do have a nice chunk roughly in place assuming Zac doesn’t have giant objections. I have not read Kis’s ‘Hourglass’, but I love his work, as you know. Wow, that does sound very, very interesting and very up on my alley. Gosh, I think I’ll try to get ahold of that as soon as today if possible. Thanks a whole lot, man. ** MANCY, Hi there, S! Thank you for the rare exclamation point. On their behalf. I just resized them. There is definitely a kind of at least loose relationship between Berlin’s work and Joy Williams’. Excellent about the zine collaboration! And I knew that you and Mark were doing a mysterious project together, but I didn’t know or at least remember that it’s a book. Wow! And you maybe have a possible publisher? Really, really excited about that! Thanks for the army of Frankenstein hugs. Sounds really intense, ha ha. ‘PGL’ has a Frankenstein reference in it. I’m wondering how many people will pick up on it. Take care, and a platoon of hugs containing the psychic energy of that little girl Frankenstein threw in the river or whatever he did. ** Okay. I’m devoting the post today to the very fine and under-known experimental filmmaker and artist Marie Menken. I hope it’s of interest. See you tomorrow.

Galerie Dennis Cooper presents … 86 Frankenstein Masks (for Derek McCormack)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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p.s. Hey. ** Armando, Look, John Waters is a very dear, old friend of mine. He’s also the kindest, most generous and wonderful person you could ever meet or know. And, in my opinion, he’s a great artist. If you had said ‘I don’t like John Waters, his films, etc.’, fine. If you launch a string of abusive epithets that attack him personally when you obviously don’t have a clue about who he is personally or what his morality, motives, actions, beliefs, and level of integrity are, and you clearly don’t, yeah, you sound foolish to me. If you are going to say things like you think they are, so am I. If you don’t like blowback, don’t use your comments to explode your hatred of people I know and/or admire in my direction. The comments/p.s. on this blog are conversational medium. If your side of the conversation is a bunch of violent, hotheaded rhetoric against someone I care about, then my side of the conversation is predetermined. Btw, if John owning a Gacy painting makes him horrible, I can only imagine the shit you’d say about me if you saw what’s in my archives. I said that you would like the Museum of Death because it was obvious from your comment yesterday that you would. But now your little anti-provocateur rant yesterday gives me pause because the MoD is quite probably the most blatant, self-consciously ‘in your face’ attempt to be provocative currently in existence. Lots and lots of sexual killer art. ** Chaim Hender, Hi. Interesting: Berlin vis-a-vis Babitz. With Berlin, you also get exciting, absolutely killer prose. Yeah, this place is curious that way. Pivate-ish for us and yet read by tons of silent people so totally not too. Very nice about the desert trip. One thing I miss about LA is the desert being 90 minutes away. And the electronic music workshop, ooh. Some envy from me right there. Awesome, obviously, that all kinds of your senses are being tweaked and heightened by being there. Sounds more and more utopian. Best of luck with those fellas. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I have seen Ahwesh’s ‘She Puppet’. I had a Day devoted to her her late last year, but I cannot remember if there was any online evidence of that film that allowed me to include it. I agree that it’s something of a masterpiece. She’s a very good and unfairly overlooked director. I don’t know about Red Vs. Blue. I’ll investigate. Thank you for the link to Bonello’s list. Wow, what a curious list. Many excellent picks, and then ‘Death Proof’? Hm, I might have try that one again. I just didn’t see anything, not a single aspect of ‘Good Time’ that seemed out of the ordinary at all. I love top 10 lists as you know, so your listage will get at least one passionate reader. ** Sypha, Hi. I don’t know ‘Deus X’. I’m limited by being a 85% or thereabouts Nintendo-tethered player. I’ll look for evidence. I love the Delany quote. It’s very sparkly-eyed and sweet. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! I’m not totally sure that it’s bilingual. I’ll let you know. Apparently there are yet more questions on their way to me, so I guess the magazine/book won’t be published for a while. Having had an insistent cold myself recently, much Vitamin C-shaped best wishes to Anita. No, ha ha, luckily I had begged off doing the Q&A when he first asked me. That would have been a little awkward. Will you be working at the actual Christmas fair itself as part of your job? Will your mom have a booth there? My day turned out to be busy, but it was good. The meeting with the producer went well. We’ve made some inroads into the worrying festival submission process, and we’re less worried now although still biting our nails. We won’t get an answer from the festival probably until early-mid December at the earliest. Oh, my poor fingernails. You’re working today, I imagine. I hope it goes well and that you survive it with flying colors. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Berlin is really excellent. Highly recommended. You won’t be sorry. Zac has never heard of Pierre Michon either. I haven’t had time to look into him yet. I’ll just go ahead and try to pick up ‘Rimbaud the Son’. Yesterday got away from me, but I think I can finally and happily indulge in your music today. Zac is still going over my draft of the partial film script. I wound up drafting up a fairly substantial proposed section of the film, so it’s taking time for him to go over it carefully. I think we’ll meet and talk and work with it in the next couple of days. I’m very interested to see what his thoughts on the visualisation will result in. He’s said what I proposed is very challenging in that sense, but that he’s excited to try to suss out how it can possibly work. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. It’s a really excellent book. The next DCA show does look very interesting. Huh.I’d like to hear what and how that is, if you feel like it. ** Misanthrope, Hi, George. She is awfully good and really pleasurable to read too. Yeah, RIP David Cassidy. That’s very sad. Manson’s thing was pretty singularly ‘rich’ as serial killings go. It had rock music, famous victims, evil, deification, self-conscious theatricality, dastardly black humor, a cult, slogans, etc, etc. I can’t think of another serial killer whose murders also put on such a big show. Your Thanksgiving sounds potentially alright. I always forget about the football connection. The last time I did the whole family feast thing, I don’t think football was on its menu yet, which shows you how long it’s been since I did that deed. It’s tomorrow, isn’t it? Isn’t it always on a Thursday for some weird reason? ** Bill, I can see why a stressful state wouldn’t welcome Berlin’s stuff, yeah. ‘Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is on my list. Yes, people seem to be all over the place about it. Usually I can guess which side I’ll wind up on when the happens, but I’m strangely still a blank about that film. Have the finest Wednesday. ** Right. Had an idea, gave it a shot, was surprised to find that the internet was very happy to illustrate my idea, and today’s post was born. See you tomorrow.

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