Thursday, January 17, 2008

Winne the Pooh was an Atheist

Last Monday evening I was lucky enough to be invited to a lecture given by Colson Whitehead at Benaroya Hall as part of the Seattle Arts & Lecture series. I’ve heard Whitehead’s name bandied about in recent years as one of the up and coming literary writers, but I haven’t taken the time to read any of his work. Tonight’s lecture was funny and smart and it certainly has given the incentive to read something of his soon. He has written three novels (The Intuitionist, John Henry Days and Apex Hides the Hurt) and a book of nonfiction (The Colossus of New York), but tonight he read from a forthcoming “autobiographical novel.”

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been trying to convince myself to catch a matinee of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film There Will Be Blood, but I’ve haven’t quite been in the mood for a 2 hour and 38 minute battle between oil barons and religious zealots played out on the hardscrabble tableau of early California. So on Tuesday I was within a few blocks of the Guild 45th theatre when I finished my lunch at the Blue Star, but instead of walking over to the Guild I got back in my car and headed to Half-Price Books. There I found a first edition of Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku, Sin Killer by Larry McMurtry and The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. I also bought a duplicate of a book already in my collection: Honored Guest by Joy Williams. There was a whisper inside my head telling me that I might already have that book, but I couldn’t resist the $5.98 price for the attractive hardcover. Maybe I can think of someone who would appreciate the collection of short stories.

On Wednesday evening of this week I started a continuing ed. course through North Seattle Community College. It’s actually offered at the Sand Point Way facility, which is near Magnuson Park. The course is called Schlock Cinema and it’s taught by “Professor Fred” of local cable TV fame. This is the second year he’s given this course through NSCC and the current class that I’m attending has set a record for number of students attending evening continuing ed. at the college. The first class was a lot of fun and Professor Fred is just as witty in the classroom setting as he is on TV introducing B-movies to Seattle audiences. At the beginning of the class he went around with a plastic shopping bag loaded with cheapo movies on DVD and passed one out to each student. It’s our chance to be more actively involved than just watching a movie each week. Completely on a volunteer basis, we are to take our movie and watch it in the privacy of our own home and give it a 3 or 4 paragraph review. I got a disc with two films: Blood Tide with James Earl Jones as an adventurer in Greece, who somehow manages to reawaken some mythic beast; and Death Rage with Yul Brynner, which has something to do with something in Italy. I volunteered to give my review at the next class, so that should get me my A for classroom participation.

The first film we watched was called Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People, which is a Japanese production from 1963. I’ve actually had the movie in my Netflix queue for months. It starts off similar to Gilligan’s Island with five vacationers and two crewmen marooned on a deserted island after a stormy night at sea. Everything changes once they start ingesting the mushrooms that grow like a fungus on the tropical island. The design of the landlocked research ship, where the stranded travelers end up is pretty impressive and reminded me of some of David Cronenberg’s work. Matango has it’s share of unintentionally funny moments, but it also has some genuinely creepy moments and it’s certainly worthy of a rental. No ‘shrooms required. Next week’s film will be Attack of the Puppet People, which Professor Fred claims we’ve all seen. The still from it on his handout looked familiar. I probably did see it on the Sunday afternoon movie back in the days of UHF.

I’m about halfway through Raymond Chandler’s Lady of the Lake. I’m well past the part where they find the lady in the lake, although she doesn’t look so much like a lady as much as she does a pulpy mass of fetid flesh with some jewelry attached. At least according to Marlowe’s description. I can’t help but hear the voice of Humphrey Bogart in the back of my head as I read the word of the 1940’s shamus. I’ll probably finish the book in the next day or two, so that I’ll be starting something fresh for that trip to Portland this weekend. The book I should be bringing along is Controlling Your Toddler and Other Parental Fallacies, but instead I’m living that one. Little Justin and Daniel, who are both two (Justin will be 2 in a week) are sure to enjoy the train ride south to Portland. I’m sure we’ll all be exhausted upon arriving at the Embassy Suites Hotel and while everyone is sleeping I’ll sneak in some reading time.

I just received my “Freethought of the Day” from the FFRF people and this one features A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh and friends. He was born on this day in 1882. One of his teachers growing up London was H.G. Wells and he attended Cambridge on a math scholarship. When his father gave him 1000 pounds upon his graduation he used the money to move back to London and pursue writing. Here is his quote:

“The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.”
— A.A. Milne, cited in 2,000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught

Kind of makes me happy that my son has become so attached to Milne’s characters, even though Disney is now adding to their billions by imprinting the characters on everything from plates to diapers.

So this has become a very long blog and I’d love to keep going. I spent the early evening watching bizarre Scientology videos featuring Tom Cruise and looking into the conspiracy of whether Katie Holmes actually completed the New York marathon or not. The video I watched of Mitt Romney being called a liar right to his face by an AP reporter was pretty sweet. Last night I watched, Sunshine, the latest collaborative work by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, creators of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. A few nights earlier I watched Zwartboek (The Black Book), the latest film by Paul Verhoeven, director of Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Quite the resume that man has. But these are all topics to be covered at a later date, since it is now one minute past midnight and I wanted to get this posted yesterday.

It seems that Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People is popular enough to have warranted the release of this really cool action figure.

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