21 May 2010

Canterbury Tales Rap

Since there can never be too many viewings of this absolutely marvelous and ingenious setting of the Prologue from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, I throw it out here on my blog, on the off-off chance that it catches a new pair of eyes. If you have not seen this before, please leave me a comment!

This gem was the brainchild of Jon Wilkerson. The slick video editing, direction, and organization were done by Kirk Anderson. The piece is performed by Jon, Kirk, and DeShawn Jones, to music created by Darren Lawless.

I feel like I've become an evangelist for this piece over the past couple of days. I can't explain why. The music, the beat, the images, and the middle English words have routed my defenses and now have taken possession of a small but significant plot in my brain.

It has gotten tens of thousands of viewings on YouTube, and there are lots of testimonial comments from high school students who used it to help them memorize the beginning of Chaucer's Prologue. Teachers have also weighed in, saying that this is now required viewing for their English Literature classes.

And it should be.

So, surely you know a teacher, a student, or a word nerd friend who would get a kick out of this.

If you like it, pass it on. Tell somebody about it!

16 May 2010

Fear Friday

For a variety of reasons, mostly involving neglect, disinterest, and sheer laziness, I do not have TV service at home.

What I do have is a 20-year-old 19-inch TV that I use to watch my DVDs on.

Recently I am thinking that this has got to change.

One of the reasons I can state in two words. Fear Friday.

On many Fridays, I go down to Littleton to spend the afternoon and evening with my stepmother, Amy. We'll do errands and go out to eat, then come home and inevitably watch some TV.

So, these Fridays are my only real TV viewing time for the week. I'm devoted to the rantings on The McLaughlin report. We'll usually watch the local news at 10 pm.

Amy will nod and drift off and fall asleep on one end of the couch as I sit flipping channels on the other. She'll stay dozing there for quite a while before she wakes up just enough to decide to go to bed. She always tells me to stay as long as I like.

I used to leave just shortly after Amy went to bed.

But a few times I stayed and channel-surfed through the dreck of her Utterly Basic Cable, which she got really just so she could continue to receive the local channels. And sometime about a year ago I chanced upon it: Fear Friday.

Of course, as of yet I didn't know what Fear Friday was. Nor did I have any devotion to it. All I knew was that they were showing the original classic Night of the Living Dead, and I couldn't resist watching the last 45 minutes or so of the ur-zombie movie. Then, I noticed, the station followed it with another, highly inferior, zombie flick. I watched just a little bit of that one and hit the road.

But there was something fun about being up in the middle of the night here in the family room at one end of the darkened house while Amy slept at the other end, watching the beloved low-budget film that launched the whole zombie cult. In between the ads I saw AMC's promos for upcoming film series, tied together always with their new slogan "Story Matters Here." And always just before the movie itself was firing up again, the words FEAR FRIDAY jerkily staggering around the screen and finally aligning themselves in lurid black on red. (Or maybe white on red?)

I didn't think anything of it, never crossed my mind, until maybe a couple or three weeks later, when the end of a Friday of errands and dinner with Amy found me once more settling down on the couch to see what a little channel surfing might turn up.

And this time it was both the old and the new versions of The Fly, back-to-back! I got sucked in again, this time just in time to watch the disgusting, unlikely, horrifying and somehow hilarious climax of David Cronenberg's The Fly, with the creature that used to be Jeff Goldblum sliming up his laboratory and Geena Davis, who finally blasts him to pieces with a shotgun. Really a tour-de-force of disturbing imagery, that film! Wow. I either missed or purposely left without seeing the Vincent Price version, which has a few joys of its own.

But Fear Friday had bit me again.

After two or three chance run-ins with the show like this, I began to realize that it was a show. The facts started to coalesce in my brain like so many zombies converging on the big white house where the still-living are holed up.

Fear Friday is a Friday night horror movie festival on AMC. They show two or maybe three horror films in a row, often connected thematically.

Part of the fun of the presentation, for me at least, comes with AMC's plugs for the week's upcoming (non-horror) film series. They throw films together under an umbrella theme, and the little ads feature well-edited film clips of a bunch of disparate movies. The fun lies partly in trying to ldentify all these films from just a shot here and a shot there. And the promos reveal progressively a little more each time. It is a clever promotion. Fun to watch and it keeps you guessing.

So now I knew just what Fear Friday was, and approximately when it comes on. But I wasn't obsessed with it.


I didn't yet look forward to the next Friday night's selection, wonder what they might be showing. I didn't yet talk at length to people at work about it. I hadn't yet even really spoken the words "Fear Friday."

But I would. I would.

In recent weeks, some of the joys offered up by AMC on Fear Friday have been:

Poltergeist - Utterly ridiculous fun which could be described in TV Guide as: "Suburban family is menaced by over-the-top self-indulgent state-of-the-art special effects!" But the film's core and its germ, I'm sure, and its worthy, lasting place in American culture, is that it enshrines the now-lost-but-not-forgotten eerie moment when the TV stations go off in the middle of the night, abandoning you to the existential challenge of snow and white noise. The first thing you hear in Poltergeist is the Star-Spangled Banner, signalling, you soon find out, the horrifying end of another broadcast day.

The Amityville Horror - Creepy film from an older era, before special effects took over. I kept seeing parallels between this evil-house-that-caused-previous-owner-to-kill-his-entire-family film and Stanley Kubrick's masterful The Shining. Was Kubrick. . .or possibly Stephen King. . .influenced by this film? The creepiness here revolves mostly around everyday things, like flies and toilets backing up and unsettled dogs. But these items are put together in odd ways, exaggerated, played up. As in The Shining, one child has an evil imaginary friend. And then there's the great performance by Rod Steiger, as a priest who is brought in to bless the house, and whom the house progressively takes apart, blinds, and ruins. Fun film. Terrible ending.

The Shining - We were sitting there on the couch, Amy and I, when I chanced to tune in to the baseball bat scene in this terrific film. What an amazing scene, in how it develops and how long it goes on, and the escalating dialogue as Jack Nicholson threatens the pleading Shelley Duvall across the lobby, eventually backing her up the stairs as she swipes at the air pathetically, ineffectually with the bat! The scene is sustained for unbelievably long! The actors are so well-matched here, Nicholson sarcastic and terrifying and insane, and Duvall's Wendy beaten down and whimpering but fiercely protecting her son. Jack keeps cajoling her, "Give me the bat, Wendy!" and eventually, she does. She gives it to him. Right in the side of the head.

I appreciated that film more than ever viewing it that night. It is so wildly over-the-top, so fiercely hilarious! I cackle with laughter as Nicholson sails off the deep end!

Then there was the great double-billing of Bram Stoker's Dracula and the original Bela Lugosi classic. This was inspired. The Frances Ford Coppola film, so deliciously lush and visually inventive, contains so many self-conscious hat-tips to its 1931 inspiration. Gary Oldman intones lines that we all know from Bela's delivery of them: "I am Dracula. I bid you wel-come!" Playing the two films back-to-back like this really showed how excellent they both are, and what a worthy successor the Coppola film is to the original.

So now Fear Friday's got me.

I might just have to buy a TV.