This space needs something here. Like content.
Lots to write about, most of it not fit for the aether, though.
This space needs something here. Like content.
Lots to write about, most of it not fit for the aether, though.
I haven’t forgotten about this place, I’ve just been so busy that it’s been hard to write anything else. I do have a few decent post ideas, so stay tuned.
Early Wednesday morning, finding myself in my usual sleepless state, I was trolling (ha) around on Netflix to find something to watch. Netflix’s streaming service is one of the greatest boons to the insomniac, and I find myself turning to it often these days to make the long hours of the night fly past a bit more quickly.
My gaze rested upon a documentary, “Best Worst Movie.” Intrigued by the terrible title, I checked out the description, which essentially stated the film planned to examine how a truly bad movie was made and the processes that made it so. Intrigued, I clicked on it, and found an unexpected gem, like “Waiting for Guffman,” for those who’ve seen that Christopher Guest mockumentary, but profoundly, painfully real.
The film is about the making of — and aftermath of— 1990′s “Troll 2,” apparently considered the worst film ever made. An American production conceived by an Italian director and his screenwriter wife, it has earned a lasting legacy because of its terrible acting, dimestore effects, incoherent storyline and unintentionally hilarious tone. In the course of “Best Worst,” it’s referred to as the “MySpace Generation’s ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’” and that now somewhat-dated reference aside, it’s easy to see that the fandom that has built up around the picture is remarkably similar to that ever-popular piece of horror/musical camp.
What I didn’t expect going in was to fall in love with “Troll 2′s” ill-starred cast members, at the time of this filming 17 years removed from the infamous flop. And little did I know I was about to fall into a similar sort of hatred for for the film’s director, Claudio Fragasso, who still believes he’s crafted a masterpiece for the ages and refers to the actors throughout as ungrateful “dogs” unable to comprehend his wife’s artistic vision.
His wife, credited as Rossella Drudi, seems equally clueless, convinced she has crafted some sort of deep meditation on any number of classic themes. Like her husband, she seems utterly ill-equipped to understand the true terror of what she has wrought.
The plot of “Troll 2,” which I have not yet seen, apparently has something to do with a family going on vacation, finding themselves among the familiar town of strangers, and then finding out said strangers are actually goblins that are … strict vegetarians. (Drudi says that she wrote the movie because many of her friends at the time were becoming vegetarians — something she said “pissed me off.”)
In order to eat our heroes, which of course is the creatures’ goal, the goblins — no trolls are ever featured in the film — try to get the family and other victims to ingest some special concoction that transforms them into plants. There’s the ghost of a dead grandfather, seduction via an ear of corn, and even more strangeness thrown into the mix, judging from the few snippets of the actual film we get to see. It’s an incoherent mess that ends up being a laugh-a-minute, something even most of the actors involved now agree upon.
In “Best Worst Movie,” we first meet George Hardy, a hard-working, if somewhat eccentric, small-town dentist from Alexander City, Ala. — and the unfortunate sap cast as the father in “Troll 2.”
Hardy, beloved by his community, is shown to be an affably weird, genuinely likable sort. He starts out every day with a breakfast shake he throws together with whatever he’s got on hand in the fridge and regularly makes a public spectacle of himself rollerskating in various ill-conceived “fat suit” costumes in the hometown holiday parade. He’s also a dedicated dentist, seems to have a great relationship with his office staff, regularly offers free dental work to area schoolchildren in need, and seems, when we first meet him, to be trying have a good life and to forget making “Troll 2.”
But Michael Stephenson, who plays Hardy’s son in the film, has other ideas. It seems the movie has become something of a cult classic — groups gather regularly to watch it and guffaw, friends of friends pass down worn VHS copies to unsuspecting victims, and hardcore fans wear in-jokey t-shirts and engage in craft projects to “recreate” the oh-so special special effects. Stephenson, now grown up, wants to document all of this, a sort of catharsis and celebration. Thus, “Best Worst Movie” is born, with Hardy, Stephenson and other cast members playing our guides into the improbable world of “Troll 2″ fandom.
Throughout the film, cast members appear as guests at midnight movie-style showings of “Troll 2,” finding themselves unwitting celebrities. There’s an unexpected warmth to all of this, especially in the beginning scenes involving Hardy. The dentist finds himself emotionally embraced by audiences that seem to genuinely love him, some fans literally trembling in his presence as he signs t-shirts, promotional photos, etc. To their credit, Stephenson and Hardy, along with certain other actors, seem to genuinely appreciate the joke the film is and has become— although Hardy, unaccustomed to any degree of celebrity beyond that previously earned as a hometown ham, does start to take his new-found fame a bit too seriously in latter scenes, until an inevitable fall causes his humility to come crashing down.
The further the documentary travels from the dedicated fan base that inspired it, the more devastating the “Troll 2″ picture becomes. Cast members find themselves virtual outcasts, rather than cult movie heroes, at more “mainstream” fan conventions, and it soon becomes clear that the movie has left a share of truly broken people in its wake.
One feels genuine sympathy, for example, for the aging Robert Ormsby, who played Stephenson’s ghostly grandfather. He sits among stacks of clutter in a crumbling home, gazes wistfully at a photo of himself as a young man, and wonders aloud if he’s wasted his life.
Equally devastating is our introduction to Margo Prey, who plays Hardy’s wife and Stephenson’s mother. Eyes wandering and lost, obviously troubled, she takes care of her elderly mother and wishes for the power to somehow just go away and never be seen again.
And then there is wild, eyed, wild-haired Don Packard, who played a diabolical store clerk. Actually institutionalized when he made the film, let out on day passes to shoot, even he notes the obvious madness in his eyes in clips from “Troll 2.”
“I wasn’t acting,” he opines. We believe him.
Hubris enters the scene with Fragasso and Drudi. The director finds it completely comprehensible that this strange little film has finally found an audience, but the auteur finds it utterly bewildering to watch said audience during fan screenings. He doesn’t understand why they’re always laughing, even at the parts that aren’t funny. And Fragasso flies into absolute rage later when the actors openly talk with audience members about how terrible their experience was.
An almost insurmountable language barrier, and Fragasso’s insistence that the script be delivered exactly as written, frustrated the actors, who genuinely tried to fix some of the howl-inducing dialogue but were rebuffed at every turn — the director insisting, among other things, that he knew how American teenagers talked. The end result is some of the worst spoken lines in the history of film, accompanied by some of the worst acting, producing drivel such as this exchange between Holly, Stephenson’s sister in the film, played by actress Connie Young, and her boyfriend Elliot, played by Jason Wright:
Holly : Elliott! What kind of idiotic joke is this? You scared the shit out of me!
Elliott: [After sneaking into Holly's room] I’m the victim of a nocturnal rapture. I have to release my lowest instincts with a woman.
Holly: [Punches Elliott in the groin] Release your instincts in the bathroom.
Elliott: Are you nuts? You tryin’ to turn me into a homo?
Holly: Wouldn’t be too hard. If my father discovers you here, he’d cut off your little nuts and eat them. He can’t stand you.
Several scenes of “Best Worst” show Fragasso wandering the streets utterly furious while the actors deconstruct his movie bit by bit for eager fans. He makes a valid point or two, noting that none would have even their infamy if it wasn’t for him and his movie, but he fails time and time again to understand that audiences are now laughing with the actors — but still only laughing at him.
The greatest horror? All of the attention has prompted Fragasso and his wife to start penning a sequel. Its title? “Troll 2: Part 2.” We can hope that the world may yet be saved from such true terror. Perhaps the oncoming 2012 Apocalypse will be welcomed if it means we don’t have to sit through “T2:P2.”
Among the hardest scenes to watch, at least for me, are Hardy’s attempts to vault his minor celebrity into something genuinely good for his hometown. Accustomed to fan reactions by this point, he doesn’t understand why locals seem reluctant to come out and support his well-intentioned fundraiser, featuring a screening of “Troll 2,” which he by now gleefully embraces as “the worst movie ever made!”
The community’s matronly mayor and other small-town folk come out to dutifully support the dentist, and much to his relief he gets a good crowd. But the reactions he receives after the screening in no way match the joyful adulation that characterize the film’s most devoted fans. A forced handshake and a quick escape into the night seems to be the most common reaction from fellow Alexander City folk, and one can see the visible hurt on Hardy’s face.
The documentary ends on a fairly high note, its occasional tragedy counterbalanced by its inherent comedy and how much fans genuinely do seem to love “Troll 2.” Hardy seems to return home wiser, if a touch sadder, while we learn that many of the actors either recovered enough from the film to continue getting professional work or did fine with other careers. Ormsby, Prey and Packard remain devastating in their quiet pain, but the documentary ends with one feeling like one has simultaneously been in the company of friends and initiated into a secret world.
“Troll 2″ may or may not be the worst movie ever made, but it has earned a place in the heart of many thousands, perhaps millions. In one of his few moments of genuine insight, Fragasso notes that truly great movies produce great emotion in their viewers. If “Troll 2″ crafts an unwitting joy despite its horrific dialogue, inane plot and misguided acting, then perhaps it is “successful” by such a definition. By such a yardstick, even the worst film deserves an audience, if only to remind us of what greatness truly is, and when a film like “Troll 2″ comes along that genuinely falls into the “so bad it’s good” category, it’s an opportunity to meditate on what we want, and perhaps deserve, from cinema to begin with.
“Troll 2,” apparently, entertains, and that alone, perhaps, makes it successful enough.
I’m considering a local “Troll 2″ screening. Anyone want to venture into the dark side with me?
This isn’t meant to be a confessional, nor is it intended to be a place where I casually reveal secrets. Those deserving of any secrets I bear already regularly receive them.
But before we can have any kind of meaningful discussion, and I’d like for this to be a place where meaningful discussion happens, it’s fair to talk a bit about who I am, at least at a basic level.
There’s a public persona that I regularly adopt, a sort of “gee-willikers!” kinda fella who’s designed, more or less, to disarm. I like people to feel comfortable with me when I interview them, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at doing that.
Those of you on Facebook with me get “Geek Brian” with both barrels. That’s the second public layer of personality, and one that I enjoy sharing with people.
There are other masks, worn or discarded, as needed. Think about it a bit, and I’m certain you’ll find many you wear, as well.
And then, there’s the Brian of His Most Private Thoughts. Most people never get there, and that’s not going to change today, I’m afraid. Or even tomorrow. But here we can establish a bit of foundation for whatever comes from this point.
I was born February 24, 1972, in Wichita Falls, Texas, at a military hospital. My dad was in the Air Force for a brief stint, a place where he found and fostered a love of photography that he would carry all of his life. I was a bit premature, and I bear a number of health issues that probably have their origin in that fact.
We lived, briefly, in Lubbock then moved for a short time to California before returning to Texas. We came back “home” around the time I turned three, my family briefly living with my maternal grandparents in Coleman before establishing its own, permanent home there.
My parents grew up largely in this part of West Texas, though my Dad wasn’t from here initially. Born in Indiana, he moved with his family to Lawn, Texas, at the age of five. Mom was born in El Paso, on the day a UFO was seen hovering overhead. Later, my dad would often kid her about this, claiming it explained a lot. Maybe it does. I’ve always felt a little bit alien.
I went to school in Coleman all of my growing-up years, attending the same Baptist church for the majority of that time. In a town of 5,000 people and 23 churches, where you go to church is as much a part of your identity as anything, and there wasn’t much cross-pollination, as I recall, between “brands.” On occasion we First Baptist folks might visit our Catholic neighbors across the street when they had one of their famous enchilada dinners, but that was the end of ecumenical discourse.
I was not one of the popular kids. Growing up in a town of 5,000 people also means that everyone knows you – and that everyone has decided who you are, with or without your input, by the time you’re 10 or so.
I spent my time in Coleman doing well in school grade-wise, being largely ignored by the fairer sex and getting regularly pummeled, at least verbally, by an endless sea of hometown heroes and would-be gridiron champions. I came into this world with the speed and coordination of your average sea slug, a detriment in a place where athleticism tended to be venerated above intellect. The cliche about the kid who’s always picked last for sports? No cliche here. I remember accidentally catching a fly ball during one of the interminable softball games we had to play in fourth grade physical education. It was regarded by the wide-eyed witnesses as some sort of damned miracle.
In short, I had the same experience I bet a lot of other people had in high school, the kind of experience that keeps one from willingly attending high school reunions. Judie and I have been discussing our high school experiences a lot lately, and I’ve decided mine probably deserves a separate posting, especially in light of some things going on in her niece’s life right now.
I wouldn’t say growing up was all bad. I met some people in Coleman who are still my friends today: the real kind, the bullet-taking kind. I found several people who served as mentors, from teachers to neighbors, that I still regard as key in my development.
But growing up where (and to some extent, how) I did mean that I was a fairly solitary sort, and in my desperation for something to do, I found the local library. More than anything, it was books that saved my sanity.
I can remember the first time I went to Coleman Public Library. It had not yet moved to its eventual, now-permanent home on main street, its holdings instead being ensconced in a tiny brick building next to the courthouse. In those cramped shelves, among dusty and forgotten stacks, I found salvation.
I can still recall the very first set of books I checked out: A book on ghosts and ghost stories, a book on the supposed lost continent of Atlantis, a book about UFOs, and a collection of Peanuts cartoons. I was already a fan of Snoopy and the gang, but the others …
Well, I remember thinking Atlantis was silly. My verdict was (and is) still out on UFOs. But the book on ghosts — now that, for whatever reason, was something.
I read the book. I read it again. Later, I checked it out a few more times. Believe it or not, a few years ago I tracked down a copy on eBay. It was that important.
I had always suspected that there was some sort of unseen world. I’d had several weird experiences as a kid (preludes to weird experiences as an adult) that predisposed me to believe in some sort of supernatural realm. For some reason, this book on ghosts, with its garish illustrations, barely-cited “factboxes” and hodgepodge of collected lore and photographs attracted me like no other book of my then-current acquaintance. It transformed me, opened me up to new possibilities. The book, in retrospect, is fairly balanced, showing both fakery (and how to detect it) and anomalous items and accounts that still defy easy explanation.
Thus began a lifelong hobby of studying the lore of the supernatural, much to the concern of my parents, a variety of youth ministers, and several teachers. I attempt to not be credulous in such matters, and there’s much out there that can — and should — be debunked and put to rest. But still, there are manifold accounts that remain compelling, and the Internet provides folks interested in such with a plethora of stories worth reading and topics worth exploring.
Enough of that.
I got into journalism somewhat by accident, somewhat by blood. My father became a freelance photographer in his spare time, and he often shot football games for the Reporter-News and the Brownwood Bulletin. I would go with him at times, and I remember many a late night run to the Bulletin, especially, from Coleman. He would drop off his film, and there were a few times I went inside. I was fascinated by the presses, the reporters I met, the idea of putting out a newspaper day-to-day.
So I started reading the three newspapers we subscribed to — the Abilene Reporter-News, the Coleman Chronicle & Democrat-Voice (no, really), and the Brownwood Bulletin, at a fairly young age, partially because of the occasional current event assignment growing up but mostly because I thought it was interesting. And it was something else to read, another way to learn.
My respect for the craft aside, I had not intended to go to college to study journalism. My first degree (I have two) was in English. I worked on the college paper as a hobby, more or less.
It wasn’t until I started tallying my class hours that I realized I could pretty easily snag an “extra” journalism degree with just a few alterations to my schedule. I did so, and more or less accidentally found what would become my career.
School ended. I graduated in three-and-a-half years with two degrees, one in English, the other in Journalism. One qualified me to ask people if they wanted fries with their order, the other qualified me to ask people annoyingly pointed questions and then write down what they said. I picked the latter over the former. Sometimes I still wish that I had continued on with my original plan of becoming an English professor, but I don’t agonize over that much anymore.
Anyway, I needed a job, and it was sort of strange how I found one.
In my final days as a college student, I happened across a posting on the journalism department cork board. It offered a chance to work in glorious Stephenville, Texas, for the small daily newspaper there. Having no other prospects, I applied for the job. I graduated Dec. 17, 2000, and I started my job at the Empire-Tribune Dec. 20.
I worked at the Tribune for a year and a half. While I was there I wrote stories, shot my own photography, and even did page design. Pretty much everything. I remember writing seven stories in a day once, and I regularly worked from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. (no typo there) just to get things done.
The Tribune had a small staff, but I still remember most them fondly, from a sports editor with a genuine gift for profanity to a couple of early mentors with fascinating life stories of their own.
Barbara Lancaster, in particular, probably deserves her own blog entry at some point, but she was an amazing lady. She’d lived all over the world through her husband’s military career and had worked at newspapers the whole time. Barbie was the sort that — if she found herself in, say, Japan — would teach herself Japanese so that she could write for the local audience (among the many amazing things she actually did in a long, varied career). She was in her 80s when I met her, but was still passionate about journalism and an important link to the Abilene Reporter-News, where I’ve worked now for almost 17 years.
I learned a lot while at the Tribune, but I wanted a change. Barbie, who freelanced for the ARN in addition to work she did for the E-T, told me there was an opening in Abilene for a police writer. My first day at the ARN was April 24, 1995, the police beat the first of many, many roles I’ve had here.
I never planned to stay in Abilene as long as I have. I had originally intended to stick around a couple of years, then move on. I kicked around the idea of graduate school, etc. But then my dad got diagnosed with cancer shortly after I arrived. After an extended, five-year battle with the disease, he died in March of 2000. (Again, that probably will get its own entry — maybe more than one — in time.)
The same year Dad died, I met Judie. What can I say about that? Finding her has been the most deeply important experience of my life. Do we get along perfectly? Who does? Can I imagine my a day without her?
There are plenty of frustrations in my day-to-day life. I work in a field that, to be perfectly honest, is remarkably unstable. The future of the sort of writing and reporting I do is in question, and I don’t think anyone in the business would disagree. I’ve considered changing careers from time to time, but I do enjoy the service I provide to the community and the idea of starting over while pushing 40 scares me. This is literally all I’ve ever done for a living.
A great partner, good friends and some fun hobbies — board, card and role-playing games, video and computer gaming, reading, composing the occasional song, studying numerous topics — help me cope with the day-to-day stress of work, finances, etc.
I’ve always had an abiding interest in science, so I try to keep up with what’s going on in that world, at least as far as my limited training in such matters allows. I’m particularly into astronomy, and Judie and I can bore you with dozens of details about every major constellation and star in the sky. I study the history of religion fairly extensively, and also delve deeply into the world of mythology. I particularly venerate Carl Gustav Jung and Joseph Campbell for their work in understanding the human psyche and how mythological themes shape all of our lives. And I’m a font of useless (and at times, not-so-useless) knowledge on all things strange, mysterious and otherworldly.
I’m an unapologetic devotee of the dark fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Otherwise, if I’m reading purely for pleasure, I tend to love genre fiction — fantasy, sci-fi, slipstream, etc. I’ll read the occasional popular novel to see what all the fuss is about, but I’m usually disappointed.
I love movies, too, and I pride myself on the number that I’ve seen. I’ll admit a weakness for horror, but I prefer the (generally) more cerebral ghost story to the more common slasher flick. Film is an area in which I roam fairly free, and I’m a big fan of both foreign and domestic product. I’ve got a weakness for documentaries, largely because of my journalism background, but I love everything from contemporary drama to effects-laden flights of fancy. As I’m sure everyone has, I’ve even kicked around a few screenplay ideas in my day.
Of necessity, this has been fairly dry. (Almost) forty years of life is quite a stretch when you’re trying to summarize. But I hope it gives you at least a sketch of who I am, what I do, a bit about what I like, and a hint of some topics that might appear here.
Questions welcomed. Thanks for reading.
Needs a proper name. I don’t mind having the URL be prominent — it is who I am, after all. But it needs a name … Not sure what that would be. Suggestions?
Hanging out with some friends and designing a new logo. What do you guys and gals think? Not bad for someone with zero photo editing skills?
The Tom Petty allusion should give a clue as to what I’m doing now. There’s a lot of waiting at times in this job, followed by moments of relentless activity. Some day’s it’s nothing but relentless, but oftentimes I find myself sitting and sitting and sitting, waiting for phone calls, waiting for emails, just … waiting.
I try to use the time well, of course. There’s always some little detail to handle at work, and there’s an endless array of things I *could* be doing. At times, though, it’s simply mind-numbing, and one tends to feel a bit helpless on certain days as time flows endlessly on.
All we do as journalists is largely based on the premise that other people will agree to cooperate with us, agreeing to meet with us or at least call or write us back. Sometimes you have to be aggressive and chase down people who don’t want to talk, but for the most part your day is spent tracking down people who may not necessarily like having part of their day taken up by a reporter but will still cooperate. Most people, I think, still understand that what we do is important work and believe there’s a mutual responsibility to get good information out to the public.
But the thing is: People call or write when it’s convenient for them. Sometimes that’s a few minutes after you get in touch with them. Sometimes that’s a few minutes before deadline. And sometimes, it’s days later. I always tell people when we plan to run something. Editors, of course, can change when a piece is slotted, so I’m not always correct. But I always give people a clear deadline to get in touch, and it amazes me how many times people will return a call days down the road, sometimes with an apology but often not. I always let them know that I appreciate the gesture, but … Well, too late is too late.
So I’m waiting, this time on people to call me about school lunch programs and changes the Obama administration plans to make to them. Not thrilling by my standards, but again — important information for those who want to know. A magic fast-forward button would be appreciated, but I’ll settle for a couple of phone calls before 4 p.m.
Stuff like this fascinates me to no end:
I’ve actually learned a good deal about myself through this blog, even though I’ve barely posted a thing. My error comes in thinking that I must have something honed to absolute perfection in a topic conceived from utter brilliance before I put it up here. This is wrong. The purpose of this site was to give myself the freedom to write what’s on my mind in a style different from my daily journalism voice.
So what’s on my lately? Sleep. Or lack thereof.
I have long considered sleep to be more of a problem than it is a help. I know that if I don’t have it, I become a walking automaton barely able to function, but getting it has always been a chore and an annoyance, at best.
Now, I’ve never liked it, mind. I never wanted to go to bed when I was a kid, and I never particularly wanted to rise in the morning when consensus reality told me it was time to get up. Those who know me well know a rebellious streak.
But even when I do slumber, sleep for me isn’t the calm, restful thing it is for most, apparently.
On one hand, I have sleep apnea — a condition that basically means I strangle awake dozens of times in an hour, just enough to break the sleep cycle but not enough to fully awaken. This deprives me of oxygen, and it prevents me from achieving a depth of slumber that’s actually effective in restoring energy. I’m supposed to use a CPAP mask — it stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure – to fix this. But being hooked up to a machine while wearing a Darth Vader mask hasn’t worked all that well in practice. I have friends who use these things and insist that they’ve transformed their life and well-being, but try as I might I just can’t convince myself that this is a good idea. The terrible pressure sores I got on my nose and elsewhere from the mask the last time I seriously tried to do this didn’t serve to convince me of its efficacy, either.
I also have profound trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Actually, the latter hasn’t been a problem lately — I have to fight to stay awake sometimes in the afternoons, and I tend to crash out on the couch, much to Judie’s chagrin, sometimes as early as 9:30 p.m. That might actually be fine if I could stay sleep, restore my energy, then work on creating some actual sleep hygiene habits, but I can’t. Inevitably, I wake up around 1:30 a.m.-3 a.m., not necessarily restored but now awake enough that I want to do something. Trying to fall back asleep just doesn’t work, so I get up, read or play a game, watch a movie, do anything to distract myself for a couple of hours before I go back to bed and finally am tired enough to just crash out again for a few hours.
I used to pride myself on my lack of sleep since I was much better able to function without it when I was younger. But I’m getting a bit older now and take a ton of medication because of other health problems, all of which have “may cause drowsiness” as a potential side effect. You would think that might help, but all that I do is lately is want to sleep at exactly the wrong times, while being unable to sleep at the right ones.
If I could eliminate sleep from my life and still somehow feel refreshed throughout the day, then I would so with utter gladness and gratitude. Unfortunately, that’s a wish destined to not be soon granted. That would also eliminate dreaming, which I don’t necessarily want to give up — although it seems all of my dreams are about work and other stressors these days and not necessarily of the pleasant variety.
I do plan to try to get some better sleep habits in place, and I guess I need to try the stupid CPAP mask again. The thing is, though, for the mask to work, you need to use it with good sleep habits already in place. The therapy is designed to help those with regular sleep habits get the most benefit from sleep, and my habits these days are anything but regular.
So sleep is my mortal enemy — I’ll die without it, but I’m dying to do without it. Several people have suggested melatonin, but I’ll need to do some research to make sure that doesn’t interact negatively with any of the million million pills I’m on these days. We’ll have to see.
Pleasant dreams to the rest of you.