Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Slashings & Rip-Offs

After managing to avoid them all my life, I recently saw my first slasher movie. Like Pinocchio to the circus, I was lured to the Portsmouth Cinema, for the first time, by the critical praise heaped on the Hollywood musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Roger Ebert gave it four stars and the New York Times, not given to stars, judged it a masterpiece. It turns out Sweeney Todd is a bubble blood bath of a movie, a slasher of a movie that arrived just in neck of Oscar time. With all those magnificently filmed slit throats, how can it not get an Academy Award? There is a masterpiece lurking somewhere in the bloody mess that is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The trouble is the potential masterpiece was left on the cutting room floor.

Sweeney Todd himself is a Dickensian hero with a psychotic twist. He is a bloodthirsty Oliver Twitch. “Please, sir, may I have more blood?” With a glint in his eye, Sweeney Todd dispatches dozens and dozens and presumably hundreds and hundreds of victims with a flick of his wrist, and they are promptly turned into meat pies by Mrs. Lovett, who serves them fresh, a rare treat, in her eatery.

What the Dickens!

I had not seen such an over-the-top Dickensian characters since I had been to the Portsmouth City Council meeting the previous Monday evening. Where outside of Oliver Twist will we find a gallery of more unforgettable characters than at the City Council meetings. There is lapdog Mayor Jim Kalb; smarmy council president Howard Baughman; “I Get No Respect” Vice President of Council, Rev. David Malone (to give our adulterous Second Ward Councilman his full and proper title); Police Chief (domestic terrorist expert extraordinaire and City Council bouncer) Chuck Horner; and, most notoriously and salaciously First Ward councilman Mike Mearan, who was appointed to City Council and then appointed Building Committee chair presumably because of his extensive knowledge of the sewers of Portsmouth.

Give credit where credit is due: Mearan is always willing to help out damsels in distress, such as Heather Hren, the drug-addicted, purse-snatching twenty-something blond he ensconced in a public-housing-project love nest and then selected as his left-handed stenographer for the Building Committee. If chairs had knees, Hren might have been dictated to indefinitely if she hadn’t been pulled over by the police and arrested for transporting Oxycontin from Columbus to Portsmouth in a sub-sub-compact that Mearan, (playing Bill Sikes, if not Fagin, to Hren’s Nancy) had rented for her.

Done in like Midred Dunnock

Johnny Depp who plays the barbarous Sweeney Todd, combines the sexual ambiguity of Montgomery Clift with the psychotic intensity of Richard Widmark, who made a name for himself in Kiss of Death (1947) when he killed an old woman in a wheelchair (played by Mildred Dunnock, shown here) by gleefully pushing her down a flight of stairs. How insensitive we Americans are when it comes to violence and how oh-so-sensitive we are, especially the evangelicals among us, on the evils of sexuality. I was struck by this parental advisory for Sweeney Todd that appeared on the Internet Movie Data Base: “The throat slittings are occasionally disturbing.” Throat slittings, mind you, are not always, not usually, but only occasionally disturbing. Could any parental advisory better express the lethal hypocrisy of American culture? “The throat slittings are occasionally disturbing.” These self-appointed guardians of morality have a keener nose for sexual transgressions than a specially trained German shepherd does for explosives. We’ll convert the Third World to “democracy” and consumerism even if we have to carpet-bomb the bastards to do it. If Widmark had done nothing more than given Mildred Dunnock a feel in Kiss of Death, the film would have been banned in all forty-eight states. And if it had been an old guy that he had given a feel, the evangelical Taliban from Idaho, Sen. Larry Craig’s home state, and members of the Catholic Decency League, might have put Widmark in its cross-hairs. Widmark was actually a good student, president of his senior class in high school, and planning to become a lawyer, but then he discovered a more lucrative career: playing a psychotic. When you come down to it, we are all Mildred Dunnocks, since our Dickensian crooks control local government, the police department, the Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, and the local newspapers and radio stations.

Cut It Out!

I recently read a complaint in the Boston Globe to the effect that “Tom Brady is a disgrace to all Catholics.” As an ex-Boston Irish Catholic, I have to say that I find Catholics and especially Boston Irish Catholics a disgrace to ex-Catholics, and the Church a refuge for lesbian nuns and pedophile priests. In view of what has happened to the Church in the last twenty-five years, I think Catholics should take a vow of silence for the next thousand years when it comes to the issues of sex and morality. If Brady, the second coming of Christ, in cleats, and a Protestant supermodel become unwed parents, Catholics must not think the worst of him, especially since he is, obviously, still a practicing Catholic. At least he does not practice birth control when he is having sex with Protestant supermodels. As for Brady’s being an unwed father, what would you have him do, you outraged Boston Catholics, marry outside the Faith, begorra? Get over it outraged Boston Catholics and Catholic Legion of Decency. If you will not make a peep about the graphic throat-slashings in Sweeney Todd, not even the occasionally disturbing ones, then stop condemning Scorsese’s Passion of Christ and denigrating Tom Terrific, for Christ’s sake! Brady has had an audience with the Pope. Who have you had an audience with?

Angry Kalb Won't Slash Budget

Mayor Kalb has met with the president of the United States, but he has not yet had an audience with the Pope. The main business of the City Council meeting, on January 14, was the attempt by the City Auditor and others to get Mayor Kalb to cut the budget, however slightly, which he stubbornly refused to do, in spite of an impending recession. He refused to cut the budget by a dime because he has tucked in to it a raise for himself as reward for his incompetence, and he fears that that raise might be the first thing that’s cut. If Kalb will not cut the budget, there is no chance he would agree to slash it, but that may be what he will be forced to do if the looming recession is as bad as economists predict. Kalb did not get the big new SUV he wanted as his mayormobile, but he is determined to get a raise for himself as well as some $10 to $15 million for his new Municipal Building, which may yet turn out to be the 120-year-old Old Maid Marting building. When the current site of the Municipal Building is sold to the mysterious party who has allegedly been waiting for over a decade to get his hands on this “prime piece of property,” to paraphrase Kalb, look for another Marting-like rip-off.

My thesis, which I apologize for taking so long to state, is that the difference between Sweeney Todd’s London and Mayor Kalb’s Portsmouth is that in London the people get slashed and in Portsmouth they get ripped off. The ones who are doing the ripping off in Portsmouth are not a deranged barber and a crooked cook but some developers and lawyers, deranged not by blood but by money. They have managed to bleed the poor Appalachians of Portsmouth of millions and millions because, as Clayton Johnson said at a lunch at Williams Restaurant, according to Portsmouthcitizens.info, they are so ignorant they don’t even know how to set an alarm clock. I have heard of at least two failed Portsmouth eateries blaming their closing on unreliable and dishonest employees, and I was told by the scion of another local business that residents of Portsmouth, as employees, are for the most part, “not worth shit.”

Coming Attraction

In my next blog, I will show how the very ground on which sit the Portsmouth Cinema and other Chillicothe St. viaduct businesses was a rip-off that makes the Marting scam look like a humble meat pie from Mrs. Lovett’s eatery.