by Eric J Baker
The time to confess a dark secret has come: 37 years ago, I tried to kill someone. I do not know if there is a statute of limitations on attempted murder, but I’ll have to take my chances. The guilt is eating me up, and I’ve just learned that, to the new generation, 7 to 10 years in prison isn’t all that long.
My victim was Breakdown Freddie, a kid in my neighborhood. The scene played out like this: He hit me softly with a fuzzy slipper. In what might be described as one of the most unreasonable overreactions in the history of random kids from New Jersey overreacting, I kicked him down a flight of stairs.
Fortunately, Freddie was unharmed. Most likely, getting kicked down the stairs was just a warm up for some other, far-greater calamity that typically befell the kid on a daily basis. Slips, falls, crashes, and faceplants were simply methods of locomotion to him. Freddie’s best injury was running the needle of my sister’s kid-sized sewing machine straight through his index finger. I still remember him walking around, crying, with the sewing machine dangling from his hand, its full weight supported by the skinny shaft of metal jammed in one side of his finger and out the other.
I got to thinking about Freddie and a lot of the other kids from my early days this week when a British scientist, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, declared that the first person who will live for 150 years has already been born. At first I assumed he was talking about Queen Elizabeth, but it turns out that de Grey, who is a top biomedical expert (despite appearing to be the lost fourth member of ZZ Top), was on about gene therapy and stem cells. He doesn’t know who among us will live for fifteen decades, but she’s out there (I suggest she hurry up and buy term life insurance to lock up a good price).
The doc may be right that the medical technology for dramatically slowing the aging process is on the immediate horizon, but I think most people are way too self-destructive to survive that long. If Breakdown Freddie was a walking accident, the Super kids were actively trying to end their young lives. These two brothers came over to play one summer day (uninvited) but, instead of ringing the doorbell, they decided to jump up and down on the roof of my Dad’s Volkswagen to get my attention. Their idea of fun was to set themselves on fire and dive into the water before they started burning, and they weren’t always successful. Another game was to beat each other on the head with a knotted rope to see how long they could take it. If they weren’t covered in blood, someone close to them was. And then there was Rat Boy Johnny, four houses up, who provoked regular and well-deserved beatings from me and the other kids. Another John, across the street and always in trouble, eventually ran over and killed a pedestrian, probably on purpose. I assume he’s in prison or dead by now.
I can go on naming people from my youth who are not going to make 50, much less 150. My suspicion is that Dr. de Grey’s research is being funded by a cartel of adult diaper manufacturers hoping to guarantee loyal customers for 70 years instead of 7, but no advance of science can overcome someone’s death wish.
People are fascinated by death, naturally. If not, we wouldn’t have religion or, far more importantly, zombie movies. One of the best of them, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), includes a great sequence in which one of the heroes, Roger (Scott Reiniger), is bitten by a zombie after his reckless behavior puts him in a dangerous situation from which he cannot escape. Later, as he lies dying and his buddy Peter (Ken Foree) comforts him, Roger promises in a somber voice, “I’m going to try not to come back.” He fails, of course, forcing his best friend to kill him a second time. Zombies fascinate, in part, because they get to experience death and rise again, yet they cannot tell us about the experience. So tantalizing!
Long before the zombie film (or any film) was invented, artists often depicted death from a religious or mythological context. Jesus (who, ironically, became a zombie himself), is shown dead almost as often as alive in the multitude of artworks spread throughout art museums and churches around the world. Many artists, including early Italian Renaissance master Antonio Pollaiuolo, were known to attend autopsies to gain a better understanding of anatomy in general and musculature in particular.
Stepping outside the bounds of biblical subject matter to address death in a contemporary context was French Romantic painter Théodore Géricault, whose corpse-strewn masterpiece Raft of the Medusa (1819), is based on a true story. A few years earlier, a French transport ship, the Medusa, had run aground off the west coast of Africa, and several of the passengers were left to fend for themselves on an impromptu raft. Adrift for days, the raft was finally rescued, but most of the initial survivors were dead. I’d bet the ones who did make it looked surprisingly plump, though.
One of the unusual elements of the painting is the “X” composition, with the mast on the upper left and the body dangling in the water on the bottom right forming one diagonal, and the makeshift red flag in the upper right and the white Reebok sneaker on the lower left forming the other. Art historians debate the inspiration behind this compositional choice, but I think Géricault was influenced by an early episode of Family Feud, in which Richard Dawson said, “Safest sea vessels… Top five answers on the board,” and someone from the Lipschitz family guessed, “The Medusa?”
Note that the guy in the white sneaker is showing his penis. That makes this an officially sanctioned Pure Film Creative post and will probably earn me twice as many page views. Also notice the guy next to him is half-eaten. Looks like everyone on the raft got a piece of ass that week. Literally.
Géricault, who lived a scant 32 years, took his interest in death beyond that of most pre-modern artists by making oil sketches of decapitated heads and of intertwined, severed limbs. These were most likely not anatomical studies but, in the minds of historians, the creepy work of a sicko pervert who, if he had been born 200 years later, would be working in Hollywood.
Perhaps Géricault would have found Lindsay Lohan fascinating, since the poor girl is clearly trying to do herself in. It’s hard to believe someone who starred in the modern classic I know Who Killed Me has fallen so far, recently getting hired and fired from a biopic about porn star Linda Lovelace before any of us knew there was going to be one. Since Lindsay isn’t going to appear in that production, I now have an hour and forty minute empty space in my schedule for 2012. I’ll have to watch Scott Pilgrim vs. the World again, I guess.
It hasn’t been all (allegedly) drugs and alcohol and court appearances for Lindsay in the past year. She did manage to show up in a small, mostly topless part in Robert Rodriguez’s hilarious send-up of 70’s trash cinema Machete, my second-favorite movie from last year.
Lindsay plays a drug-addled bimbo (it’s good to stretch as an actor) named April who is also the daughter of Jeff Fahey, one of the villains. She doesn’t have much to do besides lie around naked, though April does reinvent herself as a gun-wielding nun late in the film. Sadly, her most graphic nude scene is a comically (and intentionally) obvious body double. It’s the most egregious use of a nude stand-in since Jennifer Beals’ double stripped for The Bride in 1985. Apparently, Beals was embarrassed to be seen nude but not to be seen in The Bride. Go figure.
Anyway, Machete was inspired by a fake movie preview of the same name that appeared in the Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino co-production, Grindhouse (2007). The faux preview later went viral and freaked out the anti-immigration crowd in the process, mainly because closed-minded conservatives don’t understand humor. The film stars Rodriguez favorite Danny Trejo as a former Mexican Federale who has been double-crossed twice (quadruple crossed?) and is out for bloody, savage revenge. Nobody satirizes drive-in sleaze cinema better than Rodriguez, and Machete delivers what the movies that inspired it often promised but didn’t provide: A massive body count and copious nudity (neither of which stopped co-stars Robert De Niro and Jessica Alba from signing up). Trejo perpetrates just about every act of revenge conceivable…. except for kicking a kid down a flight of stairs for hitting him with a slipper. That’s my signature move.
Breakdown Freddie, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for kicking you down the stairs 37 years ago. If justice prevails, you’ll be the first guy to hit 150.