I didn't consume Atonement; it consumed me (and just in time- real life has seemed so drear lately). I thought it was going to be just a plain, sort of retro well-told story, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. But the last twenty pages throws the whole entertaining, intelligent thing into the best kind of question. To elaborate further would be to spoil the fun. Also of interest is McEwan writing as a woman, and a rather elderly one at that. Some standout sentences: "It is quite impossible these days to assume anything about people's educational level from the way they talk or dress or from their taste in music. Safest to treat everyone you meet as a distinguished intellectual." And, "No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all." It's both self-reflexive and sweet.

The movie madness marches onward: Another Seijun Suzuki flick (this term seems winkingly appropriate in regard to this), Branded to Kill. Sheer madness; it's absolute, extreme cartoonishness. It reminded me of Godard in the way it skipped lightly over the surface of "plot" to get at the sheer cinema of it all. It's quite sexually graphic and violent, as well, leading me to believe Tarantino must've seen a blurry, badly subtitled videotape of this between renting out copies of Pretty Woman.

Also Japanese but very, very spooky: Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan, a sort of anthology film of Japanese ghost stories. My favorite: "The Woman of the Snow," about an ice princess who wreaks terrible revenge when her secret is betrayed. There's this incredibly artificial set design, which makes it feel as if you're watching a storybook. Bloody good.

Today, I did Milos Forman's The Firemen's Ball (a compact, boisterous, sad, somewhat political fable set in small Czechoslavakian town), Salesman, the legendary Maysles brothers documentary (and another sad, somewhat political fable), and Masahiro Shinoda's Double Suicide, yet another sad... somewhat political... fable. Originally with puppets, according to the wonderful liner notes by the late Claire Johnston. Johnston was a feminist film critic, which is appropriate enough given the film's focus on the wrenching choice a courtesan and her married lover are forced (this is key) to make.

My ears have been ringing recently with the sounds of Morrissey's fave tunes. A cheesy little record company in England called DMC begins their series called "Under the Influence," in which a recording artist compiles their own mix of the tunes that have inspired them, with Morrissey. I've always easily been fascinated enough by Morrissey and in love enough with his own recorded work to follow in embarrassingly minute detail his own personal musical obsessions. That makes this the ultimate, perfect CD for me. Could turn out to be one of the best of the year, in my ever-humble opinion. The track listing:

1. "Saturday Nite Special" - The Sundown Playboys, a zydeco-Cajun gumbo (in Acadian French!) re-issued in 1972.

2. "Trash" - The New York Dolls. From 1973. Since they transformed the face of the earth (and not just in Morrissey's opinion), no explanation is necessary, really. Moz himself covered this one on his '91 tour for Kill Uncle.

3. "Woodpecker Rock" - Nat Couty. Straight, rough, slightly unhinged (no wonder Morrissey also fell in love with The Cramps) rockabilly from 1958. Juvenile delinquent Brando wanna-bes, is what comes to mind with this one.

4. "So Little Time" - Diana Dors. Dors, whom Candy Darling called "England's answer to Jayne Mansfield" in her diary, My Face for the World to See, who appeared in David Lean films as a teenager, and whose visage graces the sleeve of the American release of the Smith's Singles. This song is brassy, sassy, and brazenly sexual in tone (if not in content). The guitars are rough and Velvet Underground-y, too... surprising, given the song was released in 1964, 3 years before the Velvets were to stain the relatively pristine image of pop music forever. A suspicious songwriting credit is given to "Les Reed," further awakening hopeful suspicion...

5. "The Rules" - Ludus. Linder Sterling, the lead singer, has been one of Morrissey's closest friends and confidantes (she published a book of tour photos entitled Morrissey Shot). The group broke up in the mid-eighties, but not before they got off this giddily, happily subversive incitement to infinite sexual treason.

6. "One Hand Loose" - Charlie Feathers. Another Cramps tributary, from 1956. This one bears witness to the odd androgyny rippling through the voice of the male rockabilly singer.

7. "Great Horse" - Tyrannosaurus Rex. From 1970, before they became T. Rex. Which means not quite as electric, no Bolan commanding "rock!" but still possessed of a misty, mythological grandiosity that sounds like sadness even when it expresses happiness.

8. "(There Goes) The Forgotten Man" - Jimmy Radcliff. A Bacharach and David composition released in 1962. A man loses Jenny, his girlfriend, to a stranger one night, and all melodramatic hell breaks loose. The pity is unbearable. My favorite of the compilation.

9. "De Castrow" - Jaybee Wasden. A young man pines for his Cuban girlfriend and considers an assassination attempt. It's a sad, somewhat political fable.

10. "Judy Is a Punk" - The Ramones. 1976, the year of the country's bicentennial. The year of my birth, and the birth of punk. This zippy little number was also used in a highly memorable scene in The Royal Tenenbaums.

11. "Arts and Crafts Spectacular" - Sparks. Apparently a b-side from 1972, this one's an oddity for the Sparks catalog; homespun urbane at its finest and only.

12. "Swan Lake" - The Cats. The Tchaikovsky favorite to a dancehall beat, from '68.

13. "All That Is My Own" - Nico. The Germanic, enigmatic, emblematic chanteuse resided in Manchester, Morrissey's hometown, for a long stretch of her later life. This one is from her 1970 solo album Desert Shore, produced by John Cale. The sound is woozy, a rocking boat; Nico's words and voice are orphic.

14. "Hey Joe" - Patti Smith. A Smith rarity; she combines her poem "60 Days" with Jimi Hendrix's song to form a celebration of Patty Heart's newfound freedom. "I'm nobody's million-dollar baby... I'm nobody's Patt(s)y!" are the words she places in Hearst's mouth. It's exhilarating.

15. "Death" - Klaus Nomi. Nomi, a onetime Bowie backup singer, was a gay, androgynous, decadent artiste of the voice who had a preference for synthetic operatics and was one of the first AIDS victims. This is his own eulogy to himself.

In the sweet fan-crumb liner notes he's bestowed upon this disc, Morrissey writes:

"Will we ever get out of these pop swamps alive?
Will we ever get these songs out of our bloodstream?
Will we ever be allowed to forget?."

Which speaks to exactly what inspires me to drop by and make my pathetically intermittent entries here.

Next up on my watching/listening/reading nightstand: Almodovar's Talk to Her, an attempt to brave the mire that's sure to be the new Radiohead album, and Jonathan Franzen's How to Be Alone: Essays. Franzen wrote the brilliant, sweeping, overwhelmingly insightful The Corrections, which I think deserved every last scrap of praise and attention it received. I don't know if it's this accomplishment or the sexy author photo featuring a day's stubble and those sensuously full lips, but Franzen is, to me, a prime candidate for erotic fantasy:

Why do the porn creators insist on exploiting the supposed hotness of those who protect and serve us and put our fires out, but never give a thought to the untapped sexual potential of the deservedly acclaimed intellectual author, who is, in his own way, equally powerful? Franzen is a straight male of the New variety, which means he'd likely be less grossed out than bemusedly flattered by my schoolboy tribute.

Jason asks me as I write this, "Whatcha doin' over there? Writing your life story?"

"Yes," I reply. And it's true. All these things which too many people don't take personally, and are meant for nothing but that- that is my life story. It may be perverse, but I'm quite proud of it. It's the story of all our lives, if we would only pay attention. Or try to.

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