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Coffee? I Like Coffee!:
The Metaphysical Cinema of Coleman Francis, Part One

Tor Johnson in The Beast of Yucca Flats.

6,980 words

Part 1 of 3

The Coleman Francis Trilogy:
The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961),
The Skydivers (1963),
Red Zone Cuba (1966; aka Night Train to Mundo Fine)

Wherefore Bad Film?

Not long ago I devoted a pair of reviews to two books on Ed Wood, one good,[1] one bad.[2] I noted that the creation of the “so bad it’s good” cult, and the resurrection of Ed Wood as its icon, was a veritable “Plan Nine” from the Judaic culture-distorters.[3]

The one book is part of the Medved cult: digging up the alcohol-soused cross-dressed corpse of Ed Wood for another round of mockery, while Judaically insisting, “Hey, we kid because we love!”

The other reflects the genuine fascination and, yes, affection that really bad movies, of a certain sort, can exert on even the most hardened filmgoer. We must distinguish not only “good” and ‘bad” films, however those terms are defined, but also the interesting and the uninteresting, or as I’ve called them, the unwatchable and the compulsively watchable.[4]

Schopenhauer, I believe, can be our guide here, in the contrast he makes in literature between beauty and mere “interest”:

The beauty of a work of art consists in the fact that it holds up a clear mirror to certain ideas inherent in the world in general; the beauty of a work of poetic art in particular is that it renders the ideas inherent in mankind, and thereby leads it to a knowledge of these ideas….

On the other hand, we call drama or descriptive poetry interesting when it represents events and actions of a kind which necessarily arouse concern or sympathy, like that which we feel in real events involving our own person. The fate of the person represented in them is felt in just the same fashion as our own: we await the development of events with anxiety; we eagerly follow their course; our hearts quicken when the hero is threatened; our pulse falters as the danger reaches its acme, and throbs again when he is suddenly rescued . . .

[I]nterest does not necessarily involve beauty; and, conversely, it is true that beauty does not necessarily involve interest. Significant characters may be represented, that open up the depths of human nature, and it may all be expressed in actions and sufferings of an exceptional kind, so that the real nature of humanity and the world may stand forth in the picture in the clearest and most forcible lines; and yet no high degree of interest may be excited in the course of events by the continued progress of the action, or by the complexity and unexpected solution of the plot. The immortal masterpieces of Shakespeare contain little that excites interest; the action does not go forward in one straight line, but falters, as in Hamlet, all through the play; or else it spreads out in breadth, as in The Merchant of Venice, . . . ; or the scenes hang loosely together, as in Henry IV . . .

Father Homer lays the world and humanity before us in its true nature, but he takes no trouble to attract our sympathy by a complexity of circumstance, or to surprise us by unexpected entanglements. His pace is lingering; he stops at every scene; he puts one picture after another tranquilly before us, elaborating it with care. We experience no passionate emotion in reading him; our demeanour is one of pure perceptive intelligence; he does not arouse our will, but sings it to rest; and it costs us no effort to break off in our reading, for we are not in condition of eager curiosity. This is all still more true of Dante, whose work is not, in the proper sense of the word, an epic, but a descriptive poem. The same thing may be said of the four immortal romances: Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, La Nouvelle Heloïse, and Wilhelm Meister. To arouse our interest is by no means the chief aim of these works . . .[5]

By the way, it’s no coincidence that all four of those “immortal masterpieces” are stylistically shambles – the “loose, baggy monsters” that Henry James sneered at[6] – and, to most honest readers, utterly boring.[7]

And so, a film may be a complete failure, in technical or narrative terms, and yet hold, maintain, and even demand our continued attention, due to the ideas it presents.

As Rob Craig showed, the films of Ed Wood are such. Yet, not always; his attempt to read the whole Wood canon like that yields fascinating yet fitful results. Paradoxically, I think that’s because Ed Wood wasn’t actually, or always, a bad director.[8]

The reader may have intuited by now that the truly bad director creates a kind of Zen-like absence of intent (or failure of intent) that, like the well-swept soul, forms the perfect home for a host of perhaps unwelcome ideas.[9]

By contrast, the modernist aesthetic is indeed swept clean and boarded up against the intrusion of ideas; as T. S. Eliot said in praise of Henry James, “He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it.”[10]

Mary McCarthy quotes that at the beginning of an essay, “Ideas and the Novel,” that explores how the tradition Schopenhauer alludes to, the “novel of ideas,” has been displaced by the modernist novel. Yet, she goes on to specifically exempt the “moving-picture” art form:

But, unlike the novel, the moving-picture, at least in my belief, cannot be an idea-spreader; its images are too enigmatic, e.g., Eisenstein’s baby carriage bouncing down those stairs in Potemkin. A film cannot have a spokesman or chorus character to point the moral as in a stage play; that function is assumed by the camera, which is inarticulate . . . [W]ith the cinema, for the first time, humanity has found a narrative medium that is incapable of thought.[11]

While Ms. McCarthy is right, that the traditional novel of ideas did tend to rely on a spokesman to articulate the author’s point, I don’t see why a film can’t, or even needs to. In fact, we’re more than familiar with filmmakers trying to drive home some moral, whether it’s Hollywood piety or Communist subversion. It is, though, a tricky business; due, perhaps, to the collaborative nature of filmmaking and audience reception.

As a case in point, consider a film I review elsewhere, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly.[12] Here the filmmakers set out, by their own admission, to destroy the popular, but to their minds dangerously sadistic and fascistic, Mike Hammer character; instead, they wound up making a film so violent and nihilistic that it horrified audiences and critics more than Hammer himself, and went on to become the definitive portrayal of Hammer onscreen.

Moreover, since the filmmakers “had contempt for the material” and were “working on auto-pilot,” they were not able to prevent, or even notice, Traditionalist metaphysics and symbols taking shape within their production. While the camera itself may be “inarticulate,” as Ms. McCarthy insists, all it takes is a viewer in the right frame of mind to decode the message, as I do in my reviews.

I would argue, then, that the same holds true for the “bad” filmmaker, and the “bad” film audience; in the right combination, magic happens.

Enter Coleman Francis

Mystery Science Theater (MST3K) was not part of the So Bad It’s Good cult. They were not assholes.[13] And, appropriately, with their love and affection for the true art of the cinema, it was they who uncovered the man who would prove to be the most iconic of all truly bad filmmakers, Coleman Francis.[14] As Frank Conniff (“TV’s Frank”) reminisces:

Of all of the filmmakers we did, he was sort of the one we discovered. You know, Ed Wood gets all this attention, shouldn’t Coleman Francis be getting some attention, as someone who made these Grade-Z movies?

I’m proud in a way, because everybody knows Ed Wood, but Coleman Francis was our big filmmaking discovery.[15]

You want to talk about filmmaking genius? Okay, I’ll show you genius. Take your guy, whoever: Welles, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Fellini, Scorsese, Tarantino. Now, imagine that every single one of their films, no matter how diverse the plots and characters, climaxed exactly the same way.

And: that particular way, that tied up all the narrative arcs and character developments, was a guy flying in on an airplane with a rifle, shooting the entire cast.

Well, I cheated a little. Sometimes it’s a helicopter, and maybe not exactly all the main characters. Still, it’s a pretty amazing feat of negative cinematic imagination. And sure, there’s only three films, but still, consider the diversity of theme: a defecting Russian scientist is hit by an A-bomb and becomes a prehistoric monster; love and jealousy in the cut-throat world of sport parachuting; and two hoboes and an escaped con join the anti-Castro forces at the Bay of Pigs and ride a freight train all the way to Hell – and they all get resolved the same way! Genius![16]

The reader has probably already intuited – perhaps not by the writer’s design – what the theme will be here: repetition, and its subjective counterpart, boredom. Watching – and nowhere else in cinema is the passive term “watching” more relevant – the films of Coleman Francis presents a perfect storm of repetitive filmmaking producing a boredom in the watcher so acute and unaccustomed in cinema – truly unheimlich – as to put the watcher in a trance state, perfect for the assimilation of the Traditionalist teachings on the very topic of endless repetition.[17]

Footprints on the Wasteland: The Storylines

The Coleman Francis trilogy: for convenience, let’s start by looking at the “storylines” provided by IMDb. Inconveniently, they prove almost insultingly bare and uninformative, yet this is precisely due to the nature of the material on offer.

Beast of Yucca Flats: A defecting Russian scientist is transformed by an atomic test into a hulking monster, Tor Johnson, of course. Not much else except some people are killed, boys get lost, and a rabbit sniffs Tor’s corpse.
It looks like we don’t have any Synopsis for this title yet.

The Skydivers: A couple own an airfield which makes its money on skydiving in the middle of New Mexico. They are having marital problems because the man is cheating on his wife, but she tries to remain true to him. The woman he is cheating with is jealous of the man’s wife, so she seduces another guy to conspire with her to kill him. Meanwhile, the wife is cheating on the cheating husband with the husband’s old Army buddy . . . and they all enjoy coffee all the while.[18]
[There is actually a fairly detailed Synopsis here.]

Red Zone Cuba: A trio of convicts joins up for an assault on a Cuban stronghold. After they are captured, they plan to escape before they face the firing squad. They eventually make it back to the American Southwest, where they go from town to town, robbing and killing.
It looks like we don’t have any Synopsis for this title yet.

The Trilogy

Three movies, which for convenience, as well as to emphasize, as we shall see, their interchangeability, I shall call B, S, and R.[19] Three algebraic re-combinations of a handful of themes.

The Time(s)

While Mad Men presents the illusion that people lived by in the post-War world – that “everything was sunny and perfect”[20] – Francis reveals that the apocalypse had already happened.[21]

Despite surface differences caused by the illusory “passage of time,” each movie takes place at the same, post-Apocalyptic moment as the others.

Crow: I thought they portrayed 1961 quite well.
Tom: Not too hard since they made it in ‘65!
Crow: D’oh![22]

B clearly “takes place” in a post-Hiroshima world, and already references a space race with Russia years before Kennedy did, but we are clearly meant to understand this is only to set up the real plot point: atomic scientists facing the consequences of their work in their own persons, as if the Los Alamos experiments had gone horribly wrong.[23] Men like Joseph Jaworsky, a Russian physicist (played by Ed Wood’s Tor Johnson[24]) transmuted into a monster by his own science.[25] As the narrator (Coleman) intones:

Shockwaves of an A-Bomb. A once powerful, humble man. Reduced to . . . nothing.[26]

Or, in S, reduced to . . . drinking – and discussing – coffee.

The titular skydivers are products of the Korean War, where they learned their “skills” which they now “teach” to other losers. Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels, written around this time, has an opening chapter that summarizes the sociological research into the origins of the motorcycle subculture in returning white trash veterans who had nothing to live for, and so took out “on the road” astride their cheap bikes; one of the characters rides a motorcycle – badly, and for no particular reason; we never see it, or him riding it, again; he makes his futile “escape” being driven in his “girlfriend’s” (quotes because there are no real “friends,” girl or otherwise, among these no-longer-human sad sacks) Thunderbird convertible, like Dean Moriarty driving Jack Kerouac, prompting the ‘bots to make lots of “Born to be Wild” and “Wild One” references during his scene.

The skydivers occasionally stop to muse on their existential situation:

“Why do you think we jump?”
“I feel real free up there in that high blue sky. Nobody to tell you what to do, you just have to please yourself up there.”[27]

Further suggesting the Beats, they don’t fly, but “drive” the planes; they say things like “drive me up there” or “I’ll drive.” In R, Coleman will revert back to the more normal – or sane – “fly”: “My friend here can fly.”

As for Red Zone Cuba, for once we have a clear time period; not just the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but it actually takes place in the Bay of Pigs;[28] they seem to be some kind of advance unit for the “main invasion force,” which, if true, could explain a lot about what happened.

Hiroshima. Korea. Bay of Pigs. Three traumatic moments in post-War white-Western consciousness.

“Now listen, Mike. Listen carefully. I’m going to pronounce a few words. They’re harmless words. Just a bunch of letters scrambled together. But their meaning is very important. Try to understand what they mean. Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, Trinity.”[29]

“Guard . . . Water . . . Sick man.” (R)

And what is the “meaning” of these places? Michael Hoffman II suggests:

Fabled alchemy had at least three goals to accomplish before the total decay of matter, the total breakdown we are witnessing all around us today, was fulfilled. These are:

1) The “Creation and Destruction of Primordial Matter” (was accomplished) . . . at the White Head (“Ancient of Days”) at White Sands, New Mexico, at the Trinity Site. [B]

2) The “Killing of the Divine King” was accomplished (by the public, occult execution of JFK) at another Trinity site located approximately ten miles south of the 33rd degree of north parallel latitude between the Trinity River and the Triple Underpass at the Dealy Plaza in Dallas, Texas. [Result of the Cuban events of R]

3) The “Bringing of Prima Materia to Prima Terra” was accomplished in the 1969 Apollo moon flights and the returning to earth of the moon rocks. Some of these rocks have been “stolen” for use in occult rituals of no mean significance (what astounding Masonic “ashlars” these make). [The flights up and down of the Skydivers][30]

The Place(s)

Like each act of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, each of his films takes place in the same place, mostly depicted by some blasted piece of godforsaken desert, known to aficionados as “Coleman Francis country” but lacking any of the majesty of John Ford‘s Monument Valley.

“Is that the mountain?” (a voice, likely Griffin, typically from off-screen)
“Let’s kill that mountain.” (the ‘bots’ sarcastic reply)

Something of an exaggeration, if taken literally; there are various locations, apparently in the Southwest, but all are pretty low-key to begin with, and thanks to Coleman’s negative-magic with cinematography, they all take on a flat, grey, sameness that could have been filmed anywhere; anywhere in Hell.

Crow: I think the location scout was a spaz! [R]

A typically crude, hand-lettered sign (a Coleman motif!) tells us we’re in the titular Yucca Flats; an even briefer shot of a handwritten envelope address tells us S takes place in Half Moon Bay, California. By the time of R, there’s really no attempt made to identify locations, other than half-assed Southern accents, references to “up north” and “down south,” and the presence of Castro hats (and Castro himself[31]), cigars, and a woman in “native” dress to suggest that we really, really are in Cuba.[32]

Yucca Flats is, well, Yucca Flats, I suppose, although it could be any barren desert or blasted heath; there’s also a highway (where the vacationers break down and from which the kids stray) and a large butte or plateau of some kind,[33] so as to require the “desert patrol” to take to the air for the “shoot from the sky” sequence that will recur in every film.

That small airport (military? civilian? CIA, like Clinton’s Mena, Arkansas?) just happens to be within driving distance of a nuclear test site [B]; it’s also a small civilian airport giving “parachute lessons” to local drifters and losers, mostly played by the director’s family and “friends.” [S]

“There is no landscape bleaker than the rural airport.” [MST3K, S]

“The only other business is a bar . . . called The Skydiver.” [S]

“How sound is a skydiving-based economy?” [MST3K, S]

The main characters, a married couple that runs the sport parachuting facility, have a “home” that looks, on film, like the inside of a refrigerator crate or a basement crawlspace; they throw a “dance party” that takes place . . . on a runway. The band, of course, is “The Night Jumpers.”[34]

In Red Zone, it’s a small, broken-down plane-for-hire business (how sound is that business model?) run by Cherokee “I’m Cherokee Jack” Jack, which is near enough to a prison for an escapee (Coleman) to run to it, at least after hitching a ride with two hoboes (played by actors we recognize from S, a point we’ll return to) in a broken-down truck, and close enough to fly “the boys” (as he calls Coleman and the hobos, like the lost children from B whose mother refers to them as “the boys,” or the “boys, boys” as Beth refers to Harry and Joe in S) to a “secret” camp (which indeed looks like the same area of Arizona or Utah or Texas), where someone is training somebody to overthrow Castro; close enough to water to “shove off” by boat (actually, clearly a marina, perhaps the same “artificial bass environment” that Frankie and Suzy were “frolicking” in during S) for a “Bay of Pigs” that, again, looks like the same area, from which the Three Amigos are captured and stowed away in a makeshift “prison” (again!) which is (again!) near an airport (fortunately, “my friend [Landis] here can fly,” just like Cherokee “I’m Cherokee Jack” Jack, and why not, since it’s the same actor who played the skydiving instructor in S) from which they can “fly” to what looks like the same area and then, after senselessly killing an old man by throwing him down a well and raping his blind daughter, hitch another ride, this time on a train, to what looks like the same area from which they will buy a car and drive to what looks like the same area, meet up with an unsuspecting widow of a dead “comrade,” and drive to what looks like the same area, overlooked by the iconic Coleman Mountain . . .

Crow: “This movie has the courage to unabashedly repeat itself.”
Mike: “Is it a good idea to invade the Bay of Pigs again so soon after the last time?”

Mike: “Did they even need to GO to Cuba?”

In the name of God, where are we? If we didn’t hear it the first time when John Carradine told us at the beginning:

“Griffin . . . he ran all the way to Hell.”

Then the voiceover – Francis, over his own corpse! – tells us again at the very end:

“Griffin! . . . ran all the way to Hell . . . with a penny . . . and a broken cigarette.”

The People

Tom: “Is the film grainy or are these guys just kinda grainy?” [R][35]

In this world men wander, scarred forever by the blast, the same people doing the same things, over and over.

B: Tor just wanders, boys get lost, cops shoot people at random, Jim does what he did in Korea: shoot people and jump out of a plane. The narrator laconically observes from time to time:

“A man runs. Someone shoots at him.”

“Kill. Kill just to be killing.”[36]

S: Joe and Tony also do what they did in Korea: jump from planes. Here, they teach others, who go up, and then down again. Except when someone goes down . . . and stays down.[37]

Crow: “A stranger comes to town, touches no one’s life, then leaves.”

Joe, in the film: “Did I have a kind of brooding intensity?”
Mike: “No, goodbye!”

R: our protagonists no longer have any fixed abode, an escaped convict on the run, and two hobos who claim to be migrant workers:[38]

“We follow the harvest. Crops froze up north, we head south.”

Griffin’s crime? “Sold a buncha cotton one day, moved his trucks in and stole it right back.”

Both hoboes and Griffin try to change:

“Me and Landis got busted back in ’58! Liquor store! Two years of hard labor! Now we grab at a job anywhere we can find it! No more iron cages!”[39]

Griffin, towards the end, suggests he’s finally “goin’ legit.” But we know he’s doomed – we already heard it in the flashback and title music.

Their journey takes them from prison to . . . trapped in contra training camp, then . . . Cuban prison. Then back to the Southwestern USA, and, at least for Cook and Landis, re-arrest and back to prison.

Mike: “Did they even have to go to Cuba!”[40]

Tom: “Their lives haven’t changed a bit!”

Crow: “This movie is a Moebius Strip!”[41]

Emphasizing the sense of futile repetition is Coleman’s habit of working with a small company of regulars. The only apparent exception is S, where a large cast of unknowns, presumably local eccentrics and members of the regulars’ families,[42] is pressed into service for the last act’s dance party; however, the extreme eccentricity of the group inevitably suggests comparison with Ed Wood,[43] Fellini, or Welles, thus reinforcing the very idea of a company of regulars.

The entire contingent of Frandoza Freaks™ is here en masse. You see, all the little vignettes of the Freaks we’ve been getting so far have really only been a preparation for this. The scene begins with a guy jumping off the nose of a plane, which cues a thug on a motorcycle to pop a wheelie through the dance area.

And here Coleman must’ve said, “It would be impossible to train any of you weirdoes to perform, so just do whatever you would naturally do.” So it’s up to the heroin addict to get the party going. Crazed out of his gourd, he dances by himself for a while, then one of the pretty girls goes out to join him. They dance, then another girl cuts in (more about her in a second) and starts dancing with him. What does it say for your town when the heroin addict is the one the girls fight over?

But if they had all paired off already, we’d have missed one of the most bizarro people to be cast in this film. That would be the girl who cuts in, who appears to be a champion lady wrestler, because she’s wearing nothing but a black, strapless swimsuit (even though they’re in the desert) and heels. And when she cuts in on the cute girl dancing with Heroin Addict, she literally shoves the girl out of the way.

There’s a grown man in a cowboy suit, one lone black girl in a polka dot bikini (diversity!), the ever-present Lady Wrestler, and a Scotsman in a kilt and tam-o’-shanter. They’re like Village People rejects. I can only imagine Coleman, with Checkbook Cardoza in tow, heading into Ed Wood’s Lightly Used Costume Rentals and saying, “We’ll take one of each.”[44]

Coleman plays several bit parts in B; in S he appears in a speaking role as a cigar-chomping Southern pater familias (with his real family), and then at the climax reappears, inexplicably, as an FAA official (?) who jumps in a plane and attempt shoot down the fleeing killers[45] (thus assuming the role of Joe in B and prefiguring his fate as Griffin in R). Producer Tony Cardoza is in all three films, while Harold Saunders, the other hobo in R, is another “FAA man” in S.

Redoubling the effect, many actors “appear” as voice-overs, sometimes dubbing parts by different actors. Most infamously: a Cuban contra is shot by firing squad, and then the actor reappears, as a Cuban guard, in the very next scene. Politics is no more “real” than life and death.

And such is the contempt and loathing with which Francis directs and shoots his actors, especially women, that it comes as a genuine shock to realize or learn later, as I did, that the same “actress” who appears as the anonymous wife of one of the cops in B, apparently only so that Coleman can show her décolletage . . .

Tom: “Yes, we get it, breasts.”

. . . also plays the small town rich girl/slut in S . . .

Tom: “This hotsie-totsie.”
Crow: “Oh, the femmy-fatahly.”

. . . where her pasty charms are far more dubious . . .

Mike: “Stop calling me ‘Lumpy Butt’.”

. . . and that the anonymous woman strangled and raped by Tor Johnson in the first, shockingly disconnected moments of B is in fact the same actress – same character? – as Chastain’s wife, Ruby, killed, shot this time, by hulking Tor-like Francis, just before he is shot and killed . . . from a plane. [46]

As Tor dies in the dirt at the end of B, he (in an entirely accidental shot) is approached by a small rabbit, which he cuddles as he expires. (Being a Coleman Francis film, we assumed he would break its neck). As Tor-Coleman dies in the dirt at the end of R (“The intercutting is just like the Godfather! “), Chastain’s wife is picked up by an actor strongly resembling Phil Silvers, whom the ‘bots give an Elmer Fudd voice and line: “I killed a poor little rabbit!”

The ends, se touchent!

Excursus: Children and Animals

Animals: There’s a steady decline of animals, in keeping with the apocalyptic bleakness. B, for all its mind-scorching barrenness, is fairly bustling with livestock: the gas station attendant [Coleman!] lazily feeds a sandwich to a dog; there’s the pigs to which the boys famously “feed soda pop,” as the narrator intones, along with a coyote who gets a shout out as well: “Missile bases run ‘em off their hunting grounds.” And of course there is the famous final rabbit that snuggles up to the dying Beast (who I guess counts an animal himself).

S simply contains no animals at all that I can see; no pets, no wild critters (not even a bird in the endless skydiving sequences!); it’s not even clear what Beth and Harry are having for dinner.[47]

R has bloodhounds at the opening (one poor guy gets hung up in the barbed wire; thanks, Coleman/Griffin) and some dogs are being fed towards the end.

Why? As we’ll see, Coleman is concerned with Liberation, and Liberation only occurs from the human station; sorry, PETA.

Same with families. In B, Jawarsky’s wife and children are killed before the movie, but at least he had them. There’s one patrolman’s wife; a couple with a flat tire that get killed right away; but there’s also a whole subplot about a vacationing family and their “lost boys” that ends happily for Francis: the father shot from a plane but alive, the boys rescued from the Beast.

Skydivers has the whole Francis and Cardoza clans in bit parts, along with a collection of airport gawking freaks and weirdoes that makes Ed Wood’s crew look like the Algonquin Roundtable; but the plot, such as it is, revolves around Harry and Beth’s barren marriage and their ugly affairs; it’s as constricted as the refrigerator crate they seem to live in, by contrast with the freewheeling ecstasy of skydiving. Though reconciled – presented with typical Francis autism as quick and unmotivated as their squalid affairs – he’s immediately killed; the last shot is widowed Beth in black, looking vaguely around the empty, desolate airport.

In R, Griffin’s wife “becomes a streetwalker,” Chastain is left to die in Cuba, and his widow is shot by Griffin; Griffin kills the old man and rapes his blind, widowed daughter.

R does present us with three Männerbunde, or what I have elsewhere called “false Männerbunds,”[48] which work only for evil under the guise of camaraderie: our three “heroes,” the CIA contras (either of which must be the “Devil’s band” or “men” referenced in the theme song) and the law enforcement posse (which the ‘bots disparage as “the gay high school Secret Service” and “the cast of How to Succeed in Business.”

 

Notes

1. “Getting Wood: Closely Watching the Cinematic Alchemy of Edward D. Wood, Jr.,” reviewing Rob Craig’s Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009).

2. “From Bozo to Bertolucci: How Not to Watch the Films of Ed Wood, Jr.,” reviewing Andrew J. Rausch & Charles E. Pratt, Jr., The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood (Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media, 2015).

3. The maestro, Michael Medved, went on to become something of a fixture of the neo-con commentariat and Christian radio, though the cult continued to prosper among smug, self-styled “hipsters” who would be horrified to be associated with such a retrograde figure; a lovely example of the way Judaics always control both sides of any debate.

4. See my “Essential Films . . . and others,” where some films are good, some bad, but all are compulsively watchable. “If, like me, you’re amongst the very few who found the disastrous Hammersmith Is Out fascinating despite the million things very obviously wrong with it, and Burton’s performance therein to be outstanding, then a visit to The Medusa Touch is in order, as it offers the rare spectacle of an actor getting a second chance at something which flopped first time round.” (Peter Greenfield, “Review: The Midas Touch.”)

5. Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Controversy, and Other Posthumous Papers (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1896), Chapter 4, pp. 59-60.

6. “A picture without composition slights its most precious chance for beauty, and is moreover not composed at all unless the painter knows how that principle of health and safety, working as an absolutely premeditated art, has prevailed. There may in its absence be life, incontestably, as The Newcomes has life, as Les trois mousquetaires, as Tolstoi’s Peace and war, have it; but what do such large loose baggy monsters, with their queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary, artistically mean?” Henry James, Preface to volume 7 of The New York Edition of his works (New York: Scribner, 1908).

7. You’ll note Schopenhauer’s selection encompasses, likely on purpose, the “great” nations of Europe, Spain, England, France, and Germany. He was not unfamiliar or contemptuous of American literature, although he recommends the reading of Franklin’s Autobiography to the young as an antidote – or rather a substitute – for filling their heads with romantic nonsense. Anyway, if he drew up the list today, I’m sure Moby-Dick would find a place.

8. “Ed Wood was a good director,” Bob Burns insists during “No Dialogue Necessary: The Making of an Off-Camera Masterpiece,” a special feature on the Mystery Science Theater DVD of The Beast of Yucca Flats. “I don’t think of them as junk.” “If Ed Wood had the money and backing behind him, he would have been a top-notch producer-director.” Tony Cardoza, B-Monster Profile.com interview talking about The Beast of Yucca Flats.

9. Luke 11:24-26: “Jesus said, When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

10. T. S. Eliot writing of Henry James in the Little Review, August 1918.

11. Reprinted as the first chapter of Ideas and the Novel (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980); loc. 610-615 of the 2013 Open Road Media kindle.

12. Reprinted in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014); see also “A Hero Despite Himself: Bringing Mike Hammer to the Screen.”

13. “[Joel] Hodgson: Our riffs were never too negative. We were the audience’s companions, and people don’t want to spend time with assholes. If you’re negative, it may be funny, but it’s not sustainable. So we had a lot of respect for the movies, because we had to work with them. Trace once said a really clever thing: ‘The movies are Margaret Dumont, and we’re the Marx Brothers.’” Brian Rafferty, “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Definitive Oral History of a TV Masterpiece,” Wired, April 22, 2014.

14. An example of what TVTropes calls a Colbert Bump: “Honestly, would anyone have known anything about some of the films riffed? The biggest beneficiary is Manos, The Hands of Fate (a documentary, two sequels, some videogame adaptations), but . . . [i]t also led to new awareness of the oeuvre of Coleman Francis, turning him into a serious challenger for Ed Wood’s ‘Worst Director Ever’ crown.”

15. “No Dialogue Necessary.”

16. “Probability dictates that every now and then, a totally clueless director like Hal Warren or Tony Malanowski might punch through and end up making one of the worst movies ever just by pure chance, but to make three of them clearly requires active hatred towards paying audiences.” Albert Walker, The Agony Booth‘s recap of Red Zone Cuba.

17. Creator Joel Hodgson is aware of the value of boredom: “Hodgson: I had money in the bank from stand-up, and I was living off that. And I found I had more ideas when I was bored, so I got a job in a T-shirt factory putting appliqués on T-shirts.” Rafferty, “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

18. At the beginning of the episode, TV’s Frank describes the movie as like “Manos without the lucid plot.”

19. “Hello. I’m Crow T. Robot of the Satellite of Love. You know, The Beast of Yucca Flats, Skydivers, and Red Zone Cuba are just three examples of the many, many god-awful films made during this century. Tragically, films like these are not deteriorating fast enough. That’s why I urge you to support FAPS: The Film Anti-Preservation Society. At FAPS, we’re devoted to allowing the films of Coleman Francis and countless others to die a gentle natural death. We’ll use your donations to transfer these films to fragile, volatile silver nitrate stock, so they’ll rot quickly into nature’s compost.” (Mike passes behind Crow, comes back, looks into the camera because of what Crow is saying) “Now here’s how you can help: if you find a copy of a film as bad as ohhh, Aspen Extreme, please store it in a warm, moist, salty place such as a cheese factory or your mouth.” MST3K, Episode 621: The Beast of Yucca Flats.

20. MST3K, Episode 612: The Starfighters. As the posse closes in on Griffin at the conclusion of R, MST3K notices the dark-suited FBI agents and snarks that “the cast of How to Succeed in Business moves in.” That film was Robert Morse’s breakout role, and forty years later he returns to that era as the iconic Bert Cooper of Mad Men; no doubt that would have been the cultural reference, had MST3K been filming at that time.

21. That the worst has already happened, long ago, is the theme shared by both Lovecraftian horror and the Traditionalism of Guenon and Evola, as I suggest in the title essay of The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).

22. MST3K, over the end credits of R.

23. “Though they are masters of the atomic bomb, yet it is created only to destroy them.” Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity; translated from the French by Bernard Frechtman (New York: Citadel Press, 1976); p. 9.

24. “When I think of Russian scientists, I think of Tor Johnson.” (Crow, MST3K). “That’s just smart casting.” Larry Blamire, interview in “No Dialogue Necessary.”

25. For a different and profound perspective on the Hiroshima event, see Jason Reza Jorjani, Prometheus and Atlas (London: Arktos, 2016), Chapter 12, “Kill A Buddha On The Way;” excerpted as “The Promethium Sky over Hiroshima,Right On, November 3, 2016.

26. “He was brilliant. He was outstanding in every way. And he was a good man, too. A humanitarian man. A man of wit and humor. He joined the Special Forces. And after that, his ideas, methods, became unsound.” Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979) at 00:14:40 in the DVD version of the movie.

27. The line, and the delivery by Coleman’s son (?), are very Beat: “The man can’t touch me up there,” add Mike and the ‘bots.

28. “Bay of Pigs,” Griffin mutters as he squats in a Cuban jail, to which Mike Nelson adds, “That’s what they say when I get in the pool.”

29. Lt. Pat Murphy to the irradiated Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, 1955). For more on the irradiated landscape of the film, see my review, “Mike Hammer, Occult Dick,” reprinted in The Eldritch Evola.

30. Michael A. Hoffman II’s Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare (Coeur d’Alene, ID: Independent History and Research, 2001).

31. Played by Tony Cardoza in a ridiculous beard; the reuse of actors will be commented on in the next section.

32. There is, however, another crude, this time wildly illiterate, sign, advertising Cherokee Jack’s air services; typically, after spending the time to write it up, it flashes on screen for only a split second, too fast to read.

33. “I get the Yucca part, but why is it called Flat?” muses Crow T. Robot.

34. In “reality,” Jimmy Bryant, a rather good and interesting guitarist, whose hit single, “Stratosphere Boogie,” is featured. Yes, actual good music in a Coleman Francis movie. Again, Coleman cocks a snook at “reality” by not only having him perform with a fictitious, skydiving-oriented band, but also having him mime to the song using a regular guitar, not the specially-built one the track was intended to show off.

35. The dissolution of matter Hoffman talked of in the wake of Trinity; the elementary particles of Houllebecq; the atoms into which Buddhism dissolves all apparently stable “things.”

36. Said by the narrator about Tor’s Beast, but just as appropriate if directed at Jim and Joe, the trigger-happy deputies, or any other “lawman” is later films. “Tor is described as a cave man,” notes film historian Larry Blamire, “but I think that’s an insult to cave men. He just suddenly becomes a homicidal maniac.” Interview in “No Dialogue Necessary.”

37. “Maybe . . . won’t be over.” Tony Cardoza, now playing a hobo in R, who dives to his death in S.

38. Needless to say, we never see them do a lick of work.

39. “In sociology, the iron cage is a term coined by Max Weber for the increased rationalization inherent in social life, particularly in Western capitalist societies. The ‘iron cage’ thus traps individuals in systems based purely on teleological efficiency, rational calculation and control. Weber also described the bureaucratization of social order as ‘the polar night of icy darkness’,” from Wikipedia. It also suggests, as we shall see, the vertical and horizontal, warp and woof of the material universe that revolves around the Pole. As Jay Dyer says in discussing Kubrick’s 2001, “This is the middle stage of man’s gradual ascent out of the cage – the box – of time and space, which is precisely what the monolith signifies in part,” in Esoteric Hollywood (Waterville, OR: Trine Day, 2016). We’ll comment later on Cook’s monkey-like appearance, when he dances around, excited by Griffin’s beating of Landis, like the apes at the beginning of Kubrick’s film.

40. “The title was changed to Red Zone Cuba for release, which gives the impression that this movie is about the Bay of Pigs invasion, but the movie is supposed to be about fugitives on the run, and the Bay of Pigs invasion is just one of the many incidents that the characters become involved with along the way.” From MST3K Wiki.

41. A phrase also applied, as “Mobius strip,” to Mulholland Drive and Donnie Darko.

42. As the opening credits appear, Servo observes that, “This is an ‘I can’t pay you, but I’ll put your name in the credits’ cast list.”

43. “Well, I see the usual gang of misfits and drug addicts is here.” Ed’s wife, Dolores Fuller, in Ed Wood (Burton, 1989).

44. The Agony Booth review, Part Six and Part Seven. Really, this makes it sound far more interesting than what’s actually on the screen.

45. Mike Nelson: “It’s Pat Buchanan . . . with a gun!”

46. The use of the same actors in similar roles suggests a useful comparison with Bill Rebane, a truly bad, that is, simply untalented director. His Monster A Go Go is infamous for having been shelved halfway through when financing fell through – like Orson Welles! Unlike Welles, he gave up. Unfortunately for us, it was bought and then “completed” by sleaze tycoon Hershel Gordon Lewis, to serve as the bottom of a double bill. The willingness of both Lewis and Rebane to treat his film as raw material for a cinematic sausage is almost refreshingly honest, and quite accurate in its evaluation of the material. Another way he differs from Welles – apart from the lack of talent – and even Francis is that he was not able to reassemble the same Fellini-esque company of actors; some had disappeared – the rest were noticeably older, of course, requiring plot changes, including one balding actor who was “killed” in the first version and now suddenly reappears as “his brother!”

47. Monitor lizard is Mike’s helpful suggestion.

48. See “’God, I’m with a heathen’: The Rebirth of the Männerbund in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables,” reprinted in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).

6 Comments

  1. San Fernando Curt
    Posted January 25, 2017 at 7:54 am | Permalink
  2. Posted January 24, 2017 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the tips. I always forget about YouTube for this sort of thing. The video quality of the first link is excellent.

    Wonderful essay, by the way.

  3. Gunnar von Cowtown
    Posted January 24, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    O’Meara, you’re an absolute mad man. Don’t ever change.

  4. Posted January 24, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I have nothing against the MST3K guys, but I strongly prefer to see movies without commentary. Are straightforward editions of the Coleman Francis films available?

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