Saturday, October 15, 1994

Pulp Etymology

Etymologically, every name in Pulp Fiction is a key to the secret heart of the character. This occurred to me in a blinding flash, I checked out my hunch and discovered I was right. It's more accurate to say Quentin Tarantino left a blindingly obvious clue. (I'm surprised nobody else has noticed it.)

QT drops the clue in the dialogue between Bruce Willis' boxer character (BUTCH) and the improbably drop-dead-gorgeous cab driver (ESMERELDA) in Pulp Fiction.

BUTCH: So....(He looks at her license)Esmarelda Villalobos -- is that Mexican?

ESMARELDA: The name is Spanish, but I'm Columbian.

BUTCH: It's a very pretty name.

ESMARELDA: It mean "Esmarelda of the Wolves."

BUTCH: That's one hell of a name you got there, sister.

ESMARELDA: Thank you. And what is your name?

BUTCH: Butch.

ESMARELDA: Butch. What does it mean?

BUTCH: I'm an American, our names don't mean shit.

OK. Dead giveaway. That's hiding in plain sight.

That's like saying: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Or, as Quentin Tarantino might up it: I dare you, I double dare you to dig out the etymology of the names in my fucking picture, motherfucker.

So, just for laughs, I took the dare.

Here's what I dug up:

MAJOR CHARACTERS

Marsellus Wallace
The black crimelord with the bandage on his neck.

Marcellus: Warlike; hammer. Latin origin. From Marcus, which relates to Mars, the God of War.

Wallace: Welshman or foreigner. Derives from Anglo-French Waleis or ME Walisc, meaning "foreign." The term originally meant "Welshman," then was generalized to any foreigner or outsider.(Also see: Sir William Wallace, 13th century Scottish rebel.)

Marsellus Wallace = the warlike outsider. A human hammer who will sometimes use pliers.

Mia Wallace
The Uma Thurman character. Marcellus Wallace's wife.

Mia: belonging to me, bitter. Latin/Hebrew origin.
Mia: contemporary Italian word for "mine."

Marsellus owns her. She's a possession he guards with psychotic territoriality. She plays the free spirit, but deep down in the still dark waters, she's bitter. She's his property and she knows it.

Vincent Vega
The John Travolta character. The hitman who's off his game.

Vincent: conqueror; to conquer. Latin origin.
Vega: the North Star/falling star/falling eagle. Arabic/Latin origin.

Vincent Vega = the fallen conqueror.

More than a hint of Luciferian brightness cast from the heavens. The guy was great once but now he's lost it.

Butch Coolidge
The Bruce Willis character. The washed up boxer.

Butch: American slang, originally masculine, tough. Clipped form of "butcher" derived from Anglo/Norman "boucher" back to "bouchier" and ultimately "boc" meaming male goat.

Coolidge: Cold ledge, meaning high windy cliff top. British origin. (Also, an obvious reference to President Calvin Coolidge.)

A guy who'll cut you up; a sexual goat; a loner on the edge of a cliff.
A real American hero.

Jules Winnfield
The Samuel L. Jackson character. The hitman fond of misquoting the Bible.

Jules: lightly bearded, youthful. Latin/French origin. (Same root as "Julius")
Winnfield: field of spirits, a graveyard. Anglo/Saxon origin.

He's in this world but not -- he's seen something beyond that's slapped him silly.
A young man (who's unnaturally old inside) with one foot in this world and the other in the land of the dead.

Winston Wolf
The dead-body-cleaner-upper.

Winston: joy stone. Old English origin.
Wolf: a wolf. Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon origin.

He's a happy guy who smiles a lot. He likes his job. He's also a wolf with big stones. A very polite wolf, but still a wolf. My what big teeth you have...

Yolanda (Honey Bunny)
The chick who robs the coffee shop.

Yolanda: Flower; a violet; modest. Greek origin.

Which is what she is until she starts hollering, obviously acting. She really is a Honey Bunny.

Pumpkin, Ringo
The Tim Roth character. The dude who robs the coffee shop.

Obvious slang, obviously. We never know his real name. This could blow my theory. Or it could be QT saying he's a cipher, drifting, a lost soul. He has no core identity to reveal yet. Hence, no secret name.

MINOR CHARACTERS

Lance
The heroin dealer. Eric Stoltz' character.

Lance: a small spear, serves. Latin/French origin.

"Lance," even in English, is a kind of spear or harpoon. Lance is the drug pusher who hands Vincent the bigass, heart-stabbing, hypodermic needle full of adrenaline when Mia snorts heroin by mistake and goes into a coma. A heroin aficianado, he's fond of shooting himself up. The joke is pretty obvious.

He also serves. Sells the product. Keeps the customer happy.

Jody
Lance's girlfriend.

Jody: Praised. Hebrew origin.
Related to Hebrew for "pierced."

She's pierced five ways to Sunday.

Raquel
(Monster Joe's daughter)

Raquel: ewe, a pure one. Hebrew/Spanish origin.
Julia Sweeney's unspoiled lamb to Keitel's wolf.

A sweet kid.

Fabienne
Butch's needy French wife.

Fabienne: bean. Latin origin (from faba). Became popular name after Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus used delaying tactics to halt the invasion of Hannibal in the 3rd century BC.

A cute little bean (she wants a pot!) but always slowing Butch down.

Yeah, I know. That may be pushing it.

Let's stick with bean.

Paul
The bartender.

Paul: humble, small. Hebrew origin.
A small guy, the bartender, stays in the background, doesn't cause trouble.

Captain Koons
The Christopher Walken character who gives Butch his dead dad's watch.

Couldn't find the meaning. All the baby first names you want. Last names? Etymology sites kept trying to sell me coats of arms and shit. I finally gave up. He's a racoon, OK?

Zed
The Deliverance-type hillbilly who traps Butch and Marsellus in his dungeon.

Zedekiah: God is mighty, just. Hebrew origin. "Zed" is also the British way of referring to the letter "Z," the terminal letter of the Roman alphabet -- which implies A-to-Z (suggesting Christ's "I am the Alpha, I am the Omega"). This Zed stands by itself, implying we've reached the end of the series, the final judgment.

You can't escape God's justice. God will get you in the end -- no disgusting pun intended. A heaping helping of instant karma is coming your way.

This etymological/symbolic wordplay strikes me as brilliant, on the level of James Joyce or Nabokov. It may be coincidence, but I doubt it. If QT did this subconsciously, he's got a Joycean subconscious.

Monday, September 5, 1994

Natural Born Killers

OK, just caught a screening of Oliver Stone's heartwarming flick, Natural Born Killers. The song is over, but the music still plays in my mind ...

Happiness is a warm gun. Bang, bang, shoot, shoot. Everybody must get Oliver Stoned.

OK, OK, enough comedy. You want a review, right? Fine. Let's start with the plot ...

Basically, Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) go on a killing spree. Ah, those crazy mixed-up kids ... The template is obviously Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands. The law cuts their spree short; Mickey and Mallory wind up in prison where they belong. But the Geraldo-esque sleazebag host of a "true crime" TV show (Robert Downey Jr.) screws things up in his zeal to boost his ratings. An orgy of violence ensues. Mickey and Mallory escape and ... that's it.

My reaction?


This is obviously Stone's violent anti-violence satire. (Or the satire of screenwriter Quentin Tarantino of Pulp Fiction fame. For purposes of clarity, I'll pretend Stone is the sole "auteur.") Too much violence on TV. It's a terrible thing, sez Ollie. But he films the ultraviolence like it's a beautiful thing.

You never see any little kids getting killed, rarely see any gore. It's all very stylized and moves very fast in a blender of film stocks and editing styles. Stone's trying to recreate what's going on inside the minds of the two psycho killers. This is how they see the world; this is what their killing sprees feel like to them. They don't see it as a horror. They're having the most fun they've ever had in their lives in a blood-splattered, realworld roadrunner cartoon.


That's murder? No ...

That's entertainment!

Stone's main target is the media. The two best gags in the flick: his satire of true-crime TV shows (American Psychos) and his rendition of a horrible, abusive family in the form of a situation comedy, complete with laugh track -- and Rodney Dangerfield as the degenerate dad.

He's making the point (behind a lot of boomer humor) that everything has become entertainment.

There's one scene where a mystical Native American takes the two killers into his home. (Perhaps this is the Indian who later becomes Jim Morrison's guide in the spirit world.) He sees the words "DEMON" and "TOO MUCH TV" flash over Mickey's chest, then gets killed.

Except for the Injun (nonwhite=good) all the other victims are obnoxious or distant to us. Stone does what Kubrick did in A Clockwork Orange: he stylizes the violence, and makes the victims so cartoon-like and unsympathetic that you don't feel too sorry for them. But this is way beyond A Clockwork Orange, O my brothers.

Stone is also doing what Chayefsky and Lumet did in Network. He shows how the media have turned all and everything into entertainment. Same point, taken to a psychotic degree.

Stone's satire is blunt-edged and over-the-top: a jump into bad-taste hyperspace. Nothing exceeds like excess, eh?


The film's almost impossible to analyze when you're seeing it, because Stone is very cleverly pushing all our buttons. OK, it's a satire--but a satire of what? What is he trying to say here anyway? Swift's Modest Proposal sez the English treat the Irish like animals. Stone's Natural Born Killers sez...

Uh...

I'm not exactly sure what it's saying. Stone's film seems to be saying several contradictory things at once. Why do these "Natural Born Killers" kill? The movie gives us a multiple choice answer --

There's a psychologist who says, "Mickey and Mallory know the difference between right and wrong. They just don't care," which gives us the freewill and personal responsibility angle (echoing A Clockwork Orange).

The sacred Indian sees the words TOO MUCH TV flash across Mickey's chest, so presumably the media/message is that violence is a boob-tube-induced, cultural sickness...and pretty much a sickness of late 20th century crazy American whitepeople. I.e: We would all be beautiful, noble savages like that Indian, but for our media-forged manacles.

Stone hits us with trials-of-life killer animal imagery, which seems to say killing is hard-wired into the old genetic code: we're all natural born killers.

We see scenes of childhood incest and traumatic experiences, which gives us the Geraldo/Oprah bad-environment explanation.

Oh yeah. Forgot to mention all those snakes, devils and Book of Revelation references. Stone managed to get that old time religion in there too.

Which gives us (to recap) free will, too much TV, bad genes, bad environment, and original sin, as explanations for Mickey and Mallory's killing spree. A multiple choice answer. Which is the same as no answer at all.

I got Swift's point. I don't get Stone's point. It doesn't add up, but it all winds up on television.
TV is the root of all evil.

That seems to be the only point.

Whatever he is or isn't saying -- like I said, Stone's big satiric target is the tube -- and the violence that festers inside. Hmmmm....

Seems a little hypocritical to bash the media for exploiting violence when that's what Stone is doing with this movie. Funny as this may sound, I found myself wondering what someone might think about this who had had a friend or relative killed by some kook. The movie (arguably from a psycho's point of view) is saying that killing is the best high there is. It's also saying (again, arguably from a nut's viewpoint) that the victims deserve to be killed. The media people are scum. Police and prison guards are scum. Everyday people are scum. These victims all deserve the death sentences Mickey and Mallory hand out to them. As Mickey points out ...

"Nobody's innocent."

OK. Which is probably a fair statement of what's going on in Mickey and Mallory's scrambled heads -- the truth of their experience. But it's also true that violence in real life isn't choreographed or symbolic -- at least to those on the receiving end. Violence is ugly and it hurts. Krazed killers may be blowing away symbols (gooks, pigs, male scum, etc.) but it's real individuals who die.

Stone may argue he's no more advocating mass murder than Swift was arguing in favor of baby-eating. A fair point -- but Swift takes his satire so far, there's no way to ignore his point. Which leads, horribly enough, to the failure of this movie ...

It didn't go far enough.

The sick, murderer-loving nation should have embraced the killer couple after their escape. Mickey should have run for President.

And won.

Monday, May 2, 1994

Crumb Bum

For the record, R. Crumb is one of my favorite cartoonists. Ralph Bakshi is another. Crumb repeatedly savages "Fritz the Cat" as pure Hollywood. It ain't fair. Bakshi has taken pure shit from Hollywood and opened the door to true geniuses like John K. It's an Alpha-Male pissing contest on RC's part, ie, "There ain't room for two outlaw genius cartoonists in this town, pardner."

Not to keep grinding the same axe, but like I said, I wish R. Crumb (and filmmaker Terry Zwigoff) had thrown a few props to the SoCal underground cartooning scene. I.e., Crumb wasn't some solitary genius crying in the wilderness like a mad prophet. There was Gilbert Shelton, Mososco, R. Cobb ... I could go on, but ya get the point. He kinda hogs all the credit to himself.

Sunday, May 1, 1994

Unified Field of Market Research


OK. Robert Crumb's quote bears repeating...

"Everybody walks around in these t-shirts with somebody's logo on it -- they're walking advertisements. It used to be people fermented their own culture outside this thing created to make money, but we're turning into one big unified field of market research. I'm disgusted with people who don't have any intellectual curiosity about what's behind all this jive bullshit."

Saturday, April 30, 1994

Crumb


Finally got around to seeing Terry Zwigoff's "Crumb" at the Nowheresville arthouse. Amazing movie, though I wish he'd made a different movie. Mo' deep thoughts later, but for now, some quick takes on what I liked. No time for factchecking, quotes are paraphrases, and neatness don't count...

I liked just seeing Crumb draw -- the act of drawing itself. Amazing. All that nervous energy, all those scratchy lines. Am a cartoonist myself and simply don't work that hard. Exhausting to look at him. Must have an obsessive-compulsive streak.

Funny moment. Crumb's daughter watching the TV set, some old black and white cartoon. She says something like, "Why can't we get a color TV and watch some new cartoons?" Crumb says they haven't made good American cartoon since 1940. Daughter says that's typical. "Everything has to be black and white with you--everything has to be old-fashioned."

Also funny seeing R. Crumb in the ahht gallery with the gallery owner, who is spouting typical artspeak. Crumb standing next to him and I'm pretty sure he is trying not to laugh.

And then there's Mr. Serious Art Critic Robert Hughes and it's funny just hearing him compare Crumb to Goya, noting the similarity of Crumb's vulture demonesses to Goya's nightmare visions. Great tradition of this kind of thing in the graphic arts: social commentary etched in acid, Crumb draws out of that poison well. I happen to agree with him here (and like R. Hughes) but it's still funny.

Once upon a time, Crumb was a despised, bad, naughty person. Now we put his scrawls on gallery walls and serious critics take him seriously. No, no, no, Meester Crumb, you're not just another prole cartoonist. You're in an ART GALLERY now. You're a respectable arteest!

OK. And then there's his family: what R. Crumb calls a "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" scene. Brother Max is frightening, Charles is more so. (I didn't know he'd committed suicide when I saw the movie). I thought only Southern people had families that screwed up...

Great seeing Crumb (in effect) tell some Hollywood producer to kiss his ass.

Loved seeing Crumb on streets of LA. Just watching him watch the people, seeing Amerika-world with his eyes.

Great comment from R.C. "Everybody walks around in these t-shirts with somebody's logo on it -- they're walking advertisements. It used to be people fermented their own culture outside this thing created to make money, but we're turning into one big unified field of market research. I'm disgusted with people don't have any intellectual curiosity what's behind all this jive bullshit."

Amen, bro.

Crumb in his house with all those old records. "You hear the best part of the soul of the common people in these things..." going on to say we're losing that.

And then there's his attitude towards women...

Crumb flipping through 60s-era sketchbooks, talking to one of his old girlfriends, (Dana?) who's talking about various affairs Crumb had. RC shrugs and sez something like "What do you care? It didn't really matter anyway. I never really loved you." Her jaw drops. To make her feel better he sez, "I was very fond of you." -- PUNCH. And she gets him right in the gut.

Crumb was asking for it, got what he deserved. The question most women are asking: would an icepick be better? More on that later...

As to the movie I wish Zwigoff had made --

The film has a freak show quality to it. Zwigoff points his camera at Crumb's weird family and says, "See the freaks! Born to live! Alive, alive, alive!" Yeah, OK. That's all morbidly fascinating, but I wish he'd offered more background about underground cartooning in the late 1960s and early '70s -- and placed R. Crumb in the context of the circle of San Francisco's underground cartoonists, and the American cartooning movement in general. As it is, you'd think the whole thing popped out of R. Crumb's head. Like he's the only guy doing this kinda thing. Gilbert Shelton isn't even mentioned! I mean, come on ...

Sunday, April 24, 1994

The future of the Internet

OK, working on a business proposal for AOL's so-called "Greenhouse." My biz idea for the grand, glorious Internet future has put me in mind of that so-called future. And how grand and glorious it ain't gonna be. Gonna whip out my crystal ball right now ...

Hocus-pocus, blahblahblah. Shazam. OK ...

Here's the future, kids.

What happened to radio, TV and the fucking printing press will happen to the Internet. It's a pretty obvious prediction, but somebody has to say it.

Right now, the Internet is a big playground that's basically free (except for "walled gardens" like AOL). The reason is: talk is cheap. Most of what we do here is yap. Yap as in words. Mere text.

As fiber optic cable gets laid down and bandwidth increases, the Internet will open up to more than text. It'll get easier and easier to zip photos, video and sound files around. Basically, the wire leading into the computer will have the same capacity as coaxial cable. Thanks to Moore's Law, your 'puter will be able to process some heavy data.

As in movies.

At the same time, expect a repetition of the desktop publishing revolution in the world of video. Right now, a "Video Toaster" editing system costs around 5K. It'll probably drop to chump change. You won't need a dedicated box anymore; you'll have a video editing program on your computer. And (based on the Marching Morons principle) video editing will get easier and easier. So, desktop video will be born.

As a result, Users will be downloading TV and movies. (Music, too.)

And uploading their own User-generated TV and movies. (Music, too.)

And -- you better believe -- paying for it.

Somewhere along the line, the folks controlling the wire will set up a gate -- like that toll booth in "Blazing Saddles." We're all riding along on the big wide open West. All of a sudden, here's a toll booth. We need to ride back for a shitload of dimes.

The content won't be "free" any more -- in the same way that Cable TV isn't free.

At the same time, the content you pay for will be barnacle-encrusted with ads. Just like radio, TV, or even movies. To get to the cool stuff, you'll have to watch some shit that's selling you something.

The future of the Internet?

It'll be exactly like everything else.

Thursday, March 17, 1994

Fee Speech: a brief history of advertising

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.
--Shakespeare, Othello

We are all clowns. Well, I am. We bob in the foam of history like a ping pong ball in a tidal wave. We have no idea of what's driving us.

OK, enough with the mixed metaphors.

The notion of free speech goes back to John Locke and the ancient Geeks. We assume it's a right. But that's a shockingly new assumption. There's an older assumption.

Let me spell it out for you:

New idea: Society should be a vast brainstorming session. Everybody should be free to say anything. Let millions of ideas boil. Keep the good ones. Throw the bad ones away.

Old idea: Ideas are property. Image is property. Reputation is property. The important question is not "What's the idea?" The key question is: "Whose idea is it?"

This is the reason that those who insult the King were thrown in dungeons.

The King's image is the King's property.

Insult is a form of theft. As Shakespeare noted, he who filches your good name makes you poor indeed. Logically, it follows that you can throw such a thief in a dungeon. Dueling flows from the same logic.

Saturday, February 26, 1994

Bill Hicks is dead



But Joe Piscopo lives on. Ain't life a motherfucker?

Saturday, January 15, 1994