Sunday, March 22, 2020

First thoughts on Novel Coronavirus COVID19.

On the planet Earth, if there is any viable solution to the Big Four—those would be horsemen climate change, emerging diseases, pollution, and depletion—it's regenerative agriculture (as part of a broad, circumspect permaculture).

But no part of that solution is here, in, for example, my own current location, Beverly Hills. I moved into this rental apartment in 2015 in the belief that it would be a more lucrative location in which to start a business, the private practice I started in January 2017. Had I stayed in Mar Vista, or even Culver City, I'd be in much better shape now (I would also have probably made more money in the meantime, not least because BH charges between $1.5k and $2k per year just to do business in the city). But I'm grateful to have done the work I've done here, which continues, for now, though at a diminished rate and volume.

For the time being, I believe I have food adequate for either roughly 3 weeks or 4 months, depending on whether some online, non-Amazon orders are indeed delivered within the 3 weeks or so. 

Thereafter I know not what will be the case, so I've little idea of what to do. Were things to deteriorate steeply in the meantime, I'd eventually be forced to drive elsewhere, no doubt among millions of likeminded persons, some benevolent and some ruthless, in search of better conditions. 

That would be, for each of us who found the Self in that situation, the end of social distancing. 

Disclaimer: I still know very little about the virus; my reading on it so far has been (strangely) limited. That said, if the virus infects 80% of the USA; and 20% of those infected need hospitalization; and 70% of them need it too quickly for the system to accommodate; and roughly 10% to 13% of those people perish, that’s:

330,000,000 people 
x 80% infected = 
264,000,000 people infected
 x 20% need hospitalization = 
52,800,000 people need hospitalization
x 10 to 13% die (either for lack of adequate hospitalization or despite it) =
5,280,000 people die.

5,280,000 dead is 1.6% of 330,000,000 Americans.

SO, if and when one finds oneself running out of food while in self quarantine, past the point where alternative supply strategies have failed, the logic might run something like this:

Since the odds of any one of us dying of the coronavirus is—according to these numbers I pulled out of my ass---less than 2%, and since you can’t stay home forever and starve if you’re in a place without food security, all you can do is roll the dice on going somewhere else. One of the goals is to stave off such an eventuality until the point, perhaps years in the future, perhaps much sooner, when the authorities say social distancing no longer provides benefits, or is no longer necessary. 

The forces arrayed against us would appear to include: 

  •    the CORVID19 virus itself
  •     its impact on the economy, especially food security
  •     potential escalation of lawlessness and crime
  •     potential dangers of martial law and authoritarianism 
  •     potential civil unrest toward political revolution 
Tune in next time, when I figure it all out and make a violin out of a toothpick.
Stay strong, you sexy fools.



Sunday, March 15, 2020

Broken Glory: The Final Years of Robert F. KennedyBroken Glory: The Final Years of Robert F. Kennedy by Ed Sanders
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm grateful whenever anyone has the courage to write a book that tells dangerous truths, especially about American history during and after the creation of the CIA at the end of WWII. Like so many, I have a deep passion for the authentic leaders of the 1960's whose lives of prophetic courage were snuffed out by the lawless militarists they dared to oppose. President Kennedy, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) were murdered by the U.S. national security state. Evidence, investigations, and legal proceedings in each case were grossly sabotaged by the FBI and the on-site urban police departments (Dallas, Memphis, NYC, and L.A., respectively), in support of a bogus official narrative that protected the actual planners and perpetrators. Some of those went unidentified; all went unpunished, and to this day there are a few thousand intellectual prostitutes whose "respectable" task is to repeat the official lies and marginalize (ignore, mock, trivialize, pathologize, pity, or revile) their dissenting opponents.

These histories form major elements of my worldview, and the tragically charismatic figures at their centers have shaped my sense of human nature at its best. One of my own books is a poetry collection, fifty 14-line elegies for President Kennedy called Limousine, Midnight Blue. Another is my blank verse translation of Sophocles' Three Theban Plays (Oedipus, Antigone, Oedipus at Colonus), which is dedicated to the memory of Robert F. Kennedy. So when someone writes a long POEM about the murder of RFK, I become immediately interested. With his new book "Broken Glory: The Final Years of Robert F. Kennedy," Ed Sanders does the USA a service by telling the truth: that the RFK Assassination was not the mad act of yet another lone nut; it was, in the words of former FBI Agent William Turner, "a CIA hit, from start to finish." For Sanders' courage in telling this truth--and for his clear and compelling account of the King Assassination, in this same book--I have great respect, and gratitude.

As a literary work, however, "Broken Glory" is a disappointment. Almost all of it is simply expository prose, lineated as verse. Most of the book comprises chunks of other people's discourse, quoted directly from historical documents (speeches, FBI reports, interviews, depositions); these are mostly well-chosen and well-assembled, but it's not at all clear why Sanders chose to put it all onto the page as verse. It's prose. Maybe Sanders thought he was emulating the political-historical poetry of Peter Dale Scott, who is both a real historian and a real poet, whose many works in both genres (i.e., books of historical scholarship, and books of poetry about history) are brilliant and important. In "Minding the Darkness," "Listening to the Candle," and other works of historical poetry, Scott often quotes from prose documents and lineates those quotations as verse, which Sanders does throughout "Broken Glory." But Peter Dale Scott's historical poems always have many dimensions: personal experience, philosophical reflection, religious thinking, ethical wisdom, and above all, poetic language. By contrast, Sanders' "Broken Glory" offers very little poetry, and is marred by the impulsive sloppiness ("first thought, best thought," remember?) which the Beats and the Yippies associated with authenticity. A few examples:

p. 68, "the upmost loyalty..." The word is utmost. Upmost is not a word.
p. 70, "the doursome J. Edgar Hoover..." The word is dour. Doursome is not a word.
p.132, "sleazesome..." I guess this word is a deliberate invention, but it's lost on me.

When Sanders does go for poetry, the results are not strong. Of 4-4-68, the day of Dr. King's execution, he writes: "The dire day of Dream-Doom / whirls with hidden fury / years & years later, / for an evil that Evil wants kept in the cauldron / evil'd forth that bright spring Southern day..."

The book's finale occurs on its final two pages, with a sudden switch to short lines:


Oh, won't somebody please tell me why
the guns aim so often to the left

It wounded the nation
in countless ways,
wounded her history
the rest of her days.

It wounded the future
Like Lincoln amort
Or Roosevelt sinking
and the A-bomb's retort.

Tell me again why the guns
always aim to the left?
with gun powder ballots
& voting with knife-heft

I'll stop there; you get the point. This is a mess--the capitalization, the lineation, the punctuation, and the meter are each in disarray. The word choices are unfortunate (amort... knife-heft).

Each of us is a product of his times, and I know Ed Sanders is a very different sort of poet from Peter Dale Scott, or Robert Lowell, or Yeats--poets who have tried to write a poetry of public life (epic) in an idiom of privately felt passion (lyric). Surely his artistic aims and his ideas about poetry are so different from mine that I am making the mistake of judging his good orange as a bad apple. It seems to me his style might be best appreciated by readers who love Allen Ginsburg or William Burroughs, writers whose breezy contempt for craft was widely regarded as liberated and liberating, rather than lazy and vain. That said, I'll put aside my criticism of Sanders' poetry and close with some recognition of the politics, where I think this book succeeds.

The flap copy has a bio of Sanders which notes, "He was also a founding member of the satiric folk-rock band The Fugs as well as the Yippies." Now, I was born in 1968. Sanders was at the heart of the counterculture which I only glimpse in books and films. I don't know what I'm talking about. But from my perspective, the Yippies were a very white, middle class, male bunch of folks who believed that the best way to stop the War in Vietnam would be a relapse into the pseudo-political surrealism and Dada which the French had enjoyed fifty years before then. Ancient Rome's insane Emperor Caligula was thought to have appointed his favorite horse to the Senate--a tyrant using an absurd gesture to mock the powerlessness of the old aristocracy. The Yippies outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago nominated a pig for President--in doing so, they were apparently mocking the militarist juggernaut which the presidency had become since the murder of JFK. But weren't they also emulating Caligula, mocking the whole process instead of working to reform it? Eight years later, the Yippies nominated "Nobody for President." RFK once reminded his audience that Plato used the word "idiot" to refer to people who had no interest in the political life of their own cities. RFK was serious. Fred Hampton was serious. Helen Caldecott was serious, and she still is. Bernie Sanders was serious, and he still is, though he can laugh when the time is right. I wasn't there; I was a baby. I don't claim to understand what it was like to be a draft-age man in 1968. But from my perspective, it seems as if things might've gone better if more folks shifted their focus from dropping acid (which the CIA fed them through Timothy Leary) to investigating the political assassinations (as did Vincent Salandria, Peter Dale Scott, Mae Brussel, et al.) that had made possible the whole disaster. That respect for structure and institutions--as necessary and stable frameworks for a living charisma, not dead substitutes for it--might also have spared us a few million lines of distastefully uninhibited "free verse." But I digress.

On page 124, Sanders seems to transcend his youthful identity with a wise hindsight born of experience: "On May 7 / RFK won his first primary in Indiana. / The Yippies in New York, / eager for confrontation at the Democratic Convention, / I remember were glum that Kennedy was able to reach out to the people / in ways that war-painted dope-jousters / could not..." Wow. Interesting.

I'm very impressed by the sobriety, the moral imagination, and the introspective courage it must have taken for a (former?) Yippee to celebrate, with love and grief, the life of Senator Robert F. Kennedy--a suit-wearing, wealthy, erudite, populist aristocrat who had once been the chief law enforcement figure in the U.S. government, later transformed by loss and agony, and compelled into a prophetic vocation by the depth of his nature.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Review: "The Billy Collins Experience" by A. M. Juster (Kelsay Books, 2016)

The Billy Collins ExperienceThe Billy Collins Experience by A.M. Juster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A brilliant send-up of a beloved figure in contemporary American poetry. Every poet, even the titans of English literature in the 16th, 17th, and early 19th Centuries, has a sort of literary underbelly where parody can and perhaps should attach. A.M. Juster's satire of Billy Collins is spot-on, unsettling, and hilarious. That might look easy, but it requires special equipment, and this guy has it. It's as if the underlying message of The Billy Collins Experience was something like:

{{Look, I'm not BC, and yet my own array of poetic powers happens to include the same ones he's been using to write these rather precious books of endearing, harmless, graceful yet somehow complacent little poems. Whereas I (a parodist here, legit poet elsewhere) have both a broader range and a more profound sense of mission which transcends Collins' tremendous success, I have not succeeded as he has. Well, maybe his abundance of fans, money, access, and opportunity is linked to the worldly nature of his goals, which I consider thus compromised, and either cynical or naively shallow. This takes the sting out of being both an even better poet than the formidable Billy Collins (a nontrivial, but not necessarily hubristic level of self-confidence) and a far more obscure one. So screw him.}} ...Did I get that right?

Perhaps the most popular American poet since Robert Frost, Billy Collins is also held in one or another degree of contempt by several very different classes of people/poets/critics. Hipsters (postmodern flarfulent bougie whiteprivilegical) tend to disdain his Frostian, popular, coherent, often deeply moving poems, because their own poems make no sense and they like it that way. Next, those whose consciousness is fully and primarily oriented toward social justice can often be found rejecting Billy Collins because there's almost nothing directly political in his large body of work. Poets whose literary identities include deep suffering may turn away from Collins because the tragic strain in his poetry is not as broad as that in, say, Larkin or Jeffers or Plath. I get as much out of Collins at his best as I do out of Frost, and I love them both. I'm also very fortunate to have a blurb from Billy Collins on the back of my first book of poems, Limousine, Midnight Blue : Fifty Frames from the Zapruder Film (Red Hen Press, 2009):

"Ovid himself might have taken notice of this volume. It’s one thing
to turn a woman into a tree, another more advanced thing to transform
fifty frames of the Zapruder film into as many sonnets. Limousine,
Midnight Blue is a radical display of poetry’s ability to freeze time, to
catch fugitive—and here, disputed—moments in the amber of form."

For your enjoyment, and to add a cornflake of context to this review... My new book of poems, Dodo Feathers: Poems 1989-2019, includes an "Homage to Billy Collins," a tiny poem whose mix of tribute, warmth, and irony is rather different from A.M. Juster's.


Billy Collins could not be here this morning,
so I am writing his poem for him.
In it, a dog sleeps beside a tree,
while that little girl from the painting
by de Chirico chases her almost silent hoop.
And you are there, and from his window
Billy Collins sees you and, too busy writing
a much better poem than this one,
wonders for a moment: how you got here,
and why you are wearing his bathrobe.

  Dodo Feathers Poems 1989-2019 by Jamey Hecht

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Friday, October 18, 2019

Review: "Klingon Tamburlaine" at the Complex Theater in Hollywood

"....or if he tampers recklessly with sacred things..."
---Sophocles' definition of HUBRIS, in Oedipus the Tyrant line 891.

Behold the Klingon Tamburlaine. I first heard of it this summer, when it played as part of the Hollywood Fringe Theater Festival. The instant I saw the phrase, I had strong feelings. 

You see, Tamburlaine is a play by Christopher Marlowe, the man who invented blank verse. Since Marlowe's murder in 1593, no human being---except for his friend and exact contemporary, William Shakespeare---has equaled him in sheer mastery of the mother tongue we share. "Marlowe's mighty line" has been a catchphrase among those passionate about poetry in English through four centuries. The phrase comes from Ben Johnson's great elegy "To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare": far thou didst our Lyly outshine, 
Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line
And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek, 
From thence to honour thee, I would not seek 
For names; but call forth thund'ring Aeschylus, 
Euripides and Sophocles to us...

Marlowe was a brash atheist, and a proudly hedonistic homosexual, at a time when both were capital crimes. He survived by serving as a spy for the English Crown. The title of Harry Levin's excellent 1964 study The Overreacher is the most apt term for what Marlowe was, this utterly fearless author of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. That play's about a genius whose unbounded hubris ultimately damns him for eternity. Faustus plainly is Marlowe in important ways, a man whose deal with the Devil granted him immunity for the fiercely transgressive behaviors and traits that defined him. Note the contempt for danger in Marlowe's use of words: he will say anything, no matter how hubristic, in the service of his truth, "good or bad." For example, Doctor Faustus includes actual Latin incantations to conjure up the Devil, and records show Elizabethan  audiences were terrified. One legend holds that during one night's unique performance, there appeared a "super-numerary devil," one more than usual, though all the actors were present, in make-up, and accounted for. Apocryphal or not, the legend's meaning is loud and clear: the impact of Marlowe's art was shockingly strong. It made things happen. 

If you've got a suitable ear, you marvel at his poetry's stride; its swinging momentum; the subtle shifts of gears he pulls off as he steers forward with the verse, tracing the curvature of his thought; the gorgeous musical hammers falling, syncopated, offset by footsteps, heartbeats, and come to think of it, hoofbeats. Faustus quotes Ovid as the final hours of his life slip away and Damnation is imminent: O lente, lente, curite noctis equii! "Slowly, slowly run, O horses of the Night!" The faster the horses drive the Night ("nightmare" is a very interesting word to research), the sooner Damnation will torment Faustus forever. And notice the onomatopoeia in Ovid's Latin line that Marlowe quotes with such terrible new pathos. It's one of the best examples of that literary trope ever written: the meter of O lente, lente, curite noctis equii! is the rhythm of a cantering horse! But not a racing one. 

I have little interest in artistic transgression for its own sake, which often proves to be little more than a stunt meant to build a brand. That's not what Marlowe is doing; he's coming forward about the side of the human spirit that terrifies the rest of the community: the manic side, the fearless, unprincipled, grandiose and dangerous side of each person. That universality is inseparable from its opposite, when a unique individual is go
Examples of Marlowe's verbal fearlessness

Saturday, June 29, 2019

In Flint, Michigan., there’s so much lead in children’s blood that a state of emergency is declared

This country needs a government. 

We let Corporations buy the U.S. gov’t and they destroyed it, so they could use us as (customers for their stuff, and) toilets for their waste. This is ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM. Not prejudice. Racism. It’s also VIOLENCE against our people—American people. Exxon, Enbridge, Shell, Chevron, and the republicans and centrist clintonian fake democrats are committing the slow murder of a generation of Black, Latinx, and post-European kids.

Flint officials and the State of Michigan are going to be paying for this crime for years to come, but it will never amount to one lost moment of joy or insight that a lead/mercury poisoned brain will never have. I hang my head in powerless rage when I see what the women and men and kids of this country are made to endure, a century after W.E.B. DuBois, as if he had never written; as if the Progressive Era (1900-1918) and the New Deal (1933-1940) had never happened; as if those shitty little bigots in grey had won the Civil War instead of getting their sanctimonious, slaveholding, fake-Xtian assess handed to them. And then these 3 words: President donald trump. It’s a question, whose correct answer is, “F*ck you, Ameri*a.” Who says that? Someone who loves what President John F. Kennedy, and his also-murdered fellow genuine Democrat Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) routinely called "The United States":

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Porters of Hellsgate present The Taming of the Shrew by William SHAKESPEARE

Io era tra color che son sospesi,
e donna mi chiamò beata e bella,
tal che di comandare io la richiesi.

I was among those, in Limbo, in suspense, 
and a lady called to me, she so beautiful, so blessed, 
that I begged her to command me.
                                    —Dante, Inferno II, 52-54.

GO see The Porters of Hellsgate do The Taming of the Shrew. It's a terrific production, and an odd one, in lots of ways. For instance, costumes are always important, but it's rare for the Costume Designer to be quite so pivotal as Jessica Pasternak is here. The genders are reversed in the casting, but everyone is in male clothing. This is brilliant. It takes the focus away from femme drag (which the Porters recently did brilliantly, in the person of Thomas Bigley as the cruel Queen in Cymbeline), which has so much to do with spectacle, and instead concentrates our attention on the power dynamics Shakespeare is actually talking about.

Lauren Jean Lee is a slick, amoral, yet heartfelt Petruchio, and you can't take your eyes off of her. Directors Rose Fliegel and Alicia Patterson have paired Lee with the intensely defensive Kate of Sean Faye, and the result is electric. I've only seen the Taming live twice before; once in Santa Cruz, and once at the Odyssey theater with Jack Stehlin in the role. Both were excellent productions; Stehlin, of course, is in a class by himself. Lauren Jean Lee is a young actor, stepping into a challenging role, supported by a strong, spirited cast with no weak links and a wagon-load of timely ethical passions about domination and consent and gender. Lee’s Petruchio is tall, and his beauty is dark; from where I sat, the eyes seemed black and deep, like, watch-out-for-hypnosis eyes. Her Petruchio’s steely intelligence slithers around Katherine in silky coils.

Sean Faye’s extraordinary work in the role of Katherine is the other pillar of the production. First off, his Kate is very physical---as is typical enough (among theater history’s “household Kates"), except that there's usually plenty of flailing around, with feline psychomotor hysteria, antics and so on. Some of that is necessary, but Faye innovates in keeping it down to that minimum, and instead letting the rest of the physicality flow into his demeanor, posture, nonverbal unconscious social cuing, and intense presence on the stage. Why is this so moving to watch? 

Well, I’m not sure, but I think it’s along these lines. Faye is a masculine guy, with an adult male Ashkenasi Jewish nose, 5 o’clock shadow, and a pair of shoulders on him. Not an obviously tough guy (see what I did there?), but I would not mess with him in an alley. In the first half of the show, Faye is emotionally activated as hell; he is Katherine getting bounced around and insulted by each and every one of her attachment figures (until Petruchio comes along—a whole new ordeal). I seemed to feel much of the testosterone I was looking at, as the male biochemistry of the actor colored the presence of the character in her predicament. Female gendered clothing would perhaps have obscured this, and I felt pleased for Faye that he did not have to contend with any. 

Kate is abused, Kate is brainwashed, she's programmed, her boundaries commandeered by a cynical opportunist who is himself motivated half by financial greed, and half by a post-traumatic form of love that mid-20th century psychoanalysts called sadomasochism, a “perversion.” Petruchio’s transformation of Kate is a traumatic one, involving sleep deprivation, withholding of food, using hunger as a conditioning tool for behavior modification; utterly egregious gaslighting; and the programmer’s theft of the victim’s control over the precise form of her own name. Yet if the production is a good one, Petruchio loves Kate, and Kate loves Petruchio. The Porters of Hellsgate have achieved this, and it’s hot a.f. to watch.

The audience is pulled into the question. Appalled as we may be by his methods, their effect upon his target seems incredibly therapeutic. Before Petruchio, Katherine's misery is just as huge as her aggression. He takes away her power as the price for taking away her misery as well; when she realizes that submission somehow lightens her burden and feels paradoxically liberating, she seems to flip an internal switch and drop into subspace. Tellingly, Shakespeare sends no abusive language from Petruchio to his lady; insults would only block her access to the submission that he wants for her, and that she comes to need / turns out to need. 

Power gets asserted in various ways, all of them familiarly Shakespearean. When Petruchio shows up late to his own wedding, dressed as a kind of clown, I think of Henry V wooing his Katherine, telling her “We are the makers of manners, Kate…” Evan Isaac Lipkin is a delightful Bianca, a pretty, petulant Ken-doll swish. While this might be too much in doses any larger than these, it works. The war between her and her older sister reminds me of the moment in Much Ado about Nothing when Hero says of her older sister Beatrice, “Why, she would mock me into air!”

Jono Eiland plays an acoustic guitar and does some singing; he does both well. As in his previous work with the Porters, Eiland somehow lends stability to the whole stage when he stands on it. There’s a gravitas there, but he’s funny, too; it’s the… stability. He reads as stable. I think it’s his combination of calm and large. Michael Bigley shines as a gifted comic in the roles of Biondello and the Widow. The jokes keep on coming, like you’re being pummeled on the ropes. Bigley is f*cking hilarious in this thing. Kate Faye, brings some big laughs, artfully playing a hapless douche who strives in vain to rope a heifer. Her timing and flustered dignity are disarmingly endearing—and that’s where the comedy waves get through, blasting my own stuck-up dignity with a beam of pure satire till I suddenly realize my laughing is making too much noise.

The role of Tranio is played by Lauren Zbylski, to the Lucentio of Julie Lanctot. It’s a fun rapport to watch, as master and man interact on new terrain (Padua), in the new project of getting Lucentio a wife. Like Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places, they swap identities and clothing, turning 180° the rusty wheel of social class. Turn the gender wheel the same way and you have the dramaturgy of this excellent production.

The program’s “Note from the Directors” ends with this quotation from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” You’re in good hands, here. 

Bravo, Porters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Happytime Murders (dir. Brian Henson) Is Brilliant, Hilarious, and Deep.

The Happytime Murders was written by Todd Berger (as well as Dee Austin Robertson). The writing is superb. Over and over I heard things I wasn't expecting, instead of the cliches I've come to expect from movies. I laughed out loud--cackled and howled with laughter--many times. But the funny scenes were only one part of this film's achievement.

There's also the social politics dimension of a movie in which being a Puppet in a majority "meat -sack" world is like being Black in America. It's easy to dismiss this metaphor as heavy-handed in the film, but that would be to overlook the richness of what Todd Berger shows us about marginalization, prejudice, and systemic oppression, as the people with skin and flesh abuse the people with felt and fluff.

The Happytime Murders was directed by Brian Henson----whose parents were THE Jim Henson and Jane Henson, the puppeteering couple who invented the Muppets during their careers at Sesame Street. Jim Henson was at the heart of Sesame Street's unique feel, its visual idiom; it gave us the experience of seeing puppets behave as if they have souls. A great work of art.

And then... as the years went by, what began as a TV show for kids remained a TV show for kids, onto which there was soon built a mighty brand, with vast merchandising and global reach. To be clear: Sesame Workshop is a wonderful institution, whose work has expanded to include creating Muppets and storylines tuned specifically to the psychological needs of children with various kinds of traumas, losses, and stressors. But that's not the point.

The point is, Brian Henson's whole life has been lived in an environment saturated with the ethos of Sesame Street. I suppose a lot of his life is always already  coated with his father's genius. Sesame St. is a children's show; its ethos always is, and always must be, wholesome, innocent, and enchanted. The bowl of cereal Brian Henson ate as a kid was paid for by his dad's art, the Muppets, within Sesame Street. What would it be like to grow up inside that? And to see, as you grow, the franchise/company/brand grow too, outpacing you as it brings in millions of dollars year after year. How cloying it must be, how fraught, and how frustrating: to be forever surrounded by the culture of children's TV, especially in the form of the celebrated artistic work-product of one's own Oedipal rival. Making this film, The Happytime Murders, did for Brian Henson something like what making Wild Strawberries did for Ingmar Bergman: a working-through of the film-maker's relationship to his own father. In making this dirty film---it is trashy, violent (though bloodless!), hardscrabble-noir---with its depictions of puppet semen and coroners cleaning up puppets' murders, Brian Henson cleanses himself of the ethos of Jim Henson's invented world. That ethos is great for kids. But for a person trying to grow into being his own man (an individuated adult of 20 or 30 or 40, etc. ), the sweet-sweetness-world of Sesame Street must feel like an endless overdose of sugar. In The Happytime Murders, sugar is evil, a debilitating drug, like heroin.

Freud taught that there are only two mature defenses available to the psyche: humor, and sublimation. This film has lots of hilarious lines and scenes. But the main course is the massive sublimation of envy, competition, Oedipal aggression and resentment, filial love and admiration for his father, and who knows what else. It gets transmuted into an artwork that uses the father's unique kind of puppetry to tell a completely different kind of story, diametrically opposed to the sunshine-and-rainbows world of kids' TV. That world must meet children where they are, by providing an innocent little world, one with sorrows and misfortunes, but without evil or death or sex. So here is The Happytime Murders, full of sex and death and the evil of (prejudice against puppets, yes, and) the villainess, who turns out to have been motivated by unprocessed trauma, not just some arbitrary badness that comes with being the bad guy in the story. I love this movie.

Note: All the psychological interpretations and claims I make in this movie review are purely speculative. Not only have I never had any contact with Mr. Henson, I haven't read a single interview with him, nor any reviews of The Happytime Murders