Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Peter Brittingham

Peter meets Russell Gee at the Falls Village car show, Sept. 2012, in the Battle of the Smart Alecks. Erika can sense the peril.

I first met Peter Brittingham in August of 1998, shortly after arriving at Mountainside for alcoholism treatment.

I was still pretty wobbly. Bruce Drever pointed me in Pete's direction and gave me a gentle shove, and we chatted in the front room before the big Friday night meeting.

"So, what brings you here?" asked this cheerful-looking guy with wild hair and a beard.

I mumbled something about having some trouble with drinking and needing to get my career back on track and blah blah blah and…

"No, that's not it," said Pete, looking me in the eye and grinning. I had trouble meeting his gaze. I thought he was insane, frankly, and that I had stumbled into some sort of cult situation. Soon I'd be wearing an orange robe and banging a tambourine on a street corner.

"You know what it is?" continued this maniac.

"No, what?" I said.

"You're an asshole!"

I must have looked startled, because he hastened to reassure me.

"Don't worry about it. I'm an asshole too!"

I used to time my fishing trips on the Blackberry River to finish up in the deep pool behind the house on Lower Road in Canaan. Trevor would come out to greet me, by which I mean bark at me. His nose is good but his eyesight is a little faulty, so I'd be casting by the boulder in that pool while Trevor was diligently barking in the wrong direction.

One warm afternoon last fall I took a couple of decent browns from the run immediately below Pete's pool, and kept them, figuring fresh trout wouldn't go amiss at the Crofut-Brittingham table.

Then I took a really good brown from Pete's pool, on a tiny (size 20) Prince nymph. For you non-anglers, this is a very small hook with a couple of turns of green fuzz on it and a little red tail. 

I thought about keeping him too — he was about 18 or 20 inches, a real lunker for a little stream — but decided against it.

Then I clambered up to the yard. Peter was taking the afternoon sun. He looked tired. 

I gave him the fish and he cracked a joke about Blackberry trout all tasting like cow shit.

"So you don't want them?"

"Aw, hell yes I want them, gimme."

Peter had a quality that my late father had, and that I admire: when he asked how I was doing, he was truly interested in my response.

He was blunt, vulgar and occasionally offensive; he possessed a true intuition about his fellow alcoholics and addicts; he gave of himself freely, and had a damn good time doing it.

Even in the last few weeks, during the meetings at his house, his spirit was undaunted.

That spirit will live within the countless people he helped — especially those of us who were lucky enough to get cussed out by Peter at particularly jittery moments in our lives.

Patrick L. Sullivan
Lakeville, Conn.
April 17, 2013

Friday, April 5, 2013

Chicken-Headed Monster, Transformational Death Slime, and the Japanese Zither Theme pt. 1

I had one of those panicky moments recently.After watching yet another uninspired, direct-to-video horror flick, I wondered if I had exhausted the supply of horrible movies.

Not to worry. The folks at Criterion have put out a series called Eclipse. Here is the bumf on that:

Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple, affordable editions. Each series is a brief cinematheque restrospective for the adventurous home viewer.

Translation: We have the rights to all kinds of weird stuff, but we don't want to put it out with our regular flicks. So we decided to package three or four flicks together, add some film critic crap on the liner notes, and sell the thing for $35 to little Tarantino wannabes.

Now then — Series 37, "When Horror Came to Shochiku," covers that magical time when the Shochiku studio, late to the "man in monster suit destroys scale model of Tokyo" party, decided to go into horror movies.

There are four movies in the set. I have watched three.

After considering The X from Outer Space (1967), I conclude that one way to keep costs down for the adventurous (and impecunious) home viewer is to go cheap on the translators.

Because the title makes no sense. That's okay, though, because the subtitles don't, either.

The deal is the groovy space crew is trying to get to Mars, but every mission gets waylaid by some mysterious force which leaves some intergalactic space crud on the propeller.

And the dopey crew scrapes off a sample and sticks it in a jar.

Of course the minute they get back to Earth the thing pops out, gets into some atmosphere and turns into a giant chicken-headed dinosaur with death ray eyes, a very thick skin, and some seriously progressive ideas about urban renewal.

As with all monster suit movies, the sequences starring the beast get tedious. On the other hand, it does look like a chicken. Sort of.

Two and a half coils.

Also in the series, from the same director (Kazui Nihonmatsu) is the far superior Genocide (1968), in which enraged insects, fed up with the lethal antics of mankind, decide to wage their own war, starting with swarming over a B-52 carrying a hydrogen bomb and forcing thee airmen to parachute — with the bomb — to some isolated islands off Japan.

You can tell it's the H-bomb because it's clearly labeled as such: "H-bomb." (Also "Handle With Care," "Fragile," and "This End Up.")

See, Joji, local bug nut and married to the lovely and pregnant Yukari, insists on carrying on with Annabelle, the blonde, bikini'd bug nut.

He couldn't have gotten too far with her, however, otherwise he'd have noticed the Nazi death camp tattoo on her personal chest.

Annabelle, driven mad by her experience, wishes to exterminate mankind. This fits in with the plans of the super-poisonous insects on the remote islands, whose venom drives everybody mad before they die.

There are also Eastern bloc spies and American Air Force nitwits with high water chinos, the better to expose their white socks.

Bug death, with lesions. Hallucinatory bug scenes. Major swarmitation. Sixties bikinis, which I think are sexier than today's. Rare 19-shot revolver. Grim ending. Three and a half coils.