Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Same To You Tripled

The great science fiction writer Robert Sheckley has died, so sayeth the New York Times today (lit crit Roger Shattuck also; his tome on fin de siecle French avant-gardists on the cusp of the Great War, "The Banquet Years", comes highly recommended by this reader).

Wiseass Sheckley lived down Greenwich Street from me and Ling in the early 80's ( Ling's my ex-wife; we co-managed Beefheart together in the early 80's, and she now is the manageress of the very hot Chinese movie star Ziyi Zhang, who's just out now starring in "Memoirs of a Geisha"--a film by the way which is garnering decidedly mixed reviews, particularly in Asia, for, amongst other things, casting Chinese divas--including the superb Gong Li -- in the role of what are essentially Japanese comfort women. Quel scandale! Here of course the nuances of such a gestural casting insult no doubt escaped the producer and director, or were merely shrugged off on the order of "hey, they all look alike over there anyway" as justification for a marketing ploy, there being not a whole hell of alot of Japanese actresses around with the same international name recognition as these divas at this point in time. As Ziyi's flack, spinmeister and roving constant companion/interpreter--despite classes at Columbia, Ziyi apparently still doesn't speaka-da-English too well-- Ling no doubt has her hands full right now...oh, but that is too bad!)

Robert Sheckley was one of the great black humorists in the SF canon and can be viewed alongside Philip K. Dick as one of the radical post-war thinkers and stylists who helped drag a fairly moribund genre out of meat and potatos militaristic (read fascist) Robert Heinlein-land into cooler, smarter, funnier territory. His short story " The Seventh Victim" (not to be confused with the Val Lewton film of the same name), about a futuristic society where big game hunting of humans by humans is codified as a media sport (kinda what goes on now in a way, by golly) was adapted into one of the greatest 60's black comedies ever: Elio Petri's "The Tenth Victim" starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress with her amazing Smith and Wesson bra. I got my Dad to drag me to this flick back in my high school days as it was categorized as not suitable for children without an accompanying adult, and apres le screening left the Westcott Theater in Syracuse besotted with Ursula (my friend Harry Hamelin ironically scored bigtime by bagging Ursula on the set of "Clash of the Titans"--or was it the other way round?--and actually realizing a significant collective male masturbatory fantasy of that epoch. Triggered off as well by La Andress's spectacular half-naked entrance as Honey Ryder in "Doctor No" about the same time). I also left the cinema humming the bubbly bright jazz-tinged theme by Piero Piccioni, as sung by the fabulous Italian vocalist Mina (I played this track on Charlie Gillett's Radio Pingpong segment on his Sounds of the World show on the BBC last year, to general apathy all around. Oh well).

Anyway Sheckley was a card and a kibbitzer and a wander-the-world boho from Brooklyn who traded me his very own prized vinyl copy of the (at the time) extremely rare soundtrack to "Juliet of the Spirits" for a bag of very expensive weed, which he claimed to need for inspirational writerly purposes...this was back in my stoner days...and as this album is still in my possession, I think I got the better of the deal, in retrospect.

In any case, Sheckley is sorely missed, and before there is a fire sale on Alibris of Sheckley-ana (right) you could do no worse than acquire a copy of his very cool short story collection "The Same To You Doubled" and his novel "The Game of X". Actually, according to Amazon, that title is currently in print and available there, so pointeth and clicketh and goest thou forward and read one of America's supreme black humorists and far-out wigs and wags, not that far afield from Terry Southern (and for sure, there wouldn't be a Douglas Adams without Sheckley's example).

I ran into the great documentary film maker/cinematographer Albert Maysles at the Museum of Modern Art here on Wednesday night at a screening of the incredibly affecting "Lalee's Kin", which Al photographed and for which I was honored to be asked to provide the music for. It was originally shown on HBO and later nominated for an Academy Award. Director Susan Froemke and editor Deborah Dickson were there as well, and we had a very moving reunion, having worked closely on this project together back in 2001. Deborah has been working hard on a new documentary about today's Navy funded by Mel "Three-in-One Without No Oil" Gibson, and Susan is flourishing at HBO. Al is wrapping up a documentary on Christo, and looked great. He is one of America's treasures ("Gimme Shelter", "Grey Gardens", and "Salesman" are essential viewing for any students of documentary film history). The next night I was up at Makor to see award-winning Polish documentary maker Slawomir Grunberg's heart-wrenching documentary "The Legacy of Jedwabne", for which I also provided the music (and am actually interviewed in, as a participant in the memorial ceremonies held in Poland in 2001 in which the Polish government officially apologized to the Jewish surviving family members--of which I am one--for the hideous pogrom which took place in this little Polish town in 1941). Slawomir is a lovely and charismatic man who coaxed me to play my acoustic guitar after the memorial ceremony in the old Jedwabne graveyard, not far from where 2000 Jews were incinerated in a barn. It was cold and raining and I stumbled through the haunted landscape playing with tears in my was a very heavy, emotionally draining day. To see his film on the big screen brought tears to my eyes again... and I do not cry very easily.




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