Friday, May 22, 2009

Starless Trek

"Tallulah, my darling, where have you been? It's been a whole month since you last posted on your flog. How can we live our lives without your guidance?" I hear you all out there sobbing, my darlings. Please, keep it down. I can't hear myself drink.

I've been in Brazil, covering Survivor: Tocantins for The Huffington Post. You can read my chronicle of the Tocantins Adventure at these links:

So don't complain. Altogether they come to about 60,000 words, so it's like a whole book about one dopey TV show.

The post from Brazil presented a challenge since, when I arrived, there wasn't anybody there. The shows had all been shot months ago, and everyone had long since gone home. In fact, everyone else was in Manhattan, at David Letterman's theater, doing the live reunion show, I was in Tocantins, sitting all alone in the abandoned Tribal Council set.

I don't understand how this happened. I personally phoned the production offices of Mark Burnett, who produces Survivor, and explained that I was Tallulah Morehead, the Nearly-Living legend, that I wrote the Survivor recaps for The Huffington Post, and that I would like tickets to the live finale show to report on it in person.

The person on the phone, who said her name was Kayla, said yes, they all knew who I was, and all read my write-ups of their shows, and they would be pleased to send me tickets to the finale. The very next day a messenger arrived with my ticket to the live finale in Tocantins, including a plane ticket (one-way; an inconvenience), a discount coupon for the Tocantins Motel 6 (single occupancy. I left Little Dougie in Los Angeles. You can't really trust him around Brazilian men anyway.), and a note signed by "Jeff Probst." Given that the production company itself made all the arrangements for my trip, it seemed odd that they would have gotten my destination wrong by tens of thousands of miles. And then, it turned out the show isn't even broadcast in Tocantins. I had to watch the broadcast on the one-inch square screen of my cab driver's cell-phone Internet link-up. Then I had to phone Dougie back in California, to dictate that last column.

Oh, Little Dougie had said something to me before I left for the airport, about the show having been shot months ago, but I assumed that Tocantins was like that Island on LOST, and was surrounded by a time ring which displaced you in time when you flew in.

As it happened, when Frank Lapidus was flying me out of Tocantins International Terminal (They stamp "TIT" on your tickets and luggage), there was a bright flash of light and a weird sound effect, and suddenly, instead of rolling down that hand-laid-rock landing strip, I suddenly found myself on a remote beach, sipping a martini with Jacob and his friend in the sensible black outfit. There I was, lying in the shadow of an enormous statue of my old friend, the evil Egyptian god Set. I found the fact that the statue had four toes disturbing. When I knew him, Set only had three toes.

Jacob saw me looming and immediately went to work on his loom. That man is a tapestry-making madman! Jacob's friend was grumbling about finding "the loophole." I yelled out, "Hey Essau, how about slipping through my loophole?" But then - Zip! - I found myself lying next to Juliette at the bottom of yet another slimy hole (SSDH), and Juliette was slamming her hand down on a DVD of Viva Laughlin. "Darling," I said, "that starred my future-ex-husband Huge Jackman. How bad can it be?"

"Did you see Australia?" Juliette asked.

"I did." I replied.

"This is even worse." Juilette sobbed.

"Point taken," I said, "Pound away. Maybe we can change the future, and Australia will never be made."

Then somewhere someone gave The Island donkey wheel a shove and I was blasted through white light into the base of Set's statue. Adam Lambert lay dead on the floor in front of Ben Linus, holding a bloody knife. Beside him Locke spoke with Kris Allen's voice, saying, "Loophole, schmoophole, American tweens like their boys sexually unthreatening."

Then there was another bright light, and I was transferred into an alternate future where I was Mrs. Huge Jackman, and we were visiting Disneyland when we were attacked by The Giant Rat of Sumatra

I gave "Mickey" a Tallulah Turban, and this distracted him long enough to allow me to get onto the best ride in the park, which is located inside Huge's pants. Fortunately, I had a Fastpass for it.

Of course Little Dougie, who materializes beside me anytime I go to Disneyland, is always a problem around Huge. His infatuation runs deep. He was saying idiotic things to Huge like, "You know, as long as Gay Marriage remains illegal in California, which may be for another week yet, you could gay marry me without your being technically a bigamist." I had to send him over to stand in the corner by the Dumbo ride. It's a punishment for him, because no hot men ever ride Dumbo.

Just as I was settling into my work in Huge's crotch, a great Romulan spaceship came shooting out of a rip in the Eternal Time-Space Continuum (You have to be careful never to snag the Eternal Time-Space Continuum on nails or splinters, as it gets terrible runs), and killed Captain Kirk's father, thus saving Kirk from growing up to be William Shatner, and spreading overacting throughout The Galaxy, but creating a weird alternate-present, in which Spock was played by Liza Minnelli. It turned out that the horrible catastrophe that caused the Planet Vulcan to implode was Liza telling the Vulcan High Council that marrying David Gest was logical.

Well by now I was Lost. Brazil is weird.

By the time I returned to Morehead Heights, I didn't know what alternate present I was in, I decided to try and see if The Universe I was in was making any sense. I switched on the TV to TCM, a channel where I always feel comfortable, as not only do they run only old movies, but TCM are my initials. (Tallulah Clytemnestra Morehead.)

They were running a movie I had never seen before, the ultra-hilarious, right-wing objectivist claptrap, the film of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, as glamorous, sexy Fascists, I mean an architect and his best gal.

I'm afraid I haven't set the Time-Space Continuum right yet. This can't be Normal Reality, because this movie is the most ridiculous piece of twaddle I have ever sat through.

Enormously well-hung Gary Cooper plays Howard Roarke, the most brilliant, unpopular, and egotistical architect in the world. The movie is all about how people are always trying to get Howard Roarke to design buildings just like the same ones everyone else designs, but Howard is too great to listen to anyone, even his clients. People are always telling him when he designs something that is too outré, in other words, rectangular glass and steel structures that look exactly like every souless office building clogging the downtowns of every major city in the world, the very style that Jacques Tati spent his great movie Playtime attacking, that his work is too unpopular and controversial. "We can't take a chance," they always say to him, as though gambling their lives on an office tower or a block of flats.

The villain of the story is a newspaper architectural critic, who wields tremendous public power. He writes a column of architectural criticism, and his slightest word can bring the city to a halt. What planet is this? When the publisher fires the architectural critic, the staff walks out in support of the critic, and the paper buckles under to the critic, and the publisher shoots himself. Star Trek was more realistic.

Howard does not consider architecture to be a collaborative art. Rather, it's the solitary work of a lone artist, toiling alone in an attic somewhere. Making even the tiniest change in any of his designs is intolerable to Roarke.

He means it. When a block of flats he designed are built while he is on a vacation with Patricia Neal, with teensy changes made at the orders of the people paying for it to be built, Roarke dynamites it. He stands trial for blowing up this building he didn't own, in the middle of Manhattan, without even a blasting permit. It's a wildly illegal, irresponsible, dangerous, negligent act of overwhelming egotism, an SMD: a snit of mass destruction.

He's found innocent, and the jury and the whole courtroom erupts into applause at this horrific miscarriage of justice. He has admitted committing the crime on the stand. His defense was that he has better taste than the pigs who paid for it, so he should be able to blow it up. The jury buys this idiocy. The movie paints him as a hero.

The first clue that Howard Roarke has something weirdly wrong with him comes early on. He's going out of business. A friend offers him a loan, and he refuses it. Okay. He has too much pride to take help. But he says, "I never ask for nor give help."

What? He never "gives help"? He never helps anyone?

Yup. That's exactly what he means. He's anti-helping his fellow man. In his summation, six minutes of Gary Cooper giving a completely unhinged turgid speech, he actually says, "Mankind is perishing in a sea of selflessness."

Whatever finishes off mankind, it won't be an excess of selflessness. The movie is pro-selfishness and egoism (which is just egotism misspelled), and anti-altruism. It preaches, at length and in a superior tone, that Altruism is Bad. And it means it.

The "love" story subplot is a scream. Patricia Neal is an architect's daughter who hates anything that makes her happy, because her taste is too supurb, and the masses with their bad taste, will destroy anything she likes, so she deliberately throws out any stuff she has that she likes (We first meet her dropping a lovely nude statue down an airshaft), and she refuses to marry the man she loves, and instead marries a man she finds creepy, to avoid being happy, so it can't be taken from her. She'd rather be miserable, than be happy, and risk being made miserable by the masses. If you find any sense in that, let me know.

So she's vacationing in a lovely home that adjoins a marble quarry where they dynamite rock all day, every day. Let me repeat this: she is intentionally vacationing in a house next door to a site that is blasting rocks with dynamite all day long, every day. You can't get more relaxing than that.

Her idea of sight-seeing is riding her horse to the quarry and then wandering around, drooling over the hunky, muscular workmen driving pickaxes into walls of granite. And her favorite workman is Howard Roarke, who is working there after driving himself out of business with his too-high standards of taste. She first sees him holding a jackhammer, drilling away into into solid rock. She is turned on by the ever-so-subtle sexual implication of his drilling into rock with a jackhammer.

Now she can't get him out of her mind. She rides around on her horse, imagining Howard and his drill.

So she slams a fireiron into the marble hearth in her bedroom and hires Howard to come in, inspect her damage, and hammer her a new sheet of rock.

At one point she rides up to him and slashes him across the face with a riding crop, which makes him grin, and the unforgettable final shot of the film is her riding up in an outdoor elevator to where he is standing, on top of his not-yet-finished "Tallest building in the world." The shot tracks in on his crotch as he stands astride his masterpiece, the world's-biggest-phallic symbol.

The movie was written by the novelist-nutball, Russian-American, writer-philosopher Ayn Rand. She promoted a form of highly-anti-communist philosophy called "Objectivism," probably because it is so objectionable.

As a virulent anti-Commie, she believed that ownership and rights of property were sacrosant, although when Howard Roarke, her Ideal Man, blows up other people's property, it's a righteous act, not a violation of other people's rights of property. She's a hypocrite.

Ayn wrote every word of dialogue, and forbade a word of it to be changed. She was the Howard Roarke of screenwriters. What she was not was a good writer of dialogue, none of which sounds like human speech, and all of which sounds like speechifying.

Ayn insisted that Gary Cooper read every damn word of her summation speech, which is utterly nuts from beginning to end. Jack Warner, no slouch in the anti-Commie world himself, ended up cutting it down a little. It's still six minutes of Gary Cooper standing in one place, making a completely insane-yet-boring speech, in praise of selfishness, condemming altruism, and stating that there are only two types of humans: "Creators" and "Parasites." That's it. No shades of gray. No middle-management.

When Ayn learned that some slight cuts had been made to her speech, she squawked and hollered, but she did not blow up Warner Brothers, nor set fire to the negative and all prints, nor even beat Jack Warner into paste with a poker, which makes her a raging hypocrite. It's what Howard Roarke would have done. It's what Bette Davis would have done.

Ayn is in a small vogue right now (very small, as the country is becoming far less happy with rightwing nutballs), because her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, a novel that makes The Lord of the Rings seem like a speedy short story, is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary just now. This means that the people who began reading it the day it came out, are nearly through it by now, those that haven't hanged themselves.

Ayn believed in a woman looking up to The Ideal Man, and Howard Roarke is Him. (And Ayn claimed she wrote it for Gary Cooper, so he's her sexual ideal as well.) Now Dougie has had artistic differences with folks from time to time, and even disliked how his work was changed by others, but he has yet to blow anything up.

Who is the bigger stud?

And who is the more feminine and better writeress?

Ayn darling, for a woman who wants strong muscular men to drill her like a jackhammer, why have you gone to so much trouble to look like a Bloomsbury literary Lesbian? You look like a young Rosa Klebb.

Life is too short to spend any of it reading the insane horrors which are the writings of Ayn Rand. As for Dougie and I, we're going back to Disneyland, to wait for the alternate reality to return where I'm Mrs. Huge Jackman. Juliette, give Jughead another good whack!

Cheers darlings.