Despite living in New York for some fifteen years now, and despite the iconic nature of this particular attraction, I had never been on — nor indeed even seen — the Roosevelt Island Tram. Somehow, despite countless trips up and down the FDR Drive and occasional trips back and forth across the Queensboro Bridge, I never once caught a glimpse of that bright red skytram being tugged across the East River on suspended cables. It could possibly be because I was, you know, driving, and if you’ve ever been in that particular part of town you know that it does not usually work out very well to distract oneself from the road. Eventually though, and probably after staying up late watching Nighthawks yet again, it was determined that enough was enough. High time to get suspended high above the river en route to a river island about which I know very little and which is visited rarely by anyone who does not live there.
The Cultural Gutter invited me and my monsters over for a cup of tea and a conversation about The Monster in Me, during which I wax philosophic about the history of horror film ghouls and the lack of “human” monsters in modern chillers.
In February of 2005, the bleak winter landscape of New York’s Central Park was splashed with color when Bulgarian artist Christo Yavacheff and French artist Jeanne-Claude erected hundreds of gates with bright orange curtains along twenty-three miles of Central Park pathways. Construction of the art piece took 5,390 tons of steel, 315,491 feet of vinyl tubing, and 99,155 square meters. The gates were assembled in Long Island and trucked to the park, where they had to be erected without being bolted or dug into the park.
Like many of the country’s big city’s New York was once a mecca for mid-century exotica, tiki bars, and places conceived entirely on the impressions of far away lands one could get from the album covers of Martin Denny or Alfred Lyman. Almost all of it is gone, though a few places still pay homage to American fantasies about Polynesia and the mysterious East. Nestled in a nondescript strip mall in Staten Island is New York City’s last remaining vestige of authentic tiki culture. Tiki establishments usually came in one of two flavors: the Trader Vic’s style cocktail lounge or the gussied up Chinese restaurant. Jade Island Restaurant, as you might guess from the name, is among the latter.
No genre is so simple that it’s well suited by being made a genre, just as no individual member of a race is justly served by being made part of said race. But in the quest to classify or define easy descriptions, these broad-sweeping categories are the best we people can come up with. It is a concept that dismisses any sense of variation or individuality, and while I admit that generalization is often a necessity for making it through everyday life, it’s also a big part of why we tend to miss out on so much wonderful stuff. Take the Spaghetti Western, for example, or the Western, since that’s how most people tend to see it. I can’t even begin to process the number of people I’ve spoken to who hate Spaghetti Westerns even though they’ve never seen one. They equate the Western with polished American films, with John Wayne or Gene Autry, or they simply hate country music, thus they hate cowboys, thus they hate Westerns. An entire genre of film is then dismissed despite the fact that there are hundred of films that break the mold, that would prove entertaining to these people if they could only get over the fact that the people in them are from the wild west.
New York’s subway stations are adorned with many an odd historical curio, image, mural, or hidden wonder. One of the first ones I ever noticed and thought to wonder about was the beavers diligently gnawing away at branches throughout the Astor Place 6 train station. These furry little devils probably represent the point at which I decided not just to live, work, and play in New York, but also to poke around in its history — the stranger and more obscure, the better — and eventually become one of those weird old guys who wanders around with a pair of binoculars, offering tourism tips and trivia to random passersby who probably just want to get their picture taken with one of those ratty-looking Times Square Elmos. Anyway, despite being a relatively small (and these days, frequently shut down for weekend construction) station, Astor Place packs a lot of people in every day thanks to its East Village location. It also manages to pack a substantial amount of oddball history onto its modest platform, history that includes the richest man in America, an abandoned passage, a deadly riot, and yes — beavers.
Look, life can’t be all hacking through the jungle with a machete or leading a team of frogmen in a suicide mission attempt to sabotage an enemy U-boat. Sometimes, you find yourself sloughing out of your shoulder holster (don’t worry — you’ve got a Pistolet Makarova under the pillow, just in case), pouring two glasses of champagne, and gently (or roughly — it’s up to you and your partner) lying an elegantly appointed man or woman down on the carpet in front of the fireplace. In these moments just before and during intimacy, there were two important things you must have properly in place. First, check your breath. Second, make sure you have some proper love making music on the hi-fi.
It’s been several years now that I’ve been searching for the elusive album by British actor Peter Wyngarde. Around these parts, Wyngarde is revered for his role as Jason King, the swingin’ international man of mystery, adventure novel writer, and part-time espionage agent he played on the series Department S and, later, in his own spin-off series, Jason King. The man spent his days solving unsolvable mysteries, penning potboilers, wooing ladies, drinking champagne and scotch for breakfast, and puzzling over which of his many puff ties to wear with his silk lounging robe.
It’s nothing all that unusual these days to run across people who celebrate the music in Bollywood films. And I don’t mean just the people of India. In the past decade, there has been a small but steady flow of Bollywood film music compilations packed with fantastic funk, go-go, disco, and even the occasional traditional number. Even people who don’t follow Bollywood can probably drop RD Burman’s name, though they’ll likely call him “that guy from Slumdog Millionaire.” But there is another world, one populated not by Asha Bhosle or any sense of respectability. The Bollywood b-grade horror film is where we like to play, and it’s about time someone celebrated the music from those fantastically terrible movies full of rubber fright masks.
It’s difficult to freshen up a hoary old concept without losing the essence of what made that concept eventually become hoary. Reinterpretations of classical monsters often go so far afield from the original idea that they might as well be called something else — the werewolves in the Underworld series for example, or the vampires in the Twilight series. Every now and then, however, someone hits on just the right combination of innovative twist and respect for tradition that can liven up a well-worn genre without turning it into something unrecognizable. Screenwriter Karen Walton’s Ginger Snaps accomplished just that. It took the werewolf movie and turned it upside down without ever disrespecting it or feeling like it needed to distance itself from being a werewolf movie. It was a fantastic surprise of a film that pleased a lot of people. Equating lycanthropy to the struggles of pubescent high school girls also gave film critics a lot to write about. It’s always fun to stumble across a movie that is interesting to discuss.