Category Archive: Site Reviews

Feb 23

Gerald Burns Society

Shorter Poems - Gerald BurnsBack in the mid-1990s, at the end of my career as a graduate student and beginning of my career as college professor, I moved into a big house with three poet friends of mine: Rebecca Davis, James “Jim” Haining (the founder and editor of Salt Lick), Gerald Burns. It was a very lively environment to live in. I learned a lot about literature and writing from the experience, although Jim and Gerald were absolutely vicious when it came to literary merit. All that time, Jim was getting weaker and weaker from multiple sclerosis. But it was Gerald who managed to die first. As I recall (and by that time I was not in constant contact with him), his mother had died and he went back home to help his father. Shortly after arriving, he had a heart attack and died. He was just 57 years old.

Jim used to say that reading a lot of poets was like chewing rocks, and that Gerald was such a poet — but it was worth the effort. It was true. Gerald’s poetry was very difficult. He wore his erudition on his sleeve. But I learned something really powerful from him: it isn’t necessary that a reader understand all the finer points of your writing. Sometimes the mystery has a poetry of its own. And it certainly freed me up to indulge in my own rarefied knowledge. In fact, I am doing that quite explicitly in my most recent (abandoned) novel. But if you want a better example, look no further than Moby Dick. I think the details about sailing and whaling are what make the novel great.

Recently, I found a website of the Gerald Burns Society. It is not the only website preserving his memory. And it isn’t surprising. The first time I met Gerald, he came to a party I was giving, and managed to pretty much single handedly destroy the party. He could be a distinctly difficult person. Yet he was the one thing that we should all strive to be: constantly interesting. And once you got to know him, he was the sweetest man in the world who would do anything for you.

At that time, I was very much involved in my education and thus science. Gerald pushed me to write about that. Of course, he also tried to train my mind regarding literary matters. Now how I wish he were around so we could discuss Ulysses. I remember back with some regret talking about how much I liked the Inferno and he tried to convince me that it was too easy and that I needed to learn to appreciate Paradiso. I wish I had tried at the time. I have tried since, and still don’t really enjoy it. I could really use his help.

Anyway, the Gerald Burns Society has a nice introduction to him. It is a little light on his writing, but it is filled with his drawings, which I must admit to having forgotten about. And it has this wonderful quote from David Searcy (one of the Salt Lick bunch), under the heading, The Earliest Published Burns?

One new thing about Gerald — a little stapled journal, GADFLY (bi-monthly, Cambridge MA, 35 cents) from December, 1959, contains what I believe to be the earliest published Burns. Some professor friend of Ben Fountain’s gave it to him since it contained some Ezra Pound (Ben being something of a Pound scholar) whereupon Ben showed it to me, wondering if a small elitist essay called “Man in the Street” by Gerald Burns were by the genuine article. A glance at the first line was enough: “Reading Heidegger the other day…”

Yep, that’s Gerald!

Anyway, check out the website. It is great to see people keeping Gerald’s work alive.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/23/gerald-burns-society/

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Feb 13

Introducing Psychotronic Review

Psychotronic ReviewIn the margins of a couple of articles recently, I’ve mentioned that was planning to start a new website, Psychotronic Review. But you never know about these things. If I started every website I said I was going to, I would be running about 50 websites right now. But I have indeed started Psychotronic Review, and I think I will continue on with it. Let me explain why.

When I first started Frankly Curious, the idea was explicitly to be a mess: whatever came into my mind. But that idea became worse and worse the better that the site did. Starting at the beginning of 2012, I wrote more and more about politics. And in a way, it became kind of a typical political blog, because most political blogs tend to mix it up. Look at Vox, which is a professional political website (not a blog): it publishes quite a lot about pop culture and science.

Film Needs Its Own Site

But if you look at who reads Frankly Curious, it is a political website. Most of the people who read the site regularly do so because of the politics. And most of the comments are on the political posts. That’s all great. Just the same, for every seven articles I write about politics, I write an article on film, television, and theater. I’ve written a total of 487 articles in that category. And that amounts to almost 6 articles per month. And my single most popular post — Bugs Bunny: Rabbit or Hare? — belongs to that category. So if you removed everything else, Frankly Curious would be a fairly successful film blog.

Now that I know how to transfer all my Google “juice” to a different website, it just makes sense to separate my film writing off to its own website. In addition, I find that I’m more interested in writing about film than I have been. And given that my interest in film is not typical, mainstream film, such a site is likely to attract readers who are interested in it specifically.

What Is Unique About My Film Writing

I do come at the subject differently from most other people. There certainly are a lot of people who are interested in old low budget films. But most of them are following in the tradition of The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. These are people who like to make fun of these film — who think they are bad. It probably is not a coincidence that I’ve started Psychotronic Review only shortly after getting The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. Unlike the Medveds, Michael Weldon actually likes the films he discusses.

I’ve always felt rather lonely in terms of my interest in the typical psychotronic film.[1] Most people treat them as things that are just good to laugh at. And those who genuinely enjoy the films usually feel as though they must apologize for it. I like the idea of presenting a fulsome appreciation of them. After all, these films are generally thought of as bad not because the people involved were incompetent but rather because the producers didn’t have enough time and money to do things in a more competent manner.

(Imagine if the airplane crash from North by Northwest were in the middle of a Bert I Gordon picture. Oh, how people would mock it! Yet Gordon would have an excuse that Hitchcock did not. There is something chauvinistic about forgiving the errors of the rich and powerful while holding the poor and weak to ridiculously high standards. That is doubtless one of the reasons that I admire even the shoddy efforts by those who really “should know” their places and not be making such films.)

The Psychotronic Review Vision

My intent is to make Psychotronic Review more than just a blog. I want it to be a full-featured website. In the long run, I hope it becomes popular enough to support a forum. The truth is that I’m always looking backwards. But psychotronic films are made all the time. (Don Coscarelli is probably the greatest psychotronic filmmakers working today.) And it would be great if people were talking about that while novels were being optioned and money raised.

But I know that I will get to the point of creating biographies for great psychotronic filmmakers: writers, directors, producers, actors, and whatnot. And I’d like to create a database of psychotronic films with links to where they are available on YouTube or Dailymotion or elsewhere (also Hulu and Netflix and other paid services). In fact, I was thinking of creating something like “On YouTube Now” to go on the sidebar of the blog. It would be a list of 10 films that were currently available to watch for free on YouTube. There are lots of other things I could do too.

This is, after all, the greatest time for people interested in psychotronic films. If it weren’t for YouTube, I never would have been able to see Alabama’s Ghost. Currently, it is only available for sale in VHS format for $18. After that, there’s a copy for $2,459.95. But because of YouTube, I was able to watch it as soon as I learned about it (and write about it almost as quickly). And I hope that Psychotronic Review will make this an even better time for people of this inclination.

Changes to Frankly Curious

As a result of all this, you are going to see some articles disappearing from Frankly Curious. For example, I took the articles Death Bed: the Bed that Eats and Review of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, and combined them into a single article on Psychotronic Review, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats Review and Analysis. But it doesn’t matter, because if you click on either of those Frankly Curious links, you will be taken to the Psychotronic Review article. Oh, the power of 301 redirects!

In addition to doing this, I will put most of my new film writing over on Psychotronic Review. I’m not sure if that will include things like my articles about Bugs Bunny, but it will include my writing about art films. (You’ll have to wait for my article defining “psychotronic” to get a better idea of why that is.)

Moving Along

But other than that, I don’t see Frankly Curious changing all that much. I might, however, add a list of the newest articles at Psychotronic Review, so you can see if anything is happening there that you want to check out. Of course, that will just list the blog. And like I said, my plan is for the site to be a lot more than just a blog. But it ought to give you some idea.

Finally, if any of you are interested in writing something for Psychotronic Review, let me know. I hope that readers will write articles highlighting some of their favorite films. I doubt anyone will be interested at first. But I hope that the site gets good enough that people will want to be part of it. That includes having Andrea fix the design of the site. I am aware that it looks like I designed it. But I figured it was best to put something up rather than wait.

Regardless, I hope it all works out and that it is as fun to work on as I expect. If it is, I’m sure people will enjoy using the site.


[1] I used the modifier “typical” because the definition of psychotronic is unclear. But I think we all know what a “typical psychotronic film” is: a relatively low budget science fiction film from the 1950s. Good examples are Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/13/psychotronic-review/

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Jan 25

Serial Killer Calendar Website Review

Serial Killer CalendarAs regular readers know, I have a greater than average interest in serial killers. It isn’t so much the killing. I just find psychopaths really fascinating. And recently, I wrote an anniversary post about Dennis Rader. He’s a classic psychopath. In a sense, I feel sorry for the guy. As a psychopath, he’s certainly missed out on what I consider are the greatest joys of being a human. I compared him to a grizzly bear, but that’s unfair. I don’t think grizzly bears kill just for the thrill of it. But who knows? Maybe I’m the one who’s missing out with all my meekness (others would call it cowardice).

Anyway, I got a comment on that post from a guy named James Gilks who, among other things, runs a website called Serial Killer Calendar. It’s kind of your one stop site for all things serial killer. The primary purpose of the website is to sell Serial Killer Magazine and other assorted books and DVDs. But the website is also filled with tons of information. Of course, that doesn’t make it unique. There are a lot of websites that specialize in serial killers. But none of them do it with the great style that Serial Killer Calendar does.

The site has the requisite serial killer biographies. But the serial killers are subdivided into categories. For example, if you want to spend all weekend reading about female serial killers from all over the world, Serial Killer Calendar makes it very easy for you. Or if you were wondering just what serial killers Belarus has to offer, look no further! (Actually, Belarus has only one serial killer listed, but he’s an impressive one.) There are also movie reviews and articles on various related topics like, Serial Killer Good Deeds and How to Survive a Serial Killer. The latter article includes a list of things that might indicate if someone is a serial killer. It might be good information to know, but it might also cause you to suspect some of your friends.

Serial Killer Trading CardsYou might remember the scene in the film Addams Family Values, Wednesday, Pugsley, and Joel are sitting behind the bleachers going over Joel’s serial killer trading cards. I have no idea if these things have always been available, but Serial Killer Calendar offers three different sets. The focus is on the illustrations, which are done in a variety of styles by a large number of artists. Each set contains duplicate serial killers. But really: how could you limit John Wayne Gacy to a single card? Each one of the cards shows him in a different light: all the way from from pure menacing clown to dumpy middle-aged man. I’ve posted the best from the first set on the right.

There are things to be aware of regarding the site. It’s header changes images very rapidly. I’d prefer they change slower, but I suspect a lot of people will like it. It’s like being in Serial Killer Las Vegas. And obviously, if you find the concept of serial killers disturbing, you should stay away from Serial Killer Calendar. The site is also a bit difficult to navigate. But this is a sign of what is absolutely the best thing about the site: it’s activity.

The worst thing on any site is digital death. Serial Killer Calendar is a vibrant site. It’s interesting to check it out on Archive.org to see just how much it has changed over the years and even over the last month. So you know there will always be new, probably creepy, content for your reading and viewing pleasure. In my day job, I spend a lot of time looking at different websites, but Serial Killer Calendar is one of the most interesting that I’ve seen in the last year. And I’ll bet you know someone who would enjoy a pack of serial killer trading cards!

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2016/01/25/serial-killer-calendar/

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Feb 10

Magic News Site Review

Magic News

Back in October, I wrote an article based upon on old mentalism act The Piddingtons, Are Magic Secrets Always Ugly? It was based upon a Radio Lab story and the show brought on Penn Jillette to describe how the trick was done. Jillette explained that the secrets of magic tricks are always ugly. I countered that idea, and if you want to know more, click over and read the article. What I want to talk about here is the fact that a magic website, Magic News picked up on the article. All they did is provide the first two paragraphs of the article and then a link to the rest of it. I just noticed because a fair amount of traffic got pushed over to Frankly Curious. I’m always pleased to see that.

Sites like these are really useful. If you are interested in a subject that isn’t very popular, where do you go to find out what’s happening? Sure, you can go over to the website of The Society of American Magicians, but like all such sites, it is just interested in the things that it is doing. The same goes for The International Brotherhood of Magicians, which has a better website but is still just one big advertisement for the group. And the magazines like Genii are really no better.

Magic News is much more interesting. It isn’t really filled with magic “news” as such. But it does contain a lot of links to articles that relate to magic. For example, it printed a press release from the University of British Columbia, Pick a Card, Any Card: Researchers Show How Magicians Sway Decision-Making. Mostly, it is all good fun — including some really good, short videos. But the site doesn’t shy away from serious subjects. I was surprised to learn about, Syrian Street Magician Beheaded.

If there is one thing that makes me a little queasy about my fondness for magic it is how serious magicians take it. Ultimately, it isn’t any different from juggling. In general, it is really hard to do. It takes great skill and it shouldn’t be treated as though it is some big secret. As it is, the secret to every magic trick ever can be found in the Tarbell Course in Magic. I fancy myself so well informed that there is no magic trick that I don’t already know the secrets of or can’t figure out with a moment’s thought. But that doesn’t stop me from being amazed and entertained by a great performer.

Magic News has that same kind of attitude: magic is fun and not terribly serious. And the same people who produce Magic News also produce an online zine called, Magic Roadshow — which has been around for a decade. It is more like a regular magic magazine. It’s more oriented towards people who actually want to perform magic. I haven’t check it out that much, but it looks quite good. For example, in their April 2014 issue, an article starts, “What do you think of spelling tricks? NO!.. Don’t leave…” I can’t help but love people who are skeptical of spelling tricks.

So if you have any interest in magic, check out these sites. They are a lot of fun.

Afterword

Magic News also brought my attention to the fact that over the weekend, two great magicians died. The first was Dean Dill, who was only 67. Here is a nice bit from The Tonight Show where he is doing pure slight of hand:

The second is Rene Lavand — who lived a good long 86 years. Here he is doing a really simple cup and ball routine. It is brilliant:

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2015/02/10/magic-news-site-review/

Jul 29

Anti-Libertarian Criticism Site Review

Anti-Libertarian CriticismFor some time I’ve been thinking about starting a series of articles where I discuss (review, if you will) other blogs. It comes from one of the primary things I tell people who ask me about starting a blog: come up with things you can write on a regular basis. In my case, each morning, I write a birthday post. It gives me something to do. It’s like having a baby: it demands attention and thus your blog more generally gets attention. I have another series called Odds and Ends, but it is intermittent. This one will be too. But I start today because I’ve discovered a new and fascinating blog, Anti-Libertarian Criticism.

Overview

The tag line for Anti-Libertarian Criticism is, “Keeping libertarians in check and exposing it as a bankrupt ideology.” It’s first post was on 15 May of this year, Left-Libertarianism Is Bunk Because It’s Still Libertarianism. In it, he explains that he was once a fellow traveler. And as all people who took something silly much too seriously, he is now in the best situation to critique that silliness.

I have a special interest in his insights, because my experience with libertarianism is a whole generation before his. It is also clear that his involvement in the movement was much more intense than mine, even though I was quite involved. What I thus found most interesting was an article he wrote earlier this month, Critical Map of the American Libertarian Movement. To me, there have always been, roughly speaking, three kinds of libertarians: embarrassed conservatives, reluctant liberals, and conservatives that like to associate with the name. Good examples of this last category are people like Rand Paul and even Ted Cruz. As for the the actual libertarians, my experience is that 95% of them were really conservatives.

The map that Brainpolice2 (the writer of the site) provides contains eight types. It includes Paleo-Libertarians, which is what I normally call pretend libertarians like Paul. I think that’s correct: he is part of the ecosystem. It also shows how libertarianism can be molded to anything you want to believe—as long as you deify the “free market” and capitalism. And this is really more than anything else what Anti-Libertarian Criticism discusses: the delusions of the Left-Libertarians that they are arguing for a post-capitalist utopia.

Reading through the blog, I was constantly struck with how much I agreed with Brainpolice2. But he goes into much more depth about libertarianism than I am ever willing. To me, the movement is made up of confused idealists and conservative apologists. But it is great fun to read someone who looks at the movement seriously. And the work is more and more important as libertarian (or at least pseudo-libertarian) thought becomes a bigger part of the Republican Party—especially among the Tea Party base.

Style

The site is stark. There is very little visual candy. There are only two images and a single video embedded (of The Who performing “Don’t Get Fooled Again”), and these are from the first couple of posts. It’s probably all for the best, however. The articles are more along the lines of what you expect from Noahpinion—longer, more detailed articles than one normally finds on blogs. And the style is more academic. They often sound like term papers, “How I Wasted My Youth on Libertarianism.” But there are sparks of real wit amid the deliberate prose.

Like a lot of blogs, Anti-Libertarian Criticism is anonymous. I don’t know if people realize quite how annoying this is to readers. We do really want to know who we are dealing with. All that the “About” pages says is, “I am who I am. I had my time in the libertarian movement and my continued observations of it call for criticism.” I understand the need for anonymity. In my past, I’ve published some very controversial things that have caused me no end of trouble. But in general, I think people are unnecessarily paranoid. I know liberal bloggers who never write anything you wouldn’t see on MSNBC but who are still afraid their employers will find out about them. The only reason I can think for Brainpolice2 to be anonymous is if he’s still active in the movement and if that’s the case, it ought to be stated.

The Future

My fear is that the blog will not go on very long because the subject is so limited. Thus far, Brainpolice2 seems to have found many interesting angles to look at the subject. Eventually, I think he will have to broaden the focus. For example, I’d like to hear his take on the reporting of Bleeding Heart Libertarian David Weigel. But for now, it provides a wealth of insights about the modern libertarian movement. I will definitely be checking in on it.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2014/07/29/anti-libertarian-criticism-site-review/