Monday, October 31, 2011

Pedicord, Where Dad and Grandparents Stayed

In the 1930s my Dad, Philip Zarkin, and my grandparents, Harry and Rebecca Zarkin, stayed for a short time at the Pedicord Apartments in Spokane which has been enshrined in an exhibit at the Weismann Art Gallery on the University of Minnesota Campus. I don't have any details about their stay in this grim hotel but some of the interior has been reassembled in the museum. Soundtracks provide a haunting picture of desperate lives and I hope that is only the artist's interpretation. Weismann was the son of Russian immigrants to Minneapolis, much like my Dad who died in 2004.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Glenn or Glenda? and Dressed to Kill

A Transgender Halloween
Cross-dressing director Ed Wood Jr. in 1953 gave us the ground breaking transgender movie “Glen or Glenda?”, a product of a feverish brain filled with conflict, guilt and self-doubt. G or G is worth a look since it was from a time when Christine Jorgenson’s sex change was commanding tabloid attention but Hollywood largely avoided the topic. This an independent exploitation throw away movie.
Then comes the intrepid Wood with all his transvestite baggage weighing heavy on his addled mind. So what we get are huge contradictions. A man can be more comfortable in a wig, woman’s clothes and pumps but can remain a manly man. We are reminded with stock war footage of Wood’s World War 2 service.
Wood actually uses the word “transgender” which I am sure was not part of the lexicon in 1953. Wood’s portrayal of gay life is homophobic, funny and disturbing: Two men meet in limbo and one offers to light the other’s cigarette while touching him on the hand suggestively and they exchange glances. One man recoils in horror.
Wood lets us know that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. Interspersed is Bela Lugosi in a set that could be the devil’s living room, repeating the line “pull the strings”. The narrator gives us a picture of Wood troubled by a remote father within possibly a traditional religious environment. So we get images of the devil fighting for his soul. Societal behavior codes requiring conformity are driving Wood crazy and result in heavy drinking which took his life. I think Wood needed to tell this story and we are somewhat richer for his effort.
Brian dePalma’s 1980 slasher thrilled “Dressed to Kill” is the tale of a conflicted homicidal transgender lady aroused by a sexy Angie Dickinson. What’s a girl to do? See these movies in tandem for a a fun filled transgender Halloween.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vietnam, Practice War No More

The soldier in country in the photo is about 20 and you would like to see a photo of that boy state side before he became a hardened veteran of the Vietnam War. Carefully on his helmet he has check marked the months he has served in that crazy war. He had one month left and we hope he made it out alive. Also on the helmet is his blood type and the letters “DEA” which should be recognizable to those who served.
The photo is superimposed over a leather biker jacket with antiwar slogans and this is all you need to know about the 1968 exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. The first thing you will see is an actual medic evacuation helicopter from the war which the history center reassembled inside the building.
A moment in time and where were you then? I was a local government reporter at the Idaho Statesman, chasing down information for articles on urban renewal, city planning and pollution in the Gem State. If you would have told me then that 1968 was the zenith of my career I would have said you were crazy. But it’s true. I wanted to get close to the action and even considered driving to the Democrat convention in Chicago but someone in Boise must have talked me out of that notion.
On a lighter side, the exhibit features styles, music, television shows and movies that we saw in 1968, such as the Beatles, princess telephones and amber glass grapes, a decorative touch
All of this might have had less of an impact had I not just seen 15 hours of Ken Burns’ excellent documentary “The War” with ghastly images of bodies of allied soldiers in about 1944 lined up on the beach being prepared for burial in France in that war of necessity. “Practice war no more” must be a line from a Marvin Gaye song from the ‘60s.