Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ross Bat {1977}


From a 1977 Ross mailing. At the time I thought it was drawn by Joyce in Oregon but now I 'm not so sure. 

Joyce spent a lot of time on a detailed b&w 'Sad Indian' drawing, even had it printed on greeting cards. Joyce visited me in El Paso, Texas, summer 1977. She was concerned about the fluorescent light illuminating my drawing board. 

 A photo of Joyce sitting on a rock in the forest provided much comfort to Ross when he was living in in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house, 5625 S. University Ave. On Saturday night oceans of beer flooded the main stairs leaving a sticky and smelly residue to greet Sunday morning visitors.

Saturday, October 10, 2020



Memorial Service
Spring Hill Cemetery
Lynchburg, Virginia

Michael Ross McConnell
b. Thursday 10 July 1952
d. Orthodox Easter Sunday 27 April 2008 

I had to be in Chicago on 10:10:08 or I would have attended the Memorial Service. One last Ross adventure. A chance to meet his parents and members of the Ross community. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Ross: ‘The Call of Cthulhu’

Lovecraft created a genre of his own, cosmic horror or “cosmicism.” Think nihilism, with occasional cephalopods.

The basic idea: Humans are an irrelevancy within the greater universe, a cosmos governed by forces so alien and terrifying that our tiny minds cannot encompass or bear their knowledge. Most characters who glimpse it promptly go insane. Cosmicism’s big bad is Cthulhu, a winged, octopus-like ancient god. But Cthulhu and his associates aren’t so much evil as indifferent to pesky human life.

As pantheons go, Lovecraft’s cosmogony is fairly imprecise, with much of it enfleshed by his immediate disciple, August Derleth, and other writers. There are Great Old Ones, the Outer Gods, the Elder Things and assorted monsters like the Shoggoth, a slave race of many-eyed, protoplasmic amoeba doodads. These gods are occasionally humanoid, but more often sluglike, piscine, crustacean, gelatinous or a lose-your-lunch buffet of unnamable horrors. Lovecraft typed these beings as explicitly extraterrestrial, though some are former rulers of the earth and still lurk within its depths and reaches. (So no more expeditions to Antarctica, OK?)

Gods to know and then run from in crazed terror: Dagon, a sea monster god; Nyarlathotep, a malign shape-shifter god, who appears sometimes in the form of a pharaoh and sometimes as an upsetting bat thing; Shub-Niggarath, a cloudlike lady god sometimes called “the Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young”; Yog-Sothoth, the “All-in-One and One-in-All,” a collection of glowing circles, but scary.

If Lovecraft remains a prized writer, that has more to do with the atmosphere his stories evoke than with the turgid prose. His pacing can be slow, his dialogue stilted, his humorlessness suffocating. But for a taste of his crawling chaos, here are some ghastly places to begin.

‘At the Mountains of Madness’ (1936)

Dr. William Dyer, a professor of geology at Miskatonic University (think Harvard, but eerier), joins a trek to Antarctica in this harrowing novella. His team discovers frozen prehistoric life-forms. Then mayhem begins. Dyer uncovers the remnants of an ancient alien civilization, a race of Elder Things and intimations of an even greater evil waiting nearby.

‘The Call of Cthulhu’ (1928)

This twisty story follows a man piecing together various writings left behind by his recently deceased professor uncle. Had his uncle stumbled on a series of cults devoted to the worship of an Elder God? He had! Note Cthulhu’s big debut: “It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway.”

‘The Colour Out of Space’ (1927)

A surveyor assigned to an odd corner of Arkham, Mass., discovers that a fallen meteorite has poisoned the local floral and fauna in this short story. The meteorite, which produces a color unlike any on the visible spectrum, affects humans, too, driving one farm family to depredation and death.

‘The Dunwich Horror’ (1929)

In this story set in Dunwich, Mass., strange things are afoot at the Whateley farmhouse. So strange that Wilbur Whateley tries to break into the Miskatonic library and steal a copy of the “Necronomicon,” an ancient spellbook. With Wilbur thwarted, an invisible horror begins to roam the countryside.

‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ (1936)

A novella dripping in genre elements, this odd tale stars an unnamed 21-year-old college student who stops off in Innsmouth, a dumpy, insular fishing town. Our narrator notices that the locals have narrow heads, bulging eyes … and hey, are those gills?

Friday, July 10, 2020

Happy 68 Ross

Michael Ross McConnell
b. Thursday 10 July 1952

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Ross quoted Muley

Ross quoted Muley in 
John Ford's 1940 film THE GRAPES OF WRATH:

The rest of my fambly set out for the west - there wasn't nothin' to eat - but I couldn't leave. Somepin' wouldn't let me. So now I just wander around. Sleep wherever I am. I used to tell myself I was lookin' out for things, so when they come back ever'thing would be all right. But I knowed that wan't true. There ain't nothin' to look out for. And ain't nobody comin' back. They're gone - and me, I'm just an 'ol graveyard ghost - that's all in the world I am.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Ross - Mabuse - Cornelius!

The title card for “Dr. Mabuse the Gambler,” the German director Fritz Lang’s 4½-hour silent so-called “super-film,” promises “a portrait of our time.” That time was 1922. Yet Lang’s tale of financial panic, profiteering and doomsday revelry speaks to our own.

“Mabuse,” which was originally shown in two parts but may be streamed as one uncut film online, was greeted by its initial German audiences as akin to a news bulletin. One Berlin paper speculated that a century hence, the movie “will show people a time that they could perhaps scarcely comprehend,” a time that saw “the extravagance of the newly rich, the rapid gambling on the stock exchange, the clubs, the addiction to pleasure, the speculation, the vast amount of smuggling, counterfeiting” and more.

Stream “Dr. Mabuse the Gambler” on the Criterion Channel or Kanopy.
Adapted from a popular novel by the journalist Norbert Jacques, “Mabuse” was a lightning bolt that crackled across the stormy sky of Weimar Germany — a newly established, shellshocked democracy where two abortive revolutions followed the loss of World War I, hyperinflation was mounting and social unrest was ubiquitous.

In his later years, Lang would maintain that “Mabuse” originally started with a rapid-fire montage (since lost) that juxtaposed scenes from the left-wing Spartacist uprising led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the right-wing Kapp Putsch that enlisted nationalist military leaders and the assassination of the German foreign minister, Walther Rathenau. This seems unlikely since Rathenau was shot two months after “Mabuse” opened, but the intro was unnecessary. “Mabuse” merged with its moment and even prophesied what was to come.
Credit...Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Paranoia rules. A habitué of decadent Art Deco nightclubs, Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who would play the mad scientist Rotwang in Lang’s “Metropolis”) preys upon his wealthy victims. Not just a criminal mastermind but a psychoanalyst to boot, Mabuse has multiple ways to cloud the mind. In one newly relevant sequence, he tricks an unfortunate fall guy into self-quarantine and, having destroyed his tenuous grasp on reality, induces him to commit suicide.

Mabuse is introduced shuffling a deck of cards showing his various disguises. A more accurate translation of the title would be “Dr. Mabuse the Player,” for this protean villain is also an actor. “Who is Behind All This?” an intertitle demands. Mabuse is both ubiquitous and unknown. In his classic film history, “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film,” the German critic Siegfried Kracauer characterized Mabuse as “everywhere present but nowhere recognizable.” (Or, as President Trump described Covid-19, “an invisible enemy” that “came out of nowhere.”)

The movie’s first chapter concerns an elaborate scheme, directed by Mabuse from his study, whereby a secret “trade pact” is stolen from the suitcase of a diplomat traveling by train. News of the theft, as well as the document itself, is used to crash the commodity exchange, much to Mabuse’s profit.
While economic chaos is inherent in Mabuse’s intrigues (he also operates a counterfeit money ring, staffed with blind slaves who cannot identify him), looting the rich seems to be his preferred pastime while, thanks to his hypnotic gaze and mental powers, world domination is his ultimate goal. A behind-the-scenes manipulator whose many disguises include that of a stage mesmerist, a proletarian rabble-rouser, and a Jewish peddler, he is aided by a gang of accomplices that include his cocaine-addled manservant and a saucy dancer, Cara Carozza (the Norwegian actress Aud Egede-Nissen), a star of the Folies Bergère.

These minions are in Mabuse’s thrall, despite the abuse they suffer at his hands. The movie is steeped in individual as well as social pathology. In addition to practicing hypnotic mind control, Mabuse inspires the sort of unquestioning, zombielike obedience (known in German as kadavergehorsam) that, a decade later, Hitler would demand from his SS and indeed all Germans. Carozza, whom Mabuse uses as a honey-trap, insists that he is “the greatest man alive” even after his erotic interest has been piqued by a sultry thrill-seeking countess (Gertrude Welcker).

At once wanton and repressed, the countess is a terrific character, haunting the same casinos as Mabuse but never gambling because, as she explains, she prefers to watch. Her luckless husband (Alfred Abel, who plays Joh Frederson in “Metropolis”) is another sort of aesthete — a collector whose mansion is overstocked with mock Cubist canvases and faux African sculptures. (The cluttered parlor offers a preview of the infamous Nazi exhibition of so-called degenerate art.) The countess also casts her indolent spell on the resolute state prosecutor Norbert von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke), who doggedly pursues Mabuse until he is hypnotized by the master to drive a speeding death car.
Credit...Bettman/Getty Images
It has been suggested that as a conjurer of mental images, Mabuse was a sort of alter ego for the domineering director. Lang spared no expense. “Mabuse” was shot in a studio vast enough to accommodate city streets and even neighborhoods. The swanky nightclubs are set pieces in themselves. One sequence juxtaposes a spiritualist soiree in a luxurious apartment with the opening of the Petit Casino, a cabaret promising “all that pleases is allowed.” Mabuse operates in both places simultaneously.

The Petit Casino features a shimmy by the notorious “naked dancer” Anita Berber, here wearing a tuxedo. (According to some accounts, she arrived late on the set and out-diva’d Lang.) The Petit Casino also provides the arena for Cara Carozza to lead on the most hapless of Mabuse’s victims, while he himself infiltrates the séance to hypnotize the countess into inviting him for dinner.
With a dozen chapters, “Mabuse” lends itself to both incremental and binge watching. Exerting its own form of mind control, it starts slowly and, abetted by an edgy modernist score, builds in intensity to a mad climax. The violent denouement anticipates by a decade the grand finale of Howard Hawks’s “Scarface.” We have long since become inured to onscreen mayhem, but original reviews suggest that early audiences were stunned by the movie’s pace. “Speed, horrifying speed characterizes the film,” one critic wrote. Applause broke out during a scene of cars racing through the nocturnal streets of a studio-built Berlin.

“Mabuse” entered German popular culture and, over the course of his career, Lang was inspired to make several sequels. His second sound film, “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” (available to stream on the Criterion Channel and Kanopy) was in postproduction when Hitler became chancellor in 1933. Now confined to a mental hospital, the spectral Mabuse (again Klein-Rogge) uses mental telepathy and a form of radio to incite a crime wave. Lang left Nazi Germany before the film was banned. “Life under a terror regime could not be rendered more impressively,” Kracauer wrote. It was not shown publicly in Germany until 1951.

In the late 1950s, Lang returned to Germany to make several films including his swan song, “The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse” (rentable from Amazon Prime). No less than its predecessors, this Cold War “Mabuse” is a trove of prophetic paranoia with intimations of James Bond and “Dr. Strangelove.” It was sufficiently popular in Germany to inspire six sequels. You can imagine an internet version made today.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Codex Rossae Crucis

Michael Ross McConnell
b. Thursday 10 July 1952
d. Orthodox Easter Sunday 27 April 2008