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The Killing of a Sacred Deer

With uniformly great performances throughout the cast and Lanthimos’ stunning eye for detail and composition, this is one of the most unforgettable films of the…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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My other neighborhood on Red Arrow Highway

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On Red Arrow Highway, the old road along the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan from Chicago to Detroit, the past coexists with the present. There are old-fashioned pleasures, and not everything is in a strip mall and belongs to a chain. Actual human beings own places and sell you stuff it's fun to buy. This area is known as Harbor Country.

Top to bottom: Oink's Ice Cream Parlor and Fudge Shop in New Buffalo; chef and owner Ibrahim Parlak chatting with customers at his Cafe Gulistan in Harbert; the veggie stand on Red Arrow in Sawyer; Schlipp's soda fountain in Sawyer; a car hop at Mikey's Drive In on the highway in Bridgman; Ben Franklin's Five and Ten Cent Store in Bridgman.

About five miles further away from Lake Michigan is the town of New Troy, which calls itself the Center of the World. The name comes from a general store that operated there from circa 1860 until 1976. When woodworker Terry Hanover and his wife settled there, they took over the name in 1976 for their wood shop, which is still there. Their showroom is on Red Arrow as it passes through Harbert.

Red Arrow even preserves a Shell station. Gas stations mostly all used to look like this. In the mirror is the road behind. Ahead are St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, and houses by Frank Lloyd Wright.

☑ Photos and video by Roger Ebert. You can use them but say where these good places are. All of my TwitterPages are linked under the category Pages in the right margin of this page.

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Best films 1967-2009: Siskel & Ebert & Scorsese

• • •I had no idea these were online until a reader told me. The YouTube users gradepoint and DistinguishedFlyer have uploaded these, for which I am most grateful. I've looked at my lists many times, but seeing the posters is a different experience.

Gene was in top form when we taped that 1997 show. He died February 20, 1999. There is no program online for 1998, and we may not have taped one, but I found our lists of the Best and Worsts of 1998, thanks to Richard Kiss. • • •These are my choices in 1982, 1992 and 2002 in the poll taken every ten years by Sight & Sound, the British Film Institute magazine, of hundreds of directors, writers, producers, critics, archivists and festival programmers. This is generally considered the most authoritative of the "best lists." • •

• • •The Best Films of the Year, 1967-2007. I didn't pick a "best film" on my alphabetical lists in 2008 and 2009, but because I choose "Synecdoche, New York" as the best film of the decade, that would also qualify it for 2008. • •

• • •Martin Scorsese and I choose the Best Films of the 1990s • •

• • •Siskel & Ebert choose the Best Films of 1997, Part 1 • •

• • •Part 2, Siskel & Ebert choose the Best Films of 1997 • •

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The enigmatic case of the oddly persistent mystery writer

• • • Harry Stephen Keeler was the most prolific Chicago novelist of all time -- and perhaps the most forgotten, although perhaps we may have forgotten an even more forgotten novelist. Not even the devoted, even fanatical, members of the Harry Stephen Keeler Society claim significant fame for him.

Yet perhaps no published author in history has produced more convoluted, bizarre plots, one of them related entirely in dialog between two men stranded on a small river island, another concealing its denouement within a Sealed Page at the end.

I came upon Keeler by way of a mysterious e-mail advising me that he had started to Tweet from beyond the grave. I went to @HarrySKeeler. There I found such masterpieces of the Tweet form as these:

• "Cube steak so good," said the idiot blankly. "Like eat fat baby with juice."

• It was like trying to think about the square root of minus zero, or something.

• There is no paternal authority in a family where a woman is running it according to precepts laid down by quack Yogis.

• "He's not called 'Habeas Corpus Gottselig' for nothing," said Bob Landell grimly.

• Socko. Sqush. Right through the back of John's coco. He gurgles on his brew--and he's dead.

• And so--my poor son's head came forth out of the unknown--and then went, again, like--like a butterfly pausing on a mulberry leaf.

• "Guggle-oo--guggle-oo!" he choked gleefully, on his own saliva.

• And comparisons--comparisons odious!--were rearing themselves like impenetrable granite ghosts lined starkly along the fence of reason.

• My forehead was so corrugated that an Eskimo's fur coat, sprinkled with nothing but Lux, could have been washed on it.

There are many more gems, all mined from Keeler's vast lifework.

The go-to man on Harry Stephen Keeler is Richard Polt, whose admirable website offers a biography of the man, insights into the 75 worldwide members of the Society, downloadable texts of some of his novels, and a vast vault of his book jackets, of which I append only a few below. There are also coffee mugs, T-shirts, clocks, and even a Henry Stephen Keeler garment for your dog (S, M, L, XL, and 2XL).

Mr. Keeler exhausted the resources of two or three English language publishers, before continuing to publish in Spanish and Portuguese. When those outlets also dried up, he continued to write anyway. As the New York Times observed:

"We are drawn to the unescapable conclusion that Mr. Keeler writes his peculiar novels merely to satisfy his own undisciplined urge for creative joy."

Keeler received the distinction in 1995 of having one of his novels republished by McSweeney's magazine. Since then, several of his novels have been reprinted by Ramble House, as you can see by the Amazon links at the bottom. • • I know of two admirable websites that may satisfy your curiosity about this author:

Richard Polt maintains an extensive site for the The Harry Stephen Keeler Society, where I found the dust jackets below.

Here is a discussion of the Keeler archives. There is a large gallery of photographs, wherein I found the photo above of Keeler and his first wife, Hazel.

Please visit the YouTube link at the bottom for a short film based on a Keeler short story. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

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• Amazon.com Widgets

• •Three scans kindly sent to me by Guy Maddin: A key to the characters in Keeler's novel "The Iron Ring" • • • • •

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Still Bill: The life and songs of Bill Withers

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• • • Singer-songwriter Bill Withers had an unusual path to musical acclaim and he was born an asthmatic stutterer who was often told "you can't do nuthin'." He did not own a guitar until he was 32 years old, the same year he started his musical career--while keeping his job fabricating toilets for Weber Aircraft, just in case. His first album, 1971's "Just as I Am", came with a hit single, "Ain't No Sunshine," which hit No. 3 on the pop charts. He followed this auspicious start with a string of hits, including "Lean on Me," "Use Me" and "Grandma's Hands." Nine Grammy nominations also rolled in during the next 15 years, with three wins.

But in 1985, Bill Withers just stopped. He did not fade entirely from public view--he was inducted into the Songwriting Hall of Fame in 2005--but there were no more albums from this prolific artist. Still Bill, an intimate and engaging portrait of this music icon, takes its name from Withers's second album, and also answers the questions about who Bill Withers is and where he has been since his music career ended. -- From the Facets announcement.

"Still Bill," a new documentary about Bill Withers, plays Feb. 12-18 at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton. Here is an online concert:

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Rock Hudson's secret

By Roger Ebert / July 20, 1986

If Rock Hudson had collapsed in Los Angeles instead of in a Paris hospital, he would have died with all of his secrets still intact.

Knowing he had only weeks or months to live, Hudson and his friends planned a scenario in which he would be taken to a condo in Palm Desert, where a hospice-like environment would be created. Male nurses, sworn to secrecy, would care for him, and when he died the cause of death would be given out as a heart attack or cirrhosis of the liver.

There would have been no mention of AIDS, no revelation that Hudson was gay, none of the personal details that are now the subject of two new books and countless magazine and TV articles.That's the opinion of Sara Davidson, whose authorized biography, Rock Hudson: His Story (William Morrow & Co. Inc., $16.95), is based on interviews with Hudson during the last 27 days of his life, and revelations by his closest friends.

"A lot of people said it was so brave of Rock to admit that he had AIDS," Davidson told me. "But actually he wanted it to be hushed up. He thought of AIDS as the plague. It made him feel unclean, and he felt it would destroy the image he had carefully built up over 35 years. If he had collapsed in L.A., he would have been taken to a place like Cedars-Sinai, a hospital used to hushing up the details of movie stars' illnesses. The news would never have leaked out, just as it hasn't in the case of several other AIDS deaths of famous people.

"But he collapsed in Paris, and the officials at the American Hospital were enraged. They didn't accept AIDS cases in the hospital, and they said either he would have to announce it, or they would. When the statement was drafted, Rock"s publicist and his secretary read it to him, and all he said was, "Go ahead, it"s been hidden long enough." He was shocked at the response to the announcement: The cover of Newsweek, the 28,000 letters of support from fans, the sudden interest in AIDS research and fund-raising. I think the response gave him a lot of comfort in his last days."

In her book, Davidson creates a portrait of a man who was homosexual all of his life, yet successfully created a screen image as a romantic lead, and kept his private life secret. "He had a gentleman"s agreement with the press," she said. "They didn"t ask the obvious questions. As a result, he developed a sort of love-hate thing with the press, based on a certain contempt. When the announcement about AIDS was approved, he said, "Throw it to the dogs."

Although Davidson"s book reveals hundreds of details that Hudson preferred to keep secret over the years, it cannot, she said, answer the question of how Hudson was infected with AIDS.

"He had the disease for a long time before it was diagnosed," she said during a recent Chicago visit. "Perhaps as long as three to five years. He may have been one of the earlier cases. When he learned that he had it, he said, "Why me? I don't know anyone who has AIDS." It was thought that perhaps Marc Christian, his last lover, was the source, but Christian tested negative. Rock wrote anonymous letters to his last three sex partners, telling them they might have been exposed, but he may have had AIDS long before meeting them. There just wasn't any obvious source of AIDS around him."

In your book, I said, you write about a trip Hudson made to San Francisco, where he and a friend went sight-seeing in some of the wilder gay leather bars. Is it possible that he engaged in sexual practices common in those bars, and got AIDS that way?

"I"m not at liberty to say," she said, somewhat surprisingly.

Were there restrictions placed on what you could or couldn"t say in the book?

"Ninety-nine percent of my original manuscript is still in the book. The parts that were taken out deal primarily with Marc Christian, who is involved in legal action. Actually, I found out a lot more about Rock Hudson's sex life than I wanted to put in the book. I know what he liked, and how, and with whom, but I didn't think it was in good taste to go into all the graphic details.

"Even so, I've been attacked for going too far. Liz Smith and Marilyn Beck were on 'Good Morning America' and they said, "With friends like Sara Davidson, who needs enemies?" But the book is the result of my conversations with Rock and his closest friends, and I believe it tells the truth."

Did Hudson engage in some of the more bizarre gay sexual practices?

"No. He wasn"t into S & M, for example. He was basically a very romantic man. He was like a woman; he'd run and tell his friends when he'd found someone new that he was in love with. He always believed there was one single right person for him, Mr. Right, and he was always looking for that person, and always finding him."

And one day, a Mr. Right gave him AIDS.

"Not necessarily. One of the possibilities is that he got it through a blood transfusion in 1981, when he was in Cedars-Sinai for open-heart surgery. The hospital is right in the middle of West Hollywood, a largely gay community, and little was known in those days about the dangers of AIDS from blood transfusions. It"s as likely a theory as any."

How much time did you really spend with Hudson? How much of the book is really his own story?

"I spent the last 27 days of his life visiting his home every day. He wanted to tell his story and he told all of his friends to cooperate with me. He had his good days and his bad days. Some days he"d be feeling well enough to come downstairs, ask for food, visit with friends. His mind would be perfectly lucid. In fact, his mind was always alert and clear. The people who say he was out of his mind at the end weren"t there to make that kind of judgment. But obviously I knew I wouldn't have nearly as much time with him as I wanted, and so before I even agreed to write the book I spent time with Mark Miller, his secretary, trying to find out what was known, and who knew it, and if they would talk. I was satisfied.

"One surprising thing was that there were so few good articles written by other people about Rock. He was not a good interview. I hired a researcher to look through clippings, and our conclusion was that in 35 years he never gave a good interview to anyone, except once for an oral history project at Southern Methodist, where for some reason he opened up and talked for hours to a professor, maybe because he thought it was for posterity. In most interviews he was wooden and impersonal. And yet in person he was so lively and likable. It was said that the only way to really get him to open up was to spend hours drinking with him."

Was he an alcoholic?

"In the last 10 or 15 years of his life, he drank a lot. It wasn't easy, going from the No. 1 box office star in the world to No. 2, No. 6, and then dropping off the list altogether. The irony is that he just started to hit his stride as an actor in the 1960s, when handsome leading men like himself were on the way out. He looked at the new stars like Dustin Hoffman and called them the "Little Uglies." He hated them because they didn't have perfect faces. Rock Hudson never took a bad picture."

"His career was absolutely of first importance for him. He placed it ahead of everything. When he read the script and saw the kiss, he agonized over it, but finally he decided to go ahead. I say in the book that he gargled with every known mouthwash. Actually, if you look at the kiss, he didn't open his lips and it was sort of a chaste peck on the cheek."

But even at that point in his illness, he was still taking his career that seriously?

"He had so much denial. After he was no longer a top box office star, he never developed other avenues -- like producing, developing his own projects, things like that. He wanted to act right up until his dying breath. He appeared on those "Dynasty" episodes where he looked so thin and gaunt, and he would look at them, and say he looked like he did in his younger days. When he went to do that TV program ("Doris Day's Best Friends") with Doris Day, his life was literally hanging by a thread. He hadn't had real nourishment in two months. She was so bouncy and full of pep, so vivacious, and there was Rock, the same age, and he was in such obvious pain you could hear the bones creak. And yet they still had their old chemistry, and it was really moving, the way he touched her cheek and snuggled with her."

So many people seemed to know Rock Hudson was gay, and yet it was a secret. How about his mother? Did she know?

Davidson grinned. "There's a great story about that. His mother was a devoted bridge player. One day down in Newport Beach, she was playing bridge, and one of her partners had something on her mind, and finally blurted out, 'I heard that Rock was gay!" His mother answered, "I know. And the hardest thing is, I can't remember his boyfriends' names. Three no trump.' "

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♫ Nestor Torres and the spirit in the music

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I have seen Nestor Torres play three times at the jazz concert convened every year by Dave and Don Grusin at the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado. Like all the famed professional musicians at the CWA, he plays without a fee. Then he plays on into the night out of sheer joy. He plays jazz, Latin, classical. He has performed as a soloist with many symphony orchestras. He has many albums and is in demand all over the world, but has very few professionally-produced videos. These have mostly been photographed from the audience. There is nobody else like him.

Nestor Torres and young Ricardo Chiesa at the Heineken Jazz Fest 2005

"My name is Nestor Torres"

The University of Warwick's One World Week concert

Torres live in concert

Caribbean Life's JuneFest 2006 Unplugged with Nestor Torres

Nestor Torres' biography and his web site.

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"The Premature Burial," by Edgar Allan Poe

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THERE are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction. These the mere romanticist must eschew, if he do not wish to offend or to disgust. They are with propriety handled only when the severity and majesty of Truth sanctify and sustain them. We thrill, for example, with the most intense of "pleasurable pain" over the accounts of the Passage of the Beresina, of the Earthquake at Lisbon, of the Plague at London, of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, or of the stifling of the hundred and twenty-three prisoners in the Black Hole at Calcutta. But in these accounts it is the fact-it is the reality-it is the history which excites. As inventions, we should regard them with simple abhorrence.

I have mentioned some few of the more prominent and august calamities on record; but in these it is the extent, not less than the character of the calamity, which so vividly impresses the fancy. I need not remind the reader that, from the long and weird catalogue of human miseries, I might have selected many individual instances more replete with essential suffering than any of these vast generalities of disaster. The true wretchedness, indeed-the ultimate woe-is particular, not diffuse. That the ghastly extremes of agony are endured by man the unit, and never by man the mass-for this let us thank a merciful God!

To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fAllan to the lot of mere mortality. That it has frequently, very frequently, so fAllan will scarcely be denied by those who think. The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? We know that there are diseases in which occur total cessations of all the apparent functions of vitality, and yet in which these cessations are merely suspensions, properly so called. They are only temporary pauses in the incomprehensible mechanism. A certain period elapses, and some unseen mysterious principle again sets in motion the magic pinions and the wizard wheels. The silver cord was not for ever loosed, nor the golden bowl irreparably broken. But where, meantime, was the soul?

Apart, however, from the inevitable conclusion, a priori that such causes must produce such effects-that the well-known occurrence of such cases of suspended animation must naturally give rise, now and then, to premature interments-apart from this consideration, we have the direct testimony of medical and ordinary experience to prove that a vast number of such interments have actually taken place. I might refer at once, if necessary to a hundred well authenticated instances. One of very remarkable character, and of which the circumstances may be fresh in the memory of some of my readers, occurred, not very long ago, in the neighboring city of Baltimore, where it occasioned a painful, intense, and widely-extended excitement. The wife of one of the most respectable citizens-a lawyer of eminence and a member of Congress-was seized with a sudden and unaccountable illness, which completely baffled the skill of her physicians. After much suffering she died, or was supposed to die. No one suspected, indeed, or had reason to suspect, that she was not actually dead. She presented all the ordinary appearances of death. The face assumed the usual pinched and sunken outline. The lips were of the usual marble pallor. The eyes were lustreless. There was no warmth. Pulsation had ceased. For three days the body was preserved unburied, during which it had acquired a stony rigidity. The funeral, in short, was hastened, on account of the rapid advance of what was supposed to be decomposition.

The lady was deposited in her family vault, which, for three subsequent years, was undisturbed. At the expiration of this term it was opened for the reception of a sarcophagus;-but, alas! how fearful a shock awaited the husband, who, personally, threw open the door! As its portals swung outwardly back, some white-apparelled object fell rattling within his arms. It was the skeleton of his wife in her yet unmoulded shroud.

A careful investigation rendered it evident that she had revived within two days after her entombment; that her struggles within the coffin had caused it to fall from a ledge, or shelf to the floor, where it was so broken as to permit her escape. A lamp which had been accidentally left, full of oil, within the tomb, was found empty; it might have been exhausted, however, by evaporation. On the uttermost of the steps which led down into the dread chamber was a large fragment of the coffin, with which, it seemed, that she had endeavored to arrest attention by striking the iron door. While thus occupied, she probably swooned, or possibly died, through sheer terror; and, in failing, her shroud became entangled in some iron- work which projected interiorly. Thus she remained, and thus she rotted, erect.

In the year 1810, a case of living inhumation happened in France, attended with circumstances which go far to warrant the assertion that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. The heroine of the story was a Mademoiselle Victorine Lafourcade, a young girl of illustrious family, of wealth, and of great personal beauty. Among her numerous suitors was Julien Bossuet, a poor litterateur, or journalist of Paris. His talents and general amiability had recommended him to the notice of the heiress, by whom he seems to have been truly beloved; but her pride of birth decided her, finally, to reject him, and to wed a Monsieur Renelle, a banker and a diplomatist of some eminence. After marriage, however, this gentleman neglected, and, perhaps, even more positively ill-treated her. Having passed with him some wretched years, she died,-at least her condition so closely resembled death as to deceive every one who saw her. She was buried-not in a vault, but in an ordinary grave in the village of her nativity. Filled with despair, and still inflamed by the memory of a profound attachment, the lover journeys from the capital to the remote province in which the village lies, with the romantic purpose of disinterring the corpse, and possessing himself of its luxuriant tresses. He reaches the grave. At midnight he unearths the coffin, opens it, and is in the act of detaching the hair, when he is arrested by the unclosing of the beloved eyes. In fact, the lady had been buried alive. Vitality had not altogether departed, and she was aroused by the caresses of her lover from the lethargy which had been mistaken for death. He bore her frantically to his lodgings in the village. He employed certain powerful restoratives suggested by no little medical learning. In fine, she revived. She recognized her preserver. She remained with him until, by slow degrees, she fully recovered her original health. Her woman's heart was not adamant, and this last lesson of love sufficed to soften it. She bestowed it upon Bossuet. She returned no more to her husband, but, concealing from him her resurrection, fled with her lover to America. Twenty years afterward, the two returned to France, in the persuasion that time had so greatly altered the lady's appearance that her friends would be unable to recognize her. They were mistaken, however, for, at the first meeting, Monsieur Renelle did actually recognize and make claim to his wife. This claim she resisted, and a judicial tribunal sustained her in her resistance, deciding that the peculiar circumstances, with the long lapse of years, had extinguished, not only equitably, but legally, the authority of the husband.

The "Chirurgical Journal" of Leipsic-a periodical of high authority and merit, which some American bookseller would do well to translate and republish, records in a late number a very distressing event of the character in question.

An officer of artillery, a man of gigantic stature and of robust health, being thrown from an unmanageable horse, received a very severe contusion upon the head, which rendered him insensible at once; the skull was slightly fractured, but no immediate danger was apprehended. Trepanning was accomplished successfully. He was bled, and many other of the ordinary means of relief were adopted. Gradually, however, he fell into a more and more hopeless state of stupor, and, finally, it was thought that he died.

The weather was warm, and he was buried with indecent haste in one of the public cemeteries. His funeral took place on Thursday. On the Sunday following, the grounds of the cemetery were, as usual, much thronged with visiters, and about noon an intense excitement was created by the declaration of a peasant that, while sitting upon the grave of the officer, he had distinctly felt a commotion of the earth, as if occasioned by some one struggling beneath. At first little attention was paid to the man's asseveration; but his evident terror, and the dogged obstinacy with which he persisted in his story, had at length their natural effect upon the crowd. Spades were hurriedly procured, and the grave, which was shamefully shallow, was in a few minutes so far thrown open that the head of its occupant appeared. He was then seemingly dead; but he sat nearly erect within his coffin, the lid of which, in his furious struggles, he had partially uplifted.

He was forthwith conveyed to the nearest hospital, and there pronounced to be still living, although in an asphytic condition. After some hours he revived, recognized individuals of his acquaintance, and, in broken sentences spoke of his agonies in the grave.

From what he related, it was clear that he must have been conscious of life for more than an hour, while inhumed, before lapsing into insensibility. The grave was carelessly and loosely filled with an exceedingly porous soil; and thus some air was necessarily admitted. He heard the footsteps of the crowd overhead, and endeavored to make himself heard in turn. It was the tumult within the grounds of the cemetery, he said, which appeared to awaken him from a deep sleep, but no sooner was he awake than he became fully aware of the awful horrors of his position.

This patient, it is recorded, was doing well and seemed to be in a fair way of ultimate recovery, but fell a victim to the quackeries of medical experiment. The galvanic battery was applied, and he suddenly expired in one of those ecstatic paroxysms which, occasionally, it superinduces.

The mention of the galvanic battery, nevertheless, recalls to my memory a well known and very extraordinary case in point, where its action proved the means of restoring to animation a young attorney of London, who had been interred for two days. This occurred in

1831, and created, at the time, a very profound sensation wherever it was made the subject of converse.

The patient, Mr. Edward Stapleton, had died, apparently of typhus fever, accompanied with some anomalous symptoms which had excited the curiosity of his medical attendants. Upon his seeming decease, his friends were requested to sanction a post-mortem examination, but declined to permit it. As often happens, when such refusals are made, the practitioners resolved to disinter the body and dissect it at leisure, in private. Arrangements were easily effected with some of the numerous corps of body-snatchers, with which London abounds; and, upon the third night after the funeral, the supposed corpse was unearthed from a grave eight feet deep, and deposited in the opening chamber of one of the private hospitals.

An incision of some extent had been actually made in the abdomen, when the fresh and undecayed appearance of the subject suggested an application of the battery. One experiment succeeded another, and the customary effects supervened, with nothing to characterize them in any respect, except, upon one or two occasions, a more than ordinary degree of life-likeness in the convulsive action.

It grew late. The day was about to dawn; and it was thought expedient, at length, to proceed at once to the dissection. A student, however, was especially desirous of testing a theory of his own, and insisted upon applying the battery to one of the pectoral muscles. A rough gash was made, and a wire hastily brought in contact, when the patient, with a hurried but quite unconvulsive movement, arose from the table, stepped into the middle of the floor, gazed about him uneasily for a few seconds, and then-spoke. What he said was unintelligible, but words were uttered; the syllabification was distinct. Having spoken, he fell heavily to the floor.

For some moments all were paralyzed with awe-but the urgency of the case soon restored them their presence of mind. It was seen that Mr. Stapleton was alive, although in a swoon. Upon exhibition of ether he revived and was rapidly restored to health, and to the society of his friends-from whom, however, all knowledge of his resuscitation was withheld, until a relapse was no longer to be apprehended. Their wonder-their rapturous astonishment-may be conceived.

The most thrilling peculiarity of this incident, nevertheless, is involved in what Mr. S. himself asserts. He declares that at no period was he altogether insensible-that, dully and confusedly, he was aware of everything which happened to him, from the moment in which he was pronounced dead by his physicians, to that in which he fell swooning to the floor of the hospital. "I am alive," were the uncomprehended words which, upon recognizing the locality of the dissecting-room, he had endeavored, in his extremity, to utter.

It were an easy matter to multiply such histories as these-but I forbear-for, indeed, we have no need of such to establish the fact that premature interments occur. When we reflect how very rarely, from the nature of the case, we have it in our power to detect them, we must admit that they may frequently occur without our cognizance. Scarcely, in truth, is a graveyard ever encroached upon, for any purpose, to any great extent, that skeletons are not found in postures which suggest the most fearful of suspicions.

Fearful indeed the suspicion-but more fearful the doom! It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs- the stifling fumes from the damp earth-the clinging to the death garments-the rigid embrace of the narrow house-the blackness of the absolute Night-the silence like a sea that overwhelms-the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm-these things, with the thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed-that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead-these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil. We know of nothing so agonizing upon Earth- we can dream of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell. And thus all narratives upon this topic have an interest profound; an interest, nevertheless, which, through the sacred awe of the topic itself, very properly and very peculiarly depends upon our conviction of the truth of the matter narrated. What I have now to tell is of my own actual knowledge-of my own positive and personal experience.

For several years I had been subject to attacks of the singular disorder which physicians have agreed to term catalepsy, in default of a more definitive title. Although both the immediate and the predisposing causes, and even the actual diagnosis, of this disease are still mysterious, its obvious and apparent character is sufficiently well understood. Its variations seem to be chiefly of degree. Sometimes the patient lies, for a day only, or even for a shorter period, in a species of exaggerated lethargy. He is senseless and externally motionless; but the pulsation of the heart is still faintly perceptible; some traces of warmth remain; a slight color lingers within the centre of the cheek; and, upon application of a mirror to the lips, we can detect a torpid, unequal, and vacillating action of the lungs. Then again the duration of the trance is for weeks-even for months; while the closest scrutiny, and the most rigorous medical tests, fail to establish any material distinction between the state of the sufferer and what we conceive of absolute death. Very usually he is saved from premature interment solely by the knowledge of his friends that he has been previously subject to catalepsy, by the consequent suspicion excited, and, above all, by the non-appearance of decay. The advances of the malady are, luckily, gradual. The first manifestations, although marked, are unequivocal. The fits grow successively more and more distinctive, and endure each for a longer term than the preceding. In this lies the principal security from inhumation. The unfortunate whose first attack should be of the extreme character which is occasionally seen, would almost inevitably be consigned alive to the tomb.

My own case differed in no important particular from those mentioned in medical books. Sometimes, without any apparent cause, I sank, little by little, into a condition of hemi-syncope, or half swoon; and, in this condition, without pain, without ability to stir, or, strictly speaking, to think, but with a dull lethargic consciousness of life and of the presence of those who surrounded my bed, I remained, until the crisis of the disease restored me, suddenly, to perfect sensation. At other times I was quickly and impetuously smitten. I grew sick, and numb, and chilly, and dizzy, and so fell prostrate at once. Then, for weeks, all was void, and black, and silent, and Nothing became the universe. Total annihilation could be no more. From these latter attacks I awoke, however, with a gradation slow in proportion to the suddenness of the seizure. Just as the day dawns to the friendless and houseless beggar who roams the streets throughout the long desolate winter night-just so tardily- just so wearily-just so cheerily came back the light of the Soul to me.

Apart from the tendency to trance, however, my general health appeared to be good; nor could I perceive that it was at all affected by the one prevalent malady-unless, indeed, an idiosyncrasy in my ordinary sleep may be looked upon as superinduced. Upon awaking from slumber, I could never gain, at once, thorough possession of my senses, and always remained, for many minutes, in much bewilderment and perplexity;-the mental faculties in general, but the memory in especial, being in a condition of absolute abeyance.

In all that I endured there was no physical suffering but of moral distress an infinitude. My fancy grew charnel, I talked "of worms, of tombs, and epitaphs." I was lost in reveries of death, and the idea of premature burial held continual possession of my brain. The ghastly Danger to which I was subjected haunted me day and night. In the former, the torture of meditation was excessive-in the latter, supreme. When the grim Darkness overspread the Earth, then, with every horror of thought, I shook-shook as the quivering plumes upon the hearse. When Nature could endure wakefulness no longer, it was with a struggle that I consented to sleep-for I shuddered to reflect that, upon awaking, I might find myself the tenant of a grave. And when, finally, I sank into slumber, it was only to rush at once into a world of phantasms, above which, with vast, sable, overshadowing wing, hovered, predominant, the one sepulchral Idea.

From the innumerable images of gloom which thus oppressed me in dreams, I select for record but a solitary vision. Methought I was immersed in a cataleptic trance of more than usual duration and profundity. Suddenly there came an icy hand upon my forehead, and an impatient, gibbering voice whispered the word "Arise!" within my ear.

I sat erect. The darkness was total. I could not see the figure of him who had aroused me. I could call to mind neither the period at which I had fAllan into the trance, nor the locality in which I then lay. While I remained motionless, and busied in endeavors to collect my thought, the cold hand grasped me fiercely by the wrist, shaking it petulantly, while the gibbering voice said again:

"Arise! did I not bid thee arise?"

"And who," I demanded, "art thou?"

"I have no name in the regions which I inhabit," replied the voice, mournfully; "I was mortal, but am fiend. I was merciless, but am pitiful. Thou dost feel that I shudder.-My teeth chatter as I speak, yet it is not with the chilliness of the night-of the night without end. But this hideousness is insufferable. How canst thou tranquilly sleep? I cannot rest for the cry of these great agonies. These sights are more than I can bear. Get thee up! Come with me into the outer Night, and let me unfold to thee the graves. Is not this a spectacle of woe?-Behold!"

I looked; and the unseen figure, which still grasped me by the wrist, had caused to be thrown open the graves of all mankind, and from each issued the faint phosphoric radiance of decay, so that I could see into the innermost recesses, and there view the shrouded bodies in their sad and solemn slumbers with the worm. But alas! the real sleepers were fewer, by many millions, than those who slumbered not at all; and there was a feeble struggling; and there was a general sad unrest; and from out the depths of the countless pits there came a melancholy rustling from the garments of the buried. And of those who seemed tranquilly to repose, I saw that a vast number had changed, in a greater or less degree, the rigid and uneasy position in which they had originally been entombed. And the voice again said to me as I gazed:

"Is it not-oh! is it not a pitiful sight?"-but, before I could find words to reply, the figure had ceased to grasp my wrist, the phosphoric lights expired, and the graves were closed with a sudden violence, while from out them arose a tumult of despairing cries, saying again: "Is it not-O, God, is it not a very pitiful sight?"

Phantasies such as these, presenting themselves at night, extended their terrific influence far into my waking hours. My nerves became thoroughly unstrung, and I fell a prey to perpetual horror. I hesitated to ride, or to walk, or to indulge in any exercise that would carry me from home. In fact, I no longer dared trust myself out of the immediate presence of those who were aware of my proneness to catalepsy, lest, falling into one of my usual fits, I should be buried before my real condition could be ascertained. I doubted the care, the fidelity of my dearest friends. I dreaded that, in some trance of more than customary duration, they might be prevailed upon to regard me as irrecoverable. I even went so far as to fear that, as I occasioned much trouble, they might be glad to consider any very protracted attack as sufficient excuse for getting rid of me altogether. It was in vain they endeavored to reassure me by the most solemn promises. I exacted the most sacred oaths, that under no circumstances they would bury me until decomposition had so materially advanced as to render farther preservation impossible. And, even then, my mortal terrors would listen to no reason-would accept no consolation. I entered into a series of elaborate precautions. Among other things, I had the family vault so remodelled as to admit of being readily opened from within. The slightest pressure upon a long lever that extended far into the tomb would cause the iron portal to fly back. There were arrangements also for the free admission of air and light, and convenient receptacles for food and water, within immediate reach of the coffin intended for my reception. This coffin was warmly and softly padded, and was provided with a lid, fashioned upon the principle of the vault-door, with the addition of springs so contrived that the feeblest movement of the body would be sufficient to set it at liberty. Besides all this, there was suspended from the roof of the tomb, a large bell, the rope of which, it was designed, should extend through a hole in the coffin, and so be fastened to one of the hands of the corpse. But, alas? what avails the vigilance against the Destiny of man? Not even these well-contrived securities sufficed to save from the uttermost agonies of living inhumation, a wretch to these agonies foredoomed!

There arrived an epoch-as often before there had arrived-in which I found myself emerging from total unconsciousness into the first feeble and indefinite sense of existence. Slowly-with a tortoise gradation-approached the faint gray dawn of the psychal day. A torpid uneasiness. An apathetic endurance of dull pain. No care- no hope-no effort. Then, after a long interval, a ringing in the ears; then, after a lapse still longer, a prickling or tingling sensation in the extremities; then a seemingly eternal period of pleasurable quiescence, during which the awakening feelings are struggling into thought; then a brief re-sinking into non-entity; then a sudden recovery. At length the slight quivering of an eyelid, and immediately thereupon, an electric shock of a terror, deadly and indefinite, which sends the blood in torrents from the temples to the heart. And now the first positive effort to think. And now the first endeavor to remember. And now a partial and evanescent success. And now the memory has so far regained its dominion, that, in some measure, I am cognizant of my state. I feel that I am not awaking from ordinary sleep. I recollect that I have been subject to catalepsy. And now, at last, as if by the rush of an ocean, my shuddering spirit is overwhelmed by the one grim Danger-by the one spectral and ever-prevalent idea.

For some minutes after this fancy possessed me, I remained without motion. And why? I could not summon courage to move. I dared not make the effort which was to satisfy me of my fate-and yet there was something at my heart which whispered me it was sure. Despair- such as no other species of wretchedness ever calls into being- despair alone urged me, after long irresolution, to uplift the heavy lids of my eyes. I uplifted them. It was dark-all dark. I knew that the fit was over. I knew that the crisis of my disorder had long passed. I knew that I had now fully recovered the use of my visual faculties-and yet it was dark-all dark-the intense and utter raylessness of the Night that endureth for evermore.

I endeavored to shriek-, and my lips and my parched tongue moved convulsively together in the attempt-but no voice issued from the cavernous lungs, which oppressed as if by the weight of some incumbent mountain, gasped and palpitated, with the heart, at every elaborate and struggling inspiration.

The movement of the jaws, in this effort to cry aloud, showed me that they were bound up, as is usual with the dead. I felt, too, that I lay upon some hard substance, and by something similar my sides were, also, closely compressed. So far, I had not ventured to stir any of my limbs-but now I violently threw up my arms, which had been lying at length, with the wrists crossed. They struck a solid wooden substance, which extended above my person at an elevation of not more than six inches from my face. I could no longer doubt that I reposed within a coffin at last.

And now, amid all my infinite miseries, came sweetly the cherub Hope-for I thought of my precautions. I writhed, and made spasmodic exertions to force open the lid: it would not move. I felt my wrists for the bell-rope: it was not to be found. And now the Comforter fled for ever, and a still sterner Despair reigned triumphant; for I could not help perceiving the absence of the paddings which I had so carefully prepared-and then, too, there came suddenly to my nostrils the strong peculiar odor of moist earth. The conclusion was irresistible. I was not within the vault. I had fAllan into a trance while absent from home-while among strangers-when, or how, I could not remember-and it was they who had buried me as a dog-nailed up in some common coffin-and thrust deep, deep, and for ever, into some ordinary and nameless grave.

As this awful conviction forced itself, thus, into the innermost chambers of my soul, I once again struggled to cry aloud. And in this second endeavor I succeeded. A long, wild, and continuous shriek, or yell of agony, resounded through the realms of the subterranean Night.

"Hillo! hillo, there!" said a gruff voice, in reply.

"What the devil's the matter now!" said a second.

"Get out o' that!" said a third.

"What do you mean by yowling in that ere kind of style, like a cattymount?" said a fourth; and hereupon I was seized and shaken without ceremony, for several minutes, by a junto of very rough-looking individuals. They did not arouse me from my slumber-for I was wide awake when I screamed-but they restored me to the full possession of my memory.

This adventure occurred near Richmond, in Virginia. Accompanied by a friend, I had proceeded, upon a gunning expedition, some miles down the banks of the James River. Night approached, and we were overtaken by a storm. The cabin of a small sloop lying at anchor in the stream, and laden with garden mould, afforded us the only available shelter. We made the best of it, and passed the night on board. I slept in one of the only two berths in the vessel-and the berths of a sloop of sixty or twenty tons need scarcely be described. That which I occupied had no bedding of any kind. Its extreme width was eighteen inches. The distance of its bottom from the deck overhead was precisely the same. I found it a matter of exceeding difficulty to squeeze myself in. Nevertheless, I slept soundly, and the whole of my vision-for it was no dream, and no nightmare-arose naturally from the circumstances of my position-from my ordinary bias of thought-and from the difficulty, to which I have alluded, of collecting my senses, and especially of regaining my memory, for a long time after awaking from slumber. The men who shook me were the crew of the sloop, and some laborers engaged to unload it. From the load itself came the earthly smell. The bandage about the jaws was a silk handkerchief in which I had bound up my head, in default of my customary nightcap.

The tortures endured, however, were indubitably quite equal for the time, to those of actual sepulture. They were fearfully-they were inconceivably hideous; but out of Evil proceeded Good; for their very excess wrought in my spirit an inevitable revulsion. My soul acquired tone-acquired temper. I went abroad. I took vigorous exercise. I breathed the free air of Heaven. I thought upon other subjects than Death. I discarded my medical books. "Buchan" I burned. I read no "Night Thoughts"-no fustian about churchyards-no bugaboo tales-such as this. In short, I became a new man, and lived a man's life. From that memorable night, I dismissed forever my charnel apprehensions, and with them vanished the cataleptic disorder, of which, perhaps, they had been less the consequence than the cause.

There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell-but the imagination of man is no Carathis, to explore with impunity its every cavern. Alas! the grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot be regarded as altogether fanciful-but, like the Demons in whose company Afrasiab made his voyage down the Oxus, they must sleep, or they will devour us-they must be suffered to slumber, or we perish.

THE END ¶

Illustration at top by Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865), a Belgian painter. "Tales from the Crypt" from Golden Age Comic Book Stories. All other illustrations from the superb Edgar Allen Poe illustration contest.

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In memory of the memories of W. G. Sebald

A great man and a haunting and evocative writer died Dec. 14, 2001. W. G. Sebald wrote books like no one else before or after him. His books involve a melancholy prowl through the wreckage of the 20th century and his own sometimes bewildered fragments of memory. They are always described as fiction, yet take the form of memoir and are illustrated by photographs that uncannily and exactly match his words. They are real beyond real. You can do no better than to read him. RE

The entry on Sebald in Wikipedia.

Photographs representing his face, subjects, moods and vision. The Sebald Pool on Flickr.

Analogue." "Inspired by the writings of W.G. Sebald and Arthur Conan Doyle and the early films of Peter Greenaway, Analogue attempts to re-imagine the sublime in the 19th century romantic landscape."

"A visual/verbal poem in memory of WG Sebald."

Sin contra, "without counting"

An architectural history class project in relation to "Topographical Stories" by David Leatherbarrow and "Austerlitz" by WG Sebald.

Amazon.com Widgets

From the Sebald photo pool on Flickr:

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Sweet Dreams, Baby: For Patsy Cline

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Patsy Cline was born Sept. 8, 1932. Looking at her in this live footage, I'm struck by how she lacks showbiz affectations. Her dresses were what ordinary women would wear. Her hair was conventional. She just stands there pleasantly, almost politely, and sings. She could sing just like this in church on Sunday, Maybe not all the same songs,

☑ All of my TwitterPages are linked under the category Pages in the right margin of this page.

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