Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Curator (2023).

I think I found out about this one quite by accident.  It was in the aftermath of rather euphoric literary rush.  I'd just completed a successful read through of the latest Stephen King novel (which is a story for another day), and I guess the pleasant stock response I was left with must have made me curious to see if there was anything else similar to it lying around.  Either that or I stumbled across the news about the novel I am here to talk about today quite by accident.  Whichever one of these events turns out to be the truth, the upshot is that somehow, I found out that a book titled The Curator, by Owen King, was set to be published in March of 23.  Seeing as how I'd just had, not the first, but definitely one of the best experiences of pouring through a King book in recent memory, it only made sense to think I'd found the next book that would pick up where the previous one had left off.  The name sort of helped in this case.

It's not a complete accident that the author's byline caught my attention, either.  The reason for that is because Owen King happens to have a famous father named Stephen.  Nor is Owen the only literary progeny of the reigning Monarch of American Frights.  For all intents and purposes, it seems as if Stephen King has been blessed with a certain amount of luck.  When it comes to the case of writers in general, the basic rule of thumb is that most of them tend to be one-offs, the genetic equivalent of an on-going series of freaks of nature.  There's a sense in which they can be described as natural occurrences.  Yet most are willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that there's something out of the ordinary about a mind that can create entire imaginary worlds and personalities out of whole cloth, or whatever fabric the Imagination is made out of.  Nor is that the only weird thing about the scribbling arts.  Perhaps the strangest part is that it's possible for some of them to make a kind of actual living off peddling lies for whatever meager sum any of them can get.  The only thing that can match that, to my reckoning, anyway, is that we're willing to be entertained by these fictional, secondary worlds.

It's one of the few constants that any of us are able to say or figure out about literary artists.  For the most part, by and large, they're not the sort of figures you can set your watch by.  Each of them keeps to their own erratic hours, hunched over a keyboard or word processor, and just hoping against hope that whatever words they need to get the job done will be there when they set down to their peculiar task.  The only other definitive thing you can say about the species amounts to just two maxims.  The first is that the vast majority of them seem to be at the mercy of the Imaginative faculty, in and of itself, 90 to 99 percent of the time.  The second is that, as a rule, most writers are by and large isolated occurrences.  They'll crop up here and there like creative runts in an otherwise normal looking litter.  While the arrival of an artist on the scene may be taken as a matter of course (up to a point, anyway) the fact is that this natural, solitary nature of most of their existences tends to mean that there's always this lingering sense of isolation about them.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that all the writer's in the world combined would amount to no more than just one percent of the total population.  Hence, this lingering sense of solitude, which seems to emerge almost as a natural byproduct of their chosen profession.

It also seems that most authors tend to have a kind of sub-basement level awareness about their lives.  Each member of this solitary collective can often be found congregating in various types of writer's groups, some of which can sometimes manage to form the various literary movements that go on to bear their name, such as the Romantics.  There seems to be at least two good reasons for why this happens.  The first is relatively self-explanatory.  It turns out that art can't exist in a vacuum.  If a story has no audience, it remains mute, and therefore may as well not exist.  Hence the need for the artist to always be putting "the work" out there for consideration of the crowd.  It's one of the few times a writer can be said to emerge from their half natural solitude.  Yet even there, the peculiar function of the Arts in general means that this tends to heighten the sense of isolation that most writers tend to have in comparison to whatever normal people are supposed to be (and good luck trying to define something like that).  The other reason has to do with the awareness of the insular, retiring nature of writing.

This is the second reason why writers can sometimes feel the urge to seek out the company of fellow liars.  Just because the best writing is often done all by their lonesome isn't the same as meaning they like to be alone.  Hence you find scribbler's collectives like the Modernists.  The San Fransisco Beats, the Algonquin Round Table.  Even a writer like Stephen King has found himself part of an informal group of authors known as the New Wave Fabulists.  What makes it all interesting in King's case, however, is that he eventually turned out to be never as alone as he might have thought he would.  Far from conforming to type, the major writer of American Gothic fiction has turned out to be something of an exception that proves the rule.  It turns out there are (as of this writing) not one, but three published authors in the King family tree, and each of them were fathered by the same guy who wrote about stuff like a girl getting cover in pig's blood at the prom, or a demonic clown living under the sewers of a small town.  These literary off-spring are his two kids, Joe Hill and Owen King.

The curious part is how both of them have managed to find their little niches, both in terms of personal success in a tough market, and also as writers with something of a family legacy to carry onward.  This is perhaps the main feature of King's life that makes him so unique.  It's not often you get a case where creativity runs in the family.  It's like you have to go way back in time in order to find something like this.  The most famous cases that I know are all clustered around a small span of time from the 19th to the start of the early 20th century.  There are the two Bronte Sisters, Charlotte and Emily.  Then there was a brother and sister act with Dante and Christina Rossetti.  And of course, there are a pair of brothers known as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who wound up giving some guy named Walt Disney an entire career later on.  The most curious case I've uncovered belongs to none other than Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  It turns out he had one niece and a daughter whose own talents extended to carrying on his legacy in poetry, and philosophy.  So in that sense, you could say that Owen King and Joe Hill are part of a very informal, and haphazard tradition in which Imagination tends to run a bit in the family.

As of this writing, it seems like Hill is the closest one with any kind of genuine brand recognition to his name.  Stephen's oldest son seems to have done pretty well in carving out his own space in the pop culture landscape.  His breakout success came in the form of the still popular Locke and Key graphic novel series.  In addition, he is a published print author in his own right, whose titles include a 2005 anthology, 20th Century Ghosts (one of whose tales has since been turned into a successful motion picture not too long ago), and a series of novels such as Horns (2010), Heart Shaped Box (2007), N0S4A2 (2013), and The Fireman (2015).  He's also written a more or less decent short story with his dad, that was itself later turned into a film that deserves a lot more credit than it's gotten, known as In The Tall Grass.  By and large, the best way to sum up Hill's accomplishments is that it looks like he's well poised to one take up the mantel of King of Horror from his own father.  Indeed, it seems like Hill is set to inherit the same secondary world that made Stephen King famous, and that he'll one day pick up wherever the creator of Derry, Castle Rock, and Salem's Lot leaves off.  That just leaves us with the figure of Owen King to discuss.  And perhaps here is the point where the task becomes a bit difficult.

In distinction from Hill, Owen seems to be very much the writer in the family who often gets overlooked.  Part of the reason for this is because of the relative sparseness of his output compared with that of his dad or brother.  So far to date, Owen has been responsible for an entry known as We're All in This Together: A Novella and Stories (2005), Double Feature (2013), Sleeping Beauties (2017, which was also a collaboration with Stephen King), and finally there's the book that's up for discussion today, 2023's The Curator.  The danger here is the risk of turning him into a cliche, and that's something that's best avoided.  Right now, perhaps the best thing to do is to try and examine Owen's latest text, and see how it holds up on its own merits.  With that in mind, The Curator seems like the best place to start.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Cocaine Bear (2023).

Sometimes a critic gets lucky, and is able to claim they were part of the audience when word of mouth first began to spread about a must see film.  That's sort of what happened to me in the case of the picture up for review today.  I was one of the many who were bombarded with advertisements for this movie, and all of it was set to the dulcet tones of Melle Mel's White Lines playing on the soundtrack.  That's pretty fitting, considering what the subject matter of this flick is.  In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a marketing campaign for a cinema release conducted with such slick and consummate skill as I have on Cocaine Bear.  Yes the title is ridiculous, and the premise sounds like something tossed off by Mad Magazine during its drug fueled, 70s hey-day.  And yet I'll be darned if the promoters of this film didn't find the right way to at least get me interested in their product.  Which begs the question, how well does it hold up?