"Roses? How trite. I prefer the gift of auteurist film." Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon.
"If you're an Andy Milligan fan there's no hope for you."—The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Michael Weldon, Ballantine, 1983
I can't say I was entirely surprised to be accused of Bosley Crowtherism for my pan of Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon in today's New York Times. The young people today, they want a David Lynch of their own soooo bad that they're willing to take this shallow spoiled brat retread who, as I note in my review, really WANTS the squares to find his work objectionable. My only defense—because really, what are you gonna do, say "I do SO love edgy stuff?"—is that The Neon Demon is really dogshit, a word I cannot use in the Times.
Almost twenty years ago I was having dinner with some friends, two of them screenwriters and one of them a musician and music industry executive, and one of the screenwriters was talking about the gangster film Belly, of which he'd recently seen a preview. He was making this-and-that complaints about its content, and saying that he was bothered by it in a way that he wasn't sure how to articulate, and the executive, who'd mentored the screenwriter for some time back in the day, said, pointedly, "Well, did you find it morally objectionable?" And the screenwriter, somewhat sheepishly, said, yeah, he did. Well, the executive concluded, and we concurred, if you find something morally objectionable there's no point in acting like you're too cool to admit it. Which point has always stuck with me. I don't require my art to be morally upstanding, and the aesthetic advantages of partaking in certain aspects of amorality are not lost on me. By the same token, dimwitted exploitation bullshit is dimwitted exploitation bullshit and risks liabilities both strictly aesthetic and, yep, moral. If noticing that makes me Bosley Crowther, c'est la vie.
For RogerEbert.com, reviews of Approaching the Unknown, which is okay, and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, which is a little better than okay. And yet both are awarded two-and-a-half-stars each by me, which only goes to show about the lack of nuance inherent in a star rating system but what are you going to do.
In honor of the modified vehicle in which Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Rafael pursue bad guys, here is a song called "Garbage Truck."
A comment in some post below—I'm trying to get out of the house, so I'm disinclined to make the effort to be more specific—infers that since I haven't posted in a while, the blog may be defunct. It is not, especially given I just re-upped my fee to keep posting for another year. But yeah, it has been dormant. I've been busy. Don't make me quote Team America: World Police again. And it's likely I WILL give it up before the decade's out. I'm thinking, though, maybe give it two more years, quit it in 2018, when it turns ten. That'll be symmetrical and shit.
There is material in the works for this "blog" "spot." I've been watching a lot of Blu-ray discs that I'm not reviewing for anyone else, and you know what that means. But that won't post until after at least one of the British Blu-rays of Tarkovsky stuff comes out. If you are looking for fresh content from me right this very minute, why not check out my New York Times review of X-Men: Apocalypse? That's pretty funny. Also, if you are near a finer newsstand, Film Comment has published, in its May/June issue, an essay I wrote on Richard Quine's Strangers When We Meet. You have to get the print issue to read it, though, because, shucks, it's not on the magazine's website.
"Look on my works, ye mighty, and desp—oh who the fuck am I kidding"
Warning: Contains spoilers, or "spoilers"
1) That, had Bruce Wayne’s parents not been viciously murdered by a dusky-looking assailant, Bruce could have seen John Boorman’s Excalibur the very next week, and who knows what effect that (along with his parents not being dead) might have had on his character.
2) That if anyone ever gets around to making a biopic of Bob Guccione, they ought to definitely consider Ben Affleck to play him. Swaggering around in Gotham City billionaire mode, Affleck has a certain…je ne sais quoi. No, he doesn’t have the accent, and no, he doesn’t wear a lot of gold chains. But he’s got a lot of, well, smarm.
3) Not unrelated, maybe: That Bruce Wayne could have been in The Big Short—the building that goes down in Metropolis houses “Wayne Financial.” Hmmm.
4) That it is apparently impossible for anyone, in any part of the world, ever, to fire a machine gun without gritting his or her teeth and grimacing.
5) That cameo performer Nancy Grace has never read Baudrillard.
6) That it’s possible that cameo performer Anderson Cooper has read Baudrillard, but was unconvinced.
7) That cameo performer Andrew Sullivan has definitely read Baudrillard, and no longer cares.
8) That even holy of holies Neal deGrasse Tyson has his price.
9) That Soledad O’Brien is dead. She just has to be.
10) That Jeremy Irons has finally achieved Full Karloff.
Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale in Knight Of Cups.
"At the foot of the last page of the text [Philip Larkin] had written in pencil in his unmistakable, beautiful, spacious hand: 'First I thought Troilus and Criseyde was the most boring poem in English. Then I thought Beowulf was. Then I thought Paradise Lost was. Now I know that The Faerie Queene is the dullest thing out. Blast it.' (When I queried the uncharacteristically non-alcoholic language with him, he retorted that he had not dare to aggravate his offence by writing down the words he was thinking.)"—Kingsley Amis, Memoirs, 1991
"Gosh, what a terrific idea--a concept album about a cocksure rock and roller who Cannot Love. How'd all those clichés get in there, I wonder."—Robert Christgau, Consumer Guide review, Rod Stewart, Footloose And Fancy Free, 1978
I thought of Amis and Larkin as undergrads grappling with their Old Literature resentments when I read a review of Terrence Malick's Knight Of Cups that seemed to believe that because Malick is able to quote generously from John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress in this picture, it should be an occasion for me and many others to fall face-first into the pavement and break our front teeth off in sheer awe.
When I was younger, and entertained an earnest interest in "improving" literature, I looked into Pilgrim's Progress and felt a little guilty for finding it not only the Dullest Thing Out, but the Dullest Thing Out With A Sharp Stick Up Its Ass. That dude from Slate who called The Searchers "off-putting to the contemporary sensibility" should look into it; The Searchers will feel like You're The Worst in comparison. Terrence Malick's last couple of films have compelled me to look into the works of Couperin and Smetana, to name two randomish musical examples, more than I previously had, and I've been rewarded. But he's not pulling me back into Pilgrim's Progress again, thanks very much. My point is: Malick's familiarity with Christian allegory (the man has been an academic, you know) is not sufficient unto itself to impart profundity upon this work.
I was frankly appalled when I saw Knight Of Cups back in late fall of last year. I'd like to say that I was shocked that I was appalled, but that would be a lie. I admired The New World, I loved Tree Of Life, I was challenged by and ultimately admired To The Wonder, and all the while I recognized a quality, maybe I could call it an undercurrent, within Malick's work that had the potential to trip it/him up very badly, and in Knight Of Cups, I thought, it did. This is (part of) what I wrote to the representative of the film who had invited me to see it those months ago: "So. I thought the movie beautiful, which is almost a given, but I also found it frustratingly evasive. Maybe it's because the milieu is so specifically Hollywood but I felt that the elliptical, indirect narrative style felt like a kind of a cheat. I also felt that the supposed spiritual emptiness experienced by the lead character was overly aestheticized, and there was some weird special-pleading male privilege in his flitting from beautiful woman to beautiful woman and yet always feeling so empty and pursued by the ghosts of his failed familial male relationships. So I was kind of brought down by the whole thing."
I still stand by that, and that's where the Christgau citation comes in. Knight Of Cups is rich in clichés, some of them Universally Acknowledged Ones, some of them Malick's own, coming to the fore in the treatments of beaches and the whispered voiceover. Tarkovsky used to concoct long, seemingly impossible tracking shots of unusual objects resting on natural and man-made surfaces under shallow depths of water. Thing is, from film to film, he managed to submerge, you know, different objects. The visual and aural leitmotifs here frame the anxieties of a solipsist and sensualist who lacks for nothing in material luxuries and yet feels empty, because of the whole Cannot Love thing. Bale's character is haunted by a disapproving father, an even More Lost brother (Wes Bentley, whose performance is the most authentic and compelling portion of the movie) and dissatisfaction with his work and his milieu. The holistic Christian respect and regard that Malick brought to bear with the characters of To The Wonder is largely missing here. His depiction of Hollywood and its denizens fairly seethes with resentment; all the famous faces here, real famous or inside baseball famous or what have you famous, portray parasitical personages selling each other sundry varieties of snark and snake oil. Except for Bale's Rick. This guy, this guy, HE suffers. HE struggles.
And then there are the women. Oh, the women: some of the most attractive and talented that a Hollywood casting director, or a cadre of Hollywood casting directors, can offer, all of them used for little more than ornamentation. As for the "little more:" In the sequence in which Freida Pinto plays a fashion model, Pinto is the ornamentation, Kelly Cutrone the shrewish quasi-pimp, so that's nice. There's Teresa Palmer's Wise Stripper, Cate Blanchett's Distant Disappointed Ex-Wife, and several more stock characters.
I'm not someone who's bothered by "problematics." And I'm thoroughly inclined to forgive artists I admire for their blind spots. Lynch's sexism, which some argue flirts with out-and-out misogyny at times, is clearly a product of genuine sexual anxiety. Tarkovsky's sexism stemmed in part from what I take to be a mom complex, and also some serious serious-artiste self-absorption, and even so, in his best work, you can see him actually grappling with his sexism rather than just indulging it (c.f. Mirror). Zulawski's sexism is genuinely neurotic, and capital-r Romantic and capital-s Surrealist. The sexism in Knight Of Cups is real "I can't be bothered to make these women anything more than pretty symbols" stuff. Kind of inexcusable, I thought.
Sophie Marceau and Tchéky Karo, L'amour braque, 1985
When a great artist dies, among the (sincere) bromides offered in tribute is "He/she will be missed." With the Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, that idea doesn't automatically apply, only because the films he made were so relentlessly singular and extreme and unlike anything else that it's still difficult to actually believe they exist. So never mind missing him—as it happens, Cosmos, his first movie after a fifteen-year absence from filmmaking, just had its first screening in New York and has been picked up for U.S. distribution by Kino Lorber—it'll take years of viewing and re-viewing just to assimilate him, if that's at all possible. The thirteen features and two shorts he completed between 1969 and 2015 may not be "enough," but they are an awful lot.
When I learned of his death, I was laid up with an ailment that made movement rather challenging, and certain types of concentration perhaps more so; with some resultant unasked-for time on my hands, I decided to check out three films that surround, temporally, his most famous film worldwide, the notorious 1981 Possession. As was the case for many American cinephiles of a certain age, Possession, in a ridiculously edited U.S. home video release cobbled together for the Extreme Horror market, was my first exposure to Zulawski, and it certainly did make an impression. I was not entirely surprised, trawling the Internet for writing on the maestro, to learn that the film's reputation as a genre film has exasperated some of our most exacting hierarchy minders, for instance the critical entity known as The Ferroni Brigade, who wrote in the intro to their 2012 interview with Zulaski: “Although associated with a visceral, trembling style and lamentably compartmentalized for his most lurid ideas—like the horror creature Isabelle Adjani shacks up with in Possession (1981)—Żuławski's work teems with the inventiveness of a highly cultured man, resulting in a provocative mix of big ideas and emotional torrents (mirrored in the director's decision to mostly reject conventional explanations, while conveying the themes with a painful and ecstatic nakedness, frequently extending to his female protagonists).” Now I don't want to bag on these guys like it's late 2009 or anything, but that "frequently extending to his female protagonists" strikes me as more than a touch coy. We'll get to that.
One crucial thing I discovered in revisiting 1975's L'important de c'est d'aimer, 1984's La femme publique, and 1985's L'amour braque is that, absence of Possession's Lovecraftian fifth-dimensional sex octopus notwithstanding, not one of the films is substantially less lurid than Possession—indeed, in a sense L'amour braque may beat it by several lengths—and that all of them are more or less the same film. And they are all films which, in spite of their letting each of their female leads fly their freak flags high and wide—or perhaps I should say, giving their female leads the opportunity to explore new and bold and unrepressed avenues of free expression—indulge in a pretty retrograde perspective on gender dynamics and/or relations. In each of the films, with this being LEAST the case in L'important, which is the only film of the batch with no basis in 19th-century Russian literature, the conception of woman is very Baudelaire High Romantic, with an early exit ramp on to amour fou Surrealism.
Woman—and all the better if she is young, proud, newly nubile woman (and again, in L'important the stress is slightly askew because the female lead is Romy Schneider, obviously beautiful but nearly 40 at the time of shooting and maybe playing someone who'd BEEN a lead in a Zulawski movie much earlier in her life) is both the vital life force and the destroyer of souls. Man is so flummoxed by Woman that he is literally divided by her. ("None of which equals the poison/welling up in your eyes/that show me my poor soul reversed..."—Baudelaire, "Poison," translation Richard Howard.) All of these movies are ostensibly love triangles but really, the males "competing" for Woman's love, such as it is, are twins albeit not doppelgangers—doppelgangers do show up to make a kind of peace, as in Possession—and the conflict between them is just the MAIN conflict taking place within Man himself. Woman, tormented by doubt and self-loathing, cannot be fully REALIZED without Man sacrificing Himself, allowing Himself to empty Herself into Him, and out of what He receives from Her, He shall create/destroy, create/destroy, create/destroy until somebody, most likely Him, just cannot take it anymore.
In the world view of these four Zulawski movies, there is one thing no Man, not even the most Highly Cultured Man, is immune to, and that thing is the name of Bongwater's third LP.
Michel Robin, who has his books, and his poetry to protect him, in L'important c'est d'aimer (1975)
Given these circumstances, I don't think it's unfair to note that these Zulawski films are steered by a male gaze, but that they're steered by a nearly vehement male gaze. Vehement as in obsessive, mind you, not necessarily malevolent. It's amazing to see in film after film how Zulawski goes back to certain key, or you could say seminal images when considering his male protagonists: the blood on the face, the affected/infected eyes (at the end of L'amour braque the Prince Myshkin figure of the story has on similar yellow-eye contacts to Sam Neill's in Possession) and these signifiers have a certain correlative in the perfect grooming he gives to Valerie Kaprisky in La femme publique and particularly Sophie Marceau in L'amour braque, their first film together.
"Is she an intellectual?" "No, an actress." That's an exchange from L'important, and in both La femme publique and L'amour braque a manic divided male (played in the former film by Francis Huster, in the latter by Tchéky Karo) will call the female lead his "star."All of these movies are about moviemaking, and L'amour braque is possibly the most audacious in this respect, not least in its casting of Marceau, who was just about at the end of her run as French cinema's answer to Molly Ringwald at the time. Here she struts about and vamps it up and screams "I destroy everything I love" and just generally CANNOT BE CONTAINED. It is, I suppose, the inescapable primal aspect of the female performances in these movies that, multiple allusions to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Chekhov notwithstanding, leads to their misapprehension in the CineBroverse as, to borrow a phrase from a disgusted friend, "Emo breakup movies." (See here.)
It's worth remembering also that the allusiveness stretches every which way. L'amour braque, rather surprisingly, hits almost every actual plot point from The Idiot while managing to actually look (and feel) like a Pigalle-set-remake of Walter Hill's 1984 Streets of Fire. The Ferroni Brigade turn up their noses at the lurid, but it's not just the casting of Klaus Kinski in L'important that suggests Zulawski was conversant with sleaze cinema; elsewhere in the film Schneider's character is referred to as having appeared in a softcore film called Nymphocula, which might well be one of the millions of alternate titles one of Jess Franco's millions of Eurosex cheapies circulated under.
If you think I'm bringing all this up to "call out" Zulawski on several charges of Problematic, think again. As a predominantly heterosexual male of a certain age I can't honestly get into a snit over male gaze. But let's call a spade a spade here. What the Ferroni Brigade call "ecstatic nakedness" extending to Zulawski's "female protagonists" is arguably that, but it's mainly something else. And again: I am not complaining. What Zulawski brings to his views of all his lead actresses inspires a kind of LOOK AT HER awe that is...well, it's awe, is what it is. What I am saying—finally!— is that cinema deals in images and sounds prior to dealing in ideology, even if the images and sounds are arguably ideologically determined. What I'm saying is that the erotic chaos that Zulawski so convincingly simulates in his pictures is privileged over culture or "culture." Or maybe that his whole conception of culture is necessarily filtered through erotic chaos. As in L'amour braque, which depicts a production of The Seagull which may as well have been Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.
Sophie Marceau vamping, with helpless idiot Francis Huster
So maybe The Ferroni Brigade and the Birth. Movies. Death. bros have a little more in common than they believe. There are only so many ways I can put this, though, so here's Muddy Waters:
At Brett Smiley's wake on the evening of January 13, a week after he died in his Carroll Gardens apartment (thank God), his people had set up a small TV display, and were playing DVD-Rs of some of his performances in the early aughts, backed by a band that featured his childhood pal Errol Bulut on lead guitar. They were taped at places like Pianos, the Lower East Side back room, and some joint on Chrystie Street where there's a sliding glass door leading to the sidewalk behind the stage. As we watched, another friend, a musician himself, observed of Brett, "He's really on point here." He was/is; singing voice strong, his right hand steady and straight across the strings of his black Ovation Celebrity. He sang some songs from his much-hyped but abortive 1974 debut album Breathlessly Brett, which was finally released to what they call "cult acclaim" in 2003, and a bunch of newer tunes. solid if not world-shaking stuff. The exception being the anti-anthemic "I Ain't So Cool Anymore," in which a onetime cock-of-the-walk looks back on some ruins. "I went to the doctor and he looked at my blood/a Fifty-five Scotch and a forty-five slug/He said you ain't/so cool/anymore." Of course the fact that the character/singer/Brett could still stand up and sing the song suggested that there was some cool in reserve. And anyway, yeah, he and his band were delivering. We asked Errol when the performances dated from; he said 2005, 2006.
I first met Brett in 2010. Something had clearly gone wrong, or maybe I should say further wrong, in the interim.
Brett and I made our acquaintance a short while after I had taken my last drink. The correspondence was not coincidental. We had a shared interest in staying away from drink and drugs, and in short order, a mutual friend—a well-intentioned but somewhat brash and pushy fellow in certain respects—suggested it would be a capital idea were I to "work" with Brett on more actively promoting that interest. I did not consider myself competent to do so in any way, shape, or form, but Brett was actually rather eager for me to help him out, so there I was.
Even though he could be very chatty, I was not the recipient of the raconteur material Brett could lavish on wide-eyed interlocutors from various and sundry fanzines as they tracked him down over the years. The story of how at a performing arts high school in Los Angeles he was in a woodshop class with Michael Jackson, and how he and Jackson were partnered on making a chessboard and how they got a D on the project—I only heard about that the other night, at Brett’s wake. I had seen the Breathlessly Brett CD at Other Music when it had came out, and I knew of Nina Antonia’s bookThe Prettiest Star: Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley, but I never put together my Brett with Brett Smiley, not until about seven months after we’d really started to get to know each other, and someone said, “Oh you’ve never seen Brett’s infamous British talk show debut?” I had not. Eventually Brett had mentioned the book, and I looked at the clip from the Russell Harty Show in 1974 on YouTube. "Well, that was interesting," I said, discussing it a little later. He looked at me as if he was expecting me to follow up with "What the hell did you go and do to yourself," but I did not, so he said, "You know, I was never really into glam rock." And I said something like "Pshaw. You were into rock, and you were into dressing up. Of course you were into glam rock." As a Broadway baby, though, he was more enamored of traditional "quality" vocalizing than the contorted, strained post-Anthony-Newley-isms of David Bowie's Stardust period. Nor did he have much use for Varispeed Munchkinized backing vocals. A bit of a classicist, as his "Over The Rainbow" on Breathlessly Brett testifies.
By spring and early summer of 2012 we'd developed a bit of a routine: early morning at the place where we got coffee, then off with one or two other coffee-drinkers to Court Street Grocers, where we'd get a proper breakfast. When Brett was in an up mood, he could get awfully garrulous. "Eat your sandwich, Brett," I'd have to say to him periodically. I once timed him. Ninety minutes for one Breakfast Sandwich. It was unbelievable. I don't remember what he was talking about.
There had been one time when we were chatting, about stuff he was going to do—there was always stuff he was going to do—and he mentioned that he'd recently found some demos he'd made in the late '70s, that Del Shannon had produced. "Ooh, Del Shannon," I said, as one will. Yes, Brett replied, Del Shannon. This time in Del's life had not been good, he continued, laying out some observations on Shannon's drinking, and some struggles involving sexuality. "Hold on, hold on," I interjected. "Del Shannon was gay? Wow, all of a sudden so much makes sense..."
Couple months later and we're doing the Breakfast With Brett Club and somehow the subject comes up again, out of my mouth. And Brett looks at me like I'm nuts.
"Del Shannon wasn't gay." His somewhat nasal speaking voice crackled a bit when he was mildly agitated. "Who told you Del Shannon was gay?"
I sputtered, as one will. Okay, as I will. "Dude, you did."
He rolled his eyes. "Oh forget it. Del Shannon wasn't gay." He paused reflectively and looked at me again. "Everyone experiments."
He had me there.
If I were going to write a memorial of Proustian length I would make it about Brett's Roommate Situation, because I could, but I'll limit myself to one anecdote, which I file under "Brett Smiley's Iron Will." Sometime wintery time in 2011, I think, Brett had acquired a roommate, a sort-of musician who looked like an aged prototype for Father John Misty and/or one of the Deliverance rapists. I did not really warm to him, and kept my distance. One day Brett told me the fellow had found a turntable out on the street, brought it back to the apartment and worked on it a bit, and now, when they weren't sniping at each other over nothing, they were enjoying Classic Rock (Beatles, etc.) On Vinyl. Groovy. Eventually Brett decided this guy had got to go, and he asked that I come by the apartment on the day of the move and help the guy take his stuff down from the fourth-floor walkup, and make sure nothing untoward happened during this fellow's departure. "Sure," I said.
"There's one thing though."
"I'm keeping that turntable."
So I spent about ninety minutes reasoning with Brett as to why if this guy wanted to take the turntable out with him, he was entirely entitled, and that this kind of self-centered thinking went against several important principles and that insisting on keeping the turntable would hinder Brett's SPIRITUAL GROWTH. And Brett was very calm and very receptive and said, "Everything you are saying is absolutely one hundred percent right."
"But I want to keep the turntable."
How could you not love this guy? Really.
Anyway. The time came when the beardo was pretty much all packed, and he didn't even mention the turntable, so that was the end of that. "Don't gloat," I said to Brett. "Oh I won't," he said.
For all that steel, he could not get it together to do what he had done on those stages a relatively mere half-decade before. I will not go into the shambolic gigs I and his good roommates would escort him to and from. Suffice it to say that if you think the bottom of the barrel in New York rock-and-roll is sitting in the Continental at 2 a.m. enduring some seventh-billed band while trying to shake off the cocaine and Jagermeister sweats, you ought to consider yourself lucky. The poor guy. A couple of years ago I acquired a snazzy new Gibson guitar of storied model number and I showed it off to him one day. "It's heavy," he said as he lifted it. He played a verse and a chorus of "I Ain't So Cool Anymore." Without swagger. It was pretty heartbreaking. His body was dealing with a huge variety of ailments—various outlets have named hepatitis and HIV. I don't want to be indiscreet but honestly that was the tip of the iceberg. He was pretty funny about it sometimes. There was this outpatient facility he went to that he called "HIV Romper Room." Addicts in recovery like to say that drinking and drugs had made their lives unmanageable, but the thing about Brett that I often got was that he'd never had any schooling on managing his own life in the first place. And by the time I met him, he was in such crummy shape physically that I don't think there was a single day that he wasn't in some kind of pain. I took him to the hospital at least once for every year I knew him. After which I'd buy him a Vonnegut book (that was his favorite author) and encourage him to stay in the hospital for as long as he could. He needed full time care, I always thought, but the intersection of America's highly frayed social safety net and the aforementioned Iron Will meant this was not possible.
What stories he told me in these down times weren't of past rock and roll glories, but of lost loves and fuckups. He was gratified that I knew of Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith, with whom he costarred in a '70s softcore pastiche of Cinderella (which I have on DVD but have never had the heart, or lack of it, to watch), and who died of a heroin overdose in 2002. A tale of a particularly harrowing arrest in Broward County—he still had a warrant outstanding in Florida in recent years, and we were both rather flummoxed about what he could do about it—was how I learned that he had actually had a bit part in American Gigolo, because he associated his part in the picture with his time in jail.
That's Brett at far left, number 1. Richard Gere, far right, is number 5.
Once or twice in our travels, Brett and I ran into a female friend of mine, someone not in our shared circle. She told me recently that, his haggardness and slightly distracted mien notwithstanding, she could see a "flare" of his still-present charisma emanating from him. Indeed. But even that started to go out once he injured himself in a way that further damaged his appearance, and at that time, a few months before the August 2013 photo was taken, I began to worry even more about what life was going to bring to Brett. At his wake, Brett's brother-in-law, the writer Richard Pyle, observed that throughout his life, Brett had experienced "all the luck in the world." ALL OF IT, he emphasized—the good and the bad. In the past couple of years the luck had been a lot of bad. It was absolutely a mercy that when his terribly, terribly frail body went out on him for the very last time, he was at home, not out on the street, out on the subway, out in some bad company. It's a shame, though, that he was alone. I miss him terribly. He drove his poor sister Brenda completely crazy over so many years, and at his funeral, she quoted Hamlet—yes, Act Five, Scene Two. "Now cracks a noble heart/good night, sweet prince." And yes, exactly, I feel exactly the same goddamn way.
UPDATE: With respect to Cheryl Smith's cause of death, see Paulina Victoria's comment below. My citation derived from a recollection of a conversation with Brett. The Wikipedia entry cites complications from liver disease and hepatitis. I don't want to be the cause of more confusion so I've struck (as of January 20 2016) the information in this post.
Personal thanks to Gered Mankowitz for allowing me to use his beautiful images, and supplying me with the materials.