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 Louisiana Gumbo (and some Lagniappe) 
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This thread (my first on this forum) will be an on-going exploration of my home state: its culture, its landscape, its history, and especially its portrayal in film and other arts. I hope to demystify this rather eclectic corner of the American South by illuminating the distinction between truth and cliché, and by discussing how Louisiana both resembles and differs from the rest of the country. Special attention shall be paid to New Orleans, which is the crux of Louisiana's culture and the city where I currently reside. As a lifelong native, a local tour guide, a writer, and an avid watcher of films, this has long been a subject of fascination for me -- the struggle between fact and fiction, depiction and reality, history and myth -- and I intend to use those qualifications to investigate the murky area between those two poles.

My approach -- as befits the lifestyle down here -- will be fast, loose, and improvisational. I am making this thread like one would make a gumbo, a local dish with a flour and oil base (called a roux), served over rice, to which you can add any number or diversity of ingredients. You can have a seafood gumbo with shrimp and crab, or a chicken and sausage gumbo. Throw in some okra, some celery, some peppers, anything you like. The flexibility of the recipe, and the experimentation which can result, is part of the appeal. So we have our rice (the subject: Louisiana), our roux (the theme: fact vs fiction, esp. in film), and now we'll spice that up with whatever might work. I will discuss films and literature set or written here; I'll post photographs and recipes; I'll call upon my knowledge and resources as a tour guide to add depth and context; I'll share anecdotes and personal encounters; I'll include news stories, local issues, or any number of things. And while the music down here merits a thread of its own, I'll inevitably end up talking about and sharing some of that as well.

Finally, you might be wondering what lagniappe is. It's a local term which has long been used, which I'll allow Mark Twain to explain:

Mark Twain wrote:
We picked up one excellent word — a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word — "lagniappe." They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish — so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a "baker's dozen." It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop — or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know — he finishes the operation by saying — "Give me something for lagniappe." The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor — I don't know what he gives the governor; support, likely. When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans — and you say, "What, again? — no, I've had enough;" the other party says, "But just this one time more — this is for lagniappe." When the beau perceives that he is stacking his compliments a trifle too high, and sees by the young lady's countenance that the edifice would have been better with the top compliment left off, he puts his "I beg pardon — no harm intended," into the briefer form of "Oh, that's for lagniappe."


While only rarely seen as a business practice nowadays, the word is still commonly used by Louisianians in other contexts, and it will act as the garnish on our gumbo. With each update, I'll include some lagniappe: an additional bit of information, some scrap of ephemera, or a song or story to add some zest to the recipe. The lagniappe will be included in a spoiler tag at the bottom of all future updates.

(The thread will be updated irregularly, as I generate appropriate material, so expect updates to be pretty sporadic.)

Index

Films (Fiction)
Tchoupitoulas | Ross Brothers | 2012
Hard Times | Walter Hill | 1975
The Princess and the Frog | Ron Clements & John Musker | 2009
Angel Heart | Alan Parker | 1987
The Big Easy | Jim McBride | 1986
Panic in the Streets | Elia Kazan | 1950
Southern Comfort | Walter Hill | 1981
Hard Target | John Woo | 1993
Down By Law | Jim Jarmusch | 1986
The Cincinnati Kid | Norman Jewison | 1965
The Films of Helen Hill: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Films (Documentary)
Big Charity + The Great Invisible, Double Feature
Always for Pleasure | Les Blank | 1978
Spend It All | Les Blank | 1971
Dry Wood | Les Blank | 1973
Hot Pepper | Les Blank | 1973
Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking | Les Blank | 1990
J'ai été au bal | Les Blank | 1989

Television
True Detective: Episodes 1-3, Episodes 4-7, Episode 8

Literature (Fiction)
The Moviegoer | Walker Percy | 1960
The Selected Writings of Lafcadio Hearn | Lafcadio Hearn (editor: Henry Goodman) | 566 pages

Literature (Nonfiction)
Rising Tide | John M. Barry | 1997
Life on the Mississippi | Mark Twain | 1883 + Quotes
Bourbon Street: A History | Richard Campanella | 2014
The Selected Writings of Lafcadio Hearn | Lafcadio Hearn (editor: Henry Goodman) | 566 pages

Music
Sweet Crude
In Memoriam: Allen Toussaint

Art
The Ghost of Telly Hankton | Charlie Hoffacker | 2014

Miscellaneous
A Confederacy of Drunkards

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Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:23 am
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Certainly a project of interest. Following.


Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:25 am
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Oh, excellent.

:heart:

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Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:27 am
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It's like my thread about Argentina, but about Louisiana. I didn't introduce people to complicated slang with my thread's title, though, so this is already better. Also, compared to my thread, this one has +1 Mark Twain quotes.


Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:51 am
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Excited!! And lagniappe is such a great word. We have one almost exactly like that in my mother tongue too that I've struggled in the past to explain to friends etc. Now I'll just use your Mark Twain passage.

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Fri Jul 19, 2013 9:08 am
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you hopefully will include some food dishes and review this movie - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2011265/


Fri Jul 19, 2013 10:20 am
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Yay!

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Fri Jul 19, 2013 10:44 am
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Impressive presentation.

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Fri Jul 19, 2013 11:31 am
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I'll put on the red beans and rice.


Fri Jul 19, 2013 11:54 am
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Tchoupitoulas | Bill and Turner Ross | 2012

Funny you should say that, Andrew Ryan, because watching that film last night was what finally prompted me to start this thread. And for that matter, it's your post in the Best of 2012 thread that got me to see the film, which I had not heard about somehow.

The film works around a fictional framework (three young brothers miss the ferry back home and spend a night in New Orleans), but the content is documentary in nature, with the Ross brothers following these boys and filming their clandestine adventures. While shot over the course of about 9 months, the bulk was shot in one night, and its loose narrative adheres to a one night structure. The film alternates between three primary modes: a straightforward document of the boys wandering around; abstract, lyrical interludes, usually shot out of focus, with the youngest brother speaking in voice-over; and brief asides where the camera lingers on other characters, some of whom the brothers would not have seen.

My views on the film are conflicted. On the one hand, the film is utterly sincere. It shoots the city frankly and honestly; it doesn't try to make the city something that it's not. There is an emphasis on the city lights (and the abstraction of those lights) that makes its low-budget, digital visuals memorable. The asides give a broader sense of the city's identity (though one limited primarily to performers); I even recognized a friend of mine (the announcer for the burlesque dancers, a local actor who also owns a small theatre venue). In this respect, it feels like a city symphony, seen through the eyes of someone new to it.

Unfortunately, its scope is too narrow and too predictable. The action is confined almost entirely to the French Quarter, which is a small, tourist-heavy fraction of the city. There are only a few moments when they venture further abroad, and these moments are all too brief. The infectious optimism and the banter of the three brothers keeps the film interesting, but their involvement is too insubstantial to give this footage any new life or significance. Consequently, much of the film ends up feeling like an ad for Bourbon Street. It might be different for someone unfamiliar with the city, someone who is also new to this, but as someone who walks these streets every day, a lot of the film felt like a retread.

The film has only two grievous faults: one scene, and the film's title. The scene constitutes maybe five minutes of the film, where suddenly it's Mardi Gras and the boys are catching beads off of floats. As if people might not recognize New Orleans if Mardi Gras weren't there to clue them in. It's a cheap choice, and it's the only part of the film that feels disingenuous.
I also have issues with the title, Tchoupitoulas. Tchoupitoulas is a street in New Orleans that follows the river, but it's a street the boys never visit; it doesn't run through the French Quarter. There is one shot where they might be on Tchoupitoulas, where they're lingering beside a dark warehouse, but that's all. It uses some arbitrary, exotic name to spice up its appeal, a sort of Southern Orientalism. Granted, I'm guilty of a similar approach with the title of my thread, but at least I've tried to contextualize that information and integrate it into the structure of the thread.

But two scenes from the film act as counterpoints to these two flaws. Both are instances when the boys leave the Quarter. The first, occurring about halfway through the film, is the scene with the fire-dancers on Frenchmen Street (the musical heart of New Orleans right now, just outside of the French Quarter). I've seen these fire-dancers often enough, but the virtuosic editing, which strikes a stark contrast between fire and darkness, forges the scene into something new, immediate, and exciting.
The other scene is later in the film, when the boys trespass on the abandoned riverboat. Here, finally, we get a genuine sense of exploration with its wild rush of feelings: excitement, hesitation, discovery, fear, curiosity. The whole scene, which is at least five minutes, is quietly exhilarating, and even feels a little dangerous. It's the highlight of the film, and achieves what the rest of the film strives for without fully succeeding.

Lagniappe:

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The etymology of the word Tchoupitoulas is a rather mysterious subject. Lots of theories about its origins exist, but no definitive explanation. John Churchill Chase's 1949 book Frenchmen Desire Good Children is a casual account of New Orleans history written by a local cartoonist and amateur historian. Chase was interested in the city's unusual street names, and his book tells the history of the city's geography and development as a means for explaining how these streets came into their names (his title is a pun: Frenchmen and Desire and Good Children are all streets in New Orleans).

On Tchoupitoulas:
John Churchill Chase wrote:
Numerous, too, have been explanations of its origins. "It was the name of a tribe of Indians. . . it means fish-hole-road. . . it means mudfish people. . . that a Frenchman came upon an Indian fishing, and when inquired of his luck, the Indian replied in French, 'Choupic ques tous la.' -- meaning that the choupics (mudfish) were all there. Whereupon the French gave the name of Tchoupitoulas to the bayou and the Indians living nearby."
[. . .]
A more primitive form of Tchoupitoulas is Chapitoulas. And its origin? [. . .] Nobody knows to what Indian dialect Chapitoulas belongs.
In a scholarly analysis, Dr. William A. Reed reasons that if the word is Choctaw it might perhaps be a compound of "hatcha" (river), "pit" (at), "itoula" (reside);-- or literally, "Those Who Reside at the River."
This is a sound analogy, and it is the nearest approximation of the origin of Chapitoulas that may ever be known.

(taken from John Churchill Chase's Frenchmen Desire Good Children)
The book is a fun, enlightening, and easy read, though primarily of interest for those familiar with the city. Also, as something written in a comic tone in 1949, its views on Native Americans aren't always the most sophisticated.
After Chase's death, they re-named a street in the business district in his honor: John Churchill Chase Street.

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Fri Jul 19, 2013 2:51 pm
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All these stories about the origin of words and names of places are such a delight to read. I've never been to New Orleans but really want to visit sometime. And the lagniappe on that last post was my fav. part.

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Fri Jul 19, 2013 10:37 pm
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Weird. I always assumed Tchoupitoulas was an Indian tribe. Probably because of these guys:



Fri Jul 19, 2013 10:58 pm
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The Wild Tchoupitoulas are an Indian tribe. . . in a sense. They're a tribe in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, where members of the black community dress up in Indian-like regalia. It's a long and complex tradition, and partly an act of homage. The two groups have an intimate history, due to their mutual enslavement and suffering under the European colonists. Also, thanks to the disproportionate number of male slaves brought over, many African men ended up with women from Choctaw, Natchez, and Houma tribes.

As practiced today, Mardi Gras Indians are black people (typically men, but you see more and more women nowadays) who dress up in elaborate, hand-made costumes (each Mardi Gras Indian crafts his or her own costume, bead by bead, and they often cost thousands of dollars and weigh well over 100 lbs) and perform a sort of bluffing or taunting ritual, either within the group or with another tribe. It involves a lot of bluster and bravado; everything is set to a drumbeat rhythm and they taunt through either chants or songs. Think peacocks: lots of strutting and deliberately ostentatious pageantry.

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Typically they practice through the fall and winter and perform during Mardi Gras, St. Joseph's Day, and sometimes during various festivals. Although you can see them year round in the Quarter showing off their costumes and trying to raise money for the next one.

So the Wild Tchoupitoulas are not a band -- they hired musicians to play for the album -- but that's them chanting, and the album is a fusion of New Orleans music with this performance tradition. But they take their name from the street, not from an Indian tribe.

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Sat Jul 20, 2013 3:04 am
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Also, for the record, I encourage y'all to make this thread a forum for discussion. If you have any questions about the culture here, if you're wondering about the authenticity of a movie or a book, if you have any recommendations (I have lots in mind to talk about, but I'm always willing to find more), or anything at all, please don't hesitate to contribute. And if you've seen or read something and want to post your own review in my thread and start a discussion about it, by all means do so.

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Sat Jul 20, 2013 3:08 am
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This thread is super cool. I've been to New Orleans once (~2 yrs ago), and loved it.

Maybe think about checking out Almereyda's work set there. I can vouch for Happy Here and Now, though I have not seen New Orleans Mon Amour. The former might not offer such obvious connections to the culture as in this doc (which I want to see!), but there's a lot (seemingly, at least) of local flavor. I think the latter deals with after Katrina. I forget, do you watch Treme?


Fri Jul 26, 2013 8:56 am
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I haven't heard of the Almereyda's, so I'll definitely check those out. As for Treme, I've only seen the first episode and intend to catch up as part of this endeavor. That'll probably be an on-going theme for a while, once I get around to it.

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Fri Jul 26, 2013 9:13 am
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now do london

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Fri Jul 26, 2013 9:17 am
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Macrology wrote:
As for Treme, I've only seen the first episode and intend to catch up as part of this endeavor. That'll probably be an on-going theme for a while, once I get around to it.

It's been an on-going theme ever since you first mentioned making this thread and you got asked about it. :P Which, by the way, is a great thread so far and :up: for making it.

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Fri Jul 26, 2013 5:11 pm
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Really interesting thread

Might also make sense to play through Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

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Thu Aug 01, 2013 6:07 am
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Hard Times | Walter Hill | 1975


I pushed this to the top of my to-watch list after seeing B-Side post some screenshots a while back (which can be found here).

His screenshots capture some of the film's best qualities, in particular the attention to period detail, authentic location shooting, and Hill's measured and dynamic compositions. In fact, the film's setting often seems to take precedence over its story; Pauline Kael called the film a series of "elaborate period recreations that seem almost to be there for their own sake” (taken from the Wikipedia article; I couldn't track down the original article). The story is an unassuming trifle, an interlude where a few lives briefly intertwine around bouts of illegal street fighting. The stakes are never very high -- lives are threatened once or twice, but we never really doubt the outcome -- which is a quality I admired. The film is about down-and-outs living from one quick buck to the next, and the fights are suffused with a tawdry sense of sportsmanship. Dedicating too much attention to the story or inflating the significance of these events would merely distract from the richness of the characterization: both the characterization of New Orleans in the 1930s and of the people who populate the city.

The film revels in its setting and in the tone it sets: an old and weathered city, comprised of fading storefronts, grimy warehouses, cheap diners, and decrepit shotgun houses. These places, and the marginalized people who inhabit them, convey a peculiar atmosphere. Not a sense of hopelessness, like one might expect, but a world where ambition and upward mobility are neither viable options nor a desirable ideal. Even those who have reached the top spend their time organizing street fights with drifters. It's a world where people say very little, solely because there is little to be said beyond what is purely practical. There are a few moments where we witness some unspoken desire -- a yearning to connect? brief existential episodes? -- but these moments never develop into more than a shadow.

The city sets the rootless, ambivalent tone, but it's the characters who give life and humor to the film. The cast is impeccable and fills the city with delightful eccentrics: Coburn's reckless and charming gambler (I've always had a fondness for Coburn, who reminds me vividly of my maternal grandfather), Strother Martin's bizarre opium-fiend doctor, the bald boxer who constantly smiles. These characters are especially admirable because they also manage to be true to life. The accents, the dialects, the intermittent Southernisms all feel genuine and ring true to me. They even pegged the Cajuns pretty well, and they have a notoriously difficult accent. This was a refreshing surprise, as most filmmakers seem to have very little familiarity with the region.
The location work also impressed me. Not only does Hill use his locations evocatively, but they are also undeniably authentic. They are a little opportunistic at times -- why have them meet in a cemetery, except to take advantage of its unique appearance? -- but they never indulged in unnecessary flourishes, and altogether they achieved a vivid and textured backdrop. I recognized several locations (and could roughly infer most exteriors). Of course, there were some technical fallacies. For instance, every time Coburn pulls into his driveway you see the cornstalk fence, a notable landmark in the Quarter, but the house behind that fence is a wooden Victorian home built by an American, and certainly doesn't match up with the cast-iron gallery we see Coburn sitting on earlier in the film (as captured in B's screenshots). But that's a trifling point, and one that didn't really bother me at all. On the whole, the locations feel very real and familiar, and the period details were, to my eyes, flawless.
(Another trifling point: as soon as I saw oysters on-screen, I thought to myself, "They are not really going to eat those oysters". . . and sure enough, it all happens off-screen.)

If the film has one major failing, its the presence of Jill Ireland, Bronson's wife, who plays a love interest of sorts. Their scenes are not very plausible, nor very interesting, but even that misstep is salvaged by the ambivalence of their relationship. She seems to want something more out of life, and he treats her as more or less expendable, and there seems to exist this mutual understanding that's never really articulated.

It's a modest and unambitious film, but that perfectly reflects the attitude embodied in the film itself, which in turn reflects an attitude which most decidedly exists in New Orleans to this day: a willingness to accept life more or less as it is, without the drive to move higher, and to make the best of what happiness you can find there. Can't wait to get around to Hill's Southern Comfort, which is also set in Louisiana. (I may check out his more recent Bullet to the Head, part of which was shot down here, and which I ended up doing some extra work for.)


Lagniappe


I had trouble deciding what to write about here, because there's no moment or detail in the film that stood out above the rest, that feels particularly relevant to this film. Instead, I decided to gather some actual photos of New Orleans from around the same time (late 20s, early 30s), to use as a basis of comparison. Accompanied by brief commentary when there's something to be said.

Image

New Orleans as photographed by the WPA. This is why it's called The Crescent City.

Image

A famous townhouse at the intersection of Dauphine Street and Orleans (Coburn's character, upon arriving in New Orleans, tells Bronson that he lives on Dauphine Street).

Image

St. Louis Cathedral from behind, taken from a balcony. If you look closely you can see the townhouse from the previous picture, which is two blocks behind the cathedral.

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A barber shop storefront, taken by Walker Evans circa 1935. French Quarter storefronts often appear in the film, although I'd say the '70s locations look a little slimier than the actual '30s.

Image

To throw some color in here. A postcard of a courtyard. Incidentally, a lot of the architecture that will appear in these films, the wrought iron balconies and courtyards and stucco walls so common to the French Quarter, were actual of Spanish colonial origins. The Spanish ruled Louisiana for almost forty years prior to America buying the region, and two crippling fires burned down over 1,000 buildings -- roughly 85% of the Quarter (called the Vieux Carre, or Old Square, traditionally). Therefore the most prevalent architecture in the French Quarter, and most of the oldest, is in the Spanish style.

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Sat Nov 09, 2013 7:47 am
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"It's like old Momma said, 'The next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing.'"

Nice piece on Hard Times, Mac. Coburn as Speed is my favorite performance of his. Jill Ireland was an awful actress, but the film is already so full of colorful characters, she doesn't really make an impact.

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Sat Nov 09, 2013 10:21 am
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Did not expect to post twice in such quick succession, but I ended up having a Disney marathon with some friends and we squeezed this one in (my first viewing).

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The Princess and the Frog | Ron Clements & John Musker | 2009

Predictably for Disney, this movie is steeped in about as many clichés, misconceptions, and geographical inconsistencies as possible. This is a fantasy vision of New Orleans, one without any aspirations of authenticity. We have the minor offenses, which one expects of any film set here: the approximate accents, the fetishization of jazz and the architecture, the necessity of including a Mardi Gras parade in some scene. It feels like someone bet the filmmakers that they couldn't list every single food that originated in New Orleans, so they tried to shoehorn some mention of jambalaya, remoulade, and Tabasco into every corner of the film. It features the gross (yet typical) misappropriation of Voodoo as some sort of evil sorcery, toothless Cajun fireflies and frog trappers, adventures in the bayou, and John Goodman (who actually owns a house here) as a white-suited Southern Gentleman who ought to be in Savannah, Georgia, or maybe someplace in South Carolina. As an animation, it also has the liberty of mutilating the city's geography to a degree that a live-action film simply couldn't manage. We have streetcar lines running in places where they likely never ran. We have a cemetery smack dab in the middle of the French Quarter (there hasn't been one within the Quarter since the late 1700s, and most of that one wasn't above ground). I think the last shot might have shown the river running behind St. Louis Cathedral, a mistake so improbable I'm convinced I must have seen it incorrectly. I won't even delve into the matter of race, which is so thoroughly glossed over it's not really worthy of mention.

That said, I rather enjoyed the film. It's not very remarkable, but it is reliably entertaining and has its share of redeeming qualities. Newman's score is uneven, but better than most Disney scores, thanks to its tapping into New Orleans musical traditions (I particularly enjoyed the Shadow Man's musical number, which felt like a combination of Aladdin's "Never Had a Friend Like Me" and the St. James Infirmary Blues). The animation is consistently good -- although I wasn't fond of the digital backdrops -- and some of the musical numbers impressed, namely the Art Deco sequence in her imagined restaurant. The characters are all likable in spite of their broad characterization, the humor and timing are spot-on, and the plot progresses nicely. The Mama Odie character was very memorable, in part because she's hilarious, but also because she more accurately represents Voodoo than the Shadow Man villain (not that she's all that close to the reality either -- but she's closer).

I also feel like I can't fault a film for misrepresenting the city when it's working in a tradition so bound to fantasy and fairy tale ideals. This film has no intention of depicting New Orleans; it only wants to show the romance of New Orleans. However, they might have made an effort to conceal the transparency of that romance.

Lagniappe

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Voodoo is too vast and complex a subject to tackle in one of these little lagniappe segments. For starters, Voodoo is just the Louisiana version of a tendency to mix African spiritualism and Christianity in slave colonies, a tradition which also includes Haitian Vodou, Hoodoo, Puerto Rican Santeria, and Brazilian Candomblé, to name a few. Even books written on the subject struggle to be comprehensive because these belief systems are too diverse and amorphous to really pin down. But I can at least illuminate Louisiana Voodoo a bit, and its depiction in this film.

We have two Voodoo practitioners: the villain, Dr. Facilier (or the Shadow Man), and the fairy godmotherish Mama Odie, who lives in the swamps. They represent a sort of dark/black magic light/white magic division which does actually exist in some capacity, but not in the manner depicted here. With Dr. Facilier, we witness the adoration of idols, communication with the dead, and a fetishistic obsession with objects of all kinds (much of it little more than kitsch) -- all genuine elements of Voodoo which the filmmakers exaggerate and elaborate upon indiscriminately. In Mama Odie, we see a more domestic vision of Voodoo, the priestess who gets by on herbs, domestic paraphernalia, and good, solid advice. This is more true to my experiences with Voodoo (albeit taken to cartoonish extremes). Household objects like utensils, bricks, keys, coins, cigarettes, and salt all had great significance and were often incorporated into rituals (as seen above).

Dr. Facilier's character design seems heavily influenced by the figure of Baron Samedi, a Loa (spirit or god, essentially) associated with death, dead ancestors, burial, debauchery, and revelry. He is often depicted as either a skeleton or a man with a skull-like face or mask, but he is always well-dressed: he almost always wears a top hat and either a suit or a tuxedo. Below are two relatively traditional pictures of him.

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I imagine I'll get to talk about Voodoo in more detail later on, and other aspects of the religion, after watching more films.

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Sun Nov 10, 2013 5:19 pm
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Not related to film or anything, but something going on in New Orleans today that just makes my affection for this city overflow. Recently there's been an anti-noise ordinance circulating through the local government, a movement which has caused a great deal of controversy in a city whose life blood is music. People gathered in protest today, and in the midst of it a second line started (our term for any parade of people following music around) and made its way through city hall, trumpets and trombones blaring in the hallways and council rooms.

An article with some photos

The only footage I could find so far
(Not great quality, and a bit lengthy, but you can't hear the music in the photos. But it's a Facebook video so let me know if you have trouble viewing it.)

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 7:10 am
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I love New Orleans. One of my two favorite cities in America (the other being New York City), and one of my favorite cities I've ever visited, worldwide.

I haven't seen this thread before! Very excited to read it. And you should definitely get around to Southern Comfort as soon as possible, I watched it earlier this month and it's truly fantastic, one of the more atmospheric "war" films I've ever seen. Really captures that swampland.


Sat Jan 18, 2014 7:17 am
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Like Dern, I hadn't seen this thread before.

Maybe you can clarify something someone told me during Mardis Gras 1997. I went to a training session that was purposely set during that week, and on Tuesday night we went out of our hotels in the French Quarter and saw something like I've never seen before. You can imagine the details, but that's not what I'm curious about.

One of the fellow trainees, a man from Louisiana, but not from New Orleans said, it's always like this. Only during the season around Mardis Gras it's exaggerated."

Is that true? Or was he just putting on a show for my benefit? Because if it's true that the nightlife is even only 10% as outre on a regular night, that's a wild wild place! :D

It was one of the most fun cities to walk around in that I've ever been to. Something about it reminded me strongly of the part of Mexico City I walked around in during December 1974 when I was there with a bunch of Memphis State University Biology students, for a single afternoon and overnight. At least I got to see New Orleans for an entire week. And then for another week later in the summer when I went back for the event we were training for.

Yeah. I like that place.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 9:22 am
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He may have exaggerated a little, but in general that's true. Mardi Gras is definitely New Orleans turned up to 11, partly because you have so many out of towners. But most weekends are extremely lively, especially in the French Quarter, and certain events are almost on the same level as Mardi Gras, like Jazz Fest and Halloween. It is very much a party city, and a city that thrives on its ability to entertain.

On rare occasions, even Mardi Gras is surpassed. For example, when the Saints won Superbowl XLIV, I've never seen the city so happy, so lively, and so full of people. Mind you, there weren't nearly as many people in town as there are during Mardi Gras. But everyone in the city was out in the streets; sometimes there were so many people around you couldn't even move. During Mardi Gras, things might go too far -- you get people who get too drunk, or who get into fights. There was a shooting last Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street. But that night it was pure good will all around. It was intoxicating.

Also, the resemblance to Mexico City lies in the fact that much of the architecture in the French Quarter is, ironically, Spanish colonial architecture. The French founded the city, but a substantial swath of the Quarter was leveled by two major fires in the late 1700s, leading the Spanish to build their characteristic brick and stucco homes in place of the old cypress homes that had burned.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 9:53 am
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Macrology wrote:
He may have exaggerated a little, but in general that's true. Mardi Gras is definitely New Orleans turned up to 11, partly because you have so many out of towners. But most weekends are extremely lively, especially in the French Quarter, and certain events are almost on the same level as Mardi Gras, like Jazz Fest and Halloween. It is very much a party city, and a city that thrives on its ability to entertain.

On rare occasions, even Mardi Gras is surpassed. For example, when the Saints won Superbowl XLIV, I've never seen the city so happy, so lively, and so full of people. Mind you, there weren't nearly as many people in town as there are during Mardi Gras. But everyone in the city was out in the streets; sometimes there were so many people around you couldn't even move. During Mardi Gras, things might go too far -- you get people who get too drunk, or who get into fights. There was a shooting last Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street. But that night it was pure good will all around. It was intoxicating.

Also, the resemblance to Mexico City lies in the fact that much of the architecture in the French Quarter is, ironically, Spanish colonial architecture. The French founded the city, but a substantial swath of the Quarter was leveled by two major fires in the late 1700s, leading the Spanish to build their characteristic brick and stucco homes in place of the old cypress homes that had burned.

The architecture note is interesting, and explains exactly what I was curious about.

Wow, to think that it's not quite so crowded, but just as jubilant nearly all the time is mind-bending.

The Mardi Gras outing was the only time in my life when I couldn't walk for hours on end without rubbing elbows with strangers on both sides of me. In some places where we were standing to watch the wonders happening across the street, there were people so jamb-packed together that I had people against me on all sides. It was weird, and I felt like a puppy in a mass of siblings in a box. It wasn't unpleasant, but it was a unique experience to that specific night. Now, inside the clubs it was only slightly less crowded.

I've been in crowded clubs in many cities, but never out in the streets! The other two nights we went out to get dinner or whatever, it wasn't that crowded. People could and did give you room to move. That night, there was nowhere for them to move aside. It was sort of fun to actually press our way through the crowd of people. I heard "Excuse me" in a dozen languages as other groups of people pressed past us whenever we would stop.

I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Wild is the only word to describe it.

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If you become rich and powerful, I hope that you will be cream rather than pond scum." --YTMN

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 12:01 pm
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Welcome to New Orleans: A Confederacy of Drunkards

This article is a few years old, but a friend sent it to me asking whether it's an accurate description of living as a writer in New Orleans. The article -- which is rather short and well worth reading -- details the literary pedigree of the city but also bemoans the difficulty of actually writing here and notes how many writers had to leave the city before they actually got any writing done. It particularly emphasizes the drinking culture here and the dangers of pairing that with the writer's predisposition toward alcoholism.

It's a topic that I've already thought a lot about, as a writer living here, and the article captures many of the issues (although it also feels like he's blaming the city for his own failings, from time to time). I've long thought of writing a film script -- possibly semi-autobiographical, although my stand-in would be more of an entry point than anything -- that deals with the artistic malaise of one's 20s, where one is too inexperienced to make money but too poor to operate independently and gain much experience. New Orleans is a particularly harsh mistress in this regard and does the artist no favors with her innumerable distractions. I haven't started yet, as my novel is still my #1 priority. I need to determine a proper structure for the film (I've thought of structuring it around a series of party set-pieces), and I want to avoid the self-indulgence a project like this lends itself to. But the article above encapsulates some of my concerns.

Image

I've also considered drawing a parallel between the story in this film and Shakespeare's Henry IV plays. The sign above is a New Orleans landmark not far from downtown, a former brewery converted into apartments, and one can see the neon "Falstaff" emblazoned on the night sky as one enters the city on I-10. It's a potent and inevitable symbol of the city's influence over its inhabitants, and I see the city itself playing Falstaff to an ensemble of Hals, who must either succumb to the city's pleasures or deny them to take up their artistic pursuits in earnest. (I'm pressing the point, as these are more background motifs and thematic suggestions; the film is tragicomic and not especially literary, but the sign served as inspiration for the film and therefore deserves mention).

Not sure what more to say about this, or whether it's of any interest to y'all, but I hope it is, and I shall keep everyone informed if this project develops in any way. I have many more ideas I refrained from elaborating upon, it's merely a matter of organizing all of them into something that can work.

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Thu Feb 06, 2014 7:07 am
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I'm from Houston originally (and have lived in Portland for about a year now) but my family's cajun so I like this project a lot and relate to it!

I downloaded this doc from KG a while back and you might be interested:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0467552/

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Thu Feb 06, 2014 5:14 pm
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I wanted to start sharing content that's a little more concise and digestible (with less intrusive commentary on my part). I also wanted to share material being produced nowadays, by people in the city who I know and associate with. That's difficult, because many of the people I know are involved primarily with theatre; I considered sharing a recent web series, but despite a good soundtrack and some interesting visual touches, the series was too poorly written to make it worthwhile.

Luckily, there's always music in New Orleans! A lot of the music here caters to Louisiana's roots in jazz, brass bands, and zydeco, but there's also a small yet vigorous indie pop/rock scene. While much of the output from that scene doesn't interest me, there are a few notable exceptions, particularly those that fuse our older traditions with a more contemporary flavor.

Such is Sweet Crude (a remarkably succinct and clever band name that marries Louisiana's troublesome oil industry to its musical heritage by emphasizing the poetic oxymoron inherent to the phrase sweet crude oil). Their music pulls generously from Cajun folk music, mixing Cajun fiddle with driving drum beats. They often rework old zydeco songs, and many of their lyrics are in Cajun French. I know a few of the band members very casually, and many of them participate in other music projects as well; we have an overabundance of talent here, so many musicians play for several bands, and some of these bands have anywhere from 6 to 12 members.

But that's enough from me. Listen to the song, and if you like, there's more music (for purchase or streaming) to be found on their website:

Sweet Crude

Lagniappe



While looking up the song, I discovered that it's a rendition of a song by The Balfa Brothers, a mid-century Cajun music ensemble. Their version of the song is apparently on the soundtrack to Southern Comfort, which is one of the films I intend to watch for this project, so I'll be looking forward to that!

The lyrics to the Sweet Crude version -- with translation -- which appear to be the same as the original:

Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du mariage
(Oh let's talk about drinking, not about marriage)
Toujours en regrettant, nos jolies temps passé
(Always regretting our nice times gone by)
Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du mariage
Toujours en regrettant, nos jolies temps passé

Si que tu te maries avec une jolie fille,
(If you get married to a pretty girl)
T'es dans les grands dangers, ça va te la voler.
(You're in great danger, they're gonna steal her from you)

Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du mariage
Toujours en regrettant, nos jolies temps passé

Si que tu te maries avec une vilaine fille,
(If you get married to an ugly girl)
T'es dans les grands dangers, faudra tu fais ta vie avec.
(You're in great danger, you gotta live with that)

Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du mariage
Toujours en regrettant, nos jolies temps passé

Si que tu te maries avec une fille bien pauvre,
(If you get married to a poor girl)
T'es dans les grands dangers, faudra travailler toute la vie.
(You're in great danger, you'll have to work your whole life)

Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du mariage
Toujours en regrettant, nos jolies temps passé

Si que tu te maries avec une fille qu'a de quoi,
(If you marry a rich girl)
T'es dans les grands dangers, tu vas attraper des grandes reproches.
(You're in great danger, you're going to catch a lot of flack)
Fameux, toi grand vaurien, qu'a tout gaspillé mon bien
(You big good-for-nothing, you stole all my goodness)
Fameux, toi grand vaurien, qu'a tout gaspillé mon bien.
(You big good-for-nothing, you stole all my goodness)

Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du mariage
Toujours en regrettant, nos jolies temps passé
Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du mariage
Toujours en regrettant, nos jolies temps passé

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Thu May 29, 2014 3:33 pm
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Cool.

Marriage is not though, apparently.

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Thu May 29, 2014 6:31 pm
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Let's say I wrote an essay about a documentary (currently titled "My Louisiana Love and the Ghetto of Regional Filmmaking"). Would anyone be willing to read such an essay (around 1,250 words/two pages) and provide some feedback?

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Thu Jun 12, 2014 8:35 am
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Macrology wrote:
Let's say I wrote an essay about a documentary (currently titled "My Louisiana Love and the Ghetto of Regional Filmmaking"). Would anyone be willing to read such an essay (around 1,250 words/two pages) and provide some feedback?
As long as you're satisfied with feedback like, "TLDR"!

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Fri Jun 13, 2014 12:31 pm
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I booked a hotel in New Orleans. Think the fence you impaled your gents on would be an interesting tourist point?

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Sun Jul 27, 2014 5:35 am
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Macrology wrote:
Let's say I wrote an essay about a documentary (currently titled "My Louisiana Love and the Ghetto of Regional Filmmaking"). Would anyone be willing to read such an essay (around 1,250 words/two pages) and provide some feedback?

Gimme!

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Sun Jul 27, 2014 5:56 am
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Kayden, I expect it to become a national monument. I'm pretty sure it's on the shortlist for the National Registry of Historic Landmarks.

If you'd like someone to show you a few things, or if you'd just like to grab a drink while you're in town, let me know! You can just send me a PM if you're interested.

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Tue Jul 29, 2014 9:20 am
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Macrology wrote:
Kayden, I expect it to become a national monument. I'm pretty sure it's on the shortlist for the National Registry of Historic Landmarks.

If you'd like someone to show you a few things, or if you'd just like to grab a drink while you're in town, let me know! You can just send me a PM if you're interested.


I probably will since I'm probably going by myself. It's not until February though so there's lots of time.

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Tue Jul 29, 2014 9:18 pm
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So how is the Royal Sonesta? I got a balcony room (facing either Conti or Bienville St... possibly Bourbon) and a WET BAR. I'm going all out for this, if I die in New Orleans that week, I will have died broke but happy.

But if the hotel is complete shit then I have time to cancel.

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Sun Aug 03, 2014 4:54 am
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The Royal Sonesta is supposed to be pretty nice. I've never stayed in the hotel, so I can only speak well of the lobby and the Davenport Lounge (I caught a burlesque show there once, very cozy and elegant atmosphere). I'd avoid a Bourbon-facing balcony if noise bothers you. Otherwise you sound like you're good to go.

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Sun Aug 03, 2014 5:16 am
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Angel Heart | Alan Parker | 1987

This film has a lot to recommend it, both on its own terms and as a depiction of New Orleans. It has a strong visual sense; I love the ominous spinning fan motif. Rourke is a solid lead and the supporting cast is wonderfully eccentric. The script is snappy and playful and off-kilter. Almost every character has a name that is either allusive or allegorical or punning. My favorite is Toots Sweet, which is a homophone of the French "tout de suite" (meaning suddenly or immediately).

But it's interesting that the film is set in New Orleans, because according to Wikipedia, the source novel is set entirely in New York. And when we do see New Orleans, it's definitely the outsider's exotic view of it: worn down townhouses, oaks sagging with Spanish moss, orgiastic voodoo rituals. But it uses that exoticism to its advantage, emphasizing the derelict decadence of the city and the surrounding swamps. The film is set roughly in the same era as Hard Times, so we witness a similar milieu but this time pushed to an unsettling extreme. (And while the depiction of New Orleans is stylized, it is also well informed, with allusions to Algiers and Arnaudville and High John the Conquerer Root and relatively accurate portrayals of local traditions.)

Unfortunately, while I found the noir side of the coin very compelling, the horror elements don't fare so well. Early on, they lend a gruesome strangeness to the narrative, heightening the unnerving atmosphere, but at the end the film tips into excess and falls apart. There's such a disconnect between Rourke's character and the crimes he's allegedly committing. The film establishes its twist logically, but it fails build up to it expressively, with the exception of some vague and plodding flashbacks. The twist, though we see it coming, isn't accompanied by any revelation or any sense of moral weight.

Consequently, we have a fun exercise in style -- a cleverly written film with a charming lead saturated in a wonderfully weird mood -- but one that runs itself aground and that it's hard to fully enjoy, because you can sense that sour conclusion coming from the beginning.

Image

Lagniappe

Image

To continue the theme of demonic debauchery in New Orleans, I'm going to tell you the story of the New Orleans Axeman. From 1918-1919, a series of gruesome murders took place in the city; most involved the brutal use of an ax. A few victims were killed with a razor blade (one woman had her head nearly severed). His attacks were erratic and lacked any discernible pattern: he targeted men, women, and children in all parts of town without an apparent motive. The violent and unpredictable nature of his crimes led to widespread fear in the city, because anyone felt they might be his next victim.

These events reached a head in March of 1919 when the axeman wrote a letter to the Times-Picayune. He declared that he was a demon from hell and threatened to strike again on March 19th -- but also professed his love of jazz and promised to spare any house playing jazz music. On March 19th, the city was hoppin', with jazz coming out of every window, and no one died. This also marked the abrupt end of his killing spree, and to this day the case has not been solved. We only have theories about who the killer might have been. But the mysterious and outrageous circumstances have inspired songs (like the sheet music cover you see above), graphic novels (Rick Geary's recent nonfiction account of the story), and TV shows (for those of you who watched American Horror Story: Coven). It may have also influenced Angel Heart obliquely.

Below is his letter in full, which would be playful if it weren't utterly sinister:

Quote:
Hell, March 13, 1919

Esteemed Mortal:

They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.

If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don‘t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.

Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:

I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.

The Axeman

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Fri Oct 17, 2014 5:29 am
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How did I miss this last week? Another great thread revived!

Macrology wrote:
(And while the depiction of New Orleans is stylized, it is also well informed, with allusions to Algiers and Arnaudville and High John the Conquerer Root and relatively accurate portrayals of local traditions.)
Good to hear from an expert.

It's been a while since I saw this, but I remember the atmosphere/mood fondly. I guess I didn't expect any moral weight, because I didn't mind the sourness (or the silliness) of the ending. He was so clearly doomed from the start.

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Mon Oct 20, 2014 10:31 pm
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It was serendipitous that I watched this movie when I did, because three days ago on one of my tours a woman from Greece (who had seen the movie on its original release) asked me if I knew about a movie with Robert De Niro set in New Orleans. In three years I've never had anyone mention it, as far as I can recall, and then two days after I watch it someone brings it up, unprompted.

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Mon Oct 20, 2014 10:45 pm
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It must have made an impression if she remembered it, however hazily, all that time.

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Mon Oct 20, 2014 10:52 pm
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New Orleans is one of the greatest cities I've been to. We were only really there for a couple hours (plus a movie) and just saw some of the French Quarter and the drive along Prytania and St Charles but both my wife and I loved it and the people (two women gave us their paid parking slip when we pulled in to the spot they were leaving) and houses/architecture and food and everything. We're planning a real trip sometime soon in the future but on the drive back we discussed it in relation to San Francisco, Key West, Boston, Austin and Portland and decided we're pretty sure we like it in the same ways as what we love about those but that it seems to have even more potential.


Thu Oct 23, 2014 9:04 pm
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I started the third season of American horror story and it's based in Nola! I wikid the cast and it looks like the axe man will be in it.

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Tue Nov 11, 2014 10:29 am
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I believe that a supernatural variation on the Axeman features in some way, although I haven't watched the series so I can't say more than that (I might later for this thread).

I have a few friends (local actors) who scored day player roles in the show, although mostly in the season that's currently running (which isn't set in New Orleans but is shooting here).

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Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:55 pm
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As a Southerner this is an interesting thread. Nice to see some stuff that isn't purely about NO.


Sat Nov 29, 2014 1:03 am
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Okay so I've still got my heart set on Mardi Gras but I think I'm going to change some dates so I don't completely destroy my wallet. I had originally planned for a whole week to be there but I'm thinking from the 14th to the 19th will be enough. Gives me at least four days to see the city and Mardi Gras, think it's enough?

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Mon Dec 01, 2014 3:40 am
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Kayden Kross wrote:
Okay so I've still got my heart set on Mardi Gras but I think I'm going to change some dates so I don't completely destroy my wallet. I had originally planned for a whole week to be there but I'm thinking from the 14th to the 19th will be enough. Gives me at least four days to see the city and Mardi Gras, think it's enough?


Yes. You will be ready to leave after all that.


Mon Dec 01, 2014 5:38 am
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That sounds ideal. You'll definitely want to stay a few days after to see the city outside of Mardi Gras (because it's a very different experience), and Mardi Gras festivities can be extremely draining, so you can spend the last two days on a more laid back itinerary. And arriving on the 14th, you'll get to see most of the major parades (Orpheus, Bacchus, Rex) and experience Lundi Gras (that Monday), which I like more than Mardi Gras day.

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Mon Dec 01, 2014 6:07 am
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