Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Video Store Memories

My earliest memory of a video store must have been from 1985 or not long after this. Back then, my family didn’t own a VCR, but we could rent one from the local “Video Paradise” video store. The VCR, I remember, was small and, I think, came in a briefcase-like contraption. Along with the VCR, we rented Back to the Future and this, incidentally, was the movie that taught me my first cuss. There’s a scene where Biff says, “I’m gonna get that sonafabitch,” and “sonafabitch” became my very first cuss. At three or four years old, I went around my house saying, “I’m gonna get that sonafabitch,” or maybe I only did it once and was promptly reprimanded by my mother. All I know is “sonafabitch” was my first cuss word ever. Incidentally, the S-word was my second cuss word and I also learned that one from a video rental, this time Like Father, Like Son with Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore. I have no recollection of when I learned the F-word. It was likely from a video rental, though. I do remember when I learned “bastard” and that was from Die Hard.

Later into the 80s, my family purchased our own VCR machine, which was nice, because having to rent one every weekend was a real drag. The VCR was Toshiba-brand, very large, with many complex buttons, most of which were rarely used, or at least it seemed like that at the time. During this period—the late 1980s—pretty much all we rented at the video store were ACTION movies. In fact, I had no idea that there were any other choices. We would basically walk into Video Paradise and proceed immediately to the ACTION section, which was in the back, just to the right of the New Releases. Video box art was key and I would pretty much rent anything that looked action-packed. If it had fire-ball-like explosions and/or a greasy, jacked up Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover? Or Sylvester Stallone? It would be rented, no questions asked.

With one exception: Terminator.

Terminator was the one video we never, EVER rented. And this is because it was known as the only movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger was the “Bad guy”. And I guess, as a kid, I had no interest in watching a movie where Arnold was the bad guy. Only the good guy. So I treated Terminator kind of like how Pee-wee Herman treats the snakes when he’s saving all the animals from a pet store fire in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. He keeps going back in to save animal after animal but sneers at the snakes each time. Finally, once there are no more animals left to save, he grabs the snakes and runs the hell out of there before the whole place burns down. To me, Terminator was the snake. I’d sneer at it every time I went into the ACTION section at the video store. But, eventually, I rented every single ACTION movie there was to rent and, soon, Terminator was all there was left, so I reluctantly rented it (and loved it).

By the way, you may be wondering…hmmm…I was five…six…seven years old…and able to watch rated-R ACTION movies? The answer to that question is YES, without a problem, actually. My parents had no issue with me watching Rambo, Commando, Cobra, Delta Force, Marked for Death, Predator, Running Man, Kickboxer, guns, explosions and everything violence. The only problem was when there was a sex scene, at which time I would have to close my eyes and my dad would fast-forward until the sex was over. So sex was a no-no, but violence? Well, the more, the merrier!

How did I turn out? Well, I can’t say I’m a model citizen, but I’m not violent, that’s for sure…at least…not yet muahahahahahahahahaha aaaaaaaaa-hahahahahahahahahahaha ooooooo-hoooooohoooooohooooooo eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-heeeeeeeeeeeee-heeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeeeeeeee!


Out of all the ACTION movies I rented, Rambo First Blood Part 2 was probably both my favorite and the one I rented the most. In fact, I was damn-near obsessed with the movie, so much that I fantasized I was John Rambo on almost a daily basis. I got the Rambo action figures from Kay Bee Toys, the red bandana, even a plastic toy version of his bad-ass knife (which, if I remember correctly, I purchased at a Christmas Tree Shop down on Cape Cod). In the schoolyard, I made machine gun noises with my mouth, ran around and pretended I was doing Rambo missions. I preferred doing this over playing with other kids. Today, teachers probably would have thought I was “on the spectrum,” but autism wasn’t as big of a thing back in the 1980s, so I somehow got away with this, at least for a little while. I did eventually get a bad conduct grade on my 1st grade report card, for “not playing well with others.” This was mainly because I preferred playing in my imaginary world of Rambo.

Once the 1990s came around, I expanded my horizons and rented movies that weren’t ACTION. At this time, I rode my Giant “Attraction” mountain bike down to Video Paradise all during summer vacation and rented movies like Ransom, True Lies, Conair, Face Off, Bad Boys etc. I would then stay up late, watch these movies, and feel like I was accomplishing something with my life. By nature, I seem to have an obsessive-compulsive personality, so I got it into my head that I needed to watch pretty much every New Release that came out. I thought this would somehow make me a better or smarter person, kind of like how you think when you’re trying to beat a video game. You know, you convince yourself that beating Mario Bros. actually matters. What you realize in the end is that you haven’t really accomplished anything, nor have you improved yourself in any way. I probably would have been better off reading a book. But, alas, I digress.

Later into the 1990s, I made the switch from Video Paradise to Massive Video as my go-to video rental place. This was partly because Video Paradise went out of business (at this time, the evil franchise known as Blockbuster Video was killing off the mom and pop video stores left and right) but also because Massive Video had better deals. You could literally rent two non-new-releases for just a dollar. As for new releases, you could rent one for a few dollars and then get a non-new-release absolutely free. Bottom line: you could rent A LOT of videos from Massive for not a whole lot of money.

I had my driver’s license by this point in my life, so I hit up Massive all the time, especially during the summer when there was no school. I had also acquired a small 13” Sylvania television with the VCR built right into it and that became my own personal “home movie theater” for several years. I was particularly drawn to movies made by Miramax during this time because they were making all the unique indies. Movies like Trainspotting come to mind. Pulp Fiction as well. Say what you will about Harvey Weinstein, but he was responsible for many good movies in the mid-to-late 90s. Artisan was releasing a lot of great movies, too (like Blair Witch Project).

Massive Video also notoriously had the “adult video” closet that was commonplace in mom and pop video stores of that era. There was rarely anybody in this closet, but I do remember two occasions when there was a “john” (for lack of a better word) perusing the adult videos. On one occasion, there was a 50-year-old gentleman in the closet who eventually exited and then, upon checking out at the front desk, another customer (a woman) was walking into the store and she recognized him. It turns out he was the coach of her son’s soccer team! The poor guy was hoping to rent a couple adult vids with discretion and anonymity, but fate had other ideas. Boy how embarrassed he was!

On another occasion, my friends were in the store and I think we may have even been shooting the breeze with the video store clerk. I have no recollection of what we were talking about, but, whatever the subject matter was, we suddenly hear a noise and a guy comes out of the adult video closet, looking very rascally in the face. Then, he says to us, with incredible enthusiasm, “Yeah, that was in this month’s MAXIM!” The magazine, that is. So, whatever it was we were talking about, was apparently discussed or featured in the most recent issue of Maxim magazine. That guy would know, apparently.

By 2004, mom and pop video stores were a dying breed, as Blockbuster had officially monopolized the video rental market. Sadly, the mom and pops all began closing, one after the other. Before they closed, however, they had crazy liquidation sales. Like a bunch of jackals, my friends and I hit up many of these stores and walked away with dozens of videos that we acquired for pennies on the dollar. I personally walked away with a very eclectic collection of videos, including Todd Solondz’s From the Dollhouse, Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, Bob Fosse’s All that Jazz, the hilarious Airplane 2, an indie film called Chuck and Buck (one of the most uncomfortable movies of all time), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the first and best 1990 version) and even the French Film The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie.


A photo I took of Massive Video, right before it closed forever.

Only a few years after Blockbuster became king, Netflix rose to power. This not only marked the end of Blockbuster but it also marked the end of the video store era in general. A few video stores do exist here and there, mostly as ironic establishments in hipster neighborhoods, but for the most part, video stores are extinct and it’s unlikely that they will ever experience a revival. Streaming is probably here to stay for the unforeseeable future and it’s hard to imagine anything better unless mankind experiences some sort of apocalyptic disruption to the power grid, like a solar storm, where we lose Internet capabilities and are forced to go analog again. But, wait, if the power grid were to fry out on us, we wouldn’t even have the power to run the analog devices, right? Unless we used gasoline-powered generators. Yes, that would be the only way. Hmmm…

Anyway, yes, the video store era is likely a bygone era. But, before it gets forgotten forever, I wanted to memorialize it somehow. My novel WEIRD MONSTER, originally written as a screenplay back in 2007 and later turned into a novel (or what-I-call a “screen novel”) ten years later, is my attempt to memorialize it. The book is, among other things, a long love letter to the video store era, the VHS era, and the VCR era. It captures everything from the smell of video stores (plastic cases and, occasionally, stale popcorn) to the excitement of a new release coming out (after waiting forever for it to come out on video), to the magnetic-tape-sensing-security-gate-thingy that welcomed you when you entered the video store (or whatever the name of that thing was), to the movies playing on multiple TVs throughout the store…the buzzing fluorescent lights on the ceiling…the puke-colored, bubble-gum-stained carpeting…the clamshell video cases...and, yes, even the adult video closets.

Video stores were like a little fantasy land you could escape to at the end of your rough week of reality. They were warm in the winters. Cool in the summers. An all-around fun time. They will be so very missed.

WEIRD MONSTER is now available to read on Amazon. Find this book (and many others) at Matt Burns’ Amazon author page HERE.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Parallels Between Lyme Disease and the Washington 'Swamp'

What often happens with Lyme disease is that you don’t know you’ve actually had it for a long time, sometimes for many years or even for your whole life. It’s stealthy and likes to keep a low-profile. If you’re lucky, you finally get a diagnosis, and you start taking a medication, antibiotic or herb, to fight it. This disturbs the disease, stirs it up, makes its otherwise stealthy presence very well-known, and also makes it VERY angry. In retaliation, the disease releases powerful neurotoxins into your body, to make you feel even sicker and to deter you from fighting it any further.

Something similar has been happening in America’s recent political culture. For a long time, there was the Washington “swamp”, a diseased power structure made up of political insiders and career politicians who ruled us through division, identity politics and victimhood. They profited off of wars, favored multinational corporations and big banks over people, played the role of puppets for big pharma and Wall Street, did the bidding of lobbyists and wealthy campaign donors etc. But then an unlikely (and undoubtedly flawed) outsider named Donald Trump – the “great disruptor” – came along and challenged this power structure. Whether you liked his personality or not, he was the antibiotic that attempted to begin eradicating the so-called “swamp creatures”, once and for all. Just like with Lyme disease, this antibiotic disturbed and stirred up the creatures, they didn’t like what was happening—not at all—and fought back…hard, released toxins into our culture (largely via the corporate-owned mainstream media) and made America very toxic for about four years (the last of which, the year 2020, was the most toxic of all). People blamed Trump for this toxic culture when, in fact, the toxins were mainly a direct result of Trump trying to cure us of the swamp. The toxicity was, in effect, the swamp’s defense mechanism, a way to deter Trump and likeminded people to stop fighting it.

If Joe Biden, a man who’s basically been swimming in the swamp that is Washington for almost 50 years, does indeed become 46th president of the United States, this “defense mechanism” will have ultimately worked, because Biden’s presidency will put an end to the fighting of America’s swamp disease. Biden claiming that he will *restore* peace, unity, decency and normalcy in America is his way of saying he will *restore* the old political power structure, a place where the swamp creatures rule unchallenged yet again. They’ll stop releasing many of their toxins into our culture, things will appear to settle down and there will be the illusion of peace…

But, alas, we’ll still be just as diseased as we always were.


MATT BURNS is the author of THE BURNZO PAPERS: Selected Articles & Essays and also the novels JOHNNY CRUISE, THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON and WEIRD MONSTER. In addition, he’s published a memoir called GARAGE MOVIE: MY ADVENTURES MAKING WEIRD FILMS. Check out these books (and many more) on his Amazon author page HERE.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s CHARLIE!

I’m sitting at a table, like at a wedding reception. There are other people sitting at the table. I turn my head in counter-clockwise motion to look at each person sitting around this table. There is a man with no identifiable face…there is a woman with no identifiable face…then another man, no face…another woman, no face…and then there is a man…with a face. I stop on this man. Is it? It can’t be. But it is. It’s Charlie.

Yes, there is Charlie Chaplin, staring right at me with dead, expressionless, silent-film-era eyes. He gets up from his chair and walks clockwise around the table, not overly fast, not overly slow, but with purpose. Oh no. He’s coming for me. He’s coming for me. Around the remainder of the table he goes and stops when he gets to me. Then, he leans down and shoves his face right into my face. There is still no expression in his eyes. He doesn’t look angry. He doesn’t look happy, either. He just stares at me with those dead eyes of his. His energy is so intense. He’s terrifying.


And that’s when I wake up…with a jerk.


I sit in my bed and process what has just happened. Holy shit, I say to myself as I gather my druthers. This is the second time in about a month that Charlie has made an appearance in my dreams. For most people, this would be no big deal, but you must understand, Charlie and I have a history that goes back years, almost since I was born. You’re probably familiar with the movie Nightmare on Elm Street, right? Well, let’s just say Charlie is my Freddy Krueger.


Thing is…up until this past month or so, I hadn’t had a dream with Charlie since I was about eight years old. In fact, I specifically remember the last dream I ever had with him. I was on vacation down on Cape Cod when it happened, staying in a cottage in Harwich, sleeping on a little fold-up mattress, in a Smurfs sleeping bag, on the floor. I don’t quite remember the specifics of the dream, but I remember it being not as intense as the usual ones. Maybe I had reached an age where I was overcoming my fears and Charlie no longer had a hold on me. I remember him not being as scary and not being as threatening.


Previous dreams with Charlie, however, were another story. In fact, they were not dreams at all. They were straight-up NIGHTMARES, recurring nightmares that haunted me from about the age of two or three, up until the age of eight.


With some exceptions, these nightmares usually consisted of the same exact scenario:


I find myself standing in the kitchen to my house, a raised ranch. Nobody is home. I’m all alone. I then get this foreboding feeling. Terror overcomes me. A chill runs down my spine and travels all the way down to my toes. Oh no, I say to myself. He’s coming. I know he’s coming.


I turn and look out the kitchen, down the stairs…to the foyer…and I see the front door to the house. To the side of the door, there are five small square windows, one on top of the other, that allow you to see outside to the front steps. It’s dark out, or maybe dusk. There’s nobody out there right now…


But I know he’s coming. I feel his presence.


Sure enough, I see movement—not a full person yet—but a half a body or so, just what the square windows allow me to see coming up the stairs. Then I hear the screen door to the outside swing open. Then the doorknob to the inside door turns, the door opens and that’s when Charlie walks right in, so matter-of-factly, and proceeds to walk right up the stairs…not fast…not slow…but with purpose. He says nothing. He looks nothing (meaning he shows no emotion whatsoever). He has his signature, square mustache under his nose. But no cane or bowler hat. Just a half-messy mop of curly hair atop his head. He’s not even wearing his Tramp suit. No, this is more like casual Charlie, wearing suit pants, yes, but just a white dress shirt from the 1920s, sans the suit jacket. And his eyes…my God, his eyes. Have you ever watched a silent movie and noticed how strange the eyes of the actors and actresses of that era looked?[1] Those were the eyes!


I run out of the kitchen and down the hallway.


Charlie runs after me.


I get to my bedroom at the end of the hallway, I run into the room, it’s dark, and…there’s no escape. I try to scream for help, but no words leave my mouth. Charlie is right behind me now. I turn around and there he is. Just as he gets a hold of me…


Boom. I wake up.


This was the nightmare that recurred over and over again until I was eight years old. Simple, yes, with not a whole lot of action or drama. But there was something absolutely terrifying about it. There was something about Charlie’s eyes. They were dead, yes, but they exuded an energy that was utterly demonic in nature.


It’s odd, of course. Why in the world would a three-year-old growing up in the 1980s have a nightmare involving a silent screen star from the 1920s? A comedic, lovable silent screen star, no less? This is a very good question, and there are perhaps many theories that can be explored, but the most likely explanation comes from the show Sesame Street. See, I used to watch A LOT of Sesame Street. And, in the show, the character Maria used to dress up as Charlie Chaplin and do a little dance or bit of a jig or a sketch or whatever it was (watch the sketch “Charlie Chaplin at the Art Museum” as an example: For some reason, this scared the absolute crap out of me. I don’t know if it was the Hitler-esque mustache or what, but, yes, the look of Charlie Chaplin frightened the living crap out of me. And, thus, the nightmares began, ones that would terrorize me for most of my childhood. How ironic! A show that was supposed to help children learn actually became the source of terrifying nightmares that haunted me for years. Thanks, Corporation for Public Broadcasting!


Now, it’s very common for a child to have recurring nightmares, that much is for sure. But the question now is why Charlie has come back into my dreams after disappearing from them for about 30 years? There are a few possibilities to consider.


Possibility A: I am under psychic attack by a dark entity from another dimension, kind of like Freddy Krueger. Okay, maybe that’s a little far-out.


Possibility B: My adrenal glands are shot to hell. I’m possibly not eating as well as I could be or drinking as well as I could be (too much coffee comes to mind). If you assault your adrenals with irregular eating and drinking habits (like with coffee), you may be asking for trouble when you go to sleep. To be specific, your cortisol levels will be all screwy, but let’s not get too fancy with the buzzwords.


Possibility C: The nightmares are a symptom of my ongoing struggles with Lyme disease. Lyme can (and usually does) cross the blood-brain barrier, cause inflammation in the brain, which can often trigger intense nightmares.[2]


Possibility D: There is no possibility D. There was going to be a Possibility D, but then possibility D requested that it not be mentioned as a possibility and I decided to honor this request, however reluctant I was to do so. Between you and me, Possibility D is kind of a jerk. I could say other bad things about Possibility D, but I’m going to take the high road for once in my life.


Possibility E: My stress levels have reached new and greater heights. Although I wouldn’t say that I’m consciously aware of a high level of stress in my life (meaning I’m not biting my nails every second or grinding my teeth into oblivion), it’s possible that stress is affecting me in ways I’m not even consciously aware of. Not only have I been battling a menacing disease for the past three years (i.e. the aforementioned Lyme), but now we have COVID-19 anxieties thrown into the mix, social unrest in the world, unprecedented levels of division, intolerance and hatred in our culture, not to mention a general apocalyptic feeling. Again, on a conscious level, I don’t feel like I’m overly affected by all this turmoil in my life and in the world, but maybe, on a subconscious level, I am and, of course, it’s the subconscious that manifests itself in our deep dream states.


Possibility F: It’s perhaps possible that all of the above possibilities are…possible. Even though I mentioned Possibility A in jest, there are people out there who believe extreme amounts of physical and emotional stress can “open ourselves up” (our energetic bodies, that is…or “auras” is another word for it) to lower dimensions where the Freddy Kruegers dwell (read the book Psychic Vampires by Joe H. Slate for more about this).[3] Maybe my Charlie is a dark being from a low-level dimension (like hell) that takes on the guise of Charlie Chaplin because it knows the appearance of Charlie scares the crap out of me. Maybe, as a child, I was more vulnerable to these types of lower energies. And maybe, for reasons of stress, I’m making myself more vulnerable to them in my adult life…


Who knows?


It’s also possible that, since dreams are often symbolic, Charlie represents something, like…FEAR. Indeed, he could be a personification of my fears. Because it did occur to me, just the other day, that, with maybe one exception, Charlie never actually hurt me in my nightmares (the one exception to this is that he stabbed me with a pitchfork-like contraption once, in the ankle, and it didn’t really hurt that much). All he usually did was scare the crap out of me. But never kill me. He seemed to feed off my fear of him—that was his agenda.


After having this revelation, that Charlie never actually hurt me in any major way, I realized, shit, maybe the next time I have a dream with Charlie, I need to react differently. Maybe I need to stand my ground, tell Charlie to fuck off, or perhaps even fight back. Maybe Charlie represents some unresolved fear from the past that I need to cast out of my life once and for all. Yes, he’s come back for a reason. Because I need to address him, face him, and essentially tell him to go back to hell where he came from.


This is easier said than done, of course. It’s easy for me to tell myself right now that Charlie, just like fear itself, is not really real. He and the fear he represents is all an illusion, something that seems like an imminent threat, but in reality, never hurts or harms me in any negative way. So just stand your ground, dammit, and tell that son of a bitch that YOU’RE in charge. Dominate him. Tell him who HE works for. That kind of thing.


Once you’re in dreamland, however, it’s a whole other ballgame. First of all, you’re rarely consciously aware that you’re dreaming and the threat of Charlie feels so real. Also, you don’t have much control over how and when you dream, so it’s not like you can say, “Ok, tonight I’m gonna find Charlie and the hunter is now going to become the HUNTED!” That way I could just get this whole thing over with.


Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Charlie is tricky. Just like Freddy Krueger, he will come when I least expect him to. I can only hope that, this time, I will be ready to fight and I won’t turn all yella when the shit goes down. In the wise words of Cypress Hill, “When the shit goes down…you better be ready.” This sage advice couldn’t be more relevant.


Mark my words: I WILL BE READY. I know I will. You hear that, Charlie? I’M COMING FOR YOU. Wakey, wakey, you can run but you can’t hide! I’ve GOT YOUR ASS!


I mean…if that’s ok with you…Sir. Love your work, by the way.


[1] The reason why eyes looked creepy like this was because early silent movies were shot on orthochromatic film, which made the colors red and yellow look black and the colors blue and purple look white. This meant that, if you had blue or hazel eyes, you would end up with whitish demon eyes on screen! (Source)


[3] Also, read this article for more information on psychic attacks:



Thursday, May 28, 2020

The JFKennection

It’s finally happened. My prayers have been answered. Praise be to the heavens! After 38 years of living on this earth, I’ve finally discovered a way I can link myself to a famous person.

This discovery would not have happened had it not been for the hard work of my father’s cousin who devoted a significant amount of time researching our family lineage on What he discovered was shocking. Buckle your seatbelt, now. This is going to get nuts.

Ready for this? My great-great grandmother’s cousin’s wife was the great-aunt of…wait for it…John F. Kennedy, former President of the United States of America.

Wild, right?

Oh, but that’s not all.

See, my great-great grandmother’s cousin married Elizabeth Fitzgerald. Elizabeth was the sister of John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. Honey Fitz was a very well-known mayor of Boston in the early 1900s. He was the father of Rose Kennedy and, of course, Rose was the mother of John F. Kennedy.

Pretty simple to follow, right?

Needless to say, this changes my life significantly. Now I should be able to vacation at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis without a problem, but, more importantly, now I can feel superior to most everybody I talk to from this point onward. For example, if I’m arguing with somebody about politics, I can instantly win the debate by simply saying, “Goddammit, do you know who you’re talking to?! John F. Kennedy is the grand-nephew of my great, great grandmother’s cousin’s wife!” At which point the person I’m debating will be overcome with embarrassment and apologize to the great, great grandson of a woman whose cousin’s wife was the sister of the grandfather of John F. Kennedy.

Furthermore, my Kennedy connection may come in handy whenever I’m in the city and want to use a nice bathroom in a hotel I’m not a guest at. When they see me walk into the hotel lobby from off the street and say, “Sir, are you a guest here at the hotel?” I can say to them, “Goddammit, do you know who my father is? He’s the great grandson of the woman whose cousin married the aunt of JFK’s mother!” And then this person will back off and say, “So sorry, sir. Please help yourself to our bathroom facilities, which are known to be the best in the entire city. Feel free to even use our pool or gym, too, if you’re interested.”

I’m sure there will be even more benefits to my connection to JFK, but, for now, it’s mostly just nice to know I have access to all the best bathrooms in the United States.

Here’s a map of the lineage:

Me – Matt Burns
My Dad
My Grandfather
My great-grandparents/parents of my grandfather
My great-great grandmother/mother of my great grandmother
J. J. Foley (cousin of my great-great grandmother) marries Elizabeth Fitzgerald
John F. Fitzgerald (brother of Elizabeth Fitzgerald/former Boston mayor—“Honey Fitz”)
Rose Kennedy (daughter of John F. Fitzgerald)
John F. Kennedy (son of Rose) – Former President of the United States

John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald

Rose Fitzgerald (Kennedy)

John F. Kennedy


MATT BURNS is the author of I TURNED INTO A MISFIT!, MY RAGING CASE OF BEASTIE FEVER, JUNGLE F’NG FEVER: MY 30-YEAR LOVE AFFAIR W/ GUNS N’ ROSES, JOHNNY CRUISE, THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON, WEIRD MONSTER and several more books. Check out these books (and many more) on his Amazon author page HERE.

Sunday, April 5, 2020


If, 20 years or so ago, you were to pull me aside and tell me, “Matt, one day you’ll be writing a Biblical Epic,” I would have said that you were bonkos. I wouldn’t have believed it. Nope, not in a million years.

But it happened. Somehow…my God…IT HAPPENED!

The seed from which the “epic” grew was planted my junior year in college. I was in a class where we essentially had to read a bunch of screenplays. The very first screenplay we read was an unproduced adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (adapted by John Collier). I had not read Milton’s epic poem at the time, but the screenplay was the most beautiful thing I ever read, or at least so I thought at the time. This was no ordinary screenplay! It was a work of art in and of itself. No camera-angle-talk or interior/exterior mumbo jumbo or any of that jazz. You could read it like a piece of literature, but it was also extremely visual. You could see the cinema as you read!

That next June, I found myself in summer school at BU and I was enrolled in a British Literature class. This was when I read Paradise Lost, the actual John Milton poem, for the first time. Once again, the story struck a chord, somewhere deep inside my soul. I thought the concept was brilliant. It was a Biblical-like story told through the devil’s eyes. For so long, we were only getting God’s perspective and Jesus’ perspective. But now we got the devil’s perspective, and that felt extremely important to me. Hearing this point of view allowed us to better understand evil and darkness in a more complex way, instead of something that was one-dimensional.

At the time, my British Lit. professor knew I was majoring in film and he told me I should someday try to make Paradise Lost into a movie! He said the poem was so visual and it was almost like Milton was writing with cinema in mind. I agreed with my professor and said, “Yes, one day I shall turn Paradise Lost into a movie! I’ll do it, just you wait and see!”

Flash-forward to a year or two after college. I started re-reading Paradise Lost and began thinking about how I would turn it into a movie. But then it hit me: “Why am I doing this?” I thought to myself while I showered later that evening. “A brilliant screenplay has already been written. All somebody has to do is make a film out of that. I’m not needed for this.”

Instead, I suddenly felt drawn to the Holy Bible. I had read much of the Bible in various literature courses at BU (including Genesis, Job, and Revelation), but I had never read the Gospels, so I thought it was about time to do just that. To my surprise, I found the Gospels to be much more interesting than I ever would have thought. There was so much wisdom in those pages. Morality! And truth! It didn’t matter if you were religious or not; the Gospels were great to read for anybody looking to strengthen their moral backbone but also for anybody looking for the inspiration to speak the truth in a society of pure and utter bullshit (especially when you know people will hate you for doing so).

After the Gospels, I felt a pull to re-read Revelation and this is when I stumbled upon chapter 12: THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON. That one small chapter—only a few paragraphs long, really—ignited the flame of the Holy Spirit within me (okay, maybe I’m being a tad dramatic). The chapter is very cryptic (as is all of Revelation), but I could almost see in my mind’s eye what it “meant”. An entire epic-sized story flooded into my mind. This story would be loosely based on the chapter but would also integrate the Gospels and, yes, even draw much of its inspiration from Paradise Lost.

In other words, I was going to write my own Paradise Lost!

And that’s exactly what I did. THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON started out as a screenplay that I wrote in 2007. About ten years later, that screenplay turned into a novel. Not only was this novel inspired by the Bible and Paradise Lost, but a growing interest in psychology also helped flesh out the story’s main protagonist (i.e. the devil). I became fascinated with narcissistic manipulation techniques, such as deception, projection, guilting, shaming, blaming, gaslighting etc. I saw all these techniques as comprising the devil’s malicious modus operandi.

So, thus, we have THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON, a story that is, I suppose, almost 20 years in the making. It couldn’t have been written at a better time, seeing that we are currently in the midst of a global, apocalyptic-like corona virus pandemic and there’s consequently a renewed interest in The Book of Revelation.

THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON is now available to read on Amazon and perhaps the day will come when it finally turns into a movie.

Here is the book’s trailer…

And here is the book’s teaser trailer…

MATT BURNS is the author of THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON, JOHNNY CRUISE, GARAGE MOVIE: MY ADVENTURES MAKING WEIRD FILMS and several other books. Check out all his books at his Amazon author page HERE.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Excerpt from GARAGE MOVIE re: John Cassavetes

An excerpt from my book GARAGE MOVIE: MY ADVENTURES MAKING WEIRD FILMS. In this excerpt, I talk about how I first got interested in the films of John Cassavetes and also when I first crossed paths with Cassavetes on Cassavetes author Ray Carney:


FLASH BACK TO: a couple months before the Tracey Jacobs rejection. It was Christmas of 2004 and Santa Claus gifted me with a Criterion Collection box set of John Cassavetes films. This was, in all seriousness, a life-changing moment. I popped Cassavetes’ first film Shadows into my DVD player and I never looked back. Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night—I watched each of John’s films over and over again. I was obsessed.
On eBay, I managed to find rare VHS copies of both Minnie and Moskowitz and Cassavetes’ last film Love Streams. I watched those over and over as well. It was like entering a new dimension, locking myself in my room at night, turning out the lights and escaping into the world of a Cassavetes movie.
Cassavetes’ films were so different from what I was used to. Most Hollywood movies were “plot-driven”, but Cassavetes’ films were the most character-driven works one could ever find. In fact, ‘character-driven’ isn’t quite the correct term. I would say his films were more like ‘human-driven’, which was a radical departure from Hollywood where the “humans” in movies are more like dehumanized pawns strategically used to tell a good story…or, in other words, a means to an end. Cassavetes, however, didn’t give a damn about entertaining an audience with a good story. All he cared about was capturing human behavior in its purest form.
Now, there is a misconception that Cassavetes’ films were “improvised”, but the fact is that they were all scripted and well-structured in their own unique, non-Hollywood way. They seemed improvised because Cassavetes was so talented at capturing real human behavior on the written page. Of course, his scripts weren’t etched in stone by any means. Actors—with the guidance of the director—were free to explore the complexities of their characters and alter their dialogue or actions as they saw fit. The script was always subject to changes and was never bound by a tight plot. In fact, ‘plot’ was a dirty word. Reality was more important than plot, the latter of which, if you think about it, is really the opposite of reality; it’s un-reality.
Indeed, Cassavetes’ main interest lied in non-contrived reality while Hollywood was more interested in contrived character arcs, plot beats, Acts, well-established character conflicts, clear-cut character goals etc., all of which are elements of a false reality. Cassavetes wanted to deliver audiences from this Hollywood-induced unreality and reintroduce them to reality.
As for me, I apparently craved this reality. For a period of several months, Cassavetes’ films were my addiction. I literally could watch nothing BUT Cassavetes. Hollywood movies were suddenly so stupid to me, with one-dimensional characters or ‘types’ with canned emotions, Hollywood feeling, not real human feelings that you would experience in everyday life.
 The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was probably my favorite of all Cassavetes films. The Criterion Collection contained two different versions of the film and I watched both versions multiple times. Again, Cassavetes didn’t just write a script, shoot it and end up with the same vision he had from the outset. His filmmaking was more explorational and his vision was in a constant state of flux throughout the process of shooting a film and even throughout the process of editing it. If the editing process took him in a different direction from what he had in the script, well, he would simply go with it and pleasantly surprise himself with an end-product different from anything he had initially envisioned. If he wanted to explore two different creative pathways and end up with two versions of his films? Well, why not? Hollywood, of course, wouldn’t approve of this explorative process; they would want one version of the film finished on deadline, then they would promote the film, distribute the film, hope to make a lot of money off the film and on to the next. Cassavetes, however, liked to take his time and the filmmaking process was more interesting to him than making an end-product that would hopefully be a “hit” (i.e. a financially successful movie). In this sense, he was the epitome of the anti-Hollywood filmmaker. His filmmaking style was unprecedented at the time, especially in America. He completely subverted the Hollywood model of what a movie should be.
Anyway, it sounds sappy, but I watched so many Cassavetes films over the course of about a year that it felt as though Cassavetes himself was holding my hand the entire time, functioning as a kind of spirit guide, walking me through the spiritual experience of a lifetime.
Assisting with this “spiritual experience” were Ray Carney’s books on Cassavetes, my reading of which coincided with my viewing of the films. I re-read much of Cassavetes on Cassavetes, but I also read Carney’s book The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies, a British Film Institute (BFI) published book called Shadows, and a self-published book called John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity. Both the films of John Cassavetes and the writing of Ray Carney went hand-in-hand. Carney’s books were almost like an extension of the films themselves, meaning you got way more out of the viewing experience with his writing complementing them. Or, in other words, I guess what I’m saying is that Cassavetes and Carney were a package deal and many Cassavetes fans are in denial of this; in fact, many fans don’t even like Carney. Personally, I think they’re envious trolls, most of which are critics who could only dream of writing the masterpiece that is Cassavetes on Cassavetes. I thought and still think Carney is brilliant. He’s a bit of a controversial figure and he’s made several people upset in his passion for artistic truth, but I will always see him as nothing more than absolutely brilliant. Even if he tore new assholes in each frame of my own films, I would still think he was brilliant.
The amazing thing (and what-I-deemed serendipitous) was that Carney literally lived a mere five minutes away from me. One day in March 2005, I was out walking my Bassett Hound Anthony just down the street from my house and I saw this man rolling down the street on his bike. As he came closer, he started looking familiar and then he waved, smiled and said ‘hello’. I suddenly realized, holy shit, that was just Ray Carney! At the time, I had been drowning myself in all things Cassavetes, reading all things Carney as a kind of study aide to the films, and then, boom, there was the man himself riding right past me on his bike. It was so surreal. Too surreal. Serendipitous for sure. I felt a strong pull to contact Mr. Carney.
The next day, I wrote Ray a letter and sent him a VHS copy of my short film Sympathy for Hitler’s Soul. A few days later, I received an email from him thanking me for the letter. He said he enjoyed the film and, more specifically, he said, “You leave people thinking.” Wow, I couldn’t believe what I heard. Ray Carney thought my film was thought-provoking? It was very difficult getting a compliment from a guy like Ray and I received (what I saw as) a compliment. That made my day.
I emailed Ray back and forth and probably bothered the hell out of him because he was such a busy man, but he eventually invited me to sit in on his American Independent Film class at BU. I told him, yes, I would love to sit in on his class! Of course! I was honored by such an invitation.
So back to BU I went as a non-student and sat in on Carney’s class. He showed a film called Human Remains by an experimental filmmaker named Jay Rosenblatt. This film was about past world dictators, like Hitler and Stalin, and explored Hannah Arendt’s concept “the banality of evil”. It was quite brilliant and you can tell it was brilliant because I said “quite” and that’s a word smart people use. The film used what-is-called “found footage” of the dictators, so no actual “filmmaking” was necessary at all. Just editing of “found footage”. And voice-over done by actors.
After the class, my plan was to introduce myself to Carney, but he darted out of the room very quickly and I didn’t have a chance. I figured I would shoot him an email later, so I exited the classroom, walked out into the hall, but then I saw him coming back my way with a teacher’s assistant by his side. I gave him a wave, he took notice, and I told him who I was. He said, “Oh, I saw you [in the classroom]! Glad you came!” And then he told his assistant, “This is a very good filmmaker right here!” referring to me. I gave him an “Oh, shucks” look, but hearing those words certainly made my day. No, not my day; they made my week…month…year…lifetime…my entire stardust existence! Ray Carney, the mastermind who brought us Cassavetes on Cassavetes, thought I was a “very good filmmaker”. This was surreal.
The next day I sent Carney another email with my reaction to the Rosenblatt film. I quickly received a reply saying, “Wow! How deep! And how much I agree with you!” Then I went and sat in on his next class and he read my response aloud to the entire class like it was the most brilliant thing ever written. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Was I dreaming? This was Ray Carney, a super-difficult dude to impress, perhaps one of the most difficult men to impress in the entire world. And I was impressing him?
Thus ensued a period of a couple months where I would sit in on Carney’s classes, have email correspondence with him and very often cross paths with the film scholar while he was biking. He would post several of my emails on his website (it was back then), I guess because he deemed them deep enough and worthy enough.
The connection with Ray was meant to be. For what? Perhaps for nothing else but validation from somebody I respected. But it was definitely meant to be. I realize that Ray Carney is a controversial figure in the film criticism world, no doubt about that. And, boy, the administration at Boston University does NOT like him in the least, mainly because their visions of what the BU film program should be differ so greatly. But I will say this and only this: with what limited interaction I’ve had with Ray, I have only seen him to be an extremely kind and brilliant man. He has an anti-Hollywood persona, there’s no doubt about that. And he’s no bullshit, pure truth, and this comes off as abrasive to people, probably because they’re so used to bullshit in our society. But I would vouch for Ray any day. Maybe I’m just saying this because he was supportive to me and my work, but, again, Ray was never anything but kind when I interacted with him and nothing less than brilliant.

MATT BURNS is the author of THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGONJOHNNY CRUISEGARAGE MOVIE: MY ADVENTURES MAKING WEIRD FILMS and several other books. Check out all his books at his Amazon author page HERE.