Saturday, April 29, 2006

Fast Forward, Rewind, Fast Forward

My friend Eric Spitznagel is quite a character. I first met him in the early 90s in Oxford, when the two of us were studying theatre in a summer program run by the British American Drama Academy. He was determined to be the next Woody Allen or Hunter S. Thompson - he later managed to somehow combine the two influence. Eric favored wearing t-shirts with slogans like "Men Suck" on them, and his idea of a good time when riding the subway was to pick some unsuspecting stranger, sit next to them, and act crazy, wiggling his bushy eyebrows like a deranged muppet and muttering "Ga goongee goongee goo"at the unfortunate and increasingly uncomfortable commuter.

A year later, we were rooming together in Chicago, writing and directing small black box late night comedies in a run down little theatre in a less-than-salubrious neighborhood - the playhouse was across the street from a crack house. Most of our output was pretty amateurish (Eric has a play titled "I love you so much I want to tie you up with chains and beat you with warm squash" or words to that effect), but it was a wonderful/terrible time of cutting teeth and making huge mistakes, fraught with clashing egos and strong emotion. We both left theatre and pursued parallel careers in journalism (each doing a little time in Hollywood as well). We've stayed in touch on and off ever since, managed to live in the same town at the same time once or twice, and have even worked together on occasion. Eric provided me with a fantastic interview with Neal Pollack during my brief tenure as a magazine editor, and he returned the favor by commissioning my own interview with China Miéville for the Believer magazine, where he currently serves as an associate editor. (His Interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, conducted with the "assistance" of Hawaiian psychic and trance medium Arthur Pacheco, is not to be missed, while his out-of-print The Junk Food Companion: the Complete Guide to Eating Badly, which among other things charts Cookie Monster's lifelong love/hate relationship with chocolate chips as detailed through his songwriting, is a rolling-on-the-floor funny book if one can find it.) Although we work in different genres - science fiction and Hunter Thompson-style gonzo journalism respectively, I've always had a feeling we were connected in some nebulous ethereal sense, that our disparate paths would go on to intersect and intertwine on and off at various odd junctions across the decades.

As an email announcement from Eric revealed yesterday, it turns out that connection is still going strong. Early next year, I have an anthology of original, unthemed science fiction stories called Fast Forward, the title being a nod to the accelerated pace of technological advancement in the 21st century. Well, synchronistically, Eric has a Fast Forward too. But, far from being a science fiction collection dedicating to our rapidly encroaching future, his is something else entirely. Fast Forward: Confessions of a Porn Screenwriter, details Eric's all-too-brief career as a screenwriter in Burbank, California's porn film industry. I've read multiple chapters from this work while it was being produced, and can honestly say I've never laughed as hard at anything in my life. Now, let me be clear, I'm not exactly recommending this book, which is guaranteed to have something to offend just about anyone. This book is absolutely and on no uncertain terms not for everyone - not for the priggish, and certainly not for the PC - but if you think Boogie Nights is great cinema then this is the book for you. As Eric says, "It's about my attempts to write The Great American Porno. During my year spent as a porn scribe, I somehow convinced myself that I could write a script so funny and campy that no amount of bad acting or poor production values could ruin it. Of course, I failed miserably, and this memoir provides all the messy details of my rise and fall as porn's hot young writer of the moment. (The title, Fast Forward, refers to an industry term commonly used for a porn screenplay. Scripts are called "fast forwards" because audiences are expected to reach for their remotes whenever the actors stop having sex and start talking.) In a way, this book is less about porn than one's writer's search for relevance in an industry designed to be irrelevant. It's about how when life hands you lemons, it's not always possible to make lemonade, especially when the 'lemons' in this particular metaphor are enormous cocks."

But why Eric's word for it? As adult film star Asia Carrera (Nympho Newlywed, Thunder Pussy) says: "Despite his protests, Spitznagel may very well be porn's answer to Kurosawa. And not unlike Rashomon, you probably shouldn't believe a word he says. Fast Forward isn't the most flattering portrait of the adult film industry, but it's hands-down the funniest."

Meanwhile, you can catch Eric on his very-limited booktour on the following schedule. If you stop by, tell Eric I sent you:

Saturday, May 6
Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont Ave.
7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, May 9
City Lights
261 Columbus Ave.
7:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 11
Powell's Books on Hawthorne
3723 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.
7:30 p.m.

Saturday, May 13
Elliott Bay Book Company
101 S. Main St.
7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, May 24
Shaman Drum Bookshop
311-315 S. State St.
7:00 p.m.

Friday, May 26
Barbara's Bookstore
1218 S. Halsted St.
7:30 p.m.

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