GOOD TIME PARTY GIRL is a self-reflexive work of sorts: penned by POPULAR HOME magazine editor Robert Dougherty, it’s a recounting of “The Notorious Life of Dirty Helen Cromwell”, straight from her mouth, according to Robert.

Dirty Helen Cromwell (Helen, from here on forth), was — for some time — a Milwaukee fixture from the Prohibition age. While she was reluctant to lay down roots anywhere, she did find a home in Milwaukee with her boozy outpost THE SUN FLOWER INN, which is where Robert first met Helen.

What follows is Robert jotting down Helen recalling a good forty years of ‘good times’ as a self-proclaimed ‘woman of pleasure’. In other words: a sex worker. There’s a moment where she wishes that the term ‘call girl’ was popular in her time.

The tales recalled in GOOD TIME PARTY GIRL are certainly those of a willful, self-possessed woman, one who isn’t a skin-flint, but values what remains in one’s pocket, while still living a remarkable life, one the that included all sorts of fashionable dovetailing, as well as shoulder-rubbing with Al Capone.

“My advice is not to accept initiations to these cruises if you aren’t prepared for certain eventualities.”

That’s about as dark as Helen deigned herself to deal with, but as one dives deeper into GOOD TIME PARTY GIRL and reads about the litany of dead husbands, and the brave face she plastered on, the harder the read becomes. This is a memoir/auto-bio where the absence of details are more damning than the inclusion; you can almost feel the hurt in certain eras of hers that she glosses over, ambiguous hurt that hits harder than when she discusses the death of one of her several husbands.

That said, yes, you do have to read in-between the lines for that. Otherwise, it’s a bold, brash tale of a bold and brash and gregariously singular woman who made her place in Milwaukee. That alone is reason enough to read her tale.


Favorites of 2021: Books

I straddle a number of release years while reading so I rarely read as many contemporary texts as I’d like, but here are my favorite 2021 works:

DREAM GIRL – Laura Lippmann

“[DREAM GIRL] is peppered with all sorts of references to old-school noirs and detective fiction, novels like THE DAUGHTER OF TIME, references to her friend and author Megan Abbott, […] so many riffs on classic Hollywood and horror films, and even a quick moment with Tess Monaghan herself. In other words, it was tailor-made for me, but there’s also a lot to appreciate about the novel from a structural standpoint. [Laura Lippman is] exceptional at setting everything up so that, right before the reveals come, the curtains fall from your eyes, and you can’t help but appreciate the breadcrumbs she’s strewn through the prior pages.”


“THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP goes above and beyond [horror tropes], and is a surprisingly brilliant example of what the genre is capable of.”

GIRL ONE – Sara Flannery Murphy

“[A] very inventive and engrossing take on, not only, the Frankenstein tale, but also witch folklore.”


“[A] classic Hollywood tale, but not the classic Hollywood tale most want to hear.”

IT NEVER ENDS – Tom Scharpling

“[As] amusing [of a memoir] as you’d expect from Scharpling, [and] far more interesting and deeper than you’d suspect.”

NIGHTBITCH – Rachel Yoder

“Nightbitch goes through one hell of a journey and, while it’s not nearly the horrific transformation tale I expected to read, it is a very satisfying one.”


“Patricia Lockwood’s novel — which is primarily concerned with self-reflecting on being extremely online, until it isn’t — may come across as utterly obnoxious to anyone who isn’t familiar with the litany of terms, memes, and bluntness that being ‘extremely online’ entails, but I’d like to think that her artful prose and peculiar framing supersedes the need for that sort of knowledge.”


“[A] tremendous accomplishment, one that I look forward to revisiting.”

2021 pieces waiting for my attention:

GIRLY DRINKS – Mallory O’Meara



Susan Orlean’s THE ORCHID THIEF is a real-life character profile of one John Laroche, a plant dealer working for a Florida Seminole plant nursery. Laroche has a plan — a heist, really, even though it’s sanctioned by his Seminole nursery boss — to lead a few Seminole co-workers into Florida’s Fakahatchee Strand, land that Seminoles have the legal right to take wild flowers from, and leave with several ghost orchids which Laroche will then clone and he and the Seminoles will profit from. Laroche sees it as a win-win.

Unfortunately, he and the workers are caught, and then the legal rights of the Seminoles are called into question.

While it sounds more like a legal thriller, the case simply simmers in the background for the bulk of the book. Instead, it’s really Susan Orlean trying to understand the personal and zealous obsession of orchid collectors, as well as scrutinizing the growers and dealers who live as aberrant fringe elements in an inhospitable environment (mirroring the deviancy and adaptation of orchids themselves), while also spotlighting the tenacity of the Seminoles to live on their own terms.

Over the better part of a year, Orlean travels to orchid shows, swamps, nurseries, and encounters some savvy strange folk, some natural inventors and businessmen, others are oddities that eke out an existence. The line connecting all of her subjects? They all want more flowers, and they want more -interesting- and -different- flowers. It’s never enough, despite the fact that the flowers often die due to undesirable conditions or lack of knowledge as to how to sustain them. It’s not enough to see the orchids in their natural habitat — it’s a need for possession and ownership.

Orlean’s claim in this investigation is that she’s trying to understand this obsession, but I think she does. She’s there to collect stories, collect enough to make an enticing piece — not unlike some of the orchid events. It’s what she’s done as a journalist for THE NEW YORKER her entire life. She puts herself in severely unsafe situations for the sake of her collecting, not unlike Laroche.

It’s a fantastically woven and admirable work; a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events and personas that embody themes both small and large, personal and political, beautiful and ugly.


(hoopla/kanopy/VOD) Coincidentally, this was released in the same year as CHRISTINE, but by the radical documentarian Robert Greene, again about Christine Chubbuck.

While I dodged Christine’s life events in yesterday’s recommendation of CHRISTINE, I can’t do so here because it’s the crux of this documentary. So, if you’d planned on watching CHRISTINE, go ahead and do so before reading further.

I’ll wait.

Still waiting.

Pad, pad, padding the post.

Okay, ready?

While giving a news report on the local news network she worked for, Christine diverged from the report and said: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’ and in living color, you are going to see another first—an on-the-air suicide.” She then shot herself in the head, and died shortly after.

While CHRISTINE is a fictionalized exploration of Chubbuck’s psyche, KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE sees Kate Lyn Sheil (previously mentioned: the STRANGE WEATHER music video, also of YOU’RE NEXT and SHE DIES TOMORROW, as well as previously recommended director Sophia Takal’s debut GREEN) doing research for the role of playing Christine Chubbuck.

If you aren’t familiar withe Robert Greene’s work, he plays with the nature of recreation in documentaries. His follow-up, BISBEE ’17, explicitly explores that as he enlists an entire town to recreate what becomes a xenophobic, union-busting exiling of denizens. As a fan of documentaries, I believe this sort of meta-exploration of the inherent exploitation of documentaries is important, but also potentially fraught with their own sort of problems.

That’s why, with KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE, Greene’s smartly — and just as potentially problematically — documentary puts it entirely on Shell’s shoulders, and — if what we’re shown is to be believed — really puts her through the wringer. Shell is recreating Christine, physically and mentally, and it takes its toll.

It’s worth nothing that KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE is partially constructed around the urban legend that Paddy Chayefsky’s NETWORK was inspired by Christine’s on-air suicide, which is complete and utter bullshit — Chayefsky had been workshopping NETWORK well before her suicide — but something Greene defends as “being not quite true seems completely appropriate.”

It’s also worth noting that the dramatic re-enactments are terribly scripted, feel stilted and, apart from a few scenes, probably should’ve been excised completely, even if they were intentionally mawkish. That seemingly undercuts all of the work that everyone — especially Sheil — has done, but I get the feeling Greene doesn’t care.

Before writing these two recommendations, I’d felt that KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE was the ‘better’ film versus CHRISTINE; it conceptually tackles more; it’s more artfully, abstractly constructed; the intent is to take a magnifying lens to why we want to examine this story. Today, I’m not so sure.

At the end of the day, it’s still just a bunch of dudes reappropriating Christine’s story for their own reasons, for reasons she Christine herself probably wouldn’t agree with, which seems like the biggest sin here. Fundamentally, this is a story about a woman trying to live the life she’d set out for herself. The fact that she lived in a masculine world of journalism, or that she killed herself in what would be considered a masculine way, shouldn’t require a masculine retelling, but instead we received two re-appropriations of the tale.

“You have to tell me why you want to see it. … Are you happy now?”


(fubo/Hulu/kanopy/Netflix/tubi/VOD/Vudu)? No, not John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s CHRISTINE — a fine horror film, but you hardly need me to tell you that — this is a dramatized depiction of Christine Chubbuck, a local TV news reporter in the 70s who struggled with depression. The film details her personal and professional troubles as she tries to grow her career and realize the life she wants.

There are other facets of Christine’s story that you may or may not be familiar with. I’m not completely sure whether detailing them would improve a viewing, so I’m going to err on the side of caution and intentionally bite my tongue.

If this were a fictional film, I’d feel a lot better about it, and it wouldn’t have the ending it has. Every thing leading up to that is a smart, nuanced portrayal of a complicated woman, bolstered by Rebecca Hall’s amazing performance. It’s fantastically cast film — Michael C. Hall as Christine’s fellow news man, Tracy Letts as her boss, Maria Dizzia as her co-worker, J. Smith-Cameron (from the previously recommended RECTIFY) as her mother, and VEEP’s Timothy Simons as the weatherman — but this film wouldn’t work without Rebecca Hall’s nuanced handling of Christine. She’s a persona we rarely see on-screen: a smart-but-flailing woman, clearly awkward in general, but so goddamn determined to succeed, and to hide from and survive her mental issues.

Again, if it were fictional, it’d be a triumph. While it’s still a stunningly scripted movie, it just feels… dirty. But that’s a matter for tomorrow.

“Yes, but—”


I don’t read many biographies, but this one interested me because, come on, it’s Vampira. If you aren’t familiar with Vampira, well, here. She was literally the proto-Elvira (more on that in a bit). However, Maila was also the nexus of a certain part of late 40s/50s Hollywood, something I didn’t know at all.

  • She was involved with Orson Welles shortly before he married Rita Hayworth and, allegedly had his child and gave him up for adoption. (I’ll note that there’s really no proof here regarding the kid.)
  • Disney hired her to be the visual ‘source material’ for Maleficent in SLEEPING BEAUTY
  • She had a very long, very complicated relationship with Marlon Brando
  • She was thick-as-thieves with James Dean
  • She struck up a friendship with — and maybe fucked — Elvis when he was in Vegas
  • She and Anthony Perkins had an intense hot-and-cold friendship
  • She wanted Patricia Morrison (SISTERS OF MERCY) to take up the role of Vampira when talk of restarting the Vampira show began
  • Elvira is the direct result of Maila spurning the Vampira reboot. Maila was supposed to hand-pick the next Vampira and they chose Cassandra Peterson without consulting her, and Maila then refused to sign the contract allowing them to use the name, so she became Elvira instead.

I knew this was a bio from a blood relative, from Maila’s niece Sandra Niemi, so I was skeptical as to some of these stories which, admittedly come from Maila’s own pen, but uh, there are plenty of photos and pre-existing proof. Maila knew misfit talent when she saw it — herself being similarly minded. While the bio is a bit clunky, it’s stuffed full of stories that entertain and enthrall, and paint the picture of a very complex woman, a woman with a brilliantly creative, often hilariously filthy, mind. Sadly, she was often mercurial, and her luck was rotten and, despite everything she gave to the world and her friends, she often lived in poverty, because it’s fucking Hollywood.

I do want to underscore that, despite all of the stars that pop up, it’s very much a story about deviants and misfits trying to get by in Hollywood. It’s a classic Hollywood tale, but not the classic Hollywood tale most want to hear. But hey, if you’re a goth and you want to know where your media roots stem from, you should read it.

MR. SOUL! (2018)

(HBO MAX) I’m embarrassed that I was completely unaware of the existence of the Black variety TV show SOUL!, which ran from 1968 to 1973, a bit before my time. The show was an overstuffed marvel of wall-to-wall talent, featuring musicians, writers, and poets, and this documentary that extolls it is absolutely fascinating.

Despite the doc being named after the host of the show, Ellis Haizlip, and co-directed by his niece, it’s rather light on particulars about his life. Instead it focuses more on what he accomplished through the show than being a personal profile, which isn’t an admonishment, merely an observation.

Either way, be prepared to take notes while watching it, as there are a litany of acts and individuals noted in the doc that deserve your additional attention.

(Grateful to Damon Locks for posting about this doc, which I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.)


(HBO MAX/VOD) JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH leaves HBO MAX after March 14th*, so you only have a few more days to stream it, and it’s goddamn it’s well-worth your time.

I’ll try to keep this brief, because every hour I dilly-dally writing this is an hour you’ll miss out on the streaming window, but JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH is the rare docudrama that would’ve been just as rich as fiction. Despite being shot in Cleveland, it feels like midwest Chicago — they nailed the molding! — the cast is amazing, and it resonates in a way that say, TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 does not.

  • Again, not shilling. Just trying to get folks to watch a quality film.


(Comedy Central/VOD) I revel in hearing comedians discussing their process, when they bomb, when they kill, what it took to get from the former to the latter, and Michael Bonfiglio’s examination of Patrice O’Neal, who passed in 2011, is an exceptional example of a documentary about a comedian that provides insight while pulling no punches.

The doc handles his backstory more in-depth than most comedian documentaries by having a fair amount of access to his childhood family, friends, even the headmaster of his high school. While his family and friends keep the majority of their remarks polite and affable, the comedians chosen for the doc, certainly do not. The comedians that appear are all ones that you’d recognize if you been paying attention to stand-up in the 90s (Colin Quinn, Denis Leary, Bill Burr, Jim Norton — a lot of TOUGH CROWD folks) and while they all respected his comedic skill, they make it very clear that O’Neal was an absolute asshole, and would double-down on bad engagement and bad opinions. Of course, they also hand wave a lot of that away as “truth telling”, but that’s a subject for another time.

It’s a surprisingly frank portrayal, especially given that comedian Von Decarlo, his fiancée, was the executive producer of the documentary. It’s also a welcome one, if the subject matter interests you and you can overlook the macho approach of much of the comedy.

F FOR FAKE (1973)

(Criterion/HBO MAX/VOD) It’s undeniable that Orson Welles — the man who faked an alien invasion via a radio play — is a trickster, but his ‘cinematic essay’ F FOR FAKE is perhaps the apex of his trickster skills. It’s not just an examination of art forger Elmyr de Hory, not just a profile of Clifford Irving’s illicit and fabricated Howard Hughes biography, but also a deep dive into the nature of authorship, authenticity, intent, and narrators. Despite how heavy that sounds, the film’s extraordinarily playful, staying true to Welles’ trickster self.