Sunday, August 28, 2011

Noir: Joan Schenkar on Theodora Keogh

  August 22, 2011
The Paris Review

A world class biographer unearths another Dark 
Treasure for us all to share.
Another true diamond in the rough!

The Late, Great Theodora Keogh

Theodora Keogh in Paris, 1948. Copyright Karl Bissinger.

For the last fifteen or sixteen years I’ve been making portraits of people (in rich, resonant, analog sound) with an old cassette recorder: spoken-word portraits.

In my library in Paris are hundreds of magnetic tapes stacked in their fragile, transparent cases. Each tape carries the specific testimony of a single person who has lent time, presence, and a few vibrantly unreliable anecdotes to my experiments in biography.
Like Ortega y Gasset’s definition of culture—culture is what remains after you’d forgotten everything you’ve ever read—these tapes are an archive of minds and memories reduced to their absolute essences. Every one of them is worth a thousand photographs to me.

Which is why I’m kicking myself that I never recorded the voice of my wonderful friend, the late, great Theodora Roosevelt Keogh.
From the end of the forties to 1961, the beautiful, talented, temperamental, generous American expatriate dancer and writer Theodora Roosevelt Keogh (1919–2008) wrote nine vivid novels as sensational, in their way, as anything you’ll ever read.

She wrote her novels the way people used to write them: on rackety typewriters in walk-up apartments and hotel rooms in Saint-Germain-des-Prés on Paris’s Left Bank, where she’d moved in the late forties with her new husband, the designer and illustrator Tom Keogh. This was after she graduated from Miss Chapin’s School, made a formal debut in New York Society, dipped into Radcliffe, and ran away in wartime to dance in a ballet company in Rio de Janeiro (and high-kick at the Copacabana) with Alexander Iolas, the future New York gallerist.

Fifty years later, gossamer webs of gossip still cling to Theodora Keogh’s life. No, her pet margay did not bite off her ear in the Chelsea Hotel. Stimulated by the atmosphere of that once-lively refuge, the margay took a few irritated nips off an earlobe, after which Theodora styled her hair a little differently.

And, no, her second husband, Tommy O’Toole, wasn’t a tugboat captain. More like a steward on the Circle Line when Theodora met him, although he and Theodora did live on a tugboat in New York harbor while she was writing a novel in a neighborhood bar.
For a woman who grew up without the money her social advantages implied—she was the namesake of her grandfather, President Theodore Roosevelt, and the favorite niece of his witty daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth—Theodora always took care to select her own society. But she never had to choose between living it up or writing it down. She did both—and at the same time, too.
Keogh’s novels are mostly set in places she’d lived in intensely and knew by heart: the Upper East Side of New York, the Left Bank of Paris, the North Shore of Long Island.

Manhattan is a great beast in her New York books, prowling restively between vaguely tidal waters like a dragon getting ready to doss down for the night. She made her Paris quartier (our Paris quartier, since I live around the corner from where she wrote) come alive in visceral prose as the postwar terrain it was, throbbing with impermissible desires and criminal thoughts and centered on a street shaped, appropriately, like a goblet of wine.
A natural democrat, she enlivened her work with immigrants, foreign accents, and character actors from the underclasses. In two of her books, homosexuals are the major protagonists (The Double Door, The Other Girl). In others, beautiful women have affairs with underage boys or traduce their conventional husbands in states of magically-compelled trance (The Fascinator, The Mistress, My Name Is Rose).

She never stopped exploring the secrets of the flesh. In Meg (1950), the father of a twelve-year-old girl is magnetically drawn to his daughter’s best school friend—and that attraction is returned. A middle-aged music critic in Paris nearly abandons his new marriage for an eleven-year-old child criminal from the streets, and they kiss (Street Music). An entire Egyptian family falls in love with a chic New York model past her prime (The Mistress). Adult twins make love and suppress a murder (Gemini). A teenage heiress, kept apart from life like a princess in a tower, enters a secret door and sleeps with her father’s paid male lover (The Double Door).

But if passion is Keogh’s real subject, it’s also the wrecking ball in her democracy of desire. In each of her books, passion equalizes class, age, race, and identity.

Keogh and her margay at the Chelsea Hotel. Photograph by Morgan Wilson.
You could say that Serendipity—the good luck goddess of life-writing—led me to Theodora Keogh. And you’d be nearly right.
It was winter, it was Switzerland, and the library I was researching in for my biography of Patricia Highsmith kept its archives inhumanly chilled. I was bone cold most of the time. I hadn’t heard of the novel Meg or of its bodacious author—but when I found Highsmith’s youthful, heated, uncharacteristically positive review of Keogh’s first book, it was like a touch of the tropics on all that permafrost.

Never one to praise women out of bed, Highsmith loved Keogh’s novel—really loved it—and I could see why. The character of Meg is modeled on Theodora as a child: a willful, adventurous twelve-year-old who covers her skinned knees in tattered pants, joins a gang of bad boys, blackmails a teacher, carries a knife, calls out a child molester, and likes to refer to herself as Roland. If Highsmith had ever written an entire novel about a child (God forbid), it might have looked a little like this one.

Curious about the only woman writer Highsmith had ever smiled on in print, I wrote to Keogh in North Carolina, where she’d been living reclusively in the country for decades: widowed, now, from a third marriage; her work as a novelist put away. And she wrote back in her large, loopy handwriting with its lovely, lousy spelling—the spelling of a woman who has lived a long time in other languages.

I was the first person in ages, she wrote, who wanted to talk to her about her novels: her first new fan. (She has many new fans now.) She’d already mislaid my letter and forgotten my name—no doubt, she added, this was because her mother told her that people love to listen to the sound of their own names. She was delighted to hear from me. She still did a ballet barre every day. Could we speak as soon as possible?

And so Theodora Keogh and I met each other in the old-fashioned way: first by correspondence and then by telephone. We made a relationship with our voices, which suited us both. And we kept on talking on the telephone, weekly, for hours on end (in rich, resonant, analog sound, because we’d both held on to our landline telephones), for the next six years, until she died. I read her attentively; she did the same for me.

God, she was charming. All Theodora’s talents were on display in our conversations: her gift for detailed description (her vignettes were like Vermeers); her sensual apprehension of the world; her ardent and very specific recollections.

She loved the aristocratic, small-nosed look of animals that come from the East—like Arab racehorses and her Nubian goats. She thought white wine was interesting only when you could see the Rhine through a glass of it. Anything about Jeanne d’Arc interested her. She could recite long passages of poetry—reading aloud had been a big feature of her Roosevelt childhood—and she had a terrific memory for old songs in French and American. She was always excited about something.

It was Theodora’s amour propre that kept us from meeting face to face. She said she felt “diminished” physically, but “herself” on the telephone. In her early eighties when we started speaking, Theodora could have passed a voice audition for a worldly thirty-eight-year-old. Her voice was an emollient—smooth, chaleureuse, empathetic, and buffered by an elegant American diction which has been almost lost in the present day. Like so many attractive women, she’d lied heroically about her age to lovers, to husbands, and to at least one U.S. government agency: the Department of Social Security still thinks she was born ten years later than she was.

I loved Theodora dearly, admired her tremendously, and could never bring myself to record her.

For now, the voice of her brilliant contemporary, the composer and diarist Ned Rorem, has to mark her place for all of us:
When I knew her in the nineteen-fifties, Theodora was our best American writer—certainly our best female writer. With her (estranged) husband, Tom, they represented all that was good about America to everyone in Paris.
Joan Schenkar’s latest book is The Talented Miss Highsmith (Picador, 2011). She lives and works in Paris and Greenwich Village.

Noir: A Vacation that only DSK could love!

Print Your Own Space Station — in Orbit

Up to seven space enthusiasts at a time would be housed in the Hotel in the Heavens, which is planned by Russian company Orbital Technologies.

Russian engineers have announced the ultimate get-away-from-it-all holiday, revealing plans to put a hotel into orbit 200 miles above Earth by 2016. The four-room Hotel in the Heavens would house up to seven guests who would be able to cavort in zero-gravity while watching as our planet turns.

The out-of-this-world experience will not come cheaply, however. Space tourists will have to pay $818,000 to travel on a Soyuz rocket to get to the hotel before stumping up a further $156,000 for a five-day stay.

Apart from space hotels, which have also been touted recently by US and European aerospace companies, proposals to fly thrill-seekers on rocket flights to the edge of space are now being finalised by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic as well as by US companies such as Space Adventures, Armadillo Aerospace and XCOR Aerospace.

The ZERO-G Experience is an amazing opportunity to experience true weightlessness.  On our specially modified Boeing 727, parabolic arcs are performed to create a weightless environment allowing you to float, flip and soar as if you were in space.

A ZERO-G Experience is available starting at $4,950* per person up to $165,000* for a private charter (36 people).

Reserve your ticket to the edge of space today!
Lynx suborbital flight tickets are now available for $95,000.  Your journey starts with a $20,000 deposit, which qualifies you for a four day orientation, medical screening and G-Force training at a luxurious Arizona resort supplied by RocketShip Tours.  You'll train together with fellow space travellers.  A final payment of $75,000 allows you to take the flight aboard Lynx.  To begin the reservation process, please fill out the contact form below.   An XCOR or a RocketShip Tours representative will contact you within 24 hours to continue your ticketing process.
Alternatively, you may contact us by phone at 661-824-4714 x126 or (661) 202-7815. You may also contact our General Sales Agent RocketShip Tours or via phone at 888-778-6877.

In addition, billionaires may soon be able to buy their own artificial countries – built in international waters on oil rig-type platforms – where they can indulge in their dictatorial fantasies. 

DSK may find like the help in space!

NoirCon: Noir: Hurricane Stupidity - Irene has a sense of h...

NoirCon: Noir: Hurricane Stupidity - Irene has a sense of h...

Noir: Hurricane Stupidity - Irene has a sense of humor!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Noir: The Revenge of Print - Cashiers Du Cinemart 16

Mike White Strikes BLACK GOLD Again With CdC 16!  
Get yours TODAY!

CdC 16 - Cover by Stephen Blickenstaff

Let 2011 be known as The Revenge of Print, an effort began in

Baltimroe to put an end to the rumors that print is dead. Scores 

of zinesters have answered the call, putting out a new issue of 

zines long since put down -- just like Cashiers du Cinemart. After 

four years, there's a fresh CdC in town. 


Skizz CyzykFilm Festival X is a Scam
A warning to the naive filmmaker
Mike MalloyThese Massacres Could Have Been Avoided
A study of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise
Andrew RauschThe Sound of Thunder
An interview with Heywood Gould about Rolling Thunder
Kyle BarrowmanIdentity & Arnie
A response to Pat Bishow's piece in Cashiers du Cinemart 13
Ralph ElawaniMaple Syrup Porn
Dirty movies from the Great White North
Mike SullivanLike Watching a Laurel & Hardy Short Seen Through a Fog of Deep Depression
An interview with Adam Resnick (Cabin BoyDeath to Smoochy, etc.)
Rich OsmondRural Mayhem: Georgia Peaches
A review of the classic TV movie
Chris CumminsBreaking Glass: The Experience is Shattering
A review of the punk rock classic
David MacGregorThank the Pig
An appreciation of Babe 2: Pig in the City
Dion ConflictHeaven or Vegas: A Sin City Sleeper
A review of Gregory C. Haynes's film
Jef BurnhamThe Monster in the Gelatin
A look at Reindeer Games
Karen LillisDowntown 2001: A review essay of Downtown 81
Life in NYC in the early 2000s
Mike WhiteDeath on the Highway: Killer Cars
Driving down the highway to hell
Mike WhiteLove Not Given Lightly
The cinema of domination and the domination of cinema
Mike WhiteDocumenting the Scene
BDSM in the movies
Joshua Gravel
& Mike White
Video Reviews
A bunch of movie reviews
Mike WhiteBook Reviews
Yes, books still matter

Noir: Hyperdactly

Two hands and two feet = 26 Digits,
when 20 is not good enough!

BARACOA, Cuba -- They call him "Twenty-Four." Yoandri Hernandez Garrido's nickname comes from the six perfectly formed fingers on each of his hands and the six impeccable toes on each foot.
Hernandez is proud of his extra digits and calls them a blessing, saying they set him apart and enable him to make a living by scrambling up palm trees to cut coconuts and posing for photographs in this eastern Cuban city popular with tourists. One traveler paid $10 for a picture with him, Hernandez said, a bonanza in a country with an average salary of just $20 a month.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Noir: R. I. P. Gualtiero Jacopetti


Gualtiero Jacopetti, a filmmaker who titillated and disgusted moviegoers by roaming the globe to document bizarre, not to say creepy, phenomena — a chicken that smokes cigarettes, for instance — in the movie “Mondo Cane” and its sequels, died on Wednesday at his home in Rome. He was 91.

Mr. Jacopetti liked to say he had invented the “antidocumentary” or the “shockumentary” with “Mondo Cane,” which was unveiled, and well received, at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival. He showed Italian villagers slicing themselves with glass in observance of Good Friday; the French painter Yves Klein using naked women as paintbrushes; and New Yorkers dining on insects in a fancy restaurant.

The narration was droll and the images were ironic: A bereaved mother in New Guinea nurses a suckling pig, immediately followed by the wholesale slaughter of pigs for an orgy of feasting in the same region. Mr. Jacopetti called such transitions “shock cuts.” Another scene shows people mourning in a pet cemetery in Pasadena, Calif. Cut to shots of customers savoring roast dog at a Taiwanese restaurant.

Mr. Jacopetti made “Mondo Cane,” which translates as “a dog’s world,” with Franco Prosperi and Paolo Cavara, who also collaborated with him on other films. It was distinguished by a jazzy score by Nino Oliviero and Riz Ortolani, whose theme song, “More,” was nominated for an Academy Award and recorded by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland and many others.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it an “extraordinarily candid” film. Judith Crist of The New York Herald Tribune called it pretty much everything: “bizarre and barbaric, macabre and gruesome, ironic, hilarious, bloodstained, unconventional, provocative and controversial.”
Pauline Kael of The New Yorker was dismissive. Anyone who liked “Mondo Cane,” she wrote, was “too restless and apathetic to pay attention to motivations and complications, cause and effect.”

“Mondo Cane” was nonetheless named best production by the Academy of Italian Cinema, and was a big financial success worldwide. Mr. Jacopetti went on to make a sequel, “Mondo Cane 2” (1963), and, in between, “Women of the World” (1963), which looked at women with the same lurid scrutiny found in the “Mondo” films.
A newspaper advertisement assured viewers they had seen nothing quite like “Women of the World,” then described the movie: “Women in blind love and blistering hate, women carnal and capricious, women at their most primitive and their most sophisticated, women as they are in every part of the world.”
Some reviewers suggested that the moviemakers visited 39 countries on five continents mainly to discover that women everywhere seem to have lots of skin when photographed with few or no clothes. But they also showed Bedouin women braving gunfire in Algeria to gather shell casings for a living; an aging Scotsman who has 84 wives on the tiny island of Iwa; and Elizabeth Rudel Smith, former treasurer of the United States — all clothed.

Fundamentally, Mr. Jacopetti considered himself a journalist, which he had formerly been. He said his goal was to make “a film that would play on the big screen whose subject was reality.” But his audiences wanted to be entertained as much as informed, and a huge wave of imitation “Mondo” movies arose to satisfy them.
Russ Meyer, a director known for his films featuring large-breasted women, made “Mondo Topless” in 1966. Three years later, the idiosyncratic director John Waters made the cult hit “Mondo Trasho.”

Americans even took the Italian word for world and made it an all-purpose adjective. Tony Thorne in his “Bloomsbury Dictionary of Modern Slang” said this was usually done by adding a “mock-Latin ‘o’ ending, as in ‘mondo-sleazo’ or ‘mondo-cheapo.’ ” A book of pop-culture essays published in Canada in 1996 was called “Mondo-Canuck.”

Gualtiero Jacopetti was born in Barga, Italy, on Sept. 4, 1919. According to obituaries published in Italy, he helped Allied troops when they invaded the country in World War II. He was a magazine editor and helped start the Italian magazine L’Espresso, and made newsreels before turning to feature films.
Mr. Jacopetti was sometimes accused of staging some of the strange things he filmed. He admitted to only one re-enactment: a scene in “Mondo Cane 2” based on the self-immolation of a Vietnamese monk, seen everywhere in an Associated Press photo.
Among the memorable scenes in “Mondo Cane 2” was that of a group of Italian villagers smashing in a garage door with their heads in an annual ritual. Some bleed from their ears and mouths, go into convulsions and have to be carried off. Once inside, the men and the rest of the villagers eat until they’re sick.

In 1966 Mr. Jacopetti made “Africa Addio” (“Goodbye, Africa”), which depicted violent convulsions in postcolonial Africa. Accused of colluding with mercenary killers to arrange executions for the benefit of his cameras, he went back to Africa to collect testimony to clear his name.

In 1971 he and Mr. Prosperi made “Goodbye, Uncle Tom,” in which the two portray filmmakers who journey back in time to chronicle slavery in America before the Civil War.

One goal of the quasi-documentary approach of the “Mondo” movies and their imitators was to elude censors. As the need for that passed, the genre fell out of favor, along with beach-party films and giant-insect movies. Today, cable television and the Internet furnish a never-ending supply of amusingly weird phenomena.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Noir: "The moon may be in the gutter, but the film is in the toilet.”

Depardieu remains one of Goodis's Greatest Characters


 French actor Gerard Depardieu apparently said “au revoir” to the bathroom while on an Air France flight.


French actor Gerald Depardieu could not resist the urge to urinate on the Paris to Dublin flight.

Unable to use the lavatories on the plan, Depardieu showed that the Goodis/Beineix film MOON IN THE GUTTER still flowed through his system.

Showing his dock worker ways, Depardieu ignored the flight crew and unzipped his fly to urinate in the cabin!

Nature called and he answered.  How Goodis like!

Gerard Depardieu (credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment)

"The moon may be in the gutter, but the film is in the toilet,"

noted Gerald Depardieu, seeming to go along with the tidal wave of Critical derision that met Jean-Jacques Beineix's THE MOON IN THE GUTTER on its disastrous premiere at Cannes.  Up until that fateful night it was the hottest property in European cinema.  Depardieu at the height of his cool, Nastassja Kinski at the height of her fame, a supporting cast including Victoria Abril, Dominique Pinon and Bertice Reading, Beineix fresh off the success of DIVA with a novel by David Goodis to play with...

If ever there was a picture too cool for school and just riding for a fall, it was this one, and it fell hard!

So very David Goodis!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Noir: David Goodis meets The Big Easy! Goodis NOIR Leans Style!

As he took his woman,
the fire was solely his own fire
and there was the sordid and dismal feeling,
and finally the downright horrible feeling,
of being alone in the bed.

David Goodis
Cassidy's Girl

Cassidy's Girl: The Movie

Interview of Ed Holub and Duane Swierczynski (SDB)

Secret Dead Blog: What drew you to Cassidy's Girl? Was it your first Goodis novel, or the one that just stuck with you?

Ed Holub: Well, I shoot book covers for a lot of Vintage Black Lizard titles. I did some Jim Thompson, Dashiel Hammett, Ross McDonald, etc... So, I got a hold of tons of original paperbacks to check out what the original art looked like. Then I wondered what the covers were trying to say. I read like hundreds. I've found tons of stories I think would translate well to films...

When I first came across Goodis, his work just stood out. His endings are never "happy" or conventional, and I've often been left more confused than satisfied by the novels. But I think that's why his work leaves such a lasting impression. Even with Cassidy's Girl, it's taken me a long time to truly understand the subplots and psychology involved. Also the existential philosophy is as strong as Camus, so his stories don't just make you think, they make you grapple, writhe around a bit, and contradict yourself a bunch before you can let go.

Cassidy's Girl in particular hit some personal cords in my own life, along relationship lines, and ironically I find myself fighting to regain my glory as James did. The concept of rediscovering hope in the face of uncertainty is a strong message. Well, this title has many other themes, subplots, subtexts, and difficult human emotions, all great stuff to work with in film. I think that's why most actors who read it, love it.

SDB: Can you tell us a little bit about the development process been like? Is there a screenplay ready?

Holub: The development process is a hell I don't wish on my worst enemies. I've had financing twice. Both times, producers egos have destroyed the project. I've found some good people along the way too. Michael Arata, though he's losing patience with me, has been there all along, and Jimmy Woods did boards and schedules for the whole film. I owe him for that.

The best thing going now is the script. I've made some deliberate changes from the original book. And this answer will segue the next question too. I wanted to bring significance to setting the film in the 50's. Besides the dialog and social morees (broken and unbroken), that is. So I wanted to bring in the McCarthy hearings, because CNN is pushing terrorist hype on us as much Senator Joe ever did, so I wanted to say that through metaphor. Then I also wanted to expose urban decay in all its grimy beauty, so exterior setting became the utmost in considerations.

SDB: And now the controversial question. You've decided to set Cassidy's Girl in New Orleans, even though it's a Philly novel through and through. But you seem like a nice guy, Ed, and I'm willing to forgive you. So tell us: why New Orleans?

Holub: Now the Philly thing was hard for me. I came up through the tough streets of New York, so originally I was all for Philly. But as I watched Times Square turn from the Big Apple Theatre to Disneyland East, I also saw a lot of the charm of the 50's leave the entire region. I was especially disenchanted by the urban renewal efforts of Dock Street. I simply felt the overall vibe of the 50's wasn't there, not the way I feel it deserves to be. I started hunting up and down the East Coast looking for that vibe and feeling of the time period.

It wasn't until I hit New Orleans that I found it. I walked into a bar, and there was Mildred standing there. Same hair. Same gum snapping brovado. Then I found a barefoot Pauline ranting on about something or other while sipping something strong. Spann threatened to kill me once (true). Goodis characters live and breathe in New Orleans. And of course, it IS the biggest alcoholic city in the world. I decided it wasn't just the physical place, but the overall emotional zone... and New Orleans has it. Especially the ninth and seventh wards. Besides, the streets look especially creepy at night, when haze floats through the air, grabbing artificial street light filtered through the trees.

And I can't afford to rebuild Dock Street anytime soon... I think David could live in New Orleans, as long as he has air conditioning. But remember it's not the heat that gets you, it's the stupidity.

By Mike Dennis

When you open a David Goodis novel, you can be pretty sure of two things: it’s probably going to be set in Philadelphia and it’s definitely going to be populated by characters whose lives have no significance, often not even to themselves. And that’s exactly what you get when you open Cassidy’s Girl, a 1951 effort by the master storyteller of doomed human beings. 

I say doomed because even in this book, which has Goodis’ twisted version of a happy ending, the characters are all lost souls, thrown out with the bathwater into the filthy streets of the Philadelphia waterfront. 

Jim Cassidy drives a bus from Philadelphia to Easton three times every day, back and forth, back and forth, because that’s the only work he can get. As a ruined former airline pilot, he’s well into his downward spiral, and his monotonous job only sets him up for his evening activities. He hangs around a slimy waterfront bar where all the hard case drinkers go, he gets in fist fights, and he’s completely under the spell of his wife Mildred, a breast-shaking, hip-swaying drunken nag who would rather cheat on him than make him dinner. 

Well, one night while in an alcoholic stupor in his favorite dive, he spots Doris, a twentysomething girl who is, as she puts it, drinking herself to death, and she looks it. Sallow-complected and vacant-eyed, she makes love to the bottle every day and every night. Cassidy falls for her, more out of genuine caring than lust, and he eventually moves in with her. As he falls more and more in what passes for love in a Goodis novel, he tries his very best to get her to quit drinking. In one wild fantasy, he even envisions a proper, straightened-out life for the two of them, dining in fine restaurants and sipping an after-dinner sherry. “There would be no need for the other kind of drinking,” he thinks to himself.
Mildred, however, has different ideas, and Cassidy’s problems start multiplying.
This is why Goodis was such a great writer. He can take the very lowest players on society’s scale and make you care about them. Even when you know they have absolutely no shot, which is usually the case, you still care.Cassidy’s Girl reads like Goodis’ love letter to these people, and for that matter to all the losers who ever appeared in his novels. Anyone who appreciates great writing should make a point of locating a copy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Noir: A modern day Phineas Gage in Oslo Norway

I didn't realise I had a 12" spike in my head, says Oslo blast victim as she returns to work.

  • Shard of wooden window frame went in through Line Nersnaes chin and came out of the top of skull.
  • Civil servant, 50: 'I had a terrible headache but couldn't understand why'

Line Nersnaes, wounded in the Oslo bombing, July 22, 2011.
Line Nersnaes with a 12" spike through her head  after the car bomb blast in the centre of Oslo last Friday which killed eight people


As the dust settled in the ruins of her 11th floor office in Oslo after the devastating bomb blast, Line Nersnaes knew she had to get out.
But while the 50-year-old Justice Department advisor realised she had to struggle through the shattered glass and twisted metal to make her escape, she had no idea a 12-inch wooden spike had lodged in her head.
The spear-like fragment from a shattered wooden window frame had narrowly missed her brain, having entered under her chin and exiting at the top of her skull.

The Incredible Case of Phineas Cage

Phineas Gage (1823-1860) is one of the earliest documented cases of severe brain injury. Gage is the index case of an individual who suffered major personality changes after brain trauma. As such, he is a legend in the annals of neurology, which is largely based on the study of brain-damaged patients.
Gage was foreman of a crew of railroad construction workers who were excavating rocks to make way for the railroad track. This involved drilling holes deep into the boulders and filling them with dynamite. A fuse was then inserted, and the entrance to the hole plugged with sand, so that the force of the explosion would be directed into the boulder. This was done with a crow bar-like tool called a tamping iron.
On 13th September, 1848, 25-year-old Gage and his crew were working on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad near Cavendish in Vermont. Gage was preparing for an explosion by compacting a bore with explosive powder using a tamping iron. While he was doing this, a spark from the tamping iron ignited the powder, causing the iron to be propelled at high speed straight through Gage’s skull. It entered under the left cheek bone and exited through the top of the head, and was later recovered some 30 yards from the site of the accident.
The doctor who later attended to him, John Martin Harlow, later noted that the tamping iron was found “several rods [1 rod= 5.02m] behind him, where it was afterward picked up by his men smeared with blood and brain”. The tamping iron was 3 ft. 8 inches in length and 1.25 inches in diameter at one end, not 1.25 inches in circumference, as reported in the newspaper report on the left. It tapered at one end, over a distance of about 1 ft., to a blunt end 0.25 inches in diameter, and weighed more than 6 kg.
Whether or not Gage lost consciousness is not known, but, remarkably, he was conscious and able to walk within minutes of the accident. He was then seated in an oxcart, on which he was transported three-quarters of a mile to the boarding house where he was staying. Here, he was attended to by Harlow, the local physician. At the boarding house, Harlow cleaned Gage’s wounds by removing small fragments of bone, and replaced some of the larger skull fragments that remained attached but had been displaced by the tamping iron. He then closed the larger wound at the top of Gauge’s head with adhesive straps, and covered the opening with a wet compress. Gage’s wounds were not treated surgically, but were instead left open to drain into the dressings.

Within a few days of his accident, one of Gage’s exposed brain became infected with a “fungus”, and he lapsed into a semi-comatose state. His family prepared a coffin for him, but Gage recovered. Two weeks after the accident, Harlow released 8 fluid ounces of pus from an abscess under Gage’s scalp, which would otherwise have leaked into the brain, with fatal consequences. By 1st January 1849, Gage was leading an apparently normal life.
Harlow’s case report of Gage’s injuries appeared as a letter to the editor of theBoston Medical and Surgical Journal. The report of the “hitherto unparalleled case” contains few neurological details, and was at first met with skepticism, because it was thought that no-one could survive such an extreme injury. Harlow describes Gage’s injury as follows:
[The tamping iron] entered the cranium, passing through the anterior left lobe of the cerebrum, and made its exit in the medial line, at the junction of the coronal and sagittal sutures, lacerating the longitudinal sinus, fracturing the parietal and frontal bones extensively, breaking up considerable portions of the brain, and protruding the globe of the left eye from its socket, by nearly half its diameter.
Harlow goes on to describe how, while examining Gage, he determined that no bone fragments remained inside the skull:
…in searching to ascertain if there were other foreign bodies there, I passed in the index finger its whole length, without the least resistance, in the direction of the sound [of the hemorrhaging?] in the cheek, which received the other finger in like manner.
A second report was published in 1850 by Henry J. Bigelow, a professor of surgery at Harvard University. Bigelow emphasised Gage’s lack of symptoms, and reported that Gage was “quite recovered in faculties of body and mind”. Because of the disbelief with which Harlow’s 1848 report was met, it was, for the next 20 years, Bigelow’s account that came to be generally accepted by the medical community.
Gage did, according to Harlow, retain “full possession of his reason” after the accident, but his wife and other people close to him soon began to notice dramatic changes in his personality. It wasn’t until 1868 that Harlow documented the “mental manifestations” of Gage’s brain injuries, in a report published in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Medical Society:
His contractors, who regarded him as the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ previous to his injury, considered the change in his mind so marked that they could not give him his place again. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint of advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinent, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was “no longer Gage.”
On the right is one of three figures from Harlow’s 1868 paper. The legend reads:
Front and lateral view of the cranium, representing the direction in which the iron traversed its cavity; the present appearance of the line of fracture, and also the large anterior fragment of the frontal bone, which was entirely detached, replaced and partially re-united.
Thus, the damage to Gage’s frontal cortex had resulted in a complete loss of social inhibitions, which often led to inappropriate behaviour. In effect, the tamping iron had performed a frontal lobotomy on Gage, but the exact nature of the damage incurred to his brain has been a subject of debate ever since the accident occurred. This is because the damage can only be inferred from the path of the tamping iron through Gage’s skull, which in turn can only be inferred from the damage to the skull.

Gage’s skull was damaged in three places: there is a small wound under the left zygomatic arch (cheek bone) where the tamping iron entered; another is located in the orbital bone in the base of the skull behind the orbit of the eye; and the third, and largest, wound is in the top of the skull, where the tamping iron exited. The exit wound was enormous, and never healed. It can be seen today in Gage’s as an irregularly-shaped triangular hole, about 2 inches wide and 4 inches in circumference, and another, nearly 3 inches in circumference. These are separated by one of the flaps of skull that was replaced by Harlow upon arriving at Gage’s boarding house. Because the circumference of the wound in the frontal bone is much larger than the maximum diameter of the tamping iron, it is difficult to determine precisely the trajectory of the iron and where it exited Gage’s skull.

For decades, neurological and psychological researchers have been intrigued by the case of Phineas Gage. Now, scientists believe they have discovered an image of him taken in the mid-19th century. They say he is holding the 3-foot piece of iron that rocketed through his skull.   For decades, neurological and psychological researchers have been intrigued by the case of Phineas Gage. Now, scientists believe they have discovered an image of him taken in the mid-19th century. They say he is holding the 3-foot piece of iron that rocketed through his skull. (From the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus)