sovay: (Rotwang)
Tonight is the book launch for Caitlín R. Kiernan's Agents of Dreamland; it will be taking place at the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council in Providence and I will be reading beforehand and answering questions with Caitlín afterward. I hope to see some of you there! In the meantime, I should get ready to catch this train.

[edit] This announcement never crossposted because apparently LiveJournal has blocked all Dreamwidth webservers. Well, that explains why nobody commented. Way to go, LJ.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I had no idea there were Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in attendance at the rally to support trans youth tonight. I think that's fabulous.

At first I didn't see anyone I knew in the crowd. I had mistakenly gotten off the Orange Line at State Street rather than Downtown Crossing, so I was approaching Post Office Square from an unfamiliar and partly conjectural angle and knew I was in the right place mostly because I was suddenly surrounded by signs like "I Stand with Trans Students," "Trans Rights Are Human Rights," "Let My People Go to the Bathroom," and "Donny Knows Dick." There were people wrapped in trans flags and waving them; there were people of every gender presentation, including non-binary and totally indeterminate; the age range spanned queer elders who had evidently been doing this shit for years to parents of school-aged trans children (and trans parents of school-aged children) to toddlers with scribbly, glittery signs. The trees of Post Office Square were lit up purple and there were blue and pink lights in the windows of a building on Pearl Street. I took a blue-and-pink-and-white-striped poster reading "Protect Trans Youth" from a man with a sheaf of them and carried it for the rest of the night. I had a nice exchange with the young trans man next to me and his cis boyfriend who had just bought him some H.G. Wells, as a good boyfriend should; during the portion of the rally when we were encouraged to introduce ourselves to strangers and meet our community, a pink-haired activist from Athens, Georgia and I bonded over our sudden mutual flashback to college orientation. I complimented one protester on his pride flag kippah and another on her trans flag bowtie. (I got compliments on my bisexual unicorn T-shirt.) The executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition expressed his heartfelt appreciation for the couple of hundred people who had shown up on practically no notice to tell the trans youth of Boston and elsewhere that they are not alone; he pointed out the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education on the other side of Congress Street and spoke passionately about intersectionality—making the cogent point that this administration has not just now begun to hurt trans people; trans people who are Black, Muslim, Latinx, and immigrants have already been hurt—and then threw the megaphone open to trans students and teachers, of whom I think my favorite was the tenth-grade trans boy who talked about equality: "We're all human! We're all skeletons!" And then the formal part of the rally broke up into networking and people with signs going off to line both sidewalks of Congress Street, at which point a woman I had met last month at Jewish Voice for Peace came up and greeted me and [personal profile] skygiants, [personal profile] genarti, [personal profile] sandrylene, and [ profile] teenybuffalo all wandered by at once. I could not participate very loudly in the communal call-and-response, but it was important for me to say the words: When trans youth are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back. When trans rights are being denied, resistance is justified. We're here, we're trans, no walls and no bans. People honked in support as they drove by, smiled out the window, gave thumbs-up, Doppler-cheered. I was told later that one man shouted "Trump! Trump! Trump!" as he drove past, but since I didn't even hear him over the activist chanting, I don't think he won.

I did not expect the rally to turn into a march. I'm not sure the rally was expecting it. But first there were protesters with signs on either side of the street, then there were protesters with signs in the street, then there were protesters with signs walking down the street with the trans flag out front, and by the time we turned the corner on Franklin Street we were definitely a march. The call-and-response widened to include Whose streets? Our streets! Whose city? Our city! and We all got to pee, so let's get free, which I had not heard before. There was a brief logjam at Downtown Crossing which occasioned the only violence I saw all night—a bunch of kids on the sidewalk who didn't care about trans rights but were happy to shout "Fuck Trump!" got into some kind of altercation with one of the older protesters; he got slapped or otherwise physically infringed on, but I saw people taking care of him after the kids ran off—but on the whole bystanders were either visibly supportive or took out their phones in a neutral to approving fashion. We marched up Winter Street; one of the loudest voices in the chants near me belonged to a woman with a white cane. A number of protesters including the Sandry contingent peeled off at Park Street, but I guessed the core of the march was heading for the Massachusetts State House and followed them, which is why there may yet surface some footage of me standing outside the locked front gates of our state house and talking about Bill H.97, although since I couldn't remember the number I just said it was co-sponsored by Christine Barber and designed to protect minors from so-called conversion therapies and had been sitting in committee for over a year and could our state representatives just agree that torturing children is bad and pass the damn thing already? Other people spoke before me, more angrily, more lovingly, and more eloquently: a non-binary trans femme MIT professor who had to leave to grade papers, but first reminded the audience that trans people have always existed, that gender has never been binary (it's so true); a working-class male-presenting trans person with a kerchief over their face because they did not feel safe revealing their identity, talking about class and safety and the need for networks in Boston to help homeless trans people like they had been last summer; the H.G. Wells-buying boyfriend I had met first, doing a much less awkward job than he thought expressing love and support for his boyfriend who had been kicked out of his parents' house for coming out as trans when he was sixteen. People talked about statistics, suicides, bashings, murders. People said things to each other like "I love you; you're beautiful." People chanted hey, hey, ho, ho, white supremacy has got to go. For a while there was a police car spinning its lights over the crowd, but it left without arresting anyone. (I hadn't been confident it would.) There were local news crews at Post Office Square and the State House, which I managed to miss completely. There are some nice photographs here. Around eight o'clock everything broke up quietly and I took the Red Line to Davis and met [ profile] derspatchel for a very late dinner when he got out of work. My knee is hurting again and I think I spoke more than I have in a week, but it was worth it.

Oh, and I met a trans woman in the bathroom at Walgreen's on my way over to the rally. The worst thing that happened was we were both in a Walgreen's bathroom.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
So I spent my entire day more or less spot-welded to my computer doing three different jobs and did not get a chance to look at the news until quite late, although I did see the exoplanets when I got up. That was lovely.

Not so lovely was the news that the present administration has withdrawn federal protection from trans students.

In just about about twelve hours, there's a rally in support of trans youth in Post Office Square and unless I wipe out after my doctor's appointment in the afternoon, I will be there. I am no good for shouting slogans at present, but I got rid of the cane as of this morning and should therefore be able to handle boots on ground.

I just have to sleep first.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Sunday night in the ER at Mount Auburn, I was reading John le Carré's The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life (2016) when I ran into the following passage at the beginning of a chapter about Martin Ritt, Richard Burton, and the filming of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965):

I was a serving diplomat of thirty-two and I had never met movie people before. In childhood, like all boys of my time, I had fallen in love with Deanna Durbin, and rolled in the aisles over the Three Stooges. In wartime cinemas, I had shot down German aeroplanes piloted by Eric Portman, and triumphed over the Gestapo with Leslie Howard. (My father was so persuaded that Portman was a Nazi that he said he should be interned.)

At which point I exclaimed out loud to [ profile] derspatchel, because the Deanna Durbin and the Three Stooges could be anything, but the Leslie Howard is Pimpernel Smith (1941) and the Eric Portman is Squadron Leader X (1943) and if le Carré really has a memory of the latter rather than just using it as cultural shorthand, I want to ask him what it was like, because it is famously a lost film.1 It was written by Emeric Pressburger and directed by Lance Comfort and I have wanted to see it ever since I discovered the Archers and Eric Portman simultaneously with A Canterbury Tale (1944). Thanks to the good grace of Olive Films, Pimpernel Smith finally does exist on DVD and Blu-Ray and someday when I have money I will purchase a copy, but as regards Squadron Leader X I've been as much out of luck as the BFI. There's pictures and a summary and a reputation. I don't usually think of movies as one of the things that can be lost with the ceaselessly moving window of living memory, but here we are. I wonder if there's anyone alive who remembers London After Midnight (1927).

1. Portman also plays a Nazi in Powell and Pressburger's 49th Parallel (1941), but there is no shooting down of a German airplane in that movie; there is a stolen Canadian seaplane, but Portman isn't the guy flying it when it crashes in a lake in Manitoba.
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
Another President's Day has gone by (marked with protests, I hear) and [ profile] derspatchel and I have observed our sixth 'Thon together. We did not make the full twenty-four hours of science fiction film this year, but then again we had not planned on having to ditch the marathon for an emergency room. I am very ready for my physical health to start putting itself back together any time soon. For obvious reasons, this will be a shorter review than some previous years.

Neither of us had gotten much sleep the night before, so we did not make it for the traditional noon kickoff of Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953) or even the first feature, which in honor of the marathon's forty-second anniversary was Hammer & Tongs' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). Fortunately, we got another chance at Sam Rockwell and Alan Rickman with Dean Parisot's Galaxy Quest (1999)—we were in fact too late for Alexander's panic attack, but we made it to the balcony just in time to hear Dr. Lazarus swearing to a stricken Thermian that by Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Worvan, he would be avenged, at which point the audience as one correctly erupted in applause. I hadn't seen the film since it was in theaters, which never prevented whole swathes of its dialogue from turning up in my brain at the slightest excuse; I was especially glad to catch any of it on 35 mm, given how much of this year's marathon was digital. It was the rare contemporary movie in its year where I actually recognized more than one member of the cast, mostly thanks to Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, and Tony Shalhoub. I did not realize until the credits rolled that I had spent most of last year seeing earnest, dorky, dolphin-sounding alien leader Mathesar—Enrico Colantoni—as Elias on Person of Interest (2011–16), where he is not even faintly any of the above. I love character actors very much.

It is impossible for me to watch William Alland and Jack Arnold's Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) now without associating it with Caitlín R. Kiernan's "From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6," to the point where Antonio Moreno levered the fossilized, grasping claw of the Creature's ancestor out of its plaster strata of Devonian shale and I thought Grendelonyx innsmouthensis, but I can remember being in third grade and seeing—not the entire film, I think, because I recognized very little beyond the design of the Gill-Man and some underwater footage of him swimming through the silt and weeds of the Black Lagoon, but enough that it went into my head as something haunting and not a little upsetting, accelerated shortly afterward by finding in my elementary school library a lavishly illustrated book about '50's monster movies which summarized the two sequels. I knew already that I felt bad for the monster. I already knew that I wanted gills and retractile claws and webbing between my fingers; I swam open-eyed, underwater in the Atlantic and had to be taught actual human swimming strokes. On that level the movie still resonates with me, even while I'm not actually sure as an adult that it's very good. I love the cosmic opening with its condensing clouds of atmosphere and prehistoric seas; the fossil itself is a great hook, even if it's essentially forgotten once the expedition enters the lagoon; I found it a fascinating touch for 1954 that one of the accumulating villainies of Richard Denning's sleek, competitive, increasingly trigger-happy scientist—the kind who's more concerned with getting his name in the papers than advancing the frontiers of human knowledge, unlike hunky but high-minded Richard Carlson—is the disclosure that he's been taking credit for his female colleague's research while convincing her that she wouldn't even have a job in her field without him. (The audience hissed him for that. Good audience.) The underwater shots of a carefree Julie Adams splashing tantalizingly against the sky while the unseen Gill-man shadows her stroke for stroke so vividly recall the opening shark attack of Jaws (1975) that Spielberg has to have seen this movie. The scene in which the Gill-man mauls and drowns an expedition member foolhardy enough to go after him with a spear gun employs no blood and gets a real predator-prey jolt out of the thrashing braid of bodies half-seen in a churn of bubbles, naked human limbs grappling ineffectually with armoring scales and claws. Just why in the name of Poseidon is the Creature so obsessed with Julie Adams except that the monster carrying off the pretty girl is a trope of horror movies and God forbid that after all the scientific buildup we apply any rationality now? Or, as Rob said succinctly over chicken shawarma at Noor this afternoon, "Tits."

I had not seen Andrew Niccol's Gattaca (1997) since it was in theaters, either, where it was almost certainly my introduction to all three of its principal actors, although Jude Law was the name I took away with me at the time. I misread the movie's construction of suspense and spent the entire runtime concerned that the hero's 99% fatal heart condition would kill him at some dramatic or ironic moment, including the climactic blastoff into space. On rewatch at least I didn't have that problem, but then I was free to notice how little the film holds up as science fiction. It makes a great parable, but I can't believe a future America premised on eugenics would actually look or behave like Niccol's cool, retro-modern dystopia; I'm not docking it points for the technological minutiae of the all-pervasive DNA-clocking system which Ethan Hawke's Vincent must study and deceive in order to achieve his skyward dream, because nothing dates faster than detailed anticipation of the future, but thanks to the nationwide tidal wave of anti-intellectualism and general irrationality in which we are all living, right now I am much more worried about conceiving in a society that would force me to carry to term a child that would know nothing but incoherent pain in its short life (I'm an Ashkenazi Jew; Tay-Sachs is the first thing I would screen for) than I am about winding up in a world in which the un-engineered are disparagingly known as "faith-births" and "Godchildren," as if religious conviction is the only reason a person doesn't jump wholesale onto the eugenics bandwagon, throwing out potential geniuses left and right just because they might also turn out manic-depressive or asthmatic or obese or bald. The movie treats genetics as an almost inherently evil science, presuming that it's better never to know in advance because any probability would be accepted instantly as written fate. I look at people I know doing disability and autism awareness and I'm not saying we don't have institutional hangovers from people self-servingly misunderstanding Darwin, but I also look at people I know doing IVF and I'm pretty sure they're not the top of that slippery slope to state-encouraged sterilization. About the only place where I agree with Gattaca is its linkage of class and eugenics: while the wealthy can afford top-of-the-line kids with the most designer tweaks, like the back-broken Olympian whose flawless genetic signature Vincent appropriates to sneak him into the exclusive space program where his own applied intelligence and dedication can take him to the stars, Vincent's own working-class parents conceived him hopefully in the back of a Buick Riviera and then, seeing in horror that he turned out short-sighted with a predisposition to attention deficit disorder and a life expectancy in his early thirties, scrimped and saved to upgrade the next pregnancy. (And while I assume it is part of the point of this movie that the protagonist's life-defining "disabilities" still leave him an able-bodied straight white cis man with the looks to pass himself off as a genetically tailored "Valid" and the smarts to teach himself celestial navigation, I still find myself wondering, all right, so what if you're black in this future and you have a learning disability? What if you're brown and autistic? What if you're a woman who isn't Uma Thurman's lanky porcelain blonde? How do you hack this system?) What this really comes down to is that there's a particular strain of science fiction in which science itself is the inevitable enemy of the human heart and I hadn't realized until I saw it again that Gattaca belongs to it. At least I was still impressed by Jude Law.

We had planned to run out for dinner during the first act of George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and then return in time for Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985) because it's one of Rob's favorite movies and Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes, 2007) because I had very good ten-year-old memories of its twisty, panicky time-loop co-starring the director as a pleasantly sensible time-machine-inventing scientist, but instead we went to the ER at Mount Auburn where some very nice night staff gave me a nebulizer treatment and the X-ray of my lungs came out clear, of which the doctor had not been confident while listening to my chest and the sounds I made in between the coughing. If medical monitors produce a permanent record that gets stored somewhere in a patient's chart, mine almost certainly looks ridiculous because I got bored and started playing with biofeedback. (It was genuinely reassuring for me to know that I can still hold my breath for two minutes without strain even under lung-straitening circumstances.) I've now got two inhalers which I am supposed to use for the bronchitis and apparently I was sick enough this week that I almost completely forgot to eat; I shouldn't do that again. We got back to the Somerville for the denouement of Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End (2012), which involved cultists in pig masks, a dimension-conquering biological supercomputer and its shock troops of giant spiders, a heroic dog, two slackers, some evidently extra-strength soy sauce, some cutesy-splattery animation, and Clancy Brown being randomly badass in shades, which I kind of assume is just a thing Clancy Brown does. I am a little sorry to have missed earlier portions of the film including Doug Jones as a helpful alien, but the coda in which our two heroic slackers are summoned to save yet another universe and flat-out blow their prophesied calling off may have recapitulated everything I need to know.

The film I really wanted not to miss was Clément Cogitore's Neither Heaven nor Earth (Ni le ciel ni la terre, 2015). I had read positive reviews of it last year when it got a U.S. release and they were all justified: it was the standout of the marathon for me. I liked it so much that I have difficulty describing it. It is and is not a war film, just as it is and is not a horror film, because both of those genre labels raise expectations that the film itself effortlessly frustrates. The plot tracks a squad of French soldiers stationed in the Wakhan in Afghanistan in late 2014; under the command of wiry, blond-bearded Captain Antarès Bonassieu (Jérémie Renier, incredible), the small garrison patrols and oversees a small, rocky, scrubby valley on the border of Pakistan, constantly reporting back and forth from their north and south posts. Sometimes they skirmish with the local band of Taliban, so far without apparent casualties on either side; sometimes they interact, in carefully mannered and mutually incomprehensible ways, with the local villagers whose sheep are always straying into their sector. The ISAF is pulling out of Afghanistan, but until that time their high-tech, high-testosterone, bored to fucking tears surveillance routine is unvarying. Check in, check out. Rotate. E-mail your wife. Spar. Check your weapons, break them down, check them again. Light a candle in the tarp-shadowed corner that is the barracks chapel, a black cross spray-painted on a white piece of board; if you think of Crusaders in the desert of eight centuries ago, you aren't the only one feeling those echoes, even if Antarès himself is resolutely non-observant. Whistle for the camp dog and feel a little sad when nobody can find him. Hang up on your wife when you hear the captain coming. Check in. And then one morning two soldiers don't. They don't respond by radio; their relief arriving at the north post finds no one in the little box of cement and tin siding, pin-ups and graffiti on its walls and blankets on the floor. There were civilians seen on the ridge that night, performing some kind of fire ritual—we see it through two kinds of enhanced night vision, green-and-white ghosts in a shimmer of uncertainty. The captain leaps to the same conclusion as the viewer, enemy action, collaboration, these people whose land they have been occupying and whose interests they have been hypothetically protecting have shown their Taliban sympathies at last. But the villagers can demonstrate that it was only a sheep that was burned (they won't explain why, but nobody in the squad cares; it is enough for them to know that the locals observe some form of Islam, so long as it doesn't radicalize them the soldiers are under orders not to interfere) and Antarès despite reviewing all available footage and communications can prove no link between his missing men and any outside influence. He tightens security protocols, sets more cameras up. The soldiers start to get nervous; one dreams repeatedly of his missing comrades asleep in a cave while another panics and wastes a sheep in the dark. A messenger comes on a motorcycle from Kabul, is sent away with pictures of Tek and Delcourt just in case. And another man disappears. Not in the middle of the night, even: broad daylight at the south post while his mate steps outside for a piss. Quickly now, the simple answers begin to recede—the local Taliban come waving a white flag, demanding the French soldiers give back their missing men. Antarès agrees to a cease-fire on the assumption that he'll get his own men traded back, but the truce with "the Sultan" (Hamid Reza Javdan) and his equally gung-ho, equally spooked men stretches uneasily as neither side finds what they were looking for. The messenger's motorcycle turns up in the village, his one-man camp under the fig trees inexplicably deserted. The apparently purposeless iron stake in the center of the valley has a sheep tied up to it, bleating overnight in a circle of white paint. A fourth soldier disappears. If heaven and earth are accounted for, as the title would have it, then the traditional division of the cosmos leaves only hell, but the boy from the village insists that the valley is "Allah's land" where it is forbidden to sleep on the ground or "Allah takes you back." To the squad's translator Khalil (Sâm Mirhosseini), the Sultan's men begin to speak of "the people of the cave," the Quranic Seven Sleepers to whom God granted refuge, dreaming beneath the earth until the unknown time comes for them to awaken: "Some say there were four, some say there were five . . . Some say there were seven men and a dog." Another soldier connects the disappearances to the Christian Rapture, imagining in terror a world from which God is removing his creations, one at a time, in the reverse order from which he created them. And Antarès, the modern scholar-soldier, a young but hardened commander who has famously "never left a man, a body, or even a vehicle behind," finds himself for the first time in his life feverishly, dangerously in need of answers, even as the land itself seems placidly disinclined to provide them. I was reminded of the films of Werner Herzog, especially the ones where Klaus Kinski goes crazy in a hostile landscape; I was reminded of the fiction of Gemma Files. I am pretty sure there is some postcolonial theory in this movie, but there are also arresting, singular images that don't reduce easily to any one reading, like a soldier dancing alone before a techno-blasting stack of amps, his rolling, tightly muscled shoulders showing a pair of eyes tattooed one on each shoulderblade; he looks like a monster himself in that moment, he looks like a drinking cup with apotropaic eyes, he looks like the owl of Lilith's deserts, he looks possessed. It was the right film to show at three in the morning and I am so glad the digital copy consented to show its subtitles, since I might have been able to hack the soldiers' French if I saw it written, but my Persian is not a thing.

I have such mixed feelings about Christian Nicolson's This Giant Papier-Mâché Boulder Is Actually Really Heavy (2016). It is an obvious labor of love, filmed and produced with the assistance of Kickstarter, family, and friends. The initial amusing but finite concept of three regular joes from Auckland mysteriously sucked into a far-future, low-budget world in which not only the clichés but the production values of old-school space opera hold true pivots in the second act into something a lot more metafictionally interesting and then does not quite pay off in the third, even while the inventiveness of the production design remains shameless and delightful, fashioning ray guns out of eggbeaters and pirate ships out of commodes and consoles of futuristic buttons and levers out of everything you could find literally underneath your kitchen sink. The dialogue has the time of its life sending up infodumpy worldbuilding and tin-eared heroic epithets and whoever was managing the color saturation dialed it up and down convincingly for different eras of space opera. The writer-director is one of the stars and he doesn't even give himself the most triumphantly delivered line, which has to do with the reclamation of once-spurned geekery and occasioned foot-stamping audience applause. I even think the script has a handle on the comedic deployment of profanity, which I am kind of a hard sell on unless you're Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (or Boston's own Unreliable Narrator, whose Planet of the Warrior-Bunnies last October gave our household the plummily accented, invaluable rhetorical question "What a clusterfuck, eh?"). I'm just not sure that it takes the fullest advantage of its premises and to a degree that left me thinking back on the plot with more yes, but they could have than awesome, they did. In this respect it is doing no worse than many summer blockbusters with orders of magnitude more budget; I just really enjoy seeing tiny homegrown oddities outdo the big studios on every level, not just the creative repurposing of squeegees and forks.

So I know I'm not the target audience for John McTiernan's Predator (1987) because I sat through the first act of lovingly slo-mo South American guerillas being shredded with machine-gun fire or pinwheeled through the air against sheets of rolling orange flame and vine-tangled green hell at the hands of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his elite special forces squad in some kind of action-movie wet-dream do-over of Vietnam ("Makes Cambodia look like Kansas") and when Rob came back from CVS with more seltzer I said, "I have drowned in testosterone." I am not even crazy about the second act in which the commandos are stalked by Kevin Peter Hall's Predator moving like a mirror against the trees, despite the inherent interest of trying to figure out the capabilities and limitations of the hunter-alien from the very little information we have, because the logic of survival horror demands the culling of the herd of characters and I knew Schwarzenegger wasn't going to cop it with his name above the title on the poster and all. I was pleased that the script avoiding killing either of its two main black characters until well after Jesse Ventura's chest had been plasma-exploded. But I did not actually start caring about anything that happened onscreen with more than surface curiosity until the third act dropped straight into the full-bore mythic with Schwarzenegger masked in river mud bending himself a longbow, lighting a torch, and giving voice to a primal scream to alert the Predator to come and get him. Go know. After that I did not watch to see whether the hero would defeat the monster, but how, and what the monster would do about it. I had a general idea of the Predator design from the internet, but had not gathered the amphibious texture of its skin—why should it be mammalian at all—or the intricacy of its mouthparts, which gives it a familiarly doglike look until it unfolds. I was expecting much more explanation at the end than we got. I liked the withholding. I feel I may now wish to try Alien vs. Predator (2004), which both my father and brother enjoyed. They mentioned at the time that it has a black female hero, which I am pretty sure is still rare in genre film or any other kind, really.

I am the target audience for Joe Johnston's The Rocketeer (1991). I have two contradictory memories of discovering the subject material: the timing suggests that I saw the movie first, because I remember seeing it in theaters with my parents, but I also remember purchasing a secondhand copy of Dave Stevens' original comic because the trade paperback had an introduction by Harlan Ellison. In any case, I managed to get enough mental distance between the two versions that I can enjoy the film on its own terms rather than in competition with the comic, which means that I can bask in the performances and the successfully realized retro aesthetic and mostly mind only that the first act is kind of a mess and Jennifer Connelly, though she has many fine qualities which the film duly appreciates, is not Bettie Page. I did not know before this afternoon that Stevens has a brief but memorable cameo as the Nazi rocketeer who blows himself up in the suppressed training film; I keep forgetting that the German propaganda cartoon of rocketmen soaring in black arrows across the Atlantic to bring down the White House in flames and unfurl the Parteiadler in place of the American eagle was directed by Mark Dindal, who has a usually charming and here chilling eye for historical animation styles. I feel it can't merely have been punch-drunk adrenaline that had the audience hollering at every blow of the Nazi-punching climax. I've never seen Billy Campbell as anyone but Cliff Secord, but he has the right hair and the right smile; I have a longstanding fondness for Alan Arkin dating back to The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), but I think he's pretty much perfect as Peevy. Other people I keep forgetting are in this film include Terry O'Quinn as Howard Hughes ("Congratulations, gentlemen. Thanks to the diligence of the FBI, this particular vacuum cleaner will not fall into the wrong hands"), Paul Sorvino as Eddie Valentine ("I may not make an honest buck, but I'm one hundred percent American—I don't work for no two-bit Nazi"), and Max Grodénchik as the criminal underling Wilmer, which should tell you right there what his chances of surviving this story are going to be. I am not sure I had actually noticed before that William Sanderson plays one of the other stunt pilots at the airfield, which means I have finally seen him as someone other than J.F. Sebastian. I think it is highly likely that The Rocketeer is the first movie in which I saw Timothy Dalton, meaning I may never quite separate him from his Errol Flynn impression. Johnston directs period pieces so well, I wish people would let him do more of it.

And by that point it was nearly eleven in the morning and we had seen a beautiful print of Ron Underwood's Tremors (1990) at the Somerville's noon-to-midnight Halloween marathon four years ago, so we bailed on the DCP and went for lunch at Noor, where we had been planning to eat dinner the previous night before the whole ER situation intervened. It was extremely satisfying. I really like pickled turnips. The cats sang the songs of their disgraceful neglect as soon as we got home, then presented belly for petting and, in the case of Autolycus, tried to stick their faces into my tomato soup some hours later when I made myself dinner on the not-forgetting-to-eat plan. By now it is time for me to remember to go to bed. I am not sure this 'Thon review is all that much shorter than in previous years; it might just be distributed differently. This annual observance brought to you by my stalwart backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Psholtii: in a bad mood)
This afternoon my knee was in good enough shape that I actually got out of the house and walked up to the library and back, taking the cane for the ice and general late-winter street sludge. As of tonight, I am not using the cane around the house, which the cats seem to feel is an improvement on the past four days of weird noises and tail endangerment. My father talked to me about Mary Seacole and I have decided that this tweet may be our generation's "I am a lighthouse; your call." I ate some coconut-milk ice cream. Otherwise, today has been terrible. Tomorrow, being full of science fiction film, had better be more fun.
sovay: (Claude Rains)
The funny thing about Eugene Levy in Ron Howard's Splash (1984) is that I barely remember noticing him as a child. He wasn't like John Candy, whom I almost forgot existed until I saw the film again in my early twenties, but his obnoxious, obsessed marine biologist—Walter Kornbluth, whose Muppet-grade eyebrows could be seen even behind his chunky black-framed nerd glasses—did not go into the same indelible memory file as Daryl Hannah's Madison reading antique maps in a sunken galleon or unfurling her fins in a salt-filled bath by night. He was part of the plot. He was the antagonist. I acknowledged his heel face turn in the third act, but by then it was more important that the heroes were trying to get away from sneering Dr. Ross and surprising quantities of the U.S. military.1 The painful physical comedy that was Walter's moral comeuppance was more confusing than anything else. It was only on adult rewatch that he became sympathetic to me, holding his cheap copy of the Star Confidential with its front-page picture of the woman who walked naked out of the sea at the Statue of Liberty, with none of his colleagues willing to look him in the face and Dr. Ross contemptuously cutting him down; it is the kind of redirection that always interests me when it works, because after all the time we have spent watching Kornbluth shout and stalk and shove his way through the script, a bristling, defensive, abrasive man whose dreamer's sense of a sea with more in it than heaven and earth, Horatio, has strangled into a short-sighted fixation on proving the existence of mermaids, it is unexpectedly no pleasure to see him reduced to the picture his colleagues hold of him—a crackpot, a nobody, a know-nothing, a fool—swallowing wordlessly as there go the last rags of his reputation and even his old teacher laments that his best student has turned out a schmuck. He sits afterward with his head in his hands, knowing exactly how he sounds and unable to let his siren song go: "She has legs out of the water, she has fins in the water—you taught me that, Dr. Zidell, don't you remember? You taught me all the legends. You used to bring me into your office. You used to show me charts on the walls of where sailors had claimed they saw mermaids." For the first time we hear something other than short temper and monomania in his voice, the precocious student who became a scientist for the same reasons as many a scholar before him, searching for the mystery off the edges of the map—Heinrich Schliemann wreathing his wife in Helen's gold, Arthur Evans excavating for the Minotaur. Of course, Schliemann blasted down through multiple Troys to get to the one that felt true to him and Evans poured concrete all over his Minoan fantasy. Sea-struck Walter is the hero's tarnished mirror, tangled up in his own issues like drift nets and drag lines. He'll have to flounder out of them before he can help anyone, including the people he hurt in his self-centered quest for vindication, and I suppose it's an occupational hazard of being the quasi-villain in an '80's romantic comedy that he incurs a broken arm, a neck brace, and various bruises and contusions in the process. "Six fun-filled days," Madison answered when asked how long she would be in New York City, how long ashore, "six days . . . and the moon is full." Walter gets beaten up twice by the same angry couple, accidentally Novocaines his own leg, tumbles through a basement window: "What a week I'm having!"

Anyway, this afternoon I saw the same doctor for the second time in three days and was prescribed a steroid inhaler to help with the coughing fits and the fact that I've basically got asthma until the bronchitis clears; then in aggressive self-care [ profile] derspatchel and I went for dinner at Five Horses and I bought the secondhand trade paperback of Cole Haddon's The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde (2011) from Comicazi that I'd been thinking about for the last month or so and all the time I'm walking with a cane, intermittently coughing myself blue, and speaking at a whisper when I can talk at all, and about the third or fourth time I summed up the situation to a stranger with "It's been a terrible week," I realized I was hearing plaintive, aggrieved Eugene Levy. At least none of me is currently in a cast. Don't be ironic, universe.

1. If the hair and the leggings and the incredibly young Tom Hanks didn't signal its decade, Splash is immediately identifiable as American science fiction of the 1980's by the way the third act comes down to a chase scene with the government. The last time I watched this movie in 2010, I had to reassure a five-year-old that the American Museum of Natural History is really not in the habit of snatching people off the streets and experimenting on them, even if they do have fins. The movie remains an unparalleled source for dramatic shots of the old Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, however, and the reason that I along with an entire generation learned how to say "Hey, babe! I got a twelve-inch penis!" in Swedish at an entirely inappropriate age.
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
To conclude the exciting events of yesterday, my voice gave out completely around midnight and I have been functionally mute ever since. Even whispering hurts. I've been trying to reserve it for the cats. As for the knee, I can put less weight on it than yesterday, but I can still put weight on it, so I am getting around the apartment with a cane, which is freaking the cats out slightly. I am filing this entire situation under "on beyond stupid." At least my DVD of Michael Almereyda's Experimenter: The Stanley Milgram Story (2015) arrived, so I can show it to [ profile] derspatchel. And Yoon Ha Lee's "Extracurricular Activities" (dedicated to me I think because I kept nudzhing him for more sex in the space opera) went live at today. And Rob just discovered that the Scoop 'n' Scootery in Arlington Center delivers coconut-milk ice cream in addition to the regular dairy kind and ordered me some. I had hoped to write about the enjoyable mostly awful science fiction we watched last night in defiant observance of some kind of Valentine's Day, but I haven't had the attention for it. I might just go back to bed.
sovay: (Psholtii: in a bad mood)
And on my way into the Walgreen's where I was going to buy the over-the-counter decongestant I had been prescribed for the bronchitis and blocked ear with which I was diagnosed late this afternoon, I hit an unseen patch of black ice, my feet went out from under me, I dropped like an illustration on terminal velocity and my left knee caught my entire weight, and now I am sitting with my computer on my lap and my leg propped with Ace bandages and ice packs because the gash over the kneecap that bled dramatically through my corduroys was, as I thought, essentially cosmetic and the real damage which I felt pulling behind my knee and down into the shin was the sprain. It was the assessment of the after-hours clinician that I did not actually break or tear anything because instead of falling over shrieking I got up, limped around Walgreen's, made my purchases, and then called urgent care as I realized it was getting more and more painful to walk, but if I can't put weight on the leg tomorrow I need to call their office back. The part that really burns me up is that with all the snowstorms and being sick lately I have been confined to the house and stir-crazy and was really enjoying the opportunity to run around outside in the sunlight, even if it was for a doctor's appointment. Not so much in the near future. I have been offered a cane and it might look dapper, but it's going to be damn annoying. I want a do-over on Valentine's Day.

[edit] And the other prescribed medication for the bronchitis contains dextromethorphan, so I am now coughing, limping, and dissociating. If anybody wants me, I'll be in the World War I novel.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I am still coughing and have not had the mental wherewithal to do much of anything with my night. Have two music videos. Both come from Sxip Shirey's A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees (2017): [ profile] handful_ofdust linked Rhiannon Giddens' "Woman of Constant Sorrow" and I found Xavier's "Cinnamon Stick" on my own. Some of the visuals of the latter almost remind me of Derek Jarman. The former is just really great.

I was also impressed by this article on the metrics of the shitgibbon, by which I mean that I read it to [ profile] derspatchel and made it all the way to the last word of the next-to-last paragraph before cracking up. The same blog offers a more serious and useful perspective on microaggressions.

The other night in the shower I was revisiting the fantasy casting of film noir Blade Runner and realized that the last time I asked myself the question, I just hadn't seen the actor I really wanted for Roy: a very young Kirk Douglas. He is stupidly beautiful in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and rewatching Spartacus (1960) last year reminded me of his physical intensity and then I think pairing him with Veronica Lake as Pris would be fun, because she would look exactly, disarmingly like a china doll next to him. He could do the charm and the danger (and the running around shirtless in the rain) and I wouldn't even mind the absence of accent. So that's nice to have cleared up.1


1. The other actor I keep coming back to is Philip Ahn, who was also ridiculously beautiful, with a speaking voice to match. The stills and production photos I've seen from Daughter of Shanghai (1937) tempt me to pair him again with Anna May Wong, and since at this point I believe I have departed entirely from plausible Hollywood casting in the era of the Production Code, then the only thing I can't decide is whether I should cast Canada Lee as Deckard or swap him with Ahn for Roy. I could see it either way. I'd love to get Theresa Harris into this fancast, but she'd have to be Rachael and then the slightly blank quality that made me think of Kim Hunter would disappear. Still want Joan Bennett as Zhora, though.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
So yesterday our bedroom flooded thanks to ice dams in the gutter over one of the windows. [ profile] derspatchel was at work. I woke up coughing my face off, swung my feet out of bed, discovered a tributary of the Arctic Ocean. Water was running down the sides of the windowframe and dripping straight through the blinds at the top. The good news is that it did not run straight into the closet thanks to the tilt of the floor; the bad news is that it still covered a majority of the hardwood and whatever was on it at the time. Three cat toys and our nearly full clothes hamper took drowning damage, along with a manuscript in a padded envelope and a cardboard box Hestia had been shredding to nest in. Five towels gave their lives in the heroic mop-up. (The evening was marked by multiple loads of laundry.) I grabbed the phone charger out of the socket onto which water was spattering because that would have been an idiotic way to die. And all the while the snow kept coming down in huge, sticky flakes and the icicles lengthened outside the window. Currently we have a sort of sluice rigged with a heavy-duty garbage bag which appears to be keeping any further overflow out, but the fact that this happened at all does not make me happy. Broken gutters and ice dams were an issue in the last place Rob and I lived together. The property manager's husband says there will be roofers as soon as the weather's safe for it. I hope that's soon. I have a raw sore throat and I start coughing every time I try to get some real air into my lungs and the news is full of things I need to respond to and I am grouchy.

These isn't a mix so much as a bunch of songs I have been listening to on repeat. I've linked some of them before. I've also been playing Tom Lehrer more or less nonstop, so please feel free to insert your favorites anywhere in this list.

I was raised with the knowledge of the past you hate. )

There are cats in this house and they purr and that's a good thing. Also I can see when I check the page that "An Obedience Experiment" has been shared (as of this post) 181 times and I know that's minuscule by the standards of the internet, but it makes me happy. It is a poem I wanted people to read. So even a little, it's working.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
My poem "An Obedience Experiment" is now online at Rattle as this week's Poets Respond. There are notes included.

I am honored that the poem is being published in this fashion; I wish there had been no occasion to write it.

In 1961, Stanley Milgram found that 65% of his subjects complied all the way to the final supposed 450 volts. The percentages on a re-run in 2006 were nearly identical. Either we change the numbers or that 35% is going to burn out fast. I prefer Option A.
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
I finally managed to watch a movie for the first time in weeks. (It's been a bad few weeks.) I am coming to the conclusion that I really like the films of Joseph Losey. For some reason I had gotten the picture of him as an icy stylist—clever, symmetrical, but cold. I could almost see it with The Damned (1963), a deliberately off-kilter mash-up of biker pulp and pre-apocalyptic science fiction, but The Prowler (1951) isn't cold and neither is Time Without Pity (1957), which I watched last night. If anything, attempting to describe it to [ profile] derspatchel, I kept coming back to the adjective hysterical, which is not the first state associated with most cinematic explorations of masculinity. But it suits the film. The plot is conventional; the transforms Losey runs on it are not.

To begin with, as if in a British B-noir Columbo, the audience witnesses the murder. We don't yet know who these people are in the darkened flat with modern art on the walls, but when the girl jolts back over the couch and her head rolls like a broken doll, we get a good look at the middle-aged man crouching over her, the fury that thickened his face slackening into panicky horror. He blunders out of the room and the titles come up over the nearest painting, a sort of Guernica-looking thing of a wild bull at bay. When we see him again, we'll recognize him. But when David Graham (Michael Redgrave) lurches into London clutching a suitcase and blinking in the early morning sun, jet-lagged, red-eyed, and newly sprung from the Montreal sanitarium where he was drying out from his latest fall off the wagon, he doesn't know who he's looking for: he just knows that his son Alec (Alec McCowen, R.I.P.) can't have committed the domestic murder for which he'll hang in twenty-four hours unless David can scrounge new evidence out of a case that opened and shut months ago. Redgrave got my attention some years ago with his almost subliminal acting in The Browning Version (1951) and here he shows the same naturalistic care for a difficult character. The parental fuck-up making a heroic effort for the life of their child is a pattern I've seen enough times now that I gather it's a popular anxiety,1 but David is an especially unprepossessing variation, a tall man in a trenchcoat and a suit that was cut when there was substantially more of him, his hair smeared stickily back from his face which looks shapeless under its flop sweat and five o'clock shadow. He blinks a lot, winces, wipes his hands over his face in a gesture that is half shame and half unabashed hiding. He is not stupid and he loves his son, even if his early promise as a novelist melted at the bottom of a glass and his very real affection for the boy snarled in the guilt-games of a messy divorce. But his social instincts misfire so reliably that the audience watches each interaction to see not whether he's going to screw it up, but how badly. He's pushy where he should be patient, hesitant where he should assert himself. He has trouble with the telephone, which is such a contemporary social anxiety that I was fascinated to see it captured on film in 1957. He has his greatest success as an amateur detective when he just keeps his mouth shut and lets people tell him the things they assume he already knows. As a result, the premise is a classic race against time, but the events of the narrative are a lot of stone walls and blind alleys; combined with the open secret of the murderer's identity, the effect on the audience is much more the don't-go-near-the-castle frustration of horror than the unfolding suspense of a procedural. The doctor tsk-tsks over the strange red marks on the throat of his fainting patient and the audience screams IT'S A VAMPIRE YOU DUMBASS, but the doctor doesn't know that he should be looking for supernatural explanations instead of medical ones and David doesn't know that he's asking the wrong questions. He doesn't know what kind of story he's in.

I'm not entirely sure myself. Five or ten years ago this scenario would have been unambiguously noir and it still could be, at the dissolving outer edge of the cycle that produced experiments like the sexual reversal of The Big Combo (1955) or the slapstick splatter of The Killing (1956). Screenwriter Ben Barzman had collaborated with Losey on the anti-war fantasy The Boy with the Green Hair (1948) before their respective blacklistings from Hollywood; working from Emlyn Williams' 1953 stage play Someone Waiting, he retained the basic constellation of characters but radically rewrote everything from the timeline to the mood. The glassy sense of nightmare agrees with film noir, as does some of the visual/verbal stylization; one of the reasons the tone can scale so successfully into melodrama by the finale without collapsing into camp is that it starts at least one high-strung degree out from realism,2 the cinematography and the often intrusive music as anxious and awkward as day-late-dollar-short David, who's still trying just to catch up on the facts of the case as he prepares to see his son for the first time in years. It has the moral ambiguity and the social critique. But so do many other genres that aren't noir and those are the ones that Time Without Pity, though I'm still working to pinpoint why, might belong more to. It's not as symbolic a universe, perhaps. In Roy William Neill's Black Angel (1946), it's a significant moment both personally and narratively when dry drunk Dan Duryea goes on his third-act bender; it signals the end of his ghost marriage with grass widow June Vincent, the resumption of the wastrel downward slide that will solve the mystery of his wife's death and her husband's guilt or innocence. Redgrave's David struggles to stay sober for the first half of Time Without Pity, but when he finally goes for the booze, the film is unemphatic about it. By this point he is being warily assisted in his quest by Honor Stanford (Ann Todd, playing about fifteen years younger than her age), the elegant, guarded mother of Alec's best friend from university; she briefly loses track of him after an upsetting interview and by the time she catches up to him in the nearest pub he's on his nth whisky double and already pretty blind. She tries to persuade him to stop drinking. He downs another and faceplants into the bar. A little while later he wakes up. And more or less sobers up. And he'll spend the rest of the film in sliding states of drunkenness, hangover, and strung-out sobriety, but he's been a functioning alcoholic for years, he can operate like this. It isn't the thing that will make or break his ability to clear his son's name. If there's redemption involved in this tale, that's not the key to it.

The social justice angle could be noir, too, though the decade that produced it had no shortage of message pictures. Much is made of the efficient machinery of the English justice system which has effectively railroaded Alec Graham without anyone involved in the process feeling very strongly about it one way or the other. Once I got over the shock of seeing Peter Cushing in a non-genre supporting role, I conceded that he provides a necessary perspective as Alec's lawyer, a polite, intelligent, colorless man who did the best he could for his client within the boundaries of the law but is now reluctant, his sympathy for both father and son notwithstanding, to push much further. He isn't heartless and he isn't a hypocrite. He just did his due diligence and he doesn't see what more there is for him to do. Neither does the Home Office, even after David pulls every string he can imagine to get an audience in hopes of obtaining a stay of execution; the support he gets from a reform-minded MP is superficial and strictly ideological, holding up Alec's case as a potential miscarriage of justice with no individual concern for the boy's guilt, innocence, or survival. Even the priest who will perform the last rites for the condemned turns his father away with some Teflon platitude about heavenly hands being kinder than the hands of earth. "All of you trying to make it look so humane and decent," David rages. "Well, you can't. I want my son to live. I'm not going to let you kill him!"

What was he to you? Someone to weep over when you were drunk? )

The ending is satisfying. I hadn't been sure it would be; the film is just enough of a noir and David's agency so marginal that it could have gone completely bleak and I wouldn't have been able to dispute it, just dislike. Instead the climactic confrontation comes down to the manipulation of narrative, a strategy any writer can approve of: the man who was always "about to write" his great novel has finally found a story worth telling and a means to make it stick. The final tableau is fantastic, deep-focus as a raked stage. The last line is the right one. I still don't think Time Without Pity is as complex a film as The Prowler or as flat-out weird as The Damned, but it was Losey's first British film under his own name and more than just a placeholder on the way to his work with Harold Pinter. If nothing else, it's got Michael Redgrave. He's sympathetic on the strength of little more than good intentions; he's less fragile than he looks, but that's not the same thing as effective. Especially in light of these last few bad weeks, I find it important that he never does turn into an action hero—at his bravest, he can still be rattled, still have to nerve himself up, still hates the telephone.This eleventh hour brought to you by my tenacious backers at Patreon.

1. Though I've seen it four or five times now with fathers and I'd really like to know where their female counterparts hang out. Pre-Code? Indie filmmaking? Foreign films? I'm taking suggestions.

2. I love the way clocks are used in this movie. They are the obvious symbol of devouring time, so the set design puts them so blatantly everywhere that they become surreal and start to get on the audience's nerves as much as they do the protagonist's. An important witness' mother (Renée Houston, a perfectly pitched grotesque) has filled her parlor with them. The aggressive, oppressive ticking unsettles David, already on edge with the nearness of the liquor she keeps offering him and liberally drinking herself; whenever an alarm goes off, she leaves it "just to hear it ring and know that you don't have to go anywhere—it's wonderful" while David tries and fails not to hear Alec's time running out with each new chime. He can't get away from mirrors, either. He's the last thing he wants to look at or think about—his past failures, his dwindling future, the fatalistic way that Alec, as sensitive as his father and already more bitter, claims to welcome his own hanging as an escape from "turn[ing] into something like you." He sees his own face reflected over his child's and would do anything to take that doom away.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
I have just had a poem accepted that I will announce tomorrow. I am extremely happy about the acceptance, if not about the political situation that sparked the writing of the poem.

I just received an e-mail from President Peter Salovey of Yale that the university has decided to rename Calhoun College for Grace Hopper. The statement and the two linked reports are worth reading.

This song from Brandi Carlile's The Firewatcher's Daughter (2015) has been playing on repeat since [ profile] ladymondegreen linked me to it. But nothing scares me more than the stranger at my door who I fail to give shelter, time, and worth.

Last night I started coughing and this morning I woke up sneezing and I just had to cancel an invitation for dinner from friends who really don't need whatever the hell this is on top of whatever their small child might already have brought home from daycare. I think my plans for the rest of the day are to finish writing about a movie and then see if I can either stare at another one or pass out.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
So it's snowing in Boston. It has been snowing in Boston since sometime early this morning, although it was only crisp and overcast when we had two blackouts last night. (One at half past midnight, one about two hours later. The cats rocketed through the darkened apartment, chasing flashlight beams. I wrote a poem by hand on legal paper by the artificial flicker of those little plastic tea lights that were all CVS was selling the last time we had a real blackout. I felt like a very hipster garret.) It's the fine dry kind that blows around a lot, so I have no idea of the total snowfall so far, but I can see about six inches piled on the ledge outside my office window and a fire hydrant down in the street looks drifted about halfway up. There's a shallow channel down the center where the occasional car can pass without spinning out its wheels, but the equally infrequent movement of heavily bundled people through the merrily spinning snow devils is still best described as "slogging."

This is some political stuff.

1. I could not leave a message for Governor Baker this afternoon because his mailbox was full, but I will try again tomorrow: I want to let him know that I appreciated his statement in support of Senator Warren. It may have been cautious, but it was still a party break and I am operating on a theory of positive reinforcement. Also, when he says, "I do find it hard to believe that a letter from Coretta Scott King would be out of order in any public place or space anywhere in the United States of America," I agree with him.

2. [ profile] derspatchel came home last night and said, "So you heard Mitch McConnell gave Warren her campaign slogan." Works for me. Meanwhile, I like the damnatio memoriae suggestion—shared and expanded by Bernice A. King in the version I was linked—of strategically limiting use of the name of the man who currently occupies the Oval Office. I've already seen some people simply calling him "45." I assume that none of his unnecessarily crimefighting new executive orders will, in their investigation of international organized crime in America, look into things like the circumstances of his election and his relationship with Russia. I still can't believe I have to type that sentence. The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is supposed to be a period piece. I feel quite sympathetic toward Raymond Shaw, anyway.

3. You may have seen this tweet about the reverse-applicability of the insult "snowflake." I'd heard Chuck Wendig's Fight Club (1996) claimed as the origin of the fragile-SJW connotations, but I had no idea the term was also Civil War-era Missouri slang for anti-abolitionists. Under those circumstances, perhaps we should use it to describe white nationalists and all who tacitly align themselves with their views. Like a president who signs an executive order prioritizing the prevention of crimes against police when the vast majority of police-related shooting deaths go the other way, a little Blue Lives Matter just in time for Black History Month. House Republicans who actively blocked a resolution to affirm that Jews were targeted in the Holocaust, I am also looking at you.

4. It's not that I contest the information, but the wording of the latest Harper's Weekly Review leaves me feeling that at least someone on their staff must listen to Welcome to Night Vale.

5. One of the foremost Hitler biographers of our generation weighs in on the current administration. Because I haven't read Ron Rosenbaum's Explaining Hitler (1998), I had not heard the story of the Munich Post and their decade-long refusal to normalize anything about Hitler's politics, tactics, or self-presentation. It's worth reading the article for their story alone. That said, I think Rosenbaum is wrong that we're dissolving back toward acceptance again. CNN, of all people, just declined to give Kellyanne Conway a platform for her fake news. When people I know talk about settling in for the long haul, they're not talking about ceasing to push back.

And since all of that raised my blood pressure, I am going to make dinner and see if I can watch a movie. I'd like to write about one. I haven't in too long.

[edit] Except I was just given some positive political news: the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously ruled to uphold the nationwide restraining order on the travel ban. Their full text of their ruling is here, if you would like to read some levelheaded application of law: "For the foregoing reasons, the emergency motion for a stay pending appeal is DENIED." The Guardian has some continuing updates here, including Trump vowing to see the federal judges responsible in court, which strictly speaking he has already done and it didn't go well for him.
sovay: (Claude Rains)
I remember when Bob Anderson died, because I had not realized until then that the same person was responsible for the fight choreography of The Master of Ballantrae (1953), Star Wars (1977), Highlander (1986), The Princess Bride (1987), The Mask of Zorro (1998), The Lord of the Rings (2001–2003), and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) among other swashbucklers. I had never seen a photo of him on the set of any of the original Star Wars films, where he stunt-doubled David Prowse. Courtesy once again of [ profile] moon_custafer:


He does look like a formidable Sith lord in his own right. A weary, grim one, too. I'm sorry Lucas never thought to cast him in a major1 unmasked role, perhaps some other high-ranking Imperial officer; he and Peter Cushing could have had a hell of a cheekbone-off.

1. I found after putting up this post that Anderson does appear uncredited as an ex-Imperial Rebel in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). I still think Lucas missed an opportunity.
sovay: (Rotwang)
1. So I did not make Sunday's trans/queer immigrant solidarity protest because I was too busy sleeping for twelve hours to make up for the fact that I was (and am) sick and had not slept for thirty-six hours previous, but I did make it to the latter stages of a letter-writing party held by [ profile] gaudior and [ profile] rushthatspeaks and sent an appreciative postcard to Mayor Curtatone (it is a joy to live in a city whose elected officials encourage and expect radical empathy, inclusivity, and activism from their community, like living in a Capra film without the creepier aspects of populism) and a hopeful letter to Governor Baker (thank you for recognizing that Trump's travel ban is a constitutional and human rights issue rather than an issue of partisan politics, now how about putting Massachusetts' money where its mouth is and passing the Safe Communities Act to make the entire state a sanctuary like your constituents have been requesting since November). As a monthly event, I could dig it.

Saturday morning I made myself breakfast after staying up all night (small cats appreciate it when you share your kippers with them) and got out of the house in time for the rally celebrating Somerville's thirty years as a sanctuary city, We Are One Somerville. It was bitterly, brightly freezing and Mayor Curtatone sounded like he was getting over a heinous cold, but he delivered a powerful reading of Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" however his voice cracked. "We'll take the hits for you," he promised the immigrants in the crowd. He said very clearly that as mayor he could not guarantee that nothing would happen in Somerville; nobody can ever guarantee that nothing will happen; but he wanted the people of Somerville to be able to guarantee that no matter what happened they would stand up for each other, take care of each other. Representative Capuano got the obligatory sports reference out of the way ("Go Pats!" at which some people within earshot of me hissed) and then spoke of America's history of intolerance, reminding the crowd that waves of xenophobia and racist institutions are nothing new, the American dream has always been in the process of betraying itself, but the important thing is that the intolerance doesn't win: it can be fought, it has to be fought, let's fight it. "I'm Irish and Italian. My wife's Syrian-Lebanese. That makes our children the United States." Everyone spoke about the importance of education, but I believe it was Ben Echevarria of the Welcome Project—the organizers of the rally—who talked about unions, too. There were speakers from the school board, from other departments of the city government. There is a decent description in the Globe, but it leaves out the Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band bluesily jamming on Florence Reece's "Which Side Are You On?" and does not give nearly enough attention to the immigrants who told their stories, from Perla Hernandez from Mexico (which "will always have my heart, but Somerville is my home") to Joe DeSouza from Brazil (who chose Somerville as a destination more or less at random—"It sounded like 'summer,'" he explained wryly, under the ice-snap sky) to the more than half-dozen high school students—some of them refugees—who did not all give their speeches in English, no more than the adult speakers. I appear to retain enough Spanish to understand about half of a short narrative speech and unhelpfully diagram bits of the grammar of the rest in my head while not knowing the vocabulary. Two students were Muslim and received especial hands from the audience. Habib who had been born in Afghanistan and grown up in Iran got rock-star levels of cheering when he addressed himself directly to Donald Trump: "I'm a refugee. I'm a Muslim. And I love this country more than you." If it's not a typo, 4800 people are estimated to have attended, which is hugely more than I'd thought from my place at close house right of the bandstand; I knew it was crowded around me, but I didn't realize how far out the crowd extended. I did not take any pictures because my hands got so cold that Gaudior's phone couldn't recognize my fingertips as a meaningful swipe rather than contact with a random inanimate object, but Gaudior got a shot of my favorite sign. Black cats on the side of social justice seems like a good thing to me. They, too, have been demonized and misunderstood.

2. The only thing I don't know about the March for Science is whether I'm going to try for the national march in D.C. this time or stick with the satellite march in Boston, which since it will benefit from the local presence of MIT will, actually, probably be ridiculously cool.

3. Courtesy of [ profile] moon_custafer: two really cute pictures of Brad Dourif and a lot of coffee.

4. Courtesy of the New England Aquarium: Boston Harbor, looking like an Impressionist painting.

5. Courtesy of [personal profile] brigdh: this is a perfectly valid description of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London, but when you put it that way, I really don't know why there's not a TV show.

I have been having political nightmares for about a week and a half now. Literally the kind where I don't want to post them because I don't want to give anyone ideas. Last night I had two dreams that might have been metaphors, but at least weren't an eternally scrolling panorama of unfuturistic dystopia: I dreamed first of a supernatural creature without a name, born from a swirl of tar and a hank of hair; it looked more female than not and everyone was treating it like a succubus, the beautiful demon honeytrap that will gruesomely kill you after luring you with your own blind spots of desire, but all it wanted was to get away from human company into the mountains, into one particular cave or subterranean stream or coal-seam; it wanted from my perspective to disappear. I woke briefly when [ profile] derspatchel came back to bed, dreamed of a fictional WWII novel with the reputation of one of the great American satires, the misadventures of a comedically cowardly soldier blundering around occupied Europe, encountering horrors and never quite doing the right thing about them or doing the right thing because he was trying to do the opposite; Billy Wilder had wanted to film it in the early '50's and the PCA had fainted in coils, so the adaptation had had to wait until the 1970's. The two dreams were linked when I was asleep, but awake I can't see the connection. I had been quite happy to find a secondhand hardcover of the novel in a used book store. There were little cartoons above the chapter headings in a sort of Don Marquis style. I kept thinking while reading that it reminded me of Bulgakov.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
I was just holding Autolycus in my arms:

sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
I have not slept; I do not have time to sleep before the Somerville sanctuary city rally. It has not been a good night for it. In the meantime—

1. [personal profile] skygiants sent me an archive of songs collected from Holocaust survivors. It's amazing stuff. You might expect the songs of resistance, grief, and Zionism, but I think it is very important to everyone's understanding of Jewish history that I just finished listening to a fragmentary parody of "Tumbalalaika" in which the boy gleefully answers the riddling girl that the German army is melting like clouds in the rain, the Germans are lying deeper in the earth than a well, and Hitler is spitting up gall with the Red Army coming to finish him off. I am also really fond of the song of the Warsaw thieves. It's half a minute long and very catchy and has a line about shaking down suckers on streetcars. I wish I'd written the song about the other world as the backstage of a theater, Jacob the director, Adam the costumer, Eve doing a snake act. "I think of these songs as voices from a lost world, like Atlantis." Then I found that another, similar archive—thought lost—had been recovered last year. My night has been very full of ghost voices in Yiddish, cut with One Night Stand in North Dakota thanks to a tip-off from [ profile] ladymondegreen, because sometimes that happens to a person.

2. I did not manage to get any pictures from Thursday's vigil in support of Black Lives Matter at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain first because my camera went all smeary in the after-sunset light and then because I was using both hands to hold a sign which read "You Don't Have to Be Black to Be Outraged!", but there were at least three people with professional-looking cameras in the streets photographing the estimated 500 participants in the silent vigil, so there is a half-decent chance that [ profile] gaudior and Fox or I will turn up on someone's Flickr account. People held candles in the night wind; people held signs. Some (like Fox's cardboard medallion reading simply "Black Lives Matter") were brought by participants and others (like mine) provided by the church. There were so many people on either side of Centre Street that we were recruited from a double line on the church side of the street and sent off to the corner of Green Street, where drivers waiting for the lights to change would see our presence. Three students passed a microphone to read a list of names like Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, memorial and synecdoche for all the dead of anti-Black violence; the silence of the vigil was for them. The vigil leaders sang "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around" to call us back to the church afterward. Speaker Martin Henson minced no words about the fact that it is a great start to hold a sign and feel like part of a community, but what you do after you put the sign down is really essential. It is a monthly vigil; I plan to return next month. If Trump is gone by the second of March, that will be glorious and I'll make the "unpresidented" joke even if all the newspapers go with "You're fired!", but I expect that black lives will still mattter and I will still want to say so. And next time I'll remember to bring glove liners—in the twenty minutes of the vigil proper, my fingers in their rabbit-lined gloves went past normal Raynaud's-in-winter hurting into numb to the point that I had trouble keeping hold of my sign. Naturally, afterward, we got ice cream from the FōMū on the next block because despite their pretentious macrons, they make some of the best coconut ice cream I have ever eaten and it is winter in New England.

3. Mostly reproduced from comments in Skygiants' journal because I completely failed to write about Anya Seton's Foxfire (1950) when I picked it up last winter in the basement of the Harvard Book Store despite really liking it:

I treasure Foxfire for being a Western mystery-romance between a white woman and a Native* man where their difficulties as a couple have nothing to do with a clash of cultures. Amanda Lawrence is twenty years old in the winter of 1932 when she meets Jonathan "Dart" Dartland on the steamer they're both taking from Cherbourg to New York; she's a well-bred Vassar ex-student returning from what would have been a school vacation if she had the money to finish her degree (the crash of '29 having taken out her family's fortunes, if not their social expectations for her), he's a mining engineer seven years old than herself on his way from one job in the Transvaal to another in Arizona, by New Year's Day of 1933 they are married on little more than the strength of their astonishing sexual chemistry and move immediately to Lodestone, the hardscrabble company town where he's engaged as foreman at the Shamrock Mine. To the reader's total unsurprise, it goes terribly. Amanda has no friends in Lodestone, no place beyond being Dart's wife, no experience of living in clapboard shack levels of poverty in a community where she has no obvious allies, and while she's willing to try her best to adapt, Dart appears to give her no praise or encouragement for it. It's not indifference or insensitivity on his part, but it is a particular kind of self-centeredness: he's so used to fending for himself that it doesn't occur to him that other people—like his previously class-sheltered, physically petite, actually rather shy wife—don't have the same resources or practice and he doesn't recognize that the same behavior which he believes is demonstrating an absolute trust in her self-reliance and capacity to handle whatever crises or inconveniences are thrown her way is in point of fact indistinguishable from totally fucking hanging her out to dry. This is not an insoluble relationship problem! But it is the kind that requires some dedicated talking to resolve and between Amanda having no idea how to initiate the conversation and Dart being terrified of revealing emotional vulnerability (patriarchal bullshit ahoy), their relationship continues to spin out until there are mistaken beliefs on both sides and people saying things they either don't mean or don't understand mean different things to the person hearing them and everybody haring off on a damn-fool hunt for legendary Anasazi gold in the Mazatzal Mountains which Dart and Amanda and the reader all know is likely to get them killed, but by then there are too many complicating factors like money and pride and jealousy and cutting off one's nose to spite one's face tangled into the argument for either of them to back down. That Seton pulls a plausible happy ending out of all of this plus a subplot concerning Dart's position with the mining company explains to me absolutely why she has the reputation she does as a historical novelist. Also I read Dragonwyck (1944) shortly afterward and that book is gonzo.

What I like about Foxfire, in addition to the obvious points like style, characterization, and the ability to contain both legendary Anasazi gold and realistic marital problems, is that it's very careful to represent Dart's stoic macho bullshit behavior as a problem he's having because of his particular issues intersecting with good old American patriarchy, not because Apache men are all naturally stoic and macho and this is a Tragic Cultural Divide, even when other (white) characters try to frame it this way. Seton is amazingly good about not exoticizing Dart or his mother. Any time a (white) character tries, Amanda included, the narrative shoots them down. Dart being mixed-race is not irrelevant to the novel, but it is relevant mostly in terms of the decisions he makes because of his image of himself and as a factor in the very kindly meant, but actually very racist attempts at support on the part of Amanda's family. The scenes on the reservation are a serious attempt by Seton to write about Native characters without falling off either side of the stereotype fence; for writing in 1950, being white, and never having lived in the Southwest, I think she does not do a terrible job. I also enjoy that the narrative takes a character who is usually a favorite archetype of mine and deliberately implodes him. Hugh Slater is the doctor in Lodestone, sandy-haired, sawed-off, and sarcastic, and after he's been a jerk to Amanda for almost his entire brief introductory scene she laughs at him: "I've read you in a hundred stories; the surly woman-hater, the embittered doctor, drowning his troubles in bad temper and drink. Underneath there beats a heart of gold." Later he drops by with a grudging gift for her, lampshading his own change of heart: "Peace offering . . . Embittered doctor demonstrates heart of gold." The thing is, he doesn't have one, really. He's actually just kind of a jerk. He's sympathetically drawn in that he's an intelligent, complicated, and unhappy character who can recognize if not change some of his own self-destructive behavior, but Seton cuts him no slack for his obsession with his actress ex-wife, his abusive treatment of his current girlfriend, or the misogyny which colors his interactions with Dart and Amanda even when he's trying to be nice. The reader, primed by the same literary familiarity as Amanda, keeps waiting for him to redeem himself. The reader is going to be waiting a long time.

I have not seen the 1955 film version, which stars Jane Russell and Jeff Chandler. As far as I can tell from reviews, it strips a lot of the weirdness out of the plot and reorients the central conflict into an actual cultural issue with Dart's respecting women and therefore despite the co-starring presence of Dan Duryea (as Hugh, naturally; Duryea could do attractive and corrosive with one hand tied behind his back) is not a movie I ever plan to watch. I am sorry, but mostly because of Duryea and because the novel's dedicated efforts toward not being full of racist stereotypes deserved the same consideration in a film treatment. Yeah, okay, I have trouble typing that with a straight face, but it would have been nice. Dart and Amanda are interesting, credible, not simple people. I liked them both. I cared that they solved their problems. This is unusual enough in my experience of traditional romances that I feel the book should get a shout-out on these grounds alone.

* His father was white; his mother is Apache. Strictly speaking she's also mixed-race, but she ignores it completely and passes for full-blood as far as the BIA is concerned. I respect her for actively dodging the tragic mulatto stereotype which her son sometimes seems determined to inflict on himself. There is a meaningful but also delightful—and deliberate—sequence where the hero and heroine visit the reservation he grew up on and his relatives and neighbors, while somber about the fact that he's there to see his dying mother, are uniformly talkative, cheerful, and welcoming toward his new wife.

February 2017

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