sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I've got only the one recording of "Bread and Roses." I am basically listening to it on repeat. There is a buttload of photographs under this cut, I am just warning you. There were a lot of things worth remembering yesterday.

Boston Women's March for America, January 21, 2017 )

Signs photographed by me but not pictured in this post include "We Cannot Succeed When Half of Us Are Held Back," "Protect What You Love" (with a photograph of the earth seen from space), "You Can Try to Divide, We Will Rise and Unify," "So Now We Fight for Equal Rights & Justice for All," "Healthcare for All: A Moral Imperative, An Achievable Goal" (with a heart reading "Obamacare"), "Strong Women Scare Weak Men," "Respect My Existence or Expect My Resistance," "Feminist" (held by a young white man), "Build Bridges Not Walls," "Hear Our Voice," "Equality, Diversity, Civil Rights, Activism, Religious Liberty, Freedom of Speech" (written over the colors of a rainbow flag), "Si, Se Puede," "If I Make My Uterus a Corporation, Will You Stop Regulating It?", "Never Again" (over the image of a coathanger), "A Woman's Place Is in the Resistance" (over a picture of Princess Leia), "Privileged White Woman Seeking Truth, Justice & Equality for All," "Watch My Back, I'm Under Attack—You Got My Back?" (held by a young black woman wearing a "Not My President" T-shirt), "I'm Not Accepting What I Cannot Change, I'm Changing What I Cannot Accept," "I'm With You," "I Really Hate That Man," "Intersectional Feminism or Bust," "Love One Another/Is the Answer," "South Asians Against Fascism," "You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise" (credited to Maya Angelou), "Grab Him by the Taxes," "Women's Rights: Human Rights," "The Good Old Days Sucked!", "United We Stand: Women & Men, Immigrants & Citizens, Straight & LGBTQ, Christians & Jews & Muslims & all Religions, Young & Old, Poor & Middle Class & Rich, People with and without Disabilities," "Diversity," "Greatness means equality and equality means no one gets left behind or forgotten" (with a hand-drawn adolescent Lilo and a belligerent-looking Stitch), "History Has Its Eyes on You," "LOVE trumps hate," "Racism Is Not Normal, Fraud Is Not Normal, Misogyny Is Not Normal," "The Flannel Brigade—Representin' VT," "Rebellions Are Built on Hope," "Love is love is love," "Trans Lives Matter," "Fight the 'Alt-Right'," "Love Is Love, Black Lives Matter, Climate Change Is Real, Immigrants Make America Great, Women's Rights Are Human Rights," "Diversity Makes America Great (Not Trump)," "Our Rights Are Not Up for Grabs. Neither Are We," "I Am Not Free While a Woman Is Unfree—We March in Solidarity," "Women Need Not Keep Their Mouths Shut and Their Uterus Open," "A Time for Moral Courage," "Feminism Is for Everyone," "Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Rights," "I Won't Stay Home," "Super Callous Fascist Racist Extra Braggadocious," "My Body, My Choice, My Rights, My Voice," "Love Not Hate," "He's a Bad Man," "Our Children Deserve Better," "5 6 7 8 Don't Assume Your Kids Are Straight," "Say Nyet to Trump," "I March for My Daughters" (held by someone whose gender I have no idea of), "Sushi Rolls Not Gender Roles," "Warning: We Are Syncing Our Periods," "My Arms Are Tired from Holding This Sign Since the 70's," "Hate Has No Room Here—Spread Love," "Thus says the Lord: Love One Another," and "More love is ok." I did not get a picture of the guy who had made a Trump abecedary, of which I remember only that G was for "Garbage-Fire" and Y for "Your Drunk Uncle." He was being mobbed by admirers, which was fair. There were many, many more signs I didn't photograph.

All photographs taken by me except where indicated. Please feel free to share so long as you credit me by name. Point me toward pictures of your own?
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I will have to wait to post pictures until I get them off my cousins' camera, but I am back from the march. It was very crowded and very loud and very welcoming and very intense and I am so very glad I went.

I knew we were starting late in the day. My cousins had a prior commitment in the morning, so we met up briefly in Harvard Square before [ profile] gaudior peeled off to spend the rest of the day working with people who really needed support after the inauguration; [ profile] rushthatspeaks and I got to Boston Common with Fox in their baby sling (and a well-stocked diaper bag over my shoulder) around two in the afternoon. We had already seen a host of people with pink pussy hats and protest signs streaming backward over the Longfellow Bridge and boarding the Red Line at Charles/MGH; we figured that if we had missed the march proper, at least we could be present for the speeches and the singing and be counted as part of the collective demonstration that way. There seemed to be a large number of people still standing on the hillside as we walked up from Park Street. It would still be worth it.

We had not missed the march proper. Due to the number of protesters—three times greater than expected, I heard a woman saying afterward—they were marching in shifts. We were just in time to wait for the next round. Even more people were arriving as we waited near the bandstand, gradually shifting into a column with a generally agreed direction to face in rather than an uncertain mass with variegated signs and mutual photo-taking. There was a singer-songwriter named Emeline who closed her set with an unreleased song about refusing erasure and a whomping riot of brass and jazz from Somerville's own Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band and the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians (or BABAM!). I saw one protester waving a pride flag from a tree. I took a picture of Rush-That-Speaks and Fox and they took one of me, after I had pushed my hat back enough that my face didn't disappear. And then the crowd started moving in a more or less concerted direction and then we were marching.

I took a lot of pictures. Partly to capture the size of the crowd, mostly for signs I thought were especially excellent, though I couldn't catch them all. The route was something like a mile, around part of the Common and the Boston Public Gardens with a loop up and back the first block of Comm. Ave.; there were route police at intersections where anyone might get confused, but also schoolbuses and recycling trucks courtesy of the City of Boston to provide guiding borders on either side. There was a good range of ages. There was a good mix of genders and ethnicities. There were people with visible disabilities. I saw signs in English, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese. There were fife-and-drum musicians marching under a banner that read "Remember the Ladies—Abigail Adams, 1776," playing "The Battle Cry of Freedom," "The Minstrel Boy," and "Solidarity Forever." (Technically it could have been "John Brown's Body/The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but the people around us were singing "Solidarity Forever," so I took their word for it.) I saw signs that read "Make America Think Again," "Make America Kind Again," "Chin Up, Claws Out," "Never Again," "The Most Disrespected Person in America is the Black Woman," "Hex the Patriarchy," and "Mike Pence Likes Nickelback." I was not expecting the people on Beacon Street who hung out their windows with pride flags or political banners or just cheered and waved as the march went by. The Arlington Street Church gets major props not only for its bubble machine, but for the woman dressed as Betsy Ross waving a thirteen-starred American flag from the front steps and whoever was up in the bell tower ringing out national anthems. A woman about my mother's age whom Rush had seen earlier in the march had parked herself out front of the church with her sign that read "I Can't Believe I Still Have to Protest This Shit." People chanted, "This is what democracy looks like." People chanted, "Black Lives Matter." We saw signs for trans lives, queer lives, women's lives, Muslim lives, immigrant lives. "Love, not hate, makes America great." A young man with dreadlocks and no shirt on came past us carrying a sign that read "I am half-naked and surrounded by the opposite sex and I feel safe." A young white man stood on the sidewalk with a sign declaring "I am using my privilege for good" and we cheered him even though he had spelled "privilege" with a "d."

In keeping with the great tradition of mass public turnouts, we did not expect to run into G. (the mother of my ungodchild) and therefore I turned around to get a picture of a sign and there she was with her Episcopal priest's collar, carrying a sign of her own. We did not meet up with a single other person we knew was attending.

Fox was magnificent throughout. They cried only when hungry (and at the very end of the march when overstimulated, which everyone around them could sympathize with) and the absolute worst this required was for me to barge into a Bolocco on Boylston Street and ask the cashier if I could take some water out of the soda fountain to mix a three-month-old's formula with. She handed me a cup for free.

I got home and [ profile] derspatchel informed me the numbers are currently estimated at 120–125,000, the organizers having planned for 25,000. We are going out now to celebrate his birthday at Mamaleh's and then I am going to avoid all humanity for a little while.

Cats get a pass, though.

This was good.
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
I wish I knew where my copies of Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy had gotten to. On the 86 bus yesterday, I was reading Garry O'Connor's Ralph Richardson: An Actor's Life (1982) when I ran into his description of the director and drama theorist Michel Saint-Denis: "A stocky, earthy character both in appearance and flavour, Saint-Denis had a broad Burgundian accent, smoked a pipe, and often had a merry twinkle in his eye . . . As 'Jacques Duchesne,' broadcasting frequently over Radio Free French, he had a price on his head, for his function was to pass on coded information to Resistance workers; he was also responsible for other items such as an ebullient interview with Churchill conducted during an air raid, in which both men, clearly affected by the red wine they were drinking, were audibly being pounded with bombs." I wondered suddenly if I was as old as Keller by the end of The Beggar Queen (1984) or if I had accidentally managed to outlive one of my earliest favorite characters. It took me a minute to trace the connection which my brain had made without bothering to show its work: Old Kasperl "with his peasant jacket, his tankard, and his gray whiskers," namesake of the satirical journal in which he appeared alongside his stealthily smarter companion the Bear. It was popular in Marianstat during the reigns of Augustine IV of Westmark and his successor Queen Augusta, later Citizen Mickle; it was banned and printed secretly during the directorate of Cabbarus and the Ankari occupation. And then I felt like an idiot not to have consciously realized before how much Alexander's experiences in France and Germany during World War II must have influenced these books for all their turn-of-the-nineteenth-century, Les Mis-adjacent Ruritanian setting. Westmark (1981) is a fairly classic political romance ending in eucatastrophe, but The Kestrel (1982) is a war novel and The Beggar Queen is a novel of invasion, occupation, and resistance. Both get very messy. I'll have to see what Alexander said about them in interviews.

I might be older than Keller. I don't know how what I thought "youngish" meant in elementary school. I remember his sharp elbows and his tousled chestnut hair, his argument with Dr. Torrens about the necessity of a free press, the tragicomedy of trying to get himself arrested by a pair of policemen who are too much a fan of Old Kasperl to hand his creator over to Cabbarus and the terrible importance of his ending up where he does. I had a Tolstoy-sized cast to choose from and yet at the age of eight or nine I went unerringly for the consumptive journalist with a never-failing sense of irony and a deep, determined idealism that somewhat embarrasses him to discover, though his passionate quarrels with the politics of his country should maybe have given him a clue. I am not really surprised. He was a writer.

The first and even second time I read the books, I was disappointed by the absence of magic; in college I tried to read them against Ursula K. Le Guin's Malafrena (1979), which didn't work because at that time I didn't like Malafrena very much; on my most recent re-read I couldn't stop picturing Cabbarus as played by Jonathan Pryce circa The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). That was about five years ago and I can still remember the simile that accompanies a man's death in The Kestrel—a side of beef with staring eyes and a mouth full of red mud—and I can remember the ending of The Beggar Queen that I read so young it didn't even strike me as remarkable, but I can't remember if the text ever specifies Keller's age. For many reasons, I think it might be instructive to revisit the series now.

I am off to meet and march with people. That's one of them.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
My poem "Post-Millennial Augury Blues" was accepted last night by Through the Gate and is now online. It was written a few days after November's election, watching other people's responses and thinking about my own. Everyone wants to think they would have been heroic in the past, but everyone knows how the past turned out. You have to be heroic now, not knowing the ending of the story.

Toward that end, I baked oatmeal cookies with sour cherries, met Dean for tea in Harvard Square, and bought my husband a book for his birthday, which is tomorrow.
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
I wanted to write about movies after I finished my work for the day, but it looks like I just burnt out temporarily and should go to bed instead. Bryan Cranston looks more like Denholm Elliott every time I see another picture of him. It's the general bone structure, but specifically the way his face has broken up into lines and his eyebrows fit into them, something about the line of his mouth as well; in that screencap, the glint in his eye. Attempting to locate some pictures of Elliott from the '70's to prove my point, I found instead the prettiest portrait of a youthful Denholm Elliott I have ever seen in my life:


That's younger than I've ever seen him on film. 1951 in New York—he must have been playing Hugo and Frédéric in Christopher Fry's Ring Round the Moon (1950), which I have read and thought I owned but do not see on the playscript/screenplay shelf behind me. I wonder if that means it's in a box or if I have lost it. I don't see A Winter's Tale (1951) or The Dark is Light Enough 1954), either, but I don't believe Elliott was in either of those.

I need to rest up before the weekend. Bed.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
This is the post I was trying to make earlier in the day before I got derailed by sudden actor death. I don't know why it's easier for me to make lists than a bunch of separate smaller posts, but here we are.

1. Pursuant to yesterday's post: as it is now later in the week, please enjoy Tlotlo Tsamaase's "Constellations of You" as part of our continuing issue on resistance.

2. Which is a priority of mine for the foreseeable future in just about every direction. Latest: the Republican decision to remove national protections from federal lands is a terrible decision. Even if you don't care about the environment (and I believe none of these people care about the environment), shouldn't you care about good old American jobs made possible by the maintenance of these lands? I suppose they care more about the mining and oil kickbacks. I want to protect these places and I want to know how to do it in states that aren't mine. At least with climate change denial you could tell yourself it would take a few years before the landscape started dying off around you. The timeline is a lot shorter when national parks are now deemed cheaply expendable.

3. And because there's nothing to make a country great again like an absence of art, Trump is ready to privatize public broadcasting and cut funding the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Because that will really make a difference to the federal budget, which could have been in the black decades ago if it hadn't wasted so much charity on America's burdensome population of artists with no day jobs and museums with nothing better to do than curate our complex cultural heritage. The rest of those proposed budget cuts look both short-sighted and stupid—and specifically, punitively targeted—but that's the one that makes me furious. These are decisions made by people who understand as little about the way that art and academia actually work in this country as they claim I understand about the lives of people who weren't born with silver spoons in their mouths. I am sure the concept of "the coastal elite" will raise its head in these discussions and it will continue to sound like a loud and clear dogwhistle to me. News flash: if painters and sculptors and writers were secretly in charge of the country, the National Endowment for the Arts would stay right where it is. I'm pretty sure archivists are also not rolling in surplus dough.

4. These are two very different ways of writing about current events in poetry and they are both staying with me: Jill Talbot's "Nobody" and Gus Peterson's "Nautilus." I hope I can write about some of the things I want to write about. I know I won't lose the chance after tomorrow, but I do feel it will be a different world.

5. [ profile] derspatchel just introduced me to the work of Sydney-based installation artist Michael Pederson: Miguel Marquez Outside. I think I like best the pieces which masquerade as ordinary official signage until you see that they pertain to solitude, gravity, mood, and other qualities not usually regulated by the department of city planning. To be honest, I would find the conversational silence and personal space preference cards actively useful, especially at conventions.

I wouldn't say that I had nightmares all night, because I didn't sleep all that much and I'm actually rather fond of volcanoes, but I did not appreciate the part where I dreamed about facing eviction from the apartment in which I currently live because of complaints from the neighbors on either side (lowering the property values, not the kind of people we want representing the neighborhood) while in the meantime fighting with relatives who don't exist in waking life but who had opinions about all of my life choices (selfish, childish, not sufficiently oriented toward the comfort of other people) and wanted to see me suffer for them. I woke up and thought, well, that was barely a metaphor. Somebody link me some nice things.
sovay: (Psholtii: in a bad mood)
I was going to make a post about several different things and then [ profile] derspatchel just told me that Miguel Ferrer died. He was younger than my father. He had throat cancer. I didn't even know. My mother has been watching NCIS: Los Angeles for the last five or six years because of him and Linda Hunt. I still have to finish the second season with [ profile] rushthatspeaks, but in the list of favorite characters I have been keeping for the last sixteen years it says quite plainly "Albert Rosenfield, Twin Peaks" because, as with any sensible person, that speech about nonviolence imprinted me on him for life. I never thought of him in terms of his parents until the last time I caught The Caine Mutiny (1954) on TCM and suddenly I could see him in his father; maybe he'd have reminded me of his mother if I'd ever heard him sing. Hey, 2017, I thought we agreed that you were never going to match 2016 for devastating celebrity deaths and weren't even going to try? You couldn't have just held off for a month?
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
Tonight I roasted a chicken with apricot jam and made a sauce out of the pan juices by deglazing the roasting pan with the only potable form of alcohol we had in the house, i.e., whisky, and served the whole thing over rice. I feel very smug. Also, full. It was a larger chicken than it looked when I bought it. There are leftovers. Choice bits were given to patient little cats as a treat (and even impatient ones, like Autolycus who tried to introduce himself at every stage of the process, from the initial rubbing with butter, pepper, and salt through the basting with pan juices and spiced jam to the carving and serving, which had to be conducted in the dining room to be sure of keeping an eye on the carcass). Now I want to bake something. [edit] I just made some cinnamon Rice Krispie treats instead, because spite dessert never gets old.

1. [personal profile] yhlee has sent me a copy of Neat Sheets: The Poetry of James Tiptree, Jr. (1996) and a selection of international stamps, including a magnificent underwave mermaid that turns out to have been done by Dave McKean.

2. I didn't even realize we were getting a new gold coin this year—much less with an unambiguously Black representation of Liberty on the obverse—until a predictably racist controversy blew up around it. I think my only complaint is that I don't have a hundred dollars to trade in for one at this time. I've been carrying a Sacagawea dollar in my pocket for some time now, but the MBTA used to dispense those as regular change.

3. Following the SFPA's removal of Tlotlo Tsamaase's "I Will Be Your Grave" from consideration for the 2017 Rhysling Award after listing the poem online among the nominees and the outcry this decision reasonably provoked, I am now hearing that the poem has been reinstated and will appear in the Rhysling Anthology. I am glad. As the editor who accepted it for publication in the first place, I have obvious opinions about its speculative-ness and its right to be in the running for the only poetry award in our field. In the meantime, a new poem by Tsamaase will appear in Strange Horizons later this week, as part of our special issue on resistance that I would have announced earlier if I hadn't been flat on my face catching up on sleep.

These are good things and provide some fortification against other facts of the world, like [ profile] derspatchel playing me Betsy DeVos' claims that grizzly bears are a good reason not to restrict the availability of firearms in schools or [ profile] strange_selkie breaking it to me that Trump will lead an invitation-only prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday and presumably not explode in a rain of sulfur as soon as he crosses the threshold or opens his mouth. Personally, on Saturday, I will be joining [ profile] rushthatspeaks and Fox and I should hope a great many other people for the Boston Women's March for America. Who else can I expect to see there, or at least miss meeting up with in the crowd?
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I had a very good time at Arisia. Intellectually I think I was happiest with "The Alien in the Alien" and "In Praise of Unlikeable Characters," performance-wise with "Songs of Rudyard Kipling" and the Speculative Poetry Slam, and comedy-wise with "The 100-Year-Old Barbed Wire: The Great War & SF," to which I showed up nearly a half-hour late due to getting trapped by public transit on Sunday morning and therefore allegorically personified the United States for the rest of the panel. I attended this year's genderswapped Star Trek by the Post-Meridian Radio Players—The Naked Time, with a Sulu they had better keep—and even managed to hear a couple of panels that weren't mine. And then because I hadn't really slept for the duration of the convention, I came home yesterday and faceplanted for most of the evening surrounded by purring cats, woke up long enough to eat dinner and watch Basil Dearden's All Night Long (1962) with [ profile] derspatchel, and then went back to bed for ten hours. As a result I have gotten almost nothing done today, but I haven't had to catch two buses and two trains to the Boston waterfront, so that's nice. Also the cats.

I found this post while looking for information about Kenneth Macpherson's Borderline (1930): "Algernon Islay de Courcy Lyons & Kenneth Macpherson, Bryher & H.D." The text looks like several different sources combined together, but the photographs are invaluable. This one of Bryher and H.D. from the set of Borderline does nothing to dissuade my interest in the film.

sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
Tonight, as part of Arisia's Dramatic Readings from the Ig Nobel Prizes, I got to read selected excerpts from Simon Rothenberg and Arthur B. Brenner's "The Number 13 as a Castration Fantasy" (Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1955).

It is likely these fantasies refer to the primal scene; they also conceal a wish to see the phallus of the aggressive woman, represented by his mother and his wife. The fear of seeing the dead was therefore a castration fear, displaced to the number 13, which first emerged when the wish for his wife's death threatened to become conscious.

It's been a good day.
sovay: (Rotwang)
1. Courtesy of Dean: Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham, "Here Comes the Judge." It's an incredible recording. I had never heard of either Markham or his most famous routine, although [ profile] derspatchel started quoting the song the minute I mentioned the title; if someone had played it for me cold and asked me when I thought it was recorded, barring the Vietnam references I'd have guessed the early '80's at least. It has the vocal rhythms of old-school hip-hop, the percussive swagger, and it is play-on-loop catchy. It was recorded in 1968, after Sammy Davis, Jr. revived the routine for a white audience on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (Markham was later invited onto the show himself). The B-side sketch it leads into has a punch line that dates back to vaudeville, but it's so well-delivered I don't care. He performed in blackface—a black man wearing burnt cork—until 1943. America gonif?

2. [ profile] heliopausa asked if I knew of any Allied novels or movies from World War II that acknowledged the humanity of the Japanese in the same way that The Moon Is Down (1943) acknowledged the humanity of the Germans: I couldn't think of any. Postwar films with wartime settings, yes: Sessue Hayakawa playing the honorable enemy in Three Came Home (1950) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), James Shigeta as a sympathetic American-married diplomat in Bridge to the Sun (1961), I assume-to-hope there were more and more nuanced portrayals as the years went by and Hollywood became incrementally less racist. (As of last year there is finally a movie about Chiune Sugihara, although it is ineligible for purposes of this discussion because it is a Japanese production and has yet to play somewhere I can see it.) Between 1942 and 1946, however, pretty much everything that I know came out of Hollywood was either a racist cartoon of the kind it still upsets me that Dr. Seuss ever drew or a faceless wall of the enemy in their numbers, not exactly surprising from a country that couldn't see the disjoint of liberating concentration camps while fencing its own citizens behind barbed wire.* I know there was some sympathetic reportage, but I don't know if it made it into art. Behind the Rising Sun (1943) was definitely not it. I should like to believe there was at least one humanizing novel written by an Allied author at the time, but I don't know what it is or where to look for it. Outside of the U.S.? Anyone got pointers? Or was it all just as bad as Our Enemy—The Japanese (1943)?

* I am still sad that I couldn't get to the theatrical broadcast of Allegiance when it came around in December. Tangenting off on Hollywood depictions of Japanese-Americans did turn up something interesting: Robert Pirosh's Go for Broke! (1951), which appears to celebrate the heroism of Nisei soldiers—and admit the irony of their circumstances—considerably earlier than I thought this country had gotten around to and cast real-life veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in major roles. It's in the public domain thanks to failure to renew copyright, so I may try to check it out. Hell to Eternity (1960) sounds fascinating but also as though it may have whitewashed its protagonist, so I'm still thinking it over.

3. I was just obliged to fill out a demographic form and was reminded that the definition of "White" according to the U.S. Census Bureau parenthetically specifies "Not Hispanic or Latino" and then goes on to apply to "A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa." Huh? I thought. Outside of the contingent whiteness of Ashkenazi Jews, when has anyone with roots in the Middle East ever been viewed as white in this country? So I poked at the internet and discovered the answer was 1909, when Syrian immigrant George Shishim sued for the right to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, which at that time depended on ethnographically proving his whiteness because the United States couldn't be bothered to extend its rights and privileges to its non-white residents. So that was an even more fucked-up answer than I had expected.

These are the kinds of historical facts it makes me feel stupid to learn only now, but at least I am learning them. On the brighter side, [ profile] teenybuffalo tagged a portrait for me and now I will happily learn more about both Romaine Brooks and Gluck, neither of whom I had previously heard of. Also there is now an Estonian ferry with Tom of Finland's art all over it and that can only be a good thing for the world. Apparently that was April Fool's Day last year. I maintain it would have been great business. The painters are still real, though.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
I go back and forth on whether I think "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is more frightening in the original stage version of Cabaret or in Bob Fosse's 1972 film. Dramatically, I find it more upsetting when it reprises as the first-act finale at the engagement party of Frau Schneider and Herr Schultz, which until then has been so joyous and informal as to include a song with Yiddish lyrics; musically, the crashing, triumphal arrangement of the beer garden scene actually scares me, the exultant repetition, the way people surge to their feet with a fervor like anger in their faces, even if the lip-synching throws me out a little. Talking with [ profile] derspatchel last night in the shower, I realized why the song is disturbing to me: not just because of its pastoral, romantic imagery that darkens so successfully into martial nationalism that Kander and Ebb were accused of transplanting a real-life Nazi anthem into a Broadway musical, or because we know where history is heading long before our protagonists do, or even because it's the Nazis, but because it derives its gut-punch effect in both versions from how suddenly and dangerously the tone of a group can change around a person. At the party, thinking you were safe among friends and discovering that you're not. At the beer garden, thinking you were safe among strangers and discovering that you're not. All around you, people are declaring themselves your enemy—whether they know you personally or not—and in less than three minutes it's done; you're not safe here; now you know. I likened it to watching the election results come in in November. I know now that Trump lost the popular vote by millions and squeaked through the electoral college on the technicalities of a nineteenth-century racist system, but at the time it was exactly that sudden draining disorientation: I am living in a country that is against me. Admittedly the experience had neither the clarity of hindsight nor a catchy melody, but maybe if I wait twenty years.

The internet tells me that one of Trump's reactions to the release of the dossier that is currently consuming the news as well as inspiring Chuck Tingle was to demand, "Are we living in Nazi Germany?" I actually spent a moment trying to figure out how he meant the question—which side of this historical projection did he see himself on? Was he actually claiming victimhood on the scale of the Holocaust? If his familiar complaint of "fake news" was intended to echo his supporters' cries of Lügenpresse, didn't he realize he was identifying himself with the NSDAP instead?—before I realized it was irrelevant: Trump has absorbed that a Nazi is the worst thing you can call your political enemies regardless of their actual behaviors or beliefs (and regardless of yours, too) and hurled it out into the crowd to see if he could make it stick. I feel no surprise at his continuing dearth of historical awareness, but I do hope it further disappoints his neo-Nazi supporters who were counting on him being the great white nationalist hope of their generation. They're already having a hard time organizing their hate march in Montana. Let it only get harder from here. [edit: Looks like it did.] They had enough of the past; they don't get tomorrow.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
My poem "The Process" is now online at Mithila Review. I would love to say that it was inspired by the current political climate, but it was written the week before the election and I knew next to nothing about Franz Kafka biographically except for the famous points—Jewish, Prague, TB—and Dora Diamant. I have since read Nicholas Murray's Kafka: A Biography (2004) and Klaus Wagenbach's Kafka's Prague: A Travel Reader (trans. Shaun Whiteside, 1996) and so I know now that he hated the telephone and had nothing against typewriters, but that is not the point of this poem.

The market is a new one for me and I am delighted to have my work in the company of Cixin Liu, Martin Šust, Carlos Hernandez, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Gwendolyn Kiste, Mari Ness, Priya Sharma, and many others. The cover art by Archan Nair is also pretty great.

First published poem of 2017, no complaints.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Starting on Friday, I'll be at Arisia. Usually I try to post my schedule earlier, but this year is what it is.

The Alien in the Alien
Friday 7:00 PM
Steve E. Popkes (m), Dennis McCunney, Sonya Taaffe, Morgan Crooks, Corbin Covault

Many recent sci-fi books have included very alien aliens: creatures whose bodies and thought processes differ dramatically from those of humans—for instance, the Trisolarans in Liu Cixin's Three-Body trilogy and the Presger in Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy. How do authors convey this feeling of difference? What is gained and lost in the story by having aliens that are so far away from humanity?

Reading: Janssen, Silverman, Taaffe
Saturday 11:30 AM
Victoria Janssen, Hildy Silverman, Sonya Taaffe

Reading: Victoria Janssen, Hildy Silverman, and Sonya Taaffe.

In Praise of Unlikeable Characters
Saturday 1:00 PM
Gillian Daniels (m), Lorrie Kim, Maya Garcia, Sonya Taaffe, Ken Schneyer

Bring us your curmudgeons, your cantankerous jerks, your deliberately unlikeable characters of all genders without which the plot might not move so smoothly. Someone's got to do the dirty work, after all. Let's talk about our favorite unlikeable characters in genre fiction, and the purposes they serve.

Traditional Ballad Bingo
Saturday 5:30 PM
Angela Kessler (m), Zoe Madonna, Greer Gilman, Jeremy Kessler, Lynn Noel, Sonya Taaffe

A themed sing wherein attendees take turns performing traditional ballads for the assemblage. Listen carefully to mark your Ballad Bingo cards when you detect such classic tropes as drowning, pregnancy out of wedlock, or murder of a loved one. Cards will be provided. Compete for "valuable" prizes!

Songs of Rudyard Kipling
Saturday 8:30 PM
Lynn Noel (m), Benjamin Newman, Sonya Taaffe, April Grant

Do you enjoy Kipling? Rudyard Kipling wrote a wealth of poems that make excellent songs, as demonstrated by the likes of Peter Bellamy and (especially in filk and SCA circles) Leslie Fish. We'll indulge in a number of them and maybe a few parodies. If you can, bring some to share!

The 100 Year Old Barbed Wire: The Great War & SF
Sunday 1:00 PM
Sioban Krzywicki (m), Greer Gilman, Debra Doyle, Alexander Jablokov, Sonya Taaffe

We are in the midst of the centenary of World War I. The US was not hit badly by it compared to Europe, and in 2017 the centenary of US involvement (6 April 1917) is coming up. How did the war and its aftermath change society and our idea of the future. Could Brave New World or Things to Come or other early classics of speculative fiction been written without the war's impact? Why do so many alternate histories use earlier or later events as a changing point rather than this one?

Speculative Poetry Slam
Sunday 2:30 PM
A.J. Odasso (m), Konner Jebb, Merav Hoffman, Peter Maranci, Sonya Taaffe, Trisha Wooldridge, Julia Rios, MJ Cunniff

Come ready to read your Speculative Poetry and listen to the work of Spec poets from all over the genre.

Grounding Your Audience in a Sensory World
Sunday 7:00 PM
Ken Schneyer (m), Keffy R.M. Kehrli, Ruthanna Emrys, Greer Gilman, Sonya Taaffe

The five senses are appallingly underrepresented in modern fiction. Without sensory information, it's difficult to grab your audience and drag them into your protagonist's body. How do you portray senses other than sight? Can you use it to portray emotion? Where can you scrounge up alternatives for the words see, hear, feel, taste and smell, or "sixth sense" (psychic intuition)? Come learn how to describe your world in all of its glorious, sensory detail.

Another World, Another Time: Untapped Fantasy
Monday 11:30 AM
Cate Hirschbiel (m), James Hailer, Greer Gilman, Leigh Perry, Sonya Taaffe

We love our Medieval, Victorian, and Weird West fantasy, but there are a lot more times and places for magic and other worlds. Our panelists will talk about their favorite authors who went someplace different and what settings require more stories. How can we explore new settings and times while maintaining respect for the people and the cultures that reside there?

Telepathic Comfort Horses and Stranger Things
Monday 1:00 PM
Gordon Linzner (m), Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer, A.J. Odasso, Sonya Taaffe

Stranger Things made a lot of headway on nostalgia, going beyond simple reference and into the filmic and thematic styles of the 80s. Is there room for that in literary SF? Is there a place for the romantic fantasy of the late 80s, the psychedelia or the Mil SF of the 70s? Pulp and Lovecraftery get their love, certainly, but what genre styles do you miss? Who, if anyone, works with these? What can we learn or gain by revisiting the styles of yesteryear?

This schedule is huge and I feel in no way ready for a major convention in three days. Oh, well. Who else will I see there?
sovay: (Default)
I walked into a street sign tonight. I was getting off a bus, making sure I had zipped up my computer bag so that it wasn't raining in on Vicki Baum's Grand Hotel (trans. Basil Creighton/Margot Bettauer Dembo, 2016), and all of a sudden there was a piece of vertical steel against my left cheekbone and temple and my teeth clicked together very hard. Someone behind me asked if I was all right. I said I thought so, thanks. I had not stopped moving, just reoriented around the sign and kept walking down the slushy sidewalk. It took me until after dinner—I had brought a chicken Caesar wrap and a lime-pistachio cookie home from Dave's Fresh Pasta as a treat and ate them while reading more Grand Hotel—to notice that the left side of my face hurt at all. I think if I had hit it hard enough to cause real damage, it would hurt a lot more, or have started to come out in bruises, or something else exciting. I am more concerned about the way Autolycus keeps sneezing.
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
Tonight I saw Lloyd Bacon's Wonder Bar (1934) at the Harvard Film Archive. I have no idea how to talk about this movie. I must have spent an hour in the basement of the Harvard Book Store post-morteming it with [ profile] ladymondegreen who had watched it on DVD at home, being unable to attend in person due to family obligations,1 and I still have no idea. It's not that it's difficult to describe; the technicalities of the plot are complicated, but no more so than the similarly interwoven Grand Hotel (1932). It has pre-Code content coming out its ears, but that's nothing new around here. The introductory speaker pointed out that all of the elements which made Wonder Bar so controversial and censor-baiting on its release in March of 1934—the breezily amoral treatments of adultery, murder, and suicide, plus a rather lovely moment with two queer men who are not a pansy joke—barely raise an eyebrow with a modern audience, who instead have heart attacks from the element viewed at the time as a beloved, wholesome American art form; that would be the blackface. About fifteen minutes of it, staged and filmed elaborately as any other musical number by Busby Berkeley, densely packed with clever sight gags and, yes, giant fruit. It is skull-spinningly racist. I think it may have been intended as some kind of tribute. I have no idea how to talk about this movie.

I might have been better prepared for it if I had ever seen Al Jolson before, but I hadn't—I've seen Overture to Glory (דער ווילנער שטאט חזן/The Vilna City Cantor, 1940) with Moishe Oysher, but not The Jazz Singer (1927). I had somewhat studiously avoided ever even listening to "My Mammy." So I can't tell if Al Wonder, owner and emcee of the Wonder Bar in Paris, a decadent nightspot that flashes its name in three different alphabets of neon and attracts a clientele from expatriate White Russians to good-time American businessmen to high-rolling German officers, is a good representation of Jolson's star persona. "Manic" is one word you could use to describe it. "Proto-Borscht Belt" is another. At different points he reminded me of Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, and the Emcee from Cabaret. The character is a quick-change tummler, bouncing from persona to persona with each new routine, a fast deadpan crack out of the side of his mouth or a dialect shaggy dog story that tops off in a performance of "Ochi Chornya" so spreadingly schmaltzy, I thought I could hear Kaye starting to sneeze and Tom Lehrer starting to never forget something about Lobachevsky; he moves so fast that it's impossible to tell what's underneath the patter and the punch lines, leaving open the possibility that the answer is nothing. According to the plot, he's in love with specialty dancer Dolores del Río, but she, despite past history with torch-carrying bandleader Dick Powell, is self-abasingly obsessed with her dancing partner Ricardo Cortez, who is smarmily romancing married Kay Francis and planning to skip town later that night with the profits from her diamond necklace, whose supposed loss is sufficiently high-profile to have triggered a call from a pair of insurance investigators to her banker husband Henry Kolker, who happens to be a friend of Jolson's and a big patron of the Wonder Bar. A sloshily peripatetic Hugh Herbert and Guy Kibbee keep trying to pick up a pair of garter-tossing bar girls while their reproving wives Louise Fazenda and Ruth Donnelly set their sights on a gigolo with a pocketful of visiting cards, each printed with a compliment appropriate to a different kind of woman (the one he eventually hands over to the Schenectady matron claims that she reminds him of his mother). Robert Barrat withdraws his last funds from the bank, set his monocle at an angle to match his dueling scar, and strides off backstage to divest himself of all his worldly possessions to the delight of the bare-legged chorus girls. Jolson's Wonder is in near-constant motion throughout, greeting his patrons in four languages, covering for the late entrance of the dancers with the tongue-twister "Vive la France" ("Frenchmen are gallant, the women can't resist them / Frenchmen have talent—you ought to try their system"), and darting in and out of dressing rooms in order to keep track of the plot, which is more than the audience can hope for. He's definitely some kind of trickster, but not necessarily the nice kind—he resolves an inconvenient murder by stashing the body in the trunk of a suicidal patron's car and simply not standing in the way of the owner when he peels out for his fatal rendezvous with a cliff. How pre-Code is this movie? That's the happy ending, it's that pre-Code. Jolson doesn't get the girl, of course, but maybe she dodged a bullet going home with Dick Powell instead of Comus.

The thing is, when Jolson's in mile-a-minute trickster mode, he is actually not repellent to me. "Vive la France" was recorded live on set because Jolson said he couldn't do it to playback—so the house band at the Wonder Bar is the actual Warners studio orchestra—and I think he was right. It's a live wire of a number, maybe a minute and a half tops of innuendo and nonsense and the obligatory "Fifty Million Frenchmen" reference and it blasts past on the high-octane excitement of a performer throwing themselves a hundred and ten percent into a song and at least looking like they are enjoying the hell out of it. Not all of his emcee's punch lines landed for me, but the exchange about the giraffe is so absurd it hasn't dated at all. The aforementioned queer moment depends on switched expectations, but not on stereotypes—"Boys will be boys," Wonder whistles after a handsome young man politely asks to cut in on an equally attractive couple and then waltzes off with the smiling man rather than the expectant woman (she shrugs and wanders off into the crowd). We just start to run into problems when we hit the art form he was famous for. From the original trailer, capitalization not mine—

"Going To Heaven On A Mule" is a musical creation so startlingly different
that to show you ONE SINGLE FLASH of its 42 unforgettable scenes
. . . would rob you of the greatest thrill you've ever had in a theatre

DU MUẞT CALIGARI WERDEN I GET IT OKAY. Look, whoever put together that trailer for Warner Bros. was quite right that Wonder Bar's big closing number resembled nothing I had ever seen before in my life and that I would never forget the experience. It's just not going to be for lack of trying. I literally ended up making bibble-bibble-bibble noises at [ profile] derspatchel while attempting to convey something of the effect of Berkeley's conception of an all-black heaven, into which a blacked-up Jolson in raggedy overalls and a frazzled straw hat rides his literal mule direct from the plantation by way of a rather attractive Bifrost bridge that deserved to lead into a legitimate Art Deco Valhalla rather than a tinsel-winged parody of Harlem where pork chops grow on trees and chickens are flash-fried at a wish. A full-length portrait of Abraham Lincoln hangs in the receiving room where Jolson is fitted for his robe and his wings, because Emancipation is funny. God forbid we should save on shoe polish and cast some actual black people in this number, so Saint Peter and the Angel Gabriel make their appearances in blackface while among the white clouds and little burnt-cork cherubs can be glimpsed such sages of minstrelsy as Old Black Joe and Uncle Tom. Jolson will later win the epaulettes off Emperor Jones in a game of craps, which in heaven can be played all day without danger of gainful employment interfering. You lose your wings and get the express chute to hell if you pass bum liquor to Peter, though. Typing all of this out isn't helping. I don't even feel sociologically qualified to unpack the moment in which, having his shoes shined at the bustling intersection of Lenox Avenue and the Milky Way, Jolson's new-minted angel flips up his newspaper and grins at the audience over the Yiddish-language front page of the The Garden of Eden Star—דער גן עדן שטערין. I am normally all about Busby Berkeley and giant fruit, but at the point where blacked-up Hal Le Roy emerged from within giant slices of watermelon for a white-grinning, jitter-legged tap dance, I started to pray for Carmen Miranda to descend from the Technicolor Olympos of people who are least in on their own jokes and just squash him with a Terry Gilliam-sized banana or something. It improves nothing that on top of the inherent screaming racism which all the inventive little details of this chocolate-colored heaven only emphasize, blackface has, for me, the uncanny valley quality that many people seem to associate with clown makeup—nobody's lips look like that. Nobody's eyes look like that. I don't care that we're on monochrome film stock, people aren't that color. An entire screenful of this sort of thing turns into nightmare fuel after a while, e.g., two seconds. The occasional sighting of an actual, un-painted, I wish to God I thought they'd gotten hazard pay for it black chorus member just makes it worse. I keep asking myself how this happened and I know how it happened: blackface was Jolson's thing and Berkeley spun his usual surrealism on it and the combined results are a live-action cartoon of the kind Disney is currently attempting to make everyone forget ever graced its vaults. Coming home and reading that Jolson's offstage interactions with black artists and entertainers were reliably, progressively friendly and supportive still doesn't incline me to a rewatch. At least I guess it answers the question of whether I want to seek out any more of Jolson's movies, except maybe The Jazz Singer eventually for its historical importance and Hallelujah, I'm a Bum! (1933) somewhat sooner for Harry Langdon.

The other Berkeley-staged number in the film is full of domino masks and mirrors and trees shedding silver foil in an endlessly reflective autumn or spring and it's actually quite nice, with a kind of carnival Cinderella motif to accompany the song "Don't Say Goodnight," but "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule" goes on for so long and is placed so close to the end of the movie—thankfully we get out of it before the credits, which cannot be said of many musicals Berkeley worked on—that it ends up leaving the dominant impression, along with the part where Al Wonder cheerfully exploits a dude's suicidal depression to get his love object out of trouble. It's a very considerate movie that way. If the extended blackface didn't bounce your brain off the inside of your forehead, you'll still get tonal whiplash on the way out. I should mention here that it independently confuses me that the story is taking place in Paris, if for no other reason than that a nightclub named "Wonder Bar" should by all rights have existed in Weimar Berlin, but I expect that impression was partly formed by the HFA's print coming from Gosfilmofond by way of German elements, meaning that all onscreen writing was in either German or French and random reels had German subtitles stuck to the bottom of the screen. Seriously, the more I think about this, the more I kind of want the crossover with the Kit Kat Klub, only not, because Cabaret has got sufficient Nazis that it doesn't need blackface. I don't know what else I can say. I regret nothing about the experience of watching Wonder Bar because it happened in pre-Code Hollywood, for better and for worse, but eighty percent Menschen im Hotel and twenty percent Tambo and Bones is not my ideal ratio of entertainment. This artifact brought to you by my better-educated backers at Patreon.

1. Through pure coincidence of the kind that frequently attends interaction with Lady Mondegreen, on my way out the door to Harvard Square I discovered a package which turned out to be the copy she had sent me of Derek Sculthorpe's Van Heflin: A Life in Film (2016). On reading that Heflin ran away to sea at age fourteen (taking a camera on all his voyages so that he could take snapshots for his grandmother in southern California; she tracked his progress on her atlas) and loved the writing of Joseph Conrad, I realized instantly that the alternate universe which contains Wuthering Heights with Robert Newton and all those other contrafactual movies of my heart would have had the good sense to cast Van Heflin in a screen version of Lord Jim: I'm sure I'd have facepalmed my way through its Southeast Asian setting as hard as I did through the New Zealand of Green Dolphin Street (1947), but damn would he have knocked the character out of the park. I might even have preferred him to Peter O'Toole.
sovay: (Rotwang)
We are home. The Amtrak regional was late to Penn Station by an hour, with the result that we were late to South Station by slightly more than an hour, with the result that it was a little after three in the morning when we unlocked the front door and Hestia tried to make a break past my ankles, having evidently decided that in the absence of humans for a day and a half all was anarchy. I scooped Autolycus into my arms and he hooked his paws over my shoulder and purred. In the late afternoon we stopped briefly by the Subtle House of [personal profile] rosefox and [personal profile] sinboy and [personal profile] xtina and Kit, who is now a year old and the lankiest baby I think I have ever seen, with dark-fringed blue eyes and creased little cheekbones; they let me pet the duckling-soft fluff at the back of their head and otherwise communicated in gestures and enthusiastic drool. We walked to the wrong subway stop on the way there, but since overshooting Grand Army Plaza took us past the Brooklyn Central Library and the Brooklyn Museum in rose-blue winter sunset, the architecture was worth it. I called my father to tell him that we were standing across the street from the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture; he grew up partly in the founding branch in Manhattan. We got out of dinner at Veselka (borscht!) just in time to discover how late we were going to get back. [ profile] derspatchel took the window seat on the train while I read Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (2016), but I saw an enormous sail of ivory-yellow moon floating over the Boston skyline as the taxi drove over the Zakim Bridge, huge freezing plumes of steam or smoke from what we think was the Mystic Generating Station on the far side of the Mystic River. Autolycus is sitting on a box in my office, grooming his extra claws; he makes his little smek smek sounds of satisfaction, which no other cat of my acquaintance does. This trip was worth all the snow.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
So we slogged through the flying snow to United Photo Industries and two of the authors had dropped out because of the weather and someone spilled coffee into my corduroy coat and I had a fantastic time at the Bestiary reading.

A surprising number of people had turned up despite the snow. Jack Ketchum read his introduction to the catalogue and a brief, haunting story of parenting and beasts. I read "Panopticon" about surveillance-eyed Argos Panoptes and chased it with three other Greek poems—"Σειρήνοιϊν," "The Lost Aphrodite," and the as yet unpublished "Ariadne in Queens." Alisa Kwitney read her character study of Teiresias and excerpts from a forthcoming novel about Frankenstein. Maria Dahvana Headley read her vignette about Empousa and excerpts from a forthcoming novel with volcanoes. I finally met Viktor Koen in person and got to tell him how much I loved working with the image of Argos and how much I covet the tintypes of the exhibition, an antique process documenting even more archaic creatures. Afterward there was book-signing and stuffed grape leaves and a random member of the audience turning out to have gone to high school with [ profile] derspatchel and a somewhat less random member of the audience turning out to have submitted a name to the moon-naming contest I won with Vanth and it was still snowing by the time a rather large contingent of writers and editors went out to dinner, but we survived the Shackletonian trek to Henry's End in Brooklyn Heights and it was their annual Game Festival, so I had venison for dinner tonight, very rare, pepper-crusted, over parsnips and blackberry reduction, an unexpected and wonderful end to the day. Rob had turtle soup and said plaintively with two spoonfuls left, "Are there any more turtles on this boat?" [ profile] ladymondegreen gave me a Bread and Roses pin for belated Hanukkah and kindly lent me her second-best winter hat, so that my ears did not freeze on the way home. I encountered one of my less often seen cousins and her boyfriend in the kitchen, watching a YouTube show about sushi.

All sorts of things need fixing, with my life and the world; this was a really good night.

sovay: (Rotwang)
On an hour and a half of sleep (me) and no sleep at all ([ profile] derspatchel), we have won our way through accurately forecast blizzard and unexpectedly rearranged subway lines to Brooklyn, where I will be reading in a few hours at United Photo Industries with as many other authors as can make it out for the last night of Viktor Koen's Bestiary. Rob has been trying to diagnose us a route through transposed public transit (the F train running in place of the C, the G in place of the F) and it looks as though the answer is going to be: taxi. I forgot the camera and my actual winter hat. I'm pretty sure the aftereffects of the flu came with me. The snow started this afternoon as we were passing through saltmarsh country, a static-white flicker between the sepia-tone cattails and the silver ice smoothing the water and the wet postcard grey of the sky. I will read about Argos Panoptes and any other mythological figures I have time for. It will be all right.
sovay: (Claude Rains)
I am beginning to think I may have had the flu. Exhaustion, fever, headache, literally spent a day in bed, spent the next day out of bed and fell over before midnight, more fever, slept twelve hours at the end of which I am still hallucinatorily tired, I have to travel tomorrow (come hear me read classically-themed poems in Brooklyn!) and I'm having trouble with the concept of sitting upright. Nonetheless, I can type: I can talk about film.

I'd wanted to see The Moon Is Down (1943) since May, when I had a dream that made me wish the novel wasn't packed away with the rest of my books. All paperback fiction after G is still in storage, but the film did me the favor of turning up on TCM on Monday night. I had not planned in advance for my first movie of 2017 to be a story of resistance, but I don't mind.

When the idea of a novel on the themes of occupation and resistance first occurred to John Steinbeck in the fall of 1941, he was working for a variety of government agencies and his own country was neutral; by the time The Moon Is Down saw print in March of 1942, the U.S. had entered World War II and the prospects for the Allies looked grim. On publication, the novel met with commercial success, dramatic adaptation, and critical controversy. Steinbeck was careful to identify no nationalities in his short fable of a small mining town under military occupation by a belligerent foreign power—the characters are divided into "invaders" and "townspeople" with vaguely European names on both sides, the terrain is mostly defined by mountains and winter and the nearness of the sea, and external references to England, France, Belgium, and Russia still leave a lot of the globe unclaimed—but only so that it would have the widest possible range of identification for readers in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the U.S., it was criticized for its melodrama, its optimism, its naïveté, and especially its sympathetic portrayal of the invaders, including the war-weary veteran at the head of the occupying battalion who knows that "there are no peaceful people . . . no friendly people" in a nation taken and held by force. In Europe, where audiences understood that not every enemy comes with a cartoon mustache and an affidavit of recently eaten babies, the novel became a classic of the resistance. It was translated—clandestinely—into Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, even German; there were two serialized versions published in the USSR and another in China. After the war, Steinbeck was awarded the Haakon VII Freedom Cross by the king of Norway himself, for outstanding service to the country during the war. The lack of proper names had not prevented readers all across Europe from identifying the novel's invaded country as Norway. I was introduced to the novel by a friend whose father had grown up in Fredrikstad during the German occupation. It didn't matter that it was written by an American author who had known refugees and members of different resistance groups but never lived in an occupied country himself; to Norwegians, it rang true.

In any case, despite the critical flamewars, The Moon Is Down—its title taken from Macbeth, which never stops me from thinking δέδυκε μὲν ἀ σελάννα and inappropriately associating it with Sappho—was not so unpopular at home that it didn't get optioned by Twentieth Century-Fox, adapted and produced by Nunnally Johnson, and directed by Irving Pichel. On the whole it's a faithful version. The novel is quiet, omniscient, compassionate, and impossible to read without feeling a little cold; the deep, waiting winter closes around the reader as much as it does around the town and its inhabitants, and whether you find it a comfort or a horror depends on whose perspective you're in. The film is more exciting, which means that it feels more episodic and the stakes are raised on some of its significant events, although not so much that I think the point is lost. I would love to know its reception in Norway, because the national identity of the nameless little town is unambiguous from the opening image of Hitler's fist pounding on a map of Scandinavia while a harshly rising voice rants about Norwegen, Norwegen to the choral singing of "Ja, vi elsker dette landet" (Anglicized to "Yes, We Love This Land, Our Country") underneath the final scene. In between it is nowhere near as programmatic as these two examples make it sound, since the script is, despite Steinbeck's reassuring but specious distinction between the "free men" of democratic countries and the "herd men" of authoritarian regimes, as conscientiously complicated as the novel in its depiction of both sides of an occupation.

I don't just mean that the German characters are human, although it's important that they are, since it is one of the ways they can be defeated. But they are more interestingly human than the conventional sympathy for the villain; the townspeople resist them in ways that do not always look like recruiting posters. For us the war lasted exactly two hours. )

So that was a very interesting movie to see in the same week that Trump tweeted about his enemies and I am thinking about resistance in general, Nazis optional. It has its flaws—primarily I think its score is a little too dramatically on-the-nose and could have relied more on folk motifs like the Norwegian national anthem, as composer Alfred Newman had done successfully with his scores for The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and How Green Was My Valley (1941)—but it preserves all the things I remember liking about the book and adds some I didn't know I was missing, like Henry Travers and occasional striking cinematography. Other films that may deserve a rewatch in the near future are Jean Renoir's This Land Is Mine (1943) and Vernon Sewell and Gordon Wellesley's The Silver Fleet (1943). This course of study brought to you by my organized backers at Patreon.

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