sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I looked at the calendar, Ray.

The HFA's all-night half-marathon this year is vampires. Of that lineup, I have seen only the Hammer Dracula (1958), but some of the rest—Near Dark (1987), The Hunger (1983), Dracula's Daughter (1936)—I've had designs on for years. This should be great. People are going to be so nervous, stepping out into the ash-making sunlight at the end of that long, bloody night.

I see also from the October and November calendars that the archive appears to be embarking on a William Wellman retrospective. The trick here will not be living in the theater for most of the fall. I've seen a number of the titles announced so far, but hardly any of them on a big screen—they're pre-Code, they turn up on TCM. I know I want to see Night Nurse (1931), Heroes for Sale (1933), and Wild Boys of the Road (1933) because they are three of my favorite pre-Code movies, period. Maybe Other Men's Women (1931) just because I like Grant Withers and all five minutes of James Cagney in it so much. Safe in Hell (1931) is one of those titles you can't turn down. I've been seeing stills of cross-dressed Louise Brooks in Beggars of Life (1928) for years. For some reason I always forget he directed Nothing Sacred (1937) and think of it as an unusually cynical Frank Capra.

I'd ask why I have a real job except I worry it would trigger irony, so I'll just wish I had a real job with more time to write about movies.

Budget also couldn't hurt.
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
The cloud cover comes and goes and we may not be able to see any of the broken rings of leaf-light that I remember so fondly from the annular eclipse of 1994, but through the (carefully purchased from the NASA-recommended manufacturer) glasses I can see that a shadow has already bitten the sun. I am off to see how much more it devours before we drive it away into the swinging dance of planetary bodies again. I am wearing my Miskatonic University T-shirt. It seems appropriate to this brush with the cosmos.

[edit] No leaf-rings, but I saw the crescent sun: through eclipse glasses it looked like a hunter's moon. I didn't expect much effect on the afternoon so far out of the path of totality, but it was strange light to walk around in, slightly thickened, slightly smoked, the wrong angle and the wrong color for plain overcast or sunset. [personal profile] spatch said it was like someone had dropped a filter over the sun and of course someone had: the moon. We walked to the library and back and intermittently looked up at the sky until the crescent began to widen again and then the real overcast thoughtfully rolled in.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
On the one hand, I feel that the most appropriate response to David Rudkin's Penda's Fen (1974) would have been a day in the Malverns and some cloud-watching à la Thomas Colpeper, JP. On the other, I was in Providence when I saw it, and I wasn't sure of the ancestral relationship of Edward Elgar to College Hill. I spent a lot of NecronomiCon walking. That will have to suffice.

Penda's Fen is a 90-minute television play originally commissioned and broadcast as part of the BBC's Play for Today (1970–84); it was directed by Alan Clarke and I have wanted to see it ever since I discovered it somehow in the archives of the BFI in grad school. I finally got my chance Thursday afternoon in the auditorium of the Providence Public Library. It was screened on one of those small classroom projectors; there were about a dozen people in the audience besides me and some of them left or arrived partway through. What I could hear of the introduction seemed to be trying to champion it as a Lovecraftian film—I don't want to misrepresent someone who was mostly less audible than the air conditioning, but while I grant that it is a gloriously weird piece of cinema, if anything I think it's anti-Lovecraftian. Lovecraft's universe is fragile and deceptive, contaminable and contagious. The world that can be perceived is a shell over the world that is, one crack away from collapse into barbarism or madness or the abyss of time itself. Knowledge is a virus and you may well die of it. Your bloodline was compromised before you were born. The Other is always looking for a way in, and it finds one, and down into the dark we all go, unless we turn out to be the Other, in which case the dark is where we should have been all along. I don't have to alter the premise of Penda's Fen to make it resemble this template: a sheltered young man discovers that his ideas of both himself and his nation, from race and sexuality to family and religion, are soul-shakingly wrong. He is "mixed, mixed . . . nothing special, nothing pure." But where that revelation might have sent one of Lovecraft's protagonists careening into the void, Rudkin and Clarke offer an alternate path. Openly political, unashamedly Romantic, their vision affirms queerness, hybridity, and ambiguity as the true heart of England, the small, stubborn fire that the clear-cut forces of oppression—patriarchy, white supremacy, Christian supremacy—are always trying to snuff out. Salvation lies in the liminal spaces, the mixed and marginalized. This is a really cheering thesis to see so forcefully and hauntingly stated, especially since the film itself is less a pamphlet than a dark-and-bright dream of nuclear anxiety, sexual confusion, and folk almost-horror. Its language is Christian and pre-Christian, angels and demons and the echo of William Blake, but it is actually a lot like watching a version of the Bacchae where Pentheus, instead of breaking and being torn apart, shifts shape as suddenly as his cousin into the strange thing he was always meant to be. There is also psychogeography. And sympathetic magic. And Elgar. Anglophile Lovecraft may have longingly written "God Save the King!" but I don't know that he would have endorsed or even recognized the Englishness of Penda's Fen.

Stephen be secret, child be strange. )

I did not manage to catch any of the rest of the film programming at NecronomiCon, but Penda's Fen made the entire schedule worth it. I'm not even sorry I saw it in a library rather than a movie theater, since I am fairly confident its influence extends to the archival, hauntological music of Ghost Box. The real trouble with describing a narrative that treats its otherworld so matter-of-factly and this world with such an eye for the surreal is that even the attempt makes both of these modes sound much more normal than the experience: I have to stress that while Penda's Fen is not in any plot sense difficult to follow, its constant shifting and eventual merging of registers is a lot like having someone else's hallucinations for an hour and a half. I suspect this was part of the reason for the walkouts, although I kind of feel that if you show up for a film at a weird fiction convention, you should be prepared for something out of the ordinary to get into your head; I certainly expect what I saw in that noontime auditorium to stay in mine. It was messy, liberating, ambitious, and very beautiful. It left me hungry for sunsets on hills I've never climbed. It made me contemplate the sacred fires of my own country and who guards them now against the dark. Who is secret, strange, holy, and ungovernable. This dream brought to you by my mixed backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Rotwang)
I am home from NecronomiCon Providence. I hope to write out a real con report before I forget the details, but not right now.

All panels present and correct, including the one I thought I moderated badly; I was asked after that one if I taught for a living (not for years and not in the sense they were asking) and my impostor syndrome was confused. I probably short-circuited my own reading, but again, I sold a copy of Ghost Signs (2014) afterward, so it cannot have been a disaster. All program items in which I was involved were a lot of fun, including the podcast on which I had not originally been scheduled to appear. The Lovecraftian erotica was amazing.

People kept handing me things. A lime-green rubber tentacle, a bandanna for the Lovecraft Readathon, a CD of Bohren & der Club of Gore's Black Earth (2002), a first edition of C.L. Moore's Doomsday Morning (1957), DVDs of The Bat (1959) with Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead and The Lodger (1944) with Laird Cregar, a fictitious vintage program for the HPLHS' The Call of Cthulhu (2005 1927), Andrew M. Reichert's Weird Luck Tales: Monsters (2017). I got the souvenir book as part of being on programming, ditto the lapel pin with its emblem of the leaf-eyed pyramid like something out of Gravity Falls. I bought the Dwight Frye cards, the Lovecraftian postcards, the Miskatonic University T-shirt with an Art Nouveau design instead of the usual university seal, Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles' She Walks in Shadows (2015). I bought a birch-veneer screen print of two witch's cats by Liv Rainey-Smith as a present for my brother and his wife. I think I just picked up the fake vintage newspaper because of its headline "Has Science Gone Mad?!", but its supposed date is my birthday, forty-five years before I was born.

There was not enough seeing of people, but what there was was good. Late last night, I wrote three-quarters of a post on Penda's Fen (1974) that I did not manage to finish before having to check out this morning, so either I will finish it later tonight or I will sleep. Or both.

I am exhausted. Various parts of my body think I was trying to kill them and are now attempting to return the favor. It was worth the early mornings.
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
This is not even an interim con report, because I slept approximately an hour before my panel on lycanthropy at nine this morning and I have spent most of the afternoon either at other people's readings or mooching around the dealer's rooms (I have three beautiful postcards by Darrell Tutchton and a half-pack of Dwight Frye character cards that I bought from the aptly monikered Mike Hunchback) and in slightly less than an hour I have to moderate a panel on the Lovecraftian erotic, but as we were passing through the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel I spied a flatscreen TV with the sound off and the text crawl at the bottom of the screen confirmed that Bannon is out of the White House, so I'm sure all sorts of unpleasantness will spin off that with his Breitbart base—roll on the globalist conspiracies—but at the moment it feels like genuinely good news out of our government and it's been a long time since that happened. Oh, and earlier today I was handed a translucent lime-green plastic tentacle, so I have been carrying it around in my coat like a reasonable person: in other words, there is a tentacle in my pocket, but I'm still happy to see you. So far, NecronomiCon, so good.
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
The news remains unspeakable (except that once people start saying things that should not be said, they have to be faced and spoken against), but it is sunny outside and [personal profile] selkie tagged me a bathtub full of Jeremy Brett and I don't know how I'm going to sleep during NecronomiCon, but I hope I'm going to have fun. Everybody take care of themselves.
sovay: (Default)
I meant to post my schedule for NecronomiCon Providence at the beginning of this month, but then the month got away from me; then I meant to post it before the weekend, but neo-Nazis happened. So! Tomorrow through Sunday, I will be in Providence. My schedule is as follows:

Friday August 18

9–10:15 am
Wereweird: Lycanthropy, Animism, and Animal-Transformation in Weird Fiction
Cody Goodfellow, KH Vaughan (moderator), Stephen Graham Jones, Sonya Taaffe

Throughout the history of Weird Fiction, the idea of transformation has held sway—with roots from the werewolf legends of the French countryside to the Wendigo myths of the Pacific Northwest, the idea of the human becoming something less (or more) than human has held our collective imaginations. Here, we will discuss the idea of transformation in folklore and our continued fascination with it.

6:00–7:15 pm
Erotic Lovecraftiana
Paul LaFarge, Livia Llewellyn, Peter Rawlik, Sonya Taaffe (moderator), Joe Zannella

At first, the concept seems to be a contradiction. Lovecraft was robustly asexual with barely any interest in the subject in his writing or real-life. And yet, erotic Lovecraftian stories, films, and anime have been extremely popular. Is it possible to combine the two and create an entirely new offspring? Our panelists think so and will not only defend their conclusions but offer their recommendations.

Saturday August 19

10:30–11:45 am
Dark Crimes: The Weird in Noir Fiction
Paul Di Filippo, Cody Goodfellow, Lois Gresh, Peter Rawlik, Rory Raven (moderator), Sonya Taaffe

Both Weird Fiction and Crime Fiction function around the idea that we cannot trust what we once thought infallible—our very sense of self and place in the world. What philosophies drive these seemingly different strains of literature together and what unites both in their bleak view of the cosmos mankind inhabits? This panel explores the bleak cosmic horror of man as written by Himes, Thompson, and Chandler.

4:30–5:45 pm
Voices in Weird Poetry
Frank Coffman, Darrell Schweitzer, Donald Sidney-Fryer, Sonya Taaffe (moderator), Starry Wizdom

Weird poetry has been gaining ground over the past few years and continues to gather interest among scholars, writers, and readers. Who are some of these emerging voices? How might the emergence of this new energy in the medium stir interest in past works, and create a platform to expand interest in poetic works in the future?

Sunday August 20

10:30–11:45 am
Author Readings
Ruthanna Emrys, Jon Padgett, Peter Straub, Sonya Taaffe

I will also be in attendance at the opening reception for the exhibits "Greetings and Salutations: Lovecraft on the Road" and "Caitlin R. Kiernan Papers" at the John Hay Library tomorrow night and with significant luck will manage to drag myself out of bed on Thursday in time for the noon showing of David Rudkin and Alan Clarke's Penda's Fen (1974) at the Black Box Theater. Then I will spend the following week sleeping. Anybody in this friendlist I'm likely to see at the world's premier festival of weird fiction, academia, and art?

[personal profile] spatch met me after my doctor's appointment this afternoon and we walked over to the Boston Public Market so that I could get my now-traditional bagel with smoked salmon from the Boston Smoked Fish Co. and he could get shakalatkes from Inna's Kitchen. I wanted to visit the Holocaust Memorial afterward, because last night—for the second time this summer, after twenty-two years without incident—it was vandalized. We walked out the back of the market and into a press conference. An Auschwitz survivor and co-founder of the memorial was speaking; he was followed by Jewish community leaders, an imam, a cantor who recited the Holocaust-specific version of the El Malei Rachamim. We walked through the memorial afterward, my first time in years. It is six towers of glass, their panels etched with numbers like concentration camp tattoos; steam rises continually through each tower and the words of survivors are written in the glass. It mentions things that other remembrances of the Holocaust often elide: the equally targeted genocide of the Romani, Jewish uprisings and partisan groups, that the U.S. knew about the camps as early as 1942. I had forgotten to bring a stone to leave as at a grave, but the memorial provides its own. There were a lot of people there.

Then we met my mother in Harvard Square (the woman behind the counter at Esmerelda—not Esmerelda herself, older middle-aged and deft with a pair of needle-nose pliers—replaced the broken clasp of my necklace for free) and she told us about 45's neo-Nazi-defending both-sides double-down.

So I will go to Providence this weekend and represent queer Jewish fish people and that's all there is to it.

P.S. Courtesy of Rob, for fans of Gravity Falls (2012–16): with the blessing of series creator and voice actor Alex Hirsch, Grunkle Stan punches Nazis.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
Today involved grocery shopping, housecleaning, pizza, keeping an eye on the news, and accruing links. I am way more tired than I feel the physical aspects of the day should account for.

1. Carly Pildis, "My Family Is Black and Jewish. Here's What Charlottesville Means to Me." I find this paragraph particularly acute: "It's how I know that America is both our sanctuary and where our neighbors were brought in chains. It is both our home and a place we can never fully trust. We have more freedom than ever before but the swastika still haunts the doorstep of our synagogue. We love America but wonder if our kids are really safe at our local JCC."

2. Jelani Cobb, "The Battle of Charlottesville." Crystallizes a lot of things I have seen people saying and thinking—including me, but more elegantly—and then goes one analytical step further. "It is a moment of indeterminate morality, one in which the centrifugal forces of contempt, resentment, and racial superiority are pitted against the ideal of common humanity and the possibility of a civic society. We have entered a new phase of the Trump era."

3. In terms of amplifying voices in Charlottesville, I have found both butchsaffron and eshusplayground to be valuable perspectives. I'm not even on Tumblr. News moves faster off Dreamwidth, whee.

4. I discovered Erynn Brook's "White Feelings: 0-60 for Charlottesville" via more than one white person who said it was useful to them. It strikes me as a good example of the snarkily worded but sincerely intended anti-racist primer; I have reservations mostly about its elision of Jews. On that front, see this post and its follow-up. This one is also related.

5. The murdered counter-protester has been named; so has the man who drove the car into her. The White House winks and nods and barely even dogwhistles at this point, but I am hoping the local law will bolt the terrorist to the wall. Let there be consequences. Not just private ones like a sock in the jaw, but formal, legal ones like convictions for terrorism. Free speech is one thing, but hate speech another, and violence is something else entirely.

6. I wanted to link this cycle days ago: twenty-one poets writing for the Statue of Liberty in the age of Trump.

7. As people keep talking about appropriate responses to neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate violence, I keep thinking of the speech delivered by Anton Walbrook to Roger Livesey in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943). The German refugee is talking to the English gentleman, to the English audience, about the facts of fighting Nazis. Both the scriptwriter and the actor may be speaking through him. Jewish, stateless Pressburger had left Berlin in a life-saving hurry in 1933; Walbrook took his chance in 1936, Austrian, half-Jewish, and queer. They knew whereof Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff spoke. I couldn't find a very good clip of the scene, but here it is:

I read your broadcast up to the point where you describe the collapse of France. You commented on Nazi methods, foul fighting, bombing refugees, machine-gunning hospitals, lifeboats, lightships, bailed-out pilots and so on, by saying that you despised them, that you would be ashamed to fight on their side and that you would sooner accept defeat than victory if it could only be won by those methods . . . Clive! If you let yourself be defeated by them, just because you are too fair to hit back the same way they hit at you, there won't be any methods but Nazi methods! If you preach the Rules of the Game while they use every foul and filthy trick against you, they'll laugh at you! They think you're weak, decadent! I thought so myself in 1919 . . . I don't think you won [the last war]. We lost it. But you lost something, too. You forgot to learn the moral. Because victory was yours, you failed to learn your lesson twenty years ago, and you have to pay the school fees again! Some of you will learn quicker than the others. Some will never learn it. Because you have been educated to be a gentleman and a sportsman—in peace and in war. But, Clive, dear old Clive, this is not a gentleman's war. This time you are fighting for your very existence against the most devilish idea ever created by a human brain—Nazism. And if you lose there won't be a return match next year, perhaps not even for a hundred years! You mustn't mind me, an alien, saying all this. But who can describe hydrophobia better than one who has been bitten—and is now immune?
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
We got out of the house in the evening. It was just around sunset and there were smoky peach and pink streaks in the sky, so we walked the same loop of the Mystic River that we had discovered in June and checked up on the Hasenpfeffer in their late-lit silflay field; this time we took the boardwalk under the Fellsway (water lilies, ducks, spiderwebs on the streetlights like set dressing for a haunted house) and came up in Assembly Square, where we acquired perfectly serviceable non-booze milkshakes from Burger Dive before negotiating the construction tangle of I-93 on our way to Stop & Shop. Dinner was grilled cheese made short-order-style in my grandmother's skillet. We locked Autolycus out of the kitchen after he made repeated attempts to climb onto the stove where all the delicious excitement was taking place, but his unassuming confederate Hestia slipped the latch on the door and let him back in. He hoovered the floor just in case we had dropped any cheese crumbs. Just now he stuck his head directly under the kitchen tap in order to lick the last of the goat's milk out of my mug before I washed it. Gentlepeople of all persuasions, the only mooch that matters.

1. Here is one list of ways to help in Charlottesville right now. There are two fundraising campaigns already for victim relief and medical expenses. See also this list of local anti-racism organizations and this post by a Charlottesville resident. I donated to University of Virginia's Hillel and Black Student Alliance and to Charlottesville Pride, which I figure should cover a reasonable (and not necessarily mutually exclusive) swathe of people neo-Nazis hate.

2. Several of the same neo-Nazi groups responsible for the violence in Charlottesville have a rally planned next Saturday in Boston. There is a counter-protest already being organized. I will be out of town due to prior commitments at NecronomiCon Providence. Anyone who will be in town and feels that they can counter-protest safely, strength to your arm.

3. People on Facebook have been posting this wartime footage of swastikas being destroyed. The exploding one at the beginning is surprisingly cathartic. Don't bother with the comments, which are predictably full of anti-Semitic trash fire.

I don't know what emotions I'm supposed to feel. A lot of people are talking about shame, shock, grief; I seem to be feeling a high degree of anger and what I think must be outrage in that it is anger specifically against a thing that should not happen—and it feels personal, but of course it is personal, neo-Nazis don't chant "Final stop, Auschwitz" as a historical curiosity—but not at the moment a lot of surprise. I was more surprised by the election results in November and even then I didn't think it couldn't happen here, I just thought this time it wouldn't. I guess my baseline of things that happen here has just been revising itself downward ever since. White terrorism in America has been going on for generations. This is an especially grotesque and obvious manifestation, but I think it is so obvious in part because it uses Nazi iconography as well as Confederate flags, because it indulged in a form of terrorism associated more with ISIS than with lone-wolf postal shooters. It looks now like the Other, like the half-mythical villains of our last righteous war, like the new demons of the war on terror. Insofar as it looked like the Ku Klux Klan, so long as it wasn't physically wearing a white sheet and those pointy hoods we can thank D.W. Griffith for, I suspect to many (white) people it was hardly visible at all. I'm glad the so-called alt-right has crossed the streams in public: I'm glad they have made the shape of their hatred visible from space. You start throwing around Sieg Heils and Orrin Hatch, for God's sake, denounces you. (The man in the White House doesn't, because white supremacists are the one demographic he can't afford to alienate.) I will continue calling these people neo-Nazis because they are wearing fucking swastikas and quoting Hitler and I have no interest in granting them the plausible deniability of their attempted rebranding, but maybe we should also call them neo-Confederates or neo-Klan, so not to enable the illusion of their racist, fascist ideology as a strain that infiltrated America from outside as opposed to a strain that has always been part of American white supremacy. My country didn't need Germany to invent lynchings or eugenics. These dreams of ethnic cleansing are homegrown. Terrorists, above all, whatever else we call them. Very definitely terrorists.

(I understand the above problem of definition is the reason terms like "white nationalist" or "white supremacist" exist, but even these have started to feel sanitized to me, as if they describe theoretical positions rather than active advocacy of racial violence: torches in the night, flags of lynching and genocide, deaths and injuries.)

On the other hand, there was a Charlottesville solidarity vigil held on Boston Common tonight and a kind stranger on the internet Photoshopped a panel of a peculiar vintage comic for me so that it now represents a black cat punching Hitler, so not all good in humanity is lost.

sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I had a bunch of things I wanted to post about this afternoon, but they have been temporarily displaced by Nazis. I tend to assume everyone who might read this journal is ahead of me on the news curve, but if not, Charlottesville is in a state of emergency after this morning's white supremacist rally was suspended due to violence breaking out. An as yet unidentified car drove into a crowd of counter-protesters. (Funny how you can scream about Islamic terrorism till you're blue in the face, but there's nothing wrong with vehicle-ramming when it's white hands on the wheel.) As a person miles away from Virginia who has been trying to figure out what to do beyond making phone calls to politicians and yelling on the internet, I found the following links useful:

Sara Benincasa has compiled a list of local nonprofits who could use the support, including NAACP Albemarle-Charlottesville, Charlottesville Pride, Meals on Wheels Charlottesville, Congregation Beth Israel, and Virginia's Legal Aid Justice Center.

Charlottesville Solidarity Legal Fund is a community resource that posts bail and raises other funds for anti-racist activists.

Beloved Community Charlottesville raises money for local charities based directly and proportionately on the number of neo-Nazis who show for the rally.

I'll add other resources if I come across them. I've just been reminded one of my mother's cousins lives in Charlottesville. [edit] They are fine. One fatality confirmed from the car attack, one suspect in custody. One man in the White House doing nothing to condemn terrorism when it's the same color as his skin.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I was away from the news for a bit. I checked in with Facebook and found out there are torch-wielding neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Counter-protesters are students at University of Virginia. I'm trying to find an article as opposed to Twitter which I am not on.

I am behind the news cycle, I know, I know. I have just asked [personal profile] spatch (who is on Twitter) in perfect seriousness, "How bad is this? Are we talking cross-burning? Are people getting killed? Are there police? Which side are they on?" These are not reasonable questions to have to ask.

Richard Spencer is on the scene, apparently. I can think of nothing more appropriate than for one of his Blut-und-Boden-chanting goons to wave a torch too close to that paramilitary hair of his, slicked back so attractively, as all sorts of mainstream news sites marveled last year. Go on, make your Auschwitz ashtray jokes when your great white hope is a smudge pot in a pseudo-dapper suit.

[edit] I can't even find it funny that the torches were tiki torches. I hope the police protected the counter-protesters. If they didn't, I hope they do tomorrow. I hope there are more counter-protesters than neo-Nazis. This is not a reasonable place for a country to be.

[edit edit] I'm sure I'm not helping the discourse, but when I read that one of the protesters' slogans was "Jew will not replace us," dude, I would replace you with lawn flamingos in a hot second. I would replace you with broccoli. I would, now that you press the point, replace you with just about any other available ethnicity, because while anti-Semitism is by no means unique to white people (as I was inopportunely reminded), right now I don't see a lot of, say, Latinx hate speech torch mobs parading around the cities of America, celebrating genocide. I would replace you with tiki torches. They drive off whining, bloodthirsty pests.

In the meantime, I'll get back to my global conspiracy of trying to fall asleep tonight.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
Writing news!

1. I can now announce that my jötunn short story "Skerry-Bride" has been accepted for reprint by Transcendent 2: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, edited by Bogi Takács (Lethe Press). It was written right after discovering Moss of Moonlight's Winterwheel (2013) and right before seeing Thor: The Dark World (2013) and published originally in Devilfish Review #16. I do what I can for more Norse queerness.

2. My short story "Like Milkweed" has been accepted for reprint by Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up to No Good, edited by Joanne Merriam (Upper Rubber Boot Books). It was written in 2014, inspired by a comment [personal profile] asakiyume made about burdock and other edible plants, and published later that year in Not One of Us #52. I used to think it might be one of my rare pieces of science fiction, but now I think the chances are much better that it's just weird.

3. My poems "The Women Around Achilles" and "The House Always Wins" have been accepted by Not One of Us. The first is a gloss on Achilles on Skyros, a story whose gender essentialism has always sat badly with me; the second is the direct result of [personal profile] yhlee asking me to draw a Vidona spread.

I saw a young couple with a baby in a stroller on the bus this afternoon; they were cosplaying Deadpool and Harley Quinn. Nicely matching red and black. No idea if the baby was cosplaying anyone. I felt a little disappointed when it was pointed out to me that they were probably on their way to Boston Comic Con. They had been a terrifying prospect of parents.
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
I just finished watching Moana (2016) with my mother and [personal profile] spatch. I can't believe that music lost out to La La Land. Also, Zootopia better have been some kind of artistic landmark, because I'm willing to bet it didn't have hand-drawn animated tattoos, a bedazzled neon monster crab, or a sea I wanted to swim in.

I had seen Auliʻi Cravalho perform "How Far I'll Go" at the Oscars in February; I knew surprisingly little about the film otherwise, although that had not prevented me from being impressed by Philip Odango's Maui cosplay. I'm sorry I missed it in theaters. I am normally a hard sell on computer-generated rather than traditional animation, but the super/natural world of Moana is beautifully done, the star-thick skies, the curl and shatter of the waves, a green and flowering goddess settling herself to an island's sleep again. I'm not in a position to comment on the accuracy of the film's mythological representation, although I recognized most of the stories Maui tells about himself (the eel into coconuts one was new to me), but I really enjoyed seeing a movie whose trickster figure is a real trickster, not just the malevolent side of chaos. I like Moana as a protagonist—her sea-longing, her sense of humor, her stubbornness and her occasional incredulity that her life now involves having to fight tiny spiky sentient pirate coconuts over the world's most clueless chicken; I like that her conflicts with her family and with Maui are not gendered. Her return to Motunui with her grandmother's necklace around her throat and an outrigger canoe gifted her by a goddess, a wayfinder, a hero, makes me think someone else read Armstrong Sperry's Call It Courage (1940) as a child and wanted a better ending. The bond between her and her grandmother is the sort of thing that causes me to cry through a movie. I have also heard much worse reincarnation ideas than a manta ray. My mother made the connection between Te Kā and Te Fiti even before the film revealed it: once you remove the ability of a Pacific island to flower into life, of course all that's left is the volcanic rock, the earth cracking into the sea. The writers of Moana handle it a little differently than Lloyd Alexander, but I realized after the fact that Maui's final willingness to sacrifice his fishhook—his magic, the only thing he thinks makes the difference between a shape-changing culture hero and an unwanted child—called out the same response in me as Fflewddur's sacrifice of his harp. I had somehow missed that Dwayne Johnson can sing.

Is the film an authentic depiction of pre-colonial Polynesia? I don't see how it could be; first of all, there's a whole lot of cultures bracketed in that description, and despite the credited participation of the Oceanic Story Trust, which I appreciated seeing, both directors Ron Clements and John Musker and screenwriter Jared Bush were white and not as far as I can tell from anywhere in the relevant regions themselves. It's a Disney movie. They're adapting to the concept of diverse creators slightly faster than the subduction of the Pacific Plate. But its attention to material culture is notable, it does seem to have taken care with some traditions, and I'm still amused that the only actor in the main voice cast who is not of Polynesian descent is Alan Tudyk, voicing the above-mentioned chicken. (I'm also weirdly pleased that I have apparently heard enough Flight of the Conchords to recognize Jermaine Clement by his Bowie impression.) I hadn't heard of Opetaia Foa’i or Te Vaka before tonight, which may mark the first time a Disney musical has actually introduced me to musicians I plan to pursue beyond the soundtrack; I don't speak Samoan, Tokelauan, or Tuvaluan, so I am not the intended audience for some of Foa’i's lyrics and that's all right. I am glad they are in the languages they are in and I can appreciate the ones written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, since I'm pretty sure he's the best English-language lyricist Disney's had since Howard Ashman. Also, I realize that snappy, poppy, intermittently immature dialogue is a necessary component of a modern Disney film, but in the persistent wake of Girl of the Port (1930) and the convention of confining indigenous characters to pseudo-pidgin or formal speech, I am cool with a cast composed entirely of Pasifika characters who get lines as lofty as "Nope!", "Fish pee in you! All day!" and "Really? Blowdart in my butt cheek?" I mean, there are also serious conversations about responsibility, apology, healing the world, growing up. There are powerful, wordless sequences between human characters, nonhuman characters, elements of the natural world. There's a shot of a conch shell that speaks volumes. But also an accidentally half-shark trickster glumly describing his chances of beating a lava spirit with a well-deserved grudge as "bupkes."

I have had a migraine for about three days now and correspondingly haven't slept except for a couple of hours this afternoon, so I know this post is more notes than extended consideration, but I liked Moana so much, I wanted at least to mention it. It's funny, it's numinous, it celebrates traditional Polynesian navigation, it has no villain in the usual sense and I love its idea of a heroic happy ending, horizon, spray, steering by the swell and the stars. My mother tells me that my niece has imprinted to the point of going around randomly quoting the dialogue, so between Gramma Tala and "Shark head!" I'm wondering if she might like to visit the aquarium to pet the sharks and rays. [personal profile] handful_ofdust, thanks for the DVD! I will acquire the soundtrack on my own time. This voyage brought to you by my sea-called backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Rotwang)
And now for something completely different: a movie that's still playing in theaters as we speak. I didn't manage to get it written up in July, but the movie I dashed out to catch after writing up Way Out West (1930) was Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk (2017). The Somerville not only has a 70 mm print and the Philips Norelco DP70s to screen it on, it has David the projectionist who learned his trade on the format and handles it beautifully, so I figured I would not have a better chance to see it however Nolan intended. His films have a very mixed track record with me, so I was not sure what to expect.

The very short version: while I did not love the film as I had hoped I would, I don't think it fails its history and I liked it. It's visually striking, elegantly structured, and often curiously, intentionally anti-epic even while it's staging cast-of-thousands setpieces with a sweeping, elemental approach to historical fact. It's a war movie in which the first event on the fabled beach of Dunkirk is a combat-stunned young Tommy, thin, dark-haired, looking like a scarecrow in the heavy folds of his uniform greatcoat and whatever kit survived his scrambling, lucky escape from enemy fire in the falling city, wandering around the dunes looking for a place to take a shit because he damn near just had it scared out of him and instead finds another equally young, equally silent soldier burying a corpse, one cold, crusted foot just poking out of the sand. So he can't actually use that dune as a latrine because you don't crap on graves, especially not when you suspect they belong to other people's mates; he rebuckles his trousers and goes to help with the burial. That's a whole cross-section of a war in a few wordless minutes, black-humored, elegiac, still heart-hammering adrenaline from the soldier's race through deserted streets inhabited only by the eerie snowfall of propaganda fliers and machine-gun fire out of nowhere, splattering the men he was running alongside a moment ago. His name is Tommy, although neither my mother nor I picked that up until the credits; he's played by Fionn Whitehead in his screen debut and except for a few key scenes he is almost, like several other roles in this film, a silent part, anchoring the story with his wiry body and his dark-freckled, truculent face. Because he's one of our metonyms for the stranded soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force, it would have been easy to cast him pretty, innocent. He has the vulnerability of extreme youth, but he's also a little feral, something of a scrounger—a clever bit player, maybe, in a different kind of war film. This one shifts him and his fellow extras to center stage, displacing the more familiar heroism of steadfast warriors or brilliant strategists. The closest we get to the former are Tom Hardy's Farrier and Jack Lowden's Collins, Spitfire pilots aloft for one crucial hour to provide air cover for the most exposed phase of the evacuation; the closest we get to the latter is Kenneth Branagh's Commander Bolton, the tireless, anxious pier-master with a host of unenviable decisions to make. The much-mythologized decency of the ordinary Briton is represented by Mark Rylance's Dawson, the mildly spoken, cardigan-wearing civilian whose motor yacht the Moonstone is one of the shallow-draft "little ships" that can get safely to the beach where destroyers would founder, but even he has odd cracks and ripples that come late to light. The most important thing about the film, I think, whatever its faults, is that it recognizes the violence and the chaos and the terror and the failure without capsizing into grimdark or overcompensating into triumphalism. The ships did come. They never should have had to, but they did. And that was the end of the phony war and just the beginning of the real one.

That's enough. )

I don't know what most people of my nationality and generation know about Dunkirk. I don't know what they'll take away from this movie. It plays like it was meant to be the last cinematic word on the history, but so was Leslie Norman's Dunkirk (1958) and that had John Mills and Richard Attenborough going for it; I'm sure we can expect a new hot take in another sixty years. Personally I don't think it will displace The Prestige (2006) as my favorite Christopher Nolan, but there's a lot in it I'm still thinking about. My mother liked it and the history is important to her. The last image is as powerfully open-ended as it needed to be. I feel stupidly proud of myself for recognizing Michael Caine's uncredited cameo by voice. I guess I have opinions about cinematography. This homecoming brought to you by my fiery backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Rotwang)
So, yes, I would rather we didn't nuke North Korea. I would rather we didn't get nuked by North Korea. I would rather nobody nuked anybody and especially not because the man in the White House has gotten bored with dick-swinging and wants to do it with missiles now. Michael Flanders and Donald Swann's "20 Tons of TNT" already plays on permanent loop somewhere at the back of my brain most days.

1. Barbara Cook has died. I was just talking about her on Friday after The Shop Around the Corner (1940) at the HFA, describing Harnick and Bock's She Loves Me to someone who loved the Lubitsch film but had never heard of the 1963 musical. I can't post one defining song to remember her by, because so many of hers were definitive versions—"Glitter and Be Gay," "Ice Cream," "Losing My Mind." She was one of the singers I aspired to, classical training and musical theater. I knew very little about her life until she talked about it. I will miss her voice being in the world.

2. Courtesy of [personal profile] isis: "Serpent Charmer," a vid for Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). I haven't seen that movie in nine years and those two minutes and forty-three seconds capture much of what I loved about it. I should rewatch it; it is one of my benchmarks for historical film.

3. Courtesy of [personal profile] skygiants: "Clean Light," her vid for Rebecca Sugar's Steven Universe (2013–). I had to track down the song because it welded itself immediately into my head and I've spent most of the last two days playing it. It's one of the most upbeat apocalyptic songs I've ever heard, which makes it well suited to a goofy, touching, morally complex and intermittently body horror show about rocks and crying.

4. I can't be in New York for a Scarface double feature at the Film Forum on Friday because I have appointments too late in the afternoon, which saddens me because I've wanted to see Hawks' version for years. I might go see To Be or Not to Be (1942) for the second time in theaters this summer, because apparently that's the silver lining of fascism being so much in the air.

5. I found this a useful piece of thinking out loud on the internet: Film Crit Hulk, "On Criticism in the Intersectional Age." Parts of it link up with these posts for me.

6. Courtesy of [personal profile] selkie: Bi Pride in Boston, 1990. There is absolutely no reason I should know any of the people in that photograph—among other factors, in June of 1990 I was eight years old—and yet the Venn diagram makes me feel I should.

7. [personal profile] spatch took new pictures of Hestia: "Sometimes Hestia will deign to be photographed. And sometimes she will make faces as soon as she sees the phone pointed her way. Such is Cat."

I am off to get some sunlight.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I had an unpleasant encounter a couple of weeks ago in Davis Square. I was angry about it for days, even though it takes longer to describe than it did to occur. I was walking to meet a friend at Porter Square Books, reading Nicholas Stuart Gray's The Apple-Stone (1965) while navigating around pedestrians, street signs, and parking meters; I was on the block of Elm Street between Amsterdam Falafelshop and Goodwill when I met a man coming the other way. We're not talking some kind of collision course. In keeping with the intermittent rules of American foot traffic, I was on the storefront side, while he was closer to the street, and it was a relatively clear stretch of sidewalk—specifically, he had no one on either side of him, which is how I know he did what he did deliberately. When we were just about a stride apart, he stepped directly into my path. It was like being body-checked. I had no time to dodge. I had to stop short or run into the chest of a total stranger who took up more space than I did and as I stood there on the bricks, he leaned forward and said into my ear, "Sorry about that, baby." And then he stepped around me and walked on. As creeper moves went, it was pretty brilliant. No touching, no profanity, deniable as all the best microaggressions, maximally gross. I wanted to yell after him, but it had been such a startling invasion of personal space that I had no idea how he would react: keep walking, turn around and curse me out, try to smash my face in. And I had a friend to meet. So I kept walking and was angry for several days.

Today, I was not having a good afternoon. I had left the house in plenty of time to get to my doctor's appointment in downtown Boston, but the bus had completely ghosted on me—it arrived both late and Not in Service, with no successor scheduled until well after the point at which I needed to have caught a train—and my efforts to pick up a taxi at the stand near the ex-Star Market came to nothing when the driver made eye contact with me and then drove away. I was going to be late if I walked to Sullivan Square, but I couldn't think of a better plan. So I was just passing the fire station on Broadway when I realized a male voice was shouting at me from the street. It took a moment to register: maybe it wasn't me he was shouting at, odds were against him shouting anything that would improve my mood. It was the driver of a municipal garbage truck. He was very definitely addressing me, because he smiled and repeated himself as soon as I saw him. What he was shouting was "I love your hair! It's awesome!"

So I shouted back, "Thank you!"

Dudes who whine that women's dwindling patience with street harassment means it is no longer possible to compliment a strange woman in public, please take note: it is completely possible, even during a five-second flyby at the wheel of a garbage truck. His comment was enthusiastic without being objectifying; it did not imply that I was put on this earth to be a sexual decoration or that I owed its author anything for his discernment in appreciating me as such; it was not anatomically involved. "Awesome" is not a carnal adjective. It was unexpected. It made me feel better.

And then a taxi went by me and I flagged it down and made the train and was not even late for my doctor's appointment.

After the appointment, I got a bagel with cream cheese and hot-smoked salmon belly from the Boston Smoked Fish Co. at the Boston Public Market and finished Jean Potts' Home Is the Prisoner (1960), of which I need to find a more permanent copy than this attractively pulp-covered but sadly disintegrating Berkeley pocket edition. After I got home, I spent the latter part of the afternoon lying on the couch with rotating shifts of cats and reading David Goodis' Dark Passage (1946), of which I need to find a print copy at all—I didn't expect to find a complete text freely available on the internet, but I'm not complaining. Now I want to rewatch the movie. (I am amused that the book stops exactly where I would have ended the adaptation, on a note of hope but no guarantees. Hollywood, of course, goes one happy ending further.)

[personal profile] spatch just got home, bringing me a pork-filled tamal from Tenoch, steamed in a banana leaf, with mole poblano on the side. I am going to ward off the cats—who got their own dinner an hour ago!—and enjoy how much less my evening appears to be sucking than the first half of my day.

P.S. [personal profile] selkie, that is indeed a fine and accurate translation. It's in the first person in the original Latin, so a working translation might look like "I'd rather my friends sucked me than my enemies face-fucked me," but it sounds more proverbial the other way.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
Today I saw a saint, discovered a sea-chapel, and accidentally celebrated a holiday. Religiously, I think I'm ahead of the curve.

The saint was Saint Agrippina of Mineo, whose effigy was being carried down Hanover Street as [personal profile] spatch and I came out of the Boston Public Market with cider slushies and donuts and plans to walk around the harbor in the late afternoon sun. Neither of us had realized it was a feast day—Rob thought it might have been the right time of year for Saint Anthony until we got closer and could read the ribbons on the shirts of her benefit society. There were brass bands on either side of her, playing her from door to door. The kid with the baton who must have been the majordomo of her procession looked like he was both taking his responsibilities seriously and having a lot of fun darting in and out of the crowd to carry donations to the saint and prayer cards back to her worshippers. I couldn't see much of the saint herself beyond a painted wooden face under a gilt crown; she was so festooned with garlands of dollar bills and streamers and rosettes of red ribbon that she looked like a beehive made of money, borne on the shoulders of the benefit society. (Twenty men, Rob tells me, and all Italian: the honor is sometimes passed down in families.) I believe this is the first time I have seen a saint's day procession in person. It didn't seem as formal as a parade in that the crowd was in motion around the saint whenever she was at rest, but I didn't know how close I could get as an observer rather than a devotee, what was considered respectful and what was considered rude; I watched from the sidewalk and she passed by and we walked on with our slushies. Saint Anthony is the end of the month.

The sea-chapel was Our Lady of Good Voyage, which neither Rob nor I had remembered on Seaport Boulevard: we crossed the Fort Point Channel on the Evelyn Moakley Bridge (which I did not know until tonight was the name of the rather flat concrete structure which runs beside the rusted iron sinewave of the much more historic and much more endangered Northern Avenue Bridge—more than a century old, it's one of the last surviving four-truss swing bridges in the country and its center span has been parked permanently perpendicular to discourage foot traffic since 2014; it was closed to vehicles fifteen years before that and the City of Boston seems unable to decide whether to demolish or restore it; I have obviously strong feelings on the subject) and there at the head of the glass-and-steel-shelled glitter of what really now seems to be called the Seaport District was a new brick church with a golden spire and a name like a sailor's rest. For one brief shining moment I thought their emblem was a mermaid, which would have fulfilled a piece of maritime juvenilia I wrote in college under the influence of Alan Watts and Tanith Lee, but it turned out to be a leaping fish and a gull, which is not bad, either. Their bell is a ship's bell and we heard it ring the half-hour. The iron hinges of the doors are the shape of anchors. The stained glass beside the door is Peter the fisherman, with the key to Heaven in his hand. The original chapel was built for a congregation of sailors and dockworkers in 1952, but its location on Northern Avenue became desirable to developers in the decades since; I am just glad that if a land deal had to be struck, it displaced but did not dispossess the population the chapel served. I hope they kept all that sea-themed stained glass, too. There was a mass being celebrated while we were there, so I did not feel comfortable sticking my head inside to find out, but we should have better luck on a day that's not Sunday. Their Mary holds the Christ child and also a ship in her arms.

The holiday was Tu B'Av, the full moon which marks the beginning of the grape harvest and has recently been elevated in modern Jewish, especially Israeli culture as a festival of romantic love. We may have missed out on dancing or wine, but we followed the harborwalk from the North End to the Fort Point Channel—Long Wharf, Central Wharf, India Wharf, Rowes Wharf, ducks nestling like heaps of dry seaweed at low tide and seagulls perched like weathercocks on the piers and the late-gilding light wrinkling the water smoky blue and olivine as Venetian glass—and kissed at every ghost sign we found in Fort Point, from the old warehouse advertisements on A Street to the fading stamp of the New England Confectionary Co. where GE just broke ground on their "Innovation Point," and doubled back to South Station via the Summer Street Bridge where we look for moon jellies in season, making sure to salute the cobblestone pyramid in the channel that marks (never mind what the artist says) the resting place of the gull kings of Boston. In order to get back to Mass. Ave. for dinner, we cut across the Boston Common just in time to catch Mercutio's dying curse and Romeo's fatal stabbing/pummeling of Tybalt on the last night of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet. We saw swans, squirrels, families out late, some kind of romantic photo op which I did not realize was not just two attractive people making out on a bridge until the flashbulb went off. A brown young man in a blazer and a light-skinned young woman in a flowered headscarf and a T-shirt reading "This Is What a Zionist Looks Like" went past talking intensely about intersectional feminism and I said, "I think Tumblr just passed us." I feel I must not have walked down the greenway at the center of Comm. Ave. any time in the last fourteen years because I don't remember knowing that we have a women's memorial to Phyllis Wheatley, Abigail Adams, and Lucy Stone, but then again we were both surprised by the baseball-capped figure atop a chunk of granite that turned out to be Samuel Eliot Morison and the identity of Domingo Sarmiento was positively mystifying until we got home. Right as the greenway ran out to make room for the underpass of Route 2, I was strangely happy to see that teenagers of our species still neck on benches in public parks after dark. I appear to prefer curry pasties to lamb, but I have nothing to say against the tandoori wings at the Cornish Pasty Co., which came with the same addictive mint-lemon sort-of-raita as the tikka masala, or the banoffee pie, whose density of toffee practically required earth-moving equipment. Fortunately for our budget, by the time we got back into Central Square the bookstores were all closed.

There are no pictures of me this time, but Rob took a very good one of a seagull on Long Wharf. It was a good day with the sea.

sovay: (Rotwang)
I just found, in my e-mail, an extensive LJ-comment that I had entirely forgotten about writing in September. It was never posted; I am leaving it here because there's no point in going back to LJ and I am tired of feeling that my sole contribution to my friendlist is links. [personal profile] moon_custafer had been talking about Nathan J. Newitter, the American consul to Japan appointed during Grant's first term of office: "Newitter, so far as I can tell, was enthusiastic but not exactly a born diplomat, and he kept getting into fights with the British consul over social events, which is probably why he was recalled, possibly to the disappointment of Westerners resident at Kobe who he'd saved from boredom." Whereon—

So there's a book by Paul French called Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China (2011), which I read shortly after it came out and never wrote up because a lot of my life was getting away from me just then. If you have not read it, it's the story of the murder of Pamela Werner, whose brutally cut and beaten body was discovered on January 7th, 1937 at the foot of the Fox Tower in then-Peking. As both a review and reopening of the case, it is insightfully and not straightforwardly written, operating at times like an exercise in historical unreliability. Characters are introduced by their official statistics, which the narrative then peels back over pages or chapters to reveal a more nuanced, complicating picture, sometimes with tantalizing hints, sometimes inconveniently substantiable. We're led to believe that we're following the adventures of a British detective and a Chinese policeman whose unprecedented buddy-cop pairing will crack the walls between the Legation Quarter and the Tartar City and solve the disappearance of the Peking-born British diplomat's daughter who lived with more than a foot in either world; we learn their histories, their mutual respect, their complementary working methods; we share their frustration with nervous governments and vanishing witnesses: their investigations come to naught. For political reasons, for personal ones, the case spins off, derails itself, drifts and begins to disintegrate as weeks turn into months, leads into dead ends, the trail doesn't so much go cold as have several buckets of ice water dashed over it. Conspiracy theories fog up from the sensational headlines, incorporating everything from mistaken identities to predatory fox spirits. One detective dissolves into illness and fantasizing, the other simply recedes from view. In the end, the murder's most steadfast investigator is the girl's father, Edward Theodore Chalmers Werner, who comes under the same dual-layer scrutiny as everyone else in the book.

(I appreciate that Pamela does, too, even if there is less information available about her; she is not merely the corpse in the fridge and French acknowledges the gaps. It's hard to see a beautiful dead girl clearly. The researches of DCI Richard Dennis and Colonel Han Shih-ching keep running up against an apparent split in Pamela's identity: the sports-keen, Latin-cramming schoolgirl with a popular boyfriend on the swim team and the glamorous good-time girl whose Peking dates were shocked to discover, after the fact, that their partner of the cafés and cabarets and the new skating rink had still been attending Tientsin Grammar. It speaks well for her now, but it looked questionable then for a white girl to prefer to spend so much of her time outside the Legation Quarter. She was used to fending for herself while her father traveled, her mother's money and her British citizenship affording her one axis of protection while her facility with languages and her native knowledge of the city offered another. She had been thrown out of three schools before Tientsin for "rebellious" behavior; at the time of her murder, she was two weeks from being sent to England for the first time in her life, where her father hoped she would stabilize with the support of her mother's family. She was eighteen or nineteen years old. Adopted as a toddler through a Catholic orphanage specializing in the children of Peking's poor foreigners, Pamela's actual age was and remains unknown; her birth parents were never recorded and never seem to have held much interest for her. Family tradition credited White Russian ancestry with the fair hair and complexion and grey eyes by which her corpse was identified. The face itself was too badly mutilated for even her father to say for sure.)

Werner is a bravura character, the reason I am writing this comment in the first place. He looks at first like a figure of familiar eccentricity: the aging father of a motherless daughter, a polyglot ex-consul given to lengthy sojourns in the Mongolian desert while his only child runs wild in Peking, an old China hand whose reputation leans more toward cantankerous scholar than canny diplomat. He wears wraparound sunglasses of his own invention and tramps the streets in his old desert-bleached gabardine coat. You're pretty sure Noel Streatfeild wrote him at least once. As the portrait fills itself in, however, a much more angular characterization of Werner begins to emerge: a stiff-necked, thin-skinned, fearsomely smart man who had achieved the almost unprecedented feat of getting himself kicked out of the foreign service in China, a youthful meteor whose precipitous middle-aged fall was linked in expatriate gossip to his wife's early death—if the disgrace and social isolation hadn't killed her, maybe it was only because her husband had gotten there first. French relates the known facts of Gladys Nina Ravenshaw's death in 1922 without making a second mystery of them, just as he mostly steers clear of resolving whether Werner really was the poisonous failure his enemies claimed or just a man profoundly uninterested in—perhaps incapable of—the social game-playing his profession demanded more unforgivingly than fluency in Chinese. As with most things, the truth is probably a combination. What really, sickeningly mattered was that by the time of Pamela's murder, Werner had alienated nearly the entire British infrastructure in Peking, most fatally the diplomatic system that could have thrown its weight on his side when it came to backing a combative, griefstricken father against a city whose racial-political tensions on the edge of World War II were a proverbial powderkeg. The reader is left with the suspicion that for the daughter of any other British national, the legation might have been willing to push a little harder for the truth. For E.T.C. Werner, who badgered officials and police on both sides and called his own press conferences and messed about with crime scenes and generally made a public nuisance of himself, it wasn't worth the risk of touching the city off. And yet, stubborn, singleminded, socially embarrassing, Werner persisted in his investigations long after the official file on his daughter's murder had been closed and French thinks he got it right, though he never was able to get justice. In any case, when you talk about Newitter being recalled for fighting with the British consul, I think at once of Werner, who is sort of the grimmer version of that story.

I remain stunned that no one has adapted Midnight in Peking into a movie or at least a television series; it seems like the sort of historically illuminating, intersectional niche there is a booming audience for. If it happens any time soon, I hope someone other than me thinks to cast Alex Jennings as E.T.C. Werner. My purely fantasy casting is Denholm Elliott, but a checkered past and a certain level of obsessiveness will do that to a character. Jennings is quite good at both of these traits, anyway.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
I would like to be writing about movies, especially Frank Capra's Dirigible (1931), a pre-Code adventure yarn that now feels like science fiction even though it was only documenting the technology of its time, but I've had the same headache for three days in a row and the effect on my sleep has been about what you would expect, so the best I can do is collect things off the internet and remind myself that it was not nothing to get out of the house to run errands this afternoon (I got bagels out of it). Actual content will return when my head does.

1. Courtesy of [personal profile] handful_ofdust: 1940's noir Twin Peaks. I think most of this fancasting is terrific; the actors have been cleverly chosen for screen persona as well as visual resemblance that would be uncanny if Lynch and Frost hadn't been riffing consciously on the genre in the first place. I remain unconvinced by Lloyd Nolan as Albert Rosenfield, but I would probably have been unable to resist recasting Miguel Ferrer with his father.

2. Courtesy of [profile] strange_selkie: Do you remember, when. The title—Erinnerst Du Dich, als—belongs to a chapbook of poems and sketches given by Manfred Lewin to Gad Beck in 1941. They were eighteen and nineteen years old, Jewish, lovers, living with their families in Berlin. One of them survived the Holocaust and one of them didn't. I don't know why I didn't know about this book before. It has been entirely digitized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with photographs and supplementary material at the link above; it is worth reading.

3. I had no idea an Inuit version of John Ford's The Searchers (1956) even existed, but I am seriously thinking of trying to make it to the MFA on Sunday just to see what it's like: Searchers (2016), directed by Zacharias Kunuk and Natar Ungalaaq. Their previous collaboration Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) remains one of my favorite epic films in any language, although it happens to have been the first in Inuktitut. That's on Saturday, if you're Boston-local and interested. I wish I had found out about this series sooner than ten minutes ago.

4. This poem seems relevant: Tsitsi Ella Jaji, "Document for U.S. Citizens Who Have Never Applied for a Visa and Have Had It Up to Here with Those Loud Aliens Who Go On and On about Some Letter."

5. I always wondered where the Harvard Film Archive got one of the slides it uses to remind its audience not to text or otherwise futz around with their cellphones during the movie. I finally recognized it the last time I was at the theater: it's a color photo of Michael Redgrave as Thomas Fowler in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Quiet American (1958). He's futzing around with a light meter instead, right before the bombs go off at the Place Garnier. Everything about that movie remains better than it deserved.

Place Garnier
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I have not seen James Whale's The Road Back (1937). I missed the restored version when it screened last spring at MOMA and I don't believe it ever came through the arthouses of Boston afterward, as I had hoped it would. But I just ran into David Cairns writing about the film—his column The Forgotten looks like a magnificent time sink—and was incredibly struck by one of the stills he uses to illustrate his article, because if it were in color I think it would be Paul Nash:

Road


I am reminded again that I have still not seen Journey's End (1930).

August 2017

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