sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
Notes on Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night (1949), mostly cribbed from e-mail to [ profile] handful_ofdust, because I am slammed with work and don't want to forget all the interesting things about it.

Along with examples of the genre I have been calling housewife noir and Jake Hinkson in his introduction to my reprint double of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's Kill Joy (1942) and The Virgin Huntress (1951) describes less gender-specifically as domestic noir, I seem to have been inadvertently collecting non-urban noirs—just to name some I've actually managed to write up, The Reckless Moment (1949), Act of Violence (1948), The Prowler (1951), and Detour (1945) constitute some of the most interesting entries I've encountered since I started paying attention to film noir. As well as adding to their number, They Live by Night offers another slant on the genre I have not often seen: it's a romantic noir. I am drawing a distinction here with noir romance, as the latter tends to lean more in the direction of folie à deux, self-delusion, or just cosmic bad timing.1 Or maybe I mean it with a capital R. The protagonists of They Live by Night are sweet people, loving, faithful, heartbreakingly earnest, neither of them dumb. They just also happen to be doomed, as we're warned straight off by the pre-credits subtitles that run like the tagline of a trailer beneath a dreamy, intimate close-up of two young people kissing blissfully, all unawares: "This boy . . . and this girl . . . were never properly introduced to the world we live in . . ." Belonging only contingently, they can be snatched away at any time.

The thing is, it's painfully true. Bowie (Farley Granger) was sixteen when he was convicted of murder and now he's twenty-three; when he breaks out from a prison farm with a pair of small-time career criminals, he knows nothing about life on the outside, not how to talk to strangers, not how money really works, definitely not how to hold or even conceive of a job. Tomboyish Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell) has spent her equally young life running her alcoholic father's gas station and garage in the Midwestern middle of nowhere and she understands money, strangers, and hard work, but nothing about relationships. She's never had a boyfriend or even wanted one. She's not even interested in Bowie when they meet for the first time, though he has Granger's lanky, wistful face and almost flinchingly sensitive body; she disapproves of her no-good uncle Chickamaw (Howard Da Silva) claiming the garage as a hideout for himself, Bowie, and fellow escapee T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen) and she's not amused by the other men joshing about the inevitable attraction between the virginal boy and the lonesome girl. When he does try to talk to her, tentatively offering his damaged history and his hopeful dreams, she listens with an indifferent irritation, long inured to the sob stories of men. Hearing that he plans to raise the money for an appeal by going in on a bank job with Chickamaw and T-Dub, she responds with typical bluntness: "You'll get in so deep trying to get squared they'll have enough for two lifetimes." They bond only after Chickamaw in a characteristic moment of success-flushed recklessness involves himself and Bowie in a road accident, dumps the stunned, bruised, but not permanently injured kid on his niece, and hightails it into the night, leaving the two of them really alone for the very first time—and then it's instant, permanent, like imprinting, sealing themselves to one another with a shock that's half undiscovered physical awareness and half absolute emotional honesty, like they're the only two people in a deserted world and they've just discovered one another. They run away that night. They board a bus together. They get married for twenty dollars plus tip by the blinking neon advertisement of an all-night justice of the peace and buy a hot clunker of a Plymouth Deluxe for a price so extortionate, they have obviously been clocked as "Bowie the Kid, the Zelton Bandit" and his moll, but the "Kid" doesn't hesitate to lay down all thirty-two hundred dollars in pocket-wadded bills because how should he know what a car costs? They are not profligate, nor do they throw themselves into the consumer frenzy of the postwar boom; they rent a resort cabin in the mountains and buy each other Christmas presents. Neither [ profile] derspatchel nor I thought guests were allowed to repaint as well as redecorate the interior of a rental cabin, but they do it anyway.

And the audience knows they can't last forever, living in the seams and cracks of the American dream with Keechie unable to go into town because her picture's the one that ended up in the papers and Bowie knowing no line of work that isn't a stickup, but you want them to make it somehow. You want Bowie to be able to afford that lawyer in Tulsa he's always talking about hiring to reopen his conviction. You want Keechie to feel safe having the baby she confirmed was on the way while Bowie was out of town pulling another job. You want them to get the chance to hold hands in a darkened movie theater like they've heard couples in love do. "Someday I'd like to see some of this country we've been traveling through." They make wonderful ethnographers of the alien culture that is mainstream America, gravely looking in at it from the outside without shame but without all that much longing, either. Golf confuses both of them. Neither of them knows how to dance and neither evinces much inclination to learn. Riding on horseback would be fun if you were going someplace, but just trotting round and round a track? They speak a language of evasions and equivocations, never asserting anything too definitely in case it doesn't come true: could be, maybe, suppose so, sure. On the other hand, they live in a world that by grace of its un-socialization is strikingly absent almost all of the toxic dynamics that characterize male-female relationships in this genre. Keechie is a capable mechanic, Bowie has a strong nesting instinct. As they drive aimlessly across the country to which they never quite belong, they take turns behind the wheel. They fight like people who don't really understand arguments; they check in carefully with one another's happiness. "If you want me to" is always answered by "If you want to." Tragedy comes in part because Bowie makes a solo decision for them both.

It is an incredibly outsider film, which is the strongest reason besides the fatalism and the cinematography that They Live by Night reads to me as noir; it is an incredibly sympathetic outsider film. It felt telling to both me and Rob that the criminal world never betrays the fugitive lovers—it takes someone deeply invested in the image of themselves as an honest, law-abiding citizen to do that.2 The title of Edward Anderson's 1937 source novel was Thieves Like Us and I am sorry RKO did not permit Ray to keep it, because it is thematically echoed throughout the script; it was restored by Robert Altman's 1974 adaptation which I have not seen. I suppose I could compare-and-contrast the two, though at the moment I am still in the spell of moments like the opening helicopter shot tracking the three convicts' stolen jalopy as it corners a dust-bowl crossroads and peels out onto the highway or the way the last words of the film become an affirmation between the living and the dead, impossibly speaking for two people at once. This getaway brought to you by my unworldly backers at Patreon.

1. Bogart and Bacall are the reliable exception.

2. One of the film's few purely funny moments occurs when Bowie is confronted in the men's room of a nightclub where he and Keechie have taken the risk of dining out: the dinner-jacketed stranger who effortlessly disarms him and orders him out of town is not a representative of the law but the local syndicate. "Nothing against you, you understand?" he explains, man-to-man. "We don't want a lot of trigger-happy hillbillies around here. This is a nice cool town. Business is good." He gives an astonished Bowie back his gun and hands him a wad of traveling cash besides.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
Nightmares I had last night included: our apartment being shown to prospective tenants with no warning; not being able to find the Chinese restaurant in Malden where I was supposed to meet a friend; misplacing a rare and treasured book while visiting a used book store; and the white-capped waves of a glacier-blue sea falling away beyond the windows of an old schoolroom, icy water folding over the faces of black-haired mermaids as huge as ice floes, their flukes as coiling and tangled as deepwater kelp, their arms all pressing drowned human bodies like dolls to their breasts.

I understand three of these dreams. I am in the middle of a newly acquired four-novel omnibus of Margaret Millar and both The Stranger in My Grave (1960) and How Like an Angel (1962) are stories that start with a shake-up of identity, a destabilization that has to get worse before it gets better—if it gets better at all. [ profile] derspatchel had an ER visit over the weekend and I am feeling panicky about money and loss. I have no obvious etiology for the Inuit-looking Arctic mermaids except maybe Sedna.

Last night Rob and I watched Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night (1949), which I hope to write about. We had just been discussing noirs with non-urban settings (which is how I discovered there is an entire book on the subject and now I covet it desperately, especially since it discusses some films I really like) and here was another one, plus a kind of romance I don't often see in film noir. Nice use of a helicopter, too.

I have a lot of work to finish today.
sovay: (Claude Rains)
It's been a long week. Have some seventy-three-year-old escapism. It worked for me.

I watched On Approval (1944) because it was on TCM and I had Clive Brook on the brain after rewatching Josef von Sternberg's Underworld (1927) last week; I am recommending it because it turned out to be one of the funniest and oddest movies I have seen of its era, Busby Berkeley and the Archers included. I can make it sound relatively normal if I describe it as an acrid comedy of misalliance in the tradition of Noël Coward and Oscar Wilde, all good lines and bad behavior—when a rich, exacting widow engages her titled but impoverished suitor for a month of platonic trial marriage in a remote cottage in the Highlands, the cross-purpose arrivals of their respective best friends throw the experiment hopelessly awry and everybody gets, if not what they wanted when they arrived, then at least what they deserve by the time they leave. You will get a much more accurate idea of the experience of actually watching this thing if I mention up front the parodic use of stock footage, the fallible, interactive narrator, the surrealist dream sequences, and the rampant fourth-wall-breaking. The film opens with a deafening montage of ripped-from-the-newsreels warfare—dogfights, depth charges, incendiaries, anti-aircraft guns, all of which the doughty newsreader's tones of Gaumont's own E.V.H. Emmett survey more in sorrow than in anger. Nostalgically, he attempts to encourage the narrative back to the halcyon tranquility of the pre-war years, only to discover a riot of jitterbugging teenagers zooming around on motorcycles, mashing in the back seats of motorcars, and littering in the parks; in order to get away from this "age of speed and noise so much like war you hardly notice the difference," he's forced to hopscotch back over World War I and the Edwardians before relaxing at last into fulsome praise of the late Victorian era, its gentility, its restraint, and especially its gender roles. "Women were women and they didn't forget it!" However much the narrator may blather on about the virtues of the shy, modest Victorian maiden as opposed to that deadly assertive creature the modern girl, however, the camera is slyly on the side of the women, showing them smiling stiffly at the fatuous attentions of their menfolk and gritting their teeth through afternoons of needlepoint and piano. The film's very premise puts the lie to the submissive myth of the angel in the house, as the narrator will discover when he follows some of the ladies to a night out at the theater. They are going to see the "terribly daring" new play On Approval; in the pages of the program a sharp-eyed viewer may discern photographs of the film's principals in character. The narrator perks up: "Perhaps we're going to find out just why they were called the Naughty Nineties." If he has a hat, you hope he's hanging on to it. He has no idea what he's in for.

On Approval was Brook's last major work in film—he would appear in a handful of TV parts in the '50's and an all-star-cast cameo in 1963—and it is a hell of a swan song as such. He not only directed but co-produced the film with Sydney Box, co-wrote the screenplay with Terence Young, and co-starred with Roland Culver, Googie Withers, and Beatrice Lillie.1 The cast are uniformly excellent and look like they are having a blast, performing their archetypes at just the right pitches of satire or relatability. Lillie's Maria Wislack is a diamond-cut distillation of imperious, icy snippiness who can give as good as she gets with acid-tongued roués like Brook's George, ninth tenth Duke of Bristol, but has perhaps a little more difficulty judging the effect on her tender-hearted intended; that's Culver's Richard Halton, who has the weak-chinned good-sportingness of a Freddy Eynsford-Hill and trims his moustache to the strains of "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay" and has trouble telling whisky from soda, though he can distinguish the color of a woman's eyes. Withers doesn't bother pretending to an American accent as Helen Hale, the pickle magnate's daughter who's renting Bristol House for the duration of the London season; she starts out luminously attentive to her rakish, penniless host, who seems to her the height of British sophistication, but there's steel under her sweetness and those dewy eyes can conceal amused resolve as well as suppressed tears. Brook himself as George reminded me unexpectedly of Alan Rickman, with whom he shares a saturnine deadpan and the ability to say flamboyantly cynical things while barely opening his mouth, as if the object of his insults were hardly worth the enunciation. He could go toe-to-toe with Lord Henry Wotton for world-weary epigrams and has a habit of interesting himself unstoppably in the affairs of his friends, especially when they don't want him to. He does not get all the best lines. It is only partly his fault that everyone ends up at Maria's cottage near Kyle of Lochalsh with no servants willing to wait on them and only a dinghy to get them on or off the island, after which the Highland weather promptly goes down the drain in solidarity with the help and the quartet's interactions take on the ominous chemistry of vinegar and baking soda. I was prepared for the movie to go all sorts of places after the prologue and generally it did, but I did not expect it to give me flashforwards to Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I (1987)—as the rain plinks merrily through the fifteen different leaks in the roof and they only have fourteen pots and bowls to catch it in, George buttoned to the chin in an extraordinary plaid overcoat slumps against the kitchen wall and moans, "My stomach is cold, my head is hot, my arteries are hardening—only alcohol will get me on the train." I had just time to think "I must have some booze. I demand to have some booze!" before Richard replied briskly and unsympathetically, "Nonsense. Never again will I raise a finger. Besides, you shouldn't have drunk all the cooking sherry," and then we had to pause the film so that I could explain to [ profile] derspatchel that I was laughing because George was just lucky they didn't have Ronsonol lying around in the 1890's. I also admit that while I watched this movie for Brook, I didn't expect to see quite as much of him as I did thanks to one scene which finds him indolently knees-up in a too-small bathtub with only some suds and a well-placed sponge to preserve the innocence of the British Board of Film Censors. God knows how this picture was even released in the U.S. Nine-tenths of the itchy, twangy tension in this film would dissolve at once if anyone just had sex, but the platonic terms of the trial—and the laws of comedy—preclude it, so everyone sublimates furiously into dialogue as fast and sharp and innuendo-riding as screwball. Or, in Helen's case, just murmurs sweetly into Richard's ear: "Tell her to go to Hell."

As with Charles Laughton and The Night of the Hunter (1955), I can't believe Brook never directed anything else. He has an incredible sense of what works on film and how far he can push the theatricality of both the action and the camerawork. I named Wilde and Coward as influences, but more than anything else On Approval made me think of movies from the 1960's when Richard Lester was throwing every cinematographic absurdity at the screen that would stick. It's not enough to reflect the increasing claustrophobia and dissatisfaction of the passing weeks in the characters' dialogue or manner; we get a hectic montage of creaking oarlocks, clattering dishes, and Maria striking over and over the opening chords of a song that goes "I'm just seventeen and I've never been—" until we're afraid to find out just what she's never. All two-person conversations are cross-cut with their opposite numbers, breaking down apparent lines of alliance or showing up supposed matches to devastating contrast. A pair of intercut nightmares include a talking moose head and a balletic passage in hilariously pretentious slo-mo which then undercranks itself à la Benny Hill to catch up. The narrator is behind the eight-ball to the last, mixing up the details of his characters' lives and receiving from them the amusement he deserves:

"Tell me, Duke, how did you lose your money?"
"Yes, I know; I mean your big money."
"Big women!"

Brook and Young adapted the screenplay from Frederick Lonsdale's 1926 stage hit of the same name; TCM tells me it was Brook's idea to translate the action from the Roaring Twenties to the Victorian era, on the theory that the racy premise would be even funnier in a more famously repressed age. I think not only was he right in terms of immediate payoff, the spoofing effect of a lavish period setting—costumes by Cecil Beaton—with a satirically modern sensibility is one of the reasons On Approval hasn't dated at all, because not many people were pulling that kind of stunt in 1944. You could double-feature it with Bryan Forbes' The Wrong Box (1966), is what I think I'm saying. I applauded the ending gag at home, in my own office, because I had never seen anything like it outside of the photography of Angus McBean. Plus the story remains both funny and clever about its battle-of-the-sexes tropes in ways that hold up in the era of third- and fourth-wave feminism, which I suspect is even more unusual than being visually ahead of one's time. I regret that I cannot point everyone toward instant gratification on YouTube, but it looks as though the film may be available on Blu-Ray and has streamed on Amazon in the past. Grab it if you see it in a library sale. This social experiment brought to you by my not at all straitlaced backers at Patreon.

1. Despite a five-decade career on stage, Lillie made only seven feature films, of which the best are considered the silent Exit Smiling (1926) and On Approval. One of the others is Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), which is where I turned out to have seen her and about which I feel very awkward.

2. I've seen this kind of imploding narrator in one other movie from the '40's, Leslie Howard's The Gentle Sex (1943). If anyone knows of other examples, I'd love to hear about them.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
So, look, all sorts of things are wrong with the world right now and I'm sure tomorrow will add to their list, but the Republicans' much-vaunted, stupidly cruel "American Health Care Act" went the way of the Hindenburg this afternoon (I have been saying to people that I can't even admit to feeling schadenfreude, because I don't feel at all bad about rejoicing in this misfortune of 45 and his administration) and [ profile] rushthatspeaks and I made sesame candy from a cup of toasted sesame seeds, a half-cup of jaggery, and a tablespoon of butter with results that were almost indistinguishable from the storebought (there was a faint smokiness that we will eliminate next time by crushing more of the jaggery first so that it doesn't have to spend as much time over the heat melting) and I found one of those things on Tumblr that makes me basically happy, in this case people discussing seriously which of the various Powell and Pressburger incarnations of Roger Livesey is hottest (I saw him first as Torquil, but I do like Frank) and it's been a very long week and I'll take the good things I can get, but the failure of the ACA repeal is a very good one.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Last night I dreamed that I dropped by the library to return a book and found [ profile] ashlyme and their presumably fictitious writing group hanging out around a table near the science fiction section; I talked plot with people, read some scenes of stories (the young man with Gullah heritage was writing a kind of supernatural mystery inspired by the life of his grandmother the root doctor, please tell me this exists somewhere), and then left the library to meet up with my parents for dinner, at which point I discovered that I had lost an entire day. Twenty-four hours to the minute had passed between my entering and leaving the library. My internal clock thought about an hour, two hours tops. Nothing worse seemed to have happened to me than lost time, but no one remembered seeing me or the writing group, even when I could point to the very table which was now empty of writers, laptops, backpacks, and sodas, but otherwise unremarkable-looking. The only evidence of my presence was the no longer overdue book, which could have been dropped through the return slot after hours. I had neither eaten nor drunk anything during my time in the library and I remember very seriously establishing this fact with my parents, because it seemed likely to be the only reason that I had been able to leave. "Were they in a circle?" [ profile] derspatchel asked after I related the dream to him. "It was a round table," I had to agree. Congratulations, Ashlyme! My brain interprets your mere presence as shorthand for Faerie.

Some things—

1. I am reading William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley (1946). I didn't realize until I saw the dedication "To Joy Davidman" that I knew him by reputation—and not as a writer—the part of Davidman's story that she left behind when she moved to England to live near C.S. Lewis in 1953. In which case he really was as much of a personal disaster area as the foreword by Nick Tosches suggests, but he could write. The epigraphs are taken from Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) and Petronius' Satyricon. The table of contents is a Tarot reading, each chapter a card of the Major Arcana introducing a particular character or signaling a significant event: "The Fool who walks in motley, with his eyes closed, over a precipice at the end of the world . . . The High Priestess. Queen of borrowed light who guards a shrine between the pillars Night and Day . . . The World. Within a circling garland a girl dances; the beasts of the Apocalypse look on." Tosches credits Gresham with introducing a number of carny terms into popular culture, including "geek," "cold reading," and "spook racket." I want to get my OED out of storage and double-check all of these assertions, but it is true that the novel's initial setting of a traveling ten-in-one show feels like a worthy successor to Tod Browning's Freaks (1932) and forerunner of Theodore Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels (1950), evocative, sympathetic, and unsentimental in its details of carny life. It gets all the slang right that I can see: talker, spiel, gaffed, "Hey, Rube!" I'm aware the whole thing will eventually turn to horror—the 1947 film adaptation starring Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell is supposed to rank among the sleaziest and bleakest of the first-generation noirs—but at the moment we are still getting passages like this:

Evansburg, Morristown, Linklater, Cooley Mills, Ocheketawney, Bale City, Boeotia, Sanders Falls, Newbridge.

Coming: Ackerman-Zorbaugh Monster Shows. Auspices Tall Cedars of Zion, Caldwell Community Chest, Pioneer Daughters of Clay County, Kallakie Volunteer Fire Department, Loyal Order of Bison.

Dust when it was dry. Mud when it was rainy. Swearing, steaming, sweating, scheming, bribing, bellowing, cheating, the carny went its way. It came like a pillar of fire by night, bringing excitement and new things into the drowsy towns—lights and noise and the chance to win an Indian blanket, to ride on the ferris wheel, to see the wild man who fondles those rep-tiles as a mother would fondle her babes. Then it vanished in the night, leaving the trodden grass of the field and the debris of popcorn boxes and rusting tin ice-cream spoons to show where it had been.

Among its descendants, then, perhaps include also Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962).

2. Somehow despite falling in love (like most of the internet) with Miike Snow and Ninian Doff's "Genghis Khan" (2016) last spring, I had failed to realize that the same cast and crew had reunited later in the year for a second video: "My Trigger." Like its predecessor, it has a terrific poster. I am very fond of its disclaimer.

3. Please enjoy Emily Sernaker's "Lawrence Ferlinghetti Is Alive!" I had no idea that was true and this poem was a nice way to find out.
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
This is the second day in a row I have slept between eight and twelve hours and I am desperately trying not to jinx it. I'm not thrilled about the part where I am having nothing but very obvious nightmares and where actually sleeping seems to leave me without much time for anything but work, but I still figure it's healthy for me. Tonight [ profile] derspatchel and I had plans to see Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall (Der Untergang, 2004) at the Somerville Theatre, but instead we made Slightly More Authentic Chicken Saag and headed into Harvard Square to pick up some books I had ordered from the Harvard Book Store during last week's snow day, in the course of which I managed two acquire two more used pulp novels and we did not freeze to death despite the wind's best efforts. I came home to discover that Felled (formerly Moss of Moonlight) have just released their debut EP Bonefire Grit. I am glad that everyone I know in London seems to be all right. I feel like I have lost the ability to write about anything, but I think mostly what I've lost is time and rest. I'm trying to make up the latter. Admittedly I have been trying to make up the latter for decades now, but that doesn't mean it's not worth the effort.
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
Overheard tonight on the bus to Davis Square, two teenagers giggling behind me:

"Little mushrooms growing out of your skull . . . Eat a huge meal and then just go up on the roof and die."

Until I get evidence otherwise, I'm holding Caitlín R. Kiernan responsible.

(And if you're in the Boston area and missed her appearance at Porter Square Books on Monday, you can come to Pandemonium Books & Games on Thursday and find out why.)
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
God damn it, I do not have time to write as I would like about the Actors' Shakespeare Project's Edward II, which I just got back from seeing with my cousins and [ profile] nineweaving, but it was wonderful. I did not know until we were leaving that director David R. Gammons was responsible for the stunning Duchess of Malfi that introduced me to the ASP in 2009, but I had started to wonder in the second act based strictly on the staging and lighting. His director's note is worth reading. I am sorry only that I cannot send everyone I know to see it because tonight was the last show of the run. This is worse than my usual problem of reviewing the second-to-last performance. It was a dense and beautiful production; I might as well have some record of it.

You walk into the black box of the Charlestown Working Theater and you find yourself in the fantasia of a bathhouse: shower-white tile and undressed brick, plastic curtains and graffiti, the private subterranean space where a man can meet another man and kiss him full on the mouth in the knowledge that no one will try to kill them for it. (Other things may—the wall over the toilet is scrawled "SILENCE = DEATH" and the wall behind the audience bears the white-on-black legend "UNDIQUE MORS EST"—Death is everywhere. The play is not anchored to the 1980's, but they set much of the tone.) Steam drifts by from the fog machine. There is often a sound of water when there is not the echo of music. By low incandescence it's intimate, by fluorescence it's grody, it takes on a dance-club aura when suffused pink or purple and when the lights fall to warning red it's a bomb shelter. There is a catwalk above and a ladder going up a far wall. There is a tin bath. There is the royal throne, a plain gold chair with a crimson cushion. In that last piece of dressing lies the trick and the tragedy of this bathhouse: it is not a secret or a safe space, because Edward is the king of England. Nowhere he goes is truly private. Nothing he does is in isolation from his realm. His reunion with the recalled Gaveston is a slow, urgent, athletic dance, powerfully expressive of the chemistry and the affection between them, culminating in the transgressive sight of the low-born Gaveston with his feet tucked up on the throne like a cat in its favorite armchair, the gift of his king's great ring hanging about his throat, his slim body swathed in the black-and-gold brocade of Edward's robe. They cuddle and Gaveston snaps on the TV; a music video washes soundlessly across the tiled wall. They could be any harried but happy couple, hiding away from the world in each other's arms. They look at each other like no one else exists. They were watched from the catwalk by the disapproving Earl of Lancaster and now he confers with ambitious, malicious Mortimer, sourly cataloguing the titles and honors that the king is lavishing on his "minion" while letting the rest of the country go hang. Especially because this production treats their relationship as true romance, I appreciated it also recognizing that the reality of their love does not constitute an excuse for Edward's shirking of his political responsibilities or his callous treatment of his queen Isabella, whose love for him was just as real and powerful and painfully unrequited. The play isn't a tragedy because Edward is queer. It's a tragedy because he's a king and he's so bad at it. His lover is just how his enemies get in.

My only other point of comparison for this play is Derek Jarman's Edward II (1991), so I am happy to report that Gammons' production is very much its own thing, although I love how the director signals that he is perfectly aware of the career of Saint Derek of Dungeness of the Order of Celluloid Knights—the music videos playing silently as Gaveston and Edward snuggle and Mortimer and Lancaster plot are the Pet Shop Boys' "Rent" (I love you—you pay my rent) and the Smiths' "Ask" (If there's something you'd like to try, ask me—I won't say no, how could I?), both shot by Jarman.1 Both comment, of course, on the problem of Gaveston: it is one thing to dress a mistress with jewels, it's another to give a base-born man more rights and powers than any nobleman in the land. Eddie Shields' Gaveston shows little inclination to abuse his privileges for personal gain—though he pronounces my knee shall bow to none but to the king with provocative pride, on receiving his invitation to "share the kingdom" with the newly crowned Edward he imagines mostly that he will organize masques, dances, and music for his lover's delight—but the class-crossing is insult enough. Of course, it does not help in the eyes of hard men like Edward's earls that Gaveston is a pretty man, slinky, snarky, and just a little bit of a bitch, with a conscious, flirtatious boyishness. He makes his first appearance naked, rising from his bath to drape himself in a strategic towel and dream of Edward. He knots the rich brocade of his sovereign's robe around his waist and it trails behind him in a more queenly train than Isabella's own gowns; he returns from exile in gilt stiletto heels and a sashaying, feather-trimmed coat open to show the ring that hangs against his chest and the light trail of fur that leads down into his tight black trousers. Maurice Emmanuel Parent's Edward can lift him outright in his arms, nuzzle him and flip the smaller man's weight around his shoulders like a swing dancer; part of what makes their relationship both believable and heartbreaking is their playfulness as well as their passion with one another, three-dimensional groundwork for Edward's maddening grief on his lover's loss. He too is a beautiful man—a beautiful Black man in a production where he is not the only actor of color—and also seen naked, though in the much more poignant circumstances of his imprisonment, crouched in the same tin bath where Gaveston woke, convulsively, from a bad dream that might have been a premonition in the first seconds of the play—and encompasses easily the difficult sympathy of a character whose decisions are almost all terrible and whom the audience still wants to see happy. His final scene was even more moving than I had hoped from realizing who would share the stage with him for it.

But all the cast are good. There are eight of them, condensed and doubled from Marlowe's thirtyish speaking parts. The rebellious barons become a pair of conspirators, Nigel Gore's Lancaster and Alex Pollock's Mortimer; the former carries himself with disgusted, soldierly efficiency while the latter is a pallid skinhead in black biker leathers, drawing out his creepily amused delivery and off-kilter swagger past the point of grotesquerie yet never losing his grasp on the verse, which is probably what saved him for me as an interpretation. (Whistling "YMCA" before the killing of Gaveston was almost a clockwork orange too far for me. The way he rattled off his Latin with a niceness all out of keeping with the rest of his persona may have brought him back.) Both bring knives openly into Edward's otherwise unarmed court. Watching the blades change hands among the cast, the audience can track each character's potential for violence, though not necessarily their chances of success. Moving with great dignity in her antique dress, Jennie Israel's Isabella turns against her husband only slowly, driven by the increasing cruelty of his rejections and the need to protect her son—the future Edward III, played by David J. Castillo as a lanky, raspberry-haired teenager who would much rather lie up in the loft and listen to post-punk than have to witness his horrifying family drama—from the political storm she herself will not escape. Stewart Evan Smith makes a cocky, competent Spencer, with a wonderful stunned expression when kissed suddenly by his king in a defiant assertion of sexual and political identity, and Nile Hawver succeeded in making me feel for traitorous, hesitating Kent, who really does love his brother the king and really does care about the welfare of his country and by throwing in his lot with Lancaster and Mortimer absolutely guarantees his inability to protect either one of them. (The actor had fantastic hair, manga mad scientist quality; I liked that he looked good in the SS-ish black leather trenchcoat that he donned after betraying his brother and looked really uncomfortable about looking good in it. His total failure to make amends in the second act constituted an unexpected miniature tragic arc of its own.) I enjoyed how often all of them were allowed to shift registers, sometimes naturalistic, sometimes highly stylized, often some mix of the two; a particularly striking scene in the second act had the young Edward—as yet uncrowned, his father still in the Tower instead of his grave—pinned in the empty shaft of spotlight where the throne should have stood, twisting with nightmare slowness from his implacable mother to his desperate uncle to his mother's grinning lover, searching for truth, searching for security, finding nothing. I should have remembered this director's eye for compositions. One of the highlights of the first act was the unspeakably awkward welcome-home party for Gaveston, complete with decorated cake, nervously held mylar balloons, and boldly designed, impressively passive-aggressive shield devices. The concluding image of the play was not Jarman's, but it was Jarman-worthy, gilding and ambiguity and all.

And I cannot get out of this post without mentioning that this Edward II had the best music of any stage production I've seen in a long time. The first song playing as the house opened was the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" (You shut your mouth—how can you say I go about things the wrong way? I am human and I need to be loved just like everybody else does.) At different points I heard Joy Division's "Transmission" (We would go on as though nothing was wrong and hide from the days to remain all alone) and Killing Joke's "The Wait" (Motives changing day to day, the fire increases, mass decay). The second act came up on Pylon's "Cool" with its scratchy, flourishy guitar riff, its bassline thrumming nervously in the aftermath of Gaveston's murder. The cast took their bows to the Smiths' "Panic" (also filmed by Jarman), which I can only assume was an in-joke because I did not want to hang the DJ, I wanted to find them and thank them because I have never before heard that many songs I liked and recognized in a stage production unless it was a musical. If anybody knows the piece which accompanied Edward and Gaveston's lovemaking and reunion, please tell me; I think it had some of the Song of Songs in its lyrics, but I had never heard it before. [edit] Nineweaving found it: David Lang's "Just (After Song of Songs)." It's nice to know I heard the allusion correctly.

Right. This is less than I wanted, but longer than I intended. Next time I see David R. Gammons' name on a production, I should just get tickets whatever it is. I hope it's something as infrequently performed and rewarding as The Duchess of Malfi or Edward II. I am going to bed. I almost tagged this post for Patreon.

1. In the process of checking that I had remembered his canonization correctly, I discovered that Derek Jarman actually thought about making a film about Alan Turing and I was then distracted by furious grieving. Do you have any idea how much I would have wanted to see that? I start wondering who he would have cast as Alan; I wonder if he would have cast Kevin Collins as Christopher. (Or as Arnold Murray? Double-cast? I saw a production of Breaking the Code that did that and it worked. I wonder if Tilda Swinton would have played Turing's mother.) I could see him treating the codes and mathematics as elliptically and understandably as the philosophy in Wittgenstein (1993). I don't know what he would have come up with for Turing that was as left-field as the Martian in Wittgenstein, but I know it would have worked. Even if he had just written the script, I would have wanted it. Fuck you, AIDS. Current administration, I can't believe you're making Reagan look good by comparison; he doesn't deserve to.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Oh, God, I am tired. Since Tuesday, I have slept four hours a night at most and all of it during the day, which is terrible for me. I had three deadlines this weekend and I've made two of them; the third will have to wait until I've gotten back from the closing show of the Actors' Shakespeare Project's Edward II, which I am seeing tonight with [ profile] rushthatspeaks, [ profile] gaudior, and [ profile] nineweaving. I have never seen a stage production, only Jarman's luminous 1991 film. Yesterday I took my parents to hear the Alloy Orchestra accompany Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate (1926), a two-strip Technicolor swashbuckler with plenty of acrobatics and sliding down sails. It was a digital projection and I am both amused and annoyed that it cut out for a crucial moment during the wrap-up—immediately after Fairbanks' laughing, chivalrous, black-clad revenger was hailed as "my lord Duke"—because between the Egyptian hieroglyphs of his father's signet ring and his leather-kilted men arriving in the nick of time rowing what looked for all the world like a pentekonter minus the sails, we were really left wondering what or when the hell country he was Duke of. (The internet tells me "Arnoldo," which explains nothing.) Have some things that happened on the internet while I was not looking.

1. Derek Walcott died. I discovered him in grad school; I was TA'ing a class on Homeric retellings, including Walcott's Omeros (1990). It must have been a good introduction, since I promptly ran out and bought his most recent collection at the time. He was one of the great contemporary poets of the sea.

I loved them as poets love the poetry
that kills them, as drowned sailors the sea.

—"The Schooner Flight"

2. Chuck Berry died. [ profile] derspatchel sent me an interview from 1980 where he was asked to comment on some notable punk and new wave singles of the time. He liked the music of the Sex Pistols and the Clash (but not the vocals in either case: "Can't understand most of the vocals. If you're going to be mad at least let the people know what you're mad about"), had nice things to say about the Selecter and Dave Edmunds, was unimpressed by Wire and Joy Division, and I just like his entire reaction to Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer": "A funky little number, that's for sure. I like the bass a lot. Good mixture and a real good flow. The singer sounds like he has a bad case of stage fright."

3. John Kander did not die! Not only that, but he got to include among his ninetieth birthday celebrations a smackdown of Richard Spencer, courtesy of Kander's great-nephew Jason. Remember that thing where Kander and Ebb got hate mail during the original run of Cabaret for trivializing the horrors of history by incorporating a real-life anthem of the Third Reich into their score? And that was totally wrong? Apparently Spencer did not get the memo about the queer Jewish Broadway origins of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," either.

And this is an article about Romaine Brooks. I wish I hadn't missed that exhibit. Teleporter, someday. I must run.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
Happy Saint Patrick's Day! This post is not Irish at all. I discovered last night that an Aaron Burr-scented candle is now a thing that exists.

Personally I am surprised and not a little disappointed that an Aaron Burr-scented candle is not advertised as smelling like the black powder adrenaline aftermath of frantically extinguishing yourself, your shirt, your desk, and your diary after a gloriously ill-advised midnight fireworks experiment, graced with top notes of insomnia, embarrassment, and the ghostly satisfaction of knowing that your daughter will laugh her face off as soon as she reads that entry.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
My poem "On the Day When Dumuzi Comes Up" has been accepted by Mythic Delirium. It was written last August when I was living for a month at the Baystate on Mass Ave; I had a bad weekend, read some Akkadian I hadn't looked at in eleven years, wrote a poem drawing on Ištar's Descent to the Underworld (as well as a sex charm and a hangover cure) while thinking about the friend who taught me the language. Learned later that same day that they had just had a stroke. Am very happy to report these days that they aten't dead (and I owe them e-mail), but the timing was unsettling. I was writing about the Anunnaki, not asking them to drop by. In any case, the poem has a home.
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
1. Things I appreciate that modern technology allows me to do: at the end of an evening that included [ profile] derspatchel spiking a scary fever, Hestia being dramatically ill under the bed, and me having to miss a film I had been looking forward to for weeks, cue up Josef von Sternberg's Underworld (1927) on YouTube and synch up the soundtrack by the Alloy Orchestra on iTunes and enjoy a silent movie I had not seen since 2008. I don't think I recognized then how much Clive Brook as Rolls Royce—at least once given a bath and a shave, though he's wonderfully unstarry in his scruffy phase—looks like a taller, thinner Richard Barthelmess. Part of it is the patent leather hair, but the neat cheekbones, the cleft chin, and the long, easily ironic eyebrows have something to do with it. They both have a trick of glancing watchfully upward; some of the same defensive shoulders, too. I can't tell if this speaks more to the types of leading men popular in the silent era or the possibility that I have developed a type after thinking for years I didn't have one. I've still never seen Brook in another role, despite his extensive filmography. I should give the one in the TCM buffer a try before it expires.

2. Speaking of gangsters, tonight I learned courtesy of a friend who is not on DW/LJ:

But there actually WAS a lesbian gangster in the 1950s in San Francisco, Eleanor (Tommy) Vasu. She dressed in men's clothing (gangster style), ran three lesbian bars, and was deep into rackets like parking lots, narcotics, and prostitution (she pimped her girlfriends out, as some butches did in those days). The Mob boys called her Tommy the Dyke. It's all true, I swear. That's Tommy below, on the far right.


This is the sort of thing that makes me happier to know. I mean, not that pimping out my girlfriends is a life goal, but you get the idea.

3. Speaking of marginalization, I understand that the credited sources for Ranald MacDougall's The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) are M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud (1901) and Ferdinand Reyher's "End of the World" (1951), but having just read Nisi Shawl on W.E.B. Du Bois' "The Comet" (1920), I am really left wondering if that story is in the film's DNA. I haven't read the Reyher, but I have read the Shiel and the film displays much less overlap with it than with the Du Bois, in both premise and theme. As I indicated while running my mouth off in's comments, it's a really close likeness for a parallel evolution. Any opinions or leads would be appreciated.

Life is very difficult when it's five in the morning and you need to get to bed in time to wake up early and call a doctor and there is a small cat asleep on your lap in absolute boneless trust and the occasional purr.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
Happy Ides! I just learned that the revised travel ban has been blocked nationwide by Judge Derrick Watson of Honolulu. It is a temporary restraining order issued in the nick of time and we'll see what happens next, but it is a very good start.

[edit] And the Netherlands may not have imploded in their own puff of right-wing anti-Islamism after all, so good for them!
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
Well, we made the quiche for Pi Day, with Irish cheddar and goat's milk gouda, black olives, and sautéed mushrooms, but the current state of [ profile] derspatchel's dentistry proved recalcitrant, so now he is eating a baked custard, which is also circular. It's all okay.

P.S. Geez, Hugh Dancy, whover passed up the opportunity to cast you as Dorian Gray really missed the boat.

P.P.S. I can't believe someone wrote and staged a play about Oscar Levant—Dan Castellaneta's For Piano and Harpo—and I only found out about it (a) after it closed (b) on the West Coast. Maybe he'll decide to take it off-Broadway. Maybe I'll inherit a teleporter.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
Because I kind of lost track of Monday, I realized only belatedly that today is Pi Day. I seem to have seen it in by rewatching Robert Wise's The Desert Rats (1953) for the first time in almost exactly five years. I am very fond of that movie; it gives good Robert Newton, young Richard Burton, untranslated German (sometimes courtesy of James Mason), and bit-part characters with agency, though this time around its sprightly marching-band arrangement of "Waltzing Matilda" kept confusing me by almost turning into "The Battle Cry of Freedom." I suppose there were some mathematics in it, although mostly in the form of tactics and attrition. This thing where I have developed a bunch of WWII movies as comfort viewing should probably be examined someday. In any case, we have exactly one pie shell in the house and it was just marked out for a quiche. It's circular. It'll count.

My Sunday night blew up so dramatically that I didn't have a chance to post Schmekel's "Homotaschen," otherwise known proudly as the only Purim song I own, or mention the letter-writing Purim party held on Sunday afternoon by [ profile] gaudior and [ profile] rushthatspeaks to which I contributed a tray of hamantashn, two letters, some further signatures, and a sizeable dent in the Cadbury mini egg population. I wrote to AG Maura Healey to thank her for her general awesomeness and to Governor Baker for his support of OUTVETS and his continued skepticism regarding the revised travel ban and while he's on a roll would he please reconsider the Safe Communities Act already? We had graggers and intended to use them any time the name of the current president was mentioned, although that idea went somewhat off the table after the baby fell asleep. I may have been designated Singer-to-Babies. I can live with that.

Speaking of politics, anybody who managed to attend Monday night's town hall with Representative Capuano should please let me know how it went. I am going to take a very hot shower and try to sleep in my own bed.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
Oh, beautiful little cats, happy third birthday. We could not feed you hamantashn in coincidence of Purim, but we passed on to you the fancy smoked salmon which was a present from my mother to her grandkittens and you made it disappear like a card trick, snip snap snup. This morning I found one of you regally atop the air cleaner and the other burrowed into the blankets at my feet and you raced into the kitchen as soon as you saw I was awake. You watch movies with me, from my bookshelves or my lap, purring steadily. You bat at my laptop screen because that cursor is taunting you. You are trouble cats and danger kittens and we love you dearly. You make this world better just by sleeping in it.
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
Tonight's movie comes courtesy of Eleanor Farjeon: Joseph Jefferson, one of the younger of her equally creative brothers, wrote the original short story developed by RKO and Julius Hagen's Real Art Productions into The Ghost Camera (1933). How could I resist a title like that? I discovered that it belonged to a well-regarded quota quickie directed by Bernard Vorhaus, just over an hour long and in the public domain. I called up the least fuzzy version on YouTube and had a wonderful time.

Despite the title, The Ghost Camera is not a supernatural story but a charming light mystery, rather like the more comedic of Hitchcock's romantic thrillers or a cozy Agatha Christie. I had never before seen its star Henry Kendall, but he is a national treasure as the nebbishy chemist who comes into accidental possession of the eponymous camera and its last snap of some vague violent act between two figures, which he has just enough time to realize might be the evidence of a murder before some person unknown breaks-and-enters his darkroom and absconds with both the camera and its half-developed, spectral negative. The only potential clues remain in the other, overlooked photographs, which appear to show quite ordinary subjects like a girl standing in the doorway of a house, a train viewed from across its track, a ruined castle viewed from a moving angle, the picturesque signage of an inn with the unhelpfully generic name of the "Red Lion." Tracing each of these images, putting them into their correct narrative order like frames cut from a film, our hero will recapitulate the progress of a witness to murder—or a murderer themselves—but the tone is not so much Antonioni and Blow-Up (1966) as it's like watching a member of the Drones Club try to take up amateur detecting. Seriously, Kendall as he enters the picture is a damn near dead ringer for Richard Garnett's Gussie Fink-Nottle, down to the gawky stoop and the unfortunate spit curl; his diction is clearer, though just as lugubrious—a kind of fretful drawl, suitable to statements like "Man is an irrational animal, Sims, persisting to hope for what his reason has proven nonexistent." (He's talking to his assistant about going on vacation.) He could be early Campion if he were thinner and fairer, distractedly twiddling with his hat and pushing his glasses up his nose in sheepish speechlessness. When an attractive girl tells him with more than a hint of interest that he's funny, he responds with serious self-examination: "I don't think I've ever been considered particularly humorous. I should think I err rather on the side of solemnity—almost morbidity." As with Garnett, I suspect the actor was basically good-looking—the stills from Counsel's Opinion (1933) look like it—but he disguises it well with horn-rims, bowtie, and a wonderfully embarrassing little snort of a laugh with which he breaks up some of his more sententious observations. The highest compliment his assistant can pay him is "He's much better than he sounds."

The plot itself is speedy and straightforward enough that any further discussion risks giving the rest of it away, which would actually do the movie a disservice; nonetheless, its major interest remains its cast and its cinematography. In the role of the prime suspect, a jeweler's employee already under suspicion of diamond theft, we get John Mills in his second appearance on film, so young that he's recognizable only by his voice and nascent cheekbones and the way his hair falls down over one eye; Ida Lupino as his sister is even younger and less familiar-looking in her fourth feature outing, a blonde waif with a very British accent she never allowed near any of her American noirs. She and Kendall have a screwball chemistry, panicking into one another's arms after a threatening incident at an inn in the middle of the night and utterly failing to notice that she's in her slip and he's in his boxers and socks until the innkeeper knocks them up and they flee into opposing corners of the same blanket, winding themselves into a sort of conjoined toga. (She will fall asleep on his shoulder, apologizing for being "terribly tiring" while he reassures her with one of the great understated deliveries of our time, "On the contrary, I find it excessively stimulating.") Cinematographer Ernest Palmer is not to be confused with his American counterpart of the same name, but his work behind the camera, combined with the editing of an equally young David Lean, is gonzo. We've got whip pans, fast zooms, handheld camera, kaleidoscopic wipes between scenes and sudden drops into subjective camera like a flashback depicted strictly from the narrator's perspective or an anxious, reeling montage when an accused man enters the courtroom. When the word "murder" is uttered for the first time onscreen, it is promptly spelled out by a quick-cut succession of newspapermen—"M for mother, U for uncle, R for red"—culminating in the gasp of a telephone operator who brings the whole word together just in time for the newsreader to pick the rest of the sentence up. The trial itself is elided into dissolving shots of the courtroom artist whose sketch of the prisoner in the dock elaborates, at the announcement of the verdict, into the portrait of a convict in jail. I would love to be able to draw some formal, thematic link between the camerawork which keeps drawing attention to itself and the significance of the camera in the plot, as if reminding the audience to take all apparent objectivity with a grain of silver halide, but mostly I think it's just the film having fun with its genre, as it does when Kendall correctly predicts the adorability of Lupino from the simple reasoning that "the heroine of a mystery drama is always a ravishing creature."

I recognize that some very specific forces produced the British quota quickies that did not apply to their American B-movie counterparts, but I like them for a lot of the same reasons: character actors, invention on a shoestring, the latitude to play weirder than the prestige pictures. The Ghost Camera even has location shooting—the ruins are Corfe Castle in Dorset, standing in for the fictitious "Norman Arches, a few miles from Merefield, Surrey"—though I would call it lagniappe rather than the main attraction. That would be Mills at twenty-five, Lupino at fifteen, and Henry Kendall whom you may pry from my silly-ass fingers only if you pass me some actual Wodehouse first. Farjeon's screenwriting credits just give me further incentive to check out Michael Powell's The Phantom Light (1935). Vorhaus' resume frustratingly includes the Hollywood blacklist, but if most of his work was comparable to The Ghost Camera, he left a decent legacy regardless. If nothing else, it is the only movie I have ever seen use slide whistles to signify suspense. Admittedly I can see why that didn't catch on. This snapshot brought to you by my sharp-eyed backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Tonight in Judaica: I made nearly a hundred hamantashn in four different flavors. (It may have been a hundred before a couple of the more catastrophic outliers got eaten.) The latter part was intentional; the former was a side effect of tripling the usual recipe to make sure that I would have enough to distribute to the various branches of my family and to bring to a social event tomorrow. I definitely do now. It turns out that when you scale up this recipe, you have to add an extra egg to the dough, otherwise it has no cohesion and cracks instead of folding. I always forget how much I like poppy seed paste and how stupid it is that I never do anything with it the rest of the year.

I have received an unexpected unbirthday present from my parents: Werner and Elisabeth Heisenberg's My Dear Li: Correspondence 1937–1946 (2016), edited by Anna Maria Hirsch-Heisenberg and translated by Irene Heisenberg, daughter and daughter-in-law respectively of the physicist and his wife. I've never written about Heisenberg except in context of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, but he's interested me for long enough that this may change. I was coveting the book at the end of last year, partly because of Werner and partly because Elisabeth as a person is utterly unknown to me. I am holding it in reserve until I have completed several work items, none of which got done earlier today because I was baking ~hundred hamantashn and had to visit three grocery stores in order to find both prune and poppy seed fillings. Several of the blackberry ones exploded, but I have no regrets. (The fourth flavor was apricot, like usual.)

How you can tell your daily life now includes much more discussion of dystopia than it had heretofore: while looking up a biographical detail about Flannery O'Connor for your mother, you run across the following photograph and, ignoring Robie Macauley completely, think, "I didn't know she knew the author of Darkness at Noon."

Have an article about H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Barlow. It succeeded in making me want to read the author's novel.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I have finally won a meme. According to this Shakespeare performance generator, I am Drunk Twelfth Night: The Musical. I suspect most of my friendlist would watch that. I certainly would.


It has actually not been the best of weeks, but [ profile] rushthatspeaks and I had dinner at Mamaleh's (we had planned on barbecue at the Smoke Shop, but they had a half-hour wait and too many sports TVs) and I got the salmon collar special with black sesame tahini and a lemon-cardamom soda and I keep forgetting to tell the internet about BROJOB, but they are hilariously queer deathcore with a really adorable social media presence and if they are not already collaborating with Chuck Tingle, by God I hope someone has at least introduced them. They give writing advice like "YOU JUST HAVE TO SPEAK FROM THE HEART. THE HEART OF YOUR BALLS." Maybe he can do cover art for their albums.

Speaking of awesome queer music, I can recommend Against Me!'s Shape Shift with Me (2016) almost as strongly as their previous studio album, 2014's knockout Transgender Dysphoria Blues. I've been listening to it most of the afternoon and evening. Where its predecessor was heavily autobiographical about the process of coming out and transitioning, Shape Shift with Me concentrates on what happens afterward, on relationships in all stages from infatuation, hope, and invitation through passionate frustration and full-bore scorched-earth DGAF. I also now own a T-shirt with the album title on it, since as a philosophy it's the kind of thing I approve of. I am going to watch some kind of movie off the internet because I have been having a terrible time doing anything for myself. Tomorrow I make hamantashn.
sovay: (Default)
Barring the presence of two cats in my cousins' house, I am at the moment entirely alone with a baby for the first time since my niece was the right age: [ profile] rushthatspeaks has gone to pick up [ profile] gaudior from work, leaving me (not unpleasantly) with a tired, slightly fretful, not yet sleeping Fox. The good news is that Yiddish folksong has once again demonstrated soporific properties where this small person is concerned: after listening attentively to "Oy Dortn, Dortn," "Tumbalalayka," "Dona Dona," and "Sheyn Vi Di Levone," they conked out on "Oyfn Pripetshik." It made me happy because that is one of the oldest lullabies in my family: I learned it from my mother who sang me to sleep with it, as her mother did with her, and her mother before her. Then I finished the song and they promptly opened their eyes. I picked up the song again and they blinked sleepily out. I stopped singing. They made a small noise. I started singing. They went back to breathing quietly. Repeat. At this point I have spent the last ten minutes or so humming whatever comes into my head in the superstitious fear of waking the baby if I stop. Maybe their parents will come home soon. [edit: Thank God, they did.]

"I must have played, sung, whistled, and hummed everything I ever knew, and twice over. I was sure I'd have to keep plucking and strumming for the rest of my life."
—Lloyd Alexander, The Castle of Llyr (1966)

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