2017-04-08

sovay: (Rotwang)
It has been a traveling day. We left the house at eight-thirty in the morning and arrived at the con hotel in Tarrytown just after four in the afternoon, having spent the intervening hours on one Amtrak and two Metro-North trains plus associated public transit and a taxi, and while I did stare at my computer for some of that time mostly what I did was doze. New Haven's Union Station looks almost exactly as it did when I last took the Metro-North to Grand Central Station except that the departure board has gone from a fluttering split-flap display to a large flatscreen TV in alternating stripes of red and blue, which is considerably less interesting. I didn't remember a station in West Haven; that's because it opened in 2013. Fairfield Metro would also have been new to me except that I think I was either asleep or reading when we went through it and therefore missed the whole thing. Bridgeport has lost another drawbridge since I last went over the Pequonnock. I didn't know it was Congress Street till I looked it up just now, but I remember its leaves were always open: now they're gone and the severed sections of street on either side greened over like a park, a block of open water running in between. I am afraid I still associate Bridgeport with Richmond City, [personal profile] kenjari, but I'll re-evaluate New London the next chance I get.

[personal profile] spatch faceplanted as soon as we got to the hotel; I got my badge and gravitated immediately toward the dealer's room. At Somewhere in Time Books, I heard the story of how Tundra (1936) was recut into Arctic Fury (1949)—and got to see an original Belgian poster for the former, with our hero menaced by a polar bear while his crashed seaplane smolders in the background—and acquired a first edition of Leigh Brackett's The Starmen (1952) and something called Lord of the Horizon (1943) by Joan Grant, which I picked up because it had a Horus-falcon design on the cover and looked like maybe YA-grade historical fiction and now I am looking forward to it incredibly because apparently the author was writing past-life autobiography and just didn't mention it to her publishers at the time. There is a paperback collection of short fiction by Cornell Woolrich that I wish were not as expensive as it is.

And I knew going into this convention that I was going to miss the Somerville's 35 mm screening of Victor Sjöström's The Wind (1928) on Sunday and I was a little sorry, because I had been impressed by Sjöström's The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen, 1921) and I always enjoy Jeff Rapsis' live scores, but it turns out I didn't have to spend the weekend without a silent film because the media track at Lunacon screened Paul Wegener's The Golem, How He Came into the World (Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam, 1920), accompanied by none other than Jeff. I think I feel about it more or less the way I feel about Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956): I am not sorry to have seen it and it is very obviously a non-Jewish filmmaker telling a Jewish story for a non-Jewish audience. For example, I am skeptical that Rabbi Loew resorted to books of necromancy and the aid of the demon Astaroth to learn the word which would bring the Golem to life. (As a piece of cinema, the summoning of Astaroth is fantastic: the rabbi draws a circle of fire around himself and his useless assistant, holds aloft a six-pointed star and calls into the darkness that has fallen away in all directions from the ordinary confines of his study. Out of the darkness come little fires that dart and dance like self-possessed things before a ring of smoke rises to veil the camera as well as the characters; out of the smoke comes Astaroth like a mask that no one is wearing, its big-eyed, wizened face at once childlike and dreadfully ancient. It is a creepily apt incarnation of a spirit we have been told can give life to anything, even the dead and things that were never alive to begin with—it is not alive itself, it is a carved and painted thing and all the flickering fires of ambient magic cannot lend it even the illusion of life, but it answers the rabbi's call. Smoke spills from its parted lips, far longer and far more of it than a human chest could contain. The letters of a word come wavering up through it: AEMAET. When this word of Astaroth—which is never once associated with Hebrew אמת in the film, nor with the name of God—is placed inside an amulet in the shape of a five-pointed star and fastened to the Golem's chest, he comes to life. And I was incredibly kind to the ten or so other members of the audience and did not bust out with a chorus of "Substitutionary Locomotion." I cannot believe that I never before noticed that Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) is a golem story, but the instant the intertitles flashed "From the dreaded spirit Astaroth I must wrest the life-giving word that will bring the Golem to life to save my people," a penny I didn't know I'd been waiting nearly thirty years for dropped on my head. Miss Price brings the armor to life to fight Nazis, for crying out loud. There just aren't any Jews on the scene, which I can see confusing the issue. But someone on the writing team must have at least bounced off Wegener, because Astaroth is nowhere in Mary Norton's The Magic Bed-Knob (1945) or Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947) and neither is the idea of marshaling a supernaturally animated defense against the threat of genocide. That movie just gets weirder every time I look at it.) Wegener himself plays the Golem and he's great: monumentally tall—six foot six before the built-up boots—massively built, his broad-boned face given a burnished, fired look by its clay-slip makeup, he moves not with robotic stiffness but a stony solidity, a toppling weight in every step; he's a template for Karloff's Monster minus the neck bolts and plus a worse haircut. As with all good monster stories, there is pathos as well as horror in his corner of the uncanny valley. Inevitably he goes on a rampage, but in his defense it wasn't yet a trope. He carries off the heroine for a bit. When he encountered the small child playing with flowers, I think everybody in the room was thankful there wasn't a river nearby. I'm just not sure what to do with the film around him, which I don't believe was made to be anti-Semitic, but which still reproduces a buttweight of Jewish stereotypes combined with cultural inaccuracy to the degree that Wegener's sixteenth-century Prague might as well just have a ghetto of space aliens in the middle of it. Karl Freund did the cinematography, so at least it looks more than fine. All things considered, though, next time I want a shot of German Expressionism I will probably just rewatch Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920). This recognition brought to you by my spirited backers at Patreon.

Dinner was kind of a mess, but we made a run to the supermarket on the other side of the industrial park and now at least we have oatmeal.

When Rob pointed out that the room number on our bedside phone did not match the number on the door, I said automatically, "Your bedroom's not your bedroom, but your telephone don't know," and now I don't know how to get Tom Waits to write the rest of the song.

That's five things; I'm going to bed. I read tomorrow at noon-thirty.
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