sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I am not really catching up on anything. The night we got home from New York, there was an exciting cat-related incident at five in the morning that kept everyone from sleeping until after the sun came up (everyone is fine, cats included), and this morning we were awoken shortly after eight by the sounds of construction thinly separated from our bedroom by some tarpaper and shingles. It is the roofers finally come to prevent further ice dams, but they were supposed to come this weekend while we were out of town and instead they are forecast for the rest of the week. I assume I will sleep sometime on Saturday.

1. There is a meme going around Facebook about the five films you would tell someone to watch in order to understand you. I've been saying Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale (1944), Ron Howard's Splash (1984), Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein (1993), John Ford's The Long Voyage Home (1940), and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953). Which is hardly complete, but adding postscripts feels like cheating, so I haven't. The internet being what it is, of course, I first saw this meme in the mutated form of the five weird meats you would tell someone to eat in order to understand you, to which I had no difficulty replying: venison, blood sausage, snails, goat, and raw salmon.

2. In other memetic news, I tried the Midwest National Parks' automatic costume generator:

National Park Costume Ideas

and while I don't think "Paranoid Hellbender" is a good costume, it'd be a great hardcore band.

3. I haven't done an autumnal mix in a while, so here is a selection of things that have been seasonally rotating. This one definitely tips more toward Halloween.

The sound of a thousand souls slipping under )

I would really like to be writing about anything.

P.S. I just want to point out that if you have recently seen The Robots of Death (1977) and you open a copy of the official tie-in anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View (2017) and see a pair of characters named Poul and Toos, it is extremely confusing that the former is female, the latter is male, they are respectively a senior and a junior officer aboard the Death Star, and neither of them has a problem with robots.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
We are returned from our whirlwind trip to New York. Notes, because I need to fall over—

It is probably just as well that the Great Northern Food Hall is two states away, because otherwise I can see myself eating there until I go broke or burn out on the taste of rye flour, neither of which I want to happen. Not only do they make a superlative cold-smoked salmon, which if you order it as smørrebrød comes on a dense, chewy rye with thin slices of pickled cucumber and radish and generous dots of stiff savory sour cream and if you order it off the regular menu changes up the radish for celery pickle (which it seems I like much better than any other format of celery) and offers you slices of a lighter, crusty sourdough to plate it on for yourself, they serve a pink peppercorn and raspberry shrub which reminded me strongly of Fire Cider, only in a different key of flavors. Their beef tartare had too much red onion for [personal profile] spatch to eat safely, but we both liked the cubes of smoked beet and the startling green dollops of chive mayonnaise. The roast beef mini smørrebrød had a kind of remoulade on top and then little reddish-purple shells of endive. The avocado mini smørrebrød may or may not have needed green tomato pickle, but the chili oil was a nice touch. The server advised about two small plates per person; in fact three small plates at the Great Northern Food Hall was about half a plate more than either of us could handle, but it was all so delicious that we left only bread. I even got to try the sorrel sorbet because they were giving sorbet away for free, saying quite honestly that they had too much left at the end of the week and didn't want it to go to waste. It was a juicy green, vegetal-sweet, and I licked at it as we ran for the trains to Lincoln Center.

I want some kind of credit for changing all of my clothes except for socks and shoes in a stall in the orchestra-level ladies' room of the Met, especially since I had a laptop-containing backpack and my corduroy coat to manage at the same time. I had brought nice clothes for the opera and I was going to wear them, dammit. I dropped nothing in the toilet and got complimented on my hair afterward.

The opera was wonderful. The thing about Les contes d'Hoffmann is that Offenbach died while working on it—he had a complete piano score but only partial orchestration and a lot of dramaturgical questions unresolved—and as a result there has been an ongoing argument about authenticity and convention and dramatic coherence and musical feasibility for the last hundred and thirty-six years. A non-exhaustive list of variations would include: the order in which the second two acts are staged; how one of them ends; whether there is recitative or spoken dialogue in the tradition of the opéra comique; whether the four soprano roles are performed by the same singer; the degree to which the mezzo role is present in the story; which arias are performed by the bass-baritone; how the opera itself ends. Counting Powell and Pressburger's The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), I have literally never seen or heard the same version twice. Not all of this one worked for me as either an interpretation or an edition, but as a production it was oustanding. I liked Vittorio Grigolo's Hoffmann, self-destructive and feverishly hopeful and not one minute sober; I loved Laurent Naouri's Lindorf and other villains, the same dry dark amusement in his voice each act like his changes of coat, different styles, all black; Tara Erraught made the most complex Muse I have seen, a conspirator in each of Hoffmann's romantic disillusions until she begins to wonder if the eventual art is going to pay off the cost or if she's just going to break her poet instead. The mise-en-scène was generally 1920's Mitteleuropa, with excursions to a Parisian fairground for the Olympia act, a remote and wintry forest for the Antonia act, and a smoky Venetian bordello for the Giulietta act, cheerfully and non-naturalistically peppered with waiters in the whiteface of the Kit Kat Klub, carnival callbacks to Tod Browning, and Venetian courtesans in green glitter star-shaped pasties. (Rob said afterward, "That was more skin than I expected from grand opera." Then he got Tom Waits' "Pasties and a G-string" stuck in my head for the rest of the night.) And here the notes started to run away into an actual review which I had to break off abruptly because it hurt too much to type; I'll try to say more tomorrow. At the beginning of the Giulietta act, the Muse in her guise of Nicklausse the student woke up in a pile of pasties-and-G-string ladies with her vest unbuttoned and her cravat untied and I hope each and every one of those ladies went home and wrote an epic poem, or painted, or sculpted, or composed a song. I don't see what else waking up in a pile with the Muse is supposed to do.

We stayed the night with friends who live in Morristown, who had not managed to catch dinner before the opera, so at one-thirty in the morning we were at a diner somewhere in New Jersey, variously ordering things like Greek salad, Tex-Mex rolls, disco fries, and hot chocolate. This is the most collegiate thing that has happened to me in years.

Unfortunately I woke on their semi-fold-out couch the next afternoon with my shoulder frozen and screaming at me, which meant that a lot of getting around Manhattan today was accomplished by Rob carrying my backpack and me making noises whenever I tried to pick anything up, but we made it to the Strand and now I have copies of Derek Jarman's Kicking the Pricks (The Last of England, 1987) and Smiling in Slow Motion (2000) and we had dinner at Veselka, as is now our tradition. They make a borscht better than anything I can get in Boston. I always remember the Baczynski is huge, but forget quite how huge that is, although at least it means I can eat the second half some hours later on the train when I'm hungry again. Much less elevatedly, I can't remember ever eating a Twix bar before, but Rob brought one back from the café car and a lot of candy bars confuse me, but I can say nothing against a biscuit layered in caramel and chocolate.

(It is a small reason among many, but I do resent the resurgence of actual Nazism for making it more difficult to describe the shoutily officious gateman who ordered the woman next to me to drop out of line so that the business class passengers could have their own line to board first from—he kept yelling at her to move over and I along with two or three other people yelled back, "There's nowhere to move!"—as a tin Hitler.)

My shoulder is now hurting in the way it has been all week where the pain runs down my arm and into my fingers, which I suspect means I should call a doctor about it on Monday and definitely stop typing now. But it was worth it. It was a good birthday present.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
Stanislas Petrov died this year. When I saw the news, I wrote, "I feel this is a bad year to lose a man who knew how not to blow up the world."

The nuclear football is the briefcase containing the launch codes for the nuclear weapons in the arsenal of the United States. Currently, in order to open the football and take advantage of its contents, a President of the United States need do nothing more than positively identify himself. The two-man rule requiring the assent of the Secretary of Defense before proceeding to the use of nuclear weapons is something of a fig leaf since, while the Secretary of Defense must verify that the order really came from the President, he cannot legally countermand it. Currently the President of the United States is a man who shows every sign of wanting quite seriously to use nuclear weapons and he can do it without warning and without authorization; he can do it on a whim and I feel that trusting in on-the-spot interference to prevent him—his generals actually tackling him, taking the football out of his hands—is an only marginally less wishful fantasy than the actual ghost of Stanislas Petrov appearing to arrest the turning of launch keys at the last minute, although I'm not saying he shouldn't do that if he feels like it. I would just prefer not to reach that stage if we can help it.

We can help it. There is right now a bill in the Senate and the House—S.200, H.R.669, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017—that would remove the power to launch a preemptive nuclear strike from the President and return it to Congress, which would need to declare war before the authorization of a nuclear strike could even be considered, and [personal profile] rachelmanija has started a campaign to get this bill passed. It is called Pull the Football – Save the World. Its principle is simple. Call your Congresspeople. Write them letters, e-mails, postcards, faxes. Tweet at them. Message them on Facebook. If they are already co-sponsors of the bill, thank them. If they are not, tell them to co-sponsor the bill and then keep telling them. Call again. Write again. Tweet to break the monotony and then call some more. Even if there's not a hope in the domain of much-maligned Hades that they'll act like reasonable human beings, keep reminding them that you expect them to. See Rachel's post for sample scripts, phone numbers, and other helpful information. And if you haven't got Congresspeople at all, please share this information on your social media so that it can reach even more people who do. The idea is the same kind of wave of public outcry as the protests against the repeal of the ACA, only this time in favor of taking action—and in defense of more than just American lives.

I belong to the only country in the world that has employed nuclear weapons in war. For many, many reasons, let's not do it again. And let's start with the football.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Normally I write about trains while I am on them, but today the wireless on the Amtrak Regional was broken until about fifteen minutes before we had to change for the Metro-North at New Haven and the Metro-North doesn't have wi-fi, period. It's a beautiful day to watch the world slide past: light striking dryly off everything, roofs, windshields, fenders, the not yet turning leaves, the daguerreotype glitter of the water beneath a dissolving, overexposed sky and then suddenly crisp metallic blue under the mathematical swells of bridges and between the billows of salt marsh, tawny with fall like the weeds at the side of the tracks. I got the window seat to New Haven, [personal profile] spatch gets it to New York, left-hand side so that we can properly see the sea. A black-bottomed boat bobbing by the docks in New London, a fountain pouring water from the lifted flukes of a bronze whale's tail. Old pilings standing raggedly in the water by a power station in Bridgeport. Small islands in an inlet outside Cos Cob, one or two trees to each, and rowers in a scull like a water strider stroking toward them. Gulls. Graffiti. I never remember to bring a camera, I just stare at the panorama and try to put it into memory. I really like this planet. I'd really like us not to cook it to death.

Around Darien, I looked across the aisle on the Metro-North and the woman with the copy of the New York Post was reading an article with the title "'Psycho' Analysis" with two photographs of Janet Leigh in the shower scene, reminding me that I still owe a review I want very much to write. This week disappeared into work and doctors, as too many of them do.

There is wi-fi in Grand Central Station, or I'd never get this posted. To dinner, and then to meet friends, and then to opera. [edit] The Great Northern Food Hall has superlative smoked salmon. I only wish I had room for the sorrel sorbet.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
Mayor Curtatone finally made a public decision I don't agree with, but he picked a doozy: "Somerville is preparing a regional proposal for Amazon's new headquarters." First of all, I have hated since the start of this process the very idea that Boston has to court Amazon, has to flatter the largest internet retailer on the globe into gracing our brick-and-mortar backwater with its $135 billion presence; Bezos' ego doesn't need the extra stroking. Second, I don't want Amazon in Boston: I don't want to become the Seattle of the East Coast or, God forbid, the San Francisco. I don't want to live in a company town. I especially don't want to live in a company town with Amazon's well-documented, exploitative employment practices. And I really, especially don't want to see Somerville, which is struggling enough with costs of living and gentrification and rents approaching asymptote, turn into an exploded shell of itself with the neutron star of Amazon at its core. When I feel less like a bomb went off in my head, I will try to write some less furious version of the above and send it to the city. I cannot see any way in which an Amazon "campus" in Somerville ends well, except for Amazon.
sovay: (Rotwang)
I am aware this post is late, but I was wrestling with the Amtrak website. Its shiny new interface crashed and lost our tickets. Fortunately, I have a phone like you make calls with and I got a human being and now I have tickets again. Opera, here we come.

The trouble with me and National Coming Out Day is that I don't have a coming-out story. I tend to explain my sexuality as follows:

I am interested in people. They come with the bodies they come with. Sometimes those bodies change. Sometimes they belong to people who are cis, sometimes to people who are trans, sometimes to people who are not on the gender binary. In all cases, my interest in a body follows on my experience of a person; all of my romantic relationships have developed out of friendships, with the land speed record taking three months and the other end of the range six years. I find a great many people beautiful. It doesn't mean I want to sleep with them. I want to sleep with relatively few people as these things are rated, but when I do, I really do. I never expected to marry, so it still amazes me that I have one husband and one lover. Label-wise, I identify as bisexual; I also answer to queer. I began identifying as poly when I started to have more than one partner. I dislike the term "demisexual" in the extreme because I think there is nothing halfway about my sexuality. I have never known how to fill out the -romantic part of the sticker set because I don't believe I make that distinction. The last time I was asked about my gender, I believe I answered "BLARGH."

In my ordinary life, however, the process of making people aware of these facts has been not so much a series of significant announcements as a general non-concealment of how I work. [edit] And then I deleted most of the rest of this post because it suffered from an access of Tiny Wittgenstein: I am not somehow less queer because it didn't give me tsuris growing up.

My non-coming-out story is that I'm not sure it was news to my parents that I was capable of being attracted to women,1 but it came up conversationally in my senior year of high school because it was really awkward to be distractingly attracted to a female friend while still in a relationship with the male friend who had introduced us and I didn't know whether I should try to talk to her about it. In the end I didn't, because I thought she wasn't interested, and some years later it turned out she had been and thought I wasn't, and the only conclusions I can draw here are (a) always talk to people, because without information you literally never know (b) gaydar is overrated.

I don't know if Ron Koertge's "Cat Women of the Moon" was timed by Rattle to be thematic or not, but I really like it.

1. It was not exactly news to me: I was no more surprised to find myself attracted to a female friend at seventeen than I was to find myself attracted to a male friend at nineteen except insofar as I never assumed I would be attracted to anyone. What would have surprised me was exclusive attraction to one gender. Long before I wanted to go to bed with anyone, I knew the idea of it being gender-determined made no sense to me.
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
We did not find the phantom ship.

[personal profile] spatch met me after my doctor's appointment so that we could visit the Petco near Lechmere and purchase one of the particular kinds of cat food that is best for Autolycus. We fortified ourselves with purchases of bagels and fudge at Boston Public Market (although I cannot recommend the cream cheese at Levend; I understand that it is farm-fresh and locally sourced, but a grainy texture and a taste so sour that I have to double-check with the seller to make sure it hasn't actually gone off are not what I look for in something that's supposed to go on top of a bagel and under some lox) and set out into the afternoon, which was finally starting to feel like October after yesterday's tropical fog. We had planned to walk straight over the locks of the Charles River Dam, but the sky was such a clear cloud-brushed blue and the water that silt-shot dragon-green that shifts under the sun that we took the North Washington Street Bridge instead for the pleasure of the view, its hundred-and-seventeen-year-old trusses and rivets making rusted parallelograms against the sky. There are still piers that run out from the dam under the swing span of the bridge, where the turntable has been frozen as long as either of us can remember. There were masts we didn't recognize rising out of the skyline on the other side of the river. We couldn't figure out what they belonged to: obviously not the rigging of the USS Constitution, the yachts at Constitution Marina were all too close and too small, and we thought the tall ships were all out of town. So we walked to the Charlestown Navy Yard in order to get a better look and got so distracted by the hollow granite amphitheater of Dry Dock 1 where the Constitution was recently relaunched after a two-year refit that we spent the next hour at the USS Constitution Museum. Rob made me a birthday present of the second edition of David Kruh's Always Something Doing: Boston's Infamous Scollay Square (1999). He also got some fine pictures of the WWII-era portal crane that stands on its iron tracks at the head of the USS Cassin Young: the battleship grey of its paint has flaked and rusted to lichen and tortoiseshell and some of the small glass panes in its cabin are missing, but its cables are all still taut; a plate on the front advertises it as the manufacture of American Hoist & Derrick. From the very end of Pier 1, looking northeast across the wharves, we could see the mysterious masts again with no better idea of what kind of ship lay under them. Nor did we ever figure out why a helicopter from the NYPD was circling the yard. Maybe it had something to do with the one-gun salute fired by the Constitution and the playing of "Taps," or perhaps that had to do with the flag we saw being folded as some people in military uniform and some people in civilian dress came down the gangway of the ship, or perhaps that was some unrelated ceremony: dusk, a memorial, I have no idea. We have all these civic rituals and I know so few of them. The sunset had left an ember-band on the horizon, the autumnal color of pumpkins and Bradbury leaves; later it faded apple-green and steel-violet. I love the bridges of this city, even the broken ones. The last of Millers River runs under I-93, reflecting like a canal between concrete pillars and the industrial dunes of Boston Sand and Gravel. The Zakim rumbles and sings with traffic, winking with green and red lights after dark. As we came back across the curving footbridge of North Point Park, the double drawbridge out of North Station blew its siren and tipped up, slowly and tectonically, to let a boat through.

Predictably, not only did the phantom ship elude us, but the Petco was out of the particular kind of cat food. The buses were terrible. We had to visit two different convenience stores for heavy cream. We arrived home hours later than planned, fed ravenous cats, made fettuccine alfredo and sausage for our ravenous selves, Rob passed out, I wrote this. I got salt and the sea and a new book. I have learned from Judith Mayne's Directed by Dorothy Arzner (1994) that Arzner and William Haines worked together on Craig's Wife (1936)—not as director and actor, but as director and production designer. On the poetry front, Katie Bickham's "The Ferryman" has been haunting me for a couple of days. Not everything is all right, but today was good.

Next time, the phantom ship.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
Guess who has two thumbs and parents who gave them a book on Dorothy Arzner for their birthday?

Strictly speaking, I also have a book on Norman Bel Geddes and several cards and an IOU from my brother and his family for the original cast recording of Gian Carlo Menotti's The Consul (1950). It was a quiet day, which was not a bad thing after the intensity of the weekend. We had dinner with my family, surf and/or turf as was variously preferred; I had lobster Madison-style, which means I tore it satisfyingly apart with my bare hands. My mother baked a hazelnut-flour cake and my brother layered it with whipped cream and raspberries. My father took the back off Bertie Owen and blew out his fan with a can of compressed air and a dramatic clog of cat fur shot out, which explains the overheating. I just have to survive the work week until Friday, when a college friend has bought me birthday tickets to Les contes d'Hoffmann at the Met. I don't know how the year is going to go, but I am doing my best to be here.
sovay: (Rotwang)
It's half past three in the morning local time, so technically it's my birthday, but it never feels like one until I wake up. Erev birthday. Normally I measure my age by fictional characters, but the only thirty-six-year-old character currently occurring to me is Dean Priest in L. M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon (1923) and while it's true I imprinted on him in fifth grade, it's also true that he is kind of a massive creep. I did learn Latin and Greek, and I have been to Rome (though not Athens), and it is almost true that I care for nothing save books nor ever have; I can't estimate my own cynicism, but my physical health is pretty crap. I think I will fall back on some general idea of tzaddiks until I think of someone better. I don't ruin other people's art when they love it better than me.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I realize it would be funnier if I saw Psycho (1960) twice in one day and then got nervous of showers, but I am afraid I came out of the shower just fine and talking about Psycho II (1983) and III (1986)—sorry, Hitch. My early birthday present actually totaled seven hours of Anthony Perkins: I sat through the triple feature and then stayed for the evening re-run of Psycho. It was like a miniature marathon. [personal profile] teenybuffalo came for the evening show. [personal profile] spatch dropped by II on his break. The streets when I went outside between the first two movies were filled with HONK! and I count myself lucky that I managed to purchase a macaroon from the Diesel, because any place that sold actual food (or, God forbid, ice cream) I wasn't getting near without siege machinery. I didn't manage to eat dinner until eleven o'clock tonight, but I had a wonderful time. Review definitely forthcoming, albeit after I finish some major work. Unrelatedly, I promise, I wish I were in D.C. to see this exhibit on Frances Glessner Lee.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
Good afternoon, internet. I am off to watch the Somerville Theatre's triple feature of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Richard Franklin's Psycho II (1983), and Perkins' Psycho III (1986). It is my intention to return with reviews, although the timing will depend on work commitments I have this weekend. In the meantime, my early birthday present to myself is five and a half hours of Anthony Perkins.

sovay: (Claude Rains)
Nothing Sacred (1937) may be the most cynical screwball comedy I have ever seen in my life. It is a delight.

For the record, we're talking A-picture. The film was directed by William Wellman and written by Ben Hecht until he fell out with producer David O. Selznick over not casting John Barrymore and the script was turned over to the divers hands of Dorothy Parker, Budd Schulberg, Ring Lardner Jr., George S. Kaufman, and other people it is actually not terrible to have to call in as last-minute script doctors; it stars Carole Lombard and Fredric March and I have my fingers crossed that the HFA has a decent print, because it was the first Technicolor film to incorporate effects like montage and rear projection and its location footage of New York City is top-notch. The score is by Oscar Levant and Raymond Scott, if you can believe it. And its romantic heroes are a small-town girl who scams her misdiagnosis of terminal illness into a free trip to the big city and the newspaperman who's more than cheerful to make her tragedy his meal ticket and the proof-of-love scene involves them trying to knock one another's blocks off and the happy ending finds him disparaging the attention span of her public and her defending the honor of her imposture and the tippling doctor who got the plot into this fix in the first place waking up still drunk, obviously having forgotten that they all fled incognito to the tropics, and bawling out the porthole of the steamer, "Run for your life! The hotel's flooded!" If you're looking for a moral, you've come to the wrong movie. The credits are decorated with caricatures of cast and crew alike. New York City is introduced in panorama as the "Skyscraper Champion of the World . . . where the Slickers and the Know-It-Alls peddle gold bricks to each other . . . and where Truth, crushed to earth, rises again more phony than a glass eye," but the fine rural citizens of Warsaw, Vermont wouldn't give George Washington any competition for that cherry tree. March's Wally Cook is so overjoyed to learn that his beloved isn't dying of radium poisoning after all that when Lombard's Hazel Flagg starts to pitch him an apology, he breezily promises to cheat on her for the next fifty years to make up for it. If it weren't for the release date, I would be tempted to wonder if this movie were some kind of late-breaking pre-Code. The showgirl who gives the camera the finger is just lagniappe.

I knew about Lombard and comedy: she was one of the luminaries of the screwball era and Nothing Sacred is her sole Technicolor film, for which alone it would be valuable. I had no idea about Fredric March. He did very well as one-third of a three-way with Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins in Lubitsch's Design for Living (1933), but Noël Coward is a different skill set than screwball. He's marvelous as a professional trickster who's a private sap, a cynic who falls in love without slush and switches gears seamlessly from grieving to spin: "Because I love you. Because I'm going to marry you. And I don't want to spend my honeymoon hanging around Sing Sing, blowing kisses to you in the exercise yard!" That's the pre-Code spirit: no guilt and no comeuppance. Wally doesn't for a second feel bad about exploiting a supposedly dying girl in order to boost the circulation of the Morning Star and get himself out of the doghouse with his tetchy editor, he just starts to mind the dying part once he's fallen in love with her. Hazel feels bad about her fakery only insofar as she worries it might blow up her romance; otherwise the real downside is the maudlin, preemptive, performative grief that the city schmaltzes all over "the bravest kid who ever lived" or, as she's immortalized by a visiting poet in a prime piece of fish-wrap, "Oh Laughing Girl Upon the Brink of Death / Oh Singing Heart Before the Door of Doom . . ." The city fathers don't miss a photo op presenting her with the key. Nightclub emcees dedicate floor shows to her frail, touching heroism. Delicatessens boast with their window displays that "Miss Hazel Flagg Lunched Here To-Day" (the camera pulls back to chase this last with the telling advertisement "All Kinds of Cheese and Bologna Our Specialty"). Wally's editor is so blithely ambulance-chasing that the revelation of Hazel's no longer impending demise from radiation plunges him into a depression from which he can be revived only by the report that she might have come down with galloping pneumonia instead. Even Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940), otherwise a high-water mark for low morals in journalism, takes a moment of silence for the death of an innocent incurred in the callous pursuit of a good story. There's no such pause in Nothing Sacred. To be fair, in Nothing Sacred nobody dies, but when a main character lies to the rest of the cast for two acts out of three, the audience expects at least a beat of betrayal, recrimination, reconciliation. Instead it throws us a slapstick fistfight staged for the express purpose of getting Hazel exhausted and sweaty and panting enough to pass for sick in bed with pneumonia. (In another deft tweak of the Code, the dialogue leads the audience to wonder for a dizzy moment whether Wally is just going to sex her into the necessary state of pseudo-fever—of course he can't with Joseph Breen looking over his shoulder, but the image lingers.) The plot rackets from deception to discovery and on to the next deception. Being a romantic comedy insures it against too much of a downer ending, but it absolutely resists cheap or even expensive sentiment along the way. And it loves its lovers, which only heightens the effect. There is not a hint of tsk-tsking from the narrative, the kind of indulgent schadenfreude that would make it morally acceptable to enjoy the antics of the lead couple because we all know they are wrong; it doesn't present them as terrible people who deserve one another à la Twentieth Century (1934) or, again, His Girl Friday. Wally and Hazel are clever, silly, antiheroic, attractive, and really in love. That the film so consistently endorses them illustrates the virtue of screwball as romance: love in this genre can be breathtakingly amoral, but it's rarely mean-spirited. It's no disgrace to go head over heels for it—even literally. Settle for being a sucker for everything you read, though, and pal, you're on your own.

I have not read the source short story, published in Cosmopolitan in 1937, so I can't say whether James H. Street's "Letter to the Editor" is more or less satirical than its movie, more or less romantic, or even whether it follows the same arc. Certainly it wouldn't have Lombard's ability to look unbelievably beautiful and utterly goofy in the same gesture or the thousand-yard deadpan with which March wears a paper cup from the water bubbler like a feather in his fedora, grimly pounding out obituaries while feeling like one himself. I confess myself skeptical that any of its dialogue could be snappier than Hecht, Parker et al. ("For good, clean fun, there's nothing like a wake."–"Oh, please, let's not talk shop"). I would not be surprised if the film invented the Viennese radiation specialist and his heel-clicking coterie, not to mention the New England town so mean that when Wally walks by a picket-fenced yard, a toddler darts out and chomps him on the leg, and I don't see how a short story could reproduce the sardonic effect of a camera that shoots an emotionally tremulous moment with a tree limb blocking both characters' faces or circles a shipping crate while a love scene is going on inside. Except for a few moments of racial humor, which are at least mildly mitigated by the character played by Troy Brown being just as unashamedly out for himself as anyone else in the story, for better or worse I don't think the script has dated at all. But it is also caustically topical, especially in its indictment of the public's "trick tears and phony lamentations" that don't in any way translate to altering conditions at the Paragon Watch Factory so that girls before and after Hazel won't die of radium poisoning for real. There are some sharp, stealthy bones beneath the bright skin of this film. Six months after the release of Nothing Sacred, five of the infamous "Radium Girls" would finally win their decade-long suit against the Chicago watch-dial factory that had fatally and knowingly poisoned them. The article in which Wally first reads about Hazel includes mention of two previous deaths. Before she learned her diagnosis was a mistake, she dreamed wistfully of traveling on her factory bonus of "that two hundred dollars you get for dying in Warsaw." What can you do with a world like that, except take it for all you can get, love included? This sob story brought to you by my cynical backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
Notes from a day which involved a lot of running around, although the part where I saw a friend in the afternoon was good, and the spotlight-white full moon is spectacular.

1. Autolycus' results came back from the vet. He will need us to watch what we feed him, but otherwise he is going to be fine. We are very relieved. He is an important small cat.

2. Reproduced from comments over at [ profile] greygirlbeast's, because I never did get around to writing about Robert Aldrich's The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) on my own time:

I love that movie. I can't even count how many times I've seen it. It is almost certainly the first movie in which I saw James Stewart (though possibly not Richard Attenborough, since The Great Escape (1963) was always playing somewhere in my childhood), definitely Hardy Krüger, Ian Bannen, Ernest Borgnine, Dan Duryea, the rest of them. I find it a comfort movie. Everyone in it is flawed and everyone in it is fucked up and nevertheless they manage to pull together and rescue themselves against all obstacles including themselves; the script insists on its two central figures both being sympathetic, being wrong at different points, and both being right. I'm more used to seeing that kind of complexity in stories where the equal and opposing forces explode. It's really nice not to have that happen. It's not presented as easy. But nothing else would have saved their lives.

3. I understand from the internet that The Eagle and the Hawk (1933) is perhaps the bleakest of the pre-Code aviation war films adapted from the works of John Monk Saunders, which in a genre that includes the original version of The Dawn Patrol (1930) and The Last Flight (1931) is saying something. I will almost certainly watch it if it comes around on TCM, because I have lately become interested in Fredric March. I regret that this studio photograph appears to be lying to me, however, when it suggests some kind of wartime OT3 of March, Cary Grant, and Carole Lombard, because I'd watch that even faster.

The Eagle and the Hawk
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
Today's primary events: doctor's appointment in the early afternoon and on either side taking Autolycus to and from the vet with the invaluable assistance of [personal profile] rushthatspeaks (and later Fox). This process began at five-thirty in the morning and concluded at five in the evening. At one point a taxi was involved. I have slept half an hour since yesterday. I immensely appreciate [personal profile] spatch ordering dinner.

(Autolycus is home safe, fed and washed, and now being hissed at by his sister who if she follows the usual pattern will tell him he smells funny for about the next four days, then groom his ears violently and forget all about it.)

It appears to be an unforeseen side effect of Cleopatra (1963) that I have had the entire score of Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum rotating through my head for the last forty-eight hours; Carry On Cleo (1964) is probably the missing link. As a person who grew up on the original 1963 London cast of Forum with Frankie Howerd rather than the original 1962 Broadway cast with Zero Mostel, I will never cease to be delighted by the existence of Up Pompeii! (1969–70), but I am disappointed that all the episodes currently available on YouTube are the cropped-and-zoomed kind in hopes of evading official notice. So much for staring at that any time soon.

On a different note entirely, it was only last night that I realized Hope Mirrlees' Lud-in-the-Mist (1926) contains the earliest instance I have personally seen in fiction of that seasonally appropriate horror trope, the carnival of the dead. That novel is seriously underrated as a work of the uncanny.

That's it for mental capacity around here. I am going to lie on a couch until the pizza arrives.
sovay: (Psholtii: in a bad mood)
The first song I ever heard by Tom Petty was his cover of Dylan's "License to Kill." Between the violent news out of Las Vegas and the recent confirmation of Petty's death, it should not be difficult to guess my mental soundtrack at the moment.

[edit] Or perhaps he is not dead: the link I used earlier today has now posted a retraction. I will see what's said next. Nobody is retracting the news out of Vegas.

[edit edit] What is said next is that he has died.
sovay: (I Claudius)
Rabbit, rabbit. As Bertie Owen, my faithful one-lunged laptop, is still having trouble with the idea of not cooking himself to death in half-hour installments, please find herein a short review of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Cleopatra (1963).

The shortest version is that for all its reputation as a four-hour camp-fest, Cleopatra is not a bad film at all; it is in fact a good film, but it is doubtful that it could ever have been good enough to make up for nearly bankrupting 20th Century Fox. Its production woes are almost as legendary as its subject matter, encompassing two different shoots from scratch in as many countries and under as many directors (Rouben Mamoulian in London, Mankiewicz in Rome) with a revolving door of a cast and a shooting script that never existed as such, being written and rewritten, as if Penelope of Ithaka were in the movie business rather than textiles, each night for the next day's scenes. Elizabeth Taylor successfully negotiated for an unprecedented million-dollar contract and then almost died of pneumonia during the failed British shoot whose elaborate sets and costumes, abandoned by Hollywood, were presently, gloriously co-opted by Pinewood Studios for Carry on Cleo (1964). Her marriage did die, along with Richard Burton's, right on set before God and the paparazzi, and on some level I feel any film whose presiding deities are Isis and Venus should have seen that coming. The budget exploded. The studio imploded. Mankiewicz's original plan of two back-to-back movies—Caesar and Cleopatra and Antony and Cleopatra—was forcibly condensed in the cutting room into one 248-minute Cleopatra which was then further shortened for general release, although the premiere version has since been recovered and is what I saw on 70 mm on Thursday night. It was the highest-grossing film of its year. It did not make back its original costs. Considering those were $44 million in 1963 money, nobody should look surprised. I don't even want to get into its historical accuracy: Mankiewicz was the writer-director who put Latin graffiti on the sound stages of Julius Caesar (1953), so I don't believe his artistic choices were made in ignorance, but since it is recorded nowhere in Plutarch or Suetonius or Appian that the last spasm of the civil wars of the Roman Republic was inaugurated by Octavian personally shanking Sosigenes of Alexandria in the Forum of Rome, I think we can leave the historicity of the production somewhat permanently aside. I tend to associate the term film maudit with cult objects, experimental films, stuff that's so weird it risks your sanity to see it, but Cleopatra makes a good case for a mainstream application of the term.

And yet I have trouble thinking of a filmed interpretation that I like better, even the 1934 pre-Code version with Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra and Henry Wilcoxon as Antony and a bargeful of catgirls as a hell of a thing to see after midnight on a big screen. Four hours gives a smart script a lot of time for characterization as well as pageantry and Mankiewicz's script is not dumb. Neither is its leading lady. Taylor's Cleopatra is the most political Cleopatra I have seen: a strategist as well as a survivor, ambitious and aware at every second of the effect she is making, the power that is hers and the power she has to leverage from the men around her; her body with its beauty and fertility is the obvious instrument, but her brain and her fearless showmanship are underestimated at her opponents' peril. Descendant of one of Alexander's generals, she sees herself as the inheritor of his dream of empire, Alexandria at the heart of the world. If she must ally with Rome to realize it, then "the cloak of Alexander cannot be too heavy for Rome and Egypt to carry together." And the script is on her side. The famous anecdote of the carpet makes a disarmingly goofy entrance, spilling a black-haired, violet-eyed girl with little in the way of royal paint or jewelry face-down at the feet of Rex Harrison's amused Caesar: within seconds she's sizing him up, challenging his colonial complacency, criticizing his maps. He speaks flippantly of her divine titles and she corrects him with a cool burn on the fabled ancestry of the gens Iulia: "I am Isis. I am worshipped by millions who believe it. You are not to confuse what I am with the so-called divine origin that every Roman general seems to acquire together with his shield." An early confrontation in her bath is carefully staged to play up to Roman expectations of Eastern decadence and yet to demonstrate that this young queen is no provincial—reclining among an Oriental fantasy of waving fans and diaphanous veils, she's listening to a musical recitation of the poetry of Catullus, who famously declared (among other invective that could never have been translated nicely enough for the screen in '63) nil nimium studeo, Caesar, tibi velle placere, / nec scire utrum sis albus an ater homo. In the aftermath of the siege of Alexandria and her brother's death offscreen in the Battle of the Nile, she meets Caesar's admission that he didn't trust her enough to tell her about the reinforcements coming from Pergamon with the reveal that she not only had him watched but spied on him herself, down to his most intimate secret of seizures and headaches: truth for truth.

To be very clear, I am not saying that Taylor's Cleopatra is never loving, or generous, or spontaneous, or afraid of loss; she can be all of these things and slyly funny besides. But she is Egypt's queen, and Egypt itself, and neither she nor the script forgets it. Her entrance into Rome is an eight-and-a-half-minute showcase of political theater: waves of dancers with silks and colored smokes, tribal regalias of Africa and Egyptian friezes come to life, archers and cavalry, a flight of live doves, and finally the daughter of the Ptolemies herself, drawn through the Arch of Constantine on an enormous sphinx as black as the Nile against the red-bannered dazzling whiteness of the Forum's marble.1 The crowd screams for her, exactly as they would for the modern celebrity she extra-diegetically is. She is clad like Isis herself in feathered gold, her young son by Caesar glittering as Horus at her side. Borne down to the Mars-red carpet on the shoulders of men as black and gold as her sphinx, she bows deeply before her lover, her husband in the Egyptian rite, the man who is all but king of Rome. And as she raises her eyes to triumphant Caesar, she winks. It is almost over the top, except it tells the audience unambiguously what is going on. The procession is a spectacle of submission for the punters: all the fabulous wealth of Egypt at Caesar's feet, all that exotic beauty and he knocked her up to boot. Let the Senate fume; the people of Rome are eating it up. And they have managed it all between the two of them, like a director and his star. (Fortunately this metaphor does not extend so far as to get Mankiewicz assassinated, although I'm sure Darryl F. Zanuck at least thought about it.)

You have a way of mixing politics and passion. Where does one begin and the other leave off? )

Okay, that wasn't short at all, but I had to write it in blocks and it took me days; it had all the frustrations of writing to wordcount while not actually being over any sooner. I don't understand Cleopatra's reputation as a flop or a trashy pleasure at best. I liked it a hell of a lot better than DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956). It was almost enough to make me forgive Mankiewicz for the hack job he did on The Quiet American (1958). I know no one in their right mind would have given him money for it, but I came away genuinely, weirdly sorry that he never wrote or directed a version of the Pharsalia, because at times his script for Cleopatra has the anti-epic, black-comic edge that characterizes Lucan's poem: Octavian seasick at Actium, Antony's repeated attempts at a heroic death; in Shakespeare, he can get an ear for the best lines in the play, but when Burton addresses the crowd at Caesar's funeral, we can't even hear a word he says. And the film is, in fact, stunning on a big screen: the monumental architecture, the lavish set dressing, the hyper-real saturation of Technicolor which does half the immersive work of the cinematography. It was well received by its audience. Once or twice they snickered at some moment they thought melodramatic, but more often they laughed in appreciation or even cheered, which is a great thing to hear two thousand years after the fact. (When Antony returns to Cleopatra as an awkwardly married envoy of Rome and she puts him on his knees for it, both [personal profile] spatch and I heard an impressed "DAAAMN.") Expenses, editing, and ill health be damned, as far as I'm concerned the film is entirely worth its four hours and probably even its $44 million. This spectacle brought to you by my strategic backers at Patreon.

1. I know the Arch of Constantine wasn't built until three centuries after Cleopatra's death, and you know that Roman monuments and statues were as brightly painted as anything else in the ancient world, but I said I wasn't getting into historical accuracy because otherwise that'll be a review of its own and I'm sticking to it. Just for the record, however, let me note that Taylor's costumes are a gorgeous panoply of '60's fashions intermittently influenced by Greek and Egyptian styles, she looks great in all of them, and I hope no one ever tried to explain that leopardskin duffel coat she wears to the Battle of Actium.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
As of last night, Bertie Owen appears to be trying to observe the Days of Awe by having a nervous breakdown, so any substantive thoughts I had on Cleopatra (1963) will have to wait until I have a laptop whose single fan doesn't whine at an ear-lacerating pitch all the time it's turned on. In the meantime, a couple of things I can get down quickly.

1. I discovered Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling with the announcement of their debut EP The New Number 2 (2010), the first in a planned cycle of songs based on episodes of The Prisoner (1967–68). How could I not head down to the now-defunct Church of Boston to see what that sounded like? It sounded great. They were one of the rare bands I followed live, including two release parties. I have a T-shirt for the second EP, Questions Are a Burden to Others (2011), and at least one set of buttons and stickers. They remained one of my favorite local bands right up until last year when they moved from Somerville to L.A. and the "local" part dropped out of the equation. With the release of their latest and last EP Whose Side Are You On (2017), DNFMOMD have finally completed the project. The full cycle is available in broadcast order under the title information . . . information . . . information! The Complete Prisoner Recordings (2017) and I strongly suggest kicking the band some money for it, because Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein are people who do interesting music no matter what genre they're in. Their video for "Episode 1: Arrival" remains unparalleled.

2. I have now lost track of how many times I have YouTube-listened to Anthony Perkins singing "Never Will I Marry" from the original 1960 Broadway cast recording of Frank Loesser's Greenwillow. It's breathtaking. I understand that he was in rehearsal for Greenwillow at the same time that he was shooting Psycho and that even if the musical hadn't folded within the first hundred performances, his fame as Norman Bates would have blown even a Tony nomination (which he got) off the map, and in point of fact the musical did fold, because while the score is Loesser's fascinating and not totally flawed attempt at a folk quasi-opera, everything I have ever read about the book suggests that it is fatally talky and never got its comic and dramatic elements properly organized; so far as I know it's never been revived. I have the vague impression that occasionally a track or two would go by on Standing Room Only, because I was aware the show existed before Wednesday night. But if I ever heard this number, I wasn't paying attention. Perkins is playing Gideon Briggs, current eldest son of a family whose eldest sons are all cursed to wander: for this reason they are encouraged not to form relationships, although Gideon's father married before leaving town and returns periodically, salmon-like, to father another child and then be pulled away into the world again. Gideon himself is in love with a local girl and of the age when any day now he'll start hearing the "call" of the curse and it is this state of affairs that prompts "Never Will I Marry," with its fancifully worded verse which is so quick and bitterly spoken melting into the mourning acceptance of the refrain. It's a song of longing and renunciation, but Perkins makes it sound almost perversely like an anthem. It reminds me of Patrick Wolf's "The Bachelor." It taps directly into that otherness he carried into most of his roles, that was just about to explode off the screen in Psycho. And he's more than up to it vocally, all that nervous energy making a folk aria of a poignant but appropriately simple melody. He just vaults for those high notes, achingly. It gives me chills. No wonder the Tony nomination, if he was like that every night on stage: whatever the show was like around him, he would have been electrifying. If he had stayed in musical theater, if he had had any kind of serious singing career (I know there are a couple of pop albums; they all predate Greenwillow), I would have expected this to be one of his standards, one of his characteristically identified songs. Instead I read that it was covered by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand and with all due respect to both of them, I can't imagine either version having the same power.

3. For everyone to whom it is relevant, an easy fast.
sovay: (I Claudius)
In my defense, it was the one clean classical-themed shirt in my drawer, but I should have expected that a person who wears a T-shirt for the Legio VI Victrix to a 70 mm screening of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Cleopatra (1963) is going to get some dirty looks at the end of the show.
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
I have wanted to hear the original television cast of Stephen Sondheim's Evening Primrose (1966) ever since I discovered the musical via a studio recording in 2001, but it didn't occur to me to turn to the internet until tonight. Staticky YouTube came through. Here's Anthony Perkins introducing "If You Can Find Me, I'm Here" and here he is with Charmian Carr for "Take Me to the World." I have to get hold of the rest of this thing. I knew Perkins could sing; I didn't know what he sounded like. Sondheim should have written more roles for him. He's an ideal interpreter: that quick, tensile voice. He's effortless with the patter. And it's not a big voice, but it warms and brightens in the right places and it has the right kind of wire. Imagine him singing "Being Alive." To my knowledge, his only other musical was Frank Loesser's Greenwillow (1960). What happened? Hollywood? There should have been more.

[edit] According to this afternoon's research, Perkins would have sung "Being Alive" if he had stayed with the original Broadway production of Company long enough to see it replace the original closing number "Happily Ever After." The central role of Robert ("Bobby, Bobby baby, Bobby bubi, Robby, Robert darling") was written for him. He departed early in rehearsals in order to direct another show. The good news is, his replacement Dean Jones was soon replaced himself by Larry Kert, who was so good as Robert that he received the rare honor of being Tony-nominated for a role he had technically understudied; I linked to his performance because it's the definitive one. The bad news is, Perkins never got far enough into rehearsals for there to exist even demo recordings of him in the part and certainly none of "Being Alive," which wasn't even written until the tryout in Boston where it became clear that the cynical rejection of "Happily Ever After" would send audiences out hurt and bewildered, not humming. I don't know if there's more to the story. At least I was right to hear the likeness, the ghost of a voice that was never really there. I hope the directing gig worked out. Dammit, Tony.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
And today the air is hot and wet and does not smell like the sea, which means it's just sort of steambath-y. My hair at once reacted accordingly. The cats have melted onto the hardwood. Conditions had better improve once the sun goes down.

1. Can anyone recommend me a heroic Jewish starship captain who is not Ivanova in Season Four of Babylon 5 (1993–98)? Books, TV, film, whatever. Brought to you by thinking that Jason Isaacs' character on Star Trek: Discovery is not going to be it.

(Just to be clear, I had no expectation that he would be. Isaacs is Jewish, but his characters rarely are; the captain of the Discovery is named Lorca, so, sure, he could be Sephardi, lots of people are, but Hollywood and associated American media never seem to remember that Jews can be found in natural habitats outside of New York. Also from the promotional material it sounds as though the character will be some kind of spectacular fuck-up, but that's less relevant, especially since from the promotional material I thought Michelle Yeoh would be part of the regular cast. I just suddenly realized I wanted some Jews in space who were not aliens in a cultural metaphor. Really I should be re-reading Phyllis Gotlieb, but most of my authors starting with G are still in a box.)

2. I have been listening to this song a lot lately: The Clientele, "Lunar Days." It's gentle, drifting, a little haunted; it's more autumnal than the weather right now. When it's late November and you're lost in the leaves / And you speak in beaten copper tongues that nobody hears / And I'll come up and see you if I get out alive / I quit work at half past nine on Friday night.

3. The trailer for Alex Garland's Annihilation (2018) looks pretty great.

October 2017

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