sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
Happy solstice! I was indeed awake all night. I'm still awake. Sleep or no sleep, however, sometimes a person has to yell about a movie on the internet.

Girl of the Port (1930), directed for RKO by Bert Glennon, is a pre-Code curiosity if ever I encountered one: a hopelessly confused adventure-melodrama-romance between a tough-cookie showgirl and a shell-shocked veteran set in the South Seas islands, which is part of its problem. Its title is technically relevant in that the heroine is the only female character of any prominence, but thematically it would have done much better to be released under its production title of The Fire-Walker, after the original short story by John Russell. Story elements include World War I, half a dozen nervous breakdowns, British tourists, mixology, untranslated Chinese, institutional racism, surprise aristocracy, the climactic if no longer eponymous firewalk, and the whole thing's over in 65 minutes, so it gets the plot in with a crowbar. There are really interesting things in it and there are really frustrating things in it and they are not arranged in any separable fashion. I am not sorry to have seen it, but I do not expect anyone else to feel the same.

It opens with title cards, setting the zeitgeist of the Lost Generation: "Not all the casualties of war are in hospital cots. There are wounds of the spirit as lasting as those of the flesh, but less pitied, and little understood. Few know the dark fears brought back from the battlefront. Even fewer know that those fears may be cast out . . . but only by the mind that harbors them." The sequence that follows startled me; I keep forgetting that while the Production Code did its best to reduce the realities of sex, race, and gender to cartoons, it also did a lasting disservice to violence—not the two-fisted pantomime kind where bullets leave no marks and people's eyes close gently when they die, but the kind people should be scared of. We see it in the barbed wire trenches of World War I, where a battalion of British soldiers is getting ready to go over the top. It's cold, dark, ghostly. A young officer is trying to reassure an enlisted man even younger than himself, a hollow-eyed boy whose head is already bandaged bloodily under his tin hat. Five in the morning is zero hour; he re-checks his watch, takes a deep breath, and blows the signal. All together, his men call out their watchword, "God and the right!" and scramble up over the sandbags into no man's land. Their German counterparts affirm, "Gott mit uns!" and do the same. There's little sense of strategy on the British side, just a loose line of men ordered into hell with rifles and nerve.1 They walk into a nest of German flamethrowers. It's horrifying. At first they don't see the danger, decoyed by the smoke and the disorienting concussions of the mortar barrage covering the German advance; then it's too late to get out of range. There is something uncanny and inhuman in the flamethrower troops with their deep-sea gear and the long, long streams of fire they send snaking out before them, licking and curling as if they were living and hungry things. The young officer stands his ground with his service pistol, trying to take the flamethrowers out, but soon he's dry-firing and then a stutter of enemy machine-guns takes him in the leg and the arm; he tumbles into a shell-hole alongside the feebly flailing body of a fellow soldier with some obliquely shot but grisly makeup effects on his face—burned, blinded. He keeps crying about the fire, about his eyes. With his helmet knocked off, we can see the officer's face under its stiff tousle of dark hair, terrified and suddenly, desperately young. "Stick close to me," he said confidently, just a few minutes ago in the safety of the trench, "and don't forget—those Fritzes are nothing but men." But fire is more than men, fire can eat men alive, and it's doing just that all around him. Everywhere he looks, the white-hot hissing light of the flamethrowers coming on and the bodies of men he knew burning, or worse, stumbling through the inferno, screaming. He's trapped. He can't get out. Suddenly he's screaming, too, high and hoarse and raw: "Oh, God, don't let the fire get me—don't let the fire get me—oh, God!" And scene.

It's a harsh opening and the viewer may be forgiven for feeling a little whiplashed when the action jumps years and genres to the rainy night in Suva, Fiji when footloose, all-American Josie (Sally O'Neil, a mostly silent actress new to me) blows out of the storm and into MacDougal's Bamboo Bar. Late of Coney Island, she fast-talks her way into a bartending job with theatrical sass, booting the current barman and introducing herself to the appreciative all-male clientele like the carnival talker of her own attraction: "I don't need no assistance, thanks. My father was a bouncer in the Tenth Ward. My mother was a lion tamer with Ringling. I was weaned on raw meat and red pepper. Boo!" She's petite and kitten-faced, brash and blonde as an undercranked Joan Blondell; her dialogue is a glorious compendium of pop culture and pure, nasal Brooklyn slang. She refers to her pet canary alternately as "John McCormack" and "Jenny Lind," derides a hoary pick-up line as "old when Fanny was a girl's name," and deflects an incipient attack of sentiment with the admonition not "to go . . . getting all Jolson about it." A handsy customer gets the brush-off "What are you, a chiropractor? You rub me the wrong way." When she finds another new patron passed out face-first on a table, their exchange as he groggily props himself up gives a good idea of the script's overall mix of the snappy and the sententious:

"Who in blazes are you?"
"Lon Chaney."
"I'm coming up to date. Usually at this stage I'm seeing Jonah's whale."
"Snap out of it, bozo. Ain't you glad you don't see pink elephants?"
"Lassie, I drink so's I
can see them. They crowd out other things. Four fingers, please."

Asked for the color of his money, the man produces a military decoration: thin and scruffy in an old collarless shirt, no longer quite so boyish with the haunted lines in his face, it's the young officer of the opening scenes (Reginald Sharland, also new to me; he had an eleven-film career between 1927 and 1934 and by turns he reminded me of Richard Barthelmess, Peter Capaldi, and Dick Van Dyke, which is a hell of a thing to say about anyone). He has shell-shock you can see from space. When the bar pianist starts tinkling a jaunty improv on "Tipperary," he recites the chorus in a kind of bitter trance, tellingly omitting the last line about his heart. Josie tries to break in by guessing his rank; when she reaches "Captain," he jolts to his feet like a snapped elastic, giving an instinctive salute and then a haggard smile: "Clever, don't you think yourself?" In a welcome gesture toward nuance, he's fucked up, but not totally pathetic. He's known as Whiskey Johnny, after the stuff he drinks more thirstily than water and the song he'll perform in exchange for free glasses of it, especially when egged on by white-suited local bully McEwen (Mitchell Lewis, wait for it). This sort of setup is usually the cue for public humiliation, but Johnny can actually sing and he grins round at the room while he does it, a slight, shabby, definitely not sober man, drawing his audience in all the same. I had a girl and her name was Lize. Whiskey, Johnny! Oh, she put whiskey in her pies. Whiskey for my Johnny! He balks only when McEwen presses him to sing the last verse, the one that Johnny nervously protests "isn't done amongst gentlemen, is it? Not when ladies are present."2 In response, McEwen insults Josie, Johnny insults McEwen, words escalate to fists escalate to McEwen pulling a knife, Johnny grabbing a chair, and Josie throwing a bottle that smashes the nearest lamp. The oil ignites as soon as it hits the floor, a quick mushroom of flame spurting up right in Johnny's face. He was unsteady but combative a moment ago; in the face of the fire, he screams like a child. "Oh, God, the fire! Don't let the fire get me! Oh, God, let me out of here!" A few voices call after him as he blunders jaggedly away through the crowd, plainly seeing nothing but Flanders and flames, but most dismiss him as a "ruddy coward . . . not worth stopping, with his tail between his legs." The next morning, flinchingly hungover on the beat-up chaise longue in the back room of the bar, he tells Josie the story of how he won his medal, the sole survivor of his company decorated for bravery for cowering in a shell-hole "watching the others crisp up and die—hearing them die—seeing the fire draw nearer, nearer, seeing it all round me—oh, God, don't let the fire get me! Don't let the fire get me!" He can recover a wry self-possession in quieter moments, but he "can't face fire" or even the memory of it: the terror is always just below the surface. McEwen has only to flick a cigarette into a bucket of gasoline to bust him back down to a shuddering wreck, trying to hide in the furniture, chokingly gulping the drink he just swore he wouldn't touch.

Josie's solution is unorthodox but unhesitating: she has him move into her cabin. McEwen can't get at him there. House rules are they don't sleep together and Johnny doesn't drink. As the intermittent intertitles tell us, "Half her time she saw that men got liquor at Macdougal's . . . the other half, she saw that one man didn't!" After eight weeks, their relationship is a comfortable but charged mixture of emotional intimacy and unacknowledged sexual tension and I think accidentally sort of kinky. Each night when she leaves for work at the bar, she locks Johnny in—by now at his own request—so that he can't wander off in search of booze despite his best intentions. He refers to her as his "doctor, nurse, pal, and jailor—and savior, you know. That is, if a chap who didn't deserve it ever had one." His hands shake badly when he kneels to put her shoes on for her, but he insists on doing it anyway, just as he insists on helping with the washing-up even when they lose more plates that way. She treats him practically, not like something broken or breakable; she calls him "Bozo" because she doesn't like "Whiskey Johnny" and he doesn't like "Captain." Eventually, diffidently, he introduces himself as "Jameson," at which Josie shoots him a skeptical look: "I've seen that name on bottles." She's fallen for him by now, which the audience could see coming from the moment she deflated his romantic sob story of a contemptuous fiancée who betrayed him with his best friend with the tartly dismissive "What a dim bulb she turned out to be," but she keeps a self-protective distance, correctly recognizing that she's given him a breather, not a miracle, and in the meantime he's imprinted on her like a battle-fatigued duckling. When he declares his love, she warns him, "Now don't go mixing up love and gratitude, 'cause they ain't no more alike than champagne and Ovaltine." They end up in a clinch, of course, and a jubilant Johnny promises that they're going to "lick that fear—together," waving her off to work like a happy husband already. The viewer with a better idea of dramatic structure vs. runtime waits for the third-act crisis to come home to roost.

All of this is an amazing demonstration of the durability of hurt/comfort over the decades and to be honest it's pretty great of its type, even if occasionally over the top even by the standards of idfic. Both O'Neil and Sharland's acting styles are mixed somewhere between early sound naturalism and the full-body expression of silent film—O'Neil acquires a vocal quaver in moments of emotion and Sharland employs some highly stylized gestures in his breakdowns, though there's nothing old-fashioned or stagy about his screams—but since they are generally in the same register at the same time, it works fine. They make a sympathetically matching couple with their respective fears of being unlovable, Josie who bluntly admits that she "ain't a nice girl," Johnny convinced he's a coward and a failure, "finished." Some of their best romantic moments are not declarative passion but shy happiness, the actors just glowing at one another. The trouble is that what I have been describing is the best version of the film, the one without the radioactive levels of racism that start at surprisingly upsettingly high and escalate to Jesus, was D.W. Griffith ghosting this thing? and essentially make it impossible for me to recommend this movie to anyone without qualifiers galore.

Perhaps you have a little something yet to learn about native blood, milord. )

I do not know how closely Girl of the Port resembles its source story, which can be found in Russell's Far Wandering Men (1929). Since he seems to have specialized in South Seas adventures, I assume some of the racism is baked in; I also wouldn't be surprised if some of it was introduced in the process of adaptation. I can get his earlier collection Where the Pavement Ends (1919) on Project Gutenberg, but Far Wandering Men isn't even in the local library system, so it may take me a little while to find out. Until then, I don't know what else I can tell you. "Frustrating" may have been an understatement. I don't want Sharland, O'Neil, and lines like "There you go, full of ambition. You have your youth, your health, and now you want shelves" to have been wasted on this film, but I fear that they may. Duke Kahanamoku certainly was. Mitchell Lewis, by the way, is most famous these days for his uncredited three-line role as the Captain of the Winkie Guard in The Wizard of Oz (1939)—I didn't recognize him as such in Girl of the Port, but once I made the connection, the deep voice and the strongly marked brows were unmistakable. I like him a lot better when he's green. This damaged recovery brought to you by my stronger backers at Patreon.

1. And kilts, which means they must be one of the Highland regiments, but in the chaos of battle I did not get a good look at the tartan.

2. Seriously? I've got like five versions of "Whiskey Johnny"/"Whiskey Is the Life of Man"/"John Rise Her Up" on my iTunes and I wouldn't call any of them racy. It's a halyard chantey. What have I been missing all these years?

3. Once safely outside MacDougal's, Kalita spits on the coin in disgust and then throws it away in the rain. I really think the script is trying its best with him, but because even his positive scenes rely on stereotypes, I credit most of his extant dimensions to Kahanamoku.

4. With a slur I've never heard before: "That little tabby over there . . . T-A-B-B-Y, tabby. The girl that's trying to make you!" From this context I assume it means a gold digger or a tart, but if it's real slang rather than minced for purposes of the Hays Code, I don't think it widely survived.

5. We are also, presumably, supposed to cheer plucky Josie for finding a way to turn the villain's heritage against him: before she agrees to his blackmail, she makes him swear to keep his end of the bargain on something he won't be able to cheat, not God or his honor, but the carved shell charm from his Fijian mother that he wears beneath his European shirts and suits, the hidden and telltale truth of him. "Swear on this Hindu hocus-pocus," she challenges, gripping it in her white hand. "Go on. That'll hold a Malay." Native superstition out of nowhere wins the day. Looking suddenly shaken, he swears.
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
It is almost the solstice and I am skeptical that I will sleep through any of the shortest night, the insomnia is that bad right now. I spend my days feeling like everything is wound in layers of cotton batting and my nights not understanding why being tired does not equal being asleep. I'm losing so much time. On the other hand, the sky is tall summer-blue and the clouds look like there should be the sea under them and I was just reminded that Egon Schiele's Trieste Harbour (1907) exists and that makes me happy, even if my brain is now trying to make Der Hafen von Triest scan to Jacques Brel and that's just not going to work out.

I have to write about something.
sovay: (Default)
I do not like to talk about stories while I am working on them or before they have been accepted, but I have completed my first piece of original fiction since the fall of 2015 and I think this is a good thing. A comment [personal profile] ashlyme left was the inspiration; at least I feel it bears the signs of recent exposure to Sapphire & Steel. If I can place it, I'll say more. I am still not doing so great, but I feel it is important to record this sort of thing when it happens. Autolycus, purring at Cape Canaveral volume and trampling on the keys as I type, feels it is important to pay attention to the cat.
sovay: (Rotwang)
I am not talking much about politics at the moment, not because I don't know the rising number of people confirmed dead in Grenfell Tower at the price of £2 per square meter or that the murderer of Philando Castile walked free because it is more important than justice that a white man should be able to shoot whatever scares him or any of the other appalling, routine betrayals of a society's vulnerable by those with more power in it, but because I am not doing so great at the moment and I don't know what I could contribute other than being upset. [personal profile] truepenny has a list of reasons against Trump and it is worth reading and keeping, because this is still not normal.

I just checked in with the internet and saw that Stephen Furst has died. Pace the New York Times, I never saw him in Animal House (1978) and I don't know that I'm ever going to. But I loved him as Vir Cotto on Babylon 5 (1993–98), second only to Peter Jurasik's Londo Mollari and Claudia Christian's Susan Ivanova and the eventual Regent of Centauri Prime played by Damian London, none of whom had better go anywhere in the near future, damn it. The Centauri characters were overwhelmingly my favorites. They had the morally messiest arcs and besides, I came to Babylon 5 right off Robert Graves' I, Claudius (1937) and its 1976 BBC adaptation; I never had a chance. When my high school's concert choir went to England and France for a week and a half in the spring of 1999, I evaluated Versailles in terms of Centauri Prime. Actual Centauri Prime, I am pretty sure, was mostly a matter of CGI reflecting pools and a lot of draperies on the walls, but I believed in its fabulous age and decadence and post-imperial resentment and it provided me with political lines I still quote literally, as in earlier this afternoon, to this day. "Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the kingdom of idiots fights a war on twelve." "Arrogance and stupidity, all in the same package. How efficient of you." And Vir, in the face of Londo's nationalist nostalgia, saying something that is by no means less relevant now than it was twenty-two years ago: "Every generation of Centauri mourns for the golden days when their power was like unto the gods! It's counterproductive! I mean, why make history if you fail to learn by it?" He was the kind of character I loved around the edges of stories, accidentally backing into the center of the narrative this time and then going nervously but resolutely forward when he realized where he was, a nebbish with—somewhat to his own surprise—a spine. A good person, which did not mean an uncomplicated one. Very funny, which the character as much as the actor seemed to have developed in self-defense. Not biologically equipped to handle fast food, which I could really sympathize with. I feel he would be unsurprised if amused to see that, unless they've fixed it by now, the Times obituary spelled his name wrong. It got Furst's right, fortunately, which I recognize is the important thing here. But I never saw him as anyone but Vir and it's hard not to feel that's who we've lost.

Ave atque vale.

sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
Every single aspect of today except for the cats and the Double Awesome from Mei Mei has sucked exhaustingly. I am very tired of seeing doctors who don't take me seriously because I'm not emotional enough and then seeing doctors who don't take me seriously because I'm emotional at all. I thought the pattern had broken lately, but here we are again. I am not looking for a medical discussion or recommendations. I am just upset. Also it is pouring rain and while I remembered an umbrella on leaving the house, I forgot boots. My shoes are drying in the bathroom because it is the only room in this apartment with a radiator.

I can't believe I've remembered for years that Michael Goodliffe was Thomas Andrews in Roy Ward Baker's A Night to Remember (1958), but forgot or never noticed that David McCallum was Harold Bride. To be fair, I had also forgotten completely about Honor Blackman, but historically I feel very fondly toward Harold Bride. McCallum must have been close to his age at the time of filming. [edit: Indeed, that's a very young David McCallum.] Chances are good that no matter what, I would have bounced off James Cameron's Titanic (1997) in exactly the same way ocean liners don't bounce off icebergs, but childhood exposure to the British film can't have helped.

This is a very fine ghost poem that I didn't write: Rachel Hadas, "Mervyn Peake (1911–1968)."

I have been enjoying this compilation very much.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
My poem "Dive" has been accepted by Not One of Us. It was written last month after a late night at Waypoint with a drink made with squid ink mezcal. I have had an eye-crunching headache all day and this was very pleasant news.

I was talking politics with my father tonight, because that happens a lot with politics being as they are these days. Context was the number of lawmakers in the country currently terrified of women, queer people, people of color, non-Christians, because obviously each of these demographics is apocalypse personified and God knows what happens if you cross the streams: "What can I tell you?" my father said. "You're really scary. You got a nuke in each pocket, you got the sickle of Death in your hand, you got that witch doll you left at the house—" I feel like I may have turned into a Tarot card. It's hard to be upset by that.

I still have the eye-crunching headache and I have to get up in six hours in order to make sure of catching the requisite buses to a doctor's appointment, so I'm just going to leave (courtesy of [personal profile] selkie) these here.
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
Not only have the heavens just burst open with tropically torrential rain and gusts of wind snapping branches off sideways in the back yard, it appears to be hailing. Earlier this afternoon it was a hundred degrees in the overcast.

I know climate change isn't sentient, but I still feel like we're being trolled. [edit] And now the sun's back out and the pavements are steaming. Yep.
sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
Today the heat was brutal, so we waited until near sunset to leave the house and its marginal shelter of air conditioning; then we walked down to the river, which was new territory for [personal profile] spatch and familiar to me only insofar as I had learned to catch the 95 bus from the stop at the foot of Temple Street. We crossed beneath the overpass with its murals of wildlife and shipbuilding and the old dams of the Mystic River (I had no idea the Amelia Earhart Dam was a thing) and found the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse, where no one seemed to care if I walked out onto the floating dock and watched the rowers sculling on the far side of the river. The water looked black as coffee, the sun lying on it like dust. Frilled rosettes of water chestnut twisted up to the surface—a wildly invasive species that I wish were locally acceptable to harvest in season, since its spiky caltrop nuts are edible, although a different species from the crunchy white slices that come in cans from H Mart. According to the poster on the chain-link, we had just missed National Learn to Row Day. We followed the footpath up to the bridge at Route 16, counting fourteen swans as we went; they glided majestically among the waterweed and tipped forward to root in the silt with the no-warning of physical comedy, up tails all. Either some passerby had tried to feed them hot dog buns (which were now sinking slowly all around them) or they had recently murdered a hot dog vendor. I could see it going either way. Seagulls kept swinging overhead; sometimes they looked exactly the size of the low-flying planes out of Logan. I had not realized how much a little blue heron looks like a great blue heron with the aspect ratio wrong. There was a park on the other side of the river, with a wooden observation tower and a meadow full of rabbits at leisurely silflay. We climbed the tower to watch the rabbits: it looked like it was built of telephone poles and reminded me of the long-vanished climbing structure on the lawn of the Cambridge Public Library that always smelled like a sailing ship after rain, silver-weathered wood and creosote. The sky in the east had turned the light-holding space-blue of summer evening, in the west the sun looked as fiery as Florida. Neither of us counted the rabbits. It was probably unkind to refer to them as Hasenpfeffer, especially since some of them were so small and delicate-eared that we decided they were only a Hasenpf. We only came down from the tower when the midges found out where we were. The rest of the walk was somewhat less amateur naturalist, following the Mystic Valley Parkway past the part-demolished Meadow Glen Mall and the commercial-residential strip that did not exist a dozen years ago when Rob worked for roadside assistance. We came home across the river on the Fellsway. I had a strange moment in Ten Hills when I could have sworn that the sea lay beyond the slant of the houses, the crumbled violet of the after-sunset sky. In the nearly two hours it had taken us to circle back to Temple Street and Mystic Avenue, the City of Somerville had moved in a road work crew that was doing something with jackhammers and floodlights. It was loud. We came upstairs and made sandwiches for dinner, because it is still too hot to cook; Rob went to read about Whitey Bulger and I sat down next to him and wrote this. Autolycus helped by continually trying to interpose himself between my hands and the keyboard. It was a good evening.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I am not sleeping at all. I can't think. I am very tired of it.

1. I was in the middle of a work crunch last week when I read that Helen Dunmore had died. Once again, I hadn't even known she had cancer. I'm not even sure I knew she was a poet as well as a novelist. (The poem quoted at the end of the obituary is excellent.) I had discovered her a few years ago with The Greatcoat (2012), a breathtaking ghost story set in the echoes of World War II; she followed it with the post-WWI The Lie (2014), a messier, equally haunting novel about a young veteran whose shell-shocked eidetic memory matches the way time seems to have crazed and jumbled in the wake of the war, like the mud-caked apparition he keeps seeing of his oldest friend and first love and commanding officer who died on the Western Front. "Things ought to stop once they're finished, but this won't stop. They say the war's over, but they're wrong. It went too deep for that. It opened up a crack in time, a crater maybe. Once you fall into it you can't get out again." I was reminded of Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk's The Awakening (2011). I am not at all surprised to see from her bibliography that one of her early novels was titled Talking to the Dead (1996). I had just been coveting the paperback of what I thought was her latest novel, Exposure (2016); it didn't look supernatural, but it might surprise me. She has one last novel and one last poetry collection. I'm sure I'll track them down. I just didn't want a last anything from her for a long time to come.

2. In the wake of Delta and Bank of America pulling their sponsorship from Shakespeare in the Park's Trump-inflected Julius Caesar, I hope everyone remembers that five years ago the Acting Company staged an Obama-inflected Julius Caesar which nobody seems to have boycotted for proxy-assassinating the President of the United States and the lesson here—aside from double standards as usual—is the multivalence of the play, which is why people keep performing and reperforming it against all kinds of different political backdrops and I trust it will outlast most of them, especially the current administration.

3. How did it take me until tonight to learn that the Ronald Reagan impression on the 12" mix of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Two Tribes" was performed by Chris Barrie? (The civil defense broadcast is Patrick Allen doing an impression of himself.) He also imitates Mike Read as well as Reagan on the 12" mix of "The Power of Love," but that was less weird for me. It wasn't already on my iTunes.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
So I started my day with the Wachowskis' Bound (1996)—which I will write about, although I might need to sleep more than two hours first—and continued it by attending Pride with a work colleague of [personal profile] spatch's and meeting up with her best friend and his boyfriend and eventually a third mutual friend of theirs at the parade. City Hall Plaza was a glorious zoo of flags and signs and face paint and people of various ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities,1 orientations, and degrees of clothing. Thanks to him sending a picture of his immediate surroundings, i.e., taller people, we located the best friend right around the time the contingent from MSPCA-Angell followed by the Boston Hoohahs came through. (I had not been warned that he looked distractingly like a young Timothy Spall. I made it very clear that this was a compliment.) There was a lot of noise and confetti. I came out of it with a pair of rainbow sunglasses, a very large rainbow tote bag, and a triple string of beads in the colors of the bi flag which I will probably hang next to my delegate's pass from the Democratic State Convention. Twice we thought the parade was over and we were wrong both times; we finally left in search of frozen yogurt somewhere after Capital One. I was very glad not to miss the Boston chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, whom I will always cherish for canonizing Derek Jarman. I hadn't even known there was a Boston Gay Basketball League. The float for the Orlando Pulse survivors—its flags bearing the names of the dead—raised an earthquake of support. I left the house without a camera and got no pictures of anyone, but I would say it was a joyous afternoon. I spent most of my time applauding. I really didn't need to have brought a jacket. This may have been the first community/political event I've attended since the beginning of the year at which I did not run into anyone I knew already and I think that is kind of wonderful. I was at ease with strangers. There was a giant rainbow flag hung out at City Hall.

1. I saw people with canes and people with wheelchairs, but the pair of people conversing in ASL without disruption from all the cheering and music had clearly won communicating in a crowd.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
It is Pride in Boston and this year it feels especially political, what with the current administration being generally full of homophobic, transphobic embarrassments to ass clowns. Here is a selection of more than usually queer things I have had published on the internet in recent years. Most are poems; three are flash; two are short stories. Some ghosts. Minor autobiography. I regret nothing about Shakespeare/Marlowe.

"Persephone in Hel" (Stone Telling #3, 2011)
"The Clock House" (Stone Telling #7, 2012)
"Lyric Fragment" (Goblin Fruit #26, 2012)
"The Green Man Answers the Classifieds" (inkscrawl #4, 2012)
"In the Firebird Museum" (Stone Telling #8, 2012)
"Ψάπφοι Σελάννα" (Apex Magazine #47, 2013) [notes]
"The True Alchemist" (Not One of Us #51, 2014)
"In Winter" (Lackington's #3, 2014)
"Anonymity" (Mythic Delirium 1.2, 2014)
"After the Red Sea" (Goblin Fruit #35, 2014)
"ζῆ καὶ βασιλεύει" (Ideomancer 14.1, 2015)
"On Two Streets, with Three Languages" (Interfictions #7, 2015)
"Skerry-Bride" (Devilfish Review #16, 2016)
"Vocatio" (Twisted Moon #1, 2016) [notes]

My plans for the day include wearing Sir Fabulous the Third and seeing a movie with lesbians. I admit this does not necessarily differ from a regular Saturday.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Due to the buses of the MBTA running with their usual fine precision, we made it to Swiss Watchmaker on Church Street five minutes before they closed, so I have left my watch with them overnight and will pick it up tomorrow after noon. It is very weird not to have its weight on my left wrist; I kept shaking back my sleeve to look at nothing. I feel I did an admirable job not being spooked by the profusion of clocks in close proximity after recent viewing experiences.

Because we had been talking about Alex Cox's Revengers Tragedy (2002) on the way into Harvard Square, I pounced as soon as I saw his autobiography X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker (2008) in the film and TV section of Raven Used Books. I am sad that I could not get my usual durian shake from Le's, but a lychee shake is still pretty decent and nobody has prohibitions against taking lychees on public transit.

We walked home circuitously, by way of Porter and Davis Squares. [personal profile] spatch thinks we were passing Bartlett Street when he spotted a fox running into a streetlit yard. (Look out, delicious rabbits.) We wondered briefly whether foxes had been the cause of the spectacularly weird screeching noises we heard a couple of nights ago, but recourse to the internet suggests it was a family of raccoons.

All things considered, this has been a really nice day. I am going to catch up on politics (and decompress with Sapphire & Steel) and then I am going to bed. Have an ancient Roman transit map.
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
I have now seen the first three serials of P.J. Hammond's Sapphire & Steel (1979–82) and while I have not gotten the sleep I wanted, I am tired of not writing about things. Preliminary notes.

Sapphire & Steel is weird stuff. I mean that as both description and taxonomy. I can trace a common lineage with other genre-mixing, time-crossing British TV like Doctor Who (1963–), The Stone Tape (1972), and Children of the Stones (1977), but I can't remember the last anything I ran into that reminded me simultaneously of Robert Aickman, John le Carré, and Diana Wynne Jones. There's not even that much of it. Six serials aired on ITV over a span of four years, irregularly spaced and eventually canceled; all but one were written by Hammond and none of them have official titles, which is why I have been watching them on YouTube under the designations "Assignment 1" and so forth. It is glacially paced and nearly no-budget. And it is so far some of the most haunting, liminal, minimalist TV I have ever encountered in my life. It's full of ghosts and echoes, ambiguities and unanswered questions. Its worldbuilding hangs in implication behind its characters; its characters know each other so well, they don't need to talk about themselves. It gets more out of explaining less than any science fiction until Shane Carruth's Primer (2004). To match the single sets that give each serial the atmosphere of a filmed play,1 most of the show's best effects are practical and theatrical: changes of light, juxtapositions of costume, and suggestive, spooky sound work on a par with the heyday of the Radiophonic Workshop. The plots run on something more patterned than dream logic, but like nightmares they can take perfectly ordinary objects and charge them with unspeakable danger and dread—a child's nursery rhyme, a marching song, a swansdown pillow. Time itself is a source of horror; it cracks, frays, gives way beneath the pressure of aeons and the entities that prowl endlessly outside the "corridor of Time," looking for a way in. History deforms its fabric like gravity. Heirlooms and memory can become a black hole. Ghosts come out, if you're lucky. Other things if you're not. This is classic cosmic horror, but it's not, except in the introductory scenes, played from the viewer's accustomed perspective of humanity. Whatever Joanna Lumley's Sapphire and David McCallum's Steel may be—and I don't ever really expect to find out—human is definitely not it.

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver, and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned. )

That was a lot of notes for a preliminary. In conclusion, the following dialogue just took place between me and Rob—

"Hey, I think the worst possible thing happened that could happen while a person is talking about Sapphire & Steel."

"Did they go off of YouTube?"

"No, my watch stopped."

—so I think I should perhaps get out of here before something comes out of the music I'm listening to. It was Belbury Poly for a while, which is very much in the same hauntological tradition. Maybe an album drawn from recordings of Ganzeld experiments was not the best alternative. So long, it's been good to know you. I'm not sure I can count half a TV series for Patreon.

1. The third serial includes some cutaway scenes on a roof which [personal profile] ashlyme tells me belonged to the ATV offices themselves.

2. The subject is slightly lampshaded in Assignment 3, when Steel gives a rare laugh at the thought of "Silver having any kind of beginning, any kind of childhood" and Sapphire responds that she was just thinking the same about Steel. He's indignant: "I have very positive origins! Inexpressible, maybe, but positive." A scene or two later, he's still mentally muttering, "I have impeccable origins."

3. At this point in the process my brain completely jumped its tracks and I thought of Silver in the role of Puck, Steel as Oberon, and Sapphire as Titania, and Ashlyme didn't help by calling the thought of a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream possessed by Time "mouthwatering." I just don't want to have to write it.

4. You know what I'm genuinely surprised doesn't exist? Crossover fic for this series with A Tale of Time City (1987). Otherwise the ways in which it reminds me of Diana Wynne Jones are more tonal and thematic: ordinary-looking people of strange domains and powers, magic-like science (or science-like magic) that works sideways in ripples and allusions, not explaining things. I find myself thinking of the luminaries of Dogsbody (1975), the Reigners of Hexwood (1983), the families of Archer's Goon (1984) and The Game (2007). So far there is slightly less of a tendency in Sapphire & Steel for people not to know who they are, but I'm willing to wait.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
I am in the middle of several other things at the moment, but in a moment of internet downtime I ran into this article about white nationalist cis gay men as recruiters for the alt-right and I had two immediate reactions:

1. When I read a line like "The Negro is the shock troop. The Jew is the ultimate beneficiary," the only thing I can hear is Henry Gibson.

2. Well, that's the first time I've ever seen the Jews blamed for propagating straightness.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
My poem "bn ʾdnbʿl bn ʾdrbʿl" is now online at Mythic Delirium. It's a Carthaginian ghost poem; I got it from a stele. Further notes can be found with the poem. Belligerent Cato, hungry Time. I don't write about Carthage as often as I would like.

sovay: (Sydney Carton)
What actually happened last night was I watched the first two-thirds of a serial of Sapphire & Steel and then did my damnedest to pass out, failed, watched the sun come up, and finally managed to fall asleep sometime after the twenty-four-hour mark. I have spent most of my day not on the internet, doing laundry, cleaning things, baking an angelfood cake with whipped cream and lemon curd. (It's for a friend of the family with a birthday tomorrow.) I have a doctor's appointment I'm not looking forward to. I should do actual work somewhere in here.

1. Talking about politics in the previous post, I realized that my original model for being catapulted unprepared into high office is not the Emperor Claudius or even George VI, but Kaliko, the Royal Chamberlain of the Nome King Ruggedo in L. Frank Baum's Tik-Tok of Oz (1914). It was my favorite Oz book when I was in elementary school and Kaliko was my favorite character in it. In hindsight he's kind of a shoo-in: kindhearted, harassed, hates his job. He spends most of his days managing his short-tempered king's bad life decisions (and dodging the heavy objects that get thrown at him in the process; Ruggedo also threatens at one point to turn him into a potato and make Saratoga chips out of him) and his nights writing himself wistful letters of recommendation against the day when he can look for work in a less hazardous household. He hides the heroine in his own room when Ruggedo has an army of nomes out looking for her and is rewarded with a kingdom for his kindness: asked point-blank by a dragon (it's a long story; there are fairy politics involved) if he thinks he could do a better job of ruling than Ruggedo, Kaliko is so surprised that all he can stammer is, "Well, I couldn't be a worse King, I'm sure." He's certainly pretty decent for the rest of the book.

(He later returns as the villain in Rinkitink in Oz (1916), which struck me as so out of character at the time that I decided the book was, although I didn't have the word for it then, non-canonical. I felt vindicated to learn as an adult that Baum had originally written Rinkitink with Roquat/Ruggedo as the antagonist, shelved it for a decade, and then reworked it into current Oz continuity without changing anything about the Nome King except his name, with the unfortunate side effect of character assassination. I much prefer Kaliko in the short story "Tiktok and the Nome King" (1913), where he's still Ruggedo's Chamberlain and uses his surprisingly badass robotics skills to rebuild the thinking metal man after Ruggedo has smashed him in a fit of temper. Apparently I am not alone; I did not expect to find fanart of Kaliko on the internet, but I'm not complaining.)

2. I did that angel name meme. Due to the way my name is constructed, "Taoafiel" is somehow not as ineffable as I think it's supposed to look. I've practically heard telemarketers pronounce it.

3. [personal profile] spatch: "In other news, Mayor Joe just favorited a thing I retweeted where a proud Londoner invited Trump to fuck himself."

sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
So, yes, obviously I ended up voting. I know they say eighty percent of success is just showing up, but this is ridiculous.

It has been a long but worthwhile day. The drive to Worcester took about an hour; there was not a lot of traffic and some deer in a hayfield. We got to the DCU Center around nine-fifteen in the morning and [personal profile] choco_frosh went off to climb Mount Wachusett while I participated in representative democracy. The initial protocols were much like a science fiction convention: I wandered through crowds of people who already had their nametags until I found the registration tables with their alphabetical signs, showed ID and spelled my last name for good measure, and was given my turquoise-blue alternate delegate's pass, which I then proceeded to carry around in my jacket pocket and flash at security like a badge since registration had run out of lanyards. The convention center itself was a cavernous space reminding me of high school science fairs, only with more in the way of stadium-sized video screens and inappropriate flashbacks to The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Seating for delegates and alternates was divided by district and I wasted five minutes scanning for people I knew in the wrong quadrant of the audience just because it had a sign reading "Second Middlesex." (Turns out that "Second Middlesex & Norfolk" is not the same thing at all.) I found my ward chair and one of [personal profile] spatch's radio drama colleagues and someone I hadn't seen since high school. The convention itself started around ten with the presentation of colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem, which was more patriotic ritual in one place than I had seen probably also since high school. I still appear to be the only person within earshot who omits "under God," but I learned the pledge from my mother who learned it before the religion was inserted in 1954 and I am pretty sure what matters more than anything right now is "liberty and justice for all." People were constantly passing around slips of paper with proposed amendments to the state party platform and clipboards gathering signatures for other proposals. As an alternate rather than an actual delegate, I couldn't sign my name to any of the petitions, but no one stopped me from collecting amendment slips. I forgot to take notes. I was enjoying the show. And because I was wearing earplugs as usual in crowds and situations involving sound systems, I think it took me longer than it should have to realize around quarter of noon that the people all around me were suddenly shouting my name. The teller with her book of records (we had to register twice, once by QR code and once by three-ring binder) was looking for me. One of the delegates from my ward was a no-show. I was the first alternate. I had gotten a field promotion.

So I called several people enthusiastically and then I paid attention. There were very good speeches given by Setti Warren, Bob Massie, Jason Kander, Maura Healey, Elizabeth Warren ("Silence is no longer an option. Hairsplitting is no longer an option . . . It is time for real courage in this country"), and Ed Markey. There was nothing wrong with Joe Curtatone's speech ("Massachusetts needs to stick its thumb in the eye of the President's harsher, crueller vision") except that it came late in the afternoon at a point when whole districts of delegates had started hollering "Vote! Vote! Vote!" like the world's most politically responsible fraternity. I am amazed and honestly delighted that the real, adult, world-changing political process involves—at least at the Massachusetts state level—a lot of shouting and leaping to one's feet. Initial votes were taken by shouts of "Aye" or "Nay," after which it went to a standing vote and a headcount if there was not an obvious winner by decibels. Two or three times we had to vote whether to suspend the rules of the convention in order to vote on a proposed amendment that fell outside the scope of the state platform and once we had to vote on whether we should reconsider a prior motion in order to vote on whether to suspend the rules of the convention in order to vote on the proposed amendment, "which the chair does not recommend," the relevant official said dryly. It pleases me that I got to vote not just to adopt the state party platform as it was developed over the series of statewide hearings held this spring (of which I attended the nearest in April), but on some specific issues important to me: refugees, gender and race, disability, criminal justice reform, mental health, student debt, climate justice, the Safe Communities Act. I started fading during the charter amendments due to the whole seven-in-the-morning-hour-of-sleep thing, but Rob's colleague almost certainly kept me functional until then by getting me a roast beef wrap and a second bottle of water during Warren's speech. It helped that I found in the crowd someone I hadn't seen since the local caucus in March when I got elected as an alternate in the first place. I made it to the closing arguments and fled. Many of my fellow delegates were doing the same. I hadn't expected to acquire quite so much swag in the process of doing my civic duty: I have three more buttons on my computer bag than I left the house with this morning. (My favorite came courtesy of the Worcester Democratic City Committee and reads "Get Off Your [Democratic logo].") I even finished the day with a lanyard, courtesy of a passer-by who'd ended up with an extra. Choco Frosh really capped the experience: on returning from Wachusett, he had contrived to park directly behind a car displaying, I have no idea why, but I rejoice in it forever, an artichoke bumper sticker.

We went to Mamaleh's for dinner. I got home to find the new shirt I had hoped to wear to the convention had arrived sometime during it. My plans at the moment involve either starting the second serial of Sapphire & Steel or passing out.

I really think I should see how far I can take this career of accidentally backing into public office. I recognize that the nightmare endpoint of walking off the street and into government is our present administration, but if the Twilight Zone happened tomorrow and I got catapulted into some kind of Claudius setup, I am almost confident that the worst I could be is incompetent and working overtime to learn on the job, not complacently and opportunistically evil. Just as I was finishing this post, I got word of 45's exquisitely sensitive response to the terrorist attack in London. Really, I promise, it's not that hard to express sympathy. You know who could do it? All of the people I heard speak today. Everyone in the audience. My cats. Me. An artichoke. I can't believe I'm developing political ambitions out of spite. Well, it works for writing.

So that was the Democratic State Convention. I am so very glad I didn't sleep through it. On to 2018.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
Well, it's morning. I slept about an hour. The cats are unfairly bright-eyed, though not bushy-tailed. I am . . . at least not in bed, since [personal profile] choco_frosh shows up in fifteen minutes.

We are off to the Massachusetts Democratic State Convention. I don't expect to have to vote, being an alternate delegate, but the last time I didn't expect to do anything at a political meeting I got elected.

Forward the ethical artichoke!
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I keep feeling I should say something about the political news, but there is enough incoherent screaming in the world already that I don't just want to add to it. I feel a little presumptuous handing 45 the prize for worst American president when a historical overview of the office can feel like a race to the bottom (both Andrews, Reagan, W alone) and the violent rightward trend of the country leaves me cautious of tempting fate, but then I don't know how you rate a president who'd rather kill a planet than actually read the terms of the global agreement he just pulled his country out of to no one's benefit but a bunch of robber baron wannabes who could easily be confused with villains from '80's children's cartoons. I don't care so much about the American century because city-on-a-hill rhetoric has always made me twitchy, but I do care about being able to breathe. The idea of my niece and my cousins' child inheriting the kind of scorched earth that should belong to science fiction makes me feel physically furious in ways I am not even sure how to direct at present. I am heartened by reactions like Pittsburgh rejecting 45's attempt to claim it as an industrial heartland. I was just sent the news of Bloomberg promising to make up the U.S. shortfall with his own $15 million to the UNFCCC, which at least demonstrates that some people with ludicrous amounts of money know what to do with it. Tomorrow is the Massachusetts Democratic State Convention and I'll be there as an alternate delegate for my ward, although I may have to skip sleeping if I want to be in Worcester and conscious at ten in the morning. But I can't think of real solutions that won't take years if not decades to implement and in the meantime the world is full of people who really would rather see it all burn down than have to acknowledge that they are not the supremely entitled center of the universe after all. It does not make me feel charitable. Lately I dream of literally fighting for my life; I dream of discovering that members of my family were Nazis. I lived for a long time with the feeling that my life had been knocked off its track into an alternate course where everything I had thought I would be was gone. It doesn't feel any better when it generalizes to the rest of the world. I know there's no going back: I just want to be reassured that forward is a direction that still exists.

[edit] At least this month I get to send a nice letter to Governor Baker: "A day after President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord, Governor Charlie Baker . . . joined the governors of New York, California, and Washington state to form the 'United States Climate Alliance,' which they said would strive to stick to the nation's commitments in the Paris accord."
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
Rabbit, rabbit! The primary event of today was celebrating the birthday of my best cousin [personal profile] gaudior by attending the monthly vigil in support of Black Lives Matter at First Baptist Church JP with [personal profile] rax and [personal profile] rushthatspeaks and activist baby Fox (who can now sit in a high chair at a restaurant and kick people, e.g. me, under the table) and then going for dinner at Kamado Super Fusion, where the sushi is very good and the deep-fried coconut milk is ridiculous. In their honor, here are some things that are great:

1. The pioneering comics art of Matt Baker, "a damn good-looking black man who made his living drawing damn good-looking white women at a time when talking to one could have gotten him killed." I'd seen his splendid illustration of Julie d'Aubigny, but knew nothing about the man behind it. Black, queer, spectacularly talented, and indeed damn fine-looking. I can't reproduce the best photo, so read the article by Ian McDowell and check it out.

2. Courtesy of [personal profile] handful_ofdust: I am as disappointed as the rest of you that these mermaids come from some kind of neo-noir comedy called The Nice Guys (2016) and not a full-scale lesbian mermaid romance we could all be watching right now, but for all that they are very nice mermaids. Anyway, at least that explains the tan lines.

3. The latest issue of Poetry is a centennial tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks.

4. This is a three-thousand-year-old Near Eastern pot with feet. It looks very confident in itself.


5. "Keep misbehaving, small cats."

June 2017

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