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.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
It is as accidentally appropriate that I am reading Mark Fisher's Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (2014) now as it was that I saw Marcin Wrona's Demon (2015) when I did; Fisher committed suicide in January. He writes of hauntings, of the echoes of the past, the exhaustion of the future, the conditions under which time slips and fractures and fails and what it means to evoke this effect in art or to experience it in life, and I read a voice so recently dead that it feels itself out of place. I don't expect to be able to follow Derek Jarman on Twitter, but Fisher's seminal blog k-punk is still hanging there in the void. All movies are spirit photography, all books are eventually dialogues with the dead, and of course if I had read this one when it was published I could have said any number of things to the author and he might have answered me, but what I have now is a dead voice saying everything it ever will. He opens with a spectacular appreciation of Assignment 6 of Sapphire & Steel (1979–82), which fortunately I watched back in the summer ("There's no time here, not any more"). He is equally acute about John le Carré, Ghost Box, Tricky, Christopher Nolan, other artists I am less qualified to evaluate his opinions of, although he's given me several good pointers for music and film. It is extremely obvious that I will need to get hold of his last book, The Weird and the Eerie (2017), because the ways in which he thinks about time and haunting and landscape are so congruent with mine: he will either be very useful for some of the places I have been thinking about weird fiction and folk horror or he will have gotten there ahead of me. He begins one music review, "Hauntological Blues: Little Axe" (subtitled "k-punk post, October 3, 2006"), with a piece of film criticism I wish I had been able to point to when [personal profile] ashlyme was asking me about the forms of American folk horror:

Like The Shining – a film that was also widely dismissed for nigh on a decade – Beloved (1998) reminds us that America, with its anxious hankerings after an innocence it can never give up on, is haunted by haunting itself. If there are ghosts, then what was supposed to be a New Beginning, a clean break, turns out to be a repetition, the same old story. The ghosts were meant to have been left in the Old World . . . but here they are . . .

Whereas
The Shining digs beneath the hauntological structure of the American family and finds an Indian Burial Ground, Beloved pitches us right into the atrocious heart of America's other genocide: slavery and its aftermath. No doubt the film's commercial failure was in part due to the fact that the wounds are too raw, the ghosts too Real. When you leave the cinema, there is no escape from these spectres, these apparitions of a Real which will not go away but which cannot be faced. Some viewers complain that Beloved should have been reclassified as Horror . . . well, so should American history . . .

That's eleven years old and touches this weekend's protests with a needle. I understand he could no longer be, but that is someone whose voice I wish were living now.
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
Our house smells like the sea. A sea-fog came in through the windows before midnight, as strong and salt as standing on the docks: I was lying on the couch and thought that if I looked out the windows, I would see water moving under the streetlights, and first I got Jacques Brel's "La cathédrale" stuck in my head and then I fell asleep. I was saying elsewhere in a discussion of dead zones/waste lands in weird fiction that someone must have set a weird tale in the deep anoxic waters of the Black Sea because it's too uncanny an environment to pass up (the millennia of preserved shipwrecks alone), but I can't think of any examples. I hope I don't have to write one. See previous complaints about research.
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
I don't understand Facebook's algorithms. Independent of any pages shared by my friends, it keeps presenting me with this photo of violinist Gil Shaham, upcoming guest of the BSO, and I cannot tell if it thinks that I am the sort of person who listens to classical music (true) or the sort of person who thinks this particular musician is great-looking (also true) and in either case I have no money for the symphony and extant commitments on one of the days he's playing anyway, but I still want to know which data they were farming to produce this result. Seriously, it's been every time I go to check in on the news. I'm not complaining, but I am impressed.

Gil Shaham


(I did not make it to the Brattle's screening of A Matter of Life and Death (1946), so the question of whether I find David Niven as beautiful in that movie as Andrew Moor does will have to wait for another time.)
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I dreamed I was in Providence last night, visiting friends who don't exist in waking life. There was no particular occasion—I hadn't seen them in months, NecronomiCon notwithstanding. I had brought one of them a ring I had found in a thrift store in Boston. It looked like heavy gold with a blurred device on the signet and chips of emerald down the band; I thought it was costume jewelry. It had been priced accordingly. The girl at the register hadn't been able to tell me where it came from. I almost tossed it to my friend as we walked through Burnside Park, telling him it had looked like his style. He didn't even put it on: he turned it over once or twice and dropped onto the nearest bench like someone had kicked his feet out from under him and burst into tears. I thought at one point he said, "How could you do this to me?" but I didn't have an answer and I wasn't sure he was asking me. When he left without looking at me, he left the ring resting on the bench behind him. I put it back in my pocket. I went back to their house. He was there helping his partner prepare dinner; no one said anything about it. I can do something with this dream, I think. [personal profile] spatch asked me months ago if I had ever written Lovecraftian noir and I couldn't think of a way to do it without being cheap or clichéd or ripping other authors off: I might have dreamed myself a way in. I just wish I could think of things that don't require research.

1. Thank you, question mark, Facebook, for pointing me toward this teeth-grinding article: Zoe Willams, "Yes, yes, yes! Welcome to the golden age of slutty cinema." I was a little wary of the opening, but then we reached the following claim—

"On the big screen, we look to the 1930s and 40s – rightly – for an object lesson in how to make a female character with depth, verve, wit and intelligence, but to expect those women to shag around would be unreasonable, anachronistic."

—and I blew a fuse. Can I chase after the author screaming with a copy of Baby Face (1933)? Or the bookstore clerk from The Big Sleep (1946)? Pre-Code cinema in general? A stubborn and sneaky percentage of Hollywood even after the ascendance of the Production Code? "It is a radical act," William writes, "which every film generation thinks they are the first to discover: to create characters who are not good people"—well, apparently every generation of film critics thinks they discovered it, too. I wrote on Facebook that I was reminded of the conversation between an ATS driver and her prospective mother-in-law in Leslie Howard's The Gentle Sex (1943), where the younger woman declares proudly that "for the first time in English history, women are fighting side by side with the men" and the older woman quietly lets fall the fact that she served as an ambulance driver on the front lines of the last war. Just because the young women of the rising generation don't know about the social advances of their mothers doesn't mean they didn't happen. Just because the author of this article lives in a retrograde era doesn't mean the onscreen representation of morally ambiguous women is some kind of millenial invention. It's so easy to think that the past was always more conservative, more blinkered, more backwards than the present. It's comforting. It's dangerous. It permits the belief that things just get better, magically, automatically, without anyone having to fight to move forward or hold ground already won. Once you recognize that the past, even briefly, got here first, it's a lot harder to feel superior for just being alive now. We can't afford it and anyway it isn't true.

2. Apropos of nothing except that I was listening to Flanders and Swann, I am very glad that I discovered them before reading Margery Allingham, otherwise I might have thought she invented "The Youth of the Heart." It's quoted in a scene in The Beckoning Lady (1955)—correctly attributed, but her books are so full of fictional artists and musicians that when I read of "Lili Ricki, the new Swedish Nightingale, singing Sydney Carter's lovely song against a lightening sky," I might have easily had the Avocado of Death problem and assumed she made them both up. As it is, I know the song from a recording of Swann performing it solo as part of At the Drop of a Hat in 1957, since he wrote the music. And I was reminded of Allingham because there's a copy of Traitor's Purse (1941) on Howard's bookshelves in Howard the Duck (1986). I assume someone in the props department was a fan.

3. The Somerville Theatre has announced its repertory schedule for October. I am sad that the double feature of James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is the same night that [personal profile] rushthatspeaks and I already have plans to see William Wellman's Beggars of Life (1928) at the HFA, but I am looking forward mightily to the triple feature of Psycho (1960), Psycho II (1983), and Psycho III (1986), because it is the Saturday before my birthday and five and a half hours of Anthony Perkins seems like a good preemptive birthday present to me. I have never seen Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963), either, or Anna Biller's The Love Witch (2016), and I always like Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead (2004). I know Brad Anderson's Session 9 (2001) was shot at the derelict Danvers State Hospital before it was demolished for condos, a decision which I hope is literally haunting the developers to this day. Anyone with opinions about the rest of this lineup?

I am off to write letters to politicians.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Happy autumn! Happy Bi Visibility Day! Happy centenary of the invention of Fluff, which explains why the first thing I ate today was a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff cookie: I spent the later part of my afternoon in Union Square with [personal profile] rushthatspeaks, [personal profile] gaudior, and Fox, who may or may not have liked their first taste of marshmallow but was really into a crunchy organic juice blend one of their parents was trying to drink. (Eventually they covered themselves in it. It was green. That's the first time I've seen a baby cosplay Howl's Moving Castle.) I am delighted to learn that plasmodial slime molds can share memories. I would definitely watch Dwayne Johnson as Plato. I am faceplantingly tired, but I have cats. It has not been terrible, being awake today.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
I was taking pictures of the cats.

Autolycus had opinions about the camera.



[personal profile] spatch says, "This is what I see every morning at seven-thirty!"
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
In about an hour, I am going to see Howard the Duck (1986) on 70 mm at the Somerville Theatre. It's part of their second annual 70 mm & Widescreen Festival, which started this Wednesday and runs through the rest of the month; last year it offered me such superlative viewing experiences as Lord Jim (1965), Spartacus (1960), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Tron (1982), and this year I am starting with a duck from another planet. We're meeting my parents for it. My father unironically loves Howard the Duck. He ranks it with '80's cult classics like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) and has always felt it deserved a sequel. I have not seen it since high school at the latest and have peculiarly fragmentary memories of the plot. The opening sequence is picture-clear: Howard on his home planet greeting a Playduck centerfold with "My little airbrushed beauty!" before being sucked through space and time into Cleveland, Ohio where he rescues a new wave chick from some lowlifes with the ancient martial art of "Quack Fu." She has a band. I want to say he ends up managing it. After that things start to break up. I remember that an eldritch thing possesses Jeffrey Jones—and that it happens for the decently Lovecraftian reason that it is never a bright idea to open a door at random into the deep reaches of space when you don't know what might be on the other side—but I don't remember the mechanism or the immediate consequences, except that I have the vague sense of a road trip. I remember that Chip Zien voices Howard, when I know him much better for his work in musical theater. IMDb tells me that this movie was also the first place I saw Lea Thompson and Tim Robbins. I'm really looking forward. Other films I am planning to catch on 70 mm include Wonder Woman (2017) and Cleopatra (1963), which should really be something on a big screen, as should an IB Technicolor VistaVision print of North by Northwest (1959). I am a little sorry to have missed The Dark Crystal (1982) earlier this evening, but it has been a long and stressful day. There's always the matinée repeat on Sunday if I really feel like it. In the meantime, there's a space duck.

[edit] Yeah, sorry, haters. Howard the Duck remains a really delightful sci-fi comedy. Lea Thompson makes a surprisingly credible new wave/punk frontwoman. Tim Robbins is so young and so gangly. Jeffrey Jones is no Emilio Lizardo, but he chews good scenery as the possessed scientist. There are practical effects. There is stop-motion. (There are too many fight scenes and things blowing up, but I feel this way about most movies with any action quotient.) And there is a road trip, with a pit stop at a nuclear power plant. The script is sweet and full of consciously comic-book dialogue and it plays its interspecies romance straight; the only joke that really pulled me up short was a tossed-off sex-change line which mercifully goes by fast. I can't imagine swapping out any of the actors, especially Zien. I had completely forgotten about Richard Kiley as the introductory narrator, B-movie style. I don't even think it's an enjoyably bad movie: I just like it. And I have seen perhaps the last remaining 70 mm print in the world. No regrets.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
Even if the rest of the film were forgettable, Howard Hawks' Red River (1948) would be worth it for the climactic fight scene where Montgomery Clift and John Wayne are tragically and brutally and patriarchally beating one another's brains out and just as the audience, consisting in this case of me and [personal profile] rushthatspeaks, decides it cannot take another second of this senseless macho bullshit, Joanne Dru can't either and not only says as much, she holds both combatants at gunpoint until they cut the machismo and admit they love one another. It was a thing of beauty. ("You'd better marry that girl, Matt.") Factor in the gun-comparing scene between Clift and John Ireland and other not infrequent moments of no heterosexual explanation and the whole thing was a nice break from today's otherwise relentless grind of work, even if we weren't totally sure at the outset. It is not easy to watch a movie in the company of an active and presently tired and cranky eleven-month-old, but we managed. In other news, Fox these days is freestanding, fast-moving, can hang upside down by the knees if an adult holds them, and appears to be taking against the entire concept of pants. They like honeycake, though.

Autolycus is being heartbreakingly plaintive right now. He has a vet appointment early in the morning and it requires fasting, which is an impossible concept to explain to a cat. I let him graze all day and gave him a proper dinner at the absolute last moment, but he is attempting to convince me that, actually, in point of fact, he starved since then. We should find him some kind of special treat after the appointment, for being so brave and honest. Last night he and his sister shared in the Rosh Hashanah chicken. All cats are lunisolar.

In honor of the High Holidays, here is a post on Jewish superheroes and here is a brilliant riposte to the rather short-sighted question "How can you be Black and Jewish?"

Back to the relentless grind. At least it is almost autumn.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Erev Rosh Hashanah: I misplace the keys to my parents' house and cannot help with the cooking as early in the afternoon as planned, but my brother and his family turn out to have been laid low by some opportunistic bug (the preschool year has started) and don't make it for dinner after all; my father drives their roast chicken and their challah and their honeycake out to them in the evening. We eat ours after I light orange taper candles that technically belong to Halloween because that's what's in the house. The chicken is brined and stuffed with lemon halves and fresh rosemary; the huge round challah with honey drizzled lightly over its egg-washed crust is from Mamaleh's; the honeycakes are homemade and the twice-baked potatoes were introduced by [personal profile] spatch and me. I know it is not precisely the customary use of the Shechecheyanu, but I find it useful to have a prayer thank you, God, that we've made it this far. The year starts anyway, ready or not. I'd rather recognize it as it goes by. L'shanah tovah, all.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
On the one hand, A Matter of Life and Death (1946) is my least favorite Powell and Pressburger. It's a superlative afterlife fantasy in the tradition of Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), which is the problem: it's the Archers doing, excellently, a kind of story other people do. I don't hate it. I like the premise, which flips the opening glitch of Jordan so that instead of snatching a man untimely into the afterlife, a psychopomp lets his assigned soul slip away into the world; I love its filming of Earth in color and the "Other World" in black and white, whence Wim Wenders and his Berlin angels; I really love its double-tracking of the plot in both mystical and medical registers and the way it refuses to resolve one over the other, eventually, rightly merging the two. I have always suspected that after the credits roll, somewhere among the stars Marius Goring's Conductor 71 and Edward Everett Horton's Messenger 7013 are gloomily comparing notes on their respective balls-ups and wondering if Alan Rickman's Metatron was right that angels can't get drunk. It has one of the great escalators of cinema. It's objectively good and I know it's widely loved. But it's easily the least weird thing the Archers ever committed to celluloid. I can't tell if its otherworld is deliberately dry or if my ideas of the numinous just for once parted ways with the filmmakers', but I found more resonance in the real-world scenes with their odd touches like a naked goatherd piping on an English beach, the camera obscura through which Roger Livesey's Dr. Reeves watches the town around him, or the mechanicals within mechanicals of an amateur rehearsal of A Midsummer Night's Dream, than I did in the monumental administration of heaven and the courts of the assembled dead. I watched it in the first rush of discovery following A Canterbury Tale (1944) and as many other films by Powell and Pressburger as I could lay my hands on; I was disappointed. It didn't work for me even as well as Black Narcissus (1948), which I want to see again now that I'm not expecting real India. On the same hand, the Brattle is showing a 4K DCP rather than a print, which means that I'd be settling for an approximation of the pearly Technicolor monochrome of the Other World, which is still astonishing enough in digital transfer that I really want to know what it looked like on the original 35 mm, and the same goes for the rest of Jack Cardiff's cinematography.

On the other hand, the screening will be introduced by Thelma Schoonmaker and this is how Andrew Moor in Powell and Pressburger: A Cinema of Magic Spaces (2012) writes about David Niven as Squadron Leader Peter David Carter, the pilot hero of A Matter of Life and Death (look out, textbrick, for once it's not me):

Never an actor of great range, Niven came instead to embody and to articulate a rather out-of-date ideal: gentlemanliness – or 'noblesse oblige'. His light tenor and gamin beauty are those of the nobility: he reveals, if provoked, the upright steeliness of a man with backbone, but this grit often shades over into a likeable, smiling insolence. Though we knew he could be naughty (and the actor was a noted practical joker), it was the forgivable naughtiness of a well-liked schoolboy It is usually his graceful amusement that impresses, rather than his physicality or intellect (to talk of 'grace' might seem antiquated, but old-fashioned words like that seem to fit). He could be the younger son of a minor aristocrat, at times silly but always charming, and in the last instance gallant, gazing upwards with a sparkle in his eyes, a light comedian who, through sensing the necessity of nonsense, is perfect as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days (Michael Anderson, 1956, US). He is fittingly dashing in The Elusive Pimpernel (Powell and Pressburger, 1950), where as Sir Percy Blakeney he embraces foppishness with gusto. His 'airy' quality is winning, and his poetic virtues shine in AMOLAD. He may be well-mannered and eloquent but, as charmers go, his 'classiness' sits easily . . . He is undoubtedly an affectionate figure. Unkindness is not in him, and he is important in our gallery of heroes. But he is never like John Mills, the democratic 1940s ' Everyman'. Mills is the boy next door to everybody and, while that is a nice neighborhood, we really aspire to live next door to Niven. Is it a question of class? We suppose Niven to be a good host of better parties. Mills is like us; Niven is exotic. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and during the war Niven stood for some of the most valued of principles, but his quality (or was it just his prettiness?) seemed the stuff of a previous, and probably mythical, time. Niven himself was a Sandhurst-trained army man, who joined the Highland Light Infantry in 1928 and served in Malta for two years before drifting towards America and into film acting. In 1939, when he left Hollywood for the army, he was a star, and managed to complete two propaganda films during the war while also serving in the Rifle Brigade . . . In the opening sequence of AMOLAD, it is hard to think of another actor who could mouth Powell and Pressburger's airborne script so convincingly. Bravely putting his house in order, saying his farewells and leaping from his burning plane, he is ridiculously, tearfully beautiful. Notably, it is his voice, travelling to Earth in radio waves, which first attracts the young American girl June, not his looks, and later it is his mind which is damaged, not his body. It is difficult, in fact, to think of the slender Niven in terms of his body at all. We remember the face, and a moustache even more precise and dapper than Anton Walbrook's (which was hiding something). Like Michael Redgrave in The Way to the Stars, he is the most celebrated man of war – the pilot who belongs in the clouds.

So I'm thinking about it.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I have just learned that Stanislav Petrov died in May and I feel this is a bad year to lose a man who knew how not to blow up the world.
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
Plans to spend the day outside were somewhat revised on account of incoming holidays and I have the kind of headache that is barely a light sensitivity off from a migraine, but I can totally recommend the experience of baking ten honeycakes (and eighteen honeycupcakes) for Rosh Hashanah and then lying on a couch to finish reading the second half of Ruthanna Emrys' Winter Tide (2017). It's good at ocean, good at alienness, good at different ways of being human; it braids different threads of Lovecraft's universe without feeling like a monster mash, although the nature of monstrosity is one of its front-and-center concerns; it has a queer romance around the edges that I'm delighted is canonical. Technically I suppose I could have timed it to fall during the Days of Awe, but that might have been too on the nose. Also, I would have had to wait.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
I spent most of yesterday out of the house and not at doctor's appointments, which was a much better ratio than most of the rest of this week; despite an almost total failure to sleep at night, I am about to endeavor to do the same today. Two writing things, one not.

1. Yesterday's mail brought my contributor's copy of Not One of Us #58, containing my poems "The House Always Wins" and "Dive" along with fiction by Patricia Russo, Rose Keating, and Mike Allen and poetry by Mat Joiner and Holly Day, among others. The theme of the issue is fall. Not One of Us is one of the longest-running, most stubborn black-and-white ink-and-paper 'zines in existence and I am deeply fond of it, with its inclusive themes of otherness and alienation; it is where I published my first short story sixteen years ago this month. If you have the fiver to spare, I recommend picking up a copy. The editor and his family have a cat to support.

2. I am very pleased to announce that my novelette "The Boatman's Cure," heretofore available only in my collection Ghost Signs (2015), will be reprinted in a future issue of Lightspeed. If you have not read it and want an advance idea of what it's like, it was reviewed by Amal El-Mohtar when the collection came out. It has ghosts and the sea and personal history and classical myth and periodically I wonder if it counts as a haunted house story, although it was not written as one. It carries a lot of significance for me. Rest assured that I will link when it goes live.

3. I was not so pleased to hear that Harry Dean Stanton has died. As one can do with character actors, I seem to have conceived an incredible fondness for him over the years despite never seeing him in any of his really famous roles; I have good memories of him from Dillinger (1973), Alien (1979), and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). I probably have Paris, Texas (1984) or Repo Man (1984) in my future. I had not realized he was 91. He was a sort of weatherbeaten middle age for so long, I just figured it was his natural, permanent state.
sovay: (Claude Rains)
I met my father this afternoon for a matinée of Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton (2007) at the Brattle Theatre. I had not seen the film since it was released and it really holds up. It's a character study interlocked into a tight ensemble drama; it has classic bones and no guarantees. I can't say it's the best acting George Clooney has ever done only because I love so much his perfect '30's leading-man turn in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), but he's human-sized here, bruised and ambiguous, a man whose finesse with dirty deals and laundry has never made him more than a "janitor" to the swanky law firm that declines to offer his blue collar a partnership, no matter how sharp his suits or sealed his lips. Tilda Swinton almost certainly deserved her Oscar just for ruthlessly suppressing her natural air of the numinous, substituting flop sweat and a queasy determination that would be admirable if it weren't in service of corporate exploitation that can't even be written off as cartoonish, it's so routine and successful. I first noticed Tom Wilkinson in this movie, having a spectacular version of Clooney's own moral jolt: a glittering manic break in the middle of a tricky class-action suit, precipitated by an inconvenient access of conscience, also going off his meds. Other character actors have made themselves visible in the decade since, each sketching in some angle of the title character's world and the aggression, anxiety, weariness, and anger that principally define it (hello, Denis O'Hare, Sean Cullen, Sydney Pollack, Bill Raymond, oh, good God, Ken Howard, that was you). Other ways of living swing elliptically through the story. Good luck getting hold of one of them.

Looking at the film now, I am not surprised that I fell in love with it ten years ago, because it is, in addition to a kind of chamber corporate thriller, an essentially noir narrative. Its chief concerns are people's prices and limits, how far they'll go and for whose sake, whether there is such a thing as redemption or whether some stains go too deep or whether it even matters so long as just here, just now, just a little, the damage stops. It assumes institutional corruption and personal complicity without making them anyone's excuse. It asks real ethical questions and proffers no pat answers. I've never seen it counted among modern neo-noir and I'm wondering if people miss it because it eschews the style: there are no cigarette contrails or Venetian blinds, but all the philosophy is there, the starkness with which the void can suddenly open beneath you. It's never didactic; it would be dead in the water if it preached. The longest speeches belong to Wilkinson and as his character says shruggingly, "I'm crazy, right?" But it makes its audience notice the inequalities, how being useful is not the same as belonging, how suffering in aggregate can be business as usual until a face turns it into personal crisis, how the woman in the boardroom is the one out on the branch that can be sawn off at need (which does not absolve her of the actions she takes to cling there), and without playing games with audience satisfaction it ends with a move into the appropriate total unknown. It's not grimdark, because good noir isn't. It just doesn't promise anyone they'll make it out—even metaphorically—alive.

I am being evasive about the plot because it's good: it knows that a car bomb and a photocopy can be equally explosive, but the renunciation of empathy is more killing than any chemical. I didn't realize the writer-director had also written four of the Bourne movies, although I feel I should have been able to guess from the scene with Clive Owen in The Bourne Identity (2002), or that he co-wrote the script for Rogue One (2016), which is less immediately obvious to me. I can't remember if I knew that cinematographer Robert Elswit had previously worked with Clooney on Good Night and Good Luck (2005), where I discovered David Strathairn, Frank Langella, Ray Wise, and Dianne Reeves, started to notice Robert Downey, Jr., and finally differentiated Jeff Daniels from Jeff Bridges; he gets some beautiful shots out of ordinary things and some horrifying ones out of the same, like a glossily deserted, fluorescent-lit office building late at night that seems to be waiting for J.G. Ballard. I wish Clooney had won the Best Actor he was nominated for; I don't still randomly think about Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood a decade later. I think the best compliment I can pay this movie is that even if I think of it as noir, I don't think it would have been better filmed in 1949 with John Garfield or Dan Duryea. This memo brought to you by my valuable backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] ashlyme, I have seen your Pan of the brownfields. He was in Derek Jarman's The Last of England (1987), a bare-chested, leather-jacketed heroin punk atop a mound of ruined brick, the post-synched soundtrack playing a delicate melody in the midst of burning warehouses, fascist soldiers, forty-year-old home movies, Thatcherite apocalypse. He has a round-chinned face, an Elvis-black kiss-curl, tattoos on his arms; in the credits he is named "Spring." He shoots up, smokes, smashes things, has sex with a life-sized copy of Caravaggio's Amor Vincit Omnia while the cinematographer's shadow, maybe Jarman's own shadow, lies across them both. His scenes are all filmed in the slow-blurred, smokily tinted Super 8 grain of The Angelic Conversation (1987), of which he might be the darkening reflection: the angel in the fallen world, with no last trump to liberate him into the arms of his beloved. Everything in this film is apocalyptic, but very little of it is revelation. Maybe Tilda Swinton at the very end, rending with scissors and even biting her wedding gown to pieces as a pyre streams behind her on the sunset riverbank; she whirls in bridal ruins, fire and grief, I think of Shiva Nataraja, I have no idea if Jarman did. He wrote a book of the film, which is currently available under the title Kicking the Pricks (1987). I don't have it. I have this headful of images like stained glass windows, smashed and burning. Or channel-surfing on William Blake's MTV.

I was five minutes late to the theater, which I count as an achievement since at Downtown Crossing the Red Line had decided that it would prefer not to; [personal profile] rushthatspeaks and [personal profile] nineweaving had saved me a seat and I came in just as Nigel Terry doing his best BBC switched from Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" to T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land." (My memory is that this produced the line "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed not with a bang but with a whimper," but I don't actually think that happened.) It's even more of a cut-up film than Jubilee (1977), working with many of the same furious themes but even more abstracted here. It plays aggressively with time, slowing, skipping, echoing, blackout and shell-shock and dream. (We ran out of time when we ran out of history, here at the willed, sadistically avoidable end of things. If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable.) It flickers between scenes until the screen becomes its own double-exposure kinematoscope. Many of Jarman's movies are painterly; this one is staticky. It's like looking at a sparkler. And indeed, different characters carry these fizzing torches, white magnesium fire burning off the screen; they ward and threaten and signify, perhaps, at the last, hope. Of Jarman's work that I've seen, which at this point includes all the feature films except Sebastiane (1976), The Garden (1990), and Blue (1993), The Last of England reminds me most of the short The Art of Mirrors (1973) and the music videos he directed for the Smiths and for Marianne Faithfull, who appears via the soundtrack, singing the beginning of the "Skye Boat Song" over and over in her cracked bell of a voice as refugees or deportees huddle on the wharves of London, patrolled by balaclava'd soldiers with black boots and black guns and the confident stride of nationalists: there were white cliffs in Ford Madox Brown's painting, but here there's not even a boat. The other thing this film reminds me of is a nightmare. It contains the most frightening cauliflower I have ever seen. It contains a moon-crowned dancing androgyne, a wedding where the bridesmaids are pantomime dames and the baby is present in a pram full of tabloids, an execution in real time. A pair of soldiers waltz in a tire-littered alley, lit by a trash fire. The globe of the world spins as if out of control, between the hands of an actress who looks like (but I don't think is) Sycorax from The Tempest (1979). Its painted countries are probably out of date anyway. "Land of Hope and Glory" sails out over shots of the Albert Memorial and home footage of Empire-shadowed Pakistan from Jarman's childhood, but the violence of soldiers who are not on parade—the grandsons of Kipling's "sons o' the Widow," with all the latest overcompensating gear—stutters like bullet-flashes throughout. New York is a frenetic hallucination, a remembrance wreath the height of hypocrisy when exchanged for a submachine gun. Hitler's on the soundtrack, too.

I don't know why this movie isn't depressing. It should leave you feeling absolutely bludgeoned; I think it's so angry it's exhilarating. It mourns the loss of England that was or should have been, but it isn't conservative. In one of two scenes I had seen excerpted in photographs from the film—the other being Swinton between fire and water—a posh boy and a soldier fuck on top of a gigantic Union Jack, the former balls naked, the latter booted-gloved-masked to anonymity, in such a welter of cigarettes and empty wine bottles that you're amazed either of them is up for it, and maybe they aren't. It's vicious, but I also think it's funny. I'm not sure either the establishment or the jackboots got what they wanted out of that one. Elsewhere Jarman himself sits at his real desk, writing in his real journals, the nuclear power station at Dungeness overlooks Prospect Cottage to this day and the industrial desolation of London is a document as well as a vision. (Eyeless tower blocks, rag-and-bone quaysides, houses behind barbed wire. Nowhere is home here. Where are they setting out, that monkish, magician's boat at the end? All that's left is away.) The filmmaker's family appear as themselves thanks to at least two generations of home movies. The whole thing feels like something you could stumble across in the middle of the night but not discover in a museum. It feels more like the inside of another person's head than some self-portraits I've seen. Afterward, in the restroom, a total stranger with a German accent turned to me at the stall door and asked, "Did you just see the film? Did you like it?" Then she asked if I was German. I have to believe M. John Harrison saw this film.

You understand that this is not a review, but I hope you understand also why I had to say something. I love several films by Derek Jarman—Wittgenstein (1993) unreasonably—and when I walked out of the Brattle Theatre tonight I did not expect The Last of England to be one of them, but it may be that I do, not even because it's so beautiful, because often and pointedly it's not, but because it is so much itself. It's fragments against the ruins. It's on fire. (I could and would screen it to follow David Rudkin's Penda's Fen (1974): Jarman himself the ungovernable, dissonant flame.) This explosion brought to you by my visionary backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
Courtesy of [personal profile] handful_ofdust: Zeal & Ardor, a Black metal band. That is, a black metal band whose major influence is Black American field hollers and spirituals. Writer-frontman Manuel Gagneux is biracial and started the band in response to racist abuse on 4chan, which may be the best outcome I have ever heard of people being racist on 4chan; the results are shredding and subversive, the perfect Kai Ashante Wilson soundtrack. That the nine songs on their debut album appear to have burst in from some fearful history where the forced Christianity of slavery engendered instead the defiant seeking out of Satan makes it all the sharper that Gagneux's vocals have been mistaken for the Alan Lomax field recordings they quite deliberately sound like. I heard "Blood in the River" first and it's hair-raising. Its author associates it with the Stono Rebellion. I could not help associating it with Orlando Jones' Mr. Nancy. "Devil Is Fine," the band's only official video so far, is a close second. The two projects are not otherwise sonically alike, but the time-rupturing, musically confrontational qualities of Devil Is Fine (2016/2017) reminded me powerfully of clipping.'s Splendor & Misery (2016), which I still wish had won the Hugo. [edit: I am not the only person who thinks so.] In short, they are well worth your listening, although not if you need to concentrate on anything else at all.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Not only is the MBTA today made of pure butt, I don't like their new website, either. The user interface is less intuitive to interact with and the trip planner's ideas of directions are more confusing. I'm impressed, but maybe I'll just stick to paper schedules from now on.

1. I forgot to mention that the podcast in which I participated at NecronomiCon is now free to stream online: The Outer Dark 016: Live from NecronomiCon 2017. Other participants are the excellent Craig Laurance Gidney, Scott R. Jones, Stephen Graham Jones, and Peter Straub, with Scott Nicolay hosting and Anya Martin moderating. I seem to have overestimated how carefully I need to speak for radio, but it was a lot of fun.

2. Anthony Lane not liking The Limehouse Golem (2016) does not deter me from wanting to see it, since he consistently underestimates almost anything that counts as genre, but I am glad at least he appreciates Bill Nighy:

No film in which Bill Nighy appears can ever be discounted. Rakish, dapper, not quite ruined, quavering with half-concealed amusement, courteous toward a fallen world, and somehow both urbane and faintly spectral, he could have stepped straight out of a Sargent portrait. I can imagine him in spats. What a pleasure it is, then, to see him in a frock coat and a spotted necktie, stalking the London streets. In "The Limehouse Golem," set in 1880, he plays Inspector Kildare of Scotland Yard, whose career as a detective has been held back, it is whispered, because he is "not the marrying kind." The role was originally to have been played by Alan Rickman, who died last year—a passing as hard to accept as that of Severus Snape—and Nighy was cast instead. Rickman's Kildare would have been more insidious, perhaps, with a deeper drawl, and more likely to be suspected of the crimes that he was deputed to solve. Nighy, as sensitive as a seismograph, approaches them with a shudder.

3. Courtesy of [profile] strange_selkie: different kinds of manual labor being done really well, which means really beautifully because efficiency generally is. Some of it is performance flair, but some of it is just practical and also ridiculous.

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