sovay: (Default)
Rabbit, rabbit! Too late in the day to suggest it as a serious practice, it struck me that given the quantity of sheer alternative untruth flying around the public sphere these days, the most topsy-turvy thing one could do on April Fool's Day is tell the truth.

I like knowing about both Ghil'ad Zuckermann's work with language revival and the fossil beds of the last day of the Cretaceous.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) is the weirdest combination of feminist horror and stupider-than-ass '50's paranoia tropes. I'm glad Thomas Tryon went on to have a writing career.
sovay: (Claude Rains)
I must warn you in advance that -30- (1959) has some of the worst scoring it has ever been my misfortune to encounter stuck to a film. Despite the presence of a composer's name in the credits, it sounds like a recycled collage of wackier, sappier library music and old TV cues: it's cartoonish where the film is sardonic, motivational where the film is matter-of-fact, and does its best to flood real emotion off the screen on a wave of syrup; in sum, it's like someone constantly elbowing you in the ribs to make sure you know this is the sad part and this is the funny part and this is the tense part and it's a shame, because the movie is otherwise a small gem in no need of assistance with its suspense, its humor, or its heartstrings.

Produced and directed by Jack Webb from an original screenplay by one-time reporter William Bowers, -30- is another kind of procedural, less crime-minded than Dragnet; it's an eight-hour slice of life on the evening shift of a city paper modeled so closely on the Los Angeles Examiner that the set with its water coolers and hanging fluorescents and pigeons milling about on the ledges outside was recreated from the real-life paper's offices. There's a big story and a lot of small ones and they are all satisfactorily, somewhat thematically resolved by the time the presses roll for the morning edition, but it's much more a portrait of a workplace and the people in it than any singular protagonist's progress from A to B. The danger of this ensemble approach is that a narrative can feel diffuse or abstract, all individuality subsumed into an equal-opportunity collective which is great for socialist realism but fatal where a profession as traditionally fast-paced and highly colored as the newspaper business is concerned. Even on a slow news night that begins with nothing but girlie pictures, a betting pool on an actress' pregnancy, and a likely front-page story about whooping cranes, -30- is humming like linotype with personality, tangily conveyed by one of the funniest scripts for a non-comedy I have run into since The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). So we get the forty-year rewrite veteran whose grandson is making a high-speed test flight from Honolulu to New York and the cigar-clipping city editor whose default register of interaction with everyone from the terrorized copy boys to the amused managing editor is an aria of sarcasm ("Oh, we're going to have a newspaper all right. Lots of pages with print on it, folded together just right, headlines in the right place—") and the beneficiary of nepotism champing at the bit for a real assignment and the press agent always trying to boost his latest property and the staff artist still morose over working his butt off at art school just to redraw maps of storm drains and the double-duty editor willing to wedge a third desk into his office for the chance to report on the weather ("Why, I'll bet I've known a cumulonimbus cloud from a cirrus since I was four years old!"–"And that's good?"–"It's just an indication") and the senior copyreader whose green eyeshade is just about as bilious as his view of human nature, his own included, and they don't feel like types or cogs, they feel like intelligent, hard-worked, cooped-up people being cranky and rhetorical and stack-blowing and supportive at one another and generally sounding like champions while they do it. I think it may have done these characters no favors in the '50's that when they talk about the important things, they do so with self-protective understatement or hyperliterate irony, but it's actually a style that ages very well. It is understood that they feel deeply, but rarely do they leave even a serious conversation without returning it wryly to earth. The plot can then encompass lost children and media frenzy and fears of commitment and futility and failure without feeling melodramatically heavy; for starters, no matter how down everyone gets, the daily paper still has to go out on time. I like when the ME finishes comforting one of his staff by noting, "Besides, what would be so tough about being a power that's greater than we are?" but I really love the copyreader steering a rapidly-revealing exchange back to safe expostulation with "Well, thanks! Getting a little gassed up on occasion's the only vice I've got left. Now you've gone and loused that up for me!"

-30-'s cast is mostly drawn from radio and TV and they are impeccable, from William Conrad as the Los Angeles Banner's answer to Orson Welles to Richard Deacon as the inexhaustibly unimpressed artist, James Bell as the seen-it-all copyreader, Joe Flynn as the newcomer wire editor, and various turns of eagerness, hard-sell, dreaminess, and frustration from actors like Richard Bakalyan, Dick Whittinghill, Jonathan Hole, and David Nelson, with Webb himself anchoring—but not crowding—the ensemble as the managing editor who comes to work every Thursday night from laying flowers on a grave. Knowing him mostly as stonefaced Sergeant Joe Friday, I really enjoyed seeing how warm, wry, and springy he is as Sam Gatlin, brushing off the PR flack with the folder full of glamour shots, "No, my wife gets real psychotic if I show any interest in naked female children," and then seriously to the suggestion that he just not tell his wife, "That isn't the answer, Fred." His wife is played by Whitney Blake and when she makes a rare visit to his office, they nuzzle and flirt so endearingly that we understand her picture on his desk is not a rote gesture. The glamour shots turn out to be of "Miss Arkansas of 1959" Donna Sue Needham, whose undoing of an overcoat in the newsroom occasions the only appropriate musical cue in the picture—a sudden whammy from the brass section—and a series of Tashlin-esque oomph gags, why not? On the other hand, this movie gives the traditional bonding of veteran and rookie to two women without a hint of gawking: Louise Lorimer's "Lady" Wilson has been the backbone of the Banner since 1917 and Nancy Valentine's Jan Price is just filing her first copy tonight, but they're damn good newspaperwomen and there are no exceptions about them. We see other women on staff, just as see all sorts of action in the background that the script does not concentrate on, typewriters clattering, proofs being checked, endless cups of coffee being carried back and forth. A newsroom is a busy place. And we get a good sense of it, as an ecosystem as well as an architectural space, with Edward Colman's cleanly lit cinematography ranging across open-plan desks and through glass doors and even around corners to the restrooms, where Conrad's Jim Bathgate is suspiciously trying to track down the incongruous sound of bongos. (The copy boys are lamenting their lot. The hungry i is in no danger of hearing from their agent any time soon.) The rain drips off the cranked-open jalousie windows in Sam's office, beaded with neon reflecting from the all-night diner across the street. The same rain is filling up the storm drains beneath the city, where a three-year-old girl went missing hours ago with her dog. That's the big story and none of these professionally hardboiled, scoop-chasing people wants to see it end badly, but it's their job to print the headlines either way. Even an overexcited squiggle of strings can't ruin the moment the crucial call comes in.

At the end of his paean to the newspaper—fish-wrap, dropcloth, puppy-training aid—Bathgate concludes, "It only costs ten cents, that's all. But if you only read the comic section or the want ads, it's still the best buy for your money in the world." I don't know if I would go so far as to make the same claim for -30-, but I watched it without expectations and was then very sorry to hear it was the last of only three feature films directed by Webb. He has a nice ear for the rhythms of breezy or difficult conversation and a nice eye for details that imply entire histories, like the pair of side-by-side swivel chairs with "HARVEY" and "JOE" respectively swiped across their backs in white paint. Every now and then the dialogue tilts expository or the plot turns too-precise and then it always catches itself. I truly wish to excise all non-diegetic music in this movie from my memory as well as from the film stock, but the good news is that most of it was sufficiently generic that I remember only how much it annoyed me. The title is the traditional journalist's sign-off and the film appropriately ends with it. I reviewed this movie by request of [personal profile] spatch, who likes newspaper stories; I hope I have done justice to its small but not insubstantial charms. It isn't noir at all. This edition brought to you by my literate backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
The mail has brought my contributor's copy of Not One of Us #61, containing my poem "From Lima to Beijing." Like I said when it was accepted, the Outer Antipodes is one of the oldest stories between me and [personal profile] spatch; it is important to me that it's in print. The issue's theme is another world and its fine list of contributors includes Gemma Files, Holly Day, Gordon B. White, Lisa Mason, and Elisa Subin. Anything else you want to know, pick up a copy!

1. I have been interacting elliptically with the news lately, but I saw about the death of Agnès Varda. She was not an unreasonable age for it and I had been sort of braced to read about it one of these days, but I am still sorry. I liked the world with her in it.

2. I had never heard of William Attaway's Let Me Breathe Thunder (1939), but I want to find a copy now. From the same site, I like how Imogen Sara Smith writes about Detour (1945).

3. I can't remember the links-of-links by which I discovered the Iditarod poodles, but that was a thing.

4. I really like the idea of Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day: William Taylor Jr., "On the Occasion of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's 100th Birthday."

5. From several different places on my friendlist: "How Inuit Parents Teach Kids to Control Their Anger." The interactive storytelling aspect really interests me.

Every now and then I remember that Emma Orczy died in 1947 and I wonder what she thought of Pimpernel Smith (1941).
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
Despite some marvelous outliers, March has not been the greatest of months. I spent too much time in too much pain and especially during the middle weeks of the month I did not write about any of the movies I watched from my couch because it was hard enough just to finish my day work on time. Most of them were film noir; it really is a comfort genre for me. Now that my critical faculties are beginning to return, I thought I might at least mention them in passing. Think of it as a very slow marathon.

The Tattooed Stranger (1950) boasts the rare pulp title that describes its premise exactly: when the shotgun-blasted body of a young woman is discovered by a dog-walker in Central Park, the only identifying mark on her is the eagle, globe, and anchor of the United States Marines Corps inked at her wrist. A streetwise homicide veteran and a science-minded rookie pursue their meager leads through the beaneries and tattoo parlors and overgrown vacant lots of low-budget location-shot New York. Alas, the execution can be judged by the fact that for the next two or three movies I watched, [personal profile] spatch had to listen to me saying, "Well, it can't be worse than The Tattooed Stranger." It's not an incompetent or an offensive movie. It's just an extremely routine programmer of a police procedural released by RKO during the profligate and inefficient tenure of Howard Hughes when it seemed that in order to get greenlit, a picture either had to star Jane Russell or cost chump change to make. The latter is the case here, with the plot built out by director Edward Montagne and producer Jay Bonafield from their documentary short Crime Lab (1948) but any human interest angle left to fend for itself—I like that an invaluable clue is provided by an invasive species of grass and that the brisk botanist who identifies it at the Museum of Natural History is female, but her ensuing romance with the rookie cop is less intelligible to me than the long string of insurance rackets the Jane Doe turns out to have been running. No one gets a charisma assist from the script. I found myself most compelled by the characters of the tattoo artists who practice on a decidedly gritty clientele in the Bowery and the Navy Yard ("Picturesque, painless, and permanent—$5 and up, depending on the size and artistry required") and otherwise the real star of this 64-minute B-filler is New York City incarnated in hospital basements and boarding-house walkups, skyscrapers eclipsed and traffic divided by the soot and shadows of the Third Avenue El. A suddenly chiaroscuro sequence with a knife-wielding bum is more out of place than scary, the rest of the film is so flatly documentary. Much better is a chase scene through the boards and weeds and laundry lines of tenement back gardens and best of all the climactic shootout among the whited sepulchres of a stonecutters' yard, its conclusion an ironic chime of more tattooed anonymity. I do like the skeptical veteran being reminded by his captain, "Grow up, Corrigan. This business has changed since we were chasing runaway beer wagons on Bleecker Street."

If the title of Scene of the Crime (1949) doesn't tell you it's a procedural, the pre-credits image of a sprawled dead body with a gun painstakingly retrieved from the sidewalk cement just beyond reach of its fingers should give a clue. Under the rest of the titles, we observe a ballistics test, the examination of bullets by comparison microscope, an investigation report filled out by the crime lab of the LAPD. It's an assurance of technical authenticity that the film itself will be only sort of interested in following up on, but at least it's never dull as it chases a cop-killing mixed with the unpredictable violence of two downstate hoods making trouble for the local bookmaking syndicate who might or might not have had the protagonist's former partner on their payroll. Roy Rowland's direction is unfussy, the majority of the low-lit atmosphere—the one day scene in this picture is reserved until the crime plot's been wound up—velvetily supplied by the cinematography of Paul Vogel. Charles Schnee's screenplay turns the true-crime source material into a ricochet game of hardboiled rhetorical figures, a delicious half-tone off from real human slang. "You're dealing in dirt with the dirtiest, but it's pay dirt." "Look at that eye. Belongs on a bun with relish." "A figure like champagne and a heart like the cork." "There's a crime on every page to fit me." It's A-noir from MGM, but it mitigates the gloss by casting all three of its stars against type: all-American boy-next-door Van Johnson as a tough-humored detective lieutenant, frequently fatale Arlene Dahl as his devoted wife, and ingenue Gloria DeHaven as a baby-doll stripper, a piece of blonde candy you could break your teeth on. Above all, the film is a showcase for character actors, from second billing to indelible bit players. My favorites among the latter include Tom Powers as a bookie-joint boss lining up his own suspects like a precinct captain of the underworld and Robert Gist as a dolefully rumpled shamus nursing his second shiner of the week and lamenting the deleterious effects of the movies: "Every schmegegg thinks he can beat up a private eye—and I'm no Humphrey Bogart. He gets slugged and he's ready for action. I get slugged and I'm ready for pickling." William Phipps and Jeff Corey can be glimpsed among the local color. Bespectacled and stogie-chewing, John McIntire desperately confused me by looking like a dead ringer for Christopher Lloyd, but the scene-stealer is Norman Lloyd as the "Sleeper," a bored-eyed stool pigeon with a noisy jacket and a quiet voice, always touched with the flick-knife of a smile. This movie ends with a car-ramming mid-street machine-gun battle still impressive by the action standards of today, but its real menace traces to bland-browed Lloyd, gently shaking his head in the back seat of our hero's car: "You know, I really could've killed you, huh? Yuck-yuck."

I started watching Violent Saturday (1955) for the title; then it turned out to be a noir in Eastmancolor and CinemaScope, which is not usually how the genre goes. It was shot in Bisbee, Arizona and if you ever wanted to see an open-pit copper mine look really good, this movie is it. By day, "Bradenville" looks baked bright as a mural; by night it shimmers somberly. I like the idea and even the effect of a noir that's anything but and it uses its horizon-line stretch and its alternately raw and carefully toned palette for some stunning shots, like a high-speed train streaming toward the camera out of a sky of far blue mountains, the long trees of telephone wires, and a clear early sun through white stacks of industrial smoke; it vanishes in a cloud-banded distance like turquoise. I just can't rhapsodize quite as much about the plot. Scripted by Sydney Boehm, it's an ambitious dovetailing of a Spoon River Anthology-like portrait of a small town with the ticking bomb of a bank robbery planned by outsiders who can bring in chaos but not corruption; we are already privy to too many of the seams and foibles of this community, of which infidelity, alcoholism, furtive theft, and blatant voyeurism are just a few of the flavors on offer. Only the Amish family on the outskirts of town appear to be free of dark secrets, which mostly means we fear all the more for their innocence. We have been promised the title; the characters in their self-absorbed, self-destructive orrery have no idea. The differing protocols of noir and melodrama make the fallout of their inevitable collision hard to predict. Unfortunately for me, I found myself responding to this model of tension-building as if it were a disaster movie, where the audience knows that any storyline, no matter how high-stakes, can be short-circuited by the sudden advent of earthquakes, volcanoes, meteors, icebergs, and I sort of checked out on the narrative momentum and ended up caring most about individual moments. However sticky an end I was guaranteed of him meeting, I really enjoyed Lee Marvin as a benzedrine-snorting hard case whose night-before nerves manifest not in edgy violence but in quiet reminiscence about his ex-wife and her winterlong colds. I am ambivalent about the ultimate payoff of the thread with Victor Mature, whose young son has become ashamed of him because his wartime job was stateside copper production, not punching Nazis, but I like that the mine manager himself has nothing to prove: "Things like that, it's better if they didn't happen to you at all." I could have watched even more of the minimal subplot concerning the librarian played by Sylvia Sidney and the bank manager by Tommy Noonan: he catches her stuffing a stolen and emptied purse into the garbage, but is stopped mid-condemnation by her contemptuous realization that he was only loitering in the alley because he was peeping through an uncurtained window at his crush object undressing; not knowing the explosive day they're in for, they part on the bad terms of mutual blackmail and make respectively triumphant and timorous eye contact in the bank the next morning. And it's all smashed to pieces when the third act hits, but director Richard Fleischer at least knows how to stage a hold-up, a chase, and a gunfight for maximum sweat and shock, even if his characters all spin around bloodlessly when shot. Allowing for these small niceties of the PCA, the violence levels in this picture point due Peckinpah.

Gerald Mayer's The Sellout (1952) is sometimes stiff and sometimes superfluous and I'm not sure its bait-and-switch of protagonists works as well as the similar trick in Psycho (1960), but I disagree with the contemporary review highlighted by TCM which dismissed it as an "Eastern . . . Instead of horses, the principals use late model autos, no wide brim Stetsons but snap brim soft hats, long barreled .44's are replaced by snub-nosed .38's to inter the squealer and incarcerate the crooks." Without getting into a critical appraisal of the Western and its relations with other genres, I really think this film's just noir. Really noir, philosophically-sociologically as well as stylistically. The puzzle-pieces of its plot are cops and criminals and newspapermen, but its big picture is the trivial ease with which it observes the systems of American law enforcement and criminal justice to be corrupted; if it hedges its bets a little by positioning its villain as an unusually bad apple, it's still playing for keeps when it points out how healthily he's anchored to the tree. After a speed-trapped traffic stop leads to a night of brutality—both witnessed and endured—in the cells of a county sheriff accustomed to running his jurisdiction like his own little for-profit prison (Thomas Gomez), the crusading editor of the St. Howard News-Intelligencer (Walter Pidgeon) devotes himself to a blistering exposé of the "Robber Baron of Route 54" only to disappear as sharply as a pulled story just as the state government gets involved. Now a state's attorney and a local police captain take up the thread of the investigation; they are played sympathetically and not infallibly by John Hodiak and Karl Malden, they hold idealistically opposed opinions on the editor's vanishing act, and they are enmeshed in the system they are trying to fight. Even without witness intimidation and evidence tampering, it's uphill work to get anything on Gomez's Burke. He may be abusing the law, but that's not necessarily the same as breaking it. What's not noir about that? I wish the film itself were as tight as its convictions; it has a tendency to lose focus and jump to catch up and none of the leads, despite their casting, are as vivid as the bit parts, like the sexily but criminally wasted Audrey Totter as a roadhouse B-girl or razor-straight little Frankie Darro as one of the goons of Burke's jail. I forgive it a lot, however, for giving the moral clarity to Whit Bissell as the only one of Burke's victims willing to say as much in court—an almost stereotypical little guy, especially early on in his flat cap with two bits and a bus token to his name, but his voice is just as deep and steady as his thin elfin face almost never looks and it doesn't falter, even when he tells the prosecutor how his wife's got the article about his arrest clipped out in the family scrapbook. The courtroom scene, for the record, is a preliminary hearing, not a trial. The ending is better than equivocal, but when the law goes up against its enforcers there are no guarantees.

The trouble with Scandal Sheet (1952) is that I liked it and I'm not sure what else I have to say. It was directed by Phil Karlson from a hardboiled novel by Samuel Fuller called The Dark Page (1944); its cinematographer was noir veteran Burnett Guffey, who starts the shadows rolling with the drums of the printing press that the five-cent title credits are hot off of; it stars Broderick Crawford as a tabloid editor on the brilliantly cynical hook of a crime he can't keep his newshounds from investigating because it's exactly the bread and butter of a sleaze-rag like the New York Express. His best ambulance chaser is John Derek, whose puppy-eyed ice-cream face camouflages his readiness to retraumatize a witness just so long as he gets all the gory details of a domestic slaying before the police run him off. His staff photographer is the sleazily cigar-sucking Harry Morgan, who evaluates corpses like pin-ups: "You know, that wasn't a bad-looking dame. Too bad the guy used an axe on her head. Spoiled some pretty pictures for me." The only person within shouting distance of the newsroom who seems to have a conscience is feature writer Donna Reed and she's an endangered, albeit tenacious holdover from the pre-Broderick days. But the real blast from the past is Rosemary DeCamp as an inconvenient abandoned wife—vicious and poignant, her scenes spill a long shadow across the rest of the story, black as printer's ink or gelatin silver blood. Once Morgan's snapping her picture, there's little doubt about the eventual endgame of this story, but getting there is a seamy, rackety, irony-rich ride and it looks and sounds just as acrid as it should, from a self-righteous shareholder denouncing Broderick's latest circulation-grabbing stunt as "A newspaper staging a cheap vulgar display in order to attract the stupid slobs of the city!" to Broderick himself grinning at the clichéd threat of needle and haystack: "A needle's nothing but a hunk of steel if you got nothing to sew." Most of its New York is studio and suggestion, but it opens with an airy pan of skyline that almost at once burrows down into matchsticked demolition sites and union suits flapping off fire escapes in the flat glare off the East River. A later nighttime sequence on Skid Row may discreetly employ rear projection, but it still leaves wind chill in your bones, the lateral lights of the elevated rattling by above the shuttered storefronts, as incandescent and out of reach as stars.

And the trouble with While the City Sleeps (1956) is that it deserves its own post, because it didn't totally work for me and I keep thinking about it. In the improbable alternate history where Fritz Lang and Casey Robinson would have taken my advice, I can tell you what I would have cut out: not only is the characterization of the leather-jacketed mama's boy "Lipstick Killer" lazily reliant on predigested pop-psych and Senator Estes Kefauver's feelings about comic books, it's utterly unnecessary for him to have any characterization at all. He's the MacGuffin. He strangles a woman with his motorcycle gloves on and leaves a tauntingly Freudian message lipstick-scrawled on her wall; after that his mortal particulars matter only insofar as an embarrassment of top-drawer talent—Dana Andrews, George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell, Howard Duff, Rhonda Fleming, Sally Forrest, Vincent Price, Ida Lupino for God's sake—are cutting one another's throats to catch him in exchange for a newly created right-hand position in the Kyne media empire. Never mind that the prize might be booby, dangled by a spoilt heir who just doesn't want to waste his jet-setting time running the business himself. It's sufficient excuse for enough conniving, backstabbing, and seduction to fuel a primetime soap; the sheer shamelessness of it is almost black comedy, except that women's bodies are piling up while the reporters, editors, and broadcasters of Kyne Enterprises are busy playing Diadochoi. All of this is scabrously great and doesn't even twitch my accidental misogyny tripwires, not least because the women of City scheme too actively to register as mere collateral benchmarks even when endangered by their machismo-distracted men. I can't think right now of another noir in which a woman seduces a man to compromise him—not to enthrall or distract him, just to dent his reputation and diminish his authority, a liaison dangereuse of the dark city. (The woman is Lupino and the man is Andrews and their brandied-up back-seat grappling is paired perfectly with a miserably hungover Andrews the next morning, insisting to about-to-be-ex-fiancée Forrest that nothing happened because he got sick while homicide detective Duff mercilessly and correctly reminds his old friend that failure to launch does not absolve him of intent to explode.) We're braced for one or more of the female characters to fall to the killer, especially after a brazen on-air callout offers up the nicest of them as bait, but not for their encounters to play more like final girl than damsel in distress. Combined with the careening amorality of the newsmen, their resilience gives the film some of the pleasingly pre-Code overtones that can be found in noir, encouraged further by the overstuffed pace and the occasional audience spit-take, as when wire chief Sanders mordantly eyes a mercenary slob of a reporter: "Well, then how can I be sure of him? Do I sleep with him?" And then at the last minute some kind of moral order appears to assert itself. Perhaps I should blame the source novel by Charles Einstein, but the film really earns its cynical ending which sees our antiheroes finishing last for not having sold out their principles enough, and then it all but reverses these downer deserts for an epilogue that owes less to established characterization than wishful thinking. I'd've cut that, too. All the same, the majority of the movie is fast, intricate, brassy late noir, lensed by Ernest Laszlo with a kind of sharp lack of affect until the subterranean finale, and everyone at least once in their lives should get the chance to hear Dana Andrews enunciating precisely, "The fact that I can say 'inimical' proves just how drunk I am." If I have to go around muttering the song by Saint Eve, now you do too.

I have to include Blackmail (1929) as a kind of bonus round because I can't by any stretch of linear time call it a film noir, but it is absolutely an ancestor. It has the abyss that opens in the midst of everyday life, the assumption of familiar objects into nightmare, a deeply ambivalent ending that calls into question the security of everything from justice to love. I had seen the silent version seven years ago, at that time thinking mostly about how it fit or didn't into its director's canon: supposedly shot with a stealthy ear to sound release, it was Alfred Hitchcock's last silent and first talkie. Perhaps because this time I could hear the rhythms of speech and silence in real time, I couldn't help but notice how persistently the heroine (played by Anny Ondra but voiced, eat your heart out, Singin' in the Rain, by Joan Barry live on set because the post-sync technology that would have made it possible to dub over Ondra's Czech accent didn't exist yet) is talked over, spoken for, and otherwise shushed up by the systems that are supposed to amplify and protect her, crystallized by the take-charge misapprehension of her policeman boyfriend (John Longden—good-looking but stolid, which is all the part needs). Like a forerunner of The Blue Gardenia (1953), Ondra's Alice goes home with a charming artist only to leave a most uncharming scene for the forensic services of Scotland Yard, but then on top of the guilt that conjures Shakespearean daggers from cocktail-shaker neon and repeatedly jabs the word knife out of a stream of breakfast-table gossip, she has to contend with the insinuations of an opportunistic "sponger," which is where Longden's Frank half-cluelessly steps in. Surely we can't be intended to imagine him a hero, with his grim satisfaction at railroading the man who threatened his girl. Dude is bringing a nightstick to a slapfight. Cyril Ritchard's Crewe was at least a smooth operator with his light comedy singing and his racy line drawings. Donald Calthrop's Tracy is a shabby little nobody, a petty ex-con who lounges ostentatiously with a cigar he hasn't paid for and tucks heartily into someone else's breakfast when he thinks he's got the upper hand; he has a clever character face and a trick of diffidence even at his slimiest, a stubbly, menacing shadow against a dead man's door by night and a much less impressive figure on the killer's doorstep the next morning, a nervous actor somewhat overplaying his big scene. All he's got is the glove in his pocket, his word against a woman's reputation. He's such small fry and the danger he poses to Alice so real that I was struck almost as much by his nonentity as by the way he collapses into sympathy when pinned for the crime he didn't commit, all his stolen swagger knocked out of him as physically as if he'd taken a punch in the ribs. You can make an audience feel for anyone when they're prey: he panics and he's hunted and it doesn't erase the savor he took in holding his evidence over a woman already daywalking through trauma, but it is hard to feel that his fate really is justice served. I got the title quote of this post from him. I might as easily have taken it from Alice herself: "Well, I don't think I want to go to the pictures." The chase scene through the British Museum is still great.

Normally at the end of a marathon I go for donuts or take a nap or something, but in this case I just attended rehearsals and saw doctors and slowly recovered from the medical whammy of this month. I watched six of these movies on TCM and one on Kanopy and I am sure most of them can be found on various home formats; I regret none of them, even if just for the scenery. Whatever else this genre is doing, at least it's trying to think. This lineup brought to you by my questioning backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
I declare today a victory in toroidal foods. I was in Medford for my follow-up with the ENT (which went well), so I stopped by Donuts with a Difference afterward, and then I returned home circuituously by way of Bow Market in Union Square, where I got a hot bagel with salmon belly lox and caper-parsley cream cheese from Hooked. The counterman was one of the owners, a former chef and current fisherman; he told me they're still waiting for the season to really start, but in the meantime their fresh oysters, salmon, scallops, and skate wings looked lovely. They sell smoked and fresh seafood, bowls, tacos, soups, bagels. There is a giant squid with a tangling armful of buoys and irons painted across their wall and much of their floor. And they are about twenty minutes' walk from me.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
I used to read imperviously on all forms of public transit. Increasingly I find myself just watching the world as it goes past, I worry as if I'm afraid it'll disappear or I will. This evening there was a cyclorama sunset just starting as the bus came up over the top of Winter Hill, long sandbars of cloud as precise as pastels in grey and blue and cream-gold. I watched it instead of reading more than the first ten pages of Henry Green's Party Going (1939), which I got from Raven Used Books with the last of the gift certificate from [personal profile] nineweaving.

I think I passed briefly through an M. John Harrison novel on my way out of the bookstore. A youngish white-haired man in a dark coat with a dramatically bright scarf—my memory thinks in the fuchsia range—had been talking to the clerk about existentialist philosophers; he stepped aside and I had to explain the multiply crossed-out and recalculated gift certificate and in the meantime an older woman in a beige raincoat suddenly began talking to the man, very loudly and distinctly. I thought for a moment I was overhearing a play. "No spies," she said. "We have no spies in this country. Haven't you noticed? Nobody whose business—" and then the clerk was handing me change for the dollar extra and I lost her for a moment. I can't describe her accent with any more precision than mostly British; her hair was short and I think not a natural brown. I would have placed her age above my mother's. As I put the book away in my computer bag and moved past the two of them to the door, she was saying to the man, who had not interrupted her, "You're too young to remember, but after the last war . . ." Imagine my brain hitting a record scratch. Which last war? Have we had a last war? I thought we just had a kind of perpetual one going on. What decade was this conversation taking place in anyway? What country that doesn't have spies? I was already out the door of the bookstore. I still don't know.

I was in Harvard Square to meet [personal profile] a_reasonable_man. We went to Café Gato Rojo; he showed me family photographs and told me stories while I drank herbal chai. Afterward I caught up with [personal profile] spatch on his break and we had dinner from the Pokéworks in Davis while listening to various sound effects from Us (2019). The Broadway Bridge is now closed for the Green Line Extension, so the 89 bus detours by way of Highland instead of coming straight through Ball Square. I keep meaning to see what's left of my walking route to the library, but I have been saddened enough by the gutting and dismantling of the old Reid & Murdock warehouse, the concrete lion's face above its lintel long gone. Every time I hear the MBTA-recorded announcement about "bridge work," I hear it as one word and think of dentistry.

For various obscure reasons we are now the owners of a Roku Ultra. Anyone who can tell me how to be sure that I have turned off motion smoothing on it will have my eternal gratitude. I found instructions for a Roku TV, but they do not appear to apply to our box. I miss dumb technology.
sovay: (Rotwang)
I'm not entirely sure where to start with Simon (1980). It's almost easier for me to describe it by the movies it's not. It resembles Network (1976) by way of Steven Wright; it recalls Being There (1979) with more cynical Jewish humor; it's sort of the whoopee cushion version of The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Writer-director-producer Marshall Brickman co-wrote his first three movies with Woody Allen, but his solo debut, despite its chronic sarcasm, is notably lacking in the squirminess that made me want to tell everyone in Manhattan (1979) to get themselves an actually good therapist and stop bothering me. I had no idea it existed until it ran last week on TCM, after which I waited until the absolute last minute to watch it off the buffer because I was really afraid that if a sci-fi-tinged black comedy featuring Alan Arkin, Judy Graubart, Austin Pendleton, and Madeline Kahn failed to live up to its star power, it would just depress me. It did not depress me. If you can imagine what a satire looks like when it's simultaneously bleak and gentle and ambitiously indebted to the Algonquin Round Table, okay, that's where to start.

The trouble begins at the super-secret Institute for Advanced Concepts, a streamlined white block on a green hillside occupied by "five of the most brilliant—and twisted—geniuses in America." Originally assembled by the government to solve the standard think-tank problems of world hunger and renewable energy, then left to their own devices with infinite funding and zero oversight, the combined intellects of Dr. Carl Becker (Pendleton) and his colleagues Hundertwasser (Max Wright), Barundi (Jayant), Van Dongen (Wallace Shawn), and Fichandler (William Finley) have devolved into high-concept practical joking with the occasional outcropping of good old mad science, like single-handedly keeping the worst of American TV on the air by use of judicious Nielsen jamming or improving the fragile human genome by crossbreeding with the hardy cockroach. "The Nixon who entered China in 1972," we are nonchalantly informed, "was not the one we sent back." Their imaginations fired by an innocuous NYT item noting the rising belief in extraterrestrials, these Strangeloves of the Carter administration are fatefully inspired to give the public what it wants, if only to see what chaos will reign when they get it: a real live alien. "Find a little orphan, do a little job on him . . . A few changes here and there—blood, various fluids—I have a thought about a primal trauma!" Perfect for their purposes is Simon Mendelssohn (Arkin), a feverishly unsuccessful assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University; introduced bicycling across campus in a flapping camel-hair coat and a knit-browed expression of mental heavy weather, he's the kind of would-be iconoclast who invokes Heisenberg, Zen Buddhism, and Wittgenstein in the same barely attended lecture before declaring that the answer to global warming is to turn the Earth into a spaceship and "move to another solar system where there is food and water and air—it can happen!" The latest craze in his quest for self-actualization is sensory deprivation, which his semi-girlfriend Lisa (Graubart) views with unresigned skepticism: "Do you remember what happened last time with the peyote?" It takes exactly one ego-gratifying sentence from Becker to get him on a helicopter to the Institute, all too easily suckered into believing that his screwloose mediocrity has won him the grant of a lifetime when really he's just being studied for the best cracks into a psyche that already sees no issue with conversational icebreakers like "Do you know that if I hyperventilate for ten minutes, I really do some very interesting things, creatively?" One hundred and ninety-seven hours in a float tank and one Spielbergian false memory later, Simon is ready to make his first pronouncements to humanity—as an alien messiah from the Orion Nebula. Valentine Michael Smith, hang on to your hat.

The thing I really like about Simon is how relaxed it is in its weirdness. I can imagine a much faster, wackier version of this plot, but until the final wind-up it just sort of ambles along to its own off-beat, tongue firmly in cheek unless it's poking it out at some aspect of American pop culture. The Institute for Advanced Concepts looks like a Brutalist greenhouse and is lettered everywhere in trendily lowercase Helvetica. Its on-call supercomputer is voiced by Louise Lasser and resembles, proto-Siri, a gigantic touch-tone telephone. The script's almost reflexive condemnation of disco is a cheap shot even for 1979, but in this our era of hipster beards I feel the allegation that "mutton chops and a mustache look moronic and they give the country a very, very bad image" hasn't dated at all. When Simon unfurls his list of demands for the betterment of humanity, they are exactly the kind of pet peeve writ as the decline of civilization that will never go out of comedy style:

"One—All Muzak in elevators, airports, restaurants, and other public rooms will cease immediately. Two—No more children or animals may be used to sell products. Three—Lawyers who lose cases will go to jail with their clients. Four—No doctor may write a diet book. Any doctor who does will immediately lose his license and become a dentist. Five—I think we don't really need a House of Representatives and a Senate. The Romans didn't have one, so let's just have a Senate, okay? Which reminds me, I think it would be a very good idea from now on all politicians who appeared in public wore a cone-shaped party hat. Not bad, huh? Six—Pollution. Anybody who owns a factory that makes radioactive waste has to take it home at night with him to his house. Seven—Anybody who says, 'I'm trying to get centered,' 'You're invading my space,' or 'Far out' will be fined $50. Make that $100."

Whether giving hermetically sealed press conferences in a three-piece white suit or tramping across dry winter fields dressed like a Russian monk gone feral in New Jersey, Arkin is seamless as the luftmentsh turned starman; he has a bluntly grounded quality that the film plays for extra derangement, as when the Institute's mental meddling leaves Simon regressed "about five hundred million years" and the awestruck scientists plus the audience get to watch him mime-evolve his way from plankton through the Industrial Revolution, complete with ape-bone scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). When he weeps, "Oh, God! I'm a toaster!" it's horrifying, hilarious, and heartbreaking all at once. Even when he falls in with a TV cargo cult founded by a repentant ABC executive who patch him into the carrier wave and get him simultaneous coast-to-coast coverage for his fireside chats with America, the results are dryly close to his original half-baked class notes, now with more theology and kamashastra. You find yourself reacting to about half of them with right on and the other half with aaaagh. Personally, I approve his inclusion of Orange Julius among the great treasures of civilization unjustly withheld from the ordinary citizen ("The secret white powder that makes it a devilishly good drink—why is it a secret? I want that formula!"). This is a film that can afford almost to throw away Madeline Kahn on the part of a brilliant ringer who can do a thing with her tongue and then casually toss in Adolph Green as a cult leader who sermonizes from TV Guide and Fred Gwynne as a hawkish major-general who brightens on hearing that the Institute has invented a "stupid-making gas," albeit one that is now drifting in a cloud toward D.C. Best of all, it knows not to treat Graubart's Lisa as the scold or the straight woman, even though she's the only person in this picture with her head halfway screwed on. "Do you or do you not want me to win a Nobel Prize?" Simon demands early on, approaching his homebuilt sensory deprivation tank in a onesie the color of radioactive pea soup, trailing way too many wires from his shower cap. In the middle of an argument that comes down to him not killing himself in the name of scientific progress, she still doesn't miss a beat: "Yes, if you wear that to the ceremony!" She has a square brush of dark hair and a wonderful toothy grin under her rainbow knit cap and she's actually as clued in as the man she loves only sounds; it holds them together in a way I believe rather than merely accept. Her last look onscreen is like something by Andrew Wyeth.

The film unravels a little toward the end; it goes over a different top than I thought it was aiming for and it settles somewhere satisfyingly (and not too mean-spiritedly) ironic, but I blame the 1980's that NASA got involved. I don't expect all jokes in a movie to land equally, but there are a couple here where I'm not sure how they ever would. I happen to find it funny that the luminous flying saucer memory programmed into Simon by the Institute sounds like a Jewish mother routine by Fanny Brice, but I am not sure it was dramatically or artistically necessary for Becker to conceive a passion for Doris, the supercomputer, and then try to make it with a giant phone receiver. That said, I have loved Austin Pendleton ever since the original cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof and I was delighted to see him cast against type as a mad research director. Slight and boyishly greying in echt-'70's turtlenecks and leather blazers, "this Becker person" has a self-deprecatingly goofy grin, a natural bent toward smarm which he works very hard to channel into scientific authority, and generally looks like the worst he could do is corner you at a party and mansplain Philip Roth; then he says calmly of their latest experiment who is by now requesting a joint audience with the President, the Premier of China, Walter Cronkite, and the Pope, "I'd like to have him terminated." And, I mean, if you have always wanted to see Austin Pendleton make it with a giant phone receiver, this is your movie. I am just more charmed by the nefarious government conspiracy that escalates to a shuttle launch and is still mostly deadpan. I like the punctuation of scenes with classical music which is sometimes spoofing and sometimes not; I like the gags it has going on in the background, whether mad science or just immature scientists; I like that every now and then something real, wintry, and touching happens in it that a punch line can't break. The richly colored cinematography by Adam Holander keeps just as much of a poker face as the script. Even walk-ons like the gangly, Disney-sweatered grad student played by Keith Szarabajka get quotable lines: "Well, when he came out he was convinced he'd turned into a six-foot-tall penis named Bob. Other than that, he's perfectly normal." It lived up to its character actors, which was what I wanted it to do, and then some, in that now I have a few more to keep track of. I did not die of anti-intellectualism when it finished by thinking that philosophy is still important. I have no idea if I should watch anything else in Brickman's non-Allen filmography. Anyway, when I hear even a brainwashed pseudo-alien saying, "Save the world? I can't even get a regular checking account!" I sympathize. This visitation brought to you by my far out backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
Today was almost ludicrously validating in several different arenas of my life, which is not at all what I expected when I got out of bed this morning. The short course is that my teaching skills have not deserted me, even after a decade rusting and in a field I had never actually taught before, and separately I am looking at a professional opportunity which I am not going to talk about until it has some substance because I don't want to sneeze on it and break it, but the prospect makes me extremely excited. Also people said really nice things about my singing and my writing and they were even different people. I am exhausted but elevated in mood. I am going to pitch over sideways on this couch and stare at a movie or read this book [personal profile] skygiants lent me and play Tacocat's "Grains of Salt" like ten more times.
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
Today was mostly not enjoyable because my brain imploded on me, figuratively but painfully, but it ended with [personal profile] spatch buying me a flower of pistachio-hazelnut-vanilla gelato in Harvard Square, so that was nice. I spent some time in the evening in a branch of the BPL and left with Benny Lindelauf and Ludwig Volbeda's Tortot, The Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart (2017), an illustrated semi-fable about a cynical cook and a youthful half-soldier; it's funny, bittersweet—which is not YA code for crushingly depressing, although any story about the absurdity and horror of war is going to have some non-cheerful aspects even when the warring emperors are obsessed with gherkins and the climax in a besieged city literally takes the cake—and reminded me of Lloyd Alexander and Peter S. Beagle. Some important things happen in the pictures. I did not leave with Ruth Langland Holberg's Tomboy Row (1952), but I was interested that the protagonist's parents spend half the book trying to slim down and feminize their fat, baseball-loving, boy-punching daughter before realizing that they are doing nothing but making her miserable and spend the rest of the book letting her run around and eat whatever she likes and get into trouble all over mid-century Rockport, which she does happily. I loved the cover embossing. If Rowena Carey was a series character, I hope she made it through adolescence without ever having to take ballet lessons or Toni wave her thick dark hair.
sovay: (Rotwang)
Happy equinox! Happy Purim! Welcome the spring and the full moon and razz the names of our enemies for all time! You can also play Schmekel's "Homotaschen" if you feel like it, which I hope you do.

I had to get up for a CT scan early this morning, which entailed catching the crosstown bus from Sullivan. I did not have to get lunch afterward at Mamaleh's, but the bus was going that way anyway. I had a chocolate egg cream and my traditional off-menu 50/50 (half chopped liver, half cold tongue) with mustard on rye and I read several chapters of Craig Rice's Home Sweet Homicide (1944), on loan from my mother. After that I had about an hour and a half to kill before meeting friends and I spent it mostly at Raven Used Books, where thanks to the gift certificate from [personal profile] nineweaving I acquired NYRB reprints of Barbara Comyns' The Juniper Tree (1985) and William McPherson's Testing the Current (1984) and a nicely pulp-covered '80's reissue of Jim Thompson's Recoil (1953). I met said friends who are not on Dreamwidth at the Diesel and we hung out over coffee in their cases and very hot water with lemon in it in mine until they had to catch a train and [personal profile] rushthatspeaks gave me a ride home; I gave them hamantashn. [personal profile] spatch and I made omelets for dinner (cheddar and ham, goat's milk feta and olives) because the appliance repairman came today and through no fault of his own our oven is still broken. I watched another movie about which I am not writing because the headache is exceeding normal operating limits again. I really need to sleep.

That is the summarized version of the day; it was actually a very nice one. Especially while I was eating lunch, there was a bright slant of sunlight in my water glass and over the pages. The water was glass-edge-blue under the bridges of the Charles. I had a cat on my lap for the duration of the movie and a train whistle just went by in the night. If I had some ice cream and my skull weren't trying to strain itself out through my sinuses, I would be very happy.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
A new record this year: of slightly more than a hundred hamantashn made this evening by my mother and myself, only three unfolded and bubbled out while baking. We ate the evidence anyway. And also some non-evidence. In addition to the traditional flavors of apricot, poppy seed, and prune, this year we tried a raspberry filling, which produces an effect not unpleasantly like a jam donut.

Having just heard Momus' "I Was a Maoist Intellectual" for the first time, I thought maybe I was over-reading the line about the hotel doorman as a shout-out to Murnau's Der letzte Mann (1924), but then I saw that his second most recent album is heavily inspired by Pasolini, so I stopped worrying.

My headache levels were within endurable limits today, which is why I suppose I found out that my credit card information has been hacked.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
My poem "Female Figure of the Early Spedos Type, 1884–" is now online at GlitterShip. It was inspired by the art of Amadeo Modigliani but honestly more by Cycladic figurines and I am delighted that it shares an episode with Rose Lemberg's "These Are the Attributes By Which You Shall Know God."

I had the migraine-caliber headache straight through to this evening, which made for a terrible night and majority of today, but at the moment I appear to have only an ordinary headache, which frankly I'll take. Now that I can look at screens again, I am going to lie on the couch and stare at a movie.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I lost most of Friday to a migraine. Saturday I did not have a migraine and attended rehearsal, which was lovely, but then came home in the evening and collapsed with shrimp curry soup courtesy of [personal profile] choco_frosh. Today I appear to have a migraine again, or at least an escalation of headache to the point of nausea and the desire not to move from my bed or even turn my head and open my eyes, which is not for any number of reasons a viable option. I am not happy. I have written again to the ENT. I quietly ate some corned beef for the day.

1. Philip Hoare on boilersuits. [personal profile] rushthatspeaks and I agree that Derek Jarman would approve of the banner images. The article quite properly refers to him as "St. Derek."

2. Adam Gopnik on Diderot. I had never previously given him much thought, but this profile-review succeeds unequivocally in making me want to have a conversation with the philosopher or at least read his novel with the talking genitalia.

3. I started reading this story because of the title and finished it because of the prose: Quintan Ana Wikswo's "The Fisherman Bombardier of Naval Station Norfolk: A Performance in Four Generations, Three Races, and Too Many Genders to Name."

4. Courtesy of [personal profile] moon_custafer: Art Deco and Streamline Moderne radios. I visit a couple of those at the MFA.

5. I keep forgetting that "The Good Ship Calabar" is the same tune as "The Handsome Cabin Boy." This is probably because I don't actually like "The Handsome Cabin Boy" very much.

I watched a couple of movies last night, but I am not writing about anything because my concentration is shot from pain, and I hate that perhaps even more than I hate being in pain. I spend a lot of my life in pain. I have to get something out of it anyway.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I suppose I should have edited this into the previous post, but I had just finished writing about the mosque shootings and then I saw that the man in the White House has vetoed the bipartisan block of his false and malicious national emergency. With his same rhetoric of invasions, of criminals, of human flood tides. That is smashing the world. Stop it.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
On Christchurch. It is not that I wish the U.S. to retain any kind of monopoly on homegrown right-wing white terrorist attacks, but I do not like that we appear to be exporting them around the globe. I do not like the folded-hands rhetoric of thoughts and prayers, as if wishful thinking is sufficient to stop bullets, as if mosques and synagogues and Black churches are natural killing fields and the best we can do is regret the deaths as they go by. [personal profile] spatch told me that one of the shooters livestreamed their murders, as if it were an advertisement or a video game. Postcards from Abu Ghraib. A joke from PewDiePie. Some very fine people on both sides, the man in the White House reassured us.

The New Zealand Islamic Information Center is collecting donations for the bereaved and wounded families. You can donate directly or via LaunchGood. There is even an option to pick up the processing fees, so that the community gets the full benefit of the original donation amount. I found that practical; the website links it to the practice of zakat. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has also set up a fund. The work of repairing the world which feels increasingly broken, barely bandageable: so you put back together the pieces you can. And you don't just stand by and watch people smash it.

I should have more to say. I don't know what else there is. The propaganda of the white nationalists is that their civilization is under siege, drowning in a non-white, unchristian tide. If their civilization exalts the murder of the Other, let the riptide take it. Purim is coming up; I'll bake hamantashn with my mother next week. It might be a folk etymology that the name refers to Haman, the villain of the story, the high-ranked plotter of genocide. All these people, the man in the White House and those who carried him to power and those like dragon's teeth he has sown and raised, I have begun to think of them all with the same kind of namelessness. I know them; I won't speak them. I won't give them the memory. Let them be outlasted, please, let's keep each other alive. Let them be remembered only so that we can blot them out again.
sovay: (Claude Rains)
[personal profile] skygiants has just finished reading Audrey Erskine Lindop's The Singer Not the Song (1953) and I recommend everyone read her review.

I had mostly heard of the book as the source material for the 1961 film, which I have not seen. It co-stars John Mills, but I've mostly heard about it in context of Dirk Bogarde, specifically in black leather pants. I went looking for photographic evidence.



Nothing I have ever read suggests the film is any good, but I see why people don't care.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
My poem "From Lima to Beijing" has been accepted by Not One of Us. It is the record of a voyage never taken; it is subtitled "a love song of the Outer Antipodes." That is one of the oldest stories between me and [personal profile] spatch. I am glad to have it in print.

Today was an adventure which we did not entirely intend; some of it was lovely and some of it was too cold. Because I had to visit our new friend the incredibly inconvenient FedEx on Summer Street, it was agreed that I would meet [personal profile] spatch after his appointment in Harvard Square and we would head out together. I maintain this plan would have worked just fine if the 89 to Davis had arrived on time, or at all, as opposed to the 101 to Sullivan which after forty minutes' wait with a large box in my arms is what I actually took. Rob met me at South Station. The bus to FedEx was without incident, unless you count the scathing things I texted to my husband about the Seaport ("Too much glass, not enough sea"). And then we were at liberty in South Boston with nothing planned but no special desire to spring right back into the jaws of the MBTA. Because we could see its cranes and the distantly block-stacked colors of its shipping containers much better even by late day, we looked for a way into the Conley Terminal, but the blue trash barrel at the foot of the American flag was adamant about "Restricted Area—Do Not Enter." We thought about walking back over the short curving bridge whose name I do not know (another Summer Street Bridge? Does it have its own ghosts under those cold channel currents?) into Fort Point.

We walked eastward on East First Street, behind the shuttered yards of the ex-Edison Power Plant and presently behind the terminal itself. There was a peach-grey sunset in the sky already, glimmering and overcast. We passed a dog park, a couple of baseball diamonds, and a street corner enigmatically named for a "Patrolman Seth A. Noyes, Died in the Line of Duty October 18 1870" before we found a kind of street-parallel greenway that turned out to be the Thomas J. Butler Memorial Park. To our left we had attractive if slightly winter-crunchy trees and a tall fence behind which stood blue Erector-struts of the terminal's cranes; at regular intervals were informative signs I thought of photographing, not least because they included an excellent map of the original dimensions of Boston Harbor and the succeeding generations of landfill including the additional little fringe of Dorchester Heights on which we were walking. When the park ran out, we were faced with the chain-linked back gates to the terminal and a dip of brown grass and temporary bogland under a grey slurry of after-snow across which we cheerfully sludged because we could see sea glinting on the other side. "This is serious Eddie Coyle territory," Rob observed: Boston in the desolate seasons in between seasons. The sea was Pleasure Bay, once open water and now scalloped out of landfill, looped in with a causeway we saw human silhouettes crossing, sometimes with dogs; the hummocks of land like winter-furrowed fields beyond were Thompson Island and Spectacle Island, looking much too close to need a boat to cross. Planes on approach to Logan were coming in like the Pleiades—roaring white constellations tipped, like ships, port red, starboard green. Delta, Alaska, Spirit, Japan Airlines. Walls of intermodal containers rising behind us bright and flat as Lego bricks. COSCO, Magellan, "K" Line, Maersk. We were out to Castle Island by then, the fivesquare granite walls of Fort Independence; we looked at the soft brushed-steel tints of the water and the skimmed parchment gleam lingering under the sky and the park-green paint peeling from the railing at the edge of the jetty. I liked its cast-iron serrations, like the scales of a dragon's back. I liked that the park benches were old and wooden and sounded like muffled xylophones when you struck their backs. (They were not defensive. You could sleep on them.) We walked around the fort, all the wet mottling of stone. The way old fortifications overgrow amazes me; there is a sort of turf roof on this one. We found the South Boston Korean War Memorial, the memorial for Robert M. Greene who looks like a creased bronze-green herm in a firefighter's helmet. We do not know who the dead red rose was left for on the steps of a walled-up door at the back of the fort. Rob thinks perhaps Lieutenant Robert F. Massie, whose death in a duel in 1817 did not really lead to the true-crime original of "The Cask of Amontillado." I wish I had gotten a picture of the low, somewhat ramshackle building whose yard is full of old pallets and tires and tarpaulins. It is the old U.S. Army Signal Corps Station; it is painted the same weather-scaled slate-blue all over and there is a barometer nailed up by the front door. All a ghost would have to do is step out onto the porch, glance at the weather, and the time in the yard would change. It must not quite have been the off-season because Sullivan's was open and the parking lot was full of people eating fried seafood in their cars. Not having a car and not wanting to eat out in the freezing raw wind off the now dusk-darkening water, we decided to look for dinner elsewhere and there our troubles began. Suffice to say that walking from Castle Island to South Station via East and West Broadway and eventually the Fort Point Channel was not a shortcut to anything. We ended up at the South Street Diner, where I had a corned beef sandwich in keeping with the general air of impending St. Patrick's and Rob was not intimidated by his quantity of buttermilk pancakes and ham.

At South Station the T comprehensively fell over—a train already ten minutes late did not quite pull into the station, then proceeded to sit on the tracks while the theoretically real-time sign flashed "BRD" and eventually the PA system told us to expect a fifteen-minute wait due to a disabled train—and we had to taxi home, which I feel proves my earlier point about counterproductivity and the environment. The cats were pleased to see us. Hestia especially was intrigued by the atmosphere of corned beef which still clung to my person. It was a good inadvertent adventure, even if my fingers stopped working from cold somewhere mid-Telegraph Hill. We saw a fishing trawler winching in its nets between Castle Island and Deer Island. We saw mallards in the clear weed-drifting water of Pleasure Bay, nibbling algae off the flat stones at the curve of the beach. The air smelled like brine and we watched the tide go out. Rob took a picture of me, very cold and very happy. Here is another part of the city I am getting to know.

sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
The other pertinent fact about today is that it was the fifth birthday of our wonderful catlets, whom we fed on salmon treats and made much of, for they have enriched our lives ever since they were tiny black soot sprites with tadpole spikes of tail. They purr and they prowl and they groom and they sleep; Autolycus watches movies with me; Hestia sings her songs of hunting the toilet paper. Every day in our house is better with cats in it. Many more, little cats!



(Birthday blep courtesy of Autolycus.)
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
I appreciate that the MBTA's newly voted fare hikes are not as comprehensively gouging as they could have been, but it's a kind of negative appreciation. The system needs real money and it needs to come out of the state, not the ridership. I am one of the people who doesn't have a car in Boston; I shouldn't feel penalized for not contributing to the congestion of the streets and the atmosphere. Or for not being able to bike everywhere, rain, snow, or shine. Five miles is walking radius for me, but sometimes I am sick or exhausted or carrying groceries and sometimes I have a lot farther to travel. I really wanted a governor who cared about public transit. Dammit, ethical artichoke.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
Everything about the perspective in this picture worries me faintly, but here I am with my niece (and my niece's favorite wig) and my brother. My father entitled it "Bunny ears for three."



My plans for the evening involve falling over on the couch with this paperback of Aster Glenn Gray's Briarley (2018) that [personal profile] asakiyume has very kindly sent me. Have some links!

1. Given my general interests, I really feel I should have known that Anne Carson has written a stage work for Ben Whishaw and Renée Fleming about the myths of Marilyn Monroe and Helen of Troy: Norma Jeane Baker of Troy.

2. Roger Miller of Mission of Burma and the Alloy Orchestra is running a Kickstarter. I have donated almost entirely because I want to see his short film with music The Davis Square Symphony, which is intended in the same family as Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927) and Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand's Manhatta (1921) and I've never seen that done with a place I actually live.

3. I felt very useful for having been able to point a friend on Facebook toward Mesopotamian ghost bribery: "If (you are) in Ulūlu . . . The 24th (is appropriate for getting) a ghost to afflict (a person) «not» binding (a ghost) to a person, «not» entrusting a person's figurines to a dead person (and) giving a ghost water to drink so that he will take (punishment for) a wrong away (with him to the Nether World)." (The extraneous "not"s appear to be apotropaic cancellations, not actually part of the instructions.)

4. The Tumblr part of this post is not so important to me, but the rest of it seems useful: "First thing I want to say is that it is not necessary for fiction to be good for people's mental health."

5. Courtesy of [personal profile] yhlee: queenofbithynia on separating the art from the artist. "an artist, since she is a human being, can learn, grow, repent, change, atone, and so on during her lifetime. but her art, since it is in fact separate from her, cannot and will not grow and improve alongside the artist."

I forgot to mention because the Lambda news knocked me sideways: [personal profile] selkie discovered that I am going to be the reading club book for August of the Rainbow Readers of Massachusetts, a queer book group based out of Annie's Book Stop of Worcester. I had no idea this was happening and am honored. Do I even know anyone in Worcester?

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