Friday, February 29, 2008

To-day I dreamt I was being pursued by a T-1000. I remember feeling absolutely crushed by the feeling that I couldn't hope to escape or defeat the Terminator, but then there was some kind of major catastrophe, maybe a meteor, and the whole city started sinking into a sea of lava, and I felt a grim, mad pleasure at knowing the T-1000 would likely be destroyed. I'm wondering if this dream was at all inspired by Project A-ko, which I watched again yesterday;

I hadn't seen it in a while, but Project A-ko was one of the first real anime movies I saw in high school. It seems to get better as I get older.

I'm trying to stave off frustration at how long my current project is taking because I know all of the time I'm spending putting together background details is going to pay off. I finished another map yesterday, which I'm rather pleased with. These maps will be on the web site, but they're not exactly going to be a particularly exciting feature, I know. They're really more for my benefit, because I find it a lot easier to work out histories when I've got the visual to work with.

As I was map-making, I listened to rest of Stephen Prince's commentary for Red Beard. Here's another section I found particularly interesting, which focuses on the character of Otoyo, the character I focused on most in my analysis. Prince discusses her relationship with a character in Dostoevsky's The Insulted and the Injured, here referred to as Nelly. The translation I was using for reference in my analysis translated her name as Elena;

The epileptic seizures that Nelly suffers in the novel are based on Dostoevsky's own epilepsy which surfaced at this time. Kurosawa, too, suffered from congenital epilepsy and had frequent seizures as a child, and as an adult he would sometimes go into a trance-like state. He said, "I never noticed it myself, but it seems I would sometimes have brief lapses during my work when I completely forgot what I was doing and went into a kind of trance."

Kurosawa's major characters are all subjected to shocking experiences, as I have mentioned before. In Kurosawa's artistic vision, growth only comes through shock, and it may be that this vision has roots in the director's own physiology. A physiology that would have prompted him to feel a deeper level of kinship with Dostoevsky.

This next scene in the film, where Otoyo goes outside to get money,
[is] so strikingly visualised by Kurosawa with all this howling wind and dust, and the extraordinary telephoto compression of his lenses. The images look virtually two dimensional. This scene has its source in The Insulted and Injured. It's an almost exact transposition of the scene where Nelly leaves Vanya's house and begs for money on a nearby bridge. Vanya follows her, watches her beg, and then sees her enter a shop where she buys a teacup to replace one of Vanya's that she had defiantly broken. Vanya calls her name, she sees him, is startled, and drops the cup, where it breaks upon the pavement.

This scene is one of the few in the film that takes place outside the clinic. And we see again Kurosawa's almost offhand evocation of a detailed historical period. Kurosawa's sets were enormously budgeted, the production design of this film was one of the most elaborate in contemporary Japanese film. And yet he's showing us these sets in an almost subliminal fashion. He is evoking this world in tremendous detail; we see a merchant's shop, fully stocked with goods, fishermen, hauling in their nets, samurai strolling across the bridge. And yet the scene itself is quite brief. It's a peepshow, really, a fast glimpse of a richly detailed historical era. For most of the film, we are in the clinic, which is a sacred space of healing, a zone that is set off protectively from the surrounding world. When Kurosawa evokes that world, as he does here, it's in a flash, a quick peep, and full of detail and texture, but not a place where the characters linger.

Let's allow this scene, of Otoyo breaking the cup, and then breaking down before Yasumoto, to play out in all the artistry that Kurosawa has given us. This is Otoyo's moment of release. She has been inhibited, protectively insulating herself from the world and from all emotion. People cannot be trusted. They have hurt and abused her. She cannot reveal herself to them, and yet she has gone out to buy this cup for Yasumoto, has opened herself up again to vulnerability and the prospect of being hurt. She's going to sink to her knees and release her emotion in a tremendously moving outburst. This wonderfully moving and cathartic moment is one that Kurosawa is filming almost literally from Dostoevsky's novel. Dostoevsky wrote, "All the feeling which she had repressed for so long broke out at once in an uncontrollable outburst and I understood the strange stubbornness of a heart that for a while shrinkingly masked its feeling. The more harshly, the more stubbornly, as the need for expression and utterance grew stronger, until the inevitable outburst came, when the whole being forgot itself and gave itself up to the craving for love, to gratitude, to affection and to tears. She sobbed until she became hysterical."

Dostoevsky, then, provided one source for the character of Otoyo. The other source on which Kurosawa based this character was an incident he witnessed during that period in his twenties when he lived with his brother, Heigo, in a little alleyway tenement in Tokyo that seemed to Kurosawa like a world from the feudal era. A floating world of colourful characters, down and out people, who had no visible means of support, but who depended on each other, and who sustained their difficult lives with humour and resilient spirits. Heigo was working as a benshi, one who narrated silent films at the neighbourhood theatre. To Kurosawa, he seemed like a larger than life storybook character, a masterless samurai, held in awe, and respected by all in the neighbourhood.

Despite the
bon ami that Kurosawa found in the neighbourhood, nasty things happened there. An older man raped his young granddaughter and parents regularly beat their stepchildren. These events impressed upon Kurosawa the existence of savagery within the human heart and he remained haunted by this for the rest of his life. One incident in particular was terrifying; sobbing, a woman from next door said that a neighbour was torturing her stepchild. She had bound the girl to a bed and was burning moxa on her bare chest. In traditional Japanese medicine, small amounts of moxa were burned on the skin to treat inflammation. But in this case, large amounts were apparently being used in a sadistic fashion. The sobbing woman begged Kurosawa to go and set the child free. Peeping in the window, Kurosawa found the girl tied to the bedpost. He went into the room and began to untie her. But she glared at him and angrily said that if she were untied, it would only make her stepmother torture her worse the next time.

Kurosawa said that her reaction was so shocking, it felt like he had been slapped. Even if he freed her, he realised that she couldn't, or wouldn't, escape from that terrible environment. Pity for her would only lead to more trouble, an idea that he dramatises with Yasumoto's encounter with the Mantis. Kurosawa went away, but the scene of the beaten child lingered in his mind. He recreated that child in Otoyo and his experience made him especially receptive to Dostoevsky's account of Nelly. Kurosawa's portrait of Otoyo, however, is not as terrifyingly bleak as what he encountered in that bedroom. Otoyo does not collaborate with her torturer, and her own innate goodness does prevail.
Some David Bowie for you. Yes, I know this blog's turning into a parade of YouTube clips. Just be thankful it's not another Donald Duck cartoon.

There are lots of versions of this song; this one's probably technically the best, but somehow I find the most beautiful version to be this one;

Thursday, February 28, 2008


I'm upset.

I just took the mid-midtermish (I guess that makes it a quarter term? Except there's only two--fuck it) thing in my British Literature class and I fucking ran out of fucking time. we had a choice of two essay prompts, the first asking for analysis of women's roles in English culture and how a woman's standing in society or something was seen to change over time in the texts we've read because the teacher, for some reason, spends 30% of the time trying to shoehorn a feminist dissertation into the British Literature class. This annoys me, so I chose prompt 2, which asked me to describe the changes in religious culture evident in the texts and how those changes related to historical events.

I spent some time just staring at the prompt, wondering how I could make something out of it that wouldn't be parroting the introductory texts, and I decided to frame the essay around masochism, and how the more utilitarian drives depicted in Beowulf transitioned into the Christian promotion of humility and self-denial. We were required to use direct quotes from at least three of the works we've read so far. And I thought I was doing fine--I was happy with my thesis statement, moseyed through two paragraphs, and all of a sudden there was only twenty minutes left. Yes, I was supposed to write an essay discussing a country's religious changes, tying them to historical events, making sure to quote three separate texts, all in under an hour.

I sped through a paragraph on Sir Gawain's existential conflict, and was starting a new paragraph on Margery Kempe when the teacher called "time". I was in the middle of a sentence that was going something like, "Kempe's self-loathing at missing so many confessions was not abetted until she transferred her emotional support system to her personal conception of Christ, who in her mind," madly I searched for a quote, the teacher Ended Things, and I lamely finished, "was willing to have sex with her."

GGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH! Am I a fucking hamster, dancing for your amusement??! Bloody school. I suppose this somehow demonstrates my failure to understand English Literature, right? Surely it's perfectly sensible to judge my assimilation of knowledge by how quickly I can write? Ugh. I bet all he wanted was a loose assembly of quotes. It's all just bloody, fucking, forms at the end of the day. Can't they just be honest?

Will . . . not . . . break . . . things . . .

Because I live vicariously through Donald Duck lately, here's another cartoon, kids. This is Cured Duck from 1945. I don't know why all the versions of this on YouTube are subtitled. I don't recognise the language here, but I love that they apparently had no idea how to translate Donald most of the time. And I love the way the anger management machine laughs.

Another Donald Duck cartoon; Bellboy Donald from 1942. This one sympathises with my dislike for children.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The fourth episode of Zoku Saiyonara Zetsubou Sensei has finally been fan-subbed and I think it's my favourite episode of the season. I only wish people would learn how to put widescreen images on YouTube without distorting them. I still highly recommend watching this if you can't download the episode torrent;

I can't believe there are actually Donald Duck cartoons on YouTube now. I suspect it's only a matter of time before Disney carts these people off to secret prisons, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

This is Duck Pimples from 1945. I really love this one;

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I don't remember getting much sleep to-day, and I suspect I got even less than I remember. I'd had a glass of absinthe (so, so wonderful), but I guess absinthe doesn't make one as drowsy as does rum or brandy, because I wasn't even interested in sleep until 6:30am, and compulsively watched one YouTube Monty Python clip after another. Maybe I ought to've been a lumberjack.

I did, at least, get a lot more done yesterday. I finished a map, then started making up names for places. By the end of the night, I was just making up words for the different languages without assigning meanings, figuring I could draw from the pool at any time. For the nation I'm currently working on, I decided all the words should sound a little like Russian crossed with Japanese.

When I finally got tired of word making, even though it's something productive I can do while drinking, I played a little Knights of the Old Republic, wherein I've just set foot on Kashyyyk. Mission (a Twi'lek girl named Mission) kept pressuring me to have the Wookiee character, Zaalbar, in the party. I finally relented, but I'm beginning to regret it--Zaalbar must be the most annoying Wookiee in Jedidom. It's like someone took just the audio of Chewbacca when he sounded the most like he was whining, and Zaalbar comes out sounding like a horse imitating whale song. And it takes him three times as long to say anything in Wookiee as it takes your average human to say anything in English.

And I watched the new Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Monday's was the first truly badly written episode. Really badly written, with a pro-Christian cherry on top. Maybe the good writers are still on vacation. Though it was nice seeing Summer Glau get her ballet on.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I dreamt to-day that I was staying in an extremely large, spacious, labyrinthine mansion, a bit like Xanadu in Citizen Kane. There was an enormous basement complex under the house, always partially flooded--I think I may have been remembering one of the Addams Family movies, where there seemed to be a lake under the house. I think that was one of the Addams Family movies.

Anyway, there were living quarters down there, and I needed to get to one room that seemed much like a small hotel room with lots of my things piled in there. There was a small doll with black hair I needed to find.

It was pitch black in the basement, and I knew there was a black bear roaming about in the shallow water. But I wasn't afraid of the animal; I knew somehow that I needed only to scratch him behind the ears, and he'd let me by--and so it was. The bedroom I needed to reach was just beyond another room where, behind its closed door, there was a noisy ogre. I reached my destination without any trouble from him, though.

The bedroom was very brightly lit, or at least it seemed that way after the dark basement. I think it was actually only average room lighting.

There was a television in a brown armoire against the wall, and a big pile of my personal belongings on the bed. I found the doll I was looking for in one of the armoire's drawers, as well as two other dolls. The doll I was looking for had black hair, one of the others had lavender hair and a faded red vest, and I don't remember what the third looked like. I put the black haired doll in my coat pocket and left, wondering if something would prevent me from leaving the basement. I woke up before I found out.

I didn't get nearly as much done yesterday as I wanted to. Well, I hadn't planned on getting much done, what with the Oscars, but I still wanted to get things done. I'll try to do better to-day (er, to-night).

I'm starting to feel defensive about Enchanted. I need to remind myself that I only found the movie mildly enjoyable. My original review from December 21;

I was Christmas shopping at Fashion Valley mall on Sunday, and for some reason decided to see Enchanted. It had gotten pretty much universally good reviews, and maybe I was in the mood for something light-hearted.

I was a little surprised by how much the animated opening sequence made me miss the heyday of animated Disney films. Those folks really need to remember how to play to their strengths. Anyway, the movie wasn't entirely tongue-in-cheek, Shrek-ish humour. It was more like the filmmakers used what has become the standard ironic mode to tell a sincere story. Which I suppose is a new reflection of this emotionally dysfunctional society.

The movie broke down pretty much as I expected; dreamy Disney princess believes in love at first sight, while Real Guy is a cynical divorce lawyer, and by the end they meet each other halfway to fall in love; Giselle (the princess) learns to get to know someone before she gets married, and Robert (the lawyer) learns to believe in love again. It's probably a lucky thing I wasn't in charge of the movie as Giselle would probably have ended up institutionalised while Robert became a dictator of a third world country or something.

But I did enjoy the movie. It was actually good, Disney fun, and Amy Adams was fantastic, in every sense of the word.

It really wasn't Oscar calibre. It was just enjoyable. Honest--I'm not an evil shrinking violet. Really.

Oh, well.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Er, okay. I swear that Enchanted was not a bad movie. I know it's impossible to tell from those excruciating performances of songs that were all tongue-in-cheek in the movie. I felt really bad for Amy Adams, who I really think is a very charming and talented actress, presenting later in her bloody GREEN dress.

That being said, yeah, Once was a much better movie. And that was a much better song.

Overall, kind of an awkward Oscars. I thought Jon Stewart was good, especially when he brought Marketa Irgolva back on stage. I was terrified of Regis Philbin on the red carpet. I think that's the biggest dose of that guy I've ever gotten--so is he like a berserker or something?

And what was all the Hannah Montana crap? I suppose it's because Disney owns ABC . . .
In case anyone is wondering, I did spend time looking at Al Green and Kermit the Frog videos. I just had to cut myself off somewhere.

Really tired right now. I was in bed drumming my fingers on my chest until some time after 8am. I think it might be because it was the first time in a week I wasn't in the mood for alcohol. Which sucks. I don't want to be dependent on alcohol for sleep. I suppose the Earl Grey tea probably didn't help . . .

I also had a bagel before bed. It was kind of an experiment--back when I used to eat breakfast with Trisa at the Living Room, we used to get some amazing bagels with tomato and pesto. And lately I've had an onion surplus because I've been buying diced onions for my burritos, but gods, onions seem to expire in the blink of an eye. So I've been trying to think of more uses for them.

Normally, I'd get the tomato and pesto bagel on an onion bagel, so last night I had a plain bagel with pesto and onion bits sprinkled on it. Not bad. It's distinctly missing the tomato, though.

A more successful experiment, earlier in the day, was some toasted English muffins on which I put butter, shredded cheddar and jack cheese, and jalapeño slices. Jalapeños can save to world.

Wait. Jalapeños are green. Hmm.

I'm going to my mother's house to watch the Oscars shortly (which is why I didn't just keep sleeping). I have no picks. I'm pretty much pulling for No Country for Old Men, though I haven't seen Michael Clayton. I'm secretly looking forward to seeing Amy Adams sing.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Here are some green related videos;

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Working on a map last night, I listened to Stephen Prince's commentary for Red Beard. Prince's analysis was primarily focused on two aspects of the movie that connect it to Kurosawa's other films; the master and pupil relationship, and the use of physical illness to reflect psychological or social trauma, as in Drunken Angel and Ikiru (I neglected to talk about either aspect in my own analysis of Red Beard).

During a scene featuring the aftermath of a terrible earthquake, Prince recounts a story about Kurosawa that I've heard a few times and have always found fascinating--the director's experience, at the age of thirteen, of surviving the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923;

Tokyo and Yokohama were densely packed industrial areas and a hundred and forty thousand people were killed in the destruction and resulting fires. The quake measured 8.3 with its epicentre southwest of Tokyo. And even for Japan, which is located in one of the world's most active earthquake zones, the devastation was enormous . . . The quake hit just before noon. Kurosawa had gone downtown that morning to visit a bookstore and he was never sure afterward how he had managed to escape the fire and destruction . . . Kurosawa rushed home, thinking that his parents were surely dead. But they had survived, and his older brother, Heigo, persuaded him to go back into the city so they could view the destruction. This trip with Heigo became one of the central and defining passages in Kurosawa's life. Heigo was four years older than Akira, and Kurosawa adored this brother and worshiped him as the kind of wise and powerful master that Kurosawa would go on to create in so many characters like Red Beard.

Kurosawa recalled that he and Heigo saw a burned landscape as far as they could see filled with corpses, charred black, some half burned, corpses in gutters, in rivers, on bridges, and in the street. There was every manner of death that a human being could experience. Akira turned away, but his brother said, "Look carefully, now." They stood by the Sumidagawa River and saw the banks choked with corpses. Kurosawa thought it was like the lake of blood in a Buddhist hell.

The river was swollen with naked, bloated bodies. Kurosawa started to faint . . . but Heigo held him up and said, "Look carefully, Akira." That night, after he and Heigo returned home, he slept soundly, and with no bad dreams. Surprised, he told Heigo about this, and his brother explained in a way that provided Kurosawa with the philosophy of art and life that he carried with him ever after. Heigo said, "If you shut your eyes to a frightening sight, you end up being frightened. If you look at everything straight on, there is nothing to be afraid of." The journey with Heigo had been a trip to banish fear, the kind of trial by fire to which Kurosawa would subject his filmic heroes, and whose outcome is a state of enlightenment.

I suppose one of the reasons this story interests me so much is that I completely agree with this philosophy. Which is probably one of the reasons I like Kurosawa's movies so much.

I guess the antithesis of this philosophy would be Fred Madison's in Lost Highway, but this gives me an opportunity to mention that that movie is finally getting released on DVD in the U.S. on March 25. It's about damned time.

Yesterday I also downloaded the first ten episodes of the 1978 anime series, Galaxy Express 999, which I'd been wanting to see for about ten years, ever since I saw an English dubbed version of the movie on the Sci-Fi channel. The first episode of the television series exceeded by expectations by about twenty miles. And several episodes are available on YouTube--I highly recommend watching this (the subtitles are easier to read after the theme song ends);

Friday, February 22, 2008

To-day I dreamt (I really need to get out of the habit of saying "last night I dreamt") I was in Twin Peaks at the Road House where everyone was gathered to talk to Ed Hurley, who'd been lost in the woods for a while. He had wavier and slightly fuller hair, but no beard, just Everett McGill's bare, square face with its tiny eyes, looking both alien and solidly American.

I don't remember what he told everyone, but it was kind of disturbing, except to Agent Rosenfield, who found it an annoying, but mildly amusing, diversion.

Maybe a Twin Peaks dream makes sense, since I watched an episode of Deep Space Nine before bed that featured Richard Beymer. Also featured, very much to my surprise, was Frank Langella;

But I thought I was losing my mind because the dude is uncredited. According to his Memory Alpha profile, "Langella took the role because his children were great fans of the series. He was uncredited in all of his appearances as he did not want to seem to be doing it for the exposure or money." Which seems like an odd logic. Surely his presence would be more of a boon for Deep Space Nine than for him. And if it did help his career, what's the harm?

Anyway, it was the season premiere of the second season--my favourite season of the entire series--and Langella played a Bajoran minister, Jaro Essa, secretly involved in one of several Bajoran insurrectionist factions that emerged after the end of the Cardassian occupation and the introduction of the Federation's presence. I remember being fascinated by the plot thread when I saw it in--I guess it was 1994. But now, of course, it all seems familiar in new ways, and I can't help thinking that, as the aggressive occupiers who imprisoned and tortured the indigenous people, casually flinging the word "terrorist" at every inconvenience, the Americans are the Cardassians in this scenario.

I think I have a hangover right now. But I'm honestly not sure if what I'm feeling is due to all the rum I drank or all the Atomic Fireballs I ate. It was probably not the best combo, at any rate.

Here's an interesting video for "Greensleeves" I came across. The singer is Otake Yuki, whom I'd not heard of before. I swear I wasn't just searching for things that include the word "green". Honestly, I'd be surprised if I went a day without a confrontation with that colour.

I'm up to the white album. I've found a lot of great versions of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on YouTube, including this one with an amazing guitar solo by Prince. But so far, my favourite is this one;

It seems like, at this point, the song was more intensely personal for Harrison than in the later performances I've looked at. You can really see it behind those red and pronounced cheekbones.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I've listened up to Rubber Soul in my new Beatles collection, and I'm hearing a number of songs I hadn't heard before. I found the last song on Rubber Soul, "Run for Your Life", to be rather startling--it starts off with the lyric, "I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man." Hearing that in my car prompted from me an immediate, "Whoa, damn, John!"

According to the Wikipedia entry, "Lennon designated this song his 'least favorite Beatles song' in a 1973 interview, and later said it was the song he most regretted writing."

I can't say I blame him for regretting it. I can see where he's coming from--I'm fairly notorious for my insecurity in relationships. But I'm much quicker to attack myself than to threaten the other party.

Of course, I already knew John Lennon was a jealous guy from this song;

As you can see, much like Matt Lauer, John Lennon's trying to dress like me. Oh, heavy is the burden of my interdimensional fashion influence.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I downloaded every Beatles album ever yesterday. All of 'em. Every studio album, every collection, every live album. In just over three hours. Torrents are truly marvellous. I'm currently listening to all the studio albums in order of their U.K. releases.

I also downloaded two episodes of the original Dirty Pair series. I never get tired of this opening;

But the two episodes, seven and eight, weren't the best of the series, particularly not in terms of animation. Still, episode seven was fun for taking a Twilight Zone plot and adding layers of sex comedy; a chained groom is kidnapped by a beautiful woman during his wedding, and the groom's father hires Kei and Yuri (the Lovely Angels, aka the Dirty Pair) to deliver the ransom money and retrieve his son. But, as it turns out, the groom and his kidnapper are in love with each other, a love only rivalled by their mutual love for hamburgers, prompting a brief musical number where the two sing of their love for the food.

The episode ends with the kidnapper being shot into space in stasis, and the guy following in another rocket so he'll be the same age as her when she comes back. And then the father follows, too, and the father's mistress follows him . . . And on top of all that, the episode manages to convey a positive message about transgenders, which was rather surprising for a fairly light-weight anime series made in 1985.

Well, it's time to get where I'm going, Magnifique. Va, va, va!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oof. Feel like I just got socked in the mouth by the governor. But I invited it. See, along with my perfectly decent and vaguely nutritious burrito I made with sour cream, guacamole, and diced onions, I also made for myself what I thought of as a quesadilla. Though what it would probably be more aptly called is a jalapeño and cheese burrito. I loved it. But look what I've done to my mouth!

Why do I enjoy these things? I guarantee you'll not find any Thai dish that's too spicy for me. The first alcohol I had and enjoyed was Wild Turkey. Oh, and wait just a moment while I pop another Atomic Fireball in my mouth.

I think my taste buds just want to live fast and die . . . well, if not pretty, at least pink (dig Amanda Palmer's "vocal vag").

I've just gotten back from class wherein The Miller's Tale was discussed. Er, looks like someone's vandalised the Wikipedia entry; "CHaucer was a basketball player for the cleveland cavailers until he gave birth to his so Lebron James who now dominates the NBA. This story was based on the film monsters inc."

And it was just fixed. It's amazing how quickly people manage to catch these things on Wikipedia. Every page must have someone watching it like a hawk.

Anyway, I'd read The Miller's Tale a couple years ago. I found it oddly depressing this time. I felt bad for the carpenter, who not only lost his wife and made himself look like a complete idiot in front of his neighbours, he also broke his arm! His only crime was being ridiculously credulous.

But I felt a little better when the teacher, to-day, talked about how the story's a mockery of chivalry and Christianity, something I'd somehow not picked up on before. I guess it's a better story when you can keep in mind the character of the miller telling it.

And now for to work on my project. The really silly idea I had yesterday actually ended up being really scary, but I think that's for the best.

Monday, February 18, 2008

My hair is capricious and strange. Two days ago, strands were sticking out on the left, then to-day, those bits were behaving, but now there's a tab-like clump holding out its hand for rain on the right side. I suppose these are the consequences of cutting my own hair. Mixed in with not sleeping on a consistent side.

I dreamt about feeding my aunt's cats last night. Even Olivia, who's been dead for a couple years. I'd had a dream about just Lucky, then one about just Victoria, and I had a strange feeling that Victoria was there just to check up on me, like she didn't exactly need me, but knew I kind of needed her.

And now, I've found a note on the door from my grandmother, reminding me not to let my aunt into the house. What the fuck? What is so funny about peace, love, and understanding, I mean, really?

Well, I think I'll jump into my project now. I've been trying to work out a solution to something for a couple of days, and I'm kind of giddy about my suspicion that the answer I'm about to come up with is going to be really, really silly.
Amanda Palmer covers Radiohead, followed by Radiohead covering Morrissey, followed by Morrissey covering David Bowie.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I felt something like a hypocrite last night, having criticised the Fruit Stripe Gum wardrobe in Knights of the Old Republic, only to find myself once again admiring Duckie's clothes in Pretty in Pink;

That movie's really growing on me. Most of the smarmy bits don't bother me as much.

It's weird how obviously the movie's geared towards the ending that was cut, where Duckie and Andie end up together. I still think it was pretty silly of Molly Ringwald to insist on the change--not to mention unprofessional--but I do think it would have been unrealistic for Andie to suddenly fall for Duckie. In my dream ending, Andie and Blane would have ended up hating each other and Duckie would have died miserable and alone. Once again, the world is lucky I'm not in charge of these things.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that's exactly how things would have unfolded in a realistic sequel. I think we would have learned the blonde making eyes at Duckie was just in his imagination.

I also read some of The Miller's Tale in The Canterbury Tales last night. Swich a ful wel likerous wench, the carpenter's wif is.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Working on a map yesterday, I listened to Donald Richie's commentary for Akira Kurosawa's Drunken Angel. I was surprised to learn that Richie was actually on set during the filming of a number of Drunken Angel's scenes--at one point, he remarks on how, if the camera had panned slightly to the left, he'd have been visible standing next to Toshiro Mifune. That was in 1947, when Richie had come to Japan as part of the force of occupiers.

What makes the commentary even better is that Richie is actually an extremely articulate and insightful fellow. He discusses the existentialism apparent in Drunken Angel, the story of a yakuza (Mifune), whose identity is slowly broken down after he contracts tuberculosis, a disease rampant in the filthy conditions of many of Japan's post-war cities. Mifune's the city's suave boss at the beginning of the movie, but he slowly loses power as he becomes physically weaker, unable to wean himself from alcohol and the debaucheries that are part of his lifestyle. The things he identifies as himself begin to destroy him in a process Richie continually refers to as "denuding" until he's left with nothing more than naked will.

Richie says he actually asked Kurosawa about the existentialism present in the movie, and Kurosawa had told him he had no idea what he was talking about. I found that surprising, though I probably shouldn't have, since, as a film noir made in 1947, Drunken Angel was part of an era where filmmakers were making noirs without even knowing it.

Takashi Shimura's in the movie, too, as an alcoholic doctor trying to help Mifune's character;

And that's about all I did yesterday. I suspect I shall be making more maps to-day. I have a huge backlog of commentaries to listen to, fortunately . . .

Friday, February 15, 2008

If there's one thing I've learned from playing Knights of the Old Republic lately, it's that said knights had absolutely no idea how to dress themselves;

I can't even find screenshots of the godsawful "light battle armour" my character's wearing now. With stripey red sleeves and a pale grey vest, it's like a giant seagull crapped on Ronald McDonald.

I don't know what the problem is. You didn't get shit like this in the movies. The original trilogy was a lot of blacks and whites, and solid colours; it was strange, but plain, and it worked. And say what you will about the prequels, at least no-one's clothes made you cry tears of blood.

Incredibly, there aren't really any decent armour mods for this game. But it is pretty fun, I'll give it that.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My socks are soaked. It's been raining like a Kurosawa movie outside* and of course I had to park well off campus. I'm pretty over-prepared for rain, though, with a leather jacket, waterproof hat, and an umbrella. I felt a little silly with the umbrella since most of the students around me were making do with hoodies, or even simply t-shirts and shorts. It takes some time for the San Diego brain to catch up with rain.

So it's Valentine's Day. Huzzah. I'm kind of sorry I didn't manage to do a Valentine's Day comic. I kind of like Valentine's Day, maybe because I hate it so much. It's statements like that that make me feel like an artist.

Well, here's last year's Valentine's Day special. And we all know how much good that did me. If I've soured just one person on Valentine's Day to-day, I'll feel I've accomplished much.

*John Ford: "You really like rain." Akira Kurosawa: "You've really been paying attention to my movies."
World-building, as I have been of late, naturally entails making up lots of names and words. Normally, I tend to Google any word I make up to see if it's already a real word. If it is, I don't necessarily scrap it--after all, it's not unheard of for two languages to have words that sound the same, usually with different meanings. But I like to make sure the words I'm coming up with don't have exceptionally silly meanings somewhere or meanings that would make my definition ironic (not necessarily a deal-breaker, either, but I like to know about it).

But since I've been coming up with words so quickly on this current project, I don't always have time to Google things. So I was going back over a description I wrote of one religion, and decided to Google the name of one of its goddesses; Molyi.

This particular religion is something of a parody of Christianity, so it has a Trinity. Only in this case, instead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I have the Mother, the Daughter, and the Ghost. Molyi is the mother.

However, I have just discovered via a Googling that, in the Kivunjo language, spoken in Tanzania and Kenya, Molyi means wife.

I'm not sure if I'm going to use the name now. I might. But in any case, this gave me a chill. I felt a little like I'd accidentally tapped into some vast, ancient, secret pool of human thought. Like written in some celestial book somewhere, Molyi is, for all time, mother/wife.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I've downloaded 99.8% of Mikio Naruse's Yama no oto. That last .2% is taking forever. The ETA fluctuates between two hours and two weeks. I've already been downloading this thing for a week, and this is the only Naruse movie that comes up in Scrape Torrent that I haven't seen yet. I feel like I've been eating them like candy.

I went to a Denny's I'd never been to in Rancho San Diego to-day to read the somewhat difficult Middle English prologue of The Canterbury Tales, only to be served by a mumbling waiter eight hundred times more difficult to understand.

I've been re-watching season one of Deep Space Nine lately. I got to "The Nagus" last night. Though I still kind of like Wallace Shawn in the role, I found the caricature-like, ultra greedy Ferengi a little off-putting. They sort of reminded me of the squinting, buck-toothed Japanese soldiers in World War II propaganda cartoons. Maybe I'm getting too sensitive . . .
Wow. I think this is my favourite YouTube find of the year; a user named ShakespeareAndMore has uploaded an awesome bounty of Shakespeare, among other things. I only wish he or she had more complete plays.

But I can't overstate how giddy I was to find this clip--John Hurt as the Fool and Laurence Olivier as Lear. I think even people who don't like Olivier will dig him here;

Egad, John Hurt's amazing. I think I'll have to rank him next to Peter in Ran as my favourite King Lear fool. The affectionate performance Hurt gives actually kind of reminds me of Peter's. I don't think this degree of visible love is implied by the text, but I could be wrong, I haven't read it in a while.

Discussing Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in class on Tuesday night, I couldn't help thinking about its similarities to Vertigo. Is that movie just too much on my brain? But think about it--Gawain's Scottie, the Green Knight and his wife are Judy, and Morgan le Fay is Gavin Elster. Morgan le Fay's barely in the story, yet it's her plot that sets everything in motion--just like Elster. Gawain's having an existential crisis, in that he finds his nature in conflict with his identity as a knight--similar to Scottie's sexual impulses being at odds with his identity as a hero. Judy's even associated with the colour green in Vertigo.

Sheesh. I'm never getting away from that movie . . .

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I leave now for class. So I'll let Kate Bush take this post.

It's a shame there's not a better video for this song. But I do like the juxtaposition with deep, dark water.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Strange dream. Thought I'd write it down before going back to sleep.

An impossibly massive room, stretching into infinity in all directions. The floor is polished obsidian, I can't see the walls or ceiling because I'm viewing this from miles above, looking straight down. There's an enormous, empty white bath tub, it must be fifty feet long. In front of it is an army of red coated toy soldiers, thousands strong, neatly arrayed in rows and columns. Only, the troops have been whipped into such a blood lust that they've started firing on one another. I can hear the cracks of their muskets, which are still fired in orderly rounds, despite the frenzy of their wielders.

Somehow I know that I'm the one who provoked all this energy, myself and one or two cohorts, before we went off to pursue our campaign alone. I don't remember any motive on my part except to return home, even though I had no idea where home was, and take a bath.

I can't get the theme from Police Squad out of my head.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Still not in quite the right headspace for a blog entry. I may get increasingly quiet as I work with this stuff. To-day I've been working on the history of one nation while mapping out the concurrent history of its official religion. I have two doc files open and I have to pause several times to decide which file the thing-I-just-made-up belongs in. I suppose this will all go in my wiki, but I'm starting to have second thoughts about using the wiki software. It's too difficult to change names. I may finish this all up in doc files and then transfer to wiki. I also don't like wiki's restrictions on images. It wants my maps smaller than I want them, making names of cities and forests illegible. But there's much I've yet to puzzle out about wikis . . .

I'm really glad to see the writer's strike is practically over. I was sorry to see Roy Scheider died (er, not because of the strike), though I haven't really been interested in his work beyond Jaws and Naked Lunch. Though I've been contemplating giving Seaquest DSV a re-examination, since it was created by Farscape creator Rockne S. O'Bannon. But probably not any time soon since I just downloaded a bunch of Akira Kurosawa movies last night.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I went with Tim to see No Country for Old Men again last night. I still love it. Though I think I appreciated it a little more the first time because I had to walk up the hill from downtown to see it. Sometimes, life's a journey, as Skeletor said once on Robot Chicken.

I haven't much else to say to-day. My head's firmly planted in my new project. So here's episode twelve of Neon Genesis Evangelion; "The Value of a Miracle"/"She Said, 'Don't Make Others Suffer for Your Personal Hatred'".

Friday, February 08, 2008

I think I got three out of five on the first quiz in this British Literature class I'm taking, which I find really annoying. I'd read the portion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that the quiz was concerned with, I understood it and I enjoyed it. But I misread Question One, which asked during whose reign the story was written, followed by the multiple choices (a)the Tudors, (b)the Normans, and (c) the Saxons. I read it as asking which group was in power during the events of the story, so I put Saxons.

The quiz also asked in what court did the Green Knight make his appearance. I wrote "The Round Table", since that's how the story constantly referred to it. But apparently the acceptable answers were "King Arthur's Court" or "Camelot".

I swear, I need an English to Setsuledese dictionary.

After class, I went to the Living Room and wrote for a while. Did I mention I abandoned that gangster noir thing I was talking about a while ago? Yeah, I kind of knew I was making a mistake when writing it by making it so personal. Now reading it just disgusts me. So I've gone back to work on that really big project I was in the middle of earlier in the year. When am I going to learn I'm lousy at multitasking?

Last night I finished coming up with all the background information I needed on one of the religions I've created for this project. I mean to have at least skeletons of five different religions before I get started on the comic. Plus, I want to develop at least six nations. I've so far developed two. I hope I haven't bit off more than I can chew. I have a feeling all I really need is patience.

I finished the evening with some Jameson and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, a movie that always calms me down. But you know what's been a primo balm lately? Jaime Hernandez's Locas comics. The Maggie the Mechanic collection was great, but The Girl from HOPPERS is shaping up to be one of the sweetest things in the world.
Very sleepy now, but I wanted to post this for Moira before I hit the hay;

It's been a while since I've posted some Fred and Ginger.

From Shall We Dance;

Thursday, February 07, 2008

First of all, as a follow up to yesterday's entry, Caitlin now has a donation button set up. So, Sumner Redstone, as I've always suspected you've been a fan of this blog, I suggest you donate a billion dollars.

Seriously, though, to anyone reading. Help the lady out.

I managed to download another Mikio Naruse movie that's unavailable on DVD in the U.S., Meshi. Made in 1951, it's the first Naruse movie I've seen that has a genuinely happy ending. It's an ending that supports a woman's traditionally subservient role in the household, and yet, Michiyo, the protagonist played by Setsuko Hara, is a remarkably well drawn character, easily the most complex and interesting character in the movie.

Hara's performance employs a lot of subtlety. When Michiyo leaves for Tokyo without her husband, and stays away without explanation for months, we can see all the reasons in her face and gestures. We can see why she tears up, unsent, the only letter she writes to him. Not because she doesn't mean what she wrote, but because she doesn't know any more what she wants.

The more I think about the bulk of the movie, the less happy the ending seems, actually. And the movie seems more in line with Naruse's creative obsession with Mono no aware.

It's a good movie. A lot gentler than the other Naruse movies I've seen so far. It also features a tiny, adorable, tailless cat named Yuri;

Yesterday I started reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for class. I also watched Vertigo on TCM. Yes, despite having it on DVD and despite having watched it twelve billion times in recent weeks. I noticed there were some subtle differences in the TCM print compared to my DVD.

Afterwards, I went wandering . . .
I just ate what I suppose must count as my dinner; spaghetti noodles with butter and garlic, followed by a toasted croissant with butter and sharp cheddar cheese. I sense I could eat better, but this has more or less been my regular meal.

I tend to have the television on MSNBC's Morning Joe. This morning, I was amused to see how much better the show is without host Joe Scarborough, who had the day off. Scarborough has this amazing tendency to talk over people. It goes beyond annoying to sort of astounding. He'll start talking and just steam roll on, especially when Mika Brzezinski's trying to talk. Ms. Brzezinski seemed remarkably calm and relaxed this morning.

Scarborough probably still holds a grudge over this little incident.

It's just after 5am, and I don't have the wherewithal to say anything particularly interesting now. Have I mentioned how much I love Sarah Silverman?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

You probably know I love the work of Caitlin R. Kiernan. She is a great writer. Unfortunately, we live in a country where the basic human right to proper health care is granted to no-one who does not have the cash, not even to great writers. And as she's recently pointed out in her Live Journal, she has a condition now that requires a great deal of expensive medical care.

So, I want to urge anyone and everyone reading to purchase as much as you can from her eBay auctions, and, if you haven't already, subscribe to her wonderful Sirenia Digest. I consider myself Caitlin's friend, and I would personally appreciate it greatly if any dragon reading would lay his or her hoard at Caitlin's feet.

Now I'd better get back to sleep. But I'll point out first that that Vertigo's on TCM to-night at 5pm PT (6pm MT, 8pm ET). Just in case I've whetted anyone's appetite for that movie . . .

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I've watched the first three episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I like the series. I feel slightly timid about saying that, as this show almost seems like it doesn't have a right to be this good. But it is.

The first good mark it has is that it's not annoying. When characters do things, it makes sense that they would do them based on their apparent or possible motives, capabilities, and perspectives. Unlike, say, Heroes where enjoyment of the series is dependent on how good you are at overlooking the writers' laziness.

On top of the fact that The Sarah Connor Chronicles isn't annoying, it has positive aspects (boy, I'm just a push-over, ain't I?). Summer Glau is excellent, and even though Lena Headey doesn't quite capture what Linda Hamilton did, she's still very good. The show has the pervading gloom that naturally comes from characters who know the world's heading for a terrible fate. And I like how Summer Glau Terminator is not obligated to follow John's or Sarah's orders. There's the constant threat of her killing someone innocent or of her allowing someone innocent to be killed.

The guy playing John Connor is pretty milquetoast, but I guess you can't have everything.

I went for a candy run last night. A two dollar bag of liquorice and a dollar bag of Atomic Fireballs. It's weird the things I'm in the mood for these days.

I see the Atomic Fireball was invented in 1954. Now I feel like I'm snacking on something Oppenheimer developed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Matt Lauer's trying to be me;

It'll never work, Matt. Well, actually he looks pretty good. This probably the best example I've seen of the fedora's recent resurgence.

When I was looking for a good picture of Lauer in his, I came across this Live Journal post, and marvelled how someone could get 247 comments just for asking if the fedora thing is good or bad (incidentally, I don't think any of the fedoras in her collage are all that great, except maybe Terrence Howard's, but his crown is too thin for his head, making him look like a turnip).

Meanwhile, the blog of Diablo Cody, beautiful young former stripper whose screenplay for Juno is up for an Oscar, regularly receives no comments. How did this world get this way?

Apparently she married an internet boyfriend. I guess there's a message there about quality versus quantity.
To-morrow is the Super Tuesday. I'll be voting for Hillary Clinton. I really do like Barack Obama, and the recent flurry of baldly racist attacks on him have made me really like the idea of seeing him as president. But I still think Clinton seems a lot more on the ball.

One of those two is going to be president. I don't think there's much doubt about that. I guess McCain might have a shot if he changes his war stance. I have to say I've found his recent success pretty amusing. It's nice to see a guy who looks and sounds like the Mock Turtle, with no money, reaching frontrunner status in the GOP.

I'm feeling a bit lethargic myself, to-day. Not much sleep again. Fortunately I only have about sixteen pages of Beowulf left to read. Seamus Heaney's translation really is a vast improvement.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple." - Oscar Wilde

I watched Cat People (1942) again last night. Since Moira was posting John Donne poems the other day, here's the one quoted at the end of Cat People, his Holy Sonnet V;

I am a little world made cunningly
Of elements, and an angelic sprite ;
But black sin hath betray'd to endless night
My world's both parts, and, O, both parts must die.
You which beyond that heaven which was most high
Have found new spheres, and of new land can write,
Pour new seas in mine eyes, that so I might
Drown my world with my weeping earnestly,
Or wash it if it must be drown'd no more.
But O, it must be burnt ; alas ! the fire
Of lust and envy burnt it heretofore,
And made it fouler ; let their flames retire,
And burn me, O Lord, with a fiery zeal
Of Thee and Thy house, which doth in eating heal.

And I went to a sushi restaurant to read Beowulf. Not much else to say about yesterday.

I've been watching the new season of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Goodbye, Teacher Despair), which probably explains why I was dressed like him in my dream last night.

So far the new season's an improvement over the last couple episodes of the previous season. Here's a particularly weird bit from the second episode. In case you're wondering, "Pari pari tun tun," is not Japanese.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I dreamt last night that I was walking a deserted, post-apocalyptic freeway with a few other guys. I don't remember what they looked like, except one was tall, muscular, bald, and wore a lot of black leather. I wasn't wearing anything except a towel. We came across a surf shop and we managed to convince the owners to let me take some clothes, but the only things available ended up being an extremely embarrassing Robin (from Batman) costume; tiny green speedos and green rubber slippers. For some reason the outfit came with a big, wide-brimmed, green hat. Like the people in charge of the surf shop had their own notions about how Robin ought to look.

There was more to the dream, but nothing I quite remember. The general atmosphere was like Fallout 2.

Vertigo (1958)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Creation and control are the chief objectives for all the major characters in this movie, which is also about the different tactics people use in pursuing those objectives--generally employing systems of illusory or disingenuous roles. Ultimately, nothing works out as anyone plans, to the misfortune of three of the four main characters, as chaos and momentum warp designs past the thresholds of designers' parameters. What remains is naked need, people pleading for affection but stripped of the cunning they hoped would provide paths to satisfying need.

The movie's central relationship, between John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) and Judy Barton (Kim Novak), features the most painful example of thwarted designs because a side effect of the illusory constructs in this case was that they both fell in love. Whether or not they fell in love with each other is a more difficult question, and not one with a simple yes or no answer.

The character who most consciously orchestrates a scheme of manipulation and illusion is the one most infrequently seen; Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore). Instead it is mostly only the effects of his schemes--both intended and unintended--that are seen. One could say that the entire movie is a demonstration that luck is an important component to the success of any plan, and that true power and true freedom are no more than conceits. The most intricate plan must always be subject to the desires and perceptions of the individuals concerned. There's no circumventing free will, unfortunately for most of the people involved.

Elster's savvy enough to know that one has to account for human nature and desire when laying one's plans. It's useful for him that the people he's manipulating believe they're doing what they're doing for their own reasons, and not his. Elster manages this by making each step on the path he lays out for Scottie properly provocative in its own right.

When Scottie first meets with Elster at the shipyard, there's a small moment that very clearly demonstrates Elster's knack for this.

ELSTER: "Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past, someone dead, can enter and take possession of a living being?"


ELSTER: "If I told you that I believe that this has happened to my wife, what would you say?"

SCOTTIE: "Well, I'd say take her to the nearest psychiatrist. Or psychologist. Or neurologist, or psychoan--or maybe just the plain family doctor! I'd have him check on you, too."

ELSTER: "Then you're of no use to me. I'm sorry I've wasted your time."

Scottie makes like he's about to leave, but then hesitantly turns back. This is where Elster's got his hooks into him.

Scottie says he's sorry to be so dismissive of the problem, and Elster convinces him to observe his wife, without her knowledge, at a restaurant.

What Elster did here was that he presented with conviction what he knew Scottie would find to be an utterly preposterous story, something to which Scottie could only react with loud disbelief. When Elster acts dismayed by Scottie's reaction, it naturally provokes a feeling of guilt in Scottie, which Elster is then able massage into a vague feeling of debt, only heightened when Scottie reflexively says, "I'm supposed to be retired! I don't want to get mixed up in this darned thing . . ."

Elster knows something else important about Scottie; Scottie's a romantic, though James Stewart's usual down-to-earth portrayal may not make that obvious. Which is of course what makes the casting of Stewart so ingenious. Bernard Herrmann thought that someone like Charles Boyer would have been more appropriate for the role, but in Stewart, we can't mistake the romanticism for something the character's aware of about himself. Scottie's an idealist, through and through. He sees himself as a sort of hero, and sees his primary goal in life as effecting justice. That's Scottie's agenda, which is thwarted by imperfections in his nature that he never thought to account for.

In one of the movie's first scenes, Scottie's having an idle conversation with his friend Marjorie "Midge" Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes). In a very deft bit of exposition, Midge mentions that Scottie had been a lawyer who switched to working as a policeman because he had decided that he was going to be chief of police one day. Scottie's not someone to be bound by a career path and indeed believes he lives in complete freedom. He mentions to Midge that he's retiring, and feels he can because he is a man of "independent means," which suggests perhaps an inheritance, or some other means of having acquired enough money to live off of so that he's not only able to abruptly alter his career path at whim, but he was able to retire as a plainclothes detective. Work has never been about survival for Scottie; it's been about pursuing his idealistic aims.

But there's one thing Scottie's never had, or had only briefly and many years ago--a lover. He and Midge had been engaged in college--for only three weeks, before she called it off. Now Scottie says, "I'm still available. Available Ferguson." There's a barely suppressed, bitter edge to Scottie's voice, leading one to believe that he may indeed have been single ever since college. And labelling himself "Available Ferguson" in itself suggests that he's been alone for so long that being single is something he believes is associated with him by his acquaintances. Considering the two very demanding careers he'd chosen for himself, one might suppose he kept himself busy entirely with work.

It's clear that Midge is still in love with him ("You know there's only one man in the world for me, Johnny-O"), so why did she call off the engagement, and why haven't the two of them been lovers again since? The answer is in a furtive look Midge gives Scottie when he says, with a mildly irritable dismissiveness, "Now, Midge, don't be so motherly."

Unfortunately, that's in one word the role Midge has settled into in their relationship; mother. In college, she had probably finally realised that Stewart was a romantic, so she had written an agenda for herself: love him, nurture him, but don't marry him unless and until he becomes your equal. Midge assumes her pragmatism makes her more of an adult than Scottie. Unfortunately for Midge, her agenda can't withstand the unpredictability of human nature, and the fact that no human is as simple as either of the roles in which she's cast herself and Scottie.

Scottie's irritation when he says "motherly" shows this isn't the dynamic he perceives as existing between the two of them, or wants to exist between the two of them. The discussion of their respective love lives follows a brief, candid discussion about women's undergarments, with a strange, lacy pink bra as a prop. To an audience in 1958, this would have seemed quite racy, and it would have been clear that Scottie and Midge are unusually comfortable discussing sexuality for a man and woman who aren't involved. They even seem to get a bit of a charge out of it.

They have no hope of going beyond this sort of provocative, relaxed friendship so long as Midge adheres to her agenda. So long as Midge's personality forces an inequality on the relationship, the two can't connect. Inequality is repeatedly shown to be the most destructive factor in the relationships featured in Vertigo.

Elster tells Scottie how he longs for the "power" and "freedom" enjoyed by wealthy men in old San Francisco. Through his actions in the film, it's revealed that Gavin prefers total dominance in his relationships with women and very little intimacy. He cares so little about his wife that he's hatched an elaborate scheme in order to kill her and claim her enormous financial assets. He's having an affair with Judy Barton, whom he uses to pose as his wife and mislead Scottie, and then abandons her when he no longer has any use for her. The ghost he decides to tell Scottie has possessed his wife may or may not actually be an ancestor of the real Mrs. Elster, but she is Carlotta Valdes, a young woman who went mad when her wealthy lover abandoned her and took her child.

Unlike Scottie, Elster is not a man of independent means, though he'd very much like to be and he's willing to do anything to attain that status, even marry a woman and kill her for her money. Perhaps because he doesn't understand the nature of truly loving human relationships, he doesn't anticipate Scottie and Judy falling in love. He assumes his money is power, he fails to anticipate that Scottie's earnest desire to protect her and help her would be more attractive to her. Like Midge, Elster errs because of his faith in pragmatism, but unlike Midge, Elster's agenda is not foiled by this unforeseen circumstance. Which shows that, while nature may not be controlled by the schemes of humans, it does not rebel in order to exact justice. This may indicate that Alfred Hitchcock did not believe in a benevolent god. In any case, nothing trumps free will here. The movie is distinctly existentialist, as all good films noir are.

No-one in the movie demonstrates the existential idea of free will that cannot be controlled by a chosen role or exterior influence better than Judy Barton.

When seen later in the movie with hairstyle and clothing she's presumably chosen for herself, Judy's style is brash and somewhat bizarre. Her form fitting green sweater is revealing, but bears a distracting pokka dot trim. Her hair and makeup are bold contrasts, but very strange, her forehead framed by obviously artificially arranged, flattened ringlets. From her appearance, one might deduce that Judy has passion, but lacks the sophistication required to craft a look that makes her as carnally attractive as she wants to be. This lack of sophistication also prevents her from hatching a scheme like Elster's; when she met him, she must have been something of a thug. She obviously didn't mind getting involved with a man for money, and she obviously didn't mind accepting the role of Mrs. Elster's impostor. The means and objectives of Gavin's scheme seemed reasonable to her; Gavin’s not likely to have gone ahead with any collaborator whose predilections he had any reason to doubt.

The makeover Gavin gives to the faux Mrs. Elster not only makes her resemble the real Mrs. Elster more, and seem more credible as a wealthy woman, it also provides a vehicle for Judy's passion and fulfils her desire to be attractive. The grey with blonde combination is bizarre and striking, like Judy’s own style, but much more effective. These are bold colour choices, but deployed with a more delicate sensibility, effectively creating excitement mixed with pleasure. Hitchcock's keen blocking contribute to this effect as well, as in the very first shot of Judy as Madeleine, where her bare back, contrasted with an elegantly draped green dress immediately captures the viewer's eye amidst the clutter of the rest of the restaurant's patrons;

But Judy's an independently thinking and feeling being, and whatever Gavin might think, or whatever she might think, she can't be merely his pawn. Especially not when the situation suits her more deep seated, personal motives.

First time viewers often find it a little jarring that Scottie, after rescuing Madeleine from the bay, takes the apparently unconscious woman to his home, strips her naked, and puts her in his bed. As with the story of demonic possession, this is a conceit of fiction, that a character has to be stripped when wet, and the casual viewer might overlook it as such. But since the demonic possession turns out to be a ruse, it might be beneficial to look at this more closely, too.

Why didn't he take her to a hospital? Perhaps he wanted to leave the decision up to her or Elster--Elster did say he didn't want doctors involved yet, but Madeleine jumping into the bay and losing consciousness seems more than enough cause to seek medical attention. Taking Madeleine to a doctor seemed the first reasonable course of action to Scottie when Elster just told him she was experiencing lapses in memory, so what's changed? Even if he didn't want to take her to the hospital after she jumped in the bay, he might have taken her to Midge, or perhaps another female friend. Perhaps none of them were available at the time, but it seems more likely that Scottie simply wanted her to himself. In any case, if he had been thinking clearly, he'd have realised that few situations could have been worse from the woman's perspective than waking up to find herself naked in the bed of a strange man.

But Scottie was not thinking clearly. His attempt at a reassuring smile when she "wakes up" and sees him comes out as something like an adolescent leer;

Scottie's sexual repression is getting mixed up in his self-image as a hero. As he tells her later, "I'm responsible for you now. You know the Chinese say that once you've saved a person's life you're responsible for it forever, so I'm committed." Scottie feels like she's his ward, and feels it's his role to explain things to her and sort things out for her--it's his role to know more than she, even if he actually doesn't. That's why the explanations he conjures of her visions become increasingly strained, to the point where he gestures at a small plastic horse triumphantly as though it explains Madeleine's visions of several, distinctly different, live horses. Scottie's not yet aware that the roles he's chosen for himself as hero and protector are not enough to define his whole personality, so he's more confident in himself than he otherwise would be and assumes all of his actions and impulses are the actions and impulses of a hero and protector.

After his experiences with Midge, Scottie's thrilled to be in a relationship where he is the dominant partner. Or so it seems to him. In fact, Judy’s in as much control of him as he is of her, though she may not be aware of it herself.

Gavin probably didn't anticipate that Scottie would take the unconscious Madeleine home with him and undress her. Judy could have chosen to "wake up" at any time, but instead she decides to observe Scottie carrying her and undressing her. Why? Perhaps she feels this will tighten her psychological grip on him, though it's hard to imagine Scottie not trying to chase her up the bell tower just because he hadn't seen her naked.

The more likely explanation is that Judy does it because she enjoys it. She's a kind of voyeur here, as she observes his naively perverse actions without his knowledge, making her more privy to his weakness than he is. It must be exciting also from her perspective as a criminal; Scottie's a cop, yet he's clearly at least as weak as she is.

She continues in this position as she watches him struggle to solve a riddle she knows has no answer.

SCOTTIE: "If I could just find the key and the beginning and . . . put it together."

MADELEINE: "So you can explain it away? There is a way to explain it, you see. If I'm mad, then that would explain it, wouldn't it? "

They kiss for the first time moments later. That's not part of Gavin's plan. It's certainly not a boon for Midge, either.

The next scene features Midge presenting a version she's painted of Carlotta's portrait to Scottie with her own face in place of Carlotta's. Midge doesn't quite realise it as she's painting, but this is a drastic and frantic attempt to preserve the roles she's assigned to Scottie and herself. Obviously it's an attempt to place her image directly in his current line of attraction, but, more significantly, the painting is a joke.

According to Midge's agenda, she, the pragmatist of the pair, has a clearer, more rational view of reality than Scottie. And comedic effect is produced by unexpectedly revealing reality juxtaposed with a fantasy that's been taken as reality for some time. If Midge were thinking clearly, she'd realise that Scottie takes this matter too seriously to find the joke amusing; what's ridiculous fantasy to Midge is a very sober reality to Scottie.

But Midge isn't thinking clearly. A fear is growing in her that she's losing their relationship, and in a frantic attempt to dispel her fear, she crafts a joke she thinks is funny and figures he will find it funny, too, because he's part of her team. Her fear has blinded her to the realisation that she's appealing to the wrong Scottie. The Scottie who was invariably on her side, ready to laugh with her, is not a Scottie that exists any more, if he ever truly did.

This is the first hard hint she has that the sort of master and disciple relationship she's outlined for the two of them was in fact her own fantasy. But the final blow isn't delivered to poor Midge until after Scottie's failure to stop Madeleine's death has brought him so low that he cannot even speak.

In the mental institution, Midge walks around Scottie, who's sitting, and outlines for him how she plans to treat and help him. But finally, she feels compelled to kneel beside him, look up at him, and plead;

MIDGE: "Oh, Johnny. Johnny, please try. Try, Johnny. You're not lost. Mother's here. "

Midge is reduced to directly stating her desired role. In the end, her pragmatism has been no more useful than Scottie's romanticism. A successful relationship between lovers is based on a mutual compulsion, not a philosophy or agenda, as Scottie and Judy themselves discover in the latter portion of the film.

The most obvious, unanticipated weakness Scottie meets in himself is, of course, his vertigo. Why is Vertigo the title of the movie? Because Scottie's debilitating acrophobia perfectly and succinctly represents what the movie's about; the existential horror of finding oneself voluntarily behaving in a way contrary to one's perceived or preferred personality, and to disastrous consequences.

Vertigo is not caused by psychological trauma in real life, but in the context of the movie it provides a neat shorthand for Scottie's despair at causing, because of his inadequacy, a fellow police officer to die. This is not how a hero's supposed to act, so what is he now? He can try to forget or rationalise what happened, but any visible, significant distance of empty space below him will instantly remind him that he's not what he thinks he is. Heights aren't merely an alarming mortal peril; they are his nemesis. A crooked and alien version of his self-image made real.

After seeing Madeleine die, Scottie has a rather terrible dream in which it appears that he has become Madeleine; he sees himself standing over Carlotta's open grave, as Madeleine did, he sees himself falling towards the red tiled roof of San Juan Batista, as Madeleine fell to her death. And this makes sense because Madeleine never existed except as a mutual, consensual fantasy shared between himself and Judy. Scottie's almost as much Madeleine as Judy was.

Of course, Scottie doesn't know yet that Madeleine was merely a role Judy was playing. Even when Judy decided to try to prevent Elster from murdering his wife, she didn't tell Scottie the truth. She was afraid both for his sake and hers; the blow to his self-image would be significant, and stepping so far off of her own prescribed route is too frightening to contemplate. But Judy's not interested in preventing the murder because she's suddenly developed a new moral compass; she wants to stop it because she's become Scottie's ally more than Elster's.

So why doesn't their relationship work when Scottie and Judy meet again? Is forcing her to dress a certain way any different than her relationship with Gavin, where she obviously tolerated it? It's very different for Judy, who seems tortured by the experience. As Hitchcock put it, "That scene in Vertigo where James Stewart forces Miss Kim Novak to alter her whole personality by altering her lipstick, hairstyle, even hair tint--for me it has the compulsion of a striptease in reverse. The woman is made insecure by being forced to make up, not take off."

Before, Judy dressed as Madeleine to serve her own purposes. Now, she's trying to take on a role to serve Scottie's confused compulsion.

JUDY: "Why are you doing this? What--what good will it do?"

SCOTTIE: "I don't know. I don't know. No good, I guess. I don't know."

JUDY: "I wish you'd leave me alone. I want to go away."

SCOTTIE: "You can, you know."

JUDY: "No, you--you wouldn't let me."

Once again, the existential concept of bad faith comes into play as Judy's superficial impulse is to blame Scottie for what she is in fact doing by choice. Like Midge before her, Judy's sacrificing herself for an agenda.

It's not only a woman Scottie's trying to resurrect through Judy; it's himself. The image of himself he'd retained throughout his adult life before the inability to prevent Madeleine's death broke him.

In one of the movie's most famous scenes, when Judy's "reverse striptease" is complete and she stands nakedly Madeleine before him, there is a powerful moment that seems, impossibly, to recapture what they had by some fey power as they're bathed in an unnatural green light.

The world seems to Scottie to dissolve into the San Juan Batista stables as Bernard Hermann's score becomes frantic before it crescendos with the pair's passionate kiss. It seems for a moment that they've actually resurrected the dream that initially brought them together and perhaps Scottie's reclaimed his own identity. Or is his identity stuck at San Juan Batista, the last place he saw Madeleine alive?

In the very next scene, Scottie's sitting comfortably and watching Judy put on some jewellery, preparing to go out to eat with him. Scottie's tone when he speaks to her is almost exactly the same tone he used to speak with Midge, earlier in the film. But one can only guess what Scottie's and Judy's relationship might have been like because it is here that Scottie sees Judy wearing Carlotta's necklace, and realises that Judy doesn't just look like Madeleine. She's in fact the same woman.

Realising he's been had, and so thoroughly, seems to enrage Scottie, but there's more to his reaction than rage. The final scene is nightmarish as Scottie takes her to San Juan Batista.

SCOTTIE: "One final thing I have to do. And then I'll be free of the past."

At the mission, Scottie drags Judy through the route of that fateful day.

SCOTTIE: "I need you to be Madeleine for a while."

He puts together the sequence of events even as he creates his own, new play as he drags Judy up the bell tower.

SCOTTIE: "You're my second chance, Judy."

And indeed she is. Because now that he knows the situations that shaped his personality before were false, he can see that the personality he saw himself as possessing was false, and the awful height of the bell tower is no longer any reflection of his weakness. His vertigo is gone. All that remains is free will.

Scottie and Judy are in a sort of identity free fall when they reach the top of the bell tower. When Judy falls from the tower after being frightened by the nun, it is a final statement about the absence of a benevolent agenda in the universe. A nun, supposedly a representative of a good and merciful god, inadvertently causes Judy's death. Scottie's left in a state of perfect zero. His identity is no longer trapped by the past, but he doesn't have one for the future, either.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I'll miss this man and his magical hair.

Mysterious Traveler Entrances Town With Utopian Vision Of The Future
Tired. Four hours of sleep again. Magic number, I guess. I actually had a full night's sleep to work with yesterday, and a fairly busy day. Reading for class, class, then I went to see There Will Be Blood with my sister and her boyfriend.

Not a bad movie. It could have used some cutting. The music was kind of annoying--sickly violins and harsh, strange percussion putting me in the mind of some Stanley Kubrick movies, except here the music was at more of a discord with the movie itself, and proved to just be distracting. Daniel Day-Lewis was great, though, as a man in a bad Catch-22 of desiring affection but being so afraid of losing control and affection, he repeatedly pushes away any opportunity to connect with another person at sometimes only the slightest provocation. And it was fun watching him beat the snot out of Paul Dano.

Then I came back and spent three more hours working on my ridiculously long Vertigo analysis. It's amazing--I'm still noticing new things about the movie, seeing things from new angles. I've been thinking so gods damned much. That's probably exactly why I can't sleep right there.

This morning I read the latest Sirenia Digest, I guess because I'm some kind of masochist. But it's a good issue.

"The Collector of Bones" was pretty, sweet, sexy, languid, drowsy. Or maybe I'm just drowsy. The final portion of "The Crimson Alphabet" was like being on a runaway subway car, careening from one wall to another, tumbling about with the walking egg from the old cholesterol commercials. I don't know what I mean, but this is four hours of sleep talking and the swig of Wild Turkey I took trying to make myself sleepy.

This "Crimson Alphabet" instalment shifts a bit from impersonal prose to sort of cosy conversational, which is interesting. "N is for Nanorobotics" does a great job of making personal what Caitlin imagines a nanorobotic infiltration of the nervous system might seem like.

Would someone just drop a piano on my head and stop these spinning brains, please? Any hungry zombies out there? U can has brains if I can has sleep.