Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Cats that Keep Us

Snow almost always seems to have battle freckles when I see him. I don't know if he's cat constable or kitty crime lord, but I'm pretty sure he's in charge of the street. "Those aren't cross eyes," says Snow. "They're crosshairs."

I've been taking lots of pictures since I got my new battery, nearly all bad pictures. I usually do take a lot and then only post the ones I like and there were only a few this time. This one I took on Monday, I wasn't sure if what I was seeing was a spider or a seed pod;

I didn't realise it was a spider until a moment ago. I don't think I've seen this kind around before.

Twitter Sonnet #298

Porous red tendrils weakly wave hello.
Tire tracks raise questions in the produce.
Blood rain can make a vampire mellow.
Italian necklines can always reduce.
C shaped jawbreakers breed uncertainty.
Hastily mentioned car accidents fade.
Airborne veins shimmer past security.
Soft tomatoes sickly spoiled a raid.
Lawrence would like Tatooine 'cause it's clean.
Angry tennis players now serve the night.
Dark license plates betray criminal mien.
Freckles are scars from the conception fight.
A thousand dwarves are remembered per dot.
Copper pins clatter in the coffee pot.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

For Those Who Can't Sleep

I haven't done one of these in a while. I don't have insomnia to-night--well, I won't know until I try to sleep, I guess. But this is a little YouTube mixtape of songs it seemed to me like I'd like to hear on a night I had trouble sleeping.

Thieves, Wizards, and Destroyers

Conan the Destroyer, the 1984 sequel to Conan the Barbarian, is a dramatically better film in almost every way than its predecessor. For this I mainly credit director Richard Fleischer and cinematographer Jack Cardiff. There's a huge difference in quality just from the fact that second film successfully chains shots together--we have many things one takes for granted in most movies, such as tying close-up reaction shots with point of view shots, as well as effectively linked shots of action.

Arnold Schwarzenegger still doesn't come off as an effective swordsman by any means, though there is something that works about him, a combination of physical presence and guilelessness. Indeed, within the first twenty minutes of Destroyer I felt like I'd gotten to know the character much better than I had in Barbarian. Mind you, I've never read the books.

But regardless, Conan the Destroyer has a memorable cast of characters. It's significant I remember all of them from when I last saw the movie as a kid and I can barely remember what Conan was even supposed to be doing in the first film, which I watched a couple weeks ago.

Tracey Walter delivers a strange performance as Conan's companion thief Malak--he's oddly blank, almost like a wind up toy. A very young Olivia d'Abo plays a virginal princess--one of the best things about high fantasy is that its one of the few contexts where barely any clothes can somehow imply innocence.

Mako returns, being, after Conan and possibly Max von Sydow's cameo, one of the only memorable characters from the first film, though he's given a much better role here. And Grace Jones is fascinating as a staff wielding bandit.

These characters make up an effective, traditional fantasy adventuring party, one of my favourite tropes. With each character established quickly and solidly early in the film, I found myself eager to see them playing off one another.

There's a lot of beautiful photography as well as a large number of extraordinarily effective optical effects shots. There are establishing shots of castles and huge statues that fool the eye far more thoroughly than modern cgi shots. Maybe it's no surprise since Cardiff had been shooting process shots since the 1940s.

There's a rather inventive use of split screen in the wizard's ice castle, as we see the characters moving first up the stairs on the right and then across the bridge on the left;

One of the prettiest interiors is when the characters first enter the castle and I recognised Cardiff's familiar softly contrasting warm and cold colours, here used to lightly burnish the ice walls;

The scene where Conan fights the mirror monster really freaked me out as a kid, partly because one senses a secret logic to the hidden robed figures, creating an anxiety as I tried to grasp hold of what was taking place but failed. And visually it's threatening, with the monochrome, pale tasselled curtains contrasting with the blood red robes.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Arachnids and Flying Things

Last night's very tiny daddy long legs in my bathroom. He helped me break in my new camera battery--I wore out the one my camera came with after, I think, around three years of use. Seems like it ought to have lasted longer, especially considering the new battery cost forty five dollars. I considered just going without a camera for a while but I realised . . . I can't. I can't go back now.

I don't have time for a proper entry now, since I need to get to class. I do kind of like having my longest day on Monday, though--I like to get the worst parts over with first.

So here are some pictures of the outfit my Second Life avatar wore to the chess tournament on Saturday. Black Angel dress by Vitabella, mask and horns by Siyu Suen, pearls and hair by Donna Flora. The screenshots were taken at Mysterious Wave.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Useless Exoskeletons

Federico Fellini's Nights of Cabiria may be one of the cruellest movies I've ever seen. It's not pointless cruelty.

Having watched a string of "guy movies" lately, I noticed a common idea--from Conan the Barbarian to Pickup on South Street, I keep seeing a guy who can't, or is told not to, trust anybody, guys who have learned in one way or another that they can only rely on themselves and are closed off in some sense. Even Doctor Who kind of has that, in a more innocent fashion--the lone wanderer guy is a pretty familiar character. Nights of Cabiria is one of the rare cases of a movie about a woman like that. Cabiria is a prostitute who lives in a tiny concrete house she's fiercely proud of, and is caustic with everyone. She can't even thank the people who saved her from drowning at the beginning of the film, she acts like they've gotten in her way by doing it.

A famous actor picks her up at one point during the movie when his girlfriend has ditched him, and we see she has absolutely no compunctions about going home with the guy, and is similarly unperturbed about hiding in his bathroom when his girlfriend comes home unexpectedly. But at the very beginning of the movie, we see her scammed by a guy who seduced her and we learn that far from being thoroughly callous, Cabiria does hope to find love. That's where it gets cruel--a woman so sensitive she wears the thickest armour and she has that armour torn from her time and again.

The moment that broke my heart was when, on a stage, a magician hypnotises her into thinking she's met a handsome young man speaking affectionately to her and there's such a desperate hope in her voice when she asks him if he means what he's saying to her, if she's not being fooled this time. Even the magician seems to feel some guilt.

Twitter Sonnet #297

Cocoanut egret stands at vermouth pointe.
Brittle bells flutter on white helium.
Vertical striped stilts balance a thin joint.
Foetus fingers lengthen over the sun.
Seven year old cake sighs clouds of black mould.
Holy platitudes paint airplanes pale blue.
It's gummy thermometers that get cold.
A dirt basin takes an ocean of dew.
Ocean blocks fade too close to the swampland.
Pink grass erodes the nostalgic data.
Tar sounds ooze from a boiling rubber band.
Silurians still shop Alpha Beta.
Sentient yams carry rum up the hill.
Expensive batteries hide in a bill.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Inglourious Docters

So here's me, actually watching a Doctor Who episode on the day of its premiere. A mixed bag episode for me--I like the flippant use of Adolf Hitler, the tangled character arc of River Song, and the tiny tyrannical corps of time travellers taking it upon themselves to send history's evil doers to Hell. With the business in the previous episode about the Doctor losing himself and being corrupted by his power into a force for evil, it seems the show is heading into exploring ideas of people going into a totalitarian state. Maybe the every-gunfighter-for-themselves character of River is meant to be a counterbalance to the lefty Doctor, perhaps reflecting the idea that we need a government composed of the opposing forces to avoid society going off the rails. One might see this in the use of Richard Nixon in the season premiere, the abuse of sentient beings in "The Rebel Flesh"/"The Almost People" (which, by the way, didn't the Doctor take part in by killing the dummy Amy?), the exploration of power balance in "The Curse of the Black Spot"--though that episode introduced what may be history's blandest pirate captain.

I keep thinking back to the sixth and seventh Doctors dealing with the possibility of a darker Doctor. Of course, that was before the new series decided the Doctor was somehow a badass superhero rather than an eccentric alien genius sorting things out for people. But considering the corrupted Doctor from The Trial of a Time Lord arc, the Valeyard, was supposed to be from the Doctor's twelfth or thirteenth incarnation, it would be kind of interesting if they were actually planning on making good on that.

I guess I was right in thinking the astronaut that shoots the Doctor was in fact River, though I was sure the little girl wasn't River. Or rather, I was hoping she was Romana. Oh, well. I miss Romana. For all the kissing, "sweeties", and name telling with River, I still feel like the Doctor had a closer relationship with Romana. The Doctor and River is all big, brief flashes, the Doctor and Romana was a couple who lived together. Which makes it all the more annoying that in "Let's Kill Hitler" the TARDIS only shows recent companions for the voice interface. Though that's on top of the annoyance that we were just told in "The Doctor's Wife" that the Doctor couldn't talk to the TARDIS normally, and that's why it was so sad the anthropomorphised TARDIS character was so short lived.

I also don't like the Doctor's new coat and I was glad he switched back at the end.

Oh, going back to "A Good Man Goes to War", I'd like to add my vote for a spin-off series about the Silurian and human lesbian couple of samurai assassins from Victorian London.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Delusional Warrior, Ganbatte!

Somehow a whole second season of Maria Holic happened without me finding out about it until yesterday. I watched the first episode with breakfast to-day--it's good, though like the first season, I actually found it difficult to concentrate on the story when I'm distracted by the pretty visuals, though they're not as fresh as they were last season.

The new opening theme isn't as good, but it's a lot funnier;

It seems to be a parody of anime themes from the 1970s and early 1980s. It sounds a lot like the opening to Galaxy Express 999 to me.

After watching this, I went into Second Life to play chess and found someone at the chess club I'd met a couple weeks ago. To-day he was wearing the title of "Grand Wizard". I asked if he was in the Ku Klux Klan and he didn't say anything. This guy happens to be sponsoring to-morrow's chess tournament, which should be interesting. I guess this explains the massive crucifix I saw in his girlfriend's doll shop. The guy had already been giving me a bad vibe, though I thought it was just because he had a mullet. It's weird how a guy could hate black people, Jewish people, and gay people and yet not have a problem hosting a tournament run by a Furry. Maybe he doesn't understand the whole "Furry" thing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bones on the Table

I'm not sure what was wrong with this bird's leg. It was still able to fly, so I hope that means it's not terminal, whatever it is.

I finally had a good dream last night, after several nights of bad dreams. The night before last was something about a hostage situation on a monorail. I remember lots of blood and bullets.

Last night's good dream I barely remember--something about visiting a pretty girl in a mansion. I've certainly been seeing plenty of really pretty girls lately--it's weird how nice it is just to stand around and watch all those great legs in tiny shorts walking by at college. But I love the ones in dresses the most. Three girls complemented me on my hat yesterday, maybe I should've said, "Why don't you dress like it's the 50s?"

I remember talking to a girl in line for Ray Bradbury's panel at Comic-Con one year who was wearing this lovely, bright blue velvet strapless dress. She had big black horn rimmed glasses too.

I do love people watching in general, and I kind of need something to do since I have forty five minutes between two of my classes. It's amazing how much more disgusting the guys are compared to the girls. Waiting in line at the bookstore yesterday a heavyset young man cut in front of me. As he waited, he grabbed candy off the shelves, opened the packages, and started chewing loudly.

Then there's the Chinese guy trying to crash my English class. I have no idea what he's trying to do--the teacher already told him the class was full, but he was welcome to stand against the wall and observe the class. This happens to be right next to me, and I try not to be distracted by the guy's loud and unselfconscious farting. I'm not sure he understands what's happening in the classroom, as he tends to volunteer long, rambling, barely intelligible stories that aren't relevant to discussion topics.

I like my English teacher--it's a critical writing class, and he told us off the bat that we're not going to be asked to do the standard essay topics of abortion, rape, capital punishment, and so on, but rather we'll be asked to write essays about the entertainment media. Sounds right up my alley.

By the way, is there seriously anyone who doesn't think this video by Jim Carrey is a joke? Both Yahoo! News and Huffington Post ran stories calling the video "creepy", though Huffington Post, in typical weaselly fashion, re-titled the article after a number of comments calling it a joke. Now the Huffington Post calls it "Possibly Creepy". How about I say Bjork is possibly a serial killer? I'm not saying I actually know, right?

I can't decide if this is journalists being too stupid to get a joke, or journalists being too stupid to see past their own envy to laugh with a celebrity rather than at him. It's definitely, not possibly, one of those kinds of stupid, though.

Twitter Sonnet #296

Misleading dogs regurgitate brown rice.
Dashes paint the conical lamp edges.
"W" glands bear parental advice.
Eggs show what Jack O'Lantern alleges.
Racists are crushed in a dry jacuzzi.
Hardened ink simulates blackened grapefruit.
Tap water tears spray from plastic uzi.
A sober plumber leaves in a green boot.
Bunny shadows condemn excess cutting.
A foreign fart is lost in English class.
Ancient sickle swordfish were self-gutting.
Too much beer drowned aluminium bass.
Salt keeps the unrefrigerated meat.
Of work, low gravity deprives a seat.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Relative Dimensions

I was finally able to see "The Doctor's Wife" last night, the Doctor Who episode written by Neil Gaiman. It's every bit as good as everyone said it was. It's another instance of a new series episode written by a hardcore Doctor Who fan that's focused on the Doctor and the show mythology and this one works quite wonderfully. It works rather nicely on multiple viewings too, as I found myself getting caught up in bits while I was taking screenshots of early parts of the episode that take on new meaning after you've seen the whole thing. I'm very glad I managed to avoid spoilers.

I wish it was longer--a two or three part episode. It felt like I was just beginning to get a picture of Gaiman's voice and style in the Doctor Who context--I only started watching Doctor Who last year, but I started reading Gaiman more than a decade ago, my favourite of his works being the Sandman comic book series. Sandman was about anthropomorphised aspects of reality as human beings perceive it--Dream, Death, Destiny, Delirium, Desire, Destruction and Despair. And Gaiman's talent was in presenting these characters not simply as people who held mystical offices but as entities whose actions had a fascinating double resonance, both as the actions of individual characters and the state of their respective aspects of reality. That's the sort of writing I suspect can't be taught, but relies on a certain poetic instinct.

Thinking now about Neil Gaiman the Doctor Who fan, I'm reminded of my impression of Tom Baker's performance as the Doctor, how he seemed to me to be existing both inside and outside of the story at the same time. One can see how this might have been an influence on Gaiman's work, and certainly it functions wonderfully for "The Doctor's Wife".

And I got to find out what the "junk TARDIS" playset was I saw at Comic-Con. I was sort of hoping to see a complete classic era console room in the episode, though.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Her Soft, Hidden Folds

I decided to watch Pickup on South Street last week after reading about it on Jaime Hernandez's list of top 10 Criterion films. Hernandez says, "Jean Peters as Candy is my favorite female character in any movie."

Like the characters in Hernandez's comics, Candy's beautiful, very street, wears dark makeup, and tends to have adventures where she gets beaten up. Pickup on South Street doesn't have the explicit sexuality of Hernandez's comics, but that's probably only because it was made in 1953. There's plenty of implicit sex, though. I thought of Hitchcock's tendency to use handbags to symbolise vaginas when I watched this scene;

I love when she bites her lower lip.

This movie was directed by Samuel Fuller--and one difference between him and Hitchcock is instead of being unjustly accused of a proclivity to humiliate his female characters more than his male characters, Pickup on South Street is a female submissive masochist's wet dream. After she becomes better acquainted with Skip, the pickpocket played by Richard Widmark, she's commanded by her secretly Communist boyfriend to give money to Skip for the microfilm he unwittingly stole from her. She keeps going to his little shack with the intention of giving him money and he always ends up taking more than she intended (from her purse). And she loves it.

The first time she visits him, he punches her in the face, knocking her out. It's dark, so he doesn't know she's a woman. She lays helpless on his floor before he wakes her up by pouring beer on her face.

Candy's not written as a sexy body with a mind made only to irritate long suffering men, like the women in Madigan or Clint Eastwood's movies of the 70s. This is what makes it seem more like a benign sexual fantasy than a misogynist one. Candy actually seems like the heart of the movie--its her priorities we consistently agree with while Skip's only looking out for himself, the cops are only interested in putting people in jail, the Feds only want the Communists, and the Communists only want to be evil.

I might be offended by the movie's political ideology if I were sure what that ideology is. There's very broad bits about thugs and the law putting aside their differences to be patriots together in the fight against communism. But then there's the great Thelma Ritter in a supporting role, in the middle of condemning the Communists despite admitting she really doesn't know much about them, mentioning how she spends her life working for a living so she can die. It's the sort of thing one might find in a Communist screed. It almost made me wonder if the movie's meant to be a sneaky parody of 1950s conservative propaganda.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Embedded Silver Dollars

I already feel like I'm running behind for my first day of school--at least I don't have a stomach flu like in my last semester. What a novelty it'll be to be there on the first day.

I watched the two part premiere to Doctor Who's 2011 season last night. Yes, this year's season. They even refer to 2011 onscreen. Exciting. I can speculate about the season arc story along with everyone else. I would point out, to begin with, that none of the companions seem to make note of the fact that Canton had shown up with a tank of gasoline apparently having been instructed by the Doctor to dispose of his body. Which means the Doctor planned on dying. I'm guessing he did so because he wished to convince the Silence that he was out of the way.

The Silence (or Silents) are actually effectively creepy despite being the pretty standard grey alien design. Though the line, "The Silence will fall," doesn't actually sound like something they should be bragging about.

It was a good pair of episodes, lots of tension. Though I have to admit being bothered by how the Doctor only seemed giddy about the impeding mass slaughter of Silents.

Apparently the elder Canton is played by the father of the guy playing the younger Canton. The younger I recognised from his role on Firefly and a couple of other things. The older one looked familiar to me to, but I couldn't put my finger on from where. Then, by complete coincidence, I watched Wild at Heart afterwards and immediately recognised him as Mr. Reindeer. The Doctor said to pay attention to coincidence unless you're very busy and I need to get to class . . .

Twitter Sonnet #295

Rusty Tetris pieces shriek on contact.
Wet streamers squirm in the grey party brain.
Boiling makeup's squeezed out of the compact.
Razor sharp ice cream scoops assault the train.
Worried tan gentlemen wear iron suits.
Alarmed jello populates a clay town.
Inert rooftop thugs drink through shadow roots.
Trousers made from butter quickly turn brown.
Wand'ring error warnings have been replaced.
Missing torches haven't the choice of off.
By the rook Alice complacently raced.
Parmesan quesadilla made her cough.
Jigsaw pawns sleep on treadmills to glory.
Blushing armies trip into a story.

Happy birthday, Ray Bradbury.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Explaining Yourself

I guess the fact that I start school to-morrow explains the rather broad metaphor of the dream I had last night; I went to school to find that everyone had been turned into vampires. The vampires came in two varieties; mindless zombies and intelligent evil. It was totally random which kind of vampire you turned into--there were also two ways you could be turned, either by getting bitten or by sitting in some kind vampirising mechanical chair. When I was caught, I was taken to one of these, but before I got strapped in I asked the guy in charge if I could use the bathroom first.

"Why?" he asked.

"I gotta take a shit, man," I said. I know people void their bowls when getting executed and I thought something like that might happen in the chair. I didn't want to have an accident in front of the vampires.

So he gave me directions to the restroom and I started off through the halls. I passed one of the zombie vampires and it occurred to me that there's no reason the other vampires in the offices knew I had permission to use the restroom.

But honestly, I'm looking forward to school. Sort of. Well, I love microcosms. That's why I love shopping malls. Now I have an excuse to hang out in just such a microcosm two days a week.

Last night I watched the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, "A Christmas Carol". It skated on the edge of too twee for me, but it made the crossover into being genuinely effective. I loved the fish swimming in fog, the beautiful woman charming the shark with her song.

I kind of wish there were some explanation as to why it no longer causes an explosion or some other kind of catastrophe when someone comes into physical contact with themselves from another point on their timeline. That was a rule used as a major plot point as recently as Eccleston's era, established, I think, in the fifth Doctor's Mawdryn Undead.

But Steven Moffat has a knack for writing stories where people meet themselves. I also enjoyed the two three minute miniature episodes, "Space" and "Time", which the BBC currently has on YouTube;

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fezzes are Cool

I rather liked "Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang", the two part season finale of Doctor Who's 2010 season. Written by Steven Moffat, it's an improvement from Russell T. Davies' finales, though I still can't help feeling like the Doctor's a little too into himself. I suppose this is a reflection of the fact that the show's written by hardcore Doctor Who fans now, rather than people who may have been fans but seemed more interested in using the Doctor as a vehicle to tell stories rather than to make commentaries on the Doctor himself.

Though this last two parter certainly had commentary on the Doctor more interesting than Davies' weepy wank fests. Amy standing up at her wedding and willing the Doctor back into existence was kind of a nice statement on the importance of childhood dreams and the value of sticking up for them in the middle of an adult world.

I also loved the whole time travel complexity fun of the episode. It's not quite The Pirate Planet level of complexity--which, by the way, is a serial that made me realise that Douglas Adams was certifiably a genius--but a great deal of fun all the same. I love the fez.

I was feeling so positive about Doctor Who I decided to check out Doctor Who in Second Life--apparently there's a rather a big fan presence. I visited the second place that came up when I searched for "Doctor Who" which described itself as the oldest Doctor Who fan community in SL. They certainly had some impressive models.

I must say I miss the TARDIS not glowing as much as it does now. Part of the appeal was how understated the police box was. Now one can tell there's something up with it from a mile away.

It was funny running into the Pandorica minutes after seeing it on the show.

Even though Second Life is an entirely artificial environment, I guess they still can't make a box that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. But there was a teleport to a rather impressive TARDIS interior.

Many of the console buttons make noises when clicked. The same slider opens the TARDIS doors as opens them on the show. Well, back when the interior TARDIS doors didn't match up with the exterior.

Further in looked like the interior from The Invasion of Time.

Here's something that broke the spell a little;

I can only imagine the spazzy dramas that led to someone deciding this sign was necessary. I definitely think I'll be appreciating SL Who fandom from a distance. I'm finding lately my tolerance for drama has sunk below its already wafer thin depth. I keep thinking of the line from Morrissey's "Break Up the Family"; "I'm so glad to grow older."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Things for Reactions

I have a nice iceberg sized hangover packed in my skull to-day. The hot toddy I had last night. I used lime peels instead of lemon peels but I so enjoyed it, and everything that happened while I was drinking it. I don't know if "The Lodger", the episode of Doctor Who I watched, is actually as good as it seemed. I wonder also about the third Doctor serial "Inferno" I loved as I remember being sauced when watching that one, too.

I started watching Carl Dreyer's Vampyr, which I haven't seen in years, but stopped when I realised I was only processing it like a dream. I'm still not sure if the guy's shadow showing up late when he was already sitting wasn't something I dreamed. Anyway, I had really bad dreams and didn't sleep eight hours, which isn't helping. Must hydrate. I was planning on walking to Tim's to-day but I think now I'll drive--I have a weird craving for breadsticks and marinara sauce I need to drive to get anyway.

It's not often I like customer reviews on Amazon, but the ones for the body bags Amazon's selling now made me smile. The first one, by someone called Bebette;

I rarely write reviews, but this body bag really exceeded my expectations.

Although it is rated as medium duty, there were no rips, tears or leaks even with some pretty rough treatment. I couldn't lift it alone once it was loaded - I had about 180 pounds of dead weight inside. It was also awkward to move because the contents were pretty stiff. I had to drag it down the stairwell, into the garage, load it into my trunk, and then later pull it through uneven wooded terrain. The whole time, I was just sure that a tear was going to leave me scrambling to do a messy clean up, but it held up just fine. Very roomy, no leaks, easy-to-seal zipper. The dark color is discreet, too. The free toe tag was a nice touch, but unnecessary for my purposes.

In short, this is quite possibly the single most useful item in Amazon's office product category. And for less than 30 bucks with Super Saver shipping, I didn't even feel guilty about using it only once. In fact, it is far less than I was willing to pay to remain free from worry about leaving a mess behind for someone else to discover.

I'll be stocking a few extras in my supply closet for emergencies. Other secretaries should consider doing the same!

Twitter Sonnet #294

Spaghetti straps beg meatball exclusion.
Century old cake's sweet as candy dust.
Bulb bruised lobes have a bottle protrusion.
Bourbon blooms in a bed of lemon rust.
Sometimes everyone has a green moustache.
The world awaits well lit Disneyland rides.
Discarded lightsabres are noisy trash.
In the chest the meat strawberry abides.
Yellow roots shrivel in the gopher's mouth.
Ambidextrous one armed cats have choice.
Mouse shaped limes have deceived the feline south.
It's lemonade where lemons have no voice.
Coffee sperm fertilises a scone egg.
Wool socks are useless to a fish's leg.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Just the Colour

I'd been wanting to watch Under Capricorn for some time. Even if I could take the fact that it's not very well known as an indication it's not a very good movie, I still figured an Alfred Hitchcock movie shot by Jack Cardiff and starring Ingrid Bergman would be more than enough to satisfy me. I was right, but I couldn't help dwelling over missed opportunities.

For one thing, I wish it had been directed by Alfred Hitchcock in a different period. Made a year after Rope, his first Technicolor film, Under Capricorn uses a similar technique of long takes--scenes of unbroken shots lasting up to ten minutes as that was the technical limitation at the time. One suspects Hitchcock would have liked to have made a film like Russian Ark consisting of just one, long, feature length shot. This technique certainly emphasises the talents of the actors, as in this eight minute almost monologue performed by Ingrid Bergman;

It also challenges the cinematographer--in scenes like one earlier in the film where we follow Michael Wilding in his approach to the house where Bergman lives with Joseph Cotton we have an in studio night exterior lit with blue and blue green contrasted with rosy orange interiors as we peer into different parts of the house. One imagines a Disneyland ride designed by Cardiff and he carries it off well, maintaining his stylistic lighting without being obtrusive. However, I think a lot of Hitchcock's talent was in how he put his movies together and the long take format kind of loses some of that.

I would have liked a Hitchcock/Cardiff/Bergman Technicolor film to have been told from the POV of the character Bergman was playing, like in Notorious. Under Capricorn is primarily told from Michael Wilding's POV--Bergman doesn't even show up until around half an hour into the film. Hitchcock seems to be having some perverse fun with the aristocratic world Wilding's character, Charles Adare, comes from, as in this casually weird scene where he visits with his Governor cousin.

The touch of red provided by the glass of port somehow works as the linchpin of an entirely discomforting scene, made even more so by the fact that the characters aren't having especially dramatic dialogue.

Of the three leads, Michael Wilding is the best cast. This was a problem Rope had, too--it starred Jimmy Stewart in a role clearly written for Cary Grant. Maybe the bad casting isn't as bad in Under Capricorn because it's more superficial--instead of an actor lacking a fundamental sense of class, Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton simply don't seem like they grew up in Ireland.

The costumes weren't bad, except Bergman had to wear a couple of hideous bonnets, the worse being this one that looks like a Valentine's Day chocolate box;

I was bothered more by the makeup that made everyone, women included, look like they had thin green moustaches.

As for the story, it's not an especially great society intrigue melodrama. The movie's effective whenever Bergman's onscreen--she carries off the story of a woman abused by circumstances, other people, and her own mind quite well.

I was a lot more disappointed by "Vincent and the Doctor", the Doctor Who episode I watched last night, my least favourite Matt Smith episode so far. I understand the show's for children, but if you're going to reduce Vincent van Gogh's depression to one instance of him not being able to get out of bed, you're better of not bothering. Just possibly the mind of Vincent van Gogh isn't subject matter Richard Curtis, writer of Notting Hill and Love Actually, is suited to explore. I did dig shots that deliberately imitated Van Gogh paintings.

And while I appreciated someone wanting to give some comfort to poor Vincent van Gogh, this episode took new Who's often excruciatingly over the top musical score to a new level of vomit inducing. It led me to contemplate again how much harder it is for audiences to-day to access their emotions. The score for this episode was for me the musical equivalent of a sandpaper condom.