Monday, October 31, 2011

Therapeutic Blood Baths

Happy Halloween, everyone.

It's hard to believe I've exhausted the supply of Ingrid Pitt horror movies to watch. Of the three films where she has a leading role, only two survive, and in Countess Dracula, which I watched last night, she's dubbed to cover her Polish accent. Which seems odd to me since she plays a Hungarian countess and one of the other actors has a very strong French accent.

The movie's about Elizabeth Bathory and proceeds with the idea that the blood of virgins really did restore Bathory's youth, if only temporarily. Ideas of age and beauty aren't really explored, though--the movie's mostly given over to plot business, though it's decently smart plot business. I liked a canny castle Librarian who looks like Nostradamus and came close to thwarting the Countess.

But mostly, I guess I'd have to say the best Ingrid Pitt film is The Vampire Lovers. The production values in Countess Dracula are much better--the costumes in The Vampire Lovers look like the cast and crew decided to make the movie during a dinner party and just raided the hostess's wardrobe and a nearby costume shop. But it has so much more heart and subtext--I wrote more about it back in April.

So now by the cruel designs of fate I have to actually go to school on Halloween night. I'll leave you with this;

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blood in Lieu of Life

I alluded yesterday to the sexual subtext of Dracula. Much of it is to do with sexually repressed English Victorian morality and the story plays upon a latent cultural fear of sex. It uses the mysterious and, to the English at the time, less civilised Eastern Europe as a place that, outside the watchful eye of English morality, the inherent darkness of human sexuality and sin may fester and come to full bloom. Next to the carnal power of the vampire, the English woman swoons helplessly and the English man is shown to be impotent when it comes to preventing his women from falling under the charm of Dracula and impotent when, well, when it comes to it, shall we say. A fascinating thing about Werner Herzog's 1979 Nosferatu is how dramatically it changes this subtext.

Herzog's film is a remake of Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu, an adaptation of Dracula which, due to copyright issues, had several alterations made to its plot and characters renamed. Herzog reverted to character names from Stoker's novel, but so much of the plot of his film is identical to Murnau's and Herzog even paid homage to individual shots.

It seems to me, in addition to honouring the visual achievement of Murnau's film, Herzog endeavoured to enlarge upon something Murnau might have done on accident in his attempt to make the plot of his film sufficiently different from the novel. This is the matter of Dracula's destruction at the end--instead of the men pursuing Dracula to his home and carving him up, the Count in Nosferatu is defeated by Ellen who sacrifices herself in order to distract the Count until sunrise.

Perhaps this has much to do with 1897 London of Dracula being replaced in Nosferatu with the German city of Wismar in 1838, a time and place less influenced by Victorian morality. Count Orlok's famous look--bald head, bruised, wide eyes, hunched back, overgrown nails and prominent front teeth--is not what most people would call sexually alluring. The focus here is more on vampirism as a disease, and is tied to a plague Orlok brings with him from Transylvania via hundreds of rats, something not featured in the book.

One of the earmarks of a Werner Herzog film is a shot like this;

Few filmmakers would be crazy enough to actually release hundreds of rats into a city, as he clearly actually did. Even fewer would resort to boiling the rats in order to dye them the desired shade of grey, as Herzog did. I doubt this film had PETA approval.

Anyway, sexuality isn't absent from Nosferatu, and Herzog furthers the subtextual implications the end of the Murnau film introduced. Van Helsing, who has a relatively minor presence in Murnau's film but is still more or less the same character as he is in the novel, becomes in Herzog's film a weak and waffling gentleman, dully repeating how everything must be explained scientifically and fails to acknowledge and react to the vampire threat. Jonathan, who returns home a devoted husband in Murnau's film, comes home infected with the vampiric disease in Herzog's film and appears not to recognise his wife. All this leaves Lucy (for some reason the Mina character is named Lucy in Herzog's version) as the bona fide heroine of the story.

And, gods, Isabelle Adjani as Lucy is gorgeous. More than just sacrificing herself out of a simple hearted purity, Lucy's forced to take the assertive role of investigator when the whole rest of the town has given up on trying to fight the plague. Rather than a lamb to a slaughter, one gets the impression of an intellect embarking on a final, fatal mission.

Jonathan, after succumbing to vampirism, doesn't seem exactly impotent. Both he and Dracula seem more like passive aggressive, petulant children ruled by their lusts. While Jonathan claims not to recognise Lucy, there's a strange menace in the way he says, "Who are you, how did we meet?" as though the demon in him knows perfectly well but delights in keeping the emotional barrier between them. Dracula, under the weight of centuries, tiredly begs Lucy for her love, never much seeming to physically threaten. Yet obviously the plague he's brought is a pretty big tool of extortion.

The menace here isn't sexuality but physical intimacy without emotional intimacy. This is neatly represented both by disease and by the men.

Twitter Sonnet #318

Foil candy corn drills splinter on stone.
Secret granite pates pulse the topsoil.
Fingernail two side dice fall on flat bone.
Retained old vomit's begun to spoil.
Tulip stitches sew sallow plates of flesh.
For days meat inside's been sadly humming.
Perhaps purity comes years after fresh.
Bruised lids shade paths of the pupils coming.
Blackened broccoli branches clutch the down moon.
Emerald drops pin feathers to a red throat.
Nothing in particular asks how soon.
Batman's busy pummelling a dust mote.
Rats when boiled behave desperately rash.
Self-conscious parasites whither to ash.

Belated happy birthday to Natalie.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

He's the Neighbourhood Vampire

I'd say, by a considerable margin, the 1958 adaptation of Dracula is the worst I've seen. I certainly haven't seen all adaptations--I've seen Murnau's Nosferatu, Todd Browning's version with Bela Lugosi, Werner Herzog's remake of Nosferatu, and the Francis Ford Coppola version, which is my favourite. But all those films excel at atmosphere and at putting together a world where the vampire's spells seem terribly powerful and threaten to crush the poor human protagonists. There's also a satisfying resonance with the dark side of human sexuality. The 1958 Hammer film has none of this.

I'm surprised, too, as I've enjoyed the other Hammer films I've seen and it was my understanding that their Dracula series, which began with the 1958 film, was kind of their signature line. But while Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee give perfectly respectable performances, the greatest actors can't do much without good material. This is a movie that seems to have the express goal of draining tension and wonder from the story in as many ways as possible. We begin with Jonathan Harker journeying apparently only a few miles from his home city in Romania or a city close to the Romanian border--there's no explanation given as to why so many people with English names are living in this unnamed city. The whole underlying issue of xenophobia is gone from the story, and along with it much of the scope. Not to mention the connexion between the fear of unknown, foreign culture and unexplored sexuality.

Christopher Lee plays Dracula with his normal English accent and plays him rather straight. When Harker arrives, in this version to take on a job as Dracula's librarian with the secret mission to destroy Dracula, the Count coolly shows Harker to his room and they exchange casual conversation and formalities. No cute little "I never drink wine" double entendres, absolutely no sense of dread, just a tall guy wearing a cape in a big house. Fittingly, the vampires in this movie don't seem to have any particular powers, not even super strength. They just seem to be long lived, ageless people who are killed by sunlight and stakes through the heart and who drink blood. If it weren't for the longevity, vampirism here would seem to be little more than an impairment. I laughed out loud when they realised at the end how Dracula was getting into the Holmwood house--he was hiding in the little cellar where his coffin was sitting right out in the open.

I imagined an unfilmed scene of Dracula tip-toeing into the house through the servants' entrance with the big coffin on his back.

Cushing as Van Helsing shows up around twenty minutes in and quickly becomes the calm, cool centre of the movie, obliterating tension. Michael Gough as Arthur Holmwood manages to carry some of the fear, but when he incessantly argues with Van Helsing at the beginning for absolutely no apparent reason, his part is neutralised a bit, too. It's no wonder Christopher Lee only kept coming back to the role because he felt blackmailed, according to Wikipedia. I would like to see the German film where he plays Dracula alongside Klaus Kinski as Renfield. It doesn't look easy to get a hold of, though. Though not as hard as this rather intriguing film;

Friday, October 28, 2011

Something is Walking

I suppose it's a well known fact that Christopher Lee has a persuasive claim to the title of baddest motherfucker of all time. Not only has he had a long career of playing great movie villains, he was also in the Special Operations Executive, a secret British force of guerrilla fighters in World War II. One can only guess what exactly Lee did in his capacity as an agent, but in the special features for Return of the King, we learned that when Peter Jackson directed Lee to scream when he was stabbed in the back Lee said to Jackson, "Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody's stabbed in the back? Because I do."

Just over a decade later, Lee appeared as his first of many memorable movie monsters, the Frankenstein monster in The Curse of Frankenstein. Although apparently there was some pressure for this film, the first of the famous Hammer series of horror films, to not in any way be a remake of the Universal movies of the 1930s, it nevertheless bears a greater fundamental resemblance to those than to Mary Shelley's original novel. Most unfortunately, perhaps, in the fact that Lee plays a monster incapable of speech. It would have been great to see Lee in the role of that consummate lost soul reflection of Frankenstein and humanity in general, yet Lee does somehow accomplish quite a lot here with very little.

Lee's a very restrained actor--in an interview on the Hammer Hound of the Baskervilles DVD, he contrasted his philosophy of acting with that of Peter Cushing, who according to Lee liked to act with his body as much as possible, while Lee preferred to endeavour to convey as much as he could while moving as little as possible. Perhaps this subtlety is why I found myself studying his take on the monster in a very engaged way--I wasn't thinking about why Lee was choosing to perform in a certain way, I was trying to understand what was going on in this strange consciousness animating the patchwork corpse. Was he in some way the man from whose body Frankenstein had taken the brain and was his aberrant behaviour due to the damage the brain had sustained, or was the monster a new creature altogether? Lee's performance suggests so much, but only enough to leave us disturbed at how in the dark we are.

The nature and extent of the monster's humanity is scarcely addressed by Frankenstein and his colleague, Paul. Cushing as the Baron Frankenstein is consumed with the single minded purpose of bringing the corpse to life, and we don't get much of him analysing the cognitive faculties of his creation. He commits murder to get what he wants, and for some reason ignores his gorgeous wife and the bosom her costumes seem constantly to offer up with an almost audible, "Here, hold these, will you?"

For some reason Victor prefers to sleep with the comparatively less attractive maid, perhaps making him an ancestor of Arnold Schwarzenegger. This leads eventually to him finding it necessary to dispose of the unfortunate maid, and yet he's still a far more sympathetic character than Paul, who may be the most annoying Good Guy in film history. His presence seems entirely to be devoted to popping up to argue with Victor and delay anything fun from happening throughout the movie. His smug righteousness makes Commander Riker seem humble by comparison.

The Curse of Frankenstein isn't as beautiful as the films of the 1930s, but is a more effective horror film. Not for any cheap shock scares, but for the sense of chaos and dread that accumulates from the unthinking ruthlessness of the characters and from the understated, somnambulant prison one senses the monster is in. While it doesn't explore the themes as satisfyingly and thoroughly as Shelley's novel, it does effectively introduce something of what's frightening about the mysterious nature of human consciousness.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Doing What Gods Do

Elsa Lanchester was the best thing in Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein together. Playing both Mary Shelley and the bride of the second movie, she's so pretty and with an understated feverish zeal in her eyes, you can see Dr. Frankenstein in there. Though I do like Boris Karloff as the monster. Dr. Frankenstein and his fiancée Elizabeth at times seem to exist in another movie of quaint, wholesome 1930s run of the mill romance, which makes the monsters come off as curiously more honest and timeless.

But I love Valerie Hobson as the fiancée in the second film leaning over Dr. Frankenstein with her sheer, low cut gown, responding to his expressed desire to tread in God's domain by saying, "Henry, don't say those things, don't think them! It's blasphemous and wicked!" with her stilted, ultra perfect, early studio talkie English pronunciation.

The costumes in the second movie are an extraordinary improvement over the first film--even madam's full body wrappings had chic shoulder pads;

But both had some decent German Expressionist shadows. The monster in the graveyard is pure, distilled Halloween aesthetic.

I watched the two movies together because they kind of seem like just one movie--both are only just over an hour long, and the first one feels like little more than a preview. The second movie brings in about a teaspoon of what makes the novel so great, but on the whole, the movies are a cheap, fun little haunted house while the novel is a lush Science Fiction character drama. I certainly can't say the second movie didn't flatter Mary Shelley, though.

Twitter Sonnet #317

Magnets use elevated bath water.
Charcoal paper fragments stick in the frame.
Zebra tongues loll out the endless blotter.
Neon bananas are the price of fame.
The wheat needles can't say which way to sew.
Warm noodles assume arm roles throughout town.
Hollow towers then carelessly cry "Oh".
Thinly wired catapults skitter down.
Night chips cash in for a reckless salsa.
Ron Howard shows a toupee gallery.
Sour cream and snow burnish the casa.
Antennae triple larval salary.
Lettuce illumed by lamp stole a surgeon.
Organ eyebrows wetly wrap the pigeon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Metal Life

It was impossible not to think of Nine Inch Nails when watching Tetsuo: The Iron Man, particularly Pretty Hate Machine, the debut Nine Inch Nails album, which came out in 1989, the same year as Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Though I also thought of "Ruiner", a song off the third Nine Inch Nails album, when the main character of Tetsuo's penis turns into a power drill. This has some inevitable consequences for his love life, as one might imagine.

The Wikipedia entry lays out a synopsis for a pretty clear plot I only just partially perceived from the film myself. What I did take from what I saw as a sort of disjointed exhibition of people and chaotic technology was an impression of a dreamer whose life is dominated by two warring concepts, both of which terrify him; technology and physiology. I had no idea while I was watching the movie that the metal fetishist we see at the beginning was the same guy who was stalking the main, unnamed, character. I didn't know it was this main character who had hit the metal fetishist with a car at the beginning.

We saw a guy sticking a big piece of metal into his thigh and when for some reason it became instantly infested with maggots, we saw him running out into the street in a panic. When he's putting the metal in his leg, we hear what sounds like industrial rock. When he's hit by the car, we get lingering, swinging close-up shots of headlights while hearing faux Fats Domino, old fashioned light rhythm and blues rock. Which seemed to me like a contrast between mentally deranged technology and familiar, comforting technology. From here we see a guy with glasses having spasms while the opening credits roll. Whether the Wikipedia entry is right in saying that this was the guy driving the car, I really can't confirm.

I was struck more by how we later see the guy with glasses, the main character, in a subway, sitting next to a quiet businesswoman as he apparently has an anxiety attack. Since she seems to slowly be taken over by technology until she becomes a cyborg who pursues him, I read it as a fear of women with the strangeness of the technology representing the sinister, unknown aspects of women he fears. These alien qualities are for the man, or the dreamer from whose POV we see this movie, conflated with other frightening aspects of the world that manifest in possessed technology taking over other things, including the man himself.

Obvious influences were David Cronenberg's Videodrome and David Lynch's Eraserhead--both directors are mentioned in the poster pictured in Wikipedia. But the high contrast black and white also reminded me of Carl Dreyer and Fritz Lang. The women who frighten the main character certainly reminded me of the machine woman in Metropolis.

There's a more cartoonish quality, a sort of zaniness, particularly near the end, in Tetsuo that none of those movies have. The movie's only an hour long and it kind of loses the rawness of impact it has for most of the film by the end. But for the most part it works as a grotesque, long music video. I mean, it does rock. With machine beats and frenetic editing. I see there are two sequels and that Trent Reznor wrote a song for the last movie, which seems rather appropriate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Elementary Webs

Now that's what I call Halloween weather. Well, the exposure setting on my camera's lying, actually, it looked more like this to-day;

Feeling pretty groggy, but not as out of it as yesterday. There's been a lot of noise around here for some reason and I think the erosion of my sleep is getting to me. Anyway, I went through school yesterday like the Frankenstein monster through a storeroom of precariously stacked metal kitchenware. There was a test in my Interpersonal Communication class and I realised only as I was driving home that I simply forgot to answer the last question. I knew the answer, I simply failed to answer it for no apparent reason. It was a written response test and I'd already done a lot of scratching out of words I'd misspelled or written twice. The thing's probably a mess.

I haven't started my Halloween week of horror films yet, I probably will to-night. Yesterday was just TV shows--I watched the second episode of Sherlock, which was a lot better than I thought it would be considering it was written by Steve Thompson, who wrote the extraordinarily dull and unimaginative Doctor Who episode "The Curse of the Black Spot".

I see now that Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss is aiming for more of a superhero Holmes than we saw in the original stories. According to this article;

Recent television versions, Gatiss fears, have been too reverential and too slow. Instead he and Moffat have adopted "the magpie approach" to the canon, like the screenwriters behind his favourite Basil Rathbone films of the 1940s.

He's probably not talking about the Hallmark produced Matt Frewer series--I'm taking it he disliked the Jeremy Brett series. That does kind of rile me a little, but I can see the fun in the Basil Rathbone-esque Holmes, as the Sherlock version seems to be.

I also watched Sunday's Boardwalk Empire, which is my favourite so far this season. My favourite part was when Eli explained to his deputy that he'd killed "Mayor Pickford" and the deputy replied, "You killed Mary Pickford?!" I also like how Margaret and her servant seem to be competing on who can wake up in the middle of the night with the more improbably great hair.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"I Mixed with Other Colours but the Nurse doesn't Care"

The Pythons and Ingmar Bergman independently came up with the same joke, I think. Though it's possible the Pythons had seen Wild Strawberries when they wrote the above sketch, I suppose. Anyway, I laughed at the scene in Wild Strawberries when two young men arguing over the existence of God devolve to fisticuffs, and return to the car where their young female companion coyly asks, "Well? Does God exist?" and both men sullenly look away.

Both the sketch and the bit from the film seem to be pointing to the absurdity of debating such an irresolvable topic. But of course, whether God exists is a question that drives Bergman's films for years to come. Made in 1957, Wild Strawberries is the oldest Bergman movie I've seen, coming before The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence, the movie doesn't seem quite as tormented by the question, though it's certainly there. Wild Strawberries is more about the value of a certain unquestioning decency and love for life that may or may not be viable without faith.

The movie centres on Isak, an elderly professor portrayed by Victor Sjöström. The three young people I mentioned are picked up by Isak and his daughter in law, Marianne, on their way to Lund University where Isak is to be honoured for his achievements--the bulk of the movie follows their journey, making it, like The Seventh Seal, sort of a road movie. Though some of the episodes along the way consist entirely of Isak's recollections or dreams.

Bibi Andersson plays both the young woman accompanied by the two young men and, in Isak's recollections, the great love of his life who ended up marrying his brother. Something about the bittersweet quality of Isak's recollections reminded me of James Joyce's "The Dead"--there's definitely a sense of the pain he feels at how out of reach the past is, and yet by the end he says in narration it's the comfort he draws from recollections that make his life bearable. We see him at peace also when he quotes a poem about God to the two arguing young men, and there's a conflict set up between fear of death, which is related to the possibility that there's no God, and the pleasure of the senses, which is marred by preoccupations about the uncertainty of death.

This is kind of the opposite perspective to what one sees nowadays--just a week or two ago I read an article by a doctor talking about how certain injuries resulting from head trauma had proved to him that what he considers to be the soul is an entirely physiological thing. He concluded by saying that this is how it should be, as this makes life more precious. This seemed pretty flimsy to me in the face of the horror he'd just described. It's like someone arguing that having no healthcare builds character.

I'm an agnostic* myself, I guess because I too see the absurdity of trying to have a rational argument about God, but it doesn't mean I have to like the idea of ceasing to exist when I'm dead.

Twitter Sonnet #316

Eyes of the tired pipe organ chamber
See disproportionate rabbit ire.
Puppy dreams retch hair throat scratched night timbre.
Nothing about the pumpkin is dire.
Unstable foam carts wheel down a stone hill.
Cardigan sky snuggles cumulus belch.
Commandments sag over the newborn will.
Paper horizons recall Raquel Welch.
Metal pinups creak across a facade.
Conducive rubber nets hide under leaves.
Impressively loud balloons imply God.
Scarecrow innards are conducted in sheaves.
Ping pong paddles are brought to sacred ground.
Rifles wilt when the green woman's around.

*No, I don't mean to say I'm an atheist. There's this argument going around lately that agnostics should call themselves atheists because by not choosing to say God does or does not exist you don't actively believe in God and that you're therefore an a-theist. I find this rationale useless, because it means whenever I'd identify myself as "atheist" I'd have to distinguish between being the sort of atheist who's decided there's no God and the sort who won't say one way or another. The movement seems designed to close ranks among the non-religious which goes back to the absurdity of the argument. Sorry, I'm not wearing anyone's colours, I'm not going to war. I'm sticking with agnostic.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vader's Colonial Holdings

The outfit my avatar wore to yesterday's chess tournament. It's by Caverna Obscura. The picture was taken in the sim where Evie's Closet is located. It kind of looks like it would be a nice chess sim, doesn't it? Sadly none of the SL chess sims are much to look at.

Dressed for Halloween, obviously. I think I'm going to watch only horror movies, or movies that could arguably be horror movies from a reasonable point of view, between now and Halloween. Feel free to recommend one to me if you'd like to see me write about it here.

Last night I watched Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, though. I'm not quite up to writing about it--I'm too grouchy and resentful after being buried under a pile of homework to-day, mainly my history midterm, which was a five page essay. Mine ended up being something like 4.3 pages. I'm not going to pad it out, I don't even want to look at it anymore. I hate the prompts in that class. For this, we were supposed to describe American imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and argue either in favour of or opposition to the imperialism. I didn't think it was a simple enough topic to be confined to a thumbs up or thumbs down response, and I said as much in my essay. I quoted Mark Twain talking about how he thought the U.S. conflict in Cuba was a righteous war and how strongly he was against the annexation of the Philippines. I'm so tired of these classes. I don't think my essay's very good, and I'm annoyed I'm not writing a better one, it's just I'm more annoyed about having to write it in the first place.

It's kind of weird how little attention the end of the Iraq War is getting. In addition to saving the lives and the mental health of a lot of American soldiers, maybe it'll save a few billion dollars a month and help the U.S. economy.

I was also watching Return of the Jedi: Classic Edition last night. No, that's not the official title, it's just what I call it because I think it's the title that would piss off George Lucas the most. Though, when it comes to Return of the Jedi, I'm not sure I mind the revisions as much. That movie, in its classic form, is already sort of like the prequels. Better performances, sure, drawing from better characterisation established in early films, though dropping the ball on so many of the things started in the first two films. I've talked about this before--things like Vader's motives getting more two dimensional than in Empire Strikes Back, the seduction of the dark side not really happening, and the general flattening of Luke, Han, and Leia's characters. Part of me, I guess the part that likes to attach massive significance to the impact of the Star Wars movies, wonders if the failure of Return of the Jedi to answer questions posed by The Empire Strikes Back reflects or even contributed to a spiritual rot in American society. Like if we're ever going to be able to mobilise on environmental, civil, and economic issues I wonder if we're going to need a movie satisfactorily explaining why the Empire was wrong and the Rebellion was right. Why the cold efficiency of the Empire isn't preferable to the awkward and vulnerable Han, Luke, and Leia.

Anyway, I'm not sure if "Lapti Nek" is a better song than "Jedi Rocks" or if I just prefer it for nostalgic reasons.

"Lapti Nek" is sexier, rougher. It makes me want to fuck Oola more somehow. "Jedi Rocks" seems more like kid's music. Which may have been the idea, I guess.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Largest Loony Bin

As the world greets Batman: Arkham City, I've just started playing its predecessor, Arkham Asylum, mainly because it was $9.99 on Steam this past week. With every new game costing between forty and sixty dollars on any platform, there's no way I can hope to stay current on video games, though it is nice that there seems to be so many people doing commentated play-throughs of games on YouTube. I recently watched one of Tim's favourites', The Yogscast's, coverage of Dead Island, because I had to write an essay on the game's commercial for my English class. My thesis was kind of on how the graphic and sort of depressing vignette of the little girl getting killed, turned into a zombie, and getting killed again was validation for the potential player and that's why the game sold so well despite bearing little tonal resemblance to that trailer. It was nice I didn't have to play it.

Anyway, I quite like Arkham Asylum so far. It's a different experience after playing sandbox games like Oblivion and the new Fallout games--I haven't played such a linear game in a long time. In the sandbox games, there's a million ways to kill a boss. In Arkham Asylum, you're always going to kill Bane by throwing batarangs at his face while he charges at you, dodging him, then tearing out his venom tubes once he's been dazed by a sufficient number of batarangs. Which is not to say it's not a challenge or that it's not fun. It's both of those things. There's something liberating about swinging up to the ceiling and waiting to slowly and stealthily pick off five guys with machine guns without having to worry about one or some of them deciding to leave the room or spotting you because, after all, you're just above their heads and the bat-grapple does make a great deal of noise. There are times when I miss the freedom of creative playing, as when I'm clearly meant to sneak past three armed guards and I said, "Fuck it, I'm Batman, I'm taking them down." I must have died fifty times trying before I sullenly slunk back to script.

But the gameplay is really fun. I don't feel so hemmed in--I get genuine delight out of Batman's melee combos and gliding down from the rafters to silently take an enemy from behind. The gorgeous graphics and atmosphere contribute a great deal to this and writer Paul Dini created dialogue that's not unintentionally funny and doesn't annoy me, high marks for video game dialogue. Though I hope he's not the guy who decided Arkham Asylum was built by some guy named "Amadeus Arkham", I hope it was already part of Batman lore.

Oh, I see Grant Morrison's to blame. I don't know, maybe it shouldn't bug me. But how many people were really named Amadeus in the past couple hundred years? It sounds too much like an old fashioned name someone reached for because they don't know many old fashioned names. And Arkham, a name which comes from a fictional city created by H.P. Lovecraft--it still sounds like a place name to me, like it was short for Ark Hamlet at some point. Though I guess there are lots of last names that end in "ham". Something about Amadeus Arkham just doesn't scan for me, I don't know why.

I do like the lines Dini gives Joker, as when he threatens to drop an elevator while Batman's in it like "a sack of puppies."

This comes right before the encounter with Scarecrow, which got very American McGee's Alice. It was cool, though I kind of wonder, since I beat a massive hallucination of Scarecrow, how Batman actually beat Scarecrow. Was he drooling and flailing his arms around until he got lucky?

Really, though, the only thing I genuinely dislike about Arkham Asylum is it force feeds me proto-cloud gaming. This is the future, or anyway it's the future game publishers want. Games that exist more or entirely on servers they own that we just tap into. I guess the eventual result would not be unlike Second Life, though presumably with less load time. The main point is to combat piracy, of course. I'm old fashioned, I still like having my hardcopies and being able to play single player games even without an Internet connexion. But Fallout: New Vegas actually required me to install Steam, the most prominent proto-cloud gaming service, even though I bought it in a store. And Steam has to be running whenever I play New Vegas, which isn't so bad since Steam at least has an offline mode. But Arkham Asylum, which I got through Steam since that seemed to be the only way I could get the $9.99 deal (was this what Herman Cain was talking about?), also required me to have a Windows Live account in order to save my game. I can play the game, but somehow I'm to believe this function games have had since the original Nintendo system can't be had in Arkham Asylum unless I'm plugged into some social network I don't give a shit about. Who knows what "achievements" and bullshit it's publishing to my arbitrarily assigned profile. I'm planning on getting Skyrim when it comes out next month, half of me expects I'll have to sign up for some other thing foisted on me. What happens when the parent companies of these things go out of business? Am I going to be able to play these games anymore? I suppose they'd consider it a good thing if I couldn't lest old games make me hesitate before buying new ones. At this rate, people are going to feel they have to pirate games. I foresee cloud server emulators at some point for certain. Yeah, you don't see that kind of thing much for Second Life or MMORPGs because those things are by nature communal, but they're nuts if they think people are going to stand for this when it comes to single player games. We can live without anonymously broadcasting the same scripted achievements everyone gets who plays the game, thank you.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bee Week Draws to a Close

Not my best week of amateur photography. These are the best four I got.

I haven't had time to watch much over the past few days. I've almost finished the first season of Arrested Development, which hit its stride at the eighth episode, "In God We Trust", written by Abraham Higgenbotham. He seems to have brought an effective template of dovetailed running gags the show seems to have kept thereafter.

I also watched the newest Boardwalk Empire, "What Does the Bee Do?" earlier in the week. Not bad--I really loved the scene where the Commodore has a stroke when Gillian, pretending to be a naked Diana, shoots him with a toy bow. Otherwise the episode was mostly just plot. Richard taking off his mask to pose for Angela's painting didn't make sense, and it seemed like they were just finding an excuse to have him take off his mask.

Twitter Sonnet #315

Timid skyscrapers brush lightly the smog.
Grey dollars dribble down gaseous chin.
Pirate souls vomit for want of ghost grog.
Muffin top covers the recycling bin.
Gravely told anecdotes have authorised
Atomic deployment of spiked citrus.
So youth's excitement has been cauterised
By a mint moustache alphabet circus.
Tinsel shivers around the carousel.
Silent horse shadows drift up a gold pike.
Nocturnal sunbathers choose Duracell.
Censored velvet paintings crippled the bike.
Muted phones glaze an anonymous back.
Terraformed red yarn balls will soon go slack.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Art Under the Nervous Dust

I just spent almost all day preparing to vacuum and then vacuuming my room. I don't know how long it's been since the last time I vacuumed, but I uncovered a Comic-Con badge from 2008. I really don't think it's been that long. There were also a bunch of cards and sample comics I picked up, including kind of a funny one for a webcomic called Dar that I see now published its final strip in 2009. It can't really have been that long since I vacuumed.

Actually, reading that strip now, Dar seems kind of dull. It seems to be by the sort of writer who thinks that all it takes for an important event in their life to be interesting to the public is that it's made available for the public to read. It reminds me of what I saw last night.

Every now and then, I try to take steps towards not being a reclusive misanthrope. I look for Things with People that I Might Participate In. My English teacher told the class about something called "The Lester Bangs Memorial Reading" which was happening after class last night. Lester Bangs was an important music critic in the 1970s--he was portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous. Otherwise, I didn't know much about him. It turns out he went to Grossmont Community college, the same school I'm currently going to, and the faculty seem to be proud of him. Or something.

I wasn't sure I really wanted to go, but the girl in the Sylvester McCoy hat I'd been talking to was going with her boyfriend, and she and I were still talking and walking after class and my car happened to be in the same direction. At some point during the walking, the Happen to Be Walking in the Same Direction turned into Why the Hell Not See the Reading, pretty much for the instinct to drift away from misanthropy I mentioned. I figured at worst I'd be exposed to the work of one of the more influential music critics of the past fifty years, which didn't seem so bad. After all, I think I kind of liked Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous, though I kept saying the picture of Bangs in the flyer looked more like Terry Jones.

Now I think about it, he kind of looks like a cross between Terry Jones and Graham Chapman.

So by now you can probably tell I was under the foolish impression that "The Lester Bangs Memorial Reading" would consist at least in part of readings from the works of Lester Bangs. Oh . . . no. It did not. We saw a brief clip of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous before the real event began, which was a student reading. As in, two students read short stories they'd written. Okay, I'm an asshole. I'm so sorry. I am. I can't help it. But after four years as an editor on the college literary magazine, I'm well past the point where I recognised even the best of student short fiction is soul crushing to read or hear read. Not necessarily because it's bad, but because you can hear so many of the practices they've been encouraged to pursue by networks of teachers and fellow students. Hell, I could hear it in the laughter in the crowd when one of the students came to a part of his story where he described a night of drinking and partying during the South by Southwest Music Festival as "the real stimulus plan."

The only really decent part of the guy's story was a bit where he was driving with his indie record label producer friend and he talked about the frightening, uncertain future. There was some real feeling there, but it was buried under faux Hunter S. Thompson, mannered rhetoric. Most signifying was when he described a bit of partying as "beyond Hunter S. Thompson." Of course it is. Because why would it be worth talking about if it's not the greatest thing ever. The first story was even more narcissistic--it was about how the guy had discovered The Grateful Dead was not a metal band and then discovered that he liked early Santana albums. It amounted to, at best, an amusing anecdote. It's not something you write down and read in front of a room full of people, even if they are laughing and seem to be listening with rapt attention.

How do people eat up this tripe? I suppose it's all part of the mutually self-sustaining aspiration machine. You know who wouldn't have been eating it up? Lester Bangs.

I've been reading his work to-day. A lot of it's kind of great. Sure, a lot of it is the cheap cynicism of entertaining criticism. But he also knew how to write--I love this piece he wrote about a band called The Shaggs. He describes their guitar style as, "sorta like 14 pocket combs being run through a moose's dorsal, but very gently."

I don't know if I'd say they're better than The Beatles, but I can see why Bangs liked them. Somehow they survived the world that takes the outstretched hand of expression and twists it around to make people poke themselves in the eyes. They're sincere, they're not shadows of themselves.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cells of Youth

You don't need a lot of words to discuss silence. There's very little dialogue in Victor Erice's 1973 film The Spirit of the Bee Hive. The film seems mainly to exist in the quiet of its many still, lingering and beautiful shots through which six year old Ana wanders.

A lot of these beautiful shots are of open, seemingly endless Castilian fields, yet the impression we get of Ana's world is that it's small and stifling. Her family's not terribly communicative--her father takes Ana and her sister at one point to the woods to pick mushrooms, but mostly he seems busy at his occupation as a beekeeper and writing about bees. The film's title, and much of its aesthetic, suggest the world the people in habit mirror the life of the bees somehow.

Perhaps it's in how automatically and emotionlessly the characters seem to be moving through life. Ana's mother is having an affair and rarely talks, either--mostly Ana's only companion is her sister Isobel who uses her sister's absolute trust in her to pull pranks and torment the younger girl. At the beginning of the movie, the two attend a screening of the 1931 Frankenstein--the film is set in 1940, just after Franco's dictatorship has taken control of Spain. This, along with the fact that film focuses on a little girl, reminded me of Pan's Labyrinth. The use of mythological elements and how they manifest from the perspective of a young girl also contributed to the similarity, but while Guillermo del Toro's film, though keeping it ostensibly subjective, seems to lean towards the idea that the mystical elements the child experiences are in fact real, The Spirit of the Beehive seems to lean in the opposite direction.

When Ana wants to know why the monster killed the little girl and also why the monster was killed in Frankenstein, she begs her sister to explain. Isobel, who perhaps doesn't herself understand, tells her sister that movies lie and that really neither the girl nor the monster was killed. The monster, Isobel explains, is really a spirit who takes corporeal form only for people who know him, and one such person, she tells Ana, is Isobel herself.

This sets up an interesting visual tale of a girl seeking an elusive spirit whose monstrousness she seems to identify with. The spirit temporarily takes form for her--in reality a fugitive Republican soldier. But their interactions are brief and wordless.

The Wikipedia entry talks about how this film is subtly critical of the Franco regime and how all this is a metaphor for the state of affairs in Spain with Ana representing the people--everything told metaphorically in order to slip past the censors. The Wikipedia entry mentions how Viridiana did the same thing. They're lucky I wasn't on the board of censors who viewed Viridiana because that one was such an astonishingly obvious political allegory I'm really amazed to hear it got past any censors, but The Spirit of the Beehive, I had no idea there was anything remotely political in it until I read about it later. I did think it was strange a film set in 1940 Spain didn't show many signs of the Civil War, but I didn't even realise the Republican soldier was a Republican soldier until I read about it later.

And as for Ana and her family representing different aspects of Spanish society, that may well be, but I think it's much to the film's credit that their story seems to embody something so much more, something so fundamental.