Sunday, September 30, 2012

More than Living

He tells Susan Hayward the appeal of riding rodeo is, "maybe something you can't explain to a woman." But to take the perspective on sex out of it, what Robert Mitchum, in 1952's The Lusty Men, means is maybe you can't explain it to someone practical. For a space of time rarely exceeding ten seconds, he and his fellow rodeo performers risk their necks because, "For a little bit there you're a lot more than you are walking down the street, eating or sleeping." The movie might otherwise be a straightforward cautionary tale of trading a stable, happy living situation for an unpredictable and dangerous but fulfilling career except for the incredible coolness of Robert Mitchum. When he talks about riding rodeo, he talks about it from the apparent perspective of someone who's attained a rare peace and insight into the universe, almost single-handedly giving this film its very nice thematic depth and complexity.

Susan Hayward more than ably presents the other side of the coin, as Louise, a woman who grew up poor and made it the sole focus of her life to create a stable home where she didn't have to worry about where the food's coming from, where she could have simple luxuries like silk stockings and a nice dress. This life appealed to her so much that she carefully chose a husband based on whether or not he was a man who could realise her dream and less upon actual love between them--he's played with a sort of dumb innocence by Arthur Kennedy.

But when they run across rodeo star Jeff McCloud (Mitchum), now a drifter due to a broken leg, Wes (Kennedy) is bitten by the rodeo bug and his eyes light up with the ambition of being a rodeo rider. And the life goes to his head --in spite of all of it, Louise stands by him and what seemed to be a marriage of convenience is really more complicated. Halfway through the movie, I doubt anyone doesn't detest Wes as he thinks nothing of hanging around a flirtatious blonde in front of his wife, leaving his wife at home and going to parties with another woman, who Hayward has a lovely catfight with.

In a way, though, this is why Louise cast her lot with Wes--he's dumb and easily influenced. By contrast, the rodeo is portrayed as a world where men are in charge of things. Repeatedly throughout the movie, riding in the rodeo is compared to sex--a couple of guys who spy on Louise sleeping in a car talk about a "filly" that needs the right kind of man to ride her. Several times in the movie, men directly describe riding a horse or a bull as being like handling a woman.

But the idea of a conflict between man's paradigm, the rodeo, and woman's paradigm, the home, is broken down by Mitchum's character. He falls in love with Louise, despite her unshakable commitment to roping Wes, and its in this we see something nobler in his pursuit for self fulfilment than dominating another being to fit his dream--he's willing to sacrifice his ego. Rejected, he goes back to the rodeo, despite not being in shape for it. When Hayward, stunned, learns the news, she disagrees with a girl who says it's because Jeff wants to prove something to himself or to Wes or to anyone, but she can't articulate to herself Jeff's motivation her intuition makes her certain of.

Twitter Sonnet #431

Hibiscus scales conceal strawberry tats.
Ordinary noodles drop diligence.
Yellowed parchment panics all the packrats.
Rolls resistance to strength's intelligence.
Domino millstone Tammany Halls dim.
Allocated capo pillows deflate.
Nervous marbles screech on the silver rim.
Acute air tight funnels failed to debate.
Posing pumpkin light kindles the false squash.
Ghouls too green for the orange brain should recede.
Cherry blossoms trace Hieronymus Bosch.
Frightened sugars are too smug to concede.
Himalayan dreams rend the blue blood nun.
Even moons think they're too close to the sun.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Inert for the Taking

Well, the Ponds are gone and, don't take this the wrong way, but I have to say . . . finally. To-day's episode of Doctor Who, "The Angels Take Manhattan", isn't a bad episode but it brought back to me again the feeling I first got with "Asylum of the Daleks", that the show is long overdue for a change.

The presence of the Weeping Angels, and the episode calling back to Weeping Angel story elements we haven't seen since their introductory episode, "Blink", emphasise this. "Blink" worked so well, it was a crazily inventive ride. It was a chain of seemingly fearless story elements that worked very well--a Doctor "light" episode, where the main character is a guest star, the funny gimmicks like the Doctor speaking to her through the television that add together in a satisfyingly clever and sinister way, all of it helped by a relaxed, considerate pace that has become sadly uncharacteristic of the show.

The New York environment does add some juice to the story, actually involving the Angels' power of sending people back in time with the mechanics of the story was nice and there are some nice, moody moments. River's in the episode being slightly less annoying than she usually is, but still pretty annoying. I guess a lot of people like her, but every time she shows up I feel a little like someone I don't know has wandered into my house and made herself comfortable and after seeing her sporadically over about a year I still don't know her any better, yet she acts like not only do I know her but she's clearly the best thing since sliced bread. As I've said before, she began as an intriguing concept that never really managed to get off the ground.

Though I think the best moment in the episode involves the breaking of River's wrist--no, not because I hate her so much I want to break her bones--but there's a moment where the Doctor makes a sacrifice that he thinks will please everyone but ends up just pissing off River and Amy. That, with the business with the gravestones being a not quite but close to distant second, was the most emotionally interesting moment in the episode for me. There was a lovely bit of business at the very end that was sabotaged by slow motion running and overdone music. I do wish the show would cultivate a lighter touch. Sometimes it's like pretty sonnets read VERY SLOWLY through a loud speaker turned up so high that the sound's bleeding over itself, obscuring the content. Can't we trust people to have emotions anymore?

I hope the new companion reinvigorates the show. She certainly felt like a breath of fresh air in "Asylum of the Daleks". Otherwise, I hope Steven Moffat hands the show off soon. If I could have anyone I wanted in charge of the show (aside from myself, of course), I would really, really like to see Neil Gaiman have a few seasons. If not that, I hope at least he's the one writing the fiftieth anniversary episode. I think Moffat's already waxed sentimental about the show so much he doesn't have any wax left.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Best Chest is the Worst

Sometimes I wonder if bigots are ever bored by two dimensional portrayals of the target group of their bigotry, or if they would simply delight in having their feelings supported repeatedly over the course of two or three hours. The question over whether Shakespeare's portrayal of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, in The Merchant of Venice, was motivated by anti-Semitism is complicated somewhat by the complexity of his portrayal--he has a legitimate grievance with Antonio, who routinely spits on him and then fails to honour an agreement made for a three thousand ducat loan. Expecting a pound of flesh, Antonio's life, in payment does sound extreme, but how many designedly sympathetic characters in Shakespeare's works are motivated by vengeance? Certainly we're not meant to take Hamlet as an evil creature.

Whatever Shakespeare's actual motives with the character were, a sympathetic portrayal of Shylock yields a fascinatingly disturbing work. I watched last night a BBC production from 1980 in which Warren Mitchell delivered a pretty heartbreaking performance as Shylock. Just the moment where he learns his runaway daughter Jessica has traded a ring precious to him for a monkey makes you feel for him, his reaction is of someone so deeply wounded--at 5:33 in this clip;

It all makes the measures taken by the protagonist characters seem grotesque, making it a nightmare version of one of Shakespeare's other comedies, particularly with the light-hearted ending. Mainly it's a play about contracts, not just the contract between Antonio and Shylock, but the peculiar ceremony Portia requires of her suitors, having them swear to the rules of a puzzle involving three chests just as she's bond to marry the one who chooses the right one. Even after she gets a husband agreeable to her by this means, she still initiates a contract with him about a ring she gives him that if he part with it for any reason whatsoever their marriage is annulled. I sort of wonder if this is Portia attending to her pride after the revelation that the winning chest was the lead one.

In any case, the fact that she lets Bassanio off so easily when he does give the ring away makes the consequences of Shylock's contract even more terrible.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Days Grow Short

It's starting not to be stupidly hot around here. It's still hotter than I think reasonable, but the occasional breeze allows me to imagine fall weather's happening, an impression assisted by some trees who are at least in the proper spirit of things.

And by proper spirit I MEAN DYING! HUAH!

Last night I broke a three week alcohol fast with some wine and a little scotch. The wine was almost drinkable--I'd pumped the air out of the bottle I'd opened three weeks ago. I'd never tested the technique over so long a period and I was amazed to find it almost didn't taste like liquefied Nerds mixed with vinegar.

It seemed like a suitable reward for another brain breaking astronomy lab. My glacial pace with math problems was not expedited by being put in a group with three seventeen year old girls--they were so cute, and at least one of them looked at me with the assurance that I, the adult, would have of course the answers but of course I was precisely as clueless as the three of them. Our final data sheets bore the ghostly remains of answers erased time and again as one of us reasoned we'd done everything wrong and realised we'd needed to start all over.

I guess the three of them were still in high school and must have been the overachieving sort who get put into college classes. I guess they're unusual in that regard but, when I wasn't feeling like I was committing a felony just by being with them, it did make me feel a little better towards children seeing some almost children managing to stay on a difficult task for three hours and see it through.

I thought about the fact that the astronomy class I'd taken in order to qualify for this lab was a class I'd taken in 1999, when my lab partners were four years old. Probably that hit my quota of sober thoughts for the evening.

Twitter Sonnet #430

Rescues conceived in balloon tunics beat.
Popping vests vanish with no small alarm.
The orange eye sinks like cookies in a seat.
Nothing negotiates substance of harm.
Aggregate gallbladder ladders lead east.
A method duckling heart handles crises.
The dry, sealess shores sound kite rulers least.
Pasty grapes glued to prows prompt all Pisces.
Seventeen strings of dental floss bar crime.
Braided street corn closes the coifed high brow.
Nations neglect the rights of crowned goat slime.
Not all the mermaids can fit on the prow.
Dominance naively volunteers lunch.
Ancient Wonka grass dissolves with a crunch.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Another Fall

I found myself watching Touch of Evil again last night--the movie feels sort of like a kitchen cabinet that's sprung open to spew an endless quantity of clattering pots and pans, in a good way. There's not a moment in the movie that feels safe, Janet Leigh always feels a second away from peril, always watched when she thinks she's alone, yet she's a lot feistier than most movie girls at the time, seemingly actually intimidating the mob boss before the situation seems to make her feel like a frightened kitten again.

There's a feeling like watching a complicated routine of circus acrobats--it's this feeling of things not stopping, of threats always transforming, always present, that gives the movie its exceptionally sinister feel. Not just the famous long takes, but the overlapping dialogue and just the fact that we barely catch our breath between the moment when we think maybe Quinlan's planted evidence and the moment Grandi tries to shake him down for it.

Every time I watch the movie, I appreciate Quinlan a little more. There's maybe the faintest bit of horror in him when he sees Susie naked and drugged as part of a scheme to smear her husband and clear Quinlan's reputation. But the emotional calluses quickly reassert their supremacy. I like that mostly the only assurances we get that Quinlan was once a good man come second hand, from people who knew him years ago. It enhances the impression of him as a ghost of himself--just a ghost maybe except for his evident, incessant pain.

And Marlene Dietrich as the cool fortune teller seems somehow to embody the simultaneous, functioning contradiction of sympathy and apathy of nature.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sunset Appointments

I got home at 7:30pm last night to see a blog entry by Neil Gaiman saying he was doing a surprise reading in San Diego at 7pm at an Amanda Palmer concert. I didn't even know Amanda Palmer was in town--it's too bad, I'd have liked to have gone, especially since they were at the House of Blues, a venue I saw Palmer at before and a nice one. Though I couldn't afford it this week, especially--I only have twenty dollars to get me through the week. I also couldn't go because I had to take this picture;

I have to observe the sunset four days over the course of a month for my astronomy lab. It was hard to find a place in San Diego where the horizon was visible--there're lots of hills around here and I can't afford to drive to the beach for each of these observations. I found a place relatively close to my college and waited around yesterday after my class got out at 3:15pm for sunset, which was at 6:40pm. I looked for work in the meantime--I actually filled out an application at See's Candy. I wonder if there's actually a chance in hell of me getting a job there. And if I do, will my teeth survive? They're bad enough now.

Class involved discussion on the differences between the philosophies of John Winthrop and Henry David Thoreau. I led my group's discussion again--I like my teacher, I've had him for several classes, my only peeve with him is that he has us do group work every--single--class. I'm the sort who prefers to just soak in a lecture. But I found myself babbling about the dissociated Puritan ego--that's why I found Anne Bradstreet so hilarious. 90% of her poetry is about how awesomely humble she or her friends or her family are. For people who are supposed to be humble, she uses the word "ambition" a lot, things like how it was her father's "ambition" to reach the higher form of existence known as heaven. Combined with the simple, consistent rhyme scheme and alliteration, I suddenly started hearing her stuff being delivered by Eminem in my head and I couldn't stop. It is gangsta rap levels of posturing, making me wonder how much Americans have really changed in the three hundred years since Bradstreet lived.

Anyway. Enjoy this sap;

Monday, September 24, 2012

She's Good Luck for Us Inside

To-day I salute Emily Dickinson. I've liked her poetry for years, but it wasn't until last night I realised she was a legend of hikikomori (引きこもり). Dickinson managed to be a hikikomori, a person who preferred never to leave her bedroom, before computers, televisions, or even radios. おめでとうございます, Dickinson-さま!

Last night for class, aside from two short Walt Whitman poems, I read mostly poetry written by women--Dickinson, a whole lot of poetry by Anne Bradstreet (which was mostly pretty hilarious), and some poems by a living poet named Amy Gerstler who's giving a reading at the college on Thursday so the instructor thought it was important we should read her, I guess. The assigned poems are online, I read them here. They weren't as bad as I thought they'd be--modern authors of some success who visit Grossmont College tend to suck. Still, her work mainly seems to be mildly clever uses of colloquialisms scattered through classic scenarios like Doomsday with only one or two really striking lines.

But am I anyone to talk when I wrote the following?

Twitter Sonnet #429

Animosity starts silly dancing.
Check marks say nothing of square alley brick.
Grey marshmallows pique love from Van Helsing.
Doctors are not necessarily sick.
Dreamlike patties transport out from the bun.
McDuck's money bin bulges with playtex.
Laser lethargy thrives by a fake sun.
Cubed Paramount delivers bulk Star Treks.
Allied laxative telecasts combine.
Marxist zippers lob busted hammers home.
Weasels will stand instead of no feline.
Rubber lightning sticks to the spare sky dome.
Octagonal oats ossify oddly.
Diamond eyebrows borrow eyeballs wryly.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

But Sometimes Crackers are the Best Things Around

I guess "A Town Called Mercy" got me in the mood, so I've watched a couple episodes of Farscape over the past week--the second season episodes "Crackers Don't Matter" and "Picture if You Will". I've also been watching Firefly episodes here and there over the past couple weeks and, of course, the new Doctor Who episodes which provokes comparisons between the shows. First of all, watching Farscape, on a visceral level, felt like a relief, like stepping off a tight rope I'd been walking for months. I think this is because, in terms of sci-fi and fantasy series, few write characters with the kind of natural flow the characters on Farscape have.

Comparing it to Firefly, particularly the early episodes of Firefly, may be unfair--Joss Whedon's writing is often at its most stilted in Firefly and only a couple of the actors--mainly Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk--really make it work. But a lesser actor--especially Morena Baccarin, who's saddled with a particularly poorly conceived character to boot--is totally lost at sea. I watched "Shindig" a couple nights ago, an episode written by Jane Espenson who I felt, with the episode, was making an attempt to work out the female characters a bit more. She gives more power to Inara (Baccarin's character) in dialogue with Mal (Fillion's character) than I felt she had in earlier episodes, satisfyingly checkmating him in exchanges where he disparagingly compares their professions--prostitute and smuggler--but Inara's concept in the episode feels sabotaged slightly by a writer I sense isn't as comfortable with it as Whedon is.

And I thought using "Crackers Don't Matter" for a point of comparison was maybe also unfair because it's widely considered one of the best episodes of Farscape, but even "Picture if You Will" compares favourably. Zhaan managing to strategise through her fear and even use it, Crichton confronting Aeryn about her emotional inaccessibility, all of it just works as naturally as watching fish swim in a pond, no airless, high altitude moments where you sense the writer is proud of how clever he is with words or, as in Doctor Who, the characters feel like they're frantically hitting assigned emotional waypoints.

And I like the new Doctor Who episodes. Maybe it's mainly the Pond fatigue--Oswin did come off much more naturally in "Asylum of the Daleks".

But no-one does it like Farscape. It was also refreshing, too, to watch a show where the characters are all basically children in a moral wilderness. When Crichton tells Aeryn to execute an unarmed merchant over a comm and she does so without the slightest hesitation in "Picture if You Will", it didn't feel cynical or crass. It makes sense for Aeryn, a soldier all her life with immature, undeveloped emotions. You love her, and all the other characters, not because she has an extraordinary personality, but because she's lost and trying to do her best in a bad situation. It's nice to see a show where you're meant to love people not because they're superior beings but because they're messy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Doctor is in Transit

I didn't need to hear her name was Kate Stewart to know she was the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart--actress Jemma Redgrave looks so much like him I was surprised she wasn't related to Nicholas Courtney. In any case, I love the tribute paid to the Brigadier by her presence in "The Power of Three", to-day's Doctor Who episode, though it was otherwise a pretty lightweight episode. The invasion of Earth by black cubes felt very Russell T. Davies, which was emphasised by cuts to people in various locations in the world and news broadcasts, and it served to show how formulaic those episodes had become. Though I liked the subtle metaphor in the cubes for iPhones.

I think it was also greyed out a bit by the focus on the Ponds choosing between regular Earthly life and life with the Doctor--that plot and the invasion plot suffer from having to sit with each other, and neither finds footing, though the invasion plot suffers more as it feels a lot like just an excuse for the other stuff.

The weakest episode of the season so far. I can't believe there's only one more until there's none 'til Christmas. Amy looked really cute, though.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I didn't expect The Sopranos to be the sort of show where a major revelation in a season finale would come from a talking fish, but more surprising is how nicely it works. It's a dream sequence, and the fish is speaking with the voice of a man Tony Soprano, a mob boss, hasn't consciously realised is betraying him by working with the feds. The dream sequences, which recur throughout the episode, nicely tie together Tony's depression with his food poisoning that may have come from some seafood he had the night before--he wakes up thinking he's looking into a frightening existential void, then realises the feeling is coming from his stomach and rushes to the bathroom puking and farting. This rather nicely allows Tony's emotional issues the dignity of not being treated as holy.

I love how the show takes the piss out of itself without being post modern--though maybe it was one writer needling another when a revelation in one episode, that Tony is told he is his own worst enemy, is pointed out as being a cliché in another episode. The nice thing about this is that it avoids reducing the characters to clichés even as we're given universal truths to work on. There's a noir-ish aspect to it of the validity of predestination as a concept being put to question by contrarian behaviour and dialogue, accompanied by the feeling that destiny and stereotypes may be unavoidable whatever we say or do. Tony's not just a mobster, he's a family man, he has friends and compassion, he gets food poisoning. But maybe all these other things do is prove he's just a mobster and none of it really means anything. The second season of this show was a lot better than the first.

Twitter Sonnet #428

Sustained sprinkler reversal grassed the air.
Mountainous ninja juggernauts tranqed God.
Hellish shortening shatters the software.
Cake in the computer isn't so odd.
Hard tongues hammered ring in a mad pile.
Wall length grins will send sunset inside Oz.
Heirloom tree limbs deaden round cloud smile.
Springtime's top hat shrubs green to great applause.
Readers decide which words are the verbs here.
Breaking skirts sequin gaseous armour.
The ace sword cups wands for pentacled beer.
Diamonds spade hearts clubbing 2D glamour.
Duckish drizzle absorbs the grass boundary.
Hourglass digits describe the foundry.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sergeant Message

1960's Sergeant Rutledge may be the worst John Ford movie I've ever seen. It's not altogether bad--an inevitably good Ford western is uncomfortably married to a stiff, political message plot, the awkwardly self-conscious kind common in the civil rights era. It's the very thing Ford avoided in his magnificent The Searchers by putting character first and ideology second. The motives are admirable, but Sergeant Rutledge falls flat in satisfying them.

The title character is played by Woody Strode, though Jeffrey Hunter gets top billing as counsel for Rutledge's defence--the movie follows his court martial for the murder of his commanding officer and the rape and murder of the officer's daughter. Most of the traditionally western elements of the film--American military fighting evil Indians, romance out in the hostile frontier--are shown through flashback.

Maybe racism is to blame for Strode not getting top billing--or even second or third billing. His name doesn't even come before the title. But maybe it's more to do with the fact that he wasn't nearly as good an actor as Jeffrey Hunter. Strode has a great physical presence, a big, muscular man, his face etched with lines, his eyes sunken and his head almost bald, giving his head a skull-like quality. Combined with his harsh, raspy voice and generally impassive demeanour, the guy effortlessly cuts a threatening presence with hardly any lines at all in Once Upon a Time in the West and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This might be appropriate for a man falsely accused of a horrible crime, but Strode simply wasn't capable of the emotional range required of him in some scenes.

I've often wondered why it's so rare to see decent performances from black actors in movies before 1960. Perhaps because there were less black actors, since a black man or woman couldn't hope to attain the success of a white actor, and consequently there was a smaller pool to choose from. Perhaps it was racism on the parts of casting directors who expected bad performances from black actors. Whatever the case, with a few exceptions, most black performers in movies before 1960 come off stiff and sort of amateurish, with overly careful cadence to their speech and self conscious bearings.

Ford has the courage to tackle some of the more specific points of racism in American culture, including Rutledge's fleeing the scene of the crime, making himself look more guilty only because he assumes he won't get justice, and at the very end of the movie the prosecutor overtly brings up Rutledge's skin colour as an argument itself for his guilt. But the former point feels more like a spoken statistic because Rutledge's character lacks depth both due to writing and to Strode's performance, and the latter point is brought up only the once and with a distracting deliberation.

The story of Rutledge showing his valorous nature as a man willing to risk his life for the small group of men holding him in custody when they're forced to battle a group of murderous Indians is well shot and told with Ford's keen instinct for storytelling. But there's no interest in stemming the portrayal of Indians as two dimensional savages here, perhaps due to a feeling that only one civil rights issue could be dealt with at a time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Contained Abstract Spaces

I dreamt last night I was in a white mansion on a little island surrounded by opaque mist. The owner of the mansion was an old man and the house was continually being invaded by ravenous, insane cannibal versions of his friends and relatives. I'm not sure what fiction story it most resembles, but I'm pretty sure my subconscious wasn't being very original last night.

I've been having a lot of bad dreams lately. The night before, I was on Mars with Tim. We were wandering around the red surface in space suits. I stopped to look at a small, black crater, and when I looked up Tim was just in ordinary pants, shirt, and jacket, a fact I somehow found really disturbing.

I've been waking up throughout the night a lot too. I just feel generally restless lately, I'm not sure why. Well, maybe it's because I only have school two days a week and I haven't gotten any call-backs for the job applications I turned in. Of course. I know I must have done something wrong. That stupid exclusive club of people who actually like being in stupid little exclusive clubs. Well, I should take comfort in the fact that in this case I don't have much genuine desire to be in a club that wouldn't have me as a member.

A few days ago, I was woken up early by a phone call from a guy who told me a name I didn't recognise had been accepted into the club. "Ah, okay," I said.

"Does that surprise you?" he asked.

"Er, what club are we talking about?" I asked.

"The Elks Club," he said.

"Ah, you have the wrong number." We'd been getting along so well up to that point.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Woman in a Boy's Mask

There wasn't a moment in Mikio Naruse's 1954 film Sound of the Mountain (山の音) where I didn't want to hug Setsuko Hara. It's a typical Naruse movie in that it features a domestic situation that seems to become progressively horrible as the characters' sense of politeness or duty force them into bigger compromises and sacrifices. Based on a novel by Yasunari Kawabata, it's not one of Naruse's best movies but it is a beautiful and sad tale focusing on the common theme in 1950s contemporary Japanese film of the grace of traditional modes dying out in favour of the more pragmatic and selfish modes of modern, more Westernised culture.

Hara here is playing the sort of role she was best known for, the pure, virginal young woman, shy, smiling with genuine feeling she attempts to hide out of a sense of courtesy, seeming, as she did in Late Spring, to take a great deal of pleasure in riding a bicycle. She plays Kinuko, the young wife of Ken Uehara's character Shuuichi--Uehara having played her insensitive and aloof husband in the also Naruse directed Meshi (めし). It's marital trouble that provides the conflict in Sound of the Mountain as well, though much more dramatically here. What it boils down to is that Kikuko doesn't like sex and Shuuichi likes sex a lot.

Kikuko is the Setsuko Hara archetype, the considerate and modest young woman who sees to cooking and cleaning with a natural enthusiasm. And looks stoic whenever Shuuichi calls for her to join him in the bedroom.

She never refuses of course. But this has led to feelings of discontentment in Shuuichi who begins to have an affair with a more sexual young woman, a singer, which he unabashedly discusses with Shingo, his father and co-worker.

Unusual for a Naruse movie, the story doesn't follow the woman's POV, in fact Hara doesn't have nearly as much as screen time as one might expect. Instead, it's Shingo who's in every scene, made the active agent by caring deeply for Kikuko while having the knowledge and opportunity to do something about his asshole son.

As an older, more traditional man, he and Kikuko share a natural rapport and he can't begin to understand his son's discontentment, and it's in the arguments between the two men that the movie most directly voices the conflict between traditional Japanese ideas and encroaching western ones.

But the movie isn't a cut and dry advocacy of the old while questioning the new. One strange, almost dreamlike recurring element in the film is a mask Shingo purchases from a client and brings home with him.

The older men who see it worn, reluctantly, by Shingo's secretary, a friend of Shuuichi's mistress, remark on how beautiful it is. As is pointed out in dialogue, it's meant to be the face of a beautiful boy. I wondered what the significance of a woman reluctantly wearing the face of a beautiful boy to please a couple of older men could be--perhaps it signifies how women are traditionally subjugated to a male ideal.

And, indeed, it is through modern means that Kikuko eventually obtains her freedom and opportunity for happiness, though it is not without a great deal of pain and sadness for the sense of something very large disappearing or dying.

Twitter Sonnet #427

Baby fences slightly seal buds of corn.
Cereal kingdoms contain fibre.
Fomenting madness narrows the morn.
Frosted Flakes need never fear the tiger.
Milky crackers congeal down amber walls.
Litigious giants yearn for potato.
Venus fly trap train sets whisper of malls.
The cigar bursts like an old toquito.
Carrot oboe shoehorn cushions offend.
Square root cadavers vocalise their glut.
Money pillows lack decency to spend.
A sleeve worn as a skirt can't hide a butt.
The toothpaste preens in the molar mirror.
Springfield chaos called like Harry Shearer.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Erroneously Inferred Correlations

Further proof that eating puddin' is a gateway to eating brains.

I was rushing to get ready this morning because I'd slept an hour later than I meant to when I got an e-mail saying class was cancelled to-day. I had a whole schedule laid out for to-day based around being in the part of town where my school is, now I'm reworking everything in my head, feeling rather disappointed I don't have an excuse to go to El Cajon. Maybe I'll go anyway, though I probably ought to save the gasoline, especially after reading "The Way to Wealth" by Benjamin Franklin last night for school to-day.

I also read "Resistance to Civil Government" by Henry David Thoreau and "A Model of Christian Charity" by John Winthrop, a Puritan on his way over from England in 1630 when he delivered this sermon which had a focus on a dichotomy between grace and nature in human beings that reminded me of Tree of Life. Which confirms to me there is something Puritanical about that movie, but of course Winthrop's work is better reasoned and more cohesive. I generally like to think that, had I been alive at the time, I would've sided in England against the Puritans, but as stiff necked as they were, there is something vaguely punk about them. The hard-line reverence for mutual respect and love for all men and women in Winthrop's work is something I find deeply admirable, though likely fundamentally present in the writings of the religious bureaucracy Winthrop and his comrades were protesting. It's a shame the way the story of the Puritans played out in America bore so little resemblance to the ideals expressed by Winthrop.

In Neil Gaiman's blog to-day he talks about, and posts a statement from, an actress friend of his, Anna Gurji, who appeared in the now infamous Innocence of Muslims film that terrorists used as an excuse to assault the U.S. embassy in Libya and murder the ambassador along with three other Americans. I read Gaiman's blog entry with particular interest because it reminded me strongly of a conversation I'd had with my family a few days earlier about how much responsibility the filmmakers should feel for the violence that occurred. My sister said she wouldn't feel responsible for the violence, nor would she blame her agent or anyone else who was deceived by the producer, who re-edited the film from a low budget, sci-fi adventure film into anti-Islamic propaganda without the knowledge or consent of those, like Anna Gurji, who participated in the making of the film. I would carry it further and say that although I think "Sam Bacile" is an "Im Bacile" as Judith Flanders said on Twitter, I don't draw cause and effect connexions between words in the media, public statements, and so forth to acts of violence. To me, all the responsibility of violence belongs to the perpetrators themselves. Nor do I think media ought to modify content in a vain effort to prevent violent backlash. In reality, there are a million items that have been produced in the media that mad men could use as an excuse for violence.

Rather than taking actions based on the equation between publication and violence the terrorists would have us take as valid, I would disregard the logic entirely. I still believe that the solution is a focus that assumes a basic value in all human life. I think the number of people willing to take a YouTube video as a valid excuse for violence would be very small if ignorance and poverty didn't exert such influence. But I guess I feel like I said all this already back during the whole Danish cartoon controversy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Appointments Kept in a Fist!

Do not fuck with Glenn Ford. Especially not when he's got thousands of dollars strapped to his waist as he moves through a dangerous jungle in politically hostile territory to find that country's president, in hiding from the dictator currently in control of the country. Ford's got some pretty striking gorilla moments in 1953's Appointment in Honduras, a colour Jacques Tourneur adventure film, a nice little tale of survival in the jungle, of a manly man and the womanly woman who ditches her husband for him.

Despite the fact that he takes them as hostages, and doesn't seem to care very much about leaving them in the hands of violent Honduran criminals, the sturdy, sophisticated broad Ann Sheridan soon realises Ford can do for her what her weaselly, civilised husband can never do.

Ford knows what he wants and takes it, and if someone tries to stop him, he smacks him down. Doesn't matter if Ford's unarmed and his opponent is five bandits with shotguns and rifles. It doesn't matter because Glenn Ford is the shit.

I was rather surprised to see a film in the Breen era show a woman openly kissing another man in front of her husband and we're clearly meant to agree with her. Not to mention all the guys openly leering at Sheridan as she wears less and less clothing.

The film features a lot of what appear to be location shots and Tourneur in colour maintains his ability to effectively use shadow. An impression comes vividly across of a hot, sticky, insect infested dangerous environment, combined with a plot that logically flows, Ford's larger than life character manages to come off rather effectively.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

No Mercy for Plywood

I'd like to begin by pointing out that the Western sets in "A Town Called Mercy", to-day's Doctor Who episode, look more authentic than the ones in The High Plains Drifter. I guess the sets weren't built for the episode--they're part of a production lot in Spain--but I'll take the opportunity for a cheap shot at Clint Eastwood to point out the guy wasn't acting like a twit at the RNC just because he's old. He's always been a twit, with some positive qualities.

Anyway, good episode of Doctor Who. I loved that the episode actually deals with the Doctor's increasing willingness to kill in the name of justice, it's good to know at least that the writers aren't doing this blindly, and it does follow his arc, really, after his experience wiping out the Time Lords.

The episode was marred by a few small logistical points, like some obviously looped dialogue--particularly noticeable in one scene where the Doctor says off camera, "With a little slight of hand" where it was obviously meant to be a shot of him coolly and silently tipping his Stetson and not replying to the question he'd just been asked, though we did need some explanation of how Rory and Isaac knew they were going to be decoys in the next scene. Isaac, the character played by Ben Browder, was also given the painfully dumb line, "Everyone who isn't an American, drop your guns!" Don't make me quote Louis L'Amour's opening from Shalako! There was also, of course, the huge, glaring problem of why a bunch of wood and rocks was working as a barrier for a cyborg. It's simply never explained.

But it was great seeing Browder in something good, instead of something stupid, like Stargate. Though I had the odd feeling here I was seeing John Crichton playing Malcolm Reynolds. And on that point, I wouldn't mind seeing some Firefly cast members on the show (in addition to Mark Sheppard).

I thought Amy pulling the Doctor back from the brink of one-man justice was good, and really, it kind of neatly brings us back to "The Beast Below", her second episode, where she prevents the Doctor from taking action based on giving into despair. It underlines what Amy brings to the show and what the Doctor will have to live without when she's gone.

Her jacket looked too 80s, though.

Twitter Sonnet #426

Your park bench expects egg salad payback.
Underhand fingers take the dewclaw scam.
Somebody's gonna bark bees at Sajak.
Twisted staples ain't worth the price of ham.
Don't think pennies pile in the bathtub.
There's a rugby team trowels peanuts for it.
Cops couldn't count magnets on a scarab.
Dogs damage the drink to make a rabbit.
Pea brained balcony bales of cream go bad.
Jarred hay has no time for half liquid twits.
Aggressive grapes grab the wrong sense of mad.
The nurse just says, "Go fuck the first aid kits."
Pistols stuffed with breadcrumbs don't backfire.
Elbows make moustaches of a liar.

Friday, September 14, 2012

In Streets, Shacks, Boats, and Bars

What Jules Dassin did for New York in 1948's The Naked City, using extensive location shooting to present a remarkable artefact of the city as it actually was at the time, Elia Kazan did for New Orleans in 1950 with Panic in the Streets. It's not an especially insightful movie into human nature, nor does it present a particularly interesting story, but it's a police procedural told with engrossing intelligence, performed by actors far superior to most of those in The Naked City, and every shot is beautifully complex and gritty.

You know, I haven't been seeking out Richard Widmark movies, I just somehow wound up seeing him a lot lately. Here, unusually for his career in the 1950s, he doesn't play a hood. He plays a military man in charge of the Public Health Service in New Orleans. He spends the movie trying to track down the men who murdered a guy who was infected with pneumonic plague, because somehow I guess finding them will prevent an epidemic. One would figure that after twenty four hours or so, the killers would've spread the disease to enough people it would be kind of a moot point, so I guess it functions more here as a sort of metaphor for the damage done to society by the criminal element.

Two of the killers, meanwhile, assume the cops are looking so hard for them because the guy they killed had been carrying something extremely valuable. The leader of this small gang is played by Jack Palance in his first role, whose character is pretty captivating despite being fairly uncomplicated. He's interesting not only because of Palance's effective, idiosyncratic performance but because, at such a young age, his face looks even weirder.

His face is rigid, like a mask, with his large facial bones, but his performance is still expressive. He really was unique.

Widmark's character is mostly concerned with getting city officials to take him seriously and with finding out where these criminals are. He does get a little subplot about his home life, presenting the typical conflict about the cop/doctor and the importance of his work versus his home life causing strain and anxiety with his wife, who in this case is played ably by Barbara Bel Geddes.

This is the first movie I can remember seeing her in outside of Vertigo and I see she was actually quite beautiful when she wasn't being made to look dowdy, though she still has that same smug, patronising (matronising?) delivery, always seeming to speak down her nose. It's not hard to see why Hitchcock wanted her as Midge.

Paul Douglas plays the police captain who works alongside Widmark for most of the movie. Douglas lends great presence to a not especially interesting character. It's an unpredictable movie as we follow the twists and turns of the chase that take us from one fantastically detailed location after another, the real grime and human existence seemingly carved from shadow by cinematographer Joseph MacDonald's great, expressionistic camera work.

The finale, a chase at the docks, is wonderful as Widmark and the cops pursue Palance through a cohesive maze of factories, warehouses, docks, and ships, all very obviously shot on location.