Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Year Full of Pigeons

Those who have checked in at Echo Erosion now and then over the past year know that even since the comic ended I updated it monthly with new calendar pin-ups. Uploading May's to-day, I've now completed a full year's worth of pin-ups. You can download them and use them for wallpaper here. I gave up trying to fit them to the apparently myriad monitor resolutions out there now, so I hope you know how to centre or tile wallpapers. Please don't stretch them.

Here's March's;


It was a homage to this scene from The Quiet Man;

August featured Pigeon in Marilyn Monroe's outfit from Clash by Night and in September she wore Sherilyn Fenn's outfit from the Twin Peaks pilot. Which more people would probably get than who got the extremely oblique Twin Peaks reference in the comic itself.

In class to-day, it occurred to me the nature of the epiphany James Joyce sought to portray in "Araby" and "The Dead" was to see darkness as darkness. Throughout both, characters continually impute meanings in both literal darkness and other voids of knowledge; political, cultural, spiritual, and romantic. The most memorable examples, and the two in which the stories are most alike, are in the protagonist's impressions of women he's in love with. Even in "The Dead", when the woman is his wife, Gabriel builds a complex dream around who he thinks his wife is and what she wants but it was really him alone making his impressions the whole time. In both stories, the impetus for the protagonist's mythologising the woman he loves comes when he sees the woman literally half-hidden by darkness; in "The Dead", its when Gabriel sees Gretta standing on the stairs, hearing the music that sparks her reverie that of course he misinterprets at length. Gabriel's epiphany comes when he looks at her and has the strange feeling "as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife." The dissolution of identity, which Joyce likens to an absence that's like an omnipresence of the dead, gives Gabriel the insight of the dark hotel room where the electric light wasn't working and he'd told the porter they didn't need even a candle. "We don't want any light. We have light enough from the street."

Twitter Verses #502: Anne Bradstreet Edition

My meek and horrible dirty word stuff,
Here now mumbles in impertinent guff,
Lines of colossal thighs and great big arms,
Smiting scores while slathering good with balms.
Meagre macaroni would fain conjure
Vulgarities all might justly abjure.
But this rusty teapot reflects a face
More royal than Charles, in bursting grace.
Creation's cabbage, leaves of largess,
His holy head larger than Inverness.
Olympus is a pea beside His tooth;
No cooper compassed His barrel of truth.
Treasure in a billion stone cup of gold.
Oceans of tea, more corn than we can hold.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Prose for the Hangover

It seems animal crackers and scotch go really well together but, oh, the hangover. Compounded with lack of sleep from it being almost eighty Fahrenheit half the night . . . Yes, just technically pushing my brain through the pipe of the day. Good thing all I have to do for school to-morrow is read James Joyce. I just read his story "Araby" while I ate lunch.

Reading British literature in chronological order like this gives one a nice perspective on its evolution. For the "Modernist" section, particularly with Woolf and Joyce, I'm perceiving mainly a new kind of restraint in writers. It's been more than a decade since I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I wish I could remember it better. The introduction to Joyce in my text books says he felt the writer should aim for a great "neutrality," and I can see the sense of what he meant with "Araby" and "The Dead". It's more than refraining from moral sympathies with character; it seems to be about divesting the author's ego completely to reveal the humanity of the characters. It's very Coen Brothers.

I bet "Araby" ends too abruptly for a lot of people. But I love how there's no come-uppance, no justice, nothing in there to explain to the kid everything was okay. We, as readers, know his experience isn't the end of world, but we can appreciate the moment of self-reproach for the gravity he sees in and the naive intensity of his affection for the girl before he even speaks to her. Joyce's descriptions are so great.

Her brother and two other boys were fighting for their caps and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.

And so subtle. Joyce never says she's beautiful. He doesn't have to, we know because we can just barely see the curve of her neck and because light lit up her hand on the railing. Things are implied so completely by point of view. We know what things mean because they happen, because the narrator reacts to them in a certain way. Joyce lets our own minds do the rest.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Sea's Silence is More Convincing

How do two countries coexist after one has subjugated the citizens of the other and murdered many of them? 1949's Le Silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) begins with a disclaimer that it does not expect to mend relations on its own. What it does do is portray the natural human tendency to look for humanity in other people. This is an important statement when discussing Europe in World War II, when the Nazis infamously treated millions of people as subhuman. Based on a book written secretly in France during the occupation, Le Silence de la mer is a beautifully shot, effective portrayal of how the need to connect with others is ultimately stronger than the impulse to destroy.

An older Frenchman and his young, beautiful niece live alone outside Paris. A German officer named von Ebrennac requisitions quarters in their home. He doesn't use force and seems polite, considering the fundamental imposition of his actions. The Frenchman and his niece comply with von Ebrennac's demands but never speak to him, stoically attempting to go about their regular lives as if von Ebrennac is not present.

Von Ebrennac seems actually to respect this, and avoids saying things to them that require response. Soon, he takes to pacing their parlour in the evening, delivering monologues while the Frenchman smokes his pipe and the niece knits. He reveals himself to be a musician who in his youth greatly admired the art and culture of France.

He talks about how Germany's invasion of France is like Beauty and the Beast, how the subtext of that story is how the woman eventually finds the beast she was forced to marry is indeed her true love. Sometimes, he says, a great marriage is created by a despicable go-between. The go-between is no less despicable for it, and the marriage is no less great.

He continually goes back to the metaphor of marriage and it's clear he's attracted to the niece. There are some subtle signs she might feel some involuntary attraction to him, but that's a real problem. In the first part of the film, what von Ebrennac does seems a bit like psychological torture. The Frenchman and his niece didn't ask him to bare his heart to them. Von Ebrennac came into their home and forced his personality on them. It may only be one part of what normally occurs in a forced occupation, but it is a part of it.

The film mentions mass executions carried out by the Nazis, though the author of the book probably wasn't aware at the time of the extent of what the Nazis had done. In the latter portion of the film, von Ebrennac becomes disillusioned with the Nazi effort when he learns that the messy but possibly fruitful merging of cultures he envisioned was not what the Nazis had in mind. His comrades tell him how building the thousand year Reich requires them to stamp out the "venom" that exists now, that it is their right and duty to destroy.

As deplorable as von Ebrennac's imposition on them was, the Frenchman and his niece eventually can't restrain their empathy for von Ebrennac's humanity and even though they never speak in his presence, von Ebrennac can't help responding to their fundamental humanity. Empathy is the more powerful human quality, the story argues, than destructiveness.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Well, this is the first thing I've seen by Stephen Thompson I didn't thoroughly hate. I credit Clara with that--she returns to the show some basic qualities of Doctor Who that have been lacking for a while, or really just one; the sexual tension. This can be annoying if it's never ever resolved, but right now they're like a couple of shy, awkward kids feeling out their rapport.

It didn't make sense the Doctor would be willing to trade the TARDIS for her, though maybe he was lying to the salvage guys. The TARDIS, as we've been given to understand many times in many ways, is at least as important to the Doctor as a member of his family. The story of the salvage team brothers was a bit dopey and vague. I don't quite understand why the creatures, once it's revealed what they are (I won't spoil it), are trying to kill them. Or why they can walk. It seemed like something arbitrarily created for tension.

I liked the cameo from the Seventh Doctor's umbrella;

The dialogue written between Clara and the Doctor isn't genius but the actors really make it work. Especially the final scene.

Wikipedia says the idea for the episode about exploring the interior of the TARDIS came to Steven Moffat because he "was 'haunted' by the 1978 story The Invasion of Time, which was set on the TARDIS but used hastily-constructed sets." Really, they weren't hastily-constructed sets--it looked more like the interior of a warehouse was standing in for the TARDIS interior. I'm not sure the vaguely Enterprise-A corridors in the new episode a lot better;

It might have been nice if they'd used something like the white spotted walls from the Davison era when they used to go around deeper into the TARDIS all the time. I wonder if the TARDIS has gotten another Zero Room.

I've had a weird headache since Thursday that's made it hard to concentrate. It's also put me off alcohol. I hope it goes away before the weekend's over.

Last week I started reading The Red Tree by good Caitlin R. Kiernan. I like it so far, though I'm just a chapter in.

I've decided to do a series of style parody sonnets, just to give my sonnetsphere something to do. This is the first;

Twitter Sonnet #501; William Wordsworth Edition

No grace exceeds the turnip on the dirt.
Who can deny the greens on top are green?
Many vegetables have I often seen,
Others I missed when I was not alert.
I see no more a glad, lonely pervert.
From no bus stop or sex shop could I glean
Just where the forlorn paedophile had been
Until to Chuck E. Cheese I did revert.
No words from animatronic there came;
Still lay the once stiffly active creatures,
Tedious years brought skee-ball lights to wane.
Newspaper beds overran the bleachers.
Burning people, inexplicable bane;
Electrical fires are good teachers.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Unobstructed View

For me, the most important thematic aspect of Macbeth, as I've said before, is in how it shows certainty about the future is inherently destructive. By committing his faith to the good things the witches foretell, he must accept the bad things, too. But more importantly, his world seems to shrink as a result. Even before he sees the trees move across the field or learns that Macduff was untimely ripped from his mother's womb, Macbeth is saying how life is "a tale told by an idiot . . . full of sound and fury signifying nothing." Roman Polanski's 1971 adaptation, despite some small, controversial alterations and embellishments, preserves this aspect of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's experience. I wasn't bothered by the slight enlargement of the character of Ross, to show him to be a soulless turncoat. The addition is pretty minor and doesn't get in the way of anything else. The violence I might have had a problem with, if only because so often violence in movies looks fake and is more effective when off screen, but the special effects Polanski brings to bear and his compositions have enough brutal realism to make the scenes honest contemplations of horrible violence. The movie generally has that mix of the pervasive beautiful and grotesque I love about historically accurate medieval costumes and production design.

Made a couple years after the murder of Polanski's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, along with several of his friends, the movie reflects the kind of intimacy with destructive violence Polanski had experienced. All of his movies, even before the murders, have a pessimism about them, a conception of reality where the weak or the vulnerable invariably fall prey to the aggressive and amoral. But it's hard not to think of his then recent experience in the scene where Macduff's family is murdered. The scene where Macduff learns of his family's murder, where Macduff continually asks if all of his children have been killed, has a raw sorrow about it I don't remember seeing in any other production.

When he's told by Malcolm, "Be this be the whetstone of your sword, let grief convert to anger," one senses Macduff feels the futility of revenge.

Despite this, the movie ends with some unexpectedly amazing sword fights. I'm not quite sure it's appropriate for Macbeth to seem like such a badass. It's certainly a far cry from Toshiro Mifune screaming like tortured animal as he's riddled with arrows in Kurosawa's version. Though there is something in his demeanour and effectiveness of the eerie calm of the zealot.

The swordplay at the end of the movie is really incredible. Not for the fencing proficiency, but for the roughness of it. It's like the hallway fight scene in Oldboy; it has the beauty of rough hewn artistry.

When Macbeth visits the witches the second time, Polanski uses some of the techniques he used in Repulsion to give a sense of Macbeth's loosening grip on reality. His decision to turn the three witches in the scene into a whole roomful of naked and disfigured old women loses the characters' resemblance to the Furies somewhat, but their apparent physical ruin combined with their confidence in their foresight reflects again the destructiveness of certainty.

Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth doesn't compare with Judi Dench in the role, but she's not bad. She definitely has the best costumes of any Lady Macbeth I've seen. John Finch as Macbeth is okay. The star of the movie is really the strikingly sad, beautiful, and ugly world Polanski paints.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Real Memory

I feel like I got quite a lot done yesterday. Nothing like math homework that consists of only four problems to make you feel that way. Afterwards, I was able to spend the day drawing and reading Virginia Woolf--I mean, drawing various things then reading Woolf, not drawing Woolf. If I were drawing Woolf, I suspect wouldn't give her the prosthetic nose Nicole Kidman wears in The Hours.

I read a bunch of essays and short pieces by Woolf for class. It seems as though she continually returned to a concept of subjective reality, of worlds created by complex workings of the human mind based on little external stimuli.

Her essay called "Modern Fiction" impressed me particularly. I loved how she described Dickens' characterisations as being childlike and she demonstrated this idea by recalling individuals she knew who died when she was a child and the resulting portraits she paints of these individuals do seem very Dickensian.

I wonder if she ever read H.P. Lovecraft. Probably not. Her autobiographical essay "A Sketch of the Past" reminded me of Lovecraft's stories of individuals trying to reconnect with the past through supernatural means.

In certain favourable moods, memories--what one has forgotten--come to the top. Now if this is so, is it not possible--I often wonder--that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence? And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap them? I see it--the past--as an avenue lying behind; a long ribbon of scenes, emotions.

She suggests that adult interpretations of childhood experiences corrupt them or rather create something different from memory out of them.

Now for next week I need to read "The Dead" by James Joyce again. This class is so much cake.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Old Engine of Life and Death

Before he died, the last movie Roger Ebert wrote about in the Great Movies section of his site was Keisuke Kinoshita's 1958 period film The Ballad Of Narayama (楢山節考). It's a movie like an intense nightmare, easily one of the most brutal movies I've ever seen. The fact that the last movie Roger Ebert included in among his reviews of movies he considered great before his death was one about ubasute, an ancient practice in Japan where the elderly were abandoned at a remote spot to die, is somewhat troubling. The concept could have easily been a sentimental mudbath, but Kinoshita makes his focus the fundamental desperation and barbarism of the society that would carry out such a practice. It has people, this movie, not two dimensional raving villagers with pitchforks. It's a real look at what a human being is reduced to by meagre subsistence.

The visual style of the film is conspicuously artificial. With a music and narrator resembling kabuki, filmed entirely on soundstages with backdrop skies and using bright, Expressionistic lighting, the movie achieves a kind of haunting noisiness. The story follows Orin, a woman approaching her seventieth birthday, at which point it is traditional in her village for a person to be taken by his or her kin to Narayama, a mountain a few valleys distant, and left to die of starvation or exposure. Orin hopes to reach Narayama when the snows begin to fall.

We meet an old man, Mata, who has evaded going to Narayama and as a consequence his children don't feed him. He bursts into Orin's home when he smells the rice she can afford to cook only once a year and begins shoving handfuls into his mouth. But Orin graciously gives him a bowl.

Orin is not resisting her destiny, she speaks of how she remembers her parents and grandparents going to Narayama, and looks forward to no longer burdening her son and grandchildren. She says her mind is at ease when a woman arrives from another village to marry her son, so someone will be there to cook and clean when she's gone. The only thing that really seems to trouble Orin is her teeth.

The narrator explains how in her youth Orin had been a bride of exceptional beauty and how no-one had ever said anything against her. It troubles her now that she's an old woman who still has thirty three teeth, she feels impertinent for having them, particularly after her grandson makes up a song he gets the rest of the village to sing about how Orin had made a bargain with a demon for her teeth. So, when her son's new wife arrives, Orin bites down hard on the edge of a stone bowl, relieving herself of her front teeth.

Her grandson and his pregnant girlfriend make no attempt to conceal their wish that the old woman should leave for Narayama as soon as possible but Orin's son and new daughter-in-law fear that quickly approaching day. At the beginning of the film, Orin greets a friend from another village who tells her of a forty five year old woman who'd recently been widowed--forty five also being the age of Orin's son, and the two agree that the new widow would be a perfect wife for Orin's son. It's so arranged for the woman to travel to Orin's village after the grieving period is over.

When Orin and the woman meet, the woman nervously takes but then vociferously gobbles up the rice Orin offers her. Any affinity between the woman and Orin's son is never even mentioned, everyone understands implicitly the two people have to be married in order to ensure their survival. The woman apologises for being late because she had waited for an escort that had failed to come. Orin says if she'd known, she'd have come to escort the woman herself, to which the woman replies that she would have carried Orin on her back for the return journey. The two clasp each other's arms as they each recognise in the other someone whose nature is to sacrifice herself for the comfort of others, and each is glad to have become part of the other's family.

When one man's caught stealing, his entire family, including the small children, and all their food, are brought to the centre of the village in the middle of the night to receive "the judgement of Narayama". The food is distributed amongst the other villagers and the entire family is eventually slaughtered.

And Orin, we see, approves of this. There may have been some passive aggression in the way she smiled at the village with her bloody, newly toothless mouth, but at the bottom, Orin is a woman of this culture and she holds no qualms about what she needs to do even as she exhibits some disapproval for the crassness of her grandson. One remembers what Kikuchiyo said in Seven Samurai about how farmers are the nastiest, meanest people alive.

Twitter Sonnet #500

Egg white shaped big shadows slowly invade,
Smug topped Humpty Dumpty only eats grain.
Pebble sweets expand the hollow arcade,
Jagged barrel apes make plumbers insane.
Deceptive gift cards grant free animals.
No kid brains God in a Play-Doh alley.
Goat stars cats cradle the perishables.
Hundreds of Chuck Hestons choke the galley.
Second thoughts thicken on the torn hairnet.
Rubber pizza lies at dandruff's mercy.
Rotten sugar corrodes bean internet.
Mary made homunculi for Percy.
It's no fiftieth with no Tom Baker.
Or the chief mate Starbuck ain't no Quaker.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Action Figures

I actually laughed myself awake a few nights ago. I'd never had that happen to me before. I was dreaming that I was among a group of powerful individuals assembling massive compliments of military power for a single, coordinated campaign. Each person contributed whole armies and navies and so on. My friend was explaining to me in detail the number and types of his ships, the sophisticated armament each bore. I replied, "Ah. I just brought this full sized aircraft carrier with naked action figures." It was, as I said, a complete, enormous aircraft carrier but manning the stations, scattered about the floor of the conning tower, and placed randomly on the deck were just little beige man shaped plastic toys, jointed at the shoulders and thighs. I started laughing at how hopelessly useless my contribution was and I woke up.

I didn't sleep too well last night because I was playing a video game before I went to bed, which always leaves me wired. Chess is even worse. I need a movie to wind down. But I'd finished downloading and installing The Secret World, an MMORPG Caitlin had recommended I try, about twenty hours before Steam had promised me it would finish. The graphics are bad, both in terms of the engine and the design, but it has some of the best voice acting I've heard in a game and compositions in the movie segments bring a great deal of life to the 3d figures. I'm looking forward to trying more of it. Character creation is astonishingly limited but I managed to make a character I'm more or less happy with--I named her Hideko "Jyuuichi" Ichinose after Hideko Takamine and Mrs. Ichinose from Maison Ikkoku. I was lucky enough to get the name "Hideko" on one of my characters in World of Warcraft but never got around to using her before I got too bored with the game to continue. I've always liked the name because it sounds like "hideous" with the typical for women's names 子 at the end, which means child. Though ironically, the first part of the name uses a Chinese character for beautiful.

Anyway, here are some photos of real life I've taken lately;

Monday, April 22, 2013

Twins of Presumed Evil

Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, so a deranged, witch hunting zealot comes across an actual servant of the devil now and then. Such is the gist of Twins of Evil, a 1971 Hammer horror film starring Peter Cushing, the third in Hammer's Karnstein trilogy. The first film is the best, The Vampire Lovers, which is loosely based on Le Fanu's Carmilla and stars the incomparable Ingrid Pitt as Carmilla/Mircalla . Pitt wouldn't return for the next two films, which is one of the reasons The Vampire Lovers is the best one. The final film is a more solid piece of filmmaking than the second, a great deal less silly, though it's disappointing in its lack of silly sexploitation. A puzzling distinction given that Twins of Evil stars the luscious Playboy Playmate Collinson Twins.

The twins, only one of whom we ever get to see naked and in only one scene, are the nieces of Cushing's character, Gustav, who roams the countryside at night with his fellow zealots to drag attractive young women out of their homes and burn them at the stake. I think the movie's still supposed to take place in Germany so I guess these guys are Pietists?

The funny thing is, Gustav basically becomes the hero of the movie when Count Karnstein, made a vampire in the one brief scene in which Mircalla appears (played by yet another actress), terrorises the town. Gustav never has any regrets about his murders--his arguments with the younger male hero, a scholar, revolving only around the fact that fire won't harm vampires, only a stake through the heart or decapitation will work.

There are a couple scenes, I rather wish had been expanded on, where Gustav argues with his wife, Katy, about his religious fervour. Katy's played by Kathleen Byron, who played Sister Ruth in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus, and it's interesting to find her again playing a character beset by the constrictions of piety. It's really great seeing her performing with Peter Cushing, however briefly.

Cushing is great as Gustav. He plays the character with complete commitment, going right along with the movie's ambiguous perspective on him. Really, there's a lot of material here that could have been exploited. The movie's kind of like two movies of unrealised potential; the one about religion and preying on the weak, and the one about kinky sex.

The Collinson twins always, without exception, wear gowns that bare most of their chests, but there's nothing like the dumb fun sex scenes in Lust for a Vampire, or even the bits of fun in The Vampire Lovers. It makes The Vampire Lovers' peculiar mix of fun and heart seem even more remarkable, and I'm looking forward to it coming out on Blu-Ray next week.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Sides are Better

Oh, Cathy O'Donnell, our time was too brief. So scrumptiously sexy in They Live By Night, she was reteamed with her co-star in that film, Farley Granger, in 1950 for Anthony Mann's Side Street. This time she's sadly underused as just a good little wife. I suspect Mann or a producer became less impressed with Granger as filming progressed, too, because the last portion of the film gives its heart to a suddenly introduced Jean Hagen. There's an unfocused quality to the film, despite the existential noir quandary given to Granger, but in this lack of focus we have a sense of the complex city of New York set up in the opening narration as a place where two people can live twenty feet from each other for years and never meet. Obviously influenced by The Naked City, the film is filled with wonderful location shots in New York City, shots every bit as impressive and a bit more artistic than those in Naked City, and the film's story is a noir constructed decently enough to keep you.

Granger plays Joe Norson, a simple, good hearted kid who has the bad fortune of stumbling across thirty thousand dollars. He'd meant just to steal two hundred he saw lying about at the office of one of the people on his mail route, and he'd felt bad already about that.

Joe's played by Granger projecting like mad; one is rather astonished when his father doesn't immediately pick up on the fact that Joe has come home sweating a storm and looking at everyone with wide-eyed terror. This was the naive conception of young people at the time as sort of idyllic, blushing lambs. It's not surprising that Granger is far more effective under the guidance of Alfred Hitchcock in Rope and Strangers on a Train, though even then he's hardly one of my favourite Hitchcock leads.

And oh, Cathy O'Donnell, who's so strong and complex and utterly sexy in They Live By Night . . . The problem, it's easy to see, is that interesting female characters, particularly in leading roles, were just too rare. If only someone had suggested making her the one who found the money and had the quandary. Well, then we'd have Psycho, but that was still a decade away. I'd argue O'Donnell had capacity for a more nuanced performance than Janet Leigh, though. Whether or not that would have been appropriate for Psycho is another question.

Charles McGraw has a tiny part as a police detective. He's sadly underused, as in just a few lines he shows he has more going for him than Granger, but the show is stolen by the versatile Jean Hagen as an alcoholic nightclub singer femme fatale with a broken heart on her sleeve. Yeah, she packs all that into just two scenes and really nicely, too.

Granger's buying her drinks, trying to find out about the crooks he took the thirty grand from before the cops get to him. She thinks he's an admirer and painfully starts to melt, wanting to trust him. Then she catches him going through her purse. We care a lot more about her disappointment in that moment than Granger's whole pathetic story.

Twitter Sonnet #499

Apricot pompadour yoghurt galloped
Off to green war, fresh cut lawn leprechauns
Pointing recoiled broke vintage stirrups,
Gesturing at cavalry craving dawns.
Gentle hangover hues reprise the night.
The pulse of pale banshees burnished the brick.
Painted clouds casually escape from sight.
Background silk cords are too heavy to nick.
Careful spray of Kool-Aid camos the scrubs.
Unnoticed novelty nurses steal meds.
El train echoes haunt sorely missing hubs.
Bottled clippers listen to Talking Heads.
Accordion scaffolds presage collapse.
Storm clouds brake for a blueberry relapse.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Doctor Requests Context

I completely and unreservedly adored this episode ("Hide", the new episode of Doctor Who). Apart from the revelation that Clara hates whisky. Not really a complaint. I guess no-one's perfect.

I loved that it wasn't about saving the universe or the world, just about saving a handful of people. The guest stars, the two ghost hunters and their understated romance, are two of the most effective guest characters I can remember seeing in the Eleventh Doctor era, only surpassed by Idris, who is arguably not a guest character, and one could use "Hide" as part of that argument. The TARDIS' dislike of Clara is both funny and intriguing.

Most importantly, I loved the ghost story that's not a ghost story but is a ghost story. For one thing, that's very classic Who--Don't be ridiculous, Jo, there's no such thing as Satan, but a giant red alien with bat wings living underground who revives in response to blood rituals? Of course (cf. The Daemons). In this case it's a little subtler, and more thematic, than that. The best part of the episode is a conversation between the Doctor and Clara as he takes the TARDIS on a whirlwind tour of Earth's history from the very beginning to a distant day when the sun as a red giant dominates a sky over a ruined and hot landscape. And Clara gets perspective on the Doctor; that for him, no-one's been born yet and everyone's already died, that everyone must be "like ghosts" to him.

The stuff earlier in the episode with the Doctor and Clara exploring the haunted house with a candelabra is nice old fashioned ghost story stuff, and it's wedded very well with an overarching theme of time and impermanence.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Strange, Bad Week Continues

My thoughts, again, with everyone in Boston. Well, with everyone in Massachusetts and the northeast and Chechnya, Russia, Turkey, Syria, anyone near the Caucasus Mountains. You know what? Just everyone. I guess this kid, still on the loose, 19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, could be just about anywhere.

He looks so young in all the pictures of him. My suspicion is that these two acted independently of any Chechen military organisation. I think these were two guys brought up in a culture of hate and machismo who got restless. The YouTube account of one, wherein he created a playlist called "terrorist", tells me they were proud of that identity rather than seeing it as some kind of ugly necessity of war.

I remember talking to someone at my chess club in Second Life not long ago whose nerves were really ragged--she lives in Turkey and she was nervous about the volatile situation in Syria. I guess people in Boston right now have some idea how she feels. The photos of Boston's empty streets to-day look so eerie. I can't imagine how scary it must be to be in the city right now.

I was going to write about the Bollywood movie I watched last night, 1969's Audmi Aur Insaan. Well, maybe it'll help take your mind off things if you're in Massachusetts. I was certainly captivated by one of the female leads, Mumtaz. I finally found a copy of an old Bollywood movie with subtitled songs, though this clip doesn't have any. But maybe it's enough to tell you the title of the song, the chorus, and the first line translate to "Life is Coincidence";

She's a great femme fatale. The other female lead is very pretty and possesses a charming exuberance, but Mumtaz is just magnificent.

This song, which is reprised later in the film, rather nicely sets up a theme that runs throughout the movie, having to do with the degree to which people have control over their destinies. The two men in the clip, Manish and J.K., are best friends. J.K. is the wealthy owner of a construction company and he's paid for Manish to go to school, from whence Manish is returning at the beginning of the film.

He meets Rita, Mumtaz's character, on the ship on the way back, though her mercenary outlook on life compels her to prefer men who aren't "soft", men like J.K., who we learn cuts corners to increase profits and deals in the black market. He also happens to fall in love with the same girl as Manish, the exuberant Meena.

Poor Mumtaz finds she has a heart after all, but becomes only J.K.'s lackey as she attempts to aid in plans to stop Manish from exposing J.K.'s crime to the government.

The movie is a pretty effective story of characters honouring unrequited loyalties to one another. There's a train sequence that borrows quite a bit from North by Northwest and From Russia with Love, but Aadmi Aur Insaan has a very good voice of its own.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Rolling Reflection on the Sea

In math class, I kind of feel like Ishmael in Moby Dick; I'm there, but from the level of my participation in class discussion, you wouldn't know it. It's one of the two things I really like about the class.

So afterwards, I went to Starbuck's to-day, appropriately enough, and finished reading Moby Dick. It's a great book. I last wrote about it here on March 23, when I was 75% through, at which point I wrote;

Stayed up too late reading Moby Dick, in which I hit the seventy five percent mark. I have to say, I didn't expect there to be so much sperm in this book. At the time Moby Dick was written, people thought a large quantity of white substance found in a sperm whale's head was in fact semen--thus the name "sperm whale". Melville spends so much time going into detail, revelling in the stuff, talking about men falling in it, getting oddly drunk from the fumes of it. Then one considers they're after a whale that's actually white, who physically reduced Captain Ahab, one could say the book is about the fundamental dick measuring contest of mythologised manhood.

This interpretation holds true for me to the end, though it becomes more solemn and beautiful. It's like a joke retold enough times it becomes an opera. The "mythologised manhood" is indeed the ghost pursued by Ahab, more than the whale. As Starbuck points out, the whale doesn't seek Ahab, Ahab seeks the whale, more importantly Ahab seeks the meaningful relationship between himself and the whale. He's committed to a point of view, and it's important to him to make his perspective everyone's reality, most especially the whale's. Otherwise he fears he can't respect himself.

Stubb speaks in third person, too, but there's more significance in how Ahab does it--he's constantly describing himself, defining himself;

"Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act's immutably decreed. 'Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant; I act under orders. Look thou, underling! that thou obeyest mine.—Stand round me, men. Ye see an old man cut down to the stump; leaning on a shivered lance; propped up on a lonely foot. 'Tis Ahab—his body's part; but Ahab's soul's a centipede, that moves upon a hundred legs. I feel strained, half stranded, as ropes that tow dismasted frigates in a gale; and I may look so. But ere I break, yell hear me crack; and till ye hear THAT, know that Ahab's hawser tows his purpose yet. Believe ye, men, in the things called omens? Then laugh aloud, and cry encore! For ere they drown, drowning things will twice rise to the surface; then rise again, to sink for evermore. So with Moby Dick—two days he's floated—tomorrow will be the third. Aye, men, he'll rise once more,—but only to spout his last!"

Ahab goes on to say in the next chapter that "Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; THAT'S tingling enough for mortal man! to think's audacity. God only has that right and privilege." But it is against God, and the omens Ahab mentions above, that Ahab strives. He can't think because that would suggest he has free will; he can only react, he can only be a scripted character in the play he's already written for himself. The God Ahab speaks of is really his own dislocated ego.

Like Macbeth, Ahab has the words of a prophet, too, about the exact conditions of his death, and as in Macbeth, even the fair sounding prophesy winds up being the man's doom when he places his complete faith in it.

It is strange that Ishmael gradually disappears entirely until the very end. We can presume he's still narrating the whole thing, though Melville frequently goes to vantage points and conversations Ishmael can't possibly have access to. Ishmael is so affable early in the book and the end is so much about intractable madmen that Ishmael's voice fading out adds to the impression of approaching, self-made doom.

Twitter Sonnet #498

Melting fibre glass bedposts bend, silent.
Glue air filling from the ink pool, opaque.
Gold paint on the wheat field, begins ascent;
Greying wing veins warm for the static's sake.
Infinity bumpers connect on tracks.
Levers squeak as the clouds compel motion.
Ubiquitous pages whiten, unpacked.
Abrupt rocks trace the ground's broken notion.
Pipes curve in a treacherous taunting spit.
Backwards laughter cracks walls with its echo.
Hollow rollbars block release from the pit.
Glazed clumps of ash jitter on the plateau.
The unsplintered glass calmly rejects type.
Sculpted ice galaxies are warm when ripe.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Space or Rama and Sita

On one level, 2004's Swades is a typical formula film. A formula at least as old as The Quiet Man, of a man returning to the home of his youth after finding fame and success in foreign lands, only to rediscover something more valuable in his homeland. But in the case of Swades we have a light hearted Bollywood musical with scenes that boldly confront issues of extreme poverty and government negligence in India. It's an entertaining film and fascinating for its place in the history of Bollywood.

I have to confess now to completely reversing my opinion on Shahrukh Khan, who stars as Mohan, the film's central character. When he's not doing broad comedy, he's capable of great nuance of emotion, as his expressive eyes and mouth have the quality of irrepressible sensitivity.

His character, Mohan, is introduced at the beginning of the film as working at NASA in the U.S. as a Project Manager of some kind of weather satellite project--apparently modelled on a real life one. NASA, in fact, appears to have been rather cooperative with the film's production.

There's even a space shuttle launch in the movie, which was a bit sad.

Although 21st century Bollywood movies are still markedly different from typical western cinema, I've perceived a great difference from the films I've watched from the 90s, partly due to better film quality as digital film has made high quality much cheaper than it was in the 90s, but also in terms of the stories I see. Dev D, Kahaani, and now Swades have all exhibited social critiques that would have been out of place in the fantastic escapism of pre-2000 Bollywood.

Sometimes it's a good thing. With the exception of Kahaani, this is the least sexist Bollywood film I've seen, with a subplot about the female lead, the bland but beautiful Gayatri Joshi, trying to impress upon the people of the village of Charanpur the importance of providing an education for the children. She refuses a marriage proposal from a man who would not allow her to continue her career as a school teacher.

In a particularly striking scene, Mohan confronts the village council with an argument against India's traditional caste system which is responsible for widespread discrimination, contributing to the poverty of men like one Mohan meets earlier in the film, who came from a family of weavers but was forced to make a meagre living as a farmer when textiles became more mechanised.

But I kind of miss the bizarre, high strung fantasy musicals. And the very rough production qualities gave the movies a certain charm. I only wish I could find some pre-1990 Bollywood that has subtitles for the songs. It's really frustrating to me that I can't start at the beginning with this unique culture of filmmaking.