Monday, September 30, 2013

Red Leaves and Animals

The egret meets the Shadow. Well, my shadow.

Here are some more pictures I've taken lately;

I watched Saturday's new Monogatari episode while eating breakfast to-day. Continuing the story of Nadeko's onset of puberty represented by confusing social interactions and snake demons, now the talking snake of the shrine is bound to her, talking to her in a voice only she can hear about how the two of them need to become one. He sets her at a pointless, time consuming task of finding "his body" by digging in a playground sandbox.

In addition to the obvious masturbation metaphor, the show's exhibiting the perhaps inevitable Evangelion influence in Nadeko's character. First in building sand castles, then in Shinobu's kind of funny, Asuka-like berating of Nadeko for being so quiet and superficially accommodating.

Though, honestly, I still preferred the original series' criticisms of male sexual preoccupations. Jumping on poor Shinobu, calling her privileged because she's pretty and quiet feels a bit Travis Bickle in a bad way. Maybe it's Shinobu as Araragi's shadow being a reflection of the feminine half of his personality, but that may be reading too far into it. I did think it was funny when Shinobu KOed Araragi before he could suggest sleeping in the same bed with Nadeko.

Twitter Sonnet #552

Chemical pompadour skylines crush coasts.
Mouldy blueberry rakes burst against leaves.
Plastic thistle spirits have fear of roasts.
Clockwork communion hosts are held in sheaves.
Turquoise magma smears the TV cropped shore.
Tiles disappear into the chimney.
Curved rain frenzies a dandelion spore.
The speeding hearse carried just a kidney.
Ancient Hershey's kisses fill the barrow.
Chocolate coated with blue dust chokes the dead.
Otter Pop fuel glows cobalt through marrow.
Centuries forget what paint tombstones said.
Emerald amber oozed beneath a grass sky.
Lime drenched birch boughs preclude the floating lie.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Wolves and Chimeras

How's this for a synopsis: On the brink of World War I, the young girl who would grow up to be the famous poet Oda Schaefer goes to live with her insane surgeon father who's obsessed with dissecting cadavers of foetuses and anarchists to find the root of evil. Young Oda finds an injured Estonian anarchist author and soldier and hides him in the attic of her father's laboratory. She performs surgery on him and nurses him back to health, learning much about life, love, and writing along the way. And yet all the Wikipedia entry says for 2010's Poll (released as The Poll Diaries in the U.S.) is "The Poll Diaries is the most expensive film that has ever been made in Estonia." That may be, but it's certainly also worth mentioning that the film is an impressive, romantic melodrama.

Supposedly this is based a true story from Oda Schaefer's youth, though Wikipedia's biography for her names her father as "Eberhard Kraus, one of the early Baltic writers and journalist," not the proto-Mengele named Ebbo von Siering we see in the film. It's not so much the luridness of the character that leads me to doubt the veracity of the portrayal as much as the fact that he's one of so many thematic elements put together in one spot. He forms part of the tapestry of melodrama that illustrates the formation of young Oda von Siering's (Paula Beer) personality.

The real life poet, Oda Schaefer, apparently a great aunt of Poll's director Chris Kraus, was part of an anti-Nazi community of writers and artists in Germany, so having someone rather like a Nazi in her life illustrates this aspect of her developing personality.

The movie reminds me very strongly of Spirit of the Beehive, which also features a very controlling, scientist father contrasted with his imaginative daughter who secretly shelters an injured rebel soldier. The girl's fixation on Frankenstein's monster in that film is recalled in Oda's desire, at the beginning of this film, to learn from her father. As the film opens, she arrives at his home having travelled in a wagon with the corpse of her mother (whom Ebbo had divorced) packed in ice.

She's also carrying the preserved foetuses of Siamese twins as a gift for her father.

These are rather appalling to her stepmother, Milla, an aristocrat whose dwindling family fortune is reflected in the strange, crumbling seaside mansion in and around which the whole movie takes place.

It also works as a visual metaphor for Ebbo as the thing looks rather like a dissected corpse. The impression is that Ebbo, who was kicked out of university for his theories on eugenics, married Milla for her money and social position. The two seem to represent two forms of aristocracy, one old and one new, both presuming a right to handle the lower classes as they see fit.

Because he's an underdog--having lost his professorship--and the person Oda feels closest to, the movie actually begins with its sympathy attached to Ebbo and against Milla, who callously tosses the foetuses into the sea. Milla's son Paul secretly helps Oda recover the specimen and the two stash it in a barrel of schnapps which, as you might imagine, pays off in a rather critical accident later in the film.

Schnapps ends up being the name the Estonian rebel asks Oda to call him, not wishing to reveal his real name, possibly because, he hints, he is a famous anarchist writer. Unlike the soldier in Spirit of the Beehive, who the girl is attracted to as she associates him with a monster, the soldier here is quite handsome and Oda develops a crush bound up with her own desire to become a writer.

Both Schnapps and Oda's father exhibit a misogyny in dealing with her, one telling her she needs to be more like a man if she wants to be a decent writer, the other telling her she needs to be more like a man if she wants to be a decent doctor. Schnapps makes a good point, though, when he tells her a good writer must be "like a wolf", must see things through, and contemptuously points out to her that she has a tendency to leave off things she feels passionate about when she's half done--he tells her he's able to hold his breath underwater a long time because he has a slow heartbeat so she demands to count his pulse but becomes distracted by something else halfway through.

In a charming scene, he dresses her as Napoleon and himself as Josephine. The two dance before he instructs her to begin writing only if she imagines she's Napoleon.

It's not strange a soldier of an ideology would have this point of view on adhering to one's purpose. Though this somewhat positive view of a trait linked to masculinity is mirrored by Ebbo's desire to see and impose order on the world. The film's sympathies completely shift to Milla after Ebbo assaults her as part of an assertion of control. We see why this supposedly masculine attitude can be horrible and what the film portrays as a feminine attitude, a capacity to adapt to change, can be a positive thing.

The film has a very modern, sort of academic beauty to it and the story, despite comparing unfavourably to the subtler and stranger Spirit of the Beehive, is a very enjoyable, layered romance.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Undiscovered Liver

Sometimes all it takes is one genetically engineered parasite to break all sexual taboos on a resort island. David Cronenberg's 1975 film Shivers draws a connexion between unrestrained sexuality and experimental surgery as only David Cronenberg can. An early film for him, it isn't as thematically complex as his follow up Rabid but still quite fun.

The casually bizarre, deep-voiced actor Joe Silver as Doctor Linksy explains how another doctor, Doctor Hobbes, decided to try creating parasites to replace irreparably damaged or diseased internal organs like livers and kidneys. The parasites perform the same filtering functions and just take a bit of blood in return.

Things don't work out very well. The film opens with Hobbes murdering his teenage mistress in whom he'd implanted the first parasite. It turns out the parasites cause the host to experience a raging nymphomania so the girl had slept with people all over the island apartment building and in so doing spawned more parasites.

The film's protagonist is the dull resident doctor Roger St. Luc, who's too busy on the phone to notice is knock-out nurse performing a strip tease for him.

This is no non-sequitur. Aside from scenes of rape and a father making out with his daughter, the film seems to portray the sterile, parasite-free humans as being rather repressed compared to everyone who has a parasite. It's certainly hard to see anything wrong with Barbara Steele making out with Susan Petrie.

The film actually doesn't take sides, perhaps portraying the parasites more as a conquering civilisation with all the beauty and horror a conquering civilisation brings.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Periphery of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The world now has a S.H.I.E.L.D. show without Nick Fury. I guess Samuel L. Jackson was busy guest starring on Boondocks. But that's okay, we have a cell phone salesman.

Honestly, no offence intended to the many, many people who inexplicably adore Agent Coulson. I just don't see it. I know he's idealistic despite experience and he has a good heart. That doesn't make the actor adhere to my affections any more than a rubber ball adheres to a wall. However hard Whedon pitches this guy, he bounces right off my interest.

Although it's rather obviously hinted in the premiere episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that this is in fact a clone or android copy of the man we know from the Marvel movie franchise. Or it's a poorly concealed secret, I'm not sure which. In any case, I guess this means we can have the movie's pathos cake and eat the television Coulson too.

But this episode wasn't really bad. J. August Richards, from Whedon's Angel, guest stars as a regular guy down on his luck who's offered super-strength by a mad scientist's gadget. Richards gets increasingly frustrated when his abilities don't bring him any closer to getting a job and provide for his family, tilting him a little towards supervillainy. His speech at the end to Coulson as a representative of the U.S. government about what a sham the American dream is is pretty effective, resonating maybe more actually than the Avengers film's story about mankind needing to be dominated. It's not far from the original Spider-Man comics, actually.

Aside from Coulson, the show's cast includes a spunky hacker with a mildly annoying affected way of speaking and an improbably good sense of style--this show's version of Kaylee. She's not the only thing reminding me of Firefly as the hanger set on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s plane looks uncannily like a refurbished Serenity hanger set.

I think the character I like most so far is Ming-Na Wen's quiet and deadly veteran agent. Maybe just because she gets to be subtler than everyone else. Her quiet trepidation and confidence speak volumes.

Twitter Sonnet #551

Hard mesh hair nets slice an exact scalp grid.
Violet petals crushed in wire nets squeeze.
Scapula strops hone the skull to shave id.
Ribcage watch fobs are colder than car keys.
Rounded dice'll decide the hollow slope.
Parallel horns push parietal mush.
Blue Tetris line dancing asks you to cope.
Steamy dives hold the hydroponic lush.
Weasels kept on scalped hills repeal the nuts.
Copper songs beat mugs to the gangster sheet.
The old lead dipped needles form grey thatched huts.
Gorgonzola crumbles a barrow beat.
Candles collapse in a waxy black pool.
June bug songs amplified shatter the wool.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Alone with a Gun in an Uninviting Landscape

At Caitlin's recommendation, I watched the first episode of 2012's Hit & Miss last night and was impressed. I can't remember a modern television series that felt more like a classic Western, not even Firefly.

Chloë Sevigny plays Mia, a quiet, elegant assassin. After fulfilling a contract with a silenced pistol at the beginning of the episode she learns from her employer that she has a son. Mia's a transwoman and her ex-girlfriend, Wendy, now deceased from cancer, had given birth to Mia's son without informing her. But Wendy has now bequeathed custody of the son, Ryan, along with three other kids Wendy had from other fathers.

The children live on a remote farm in Ireland, its stone buildings looking like they can't be younger than three hundred years. The children, especially Riley, the oldest, are hostile to Mia and despite her mother's desires Riley wants Mia to just sign papers telling the government the kids are looked after but to in practice sod off.

They call her freak because she's a transwoman but the hostility seems more related to the fact that she's a stranger. A peculiarly cool stranger capable of controlled, extreme physical violence.

This comes in handy when Mia has to deal with the abusive landlord. The lone gun outsider who comes to protect the family unit on the frontier is one of the classic Western scenarios, exemplified in movies like John Ford's The Searchers or Anthony Mann's Man of the West. Making the gunfighter a transwoman compliments this trope very nicely.

Maybe the Western I thought of most was Django Unchained. It came to mind as I was thinking about the casting of Chloë Sevigny as a transwoman. Sevigny was born female so a transwoman portrayed by her would not exhibit many of the physical characteristics most real transwomen would have to deal with, characteristics that might be crucial aspects of such a character's development. One advantage, though, of having someone biologically female in the role is in giving perspective to the audience, allowing them to see the painful absurdity in the contrast of someone who knows she's female in a world that does not wish to regard her as such.

It also plays into Mia being a larger than life hero. One of the complaints I've heard about Django Unchained is that it's not realistic for a slave to exact the extravagant revenge Django was able to. What those people miss is that Django Unchained is wish fulfilment and as such provides an empowering answer to emotional damage and needs wrought by abuse. The same is true in the case of Mia in Hit & Miss--one tends not to hear about transgender people beating the shit out of anyone. In fact, news sites, particularly those covering Russia nowadays, tend to be full of stories of the opposite occurring, stories of innocent transgender individuals suffering from physical and emotional abuse from family and strangers alike.

Mia encounters people with the will to such bigotry but because she's a preternaturally skilled contract killer, she's able to come out on top in the end and it's tremendously satisfying.

The only scene in the episode where Mia is really emotionally open is in a somewhat odd karaoke sequence where she sings "Let Me Kiss You", a song Morrissey wrote for Nancy Sinatra. The lyrics, about someone's dissatisfaction with their own body and their desire to be regarded as attractive in spite of it, cover a lot of ground in Mia's story that's not really at the surface, at least in this first episode. The scene really strongly reminded me of the karaoke scenes in Boys Don't Cry, even before I remembered Chloë Sevigny was in that movie as well. That movie is about a transman in rural U.S. with a title referencing a song by The Cure--actually making it seem like the alternate reality version of Hit & Miss, now that I think about it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Distract Back

So my back hurts. It started hurting Monday at the end of the walk to class up the hill from where I have to park off campus because parking permits are more than forty dollars. I felt fine until a sudden stab under my left shoulder blade and suddenly my rather light backpack was unendurable.

The pain maintained or now and then increased throughout Tuesday. My mother and sister recommended I get a massage and in the meantime gave me a heating pad which I wore for six hours to no effect. Alka-Seltzer also seems to do nothing. The pain kind of goes away when I lie flat on my back, which is how I slept through the night. But every time I sat up or tried to turn on my side the pain came back twice as strong. Now it's on both sides of my middle back.

It feels like it's probably my muscles. I don't know. I hope it's nothing I need to see a doctor about since my insurance only pays for two visits a year and I've already gone twice.

Anyway, I only bring it up because I'm having trouble concentrating on anything else. It was a bit of a struggle writing that entry about Naked Alibi yesterday. Drawing for very long was impossible.

As usual when I'm experiencing constant discomfort of some kind, I start thinking about how there are probably people who have it much worse and I start reproaching myself for being such a wimp. Hopefully I'll get used to this or it'll go away. I really don't want it to be the centre of my attention anymore.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Choice and a Chance

A lot of the heart of film noir is in how a person's actions reflect on his or her self-image. 1954's Naked Alibi stars Sterling Hayden as a police chief who goes rogue to catch a killer, blurring the line between lawman and lawbreaker, but the best noir character in this movie is Gloria Grahame.

She doesn't show up until thirty minutes into the movie in a little Mexican border town where she sings a Cole Porter song about how men aren't what they try to make you believe they are.*

She doesn't know how right she is. Her long-time boyfriend Al shows up in town again after one of his extended absences. She doesn't know, but she suspects, the reason he's gone so much is that there's another woman. In fact, he has a wife and kid who we met at the beginning of the film. This is in a town up north where Al's a baker and Chief Joe Conway (Hayden) is trying to bust him for the murder of three cops.

This is why Joe stays on Al's trail even after he's fired for a picture that emerges seemingly showing him beating Al in an interrogation.

The audience doesn't see anything especially crooked about Al at this point (this is before he goes down to the border town) so we have to take it on faith that Joe's right. Since he's played by beefy, angry Sterling Hayden, the crook from The Asphalt Jungle, we can't be sure our faith is justified.

Grahame's character, Marianna, takes Joe in and plays nurse after a few guys mug him.

She finds a newspaper clipping in his pocket that suggests Al might be a killer. Her dilemma over whether or not to help Joe motivates the whole rest of the film. She tells him how she's moved from town to town all her life and we have the impression her trust has been betrayed more than once. What pains her most about this seems to be how it prevents her from being who she wants to be. She doesn't know how to stick by the people she loves because she's never able to tell who's real or who isn't. And she's growing more conscious of the fact that she's running out of time.

*Her singing voice is dubbed by Jo Ann Greer.

Twitter Sonnet #550

Bad times to drink cluster round the basin.
Unsweetened soy exists just near no cheese.
Bones bleached by coffee filters won't fasten.
Whirlpools may pull green eggs around like peas.
Rusty wrought iron anemones march.
Twisted Wrigley's gum ideas'll sparkle.
Timeless wisdom's voice says, "And now, the larch."
The fake island is a giant snorkel.
Straw monster's amused by automobiles.
Rusty bones resound at each grain dropped down.
Avocado scales slither through blue hills.
In the day's last cornstalk a spine was found.
Upside down blue trees paint a big duck foot.
Tribble fossils help few win the shot put.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How Snakes Phrase Favours

I'm a sucker for a gorgon so the new Monogatari episode, the first in a new arc, had me at Girl with Snakes for Hair. Though sadly it's called "Nadeko Medusa". I'd hoped it was just the translator's fault but the title card reads "なでこメドゥーサ" which is indeed pronounced "Nadeko Medusa." It's a shame, they had a good opportunity to continue their portmanteau scheme--like the original series, for example, which was "Bakemonogatari"--combining "Bakemono" and "monogatari" (化け物 and 物語)--that's "monster" and "story" respectively. This one could've been "ゴルゴ物語"--"Gorgomogatari". Oh, well.

This is a sequel to the "Nadeko Snake" arc from the original series, the arc I considered the weakest of that series though still not bad. It involved trouble Nadeko had with an invisible snake demon twisting around her body in a metaphor for her puberty and confused feelings about her friends' older brother Araragi. In the new episode, a snake demon possibly related to the first one shows up in Nadeko's life in the form of small white snakes she hallucinates seeing twisting on her hands, her shoes, and squirming out of a telephone. For some reason, this prompts in Nadeko's voiceover narrative a reminiscence of a boy at her school who'd recently conned various students out of revealing who they had crushes on. Since then, conversations in her class have been strained and artificial as everyone tries to ignore the fact that they all know who likes everyone else.

Nadeko hadn't been involved, but she starts thinking about the difference between an environment that's wrong and being wrong herself. The snake soon after starts speaking to her about how everyone in the world is either a victim or an aggressor and accuses her of being an aggressor who pretends to be a victim.

So far, the new series has mostly lacked the clever anti-moe material of the original series, instead outright indulging in the mainstream, popular fetishisation of girls. I'm cautiously hopeful things might get a little better with this arc, especially since the previous one had ended in such an interesting way.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fake Mongols and Slut Shaming

Here's a movie I really wish wasn't stupid. 1966's 7 Women, the final film of the great director John Ford, is another example of a filmmaker's attempt to be progressive in the 1960s coming off as terribly awkward. Some great performances and nice compositions unfortunately do not redeem it.

I suspect the motivation behind the project was to address the stigma attached to female sexuality. That having a number of sexual partners is seen as diminishing a woman's worth. Ford and his screenwriters seem to have decided to address this issue by creating a situation where a woman sells sexual favours in order to save the lives of several people. Unfortunately, the situation they created is based on too apparent logical problems causing the story to be too transparent and the ideological motives to come across too simplistically.

Anne Bancroft is cool as hell when she's introduced dressed like Indiana Jones. I really wanted to like this movie where her Dr. Cartwright is the central protagonist, a chain-smoking atheist doctor assigned to a Christian mission in rural 1930s China.

The film's divided into two acts--the first isn't so bad, it's about a cholera outbreak at the mission. The head of the mission is Agatha Andrews (Margaret Leighton) whose faith is shaken by proximity to so much death and suffering. She delivers the content of her character in some rather awkwardly straight exposition, confessing to Cartwright her commitment to God is an attempt to make up for the emptiness of a life without a family. Curiously, the story doesn't make any attempt to say Bancroft's untraditional lifestyle has left a similar void in her life. Though there is an awkward scene where, after the cholera outbreak is over, a drunken Cartwright tells the assembled women about a love affair that went wrong.

The title of the film may have been a nod to Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa, a director Ford liked. The second act of 7 Women bears some resemblance to Seven Samurai in that it involves a group of bandits attacking the mission.

It's here the film really falls apart. It's bad enough the Mongol bandit leader Tunga Khan is played by an Austrian man and his second in command is played by African American Woody Strode. But the main problem is in how stories told about Khan's gang earlier in the film told bluntly of how these men had indiscriminately killed, burned and raped. When they merely imprison the white women, and turn the one Chinese woman among them into a servant, the reason is given that they're keeping them for ransom. This seems a little shaky to begin with, but when Cartwright agrees to granting sexual favours to Khan in exchange for medical supplies for one of the women who's going into labour it all becomes much more insubstantial. No-one asks the obvious question--why wouldn't Khan rape Cartwright? Why does he have to barter with her? This unasked question becomes a greater and greater problem as Cartwright eventually trades enough sex to get all the other women freed, presumably losing Khan the ransoms he expected to get for them.

All the while, Agatha spits vaguely biblical venom about Cartwright, calling her a slut and "whore of Babylon" until the most pious and devoted of the other missionaries becomes disgusted with her and, by implication, the heart of the film turns against religious demagoguery.

It's a shame, because the intention is quite good and Ford was a great director. I would point to Powell and Pressberger's Black Narcissus from twenty years earlier as a film that had much better success at conveying a similar statement.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Fish Will Take Your Legs One Day

I found this little crawfish already walking back down the dusty hill from Wal-Mart. He'd lost an antenna already and maybe wasn't long for the world but I took him back to the water anyway. I didn't cook him, as a certain Russian hitman might have advised.

Maybe it's the algae driving the crawfish out of the water. The water has been an opaque green for quite a while. The tadpoles certainly seem to like it.

That's a tennis shoe there in the possession of algae and tadpoles.

Twitter Sonnet #549

Eggplant popsicle bats watch the freezer.
Asylum vice squads arrange garish soups.
The General's wig was an appeaser.
Magic mares create special interest groups.
Graphite grids smear crudely on paper scars.
Bruised guesses repeatedly slap the phone.
Clamps compel animal eyes to count cars.
Erasers shred tallied flesh to the bone.
Vanilla dandruff on the brown duck speaks.
No crawfish crawls willingly to Wal Mart.
The torpedo refrigerator squeaks.
You'll find albacore swarms ate the next chart.
Malicious anti-goldfish rallies fade.
Lost dry crustaceans seek a mathless shade.