Thursday, July 31, 2014

Comic Con Report volume 5

The Cinema Makeup School, whose booth produced the impressive spider lady last year, this year made some kind of demonic faun.

I wasn't quite as smitten as I was by the spider lady but I would certainly go out with her at least once.

Here's a Marvel Comics Apocalypse being done up at the Cinema Makeup School booth:

I saw some impressive makeup elsewhere at the Con, too. I didn't get a chance to talk to this gender swapped Coppola Dracula because she was being interviewed for television by Mystique:

But very well done. The shoes alone would get thumbs up from me.

On a subtler scale, I liked the face paint on this Cheshire Cat:

She told me she'd only seen the 1951 Disney film and the new Tim Burton one. She'd never read the books. I think I bored her a little as I launched into recommendations. All the Alice fans I see at the Cons, why's it so hard to find anyone who prefers or has even read the books?

I said I hadn't seen as much Doctor Who cosplay this year but I must mention this guy who is, to date, the only Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart I've ever seen at Comic Con.

When I pointed this out to him he said sternly, "A shame! A shame!"

I didn't realise it at the time, but I'm pretty sure he was the same guy I saw in this great Fourth Doctor costume on another day:

It couldn't have been comfortable--it was 90 Fahrenheit most of the time this year although it actually started to rain on Sunday. This lady would have been prepared:

She was dressed as her own character from a comic book series she sells on thumb drives called The Saints of Winter Valley--this is her site.

Well, I have a lot of colouring to do on my own comic to-day, hopefully I can wrap up all the Con stuff in another entry, though there is a lot more. I leave you with Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Ninja Turtles:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Comic Con Report volume 4

Here's Gilbert Hernandez in his historic signing of a copy of his book for me last Friday. I confessed I hadn't read any of his work but a lot of his brother's. "He is your brother, right?" I asked, "Jaime Hernandez?" suddenly unsure if Jaime wasn't his cousin. Gilbert confirmed, yes, Jaime is his brother.

He was selling two books, he told me one was about himself as a kid, the other was about himself as a teenager. He told me they needn't be read in any particular order, I chose the one about himself as a teenager, Bumperhead. I'm only about a third of the way through--I haven't had a great deal of time for anything--but so far I quite like it. Although he told me the book is about his own youth, the characters make reference to modern things such as iPads. But there is a keen and delightful insight into human nature in the renderings of people that feel like genuine reflections on friends and family.

After meeting Hernandez, I went upstairs and made this:

Boba Fett? Boba Fett? Where? Well, his likeness is kind of in this thing I made during the Star Wars origami panel that preceded the Joe Johnston panel. Chris Alexander, author of the book, conducted the lecture and taught us how to make Boba Fett and a light sabre with specially coloured paper he handed out to everyone in the room. I completely failed at the light sabre, much to the amusement of the girl sitting next to me who looked about fifteen or sixteen. Both her origamis came out precisely perfect, my Boba Fett by comparison, I observed to her, looking like a crumpled napkin. It turns out I'm not cut out for precision creasing:

I still maintain I make a damn fine paper throwing star.

The lightsabre was basically a tube so I tried to teach the girl the magic trick that was in every crappy magic book I read as a kid where you keep both eyes open, look through a paper tube with one eye and, with the other, look at the palm of your hand you have placed alongside the tube. It's supposed to make it look like there's a hole in your hand. Judging from the puzzled look she gave me when she tried it, I'm not sure I managed to convey the concept.

After the Joe Johnston panel, I ran into these two:

If there was one trend I saw at this year's Comic Con it was female Lokis. I saw maybe twenty Lokis, one was male.

Often they were with boyfriends dressed as Thor but sometimes they were paired with female Thors.

I asked one of the female Lokis why I was seeing so many women dressed as the male character, if it was a meme or something, and she simply said, "Loki is really popular." Another one I asked was genuinely surprised I had seen so many.

I'd remarked in previous Cons on the number of women dressed as the Doctors. While I do occasionally see men dressed as female characters, I have the impression that the women dressed as men were doing so as more of a pure expression of love for the characters, women cross-dressing even now much less taboo.

This woman was dressed as a male character from the television series Hannibal:

I've never seen the show so she explained to me who she was and recommended the series to me.

This woman was dressed as a male character from the series Supernatural:

She told me she made the wings herself and they actually folded and unfolded.

For the record, here's the one male Loki I saw:

Well, I have a lot yet to do to-day and I'm running late. I leave you with this crowd shot and a challenge--find the female Loki in this picture!

Twitter Sonnet #251

Ultimate trolleys bear the second stops.
Tiny lattice ticks to the lazy slush.
Emerald monocles misplaced the old strops.
Shield and swordless concrete echoed the hush.
Slow orders tip the cheese buttons downward.
Ragged black teas divide the whole and woods.
The birth of Venus was water powered.
Painted clouds'll cling to the paper goods.
Circles question basil on the bedsheet.
Cool blues panic slowly by the mirror.
Inert hungers are pushed up by black peat.
Grey flooded night sounds drank by the hearer.
Flashes of elephant surprise the mouse.
Careful guesses ran into the quiz house.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Comic Con Report volume 3

I was going to just talk about Friday to-day but since to-day is the release of the Twin Peaks blu-ray I figure I ought to talk about Saturday's panel for the release. It wasn't a very exciting panel--it mainly consisted of people who worked on the blu-ray transfer and restoration and they talked about the difficulty they had in finding original negatives for deleted scenes and the Log Lady intros. On that latter note, it was nice to see they did finally manage to upgrade those introductions, which were originally written and recorded by David Lynch for a Bravo marathon of Twin Peaks years after the series concluded. In all DVD releases the video is quite muddy, like a VHS transfer. Now it's crystal clear.

The best part of the panel was Kimmy Robertson who played Lucy Moran on the series. She was the only person who originally worked on the series who was on the panel.

The "Unboxing" video she's referring to is this:

The producers of the blu-ray were quite evidently proud of the packaging and made a few disparaging remarks about Netflix and videos streamed through iTunes--they said there has been some HD videos of Twin Peaks available through those services for some time but it is not their restoration, essentially just upsampled from the DVDs. Their work, along with the fabled deleted scenes, is only available through the box set.

My sister was with me on Saturday and sat through two panels with me before the Twin Peaks panel. The panel immediately preceding the Twin Peaks panel was one of the ones where Disney prohibited photography of any kind, a panel called Creative Careers in Entertainment and it featured representatives from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Dreamworks Animation Studios, Cartoon Network, Guillermo Del Toro's Mirada Studios, Blizzard Entertainment, and Jib Jab Brothers Studios.

The representative from Disney, Dawn Rivera-Ernster, moderated the panel, a short, middle aged, soft spoken woman who seemed slightly defensive of an image of absolute peace and love she was endeavouring to pitch to us with a video talking about how Disney animators are a family and community open with one another about sharing ideas. She had begun the panel by telling the room no photos or video recording were allowed and when she concluded the video presentation by smilingly accepting applause for a clip of the "Let It Go" musical sequence from Frozen, she spotted a young man in the front row raising his camera. "No pictures, please," she repeated, looking directly at him but he took a picture anyway, with the flash, to which she could only reply, "Stupid camera guy."

"Oh, sorry," he said.

She laughed and said, "That's okay."

On the one hand, I feel for her because the guy really had done something pretty obnoxious. On the other hand, it was sort of interesting seeing one little crack in the Disney perfect façade she was presenting, just a tiny hint of tension between the image of love for all Disney tries to project and the intensely, feverishly capitalist reality of the Disney corporation.

I'd actually spoken to someone who works in Disney animation earlier that day, an instructor at Walt Disney Studios named Mark McDonnell (this is his web site). He had a booth where he was selling books of sketches he'd done in his free time of monstrous mermaids. I remarked to him that they looked rather Lovecraftian, he nodded and said, "Yeah, I'll take that." So I told him about the priest of Cthulhu using a megaphone to proselytise outside the Con that morning.

Definitely one of the best of the many parodies of the Christian pushers who are always outside the Con, particularly because the language of overpowering doom associated with the Lovecraft mythos is almost indistinguishable from the harsh words coming from the Christians' megaphones. I could tell several people couldn't discern the difference between the Christians and the Cthulhu acolytes. I recalled to McDonnell reading Lovecraft's advice to writers that they read the bible in order to be inspired by the language.

On the Creative Careers panel, Rivera-Ernster, Kim Mackey (Dreamworks), and Brooke Keesling (Cartoon Network), all nodded in agreement when someone observed the importance of drawing inspiration from real life experiences. However, the Mirada Studios representative, Andy Cochrane, an exhausted looking pale young man with dark fatigue circles around his eyes, told the crowd it's helpful to create storyboards from watching television shows and movies, just to get a feel for how the language of film works.

On Friday, I saw a whole panel about storyboards, another Disney panel where video wasn't allowed. However, still photos were, so here's a picture of the subject of the panel, Joe Johnston, director of Captain America: The First Avenger and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids:

More importantly, he's the former art director at ILM, responsible for a vast portion of the storyboards for the original Star Wars trilogy. The panel mainly consisted of Johnston being interviewed by Lucasfilm editor J.W. Rinzler who introduced Johnston by saying that, after George Lucas, Johnston was the one most responsible for how the original trilogy turned out. Johnston modestly replied Rinzler was given to exaggeration but nonetheless it was clear that Lucas had derived many of his compositions from Johnston's storyboards.

Johnston was also the primary designer of the blockade runner, also known as the Corellian Corvette, and Millennium Falcon. He recalled a story about coming back from lunch to find another art designer had glued on some piece of material to the Falcon model and he'd casually taken out a palette knife and cleanly chipped the thing off, much to the dismay of the other designer.

It sounded like a lot of the work George Lucas did was to come in and draw big red Xs through most of Johnston's storyboards, distilling the collection only to the few Lucas liked. On some days, Johnston said he had produced as many as forty storyboards. Lucas would be very specific about cuts and adds and Johnston described working with Lucas as "Sort of like being in film school."

Johnston described the young George Lucas as a much more hands on director than his reputation suggests now. Lucas would often start shooting scenes without a clear idea of what the scene would ultimately be. He also said Lucas at the time strongly preferred practical effects though, Johnston added glumly, "I don't know if he still does."

When asked about his feelings regarding the cgi Lucas put into the special editions of the films, Johnston said he was fine with them but didn't feel the movies needed them. He did say he was very strongly in favour of J.J. Abrams' return to a greater reliance on practical effects for the new film.

He described an atmosphere of collaboration in the design of the original trilogy and how often he felt no-one could really claim sole credit for a design when the touches of Ralph McQuarrie or Dennis Muren would be there with his. He quoted Muren, the one in charge of special effects for the Star Wars films, as saying it's important to study nature for one's art. This was after Johnston had observed to us that, "The more you experience life, the more you can put in films." He said he'd seen too many films where evidently the makers had only watched television and film.

He talked about how they had a lot of Moebius artwork hanging around the art department, that Lucas and everyone loved Heavy Metal but that it was extremely important to Lucas that everything in the movies looked new.

The panel ended with fans asking questions. When asked whether or not he'd be interested in directing a Boba Fett film, Johnston said he might be, depending on the script. Which sounded like an "Of course" to me.

When asked about the brief period in development when Luke had been female, Johnston said he knew very little about it, that it was at most an idea that lasted three weeks and hadn't involved him.

That's about all I have time for to-day's entry. I'll leave you with this picture of a woman cosplaying as Rosie the Riveter. She told me the jumpsuit had belonged to her father.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Comic Con Report volume 2

The guy with the mohawk on the right is Bobak Ferdowsi, a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I ran into him outside the Quentin Tarantino panel yesterday and had a chance to tell him how much I enjoyed the NASA panel on Thursday. I didn't talk to him long because he seemed tired and I didn't think I could offer much worthwhile conversation to a systems engineer at NASA.

Also on the panel was astronaut Mike Fincke, Jim Green (NASA's division director of planetary science), and, of course, Buzz Aldrin who was wearing a shirt that said, "Get Your Ass to Mars." A potential Mars mission was the primary subject of the panel.

Actor Seth Green moderated the panel. I like Green but he was a little annoying on this panel. His attempts to inject youth oriented humour were invariably awkward from his comparing operating the Mars rovers to getting his driver's permit to saying at random moments, "Spring break on Mars!" I really, really wished he would stop doing that.

It seemed, though, related to the very reason NASA was apparently at Comic Con for the first time--to get younger people excited about space exploration. But the best moments were when the panellists abandoned this and simply spoke as themselves. Aldrin was making pretty much no attempt to sound hip, which was really nice, and Jim Green's passionate descriptions of Martian landscape features were wonderfully earnest.

Here's the video I got, including Seth Green's excruciatingly awkward reference to Ellen DeGeneres' "selfie" at the Oscars.

The number of times I heard selfies mentioned on panels I think a memo must have gone out that selfies must be mentioned at all cost.

I'm happy to say someone else has uploaded much more video from the NASA panel, a user named Emese Gaal. Here's some video she posted of Jim Green answering an audience question about the Fermi Paradox:

The other really tired meme I was exposed to at the Con was the one about Sean Bean dying in every movie and television series in which he appears. It was part of the marketing for Legends, an upcoming series starring Bean as an FBI agent, the panel for which I sat through in order to see the NASA panel.

Bean wasn't there but cast members Tina Majorino, Morris Chestnut, and Ali Larter were. The most interesting of the three by far was Majorino who I'd seen on Veronica Mars. She also plays an FBI agent on the show and she discussed preparing by actually taking real FBI qualifications tests, telling the audience how very difficult they are. The conversation started to move on when the moderator interrupted to ask Majorino if she passed the tests. Majorino smiled and looked down at the table before modestly replying, "Yes."

Larter, meanwhile, seemed extraordinarily vapid. She talked about going to a gun range with a female FBI agent and remarking how heavy the handguns were. She asked the agent if she used special smaller guns for women to which the agent replied, no, she uses the same guns as the boys do. "I thought that was so fascinating!" said Larter.

Before the panel, we were treated to a screening of the pilot episode for Legends. The concept is that Bean is an undercover agent named Martin Odum who gets dangerously close to disappearing into people he's pretending to be. I guess it's basically an Alias knock-off, though I've never seen Alias so I can't say for sure. Apart from Bean's performance, I can't say there's much to recommend the show. The intelligence of the writing seemed to be about on par for a TNT or USA series--Odum has an estranged ex-wife with whom he may or may not still have chemistry, he has sexual tension with his boss played by Larter who is at one point forced to pose as a stripper and give him a lapdance to communicate to him while he's undercover. And the FBI's technical people are portrayed as not knowing the difference between the words "upload" and "download".

Here's a White Walker I saw earlier that day:

Well, I still have a lot more to talk about so tune in to-morrow. I saw enough on Friday to fill a whole Con. I leave you with this image of the exhibit hall on Thursday:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Comic Con Report volume 1

This picture of Quentin Tarantino apparently looking right at my camera came from the Dynamite 10th Anniversary Panel, the publisher of Tarantino's upcoming collaboration with Matt Wagner, a crossover series between Django Unchained and Zorro. However, while most of the first part of the panel consisted of discussions about the comic, of course questions from the audience quickly turned to exclusively Tarantino related questions.

The one that's making news, which I failed to get video of, was a question regarding whether or not The Hateful Eight, a project which he famously shelved after the script was leaked, would be filmed after all. Tarantino surprisingly responded to the young man wearing a jersey with a number 72 on it that, yes, Hateful Eight would indeed be greenlit. He joked, "Just for you, buddy!" but it was clear he was serious about going forward with the project when he did nothing to discourage the enthusiastic applause in response to his confirmation.

I could've gotten good video, too, because I was in the centre aisle in a queue behind five other people waiting to ask questions. As it turned out, the guy in front of me got the last question of the panel, I was right there at the front when the panel concluded. My question had been a follow-up on something Tarantino mentioned earlier in the panel, that he had screened several movies for Wagner before starting the project, which is apparently a regular practice of Tarantino's before embarking on collaborations. I wanted to know the titles of the movies he'd screened for Wagner. He did partially answer my question in revealing that the villain of the story will be inspired by Samuel Fuller's western The Baron of Arizona.

Anyway, here's the video I did get:

There'll probably be more video later because, as you can see, I was certainly not alone in recording:

Although there have been plenty of times where I've seen people recording whole panels but then never afterwards seeing the footage on YouTube or anywhere else. Which makes me wonder, do these people just record panels for their own private viewing?

This year, rules on recording and taking pictures were much more explicitly outlined at the beginnings of panels. Of the three panels I saw that Disney was involved in all forbade video and only one of them allowed still photos. Meanwhile, a guy who came out before the NASA panel I saw on Thursday practically begged the audience to get as much footage as possible. Unfortunately, the battery was dying in my camera at the time so I didn't get a lot of footage but I did get some--I'll post it to-morrow when I've had time to become less exhausted.

For now, here are some photos from the last day of the Con--Doctor Who had a much less conspicuous presence this year but I did see the first two Doctors in the event hall to-day. I got their attention by calling out for William Hartnell:

I made a point this year of asking people whether or not they made their own costumes and if they had a web site they'd like me to plug. This woman, who had no web site, not only made her own costume but she's also her own character.

When I saw her, she was twirling her umbrella so the clear plastic strips twisted around her. She had no web site and seemed content just to be photographed.

Here's something a little more elaborate, also constructed by the wearer:

Anyway, I have lots more to share, expect a longer entry to-morrow.

Twitter Sonnet #650

Hot centaurs dressed as undead fall apart.
A fish waits beside the five minute stair.
Armour compels a triceratops' heart.
Old and thin the jokes of Bean's death wear.
An elk's shadow wore a suit for Fuller.
Painted grins outpace the Cheshire Cat's lips.
Reflective Falcons bow to the ruler.
Origami hunters crumple their tips.
The tesseract that's not a cube is blue.
In the labyrinth, everyone has five names.
Female Lokis appear more than Thors do.
The three Palmers play Norwegian word games.
Batman in Lego form isn't so great.
The Strong of many voices will trick fate.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Con Coffee

Blogging this morning from the Coffee Bean on Broadway on my new laptop. I got the cheapest Asus they had at Best Buy. It doesn't have a disk drive but otherwise really answers all my needs. And it's light. The Con exhibit hall opens in about an hour.

For lunch yesterday I walked from the Con to Buca di Beppo, a big Italian restaurant that was totally empty at noon just a block away from where every restaurant and cafe was crammed like clown cars. They had ravioli for eight dollars and I was able to use this thing to get some colouring done on my comic.

To-day's Saturday, normally the Con's biggest day but there's nothing I especially want to see to-day. I'm probably going to check out the Twin Peaks panel though it sounds like only the blu-ray producers and Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran) will be there.

The Hobbit panel is to-day and although I don't hate the movies exactly I don't really have enthusiasm to wait to see it in Hall H, particularly when the whole thing is likely to be online anyway. I could be wrong, but I don't think there's been anything in Hall H this year to compel anyone to camp out overnight to see. People were walking in directly on Thursday, I heard. Friday had the Game of Thrones panel and I assume that drew a crowd. I was initially planning on trying to catch that one but changed my mind when I realised it, too, would likely be online—and indeed I've already seen clips from it.

I have seen a lot of good things over the past couple days--this year I've made it my mission to see interesting things that sites like AICN and io9 aren't covering and so far I think I've succeeded pretty well.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Nesuko Will Not Deviate From Her Present Course

No, I didn't forget--Happy Birthday, Peter Suschitzky, the latest free chapter of my web comic, The Casebook of Boschen and Nesuko, is online.

Here's an interview with Suschitzky--it begins at five minutes fifty seconds, preceded by brief reviews of movies unrelated to him--it's from a movie review show.

Here are some examples of Suschitzky's work:

To-day's also my friend Amee's birthday--Happy Birthday and may the Force be with you.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Comic Con Preview Space Sonnet

I have a NASA pin now.

Twitter Sonnet 649

Sanded knee paper adheres to elbow.
Sliding exercise rocks belong to Gym.
Platinum mist resolves to Jean Harlow.
Corkscrew chipmunks May Pole the ash's limb.
A turned television sussed the bottle.
Trashless hashtags dissemble the ball cap.
The listless sky-writing drags the throttle.
Street lanes of dull murders condemn the sap.
Short sleeved pin shame kept the metal basket.
Organic lightsabre robes fade in smoke.
Clean air concrete falls on the bad gasket.
Ragged ostriches assembled your Coke.
Toys find Christmas faster than rats or cars.
The moon made man designs round trips to Mars.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Comic Con Prelude Bug

Here's my first Comic Con exclusive--this June bug flew past me when I was across the street from the convention centre, landed, and started burrowing into the grass.

He didn't seem to mind when I pulled the grass blades aside to take pictures. But eventually he moved to another spot.

I also saw some women catcalling at a guy dressed as Wolverine on the escalator, a day after I commented on a post on Facebook about how women generally don't catcall like men do. Though, to be fair, they just seemed to be asking for his number.

I thought this was an interesting promotion for SyFy's show Ascension in the Gaslamp Quarter outside the Con--those are mannequins on the awning.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Are You Talking to the Doctor?

Did you ever wonder what would happen if the Doctor and Romana met Travis Bickle and Iris in Edwardian London? Well, I more or less found out yesterday when I listened to the Fourth Doctor audio play "The Justice of Jalxar". One of the best Doctor Who audio plays I've heard so far, the story takes the opportunity to show how the Doctor's philosophy conflicts with a vigilante killer's.

It isn't actually Travis and Iris from Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, of course, but the references are pretty obvious. A character named Bobby (Mark Goldthorp) is a hansom cab driver into whose cab a young prostitute named Mary (Rosanna Miles) hops one night, begging him to take her away from her life before her pimp, Harvey (Adrian Lukis), shows up and forcibly coaxes her away. Afterwards, the cab driver, who has a very severe idea of justice, takes a special interest in the girl and gives her some money on the side.

When the Doctor encounters him, Bobby even has a line about the rain wiping the scum off the streets. Of course, sex can't be referred to at all on the show, much less prostitution, so Mary is referred to by Harvey as "the best pick-pocket in the East End" and there are references to a "house of ill repute."

The audio adventure also features the return of Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, portrayed by Trevor Baxtor and Christopher Benjamin, respectively, who portrayed the characters originally in the 1977 serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It was nice to hear them again--though I gather they have their own series of spin off audio adventures.

This is the fourth audio adventure I've listened to featuring Mary Tamm as the Doctor's companion Romana and definitely the best. A two part serial about a war between humanity and an invading race of time travelling pregnant worms that preceded it was excruciatingly bad.

Well, to-morrow's the first day of Comic-Con. I can't believe it's already here, it feels like it ought to still be months away. As usual, my posts may be brief or infrequent during the Con, but I will post here and there. Expect lengthier reports beginning Monday.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Survival of the Vicious

One of the well known problems with capitalism is the wedge it drives between the rich and the poor, the ugly contrast between the comfortable lives of the few rich and the often humiliating lifestyles of the poor, disdain imposed on their modes of living by a society that values conspicuous wealth. Akira Kurosawa frequently used his films to discuss this issue, one of the most vivid examples being his 1963 film High and Low (天国と地獄, Heaven and Hell). The film is also about a murder and a kidnapping and while the killer is an example of the embittered poor, Kurosawa does not advocate with the film the actions the killer takes in response to the injustices of capitalism. Nonetheless, this brilliant film is a powerful argument about the largely destructive effects of capitalism.

I hadn't seen High and Low in more than ten years before I bought the blu-ray a couple weeks ago. One of the reasons I picked it up to replace my old DVD is that it features commentary by Stephen Prince who generally provides excellent commentaries for Kurosawa movies but this one turned out to be particularly informative, much more so than his commentary for the recent release of The Hidden Fortress. He discusses how the bizarrely lenient laws regarding the punishment of kidnappers portrayed in the film were in fact the real laws currently in place at the time of the film. When it's discovered that the kidnapper accidentally kidnapped the son of wealthy executive Kingo Gondo's chauffeur instead of Gondo's own child, the worst he can expect if he's caught is a prison sentence of five years.

The film's divided into two parts, the first focusing on "Heaven" and the second on "Hell". Most of the first segment takes place in Gondo's home and feels like a stage play--as Prince notes in the commentary, the whole sequence was played out and filmed in real time with two cameras, the footage from which Kurosawa later edited together. The performances this draws from the actors, together with Kurosawa's ingenious blocking, are truly remarkable. The movie's thematic conflict is set up through contrasts between Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) and his chauffeur, Aoki (Yutaka Sada).

Even though it'd been established some time earlier that it was Aoki's son who was kidnapped, when the police arrive led by Detective Tokura (a cool and relaxed Tatsuya Nakadai), they speak almost exclusively to Gondo while Aoki can be seen standing pathetically in the background holding his son's sweater.

It's the chauffeur's very meekness that so unnerves the powerful Gondo who, in a fascinating moment, paces vigorously against the curtains when Aoki finally begs him to pay the ransom. But Gondo had been in the middle of a delicate manoeuvre to buy out shares in his shoe company and he'd leveraged everything, including his home, on doing so. So, he's driven against the wall to argue, is it his responsibility to save a child's life at the cost of his livelihood? The tension here perfectly lays bare the fundamental, cruel conceit of capitalism.

My favourite exchange, though, from this opening scene of great exchanges is between Gondo and his right hand man in business, Kawanishi (Tatsuya Mihashi) who at first supports his boss's refusal to pay the ransom. He's eager to take a flight to Kyoto in order to deliver the check that will secure Gondo's takeover. However, the next morning Kawanishi suddenly sides with Gondo's wife, Reiko (Kyoko Kagawa), who had been pleading with her husband to pay the ransom. Kawanishi raises several good points, including the fact that Reiko's dowry was in large part the foundation of Gondo's fortune so she ought to have a say in the matter. But Gondo smells a rat and confronts Kawanishi about his change of heart and Kawanishi admits to being swayed by the other executives. He says he lost faith in Gondo when Gondo even considered paying the ransom, demonstrating he lacked a respectable killer's instinct. The fact that Kawanishi had actually formulated real, valid arguments for a point of view opposite his I thought was a brilliant display of psychopathic capitalism.

"First you must learn to smile as you kill if you want to be like the folks on the hill," as John Lennon wrote in "Working Class Hero". In fact, Gondo does live on a hill, in full view of the squalid apartment where the kidnapper lives, as we learn in the second half of the film.

Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa's long time leading man, largely disappears from this more cinematic segment where the lead is shared between an effectively cold and agitated Tsutomu Yamazaki as the kidnapper and Tatsuya Nakadai who heads a large team of police detectives. The methods of finding clues and tracking down the kidnapper are covered in exhaustive detail, Kurosawa fascinated by the police procedural, one of the things that recalls his earlier film Stray Dog.

But while one of the detectives observes the kidnapper was right in describing Gondo's home as an obnoxious sight, the film doesn't seek to empathise with the criminal in the way Kurosawa did with Stray Dog. As we watch the kidnapper roam "Hell", from a crowded dance hall to a heroin den, he wears large, reflective glasses as though to suggest he's been so twisted up, consumed by his resentment of the world around him he barely has a personality of his own anymore.

Twitter Sonnet #648

Gangly distortions dilate the pale crust.
Slashes of fern shadows drizzle the moon.
A trombone phoenix emerged from the rust.
Frozen bells herald an orange desert boon.
Background iguana hunger chills the shot.
Spiralling moon eyes'll clink on the glass.
Cream doughnut valleys isolate the dot.
The orange forest people arrange the grass.
Statues of giant noses never blink.
Stalwart wizard plastic farmers may melt.
Broken stoppers do no duty to sink.
Computer hunters take the tower pelt.
Black tree lined mountains bulge with fake water.
Whale ribs fade above the eyelid's daughter.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Down the Rabbit Cut Out Square

I may never see every adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass but I've been making the effort for years now. So my quest has brought me to the very difficult to track down 1949 French Alice in Wonderland (Alice au pays des merveilles). Part of the reason it's so hard to find is that Disney exerted a lot of legal effort and succeeded in preventing its release in the U.S. until the 70s so that it wouldn't compete with Disney's 1951 adaptation. They needn't have bothered--the 1949 Dallas Bower film is quite inferior even to Disney's imperfect animated film but it nonetheless has a few nice qualities.

The film wastes time with an opening segment explaining how all the weird citizens of Wonderland are really people Lewis Carroll knew at Oxford and the Queen of Hearts was in fact Queen Victoria. This is completely contrived for the film and the connexions serve neither to provide insight into the real people and Carroll or into the book. Though Pamela Brown delivers a funny, irreverent performance as Victoria and a perfectly mean and arrogant turn as the Queen of Hearts.

Carol Marsh plays Alice competently--she's pretty and her very formal acting education through the Rank Organisation is right for Alice though she doesn't bring any insight to the material. It's almost more of a nice reading than a performance, especially compared to my two favourite Alices, Anne-Marie Mallik in the Jonathan Miller version and Kristyna Kohoutova in the Jan Svankmajer version--the former bringing out a brooding, petulant, somnambulism and the latter a very childlike sadism, both performances harmonising with the story of Wonderland to bring insight into the dream reflections of Alice's mind.

The 1949 film is much more about Carroll's mind--portrayed by Stephen Murray--but a very dull version of Carroll whose main trouble in life seems to be for some reason his obsession with getting the bell removed from the tower at Oxford. Alice comes across as sort of a cursor for this bland version of Carroll to arbitrarily navigate the events of the book.

The film does get a lot stronger once Alice actually gets to Wonderland and the events of the book are observed. The residents of Wonderland are all portrayed by the stop motion animation of Lou Bunin which is charming but compared to the energy and character of the 1951 Disney film looks rather lacklustre. The 1949 film has musical numbers, too, and they, too, compare rather unflatteringly to the songs in the Disney film, coming off as almost atonal with extremely bland or awkward rhymes.

However, I think this is the only time I've actually seen lobsters dancing a quadrille, not counting John Gielgud dancing on the beach in the Jonathan Miller film, and it has an understated, strange charm.

Not so hard to find anymore, I see someone has uploaded the whole 1949 film to YouTube a month ago--and a better quality video than the DVD I bought (for cheap) off Amazon which appears to be a VHS transfer. If you want to see the quadrille, it's at the fifty seven minute point:

The design of Wonderland has a minimalist, generally red, black, and white design that's pretty but also sort of harsh and cold.