Monday, November 30, 2015

Cutting Bone

Westerns are often fundamentally about survival with little or no assistance, a man and his companions or family alone in treacherous wilderness or against an evil or alien foe. A combination of Horror and Western then seems a natural fit and 2015's Bone Tomahawk demonstrates this perfectly. A story that wisely knows to take its time it gives an effective perspective on being hopelessly vulnerable and trying to fight back at the same time.

The story begins with two bandits played by Sid Haig and David Arquette imprudently disturbing a formation of stones and bones of clear spiritual significance to someone. One of them barely escapes with his life and heads to a little town called Bright Hope where he's confronted by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell).

Russell is very much the John Wayne of this film, exuding deep yet matter of fact canniness, you sense the instincts and experience in the man that make him the natural leader of the small posse that becomes the focus of most of the film.

A Native American man (Zahn McClarnon), in a brief scene featuring a cameo from Sean Young as a domineering wife of the mayor, explains that the strange people who stole into town, killed horses and abducted two people, are not Indians as the white people in the town understand the term. The "troglodytes" are as much an abhorred and dreaded threat to the native people as they are to the colonialists. In this way, the film relocates the threatening Other from old Westerns, where stereotypes of Native Americans are used, to a monstrous fantasy group, more palatable for enlightened sensibilities and also a whole lot scarier.

One of the people who was abducted was Samantha O'Dwyer (Lili Simmons), wife of Arthur O'Dwyer (Patrick Wilson), the most motivated member of the posse who comes along despite his wounded leg from before the events of the film. His wife is a doctor and was tending to him before she was abducted. She comes across as essentially a genius saint who nonetheless makes no crucial decisions in the film, one of the less interesting characters. But as essentially a MacGuffin, she doesn't need to be that interesting, just a focus for Arthur as he trudges across the desert.

Rounding out the posse are an elderly, credulous deputy called Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and a wealthy young psychopath named John Brooder (Matthew Fox). Much of the more interesting portions of the film deal with the posse members' contrasting philosophies on how to deal with survival--John sees complications as dangerous and so has put everything in the world into sharp categories, his belief in the racial inferiority of Mexicans and Native Americans shown as borne out of a desire for self-preservation. Chicory isn't as clever as John and perhaps this is why Chicory can afford to maintain gentler sentiments about human beings. The movie rather nicely shows which of the two has the more genuinely practical worldview but it refrains from being as simplistic as John whose insensitive pragmatism is at times useful. Russell's character becomes the embodiment of the human wisdom that has to choose between the two while Arthur becomes an embodiment of deeply felt human need.

It's an effective dichotomy and helped by well constructed action sequences and a climax that is a series of very well conceived threats. The movie makes you feel how necessary it is to come up with survival strategies.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ash vs. Inertia, Rebels vs. Gravity

Last night's was the first truly disappointing episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead, the first that's felt genuinely uninspired. Pretty standard possession plot--person possessed by demon tries alternately to seduce and kill protagonists, main protagonist tied up and erroneously thought to be possessed. It was kind of funny how crystal clear Ash was through his gag.

Written by someone named Zoe Green, presumably a woman and so the first woman to write for the show, one might have expected to see better focus on the female characters but instead they're all side-lined even more than usual. Lucy Lawless and the cop lady get one scene and it's entirely exposition and Kelly spends the entire episode possessed by a demon. Mostly the episode centred on Pablo. The gormless and hopeful Hispanic lad crossed the threshold into embarrassing stereotype in this episode. I like Ash's new Nintendo Power Glove hand even less;

The idea that Pablo was able to somehow rig a sophisticated cybernetic hand from video game console parts is not even thirty percent as interesting as the inert wooden hand. Silliness like this lowers the stakes for everything and takes us into Hercules: The Legendary Journeys territory. Oh well, here's hoping next week will be better.

Last week's new episode of Star Wars: Rebels wasn't bad, importing the old Interdictor cruiser from the old Extended Universe. It looks like they meant it when they said they'd be bringing in EU stuff, which is nice. This is the second time this season the stunt casting has been a ship, two episodes earlier it was a B-Wing, always my favourite fighter craft when I was a kid.

Rebels shows us the old EU progression of ship technology has been reversed. Instead of the X-Wings and Y-Wings coming before the A-Wing and B-Wing, we've already got Rebels pre-A New Hope flying A-Wings and the B-Wing's just been introduced. It was nice to have an episode focusing on Hera, too, with Ezra given just a few token smart ass lines. The show is making a stronger effort to imitate the scope of Clone Wars. Though we're still getting a disappointingly meagre quantity of Ahsoka Tano appearances while seeing an awful lot of Rex. In the new episode, sort of modelled on the plot of New Hope, Kanan and Rex rescue Ezra from the Interdictor, the episode managing to have a lot of effective tension despite an endless series of scenes of characters supposedly sacrificing themselves only to be rescued by the characters they were trying to protect and, unlike in A New Hope, no-one dies, once again showing the series' problem with a softball Empire.

The stunt casting in the previous episode was Gina Torres as a bounty hunter friend of Sabine's and I very quickly began to wish she'd been cast as Sabine instead of the unremarkable actress who reads the part week after week. Suddenly there was a voice on the show with real sparkle.

Twitter Sonnet #815

If barley wanders past the future lake
November leaves redeem a bottle's glass.
If charcoal rainy souls escape the stake
Then puritan embraces burn the gas.
A boar in bedlam lists the heads and tails.
Nowhere affronts a house when shacks await.
Confused, the Cabbage Patch took root in pails.
Delilah's braids on brows mistook their fate.
A floating bow has clenched the last of clouds.
Objections raised'll henceforth echo wrong.
The stormy gravity lifts all the crowds.
And caterpillars may eschew the throng.
A borrowed saddle bag contained a bone.
Receivers rose against the monarch phone.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Seabed of the Doctor

Solitary grave digging, an ancient and labyrinthine haunted castle, a sea of skulls, a shambling and shrouded figure; things are getting pretty gothic in the new Doctor Who. And it's good, a clever puzzle written by Stephen Moffat and effectively directed by Rachel Talalay, the director of Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare and Tank Girl. I'm kind of curious about those films now. But she likely wasn't working with a comparable screenplay or location:

If you're going to have the Doctor trapped somewhere alone for an entire episode it might as well be somewhere gorgeous. I can't seem to find information on the castle used for filming, I'm not even sure all the interiors belong to the same castle, at least one room looked similar to one I remember seeing in 1970's Cromwell.

Not just a puzzle, I should say this episode's format of having the Doctor alone helps emphasise the absence of Clara. The way he keeps talking to her, compulsively, showing how he's used to framing his thoughts as half of a discussion with her is great.

The puzzle, though, is nice and not just clever but supportive of the themes, reflective of the Doctor's loneliness and commitment. It reminded me a lot of some of the more experimental audio plays.

Part of the puzzle actually comes from something that fans have talked about related to Star Trek. But to anyone who would say Doctor Who is stealing from Star Trek I would just point out again that the Borg were "created" almost twenty years after the Cybermen so Star Trek owes Doctor Who big time and not just for that. Anyway, it's a trivial detail. Unlike the Borg which are a main course. But it's cool, Trekkies.

How great is Peter Capaldi? This whole season has really showcased him better than the previous season, where he still had many fine moments. This episode, though, where so much of it is entirely in his reaction shots and internal dialogue, it's lengthy evidence of his greatness.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Alice's List

All right, as more or less promised, and since I must do more to honour the 150th anniversary of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, here is my ranking, from worst to best, of every adaptation I've seen of the books for television or cinema. It's been a goal of mine for years to see every adaptation. I still have a long way to go on that--there are so many and some are very hard to find. Also, some look so bad it's hard to muster the stamina to sit through them. For example, the SyFy channel miniseries from 2009, which I've seen enough of to never, ever want to see any more.

To preface, here's something I wrote in a 2013 entry:

I was thinking yesterday about what the Alice stories mean to people who adapt them. They almost never seem to get past square one, adaptations usually featuring scene after scene that seems ultimately to say, "Look how weird!" And then the filmmakers insert their own ideas for the meat of the story. Gulliver's Travels seems to suffer from the same thing. It's true in both cases a lot of the delight in reading the books is in wondering at the strangeness of the situations and places. In the case of the Alice books, it's also true a lot of the delight is in at turns sympathising with and adoring Alice's frustrations and interpretations. But I feel like most people adapting the books are primarily digesting them as things fascinating for their inscrutability, useful as backdrop but hardly substantial as stories in themselves.

11. Alice in Wonderland 2010 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

By a large margin the worst of the Alice in Wonderland movies I've seen but not without its virtues including a beautifully costumed Anne Hathaway and . . . let me think. Some nice supporting performances. Alan Rickman would've been especially great as the Caterpillar if it had physically resembled him but as it is his voice goes a long way. Depp's not as bad as you'd think as the Hatter.

Mostly, though, contemplating the film's celebration of war and capitalism in contrast to the original story's parody of manners, honour, and gentle hearted rebuke of the adult world makes me feel instantly depressed.

10. Alice in Wonderland 1985 my review)

This TV movie is much better as a distant memory than something actually watched. Dim childhood memories told me it was slightly scary and charming. Watching it a couple years ago, I found just a typical, 70s or 80s TV holiday special consisting of endless awkward celebrity guests, much akin to the Star Wars Holiday Special.

9. Alice in Wonderland 1933(Wikipedia Entry, my review)

More of a curiosity than anything with a shrill young American actress as Alice. But I'd recommend it just for Gary Cooper's gentle, slightly heart breaking portrayal of the White Knight.

8. Dreamchild 1985 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

For the most part having surprisingly little to do with Alice or Lewis Carroll, this film about Carroll and the real life inspiration for Alice, Alice Liddell, has some amazing renderings of scenes from the books with puppets by Jim Henson. Unfortunately these scenes occupy only about 15% of the film, the rest of which consists of a run of the mill romantic comedy with not especially profound speculations about Carroll's infatuation with Liddell in the background. Though Ian Holm as Carroll is quite good.

7. Alice in Wonderland 1903 (Wikipedia Entry)

Presented in its entirety above, this one is more fascinating for its visual record of people performing Alice in 1903. The special effects are impressive and filled with charm as are the quick mannerisms of the performers.

6. Alice Through the Looking Glass 1998 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

The sadly squandered talents of the very sexy Kate Beckinsale are put to use here playing an adult Alice in a perfectly decent adaptation of the second book accompanied by several great supporting performances delivering lines straight from the book. Holm plays the White Knight here, rather appropriately, perhaps, if we consider the theory that the White Knight is an avatar of Carroll. Still, he's not as effective as Gary Cooper in the role, though almost everything else about this film is better than the 1933 film.

5. Alice in Wonderland 1976 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

The infamous porn musical version, I strongly suspect the makers of this one never read the books but the film is quite unique--and that's saying something. As many have remarked, it is much better than porn typically tends to be with genuinely effective performances and some actually witty subtext.

4. Alice in Wonderland 1949 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

Despite an unfortunate use of allegory, a tedious attempt to turn the characters of the book into code versions of people in Lewis Carroll's life, this version has some wonderful stop motion animation and a beautiful colour palette.

3. Alice in Wonderland 1966 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

Everyone I've shown this version to has hated it but I absolutely love it. The lead's sullen, sleep walker performance as Alice is the one of the few consistent and intriguing portrayals of the character I've seen and the black and white photography--shot on film despite being made for the BBC in the 60s--is moody and gorgeous, the film generally giving the impression of a mad house. Peter Cook's turn as the Mad Hatter is one of my absolute favourites and John Gielgud is the best Mock Turtle of all time.

2. Alice in Wonderland 1951 (Wikipedia Entry)

Walt Disney himself felt there were too many cooks in the kitchen on this one with the unfortunate result that Alice herself fails to emerge as much of a character. However, when watched as a series of shorts--and you might as well because there's a new director every five minutes--it's brilliant. Featuring an unprecedented number of really great songs--more than thirty!--some absolutely beautiful animation and several wonderful supporting performances, including Ed Wynn as the definitive Mad Hatter.

1. Alice 1988 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

This one's the best of both worlds--reflecting a real understanding of the philosophy behind the books and bringing its own vision to the table, a perspective on Alice as hunter. This has satire sharp as claws, eerie stop motion animation, and an extremely effective, very natural lead performance. No one has come close to topping this adaptation.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

For These Oversized Leaves

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. This year I'm thankful for the sweet potato at the foot of my bed which has grown into quite a monster.

Every day it seems to have changed drastically in some way, with bigger leaves or its vines twisting around in different directions.

To-day's also the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. So for goodness sake, have tea with your turkey. I was going to compile a ranking of film adaptations but I don't have time to-day. I've been beating the time and now he won't do a thing for me. Maybe to-morrow but never to-day.

Here are some more pictures I've taken lately:

Twitter Sonnet #814

The annual bicycle brakes engage.
Entrenched resistance millet boils fast.
When leopard shadows reign they might enrage
Reverse sirens in nights of highways past.
A shirt revealed the pants inside the heart.
Whenever coats would linger on their racks
A shorter skirt redeemed a stocking's part.
Retaining cards in garters swell the packs.
The weather vane was sacrificed to kings.
Directions missed detoured the ghost of snakes.
Hotel coin monsters say when truth rings.
The rust will show when great potato bakes.
When turnkey turkeys breech the prison wall
Unholy gates reward us one and all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The End of Spring

It's been nearly two months since she died but it was only to-day announced that the legendary actress, the great Setsuko Hara, has died. At the age of 95, she died of pneumonia on September fifth. A central figure in what I considered to be the greatest era in filmmaking, the first twenty years in Japan following World War II, Hara had retired in 1963 and avoided interviews and photographs ever since, even turning down a role in the late Satoshi Kon's anime film Millennium Actress, a film which was entirely a tribute to her. It is perhaps part of her reclusiveness that her death was so long kept from the news.

She's best known in the west for her roles in Yasujiro Ozu's masterpieces Tokyo Story and Late Spring and many people consider her retirement to have been related to Ozu's death that same year. Ozu never married and neither did Hara who was known as the "Eternal Virgin" and was seen by many to embody a Japanese ideal of virginal innocence and sincere affection. She played several characters that reflected this impression, most notably Noriko in 1949's Late Spring where a delicately melancholy portrayal of a girl's marriage and leaving her father to live alone subtly and beautifully offers a look at the tragic consequences of adhering to tradition. It was one of the many ways in which Japanese filmmakers were led in the post-World War II era to confront everything they'd considered to be true before the country's defeat in the war. Here's a great scene from Late Spring featuring no dialogue that showcases Hara's talent, Ozu trusting her to convey everything necessary with her facial expressions (beginning at around 4:30 in the clip):

I would describe the greatness of Hara as a performer as her ability to show sincere and intense joy or hatred or fear or sadness just barely suppressed or sometimes overflowing. Sometimes I wondered, particularly in her last few films, if this was actually a sign of how much she claimed to hate the job when she retired. She often seemed to be gritting her teeth and her smiles seemed increasingly strained, though it was always appropriate for her roles.

Even when she was younger she didn't always play roles that reflected her "Eternal Virgin" image, in fact some of her greatest roles in the films of Mikio Naruse, which aren't well known in the west, were of married women, particularly 1951's Meshi where finds herself trapped with a husband she discovers she does not love, however much she wants to love him.

With several Japanese filmmakers in the first two post war decades making films with surprisingly strong feminist themes, Hara was particularly well suited for Mikio Naruse's great films featuring female protagonists who find themselves trapped by oppressive Japanese traditions turned to desperate exploitations by men in the sometimes cynical atmosphere of the years following the country's defeat, occupation, and imposed new constitution. There were many good new values brought by the U.S. and many wonderful values of Japan's past but there were also times where the worst of both, cut-throat capitalism and feudal oppression, merged to create a perfect storm and filmmakers like Naruse found Hara to be the perfect performer to portray women caught in the middle.

She also appeared in two films by Akira Kurosawa, neither of them considered to be among his best. The first, No Regrets for Our Youth, has real charm to it but is largely a propaganda effort under the imposed U.S. administration. The second, Kurosawa's 1951 adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Idiot, is one of the great lost films. A two hour cut of the originally four hour film survives but is hopelessly muddled as one might expect from a film so trimmed, its pacing and timing completely off and is almost meaningless to anyone who has not read the book. But it is well worth watching, particularly to see Hara brilliantly playing very much against type as the worldly kept woman, essentially a prostitute, Taeko Nasu, the film's version of Dostoevsky's Nastasya Philippovna.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post featuring Setsuko Hara that was a meditation on death in which I compared Ozu's Tokyo Story with James Joyce's "The Dead":

Ostensibly Noriko in Tokyo Story has the opposite problem [of Gretta in "The Dead"]. Played by Setsuko Hara, I don't think I fully appreciated her the first time I watched the movie, I was more focused on Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama. Hara seemed to be gritting her teeth through her roles in the 1950s, and I think a lot about how she said she'd always hated acting when she retired in the early 60s. But in Tokyo Story, the slight bitterness, the odd fervour, in her pleasantness makes sense. There are no villains in the story, the natural needs of life just work out to make the elderly couple's grown children pass them from one house to another when they visit Tokyo, but Noriko seems to be their angel. Noriko, who's not even biologically their daughter but the widow of their son who died in World War II. They beg her to remarry because they're worried about her but they're quietly glad she's there. But we learn, in a really amazing scene from Hara, how much she struggles with the shame of going days without even thinking of her husband.

Setsuko Hara will be remembered and it's a tribute to her grace that she'll be remembered largely for a role in which she so effectively conveyed the horrible revelation of how distant from us and forgotten the dead become.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

He's a Maniac, Maniac with a Knife

Do you think this guy is a serial killer? If you said, "Yes," you were right, in fact he's a maniac, the title character of 1980's Maniac. Joe Spinell came up with the concept, co-wrote the screenplay, and starred in this film directed by William Lustig with a plot that's so simplistic it's almost creepy for that simplicity, mainly because Spinell as serial killer Frank Zito is so perfectly disgusting, so much the epitome of a maniac.

Here's a guy who really didn't let vanity get in the way of his work.

Frank lives in a little apartment filled with dolls and pictures of women. He also has mannequins to which he staples his victims' scalps.

The film's explanation for his mental problems is a bit cliché but scenes of him stalking women--and he only kills women--are so roughly shot and the sounds of Spinell breathing over first person footage are so perfectly gross. This movie really expertly makes you recoil from it.

How could this guy ever make a connexion with a woman? Yet in the film's most inexplicable subplot, he sees a woman take his picture at the park, rifles through her purse when she's not looking, tracks her down to her apartment and, without even asking how he found her, she says yes when he asks her out.

It's Hammer horror vet Caroline Munro who seems drawn to Frank for no apparent reason. Really, it's mystifying. When he talks about how he likes photos because they preserve women forever, she happily engages in discussion about life and art. For goodness sake, lady, look at him--he's a maniac!

But this adds in a way to a dreamlike quality in the film, along with sequences where Frank has a much too easy time tracking down and killing a victim in a subway station. This is the kind of movie that should be found on a dirty VHS tape under greasy paper plates and cockroaches in a sketchy neighbour's closet.

Monday, November 23, 2015

All About Eve

God is great, Eve is beautiful but unintelligent, Adam is a paragon of integrity, Satan is the epitome of evil. Whether or not any of these things are true in Paradise Lost, they are ideas presented by characters in the works to be taken as true or as believed by those characters. So the fundamental conflict is a conflict of perception. Eve might be vain but so is everyone else. As the quote from Ecclesiastes goes, "All is vanity." But Eve is perhaps the least vain. In fact, within Paradise Lost, she functions as a voyeur, more of a voyeur even than characters who behold her physical beauty from a position of concealment. Eve inhabits the point of view of someone who considers herself deficient in intellect or information and is therefore freer to question and explore than those who, rightly or wrongly, maintain a bias that prevents them from assimilating new and potentially contradictory information. Paradise Lost presents the points of view of several characters--Raphael when he approaches Eden, Adam when he describes witnessing God's acts, Satan when he travels from Hell to Earth. Eve more closely resembles the reader than any of those characters because she accepts as mysterious more of the things the reader holds to be mysterious than any of the other characters.

Honour is an important concept in Paradise Lost, fascinating in its presence in the former work considering how a newly created human race appears already to have a complex understanding of it. William Empson agrees with C.S. Lewis on this point; "We ought not to think of [Eve] as 'primitive' . . . but as a great lady, for example Eleanor of Aquitaine who was Queen both of England and of a French Court of Love. A puritan disapproved of these powerful females, including the Queen of Heaven; but they were still felt to be staggeringly grand, and Milton was set to turn all culture into an expression of the grandeur of the Fall" (Empson, 163). Milton's simultaneous disdain for female rulers and respect for its potential for grandeur can be observed in his other works. In his History of Britain he makes a point of continually mentioning the disastrous consequences of women being in positions of command.

In the Minority of her Son she had the rule, and then, as may be suppos'd, brought forth these Laws, not her self, for Laws are Masculin Births, but by the advice of her sagest Counselors; and therin she might do vertuously, since it befell her to supply the nonage of her Son: else nothing more awry from the Law of God and Nature, then that a Woman should give Laws to Men. (Milton)

Yet he seems to respect some of the female rulers he mentions and in terms of grandeur it's difficult not to be impressed by his reference to the Queen of Heaven in his early poem On the Morning of Christ's Nativity;

And mooned Ashtaroth,
Heav'ns Queen and Mother both,
Now sits not girt with Tapers holy shine,
(On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, 200-202)

Ashtaroth appears in Paradise Lost as well, in Book I when it is mentioned that "Spirits when they please/Can either Sex assume" (PL I. 423-424). By being able to assume either sex, this presumably makes the two sexes intellectually equal among the angels. So why does Adam assume Eve is less intelligent than himself? In discussing this issue, analysts frequently quote Adam's analysis of Eve in Book VIII: "Too much of Ornament, in outward shew/Elaborate, of inward less exact" (538-539). A significant clue precedes this complaint, though, in Adam's recounting of his first encounter with Eve:

here passion first I felt,
Commotion strange, in all enjoyments else
Superiour and unmov'd, here onely weake
Against the charm of Beauties powerful glance.
Or Nature faild in mee, and left some part
Not proof enough such Object to sustain,
Or from my side subducting, took perhaps
More then enough; at least on her bestow'd

Amazingly, Adam offers evidence of his own clouded judgement to reach the conclusion that it's Eve who is intellectually deficient. She seems to have the same effect on Satan when he sees her; "That space the Evil one abstracted stood/From his own evil, and for the time remaind/Stupidly good, of enmitie disarm'd" (IX. 463-465).

The concept of blame being placed in the passive object of a viewer's perspective for the viewer's profound discontentment or discomfort is a logical fallacy often attached to misogyny. Songwriter and parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic satirises the concept in his song "You Make Me" by taking the conceit to its logical extremes, adopting the role of a potential lover who is made to do bizarre things having little or no possible relation to the person he addresses:

You make me wanna hide a weasel in my shorts
You make me wanna phone home
You make me wanna write a dozen book reports
Then pack myself in styrofoam
Sometimes you make me want to build a model of the Eiffel Tower out of Belgian waffles

This fallacy may be seen as similar to the fallacious concept of the "Male Gaze", a term employed in various forms of criticism of art, literature, and cinema. One flaw in the concept is that people who use it tend to define it differently, generally choosing between two definitions; some use the term simply to refer to art designed to be attractive to heterosexual men, others use it to refer to an ongoing partly subconscious campaign by patriarchy to suppress women. While there can be no doubt that throughout the history of art media there has more often then not been a presumed target audience of heterosexual men and that objectification of women and their bodies has frequently been an aspect of this, the term "Male Gaze" is a problematic concept for describing the issue. On occasions where the first definition is employed, it presumes the absence of women who are attracted to women, thereby reflecting a heterocentric bias, and in the case of the latter definition it assumes men are inherently oppressive which, true or not, is not conducive to a constructive conversation with men.

In examining the genesis of the term, though, we are led to an interesting insight that can be applied to Paradise Lost. The term originated in a 1975 article by Laura Mulvey called "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" where the concept is introduced as part of an examination of film. She discusses my favourite film, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo--to say it's my favourite is something of an understatement, it's been in fact an object of obsession for me so sometimes I tend to see Vertigo in everything. But I would say this description from Mulvey of the film would have a clear relevance to Paradise Lost for anyone who's read it:

. . . the hero portrays the contradictions and tensions experienced by the spectator. In Vertigo in particular . . . the look is central to the plot, oscillating between voyeurism and fetishistic fascination. As a twist, a further manipulation of the normal viewing process which in some sense reveals it, Hitchcock uses the process of identification normally associated with ideological correctness and the recognition of established morality and shows up its perverted side. (Mulvey, 7)

Aside from God, Adam is the moral authority, the "ideological correctness", in Paradise Lost--Eve is pledged to "God in him". He is the closest to a stock hero but it's not his perspective that is necessarily closest to the reader's. In her analysis of Vertigo, Mulvey misses one of the most fascinating aspects of the film, that, through a plot twist in the middle of the film, the woman is established as a voyeur. When it's revealed that Judy had been conscious at the time the male protagonist, Scottie, had "rescued" her from San Francisco Bay and therefore had consciously allowed him to remove her clothing and observed him as he did it, she in a sense sees him morally exposed. We can say the same thing about Eve's perception of Adam. This brings us back to the subject of honour and it's a crucial part of Eve's endeavour to convince Adam that the two of them should separate.

But harm precedes not sin: onely our Foe
Tempting affronts us with his foul esteem
Of our integritie: his foul esteeme
Sticks no dishonor on our Front, but turns
Foul on himself;
(IX. 327-331)

What do they know about Satan's feelings towards them at this point? That he intends to lead them astray and little else. More germane to the present conversation is Adam's impression of Eve and Eve is here indirectly suggesting that it's Adam who doubts her integrity. Eve is doing something very complex here and very far from stupid. With all the impassioned addresses he gives her, she knows he doesn't want to insult her but she knows he doesn't consider his belief that she's intellectually inferior to him to be an insult. Eve transforms Adam's concern for her safety into an insult to her honour but she pins this insult to Satan rather than directly accusing Adam of insulting her. It's passive aggressive but what this shows is that Eve knows Adam better than Adam knows Eve--he wrongly assumes she's unintelligent, she rightly perceives he does not respect her intelligence. She is able to use this knowledge to make a calculated manoeuvre but more importantly it shows that her perceptions have greater accuracy and less bias therefore aligning her more with the reader's point of view.

Twitter Sonnet #813

Condoned upon the metal shoulder now
Robust, the parrot peals triumph at dawn.
Suggestive swimsuits sort unwieldy prow
To bank across the table heaven's lawn.
A Cinnamon Toast Crunch resurrection
Empowered crackers now to matter much.
A pulse pistol was shot for inflection.
Winona judges no-one's choice of lunch.
A pilgrim gauged enraged foraging gods.
An angel's stem cells cures the common cold.
The house can offer macaroni odds.
Dry pasta twists replaced the dice of old.
Delays at Eve restart the fronds of palms.
Inroads detoured through nonsensical psalms.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Malevolent Swarms

In case there was any doubt, Ash vs. Evil Dead we can now see is clearly shot in New Zealand. I suspect Hobbiton is just over the hill. Last night's new episode was good, not quite the heights of the first two episodes, but the chase sequence at the beginning was very effective with the Evil taking the form of a dust storm and attempting to possess Ash's car. Again, I love how loosely defined the abilities of the Evil things are.

I also liked Ash's drug trip--I think the director of this episode, David Frazee, may be a better writer than the writer of the episode, James E. Eagan, because nothing in the dialogue is as funny as Asha's muddled visions of Felix the Cat, I Dream of Genie, various Playboy covers, and his dream destination of Jacksonville, Florida.

We finally learn a bit more about Lucy Lawless' character in this episode, too. I assumed she would be boring and she kind of is, sort of a rival Ash who's less funny set up to be his potential love interest.

It's a shame how even in this otherwise good show the female characters are for the most part written as dull paragons.

On the other side of the spectrum, I also finished watching the first episode of Jessica Jones last night--I'd started it on Friday but the power went out and I ended up spending the evening reading Batman comics by candlelight.

Created by Melissa Rosenberg based on a Marvel comics series, this show, among other things, officially introduces anal sex into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And a lot of other things, like a heroine who says, "Shit!" when she realises she's out of toilet paper. This kind of thing is refreshing (truly) and it's nice knowing Rosenberg, who was a showrunner on Dexter (I won't mention her less auspicious credits), has a lot more creative freedom than one might expect.

Also crucial, of course, is the star, but I had no doubts about Krysten Ritter who first caught my eye years ago on Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls before I saw her in a much better role on Breaking Bad. Now, inevitably, she has her own series and I'm happy to say it's with a very good role, the PTSD suffering Jones is a former superhero turned jaded, world weary gumshoe.

Mostly she handles extramarital affairs like Jake Gittes in Chinatown. She's not the only interesting female character on the show, either--her cutthroat, high profile employer played by Carrie-Anne Moss is ruthless in her personal life. Most of the characters on the show are women, certainly all the characters who make meaningful decisions, except for the barely glimpsed villain played by David Tennant, a superpowered character named Kilgrave who's responsible for Jones' PTSD.

Netflix released a bundle of episodes so I guess I was supposed to binge watch them but I just can't do it. Seriously, how do people have the time? But I'm looking forward to watching the next one.