Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Dissociated Countenance

A basic respect and appreciation for an individual's capacity for imagination and emotion is one way in which paid service is different from slavery. 1966's Black Girl (La Noire de . . .) is a beautifully shot film that portrays the barrier between a black woman from Senegal and the white family from France who hire her. Director Ousmane Sembene uses effectively subtle and direct cinematic language to convey this relationship rather than more literal exposition.

Diouana (Mbissine Therese Diop) is a beautiful young woman who wishes to find work in order to support her family. She goes looking for work and also find a boyfriend (Momar Nar Sene) with whom she giddily fantasises about going to France with the family who hires her. The dialogue with her boyfriend is the only time we see Diouana actually having a conversation. One might think Therese Diop was not much of an actress otherwise because she goes about her daily routine in the white family's home without exhibiting any emotion whatsoever.

But by contrasting these scenes with the few scenes with her boyfriend we can see that her emotional existence is tied entirely to the people she knows back in Senegal. She wears a nice dress and heels every day when she works, every day expecting one of her employers to show her the shops and places of community in the beautiful French Riviera. Her voice over narration keeps us in her perspective and provides the striking contrast between an emotional voice performance and a stone faced, mechanical visual performance.

On the day she's hired, she buys a mask from a little boy which she playfully wears to tell another woman her excitement at being hired. She gives the mask to her new employers who have collected artwork in the area and it becomes a potent symbol of culture and imagination depersonalised by the persistent colonial perspective of the employers.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Throne is Hard and Metal

I liked the pacing of last night's Game of Thrones, it felt a little less hyperactive than previous episodes this season and I felt like I had more time with the characters. It also made some changes I specifically hoped the show would. I only had one real point of complaint.

Spoilers after the screenshot.

I liked Samwell and Gilly talking in the coach, I liked her meeting Samwell's mother and sister--the location and costumes were beautiful though I'm not sure why Gilly would have a hard time walking in that gown.

Samwell's father is an asshole and it was kind of satisfying watching the guileless Gilly stick up for him. Sam's father keeps giving him shit about how being at the Wall hasn't made Sam less fat and I thought, what a jerk, talking to his son like that. But then I thought . . . why hasn't Sam lost weight? I mean, I think it's great for people to be happy with their size regardless of whether or not it fits a popular standard of beauty but if Sam's been living off meagre provisions for years and been trudging across hostile landscape, fleeing certain death . . . how has he maintained this weight? Metabolism can be weird but you don't see guys who look like Samwell in photos of World War I trenches. Well, I guess with the spontaneous female rulers turning up everywhere, the show is definitely angling more towards fantasy than realism but it's probably best not to call attention to it by having a character who's supposed to be making an illogical argument actually asking a sensible question.

When Sam was saying his goodbyes to Gilly, I thought, this is nice, she's not arguing, she's not saying something ridiculous about how she'll go with him no matter what because she knows staying here would be what's best for the child. And then Sam abruptly changed his mind and made exactly the argument I was congratulating Gilly for not making--and she doesn't even tell him he's ridiculous. Then he steals that heirloom sword which looks like more of a burden than an asset and likely will ensure his father will hunt him down.

But right, again, fantasy, you go Sam, etc . . .

I was just saying to my sister last week that Arya just needs to leave the stupid Faceless Ones plot already and last night I was so pleased the show read my mind. The actress, Lady Crane, even calls Arya on how bad she is at being inconspicuous--finally, someone did. Now instead of being part of a society of badass assassins, it looks like Arya's going to have that society of badass assassins gunning for her. It's a cool moment of her asserting herself, it sets up the tension of even greater odds stacked against her, and it jetisons all the bullshit that had accrued while she was a student there. I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens next.

I enjoyed the confrontation on the steps of the cathedral, somehow the huge crowd felt bigger than it did when it was Cersei's walk of atonement. I loved that Diana Rigg was there just to deliver the line to her dim relative about how Jonathan Pryce had beaten them. As head of the king's guard, though, and the king's father, I kind of expected Jaime to keep better track of where the king is. Maybe he deserved to get demoted.

I love that show has us rooting for a pair of incestuous lovers. It's one of the last few twisted irons in the fire Game of Thrones has going at this point.

I was so happy to see David Bradley back as Walder Frey. In this one scene he's absolutely fantastic; I'm looking forward to seeing him and Jaime perpetrating some massacres.

I feel like Emilia Clarke's acting abilities have increased in inverse proportion to the things the show thinks up for her to do. The past couple episodes have been cool for her but basically like "Daenerys' Greatest Hits". Her triumph over the Dothraki and her abrupt taming of Drogon Dragon this week lacks the set up of her freeing the Unsullied or the scene where the dragon eggs first hatched.

Now she's talking about ships, right after the Ironborn were talking about giving her ships last week. Serendipity.

Twitter Sonnet #876

In domes of used transparent wigs we go.
The arcs of bluer brains attach to glass.
As all the Skittles children play escrow
A forward pitcher dates the carbon bass.
In cabinets filched of fallen bagel bites
The world opines in crystal clocks of news.
Across the fuzzy noise we fly our kites.
The barking quantum takes the glory clues.
With central minds the feather dress was quit.
Affidavits sued the stick for cash.
Whenever skies look green to me I'll sit
And concentrate on "Million Dollar Bash".
The late abducted duck could not foresee
The dreams imposed of phony fricassee.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Someone Likes This King

Happy birthday to King Charles II of England who was born this day in 1630, seen above portrayed by George Sanders in 1955's The King's Thief. Seeing Sanders play Charles II was an exciting prospect for me but sadly I found it to have been a squandered opportunity, the film being for the most part a third rate imitation of the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood. Though it does pay a little better attention to history than the better film, The King's Thief is more fascinating for analysing the purpose of what it intentionally got wrong than for what it got right.

Charles may have been pleased and perhaps puzzled by the kind piece of propaganda centuries after his reign. What vested interest did the makers of this American swashbuckler have in establishing Charles II as a war hero who "defeated Cromwell" in the Restoration? In this history the Restoration was apparently a war that reversed the fortunes of the Royalists who lost the English Civil Wars. In reality, Oliver Cromwell died of old age in 1658 and the Restoration was a bloodless affair in which Parliament invited the Stuart heir, Charles II, back from exile to take the English throne. Well, it was bloodless until Charles started executing the most prominent people in Cromwell's government.

All this rewritten history is back story to establish the firm moral character of the king, his only failing being that he trusts the fictional James, Duke of Brampton, the film's villain portrayed by David Niven. There is no Brampton in England big enough to have a duke, one wonders if this was a heavily modified James, Duke of York, Charles II's brother and successor as king, when he became James II. In Charles II's intrigues with foreign Catholic powers, James was even more transgressive, becoming openly Catholic in a country that was still not so friendly to Papists.

David Niven's character never mentions his religion. His scheme is to frame various members of the nobility for treason so he can appropriate their lands in a situation somewhat reminiscent of landowners who were dispossessed of, and uncompensated for, properties they acquired in the Civil Wars and Interregnum by the returning Royalists. One of the people Niven has executed is the father of the film's top billed star, Ann Blyth, or rather her character, Lady Mary.

She's living in Normandy for some reason as the film begins. Since Royalist sympathies are portrayed as making a person pure and good, the implication seems to be that her family was exiled to France during the Interregnum for loyalty to the king in the Civil Wars, though this is never made clear. Now she must make a dangerous journey back to England in the hopes of clearing her dead father's name and her own. She catches the eye of both the Duke and of Michael Dermott, the thief of the title, played unimpressively by the dim shadow of Errol Flynn called Edmund Purdom. It's too bad no-one had the idea to swap him out for the guy who plays his sidekick, Jack, a very young Roger Moore.

Despite the title, Michael has little to do with the king, though he is fiercely loyal to him. I think the idea may have been to make Charles II as much like Richard the Lionheart in The Adventures of Robin Hood as possible, Michael being a thief like Robin who's able to break the law as much as he likes without transgressing the Hays code because he's on the side of the real morality. It may have actually worked if the film had been set in the last years of the Interregnum and given that most of the costumes actually look pre-Restoration, I wonder if this was originally the plan.

I took these screenshots from TCM's trailer but I rented the movie last week on YouTube where the Eastman Colour isn't nearly as degraded as the images make it appear. It's an entertaining enough film, an escape from Newgate prison, Ann Blyth's beauty, and Niven's scenery chewing being highlights. The sword fights are pretty lacklustre except for Niven's smug instructions to Michael during their first fight. Sadly, Sanders appears in only a couple scenes.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tyrants, Warlords, and Doctors

I didn't hear about the Donald Trump protesters here in San Diego until late in the evening when a friend of mine who lives in another state sent me a message asking if I was okay. Yes, I'm fine, I don't think I have the constitution for a normal protest, let alone one where apparently things got slightly violent. All in the Gaslamp, downtown, it seems, a place that I'm sure is familiar to anyone who's come here for Comic Con. A couple months from now presumably that place will be filled with promotions for various television shows and movies.

I was on internet blackout while I worked on my comic yesterday. But I listened to two very interesting Doctor Who audio plays while I worked--a 2007 Fifth Doctor audio play called Son of the Dragon and a 2015 War Doctor audio play called The Innocent. This was the first Doctor Who audio play to star John Hurt as the War Doctor, reprising the role he played on television in the 50th anniversary special. He's by far the most interesting thing about this particular audio play but in other respects it's not bad.

The first part of a trilogy of audios called Only the Monstrous, unfortunately all three were written by Nicholas Briggs. Being the first stand alone adventure for the War Doctor, I found myself listening attentively to what distinguishes his personality, something I'd do the first time hearing or seeing any Doctor, but particularly here I was listening for things that make him more of a warrior thanks to the potion he drank before regenerating. Aside from getting angry whenever someone calls him "Doctor" and insisting to the would-be companion that he's a monster, he doesn't really do anything especially monstrous or warlike, though. He wipes out a Dalek fleet at the beginning but the Seventh Doctor destroyed the Dalek home world. Well, he tricked the Daleks into doing it themselves but War still needs to really establish his cred.

Hurt's performance is great, much slower most of the time than the other actors. He generally has a slightly bitter, musing quality, but every now and then he sneaks in a quick line delivery that sounds amused or oddly young and you get the impression of the layers of personality underneath.

But a far better audio play was Son of the Dragon. Written by Steve Lyons, who wrote the nice Eighth Doctor audio Time Works, Son of the Dragon finds Five (Peter Davison), Peri (Nicola Bryant), and Erimem (Caroline), the former Pharaoh and one of the best audio companions, materialising on a bloody mediaeval battlefield. The conflict is between Slavs and invading Turks and it's not right away they realise that one faction is headed by none other than Vlad the Impaler (James Purefoy).

This audio play is of a sort I really wish the television series would emulate more often--one that has a real feeling for a moment in history. Like The Settling or Circular Time, however accurate it might be it captures a sense of the different groups of people at the time and their interests. Lyons uses the fact that Vlad's brother, Radu (Douglas Hodge), was allied with the Turks to create a story of brothers in conflict. It doesn't quite make sense that people believe Erimem was a Pharaoh just because she says so but the romance between her and Vlad is nice because Lyons never denies that Vlad is violent and brutal and Erimem isn't unacquainted with violent tactics herself as a ruler. It's a refreshing relationship for Doctor Who and listening to Vlad trying to impose his will and Erimem sometimes outmanoeuvring him is fun. Peri is kind of a fifth wheel in this story, her squeaky voice making her a particularly superfluous wheel but it's nice the Doctor has someone to remind that one should consider the historical context before being too horrified with some of Vlad's crueller methods. Though of course the Doctor exhibits plenty of disapproval. Still, it's one of those too rare stories where Davison gets to cash in on his Errol Flynn-ishness by using a sword in combat.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Deborah and Dagon

Well, I had seven pages to colour when I woke up at 9am this morning but for some reason I didn't think it would take me just over ten hours to colour them. It takes way too fucking long to colour. But I did it--there's finally another Dekpa and Deborah online. John Milton might be dead, something lives. Enjoy.

Happy birthday to Dashiell Hammett, Siouxsie Sioux, Harlan Ellison, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. Wow, May 27, nice work.

Twitter Sonnet #875

Momentum tracked the car across the ring.
The afterburn from monoliths was flat.
A walking run, an undercranked star string.
The space of packaged tolls was propped by that.
The eyes were met within the cube of rough.
A shadow pulled like drapes across the bar.
A tattered chair was lifted by its scruff.
A settee cat controlled its smoking tar.
Embedded tongues put words beyond the curl.
Inside the ear they march along with time.
The second diamond clipped a poster girl.
Now plastered on the tunnel walls they climb.
So nothing gathers slower than the steel.
In ev'ry hue there lurks a water wheel.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Crowded Time

Happy birthday to Caitlin. She has a new issue of her Sirenia Digest out to-day. It has two fragments of unfinished stories and a bit of comic, some of Caitlin's work on The Dreaming, a spin-off from Neil Gaiman's Sandman. I remember buying all Caitlin's issues of The Dreaming I could find ten or so years ago. It's good stuff, less conceptual than Gaiman's work, more freeform and about characters bouncing off each other, which generally seems to describe the difference between the two writers. Though the first of the two new fragments feels much more about establishing concept as it is essentially a description of a setting, a Lovecraftian sea-scape which is intriguing.

The second fragment is co-written by someone named Vic Ruiz who I think is someone Caitlin role plays with in the MMORPG The Secret World. Given what I said about Caitlin's tendency to construct stories from character conversations--often arguments--it seems natural that she uses RP to generate stories. Having seen Caitlin RP, I can say she and her friends seem to generate some interesting things. I've been invited to participate a few times but I mostly seem to end up alone in The Secret World's interminable, soul-sucking single player quests. The game actually has good writing but there's so much grind in between I get antsy. I just wasn't made for MMORPGs, I guess. That, and I've just got too much to do. I'm still playing Fallout 4, I guess, except I haven't played it in nearly a month. I guess I say I'm still playing it because if I were playing something, I'd probably be playing it. At least I don't feel like I'm trying to demolish a mountain with a needle when I play a single player game.

But with school and my comic I don't really have time for video games. Speaking of Neil Gaiman, I seem to recall in his "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch" post those years ago, he talked about how writers need time to dream. It's an easy thing to underestimate because it's basically saying a writer needs time to do nothing. I certainly agree, at least from my own experience, so much of the ideas I have come when I'm driving or walking, when I'm not trying. They just happen. Caitlin has committed herself to another novel, her blog, her Patreon blog, and the Sirenia Digest, I kind of wish she could pull a GRRM for a couple months.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

These Dead were Made for Walking

I'm three episodes into season three of The Walking Dead, almost halfway through the series, so I guess this is a good time to talk about it. Season two was a lot better than season one and I can see why the show is extraordinarily popular. It's one of the few things in U.S. media I've seen that genuinely bridges the cultural divide. Liberals can enjoy it despite the fact that it's an inherently right wing fantasy--all thanks to the zombie, something we all can agree is bad. Even that wouldn't be enough, though, if the writing wasn't good, which it really is. On the one hand it follows perfectly in the tradition of George Romero's zombie films which were always more about the moral quandaries of the human protagonists than the threat of zombies. And on the other hand, its ruminations on justice and self-determination make it the spiritual descendent of the Western. Of course, maybe these two genres were never so different as one might have supposed to begin with because this fusion feels so natural as to not truly be a fusion at all.

Spoilers ahead for the first two seasons and the beginning of season three.

The farm on which most of season two the characters live could be taken right out of a western, a desperate frontier settlement like in The Searchers or Once Upon a Time in the West where a family is trying to eke out an existence despite bandits or savage Native Americans. Like the troglodytes in the recent Bone Tomahawk, zombies provide in one sense the politically uncomplicated alternative to Apache raiding parties. On the other hand, zombies are filled with potential for moral dilemmas.

Like Gregory Peck's rancher in The Big Country, we admire Hershel's idealism, or maybe we really pity it, in his decision to define himself as a farmer who will not engage in bloodshed. Never for a moment do we think he might be right about the zombies, though.

In being the transplanted fantasy of the frontier farmer, Hershel has several of the unrealistic characteristics. For one thing, in reality single handed subsistence farming is simply impossible. Every farmer requires some amount of trade goods and there's no way Hershel could reasonably have expected to keep that farm all alone forever, particularly when he has no visible crops.

His mistake in thinking the zombies are still human seems like a gesture towards empathy but it works out only to stack the deck further against the zombie. You'll notice that despite the fact that all the characters talk about needing to find food supplies we never see them going mad with hunger or become in some way physically or mentally compromised for want of food, at least not so far as I've seen. Maybe this changes later, but at this point it feels something like another aspect of conservative fantasy--the men and women willing to work and support themselves versus the masses of impoverished who are only mouths to feed.

It also makes the right to own guns more attractive and reasonable. I was amazed how everyone seems to quickly become a crack shot in season two. The little kid, Carl, is able to shoot a zombie in the head, with one shot, while his father is between him and his target. Except for some target practice Andrea has and Carol at the beginning of season three, firing a gun almost always accomplishes precisely what the shooter wants.

In this carefully constructed fantasy setting, the characters are free to explore moral problems. In the first two seasons, this is best exhibited by Shane, played by Jon Bernthal with the unfortunate broadness of a villain half as complex as the character actually is. Of course, he's more often put in the position to make the tough decisions than other characters--deciding whether or not Rick was dead already in the hospital, deciding whether he needed to kill Ottis in order to save himself and Carl, and deciding how best to deal with Hershel's delusion regarding the humanity of the zombies.

That last one was really on everyone's plate but the series makes clear it's only Shane, the borderline psychopath, who is able to take the extreme step necessary for the good of the group. The dichotomy between he and Rick seems as though it was inspired by James Stewart and John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; Rick, like Stewart's character, represents new civilisation and law while Shane, like Wayne's character, represents dirty frontier justice. It's interesting that after Rick is finally forced to kill Shane, Rick becomes a synthesis of both characters. Whereas before, every one of Rick's decisions was obviously reasonable, now he does controversial things like killing the hostile prison inmate at the beginning of season three or dissolving democracy at the end of season two. Neither decision is obviously right or wrong and the show invites you to consider it and debate it. It's really exciting that a television series is doing this, not since some of the best episodes of Star Trek have we really had something like that.

For the record, I don't think Shane did the right thing letting the zombies out of the barn. It was a waste of ammo and made too much noise. Rick or Dale ought to have at least tried telling Hershel about the CDC findings from the end of season one. It was also pretty clear Hershel was convinced after Shane shot one of the zombies twice in the gut. I do think Rick did the right thing killing the guy who was trying to kill him, though, at the beginning of season three.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Love for the Mermaid is Real

If you're cheating on your wife with someone who doesn't have a vagina, does it count as cheating? Nowadays, we'd say yes, but things weren't so clear in 1948's Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. This is a really funny comedy with some sharp insight on human nature and sexuality.

The film is presented with a framing sequence I suspect was added later, demanded by censors. Mr. Peabody (William Powell) and Mrs. Peabody (Irene Harvey) are visiting a psychiatrist in New York. Then the bulk of then movie is told as a flashback with Mr. Peabody's narration being his discussion with the psychiatrist. Scenes where Mr. Peabody is not present are part of the story, several of which he would not have been informed of later, but the biggest argument against the framing scenes being part of the original film is that the end of the "flashback" story is never explained.

The Peabodys are on vacation in the Caribbean. Mrs. Peabody has tricked her husband into believing its his 50th birthday (in a funny, nicely subtle moment, she tells someone else he's actually 46) and he's having a mid-life crisis. When he seems distracted and strange, Mrs. Peabody thinks he's seeing a beautiful singer named Cathy (Andrea King). Mr. Peabody explains how ridiculous this is--he honestly never gave a thought to the singer--and was even caught "leering" at his own wife. But he doesn't mind that his wife has been meeting a British tourist for coffee and for some reason he sees no issue in making out with the mermaid (Ann Blyth) and he doesn't even bother trying to hide her at first.

"In your eyes there's a beauty richer than any human eye could hold," he explains to the mermaid who never speaks and at first doesn't seem to understand English. "Beauty of eternal wisdom. And it's the beauty of a child, too. Simple, direct. Uncomplicated." Sounds like he's telling her he feels more natural with her. One could look at it as a man preferring a woman be a docile pet. But actually hiding a mermaid who eats all the expensive fish and who doesn't always do everything he says is hardly the easy route. I would argue this film is actually a precursor for Let the Right One In in its use of a romance between a human and non-human not simply as an allegory for homosexuality but a way of addressing all natural human desires that may not be approved of by the normal cultural perspective.

Even the subplot about another American tourist (Clinton Sundberg) who finds he actually is a better person when he has alcohol supports this.

William Powell as Arthur Peabody is sharp as always but also has a bare faced innocence about him when dealing with his issues. Ann Blyth is sweet and the underwater sequences are charming. There's even a nice action scene.

Twitter Sonnet #874

The over shoulder coffee can confirm.
The lips we thought were cast too kind retreat.
A slip of steam reversed its hellward turn.
In black, the knots of talking dreams repeat.
Enduring pools of vegetation melt.
A strange reflection pushed the wheel above.
A trail of teeth attained the taint of felt.
A smoth'ring fur collapsed on eggs of dove.
As tickets dropped the waist expands the chain.
Pin stripes, a ruler shower shed the costs.
The blackened edged map has cracked in rain.
A mirrored sky has stacked in lips, red glossed.
The ant's footprints, invisible on shore.
But they always are there, for rich and poor.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Game of Blocked Egress

I started hearing about how good last night's Game of Thrones was twenty minutes before I watched it. Stephen King tweeted, "I thought my friend Jack Bender, who directed so many great LOST episodes, just turned in the episode of the year on GAME OF THRONES." And he was right. We're halfway through the season yet--and Bender directs next week, too--but it's hard to imagine the show topping this. "The Door" was 800 times better than last week's episode and last week's episode was good.

Spoilers after the screen shot--I'd particularly recommend avoiding spoilers for this one

Let's start off with the scene that's doubtlessly still on everyone's mind, the last one, where Max von Sydow died. Okay, so that's not the death you're thinking about, but still, it's too bad we'll have no more von Sydow.

The origin of Hodor's name was George R.R. Martin's idea--Benioff and Weiss say that Martin told them about it in a hotel room at some point. This may be the biggest plot point from a book that's appeared on the show that hasn't been previously published, I wonder if Martin will handle it very differently. I wonder if he's really kicking himself now for wasting so much time. No, George R.R. Martin, as Neil Gaiman famously said regarding complaints about the slowness of his book releases, is not our bitch. But alas, we are all time's bitches.

It's a real good idea. The reason it resonates so well is that it means Hodor's entire adult life was defined by his death. Which, if you think about it, is normal, particularly in Game of Thrones. Every time a character dies, be it Stannis or the Starks at the Red Wedding, we compulsively think about everything the characters had been through up to that point and we think about how cruel death is. As the end, its circumstances inevitably make a statement regarding everything that came before, and the arbitrary nature of it makes everything else seem fruitless and each action becomes significant only for its own sake. Hodor's story becomes a perfect encapsulation of that idea and that's why it's so perfectly heartbreaking. And once again, it was for something small, just Bran being bored and recklessly giving away their location to Darth Maul.

Of course, a big part of the reason this episode worked so wonderfully is that Ramsay's not in it. Though he was a topic of discussion, notably between Sansa and Littlefinger. I think Benioff and Weiss are taking notes from internet blogs and discussion sites as Sansa is giving the thoughts of such sites practically verbatim when she tells Littlefinger that him sending her to Ramsay either meant Littlefinger was stupid or her enemy. Of course, like most things involving Ramsay, this whole story doesn't quite make sense. Littlefinger has no reason to want to hurt Sansa and obviously he should have known about Ramsay. So . . . what happened? This is a bit much for any lampshade to contain.

Let's back up and think about it. At the end of season four, Sansa had the swiftly abandoned Littlefinger jr. makeover and it seemed she was going to be a sneaky power player. Maybe Littlefinger wanted Ramsay to kill her so Littlefinger could solidify his control of the Vale. If Ramsay killed Sansa, that may have been extra incentive for the Vale to attack the Boltons. This assumes that Littlefinger's devotion to Sansa as the living memory of Catelyn was a lie. But with Sansa in charge of the Vale, he would have an easy time manipulating her and it's not like the Vale and Sansa lacked reasons for wanting to take down the Boltons. Sansa taking over Winterfell would probably have been a better asset for Littlefinger than anyone else. So it seems he likely didn't know about Ramsay, which doesn't make sense. Maybe he honestly expected Sansa to wrap him around her little finger since Ramsay doesn't seem very bright. But, then, neither does Sansa, which was the main problem with her whole presumptive Dark Manipulator role to begin with. Just because she's had a lot of bad experiences doesn't make her a genius. Now she's turning down the desperately needed forces from the Vale because Littlefinger's with them.

Sansa's not the only Stark unable to put her emotions aside for pragmatism. Arya is having similar troubles with the Faceless Ones in the episode's weakest segment. But it was such a good episode, even the weakest segment was good, and I loved the play starring Richard E. Grant as Robert Baratheon.

I spend so much time analysing media, when a show invites me to analyse a play it's wonderfully natural. My biggest complaint about Game of Thrones is its inattention to the thoughts and feelings of the common people and here we can learn a few things about what they expect and accept from a play about the power players. Apparently Ned Stark is generally considered a buffoon for some reason. The oddest thing about this is that Arya seems to be just now hearing about it. And, of course, she has absolutely no poker face, as usual.

Arya is such a laughably bad assassin it sinks the whole Faceless Ones story line. She has the same outfit and hair style as when she was pretending to be a fish monger. And once again, she observes her intended victim by staring directly.

But let's get back to the good stuff. The "kingsmoot" where Theon and his sister lost the throne to Euron ("Euron"? Like urine? I guess it's no worse than Tolkien's "Huron") was great. I love the sea focus of the Iron Islands ritual and dress, the squids on the shields and the practice of ceremonially drowning the new king. The murky armour and the muddy beach are great.

The second best segment, after Hodor's, though, was Daenerys and Jorah on the cliff and Daenerys ordering Jorah to heal himself. It's like something out of a mediaeval poem about chivalry where Jorah's refraining from touching the object of his devotion is physically manifested by a skin disease, his sweet melancholy death at the end of it his romantic fixation. But Daenerys chooses life. It's sweet.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pirates of Ambiguity

There is the past and then there's the Hollywood version. In some confused vortex between 1650 and 1910 is the setting for 1950's Buccaneer's Girl, an entertaining but almost completely rote pirate film starring Yvonne De Carlo.

References in dialogue to the Mexican coast sound like they were replacements for "the Spanish main" in an earlier version of the script so it can be assumed to take place at some point after Mexico declared independence in 1810. However, all the ships have bowsprit sails and other features of sailing vessels that went out of use in the mid 18th century.

I can only guess these are models reused from another film as there's nothing about the triangular jibs that were in use in the early nineteenth century that jars with a pirate film, even if the golden age of piracy is considered to have ended in the 1720s. None of this explains why all the women are dressed in a manner that could best be described as Edwardian--from the beginning of the twentieth century.

That's the great Elsa Lanchester as Brizar, the madam of a brothel where Deborah (De Carlo) finds work in New Orleans. The Hays code was still in effect so I was genuinely impressed at this film's boldness in portraying what was unmistakably a brothel. They get around it by having Deborah going to work for Brizar and taking lessons in deportment from her without explaining precisely for what purpose Deborah's being trained and employed. But it's pretty obvious.

Despite the fact that Lanchester was already at the point in her career where she would only be cast as sexually undesirable, older women, I loved that they put her in beautiful costumes in this film, many of which bore remarkable resemblance to her costumes from 1935's Naughty Marietta, which was also set in New Orleans.

I can't describe the wardrobe as being entirely Edwardian because nearly every dress has a strange bodice that cuts off halfway or under the breasts to reveal some kind of translucent bikini under which pasties can occasionally be discerned.

This is my favourite one, worn by De Carlo during the last of her unimpressive musical numbers. I like how it sort of implies sea foam.

An earlier scene has Deborah singing at a society ball where she becomes angry when two women talk during her performance. Unlike the respectful patrons of the seaman's tavern.

For obvious reasons, pirates in Hays era films could rarely behave like pirates but these must be the most neutered of varieties. The buccaneer of the title, not to get too pedantic, is of course not a buccaneer at all, not one of the exiled hunters who attacked ships from small boats but rather a debonair tycoon played by a cut rate version of Errol Flynn named Philip Friend.

When he finds Deborah stowed away on a ship he's captured, he threatens to take her to "the Tortugas", apparently mistaking the small group of islands near Florida for the infamous pirate haven on Tortuga, near Haiti. After she's warmed to him, he cautions her not to tell anyone that he lets all his victims live. Nevermind it seems like if anyone blabbed it would most likely be all those victims he allowed to live.

Yvonne De Carlo is feisty and has a lot of fun with her role. It's great watching her escape out the back when police come to arrest her at the brothel or seeing her argue with a romantic rival. Still, she doesn't get to have half as much fun as Jean Peters in Anne of the Indies or even Maureen O'Hara in Against All Flags. But the pretty Technicolor, the costumes, Lanchester, Henry Daniell in a tiny role, and De Carlo's spirit make this one worth watching.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Owning the Dream

To-day brings word that Paramount may be dropping its lawsuit against the Star Trek fan film Axonar. They oughtn't to have needed J.J. Abrams and Justin Lin to apply pressure--as impressive as the effects and casting on Axonar are, the story still feels very fannish, moreso than some other Star Trek fan films, actually, being basically light weight war fantasies.

Did you know Nicholas Briggs, who to-day voices the Daleks and various other villains on Doctor Who, played the Doctor in a series of fan made audio plays in the 1980s? I didn't until yesterday when I was reading the Wikipedia entry for Frozen Time, the officially licensed Big Finish Doctor Who audio play from 2007. Also written by Briggs, it apparently references one of his fan audio plays from the 80s involving the Silurians. Like Axonar, Briggs' writing is often fannish and thin but Frozen Time wasn't so bad.

Featuring former Bond girl Maryam d'Abo as a scientist working in Antarctica, she and the rest of her team are surprised to find the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) frozen and preserved in the ice. He's still alive despite having been there millions of years and his memory is a little spotty. He asks about Mel, Ace, and Hex before remembering he's been travelling alone, placing this audio play closer to the 1996 television movie. There's a rich capitalist (Anthony Calf) in charge of the expedition and I liked how the story didn't make him into the usual snarling villain, just making him kind of dumb and greedy. McCoy has good chemistry with several of the characters in the story and it would have been nice if d'Abo's character, Genevieve, had become a permanent companion. Mainly it's the concept of the Doctor recovering himself after being frozen in ice so long that keeps the story intriguing.

So the Seventh Doctor is frozen in Antarctica during most of his and the other Doctors' visits to Earth. There's also the TARDIS trapped in Pompeii, there's the Twelfth Doctor dwelling millions of years in that place from the recent season. I bet there's more examples I'm not remembering; I wonder how many Doctors are going at one time.

Twitter Sonnet #873

Ten suits delivered on livery tax.
A polearm labelled wrong gets shafted out.
A scutcheon shadow chows on arms of flax.
The threads of thoughtless wigs enmesh the trout.
A leg as duplicate to catsup pop.
The crime was closed to crisp and blank cigars.
No flag protrudes from failure pranks to drop.
From milk a nose was sculpted like a car's.
The ice machine returned the coat too late.
A war advanced along the seams of bands.
The cattle clapped upon the prodded slate.
But hooves are much too hard to pass for hands.
Uncounted beans o'erwhelmed the jar of sums.
For all lost teeth there's always still the gums.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Lady's Hand in the Purse

You may have made assumptions about the old thief in Newgate; you might guess correctly she worked as a prostitute but you might never guess that she had several impressive marriages, including one to her own brother, had been at various times worth hundreds of pounds, and had been a successful colonist in Virginia and come back to England. But such is the tale promised on the cover of Daniel Defoe's 1722 novel Moll Flanders. This is a delightful tour of 17th/18th century English society and underworld with a fascinating narrator.

I say "17th/18th century" because although it was written in the 18th, it's set entirely in the 17th century, being, like many 18th novels, a fictional biography, sold as a true one. It has many characteristics I'm coming to recognise of the 18th century novel. Its story is episodic and free-wheeling; the Moll Flanders who is a servant torn between the affections of two brothers has little connexion to the Moll Flanders who becomes an expert pick pocket, yet it's all part of one continual, streaming narrative. She does occasionally run across people from other parts of her life but mostly each segment is almost entirely self-contained. One could say this is like a real biography except every stage of Moll's life is in some way extraordinary and involves incredible luck, good or bad.

Something else that reminded me of Roderick Random is that Moll Flanders involves a lot of people posing as upper class in the hopes of luring a rich person into marriage. A lot of the schemes and plots are very complicated with each party employing a lot of subtlety, as when Moll presents herself in such a way as to make her land lady suggest to a man that she has a good fortune, even though she hasn't got one, and doesn't say she has directly--so has plausible deniability later. I bet a lot of the things in this book inspired some paranoia, particularly in Moll's several detailed descriptions of her shoplifting and pickpocketing where she uses the kind of credible techniques to rival the ones shown in Michael Mann's movie Thief that landed the film in hot water. Moll's technique of diverting attention from herself when it seems she might be caught by being the first one to yell out "Thief!" is particularly insidious. The story might make people believe that thieves have eyes in the backs of their heads, too, as when Moll is grabbed by a man just as she's about to enter an apparently empty shop. She relates explaining to the alderman who arbitrates the case:

That seeing nobody I the shop, I knocked with my foot very hard to make the people hear, and had also called aloud with my voice; 'tis true, there was loose plate in the shop, but that nobody could say I had touched any of it, or gone near it; that a fellow came running into the shop out of the street, and laid hands on me in a furious manner, in the very moments while I was calling for the people of the house; that if he had really had a mind to have done his neighbour any service, he should have stood at a distance, and silently watched to see whether I had touched anything or no, and then have clapped in upon me, and taken me in the fact. 'That is very true,' says Mr. Alderman, and turning to the fellow that stopped me, he asked him if it was true that I knocked with my foot? He said, yes, I had knocked, but that might be because of his coming. 'Nay,' says the alderman, taking him short, 'now you contradict yourself, for just now you said she was in the shop with her back to you, and did not see you till you came upon her.' Now it was true that my back was partly to the street, but yet as my business was of a kind that required me to have my eyes every way, so I really had a glance of him running over, as I said before, though he did not perceive it.

This sort of thing must have led to innocent people being apprehended more than once, as indeed Moll is at another occasion.

While hardly being on the level of the Marquis de Sade, Moll Flanders is also impressive, particularly compared to Victorian novels, in its depiction of a woman who doesn't only tolerate sex but seems to quite enjoy it sometimes. She seems only to feel amusement and some pity for the Baronet who "did what he pleased" with her later in the novel, when she's in her 50s.

This was an adventure indeed unlooked for, and perfectly undesigned by me; though I was not so past the merry part of life, as to forget how to behave, when a fop so blinded by his appetite should not know an old woman from a young. I did not indeed look so old as I was by ten or twelve years; yet I was not a young wench of seventeen, and it was easy enough to be distinguished. There is nothing so absurd, so surfeiting, so ridiculous, as a man heated by wine in his head, and wicked gust in his inclination together . . .

In the novel's first episode, though she couches it in polite language, Moll describes enjoying frequent sex with her first boyfriend. There's the quality of an unreliable narrator in all the manners Moll takes pains to show, refraining from writing explicitly those things "which are not so proper for a woman to write."

The manners are for me the best part of the book. From the various landladies, merchants, and seaman, working their way through life for food, sex, and shelter with reputations crafted through seeded rumours and stolen clothes and watches: this floating world, to borrow a Japanese term, is there to delude everyone even as everyone seems aware it's an illusion.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Gateway Moth to Birds

This lovely spider was hanging on the wall outside my door a couple days ago. Hanging on my door was this moth:

Hanging around the courtyard below my sister's door down the hall was this teenage raven:

My sister had told me about this one a few days earlier. I'd already noticed two very large ravens hanging about--I'd notice them when they flew away so I'm guessing they were trying to divert attention. My sister also told me about a hummingbird who seemed to be acting as guardian for the young raven. I wasn't fast enough to get pictures of the hummingbird but it made a point of getting in my path when I was near the young raven.

Ravens and crows are so good at noticing something taking interest in them, it's hard to get pictures. This young fellow was already backing away even though I kept my distance.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Odour of Transgression

On life's path, something offensive or obscene threatens to accost us at every step. Throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s, under the guidance of the Hays Code, deeply moral films endeavoured to show us the way through by demonstrating how easy it was to fall prey to adultery, alcoholism, and other depravities. But none equal 1981's Polyester for daring, no work of Susan Hayward or Douglas Sirk could approach the realisation of what horrors could befall an innocent housewife as portrayed in this John Waters film. And never before had such a film featured the wonder of Odorama.

I wonder if I missed out by not having the scratch and sniff card, by not being able to experience alongside the protagonist, Francine (Divine), the roses, farts, air freshener, or skunk. But even odourless, the film is a good satire that shows an intimate acquaintance with films of the 50s. Nearly all the actors have the mannerisms down to a T. From the German scientist at the beginning to Francine's cheating husband who exclaims with absurd ecstasy to his mistress that he has condoms.

None match Divine, though, who identified as male in his personal life but was so effective at portraying this particular idea of 1950s/early 1960s woman. The hand gestures in particular impress me--it helped he had small, tapering hands, but he had that delicate hand wringing and finger pinching to perfection.

The pushy morality of such films as Rebel Without a Cause or All that Heaven Allows typically have the characters hitting misfortune for their transgressions no matter what kind of logical contortions the films needed to make--the logic of melodrama I mentioned on Monday when talking about Game of Thrones. Polyester takes this and amplifies every pay-off. When misbehaving kids drive by and swat a rabbi with a broom, they must then swat a Chinese woman in traditional clothes (accompanied by plucked strings on the soundtrack) and then a heavy black woman dressed as though she's on her way to a choir. One stereotype prompts the next like dominoes. At a picnic, Francine takes out a sandwich, looks up a moment to enjoy the beauty of nature to calm her nerves, then finds ants have immediately coated her sandwich and a skunk has appeared.

Francine's best friend, Cuddles (Edith Massey), has just come into an inheritance and is rashly taking on the airs of a society woman. She's also mentally impaired, a nice skewing of this typical plot contrivance. It both underlines the silliness of this typical story and automatically provokes some extra concern for her. It's reflective of Waters' particular brand of irony which is both funny and yet oddly sympathetic. There's a genuinely nightmarish quality to the picnic scenes and others and one is compelled to ask what this poor humanity has gotten itself into.

Twitter Sonnet #872

A proxy set of soldiers sewn from cheese
Condemned the orders sent from grapes for songs
About the straw from Panama that can't appease
Ambulance hairnets coating wigs of pawns.
In cables patched by errant paint the sign
Was sped on paths unshorn by sheep who crack
Their vengeance slow on anchovies and wine
We brewed from dreamless grapes to safer sack.
A radio heard only by the suit
Induced a dancing too alone for pubs
Intent on silent beers of carbon root
Where pop was soda sewn of tyre hubs.
The grated daikon gateful takes the paste
Along the grove ordained by bowling waste.