Wednesday, August 31, 2016

No-one was the Real Pirate

It was a box office failure at the time of its release, despite coming at the height of its star's, Gene Kelly's, career. But now, in retrospect, is 1948's The Pirate really so bad? Yeah, I'm sorry to say, it is. Despite Vincente Minnelli's direction, original songs by Cole Porter, and stars Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, it sinks like lead.

It has its good points. With that pedigree, how could it not? Even the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett is clever. Set in the early 19th century--though the intensely stylised costumes made it difficult to identify the period at first--it's the story of a young woman named Manuela (Judy Garland) who dreams of one day meeting the notorious pirate, Macoco. However, she explains to her aunt (Gladys Cooper) she realises there's a difference between fantasy and reality so when the unattractive mayor, Don Pedro (Walter Slezak), proposes marriage to her despite her lack of dowry, she agrees for the good of her family's declining wealth.

Then the handsome, roguish actor, Serafin (Gene Kelly) comes to town, complicating everything.

All of the musical numbers are pretty clunky but maybe the clunkiest is "Nina", a song Serafin sings as he unashamedly dances from one beautiful woman to another, each one "Nina" to him. The idea could hold water as a number for a charming scoundrel and the costumes and sets are, as always in a Vincente Minnelli colour film, gorgeous. But the oddly repetitious chorus, "Nina, nina, nina, nina," quickly grates on the nerves.

Little better, though, is Garland's "Mack the Black" number. Her hair looks great and the hypnotised woman dancing and tearing off her bonnet should have a sexually dangerous quality about it but once again the chorus thuds dully.

I won't lay all the blame on Porter, though. Gene Kelly gives a mannered performance of the kind he parodies in Singin' in the Rain and Judy Garland's attempt to whip up Lucille Ball style romantic comedy furore is oddly solemn and scary for its self-conscious broadness. She and Kelly have the chemistry of twenty pots and pans falling from a cupboard.

Twitter Sonnet #907

The dwindling rock in orbit swings for moons.
Escape was not his plan, they say of Ben.
Instead, he sought a couch and Lorna Doones.
But stars of steel contain a glowing pen.
Authentic rations wander off the gate.
In droves, the suns abscond to sources cool.
In metal burger skies, she's second mate.
The can insulters sank in swampy pool.
In pistol pods the smithy sims a crate.
In brooms too big to hold the sprinkled grit.
For trolley cars, the hair grows quickly straight.
A shining pattern pulls the total mitt.
A beetle petal makes the court a quilt.
The gold leaf may tarnish but never wilt.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Walking Kids

Last night I dreamt only Rick and Carol had survived on The Walking Dead and they had to fight Godzilla. I probably dreamt this because I finally got all caught up on The Walking Dead last night, finishing the terribly written season finale of season six, I'm now ready to be a functioning member of modern society. Are you happy, society? Society: "Why aren't you watching Stranger Things?!" Sheesh, all the running you can do to stay in one place . . . Okay, well, it's Walking Dead I finished last night so it's Walking Dead I'll talk about to-day, okay? Okay.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I guess if I had to pick a moment when the show jumped the shark, it would be when Eugene bit the guy's genitals in episode fourteen, "Twice as Far". I get it, Eugene had to pull what in wrestling would most certainly be an illegal move because it was a desperate situation. But the guy in question was wearing jeans. Presumably with a zipper. I'm supposed to expect Eugene found purchase? And he wasn't immediately shot dead? It's bad enough when things don't add up, it's worse when it's over someone's dick getting bit. It just makes it that much more embarrassing.

But I'm not one who looks at the shark as being some ultimate barrier that, when jumped, can never be unjumped or, I guess, circled back around on the skis or whatever Fonzie did. No Doctor Who fan believes a shark jump is forever. And although episodes of Walking Dead's season six written by Matthew Negrete are easily identifiable as the weakest points in the season, even they had some nice moments. I liked Denise discovering the zombie woman puddle and her sink baby, even if it didn't make sense for her to go into that room alone. It was damn creepy.

The season certainly had some very high points. I'd been wondering why the hell the question of Rick and Michonne being together had never been broached--the writers must've had an epiphany after the mid-season finale about it and almost immediately in "No Way Out" they killed off Rick's boring love interest, Jessie, and her annoying kids then put him with Michonne in the very next episode. That was nice.

I really loved "The Same Boat", written by Angela Kang, where Maggie and Carol are captured by a group of Saviour women led by Alicia Witt who I'm happy to see is reprising her role as Gersten Hayward on Twin Peaks next year. It was a very good episode for Carol who continues to be the best written female character. Just when it seemed she had squared away her identity as one who can kill whenever necessary, she's faced with having to kill a woman she really feels for and the full meaning of killing accumulates more weight than she expected it could. It's a great dimension to the new direction the show's going in where the U.S. seems to be turning into a system of competing warlords developing feudal tribute systems. I really like that idea, I only wish it wasn't so poorly executed in the finale.

"Last Day On Earth" or "Hey, Everyone, Stay Cocky as We Walk into Every Obvious Trap" would have been really good if it'd been well written. I like the idea of Rick and his group learning they could be humiliated, that taking over the world wasn't as easy as they thought it was going to be. Going over the line and learning to be merciless is not the key to power when there are other people with more advantages. But, jeez, surely by now Rick and his crew would know better than to stop their vehicle between two hills to inspect some zombies chained up in a suspicious manner. Surely they'd know better than to take an obvious prompt to stop under a bridge without inspecting the bridge. Surely Daryl and Sasha--particularly Daryl--would be better at hunting people by now. The fact that they're easily outsmarted by the same group they'd easily outsmarted a few episodes earlier makes it seem even more ridiculous.

So it undercuts the ending of "Last Day On Earth" completely. When the characters act so dumb they don't even seem like the same characters anymore, accepting the reality of the situation requires a leap of imagination I don't want to make because I'm annoyed.

But I think the show demonstrated with its season five premiere that it's ready to jettison an idea when the writers realise it has no legs. Maybe by next season they'll have thought things through better.

You know, season six ended in a very similar manner to season four, actually, with the group being captured by people who for only slightly more realistic reasons weren't trying to kill or injure them.

Oh, in case anyone's wondering if I have an opinion on who Negan decides to beat to death . . . I have no idea. But I'll guess anyway. Glenn? No. Rosita? Maybe Rosita since that'll cause drama with the stupid Abraham/Sasha/Rosita triangle. Maybe Michonne since she's Rick's love interest now. It really ought to be Glenn after he really shouldn't have survived earlier in the season. He owes us a death.

And, of course, once again Michonne was captured and her sword was taken away.

Monday, August 29, 2016

How to Pronounce "Frankenstein"

It's been a few years since I last watched a Gene Wilder movie. Looking in my blog archive, I see I wrote a paragraph on Blazing Saddles in 2009, I don't think I'd watched one of his movies since. Wilder's death at the age of 83 was announced to-day so I watched some footage from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a movie I haven't watched through properly since I was a kid. But when I was a kid, I must have seen it at least twenty times, it was one of those omnipresent movies for my generation, I think, in childhood. Just from the clip, I can see watching Wilder in that movie is a very different experience as an adult. As an authority figure, a child looks to him and tries and fails to read him, to see his concern, approval, or disapproval. Yet he's sincere and fascinating, frightening and attractive. Watching as an adult, I'm quickly able to identify with his weary idealism being involuntarily eroded by a cautious cynicism.

He had one of those great, weird faces, a slightly lower key Alastair Sim. The sad eyebrows and the bug eyes he knew how to use to be pathetic, charming, scary, and silly, sometimes all at once. In Young Frankenstein, his increasingly hopeless task of distancing himself from his infamous relative is made all the funnier by his strange appearance and peculiar vehemence. He's not a great singer in Willy Wonka--though sometimes a song benefits from a special kind of inferior singing ability--but he new how to use his voice. No-one knew how to use that same consistent hysterical pitch quite like him, then he could drop it down to something more even that always threatened to break out in an exasperated, manic plea.

Yes, he looked weird, and he drew us in with that weirdness, he reflected weird humanity in that face.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Small Transport

I spotted a model railroad museum at Grossmont Centre shopping mall last week so I went in, took some pictures, and spoke with the curators.

Run by a group called the San Diego S Gaugers, S Gauge referring to a kind of model train, everything on display was made in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. One of the curators explained to me how ice was loaded onto trains before the days of refrigeration and tiny figures were posed in mid demonstration.

These guys didn't move but there were little moving machines, including a crane magnet that loaded tiny metal beams onto trucks. The toy was made in 1948 and had been repaired and was functioning. I took some video:

The curators all seemed very passionate about trains and model trains, all of them old enough to have played with toy trains like this in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Twitter Sonnet #906

The yellow beans await the taxi vine.
Beneath the earth a floating word is wet.
So time invests the tiny rock for pine.
Construction paper's never quite a pet.
A lasting step outpaced the pilot's flame.
The episodes will pile steep the ads.
When melting must be learned observe the frame.
Our popsicles project popular fads.
A starfish box belongs to hearts too green.
A fine, a fee, a floating tree concedes.
And all the space amounts to ether bean.
The corduroy of void at length recedes.
A bullet point defends a fading year.
In sorrow's safe a key consorts with beer.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Together Again from Earlier in the Future's Journey into the Past

Here's one I'd been saving--not The Horns of Nimon, I'm just using a screenshot from it, but Wave of Destruction, a nice new Doctor Who audio play from January this year, the first in a Big Finish series that reunites Tom Baker and Lalla Ward as the Doctor and Romana, respectively, for the first time in over thirty five years (unless there's something I'm not thinking of). As they are my favourite Doctor and Companion combination, I was excited but I managed to keep my expectations low. Not only do they have new writers--Justin Richards in this case--they have the baggage of a real life divorce. Much of their wonderful chemistry came from an unrepressed attraction between the two actors in the years leading up to their marriage. Now, Lalla Ward has been married to Richard Dawkins for quite some time while Baker has been married to Doctor Who assistant editor Sue Jerrard. So their natural chemistry isn't there--mainly Romana sounds a lot grouchier now and Four a little more sedate, but then he was always pretty laid back.

In an interview that accompanies the release, Richards talks about consciously imitating the Douglas Adams era of the show which featured the Doctor and Romana's best episodes. In an opening scene with banter about a crossword puzzle with throwaway lines (like where the Doctor wonders about the solution to the puzzle and Romana says it'll probably be in to-morrow's paper--before handing him to-morrow's paper) captures something of the idle vacationing time traveller rapport we see between them in City of Death or Shada. But there's more humour relying on Romana being irritated, as when the Doctor suggests she and another woman investigate by "patronising" some shops while the men go to the the source of the trouble and Romana gripes, "Patronising is right." I was reminded of how her rapport with the other Doctors in other audio plays has fallen flat. In those, she's always played an older Romana for some reason and I guessed Lalla Ward felt she was unable to play younger at this point. It's true, you can hear some of her age in her voice, though I think the hardcore fanbase, 99% of the audience of Doctor Who audio plays, is more than willing to look past that (I know I am). I think she replaced Mary Tamm, the first incarnation of Romana (as a Time Lady, she regenerates like the Doctor does), for this audio play at kind of the last minute due to Tamm passing away recently.

Wave of Destruction finds the Doctor and Romana in 1960s Britain, tracking down a pirate radio station, referring to New Musical Express or NME (The Doctor: "What 'enemy'?") in the process, and figuring out how a malevolent alien race is using the broadcasts to control human minds. Most of the story has the Doctor and Romana separated so there's not much opportunity for their back and forth but Richards keeps things enjoyable clever at all times. I'm looking forward to hearing more of the audios Baker and Ward have done for Doctor Who this year.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Complicated Claims

Who's on the cutting edge of German rap? My German friend, Ada, tells me it's Haiyti. I can't find her lyrics online even in German to translate but she is pleasantly hypnotic to watch and listen to. Ada tells me Haiyti and several other artists she's exposed me to rap in a style called "South" that apparently originated in the U.S. I've never heard of it--it's fascinating to me what one culture finds interesting about another. Who knows if we'd even think of films noir as we do to-day if French critics hadn't spotted this distinct American form of storytelling?

Cultural appropriation is getting a bad reputation these days. So now I'd like to take an opportunity to do something I've been thinking about for a while and list some of my favourite examples of cultural appropriation.

Night of the Living Dead

Most people don't realise the zombie originated in Haitian Vodun. Earlier zombie films like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie made this clear but Night of the Living Dead is generally thought to be the movie that brought the ravenous, mildless, walking corpse to great fame. As a storytelling device it's remarkably versatile, from the indictment of shallow media in David Cronenberg's Rabid to its use in created the dystopian Western on The Walking Dead. In Night of the Living Dead, as in The Walking Dead, the monster prompts arguments about actions necessary for survival and the moral uncertainty involved, the film's story obviously influenced by the Vietnam war.

The Rolling Stones

People used to ask why British rock stars sang with American accents. The typical reply was that the artform was born in the U.S. and it was considered the proper style. But there was also an unmistakable fascination with American culture, particularly southern American culture, in British rock of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The influence of American artists like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Bob Dylan are abundantly clear in the works of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones. Perhaps no-one more than the Stones, though, attempted to so thoroughly create an American atmosphere both musically and lyrically, from the understated use of bourbon in "Dear Doctor" to outright invocation of the American bar scene in "Honky Tonk Women".


Like many elements of the Arthur legends, Sir Percival has a complicated history with aspects of his story coming from various origins. Richard Wagner, according to Wikipedia, apparently thought the name was of Persian origin. But Arthur was an English king from before the Norman conquest and it was on English cultural history Wagner primarily drew in writing his most musically sublime opera.


Japan is one of the greatest cultural appropriators in the world. Many people are troubled by associations with U.S. occupation following World War II but western cultural influences were evident in the country long before the war as the long history of baseball in Japan makes clear. I could pick from many wonderful examples of Japanese films that drew on foreign cultural influence, I could pick from many anime films, I could pick from several Hayao Miyazaki films. Howl's Moving Castle may be a more obvious choice but to segue from Wagner I've chosen Ponyo. This story of a tiny fish girl was influenced by Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid but its story of a godlike father's relationship to his rebellious daughter was inspired by Wagner's Die Walkure, a fact underscored by the music of Ponyo's unabashed imitation of Wagner's famous "Ride of the Valkyries". In borrowing from this particular opera, Miyazaki is also indirectly borrowing from the stories of Odin and Brunnhilde that influenced Wagner.

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

I doubt anyone in this movie had ever spent much time in Baghdad. A mixture of stories from A Thousand and One Nights, the film reflects a fairy tale version of Baghdad that developed in the British imagination over the 18th and 19th centuries from various translations of the tales. The stories themselves have various origins from Egypt, Syria, Persia, and India, making the Indian actor Sabu appropriately cast for those who adopt the hopeless role of being sticklers about that sort of thing. Sabu delivers an excellent performance in the film as an earnest and adventurous child. Martin Scorsese has called him his favourite actor from the period. Every bit as good, though, is German actor Conrad Veidt as one of the great, subtly complex screen villains of all time, Jaffar.


The very name is a riff on Hollywood, Bollywood movies, like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (pictured) or Swades often are partly set in Europe or the United States. This is partly a reflection of the Indian diaspora as populations originating in India are growing around the world. Stylistically, the films are heavily influenced by Hollywood musicals of the 1930s and 40s though films have been made in India for nearly as long.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A Mexican friend of mine remarked that her two favourite Mexican characters in the history of film were played by white people--Jenette Goldstein as Vasquez in Aliens and Eli Wallach as the bandit Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Director Sergio Leone identified more with the bombastic yet ordinary man than with the larger than life characters played by Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. Everyone's fighting for treasure, for the most part, but you get the feeling Tuco's the only one who'd know how to have a really good time with it. Of course, this is a film made primarily by Italians in Spain about the U.S. so there are many layers of cultural appropriation here. The cinematic wheel turned and many aspects of the films called "Spaghetti Western" vastly improved on the originally American genre so much that every Western made in the U.S. since has been in some way influenced by Spaghetti Westerns.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Interrogated Mask

There is an intimate relationship between post-modernism of the 1960s and civil rights movements as the former was largely about subverting the traditional narratives that worked against the latter. 1969's Funeral Parade of Roses (薔薇の葬列) is about gay Tokyo subculture in the 1960s with a particular focus on "gayboys", the term used in Japan for transvestites employed as hostesses of gay bars. The film subverts both typical stories and psychological inferences made by the traditional heterosexual culture in a wonderfully sharp New Wave style. It features beautiful cinematography by Toshio Matsumoto and a magnetic star in Peter.

Best known in the west for playing Kyoami (analogue of the Fool from King Lear) in Akira Kurosawa's Ran from the mid-80s, Peter is the professional name of Shinnosuke Ikehata, a famous drag queen in Japan. In Funeral Parade of Roses, he plays Eddie, the most sought after hostess of the bar he works at, much to the jealousy of his coworker, Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), in particular.

Wikipedia says the film was an influence on A Clockwork Orange and it's easy to see in the film's fight sequences. Whenever the transvestites brawl with each other or with a gang of girls with absurdly phoney tattoos in the street, the film is sped up and accompanied on the soundtrack by Offenbach's famous can-can music synthesised at high speed. In this case, in a very New Wave manner, the technique is used to intentionally diminish the dramatic impact of what's occurring.

Similarly, the film breaks in on its fictional narrative to feature interviews with the actors or to simply show the artificiality of a scene. A sex scene between Peter and an American man abruptly stops to show the whole film crew crowded around the bed and Peter casually getting dressed. This subverts both the drama over whether the American realises Eddie is a guy as well as another theme introduced, the tensions about western cultural influence on Japan.

A later break in the narrative is a brief interview with Peter where he deliberately spoils the end of the film in casually talking about the ways he relates to his character--similar lifestyle and interests--and ways in which he is different--the film's ultra-violent rendition of Oedipus Rex which is part of a subversion about the issues with a father figure that pop psychology tended to infer about homosexuals and transvestites.

The effect of the film's relentless breaking down of presumptions is like a threshing that removes the chaff of bullshit and helps reveal the simple grain of reality, like the fact that Peter's rather beautiful.

Eddie visits a museum a couple times during the film where a narrator talks about the necessity of psychological masks where a real person underneath is inevitably lonely. The obvious relevance and sombreness of this is continually subverted by a shot of a man wearing a false beard that's blown off by the wind. The film's post-modern subversions work both to show up unjust perceptions of others and the fragility of human nature which needs to construct perceptions around itself. Like the films of the French New Wave, it's wrong to say the film is simply attacking dreams.

A scene where Eddie and other transvestites as well as other men and women dance and smoke pot under the benevolent gaze of The Beatles on a massive poster seems to say a lot about shared humanity and cross cultural influence.

Twitter Sonnet #905

Misfortune chose the falling powder room.
In caves forgotten twice per day they spit.
However bright the plates can be they're groomed.
A chorus line relays the gum with mitts.
Tamale lamps advance the rate of corn.
The light we called for wheat became the maize.
In stacks, the stones assert the crops we've shorn.
A rain of grass descends and makes the maze.
Trombones of justice salvage soccer pucks.
The wrong projectile flew before the pult.
At night tattoos depart and rally trucks.
The animated ink cascades like sparrows moult.
The petals placed on cloudy tables drift.
In cement skies the heat produced a rift.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hands that Need Holding

Most films with a mentally impaired character are usually in part about how this person's relatives have difficulty finding time for a personal life. 2014's Next to Her (את לי לילה‎‎) is about a young woman who is distressed by any potential separation from her mentally impaired sister. It's a nice character drama with very good performances that feels oddly incomplete in a way I can't put my finger on.

Chelli (Liron Ben-Shlush) lives alone with her sister, Gabby (Dana Ivgy), for whom she's been the sole caregiver for years. After she comes home from work one day to find Gabby banging her head on the floor, she's forced to take her to a care centre during work hours thereafter.

After some encouragement, Chelli awkwardly begins to explore aspects of personal pursuits she's long avoided. She gets her eyebrows plunked and belatedly accepts an invitation from a male co-worker, Zohar (Yaakov Zada Daniel), to go to a night club. Security won't let her in so she waits around for him and makes some transparent excuses for why she's there when he comes out.

He takes her home to where he lives with his mother and it becomes pretty clear that Chelli's main objective is to get laid. This sequence of scenes is nicely put together and the dialogue is just right, Chelli's excuse that she was at another party with friends who've gone home being just the right kind of insubstantial for him to see through and realise she doesn't mind he sees through it. Her initiating some kissing after awkward small talk feels very real too.

But it turns out he likes her beyond the one night stand and, slowly, despite her trepidation, he becomes her boyfriend and even moves in with her and Gabby.

Gabby can't speak beyond muttering a few words here and there--usually, "No do" or "Chelli" or "Coffee". So Chelli does a lot of interpreting for her and it often feels like her interpretations are either mistaken or insincere, something Zohar quickly seems to pick up on. Chelli is oddly insistent that Gabby not masturbate and pulls her hand away every time she tries, something that perplexes Zohar. When he witnesses Chelli chastising Gabby for playing with herself, he suggests he and Chelli simply go to the next room and let Gabby do what's natural. Chelli can't think of a real reason to object and she seems like she's never actually thought about it before.

There's a lot about her relationship with Gabby that Chelli hasn't seemed to consider, which eventually leads to a terrible mistake. But it seems as though Chelli can get past anything so long as she has Gabby with her, whether Gabby likes it or not. The film is very effective at building its characters. Dana Ivgy's performance as Gabby is particularly impressive and uncompromising.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Leather Bottles

It's hard enough breaking from the flow of tradition and social pressure, it's harder when you have something in your heart you never thought to look for. 1964's The Leather Boys is based on a novel that more directly explores the difficulties a young gay man faced in the 1960s but the film is nicely shot, despite coming from Superman IV director Sidney J. Furie, with naturalistic performances that spend a great deal of time dwelling on the tensions a young gay man would have faced.

The beginning of the film is filled with energy--the hyperactive biker teens at the cafe turns into the energetic, mad dash wedding of Reggie (Colin Campbell) and Dot (Rita Tushingham).

These two kids who spend most of their time wearing leather jackets and talking motorcycles are suddenly on a well worn, rapid treadmill. Parents who a couple scenes earlier disapproved of the pair are now cooing over cutting the wedding cake.

Something happens when they have sex on their honeymoon. The film doesn't say exactly what but Dot is clearly disappointed and Reggie is annoyed. Still, it seems perfectly innocent to her to start spending more time at the beauty salon and chatting with tourists than she does with Reggie. The pattern settles in when they get home. When they're apart, Reggie finds a million things to complain about regarding her, when they're together, they fight. Gradually he finds he prefers hanging out with his fellow biker, Pete (Dudley Sutton).

The film does directly broach the subject of homosexuality and it's pretty clear that Pete is gay and comfortable with it. It also doesn't demonise homosexuality but it does, in the end, ultimately back away from its own thematic momentum in a way that suggests the film was forced to go a certain way by production code or studio. But like Alfred Hitchcock was still happy with the 90% of his film Suspicion before the studio enforced ending, The Leather Boys maintains a nice artistic existence for most of its run time. Colin Campbell gives a subtle performance as the young man who for the most part doesn't seem to know what his own problem is before it becomes something he's afraid to acknowledge and explore.

The sense of social momentum is well conveyed and it's illuminating to note the rebel biker gang of the Wild One mode is just as rigidly traditional in some ways as their parents.

Footage of the film was later used for The Smiths' "Girlfriend in a Coma" music video which takes on a new significance when one knows the film's subtext.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Power Alien to Gods

How does one make a documentary about the Internet in under two hours? Werner Herzog made his 2016 film, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, as though he were making a movie about another planet. He mentions falling in love more often than most filmmakers probably would in making such a documentary. His heart pervades the film along with his sense of wonder at something peculiarly both frightening and beautiful.

He begins at the beginning, with the birth of the Internet and one of its pioneers describing the first computer to computer communication in the late 1960s. For music, the scene is accompanied by the vorspiel from Wagner's Das Rheingold, the same music Herzog used in his 1979 version of Nosferatu, which may tell you something about his perspective right there. But of course, Das Rheingold is the first opera of Wagner's four part Der Ring des Nibelungen, a story about the world of gods being replaced by the world of humanity, and Das Rheingold's opening music captures the sense of something weird and vast slowly and beautifully coming to life.

He mentions a mysterious "druid dwarf" he imagines when an MMORPG addict in rehab declines describing to him her alteregos for fear of experiencing again her withdrawal symptoms. Video games are alien to Herzog and he's fascinated by the South Korean couple who let their baby die because they were busy caring for a virtual baby and, one thinks, yes, this is exactly the kind of thing that would interest Herzog.

He talks to neuroscientists who discuss the very real possibility of people's brains being connected and conversing in a universal language of pure thought. He visits a man who builds little robots who play soccer and gently encourages the man to express his affection for one of the robots. Herzog's clearly fascinated by the opportunities for connectivity and is charmed by the hapless pioneers who created this simple thing which, in the 70s, had only a few hundred users and no need for any kind of security.

In an eerie, striking scene, he interviews the family of a teenage girl who died in a car accident, pictures of her decapitated corpse proliferated by internet trolls and sent directly to the family. Herzog has the parents standing while their other three daughters sit in complete silence in sombre clothes, trays of muffins incongruous in the foreground, everyone looking directly at the camera with the lines from the ceiling in the background converging symmetrically to the centre like a shot from a Stanley Kubrick movie. The scene starkly demonstrates how horrible anonymous people on the internet can be while at the some time showing how very strange this new kind of horrible experience is. The mother comments that she thinks the internet is the Antichrist and it's very easy to see her point of view.

He talks to people who discuss the decreased level of human interaction that comes with the internet. He talks to Elon Musk about his plans to colonise Mars and enthusiastically volunteers to go along. He also talks to some genetic scientists who enlisted internet gamers to volunteer to participate in a game to create new molecules to assist cancer research. There's a meandering quality to the documentary that feels very much like Herzog probing the edges of strange new forest.

Twitter Sonnet #904

Canines retreat to touch the burning brain.
Flamingoes commandeered will play croquet.
Appropriation boosts transmission's gain.
Reflected lightning melted each parfait.
The drones embellish cords and gears for charm.
Resetting vacuum cleaners may avert the dust.
No storm could break beyond the floating farm.
Campaigns we launched for heads were now a bust.
The walking bed encouraged rest by force.
A game of loans'll wager chance for fate.
A starless trek returns on dusty course.
The telephones escaped Adama's pate.
A stepping stone declares for sitting down.
The river runs so long as there's a clown.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Through the Mists of Memory Emerged Nothing

Hey, remember that movie with Orson Welles and Oliver Reed? You know, 1967's I'll Never Forget What's'isname, directed by Michael Winner. It's the one with short attention span editing to distract from its vapid statement and conventional plot masquerading as revolutionary.

Orson Welles receives top billing as Jonathan Lute, head of an advertising company, but he only appears in a few scenes. The film is told from the point of view of Andrew Quint (Reed), who quits Lute's company at the beginning of the film to work at an independent little magazine run by Nicholas (Norman Rodway). Andrew complains about the soulessness of his former job while Lute cynically smiles and leans back, making sinister, general statements like, "All human life is waste."

The Wikipedia synopsis says this is what the movie's all about but 90% of the film is devoted to Andrew's love life. So much plot is stuffed into his relationship status the movie acts like it never needs to stop and think about what's going on. Andrew's in the middle of a divorce from his beautiful young blonde wife, Louise (Wendy Craig), except she's always too busy getting ready for a party to discuss it with him while he's there, except for one scene where they end up having sex.

He's also seeing a beautiful blonde model, Carla (Ann Lynn), who works for Lute's ad company and who seems only mildly ruffled when he tells her he might need to break up with her on some vague newly found principles. Then he's off to meet with his beautiful blonde girlfriend, Josie (Marianne Faithfull), who's too busy trying on a tutu to discuss breaking up with him.

And, finally, he gets to work seducing the beautiful blonde virgin, Georgina (Carol White), secretary at the independent magazine he works at now. The film frequently jump cuts in the middle of conversations, Andrew going all over London to have the same vapid conversation about how he wants something more and keeps flirting with girls and no-one's sure what love is and commitment is. The editing may partly be influenced by the experimental cutting style in Jean-Luc Godard's films at the time but they reminded me more of Orson Welles. But while Welles' quickfire editing in Citizen Kane or Lady from Shanghai showed an instinct for the pace of human thought, Winner's editing is curiously inert for all its speed. He seems to generally be saying, look how very far we've come from traditional relationships here in the 60s, but ends up being only as precisely as revolutionary, and not half as insightful, as The Philadelphia Story. For all the pieces rapidly moving around the board, none of them actually becomes a character.

I did laugh at one scene where Welles somehow rapidly sets up an office above Andrew's independent magazine that looks like an Asian themed American brothel.

So how about that title? What does it mean, "I'll Never Forget What's'isname"? Nothing. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Well there's a running gag at Andrew's school reunion where people can't remember their classmates' names, but like most everything else in the film it's a completely disposable gag, signifying nothing.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Seven of Doctors and the Ace of Dorothys

Happy birthday to both Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, the Seventh Doctor and Ace, who were both born on August 20th, he in 1943, she in 1962. They were fated to become one of the best, definitely within the top three, Doctor and companion pairings on Doctor Who. For effective chemistry, I'd say they're rivalled only by Four and Romana II and Two and Jamie.

I wanted to find a cute picture of the two to put at the top of this post but I just found too many on google that made me smile to have just one. I said a few weeks ago I thought a romantic relationship between the two would be weird, this picture has single-handedly changed my mind:

I did listen to a Seventh Doctor audio play this week starring Sylvester McCoy, sadly with no Ace, 2008's The Death Collector's/Spider's Shadow. Really they're two different, slightly related stories both written by Stewart Sheargold. The first has the Doctor visiting a space station where a Professor Mors Alexandryn (Alastair Cording) is studying a disease that has necessitated a quarantine for the planet below. The Doctor gains a temporary companion in the adorably named Danika Meanwhile (Katherine Parkinson) who is Alexandryn's ex-wife and assistant. A group of death obsessed aliens, the "Dar Traders", are on hand to study the disease as well. There's some interesting drama about Alexandryn having loose ethics while not being a villain and some nice menace is created by the eventually manifesting alien villain who communicates only by recordings of the other characters. Generally recordings where death is mentioned seem to be preferred. It's creepy though it's rather like the 2006 Seventh Doctor audio play No Man's Land.

The second story, Spider's Shadow, is only thirty minutes and is pretty breezy, the Doctor quickly getting himself in and out of a jumbled time loop where he meets two princesses and apparently does something that disrupts the time line. The spiders in the title end up being something pretty delightfully weird.

Dr Who - Silver Nemesis - 1 by IDavros

Dr Who - Silver Nemesis - 2 by IDavros

Friday, August 19, 2016

While Some were Already There

Many people broadly paint the westerns of classic Hollywood as reducing Native Americans to rabid subhumans. While this was often true, by the 1950s, when the post World War II climate was creating greater awareness of civil rights issues, several westerns, most notably by John Ford, took a misguided but genuinely well meaning tack in humanising Native American characters and acknowledging the crimes committed against them by white settlers. 1954's The Rode West is an exciting enough frontier western directed by Phil Karlson which focuses on one white military doctor's attempt to make peace between the Kiowa and a U.S. cavalry.

Robert Francis plays Doctor Seward who's sent to the frontier post to replace a drunk and incompetent doctor. He immediately butts heads with Captain Blake (Philip Carey) who's tired of the people back east sending him lousy physicians who do more harm than good.

Also on the train with Seward is the wife of the colonel in charge of the fort, Martha (Peggy Converse), and her niece, Laurie (Donna Reed), who takes a liking for the unseasoned young doctor.

Near the fort are the Kiowa in a valley where they were forcibly relocated. On a visit for Blake to aggressively attempt to confirm his suspicion the Kiowa are responsible for an earlier raid on the cavalry's camp, Dr. Seward discovers several of the tribe have contracted malaria. He angrily tells Blake later that the Kiowa wouldn't have been infected if they'd been left to live in their ancestral homeland and not been forced to move by the U.S. military.

Francis manages to keep his performance from being too patronising as he talks with the Kiowa doctor, Isatai (Frank DeKova) about treatment, respecting the man's use of the term "evil spirit" to explain the illness. Seward is startled by the appearance of Manyi-ten (May Wynn), the mother of a sick child he treats, but we don't find out why until later.

The viewer can't be blamed for not picking up on the reason for Seward's surprise right away. He reveals later he's surprised to see a white woman living with the Kiowa but when half the Native Americans are played by white actors anyway the distinction takes on a pretty meta quality. In one of the biggest missteps in the film's attempt to bring a message of the shared humanity of white people and Native Americans, Seward argues that Manyi-ten can't be Kiowa because she has "good features." He says it without the slightest cruelty in his tone, as though the ugliness of Native Americans were simply established scientific fact.

The film ends on a blatantly ahistorical optimistic tone. The movie sadly never bothers to flesh out a single Native American character but I did like one scene where Seward, complaining about how the other officers call him a traitor to "his own kind" is comforted by Donna Reed's character who says, "Your 'own kind' is the human race. Just because they don't seem to realise it doesn't make you wrong." The the bigger context, though, his ego hardly seems like the most important victim.

Twitter Sonnet #903

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