Friday, August 31, 2018

The Image of a Wife

Either I'm starting to warm to Jonathan Miller's style of directing Shakespeare or I just found it suited for The Taming of the Shrew because I really enjoyed his 1980 production of that play for BBC Television Shakespeare. Though the presence of John Cleese as Petruchio is certainly a big help.

Of course, Miller was responsible for Cleese's casting, in fact he fought hard for it despite some controversy and Cleese's own reluctance. From Wikipedia:

Cleese had never performed Shakespeare before, and was not a fan of the first two seasons of the BBC Television Shakespeare. As such, he took some persuading from Miller that the BBC Shrew would not be, as Cleese feared "about a lot of furniture being knocked over, a lot of wine being spilled, a lot of thighs being slapped and a lot of unmotivated laughter."

Miller told Cleese his conception of the character was as "an early Puritan more concerned with attempting to show Kate how preposterous her behaviour is ('showing her an image of herself' as Miller put it), rather than bullying her into submission . . ." And we see this in the production, especially at the very end where Miller has the characters sing a hymn together praising God, directly following Katherine's (Sarah Badel) gratuitous praise of her husband and husbands in general:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;

It's a long soliloquy, I've only quoted part of it, and the interesting thing about it to me is that it reflects an attitude that was nowhere in Petruchio's "lessons". How did him telling her the sun was the moon relate at all to him labouring "by sea and land" for her? There's some connexion when he deprives her of food but the main lesson he's really teaching Katherine is on the importance of learning to play one's part, to profit in one's culture by adopting the roles one is assigned.

And this is why Cleese in the role works so well. You never mistake his motives for being anger or love, it's all calculated strategy. We know from the beginning his primary interest in marrying her is her dowry--that's why he agrees to marry her before even meeting her. His purpose is to show her how disruptive it is when one constantly asserts one's own will over everything else. In not considering her well being, he makes her stay in his home miserable; by choosing to dress in an unconventional manner at the wedding, he humiliates her. Cleese wears a hat with enormous feathers that constantly bother the faces of those nearby.

He has a point; Katherine's not only unpleasant for people around her but she's holding up her sister's marriage because her father won't allow the more sought after Bianca (Susan Penhaligon) to marry until Katherine is wed. One could say the real problem is the system that encourages and allows such treatment of women but how realistic is it that Katherine can change the world? You could look at her as a capitulator at the end but, on the other hand, she's helped her husband win a bet, brought in even more money, and based on the dialogue in their first meeting he does seem to respect her intelligence. It's a sad system, but sometimes you have to live with a sad system and you might as well make the best of it.

Cleese is really good and almost as good is an actor named Harry Waters as Biondello, one of the servants, who has a perfectly Monty Python-ish deadpan when he delivers the line, "Forgot you! no, sir: I could not forget you, for I never saw you before in all my life."

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Game for Young and Old and Very Old

After being sidelined for a couple episodes, Edward takes a central role in the fourteenth episode of Cowboy Bebop. It's the first of several episodes where some specific element from the distant past exerts strange and surprising influence on the present; in this case, chess.

Session Fourteen: Bohemian Rhapsody

Obviously the title for this episode comes from the famous song by Queen. Certainly the lyrics would apply to several characters, particularly Edward (Aoi Tada), who does seem content to go "any way the wind blows." On the other hand, the song is filled with anxiety and sorrow, two emotional states seemingly alien to Edward, though this episode is one of the few where we see her become genuinely upset. Only misfortune in a chess game seems to hit Edward where it hurts.

Spike (Koichi Yamadera), Jet (Unsho Ishizuka), and Faye (Megumi Hayashibara) have reluctantly decided to pool their resources and split the bounty (after Faye had initially suggested they all work alone) on the elusive mastermind behind the bombings of the hyperspace gates ships depend on to get around the solar system. All the legwork for the crimes has been carried out by petty criminals who don't know who hired them or for what ultimate purpose. The only clues the three bounty hunters have are white chess kings that somehow ended up in the possession of the crooks.

Edward immediately recognises these as data storage devices designed for an online chess game and she immediately starts playing a game with Chessmaster Hex (Takeshi Watabe). We'll eventually learn the lonely and senile old man lives alone in a floating junk yard with a variety of transients--along with a parrot and a whole lot of marijuana.

In some ways, this is a lot like Edward's first episode where she bonded with an old, lonely computer on a satellite. The two main differences here are that the elder entity is a human being and he and Edward bond over a shared passion, chess. And chess presents a significant difference from "Jamming with Edward" in that it is the real and familiar game that's been around for centuries; it's an actual game that has endured and seems likely to continue to endure. It's not Three Dimensional Chess or some other futuristic variation, and Edward and Hex are clearly playing using the real rules, not random made up rules like in Code Geass.

You can see here when Edward first says she's about to checkmate Hex that by taking his pawn on g7 she really will be giving check though not technically mate since Hex can take Edward's knight with his queen on g5. But instead of this move, Edward says she'll let him live and "carelessly" takes his rook on D6 (the English subtitles on my copy take the liberty of translating Edward as saying she'll "fork the king and rook" which is not what she's doing) which is actually the better move.

Edward, who as I said before is like an anthropomorphisation of the future depicted in Cowboy Bebop, where the past has been replaced by chaotic new configurations, is revealed on some level to be similar to the very old man whose senility has made him like a child but at the same time has made him even older. Now all he cares about is this ancient game, he's forgotten all about the hyperspace gate and even the crimes he set in motion fifty years ago.

The episode also has some nice moments of the other characters doing detective work. I particularly liked Jet planting a bug in the offices of the corporation who controls the hyperspace gates.


This entry is part of a series of entries I’m writing on Cowboy Bebop for its 20th anniversary. I’m reviewing each episode individually. My previous episode reviews can be found here:

Session One
Session Two
Session Three
Session Four
Session Five
Session Six
Session Seven
Session Eight
Session Nine
Session Ten
Session Eleven
Sessions Twelve and Thirteen

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Houses of Sex and Love

There are many ways to frame culture wars; liberal versus conservative, change versus stability, innovation versus tradition. Partisans have trouble admitting that generally we need some compromise between the two so maybe that's where the Romantic Comedy can help. 1962's Love on a Pillow (Le repos du guerrier) uses the familiar pairing of a lower class guy and a upper class gal to comment on the cultural conflicts of the 50s and 60s. It's no masterpiece but it is an entertaining and thoughtful film directed by Roger Vadim and based on a novel by feminist author Christiane Rochefort.

A wealthy heiress, Genevieve (Brigitte Bardot), checks into a hotel in Dijon and accidentally enters the wrong room where she discovers a man named Renaud (Robert Hossein) unconscious in bed from an intentional overdose of sleeping pills. She calls for help and his life is saved by her fortuitous accident.

She has a fiance back in Paris but the Florence Nightingale syndrome kicks in when she has lunch with Renaud after he's released from the hospital. So she takes him home to her recently inherited sumptuous manor. Like many Brigitte Bardot movies, a lot of the plot revolves around her being naked and she and Renaud first make love after he walks in on her nude, gazing into her massive fireplace.

"Make love" might not be the right expression because the film's central conflict is over the difference between love and sexual attraction and whether the former even truly exists. Genevieve is shocked by Renaud's bohemian lifestyle yet can't help following his advice when it comes to blowing off her commitments. She also breaks up with her fiance because she insists she loves Renaud but Renaud insists the two of them have an open relationship because he thinks love as a concept is just part of the bourgeois tyranny that stifles natural human sexual urges.

Because the first half of the movie is apparently about him opening her eyes to life's realities, and her feelings of liberation as a result, she doesn't seem to have a leg to stand on to argue in favour of anything so stodgy as monogamy. He's something of a beatnik and takes her to meet his friends, the typical movie beatnik assemblage of hazy poets, scattered jazz musicians, and girls with slightly dishevelled hair. Both Renaud and Genevieve flirt with other people but they also keep watching each other.

There are problems that become apparent in Renaud's philosophy, if the fact that he was trying to commit suicide wasn't already an indication. He can't commit creatively, for one thing, and Genevieve discovers the book he's been working on is just the same first sentence over and over, like the writer in Camus' The Plague. As Renaud's outlook on life is gradually revealed to be less and less adequate to suit his emotional needs, Genevieve tells his father that she feels a strange peace, commenting, "It's like giving birth. Like I now have the strength to live for myself . . . " At the same time, she also says, "I feel like I understand him now."

What had been presented as a conflicted between the Beat and the Old Money is really a conflict about power and freedom. When he was rocking her world, he had the power and freedom, and then when she has the upper hand, the power and freedom is hers, and now she can look back and understand how he felt when he had her at a disadvantage. Naturally, this calls into question the wisdom of subscribing to either philosophy wholesale and she seems to know it.

It's a nice looking movie and the performances are good though Bardot has a tantrum at one point that seems a bit forced, as though she told Vadim she wanted to do the scene in Citizen Kane where Kane smashes up Susan's room but the story here doesn't quite justify it. Of course, she looks terrific.

Twitter Sonnet #1149

The winking waves report in frothy lids.
A crowded grin replete with eyes appeared.
In razor slats the apple fell to bids.
The table took the chips for something weird.
The pair repaired beneath an absent roof.
A weakened pull divests a world of moons.
At craggy hill the place entraps a hoof.
For flocking dreams the tired walker swoons.
Collected chairs established last the screen.
Contained between the leather arms they sat.
In lavender and coffee friends've made the scene.
The books returned the fertile brain of Cat.
A cast assembles parties off the sheet.
Instead of cake they sliced neglected peat.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Better Go to Work

Work ethic was the star of last night's new Better Call Saul. Jimmy and Mike both demonstrated a commitment to getting the job done, whatever job that might be, over dealing with their own issues. It was a good episode.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) takes a job at the slowest cell phone shop in the world just to have an excuse not to see the psychiatrist Kim (Rhea Seehorn) wants him to. I liked the way the decision is built up to. When Jimmy first turns down the cell phone job, it feels like the wrong decision because he's being lazy or stuck on his self-image as a lawyer. Then when he takes the job, it seems like the wrong decision because he's avoiding attending to himself. It kind of reminds me of The Phantom Menace sometimes (in a good way). I remember watching the kid and thinking, is it this or that decision that puts him on the path to being Darth Vader? Whatever he does invites you to find the angle where it looks like the wrong decision.

What kind of world do we live in where intelligent guys with active minds like Jimmy's are placed in a position where they're obliged to bounce a ball against the window all day just to pass time? This taps into some of the same tension as Breaking Bad--part of the reason that show worked so well is that you agreed with Walter White that he deserved something more in life than the kinds of jobs he was doing in the first episode.

I liked the stuff with Mike (Jonathan Banks) last night. Like Jimmy, he hasn't got much use for therapy and his compulsive detective work is prompted by a commitment to self-denial. We can see he's upset that Stacy (Kerry Condon) would speak about her anxiety over the fading memories of her deceased husband, Mike's son. That prompts him to take revenge on this institution that encourages this kind of emotional self-indulgence. The scene also reminded me of Jesse's group therapy sessions on Breaking Bad and, like Mike, Jesse finds a flaw in the very premise of the group therapy session. You may or may not agree with Mike or Jesse's motives but they show there are real flaws in the presumption that sharing feelings should always take priority.

There was also a pretty good shoot-out involving Nacho (Michael Mando) last night but I still can't muster any interest in his character.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ray's the Standard!

As I mentioned a few days ago when writing about Delta and the Bannermen, variations of the name "Ray" are pretty common in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Is it in ode to the ubiquitous Death Rays, Shrink Rays, and Freeze Rays that once populated the genres? Who knows. Anyway, I put together a list of who I consider to be the top six Rays.

6. Rei

In Rumiko Takahashi's classic manga and anime series Urusei Yatsura, a story about an oni alien named Lum who imposes her love on lecherous Earthling Ataru, a rival for Lum's affections eventually appears from her homeworld. Devastatingly handsome with the power to charm any woman except Lum, Rei nonetheless suffers from an inability to speak more than a few words at a time. Maybe a less attractive trait is his tendency to turn into a twenty foot tall rampaging alien tiger whenever he gets too emotional.

5. Ray Wise

You'd be wise to get acquainted with actor Ray Wise. As Commissioner Gordon, he was one of the few bright spots on the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke a couple years ago, he had a major role in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Who Watches the Watchers", and he had roles in RoboCop and the 1982 Cat People. But the best reason to get to know this Ray is for his performance as Leland Palmer, father of Laura, on Twin Peaks. Wise's talents helped make Leland a character capable of scaling impressive heights of comedy and horror.

4. Rey

I know what you're thinking; "But who are her parents?!" Relax, this plucky Rey will make you forget all about that. Well, maybe not, but she's a little Rey of sunshine away, inverting Luke's story about wanting to get away from his home to fight the Empire, Rey just wants a happy normal life away from it all. Lucky for us, this beautiful young woman's prevailed upon to repair the Millennium Falcon and wield a lightsabre, absorbing the powers of Han, Luke, and Leia into a single Star Wars juggernaut!

3. Ray Stantz

I know what you're thinking; "He took out a second mortgage on the house he was born in!" But it was for bigger and better things, believe me, as he became the heart of the Ghostbusters. Dan Aykroyd's enthusiastic performance made Ray's glee at obtaining a fire house not up to building codes or a hearse that barely runs irresistibly infectious.

2. Rei Ayanami

Don't ask about this Rei's parentage; suffice to say, it's complicated. Voiced by the great Megumi Hayashibara, Rei's a central part of the impact Neon Genesis Evangelion still holds on manga and anime. Over twenty years after the series debuted, Otakus are still either dreaming about Rei or Rei knock-offs like Rem from Re:Zero. None of the Rei imitators match her for complexity, though, or the fascinatingly weird depths of psychological disturbance the series takes her to. This was back when the best anime series would challenge their fans.

1. Ray Bradbury

The natural number one on this list, Bradbury crafted classics in both Science Fiction and Fantasy. From the insightful dystopia of Fahrenheit 451 to the beautiful impression of childhood nightmares in Something Wicked this Way Comes. But that just scratches the surface of his career of making classics that include The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles. He also wrote the screenplay for John Huston's adaptation of Moby Dick and co-designed Horton Plaza (based on his essay "The Aesthetics of Lostness"), a shopping mall in downtown San Diego. Which I'd advise you to check out if you haven't already before its owner, Westfield, finishes driving into the ground.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Norna and the "Pirate"

Would you believe this sweet, devoted young man with adoring eyes is a bloodthirsty pirate? Well, he's not, but he's supposedly the subject of Walter Scott's 1822 novel The Pirate which I finished a few months ago, and he's supposedly modelled on the infamous 18th century pirate John Gow. Scott declaws Gow and a whole lot of other things but it's not an altogether bad book. The real star, easily the most fascinating character, is called Norna of the Fitful Head.

Norna captured my attention early on--when I last wrote about this book back in April I said her "wonderfully gothic description" was the first really interesting thing to happen seven chapters into a book that had been mainly dry descriptions of Shetland with detached details of a young man, Mordaunt, and his friendship with two beautiful girls, Brenda and Minna. But Scott makes the atmosphere he conjured finally come alive starting in the fifth chapter with colourful scenes involving a horticulturist named Triptolemus and his sister, Baby. And that's where Norna makes her entrance. As the novel progresses, Norna isn't just the most mysterious or bizarre character, she's also the most psychologically complex. None of the other characters come close.

The main plot of the novel involves two families, the Mertouns and the Troils. Mordaunt's father, Basil, is gloomy and solitary, living at his castle. Magnus Troil, father of Brenda and Minna, is the landlord, or "Udaller". Mordaunt likes both of the girls but doesn't feel like he wants to marry either one. Then there's a shipwreck one day and Mordaunt rescues a man who calls himself Clement Cleveland. Cleveland quickly takes Mordaunt's place of favour at the Troil household where for reasons Mordaunt is not immediately able to discover everyone suddenly hates the young Mertoun. Cleveland harbours an unexplained animosity towards Mordaunt which he expresses more openly after he rescues Mordaunt--thereby repaying his debt--during a fantastically described communal attempt to kill a whale caught in a small body of water after an unusually high tide.

. . . the other boats had also pulled off to safer distance, and now, from these as well as from the shore, the unfortunate native of the deep was overwhelmed by all kinds of missiles,—harpoons and spears flew against him on all sides—guns were fired, and each various means of annoyance plied which could excite him to exhaust his strength in useless rage. When the animal found that he was locked in by shallows on all sides, and became sensible, at the same time, of the strain of the cable on his body, the convulsive efforts which he made to escape, accompanied with sounds resembling deep and loud groans, would have moved the compassion of all but a practised whale-fisher. The repeated showers which he spouted into the air began now to be mingled with blood, and the waves which surrounded him assumed the same crimson appearance. Meantime the attempts of the assailants were redoubled; but Mordaunt Mertoun and Cleveland, in particular, exerted themselves to the uttermost, contending who should display most courage in approaching the monster, so tremendous in its agonies, and should inflict the most deep and deadly wounds upon its huge bulk.

With two dashing young men and two beautiful women, you wouldn't be crazy thinking there was going to be a neat pairing off. I won't spoil who ends up with whom though it was spoiled for me because I happened to be reading George Eliot's 1872 novel Middlemarch at the same time and one of its main characters casually mentions the conclusion of The Pirate in demonstrating a point about what sorts of people are attracted to one another. That Eliot assumed everyone's familiarity and respect for The Pirate, one of Scott's lesser known works, goes to show the loftier place in literature Scott held in the 19th century than he does to-day. Certainly, I would argue Middlemarch is a greater work, certainly more psychological, though I wouldn't be surprised if Eliot's imagination was excited by Norna. I doubt she was much impressed by Brenda and Minna whose only interesting scene is one where they try to conceal their passions from each other about the men while also engaged in tightly lacing each other's corsets.

“I do not know what you mean,” said Brenda, colouring deeply, and shifting to get away from her sister. But as she was now undergoing the ceremony of being laced in her turn, her sister had the means of holding her fast by the silken string with which she was fastening the boddice, and, tapping her on the neck, which expressed, by its sudden writhe, and sudden change to a scarlet hue, as much pettish confusion as she had desired to provoke, she added, more mildly, “Is it not strange, Brenda, that, used as we have been by the stranger Mordaunt Mertoun, whose assurance has brought him uninvited to a house where his presence is so unacceptable, you should still look or think of him with favour? Surely, that you do so should be a proof to you, that there are such things as spells in the country, and that you yourself labour under them. It is not for nought that Mordaunt wears a chain of elfin gold—look to it, Brenda, and be wise in time.”

After Norna's great introduction, we get more descriptions that convey an impression of fascinating, awesome otherworldliness that seems out of place with the rest of the novel. When Minna becomes ill, her family takes her to Norna's impressive and strange abode.

The Burgh of which we at present speak had been altered and repaired at a later period, probably by some petty despot, or sea-rover, who, tempted by the security of the situation, which occupied the whole of a projecting point of rock, and was divided from the mainland by a rent or chasm of some depth, had built some additions to it in the rudest style of Gothic defensive architecture;—had plastered the inside with lime and clay, and broken out windows for the admission of light and air; and, finally, by roofing it over, and dividing it into stories, by means of beams of wreck-wood, had converted the whole into a tower, resembling a pyramidical dovecot, formed by a double wall, still containing within its thickness that set of circular galleries, or concentric rings, which is proper to all the forts of this primitive construction, and which seem to have constituted the only shelter which they were originally qualified to afford to their shivering inhabitants.

The novel is set in the late 17th century and Scott takes the opportunity to establish a culture clash on the remote island between its ancient inhabitants of Scandinavian descent and the new Scottish interlopers. This is largely manifested in a conflict between Norse mythology and Christianity with Norna's magic being founded on the former. The really remarkable thing about Norna as a character is in how Scott uses her as a point of conflict between the two belief systems. At first, on the surface, it seems as though Scott is simply operating from the point of view that, as a pagan, Norna would have to doubt herself because, to Scott, the Christian faith is too clearly the Truth.

In our days, it would have been questioned whether she was an impostor, or whether her imagination was so deeply impressed with the mysteries of her supposed art, that she might be in some degree a believer in her own pretensions to supernatural knowledge. Certain it is, that she performed her part with such undoubting confidence, and such striking dignity of look and action, and evinced, at the same time, such strength of language, and energy of purpose, that it would have been difficult for the greatest sceptic to have doubted the reality of her enthusiasm, though he might smile at the pretensions to which it gave rise.

As we learn more about the novel's increasingly unlikely plot about hidden and very fortuitous family relations, Norna's internal conflict of belief is discussed more. Her self-imposed solitude seems designed to deprive herself of human company and the attendant danger of diminishing her faith.

“There are those around us,” she said, “who must hear no mortal voice, witness no sacrifice to mortal feelings—there are times when they mutiny even against me, their sovereign mistress, because I am still shrouded in the flesh of humanity. Fear, therefore, and be silent. I, whose deeds have raised me from the low-sheltered valley of life, where dwell its social wants and common charities;—I, who have bereft the Giver of the Gift which he gave, and stand alone on a cliff of immeasurable height, detached from earth, save from the small portion that supports my miserable tread—I alone am fit to cope with those sullen mates. Fear not, therefore, but yet be not too bold, and let this night to you be one of fasting and of prayer.”

Later, when Mordaunt tries to confront her on her paganism in a point related to the plot, we get this really fascinating moment:

“Yes! you have touched on that dark suspicion which poisons the consciousness of my power,—the sole boon which was given me in exchange for innocence and for peace of mind! Your voice joins that of the demon which, even while the elements confess me their mistress, whispers to me, ‘Norna, this is but delusion—your power rests but in the idle belief of the ignorant, supported by a thousand petty artifices of your own.’—This is what Brenda says—this is what you would say; and false, scandalously false, as it is, there are rebellious thoughts in this wild brain of mine,” (touching her forehead with her finger as she spoke,) “that, like an insurrection in an invaded country, arise to take part against their distressed sovereign.—Spare me, my son!” she continued in a voice of supplication, “spare me!—the sovereignty of which your words would deprive me, is no enviable exaltation. Few would covet to rule over gibbering ghosts, and howling winds, and raging currents. My throne is a cloud, my sceptre a meteor, my realm is only peopled with fantasies; but I must either cease to be, or continue to be the mightiest as well as the most miserable of beings!”

“Do not speak thus mournfully, my dear and unhappy benefactress,” said Mordaunt, much affected; “I will think of your power whatever you would have me believe. But, for your own sake, view the matter otherwise. Turn your thoughts from such agitating and mystical studies—from such wild subjects of contemplation, into another and a better channel. Life will again have charms, and religion will have comforts, for you.”

She listened to him with some composure, as if she weighed his counsel, and desired to be guided by it; but, as he ended, she shook her head and exclaimed—

“It cannot be. I must remain the dreaded—the mystical—the Reimkennar—the controller of the elements, or I must be no more! I have no alternative, no middle station. My post must be high on yon lofty headland, where never stood human foot save mine—or I must sleep at the bottom of the unfathomable ocean, its white billows booming over my senseless corpse . . .'"

This stuff implies more about the trauma and feelings of guilt Norna has than Scott may have intended. It casts a shadow that elevates what would otherwise have been an improbable and sappy conclusion to the plot. When we learn about Cleveland's history as a pirate, supposedly based on John Gow, whose life in Captain Johnson's History of Pyrates is filled with blood and ruthless throat cutting, he turns out to be a laughably innocent and honest fellow. One of those bad boys whose every misdeed is magically the fault of some bad tempered and truly rotten member of respectable society. Amazingly, it does seem like Scott really didn't see what he had with Norna because the book's unsatisfying climax is all about Cleveland.

Twitter Sonnet #1148

A silhouette produced a rusted flail.
Component brains reduced the healthy lunch.
The empty grains consumed the rusty pail.
A group of swords were gathered in a bunch.
The desert curled into a waiting net.
A hall of watches checked the sally forth.
Increasing mobs of power lines abet.
The song began on August twenty-fourth.
A bank belief deploys a dollar ship.
In orbit gaps bespoke the absent moons.
Familiar eyes emerged from metal chip.
The airy guard contains the magic spoons.
A wavy wheel rebounds upon the tides.
Garages yawn and swallow gasless rides.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Doctor and the Everything Else

The Seventh Doctor's first season on Doctor Who was not his best. It was an improvement over the Sixth Doctor era due almost entirely to Sylvester McCoy's better instincts as a performer. But I was starved for more Seven and I've watched the second and third seasons too many times so I watched 1987's Delta and the Bannermen again this week.

The Doctor and his squeaky carry-over companion, Mel (Bonnie Langford), from his previous incarnation, find themselves at an intergalactic tour depot where they win a trip to Earth in 1959. They meet a wacky guide dressed in a hideous, glittery purple suit played by venerable comedian and singer, Ken Dodd, who passed away this year at the age of 90.

Mel, excited to travel through time and space on a tour bus for once, heads off with a group of aliens disguised as humans while the Doctor follows along in the TARDIS. Unbeknownst to them, a fugitive from a species being wiped out by the terrible Bannermen is also aboard, a young woman named Delta (Belinda Mayne). The group's supposed to be going to Disneyland but a collision with a satellite sends them to the less budget prohibitive Wales.

This is a three episode serial that has way too much crammed into it. There's the jolly proprietor of a hotel resort, the starry eyed young man who falls for Delta, his Earthling girlfriend, Delta's strange baby, and a mysterious beekeeper, Goronwy, played by Hugh Lloyd who seems to know more than he lets on about time and space.

According to Wikipedia, "Steven Moffat endorsed the fan theory that Goronwy is a future incarnation of the Doctor, and said that the idea fit well with the Doctor's line about retiring to become a beekeeper in 'The Name of the Doctor'." He does look kind of like Tom Baker in the 50th anniversary special.

This serial features one of Sci-Fi/Fantasy's many Rays--this one almost became the Doctor's companion because Langford was considering leaving the show.

Played by Sara Griffiths, she's cute and not as annoying as Langford, but I doubt anyone's sorry the show went with Ace instead, introduced in the subsequent serial, Dragonfire. A lot of the actors in Delta and the Bannermen come off as exceptionally blank as though they were under orders not to attempt emotions. The romance between Delta and Billy (David Kinder) has all the passion of a customer asking a store clerk where the canned spinach is located.

Also crammed into this story are two CIA agents, one of whom is played by Stubby Kaye, best known now as Marvin Acme from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The two have a mildly entertaining double act but like everything else it doesn't quite have time to build steam. The serial's villain is played by Don Henderson, recognisable to Star Wars fans as one of the Imperial generals from the first Star Wars film. There's an entertaining scene where the Doctor tries to shame him into giving up his plans and things don't quite work out.

There's also some business with a crystal and a musical number but the serial would've done well to cut one or two of these elements and develop what remained a little more.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Jazz Between Worlds

A shift occurs halfway through Cowboy Bebop with its first two part episode. The show that had mainly been about strange and new configurations and combinations becomes about the search for a past and for stability. It's a beautiful, sad, and kind of sleepy story in which the main characters begin to become aware of things that are precious to them.

Sessions Twelve and Thirteen: Jupiter Jazz

There's a very appropriately purgatorial quality to these episodes: purgatorial in terms of compulsory waiting and in terms of being caught between two states of being. In one sense, it's typical of the kinds of stories that we've seen so far. Where "Stray Dog Strut", "Gateway Shuffle", and "Heavy Metal Queen" had explored blurred or complicated lines of race, species, and gender, respectively, in the foreground of "Jupiter Jazz" is a story about sex and gender. Most of the action takes place in a town on Jupiter's moon Callisto where, for reasons left unexplained, there are no women.

Not that this bothers Faye (Megumi Hayashibara), though she seems to only become aware of this fact when informed after she's apparently already been drinking for some time at a dive bar. The camera crawls slowly up her body where she sits on the stool, still wearing her yellow rubber bondage outfit despite the fact that it's snowing outside. As in her fan service shots in "Ganymede Elegy", the effect of lingering shots of Faye sleepily relaxed give a sense of physical intimacy, like the viewer is lying in bed with her. But the exploitation here is not merely to titillate the viewer and the titillation in itself serves the ideas operating in the episode. The point of view on her, the Gaze, if you must, is also the point of view of the guys in the bar and it makes us more aware of the danger she's in. It also adds an element to the trust issues Faye is confronting in this story.

The exploitation here invites us to think about how it reflects Faye's self-image and how her appearance influences the people around her. As established previously, she's happy to use her looks to manipulate people, but is this entirely an advantage for her or does it also reflect a damaging preoccupation? As she mentioned in the previous episode, she believes nothing good's ever happened to her when she's trusted someone, so in this episode she's absconded with the contents of the Bebop safe. But she expands on her motives when asked to explain. To have comrades means she "worries about things I don't have to." She adds with a touch of bitterness, "Because I'm such a good woman," as though she doesn't believe it, "all the guys end up fighting for me." But she doesn't sound like she believes that, either, despite the fact that Gren (Kenyu Horiuchi) had just fought off a bunch of guys to protect her.

The scene had begun with Faye calmly putting on her gloves, expressing an eagerness to work off her aggression by fighting off a bunch of guys who confronted her in an alley. It's like the premise Joss Whedon conceived for Buffy the Vampire Slayer of the apparently vulnerable young woman cornered in an alley by monsters but instead of the standard plot where a dashing gentleman comes in and rescues her she beats up the vamps herself. But Gren intercedes to save her despite the fact that she doesn't need it and despite the fact that, since he's gay, he doesn't have usual ulterior motive for saving a damsel in distress. On several levels, the scene is a pantomime; the actions, which tradition suggest should have great meaning, are almost meaningless. But this is a story about finding depth of meaning behind re-contextualised surface.

The first and last scenes of the episode are of two people who seem to be Native Americans in traditional dress; an old man, Laughing Bull (Takehiro Koyama), and a young boy. But they're not in the American south west, as it appears, but somewhere on Mars and whether or not these two have any affiliation with any real Native American tribe is unclear. But Bull speaks of a soul who died without managing to have faith in the "Great Spirit". This statement, which implies the Great Spirit's obvious existence, is ironic in that it comes from an environment where one can almost never rely on a traditional interpretation of the surface. But as the story makes clear, some kind of faith is a fundamental human need.

The thematic tables have turned in the portions of the story dealing with Spike (Koichi Yamadera) and Vicious (Norio Wakamoto). In "Ballad of the Fallen Angels", it seemed Spike was the betrayer who had been exiled from Heaven, i.e. the Syndicate, and Vicious had labelled him a "beast" for his outsider status. Now we have the first sign that Vicious is going to be a far more authentic betrayer as one of the heads of the Syndicate calls him a snake and then cautions him, "A snake cannot eat a dragon." This is followed by Vicious' discussion with his new subordinate, Lin (Hikaru Midorikawa), in which Vicious coolly tells the young man that, in order to succeed in this life, he must betray him at some point. Vicious' detachment and self-confidence are so complete that he's able to advise someone to betray him, this lack of sentimentality being the source of his strength. But in the second episode's climax, an amazing dogfight of hand drawn animation, we get a hint that there are some flaws in Vicious' detachment when a bomb rigged by Gren is triggered by a music box hidden in Vicious' ship.

Remember Spike rebuked Faye for being "tone deaf" in "Ballad of the Fallen Angels"--music continues to have importance and seems to carry an almost spiritual weight. "Jupiter Jazz" revolves around a song Vicious calls "Julia" ("Jupiter","Jazz","Julia", three Js) when Gren asks him for the name after hearing it played on that fateful music box. Whether "Julia" is the name of the song or if Vicious is just voicing its association for him with the character Julia is unclear. Julia, the love of Spike's life, and possibly someone Vicious cares for too, is again, like a Great Spirit, a powerful influence in a story where she has no apparent physical presence. But when Faye meets Gren in the bar, we see Gren has made good on his promise to Vicious all those years ago to play the song on his saxophone.

Faye tells Gren the concept of a "comrade" only fills her with disgust--given her trust issues, that's no surprise--while Gren says there's nothing more important to him. Throughout the two episodes, Gren reminisces on the camaraderie between himself and other soldiers he'd served with years ago on Titan in some conflict we don't learn the details of. Despite the fact that Vicious framed him as a spy, Gren still feels a connexion to the other man, perhaps love.

Of course, the most obvious instance of altered signifiers in this episode, if not the whole series, is the revelation that Gren is physically a cross between male and female.

"I am both, but I am neither," he tells Faye. The scene where she confronts him with a pistol at the end of the first episode is intercut with a showdown between Spike and Vicious where we learn Lin was once Spike's subordinate. Spike is shot with a tranquilliser dart and left lying on the ground, another case where a character's stasis is accompanied by visuals that grant us a sense of physical intimacy with the character, in this case aided by a crow sitting on Spike's chest when he wakes up, which also associates the moment with death.

At the end of the second episode, Gren asks Spike about his two different coloured eyes and Spike says one eye always sees the past and doesn't explain what the other sees. Gren and Spike are both caught between two different realities, two different identities, and both refer to ways in which they were physically altered against their will, Gren's hormonal balance having been altered by treatment in prison for the crime Vicious framed him for. And both Gren and Spike are in purgatory--they weren't changed into something else, they were changed into a state defined by having no fixed definition.

The episode has two book ends--Laughing Bull comes at the very end and the very beginning, but just after the beginning and just before the end we also have a moment with Jet, whose voice actor, Unsho Ishizuka, passed away on the thirteenth of this month. We see him standing still and smoking in almost exactly the same pose from two different angles. We have a sense of the stability that Jet represents and it becomes a point of gender commentary in the preview between the two episodes which normally consists of the main cast apparently bantering off-script. We hear Spike pondering the pronounced feminine sides some people have--"Are you talking about me?!" Faye asks incredulously--but of course he means Jet. The two episodes characterise Jet's caretaker instincts as feminine, ironic after the obvious interpretation in "Ganymede Elegy" was of him as a traditional patriarch.

As Spike leaves at the beginning of the first half of "Jupiter Jazz", there's an oddly elaborately animated moment focusing on Jet telling Spike that he doesn't care if he doesn't come back and he's only looking for Faye because of the money she stole. To insult Spike's disloyalty, Jet says, "Now I understand!" while Spike says, more quietly so that Jet doesn't hear, "I understand too." Despite the bluster and threats, it's clear Jet will always take back the members of his adopted family and he's happy to have them under his roof. He presents a surface that doesn't reflect the love he truly feels; here is an instance where the false surface is over a deeper meaning or loyalty. This is a point where Jet and Faye are connected--she, too, presents a surface personality that demands distance but needs comrades. As Gren tells her, her actions were truly prompted by the fact that she had come to fear the pain of losing the people she'd in reality come to care for.

Edward (Aoi Tada) remarks at feeling left out in this episode. Faye tells her she'll tell her about it when she's older. Of course Edward can't participate in this episode, this is a song of experience, Edward hasn't had time to build up the conflicting layers and periods of identity that form the focus of "Jupiter Jazz".


This entry is part of a series of entries I’m writing on Cowboy Bebop for its 20th anniversary. I’m reviewing each episode individually. My previous episode reviews can be found here:

Session One
Session Two
Session Three
Session Four
Session Five
Session Six
Session Seven
Session Eight
Session Nine
Session Ten
Session Eleven