Living With Machines

Sep. 21st, 2017 12:09 pm
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[personal profile] poliphilo
Ailz got a letter this morning from the DWP to say she's fit to carry on not working. I suppose this is the outcome of the medical reassessment she had a few weeks back, but nowhere does it explicitly state that this is so. Like most letters from the DWP it is composed in impersonal, computer generated stock sentences which have to be interpreted.

I don't watch much TV but one thing I am following is Mitchell and Webb's new show, Back- which has something of the same vibe as Peep Show and is shaping up to be as good- with Mitchell as a man to whom life has not been kind and Webb as the charming psychopath who moves in on his family. I guess I must be a fan. YouTube thinks I am anyway and keeps lobbing me decade old sketches from that Mitchell and Webb Look- for which I am grateful. It also lobs me documentaries about UFOs and the Beatles. It knows me. It knows me better than I know myself.
sovay: (Rotwang)
[personal profile] sovay
Erev Rosh Hashanah: I misplace the keys to my parents' house and cannot help with the cooking as early in the afternoon as planned, but my brother and his family turn out to have been laid low by some opportunistic bug (the preschool year has started) and don't make it for dinner after all; my father drives their roast chicken and their challah and their honeycake out to them in the evening. We eat ours after I light orange taper candles that technically belong to Halloween because that's what's in the house. The chicken is brined and stuffed with lemon halves and fresh rosemary; the huge round challah with honey drizzled lightly over its egg-washed crust is from Mamaleh's; the honeycakes are homemade and the twice-baked potatoes were introduced by [personal profile] spatch and me. I know it is not precisely the customary use of the Shechecheyanu, but I find it useful to have a prayer thank you, God, that we've made it this far. The year starts anyway, ready or not. I'd rather recognize it as it goes by. L'shanah tovah, all.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
[personal profile] sovay
On the one hand, A Matter of Life and Death (1946) is my least favorite Powell and Pressburger. It's a superlative afterlife fantasy in the tradition of Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), which is the problem: it's the Archers doing, excellently, a kind of story other people do. I don't hate it. I like the premise, which flips the opening glitch of Jordan so that instead of snatching a man untimely into the afterlife, a psychopomp lets his assigned soul slip away into the world; I love its filming of Earth in color and the "Other World" in black and white, whence Wim Wenders and his Berlin angels; I really love its double-tracking of the plot in both mystical and medical registers and the way it refuses to resolve one over the other, eventually, rightly merging the two. I have always suspected that after the credits roll, somewhere among the stars Marius Goring's Conductor 71 and Edward Everett Horton's Messenger 7013 are gloomily comparing notes on their respective balls-ups and wondering if Alan Rickman's Metatron was right that angels can't get drunk. It has one of the great escalators of cinema. It's objectively good and I know it's widely loved. But it's easily the least weird thing the Archers ever committed to celluloid. I can't tell if its otherworld is deliberately dry or if my ideas of the numinous just for once parted ways with the filmmakers', but I found more resonance in the real-world scenes with their odd touches like a naked goatherd piping on an English beach, the camera obscura through which Roger Livesey's Dr. Reeves watches the town around him, or the mechanicals within mechanicals of an amateur rehearsal of A Midsummer Night's Dream, than I did in the monumental administration of heaven and the courts of the assembled dead. I watched it in the first rush of discovery following A Canterbury Tale (1944) and as many other films by Powell and Pressburger as I could lay my hands on; I was disappointed. It didn't work for me even as well as Black Narcissus (1948), which I want to see again now that I'm not expecting real India. On the same hand, the Brattle is showing a 4K DCP rather than a print, which means that I'd be settling for an approximation of the pearly Technicolor monochrome of the Other World, which is still astonishing enough in digital transfer that I really want to know what it looked like on the original 35 mm, and the same goes for the rest of Jack Cardiff's cinematography.

On the other hand, the screening will be introduced by Thelma Schoonmaker and this is how Andrew Moor in Powell and Pressburger: A Cinema of Magic Spaces (2012) writes about David Niven as Squadron Leader Peter David Carter, the pilot hero of A Matter of Life and Death (look out, textbrick, for once it's not me):

Never an actor of great range, Niven came instead to embody and to articulate a rather out-of-date ideal: gentlemanliness – or 'noblesse oblige'. His light tenor and gamin beauty are those of the nobility: he reveals, if provoked, the upright steeliness of a man with backbone, but this grit often shades over into a likeable, smiling insolence. Though we knew he could be naughty (and the actor was a noted practical joker), it was the forgivable naughtiness of a well-liked schoolboy It is usually his graceful amusement that impresses, rather than his physicality or intellect (to talk of 'grace' might seem antiquated, but old-fashioned words like that seem to fit). He could be the younger son of a minor aristocrat, at times silly but always charming, and in the last instance gallant, gazing upwards with a sparkle in his eyes, a light comedian who, through sensing the necessity of nonsense, is perfect as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days (Michael Anderson, 1956, US). He is fittingly dashing in The Elusive Pimpernel (Powell and Pressburger, 1950), where as Sir Percy Blakeney he embraces foppishness with gusto. His 'airy' quality is winning, and his poetic virtues shine in AMOLAD. He may be well-mannered and eloquent but, as charmers go, his 'classiness' sits easily . . . He is undoubtedly an affectionate figure. Unkindness is not in him, and he is important in our gallery of heroes. But he is never like John Mills, the democratic 1940s ' Everyman'. Mills is the boy next door to everybody and, while that is a nice neighborhood, we really aspire to live next door to Niven. Is it a question of class? We suppose Niven to be a good host of better parties. Mills is like us; Niven is exotic. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and during the war Niven stood for some of the most valued of principles, but his quality (or was it just his prettiness?) seemed the stuff of a previous, and probably mythical, time. Niven himself was a Sandhurst-trained army man, who joined the Highland Light Infantry in 1928 and served in Malta for two years before drifting towards America and into film acting. In 1939, when he left Hollywood for the army, he was a star, and managed to complete two propaganda films during the war while also serving in the Rifle Brigade . . . In the opening sequence of AMOLAD, it is hard to think of another actor who could mouth Powell and Pressburger's airborne script so convincingly. Bravely putting his house in order, saying his farewells and leaping from his burning plane, he is ridiculously, tearfully beautiful. Notably, it is his voice, travelling to Earth in radio waves, which first attracts the young American girl June, not his looks, and later it is his mind which is damaged, not his body. It is difficult, in fact, to think of the slender Niven in terms of his body at all. We remember the face, and a moustache even more precise and dapper than Anton Walbrook's (which was hiding something). Like Michael Redgrave in The Way to the Stars, he is the most celebrated man of war – the pilot who belongs in the clouds.

So I'm thinking about it.

When the screams rage, shake it off

Sep. 18th, 2017 12:33 pm
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
[personal profile] sovay
I have just learned that Stanislav Petrov died in May and I feel this is a bad year to lose a man who knew how not to blow up the world.
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
[personal profile] sovay
Plans to spend the day outside were somewhat revised on account of incoming holidays and I have the kind of headache that is barely a light sensitivity off from a migraine, but I can totally recommend the experience of baking ten honeycakes (and eighteen honeycupcakes) for Rosh Hashanah and then lying on a couch to finish reading the second half of Ruthanna Emrys' Winter Tide (2017). It's good at ocean, good at alienness, good at different ways of being human; it braids different threads of Lovecraft's universe without feeling like a monster mash, although the nature of monstrosity is one of its front-and-center concerns; it has a queer romance around the edges that I'm delighted is canonical. Technically I suppose I could have timed it to fall during the Days of Awe, but that might have been too on the nose. Also, I would have had to wait.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] sovay
I spent most of yesterday out of the house and not at doctor's appointments, which was a much better ratio than most of the rest of this week; despite an almost total failure to sleep at night, I am about to endeavor to do the same today. Two writing things, one not.

1. Yesterday's mail brought my contributor's copy of Not One of Us #58, containing my poems "The House Always Wins" and "Dive" along with fiction by Patricia Russo, Rose Keating, and Mike Allen and poetry by Mat Joiner and Holly Day, among others. The theme of the issue is fall. Not One of Us is one of the longest-running, most stubborn black-and-white ink-and-paper 'zines in existence and I am deeply fond of it, with its inclusive themes of otherness and alienation; it is where I published my first short story sixteen years ago this month. If you have the fiver to spare, I recommend picking up a copy. The editor and his family have a cat to support.

2. I am very pleased to announce that my novelette "The Boatman's Cure," heretofore available only in my collection Ghost Signs (2015), will be reprinted in a future issue of Lightspeed. If you have not read it and want an advance idea of what it's like, it was reviewed by Amal El-Mohtar when the collection came out. It has ghosts and the sea and personal history and classical myth and periodically I wonder if it counts as a haunted house story, although it was not written as one. It carries a lot of significance for me. Rest assured that I will link when it goes live.

3. I was not so pleased to hear that Harry Dean Stanton has died. As one can do with character actors, I seem to have conceived an incredible fondness for him over the years despite never seeing him in any of his really famous roles; I have good memories of him from Dillinger (1973), Alien (1979), and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). I probably have Paris, Texas (1984) or Repo Man (1984) in my future. I had not realized he was 91. He was a sort of weatherbeaten middle age for so long, I just figured it was his natural, permanent state.

I'm the guy you buy

Sep. 17th, 2017 03:58 am
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[personal profile] sovay
I met my father this afternoon for a matinée of Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton (2007) at the Brattle Theatre. I had not seen the film since it was released and it really holds up. It's a character study interlocked into a tight ensemble drama; it has classic bones and no guarantees. I can't say it's the best acting George Clooney has ever done only because I love so much his perfect '30's leading-man turn in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), but he's human-sized here, bruised and ambiguous, a man whose finesse with dirty deals and laundry has never made him more than a "janitor" to the swanky law firm that declines to offer his blue collar a partnership, no matter how sharp his suits or sealed his lips. Tilda Swinton almost certainly deserved her Oscar just for ruthlessly suppressing her natural air of the numinous, substituting flop sweat and a queasy determination that would be admirable if it weren't in service of corporate exploitation that can't even be written off as cartoonish, it's so routine and successful. I first noticed Tom Wilkinson in this movie, having a spectacular version of Clooney's own moral jolt: a glittering manic break in the middle of a tricky class-action suit, precipitated by an inconvenient access of conscience, also going off his meds. Other character actors have made themselves visible in the decade since, each sketching in some angle of the title character's world and the aggression, anxiety, weariness, and anger that principally define it (hello, Denis O'Hare, Sean Cullen, Sydney Pollack, Bill Raymond, oh, good God, Ken Howard, that was you). Other ways of living swing elliptically through the story. Good luck getting hold of one of them.

Looking at the film now, I am not surprised that I fell in love with it ten years ago, because it is, in addition to a kind of chamber corporate thriller, an essentially noir narrative. Its chief concerns are people's prices and limits, how far they'll go and for whose sake, whether there is such a thing as redemption or whether some stains go too deep or whether it even matters so long as just here, just now, just a little, the damage stops. It assumes institutional corruption and personal complicity without making them anyone's excuse. It asks real ethical questions and proffers no pat answers. I've never seen it counted among modern neo-noir and I'm wondering if people miss it because it eschews the style: there are no cigarette contrails or Venetian blinds, but all the philosophy is there, the starkness with which the void can suddenly open beneath you. It's never didactic; it would be dead in the water if it preached. The longest speeches belong to Wilkinson and as his character says shruggingly, "I'm crazy, right?" But it makes its audience notice the inequalities, how being useful is not the same as belonging, how suffering in aggregate can be business as usual until a face turns it into personal crisis, how the woman in the boardroom is the one out on the branch that can be sawn off at need (which does not absolve her of the actions she takes to cling there), and without playing games with audience satisfaction it ends with a move into the appropriate total unknown. It's not grimdark, because good noir isn't. It just doesn't promise anyone they'll make it out—even metaphorically—alive.

I am being evasive about the plot because it's good: it knows that a car bomb and a photocopy can be equally explosive, but the renunciation of empathy is more killing than any chemical. I didn't realize the writer-director had also written four of the Bourne movies, although I feel I should have been able to guess from the scene with Clive Owen in The Bourne Identity (2002), or that he co-wrote the script for Rogue One (2016), which is less immediately obvious to me. I can't remember if I knew that cinematographer Robert Elswit had previously worked with Clooney on Good Night and Good Luck (2005), where I discovered David Strathairn, Frank Langella, Ray Wise, and Dianne Reeves, started to notice Robert Downey, Jr., and finally differentiated Jeff Daniels from Jeff Bridges; he gets some beautiful shots out of ordinary things and some horrifying ones out of the same, like a glossily deserted, fluorescent-lit office building late at night that seems to be waiting for J.G. Ballard. I wish Clooney had won the Best Actor he was nominated for; I don't still randomly think about Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood a decade later. I think the best compliment I can pay this movie is that even if I think of it as noir, I don't think it would have been better filmed in 1949 with John Garfield or Dan Duryea. This memo brought to you by my valuable backers at Patreon.

Winging It

Sep. 16th, 2017 10:50 am
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[personal profile] poliphilo
The bees have discovered our sunflower and three of them are tucking in. A funny little plane, one of those unserious planes that look like they're made of balsa wood, is practising circles in the sky. I wonder how it manages to stay up then retract the thought quickly in case I spook the pilot and they lose their faith in their ability to fly.

I've been re-reading an old interview with Harry Dean Stanton, who has just died aged 91. Life, he says, is "all one big phantasmagoria anyway. In the end I've really got nothing to do with it. It just happens, and there's no answer to it." Nice one, Harry.

Crisis Averted

Sep. 16th, 2017 09:55 am
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[personal profile] poliphilo
Can't get the sliding door to the living room to lock. O bother. Poke about. Shut door. Work lever. Open door. Nothing obviously wrong with the lock. Fetch screwdriver. Poke some more. Carry on for abut twenty minutes. O bother, bother, bother. Don't want to have to call in locksmith, but what other option is there? Oh, hang on a moment, one option might be to remove the tail end of the curtain from between the door and the door frame...
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] sovay
[personal profile] ashlyme, I have seen your Pan of the brownfields. He was in Derek Jarman's The Last of England (1987), a bare-chested, leather-jacketed heroin punk atop a mound of ruined brick, the post-synched soundtrack playing a delicate melody in the midst of burning warehouses, fascist soldiers, forty-year-old home movies, Thatcherite apocalypse. He has a round-chinned face, an Elvis-black kiss-curl, tattoos on his arms; in the credits he is named "Spring." He shoots up, smokes, smashes things, has sex with a life-sized copy of Caravaggio's Amor Vincit Omnia while the cinematographer's shadow, maybe Jarman's own shadow, lies across them both. His scenes are all filmed in the slow-blurred, smokily tinted Super 8 grain of The Angelic Conversation (1987), of which he might be the darkening reflection: the angel in the fallen world, with no last trump to liberate him into the arms of his beloved. Everything in this film is apocalyptic, but very little of it is revelation. Maybe Tilda Swinton at the very end, rending with scissors and even biting her wedding gown to pieces as a pyre streams behind her on the sunset riverbank; she whirls in bridal ruins, fire and grief, I think of Shiva Nataraja, I have no idea if Jarman did. He wrote a book of the film, which is currently available under the title Kicking the Pricks (1987). I don't have it. I have this headful of images like stained glass windows, smashed and burning. Or channel-surfing on William Blake's MTV.

I was five minutes late to the theater, which I count as an achievement since at Downtown Crossing the Red Line had decided that it would prefer not to; [personal profile] rushthatspeaks and [personal profile] nineweaving had saved me a seat and I came in just as Nigel Terry doing his best BBC switched from Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" to T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land." (My memory is that this produced the line "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed not with a bang but with a whimper," but I don't actually think that happened.) It's even more of a cut-up film than Jubilee (1977), working with many of the same furious themes but even more abstracted here. It plays aggressively with time, slowing, skipping, echoing, blackout and shell-shock and dream. (We ran out of time when we ran out of history, here at the willed, sadistically avoidable end of things. If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable.) It flickers between scenes until the screen becomes its own double-exposure kinematoscope. Many of Jarman's movies are painterly; this one is staticky. It's like looking at a sparkler. And indeed, different characters carry these fizzing torches, white magnesium fire burning off the screen; they ward and threaten and signify, perhaps, at the last, hope. Of Jarman's work that I've seen, which at this point includes all the feature films except Sebastiane (1976), The Garden (1990), and Blue (1993), The Last of England reminds me most of the short The Art of Mirrors (1973) and the music videos he directed for the Smiths and for Marianne Faithfull, who appears via the soundtrack, singing the beginning of the "Skye Boat Song" over and over in her cracked bell of a voice as refugees or deportees huddle on the wharves of London, patrolled by balaclava'd soldiers with black boots and black guns and the confident stride of nationalists: there were white cliffs in Ford Madox Brown's painting, but here there's not even a boat. The other thing this film reminds me of is a nightmare. It contains the most frightening cauliflower I have ever seen. It contains a moon-crowned dancing androgyne, a wedding where the bridesmaids are pantomime dames and the baby is present in a pram full of tabloids, an execution in real time. A pair of soldiers waltz in a tire-littered alley, lit by a trash fire. The globe of the world spins as if out of control, between the hands of an actress who looks like (but I don't think is) Sycorax from The Tempest (1979). Its painted countries are probably out of date anyway. "Land of Hope and Glory" sails out over shots of the Albert Memorial and home footage of Empire-shadowed Pakistan from Jarman's childhood, but the violence of soldiers who are not on parade—the grandsons of Kipling's "sons o' the Widow," with all the latest overcompensating gear—stutters like bullet-flashes throughout. New York is a frenetic hallucination, a remembrance wreath the height of hypocrisy when exchanged for a submachine gun. Hitler's on the soundtrack, too.

I don't know why this movie isn't depressing. It should leave you feeling absolutely bludgeoned; I think it's so angry it's exhilarating. It mourns the loss of England that was or should have been, but it isn't conservative. In one of two scenes I had seen excerpted in photographs from the film—the other being Swinton between fire and water—a posh boy and a soldier fuck on top of a gigantic Union Jack, the former balls naked, the latter booted-gloved-masked to anonymity, in such a welter of cigarettes and empty wine bottles that you're amazed either of them is up for it, and maybe they aren't. It's vicious, but I also think it's funny. I'm not sure either the establishment or the jackboots got what they wanted out of that one. Elsewhere Jarman himself sits at his real desk, writing in his real journals, the nuclear power station at Dungeness overlooks Prospect Cottage to this day and the industrial desolation of London is a document as well as a vision. (Eyeless tower blocks, rag-and-bone quaysides, houses behind barbed wire. Nowhere is home here. Where are they setting out, that monkish, magician's boat at the end? All that's left is away.) The filmmaker's family appear as themselves thanks to at least two generations of home movies. The whole thing feels like something you could stumble across in the middle of the night but not discover in a museum. It feels more like the inside of another person's head than some self-portraits I've seen. Afterward, in the restroom, a total stranger with a German accent turned to me at the stall door and asked, "Did you just see the film? Did you like it?" Then she asked if I was German. I have to believe M. John Harrison saw this film.

You understand that this is not a review, but I hope you understand also why I had to say something. I love several films by Derek Jarman—Wittgenstein (1993) unreasonably—and when I walked out of the Brattle Theatre tonight I did not expect The Last of England to be one of them, but it may be that I do, not even because it's so beautiful, because often and pointedly it's not, but because it is so much itself. It's fragments against the ruins. It's on fire. (I could and would screen it to follow David Rudkin's Penda's Fen (1974): Jarman himself the ungovernable, dissonant flame.) This explosion brought to you by my visionary backers at Patreon.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
[personal profile] jazzy_dave
Iain Banks "The Wasp Factory (Abacus)




Do not really know what to think of this book. It is very creative, but I somehow felt that it lacked something driving the story forward and I did not get drawn into the action, despite all the good things I have heard about it. Maybe another time.

Frank lives with his father on a small island in Scotland. He mounts animal skulls on poles, embeds wasps in candle wax, hunts rabbits with a flame thrower and keeps the skull of his enemy, Old Saul, in a bunker. The island is his domain and he rules it like a god. Now his brother, Eric, who sets dogs on fire, has escaped from his asylum and is on his way home.

Frank's a monster, a fledgling serial killer who capriciously decided on a different career track after his first three victims. His rituals and his ceremonies and his totemic objects make sense of the world and make sense of his own mind. His voice is sane, articulate, witty and intelligent. He uses it to describe his odd activities, makes them seem strange, unhealthy, perhaps, but essentially harmless. Then he seamlessly uses that same voice to describe catapulting small animals into river mud, the murder of his brother and two cousins or his attitude to women. One clings to the voice as a sign of potential redemption, but redemption is something you do, not something you are, and Frank is utterly aware of what he is and of what he has done. Or so he thinks.


The writing was very good, and the atmosphere was very engaging. I loved the way the suspense built as the story unfolded. I liked the descriptions of ceremony and obsession. It was intense at times and I found much of it to be disturbing. But the way the story fell apart at the end made it seem a little like a cheap slasher film. At first I was turned off by what I felt was shock tactics. Then I was convinced that it was justified, being part of a bigger meaning. By the end I'm not sure if it was just violence porn or not,much like I felt about "American Psycho".

I found the ending to be really unsatisfying. Mostly I thought "And?..." I understand what he was trying to do, and can somewhat appreciate it, but I would have liked it a lot more if it had been executed less clumsily. It almost felt like someone else had come in to finish the last part of the book and didn't really know how the story went. It's a weird combination of not tying up all the loose ends and over-explaining the thoughts and rationale of the main character that seemed out of step with the rest of the book.

So, in my final estimation, not a great read at all, and hence i will try and stick to his science fiction in the future.



sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
[personal profile] sovay
Courtesy of [personal profile] handful_ofdust: Zeal & Ardor, a Black metal band. That is, a black metal band whose major influence is Black American field hollers and spirituals. Writer-frontman Manuel Gagneux is biracial and started the band in response to racist abuse on 4chan, which may be the best outcome I have ever heard of people being racist on 4chan; the results are shredding and subversive, the perfect Kai Ashante Wilson soundtrack. That the nine songs on their debut album appear to have burst in from some fearful history where the forced Christianity of slavery engendered instead the defiant seeking out of Satan makes it all the sharper that Gagneux's vocals have been mistaken for the Alan Lomax field recordings they quite deliberately sound like. I heard "Blood in the River" first and it's hair-raising. Its author associates it with the Stono Rebellion. I could not help associating it with Orlando Jones' Mr. Nancy. "Devil Is Fine," the band's only official video so far, is a close second. The two projects are not otherwise sonically alike, but the time-rupturing, musically confrontational qualities of Devil Is Fine (2016/2017) reminded me powerfully of clipping.'s Splendor & Misery (2016), which I still wish had won the Hugo. [edit: I am not the only person who thinks so.] In short, they are well worth your listening, although not if you need to concentrate on anything else at all.

Conservatives

Sep. 14th, 2017 01:27 pm
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[personal profile] poliphilo
Conservatives don't have a plan for changing the world- except by taking it back to how it was before- which if they have any sense they know to be a lost cause- and this makes them excellent and honest observers of the passing scene- equally sceptical of anything current or new. Some of the best journalists and satirists are conservatives.

In government- well- don't expect too much of them- and look to your liberties. Conservative visionary is a contradiction in terms.

Spiders

Sep. 14th, 2017 12:02 pm
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[personal profile] poliphilo
I like spiders. I'm less fond of the larders they accumulate in the corners of window bottoms.

Past astro borders, Zeno lies waiting

Sep. 13th, 2017 04:03 pm
sovay: (Rotwang)
[personal profile] sovay
Not only is the MBTA today made of pure butt, I don't like their new website, either. The user interface is less intuitive to interact with and the trip planner's ideas of directions are more confusing. I'm impressed, but maybe I'll just stick to paper schedules from now on.

1. I forgot to mention that the podcast in which I participated at NecronomiCon is now free to stream online: The Outer Dark 016: Live from NecronomiCon 2017. Other participants are the excellent Craig Laurance Gidney, Scott R. Jones, Stephen Graham Jones, and Peter Straub, with Scott Nicolay hosting and Anya Martin moderating. I seem to have overestimated how carefully I need to speak for radio, but it was a lot of fun.

2. Anthony Lane not liking The Limehouse Golem (2016) does not deter me from wanting to see it, since he consistently underestimates almost anything that counts as genre, but I am glad at least he appreciates Bill Nighy:

No film in which Bill Nighy appears can ever be discounted. Rakish, dapper, not quite ruined, quavering with half-concealed amusement, courteous toward a fallen world, and somehow both urbane and faintly spectral, he could have stepped straight out of a Sargent portrait. I can imagine him in spats. What a pleasure it is, then, to see him in a frock coat and a spotted necktie, stalking the London streets. In "The Limehouse Golem," set in 1880, he plays Inspector Kildare of Scotland Yard, whose career as a detective has been held back, it is whispered, because he is "not the marrying kind." The role was originally to have been played by Alan Rickman, who died last year—a passing as hard to accept as that of Severus Snape—and Nighy was cast instead. Rickman's Kildare would have been more insidious, perhaps, with a deeper drawl, and more likely to be suspected of the crimes that he was deputed to solve. Nighy, as sensitive as a seismograph, approaches them with a shudder.

3. Courtesy of [profile] strange_selkie: different kinds of manual labor being done really well, which means really beautifully because efficiency generally is. Some of it is performance flair, but some of it is just practical and also ridiculous.

Storm Aileen

Sep. 13th, 2017 09:45 am
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[personal profile] poliphilo
Storm Aileen came barrelling across the UK last night. Ailz has found it odd to have her not so very common name in the headlines. She's glad she doesn't have to go into an office this morning and deal with the ribbing.

First thing I did this morning was check that my sunflower was still standing.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
[personal profile] sovay
Today I had back-to-back doctor's appointments on an hour and a half of sleep, so [personal profile] spatch met me after the second and took me out for dinner at Loui Loui in Allston. It was a surprise until we got there. It was wonderful. The walk was slightly longer than expected—and the day much hotter—but we kept to the Esplanade and ducks and sailboats and sunbathers and the breeze off the water until we cut over into BU territory and were abruptly surrounded by students. The restaurant is plain but delicious. The special of the day was the fried catfish basket, which suited Rob, while I got the shrimp boil and did not expect that to mean a solid pound of spicy, garlicky peel-and-eat for which I was thoughtfully presented with gloves so that I did not scald my fingers off. There was coconut-milk ice cream from FōMū afterward, cold-brewed coffee for Rob and peach compote for me. And then the MBTA totally fell over on us and it took us something like two hours to get home, of which the bright spot was encountering a cheap but well-preserved reprint of Chester Himes' The Crazy Kill (1959) in the basement of the Harvard Book Store and the totally unnecessary part was having to walk up the hill from Union Square because the 88 decided it was really an 87 after all. The Mummy Returns (2001) has not yet come in to the library. The sky after sunset was the kind of soaking, luminous blue that looks rich enough to reach into. I really just want to pitch over sideways on the couch. I might just do that.

Everyday Synchronicity

Sep. 12th, 2017 12:03 pm
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[personal profile] poliphilo
The more you take note of synchronicitous happenings the more you take note of them- or so I'm told- and that's why I'm recording this...

The other day I caught a trailer for a TV show I never watch. I saw it twice- and each time one of the actors really stood out. I couldn't tell you who any of the others were or what they were doing but this guy had me hooked. It was as if he had a big golden arrow over his head pointing down. His face was sort of familiar but I couldn't name him. I just felt he was significant, striking- and I wanted to know more.

Today he's all over the media in connection with a family tragedy.

Three-Year-Old

Sep. 12th, 2017 11:18 am
poliphilo: (Default)
[personal profile] poliphilo
We had a woman round to see to my mother's hair and she brought a three-year-old with her.

Ok, brain, you've got to start processing information faster if you want to keep up with a three-year old. Small children are wired to process as much information as they can in as short a time as possible. Almost everything is new and amazing. And it all needs to be understood and mastered. Gotta move fast, fast, fast...

Toy box, bricks, cat, remote controlled car, football, bird table, cat, horses, HORSES!, acorns, big stick, HORSES!, apple...
sovay: (Claude Rains)
[personal profile] sovay
Even for a pre-Code comedy, MGM's Speak Easily (1932) is an oddity. It's a talkie starring Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante, for whose sake [personal profile] spatch and I would have watched it even if the cast list hadn't also included Thelma Todd. It has the kind of plot that can be most charitably described as lackadaisical, half fish out of water and half backstage musical and slapstick throughout, with little concern for narrative tension or payoff. Most of its music is stolen from other shows, which at least turns out to be one of the gags. It proves its pre-Code credentials the minute Durante refers to Todd as "big-time sex appeal," which she then confirms by enthusiastically stripping off in Keaton's office to demonstrate her suitability for the chorus line and Keaton falls off a chair as only he can, like a shockwave just hit; later in the plot she will slip into something sufficiently more comfortable that the only opaque parts are the big fur-trimmed sleeves, although the volume of booze knocked back in the same scene would almost certainly have put it beyond the pale in the Breen era anyway. I would not necessarily call Keaton's style of comedy a natural pairing with Durante's and I'm not sure the film managed to convince me that it was. I'm also not sure I cared.

I know the '30's were a bad decade for Keaton, personally, professionally; the studio system was a creative straitjacket, his marriage was breaking up and his drinking was out of control, and a lot of Speak Easily is funny at the level of affectionate smiling rather than open laughter, but the fact remains that as Timoleon Zanders Post, a mild-mannered and literal-minded professor of classics turned loose on an unsuspecting world by a well-meaning porter who just wanted him to live a little, Buster Keaton is adorable. Owlish, serious, and nerdily articulate, on discovering that he has apparently inherited $750,000 from an unknown beneficiary, "Timsy" throws all his worldly belongings into a steamer trunk—or tries to; some of his belongings are things like a coatrack and a chaise longue, which don't pack well—and heads out to experience Life, which he finds in the form of a fifth-rate troupe of vaudevillians who can't even get a hand in the culture-starved whistle-stop of Fish's Switch. Durante's Jimmy dashes back and forth between banging on the upright piano that passes for an orchestra pit and baggy-pantsing his way through jokes that even dad jokes would be embarrassed to know socially. The already thin audience is bailing as the curtain comes down. But Post is enraptured by the sweetly mediocre dancing of Ruth Selwyn's Pansy Peets and flattered by the support of the loudmouthed comic whom he addresses at all times as "James" and before anyone including Post quite knows what is happening, they're all headed to Broadway on the strength of a fictitious inheritance and the professor's very sincere appreciation of an art form which he keeps comparing to Aristophanes. (He is crestfallen to be told that not everything in Greek comedy is suitable for the Great White Way. "But, James, it was done so in Athens!"–"Yeah, they might get away with it in Athens, that's a college town!") He doesn't get mixed up with the gold-digging prima donna that is Todd's Eleanor Espere so much as he gets steamrolled, but the audience knows he'll come out of it eventually, even if he does stagger around initially with lipstick prints like rouge on those beautiful cheekbones of his. The finale in which the straight-faced professor finds himself accidentally salvaging the show with physical comedy isn't quite worthy of Sempitern Walker, but then Keaton's wearing too much clothing for that.

Even in a production that doesn't quite know what to do with him, it's a pleasure to watch Keaton do his thing. He's a silent comedian, a physical actor: he drops flat to the floor to read the inheritance letter, as if afraid it'll get away if he doesn't pin it in place; he has the stuffy, prissy posture of a man who can be identified a mile off by his pince-nez and his umbrella and his undertaker suits until he gets excited about something, at which point he bounces and flails and runs in and out of rooms like he's reenacting Marathon. He falls off trains, couches, catwalks, his own feet. When the calculating Eleanor tries to get the professor shikkered in order to compromise him (okay, I guess the PCA wouldn't have gone for that, either) and Post in the belief that a Tom Collins is a kind of lemonade mixes them both drinks stiff enough to cause spontaneous combustion, the results are one of the silliest drunk scenes I have ever encountered and gorgeously so, as a helium-voiced Todd loopily tries to put the moves on her oblivious prey and Keaton very seriously and very incompetently attempts to put his seductress to bed, at different points accidentally folding her in half and failing the fireman's carry and both of them slithering all over the furniture until Todd dressed in a negligée, a fox stole, and a very fancy hat takes a running faceplant onto one of the twin beds while Keaton who has managed to remove his shirt and his pants but forgotten about his sock garters carefully arranges himself on the other and passes out cold in a position that would give lesser mortals a crick in the ass. When he wakes up and comprehends where he is, he slips backward off the bed and blinks catlike over the rumpled bedclothes, a perfect silent short. If you're curious about Keaton's voice, by the way, it's not just fine, it's good. It's notably middle-American but not flat, with an edge that lends itself well to the meticulous diction and drypoint delivery of a character who absentmindedly hypercorrects "speakeasy" into "speak easily," but he can also sound shy, solicitous, flustered, and defiant, with the occasional Jimmy Stewart-like crack when events—or girls—really overtake him. I remain extremely annoyed that Mayer refused to take a chance on him for the serious, sympathetic role of Otto Kringelein in Grand Hotel (1932). He'd have been a revelation.

In the great reckoning of stories of nerds in show business, Stand-In (1937), Speak Easily is not. Probably the best way to consider the movie is as a series of extended sketches on a theme, of which the audience should enjoy whichever appeals to them and disregard the rest. Buster Keaton, even at a very rough patch in his life, remains both ridiculously beautiful and beautiful in motion, kinetic energy with umbrella in hand. I am aware that Jimmy Durante is something of a polarizing phenomenon, but I really enjoy him and his manic energy which never feels like it's gotten away from him. In the middle of the finale, he hauls a piano out in front of the curtain and does one of his nightclub routines and who cares if it makes sense in context, what we've seen of the show-within-a-show Speak Easily has been a sort of scantily clad revue mish-mosh anyway and Durante's sideways sequiturs are charming: "I know I'm not good-looking, but what's my opinion against thousands of others?" The problem with putting him and Keaton in the same routines is that neither of them is really a straight man—they're just different types of zany, Durante brash, Keaton mild—and I'm not sure the studio knew it. Too many of the jokes are set up as though one of them is supposed to hail from planet Earth and really they work best when the characters are operating at cross purposes (Post's inability to understand slang vs. Jimmy's inability to speak anything but) or unexpectedly on the same screwy wavelength. They were assigned two other films together, The Passionate Plumber (1932) and What! No Beer? (1933), and I am considering watching the latter only because it's in the TCM buffer and it's a Prohibition-era comedy about the repeal of Prohibition, which sounds historically intriguing if possibly not very well done. It does not, alas, appear to co-star Todd, who gets one of the best throwaway lines in the picture describing a costume she has in mind for her classically inspired dance: "There's not very much to it, you know, it's just right across here and a few beads—right, left." There's not very much to the film, either, but I regret nothing about giving it a try. The best of it is really funny; the worst of it won't hurt you. This variety brought to you by my Aristophanic backers at Patreon.
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