Archive for July 2011

City Lights: Favorite Films Set In Berlin

6 Comments »

Fassade_Babylon2.jpg

Welcome to City Lights, a new series about favorite films set in different cities, inspired by an ongoing series at I Luv Cinema. We're kicking off with Berlin, mainly because I love Berlin, but also because I found it a little easier to narrow down the choices than other cities that will be featured (next time it could be Austin or New York, your choice!).

torn-curtain-w1280.jpg

Torn Curtain, in many ways a lesser Hitchcock film, is entirely buoyed by its charming leads -- Julie Andrews and Paul Newman. Andrews was never more radiant, Newman never more mysteriously charming. Like other examples on this list, the film perfectly captures the paranoia of East Germany.

desire6.png

Wings of Desire is pure Berlin porn: Seriously, it's astonishing how different Berlin looks now from the Berlin of the movie, and Wenders adds another layer of context by comparing 1987 Berlin to what existed before the war. And if you've had the pleasure of visiting Berlin since the Wall came down, you can have a fun time in the slower bits identifying what stands now in the open spaces of the film.

3.jpg

The Baader Meinhof Complex's been on my mind lately (to be fair, it's frequently on my mind in this age of polarization). When the first reports rolled in about Anders Breivik, I instantly remembered Ulrike Meinhof, who started off by making inflammatory comments in the mainstream press, then the fringe press, and then shifted into direct action and civil disobedience, followed eventually by extremism and mass murder. In both Breivik's case and the Baader-Meinhof gang's, young minds were taken over and infected by paranoia and rage at imaginary threats. It's easy to imagine that Norway's about to go through the national security soul-searching like Germany did in the 1970's. Important lesson: TERRORISTS ARE NOT ALWAYS BROWN.

run_lola_run_profilelarge.jpgRun, Lola, Run is one of the most successful foreign films of the past few decades, and with good reason -- it has the right mix of sex, violence, suspense and formal creativity to bring even subtitle-phobes into the theatre. More importantly, it gives a fast (very fast!) tour of Berlin, as Lola runs around getting into trouble.

lives-of-others.jpgThe Lives of Others, better than any other film, shows the paranoia and danger that was part and parcel of life in the GDR. A city split in two, one side prosperous and the other side swimming in artistic and political repression. It's a moving film, demonstrating like all great fiction how to stay human in the most inhumane situations.

Weigh in! What are your favorite Berlin films? What cities should I cover in future?

Book Review: Ann Patchett's "State of Wonder", or, Eat, Breed, Breed

7 Comments »

lush-vegetation-wallpapers_8883_128.jpg

"Mistah Kurtz, he dead." ~ Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

REVIEW IN A SENTENCE:

Ann Patchett's State of Wonder is a marvelously atmospheric novel with more twists and turns than a 12-foot long anaconda.

PLOT IN A NUTSHELL:

After receiving word of the mysterious death of a beloved colleague named Anders, Dr. Marina Singh is persuaded to venture deep into the heart of the Amazon to find out exactly how he died. Her employer also tasks her with finding out what happened to the pharmaceutical research spearheaded by the mercurial Dr. Annick Swenson, who's been lost to the field for decades. Swenson is researching the women of a local tribe who are able to continue to conceive well past middle age, in order to develop a billion-dollar fertility drug.

As Marina gets closer to learning the truth about Anders and the miracle drug, she faces everything from snakes to hippie sycophants, deadly danger to impossible choices.

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE MARINA:

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with explorers and adventurers, far-fetched tales of those people who possess the bravery and wit to venture into new lands, no matter how strange or threatening. What you don't think about as a curious child is that these explorers require money, and the purse-holders always have their own agendas -- usually a greed for power, land, and/or money.

Patchett never lets us forget this for a second -- it's difficult to predict Marina's actions as she is sent to find Swenson by Vogel, a giant pharmaceutical company who is more interested in protecting their bottom line than in any human cost. The potential human cost, here, is very high indeed, in ways that Vogel doesn't even know about. Marina is bound not only by her loyalties to the hippocratic oath, she's romantically entwined with Vogel's director, the ominously named Mr. Fox. With every new moral/ethical quandary, Marina is forced to balance these opposing loyalties, which often leads to inertia (seriously, I have never met a character who's less inquisitive. She prefers to wallow in questions of self and ethics rather than make decisions).

At least Swenson's merry band of followers justify their behavior, excusing ethical impropriety with canards like "Not everyone follows the American way of doing things," "it's too slow," "we don't have the resources here and have to improvise," etc. Their lack of strong principle is made up for narratively by the fact that they, under the iron fist of Annick Swenson, are devoted to a mission.

But Marina spends too much time thinking and not reacting to the extremely exciting things going on around her.

She goes a bit like this*:

"The airline lost your suitcase."

"That's ok, I'm now thinking that not having a magical phone of infinite signal is marvellously freeing."

--

"Oh no, the Lakashi have stolen your [mysterious second] suitcase!"

"It's ok, I'm sure that by the time this is over I'll forget that normal people wear nightgowns. Or mosquito repellant."

---

"We've long ago stopped pursuing what Vogel asked of us! We've found a magical new side effect that will save millions of children!"

"I think Mr. Fox is going to be kind of mad. Will he sleep with me? Is he thinking of me now? Should I be having children even though I'm forty-five[ish]?"

(I kid, I kid)

Which is not to say that she's obnoxious, cause she isn't, just that she never seems fully present. All the other characters are so well-drawn, even the minor characters, that it's a shame that Marina never becomes more than an interloper. But it's possible that, in the end, she's merely the lens through which we judge and understand Dr. Annick Swenson, Patchett's play on Conrad's mysterious and powerful Kurtz. Swenson is the reason to read this book.

What surprises me is how early we meet her in the novel; in the initial setup, I was expecting to meet her only in the final pages, possibly covered in native blood. Early on, it's presented that young people fall prey to her force of personality (and forceful she is, she has the entire city of Manaus wrapped around her little finger). But that's not enough; her cult of personality are all weak in their own way; clever, certainly, but weak. It wouldn't be anything particularly revolutionary to have weak moths obsessively circle a strong flame.

That's when Patchett turns the screws. Swenson doesn't give a damn about her followers, only about her work. She is watchful, diligent and careful where her research is concerned, and has the courage of her own convictions. She may act outside the bounds of Western medicine, but just as she's willing to experiment on the Lakashi, she's willing to experiment on herself. Her sense of ethics is no less defined than Marina's, it's just completely different.

Every new revelation about Swenson should shock us, but Patchett has so carefully designed the character that she does seem like a real person, a person that many educated people would dedicate their lives to following. What's genius is that we fall for Swenson as well, even knowing how much she's scammed everyone, lied, acted unethically, immorally, and probably illegally as well. She's bought off half the city and runs her camp like a dictator. But in the scene where she guides marina through a C-Section, she becomes real, she becomes formidable, she becomes worthy of respect.

The troubles come when Swenson keeps reiterating in the last quarter of the novel that Dr. Singh is the only worthy successor to leading her studies in the field. For all the reasons I've discussed above, it's impossible to believe this is true. Marina has no conviction about anything, no personality to lead others, and no willingness to make tough choices/sacrifices. But perhaps we are meant to realize this, that there is only one Dr. Swenson.

VERDICT

State of Wonder is an immensely enjoyable read. It's not without its problems, but it's a page-turner. You'll be forced to question many of your core beliefs about medical testing/research, while joining Marina on an old-fashioned adventure. The ending is absolutely terrible, but the rest is certainly worth your time.

 

*Entirely made up by me, not Patchett.

The Least Effective Way Possible To Combat Misogyny in Gaming

No Comments »

a-battlefield3.jpg

Well this is dumb. A large gaming club holding a LAN party in Texas, scheduled to celebrate the launch of EA's Battlefield 3, have decided the best way to stop female gamers from being verbally abused is to not allow them in.

“Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts,” the organisers originally wrote in an event FAQ. “Though we’ve done our best to avoid these situations in years past, we’ve certainly had our share of problems. As a result, we no longer allow women to attend this event."

Um, hello? So this group has elected to privilege the "immature, misogynistic" morons over, for instance, policiing that behavior? Needless to say, this kicked up a shitstorm, forcing the organizers to replace the post with something even sillier:

“This event is a ‘gentlemen’s retreat’; as such we do not allow women to attend.”

Gentlemen! I assume they're referring to the same sort of couth male who attends "gentlemen's clubs."

Then, that was replaced again, by:

“We actively discourage gamers from being the kind of mysogynistic jackwagons seen in the Reddit post, and such behaviour should not be tolerated. Frankly, we don’t like that kind of player either. So far as this event goes, it is an special event designed specifically for male gamers. Further, it is meant as a getaway designed to help said male contingent become better men both for themselves and for those who love us.”

Now there are a hundred things wrong with that. One, there original post shows that the organizers do not care to "actively discourage gamers from [...] misogynistic jackwagons." In fact, they are creating a safe space for them to behave that way without consequences. I'm not making that up, it's there in the original FAQ. "We don't like sexist jerks, so we're making this a special event, just for them." Secondly, I don't think I have to go far out on a limb as to say that both "themselves and the ones who love us" will all be present at that party.

The organizers are well within their legal rights to exclude anyone from their private event, but this sort of behavior leads to one unfortunate, likely erroneous, conclusion: the type of people who'd enjoy this game are immature, misogynist jerks, and this game brings out the worst of that behavior. This is probably not true, but these assholes certainly make it seem that way. If I were EA, I would formally distance myself from this group.

Sandman Re-Blog Issue #20: "Facade", or, Many Faces I Have Cried Upon

No Comments »

dream-and-death.jpg

When I first read this story a decade ago as a deeply depressed teenager, I got it completely. It's not a good place to be, being able to relate to a character who would go to almost any lengths to end her own suffering. Basically, I related to it on a very superficial level, and not in a way that helps me to appreciate the story now.

Now that I'm completely distanced from that sort of angst, I freely admit that there are a number of things in this story that I really don't get. Urania Blackwell comes off as, well, self-involved, just as Death says. Initially, it seems that her main problem is loneliness, the sort of loneliness that comes with retiring without a family, and suddenly losing the majority of her human contact. But the more we find out that her isolation is self-perpetrated, the less sympathy I have.

There's another reason that this story felt more poignant ten years ago than it does now: the superhero genre hadn't been demystified to quite the same extent that it has now. At the time, Watchmen was the only widely-read comic that addressed what happens when superheroes stop being heroes (nerds, correct me in the comments. I know there's that one where Superman gets old...or is it Batman?).

So in that context, "Facade" bursts on the scene like Sylvia Plath or T.S. Eliot after decades of Keats, Wordsworth and Robert Frost. It's not that the former is substantively superior to the latter, just that it feels fresh precisely because it adds something new, explores a new facade, if you will. Likewise, "Facade" shows the darker inner life of a superhero (the real darkness -- depression and mental health issues -- not origin-story trauma or hackneyed "why can't I just have a normal life" whining). But since this issue came out, we've had an embarrassment of stories that deal with the real emotional consequences of superheroing: Heroes, Smallville, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and that's just off the top of my head. Compared to some of the real trauma those characters go through, it's difficult to feel sympathetic to Urania's "I hate my life because I'm so hideous" angst.

But, as with most stories in Sandman, you have to look at both the literal story and the metaphorical one. The metaphorical story is fine, psychologically disturbing in the way we've come to expect from the series. But "Facade" is rare in that the literal story just doesn't work for me. I'll discuss both below.

THE LITERAL STORY, or, THE FACADE OF THE STORY, if you will

Urania's power is that she can take on whatever shape or form she desires by manipulating the elements. However, she's isolated herself because she no longer desires to use her powers to go out into the real world. It's not clear from the story whether her face was turned hideous from her superhero birth, or whether it's a more recent development, and I think that's important to know. I don't know if I would have more or less sympathy if I knew either way (maybe more if she's had this face her entire superhero life, and now she's tired of the disguises).

But, as these things happen, Death is in the building when Urania sinks into pits of despair. Death says, "I'm not blessed. I'm not merciful. I'm just me. I've got a job to do, and I do it." Is it possible that she contradicts herself, showing mercy to Urania, because she knows that Urania is a hopeless case? To my mind, it's well within the scope of possibility that Urania is physically capable of overcoming her weakness and moving past her depression, but maybe Death sizes up the situation and basically goes, "No, this one isn't going to do anything but stay at home and whine about her face."

THE METAPHORICAL STORY, or, UNDER THE FACADE

There are two stories hinted at about Urania that run concurrently. (This duality may be why the story just doesn't come together for me).

First, there's the hint that Urania has been stuck like this for however many years: that she is fundamentally immutable, and that inability to change, to transform, to grow has led to the warp of her insides. She alternates between her hideous unaltered self and that perfect facade, the one that's on file with the Company, the one that makes her look as young as ever even when she feels older than ever. In this manner, she resembles not only the Endless, but Hob. (there's a nifty parallel here: In Death's last story, she grants immortality, in this one, she takes it away).

Secondly, you can read Urania as a character who has lost all identity. She can only wear the faces from the past, she even collects them as memories or remnants of when she felt human, or superhuman. Maybe it's retiring from the Company, or maybe there's some other traumatic event we aren't privy to, but perhaps she has lost herself, and knows that putting on those faces is putting on an old identity, one that isn't her anymore. Perhaps this is why she freaks out when her friend informs her of her pregnancy. There's another identity that's lost to her, that she can never have.

She even looks at the retarded kids with longing; they may be mentally disabled, but they're happy. Another identity she cannot have, that of a happy ignorant person. One might say they are the true counterpoint to Urania; enlightenment led to her ruin, quite literally.

And perhaps she feels that when there are no identities left for her to adopt, it's time for death. And luckily for Urania, Death turns up, right on time.

Phew! Sorry for being so long-winded. Since this post was so late I thought I'd give you extra bang for your buck!

I heartily recommend Matt Cheney's discussion of "Facade", it's a poignant tale of its own: http://www.boomtron.com/2010/12/sandman-meditations-facade-neil-gaiman/

 

 

Music Video Of the Day: Björk and Michel Gondry, Together Again

No Comments »

bjork.jpg

Today I bring you "Crystalline," the first single off Björk's forthcoming album Biophilia. A few handful of tracks have been leaked so far, all of which suggest an oddly spare sound (especially odd for Björk, who isn't renowned for her restraint). But it's shaping up to be one of the best efforts of her career, truly innovative in construction. I suspect we'll be hearing a lot of Biophilia in clubs later this year. Enjoy!

Poem of the Day: "October" by Jacob Polley

1 Comment »

jacobpolley_450x350.jpg

For a change, I'm bringing you a work by a living author. Jacob Polley is one of the leading lights of the UK poetry scene, a Carlisle-born lad who writes of rain and darkness like no one around.

His poetry is widely considered to get the closest at what makes the North of England so...Northern. He brings us the circumstances and the atmosphere which might explain why people of the North are so protective about their separate identities, complete with a different slang and a number of different accents.

While I have avoided selecting one of his many poems about rain and its many shapes, I have found one that shows off his way with a turn of phrase, his ability to skillfully manipulate both the obvious and more subtle evocations of certain words to paint a picture of a place that sounds simultaneously fantastical and all too real.

Enjoy!

October

By Jacob Polley

Although a tide turns in the trees
the moon doesn't turn the leaves,
though chimneys smoke and blue concedes
to bluer home-time dark.

Though restless leaves submerge the park
in yellow shallows, ankle-deep,
and through each tree the moon shows, halved
or quartered or complete,

the moon's no fruit and has no seed,
and turns no tide of leaves on paths
that still persist but do not lead
where they did before dark.

Although the moonstruck pond stares hard
the moon looks elsewhere. Manholes breathe.
Each mind's a different, distant world
this same moon will not leave.

Gone Baby Gone, or, How to Make Noir More Naturalistic

2 Comments »

GoneBabyGone.jpg

If you are to believe the entertainment machine, Boston is the worst city in the United States (a dear friend of mine who's been transplanted to Boston for the past few years assures me that yes, it is in fact the worst city in the United States, for a variety of reasons I won't go into here). Just think about the last few Boston-set entertainments you may have encountered: The Town (Boston is characterized by poverty and gang violence), Infinite Jest (Boston is characterized by drug addicts and Canadian wheelchair terrorists), The Departed (...poverty and mob violence), Mystic River (...rape, poverty and murder), Rescue Me (...rape, crime, poverty, murder and Dennis Leary), On Beauty (...racism and terrorism), Fringe (...space-time vortices and wormholes).

Gone Baby Gone wastes no time in introducing the horribleness: the camera pans around showing emaciated prostitutes and a whole lot of people weeping in various white trash locales. This first scene is a real shame considering how good the rest of the film is; it sets the film up to be melodramatic feel-baddery rather than the taut and suspenseful crime thriller it becomes.

The main plot-line kicks off as Helene McCready (a nearly unrecognizable Amy Ryan) awkwardly begs for everyone to help her find her missing daughter (the awkwardness may be explained by the fact that Helene's natural, off-camera speech tends to be 8/10 profanity, 1/10 article and 1/10 pronoun). Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennarro, private investigators who also happen to be lovers, are called in to "augment" the police investigation by Helene's distraught sister, Bea, and Bea's husband. The police aren't too keen about Patrick and Angie's "help," but give them latitude since Patrick's a local boy who can get the neighborhood kids talking.

Casey Affleck plays Patrick perfectly; he's quiet and self-effacing but immeasurably tough. He plays his emotions so close to the chest that everyone in this film wants to tell him not what he should feel guilty about, but what he will feel guilty about. The bad men in this film, in their supreme arrogance, are convinced that not only is corruption the game they must play, but that it is the only right thing to do. They do not believe that anyone on this earth might actually have principles worth defending. Both Patrick and Angie are living counterpoints to this sort of moral flexibility, albeit in very different ways.

Once the story gets going, it doesn't stop for anyone. It snakes around from one life-threatening moment to the next, each one more tense than the previous. Patrick charms his way through mainly with words, and by the time he pulls a gun, things get very serious indeed. As the case takes its toll on both Patrick and Angie, his decisions become more erratic, more unpredictable, and when he stumbles upon the answer to the mystery its as much an accident as anything else, and we share his surprise at the truth.

Which brings me to the one mystery that's never quite cleared up: what's the story with our protagonists? Both of them seem to be unhealthily touched by the case, which hints at some past trauma or related sadness. In Patrick's case, at least, its suggested that his concerns stem from a stern Catholic upbringing, but in Angie's case, it's never quite made clear. To say she takes the case personally is a massive understatement. She is a strong character who breaks like a desiccated leaf when she accepts that the little girl is dead. Patrick, of course, doesn't accept that the girl is dead, and becomes a crusader in reuniting the girl with her deadbeat mother. Not only that, he commits himself to making sure that his decision to reunite them becomes the right decision, taking it upon himself to become a sort of guardian to the child.

The film would be captivating enough on its own, but its true strength comes from its superb cast. I mentioned Casey Affleck, riveting in his youthful interpretation of a soft-boiled detective. Amy Ryan humanizes a performance that could descend so easily into caricature. I kept comparing her performance mentally with the "bigness" of Melissa Leo in The Fighter, who played her character as the Norma Desmond of working class Boston (hey, another white-trash Boston movie!). And then there's the supporting cast: tight-lipped brass played by Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris (seriously, get that man an Oscar!), two of the best actors in Hollywood today. Oh, and of course, a shout-out to Ben Affleck's tight and effective directing of the film.

If there's one problem with the film, I'd say its the casting of Titus Welliver as Helene's brother-in-law. While it's not entirely his fault, I find it impossible to see him as anything other than a snake-in-the-grass villain.

Go watch it! Then come back and tell me what you think. What the hell's going on with Angie? Does anyone else think that Casey Affleck looks like a less plastic John Barrowman?

Why Twitter Should Not Raise the Text Ceiling

11 Comments »

tweeties_free_twitter_icons1.jpg

I don't know what it is, but so many mainstream magazine-style media publications write about technology from the perspective of old people trying to figure out what the kids are doing these days.

The latest screed in the MSM is that Twitter is going to lose all its customers if it doesn't increase the 140 character limit. To all of you I say: if you cannot write coherent thoughts in 140 characters, YOU ARE TOO VERBOSE. Just because David Foster Wallace wrote page-long sentences, that doesn't mean you can or should. In ANY medium.

The beauty and utility of Twitter comes from its brevity: in quick short bursts you can find information you need on topics you're interested in. You're not meant to be writing sonnets on Twitter, only haikus.

Here are a few reasons why Twitter should under no circumstances raise the text ceiling:

1. Twitter, at its essence, is a stream of headlines about real-time news.

That news may be where Neil Gaiman's speaking tonight, who's censoring the internet in other parts of the world, what feminists are protesting these days, or even what Ashton Kutcher had for lunch. But no matter how carefully you curate your following list, people will post things that are not relevant/interesting to you. And reading 140 characters disinterestedly is not something most people are too bothered about. 280 characters on the other hand? 560? This'll put us in Facebook nuisance territory.

Wanna write a complicated argument in your tweet? Blog it and post a link. If you can't keep it to 140 characters, but don't want to write a full blog post? Write two tweets. If you don't wanna do that? Reconsider how important something is if it can't be pithily expressed in 140 characters, but is not interesting enough to write a full post.

2. 140 characters is not arbitrary:

SMS text messages are 160 characters, which basically allows your handle and another 140 characters. The canard that "no one uses SMS anymore," is stupid and Western-centric. PLENTY of people use text messages to interact with twitter, myself included. You know who else uses text messages? Activists whose political speech has been censored by every other medium. People in disaster scenarios who can't pick up an internet signal. You know, the bread and butter of social media these days. The people who made social media something more than frivolous entertainment.

3. Twitter is not a chat program, no matter how you choose to use it

One of the most frequent complaints about twitter is that you can't hold a linear conversation on it. Not only is it untrue, it's a patently stupid complaint. Twitter lets you write "in reply to" a comment directed at you. Third party clients let you view entire conversations on one page.

If you want to have long, in-depth conversations that track back in a linear fashion? Allow me to introduce you to this wonderful new technology known as...no, I'll let Don Draper introduce it:

dondraper.png

In fact, I don't think that there's a single argument against twitter that can't be countered by Don Draper's words there (my words, his face, but who cares).

IN SUM:

1. I defend your right to inanity, as long as you KEEP IT SHORT. (I'll still unfollow anyone who so much as mentions a Kardashian, however)

2. Again: If you can't summarize a thought in 140 characters, your thought is probably ill-conceived and lacking in clarity.

3. If twitter really bothers you so much, DON'T USE IT. Enjoy the overload at Google Plus or the endless photographs of cats on Facebook. Leave me to my beautiful information exchange.

There's my polemic. Argue with me in the comments.

Recession Busting Recipes: Grilled Sweet Potato with Carrot-Onion Salad

No Comments »

sweetpotato.jpg

Recession Busting Tip #1: Keep the Ingredients to A Minimum.

When I first started cooking, it was really easy to be suckered into thinking the more ingredients a recipe involved, the better the result.

But lately, I've been obsessed with main dishes that focus on one ingredient. Not only do you get to take full advantage of the full flavor of the star vegetable, you don't end up with ingredients rotting in the fridge because you need a handful of this, a teaspoon of that.

Now that I have a basic, inexpensive spice collection, it's never been easier to whip up simple and tasty dishes.

Today's feature is the ever-delightful sweet potato. Now this vegetable is tasty no matter what you do to it: grill it, roast it, stir fry it, fry it, caramelize it, dance on it, and so on and so forth (maybe not the last one, but hey).

The main thing you need to be mindful of when cooking with the sweet potato is balancing out the sweetness. (I may be Texan, but that Thanksgiving concoction with sugar and marshmallow and pureed sweet potato is a crime against humanity. BLECH!)

(this, altogether, SERVES 2)

GRILLED SWEET POTATO WITH CARROT-ONION SALAD

Sweet potato ingredients:

  • 150 gm. sweet potato, basically one large sweet potato, peeled and sliced into approximately 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 tbsp. yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. cumin powder
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 tsp. red chilli powder (more if you like it spicy)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced finely
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, minced finely
  • 1 spoon of olive oil
  • salt to taste (1/2 tsp is usually about right)

Instructions:

  • Mix all ingredients apart from sweet potato in a bowl. If you don't have yogurt, use sour cream.
  • Add in sweet potato and let marinade soak in for about an hour.
  • Now here's where things become optional. You can shallow fry the marinated pieces for a more intense flavor, but the healthier option is to grill/broil them. Either way, flip after about 5 minutes and cook both sides until dark brown.

Salad Ingredients:

  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
  • 1 minced green chili
  • 1 tsp. salt.
  • IF IT'S ON HAND: a bit of chopped cilantro
  • OPTIONAL: handful of peanuts

Instructions:

  • Mix it all together. For those of you who are afraid of raw onions, the lime/lemon juice softens the bite and takes away the edge.

That's all! Serve the grilled sweet potatoes with salad on the side and enjoy!

Red Hot Trailer: Sarah's Key

4 Comments »

sarahs-key.jpg

sarahs-key.jpg

Could it be? At last? A take on WWII that actually looks kinda unique?

Blog Noir: "Laura", or, Mad Men Is So Anachronistic

10 Comments »

Annex20-20Tierney20Gene20Laura_05.jpg

(if you intend to watch this film, please don't read this review, for here there be spoilers. Watch it, then come back!)

I really enjoyed watching this, though there were so many things that just didn't work. This film is so beautiful in its construction, but is really let down by certain aspects of its execution.

Certainly there are smaller issues like, why are the cops bugging the apartment of a dead woman? Why does McPherson think to check the grandfather clock in the first place? Handwave, handwave.

But there are a number of more serious problems, chiefly centering on the character of Laura Hunt and her portrayal by Gene Tierney. For instance, why is she so dumb? A better actress might have sold the idea that a woman who is so wildly successful in her professional life* could be so willfully stupid in her personal life. I mean the only explanation offered is that she's a sucker for a "lean and hard body." Anyone in the audience could have told her that VINCENT PRICE IS A CREEP.

At least in the case of her falling for Shelby, we can accept that there are details we are not privy to, as the story of their courtship is recounted by Waldo, whom we resolutely do not trust. Hell, we've been TOLD not to trust him in the beginning of the film, when he says he often changes details to make stories more exciting (and to make himself look better, though he doesn't mention this explicitly).

Why, then, does Laura fall for Mark McPherson? Is it simply because he's another "lean and hard body"? It's clear why he falls in love with her, this idealized image of a beautiful dead woman who only lives on in a dramatic painting over the mantel. But there's literally nothing to explain her sudden love for McPherson apart from Waldo's intimation that she's flighty, which certainly doesn't seem true based on Tierney's performance or what we know of Laura. If anything, Laura is too steadfast and too bull-headed.

As mentioned before, everything we learn of pre-death Laura, we learn through Waldo's soft-focussed memories. She is described as an ideal of womanhood, an arbiter of taste and a paragon of ambition, just like Waldo himself. But when Laura comes back to life, Tierney's performance just isn't up to the challenge of simultaneously playing a flawed human being and a woman who would be idealized in such fashion not only by Waldo, but by everyone.

Sure, she's as unforgettably beautiful as Laura ought to be, but her performance lacks the conviction to sell us on the fact that not only is Waldo misremembering the details pertinent to the case, he does not remember Laura as she actually was. There are no subtle changes between how she plays Laura in misty-eyed flashback and how she plays Laura in reality. So when she gives her climactic speech to Waldo about being done with him, there's no emotional heft behind it, no mirror or recognition of the falsehoods and untruths that comprise the entirety of Waldo's character. To put it simply, her performance lacks depth.

Now I don't mean to rag so hard on this film, because as I said it has much to recommend it. The plotting is nearly impeccable, and has the perfect balance between the audience figuring things out and the detective figuring things out. Clifton Webb is superbly entertaining as the sort of Addison DeWitt gone horribly wrong, and it's wonderfully jarring to see a young Vincent Price play a suave "pretty boy". The dialogue is pitch-perfect.

What bothers me isn't that what is left on the screen is bad, persay, but that there are a number of missed opportunities. But I can't help but think this movie ranks high up in all the AFI lists just because Gene Tierney is so damn beautiful (and she really is. She makes Rita Hayworth look like the girl next door).

GeneTierneyWomenManagementNewYorkBl.jpg

Let me know what you think about Laura in the comments!

*Laura's professional success reminds me of one of the chief criticisms of Mad Men that's becoming increasingly difficult to ignore: that Peggy Olson's journey is 20 years too late. The offices of Sterling Cooper are diversifying in the 1960's, while it's well documented that women were holding Don Draper's position in the 1940's (like Laura) and even African-Americans were integrated in the 1950's. Not to cheapen Peggy, who is one of my all-time favorite characters, but it does lend credence to the frequent critique of Mad Men as being all about the superficial trappings of the 1960's while inventing a social reality that simply does not exist. Likewise, Betty Draper's journey would have happened in the early 1950's, not the mid-60's.

film-noir-blogathon.jpg

Stop by at Park Circus for an ongoing series about film noir, particularly focussing on Gilda, which I wrote about previously here: http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/03/blog-noir-gilda.html

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Aliens

10 Comments »

ellen_ripley_aliens.jpg

(part of an ongoing series at The Film Experience. Head over for more Aliens love).

I'm a failure as a movie fan. Why? I hadn't seen a single film in the Aliens quadrilogy until earlier this year, despite an abiding love and respect for science-fiction, action and female badasses. I wish that I can offer an explanation, but I have only one: I'm a failure as a movie fan.

And what a movie I'd been missing! The original Alien has a whole bunch of qualities to recommend it, but at its base, it's a horror movie set in space, a slasher flick gone futuristic, a superlative example of the genre, but still a genre exercise nonetheless.

Sigourney Weaver earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Ellen Ripley in Aliens, which came out 7 years after the original amidst a ton of backstage infighting and production difficulties. If you're interested in the behind-the-scenes, Tom Shone provides a detailed rundown of what was going on. I recommend reading it, the stuff about Cameron v. the British Crew is hilarious (Union-mandated raffle hour!).

Aliens taught the world a lesson in how to make sequels, a lesson that Hollywood has sadly failed to learn. Cameron fought for his vision, even though that vision was completely different from Ridley Scott's, leading to a more cerebral and thoughtful film than its predecessor.

What surprised me about Aliens is what a human story it is: underneath the action, the outer-space/far-future trappings and the terrifying monster, it's the essentially the story about a woman who rediscovers her inner strength and her humanity after losing everything, including 57 years of time.

1980's film culture was so dominated by films celebrating machismo it's impossible to believe that this movie was made, a movie that, at its core, is about motherhood. Yes it has all the James Cameron trappings --innovative special effects, disdain for big business, big action sequences -- but it all centers around one theme: the extraordinary lengths a mother will go to to protect her children. And I'm not just talking about Ripley here.

This is a war between two mothers, and both mothers in question know it. This is partly what makes Ripley such a remarkable character: she feels empathy. She learns to recognize the humanity even in creatures that are 100%  inhuman, whether it's Good Queen Xenomorph or the Android Bishop. I would argue that her journey to accepting Bishop is as moving as anything else in the story.

But in spite of that empathy and that understanding, something more primal kicks in within Ripley when she faces off with the Xenomorph queen. She recognizes that they are mirror images, she knows it, but that doesn't stop her from doing what she needs to do as a woman, as a caregiver and as an saviour of Earth. Even though she already knows that it's not the alien's fault, that it's the humans' fault for having the hubris to invade other worlds and raid their resources. It's the humans that are arrogant enough to think they can control entire other species through corporate/military power.

Now, I've just given you a lot of words. And you know what they say about pictures? This shot says it all:

Aliens Earth Shot

I know it's not the shot others would select as their favorite from the film, but just look at it for a few seconds. It's all right there: the embryonic Earth, the serene Ripley, the passage of time. Ripley is shown here as Gaia, as mother Earth, which is only fitting as she's the one who saves planet Earth from alien destruction.

Now I wanna hear from you. Did you prefer Alien or Aliens? Should I watch the third and fourth movie, or skip them?

The Best Emmy Nomination of Them All: Amy Poehler

No Comments »

tumblr_lnufsuT5Yq1qf924co1_500.png

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I think Amy Poehler ought to win every award possible for anything ever. She's a stand-up feminist, she's a role model, she's a superb writer, and a freakin' funny lady.

While I'm disappointed that she didn't get a Best Writer nomination for The Fight, which I believe to be one of the funniest episodes of television ever made, I'm glad she got the actress nom and that the show was recognized as well.

It's a hell of a turnaround for a show that, frankly, kinda sucked in season 1. I thought season 2 was the best ever, until season 3 came around and turned the whole thing into, well, perfection.

One of the most magical things about Leslie Knope is that she's a sexy single woman who has no problem getting dates, but men don't really take up space in her mind. Which I think is refreshing and daring for a mainstream network comedy, as they tend to focus so one-sidedly on single girls and their romantic pursuits. Leslie doesn't have to validate her desirability through men. She KNOWS she's sexy. (Which is why I have some issue with the romance storyline with Ben, but they're SO DAMN CUTE! What other relationship has two characters whose idea of sexual roleplay is Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan?)

She is 100% in charge, but she's still compassionate and caring. No one would dare question an authority or doubt her ability. She has strong friendships with both men and women. Leslie Knope is the feminist ideal.

tumblr_lnum7b0yct1qc0fwzo1_500.gif

Also, and most importantly, she's hilarious.

Here's what Tina Fey had to say about Amy Poehler in Bossypants:

"Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and ‘unladylike.’

Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, ‘Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.’ Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. ‘I don’t fucking care if you like it.’ Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit. I should make it clear that Jimmy and Amy are very good friends and there was never any real beef between them. (Insert penis joke here.)

With that exchange, a comic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it."

And, because this never ceases to be amusing:

tumblr_loiclrB9qY1qi6ta4.gif

Quote of the Day: Ralph Waldo Emerson Hates Jane Austen

No Comments »

mr-darcy.jpg

This boggles the mind:

"I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world.  Never was life so pinched & narrow.  The one problem in the mind of the writer in both the stories I have read, “Persuasion”, and “Pride & Prejudice”, is marriageableness; all that interests any character introduced is still this one, has he or she money to marry with, & conditions conforming? ‘Tis “the nympholepsy of a fond despair”, say rather, of an English boarding-house.  Suicide is more respectable."

From Emerson in His Journals.

I might remind Emerson that "marriageablenss" was indeed a prime concern of women in that era, as it was ILLEGAL TO INHERIT PROPERTY OR MONEY.

Quote comes via Ty Cowen at Marginal Revolution, one of the best blogs you're not reading.

Book Review: Kate Christensen - "The Astral"

No Comments »

3933.jpg

 

In A Sentence:

Kate Christensen demonstrates that middle-aged white male crises can not only be riveting, but entertaining as well.

Plot In A Nutshell:

Harry Quirk is tossed to the street by his wife, Luz, who secretly reads Harry's latest book of torrid love poetry and takes it as evidence of an affair. Harry is forced to reinvent himself despite being completely broke, abandoned and uninspired. Also, his son falls in with a cult.

Review:

It's been a while since I've read a "literary" novel, and certainly there are expectations with that sort of novel -- a slower pace, meditative plotting, and a whole lot of character insight. Well, Kate Christensen pulled a fast one on me. She drew me in with some of the most exquisitely beautiful prose in recent memory and then introduced, surprise!, a lot of comedy and a lot of action.

Harry Quirk is certainly pulled along by tides he cannot control, but what makes the novel nearly un-putdownable is the sense that we are watching a man slowly become an actor in his own drama, a man who long ago ceased to exist as a unique human being and became, instead, a series of traits: married man, poet, failed poet, failed husband, father, native Brooklyn-ite. Christensen peels the layers back on him as he undergoes his own enlightenment and really tries to understand who he is now.

But while that certainly makes the novel unique in the mid-life crisis genre, there is a moment in the last 3rd of the novel where Christensen sets completely unpredictable plot points in motion and creates something really special. Suddenly, it is revealed that we cannot trust Harry as a narrator--his memories are certainly blinkered, but more importantly, his very view of self is completely false. We are lulled into a sense of security as we follow Harry, listen to his opinions, get his view on complicated relationships, but it's all lies. Or, if not lies, then certainly a very complicated façade that proved so successful that even he believed it.

I know I'm making this sound all navel-gazy, but there's definitely more to the novel. Harry, abandoned by all of his oldest friends, is forced to associate with his daughter and her friends, entering a generation which he doesn't understand but at least tries to accept. His son's crises of conscience ties directly into Harry's philosophical troubles with Luz, pushing him into the arms of fundamentalist cult (stay tuned on this one, it goes places you wouldn't expect).

The novel begins with the position that the only honesty is in honest belief, and slowly it is revealed that every belief held by every one of the characters is fundamentally tenuous and always open to compromise. Everyone's a hypocrite, in often surprising ways. It makes you wonder, is this what happens to everyone? Do we all build up a series of painted faces as we get older, revealed to us as masks only if we go through a major, life-changing crisis like an illogical divorce?

I have my own opinions on this, but I am only in my quarter-life crisis. I wonder how older readers respond to the novel. Weigh in in the comments!

21+ Google Circles You Definitely Should Use

4 Comments »

4e1e439d9bc2f.png

 

(c/o Happyplace.com. Clicking image will take you to original site)

The Only Time I'll Write About Soccer (Probably)

No Comments »

US-Womens-Soccer-Team-beats-Brazil-.jpg

I'm not what one would describe as a sports fan. But I do have a heartbeat.

Every step of the way, I have been moved and awed by the U.S. women's soccer team and their fantastic run to the FIFA World Cup championship finals.

It hasn't been easy. Inspiring a whole legion of Americans who don't watch soccer and probably don't even understand the rules, Americans ranging from teenage girl to soldiers in Afghanistan, just never is. But it's slow season for sports, and these women have taken the chance to show America how awesome they are.

Did I mention I have a heart? It swells just thinking about Abby Wambach's impossible goal against Brazil, a superhuman display of inner strength that occurred literally at the last second, sending the match into penalty kicks and eventual victory.

So what makes this different from any other under-dog story? Easy. It's the women we're watching and cheering on and yelling at our televisions for. And it is pretty cool to see muscled Army men punching the air for a bunch of women.

On Sunday, the U.S. team faces a tough match against Japan, another team with an extraordinary journey to the finals. I'll be rooting for the U.S., but I am telling the absolute truth when I say that it doesn't matter who wins.  It doesn't matter if you don't know a sweeper from a striker, offsides from out of bounds. All that matters is that you grab a few brews, round up a few friends, and get ready to get rowdy.

Red-Hot Movie Trailer: Contagion

1 Comment »

Contagion2BMovie.jpg

This trailer couldn't be more awesome if it tried:

-Gwyneth Paltrow dies!

-Jennifer Ehle might be a villain!

-Matt Damon!

-Gwyneth Paltrow dies!

-Yay it's Keith Mars!

-Yay it's Marion Cotillard!

-Gwyneth Paltrow dies!

-Surprise Kate Winslet! I hope she doesn't die...

Here you go:

Great Fakeout Songs: "Robert De Niro's Waiting"

No Comments »

tumblr_lkbsuhtJAv1qi1ksao1_500.jpg

This sounds like such a charming and upbeat song on first listen, which makes it perfect fodder for a Fakeout Song! Allow me to enlighten you with one simple fact: the narrator is being raped. This girl is being violently attacked and the only thing she can do to cope is to retreat in her mind to her "man of steel," Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II.

I love the way the lyrics move in the song: she fixates on Robert De Niro but images of her reality flash through her mind, piercing through her imagined comfort, and each image becomes more specific, more focussed, until we know exactly what's happening. And once the narrator acknowledges it, she promptly dissociates back to Robert De Niro.

There's an interesting bit of trivia about the chorus: apparently the three girls fought tooth and nail against producer Steve Jolley's addition of "talking Italian," as it removes some of the menace of the song. I'm of two minds about this: on the one hand, I really like the specificity that "talking Italian" adds to the lyrics. This isn't just fantasy Robert De Niro, this is sexy Vito Corleone, who takes care of his own no matter what it takes. But I think leaving that space between "Robert De Niro's waiting..." really would make the song darker. It allows space for the listener to think about what's being said, space for the horrible circumstances to breathe out a little more.

Out of respect to you all, I have NOT posted the official music video here, as it ruins the entire song (Bananarama have successfully ruined their own legacy in recent years, but that's a whole other story). If you want to see it, you can find it that magical youtube site. But for now, here's the song, complete with a static image that might yet cause your eyes to bleed:

Hot Movie Trailer: Martin Scorcese's "Hugo"

No Comments »

scorsese_hugo-cabret.jpg

At last, we're almost through the summer doldrums! This week there was not one, not two, but THREE movie trailers that make me hopeful for 2011's latter half (to say that the first half has been dire for film is an understatement).

This morning, Paramount released the trailer for Martin Scorcese's Hugo, which looks to be a fantastic children's adventure. Seriously, I want to be a child again because I feel like this was made for 9-year old me.

Without further ado, the trailer:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Sandman Re-Blog Issue #19: "Midsummer Night's Dream"

No Comments »

Gaimans-Sandman-MND-Connection-02.jpg

I feel that it's important for me to admit here that I am no great fan of A Midsummer Night's Dream (the play, not this comic. I LOVE this comic). Lord, it's probably more important to admit that I am no great fan of Shakespeare (call me whatever names you want, but I have done my time. Give me Ben Jonson any day. Yes, I am aware the Jonson to Shakespeare comparison is Beethoven to Mozart, but now I am digressing before I have even begun*). But Midsummer Night's Dream irritates me more than any other of the Bard's works (twee, twee, illogical twee, based entirely on plot contrivance. Further detail involves a whole other post).

But my personal dislike is neutralized, as usual, by the beauty of Gaiman's artistry; this is a story about a creator who once made a deal with the devil -- here Shakespeare is Faustus and Dream is Mephistopheles (or, in a neat parallel with the Calliope story, Shakespeare is Madoc, senseless in his quest for creation, relying on a bargain that can only be repaid in the worst possible way for him.) Lest you forget this particular deal, flip back through Doll's House for Hob's seemingly random eavesdropping in the pub.

This issue does have some of the best panels in Sandman history. The shot of the fairy kingdom watching the players set up the theatre suggests an almost infinite audience. But the satyr sitting on the trolls shoulder? It reminded me of this ridiculous painting from one of my favorite episodes of Parks and Recreation (Leslie Knope is Di-Athena, for the painter is a moron):

leslie-knope-centaur.jpg

Back when I first read the story, I really did appreciate the tragedy of Hamnet. But my goodness, he is SO WHINY. When you see him eating the fairy fruit, it's a little bit hard not to cheer. But poor Will Shakespeare. At least he has the good sense to regret his deal with Morpheus before he is dealt the final blow.

AND SPEAKING OF DOMAINS

Is this our first encounter with Faerie in the Sandman series? If I have missed one, forgive me. But there are strong hints of two eternal domains, that of Faerie and that of the Dream's family, forever at odds with each other.

But we learn that Dream can keep Faerie alive long after they're gone, alive in dreams and in stories. That is his true gift: an immortality of sorts. And thus he uses Shakespeare's gift to his own ends, though we don't yet learn what ends those might be. This story is layeredskillfully, featuring stories within stories within long games and the pettiness that so frequently enlivens the lives of immortals in fiction.

This, ultimately, is what separates Shakespeare's action from that of Madoc's: the bargain is never exactly clear, none of the immortal beings involved can fully be trusted, and it's quite likely that Will would never recognize that Hamnet's fate was cosigned by himself. But when Morpheus asks "have I done right" we learn that Morpheus does know. Which makes it slightly heinous, a deception predicated on one side not knowing all the facts (which is precisely what irritates me about Midsummer Night's Dream and so many other Shakespeare plays). Dream knows this wasn't a trick of the fates, he knows in his heart that he "tricked" Shakespeare, even though he likely believes that the bargain is fair and equitable on its face. Dream is beginning to comprehend the sadness of mortals, and this will probably change his very being.

Separately, I have to recommend The Great Night: A Novel , by Chris Adrian, which tells the tale of a very dark version of Midsummer Night's Dream, set in San Francisco's Buena Vista Park during the summer solstice. The New Yorker site has posted a free story from the novel called "A Tiny Feast,", which is beautiful and heartbreaking (I wrote about it here: http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2010/10/short-story-book-club-tiny-feast.html)

*I don't like Mozart either.

Initial Thoughts on Google+

9 Comments »

b-emerald_sea.jpg

In A Sentence:

If Twitter and Facebook had a baby, and that baby was much prettier than Facebook but not nearly as cool as Twitter.

In A Few More Sentences:

There's a child-like joy to the actual experience of setting up google+: you drag people into circles, and if you're particularly inclined (I am so inclined) then you can imagine you're creating your own version of Dante's Inferno (yes, I am aware how sinister it is that I am sending all my friends/acquaintances to Hell. Rest assured, other contacts have created far less family-friendly monikers for their circles).

But I digress.

The most important thing here is that G+ is providing a real competitor to Facebook. We were this close to total monopolic consolidation on the Internet: Google as the only search, Facebook as the only "friends" sharing system*, Amazon as the books-opoly, and so on. It may not seem that Google going up against Facebook is the biggest shake-up in online power, but we all know that competition is what leads to progress, to better consumer experiences, to better products.

While I feel that tech savvy (particularly Internet savvy) people are going to latch on to the new service, I think it poses problems for more average users (I partially consider this a positive. For instance, your grandma won't be using google plus). Setting up a profile took a few steps too many for my liking. The often touted privacy features felt removed from all the other account settings (they were in no way obvious), and even simple settings for key G+ features like +1 required leaving the G+ interface and moving back into the main Google account settings.

But what is it for? Twitter took a long time to reach critical mass, because it's added advantage wasn't clear for a very long time; people thought it was just a streamlined Facebook wall for a long time. Google has already proven itself untrustworthy when it comes to protecting dissidents when government push comes to court-ordered shove. I suspect we'll learn more about G+ utility when the business pages come out later in the year.

A Few Suggestions to Make Google Plus Better:

Allow the creation of Venn Diagrams, so you can see how your networks interact (this isn't actually useful, but it sure would be fun. I can see the rom-com now: "The Man at the Center of my Googleverse").

Make it easier to find friends. Specifically, allow imports from twitter. Right now, if people don't have a google mail account, you can't search for them (and sometimes you can't find them even if you do).

Why isn't G+ integrated into Google Reader? I would enjoy +1-ing interesting articles, BUT I CANNOT.

Final note:

That image at the top? It apparently inspired the whole project. Google had it emblazoned across the walls on the fourth floor of their offices.

*I'm not including twitter in this because it really is a tool, not a destination. It enables communication, unprecendented activism, and lightning speed information sharing. It's simplicity and basic use is its best recommendation. It's not competing with Google+.

Poem of the Day: "Silk of a Soul" by Zbigniew Herbert

3 Comments »

zbigniew-herbert.jpg

I'm of many minds when it comes to selecting poems for this series. (I really should stop calling it "Poem of the day," but hey. One blogger can only cover so much.) The former English Lit major in me wants to go in for deeper analysis of the familiar greats to find new angles (as with the Robert Frost I did previously), but the political scientist in me wants to dig in and find forgotten perspectives to illustrate history as written by the losers, by the unfortunate.

In the area of literature, there's always a suggestion that we cannot even understand other cultures, other mentalities, without living life in their own words. Accepting that there are limits to multilingualism, we must at least read works in translation before we can pretend to empathize with anyone. I do believe that to a powerful extent. I believe that cultural philosophies and realities are laid bare by linguistics; the Eskimos have more than a dozen words for ice, and that tells us something about their society. The Germans have specific words for emotions that cannot be described in fewer than 5 English words, and that tell us something (particularly given how many variations there are on feelings related to melancholy).

On the other hand, I find it greatly problematic that often the value of a work is judged not by its inherent goodness or badness, but by its context. Reading literature in this way shows a profound disbelief in the power of the human imagination. It suggests that artists are not creators, but that they are heavily constrained by the world around them. Which some certainly are, but I think that diminishes the beauty of words themselves.

But now I'll come to Zbigniew Herbert, the author of today's poem. He was a key member of the Polish resistance in WWII, which today overshadows his considerable skills in poetry and literature. But politics are essential to Polish literature: in the Stalinist era, socialist realism was the required style in both art and literature. Herbert refused to participate in this, however, so he was unable to publish until 1957. So it is said that all the varying political trends, failures and malfeasance that Poland faced in the 20th century snakes through all of Herbert's poetry, simmering just under the surface. While I'm not sure I agree with that accepted thesis, one cannot deny the undercurrents of hopes dashed, of crushing disappointment, of ideals replaced by cheap desires, that sits in this poem.

Silk of a Soul by Zbigniew Herbert

Never 
did I speak with her 
either about love 
or about death 

only blind taste 
and mute touch 
used to run between us 
when we absorbed in ourselves. 
we lay close 

I must 
peek inside her 
to see what she wears 
at her centre 

when she slept 
with her lips open 
I peeked 

and what 
and what 
would you think 
I caught sight of 

I was expecting 
branches 
I was expecting 
a bird 
I was expecting 
a house 
by a lake great and silent 

but there 
on a glass counter 
I caught sight of a pair 
of silk stockings 
my God 
I’ll buy her those stockings 
I’ll buy them 

but what will appear then 
on the glass counter 
of the little soul 

will it be something 
which cannot be touched 
even with one finger of a dream

(Translated by Alissa Valles)

Five Music Video Cameos You Don't Remember (and one you definitely do)

4 Comments »

leonard-nimoy-spock-2.jpg

Bruce Springsteen - Dancing In the Dark

Why yes, that IS a young Courteney Cox, on screen even before such masterpieces as He-Man: Masters of the Universe. An appearance she ably satirizes on Cougar Town (the Springsteen appearance that is, not the He-Man. I'm sure she'd rather forget He-Man ever happened. Though I personally am so glad it did).

This one's SO well-known that I didn't really want to include it, but call it a concession to the 4th of July. No hotdogs or fireworks for me, but I did listen to a good few hours of Bruce Springsteen, in a bout of what I'd describe as "realist patriotism".

Paula Abdul - Rush, Rush

This video couldn't be more early 90's if it tried. And why is Keanu Reeves rubbing a milk bottle all over his face? I think you just need to watch it. If I sat through it, so can you.

Tori Amos - A Sorta Fairytale

Tori plays a leg. Adrien Brody plays an arm. This video must have cost an arm and a leg! (ha ha ha ha ha, I'm laughing even if you aren't).

But seriously. It's a very sad little love story, made all the more tragic by Adrien Brody's big soulful eyes (of cousre, it's his fault, being racist against crooked toes. Or something. God knows). And then they 69, which magically leads to more limbs. And then love makes them whole. Repeat after me, OR SOMETHING!!

Kate Bush - Cloudbusting

Yes folks, there WAS a time when Donald Sutherland's career was very much in a lull. Oh the dreaded 1980's. At least he found work playing a vaguely pedophilic (pixiephilic) scientist who helps Kate Bush bust clouds. (Apparently Sutherland is playing radical scientist William Reich while Kate Bush plays his son. Go look it up. I did, and I STILL find him pedophilic. Seriously, his wikipedia page is INSANE).

Bangles - Going Down to Liverpool

Yes folks, there WAS a time when Leonard Nimoy's career was very much in a lull. Oh the dreaded 1980's. At least he found work chauffeuring a bunch of serial harmonizers!

Right, this is one of my favorite Bangles videos, but the video has almost no redeeming qualities whatsoever, apart from Susanna Hoffs giving bedroom eyes to EVERYONE IN THE CAR. Leonard Nimoy is justly frustrated. Sexually frustrated? Is that what's happening here? Also, they're dressed kind of insane. I know it's the early 80's, but the girls did find a sexy 80's rock look in the videos that followed (if you don't believe me, watch Hazy Shade of Winter).

And now for my personal favorite of these videos:

Roy Orbison - I Drove All Night

In which Jason Priestley cannot take his mind off of a very sexy young Jennifer Connelly (and who could blame him, she seems to be in her underwear for most of the video). This is that wonderful post-Labyrinth, pre-Requiem Jennifer Connelly, when she still had curves and baby-fat and looked absolutely gorgeous. (She's still beautiful, of course, but now she's sort of normal Hollywood skinny beautiful).

I think I still prefer the Cyndi Lauper version of this song, but Orbison's voice is lush as always. (And if you want something dreadful, listen to Celine Dion's screechy version of this song).

Sandman: "Dream of 1000 Cats," Or, Lazy Cats Never Prosper

2 Comments »

dreamofathousandcats.jpg

This story leaves more space than any other in the series for readers to project their own interpretation of exactly what happens in the story.

First, how you feel about cats can alter the entire tone of the story. For instance, Linda Holmes at NPR enjoys the story from the angle of "kittens are so adorable! How sweet it is when they try to be devious and political!"

I read the story as secret access to the minds of housecats; I truly believe that 99% of cats spend their time thinking about revolting against their owners, but generally err on the side of laziness.

The other open question is whether the entire story is even real. Did cats once rule the humans, or is it all just a dream? Can Morpheus be a kingmaker in reality, or just in dreams? I'm not gonna answer this question for you, but I believe it will be addressed later in the series.

ON THE VERY NATURE OF STORIES

I find myself searching for an Orwellian connection but I struggle to find one. The cat's political prowess is nowhere near the level of the pigs in Animal Farm, nowhere near as eloquent as the government in 1984. And yet, I cannot believe it does not relate somehow. After all, the entire Sandman series is grounded in archetypal stories, fables and myths, and I think "Dream Country" is even more so -- the stories address, respectively, Calliope, Aesop's Fables or Animal Farm?, Shakespeare, and Superheroes.

"1000 Cats" doesn't really fit into the Aesop's Fables mold though, as there is no overarching moral lesson to be gleaned from the story (except maybe "don't kill the kittens!"). So while the other three stories have clear intellectual forebears, placing those myths into the Sandman Universe, I'm not sure what myth this story is exploiting.

Maybe it's a political allegory, a critique of Marxism/Communism perhaps. Like those movements, this revolution rests on a cult of personality, without which the hoi polloi have no impetus to act (of course in this case, it's still not enough for them to act, even in dreams).

Maybe it's a racial allegory, showing how the "purebred Siamese" has delusions of grandeur, of leadership, or superiority. Which would tie into a religious, manifest destiny point: he goes from country to country, converting the heathens, trying to falsely empower them with the concept of Cat Supremacy.

CONCLUSION, IN SO FAR AS SUCH ANALYSES CAN BE CONCLUDED

While Gaiman asks us to empathize with the cat and demonize the humans who murdered its children, I believe he does so as a satire of the emotional exploitation that is part and parcel of political communication (DING DING ORWELL CONNECTION FOUND). For while we listen to the cat's cheap emotional appeals, do we ever stop to think what sort of rulers the cats would be? We are shown what sorts of rulers they once were, even more savage than the humans. Even for the cats, their lives are less savage and more comfortable than before.

Then again, maybe it's all just a story, and nothing more.

Hunger Games Podcast

No Comments »

hungergames02-790131.jpg

Hello everyone, we've got our first podcast here at the Oncoming Hope (and hopefully not the last!)

We've got a few topics to address in the near future, but we wanted to kick things off with the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Let us know what you think!

This time around, I am joined by the wonderful Roopa Vasan and Julia Shinn, making a neat trio of former English majors from the University of Texas.

We do not promise erudition, but we do promise a good time.

 

Or if you'd rather download it and listen to it while jogging or in your car, here it is in mp3 form:

http://www.archive.org/download/HungerGamesPodcast_0/hungergamespodcast.mp3

Caine Prize: "The Mistress's Dog" by David Medalie

2 Comments »

1775829028.jpg

You can read the story here: http://www.caineprize.com/pdf/2011_Medalie.pdf

Well everyone, we've come to the end of this Caine Prize series. I will be writing a couple of follow-up posts once the prize is announced, and I hope to make it to a couple of the Caine Prize events in London later this week. It's been a great experience interacting with a wonderful group of bloggers with a diverse set of opinions. I hope we'll all get together on another series soon! Special thanks go, of course, to Aaron Bady of Zungu Zungu for organizing the blogathon.

And on to the story. I'm gonna keep it short, if only because it is far and away the best story of the group, both stylistically and thematically. The story is accomplished and layered, and opens up an entire world in its short 5 page span.

Nola is sort of the Nick Carraway to the story, in that she fancies herself an impartial observer of events, but of course she isn't. We have not been told the whole story, and what story we are told is biased. I believe she spends more time now thinking about that damned dog than she does of the people and forces that have governed her life until now. And for leaving her this eternal nuisance, her husband becomes "the powerful man" in her reminiscences. We never learn precisely how the powerful man exercised his power on her, but I think we know that a little of that power remains, and always will, so long as the dog lives.

It's a beautiful way of telling the story. She's trying to convey the facts as best she understands them, but she doesn't try to apologize for her own weakness. And by doing so, we the reader can't judge her as weak or repressed or anything else. This is such a difference from "What Molly Knew," where Molly does offer us an excuse for her behavior, but that excuse rings false as it is not actually sufficient to justify her respective actions and inactions.

Nola has been denied agency on all sides, by her husband,  by her mistress, and finally by that dog, who won't even let her go to the supermarket without making a complete nuisance of itself. But Nola is not passive; she accepts that these forces have made her who she is, and fighting them would be like fighting the tides themselves.

 

Great Fakeout Songs: "American Girl" by Tom Petty

11 Comments »

TomPetty.jpg

Welcome to the premiere of "Great Fakeout Songs," a new series on those songs that have jaunty melodies but dark, dark lyrics, and vice versa. The art of the fakeout works well for humor in music (see Weird Al, Rilo Kiley) but can also add a sense of poignancy.

I'm kicking things off with "American Girl," by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. "American Girl" has had a bit of a resurgence lately; it was used in a key scene in Parks and Recreation, and Tom Petty has prominently issued a cease-and-desist order to Michele Bachmann, who's been using the song in campaign rallies.

Now, the flip-side of the fakeout is the tone-deaf politician (don't worry, we'll get to "Born in the USA" eventually). Michele Bachmann, or whoever her campaign organizers are, have failed to listen to the lyrics or think about them in any meaningful way.

While it's not explicit in the lyrics, the song is about a girl's last memory before jumping off the balcony, committing suicide.

Well it was kinda cold that night
She stood alone on her balcony
Yeah, she could hear the cars roll by
Out on 441 like waves crashin' on the beach
And for one desperate moment
There he crept back in her memory
God it's so painful when something that's so close
Is still so far out of reach

Even if you don't cotton on to the suicidal theme from the lyrics, this American Girl is in awful despair. Even more damning for the Bachmann handlers, this American Girl has GIVEN UP ON THE PROMISE OF AMERICA. She wants to get away from her broken heart and broken dreams.

Well she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn't help thinkin'
That there was a little more to life somewhere else
After all it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to

Anyway, it's a great song, and you can listen to it below. The greatest hits is on sale at Amazon for $6, which ain't bad.

Powered by Blogger.