Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wormwood Cafe

Despite being of actual Bohemian ancestry, I'll never be a "real" one of them until I start drinking the beer, and I doubt that'll ever happen. But I can at least feel like a real small-b bohemian, now that I've drunk actual absinthe in a dive bar. I guess Toulouse-Lautrec didn't have Meat Loaf playing in his drinking establishments. His loss, I say!

There are a few brands of absinthe now legally available in the U.S., and when I saw the flier on the bathroom door at the dive bar -- $4.95 a glass -- I knew a tasting was in order. They're served pre-prepared, in a tall glass already milky with water, with the sugar cube at the bottom. Plus, a plastic straw! Ah, a new twist on the old traditions.

Our lovely waitress told us that (a) the bar had instituted a limit of one per customer after people overindulged and started getting sick, which is kind of humorous, considering some of their clientele; (b) it would be illegal to sell us a shot, which is absurd if it would contain the same amount of the alcohol, thus proving that there's still a lot of "Reefer Madness" nuttiness around the drink; and (c) they're a whole lot of fun to make on a busy Friday night, what with the sugar cubes and all. Which seems like a good reason for a limit, since I know all about serving the public with limited resources.

The consensus seemed to be that the idea of drinking of absinthe in a corner bar in North Dakota is fun, but the drink itself wasn't that impressive. Our experts thought it was way too watery, so if you've had absinthe or similar products before, you're probably better off buying a bottle and mixing it at home. If you're a complete newbie, though, a single glass may be a better place to start, so you can find out if you're one of those people who make a face and stick out their tongues. And hey! That was someone who drinks that crazy aquavit stuff!

In the course of events, the connoisseur of the group actually ran home to get some actual absinthe spoons for us to use, fished out the sugar cubes, and set them on fire. Mine had already dissolved, but c'est la vie, as the French say when they're drunk on absinthe.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Sylvia Plath of molecular biology

That's what The Economist magazine called genetics researcher Rosalind Franklin in their blurb about Brenda Maddox's biography, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, which I happened to come across yesterday.

I have so much to learn about the world.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Look at those cavemen go

I've survived two days back at work after vacation, and I'm still in good spirits. Whew! Yesterday I saw two very fine graffiti trains, had a cup of delicious tea (Sweet Coconut Thai Chai, with milk), and watched a movie called The Man From Earth. At first it felt a little like a stage play, because it's basically about people sitting and talking, but it ended up being quite absorbing.

A group of professors get together to send off a departing colleague, who decides to take a chance and tell them the truth about himself, that he's a 14,000-year-old caveman who, due to some quirk in his physiognomy, never died. At first it seems like a thought experiment, but when he sticks to his story, some of his friends get angry, while others (especially Tony Todd and the guy who played Dr. Phlox on ... Enterprise, was it?) get into the spirit of it and start puzzling it out fairly seriously.

Eventually it goes into all kinds of territory: memory, how we experience time, the history of the species, and religion (he boils Christianity down to "a guy met the Buddha and liked what he heard," which, I have to admit, made me chuckle).

Afterwards, we watched some of the extras, and the guy who wrote it also wrote both the "Mirror, Mirror" episode of the original Star Trek, as well as the original story of that Twilight Zone episode where the kid sends people to the cornfield. I think I squealed out loud. Obviously, somebody had to have written the "Mirror, Mirror" episode, but I never thought about how it was a real person. If I'd met him when he was alive, I'd have gushed like a groupie.

Fortunately, I'm sure that somewhere, at some other time, some other nerd did the honors for me.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The postman only had to ring once

I got a notice in the mail the other day that I had to be present for a package to be delivered. I was hoping it would be re-delivered today, so I made sure to be handy around mail-time. Turns out the package was sent Registered Mail because it was coming from India. And I had completely forgotten: a double disc of Ramsey Brothers horror insanity, Veerana and Purana Mandir 2: Saamri. My cup really does runneth over if something like that could slip my mind!

As an added bonus, inside the mailing envelope, the disc was padded with a sheet of the Hindustan Times, so the first thing I saw was the phrase "Abhishek Bachchan," and underneath it, in a bigger caption, "I am the boss." This was torn off from the accompanying photo, but I found the other piece, a picture of Abhishek in a Han Solo white shirt/black vest combo, next to a photo of Hrithak. The headline read: "Calling the shots: A-list actors are driving directors crazy with inputs, casting advice and editing diktats..."

You can read the whole delightfully gossipy article online at http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print.aspx?Id=0278fce8-cff1-4eda-9526-aca665549a80

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Further thoughts on Karan Arjun

-- It took Salman Khan 35 minutes to get his shirt off, which has got to be the record. If it's any consolation, though, he's in a boxing ring, all oily and sweaty, so it's like a double-whammy of Shirtless Sallu.

-- When he really gets into the "Hulk smash" emotional fight scenes, the theme music from The Terminator plays. I suspect this would annoy any rational person, but I find it adorable.

-- Meanwhile, Shah Rukh and a very young-looking Kajol have a literal romp in the hay. She does a few starting moves that made me say: Hey! If that's not a symbolic blow job, then a generation of literary critics needs to take back everything they've said about that scene in Dracula when the vampire wench "went down on her knees."

And there's still at least forty-five minutes to go!

Meeting minutes of the Amrish Puri Fan Club

I'm about twenty minutes into 1995's Karan Arjun, starring Khans Salman and Shah Rukh as brothers in one of your basic reincarnation/revenge plots. Poor but noble and hard-working, one day they discover that they are really the rightful heirs of the local mansion, which their mother never wanted them to know. Not while the villainous shadow of the evil Durjan Singh still falls upon it! I thought to myself: hmmm, 95% chance of Amrish Puri?

Yes! He was very busy in the 80s and 90s, destroying families and stealing inheritances. That whole Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom thing was really a more large-scale operation of the kind of thing he did in his other movies. Why waste time ruining lives one-to-one, when you can mass produce? Even better, he is introduced (bad-guy mustache and all) whilst worshipping at the Kali Mandir! He chants, and his minions dance to a disco beat! I can already tell it's a five-star film.

As an added bonus, the heroine and her sons (soon to be very heroic, I'm sure) ALSO worship Kali, so it's a slightly more balanced view of the goddess than the one in Temple of Doom. Still, I'm already envisioning a YouTube video cross-cutting between Amrish's Kali-worship scenes. Kali Maa, let me destroy these teen idols, and I will reward you with a great temple filled with enormous statuary and writhing minions, and pull out hearts in your name!

Friday, April 18, 2008

God's goodie bag

So there's a cathedral right down the block from my place of work, and I've been meaning to sneak over there and pick up some holy water for a long time. It makes me feel a little self-conscious to just go over there with my plastic grotto water bottle and help myself: like it would be that scene in The Lost Boys when they bust into the baptism.

But yesterday, something was accidentally dropped off at my place of work that belonged to the cathedral (thank goodness some people are labelers!), and I had a reasonable pretext for paying a visit.

First thing: they knew what they were doing with those imposing doors, especially after you've gone up their big steps. I felt like a puny dwarf looking up at what I was opening. But I brazened in.

Unfortunately, the main doors to the sanctuary were all closed, and I could faintly hear muffled voices coming from somewhere. I didn't want to interrupt some kind of actual service, so I figured it would be a recon mission. There was a sort of alcove, or lobby, with a small font, some bulletin boards, music CDs for sale, and then a side room full of literature and stuff that appeared to be free. Like the gift shop. I picked up a booklet of prayers and a plastic baggie containing a glow-in-the-dark rosary. Score!

But I still hadn't figured out where the office was. The buildings on either side are residential (the Bishop has a pretty nice-looking pad, I must say), but there had to be an office somewhere.
So I went back outside. Around the side of the building I found another door that was open, so I went inside. That led to the elevator, and what was obviously an extra entrance to the sanctuary, judging by the No Cell Phone signs. Plus stairwells going up and down. I could hear voices in the basement, so that's where I went.

Both the stairwell and the basement itself contained multiple photocopied signs reading "Adoration Has Been Moved Upstairs." Glancing in the basement (I guess church basements all look alike, cathedral or not), I spotted the priest in conversation with a custodial person, so I apologized for interrupting and asked where the office was.

The priest referred me to the building on the exact opposite side of the block, so I went over there. It was turning out to be quite a quest. An old school building, with "Parish Church Office" written over the door. And this kills me: unlike an insurance agency or other random office in my Obscure Midwestern Town, it was a security building. I had to press a buzzer, and then holler my business into a little speaker in order to communicate with anyone. They buzzed me in and then came out to meet me.

The person I talked to was very appreciative about my running this errand. And I don't mean to be churlish. I understand that times have changed and that people are afraid. I try to be compassionate. But as I strolled back to work, on a lovely spring day, it occurred to me that I work in a place that's open to everyone, morning to night. Lost souls who just want someone to talk to or a place to be, people who have nowhere else to go (both metaphorically and/or literally), can come in from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. And we will actually welcome them. I think we're more of a ministry than the church.

Makes me kind of wish I'd picked up an extra rosary for my trouble, though.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You never know when trivia will bear fruit

The other day I was looking up information about Purana Mandir 2: Saamri on the IMDB, and I decided to check Amazon for availability, even though I knew the odds were against me. Just like at work, I need to do my database searching from scratch, just to be sure. I put in the word "Saamri," and the first thing that popped up was a book called Video Night in Kathmandu, by Pico Iyer, and I'm pretty sure I made that "Whaaaa?" face that Jon Stewart does so well.

Twenty years ago (my God, twenty years!) I was living in what I came to call "the boarding hovel." I'd just graduated from college with no clear career path in front of me, and toiled doing market research surveys to keep myself in coffee and ramen noodles. On Sundays I walked downtown to the main library, and about twice a week I stopped at the small branch library to browse the new nonfiction, where Iyer's book would have been displayed in 1988.

Each chapter of the book is set in a different Asian country, and Iyer describes his encounters with the people he meets, with an emphasis on the impact of Westernization, for good and for ill. I remember reading it, thinking, here in the U.S., I'm living, basically, in poverty. I live in one room, sharing a bathroom with ten people. My paycheck barely feeds me. And yet, if the lottery of fate had put me in another country, I could be living in the same room with those ten people. I might not have running water at all, or electricity.

Overall, a useful perspective, and one I've tried to keep in mind. Seeing so much abundance all the time can cloud the concept of what's rich and what's poor. Anyway, while I've remembered the book in a general way, I didn't retain the specific details. After all, it was 10 countries in 374 pages, 20 years ago, and I've read a lot of books since then.

But...Saamri? So, taking advantage of the low low prices ("I'd buy that for a dollar!"), I ordered the book used. The chapter on India is called "Hollywood in the Fifties," and is all about, what else? Bollywood movies and what they say about the relationship between India and American pop culture. He talks about the poster for Saamri in the context of the family dynasties: the Ramsays, the Sippys, the Kapoors.

An interesting moment is when he describes how Hindi films have come up during his travels to other parts of Asia, where they seemed omnipresent. In Bali, the author was recognized by strangers as Indian, and beset by questions: "Did I know Amitabh? Was Dharmendra still married to Hema Malini? What was the story with Shashi Kapoor?" (p. 246)

Those were the sort of specific, local-color details that wouldn't have meant anything to me, and I'd have kind of skimmed over. Who knew that all this time later, I'd know who all those people are? Actually, Dharmendra and Hema Malini are still married even now. And frankly, I really don't know what the story is with Shashi Kapoor. I still haven't gotten to any of his movies, but I know he has a huge fan following, so he must have been quite the idol in his day.

Who knows what randomly-selected books I've yet to read, and what will blossom into full-fledged obsessions in the years to come? Definitely something to look forward to!

Disco Human Sacrifice

Among the joys of movie-watching is the ability to visit exotic fantasy worlds, far removed from one's everyday reality. Sometimes it's an enormous palace in the jungles of India. Sometimes it's a nightclub with a disco ball and a bubble machine, where the singer gyrates in gold fringed hot pants and halter top, shiny black go-go boots, and a bizarre feathered headress, occasionally pausing to flirt with guys in white Travolta leisure suits. Sometimes a person is lucky enough to get both of them in the same movie, and all is right with the world.

That movie is 1984's Purana Mandir, usually credited with kick-starting a trend for actual supernatural horror in Bollywood cinema, currently available on DVD from the fine people at Mondo Macabro.

Modern college student Suman thinks her wealthy father disapproves of Sanjay, her true love, just because he's poor. She doesn't know that her family line was cursed by an ancient demon in the pre-credits sequence, and her father is trying to thwart her death in childbirth by preventing her from getting married. Once they know the truth, the young couple and their friends travel to Suman's distant ancestral palace, the site of the dark dealings long ago, in order to prove it's all a superstition. But boy, are they wrong about that.

The story includes a fairly racy fantasy sequence, in which friend Sapna imagines herself naked in a haystack. You don't see anything, but it's eyebrow-raising for Bollywood. Just after that, the girl is set upon by face-painted natives (dressed like they came off a Tarzan set) and caught in a net, only to be rescued immediately by her body-building, martial artist boyfriend. He fights them off her attackers such an over-the-top way that I thought it was another fantasy scene, but alas, no. It was all supposed to be really happening, although nobody seems concerned about it later. The leader of the tribesmen meanders off into a whole subplot that's obviously a parody of Sholay, but trust me, having seen Sholay doesn't make it any funnier. These scenes have the kind of ineptitude on display in the Ramsay's later bomb Dhund, and will definitely be fast-forwardable in later viewings.

The main meat of the story, though, is actually suspenseful, and loaded with Hammer-esque atmosphere. Importantly, the music is quite good, which sets this apart from true cheesy low-budget Bollywood, where the soundtrack is usually the first thing to suffer. Even the background music is a cut above, with an eerie electronic rock score that would be right at home in a Dario Argento movie.

Special kudos: during one of the "what the?" plot twists, our protagonists are about to be sacrificed by villagers, who want to save themselves from Saamri, the evil demon from the past who's been inadvertently resurrected. I can't help likening this scene to the part in an American movie where the big-city protagonists are menaced by sinister hillbillies. Anyway, the accompanying dance number is so hip-shakingly up-beat, it's like the Solid Gold Dancers with knives. Proving once and for all that even human sacrifice is better with disco!

There's also a hymn and a ceremony to Shiva, along with a whole subplot about how Shiva's trident is the only weapon that can defeat Saamri. I mean, duh.

The only actor I recognized was caretaker Sadashiv Amarapurkar, who played the bizarre-o villain in the Ajay Devgan/Mithun Chakraborty action drama Jung, but Ajay Agarwal is great as the snarling, demonic Saamri. I can't wait for his return engagement in Purana Mandir 2: Saamri, which is on its way from India via eBay right now. I plan to become North Dakota's premier expert on the horror films of the Ramsay Brothers. You know, because North Dakota has such a demand.

(FYI the trailer features many of the highlights and is online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60QQXdQLdFw&feature=related)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

When no one was looking

I got an email this morning reminding me that my old Xanga site still existed. This was the site where I first "blogged." But I had no links to anybody, and I never told anyone about it, so as far as I know, one spammer trying to get me to chat with them was the only soul who ever read it.

But, given my tendency to anarchive, here's what you all missed out on!

It weirds me out that this was from 2005. Where have the years GONE?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

"Crime is naught but misdirected energy. So long as every institution of today, economic, political, social, and moral, conspires to misdirect human energy into wrong channels; so long as most people are out of place doing the things they hate to do, living a life they loathe to live, crime will be inevitable, and all the laws on the statutes can only increase, but never do away with, crime."
-- Emma Goldman, p. 59-60, "Anarchism."
From Anarchism and Other Essays. New York: Dover, 1969.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Latest grafitti on 10th Street: Death Before Dishonor.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Currently Reading A Hacker Manifesto, by McKenzie Wark
Reading online has its downside, but the content in this article is valuable:
http://www.blackcrow.us/

(Article found on the fine Street Librarian site at http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Cafe/7423/ ). Love that old-school URL.

Interesting thing about Section 7, on the history of Coney Island: "The old social order was destroyed, but a new one was created based on profit and commoditized pleasure." Not only is that true, but if you read Charles Denson's fine book Coney Island: Lost and Found, you'll see what happened to Coney Island itself in the wake of it. With the shift to "profit and commoditized pleasure," even the place that helped introduce the paradigm shift became a victim of the paradigm shift. (Sorry about the buzz words, but I couldn't think of anything more apt on the spur of the moment). Someone like me can see the pictures of Coney Island and think it's something that should have been preserved, the historical and aesthetical value are so obvious. But the values of profit-motive favor novelty (ergo newness) and disdain intangible values like history and aesthetics as sentimental. (Not that I expect things to be frozen in time. There's a difference between organic change and wholesale economic destruction, as I see played out all the time here in the obscure Midwest, where some people seem to want to root anything that's not brand-new in the name of progress, whether its used or not, whether its making money or not, whether people love it or not. More unsubstantiated rants to come, I'm sure).

Monday, October 03, 2005

"Perhaps we're asking the wrong questions."
-- from The Matrix

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Currently Listening: Reefer Madness, by Various Artists

One of my hobbies lately is de-sanitizing the past. Check out the Buzzola music compilations (on sex, drugs, booze, and general breaking of the law) from the 20s-50s. There's also the great resources at Something Weird video. (www.somethingweird.com). I've already lived to see the 80s falsified. The 90s are next.

Friday, October 21, 2005

More fun with linkage...
http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/RFID-ALA.htm
...and further analysis...
http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/FTC-RFIDTestimony.htm
Someday when we all have the Logan's Run chips in our hands, we'll remember the quaint old days.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Currently Reading: Despite Everything, by Aaron Cometbus

It's funny how I'm usually all hard-nosed about ethics but at the same time I totally admire graffiti artists and outlaws, people who do their thing despite the law. But part of it is the underlying, and not the form. For example, if there's a grey ugly dirty concrete wall on an abandoned building that's falling apart, somewhere in a field of weeds up to your neck, I don't really understand how it's vandalism to paint a beautiful, colorful mural on it. To me, the illegality makes no sense. How is it destructive to bust out the windows of a building that's been left abandoned for twenty years? At least the venting of aggression on an unused, unloved, inanimate thing serves a purpose for someone. Or squatting. How can it be wrong to use things for a useful purpose when no one else cared about them in the first place? (Sort of like how so many people only seem to care about people once they're dead. But that's another rant.)

The people with money are like jealous ex-boyfriends, who don't want the thing, and dumped it in the first place, but they don't want anyone else to have it either. Or like the people from other generations than mine who think certain behaviors or things are disrespectful. But someone of my generation has never heard that there's respect or disrespect attached. Like the flip-flop furor...the girls who met the president with the wrong shoes on. What the hell do shoes have to do with respect? Nothing! I understand that people come from another time, when maybe certain things did have meaning, and I can respect that. (Uh, different use of the same word, sorry). But to me, respect or disrespect are internal states. Lots of people can say the right thing and not mean it. And the misuse of a symbol (to one person's eye) may just mean that the symbol doesn't mean the same thing to another. Or it may mean that respect and disrespect have to be earned by one side and given by the other. Then both sides have a responsibility. Which they sometimes don't want.

Freedom for the individual! And accountability for the accountable. What a boring slogan. That'll never catch on.

(Later in the day)

Currently Listening: Authentic New Orleans Jazz Funeral, by Magnificent Seventh's Brass Band

How's this for great? I'm so glad somebody's put this online...
"The Anti-Sit Archives":
http://www.usemenow.com/web-log/archives/the_antisit/
I especially like the one that's a cross of spikes.
And this country pretends to be Xian.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

From Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities:

"The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequest contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to fulfill his function -- although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. His main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people." (p. 89-90, 93)

Obviously a good job for a librarian. Although, unfortunately, "Efficiency of public sidewalk characters declines drastically if too much burden is put upon them."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Reasons to distrust technology # 6,000,000:

My computer seems to have dropped dead with no advance warning, like a perfectly healthy person who suddenly has a massive heart attack. Only this is trapping all sorts of data inside. I've been emailing some of my documents to myself, and others are saved on disc ... but frankly, until I know if the stuff can be saved from my hard drive, I'm too nervous to bring the discs to the library to try out. If they don't work, or anything goes on, I will become hysterical in too public a place.

It SEEMS like books and CDs disappear in my apartment, but they actually don't evaporate into thin air. Data on a computer can. The words can just disappear, and the backups can fail, and it's gone forever.

And this is the way we truly want to go?

Of course, in my case, the computer has been a useful tool that allows for such easier editing. The thought of those people through the centuries who had to revise lengthy novels without cut and paste: unbelievable! And yet, with that convenience comes massive insecurity. My puny documents are probably no loss to anybody but me. But the big push for the panacea of digitization makes me nervous, because of that built-in insecurity factor.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Currently Reading: Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, by Peter M. Bracke

Another day, more yadda-yadda on the Patriot Act. Let's all enjoy our Constitutional freedoms while they're still there. Makes me want to stand on a soapbox somewhere and make a speech -- uh, no, I guess that wasn't allowed before. In theory, in the town where I live, we can't read our poetry in public places without those places having a "cabaret license." Of course, we do stuff like all that time. Sometimes we even advertise. I guess as long as poetry is considered a victimless crime, the law isn't being heavily enforced and I'm not considered a criminal. A group can't gather in a public place without a parade permit. Freedom of assembly? Freedom of speech? Freedom of religion?

And while we're talking about the war on terror, get out your old deck of Iraq playing cards, since they're starting to release people from it that they arrested with much fanfare and hoopla. (I guess Dr. Germ wasn't actually in the deck, but Mrs. Anthrax was. I remember my sister saying they all sounded like Superman villains). The accompanying news report says that the U.S. has no authority over Saddam Hussein now that he's in Iraqui custody. What will happen to the war on terror if he's found not guilty? How crazy would that be?

Normally I've given up on the national news because it makes me so depressed. It does seem like there is nothing to do but enjoy my bread and circuses. But if they're going to throw press conferences while I'm enjoying my morning coffee, they're going to force me to think. This isn't something anybody wants.

Hopefully I'll soon be back to my battles in the world of customer service.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Currently Listening: Soldier, by Iggy Pop

"Everybody oughtta love his job, and live his life, and keep his pride, indisputably happy with the one you love, with an exciting future on the fat of the land. I want more than an ordinary grind..." -- Iggy

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Currently Reading: Must You Conform? by Robert Mitchell Lindner

The answer to that question is ... NO!

Published in 1956 by the psychologist who coined the term "Rebel Without a Cause," this book predicts that the post-war pressure to conform would lead to an epidemic of psychopathic behavior. Why? Because he believed it is actually impossible for people to conform and not have rebellious impulses, and the attempt to do so can only lead to psychological damage to the person and society.

Interesting note ... some people believe that Lindner was the therapist of Paul Linebarger, a.k.a. science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith. Since Linebarger was an expert on psychological warfare, it certainly would have made for an interesting meeting of the minds.

Which parts of yesterday actually happened?

I dreamed that I was planning to meet a group of friends to go out...I think for someone's birthday. The first odd thing is, there were about four of us, and I didn't recognize anybody from real life in any way. Suddenly it occurs to me: where do I get the templates from for fully consistent, completely 3-D people that don't exist? One of those reasons why some people and some cultures have taken their dreams so seriously...

The other thing is that we were gathering in a convenience store. Pretty much an ordinary convenience store. But then over on one side, it opened into a nice coffee shop, where some apparently acclaimed (but again, non-existent) artist did a whole slide show about his art. Both paintings and glasswork. His daughter was there, and she was really pissed off about various mishaps with the advertising and the venue; fortunately, I wasn't putting it on or anything.

During the talk, mention was made of an exhibit at a large gallery that had been on the Main Street of the real town where I live. In my dream, I had a whole complex memory of having gone to this place many, many times. Even in the dream, I knew it wasn't there anymore, but I didn't remember what happened to it or when.

That was the point when I knew I was dreaming. But I couldn't believe my memories were so wrong, so I started jotting down every specific thing I remembered about this place, to look it up on the Internet when I woke up.

When the alarm went off, the only thing I retained was that there'd been an exhibit called "The Spirit Made Flesh" (which would have been no help at all). Not that I needed my notes, because my first real thought on waking was: there was never any gallery on that stretch of street, much less one that big! What was I thinking?

The shows I saw there that never happened were pretty cool, though.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Vampires in Mayberry

The Vampire (1957)
The Return of Dracula (1958)

The Return of Dracula shouldn't be confused with 1944's The Return of the Vampire. That one starred Bela Lugosi as "Armand Tesla;" the one I'm talking about stars Francis Lederer as Dracula, who's disguised as an expatriate artist named Bellac Gordal. If you think that's confusing, you should try to do research on a movie when all you know about it is the title The Vampire. On the IMDB, there are three "exact matches," none of them right, and 337 partial matches to wade through. Its alternate title was Mark of the Vampire -- also the title of Lugosi and Tod Browning's 1935 follow-up to the original Dracula, so that's not exactly helpful either.

The two movies in question, both written by Pat Fiedler and directed by Paul Landres, place vampire mythology and imagery in the context of wholesome, small-town Americana: I've described them to various people as "vampires in Mayberry." (Oddly, that's before I discovered that the clean-cut family in Return is actually named Mayberry). A similar theme also turns up in a segment of the British horror anthology Dr. Terror's House of Horror, a movie I've always admired because it takes place on a train, and not in any kind of building. The "house" is a metaphor for Peter Cushing's Tarot deck. It makes no sense, but they stick with it.

At any rate, as a kid in a sleepy Minnesota town, I remember seeing an unknown movie along this line, and was impressed by the idea of vampires turning up not only in distant Transylvanian castles, but right in the everyday world. Since the films have been released as one of the MGM "Midnite Movies" discs, I watched them as a double feature, and now I'm fairly confident that I saw at least part of The Vampire. The scene in which the doctor goes to the Hideaway supper club, after which his nurse gets chased down a shadowy street, definitely had a creepy familiarity.

The Vampire tells the more reality-based tale, of a kindly small-town doctor who accidentally takes an experimental drug, synthesized from vampire bats, that causes a regression to a Mr. Hyde-like primitive state. When he bites his victims on the neck, they're infected with a rare virus that causes complete "cellular disintegration." As if that weren't bad enough, the drug is habit-forming, so we see an early example of the vampirism-as-addiction metaphor that would later become so popular.

The Return of Dracula opens with a delightful narrative about how the existence of the famous vampire is "a known fact!" A group of vampire hunters in stylish new cars work undercover as faux immigration officials, tracking Dracula to the California town where he's living under a stolen identity with an all-American family. Vampire elements more traditional than the ones in The Vampire are grafted onto a Shadow of a Doubt-like storyline, with a teenage girl's hero-worship for her eccentric relative. Sadly, though, the filmmakers pull all the punches that Hitchcock didn't.

I didn't recognize Lederer from his role in the all-time classic Pandora's Box, but it was a thrill to make the connection. At first glance, I thought he looked rather Harry Dean Stanton-ish. That turned out to be a fleeting impression, but still: wouldn't Stanton be a great vampire? Also, the movie doesn't make much of it, but it's implied that the real cousin Bellac was leaving a Communist country for the U.S., where he could practice his art without government interference. Even though he's the first victim (and at the fangs of a count, no less -- a remnant of the old aristocracy), he's still circuitously reponsible for the entry of the old-world horror into the pleasant small town. I can't help seeing a little Cold War subtext about how even Eastern Europe's refugees weren't to be trusted, but then, we former English majors have a tendency to read things in.

While both movies are entertaining in a lazy, overcast Sunday kind of way (one of my favorite horror-watching moods), I have to give first place to The Vampire. The shiny happy cast of Return of Dracula can't really compete with the oddball supporting characters from The Vampire, such as the anti-social grad student described as "phlegmatic, but seething inside" by the guy who supplies the research grants. And for sheer scariness, the over-arching theme of safe small town menaced by a threat from without pales next to the threat of the the menace from within. In The Vampire, a trivial mistake leads to tragedy, and the monster turns out to be someone everyone knows and trusts. Even worse, it offers the possibility that, like the doctor, other decent people can turn into monsters themselves, if they're unlucky enough.

Fun with Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe

That's the book I finished over the weekend, edited by Edward Peters.

There were all sorts of interesting tidbits, but this is my favorite heretical peasant belief, for many reasons, all obvious:

"The souls of the dead do not eat, but they do drink good wine and warm themselves at fires. The wine is not, however, diminished by their drinking it." (p. 258; from "The Inquisitorial Register of Jacques Fournier," compiled between 1318-1325).

Then there was this accusation against the Cathars, written about 970: "Do you see, brothers, how thoroughly damned they are, rejecting holy baptism and feeling an aversion to baptized children? If it happens to them by chance to see a child they shrink from it as from a bad smell." (p. 114) Ha ha ha!

As I finished the book, it occured to me that, according to the medieval authorities, I'd guess that every Christian existing on the planet, including the Catholics, would be considered heretics. And therefore totally burnable. That's progress!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sheepish mocking of the faithful, part one billion

There's an article in the paper today about a local Bible and Prophecy Conference (http://www.in-forum.com/articles/index.cfm?id=197715&section=news). If you think my subject line is corny, their headline is "Devout Flock to Conference," so I'm in good company with the professionals.

Apparently, the main crux of the gathering is that Christians today aren't enough about the Bible. Hey, I go to church every Sunday, and it's Bible, Bible, Bible! And this is a fairly liberal mainstream congregation. Still, that's anecdotal evidence. Here are some lines from the article: a participant praises churches when “They stick with the Bible and only the Bible." They disapprove of the fact that "nonbiblical practices are being allowed to come into the church," and that there is "a deviance from the Bible as the guide for the faith."

They say this like it's so simple, and easy to know what's "biblical," and what that means. Look at the Ten Commandments: a teeny little portion of the Bible, but one of the few things that is actually labeled as unambiguous word of God. (All that requires a lot of assumptions to be made, falling under the category of "begging the question," but never mind. Let's posit for argument that we believe in this God and His supernatural powers, and that Moses got this stuff directly from him).

That's just the freaking beginning! Every bit of it is subject to interpretation. Thou shalt not kill: kill what? Whom? When? Under what circumstances? How is that squared with the OT (Old Testament) God who was ordering his followers to kill, in war and for punishment, in the same book?

And that's just a handful of verses. The Bible is a huge, complex collection of diverse writings with diverse viewpoints compiled over uncountable years and subject to a large amount of political manipulation.

Just to be difficult, I'm including a link to the Conference's "Statement of Faith": http://www.titus213hope.com/statement_of_faith.htm

There really isn't anything here that can be clearly and unambiguously pointed to in the Bible, which I'd be totally cool with, but they're the ones saying they're so totally grounded in the Bible. Their beliefs can be supported by a verse here or a section there (especially when you start interpreting end times prophecy, or life-after-death stuff, or even that "personal Jesus" business we're so used to hearing about was a late interpretation that someone came up millennia after the fact. A lot of the early forms of Christianity that got stamped out, and a lot of the medieval heresies, had beliefs more biblically based than these ones.

By the way, I'm reading June McDaniel's Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal (you know, because), and came across this line last night: "There is no Bengali or Sanskrit word for sect or denomination." Right up my alley. And a very peculiar alley it is, I always say...

Listening to: the Ram Jaane soundtrack. Pump up the Bhangra!! (Of course, "Ram Jaane" is translated as "God Knows," so my soundtrack is more appropriate than I realized when I sat down this morning).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Stocking up for the Fahrenheit 451 days

Huh. The "Listening to/reading/watching" function on my MySpace blog hasn't been working, and this morning it just disappeared. So, for the record: I'm reading a book on poems about Kali (my favorite so far is one by a devotee who's a little disturbed by the necklaces of human heads and over-all blood-spattered look, so she suggests a makeover for the goddess: "What harm would be in it?"); yesterday I watched the first half of Paheli (a folk love tale, partly told by haunted puppets, seriously) and a couple episodes of Dexter (OMG, the plot twists!). Right now I'm listening to the soundtrack for The Last King of Scotland, which I haven't seen, but the music is fine.

But there is a spot to enter a podcast enclosure. Nothing against the technology: my problem it with the label. Why do people keep using the word "pod" so egregiously? Haven't they ever seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers? It's been remade multiple times for everyone's convenience. I once worked at a place where they tried to re-name the "teams" or "units" as "pods." And I was all like, forgive them for they know not what they do.

It was especially funny because a few of us called the company "the Borg Collective" in private...

Anyway, in other dystopian news, I noticed that the book Privacy Lost: How Technology is Endangering Your Privacy is available on the Kindle. A device which more or less watches directly over your shoulder as you read and stores your notes, your bookmarks, your page-turning history on their server. It's probably all fine, except for the part in the Terms of Service that always give me pause "Amazon reserves the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right."

So if they go bankrupt, all the books you've "bought" could disappear, and it's officially not their problem. They also reserve the right to change their privacy policy at any time. Right now it states that "Information about our customers is an important part of our business, and we are not in the business of selling it to others." I read a forum where someone pointed out that nothing says they won't get in the business of selling it at some point, or doing whatever the hell they want with it.

Of course, I'm way more concerned with the possibility that they'll "upgrade" or change platforms, and the content on the device won't be transferable. Still, there is a nice parallelism in the fact that while some people there are trying to spy on what we read (maybe not Amazon, but some people), here I'm trying to share that same information with the world, and the handy link has disappeared off MySpace. Curious.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ah, the Middle Ages! When love always ended with an execution...

Midway through the laziest Sunday I've had maybe EVER-- which included both blowing off laundry and falling asleep on the couch before 2 p.m. -- I woke myself up with another pot of coffee and Mughal-E-Azam, a super-lavish historical epic from 1960. Quick realization: it's easier to tolerate colorization when you've never seen the original black and white movie. If you know, it tends to jar and seem wrong. But if you never knew...

Personally, I spent so much time oohing and aahing over the incredible set decoration and saying things like, "Oh my God, look at that door!" that I've had to create a new film category: Architectural Porn. I'd add the recent Bhool Bhulaiyaa's incredible haunted mansion, and of course Suspiria is an all-time hall-of-famer.

The plot of Mughal-E-Azam has been filmed a billion times as a quintessential tragic romance, based on real historical figures. The Great Moghal, Akbar, realizes the heir to the throne is growing soft and decadent as a young boy at court, so he sends him to war to make a man out of him. Once young Prince Salim has proven his mettle, he gets to come home, where he promptly falls in love with an unacceptable woman, and things end up tragically for everyone. Let's just say that Shakespeare obviously never heard this story, because it would have been right up his alley.

Early on, there were idle references to the evil eye, which can be a consequence of too much happiness or luckiness, and I couldn't help but think that Anarkali's story is kind of a cautionary tale about the evil eye. She's just a pretty dancing girl who agrees to pose as a living statue for a special event. That wins her the favor of the Emperor and a place at court. Her beauty catches the prince's eye, and before you know it, her entire life is ruined, although this version of the story elevates her and Salim as heroic figures, martyrs to love.

An aside on Anarkali: I really liked her characterization (as played by the lovely Madhubala). She's a modest, shy girl, who resists the prince's love because she understands her lowly place in her world. During the confrontation scenes, she quakes in front of the Emperor, and can't even look at him. But when she's singing and dancing, it makes her bold and forthright, even impudent and defiant. Her abilities give her a kind of power to stand up for herself that's harder to access when she's not on stage, which seems true enough.

Now I've got a bunch of other versions to watch for compare-and-contrasting, some with drastically different endings. (My subject line isn't really a spoiler, because people keep getting arrested and threatened with death, but there are various topsy-turvy plot turns, so I'm not really giving anything away). Someone needs to institute a movie-watching grant, which would pay me to, well, watch movies. Hey, I took more pointless classes in college...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bh is for Bhoot

Being back at work is vair, vair tiring, and I've fallen way behind in my movie-watching. The DVDs are stacking up, mocking me. As they so often do. But last night I got to watching Ghungroo Ki Awaz, the tale of a hapless guy haunted by a vengeful ghost in a pair of jingly anklets.

This is the THIRD Bollywood movie I've seen that involved an evil uncle plotting to take over a nephew's inheritance (sometimes accomplished through murder, but usually, as in this film, by an attempt to drive him crazy). The weird thing isn't the repetition of plot ideas, because it's not like I grew up with Hollywood movies that were a hotbed of originality. But while this particular storyline is unusual in Hollywood, it would be right at home in the 18th-century Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe and her imitators.

A case could be made (by those of a literal-critical bent) that, in a society more overtly devoted to the strength of family relationships (both emotionally and legally), the scary stories would largely involve threats from within the family circle, because that's where the real possibility of danger would arise. This is a big theme in the British Gothic, all the way up to the time of Wilkie Collins: one frequently finds powerful elders abusing their authority.

But of course, in the Gothic novel, it was usually a young woman in the position the film protagonists find themselves in. I don't have a real theory on that yet, but I'm bound to eventually...

Also, BTW, "hero" Vinjay Anand has a definite resemblance to Geoffrey Rush at certain angles, which had me screaming "Remake!"

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Disco Prophecy

The time has come when I have to send back my Infamous Library Loan, the Albert Goldman Disco book that mostly sells on Amazon in the multi-hundred-dollar range. And, I mean, I can see why: it's full of over-saturated color photos with bubble captions flung on them that say things like "Peel That Wheel" and "Disco Orgy." I'm sure the vast majority of the book's copies were cut up for various purposes over the years.

Here's a sample, from a section called "Ball the Wall," dealing with disco's notorious narcissistic quality:

"Everybody sees himself as a star today. This is both a cliche and a profound truth. Thousands of young men and women have the looks, the clothes, the hairstyling, the drugs, the personal magnetism, the self-confidence, and the history of conquest that proclaim a star. The one thing they lack -- talent -- is precisely what is most lacking in those other, nearly identical, young people, whom the world has acclaimed as stars. Never in the history of the world has the gap between amateur and professional been so small. And never in the history of the world has there been such a rage for exhibitionism. The question is, therefore, what are we going to do with all these beautiful show-offs? Disco provides the best answer to date."

-- Goldman, Albert. Disco. New York, Shprtizgun Productions: 1978 (11).

Thirty years on, I'll let that speak for itself...