Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Merry Christmas Affair

Some of my fondest Christmas memories are of the years my sister and I were in college. We both had breaks at the same time, as did my nephew (then in the kindergarten/1st grade range), so we could all pack up and go together to our parents' house in our old hometown, for as long as the university gave us. That meant a lot of cookie baking by day, cable TV by night (exemplified by this clip from USA Up All Night), and putting whipping cream in my coffee instead of milk. Oh, the luxury and decadence!

One of those years, one of the cable channels was showing The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a show which, along with the original Star Trek and the campy Batman series, obviously had an undue effect on my aesthetic at an early age.


Look at those go-go boots! Then there's this shimmery gold number, with matching gold belt and boots, completely upstaged by the thought: "What's the deal with her bra?"


Since the show was canceled shortly after my fourth birthday, I really didn't remember it except in the vaguest way, so the mid-to-late '80s was really my introduction to the wonderful world of '60s spycraft.

The box set just came out, and it's 105 episodes, so it'll take me a while to digest. So far I've watched the first two (black and white) episodes, plus a voodoo episode, a "discotecque" episode, and a thuggee cult episode, choices which should surprise no one. All of them are titled "The Something or Other Affair," so, for example, the voodoo one is "The Very Important Zombie Affair."

Forty years later, seeing those first episodes finally explained the show's title. I always wondered why it was The Man From, when it should have been The Men From -- being the adventures of American agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and his partner, Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). Although second-billed, Illya barely had cameos in the early shows. The show was originally even going to be called Solo (and by the way, it's no surprise that Ian Fleming himself came up with that crazy name for Vaughn's character).

It's a good thing they changed that, since McCallum is much the cuter, although neither of them is exactly painful on the eyes.

The first, Solo-centric season is more of a straightforward spy drama. By the second, with two leads, the show can get quippier and more fun. Napoleon is humorously smug, and prone to giving the bad guy looks like he can't believe their stupidity. Illya takes a more detached approach to proceedings, and makes sardonic comments like "It's amazing how quickly a girl can take her clothes off, and how long it takes to put them on again."

Then there's the bad guys:


He looks more like a wrestler from a Santo movie than a Papa Doc-eque Caribbean dictator.

A very interesting aspect of the show is its all-pervading air of casual paranoia. The aw-shucks good-old-boy who grew up on the farm down the road in Iowa (played by Slim Pickens!) is secretly spearheading an elaborate, atom-powered conspiracy to overthrow a Central American government. Cleaning services smuggle explosives in vacuum cleaner bags. The dopey nightclub DJ, egging on the most uncoordinated go-go dancers I've ever seen (a little reminiscent of Disco Godfather, oddly enough), is really a secret agent who'll kill anyone with a look from his boss.
Any small shop could be a front for U.N.C.L.E. or their nemesis organization, T.H.R.U.S.H. People even live in the apartments around the tailor shop that serves as U.N.C.L.E.'s entrance, and one of them starts to bring unwanted attention on the secret organization when they raise the rent to cover renovation costs -- ha!

At the same time, unlike more contemporary spy shows like La Femme Nikita or MI-5 (a.k.a. Spooks), the U.N.C.L.E. agents never seem to doubt the rightness of what they're doing, or what side they're on. They have a strong moral certainty, despite acknowledging they're in a world where nobody can really be trusted.

So if you'll excuse me, time to put some egg nog in my coffee and continue enjoying the pleasures of a "Voodoo-a-Go-Go" Christmas...

See the Mice in Their Million Hordes

Life on Mars (the original British version) is not only a fantastic series, with the depth and complexity of a good novel, but it's one of the few places where my extensive, instinctive knowledge of old David Bowie songs is actually relevant! When a character says in conversation that some people walk around in a "sunken dream," I know immediately that it's a quote from the title track, a song I've always loved, since there are so few musical tributes to us girls with mousy hair.

It's also a very meta choice for a title tune, since the lyrics go "Take a look at the lawman / Beating up the wrong guy / Oh man, I wonder if he'll ever know / He's in the best-selling show/ Is There Life on Mars?" I'm not sure who the wrong guy he's beating up is, though -- apart from, sometimes, himself.

We'll get back to the song later, but for the record (no pun intended), it's from the album Hunky Dory, possibly my favorite Bowie album. The most serious contender for the title is Scary Monsters -- oddly enough, the source of the "Ashes to Ashes" song that will give its name to the Life on Mars sequel. I'm clearly on a wavelength with somebody.

Life on Mars is the mind-bendy, time-twisty tale of police inspector Sam Tyler, who is hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. He has the same name, but a new car, a new ID, and transfer papers from the more "modern" unit in Hyde (and it took me annoyingly long to think that there may be a "Jekyll and" identity tidbit in that name) to an unscientific unit run on instinct and machismo. Having seen star John Simm play the villainous Master (brilliantly) on the new Doctor Who, the line "that either makes me a time-traveller or a lunatic" made me yell at the TV: "Or both!"

Simm, by the way, looks so effortlessly cool in the role that there was a point in literally every episode that made me say, "Ohh, I need to get a new leather jacket." It's the same one throughout the series: not motorcycle black leather, but more a narrow, almost blazer-like cut. The kind of black leather that isn't trying too hard.

Anyway. It's not giving anything away to say that most of the series supports the Coma Theory of events, since that's the primary conclusion Sam comes to in the first episode. That is, that Sam's in a coma in the future, populating his mental landscape with metaphorical figures, and what happens to him is all a symbolic representation of his mental state. It's literally all in his mind.

If that's correct, then the actual events that take place within the show are all metaphorical. Which is kind of twisty-bendy, since the show is metaphorical outside itself, the way something like The Matrix is -- working as a metaphor for the human condition. What's real? How do we know? What does it all mean? How do we cope with the uncertainty of it all?

For one thing, most people don't really believe their co-workers are literally figments of their imagination, but a certain practical, everday solipsism isn't uncommon. We don't really register the reality of all the people outside ourselves; after all, there's millions of them. We can know it intellectually, but at the end of the day, most of us are concerned with our own reality and our own perceptions, and we act as if we know they're true. So to some degree Sam's dilemma parallels our own relationship to the larger world around us.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Sam is mostly convinced that he's in a coma, and none of what seems like his everyday life is real, that belief doesn't help when, say, an innocent person gets murdered. He still cares about what's happening, and despite the uncertainty about whether it's real, he still thinks it matters. And after all, as long as there's the slightest chance that his reality may be real, he has to commit to it in his actions and his concern, which he can give regardless of whether he thinks it's ultimately real. (For "real," one could almost substitute "meaningful.") He never blows things off, or even thinks his ethical concerns are insignificant, on the basis that none of it is real, or think that because it's all like a dream, he can do whatever he wants.

Tangent: this raised a question in my mind throughout the series. How much is the Sam personality in the show the same as the "real" Sam, who may be in a coma? If it's a mental projection, is it himself as he really is, or as he sees himself, which may be more what he'd like to be? Especially in regards to his sort of self-righteous, highly ethical qualities, which the show continually contrasts with his boss Gene Hunt's tough-talking, quick-fisted, "whatever gets the job done" attitude. The emphasis on this contrast between the two men and their different styles of policing has two interesting possibilities:

-- Maybe Sam isn't really as successfully ethical as he likes to think he is. Because his mental self-image is so strait-laced, it's obvious that he really believes, for examples, that the ends don't ultimately justify the means. But the negative results (lack of respect for the police and thus the forces of law and order; deals with the devil eroding the individual's value system; etc.) are all long-term, and the possible short-hand benefits (solving a crime, making powerful allies, putting a dangerous criminal away) are sometimes enticing. It's possible that there are times he's compromised his beliefs, or done the expedient thing to either play the game, or get results. A sense of guilt, deeply internalized, since his conscious belief is in himself as an ethical person, could create the symbolic character of Gene, who argues the point with him.

-- Conversely, if the real Sam were as ethical and strait-laced as his dream persona, he could still feel frustrated and hampered by circumstances, even while accepting the necessity for the higher moral ground. Deep down, though, he might wish he could take more direct or intuitive action, so that, when faced with crimes committed by terrible people, he need not worry about the letter of the law himself. If Gene is actually a part of his own self, then their interaction could be a process of Sam finding out who he really is, even the aspects that he keeps buried, which his conscious self would deny.

Now that I've seen the whole series (two seaons, sixteen episodes), I can't say that this has been conclusively resolved. (Spoilers ahead, ye be warned!) Fortunately, the ending didn't feel like a cop-out, because the themes (How do we know who we are? How do we know what's real?) have been explored so intelligently, and because Sam emotionally reaches what felt like a satisfying resolution. (scroll a bit for spoilers)



Let the Spoilers Begin!

Toward the end, when Gene is labeled as a symbol of a tumor that could kill Sam in the present day, that just doesn't seem right, because Gene, despite his occasional brutality, clearly isn't all bad. He's more a representative of the gut instinct, the animal appetites, the visceral experience of life, as opposed to the cerebral and abstract. As in life, those instincts and appetites can lead to things that are not healthy or morally defendable. But in the Coma Theory, Gene can easily be seen to represent the impulses that are keeping Sam alive. Sam himself, or at least the Sam who seems to be living in 1973, is the cerebral, logical side: if he's in a coma, his body is completely shut down, so in effect he's nothing but brain.

The series seems, for the most part, to suggest in the end that Sam is now actually dead. The reality of 2006 has been affirmed throughout the show by extra-textual details, like the accurate information Sam has about the present (Tony Blair, etc), which supports the Coma Theory, and the idea that 1973 is the mental projection, not the other way around. (More on that in a sec). We also hear the voice that we think belongs to his doctor, saying that they're losing him.

In this way, the ending implies that Sam's return to 1973 is in the nature of an afterlife. However, throughout the series, 2006 actually has had more the nature of an afterlife: it's a place he believes in, and gets glimmers of, but it's less "real" than 1973, which is where his actual physical present is. When dealing with crime, Sam's logical, by-the-book self is all about the evidence, and yet, he has no evidence to back up his belief about what has happened to him. Even if his belief were true, the only evidence of it he can ever get is if he wakes up from his coma. But if that happens, the only evidence he'll have is because it's happened, and he won't be able to prove the ultimate "reality" of the real world. Because the supposedly "unreal" world of 1973 felt just as real at the time. In the end, perhaps there's only so far reason can take us, and at that point, we have to go with our feelings (both physical and emotional).

It can of course be argued that, in the end, that's what happens: he wakes up from his coma, and no longer can tell the difference between the "real" world and what's in his head, so he makes a decision based on what he wants -- no longer trying to know what's real, but choosing to decide what he's going to treat as real.

The last episode sets up an equally plausible alternative to the Coma Theory: the Undercover Amnesia Theory. In this version, 1973 is actually what's real, and Sam is hallucinating his memories of the future, along with the communications he's been receiving, due to brain damage from his accident. If this theory is correct, then he's making the choice to commit to the only reality he can feel and touch, or has any empirical evidence of, rather than continually striving for a return to an idealized "home," the existence of which he can do nothing to prove. In effect, choosing to believe that his everyday existence is real, and that the other people in it are real and meaningful.

Either way, the ending feels (there's that word again!) more like an integration, in which Sam is finally reconciles the different aspects of himself. If the different characters and their lives are all playing out on a symbolic level inside his brain, it seems to have left him with a healthier internal landscape than he started with. Particularly in that the Sam we see at the end hasn't capitulated to the Gene Hunt way of seeing the world. Sam is still arguing for his vision of a more rational and more ethical future. Instead of escaping his present physical reality, he's working to improve the reality he's in. But while he's doing it, the two men are both together in the front seat, arguing, good-naturedly, in a sense about instinct versus intellect, body versus mind. The characters, or personas if you will, who symbolize these apparently contrasting elements are working side by side, equally important.

So I can't say in the end what it all means, and I'm sure the sequel will make a mess of my theories, and (hopefully) give me new ones. As Bowie said in "The Bewlay Brothers," also from Hunky Dory: "We were so turned on/By your lack of conclusions."

Oh, speaking of: I was going to say some more about the "Life on Mars?" song (the song title ends with a question mark). Like most of Hunky Dory, it's an odd thing. A girl gets kicked out of her house, wanders aimlessly, and goes to the movies, but this minimal story contains a lot of lyrical weirdness (mice in their million hordes, for one thing). It depicts a bleak, colorless existence, enlivened only by her becoming "hooked to the silver screen." But then, "The film is a saddening bore/'Cause she's lived it ten times or more."

The storyline has a recursive feel: her life seems alienated and numb (as she walks through that "sunken dream" we heard about before), as if it's not real. But when she watches the movie, to escape, it's really about her, and about other people who don't know that they're in the movie, maybe the same way she doesn't know she's in the movie. I know, I'm rambling, but it's that kind of song. The point seems to be that she attempts to escape her reality, but in doing so, it only highlights how she views her reality through a filter of unreality, when she's really starring in the movie of her own life. She doesn't realize it, so she views herself and her everyday life as insignificant.

The other intriguing bit is the recurring chorus, where "they" -- presumably the makers of the movie, whoever they are (which I can't answer, since I don't know if we're really talking the media, or a metaphor for existence, and thus fate? God? Chance?) -- "ask her to focus on" images of violence. That includes the lawman beating up the wrong guy, as well as the "sailors fighting in the dancehall." Reminds me of the words of that other famous British philosopher, the Streets: "Geezers need excitement. If their lives don't provide them this they incite violent. It's common sense. Simple common sense." People need to feel things. So for better or worse, entertainment that focuses on violent, visceral experience can make some people, who are otherwise as alienated and numb as that girl with the mousy hair, feel more alive.

One other song off Hunky Dory has a real hardcore Life on Mars feel. It's a cheerful ditty called "Fill Your Heart." If I could put together a Life on Mars fan video, I'd totally use it. At that point in his career (1971), Bowie was beginning to hone his upcoming oddball space alien persona, but his voice still largely sounded young, earnest, and slightly folky. It's a weird mix. The song starts like this: "Fill your heart with love today/Don't play the game of time/Things that happened in the past/Only happened in your mind/Only your mind/So forget your mind/And you'll be free."

(Spoilers! O, the Spoilers!) At the "You'll be freeeee" part, it would be totally perfect to show the part where he jumps off the roof.

One more quick footnote: besides his time on Doctor Who, John Simm played New Order frontman Bernard Sumner in that 24 Hour Party People movie! He even sang along with the chorus of "Digital" with them onstage, which made me ridiculously excited to discover. I thought I was an odd person when I went from Doctor Who to Joy Division, but everything comes around in the end. What rises must converge, etc. Check out the video here. "Day in! Day out! Day in! Day out!"

And here he is singing "Blue Monday" in a deleted scene. I love it when the worlds collide.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Snake Pit

Just how many unsubtitled VCDs with the word "Naag" or "Nagin" in the title would it be reasonable to purchase? How about, as many as Induna had in stock? That's perfectly reasonable, right? Especially considering that they were about a dollar apiece. Yeah. Sure! After all, we're friends on Facebook. Gotta support them.

Actually, it's all the fault of Deewani for Bollywood. She sent me this trailer for a movie called Wahan Ke Log, which forced me to go to Induna, and then while I was there...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sit Down und Eat!

If the professional media would do their jobs better, I'd see somebody saying what needed to be said, and I could keep my mind on happier subjects. Grrr. I may start a new feature about how this world needs people to talk sensibly and stop muddying the waters, and then I can sprout it off so everyone can ignore it more easily.

My day started with some research after Brittany Murphy's death. Because you want to know who else died at 32 of cardiac arrest? Karen Carpenter, the woman who inadvertently put anorexia on the map. Here's one of those cases where we probably won't have any trustworthy information until the print accounts come out, but the sources I've seen put Murphy at 5'5" and 105 pounds. Whatever other factors might be involved, that is just plain too skinny.

Once I got started, I was disturbed at how hard it is to find helpful info about healthy weight. If you look online for the health risks of being underweight, there's a sea of incomprehension, summarized generally as "OMG, how can being skinny be bad for you? That's not possible!"

This is the blurb about underweightness that I don't feel bad re-printing, since I came across it on a half-dozen health sites before I gave up looking for something more substantial in that direction:

"There are a number of reasons why someone may be underweight. Some people are just naturally thinner than others, because they tend to burn more calories or eat less. Other people may lose weight as a result of certain medications or an underlying medical condition. Sudden weight loss without trying can also be an indication of a health problem, so talk to your doctor.

"For some people, being too thin is a self-induced condition, known as anorexia nervosa. Anorexia is a condition where sufferers may diet to the point of near-starvation or exercise excessively all in the name of weight control. Though anorexia is a psychological illness, it can have serious physical complications, including heart and lung problems, osteoporosis, and, in some cases, death."

See what they're doing there? On the one hand, you're either just naturally skinny, or it's a medical condition. On the other, you have an extreme, clinically diagnosable mental disorder. Nothing about otherwise healthy people who DON'T FREAKING EAT. Many girls, and under-reported boys, are too thin, frequently because they're on dangerous diets and/or exercise regimens, without being close to technically anorexic (as I also know from my adventures in insurance, where all eating disorders are diagnoses with specific criteria).

If you search for the health risks of anorexia, you do find all sorts of information about the dangers, including to the heart, and the particular danger of cardiac arrest.

The problem here is that it's not the existence of an eating disorder as such that causes the health problem. It's not your self-image or your constellation of symptoms. It is the simple fact of not taking in enough nutrients to fuel the system, which is very dangerous for your health, especially over time. I wish the media would stop talking about anorexia and eating disorders and use some plain language for once: it is dangerous to be TOO SKINNY. Your heart doesn't care why you're too skinny. It doesn't know. It's just trying to work with what it has coming in, and if that isn't enough, there's too much stress on it.

Oddly enough, Kareena Kapoor, of the infamous "Size Zero," is also 32. I've found various sources for her weight, and the highest number I saw was 92 pounds. I've tested various healthy weight for height charts, and the lowest healthy weight I've seen for a small-framed woman of 5'4" is 111 pounds, although even Weight Watchers, who I'd assume would have different standards from mine, suggests 117. Get healthier, Bebo, before it's too late!

Full disclosure: yes, I'm a little vehement about this, because I know. I'm small-framed, of a nervous, high-metabolism temperament, and when I was skinny, I knew I was too skinny. I've never dieted a day in my life. Under no criteria could I have been considered anorexic, or diagnosable with an "eating disorder." I was just broke, and I wasn't making it a priority to take care of myself. And I didn't realize that the skinnier you are, the less margin there is. (Which all these skinny dieting girls don't either: skipping meals when you have a little padding is one thing, but skipping them when you're barely taking in enough to function in the first place is totally different).

I'm 5'6" and into my mid-twenties, I weighed about 95 pounds. I would wake up at night, and my heart would be racing, for no reason at all. It was very unhealthy, and I did not look good. People thought I looked sick. I am a million times better off with some meat on my bones.

I've made myself hungry, so yes! Time for bagel...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Is fun evil?"

Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973)

(cross-posted from my side project at Haunted Vinyl)

Never has a movie gotten so much publicity from being banned by the Catholic Legion of Decency. For years, horror movie magazines advertised VHS copies of this movie by trumpeting that fact, as if its makers had been persecuted by a Vatican conspiracy, and that's why no one had ever heard of it. Or, come to think of it, like being disapproved of by the church is particularly difficult. Most of the movies in my collection, pre-Bollywood, probably fall into that category. Interestingly, one can now check the lists, and I don't find any verifiable evidence that the Catholic Legion of Decency ever even heard of the film. (The archived reviews and ratings are available on line here). Still, the factoid still turns up on the Wikipedia. And I'm more than happy to be proved wrong, if someone has a citation for me.

Lemora has got a Poe-like title, a Lovecraftianly-named town (Astaroth), and one of the best never-released movie soundtracks ever. That bluegrass banjo "Paper Angel" song, by a group called the Black Whole -- and doesn't that sound like a '60s coffeeshop? -- would be worth the price of a CD all by itself. Then there's the creepy old-lady singing, and all the spookily sincere church music.

Cheryl (Rainbeaux) Smith stars as Lila Lee, a church-going young "Singin' Angel" who's constantly fending off unwanted advances, and whose loss of innocence is symbolized by a weird occult tale of vampires and feral werewolf ghoul creatures. She takes a dream-like bus trip to visit her dying gangster father, during which the bus is attacked by what appear to be deformed children. Then she's locked up by the stony-faced Lemora (Leslie Gilb, an otherwise unknown actress with a definite Sigourney Weaver quality), who tries to woo Lila into joining her in a vaguely depicted vampiric existence. She tempts her with wine and dance, asking that most important theological question, "Is fun evil?" Maybe, sometimes, and evil is sometimes fun, as it in her performance.

On the side, Lemora kills whatever of the "diseased" feral creatures she can catch as they roam in the countryside around her house. The cause of all this supernatural mayhem is unfortunately unclear, but my theory is that Lemora's very presence in this isolated small town is causing it, given her line of dialogue: "I don’t do anything. I only show people who they really are."

That throws a Swedenborgian cast on the story: the idea that angels and demons (no, not a Dan Brown reference!) are the inner selves of people made visible. My Swedenborg anthology isn't handy, and all the online resources are unfortunately too long-winded, so you'll have to take my word for it. Just this once.

Unfortunately, the story falls apart, as so many do. It develops into escapes and chases and slo-mo battles between the different supernatural parties, which would probably be more effective if we knew who they were and what it all meant. So at that point it starts to drag, and the conclusion lacks the punch it should have. Nonetheless, thanks to all the publicity, and the stylistic air of low-rent surrealism, it's one of the must-see cult horror films.

Rainbeaux, of course, went on to star in movies like The Swinging Cheerleaders and The Pom Pom Girls, where she specialized in slutty-but-sweet (not a value judgment: the whole point of these movies was overt sluttiness. It was, after all, the seventies). This was a very unusual role for her, and while her characterization is definitely on the blank-faced side, that's the role. Actually, it makes her look sort of stunned and unbelieving by events, which is perfectly reasonable. She also screams with real conviction. Sadly, Smith died at 47, and her son touchingly visits the IMDB occasionally to thank people for remembering her.

Since I can't find them anywhere else on the Internet, here are the lyrics to "Paper Angel." I can't be positive about a few words, since they're drowned out by the stagy tableau of Sin in the Big City that it plays behind (the sounds of bar brawls, a guy shouting "I'll teach you to fool around with my friends!" and so on). But I'm relatively confident.

She was holy and divine, and I wished that girl was mine
Her eyes they were the bluest of them all
But on that dark black day when she laughed and walked away
I knew she was a-headin' for a fall

She had lovely golden hair that would perfume up the air
I told that girl that one day we'd be wed
But she only laughed at me, I wasn't good enough, you see
And that is what this paper angel said

Well I saw her late last night, Oh God, she was a sight
All painted up and powdered like a whore
And I knew that wife of mine is the one that's so divine
And there ain't no paper angel anymore

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Font of Nonsensical

The other day, one of our major filmi gurus, Beth, posted a hilarious review of Rafoo Chakkar, tranforming it in a moment from "Never heard of it" to "Must see, must see, must see!" After watching the film, all I have to add is "Yes, you must see!" And also a quick word about fonts.

A few weeks ago I read a book called Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture, by architecture critic Alan Hess. The faux space age style, with its famous "futuristic" boomerang and kidney-shaped signs and letters, is freqently called "Googie," the name of a well-known coffee shop that was one of the earliest to use it. There's a site with a good overview here.

Imagine my surprise on popping in the Rafoo Chakkar DVD and discovering this:


Causing me to cry out "It's Googie!" Like I'm not speaking in tongues enough already. Nonetheless, it is true: this may be the single Googie-est font I have ever seen. In fact, it looks like it belongs on a sign that would hang outside the Rishi Kapoor Tiki Bar, if only there were such a place. Just imagine the floorshows!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Vanishing Hitchhiker

Woh Kaun Thi? (1964)

The temperature is actually warmer than it's been, but looking outside, the world is still bleak and frosty and white. Inside, I'm chilly and flu-ish. I wasn't happy to see that the movie I picked to watch, more or less at random, contained an opening "thank you" to the Simla Ice Skating Club, but I stuck with it.

The movie takes a more promising turn when Manoj Kumar picks up a girl by the side of the road on a rainy night. She's strange, but in a way I can relate to.



Then she asks him to drop her off at the gates of the cemetery, where she mysteriously disappears.



Just like the course on Urban Legends I took in grad school. Resurrection Mary, Hindi film style!

After a recital of these events wins the coveted cry of "Bhoot!" from an old lady, the story settles down into Dr. Manoj Kumar's love life. He seems engaged-to-be-engaged to peppy Seema (Helen, who shines in her brief role, despite an unusually conventional wardrobe), while the boss's daughter, fellow doctor Lata, is clearly pining over him. When Seema drops dead of a cyanide injection (I was really hoping it would be a "spurious" one, but apparently not), suspicion clouds the gaggle of doctors.

This is all mostly forgotten, though, after he sees the ghost girl again, already dead when he arrives at a deserted mansion to treat her, and yet again, when he unveils her on the night of their arranged marriage. Much angst and suspicion ensue. More surprising is that Manoj's million dollar inheritance, mentioned in the first fifteen minutes or so, is also completely forgotten in the midst of these domestic woes.

Eventually, the cast decamps to Simla (aha!), hoping the rest will sooth his strained nerves, although cavorting on ice skates would not have that effect on me. Curse those weak ankles! While there, the comic servants discuss the ways of bhoots at some length: time means nothing to them; they don't need to wear winter clothes, which would be very handy; they generally do their singing between 1 and 3 am; and they like to sing film songs. After all, why should the dead be any different from the rest of us?

Saner people than me (hi, Memsaab!) have pointed out that this is a slow-moving story, Manoj is pretty dull, and the "mystery" is perfectly obvious. But frankly, some days all I want is a shadowy house full of cobwebs, misty cemeteries, organ music tinged with wind effects, and sinister holy men. Let's just say I've watched worse things on a gloomy day. But please, the next time you marry a doppelganger, save yourself some turmoil and look into their family history.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Semi-obligatory year-end retrospective

I suspect I'm out of sync with reality, since I had a really good year, at the same time that the public face of the country has been freaking out about the economy, the flu, and everything else that's wrong with the world. It's true, I could have done without that whole flood business last spring, and there've been a few bobbles along the way. But mostly it's been great. Better to be off-kilter in this direction than I was in the '80s, when I struggled and starved whilst hearing continual propaganda about how rich we all were. Ha!

The highlights of 2009:

1. 10th anniversary. Tenth! I mean, I was boyfriendless for years! Decades! CENTURIES! Or, well, when I did have boyfriends, they really weren't worth mentioning. If I can wake one morning and find I've been happily married for ten freakin' years, then it actually, really is possible that anything can happen. The starriest of Bollywood and/or Hollywood romantic fantasies have got nothing on me.

2. Speaking of Bollywood (a familiar transition in my everyday life): Trip to Boston! My first flight, which beat the odds and went so smoothly, my return flight actually arrived home early. Someone knew I needed to be encouraged. Then, of course, meeting a bunch of crazy-awesome Bollywood writers, who I wish I could see every day. Plus, the fun of visiting Boston and Providence (with visit to Lovecraft's grave!), sightseeing and much eating of good food, on the side. I decided that I could easily spend about a month on the East Coast doing nothing but visiting churches and cemeteries. With eating of good food. If anyone knows of a grant opportunity to do that, suitable for someone with no particular credentials, let me know.

3. Wahinis Reunion Show! Several years ago, one of my best friends had a debilitating stroke. This year she got together with her garage rock band and performed for the first time since. I got to hang out with her, her Mom, my other best friend I rarely see, and a whole slew of hipsters I knew back in the old days. And when she sang, her voice was exactly the same. Impressive for someone who had to pretty much re-learn how to talk.

My goals for the upcoming year are modest: apart from a desire to use my glassware more often (and believe me, that's a whole 'nother subject. If anyone wants to talk about Spode, comment away), all I really have in mind is more of the same. Reading, writing, movies, hanging out with friends, petting the kitties.

The only other things I'd really like are beyond my control: less violence in the world would be a good thing, guys. I'm not kidding about that. I'd like to see the people in this country, especially the ones in positions of power and authority, stop the nitpicking and the blowing stupid shite out of proportion, and actually work together to help actual problems. I'd like a copy of the Saigal Devdas, and even more -- hey, let's get those Fearless Nadia movies back in circulation! Or at least the documentary! If they can't reach an agreement to get us our Fearless Nadia, there probably isn't much hope that agreements will be reached on more contentious issues. Nonetheless, Rishi willing, I plan to forge onto another year of taking serious things lightly, and trivial things seriously...