Tuesday, July 31, 2007

In the Defoeish/Richardsonian mode

So I actually got a crappy book from an online seller yesterday -- amazing how rarely that actually happens. Usually I don't even notice cigarette smoke, but this was one of those smells like the book was dipped with tongs into a vat of boiling nicotine. Nasty! Then when I tried to email the seller, there's something wrong with their contact info. I didn't pay that much, so I may just mark it down to experience. But the funny thing is getting ripped off on Daniel Defoe's History of the Pyrates. I mean, you can't really trust pirates, can you?

Then I came across a newish Penguin edition of one of Defoe's long out-of-print books, called The Storm, a nonfiction account of (supposedly) the only hurricane to ravage the UK, and of course I want that too, spending resolutions be DAMNED!

And I got to browsing through his life history. After a lot of different careers that went nowhere, he started publishing some political writing at the age of around 38. He didn't do his first book until he was 45. And he published the first of the books he's known for (Robinson Crusoe) when he was 60! Hmm, I thought, just like Samuel Richardson, my main man. He didn't start writing until he was 44, and published his first novel at 51.

I'm always hearing that, like, 40 is the new 30, that we're living longer, etc. That's what I see on the covers of the magazines. But both of these guys' lives spanned from the 1600s to the 1700s, and they still didn't even get started until they were around my age. So there's hope for us late bloomers yet...

The Music of My Life

Eee, that's the tagline of a radio station that specializes in big band music. It's weird to see your life become Oldies. Don't worry, kids; it'll happen to you too. Ready or not.

Anyway, I see that bad pop music is one of the subjects that people get passionate about. And believe me, that's a good thing! I have a suspicion, or maybe it's a dork-born hope, that a lot of people who are into music started out the same way I did...sitting around listening to the radio nonstop, loving almost everything irrationally and, once in awhile, hating something vehemently. I like to think my taste has grown more sophisticated over time. Rock snob? Guilty! (But better that than a reverse rock snob. Bring it on, Chuck Klosterman!) But I'm still a sucker for the time-machine lure of the songs that started me down the garden path.

Then the same day I was pondering such subjects, this Rob Sheffield book (Love is a Mix Tape) came in for me at the library, and it's pretty good. When he describes himself as a Dr. Johnny Fever in a Les Nessman body, I laughed out lout. I warn you, though, there's sadness, so I don't recommend reading it in a public place if you're prone to the teary-eyed-ness.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Oldies But Baddies

That's what we used to call the radio stations playing so-called "Oldies But Goodies" when I was a kid. Of course, much of the contemporary music consisted of Newies But Baddies, and some of them we weren't even under any illusions about at the time. Along our travels, my honey and I have picked up a few of those Rhino "Have a Nice Day" compilations, which usually include a half-dozen songs by bands I have NEVER heard of, yet whose songs I still remember with painful vividness. (Toby Beau? Rockets? Jigsaw? Who were these people?)

For some reason I was torturing myself yesterday with Volume 15. I was looking up the song "Eighteen with a Bullet," which we had thought was a pretty cool tune circa 1975-1976, probably for that bitchin' rhyme, "Got my finger on the trigger/I'm gonna pull it." In retrospect, I have to say that's pretty tough talk for a guy with a falsetto and a fifties doo-wop chorus behind him.

I also listened to "Convoy," which, despite having a linear narrative and an accumulation of detail, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It sounds great on this compilation, however, just by virtue of not being a mushy squash of sentiment, the besetting sin of Top 40 radio in my early adolescence. Heck, the Bay City Rollers sound fairly aggressive in this context...so it's no wonder I was so desperate for the Sex Pistols to invent themselves.

For the record, the highlight of Vol. 15 may be the epitome, the very quintessence, of the Icky 70s (as another friend and I used to call the genre). It was another song that looked completely unfamiliar: "Rocky," by Austin Roberts? Never heard of it. But it's the song with the chorus "Rocky I've never been in love before/Don't know if I can do it/Yadda yadda yadda/Take my hand, I might get through it," so I rolled my eyes and went, oh yeah, THAT song. The tune sounds very like the Mystery Science Theater theme, which is amusing in and of itself, and begins...

"Alone until my eighteenth year, we met four springs ago (Sha la la)
She was shy and had a fear, of things she did not know (Sha la la)
She worked at Gizmonic Institute, just another face in red jump suit..."

Okay, I'll stop that! But come one, the rhymes in those first few lines are just terrible.
Anyway, it's the third line that earns it a place in the Hall of Fame:

"But we got it on together in such a super way."

I can't even type that without giggling. We got it on together in such a super way. I don't know if it's possible for someone to express themselves in a more bland and banal way. What's even worse is that this is another of those schmaltzy songs in which she's going to die and leave the utterly uninteresting narrator a grieving single father...all of which is also, sadly, rendered completely without actual emotion.

Oddly, the chorus concludes with "God knows, if the world should end, your love is safe with me."

How did the world ending get into this? Dullest apocalypse ever!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Isn't it Romantic?

The other night we were out at our favorite dive bar and talked briefly to an acquaintance-of-an-acquaintance who seemed to feel really bad that he couldn't remember my name, even though there's really no reason why he should. I don't know why, but I noticed that he was wearing a t-shirt that read "Kiss Me, I'm Shit-Faced."

Then yesterday, we went on the little riverboat cruise on the muddy greenish-grey river we call the Red. It's nice to get out in an area where you can almost blot out the presence of so-called civilization behind a screen of trees. Except of course for the distracting presence of all the people on the boat with you....

Anyway, we passed by the side of a familiar underpass, where I've found lots of very nice spray-paint art over the last few years, now sadly painted over. But there was something new...big, plain black letters, clearly visible from the middle of the water: "Kiss Me, I'm Shit-Faced."

"You don't suppose it's the same guy?" I asked my honey. No, that would probably be even more of a coincidence. And then, the other day I was reading an article with some BS about memes, and thought to myself, here's a classic example of a meme spreading suddenly. The screaming meme-ies!

The tour meandered slowly on its way. I got all relaxed and dreamy-like, ignoring the spiels about conservation. Too soon we had to go back to solid ground, and run to the convenience store to pick up a few supplies before we could get to phase two of our day: the sci-fi club picnic. Cutting through the parking lot, we passed one of those pay-phone shells, an open frame around the standing phone. And on the inside wall, in black magic marker: "Kiss Me."

No sign of "I'm Shit-Faced," but I'm willing to bet if I really scavenger hunted, I'd find that half of the phrase written somewhere in the ten-block radius.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Now I need to see "Dirty Harry"

Usually when I watch a movie I'm going, "Oh, it's that guy who starred in such-and-such!" It used to really one of my old boyfriends, especially when he'd grouse, "That is not the same guy" and I'd do the research later to prove that it was. Well, if he hadn't been so bossy about it, I might have let it go...

Anyway, last night we were watching Zodiac and it was sort of like that, only with actors playing real people that I knew from other places. First off it was Melvin Belli. As soon as they said his name I piped up with, "Hey, I know him from Star Trek! It's the Friendly Angel. I guess I'd heard that he was an attorney in real life." As soon as I'd said that, another character turned to his and said something like, "By the way I loved your Star Trek." This seemed really strange, since it's not fiction, where I'm more comfortable, but a real-life murder case.

Then later in the movie, the detective played by Mark Ruffalo is accused of faking a Zodiac letter, probably for publicity, by Armistead Maupin, and my jaw just dropped. "Armistead Maupin?" I asked the television. It did not, thankfully, answer me, but my cursory research this morning does show Maupin involved in the case in just this way. Bizarre.

Fortunately, we were able to do more of the normal cameo-watching with people like Donal Logue, who I'm just going to start calling "That Guy Who's In Everything" from now on...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Meta Day

Tech isn't usually my "beat;" I try to leave it for people who know a little bit about it. My years of reading 2600 barely make me conversant in the simplest subjects. And yet? Logic is logic. And a tautology is a tautology.

This article on MSN (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19983210/wid/11915829?gt1=10150) is called "How technology has ruined life for our kids." It's based on a survey whose conclusion is that those kids today take technology for granted. The tone of the article is both facetious (saying things that MUST be joking) and then throwing in how children are exposing themselves to predators, in a more serious manner. So I can't quite gauge what the author really believes. Somewhere in there, though, she does pinpoint (by accident? Can't tell) one of the contradictions with the techno-discourse:

"Meanwhile, the report goes on to comfort parents concerned about their gadget-infested children. Turns out, the most popular activities for kids under 14 are still things like “watching TV, listening to music and being with friends....Davidson also says, 'Talking to (young people) about the role of technology in their lifestyle would be like talking to kids in the 1980s about the role the park swing or the telephone played in their social lives – it’s invisible.' ” So how accurate can those answers be if, as Davidson seems to imply, using technology for kids is as natural and unconscious an activity as say breathing or passing gas?"

Okay, the easy one first. I was a teen in the 80s, and I think, if asked, my peers and I could have been pretty articulate about the role of the telephone in our social lives. How often do you use the phone? Does phone use cause conflicts in your family? (A common problem back in the days when one phone line was the norm, and no wireless, which you whippersnappers might remember from Nick at Nite reruns). I don't think it was invisible at all.

The difference between then and now lies more in their terminology, because the telephone is something specific. So is a park swing, or a bike, or the hours in a day you're logged into MySpace. "Technology" is an abstraction that may mean something different to everyone. This makes me notice how much of what I read on the subject is talking about "technology" like it's a monolith and we all know what we mean by it, when it's actually a general classification that includes a lot of things.

The irony of the whole "technology is unconscious" issue...is in the fact that it apparently always has been. What the heck do people think "watching TV, listening to music," or talking to the friends on the phone were? Right there: usually when I read articles about "technology," they don't mean all the tv everybody watches. They don't mean the phone that plugged into the wall. They don't mean the record player they had as a kid, or even the CDs; they mean that dangerous new Ipod. They don't mean a matinee at a movie theater. They don't mean our society's dependence on cars. They don't mean the printing press or the sewing machine.

Guess what? All technology!

I need some quasi-post-hypnotic catchphrase to remind myself, any time the subject of "technology" comes up, that nobody should be taking any discourse seriously until we know what the heck we're talking about. Then I won't waste my time clicking on pointless articles! Although I went into the "talk about this" area, and enjoyed the rant from the 15-year-old, reminding everyone that it isn't kids who make this stuff. I quote, "if your so mad because it's bad for us and were spoiled let me remind you YOU BOUGHT IT FOR US."

Ha ha. Too bad about his spelling, though, but it's not like all the grown-ups can spell. And there's a funny thought...I'm definitely not a kid. Oy vey! But I sure don't feel like a grown-up. I guess I like to feel I've had some Gnostic enlightenment that makes me see through such false demographic distinctions.

Boy, I am in a good mood today! That's what can happen when it's cool enough to sleep.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Zombie Tastes Good

I was also listening to John's Black Dirt, but they didn't appear in the search, alas. Glad to see their disc at the used CD store though, and picked it up along with a compilation of early Suicide (mmm, I love Suicide: one of those phrases that sounds rather peculiar out of context) and, what else, oh, a cheap Rasputina. Just to see what those crazy kids have been up to with their gothy dolliness. Or their dolly gothiness.

So yesterday we were just strolling casually down the sidewalk and someone came up and hijacked us for a beverage. Thank goodness for roving sexy librarians! I picked the Swanky Lounge as a destination because I've been wanting to try out a zombie. The bartender was kind of, "Well, I'll have to look it up." What he presented to us were cold, orange-colored, fruity, and full o' rum. Delish! They even came with orange slices and cherries skewered on the plastic pirate swords I loved so much as a kid. (Better even than the parasols. No wonder I have a collection of "cocktail squids.")

I mentioned that, if the scholarship in my recent reading on the history of tropical drinks in America is correct, then every faux Polynesian lounge in the country was serving a different combo of rums and fruit juices and calling it a zombie, so this version was probably, in its own way, authentic. My honey suggested that we should try mixing up all the different ones I've found so far, in order to taste-test. I said we could call them different names, like the Romero Zombie. The Rob Zombie. And the most potent could be the 28 Days Later Zombie. "28 days later, you'll STILL be feeling the effects."

Hey, I can serve them at the same non-existent horror-themed concession stand where we'll fry up "Farmer Vincent's Fritters." Sorry, that's a reference some people think might be too obscure even for our supposed audience, but it still makes me chuckle. "It takes a whole lot of critters to make Farmer Vincent's Fritters." Which is funny because it's so close to the reality, which is, just don't ask what's in that meat product!

By the way, they charged us $6 per zombie. That's a lot cheaper than it usually costs to the raise someone from the dead.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

If there was any doubt about my being a Ravenclaw...

Yesterday I plunged right in and finished Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. In all I've heard about this book, "completed in 1136," nobody ever mentioned that Geoffrey matter-of-factly states that two of the historical kings were gay. I can't find the earlier reference, due to my under-caffeinated state, but I have the second one handy.

Of course, it being the 12th century, part of his fact is that King Malgo was "hateful to God" because of the "vice of homosexuality." But that's prefaced with "unfortunately," and at least in the translation, the negative judgment comes across as more of an obligation than anything else, like, "It's too bad we're supposed to believe God hated him," because Geoffrey is clearly a fan of Malgo, "brave in battle, more generous than his predecessors and greatly renowned for his courage." (p. 263) In other words, a lot more noble than most, especially considering the messes guys like Utherpendragon made over women.

It's also amusing to note that Malgo "was the most handsome of almost all the leaders of Britan." So of course he was gay. Some stereotypes are centuries in the making!

Then I started reading The Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture: An Episode in Taste, 1840-1856, which picked up on a whim. According to author Phoebe B. Stanton, a core group of about three guys promoted a particular offshoot of Gothic Revivalism in the mid-1800s, based on the idea that "art had been at its best in the fourteenth century because the Church, as an institution, was immature before that date and decadent after it." (p. 18). I know a lot of modern-day music snobs who are prone to similar logic!

Because they were very contentious with other architects and largely considered cranks, the British group worked hard to spread its ideas to "the Colonies," where a lot of (mostly Episcopalian) churches began to be built in the popular styles for medieval country parish churches. One of the ideas was to make churches out of stone rather than brick, and some of the illustrations look much like the very distinctive church around the corner from the house where I grew up. Here's a link to a picture, but mind your volume. It's got some really loud, reedy music under it that gave me a start. (www.motherflash.com/sthelens)

And that church is, of course, Episcopalian. So it's all connected. Growing up in an architecturally-deprived environment, it always really stood out for being so different from everything else. That alone made is seem...fanciful, I guess. Imaginative. And a long circuitous path from a few long-ago oddballs whose love for their own distant past may have been spurred by "distaste for the immediate past." (p. xix) Only to land up right by me, stuck with the aesthetics of the late 60s and the early 70s. If you want to talk about distaste...

But it can't be all scholarly all the time around here, so I stayed up late watching Sleepaway Camp. Some of the acting is laugh-out-loud funny, and the whole thing is so absurd, it almost makes me curious about the sequels (which star Bruce Springsteen's sister Pamela). Almost.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Plot as a runaway train

First I sat around in a post-Potter daze and kind of stared at the walls. Then I went out to Livejournal at Katrina's suggestion, hit "Spoil Me" and read humorous commentary until my eyeballs started to ache from the exertion and my stomach from laughing. I will say, a lot of people's sarcasm was not unfounded. (I've always loved the double negative, it's so above-it-all).

There are certainly criticisms to be made. For the record, I thought the first few books were excellent scene-setting fantasy books, and as such, the language might have been a little richer. She was creating her world and the characters in it, so more got lavished on them, in a sense. Even apart from the need to know what's going on, I don't know that the later books, just taken as books, would have ever sparked such a phenomenon. In the early books, there was a lot of very imaginative detail, skillful puns, and so on, for a more (dare I say) "magical" environment. And maybe a (I cringe equally at this) "literary" one.

Personally, I think Azkaban and Goblet of Fire were my two favorites, the ones where the storyline really got compelling almost beyond endurance. The darkening of the light. After that, the books seem a little bit flatter, a lot more full of sentences whose job is just to get you from one place to another. The kind of prose style I don't read, as a general rule. But although it's fun to read, I can't really go with the critiques, because that's exactly what the books needed to do. They're the ones out of the series that I read practically straight through, without interruption. It's not even like reading, exactly, but more a furious slashing through words going "Oh my god, oh my god, what's going to happen NOW?"

So in retrospect I can say, hey, you're right, there's a complete plot hole, or a total character problem, and what's up with the dearth of Snape? (I didn't know how much I liked him until he started spending too much time off-screen).

By the way, that's "dearth," not "death."

But at the time I was reading them, I didn't care about a damn thing but the next page. Either Rowling is the greatest plot genius of all time, or the whole thing got completely away from her. Or both.

Oh, and before I take a break from Potterville, I want to add one thing I really appreciated about the last book that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere, except that some people found the section boring. I really like the fact that, at the end of Half-Blood Prince, the three main characters were going off on a big mythic-type quest to find these magical objets to defeat Voldemort once and for all. After a lot of preparation, they set forth...and the whole thing sucks. They're cold and hungry, they have no idea what they're doing, they get cranky with each other, and start thinking it's all futile.

Thank you! This is totally realistic and the part of the heroic saga that's usually glossed over. As Byron put it, "Tis the vile daily drop on drop which wears/the heart out, like a stone, with petty cares." Keeping sight of the important goal and the need to stay on the right track is harder when it all seems like pointless drudgery than it does during the dramatic moments of obvious confrontation. It subtly reminded me of Ursula Le Guin's The Beginning Place, at least thematically, a book I read as a teenager and thought about later when I'd gone out on my own and was struggling to keep a roof over my head.

In Le Guin's book, the heroes find out that it's easier to kill dragons than it is to defy their parents and apply to community college. (I know, that sounds crazy, but it's really good). A person expects to need courage when facing a dragon. But it can also take a lot of strength and courage just to face the problems of everday life, especially if whatever you want to attain is going to take a lot of time.

So, a good lesson for the kids! And tomorrow, maybe I'll be talking about something else, like, maybe, pirates? But no promises...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

There's a book on my Wish List called The Weird of Deadly Hollow. No relation.

Got up this morning to find a Hogwarts baseball cap sitting on the computer, along with the most enormous freakin' book I've ever seen. Okay, I do have a pulpit-sized Bible that's bigger, but, geez. I guess I won't be carting Harry Potter to read on my break today after all. And even though I've spent much my life flipping to the end of books, I'm going to try to resist the temptation.

On the Yahoo news it says that "Snape's nature will be revealed!" so this may be my last chance to hold out the hope that he's a good guy. Not that I think he's hot or anything....a disclaimer I feel the need to make after seeing lots of amateur fantasy art featuring young, shirtless, soulful Snapes.

My honey has a theory that Dumbledore was actually working for Voldemort all along...which would be a shocking twist, but could actually be supported textually, and a plausible case made. I immediately went with, if he was evil (which I don't believe, obviously, just devil's advocatin'), then perhaps Snape was secretly the main force for good everyone thought Dumbledore was!

That sound you'd hear would be the shattering of illusions all over the world.

Since there are other things going on, even in my little life: More street fair food. I've eaten crab fritters (YUM!). A pina colada smoothie. With a big chunk of real pineapple, so good I didn't even miss the rum. Later, a K of C burger, from the home of the "Secret Vatican Recipe." Then some more deep-fried Oreos and a spring roll, and I still have triangular packages of roasted almonds and pecans for later.

In the evening I watched Return to Horror High, in which the young, cocky, and mousse-haired George Clooney is amusingly the first to die. Scott Jacoby, known to us all as teenage heartthrob Mario in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, is still pretty cute under an absurd mustache and puffy hair, and despite his uber-80s shoulder-padded blazer with the rolled-up sleeves. The plot of Scream 3 definitely owes something to this movie, and that's before the guy in the black cloak and white mask shows up. A blend of horror-movie parody with some real shocks, not entirely successful, but we've all watched a lot worse.

Friday, July 20, 2007

How the Pumpkin Became Orange

Based on the evidence, I don't know why everybody always thought I was so precocious. Unless the other little kids were in really bad shape.

Going through some old folders, I came across a bunch of stories and poems that I wrote in elementary school. Several of them are about Halloween, which I'm sure is no surprise to anyone. I must have been in about...3rd grade? when I wrote the following.

"How the Pumpkin Became Orange

Once pumpkins were all green. But one of the pumpkins fell in a pot of orange dye. It was very becoming, so every pumpkin tried it. And that's the reason all pumpkins are green for awhile and then turn orange."

There you have it! It's a little-known fact that pumpkins turn orange as a fashion statement. They reach a certain age, and then they want to do the equivalent of hennaing their hair. Wouldn't it be a lot easier if we all magically ripened into the most "becoming" colors?

I'm no expert on deep-fried snack products

But the deep-fried Oreo cookie is the best one I've ever sampled.

Yes, I did a quick lap through the Street Fair yesterday, ate some food (one of my favorite hobbies), and purchased some realistic-looking plastic vinery to give my porch that down-home hoodoo vibe that everyone is striving for.

And not to harp on a theme (ha ha, like that'll ever happen), but I just realized the other day which building is being renovated into the new "Lofts on Roberts" project downtown. I go by it every day, and just didn't put two and two together. It seems rather amusing to upscale a building that's next door to a temporary labor agency and across the street from the Salvation Army. It's one thing for dive bars and used bookstores to get driven out by quasi-gentrification, but I don't think the Salvation Army is going anywhere. Two words: bad publicity. Then I mentioned something about, well, they managed to sell all those expensive condos on the old skid row, so I guess the rich like looking down on the poor.

When I heard that come out of my mouth, I added, "Not that that's news." It's not usually quite so literally, though.

So this morning: I'm always amused when ads pop up for the "What Celebrity Am I?" quiz. They ask "Are you Johnny Depp?" a lot, and it makes me ponder. Wouldn't I know if I were Johnny Depp? I shouldn't need an online test score to tell me. And how weird would it be if Johnny Depp were bored some night decided to check out MySpace. Would he think his computer was talking to him, like he was suddenly in The Matrix? Oddly, today when I logged in, the ad was asking me if I'm Joan of Arc. Well, now that you mention it...But I'm trying to be incognito here, people.

And I see that "tension is building" and "controversy swirling" over Harry Potter leaks. A media obsession with security is a sure way to preserve the sense of innocence and "unspoiled" wonder, right? A few copies get sold early by mistake every time. Little kids who don't want spoilers won't be trolling the Interweb for them. I'll spend my twenty bucks and read the book, and nobody's going to bang my door down to tell me the ending. And millions of books are still going to get sold, and they'll all make billions of dollars. I like to think that if I made a billion dollars on my writing, I'd try not to be too churlish about it. Although I guess I'm unlikely to test that hypothesis.

Possibly more on this and similar subjects after Potter Day...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Theological tiki party coming soon!

Occasionally I have a strange day in which it's obvious that I'm in exactly the right place at the right time. And then there's yesterday, when I was paid to buy books, a whole lot of them. Not for myself, alas; nor did I get to use my own personal taste as any real criterion, but still, if there's any area where I have experience, this is it. In fact, I went from buying books to taking a break in the breakroom, where I, uh, bought some books. (Don the Beachcomber's book on Hawai'i and its rum drinks, and The Bible Against Itself).

In my afternoon of intensive research, I learned that there's a book out about the botany of Middle Earth. There are multiple travel guides to Da Vinci Code locales, some for Paris, some international. There are tons of books about "chick lit" and how to write it. I also learned that some computer programs can't handle the umlauts that may turn up in the names of former Poet Laureates, and thus one might come across the works of Louise GlFuck.

I know that's a cheap shot, but it made me chuckle. After all, this is America. No dignity here! I think I'd just read too many online reviews complaining about the use of the "F-bomb" (kind of an offensive euphemism, if you ever happen to catch the news) in contemporary plays. And yet sometimes you can't stop a random combination of letters from occurring. So maybe people should chill the umlaut out.

(P.S. Quick review of today's movie, Kenny & Co. It's an early, low-budget kids' movie by Mr. Phantasm, Don Coscarelli. Various lighthearted, low-key, but completely irresponsible hijinks take place, and then it develops a darker undercurrent of Kenny's learning about mortality. Includes some Phantasmic dialogue like "Everybody has to die someday. I know you don't understand right now," and co-stars the Ice Cream Man himself, Reggie Bannister, as the mellowest elementary school teacher in history. Definitely a curio, but the only real ineptitude is the syrupy, repetitive light rock score. I wouldn't rush out to watch it, but if it crosses your path, it has some interest).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Get your squalor while you can

I don't know if it's the quasi-gentrification, but the sidewalks of my Obscure Midwestern Town don't seem as colorful lately as I'm used to. They keep coming along and painting the alleyways, and even the back door of the VFW, a traditional band-loading spot, which used to be a trove of stickers, stencils, and random art, has all been beiged over. Yeah, because that's rock and roll!

But one thing I've learned from the "downtown Renaissance" (cough) is that it's not loitering if it's at a sidewalk cafe. Maybe it's loitering from the the cafe's point of view, but not from the city's. Every time I pass the new old coffeeshop, home of the tasty misspelled sandwich, there's a whole row of people lined up in front of the windows, sitting in the little chairs. Some of them I recognize for hanging out for hours at the public library (a fine activity, nothing I frown on), and I also frequently see the enormous man who's usually stationed in front of the barber shop.

I can't help imagining almost a cartoon about well-dressed folk seeing people sitting on makeshift seats, like on the giant cement flower pots we used to have downtown, and shaking their head at them lounging on the "street." And then the same people smiling at the same people sitting at a sidewalk cafe, maybe thought-bubbling, "Ah, at least they're buying something!"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Night of the Lepus" is everything I dreamed it would be

There are people who say this movie isn't even good as a bad movie. I've always heard it's really boring. Still, I was very excited when my honey brought it home from a bargain DVD bin. Those scenes of "giant" rabbits loping through corridors in slow-mo? The cuts between stampeding cattle and hopping bunnies, never showing the two species in the same shot? Some people's standards are just way too high.

Also a work of genius is the trailer, which shows glowing eyes coming out of a black background and never once reveals "What...is...?" the mysterious threat. Because the answer is just too ludicrous for words. And I say that as someone with a large vocabulary.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The fine print of everyday life

Yesterday was a day of disparate elements. Finishing a non-fiction book about exorcism whilst listening to sea chanteys. Watching Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse, and then going on a whole tangent about tiki culture and faux tropical drinks, largely inspired by my recent reading of Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari: In Search of the Great "Lost" Tropical Drink Recipes...and the People Behind Them. What a fantastic aesthetic!

Then we went in a direction that was about as far away as you can get and still be under the umbrella of Americana: the Wisconsin Death Trip documentary. If you haven't read the book of the same name it's based on, run right out and do so; it's one of the all-time classics. I was very excited that they made a movie, and it's good, very true to the source.

The film contains a large number of the still photographs from the book, and filmed black and white period scenes that are in the same style as the photos. Then there's some material, in color, about modern day Black River Falls, Wisconsin. In one of those shots, the camera is just going along the street, and it films a Schwan's truck parked in front of a house. That gave me a really weird frisson. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a Schwan's truck in a movie before. A little aspect of life and popular culture that I have taken completely for granted, but that one never sees represented.

It reminded me of the first time I saw the movie Fargo. What struck me most was that I've been watching movies in excess my whole life, and I'd never seen anybody scrape their windshield in one before. It doesn't matter how cold it's supposed to be in a movie, their windshields are clear, their cars start right up (and they're certainly not plugged in), and usually nobody ever wears gloves or even closes their freakin' windows.

So the scraper was a small detail, and yet, the world of film conventions turned upside down for me. A little interjection of what we see in so-called "real life," that's probably pretty alien to people in other parts of the country. It's not true that everything's been said, or that there are no new stories. There are. It's just hard to resist the established ways of expressing things, in all media.

I guess my mood has shifted from "oddly relaxed" to "oddly optimistic." How crazy is that?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My hair is hickory-smoked

A side effect of the fire pit.

As cynical as I sometimes am about the lake-going culture around here, and as nice as I find it when people flee on the weekends, thus getting out of my way... on a pleasant summer evening, I can see the appeal. It would be nice to sit around that fire among the quiet trees, by the cool water. But it's so far removed from my normal reality, I usually don't even think about it.

Oddly, this is two of my friends in less than a year who have hosted white trash theme parties, with an abundance of cheap beverages and low-rent foodstuffs. It just goes to show that you can put the girls in grad school, but they still feel the link to their roots. How did Hannibal Lector put it: something about not more than one generation out of the mines? Or off the farm, as the case may be. In some ways, I'm very much a "well-scrubbed rube," but not in a Carnivale way. Worldliness isn't confined to the big city, where there are plenty of gullible people...

I almost wrote "worldliness is next to godliness," but I'm not sure what that would mean. Although I'm sure it's true. Maybe not as true as "wordiness is next to godliness," but close enough.

Anyway, at the party, I represented the colorful white trash, bringing a bottle of Pink Truck and a Boone's Farm Blue Hawaiian (which tasted much like the Powerade "blue stuff" with Malibu rum cocktail I've made when my stock is running low). Nothing like day-glo, Mad Scientist drinks! I never drank the Boone's Farm when I was a small-town girl, thus skipping one of the major milestones. Instead I went straight to the champagne, and the Kahlua and Haagen-Dazs shakes, already striving for the sophisticated. Fortunately, it's never too late to experience the pleasant aspects of stupid adolescence.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"The trouble with these sell-your-soul movies..."

"...is that they're always so theologically unsound."

Although it was the least of Ghost Rider's problems, I kept saying, "For Pete's sake, haven't the characters read Faust?"

I've been reading History of the Kings of Britain, and got to the older version of the King Lear story. The storyline is almost exactly like it is in the play, and then all of a sudden, Shakespeare completely changed the ending. I don't think there were Elizabethan fanboys, but I'm sitting here going, hey, why'd he do that? In Geoffrey of Monmouth, Cordelia's army defeats her sisters', and she rules Britain for decades. I'm so used to the tragedy that it's hard to wrap my brain around.

And speaking of Cordelias, I wonder if there's a support group for people addicted to episode guides. I just picked up a Buffy guide called Dusted, and now the Angel companion volume is on its way. I think I get bored with my own analyses, and want some opinions to agree or disagree with.

Same with all this slasher scholarship I've been into. Like, I didn't even think a movie like The Dorm That Dripped Blood was worth watching. But it's still worth thinking about. Then I start going, hmmm, maybe it wasn't so bad, and I should give it another chance. Once I've watched the hundred other movies on my Netflix list.

So this movie, Going to Pieces: the Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, was pretty interesting, if not quite as socio-political as The American Nightmare. And they used the phrase "genre purist," and it made me think, I've heard that phrase before. But what does that mean, exactly? How can you be a "purist" about slasher movies? For the record, the original Halloween is probably my favorite film in the genre, although the first Friday the 13th contains probably my favorite line of dialogue. I mean, "purely and simply...EEE-villle" is a great line, but it can't top "It's got a death curse!"

And a little horror bonus, courtesy of the IMDB. So, it turns out that the girl who's playing Laurie Strode in the Halloween remake is also starring in a remake of April freakin' Fool's Day. I mentioned this to my honey, and he asked, "Are they remaking Prom Night and Terror Train?" Ummmm...yes, and yes. Things are getting out of hand when they have to remake things that were utterly derivative to begin with. And I'm saying that as someone who actually liked all of those movies! But nobody can say there's anything really original about their storylines (April Fool's Day excepted).

But so far it looks like at least Hell Night is sacred....

Friday, July 13, 2007

"Kill your brother. You'll feel a lot better."

The first movie I ever bought: I was cutting through the shopping center in Uptown, and one of those old Suncoasty video stores was having a sale. They had a big rack of VHS tapes right by the door, so you could see some of what they had without even going in. And I don't know, I glanced in, and immediately spotted...The Lost Boys. I couldn't help myself; I was a woman compelled.

I've talked about the great B-movies that can't possibly live up to their trailers. This is a movie that lives in the shadow of its poster. It's really pretty silly (and oh my god, the clothes! There's a reason I dressed in Frog Brothers olive green all that time). But that tag line, "Sleep all day. Party all night. Etc." will live forever.

When I bought this on tape (around 1992), not only didn't I have a VCR, but I hadn't even owned a television in about five years. Eventually, a friend invited me over to watch it. I don't remember if he'd seen it before, and I hadn't seen it in years. While I was there we watched, oddly enough, some black and white "lost" Doctor Who clips that he had, although I couldn't make much sense of them, other than that the film quality was pretty archaic. Everything comes full circle. (And even that was the name of a Doctor Who episode).

At one point, he came into the room and saw me looking through the TV Guide, fascinated, like it was some sort of alien artefact: a window into the American psyche, perhaps. And teased me a little, as one would to a non-tv watcher, although it seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Then we started watching the movie, and lo, there's a whole thing in the movie: "If you read the TV Guide, you don't need a tv."

I was of course like, "See? I rest my case."

Anyway, HorrorHound magazine just did a story on the movie's locations, and how a lot of the boardwalk was damaged in an earthquake, and I realized I hadn't watched it in awhile. When it was out in the theater and I did a little "zine," I awarded Jami Gertz the "Apollonia Award for Bad Acting." (See Purple Rain for reference). And she gets harder to take with every viewing, especially when she gets all teary-eyed and pouty-lipped and asking for help. They could have found a cooler chick for their gang.

But that's exactly why there's...a Fan Fiction Archive!


Boy, you can't tell that I just got back from a sci-fi convention or anything...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"Hey, isn't that the Men, Women, and Chain Saws chick?"

Alas, the back-from-vacation countdown has almost reached liftoff, and I'll be at work again in oh, less than two hours. I always intend to accomplish a lot more when I have time off, but I end up being happy to just lounge around, getting kitty-clumped and feeling an alien sensation that I think might be relaxation. I did take a quick peek at my work email, and was relieved that there's only 67 new messages. Things must have been relatively quiet, or, conversely, so busy that people haven't been emailing. Either way, that's one less thing to worry about.

Watched a very good documentary on horror movies yesterday called The American Nightmare: a Celebration of Films from Hollywood's Golden Age of Fright. (The "Golden Age," by the way, is the '70s, which is kind of funny). It does a good job expressing the context of the social upheaval of the times and how that influenced the films. For example, I've seen behind-the-scenes DVD extras with makeup guru Tom Savini that allude to his service in Vietnam, but this interview has more depth, and really gets across the surreal idea of his photographing dead bodies as his job, and then working on gore effects in his spare time.

I also got a kick out of seeing academic Carol Clover in a movie (who it turns out is also an expert on Old Norse and Icelandic. Who knew?) She was a little bit of one of those "male gaze" cultists, and had this whole thing where if a woman dies in a horror film, she represents women, because feminine = weak, and besides, men hate women. But if a female character survives, she is by definition not feminine, hence not really a woman, and therefore a stand-in for the vulnerability of the male audience. QED.

So the "final girl" characters are really just men in drag. Which throws strange light on a movie like Dressed to Kill, where the killer actually is in drag. Or even Leatherface! But while Clover's book got into some of that goofy gender turf, her comments in the movie were all pretty sensible, so maybe she's gotten away from those trendier theories. Besides, they could have gone with somebody like Vera Dika, who I thought was much worse, and seemed to suggest in her academic tome that the characters in Halloween deserved to die because they were so banal. She seemed to blame Carpenter for that, too, but I remember wanting to yell at her that banality was in the eye of the beholder.

Anyway, I know from my reading that Romero, Carpenter, Craven, all the dudes, are very intelligent and articulate about what they do, and it was good to see interviews with them brought together, talking seriously about their themes. So this wouldn't be a bad film to show anyone who thinks your interest in horror movies is creepy or prurient. Although be forewarned: there's actual news footage from the 1960s in here, and that could be upsetting for the unprepared; a lot worse than the clips from Last House on the Left.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What DO demons do all day?

I don't know how I'm going to go to work tomorrow and stay conscious for a full eight hours, since I was practically falling asleep while walking down the sidewalk. A few trivial errands took a lot out of me. First, the Catholic bookstore, where I always figure I'm going to be ID'ed as an apostate, even when the Pope isn't making official proclamations about it. They're moving to a new location, so I stocked up on various prayer cards, a plastic grotto-shaped Holy Water bottle, and this book on exorcism, which oddly comes with an introduction by the Bishop of my Obscure Midwestern City. The idea of exorcisms being performed here is giving me crazy mental pictures.

Then I picked up some rhubarb wine, stopped by the antique shop, and then shambled home like, well, more a zombie creature than one possessed. Now I'm pouring coffee down my throat and hoping to type myself awake.

Yesterday I did not go to the Harry Potter premiere, but as the last two people in America to see the pre-existing summer hits, we did a deranged, mind-numbing, blockbuster-trilogy-palooza of Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. As I had gathered from the criticism, Spider-Man was too busy, too clutttered, and had way, way too many coincidences. But I was forgiving it for all that until it suddenly turned into a bizarre Saturday Night Fever parody.

And then, well, I've seen a lot of crazy shit in movies. Maybe more than the average film-goer. But for sheer WTF-ness, I don't know if anything can top the moment when Peter Parker turns into a singing/dancing/piano playin' fool, complete with dramatic wind gusts and faux "cool jazz" vocal stylings. I think the word I'm seeking for is "excruciating."

Despite that, the movie still managed to be kind of emotionally affecting in the big climax, but
how much better it would have been if they'd cut out thirty minutes of musical "comedy" and trimmed some hectic fight scenes to the point where they didn't start boring me.

Just by virtue of not making any inexplicable, egregious fuck-ups (and by using the word "egregious" as a joke, which has to be a shout-out to ME) Pirates came out the winner of the smackdown. In my perfect world, though, we'd have a movie with a similar style and tone but way more voodoo, and with Jack Davenport and Naomie Harris as the stars, not as supporting characters. He hunted vampires in Ultraviolet, she killed zombies like a pro in 28 Days Later; they're perfect for each other!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"I've been trick-or-treated to death tonight"

Woke up to a super-blustery day and the power off, but fortunately I fell back to sleep and didn't suffer from a lack of Emergency Frappuccinos. I realized I don't have any reserves in the pantry, and since my stove is electric, I couldn't even rustle up some caffeinated tea in a crisis.

Anyway, as one thing leads to another, at the convention we saw a bunch of trailers for upcoming movies. We saw the 30 Days of Night, which looks good, despite the off-putting presence of Josh Hartnett. Also, I am Legend, finally being filmed under its own name (after Vincent Price's The Last Man on Earth and Charlton Heston's The Omega Man). I'll definitely go see it, although I thought that and the new umpteenth Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie, this time just called The Invasion, both seem to be aiming for big budget Independence Day/War of the Worlds status more than I'd rather, including the overused parent/child "I just want to find my family" slant. However, I was super-excited to see that there's a Veronica Cartwright cameo in The Invasion.

And it was my first viewing of the trailer for the upcoming Rob Zombie Halloween remake (I just haven't been hitting YouTube very heavily, obviously, to be so far behind). I have doubts about the whole project, not just because of Rob, but because of the cast list's obvious emphasis on the Pretty People. Still, there was nothing in the trailer that turned me off, which is something in itself. And no matter how bad it is, it can't be any worse than some of the older sequels. If Halloween 6 didn't ruin the original for me, I'm pretty confident that nothing can.

That led to an afternoon of listening to various Halloween soundtracks and finally to eenie-meenying Halloween II to watch after an excursion to the dive bar last night. It pales next to the original, of course, but in retrospect, it didn't seem so bad. I've always been fond of the spiritually incorrect "Sam Hain, the Lord of the Dead" speech, and amused by Donald Pleasence's tendency to say all his lines in this movie as if he's totally distracted. I was also pleased to rediscover that Nancy Stephens actually got a bit of screen time and more lines in her recurring role as Dr. Loomis' chain-smoking nurse. (You might also remember her as the manifesto-reading kamikaze revolutionary in Escape from New York).

There are also a handful of scares that actually work, like when Ana Alicia is terrified in the dark room, and Michael's face slowly appears out of the blackness behind her. It's a scary and fairly subtle effect in a not-so-subtle movie. And when Michael comes up to the locked glass doors at the hospital and just keeps walking, crashing right through them without hesitation, it prefigures the really non-human sense of purpose that The Terminator would later do so well.

Some dull victims, yes; Jamie Lee Curtis doesn't really get to do anything but stumble and play drugged, and it's a little odd when she seems to be flirting with the EMT from her hospital bed early on. And where the heck are her parents? It's completely implausible that the authorities can't find them, in a small town where everybody knows them and it's all over the radio and tv what's happened, naming their daughter by name. But the script has to keep them away because they would explain what's going on, and it would ruin the big revelation. A revelation I've always found totally silly, but what the heck, all the rest of the movies have stuck with it, so I guess I can roll my eyes and let it pass.

When I watch the original, though, I put all of that nonsense right out of my mind. I prefer my evil random, thank you very much.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Where've You Been? Notes from the Con

Back from three days at the big sci-fi convention in the big city, back to my little city and my snuggly, well-fed kitties. Since we still have a few days off work, I said it can be like HOMECON 2007: we certainly have enough genre films to make up a whole film festival. We don't need to jolt ourselves back into reality too quickly. The shock wouldn't be good.

So, here's some brief, disjointed notes on the last few days.

In an HP Lovecraft Fan Film Festival: the Nyarlothotep movie thanked Herbal Essences shampoo in the credits. And I didn't notice anybody's hair being particularly bouncing and behaving. Another entry, an "Antiques Roadshow Arkham Massachusetts," had funny lines, although the execution was pretty amateur. Still, it's a good concept, all the twisted Arkhamites wondering how much they could get for their unholy relics, and I liked the part where the Necronomicon defied classification in the Dewey decimal system, and should be filed under "Dear God, Don't Read It Aloud!"

Asian horror recommendations: Akira Kurosawa's Dreams. Versus (yakuza zombie movie, I can't believe I haven't seen yet!). Death Trance. Reincarnation. One Missed Call. Also, the Groovie Goolies cartoon series is just out on DVD. My Netflix is going to be busy!

Upcoming low-budget horror releases that were recommended: Murder Party (a slasher Breakfast Club). The Signal. A book called Single White Psychopath, described as "like Bridget Jones, if she were a serial kiler."

I went to a panel that talked about "monster culture": Famous Monsters magazine, the Shock Theater tv horror movie revival of the 50s and 60s. A few other people remembered Horror, Incorporated fondly. And oddly, it was Star Wars that made me aware of Famous Monsters, when they put Darth Vader on the cover in 1977. I don't think I knew there was horror fandom until then...or any fandom at all. And man, were there a lot of people at that hotel!

Overheard: "Being a professional, as opposed to a goofball."

Sign on the Torchwood party room, like the front of the line on a carnival: "You must be this tall to ride Captain Jack."

Favorite costume: an old-school First Avenue Staff t-shirt, with a cut-off denim vest, "Death Before Dishonor" written on it in magic marker, an enormous green mohawk.

Strangest piece of merchandise: a Jane Austen Tarot deck.

I always forget how gruesome John Carpenter's The Thing is. I think of it as being moody and paranoid, and I mean, that's accurate. But when the gore hits I'm like, Jesus Christ! It catches me off-guard.

Also overheard: "Who would win? Starfleet vs. the Dark Star."

I saw a hardcover edition of Seduction of the Innocent, the famous anti-comics manifesto from the 50s, which I haven't even been able to interlibrary loan. But it was $100. More than I was willing to pay.

The Buffy and Angel panel had a guy who looked like a young Bob Saget, and a gal who looked like a young Vicar of Dibley.

From War of the Gargantuas, possibly Toho's finest moment: "No one's reported a Frankenstein living in the sea."

In a haunted house-themed party room, I picked up a plastic leg bone and heard myself saying, "That's a fine quality bone. I'm something of a connoiseur."

And we bumped into a guy who used to live in our Obscure Midwestern City. We chatted for a bit and then he said abruptly, "Well, I'm officially out of small talk." I immediately thought to put in, "So, is it true that you were in prison?" which was the non-small-talky word on the street. But I just smiled. I guess I picked the correct sticker when asked to choose between Saint or Sinner at the Poly Amory Paradise or Purgatory room.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

"A young, idle, indiscreet, giddy girl"

I finished reading A Simple Story, by Elizabeth Inchbald, a successful actress and playwright who had a smash best-seller with this almost forgotten novel in 1791. According to the critical essay in the front of the book, she managed to walk the fine line of depicting "indecent" behavior without being thought improper herself.

The "simple" part of the story is that of Miss Milner, lively and fun-loving young woman (who even daringly wears boots to a party). She's sent to live with a new guardian, a young priest, who her dying father thought could teach her to take life more seriously. Although the two mostly like and respect one another, various incidents cause a power struggle to escalate between them, with a continual desire for independence on her side and an urge to control on his.

When various young lords start coming around and courting her, the plot thickens. Already thought too much of a flirt, she starts feigning love in order to throw off anyone's suspicions of her true feelings, and then has to capriciously reject the guy she said she wanted so nobody will try to marry them off. Secretly, she has fallen in love with her guardian...as Morrissey put it, she wants the one she can't have, and it's driving her mad. If her feelings were known, she knows she'd be sent away to live with strangers and never see him again.

Although part of her indiscreetness has been her freedom with language ("as a woman, she was privileged to say anything she pleased," p. 39) and her sometimes effusive emotional responses in general, there are many scenes where she puts on a happy face and completely fakes her personality. The inability to communicate becomes the real villain of the piece: because of social propriety, personal stoicism, fear of the repercussions, character after character cannot or dare not say what they really think. Even the crusty old priest Sanford, who seems to have no social manners at all, aims his harshest negative judgments at people he likes, in the hopes of reforming them, so that the people who think he hates them are the ones he likes best.

Fate, and the death of a relative, leaves Miss Milner's guardian to inherit a manor, and he is freed from his priestly vows to take up civic leadership and become Lord Elmwood. Suddenly, the possibility exists that the two could actually hook up. But the apparent trajectory of romance goes awry, as Inchbald depicts a couple who both love each other, but are basically incompatible. They try, but they continually misunderstand each other.

Despite all the obstacles, they get engaged, but Miss Milner completely, and seemingly on purpose, screws everything up by going to a masquerade ball he's forbidden her to attend: just to prove she can. Very realistically, she's bored and has a terrible time, but in the confrontation afterwards, when her fiance alludes to breaking off their engagement, she calmly says "I expected as much, my lord." Although she's obviously acting like an idiot, she's also right that he is, at least to someone like her, too tyrannical, and their fights are a symptom of real and serious conflicts.

When Sanford (who seemed most to object to their marriage, having tried to "save you from the worst of misfortunes, conjugal strife," p. 191), sees how miserable they both are and gets them back together, it seems like the normal end of a romance. They've had the misunderstandings, the ups and downs, and there they are, married at the end of the volume. But of course, the misunderstandings and the differences in their temperaments are going to follow them into the marriage. When the novel jumps into the future, we see that they were happy for a while, but when things got difficult, the cracks widened again. The neglected wife had an affair, and the wronged husband disowned her and their daughter, becoming a real tyrant to everyone around him.

Like Wuthering Heights, the second part of the book follows the daughter of the original heroine, and gives her the happy ending that was denied to her mother. But certainly in this case, Miss Milner was a much more interesting character, and more the center of attention, than poor Matilda, who has only to prove her dutifulness over and over again until it's finally rewarded. Most critics seem to think this was a largely a dodge, a moral doling of punishment and reward which allowed Inchbald to write sympathetically about an adultress and not outrage anybody. Which would explain a lot about the latter part of the book and why it seems so anti-climactic, despite a very slight late-blooming Gothic feel.

Nonetheless, definitely a fine addition to your Amatory Fiction Bookshelf. You've got one, don't you? It's the hot new trend, so what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Stench of Adulthood

A friend of mine just turned 21 and went out the other night to the dive bar I usually go to. I gave him some shit about being an adult now, and he informed me that adulthood smells like cigarette smoke, stale beer, and general grossness. What a way to talk about my home away from home! Although it is true that when you walk by the side door of said dive bar, there is in fact a characteristic odor. I wouldn't say it's gross...I mean, I've smelled a lot worse.

So my great fortune cookie of wisdom is: one gets used to the stench of adulthood.

In related stories: we've had a pointless ongoing local controversy, and for one fleeting second, I had thought I was living in a community where logic was going to triumph, just once. I swore my last blog on the subject would be my last word on the subject, so all I'll say is, well, they showed me! Just a practical joke. It's a small-minded small town after all.

Then I've pretty much stopped watching tv altogether (but not my DVD player, which I couldn't live without, and that's hardly even hyperbole), but the result is, I am now spouting the same type of sarcastic comments at the computer screen. Like today I just glanced at the reviews on Slate, and there was one on Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love, which has been very popular, so I clicked on it out of idle curiosity.

Where I discovered that the article was written by Katie Roiphe and called "Should you read the best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love?" My snap thought: should you pay attention to Katie Roiphe's opinions? Now, some people say that bloggers are a bad influence on society (yes, somewhere there's a theorist drawing crazy conclusions about anything people do). I'm thinking offhand about an upcoming book called The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture, by Andrew Keen. Because what could be worse than my sitting here writing about movies and 18th-century novels? (Yes, my critique of A Simple Story should be up soon). I guess I ought to be watching tv like a good girl.

But I digress. I was going to say, I'm as qualified to be a cultural critic as Katie Roiphe is. If there'd been better financial aid prospects, maybe I'd have gone to Harvard. And even that wouldn't have made my mom a "celebrated writer and critic," as Publisher's Weekly calls her, which I think might have made it easier for me to start getting books published in my early 20s.

Believe me, I certainly have my moments of cynicism, but I'm not bitter about this. It's far better for a cultural critic to remain objective and outside the system of power. Like, I buy my own books, or have to acquire them by other means. Nobody sends me review copies for free. I'm glad that I'm a self-made woman. And it's a lot easier for me to find a forum in a blog than it is to compete with all those Harvardites with wealthy parents and connections at The New Yorker. So, I think I'll ask the opinion of someone I see bringing that book back to the library.

Smells like middle-aged spirit!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Demon-Repelling Calligraphy 101

I've been having trouble for days over on my original blog site, and today, my invisible posts have reappeared. I can hardly believe it, like it's some kind of miracle, my long nightmare is over, etc. etc. Last night a DVD got stuck in the player, and for a minute there I was thinking of buying a bonnet and turning Amish. I could check those Beverly Lewis books out of the library, and start saying "What's up, English?" every time I bump into people. I wonder if I could get some special early retirement pension deal if I had to quit my job for religious reasons. But I'm sure there's an overly complicated HR policy dealing with that scenario.

But I like to think that stuck-disc problem was just Haunted DVD Syndrome. Maybe the ghosts inside the ghost story just weren't ready to leave their warm electronic nook just yet. Maybe they didn't want to go back to the library from whence the DVD came. I've checked out Kwaidan a couple of times and never got around to it, just because it's kinda long (160 minutes or so). But in a word: spooky! And very fun to see a beautifully filmed, poetic art film with the glaring, familiar logo of Toho Studio, the name that stands for Godzilla.

The movie's so long because it's made up of four separate stories. The first are moody, eerie domestic ghost stories, both featuring phantom or demonic women with dramatically long black hair of the kind known to all of us from the Ring movies made almost forty years later. Then the third opens up into a re-telling of an epic sea battle, with ships on the water against a rather theatrical backdrop, to start off the story of an already blind musician who's going to suffer some very bad luck. His talent draws the attention of spirits in the underworld, who lure him off to play for them, and the priests cover him in fabulous holy calligraphy to deflect them. (Sort of like the super-cool Omen shack, but in tattoo form).

This is the most gruesome of the segments, but since it was titled "Hoichi the Earless," it's not like I wasn't warned. While this wasn't graphic--we're not even at low-level Friday the 13th special effects here--it was still very disturbing to watch.

I wasn't totally sure about the meta-fictional tone of the final story, but its premise was probably the creepiest of all, when a samurai keeps seeing a stranger's reflection in his tea. With every cup, the face seems to get a little closer, and also a little more maniacal looking, until he finally lends new meaning to "I'll swallow your soul." And all hell breaks loose, as it will when you drink something you shouldn't.

As I was writing, everything went so smoothly on the computer that I was almost afraid to hit the "post" button and have everything go awry. But there weren't any faces in my coffee this morning. Maybe I can paint some protective text on my laptop, and the gremlins in the Interweb can go bother the people who are trying to sell my Ron Jeremy-approved products for male enhancements and fly-by-night college degrees. Since I don't need the former and I already have the latter!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage

At the suburban spot where my folks and I are going to the summer services, I do like the drink-coffee-through-church ambience. But they have various "cute" things that drive me crazy: the Vacation Bible School quality E-Z listening music, the incessant "greeting" period, the PowerPoint. Dear Lord, enough with the PowerPoint! And they use what I consider a completely dubious translation of the Bible, called The Message, one of those supposedly relevant, contemporary editions with all the poetry ripped out of it.

Today's verse, though, did get an extra boost from the modern version, which is worth quoting in full. From Galations 5:19-21: "It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on."

I almost wish he would. So many parts of this are so enjoyable! My personal favorite, I can't help it, is the part about "trinket gods" and "magic-show religion" because that's exactly what's up my alley! That's really the church I want to go to, not the one with a "Kumbaya" aesthetic. And while my priorities in life may sometimes be "lopsided," at least they're not "small-minded," nor do I have any tendency to cutthroat competition, having established myself as a Meatballs-eque slacker/conscientious objector. So while my so-called sins may be legion, they could always still be worse.

Of course, our friends at the KJV also had a heyday with this passage:

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Everybody's got it in for the drunkenness and the revellings, and that just doesn't seem fair.

The new version expands rather humorously on the list, turning plain, old-fashioned "fornication" and "lasciviousness" (gotta love those serpentine "s" sounds) into that "repetitive, loveless, cheap sex." Which kind of implies that if the fornication is affectionate and/or imaginative, it's not so bad. And you know, maybe that's the point Paul was trying to make. Not that I know anything, having been out with the revellings last night, although I didn't see anyone getting uncontrollable. Not while I was there...