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From the Hollows Came Minds Cool and Cheeks Plump Feb. 12th, 2016 @ 12:35 pm

A squirrel lays his plans for me at the trolley station to-day.

Who knows how much of the past forty eight hours he's been responsible for? I'm exhausted, having been up 'til 2am moving things to my new apartment. Then I had to get up at 7:30am for the cable guy only for him to tell me Cox won't enter a relationship with my modem until she's legally divorced from Time Warner. So I won't have internet until at least Monday--I'm at the university again now, waiting for one of the students to show up I'm scheduled to tutor.

I have so many books. So, so many books. I fill up a box with DVDs and knick knacks and can carry it easily. I fill the same box with books and I need a fork lift. It shows my devotion to the old, physical, bound paper things that I don't simply leave these at the dumpster and order them all for my Kindle.

Anyway, I may be scarce online over the next few days. Here's a lizard.

Twitter Sonnet #840

An invisible diamond pattern stuck
The blue and grey old room, too thick with dust,
Concealing books with dragon legs untucked
Beneath the wings of steady, silent rust.
In quivers left beside the scaffold's ghost,
Black arrows dream of rain on bucklers bent,
The leather shoes and hands are cracked, the host,
Yet merry, drifts into a wood for rent.
The twins of green underground light revealed
The blond unveiling sky beneath the dome
Will blink before the swirling sauce congealed
Atop the nineteen forties goose's comb.
Ambition phased absent from stale coffee.
The rotary wrought mill dialled frothy.
Current Location: The 24/7 study area
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Students talking

Home is Where the Heat is Feb. 11th, 2016 @ 06:13 pm

I think Punxsutawney Phil, if he lived in San Diego, would've said, "Not only do I not see my shadow, the concrete seems to be on fire." That was outside my apartment this morning--note the time as well as the temperature, 100 Fahrenheit before even 10am. February. It cooled to 82 when I drove two blocks which makes me glad I'm moving to a cooler part of town.

I'm going to be pretty busy to-night and to-morrow moving stuff to my new apartment, a two bedroom place in the building where my brother-in-law is landlord. So far this potato is my only room mate.

A sweet potato, actually, and she's not coming through with her part of the rent. So I need to find a humanoid room mate which shouldn't be too hard considering, having just been looking at apartments, I know they seem to be pretty scarce in San Diego. But if you're reading this and you're someone I like and you want to live with me and my potato I'll give you first dibs. Let me know and I'll send you details. If you're wondering how the neighbourhood feels about dogs and cats having sex with each other, this is a picture of the pet hospital a few blocks away:

I guess they take a page from the Marvin Gaye book of healing practices. Despite the convenient proximity of the interspecies sex clinic, I should say there are no pets allowed in the apartment building itself.

Here's a picture of the courtyard I took to-day:

Current Location: Between places
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "Havana Affair" - The Ramones

Television Happens when the Cameras are On Feb. 10th, 2016 @ 02:22 pm

I've always loved airports. For much the same reason I love shopping malls; I love microcosms. I like the feeling that things occurring at one end of the mall or airport are in some sense occurring in the same place as things occurring at the other end. So I was happy to find that the university I attend, San Diego State University, has a 24/7 study area in the library that feels very like an airport. It's indoor, it's crowded, it has plush seats, bad coffee, even a metal detector. I've been sitting here to-day for an hour already reading an article about airport surveillance for a class I've gotten a job tutoring in. I've scheduled meetings with students here for throughout the month. The class focuses on the rhetoric surrounding surveillance and that's certainly a subject that's been present in television I've watched lately. I've seen a few people refer to the new episode of The X-Files this week as a failure but I thought it was good.

Sure, it was a bit morally heavy handed. The scene showing the woman eating yoghurt and making coffee as though to show how insulated she was from the homeless she's supposed to be helping made me wonder how much yoghurt and coffee the makers of The X-Files consume. But I thought the avenging band-aid man was suitably creepy and his one man drawing-and-quartering jobs were pretty impressive.

I liked the little "Back in the day" exchange between Mulder and Scully where Scully refers to how she'd walk down scary staircases in heels "back in the day" and Mulder asserts, "'Back in the day' is now!" followed by a shot of their two flashlight beams forming an X. It's a hopeful little trumpet call I want to root for, especially reading interviews with David Duchovney and Chris Carter where they hint at wanting to do further seasons in the future.

I've also been watching Touch of Frost lately. I say "lately" when I mean, "Over the past three years." I've been watching it very slowly. I feel no compulsion at the end of one episode to watch the next yet I do find myself gradually acquiring the urge to and so, a month or two later, I do. It's an oddly relaxing show. Its leisurely yet focused stories wandering through some stock plots about drugs or tolerance coupled with the police bureaucracy with the exasperated, long suffering Frost at the centre. Something also about the 4:3 aspect ratio and the distinctly mid-90s lighting takes me back to sitting in my room watching television when I was in high school, even though I never heard of Touch of Frost at the time.

A couple nights ago, I watched the première of the fourth season, from 1996, called "Paying the Price", which feels slightly like a new direction for the series. Instead of an unknown villain at the end of a mystery Frost solves, "Paying the Price" reveals the villain right off, an angry young man named McArdy (Marc Warren) who kidnaps a woman named Pauline (Camille Corduri, Rose Tyler's mother from Doctor Who). As a result, the story becomes much more emotionally engaged as Frost grows increasingly angry and frustrated and Marc Warren delivers a pretty effectively psychotic performance. You really want Jack to nail this smug little shit.

There's sort of a competition of performances with David Jason as Jack Frost having someone he goes toe to toe with for once. It's sort of a Shatner/Montalbhan chemistry as I found myself wondering which actor's scenery chewing was going to be the more spectacular and therefore which actor would "win". Though both of them were much subtler about it than the Star Trek II leads. David Jason, I've read, originally worked in comedy and like many comedic actors--Bill Murray, Sarah Silverman--has turned those instincts rather effectively to drama.
Current Location: The Precinct
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: Some annoying guy whistling

Reactor Brain Feb. 9th, 2016 @ 07:56 am

You may not have diabolical intentions when you harness atomic power for new radar technology, but you may inadvertently be giving birth to a new species of mental vampires. So it's important to heed the lessons of 1958's Fiend Without a Face, a Science Fiction film about a paranoia that turns out to be pretty near the mark, demonstrated by some really great, creepy stop motion effects.

But the title of the film refers to the fact that you don't see the menace for most of the film. Taking place in and around a U.S. army base in Canada, the drama that began before the film starts is between the superstitious, rural locals and the U.S. military that's just trying to protect them from Communist missiles. The army base is blamed for nervous livestock and all manner of other things so of course when several people end up dead by means no-one can determine of course fingers point at he base.

One of the things I like about this film is that it really is more like a folk tale than the typical 1950s American Sci-Fi allegory about Communism. Possibly this is because, despite its setting and cast, this is a British film. We can't really say the invisible attackers are Communists as we could in Invasion of the Body Snatchers because the fiends appear due to attempts to protect the country from Communists. It more directly relates to the fear of nuclear power and the unknown implications, making the film more akin to Gojira.

There's a kind of oddly familiar relationship between the military and townsfolk and one wonders at the wherewithal of a U.S. military when a major has to borrow a flashlight from a civilian in order to explore a cemetery by himself.

The romance between Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) and Barbara Griselle (Kim Parker) is also a bit ham fisted. Their meetcute is him walking into her house while she's in the shower because she'd left her door open and she's shocked when she steps out wearing only a towel and finds him in her living room. From then on, the two are irresistibly drawn together by her anger at his continual honest mistakes, giving the impression that their potential relationship is based entirely on her accrued karmic debt.

None of this takes away from the wonderful weirdness of the creature that is somehow the offspring of psychic experiments and atomic power, a creature who removes the brain and spinal cord from its victims. And who could fail to love the things when they do become visible, apparently having re-purposed the brains and spinal cords as bodies.

When they leap on people and wrap the spines like tails around victims' throats, it's easy to see they're likely precursors to the facehugger from Alien. But their perpetual squishy sounds are more reminiscent of the blancmanges from the Monty Python sketch while their snail-like eye stalks give them a charm all their own.

Twitter Sonnet 839

A new neck co-opted the doggish cat.
Car batt'ry artillery twists copper.
A find revealed the founding cave of bat.
For ev'ry band the skull wears silk topper.
A bridge's girders must defend their rust.
Seagull programmes've tallied cellophane.
For ev'ry tick the stick has grown a bust.
You see, there's no address for Charlemagne.
Invoking Vader, Vikings close the gap
Or space, as some might call the void between
A boat and station keep, a cross on tap
So symbols step into the old canteen.
Regrets like hippopotami have sneezed.
There's more in moon seas than can be appeased.
Current Location: The mind
Current Mood: awakeawake
Current Music: Ran OST- Toru Takemitsu

Not All the Rice is Sweet Feb. 8th, 2016 @ 04:48 pm

Once a crook, always a crook. This sort of thing is one of the basic, underlying philosophies of the Hays code. Though not quite spelled out, the morality in Hollywood films of the late 30s, 40s, and 50s tended not to allow a repentant criminal to live. So 1948's Bitter Rice (Riso Amaro) is a subversion of this. Made in Italy and part of the Neorealist movement, it eschews both Hollywood's morality and its philosophy of filmmaking with a movie that presents an unvarnished, beautifully realistic portrait of the women of northern Italy who sowed and harvested rice.

A radio announcer tells us early on that only women can do this job because it requires the same small, quick hands that handle needle and thread. Those familiar with Japanese films of the period may have been able to enlighten Italy on the the errors in this notion. But in any case, the film gives us an uncommon view of working women in the 40s that, incidentally, passes the Bechdel test, though I think people have a tendency to impute more significance to this than it deserves. Passing the Bechdel test simply means the film has at least one scene where two or more women have a conversation that's not about a man. In this case, there are plenty of conversations between women about rice.

But the relationships the two female protagonists have with men are quite crucial to the plot. The film is at its heart about two men and two women and involves a gradual exchange of partners. The women in this film are the more human figures, the people who make choices, while the men represent the inflexible moral poles to which they gravitate. It's natural, then, that the men are rarely present because the women need time in between their visits to form their identities. This is, in itself, a subversion and a rather feminist one. In a movie like Out of the Past or Not as a Stranger, the women are reflections of Robert Mitchum's choices. When he's good, he's with the good girl, when he's bad, he's with the bad girl. Riso Amaro presents the opposite situation with two women in Robert Mitchum's shoes. But unlike a suddenly repentant femme fatale as in Double Indemnity or a morally compromised noir hero as in Black Angel, the underlying rules, if there are any, for who has to die for changing her mind are different and more complex.

Francesca (Doris Dowling) and Walter (Vittorio Gassman) are lovers and a pair of thieves and as Walter is trying to flee some cops who've noticed he's stolen a necklace, he begins to dance with a woman amongst a group of the field hands waiting for the train to the rice fields. This woman is Silvana (Silvana Mangano, in her first role).

Widely considered the most beautiful and something of a leader figure, Silvana has a portable phonograph she dances to while everyone else just watches her. She's oddly glamorous for the group but takes a strong moral line when she notices Francesca, who hides among the crowd of field hands, is holding the stolen necklace. Silvana's boyfriend, Marco (Raf Vallone), is a soldier and she's mystified when he doesn't want to turn Francesca in to the authorities.

In the typical logic of the Hollywood film, Francesca might change her ways but only at the cost of her life. More likely, she'd remain a villain throughout the film. But as she starts to like the honest, hard working life in the rice fields, she finds she's just not wired like a stock movie character. Silvana is similarly not locked into the role of heroine and neither of the women are fated to stay with their respective boyfriends.

Even more than the plot, the film shows up the artificiality of Hollywood with its visuals. The on location shots of the flooded rice fields are fascinating as is watching the women's routine of planting, barefoot in rows, singing to each other conversations because they're not allowed to talk. In an environment like this, the forced moral contortions would have seemed particularly bizarre.
Current Location: The north
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "Mood Indigo" - Nina Simone
Other entries
» The Sex or the Crime

Adolescence may be described as the excitement of arranging your reality according to your fantasy and finding the unexpectedly artificial moments in sincere conversation. Or the unexpectedly sincere in the artificial. Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 film Band à part (Band of Outsiders) is perhaps the simplest and most innocent of his 1960s New Wave films. It's sweet and beautifully shot with charming performances from its leads.

Once again, Anna Karina stars though this role is very different from others she played for Godard. Instead of the cheerful stripper of Une femme est une femme or the pragmatic yet idealistic prostitute of Vivre sa vie, she plays Odile in Band à part, an innocent young woman who falls in with two young men, would-be thieves, she meets in an English class.

Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) seem to exhibit a love for film they don't explicitly discuss. As they're going back to their car in one scene, Franz pretends to shoot Arthur who immediately switches into performance mode, giving a typical, prolonged, writhing, death scene worthy of a John Ford western.

Odile mentions that a lodger in the house where she lives has a big pile of money hidden in his armoire, probably stolen, so they decide to come up with a plan to steal it themselves. Though all Odile really wants is to make out with Arthur. Karina looks constantly worried in this film and the impression you get is of a straight laced kid getting carried away with her hormone fuelled fantasy.

With Arthur and Franz feeling sort of like stand-ins for Godard and Truffaut, this almost feels like Godard's version of Jules et Jim but the relationships are less complex, the story more anchored to its plot. As usual, Godard deliberately draws attention to the inherently artificial, manipulative nature of film, mostly by abruptly stopping the music and sound effects, most notably in the film's famous dance scene where the three perform a complex routine while the music abruptly cuts in and out. When it's out, a narrator describes what each character is thinking and feeling.

The characters feel thus very exposed as the fragile, coaxing pretext of the music has been stripped aside. Odile wonders if the boys notice her breasts under her shirt and she seems to spend a lot of time thinking about how attractive she might be while the boys are busy competing for her and plotting the crime.

They ask her to take her stockings off and she does. They talk about how her thighs looked but what they actually wanted the stockings for was to use as masks. It's a neat encapsulation of their relationship--Odile's in it for the sex, Franz and Arthur think they're in it for the caper but also for the sex. The fantasy of the robbery is a necessary element for them to deal with their competitiveness. Only Odile seems aware of how horrible it would be to make the fantasy real.
» The Unintroduced Companion
Damn. I just lost twenty minutes watching Bonnie Langford videos. How did that happen? Well, maybe I was just stunned to find out the second most annoying Doctor Who companion had, and still has, a successful career in musicals. She started as a child in the 70s. Can you believe that, at one time, someone thought, "People will be entertained if I put this on television:"

That's Langford on the right. On the left is Lena Zavaroni who, if you didn't didn't notice the website slowly fading in and out throughout, uploaded the video to YouTube. Well, good luck, Ms. Zavaroni.

EDIT poliphilo informs me that Lena Zavaroni passed away in 1999. So someone else has taken her name on YouTube and is promoting her website.

Everything I find annoying about Lanford on Doctor Who--the loud, piercing voice, the emotionally tone deaf delivery--are actually pretty typical for a stage musical performer and with the bar thus lowered I actually kind of dig her. She's a good dancer, anyway, and has nice legs.

This past week I heard Langford as Doctor Who companion Mel Bush with the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) in the 2006 audio play "Red". The two visit a society that has voluntarily purged all violent thoughts--and if there's an error and one of them commits violence, the memory is edited out by an android named White Noise (John Stahl). The Doctor himself remarks this isn't a remarkable idea but I liked the way writer Stewart Sheargold develops it in terms of social classes. It turns out that at one point in history a group of people decided they wanted the violent thoughts back so they had the brain chips responsible for the behaviour inhibition deactivated. But that meant they had to live outside the "Needle", the decadent place where the non-violent people live. So this sedation becomes a privilege of the rich while the poor, finding their violent thoughts are too foreign and difficult to control, are compelled to use something called "Slow" which is actually a sort of time travel where they actually commit violent deeds in a two minute alternate timeline to get it out of their system.

In the Needle is a woman named Leterel (Ann Jenkins, probably not Baroness Anne Jenkin though Wikipedia links the name from the cast list to the conservative member of the House of Lords) who's developed a fetish for violent thoughts largely because she can't experience them. There's a heavily implied S&M quality to it and Sheargold may have been commenting on spectators of violence. It sort of reminded me of Farley Granger and John Dall in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, two students seduced into committing violence by their professor's (James Stewart) droll lectures on violent human nature.

"Red" was a decent audio play. It was interesting hearing the famously pacifist Doctor explain why it's wrong to suppress violent thoughts.

Here are some photos I've taken recently:

Twitter Sonnet #838

The arms of flotillas tamp down the tea.
Agate enriched guerilla news misleads.
The artificial jelly goes to me.
The grass upon the court like hair recedes.
The holy land divides in grids of egg.
A batter mixed enmeshed the pitcher's fork.
No place in sports regrets the breakfast leg.
If thigh or calf is filled with wooden pork.
A razor sharp regression glossed the cell.
A second lightning strike redecorates.
Impossible, the door broadcasts a bell.
The train intrudes as Heaven decollates.
A silhouette presumes to chip the barque.
Deceased the bosun will sing after dark.

» Dekpa and Her Muse
A new chapter of my comic, The Devils Dekpa and Deborah, is online. This is actually the first chapter of the second full issue which I haven't finished but I won't have time to during the next couple weeks. Remind me never to move to a new apartment, start a new job, take an internship, and start school all at the same time again. Once I've finished with the move I'll pick up the pace again, hopefully this'll only mean three weeks until the next chapter. But I was happy with this one so I wanted to upload it at least. I felt like I just couldn't leave things as they were in Chapter 2.

Happy Birthday, William S. Burroughs, John Carradine, Isuzu Yamada, H.R. Giger, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
» A Long Time ago, in Israel

Hey, Kanan, you're blocking my view of the promised land. I know what you'll say; "I am the promised land!" Actually that maelstrom from last night's new episode of Star Wars: Rebels would be more like the River Jordan or maybe the Red Sea since the prophesied land for Zeb's people is the planet beyond it. Actually, the Red Sea definitely because Zeb parts it with his magic staff and two TIE Fighters are destroyed trying to follow them. The episode, "Legends of the Lasat", is interesting for a few reasons, among them the fact that it's the first non-finale or première episode to neither feature stunt casting or prominently feature some person or aspect of either the movies or the Clone Wars series. Well, except the pirate Hondo, but this is the closest the series has gotten to taking the training wheels off.

Written by Matt Michnovetz, who wrote the popular "Stealth Strike" episode earlier this season, the episode features none of the Rebel forces apart from the Ghost crew so feels slightly like a return to the series concept. They encounter a couple refugees from Zeb's homeworld who are looking for a promised land foretold by their religion.

When they describe their deity as something which exists everywhere in the galaxy, Ezra says, "That sounds like the Force!" Kanan informs Ezra there are many names for the Force in different cultures throughout the galaxy. George Lucas has said in interviews he modelled the Force and aspects of the Jedi religion on the commonalities in various mythologies but in neither the movies or the Clone Wars series did we have a situation like this where another religion worshipped the same thing under a different name. It seems like a natural enough idea, though perhaps Lucas thought it would be redundant or wouldn't make sense for there to be alternate names for the thing in the language that English stands in for. In any case, I've been wondering since the series premièred why the two protagonists of Rebels have those Old Testament names, Kanan and Ezra. I can't help wonder if this is part of some long range, master plan.

What if in Disney's Star Wars, Rebels and maybe Rogue One are to be the Old Testament while the sequel trilogy is the New Testament? Perhaps they're setting Rey up as a Christ figure. This would explain why she's more powerful and serene than Luke and also why Rey seems less sexual than the original trilogy characters. If this is true, maybe in the next movies Luke will start to seem a bit like John the Baptist and Rey will be killed only to be dramatically resurrected to redeem Kylo Ren.

Every time I think I'm done talking about Star Wars they pull me back in!
» Make Like a Tree and Stay

Last night's new episode of The Expanse was very good and felt oddly like a beginning despite the fact we're nine or ten episodes in. When it began with two different kinds of recaps and a flashback I worried it might be a "recap episode" of the kind common to anime series. But instead, it was a very cool re contextualising of information from previous episodes to create a single, linear narrative for Julie Mao. Now the show feels like Twin Peaks meets Blade Runner meets Caitlin R. Kiernan.

I like how the episode had an extended theme song, too, as though to say everything before this was prologue. It has the feeling of so many disparate strands being slowly woven together until we have a more tightly focused, pulpy tale of noir heroes turned Spaghetti Western-ish heroes, beaten down by the world but still willing to fight for their dead ideals.

The beautiful young woman dying and transforming in the shower couldn't fail to remind me of several stories from Caitlin R. Kiernan's Sirenia Digest or the tale of Daphne in Ovid's Metamorphoses. It's appropriate then that the new story in Sirenia Digest, which I read this morning, is called "STUDY FOR AN ELECTRONAUT'S OVID".

Dedicated to David Bowie and containing several references to his lyrics, with particular stylistic influence drawn from Bowie's Outside album, this is a nice exercise in creative, futuristic lingo and biomechanical augmentation. It describes via first person narrator an underworld deal going sour conducted at a live sex show. But of course, the people on stage aren't the only ones with things like dragonfly wings or ovipositors and the tension underlying the deal takes on some distinctly Ovid subtext, combining the party of the unrequited passion with the party who, perhaps unwisely, has chosen to transform to escape.

Speaking of transformations, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent new episode of The X-Files this week.

"Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" begins with Mulder starting to wonder if his pursuit of supernatural monsters isn't a childish delusion. It's a very funny episode, effectively turning expectations of werewolf stories on their heads by crafting a tale around a rather logical conclusion about them. But it's not superficial absurdity, there's a real heart to it which is crystallises when the "monster" quotes Hamlet to Mulder--"There are more things than are dreamt of in your philosophy." The point being that Mulder's sadness and frustration came from forgetting just how surprising life can be and it's not quite as simple as the monsters being "real" or "fake".

Twitter Sonnet #837

The contemplations born in cocktail swords
Can skewer eyes of gods and fake brahmin
Who pose for drinks we grant to real back gourds,
The kind caboose that's seen no kind famine.
The yam confirms what princes knew of blimps.
You only get it from a hollow crown.
If Hal could see the praises put on chimps
There'd be no change in his deserved renown.
A blue, inverted wrench returns the nuts.
In piles piping pounced on puma coats.
A row of wings connects the varied huts.
A floating eye will tow the weightless boats.
The tops of tapless fountains take the drops.
A severed fibre proved the carpet stops.

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