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Blindness and Water Jul. 16th, 2018 @ 12:27 pm

The eighth episode of Cowboy Bebop focuses on Spike Spiegel's martial arts style. In so doing it offers a broader comment on how he survives and fits into a world based on seemingly constant, seemingly chaotic change: Spike becomes like water.

Session Eight: Waltz for Venus

The first scene is an amusing and exciting vignette that showcases again Cowboy Bebop's creative and complex background details. On a passenger ship, a brief shot shows a Tom and Jerry knock-off cartoon and then other brief shots show assortments of passengers, including a woman holding a baby up to a window.

Then a hijacking occurs. We never learn the hijackers' objective, whether they were terrorists or sought to ransom the passengers for profit. They never get the chance to make their demands before they're spectacularly thwarted by Spike (Koichi Yamadera) and Faye (Megumi Hayashibara). Spike absurdly manages to beat two of them by pretending to be a sleepy, disoriented passenger whose every stretch and scratch of the head just happens to inflict a devastating blow.

It's an extreme example of the oddly relaxed martial arts style Spike has already exhibited throughout the series. In the process he earns the admiration of a desperate young man, Rocco (Takamura Nakao), who also happens to be aboard the ship. When he finally convinces Spike to give him some tips later, Spike gives Rocco a speech that closely paraphrases a famous interview with Bruce Lee.

But it reminds me of something else, too, a popular quote from Salmon Rushdie often invoked by people discussing post-modernism.

He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each colored strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.

This comes from Rushdie's 1990 book Haroun and the Sea of Stories (a larger excerpt containing the quote can be found here). As the previous seven episodes have rigorously shown us, the future solar system depicted by Cowboy Bebop is one where stories and identity have become almost unrecognisably mixed in the wake of an accident that alters the appearance of the Earth itself. Spike's philosophy seems well suited to the situation, allowing him to adapt to whatever comes, though perhaps it's this prioritising flexibility over assertiveness that prompted Vicious to label him a beast.

Being a bounty hunter, as a profession, is certainly a much more flexible one than Spike's previous career with a syndicate. We never find out what the hijackers want and Spike probably never does, either. His job isn't motivated by ideology or loyalty, only money, but we see again and again that his sense of honour does influence his actions, as it does in this episode.

It turns out Rocco has a bounty on his head but when Spike finds out the guy has stolen an incredibly rare plant with the objective of healing his sister's blindness he seems to feel no hesitation when deciding to help Rocco instead of turning him in.

A story where a man gets himself in trouble by trying to cure the blindness of a woman he cares about is a well-worn device. It's not unlike the plot of Magnificent Obsession which I reviewed last week (in fact, thinking about how it's used in Cowboy Bebop has led me to reconsider its implications in Magnificent Obsession). In this case, it's also significant because it follows the hints from a couple episodes earlier that Spike has an artificial eye. Once again, we have the idea of someone's perceptions being changed by the world--Rocco's sister is blinded by some airborne phenomenon on terraformed Venus to which most people are immune. The young woman could not adapt the way most people could and this is partly why she seems so innocent.

So it's appropriate that the episode ends with that ever potent symbol of sin--Spike eating an apple--as he watches spores floating down from the sky. Spike has adapted--consumed, even--this world and so he thrives. The young woman's blindness, we're told, is cured through the use of that plant, perhaps her own version of the apple.


This entry is part of a series of entries I'm writing on Cowboy Bebop for its 20th anniversary. I'm reviewing each episode individually. My previous episode reviews can be found here:

Session One
Session Two
Session Three
Session Four
Session Five
Session Six
Session Seven
Current Location: Venus
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "Whole Lotta Love" - Led Zeppelin

Many Windows with Many Women Jul. 15th, 2018 @ 12:59 pm

I recently watched 1944's The Woman in the Window again and then I was surprised to see another movie by that name is currently in development starring Amy Adams and directed by Joe Wright. I assume it has some connexion to the 1944 film--the Wright film features a woman who stays in a lot and watches classic movies, I assume one of them being the old film noir. Though the concept of Wright's movie sounds much closer to Rear Window as it features Adams spying on neighbours and eventually witnessing some kind of crime.

The original Woman in the Window seems like it was tailor made for theorists to analyse decades later. It's about a middle aged, mild mannered psychology professor played by Edward G. Robinson who is captivated by a portrait of a woman in a window whom he eventually meets, this meeting having disastrous consequences.

There are many potential routes for discussion on art within art, the difference between fantasy and reality, and the ambiguous levels of responsibility the protagonist bears for what occurs. It's all fertile ground for talking about existentialism, gender, class, all the goodies.

It's also fascinating for being both the very model of a film noir and for being also the anti-model. It has a femme fatale played by Joan Bennett who's not really a femme fatale. It has a crime that's not really a crime--it has one of the most innocent and clumsy protagonists of any noir I've seen.

Robinson's Professor Wanley is first introduced lecturing a class on the difference between killing in self-defence and killing out of malice, explaining how the law distinguishes between the two and doesn't punish the former like the latter. But when he actually finds himself in a situation where he's killed someone in self-defence he feels compelled to hide the body. After all, if it comes out that he, a married man, was discovered in the apartment of a beautiful young woman, his reputation and probably his career would be ruined.

The film blends the dichotomy of fantasy and reality--the portrait of Bennett's character and the actual woman--with the dichotomy of theory and practice--what the law says about a situation and how that situation might play out in reality.

At the same time, though, everything about the "real" situation is dreamlike. Why would Joan Bennett, seeing Edward G. Robinson drooling over her portrait, invite him back to her apartment? Cary Grant he's not. How likely is it that Wanley could've killed the guy attacking him with a little pair of scissors? The film's "it was all a dream" ending was added by director Fritz Lang to conform to the demands of the censors but the film is actually credibly like a dream. Despite Wanley's education, I can kind of believe he's a total klutz when it comes to hiding a body. How many mistakes does he make? Trying to speed past the toll booth, tossing a dime to the guy, but actually stopping to talk when the guy can't find the dime; cutting his arm on barbed wire where he dumped the body; giving constant verbal cues to the police detective investigating the murder, whom Wanley just happens to know. Wanley may be an expert but he's not a field expert--an expert on Vikings isn't necessarily ready to jump in a long boat and raid the coast of England. But he has such bad luck it seems exceedingly improbably and the fact that he doesn't get caught almost immediately is incredibly improbable. Every step seems designed more as a torment for him than anything else.

It's a world tailored to his anxieties, to punish him for going home with a pretty woman while his wife and kids are out of town. Part of me actually likes the ending, the movie would almost be over the top without it. But if it's Wanley's dream, how do we account for the sequences where he's not present? The scenes shot from Joan Bennett's perspective when the murder victim's body guard, played by Dan Duryea, tries to extort her, first for cash, then for sex? Not only does she stop being a femme fatale, she becomes the protagonist--it's as though Wanley becomes her.

This is emphasised by the fact that every single trick Bennett tries to play on Duryea is immediately seen through by Duryea, no matter how unlikely it is that he could. When she says she only has 2500 dollars, he's absolutely confident she has the full 5000. Every attempt she makes to distract him immediately leads to him going directly for what she was afraid he'd find. Is Wanley transgender? Or is it a comment on the nature of the viewer's relationship with a work of art? The feelings inspired by a great work might be so personal that in a sense we are what we see.

Twitter Sonnet #1134

A calling club for diamonds lists a jack.
A knave repaid the bill before the deuce.
A diff'rent card replaced the Hoyle pack.
To cut the deck's to hack an elder spruce.
Surprising empty cards emerged to hand.
Were hearts discerned behind the paper mist?
A flush announced became a triple band.
A royal hides beside a waiting wrist.
A poker game became a Solitaire.
Or Patience--takes the night in ghostly round.
But dreams of player shapes were thinnest air.
The whisper slap of cards the only sound.
The dust recycles digits for the suits.
A sleepy light illumines numbered roots.
Current Location: The city
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "So tinha de ser com voce" - Antonio Carlos Jobim

Return of the Dog Jul. 14th, 2018 @ 10:36 am

There's always a chance the oppressed will become the oppressors. The Soviets would've done well to remember that when they sent dogs into space in the 2013 Doctor Who audio play 1963: The Space Race. This slightly more amusing, more Cold War oriented, version of Planet of the Apes concept is also one of the gorier audio plays, making it perhaps appropriate that it is a Sixth Doctor story.

The Space Race is based on the true story of Laika, the stray dog sent by the Soviets to space in 1957. The real Laika died in the rocket but in this audio she returns six years later having somehow gained the power of speech and human intelligence. Voiced by Samantha Beart, she's at first mistaken for a missing cosmonaut by the Doctor (Colin Baker) and the staff of the Soviet space programme when they hear her voice transmitting from a rocket that had been stuck on the dark side of the moon. Laika only seems to want water and freedom until Peri (Nicola Bryant) helps her at which point Laika's motives become decidedly less sympathetic.

But, perhaps in reference to the Cold War setting, the Doctor and Peri are never quite sure who to trust. They themselves are posing as spies posing as scientists, an extra layer of subterfuge added to the Power of the Daleks concept. But the bloody and inhumane methods apparently involved in giving animals the ability to talk ethically simplifies things quite a bit.

The Six Doctor's run on television was distinguished by some exceptionally grim stories, most notably the proto-Hunger Games story Vengeance On Varos. Though Six is also an appropriate Doctor for this story because it was in the Sixth and Second Doctor story, The Two Doctors, where the Doctor became a vegetarian courtesy of writer Robert Holmes (who was himself a vegetarian). The Ninth Doctor would later be seen eating meat in the television story "Boom Town"; there's apparently no canon account of when or why the Doctor decided to start eating meat again (though apparently there was a Sixth Doctor comic that addressed the subject). The events of The Two Doctors are never mentioned in Space Race though vegetarianism does come up, understandably. Though, considering how much meat winds up being involved in this story, I'm not sure Robert Holmes would approve.

The writer of The Space Race, Jonathan Morris, has a lot of fun turning the rhetoric of uprising and revolution against the Soviets as Laika begins to organise her comrades. There's a minor romance subplot between Peri and a Soviet military sergeant (Stuart Denman) that reminded me of the flirtation between Ace and the Soviet officer in Curse of Fenric. It was an interesting contrast between how the Soviets were portrayed on Doctor Who in the 80s and how they were portrayed in 2013. The Eleventh Doctor story "Cold War" aired that same year but in the general rush of the one hour episode there's not as much time for conceptual contemplation. The Curse of Fenric, like The Happiness Patrol, might have been part of a general anti-Margaret Thatcher feeling in expressing sympathy for Communists. But it always struck me more as part of a recurring message in fiction of the 80s--not unlike Star Trek VI--to promote the idea of the shared humanity (or let's say sentience) between the parties of opposing sides. I might have liked a little more of that in The Space Race but it's an enjoyable audio play.
Current Location: The dark side of the moon
Current Mood: groggygroggy
Current Music: "The Return of Jack and Judy" - Ramones

Too Many Peaks for the World Jul. 13th, 2018 @ 03:24 pm

A lot of people have written about the shocking exclusion of Twin Peaks: The Return from the Emmy nominees. Except it wasn't excluded--among many other categories, it's nominated for Directing and Writing. One might reasonably ask why a Limited Series that potentially has the best writing and directing might not potentially be the best Limited Series. It is kind of par for the course for Lynch, though, who's been nominated three times for Best Director at the Oscars (for The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive) but only once for Best Picture (The Elephant Man). If television is replacing movies, there's some fitting continuity in this. I predict he'll win, too, because I suspect even the voters who didn't bother to watch the show would feel stupid not voting for him. Well, I shouldn't talk, I haven't seen any of the series nominated for Best Limited Series. I can quote The Guardian article about Twin Peaks being snubbed: "Patrick Melrose was nominated, and The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and both are fine shows. But Godless was also nominated. Remember Godless? It was that nothingy Netflix cowboy show that squeaked out towards the end of last year, buoyed by a Next Big Thing buzz that couldn’t sustain itself once everyone realised what a colossal snooze it was." I suspect that's how a lot of people would describe Twin Peaks: The Return. I would argue this signifies a lack of a willingness from an audience to engage a TV show as a serious work of art. I remember one article that came out when the season was airing where the writer mentioned a colleague who was frustrated by Twin Peaks because it was the one show they couldn't multitask--they actually had to stop everything else they were doing and give it their undivided attention. Lynch himself recommended watching the show on a large screen in a dark room with headphones. This may be the place where TV's claim to being the new cinema fails--it may occupy the place in people's lives movies once did, but something's going to be lost in the transition.

Lynch's movies, even among movies, were always especially demanding of the viewer to engage with the sensory experience. The first third of Lost Highway basically asks the audience to enjoy the tension of eerie silence. Personally, I love that, and I love Lost Highway, but I can see that being a hard sell for general audiences. Now people might watch the splashier bits on YouTube and assume all those people who implied the context of the sensation was a crucial part of the experience of the work were just kooky, crazy elitists. But since Lynch's films were never really mainstream, maybe the world's not so different in this respect.

Except why are people talking like Twin Peaks was completely snubbed? That same Guardian article says, "Twin Peaks: The Return was stuck with just technical recognition." True, people don't tend to think of directors when they talk about television now. They do tend to talk about writers, who are usually the "showrunner", a relatively new sort of overlord role one used to associate more with the director. Though apparently Twin Peaks' writing nomination is "just technical recognition".

I didn't think Twin Peaks was nominated for anything at all based on the first article I read on the nominations at Dark Horizons which omitted the Directing and Writing categories in favour of an incredible number of acting categories--I count sixteen. Twin Peaks isn't nominated for any of them, surprising since acting has been the category where the show has fared best on other awards shows so far--even David Lynch himself won for Best Guest Performance at the Saturn Awards. Though I don't think anyone but Kyle MacLachlan had more screentime than Lynch during the season. Lynch wrote, directed, starred in, composed some of the music for, did sound design for, and built some of the furniture for the show and gods know what else. That in itself seems like it deserves some kind of recognition.

Why the emphasis on acting categories? Do people generally just not care about writers and directors? Maybe we'll get to the point one day where people generally assume the actors are improvising everything in front of camera drones.
Current Location: The podium
Current Mood: groggygroggy
Current Music: "How Deep is the Ocean?" - Ella Fitzgerald

Elusive and Weird Repentance Jul. 12th, 2018 @ 11:57 am

The foundation of morality in 1954's Magnificent Obsession is kind of terrifying if you think about it for more than two seconds. A man whose guilt over inadvertently causing another man's death transforms that into a sexual obsession with the widow, an intensely dull woman otherwise. Weird plot devices are marshalled to make this seem reasonable and it's difficult to take the story seriously, though I imagine for some it's a perfectly innocent, if decadent, indulgence. Contemplating the implications of its absurdities could lead to some interesting conclusions but mainly I kept watching because of the coldly beautiful cinematography.

Technicolour, among its detractors, had a reputation at the time for being distractingly lurid. Maybe this is why director Douglas Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty seemingly chose to import the virtues of black and white photography.

The film is filled with black shadows and sets and costumes are often pale neutral colours. But there are also strikingly bold colour accents, particularly reds, pinks, and magentas.

Jane Wyman plays the widow, Helen Phillips, of the saintly Doctor Phillips. We never get to see him--the film opens with daredevil millionaire Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) having an accident in his experimental speedboat, necessitating the use of a nearby resuscitator belonging to Doctor Phillips. Because it's being used on Bob, it's not available to Phillips who consequently dies of a heart attack.

This is bad luck, not fantastic bad luck, I could imagine it happening, it doesn't push the film into melodrama quite yet. But then Bob, deeming himself fit enough to be released despite what his doctors think, sneaks out of the hospital on foot and is picked up on the road by none other than the widow Phillips.

He starts to flirt with her right away, before knowing who she is. When he finds out, he asks to be let out, at which point he immediately collapses and she takes him back to the hospital where she's also now administrator since her husband's death.

Bob's guilt over his responsibility for Dr. Phillips death could've been worked into a real point of noir-ish tension, not unlike Toshiro Mifune's stolen gun in Stray Dog. But so much weird melodrama is heaped onto the film it becomes more of a conceptual spectacle. The weirdest thing is probably Dr. Phillips' magic powers, which constitute the magnificent obsession the title refers to (certainly it's not Helen). Dr. Phillips gave assistance to anyone who needed it and always kept it a secret--as a consequence, he was blessed with good luck and a fulfilling career. Presumably his good deeds were separate from his normal duties as a doctor in the hospital which weren't carried out in secrecy.

So Bob starts employing this philosophy after hearing about it from Dr. Phillips' equally saintly painter friend (Otto Kruger). But Bob immediately screws it up after spilling the beans on his first good deed to Helen while he chases her into a cab. She exhibits no interest in him whatsoever while his guilt related to her is apparently a big aphrodisiac for him. Either as divine punishment for not keeping his deed a secret or just the machinations of melodrama, Helen ends up blind and Bob starts pretending to be a guy named Rob whom she starts to fall in love with.

One could ask whether Bob ever actually learns humility in this film or just learns to play a very different, very weird game. There's something about this story that taps into the danger of arrogance in the American myth and the Puritan obsession with virtue based on tangled reasoning. But I found these problems to be teased out much better in Sirk and Metty's later melodrama collaborations, Written on the Wind and All that Heaven Allows.

Twitter Sonnet #1133

The cattle lined along the rail to space.
A plot became a sun before the rise.
In nature's ev'ry table hid an ace.
The bulky trees were cracking good disguise.
The cards in columns list for Solitaire.
Forgotten eyes yet view machines enthroned.
The frozen foods usurped the Frigidaire.
The voice of frost a summer curse intoned.
The creaky trees divided walking arms.
In greying space the forks began to hum.
Entire peoples turned from ploughs to farms.
A swaying barque conveys a mouldy sum.
A dusty board retracts the keys to flat.
A foil world contains a metal cat.
Current Location: By the lake
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Current Music: "The Olde HeadBoard" - Rasputina
Other entries
» Space Trucking

Anime is a genre known for formula--even some of the best anime series employ stock characters and plots. Which is one of the things that makes Cowboy Bebop so special and in this series of abnormalities the seventh episode is one of the most unusual.

Session Seven: Heavy Metal Queen

How many anime series have an episode that pays homage to the American trucker craze of the 70s? How many anime series would, without a trace of irony, have as its one off truck driver protagonist a butch middle aged woman? I'm pretty sure Cowboy Bebop is the only series to tick any of those boxes, let alone all of them.

V.T. (Tomie Kataoka) fits into the series' larger thematic framework in that she presents a different standard for gender signifiers. She doesn't seem to care for makeup and her clothes are more traditionally masculine. Her cat is also another example of a peculiarly intelligent animal--anyone who's spent any amount of time with a cat would raise their eyebrows at how easily V.T. can get the animal to follow her and obey commands.

But the cat does indulge in a well-worn plot device when it takes a liking to Spike (Koichi Yamadera) despite V.T.'s evident dislike for him. This isn't the most dignified episode for Spike whom we first see with his pants down sitting on a toilet.

Before the episode is over, we'll see him with egg yolk on his lap and later sitting in his underwear impatiently next to a dryer. Even his beloved ship is vandalised. Why does this episode go to such pains to humiliate him? Maybe to indicate again that the world is trying to make him a beast. Maybe to emphasise V.T.'s stability. Once again, the show directly references music, in this case V.T.'s love for heavy metal--another new cocktail. 70s truck drivers aren't typically associated with metal anymore than cowboys are with bebop.

Although her ship is damaged, Faye (Megumi Hayashibara) fares a lot better than Spike in this episode. For once, she's never tied up though she does misidentify their bounty. She uses her charms on the big muscle guy when she should have been looking at the Woody Allen guy.

Why the show's creators chose to poke fun at Woody Allen here--tellingly found in a children's restaurant called "Woody's"--I have no idea. So far I don't think anyone's made allegations about Woody Allen smuggling truckloads of liquid explosives.

I love the personalised details on the trucks of the other drivers when V.T. enlists their aid in tracking down the target. It's such a 70s trucker movie. It's like something from Convoy or Smokey and the Bandit. How many viewers in Japan even got these references?

The episode ends with Spike winning a game that had apparently gone on for some time--people betting dollars they can guess what "V.T." stands for. The moment continues the conversation about symbols and what they mean or don't mean--in this case, V.T.'s name, which ends up meaning quite a lot. When Spike doesn't take all the money that has amassed from other people playing the game, it's the reversal on the humiliations he'd suffered throughout out the episode. He gets his cool back. He still has his sense of honour and fair play, the slapstick hasn't changed him.
» Another Ominous Colour for Water

Is conquest necessary for civilisation? Is it an essential human need? 1948's Red River mythologises the expansion of the U.S. but it doesn't sanitise it. In the conflict between pioneering cattle rancher, Thomas Dunson, and his adopted son, Matt Garth, is great character drama that at the same time illustrates broader issues of coexistence in a country that contains such radically different ways of seeing the world. With incredible performances, and keen storytelling from director Howard Hawks, this is one of the greatest Westerns ever made.

The first shot of a wagon train making its way to California in the mid 19th century establishes the sense of wonder in the endeavour. For the U.S. population in 1948, agriculture and ties to land was a bigger part of the cultural identity so it's not surprising audiences loved this kind of glorious dream of the past. But any revisionism in the movie has nothing to do with hypocrisy. When John Wayne, in one of his iconic roles, breaks off from the wagon train headed to California to stake his own claim in Texas, he encounters a couple of Mexican men who tell him the land already belongs to their employer. "You mean he took it away from whoever was here before. Indians, maybe," says Dunson. "Maybe. So?" one of the men replies. "Well, I'm taking it away from him," says Dunson.

Strained smiles follow before Dunson shoots and kills one of the men as he was drawing his own pistol. Dunson tells the other to go tell his employer what happened. And that, folks, is how the West was won, more or less. Fourteen years pass and Dunson has turned one bull and a cow into cattle numbering in the thousands. He can't sell any beef after the Civil War so, with the same boldness with which he staked his claim initially, he decides he's going to leave his land and move all the cattle north where there's a market.

His second in command and essentially adopted son is Matt Garth played by Montgomery Clift in one of those revelatory performances that shows how method actors were shaking up Hollywood in the late 40s and 50s. We first meet Matt as a boy played by another actor (Mickey Kuhn) who has the average stilted delivery of an average 40s supporting player. So when the film cuts to older Matt even his natural reactions in casual conversation are amazing.

The place Matt occupies in Dunson's heart is complicated and feeds into the essential mythology of the story. When Dunson left that wagon train at the beginning of the film he left behind the woman who loved him, Fen (Coleen Gray). In the film's first scene the two part, she begging to go with him to settle in Texas, he telling her it's too dangerous. She starts talking to him not like an individual woman but like an emissary for womankind. When he says the life he's set out for would be "too much for a woman" she replies, "Too much for a woman? Put your arms around me, Tom. Hold me. Feel me in your arms. Do I feel weak, Tom? I don't, do I? Oh, you'll need me. You'll need a woman. You need what a woman can give you to do what you have to do. Oh, listen to me, Tom, listen with your head and your heart too. The sun only shines half the time, Tom, the other half is night."

This mirror dichotomy of man/woman, sun/night will be echoed later after Dunson and Matt's relationship ruptures on the journey north. Matt is tied to Fen because Matt is the only survivor of the wagon train at the beginning of the film--he escapes with a single cow after the train is attacked by Indians. That Dunson makes his great herd from his bull mating with Matt's cow emphasises Matt as a symbol for the female half necessary for Genesis which Dunson neglected.

So as the journey north becomes more and more fraught with difficulty, it makes sense the conflict that arises between Dunson and Matt is one between a philosophy of force and a philosophy of compassion. When men want to desert, Dunson's methods of dealing with the deserters become increasingly brutal and Matt has to find gradually more direct ways in countermanding Dunson.

A woman doesn't come back into the film until the final act--an example of the famous "Hawksian Woman", in this case played by Joanne Dru. Her introduction is certainly impressive. When Matt joins her and a group of gamblers and prostitutes in the middle of circled wagons fending off Indian Comanche attackers she starts flirting with him. When she takes an arrow in the shoulder--it seems Dru was actually shot in the shoulder with an arrow, presumably she had padding under her blouse--she doesn't even change her tone of voice while he's focused on shooting.

The phallic arrow and her taking it so easily is one of the less direct of several ways that the film implies she's a prostitute. It also implies her independent spirit and ability to make decisions and take actions that don't necessarily suit her immediate physical needs or comfort. It makes sense that a woman with traditionally masculine attributes would potentially bridge the gap in the conflict between Dunson and Matt. But while it's an effective route for the personal conflict of the characters, it's questionable whether it resolves the larger thematic tension which would continue to be fertile ground for Westerns for years to come.
» Little Depth for Dark Waters

Of the many gothic melodramas from the mid-20th century that portray a woman being made to think she's crazy by people trying to cover up a crime, 1944's Dark Waters is not one of the best. But it's not bad and if you have a particular love for the gaslighting genre you'll find it a decent indulgence.

Merle Oberon stars as Leslie Calvin, a young woman who, as the film opens, is recovering from the traumatic experience of losing her parents when the boat the three were on was sunk. Filled with despair, she has a burst of enthusiasm when she receives a letter from her aunt and uncle in Louisiana, inviting her to stay with them in their massive bayou manor.

For some reason they don't show up at the train station but Leslie is rescued by the handsome and impossibly good Dr. George Grover (Franchot Tone) who takes her to aunt and uncle's.

Leslie and George ought to have been a little more wary when they discovered that two dodgy fellows played by Thomas Mitchell and Elisha Cook, Jr. are also staying at the house. Even more tellingly, once they find out Leslie's now deathly afraid of water, the two strange men jump on every pretext to drag her out onto a boat or across some treacherous little platform over the river.

When the reality is finally revealed it's more than slightly improbable and doesn't make sense based on what we've learned. This and the fact that George is intensely boring keep the film from being really effective but the performances from Oberon, Mitchell, and Cook, Jr. go a long way. There's also an effective appearance from an underused Rex Ingram as a former servant.

Twitter Sonnet #1132

A brace of solid angles took the fight.
A spider stretched between the bars of steel.
A jagged spark imperilled magic light.
A drawing of a cam'ra makes it real.
The canvas flat upon the water calls.
A misty spiral caged the sails to spill.
The solar rays descend like yellow walls.
Between the drops of sweat's a tired will.
The extra egg was pushed into the rice.
The lagging sun consumed its yolk in days.
The rusty engine starts but once or twice.
A heavy rain has wrecked the tops'l stays.
A calendar of pebbles makes the rock.
A timeless stone permits the empty clock.

» The Eternal Harmonica

After Spike tells Faye she's tone deaf at the end of the fifth episode, the sixth episode of Cowboy Bebop opens with someone who's definitely not tone deaf. It's a child, a prodigy with a harmonica. And what could be more sincere and pure than a child with a great natural instinct for music? But we should know by now not to trust appearances on Cowboy Bebop.

Session Six: Sympathy for the Devil

Like "Honky Tonk Woman", the title is borrowed from a Rolling Stones song but it also plays off the title of the previous episode, "Ballad of Fallen Angels". One episode focuses on how the angels fall, this episode is about sympathy for the devils they become. In the climax of the episode, when Spike (Koichi Yamadera) confronts the child, Wen (Yumi Toma), armed with the only thing that can kill him, he just stands there a moment and lets the kid get a few shots off on him.

This is another bit of unexplained evidence that Spike abides by a code of honour, similar to his warning the young woman in the first episode. Perhaps its a remnant of his life among the syndicate, perhaps it's a deeper instinct, something he does that reminds him he's not the beast Vicious claims he is. It might also be a sign of the sympathy the title alludes to.

In a kind of symmetry with the fact that appearances often provide no reliable information--now even a child isn't even a child--this episode is the first to indicate Spike has an artificial eye. It looks like his natural eye but it's not and it's also significant in that it's not only the world around Spike that presents dubious signifiers, his means of perceiving them is also suspect.

The shots of Spike, naked on an operating table surrounded by unknown surgeons will be mirrored by shots of Faye (Megumi Hayashibara) having a similar experience in a later episode. It also provides a parallel with Wen who also received some kind of physical modification against his will--and, again, his story is similar to what we later learn about Faye; he's far older than he looks and, significantly, he comes from the time before the hyperspace gate accident, which we learn a lot about for the first time in this episode.

With all the thematic interest the show has in instability, it makes sense that an accident rendered Earth almost uninhabitable due to a continuous rain of meteors. Like Faye, Wen has become a completely different person since the accident. Unlike Faye, though, Wen experienced the passage of time and his immortality has made him a kind of psychopath. When Spike finally gives him the release of death and we see his rapid ageing, it's a reminder that the show isn't necessarily a celebration of instability. It makes sense that Wen would have lost respect for human life when death lost meaning for him--so, in killing him, Spike returns his humanity to him, waking him from that dream. But the need for permanence, or a sense of home, will gradually exhibit more prominence as the show progresses and maybe this is the first sign of something more ominous in chaos and change.
» Monster Enough and Time

To-day's Jon Pertwee's birthday so I thought I'd revisit my favourite Third Doctor serial, The Time Monster. Serialised in six parts in 1972, it served as the finale for Pertwee's third season on Doctor Who. For me, it has it all--comedy and horror, time travel shenanigans, the Doctor's strident weirdness played against the Brigadier's long suffering incredulity, and one of Jo Grant's more impressively flamboyant costumes. All this and Ingrid Pitt, too.

One of my all time favourite actresses, Pitt also appeared in a Fifth Doctor serial but she's so much better here as Queen Galleia of Atlantis. Though she doesn't show up until the fifth part of the six part serial when she and the Master (Roger Delgado) have a power play romance that seems like it could've filled a full serial.

She and Pertwee don't share any dialogue (if you'd like to see them working together, check out the entertaining Amicus anthology horror film The House that Dripped Blood) but she has a nice moment with "Jo Jo Grant".

"It's just Jo," says Jo, finally correcting an error made by the King (George Cormack) when the Doctor introduced her as "Jo--Jo Grant". She receives a wig and dress in Atlantis which are, in her own word, "Groovy", though she has to trade in the improbably badass boots she'd been wearing for most of the serial.

Jo is arguably the Doctor's meekest companion--possibly a choice by Katy Manning since she now also plays the bold adventuress Iris Wildthyme in the audios. She's good as Wildthyme, and just about unrecognisable. All of Jo's self-assertion seems to be in her wardrobe and she seems eager to strike a pose to emphasise it.

Pertwee was a very pose-y actor, too, though he did it less and less towards the end of his tenure. But I like how he fits himself into a little chair in this episode when he explains to a young man, Stuart (Ian Collier), he's not sure if he knows how to reverse his accelerated ageing.

Stuart is an assistant in a lab run by the Master--posing as a Greek physicist--and a young woman named Ruth Ingram (Wanda Moore). Stuart and Ruth have a lot of coy banter about Women's Lib, a frequently recurring topic during the Third Doctor era. During an intriguing sequence where the Doctor becomes dispersed in the Time Vortex, he communicates with Jo in the TARDIS telepathically and we can hear a number of whispering voices chattering. The Doctor says these voices are his subconscious--one of them is a woman's voice. Jodie Whittaker in embryo?

I guess a lot of people can't get past the low budget special effects but I find a lot of the weird stuff in this serial very effective, even when it's a man in a white bird costume swinging from a wire. I love the cliffhanger in the second episode where the Master transports the Atlantian priest and we see this great panicked look on the face of the administrator, Dr. Percival (Johm Wyse), just visible through a sort of sun ray effect before the end credits.

I also love the simple gadget the Doctor rigs up with forks and a wine bottle that somehow interferes with the Master's plan. Pertwee was primarily known for comedy before Doctor Who, which makes it surprising his Doctor is probably the least comedic of all. One of the things this serial is best known for is the Doctor and Jo locked in an Atlantean prison and, to quiet her fears, he tells her a story that, like writer Robert Sloman's later serial, The Planet of the Spiders, seems to be influenced by Buddhist philosophy. It's an effective moment and Pertwee sells the authority and tenderness required to make Jo and us contemplate the "daisy-est daisy" and the nature of despair to constrict one's worldview, making things seem worse than they are.

The sequences in the Atlantean labyrinth are also great and have a nice old pulp adventure quality to them. I love the slight sense of awe when the Doctor and Jo finally find the crystal.

And I haven't even mentioned the Minotaur played by David Prowse. This serial really does have everything.
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