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Are You Virtuous Enough? Are You Sure? Sep. 20th, 2019 @ 06:51 am


I'd been warned Samuel Richardson's 1740 novel, Pamela; Or, Virtue Rewarded, was a tedious read. About a quarter of the way through, I find it more obnoxious than tedious. It's also fascinating from an anthropological standpoint, being the story of a domestic servant featuring many details of mid-18th century life. I've been reading a copy printed in 1907 (the bookmark is a ribbon added by me).



It's pretty sturdy for its age. It also has some charming engravings from a 1745 edition.



So far, the story has been about Pamela, a 16 year-old servant, resisting the sexual advances of her master, a young gentleman, who has become less restrained in his conduct following the death of his mother, Pamela's former mistress. Richardson originally conceived the series of letters that make up most of the novel's content as a "conduct book", a book designed to instruct young people how to behave. This is where the book is obnoxious and unsurprisingly inspired a multitude of parodies in its own time, one of the most strident critics being Richardson's rival, Henry Fielding, and reading Pamela after Fielding's Tom Jones is a bit like watching Get Out after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Pamela's master is such a consistent swine and Pamela is such an unwavering paragon it's all a bit absurd. It has the quality of late Puritan morality, too, in its implication that anything approaching sinful thought or inclination is a ticket to Hell. At one point, the master offers to support her poor family for the rest of their lives in exchange for her becoming his lover. She replies only with shocked indignation--her poverty and her parents' poverty are only a source of pride for her.

. . . God's goodness, to your piety and good examples, my dear parents, my dear poor parents! I say that word with pleasure; for your poverty is my pride, as your integrity shall be my imitation.

Imagine a more realistic woman in a more realistic situation, one who married a rich man she only kind of liked, for example, to save a family where most of the children had died and the parents were suffering the effects of malnutrition. Just imagine how Pamela's grandstanding would come off.

I know from synopses there's eventually a turn where Pamela's master does become reformed and she accepts him but so far the book almost reads like #MeToo, the Novel, with its attention to how the master abuses the power of his position to attempt taking advantage of Pamela. But on the same token, Pamela might be called Victim Blaming, the Novel with its conceit that any submission on Pamela's part would render her culpable.

At one point, when Pamela's master tries to rape her, he mentions the rape of Lucretia to assure Pamela she will bear no guilt for the deed.

He by force kissed my neck and lips; and said, Whoever blamed Lucretia? All the shame lay on the ravisher only and I am content to take all the blame upon me, as I have already borne too great a share for what I have not deserved.

May I, said I, Lucretia like, justify myself with my death, if I am used barbarously! O my good girl! said he, tauntingly, you are well read, I see; and we shall make out between us, before we have done, a pretty story in romance, I warrant ye.


Lucretia was a noblewoman in ancient Rome who was raped and subsequently committed suicide. The incident has been used for centuries to frame discussions about rape. Saint Augustine wrote about it in his City of God:

This, then, is our position, and it seems sufficiently lucid. We maintain that when a woman is violated while her soul admits no consent to the iniquity, but remains inviolably chaste, the sin is not hers, but his who violates her.

But Augustine also goes on to say that Lucretia's suicide should not be used to prove her integrity.

. . . but what if she was betrayed by the pleasure of the act, and gave some consent to Sextus, though so violently abusing her, and then was so affected with remorse, that she thought death alone could expiate her sin? Even though this were the case, she ought still to have held her hand from suicide, if she could with her false gods have accomplished a fruitful repentance. However, if such were the state of the case, and if it were false that there were two, but one only committed adultery; if the truth were that both were involved in it, one by open assault, the other by secret consent, then she did not kill an innocent woman; and therefore her erudite defenders may maintain that she is not among that class of the dwellers below "who guiltless sent themselves to doom." But this case of Lucretia is in such a dilemma, that if you extenuate the homicide, you confirm the adultery: if you acquit her of adultery, you make the charge of homicide heavier; and there is no way out of the dilemma, when one asks, If she was adulterous, why praise her? if chaste, why slay her?

Richardson seems to be invoking this dilemma by awkwardly putting it into the mouth of a would-be rapist. What starts as a decent enough point that one shouldn't blame women for being raped goes to a place seemingly designed to provoke neurotic second guessing and loopholes. Yes, my dear, but are you sure you didn't enjoy it, just a little bit? Because then you'd be a sinner.

For some reason, many people consider Pamela to be the first English novel, despite the existence of Robinson Crusoe (1719), Moll Flanders (1722), Gulliver's Travels (1726), Oroonoko (1688), and many, many others. The answer to this mystery comes in the Publisher's Note included in my 1907 edition:

. . . it marked the transition from the novel of adventure to the novel of character--from the narration of entertaining events to the study of men and of manners, of motives and of sentiments. In it the romantic interest of the story (which is of the slightest) is subordinated to the moral interest in the conduct of its characters in the various situations in which they are placed.

In other words, it's not genre fiction. All those other works are too much fun to be worthy of serious notice. I'd argue, though, Moll Flanders has more psychological depth in her little finger than Pamela has in her whole chaste person.

Twitter Sonnet #1279

A running ball was tossed to make the skin.
In grassy chalk the lines were written green.
Ideas were bunched in notes beneath the pin.
A scratchy scrawl was never clearly seen.
Retrieving amps reprised the tuneless steel.
In boxes packed a sea of fish were read.
In yellow dye the fortress turned to real.
A tree or wall recalled what ceilings said.
A skipping disk curtailed revision's play.
Absorbing tasks divert the tendrils west.
Another sun creates a purple day.
Assembled wheels propel the cages best.
An empty pen discards its crimson cap.
Inverted slides reveal a hidden map.
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Back to the Ice Coffins Sep. 19th, 2019 @ 02:34 pm


Farscape season three begins with a new opening theme and some upgraded cameras (though the show's still in 4:3) but we go right back to where we left off at the end of season two on an ice world with coffins filled with dead people. Mostly dead.



Season Three, Episode One: Season of Death

Crichton (Ben Browder) is still strapped down, screaming gibberish. Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) gloats while Braca (David Franklin), his second in command, holds Grunchlk (Hugh Keays-Byrne) at gunpoint. In a wonderfully disgusting moment, Scorpius takes his revelries to the point of actually ingesting the bit of Crichton's brain leftover on the extracted neural chip.



The episode reprises a bit of exposition from the previous episode where it was revealed that the donors whom the Diagnosan (Fiona Gentle) and Grunchlk keep frozen in coffins aren't technically dead. Grunchlk explains none of them can be saved but each is preserved seconds before death to maintain the quality of their organs. It poses an interesting ethical problem, one Stark (Paul Goddard) wastes no time resolving. He grants the nearest donor a merciful death.



Of course, Aeryn (Claudia Black) is in one of these things, too. This is an episode filled with people rendered physically incapable of governing their own bodies. Crichton is strapped to a table, deprived of speech, Aeryn's locked in a coffin, and Grunchlk gets his just desserts when Scorpius uses a mind control device to operate him like a puppet.



All three of the characters manage some form of revenge, though. Crichton's being perhaps the most satisfying when he realises that, although Harvey (Wayne Pygram) is still trapped in his head, it's Crichton who calls the shots, demonstrating this by tossing the neural clone into a dumpster.



The mind is its own place indeed.

It's in the mental realm that Zhaan (Virginia Hey) retrieves Aeryn from some ethereal plane, but only at great cost, which she will pay very soon.



Meanwhile, on Moya, D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) is yelling at Jothee (Matt Newton) and Chiana (Gigi Edgley), forbidding them to go down to the planet, like they're both his children. But when these two are alone, they aren't acting like siblings, unless we're talking about Lannisters. It's pretty clear where this is heading and returns the show to the idea of Moya's crew forming into an unconventional kind of family. The episode ends with Crichton and Aeryn refraining, on her insistence, from breaking a Peacekeeper convention in favour of a human one about relationships, a decision that will influence events throughout the season to come.

. . .



Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.



This entry is part of a series I'm writing on
Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):



Season One:



Episode 1: Pilot

Episode 2: I, E.T.

Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis

Episode 4: Throne for a Loss

Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future

Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again

Episode 7: PK Tech Girl

Episode 8: That Old Black Magic

Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist

Episode 10: They've Got a Secret

Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear

Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue

Episode 13: The Flax

Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton

Episode 15: Durka Returns

Episode 16: A Human Reaction

Episode 17: Through the Looking Glass

Episode 18: A Bug's Life

Episode 19: Nerve

Episode 20: The Hidden Memory

Episode 21: Bone to be Wild

Episode 22: Family Ties



Season Two:



Episode 1: Mind the Baby

Episode 2: Vitas Mortis

Episode 3: Taking the Stone

Episode 4: Crackers Don't Matter

Episode 5: Picture If You Will

Episode 6: The Way We Weren't

Episode 7: Home on the Remains

Episode 8: Dream a Little Dream

Episode 9: Out of Their Minds

Episode 10: My Three Crichtons

Episode 11: Look at the Princess, Part I: A Kiss is But a Kiss

Episode 12: Look at the Princess, Part II: I Do, I Think

Episode 13: Look at the Princess, Part III: The Maltese Crichton

Episode 14: Beware of Dog

Episode 15: Won't Get Fooled Again

Episode 16: The Locket

Episode 17: The Ugly Truth

Episode 18: A Clockwork Nebari

Episode 19: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part I: A Not So Simple Plan

Episode 20: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part II: With Friends Like These . . .

Episode 21: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part III: Plan B

Episode 22: Die Me, Dichotomy

Current Location: An ice world
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "Son of a Preacher Man" - Dusty Springfield

Twin Spots Sep. 18th, 2019 @ 09:15 am


I finished the first season of Black Spot (Zone Blanche) last night, the French Twin Peaks inspired supernatural crime drama. It's a good show, and extra fun for any Twin Peaks fan, though not an outstanding show.

It's not until the penultimate episode that Black Spot really gets its "wrapped in plastic" moment, a scene analogous to the one where Laura Palmer's naked body is discovered wrapped in plastic on a riverbank. In a very characteristic style choice, director David Lynch juxtaposed the girl's corpse with a giant log.



Some might interpret this as a commentary on American culture or it might simply be part of Lynch's preoccupation with woodworking or the motif of logs on Twin Peaks specifically. There's a dreadful awe to it, the large expanse of gnarled wood abruptly cutting off to the pale grey contrast of water and pebbles on which Laura's body is almost invisible save for her dark, tangled hair.

I wonder if the makers of Black Spot thought to themselves, "How can we make this more brutal and more European?" So Major Laurene Weiss (Suliane Brahim) finds the body of Marion Steiner (Sarah-Megan Allouch) curled up deliberately like a bog mummy in a dark bog littered with animal bones.



It certainly makes an impression. Then the show sets up a number of potential suspects along with the hint that the killer may be found from outside that group of suspects. This is the tension that made Twin Peaks compulsively watchable in its first season and the first eight episodes of its second--it sharpens the viewer's attention like a pencil. You look at everyone and wonder, "What is it about their personality that might be the red flag indicating they're the killer?" Quentin Tarantino exploited a similar tension in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by leaving unresolved the question as to whether Cliff murdered his wife.



When we do learn the killer's identity on Twin Peaks, it becomes a different show, one much more focused on the supernatural. This doesn't make it a bad show--the fact that David Lynch temporarily left the series led to the infamously bad episodes before the brilliant final episode (though a hardcore fan like me appreciates even those episodes after a while). But it makes the show less compulsively watchable.



Black Spot is more front-loaded with the supernatural stuff though it plays a bit coy about it. But it's much more overt than Twin Peaks often was. One scene in Black Spot has one episode's villain attacked by snakes, another features a cave, reminiscent of Owl Cave, in which the protagonists hallucinate. Most Twin Peaks-inspired series like Veronica Mars or Broadchurch focus primarily on the dichotomy of a town populated by distinct personalities with a murder investigation, while a few others, like the first season of True Detective, also have hints of Twin Peaks' brand of the supernatural. Black Spot is maybe the most unambiguous about its supernatural world-building, tying it very clearly to European mythology with the bog mummy and the horned figure.



I've yet to discover if this guy's Herne the Hunter or not. He makes an effective appearance in the background of a Blair Witch-ish piece of footage of teenagers in the woods found in the fourth episode. The supernatural is Black Spot's strongest point, with second place going to the character of Franck Siriani (Laurent Capelluto).



A lot of credit goes to the actor here for his sly, musing delivery. He's the only odd personality the show successfully establishes though he has plenty of Twin Peaks in his DNA. Partly he's Agent Cooper but also his obsession for getting to bed on time is reminiscent of Sam Stanley in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. There were so many direct references to Twin Peaks that I'm quite sure I missed a few. When Marion's body is discovered, the coroner remarks on how sad it was to perform an autopsy on a girl for whom she'd been personal physician, much like Doc Hayward on Twin Peaks remarks on being Laura's family doctor after performing an autopsy on her. There's an influential landowning family woven into the plot called the Steiners, similar to the Hornes, and there are two instances of Laurene apparently being fatally shot only to recover like Agent Cooper at the end of Twin Peaks season 1.



This adds to the feeling that the makers of Black Spot were trying to make a really good show, which is fine, though it reminds me that one of the things that makes Lynch's episodes of Twin Peaks so much better than the ones he didn't direct is they aren't so much about making good television as they are about conveying to the audience the feeling of knowing these people, of being in this place, of experiencing these dreams.

Black Spot and the first two seasons of Twin Peaks are available on NetFlix in the U.S.
Current Location: Villefranche
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "Lithium" - Nirvana

Getting One Thing Straight Sep. 17th, 2019 @ 11:24 am


Movies and television in the U.S. so often shoot things the same way that audiences are trained to expect certain things and can become peculiarly frustrated when their expectations aren't met, even if, some might say especially if, it's a superior product. Watching David Lynch's 1999 film, The Straight Story, again a couple nights ago I marvelled at the shots he created of Iowa and Wisconsin with cinematographer Freddie Francis.



It's the same kind of visual revelation as Fargo. One kind of forgets how consistently studios shoot southern California for Montana or Indiana or Minnesota that these images have an almost alien quality.



I guess in that sense it's appropriate the previous time Freddie Francis worked with David Lynch it was on Dune and, before that, on The Elephant Man. The Straight Story wasn't only his last film with Lynch but the last film of Francis' career. A magnificent note to go out on.



The true story of a man, Alvin (Richard Farnsworth), travelling across country on a tractor just to see his estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton) is played with a perfectly understated note by Lynch and the actors. Long quiet moments of Alvin driving while Angelo Badalamenti's gentle score plays create this beautiful story through sensory experience.



Twitter Sonnet #1278

Computer beads effect a careful count.
Divided tables add to sev'ral games.
As pieces move the problems slowly mount.
To carve the bones is like to give them names.
A tractor took the hundred miles once.
Of broken belts the war would never tell.
For salt the tiger's tongue forever hunts.
Saliva falls but not for ev'ry bell.
Commended books discard the earthly pulp.
A distant gated drive was shortened quick.
Translated words retract in shrinking gulp.
A careful plan became a lousy trick.
The amber dream remained through inky night.
The slowest wheels approach a morning light.
Current Location: A field
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
Current Music: "What is This Thing Called Love?" - Bill Evans Trio

One Man's Hassled Brain Sep. 16th, 2019 @ 07:50 am


Oh, Crichton, what have you gotten yourself into now? Farscape's crazy-eyed protagonist finds himself in another situation to justify being more than a little unhinged in the second season finale.



Season 2, Episode 22: Die Me, Dichotomy

After the multitude of characters and locations in the three part episode preceding this, one might expect the finale to be an intimate bottle episode. Nope. We have the introduction of two more memorable characters, the tall but delicate Diagnosan (Fiona Gentle) and his business partner, the unsavoury Grunchlk, played by Immortan Joe himself, Hugh Keays-Byrne.



What an evocative juxtaposition. Grunchlk explains how the Diagnosan's mask is required to prevent exposing the alien's nose and mouth at the same time, the two being so sensitive that if they're both open to the air the Diagnosan's death is almost certain. Grunchlk, amusingly, seems to be a walking and talking collection of contaminants. The impression he gives of being a bit shady is confirmed later in an amusing scene where Rygel (Jonathan Hardy) negotiates with him over a bowl of soup.



At first, the new pair are aboard Moya to help the ship heal from the burns incurred a couple episodes earlier when Zhaan (Virginia Hey) was forced to resort to drastic methods to remove an infestation of living currency. But when Crichton (Ben Browder) sends out a homing signal to the Peacekeepers, the removal of the chip Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) put in his brain takes top priority. But even the Diagnosan doesn't feel confident the thing can be removed without killing John.



This episode settles, as if there were any doubt, that Crichton and Aeryn (Claudia Black), are in love--a bit cruelly as Aeryn unknowingly confesses to a Crichton being manipulated by the chip. We only briefly see Harvey (Wayne Pygram)--instead, for much of this episode, we see a peculiar Scorpius Crichton--Ben Browder in Scorpius makeup and costume, imitating Wayne Pygram.



It's an eerie effect and yet another way in which the human astronaut has been separated from his world. He's exiled physically, emotionally, and mentally in profound ways. The cure seems like it makes things even worse and the episode, and the season, concludes with the man strapped to a table having apparently lost the ability for intelligible speech. Or as a gloating Scorpius puts it, "So much to say, so little capacity."



This is only one of the things left unresolved. This episode also hints that indeed Chiana (Gigi Edgley) and Jothee (Matt Newton) might be a more compatible couple than Chiana and D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), Crais (Lani Tupu) and Aeryn are drawn closer together as potential surrogate parents for Talyn, and Aeryn herself is left to an uncertain fate. After an effective chase between her and Harvey/Crichton, her demise seems certain enough that her friends hold a funeral. But this is not the end, it's just the halfway point.

. . .



Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.



This entry is part of a series I'm writing on
Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):



Season One:



Episode 1: Pilot

Episode 2: I, E.T.

Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis

Episode 4: Throne for a Loss

Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future

Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again

Episode 7: PK Tech Girl

Episode 8: That Old Black Magic

Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist

Episode 10: They've Got a Secret

Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear

Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue

Episode 13: The Flax

Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton

Episode 15: Durka Returns

Episode 16: A Human Reaction

Episode 17: Through the Looking Glass

Episode 18: A Bug's Life

Episode 19: Nerve

Episode 20: The Hidden Memory

Episode 21: Bone to be Wild

Episode 22: Family Ties



Season Two:



Episode 1: Mind the Baby

Episode 2: Vitas Mortis

Episode 3: Taking the Stone

Episode 4: Crackers Don't Matter

Episode 5: Picture If You Will

Episode 6: The Way We Weren't

Episode 7: Home on the Remains

Episode 8: Dream a Little Dream

Episode 9: Out of Their Minds

Episode 10: My Three Crichtons

Episode 11: Look at the Princess, Part I: A Kiss is But a Kiss

Episode 12: Look at the Princess, Part II: I Do, I Think

Episode 13: Look at the Princess, Part III: The Maltese Crichton

Episode 14: Beware of Dog

Episode 15: Won't Get Fooled Again

Episode 16: The Locket

Episode 17: The Ugly Truth

Episode 18: A Clockwork Nebari

Episode 19: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part I: A Not So Simple Plan

Episode 20: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part II: With Friends Like These . . .

Episode 21: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part III: Plan B

Current Location: An operating room
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "The Wild Colonial Boy" - Tommy Makem
Other entries
» Methods for Evading Deaths, Green and Blue


I was in the mood for a Third Doctor story so this past week I watched The Green Death again. I think this Doctor Who serial might make interesting companion viewing to John Ford's 1941 film How Green Was My Valley which was also about Welsh coal miners. Ford didn't see fit to include giant space maggots, though.



I often think about how zombies seem to represent a repressed fear of or resentment for the homeless. There's something similarly evocative about unstoppable, repulsive maggots springing from the same terrible subterranean chambers where often politically inconvenient human beings toil their lives away. 1970s politics are very present in this serial which sees a group of environmentalist bohemian academics forming an unlikely and tenuous alliance with the coal miners.



There's something you wouldn't see to-day and it's obviously a bit of a strain even on the show. Such an alliance might represent a better future liberals, though. They're united against a conspicuous agent of globalism, a company called Global Chemicals, who are competing with the bohemian academics for a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, only Global Chemicals is doing it with dangerous green sludge that produces massive, unbiodegradable waste.



Enter Jo Grant (Katy Manning), whose last serial this is, and the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney). The latter has an interesting dramatic placement here as a U.N. officer. He represents globalism, too, in another way, and is initially disposed to be an ally to Global Chemicals. But Jo is already smitten by Professor Jones, played by Manning's real life boyfriend at the time, Stewart Bevan. I wonder if his parents ever considered naming him Steven Bevan.



Jones is more or less the leader of the bohemian academics called the "Nuthutch" who are busy developing alternative fuels and meat substitutes. They're also all musicians and artists on the side and impress our heroes later with their taste in wine. They seem to represent a shorthand for a Beat ideal though the disconnect between academic elite and working class interests, apparently absent here, had been partially responsible for turning Jack Kerouac into a bitter old man.

But where's the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) for all this? Disappointed that Jo didn't want to join him on an alien adventure in the TARDIS, he goes off alone to a dangerous blue world to retrieve what he somewhat redundantly describes as a "blue sapphire".



He gets his olive jacket shredded for his trouble but I much prefer the outfit he's wearing when he does show up in Wales, a blue velvet coat with red piping, a blue ruffled shirt, and a red bow tie he wears under the collar.



The first thing he does, though, is to trade it for overalls to go down in the mine to rescue Jo, showing a willingness to get into the thick of things. Now there's an ideal for us all to aspire to--a man who recognises the value of aesthetic taste who also gets his hands dirty.



If I'm throwing any shade at Professor Jones it must be remembered this is the serial where Jo decides to trade her life with the Doctor for a life with the younger man--the man she directly describes to the Doctor as being like, "a younger you." I think there are a few fans who support the theory this may have played into the Doctor's subsequent regenerations being younger. But by the time the elderly Jo briefly reunites with a very young Eleventh Doctor on The Sarah Jane Adventures she still doesn't seem to regret going off and marrying the human. Maybe this played into the Doctor giving up on being a youngster for a bit and becoming Twelve.
» A Frustrated Spring


A young social worker finds it's not so easy to reform a handsome young delinquent in 1958's The Boy Who Came Back (踏みはずした春 "Stepped On Spring"). All the love and encouragement she shows to him have little effect when he feels devalued by the culture at large. This early work by Seijin Suzuki is a sweet and effective teen issue melodrama.

Of course, it's not simply altruism or devotion to duty that ultimately compels Keiko (Sachiko Hidari) to stand by Nobuo (Akira Kobayashi). When the staff at her organisation review an exchange diary she keeps with Nobuo, several men express disapproval for the affectionate language she uses. One of the older women explains, of course, it's natural for women to become more emotional than men when shepherding a youth like this but this is deemed even more reason to discourage the level of Keiko's dedication.



It's hard to see how Nobuo could ever be reformed. We watch as he tries to look for work and each potential employer turns him away for having no experience or a bad reputation or both. The one employer who seems willing, thanks to a connexion through Keiko, Nobuo walks out on when one of the employees smirks at him. How can Nobuo go from a position of relative respect as a proto-yakuza to the repetitive humiliation of the legitimate workforce? Maybe a mature, emotionally stable youth could get past it but Nobuo's life has made him fragile and confused, desperate for clear situations and roles.



Even so, when his old friends try to re-enlist him into the petty gangster lifestyle, he refuses them and reminds them they all agreed to go straight. It soon becomes clear only Nobuo was sincere in his intentions on this point. Meanwhile, Keiko tries to talk the more respectable of Nobuo's girlfriends, Kazue (Ruriko Asaoka), into going back with him.



Kazue works with schoolchildren and seems to have a similar, dedicated caretaker personality to Keiko's. But Kazue's affections haven't been tested the way Keiko's have. We never see Nobuo hit Kazue as we see he hits Keiko now and then. He just stays away from Kazue, apparently because another boy kissed her.



Whether or not Keiko should give up on Nobuo for the way he treats her is a question complicated by the fact that she's the only one who seems to have any real interest in his reform. But when her colleagues and even the police start to see her as crazy as Nobuo, one might justly ask if her quest is quixotic.

The plot takes some improbable turns in its final act but Suzuki's compositions and the raw performances of the actors make the film consistently captivating. The Boy Who Came Back is available on Amazon Prime.



Twitter Sonnet #1277

Ephem'ral pins'll drop the notice pad.
Another night devolves to flickered screens.
Assorted eyes can drive Medusa mad.
In numbered rows we count the watching beans.
Insistent pages press the inky truth.
Ideas regressed to pulp adorn the shelf.
A grinning plastic sleeps within the booth.
A tiny shell could sate the hungry elf.
The better line conformed to make a jaw.
On rested chin the pout implies a note.
Ascending pants the cat deploys a claw.
In scratchy words the sleeping writer wrote.
Behind a rock the beach awaits address.
Diverted days consume a pleated dress.

» Gifts Met with Suspicion


When you go to see a movie or view a work of art, do you want an emotional, transportive experience or an autopsy? Ingmar Bergman's 1958 film The Magician presents the tragedy of the cynical, analytical critic and the difficult line trod by the artist in creating an impression of wonder while being subject to human infirmity. Few works of fiction so brilliantly capture the sad relationship between these two people.



This is an ensemble film featuring a small travelling magic troupe in the mid-19th century being interrogated in the home of a village consul, Egerman (Erland Josephson). The cast includes various troupe members, the local intellectuals analysing them, and the servants who carry on their lives of toil, broken up by sexual play. But primarily the story is of a contest between the Magician, Vogler (Max von Sydow), and the Minister of Health, Vergerus (Gunnar Bjornstrand).



When Vergerus examines Vogler, he announces that he can find no physical reason to account for the claim that Vogler is mute, and a look of anguished disappointment passes over Vogler's face. It's not simply the disappointment of a ruse seen through but the disappointment in perceiving Vergerus' motives. When Vergerus sits down to challenge Vogler's talent for mesmerism, the Minister of Health finds himself rambling about his desire to dissect Vogler and analyse the parts of his brain.



Despite this, Vergerus sarcastically announces Vogler's attempt to mesmerise him was a failure. The consul's wife, Ottilia (Gertrud Fridh) indignantly asks how Vergerus could say Volger failed when Vergerus had plainly experienced profound emotion. This makes Vergerus dig his heels in even further and claim any emotion she perceived may have been his disappointment in not feeling anything. Vergerus is very clever but unfortunately he uses that cleverness to evade an honest contemplation of his own reactions. It's terrible what the officials put Vogler through but at times I found myself pitying Vergerus even more.



I found myself thinking of Sullivan's Travels when the coachman (Lars Ekborg) and the housemaid (Bibi Andersson) use a love potion given them by a witch travelling with the troupe (Naima Wifstrand) as an excuse to sleep together. "She's normally so reserved!" remarks another servant about Andersson's character. One senses the two sexual partners may on some level realise the love potion is a fake but, on the other hand, maybe it isn't since it accomplishes exactly what a love potion is meant to do.



The final act of the film is a pretty effective horror sequence in which Vergerus gets his wish to perform an autopsy on Vogler. But even when an eyeball mysteriously turns up in his inkpot he's unwilling to admit the value of his own emotional reactions to the experience. Again and again, Vergerus claims triumph and, again and again, we see Vogler is genuinely effective. I won't say Vogler triumphs because the contest exists primarily in Vergerus' mind. Vogler isn't really trying to prove his powers but to engage in a reciprocal experience, to create something for his audience. The distrust of the critics, the inability to be vulnerable to experience, results in the talented Vogler being nearly reduced to beggar or criminal. But the reality of his talent means that his fortunes can also reverse at any time provided he has the right audience.

The Magician is available on The Criterion Channel.
» Frau Blucher and the Shadow Depository


New plan, basically like the old plan--the motley of Farscape season one aliens gathered in the second part of "Liars, Guns, and Money" are still going to infiltrate the shadow depository. But now, instead of rescuing Jothee, it's Crichton everyone's making the effort for.



Season 2, Episode 21: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part III: Plan B

Now that the currency is gone up in flames, Crichton (Ben Browder) figured the only way to get Jothee (Matt Newton) out of Scorpius' (Wayne Pygram) clutches is to accept the deal and turn himself in. And maybe even death seems better than living under the control of Scorpius' neural chip.



Now we're at the point where none of Moya's crew questions the need to rescue Crichton. D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) feels particularly indebted but surprisingly this the first point on which Jothee defies his father--he refuses to get caught up in his father's fight. D'Argo finally asks Jothee how he became disfigured--how distinctive Luxan facial features including the nose hood and one of his head tentrals (tenkas) were removed clumsily enough to leave scars.



He doesn't answer except to cryptically blame D'Argo. One senses this wayward kid has a lot of reasons not to whole-heartedly trust any family, blood or otherwise, something that may make him a natural friend for Chiana (Gigi Edgley) later on.



Crichton chained up by Scorpius and Natira (Claudia Karvan) doesn't stop making references to Young Frankenstein, however much he despairs. And Browder's performance emphatically conveys a man at his wit's and sanity's end. Even in the conclusion, when he decides to keep fighting after all, you can see he's being ripped apart inside.



Sadly, this is the last appearance of Natira. Actress Claudia Karvan is well known in Australia, so she probably had no shortage of job offers that didn't require four hours of prosthetics and makeup applied before dawn. But she's great here, waxing eloquent on her attraction to eyes in a manner bordering between sexual and gustatorial--apparently expressing both appetites as poor Rorf (Jeremy Sims) discovers.



Most of the other mercenaries fare little better but it is impressive how well writer Justin Monjo blends story threads for all of them. The most effective probably being the Sheyang, Teurac (Thomas Holesgrove), who needs Zhaan (Viriginia Hey) to inject him with a lethal substance to make his flame breath work when required.



And this episode features the timely return of Crais (Lani Tupu) with Talyn. In a scene where he and Aeryn (Claudia Black) tour the recent damage to Moya, he uncomfortably reminds her of her previous plea that Talyn be raised as a ship incapable of or slow to violence. This while she's asking him to help attack the Shadow Depository. "There's always a reason for violence," he says. It's hard to argue with him.



. . .



Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.



This entry is part of a series I'm writing on
Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):



Season One:



Episode 1: Pilot

Episode 2: I, E.T.

Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis

Episode 4: Throne for a Loss

Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future

Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again

Episode 7: PK Tech Girl

Episode 8: That Old Black Magic

Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist

Episode 10: They've Got a Secret

Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear

Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue

Episode 13: The Flax

Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton

Episode 15: Durka Returns

Episode 16: A Human Reaction

Episode 17: Through the Looking Glass

Episode 18: A Bug's Life

Episode 19: Nerve

Episode 20: The Hidden Memory

Episode 21: Bone to be Wild

Episode 22: Family Ties



Season Two:



Episode 1: Mind the Baby

Episode 2: Vitas Mortis

Episode 3: Taking the Stone

Episode 4: Crackers Don't Matter

Episode 5: Picture If You Will

Episode 6: The Way We Weren't

Episode 7: Home on the Remains

Episode 8: Dream a Little Dream

Episode 9: Out of Their Minds

Episode 10: My Three Crichtons

Episode 11: Look at the Princess, Part I: A Kiss is But a Kiss

Episode 12: Look at the Princess, Part II: I Do, I Think

Episode 13: Look at the Princess, Part III: The Maltese Crichton

Episode 14: Beware of Dog

Episode 15: Won't Get Fooled Again

Episode 16: The Locket

Episode 17: The Ugly Truth

Episode 18: A Clockwork Nebari

Episode 19: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part I: A Not So Simple Plan

Episode 20: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part II: With Friends Like These . . .

» Some Political Rambling


It seems like there are more people remembering 9/11 to-day, the 2001 terrorist attack, than most years. It could be my imagination. It's the 18 year anniversary so maybe people are becoming conscious of the fact that more and more young adults have no real memory of the attack, certainly no real memories of life in the U.S. before the attacks. In the years since, references to how the attacks changed the country and the world in terms of discourse and policy have been plentiful in media. Though for the more profound changes, it's hard to measure without having insight into an alternate dimension when the attacks didn't occur.

I still clearly remember the day. The most immediate effect of hearing about what was happening to the World Trade Centre was the feeling that it could happen anywhere else in the U.S. too, at least for me. I drove to the mall, my favourite refuge for all life's smaller catastrophes, and I read William S. Burroughs' Last Words in the food court before they finally closed the mall, an hour before the stores opened. It does seem strange that there hasn't been another such attack. U.S. retaliation was probably part of it but mainly I suspect the whole experience made it clear how counterproductive it was for al-Qaeda. Not to say that al-Qaeda's ideology is flexible enough to budge on the issue. But I think most people instinctively realise that you can't build on destruction alone, however extreme said destruction is. I'm inclined not to think the Manson Family would've expanded much after the murders.



Some would say Burroughs was clearly wrong now that we live in the world of strong man populists. Maybe Putin is like that. As far as Trump goes I'm in the camp that thinks he's mainly a façade. I don't think he's secretly brilliant, I think he's basically doing The Howard Stern Show, a kind of method comedy where he deliberately plays up foolishness in himself. A lot of commentators have called Trump a "Postmodern President" and I think that's dead accurate. I've heard it said that Islamic terrorists are often motivated to attack the west because of, essentially, postmodernism, an erosion of sincere belief and meaning. But on the other hand, I wonder if it really seems like there's any point in attacking something without substance. One argument against mounting an attack on terrorism was that you really couldn't identify a target in the way you could when fighting against a country. Is there really a physical target for the problem Trump represents? In any case, I think he perfectly represents what Burroughs was talking about in the above clip.

Twitter Sonnet #1276

A group of four ascend the carded hill.
About the hands, there works a comb of wind.
In creaky words there spoke an ancient mill.
In lingual strata hearts attempt to mend.
An oil placed the road beyond the ball.
A row of softened stones betray the path.
In running piles shades ascend the wall.
A crumpled foil feigns a sunny wrath.
Communities begin in buried eggs.
A peat combined with root and moss and grass.
The hardened mud encased the runner's legs.
The land became a green and fertile mass.
Another night replaced a semblance wrong.
To-morrow's dreams of sleep became the dawn.

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