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Myth Happens

Date: 2015-12-01 05:29
Subject: Stick with me, snooks, and I'll stake you to a carload of hats
Security: Public
Music:Saint Eve, "While the City Sleeps"
Rabbit, rabbit. Let's talk about Phantom Lady (1944).

This is the flawed B-picture, the New York noir with two indelible scenes, a female protagonist with unusual agency, and some maddening script problems. It is almost a very good movie. It was directed by Robert Siodmak from Cornell Woolrich's 1942 novel of the same name and produced by Joan Harrison, a former Hitchcock screenwriter and one of Hollywood's few female producers of the time. The cast is A-list to B-plus and the cinematography takes high-contrast advantage of the nascent noir genre to create evocative, artificial tableaux of a city everyone seems to haunt and hardly anyone seems to live in. The sound work is equally expressionistic, frequently conveying key points from offscreen with dialogue or sound effects alone. We spent most of the intermission trying to figure out how we could have fixed the plot.

The premise is crackerjack. On the outs with his wife, engineer Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) spends the evening at a Broadway revue with a melancholy stranger in a memorable hat (Fay Helm; the hat is credited to Kenneth Hopkins as "Phantom Hat Creator") before returning home to find that his wife has been strangled with one of his own ties. He should have an ironclad alibi. He has an existential nightmare. He doesn't know his date's name; he met her at a bar and she insisted on anonymity. Everyone the police interview, from the bartender who served them to the cabbie who drove them to the theater to the star of the revue who gave the stranger the stink-eye from the stage—they were wearing the same hat—either can't recall her positively enough for an identification or outright denies there was a woman with him at all. His trial is a formality. He's convicted in a montage of jeering cross-examination and silently furious reaction shots of his devoted secretary, played by the excellent Ella Raines. Her name is Carol, but everyone calls her "Kansas" after the home state whose accent she has long left behind; she has a curious, dark-browed, deerlike face whose quiet, scary intensity the film will make much of. Without resources or assistance, she decides to clear the name of the man she loves by finding his mysterious alibi, the "phantom lady" whose absent presence already dominates the film. Eventually she will acquire an ally in the inspector who closed the case against her boss (Thomas Gomez, whom I like wherever I find him), but she never yields center stage to him; the focus remains on her resolve, her courage, her sometimes foolhardiness, and her downright ruthlessness at times. Even when the story starts to disintegrate around her, Raines never melts like a heroine who's ready for her man to step in.

Besides Raines' performance, the film's strength lies in two early excursions into the nighttime underworld of New York where Scott and the phantom lady so briefly crossed paths. In the first, Kansas sets her sights on the bartender who knows more than he told the police. Night after night, she buys a whiskey and water and sits at the far end of his bar, not drinking, not speaking, staring at him until closing time, passionless and terrifying as a Fury. "She's been sitting there all night," he protests to his boss with a nervous strain in his voice, but the man sees only a regular customer, an unaccompanied girl trying to catch the barman's eye for a refill, not the petrifying head of the Gorgon. The night she follows him home, through rain-silvered streets and a deserted elevated station where circles of streetlight isolate hunter and prey like spotlights, her heels clicking inexorably behind his quickening footsteps, she begins to frighten the audience: we can't tell what she wants from him, if it's information or purely vengeance for his part in the framing of the man she loves. She corners him for the first, but she gets the second as lagniappe. Tell me how many seventy-one-year-old movies you've seen where the most dangerous thing on the city's streets is a woman alone and unarmed. Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) points in this direction with Margaret Tallichet's pursuit of Peter Lorre, but doesn't go as far: Jane can be menaced by her quarry when his true nature is revealed. Kansas' never has a chance.

The second setpiece is even stronger. Because Scott remembered the phantom lady catching the eye of the drummer at the revue, Kansas gets the man's information from Inspector Burgess and makes herself over into musician bait, a "hep kitten" in tawdry, slinky black—fishnet stockings, stiletto heels, cheap jewelry, a beauty mark and a mouth full of cracking gum—slung into a front-row seat with one shapely ankle tapping out the time, heavily darkened eyes come-hithering at the grinning little tomcat behind the kit. He turns out to be Cliff Milburn (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a sharp-suited firecracker of a trap drummer with the sexual confidence of a man six inches taller and less prone to ironic character death. He talks a mile a minute and mostly jive; he takes her to a private cellar room where a wild jam session is underway and shows off for her with a sexually charged drum solo that I am amazed got past the censors in '44. Seriously, they can't have been looking at the screen. The jazz quintet whose rhythmic shadows crowd the room even closer and smokier than its cinderblock walls are very hot and very good. Cliff starts with a cocky, promising grin, flashing the sticks like an obvious metaphor; as he picks up the pace, his grin tightens, his face sweats, his eyes widen. Kansas stands over him, laughing, but we cannot hear the sound over Cliff's pyrotechnic frenzy. It is a bravura display. He's as good a drummer as he thinks he is1 and he's building to a climax in every sense of the word. She jerks her head, slides her eyes toward the door. He throws away his sticks, grabs his coat and hat, and follows her swiftly out of the room, pausing only at the door to doff his hat to his fellow musicians as the piano skitters and the bass thrums on. The audience may now smoke their cigarettes if they've brought them.

I regret to report that the film pretty much collapses after this scene. There are two substantial problems with the remainder of Phantom Lady and they are, unfortunately, the identities of the murderer and the eponymous lady herself. The former is glaringly obvious from the moment the character is mentioned in absentia; he's confirmed as soon as he appears, making every succeeding scene a superfluous cat-and-mouse between Kansas and a character whom every law of detective fiction screams that she should know better than to trust. I believe the film wrote itself into this corner, whereas the novel concealed the killer's identity until the climax, but I don't know what the scriptwriter thought he would gain by tipping his hand. It does nothing for the tension and in fact rather undercuts Kansas, whose bullshit detectors have been surprisingly sensitive up to now. I'm not sure who to blame for the film's efforts at criminal psychology, a box of pseudo-psychiatric jargon that leaves Franchot Tone striving manfully with a mixed assortment of facial tics and gazing reverently at his hands as though someone slipped him 'shrooms between takes. The phantom lady herself is built up to such a pitch of nearly supernatural mystery that almost any explanation would underwhelm, but it really doesn't help that the one we get comes so far out of left field that it appears to belong to another genre and, more fatally, bears no thematic relevance to the rest of the plot. The haunted stranger who won't tell anyone their name is as potent a figure of noir as the cynic with a bruised past or the morally ambiguous lover. I'm not saying she should have turned out a femme fatale, but rushthatspeaks and I both independently formed the idea that she was on the run from a noir plot of her own, which seemed such an appropriate doubling of Kansas' quest that it jarred all the more when the script effectively reduced the phantom to a red herring. Lastly, and I realize this is more of a personal preference than a structural complaint, it disappointed me that after two knockout mini-investigations of suborned witnesses, we never got another. I would have paid good money for a real scene between Raines and Aurora Miranda,2 the temperamental revue star who denies ever owning the same hat as anyone else. Instead Tone's Marlow (no relation) comes to dominate the proceedings and he is, frankly, the least interesting character in the picture. I saw better psychopaths last week.

All of this said, the film is worth seeing if you can find it. Kansas is a striking heroine in a genre that tends to allow its bad girls more agency than its good ones, and it is especially entertaining from a contemporary perspective that she is rewarded for her efforts with the plot candy of her love object—Scott is not without personality, but after the first twenty minutes his primary narrative function is to motivate Kansas' heroism. Ella Raines has gone on my list of actresses to pay attention to and Elisha Cook, Jr. is a standout. The basement jazz scene is justly famous and worth the ticket price alone.3 Naturally, to the best of my knowledge, Phantom Lady is not available on DVD in this country. Somebody pester Universal.

Next up, Black Angel (1946). This gig courtesy of my hep backers at Patreon.


1. Credit for Cliff's drumming goes either to Dave Coleman or Buddy Rich, according to IMDb or the rest of the internet. The point is that it's world-class. Five foot five he may be, with a face like a dissipated choirboy, but Cliff is the real thing. Most of Cook's characters only wish they were. It's a nice change, even if it's a short-lived triumph. Rush-That-Speaks and I almost brought an Elisha Cook, Jr. bingo card to the theater on the assumption that whoever he played was going to meet a sticky end—shot, poisoned, sexually demeaned, set up, sent up, probably knifed sometime . . . We'd neglected to include "strangled" on the list of possible fates, but we'd still have been right.

2. Carmen's younger sister. She gets a flamboyantly Hollywood-Latin number called "Chick-ee-Chick" about which probably the less said the better, except that she puts it over like a pro and the ability to carry off ridiculous hats plainly runs in the family. She has a vibrant voice, an expressive face, and I was depressed to come home and find that her most notable appearance on film was Disney's The Three Caballeros (1944).

3. I didn't realize until I was done with this review that it is apparently impossible to mention Phantom Lady in any critical context without discussing the basement jazz scene. I cannot argue with this convention. It was a hell of a thing to see. In the same way that Eli Wallach has been known to serve as a life-changing experience, I recommend the experience of viewing Elisha Cook, Jr. as a dynamo of raw sexual energy. I do not expect it to happen again any time soon. Also, considered as a five-minute musical interlude, it's just some really good hot jazz.
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Date: 2015-11-30 15:24
Subject: I am this house, my eyelashes are wood between glass
Security: Public
Music:Eliza Carthy, "Tea at Five"
So this noir series at the Brattle is really paying off. Phantom Lady (1944) and Black Angel (1946) were a terrific, unexpected double feature—one a flawed B-picture with some indelible scenes, one a genuine minor gem with a few rough edges. The former is New York noir, the latter L.A.; both were adapted from novels by Cornell Woolrich and share the theme of a female protagonist trying to clear a man wrongly accused of murder. In an effort not to glue myself to the computer for the rest of the afternoon, I will almost certainly split them up into posts of their own. Financially, I cannot sustain a double feature every other night for much longer, but it's been totally worth it so far. These last two were very much the sort of movie that under normal conditions I discover at two in the morning on TCM, only this time I got to see them on 35 mm in a theater with rushthatspeaks.

[personal profile] yhlee sent me a pretty fantastic mermaid recently. She seems to be part of an online collectible card game now being Kickstarted, with another quite decent mermaid if you scroll down a little. This sort of thing improves my day.

I have never seen any Baby Peggy films, but I hope Diana Serra Cary can get the support she needs. I should look for her books. People become amazing links of time.

Further content forthcoming.
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Date: 2015-11-29 18:29
Subject: My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer
Security: Public
Music:Timber Timbre, "No Bold Villain"
[I was writing this post at four in the morning and my brain fell over. I finished it just now. Please enjoy several thousand words on film noir. I don't know why I bothered setting myself a minimum wordcount with this project.]

My sleep schedule is a disaster. Tonight rushthatspeaks and I reorganized half the kitchen shelves and then went out for dinner. I am very tired, but I am also very tired of not talking about movies.

The great thing about seeing Strangers on a Train (1951) on the same bill with Double Indemnity (1944), as I did last night at the Brattle with jinian and Rush-That-Speaks, is that as a double feature they deliver two complementary portraits of very different modes of sociopathy. I am not talking about Barbara Stanwyck.

And now I suppose I get the big speech, the one with all the two-dollar words in it.Collapse )

I am afraid this is the somewhat cut-down version of the compare-and-contrast I wanted, but Phantom Lady (1944) and Black Angel (1946) are playing at the Brattle in about an hour and I can't guarantee I won't be thinking about them by the time I come home. I had never seen Strangers on a Train and I thought it was terrific; I had seen Double Indemnity once about eight years ago and I was delighted to see it again. I did not expect the thematic link between the movies, so good job there, Brattle programmer. This dual review brought to you by my perfectly stable backers at Patreon.
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Date: 2015-11-26 13:04
Subject: I got no more—who are you for?
Security: Public
Music:Throwing Muses, "Green"
Last night I dreamed of ordering takeout from a Roman thermopolium. I guess I know some dishes I'm making next Thanksgiving.

(This year's experiment is an oyster and cornbread stuffing, a traditional option I have never made myself. derspatchel found the recipe. It would have been clever if I'd made it as an homage to Arlo Guthrie's "The Ballad of Reuben Clamzo and His Strange Daughter in the Key of A," which is starting to become a listening staple of the holiday in the same way as "Alice's Restaurant," but then it might have needed to contain actual clams.)

Otherwise my recent life has been marked by film noir: rushthatspeaks and I caught a double feature of The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946) at the Brattle yesterday; we watched the first, pre-Code adaptation of The Maltese Falcon (1931) the night before. I am kind of amazed I didn't dream about Elisha Cook, Jr. I am beginning to feel as though I need some kind of cinematic catch-up post. Not today.

If it's a holiday for you or not, I hope it's a good one.
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Date: 2015-11-24 19:40
Subject: And if I'm still here, I know there's one who'll be my parallel
Security: Public
Music:Saint Eve, "While the City Sleeps"
Courtesy of moon_custafer: Esther Ralston and Dorothy Arzner on the set of Fashions for Women (1927).


Ralston is the star, on the left with the camera; Arzner is the director, on the right with the butch hair and the coat I envy. I just really like this photograph. The one at the top of this article is also pretty great.
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Date: 2015-11-24 03:08
Subject: I stole those books for him and I expect to get paid
Security: Public
Music:Krauka, "Norden for Tronhjem"
Pleasant surprise of the evening: Dwight Frye in an otherwise undistinguished B-movie I was watching for the curiosity value. teenybuffalo and gwynnega, take note.

Although I recognize that they sound from their titles as though they should feature turbo-charged cars, splendidly diverse casts, and slash potential that goes up to eleven, Fast Company (1938), Fast and Loose (1939), and Fast and Furious (1939) are a weird little trio of light mysteries that exist for a reason so bizarrely specific, I waited a week of interlibrary loan just to see what they were like: they were made by MGM explicitly to provide a fix of married, witty amateur detectives during the three-year hiatus between the second and third Thin Man pictures. Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice star as Joel and Garda Sloane, married rare book dealers who run a sideline in recovering stolen rare books for insurance agencies.1 They're no William Powell and Myrna Loy, which they must have known, but to be fair their material's not exactly Dashiell Hammett. Their bantering chemistry works about half the time—they seem to get a charge out of playing boss and secretary, including in front of a visibly uncomfortable insurance investigator—but the remainder gets closer to sniping than I enjoy, even when repeatedly assured by the script that the characters love one another to distraction. The plot revolves around the murder of Otto Brockler (George Zucco), a miserly but prominent dealer who almost certainly framed his daughter's suitor for theft two years earlier; newly released from jail, Ned Morgan (Shepperd Strudwick) is the obvious suspect, but the dead man's daughter believes in his innocence and so does Joel Sloane, who sets out to clear his friend's name by finding first the real murderer and secondly the supposedly stolen books. Glamorous secretary Julia Thorne (Claire Dodd) plainly knows more than she's saying, deflecting Joel's questions with cool shutdowns like "Pardon me, do you take dope?" Smooth-talking, well-tailored Eli Bannerman (Louis Calhern) has a broad, confident smile and no qualms about cheating one of his criminal associates, setting up the man up for murder, and then killing him anyway. The police are exasperated by the constantly teasing Sloanes, but seem to need them for leads; Ned's lawyer doesn't believe his story of drunkenly stumbling onto the murder scene and then bolting in a panic; a pair of thugs are hired to take Joel out of the picture and Garda envies the latest fashions. There are some nice one-liners and some surprisingly suggestive exchanges, but further developments are best described as "machinations." This film runs less than an hour and a half and I was wondering by the fifty-minute mark how it even lasted that long.

Fortunately for my attention span, Fast Company supplies one real redeeming feature in the presence of Dwight Frye as one of the supporting criminals, a counterfeiter of rare books who is justifiably proud of his first-edition Leaves of Grass. With his octagonal glasses and his sideways-falling hair, Sidney Wheeler has a clerkish, geeky look, but he cleans up nicely to threaten his contemptuous partner with a gun he wasn't supposed to be carrying ("Put down that bottle and get your hands up—quick! Sit down. Rest yourself. Why don't you hit me now?") and take a girl out on the town with a wallet of stolen money, knocking back his nth shot of the night while the wide-eyed blonde breathes admiringly, "Boy, can you take it!" Especially in light of Frye's horror-maniac typecasting, it's fun to see him in a role that only calls for ordinarily bad judgment, like getting into the rare book racket with sharks like Bannerman and Brockler. Sidney is high-strung but not hysterical, happiest when disheveled and underslept, showing off his handiwork at the end of a long night; he grips the unfamiliar gun so tightly that his hand jitters, but at point-blank range it won't matter. He takes a fall like pantomime, toppling out of shot for seconds before he drops. I'm not sure he looks good in a bowtie, but it's cute on him. He gets four scenes before the plot catches up with him and I am profoundly grateful he was in the picture at all; Frye wasn't credited on the back of the box or in the opening titles, so it wasn't until the dramatis personae that I realized I had him to look forward to. I might well have bailed otherwise. Not surprisingly, I lost interest somewhat after he exited the script. Douglas and Rice are trying their best, but the failure mode of sparkling wit is a vague feeling of embarrassment for all concerned. Claire Dodd fares better by virtue of being the bad girl; her cold-blooded calculation makes her one of the more intelligent figures in the plot, since she at least can plan for the future. I suppose it's unfair to Shepperd Strudwick that I expected him to turn out crooked in some kind of twist. The selection of films in which I have previously seen Louis Calhern is peculiar.

So I had three quite good movies to write about, including the silent war epic I saw on Sunday, but I seem to have devoted this space instead to a 75-minute oddity created with only the most mercenary motives in mind. I may even subject myself to the sequels, although I do not expect them to contain surprise Dwight Frye.2 This distraction sponsored by my indulgent backers at Patreon.

1. In future outings, the characters will be played first by Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell, then by Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern, which is one of the reasons these films have fascinated me since I ran across mention of them. The writer in all three cases is the same, Harry Kurnitz, who had also written the original novel Fast Company under the name of Marco Page. The directors vary again, however, with the last being Busby Berkeley. I freely admit I want to know how that went down.

2. They don't. I checked IMDb. Alas. I would be tremendously entertained by a series of movies in which Dwight Frye appeared in small roles and met a different bad end each time.
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Date: 2015-11-22 22:31
Subject: Did you sleep well? Did you sleep fine? Did you sleep much at all?
Security: Public
Music:Crooked Still, "Did You Sleep Well?"
My poem "The Lost Aphrodite" has been accepted by The Cascadia Subduction Zone. In July, rose_lemberg asked me for a poem about stones; I wrote this one the next day on the commuter train to Salem. It's not the perspective from which I usually write about the ancient world.

I did take a nap yesterday, right after posting. That did not stop me from failing to get more than another hour and a half of sleep last night. So far I have stayed awake through a morning meeting (online) with my fellow editors at Strange Horizons, an afternoon showing of Rex Ingram's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) at the Somerville Theatre, cat-feeding errands with derspatchel, housecleaning with rushthatspeaks and gaudior, and then some more Steven Universe. I think it has actually been a reasonably productive day. I'd just like to feel less like I'm running some comparative experiment in sleep deprivation. I have movies to write about. Not to mention poems. Someday. It might be fun.

Have some gryphons from the Black Sea.
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Date: 2015-11-21 13:29
Subject: The soul-quake happened here in a glass world
Security: Public
Music:Tori Amos, "Concertina"
So our internet stopped working shortly before I left the house last night, which was irrelevant for the next several hours because I was participating in the previously mentioned poetry reading at the Sloane Merrill Gallery. I think it went very well. The gallery itself is a lovely small space with brick walls and three levels; we started out reading directly in the storefront, but after one round reoriented more into the gallery so that the half-dozen chairs and the stairs on which everyone else was sitting formed a semicircle. (Good call, April!) We read by turns in alphabetical order, starting with Gillian and ending with me, two or three poems at a time. I heard some really terrific pieces from everyone, especially new work. I read a mixed selection from Ghost Signs and uncollected poems, opening with "Clear" and closing with "After the Red Sea." Afterward I received a real compliment from one of Gillian's friends: she said I made the ancient world immediate and vivid, not distant or dry. That is the sort of thing I take very seriously and am honored to hear. Also this way I don't have to feel bad about the impromptu lectures I can remember giving about the motif of mourning sirens and the loss of Carthaginian literature. Thank you to AJ for proposing this event in the spring and Ali for letting us have the space! It was a lot of fun.

The rest of the night involved driving nineweaving home with gaudior, acquiring a surprisingly successful Brussels sprout sandwich from the Clover in Inman Square, meeting derspatchel for about an hour in Davis while I ran an errand, and watching more seaQuest, which I am genuinely enjoying even as the worldbuilding continues to throw itself at the wall and see what sticks, which is generally nothing from week to week. The Titanic-ish ghost story was unexpected, but nicely done. I don't have much to say about most of the guest stars, but Udo Kier makes a great guilt-haunted geneticist. I really keep meaning to watch his turns as Frankenstein and Dracula.

And then this morning I got up a little before nine o'clock to wait for the RCN technicians on an hour and a half of sleep—trust me, I'm trying—and therefore they arrived inevitably a little before noon. The problem was either a loose connection of the cable in the basement or a splice in the tangle of cables in the box on the side of the house or some interacting quality of the two; no matter what, they fixed it. I got my hammer out of the closet and a bunch of nails from Gaudior's tookit and finally hung my calendar on the wall next to my desk, so that I can keep track of my life without fishing it out of the green basket chair every time. The wall over the desk now holds the necklace ladymondegreen sent me in October: it is made of braided leather and the shells of sea-snails and tiny ark clams and sea-amber; it looks like Neolithic jewelry. I cannot imagine wearing it safely, but I am happy to look at it every time I glance up from my screen.

Have some things I would have linked sooner:

1. Courtesy of strange_selkie: butch Kate Winslet. She should wear ties more often.

2. There are a lot of demons in Jewish folklore, but Carol K. Howell's "The Demon's Debut" is a perspective I haven't seen before. It reminds me slightly of Steve Stern's "Yiddish Twilight," except how it's exactly the opposite. The family's name is a nice touch.

3. Various actors including Ruth Wilson, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Sheen, and Maxine Peake read the Guardian's poems on climate change. I linked a few of these in the spring, but here's the entire collection with voices. James Franco appears to be the non-Brit in the bunch and I am not sure how that happened.

4. Serpent-footed Scythian goddess!

5. Still relevant: the United States Holocaust Museum makes a statement about the Syrian refugees. I am sorry not to have known about it until now, but I am glad to read that last night in front of the Massachusetts state house there was a rally.

I am seriously considering taking a nap.
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Date: 2015-11-20 01:04
Subject: Ver vet nokh mir kadish zogn? Ver vet mayn likht nokhtrogn?
Security: Public
Music:Susan McKeown & Lorin Sklamberg, "Prayer for the Dead"
There are two ghosts on my mother's side of the family about whom I will never know more than the stories I am about to tell; the people who could have told me the rest died in other countries long ago.

One is the eldest child of my great-great-grandfather, who changed his name from Kaufman to Goldberg when he came to this country with his wife and four daughters in 1900. I am named for the youngest of them, my grandmother's mother Sofy. My cousin's great-grandmother was Anna, the oldest of the four. No one can tell me anything about the fifth child, the half-sibling, who may not even have lived. That sounds like a riddle, but it isn't meant to: at the age of sixteen, my great-great-grandfather was married in a hurry to a girl whose mother was so legendarily terrifying, an entire shtetl called her "the Cossack." The reason? He had gotten a local—Christian—girl pregnant. His new mother-in-law would keep him in line. And she may well have done, since I never heard that he was unfaithful to my great-great-grandmother, but neither did I hear what happened to the other girl. If she kept the child, if she bore it as a bastard, if she was married off just as hastily as her erstwhile boyfriend, if no one ever knew, if everyone knew, if she aborted or miscarried, if there are still descendants today: I don't know. All this is supposed to have taken place in Bessarabia, whose history has not exactly been untroubled since then. I am left to imagine, but almost nothing I can imagine ends happily. I would like history to prove me wrong. I know it's not often so obliging.

The second ghost is an alternate history. My other great-grandmother, my grandfather's mother, came to America with a friend in 1912. Her name was Ida Friedman; depending on the story, he is her lover, her boyfriend, her fiancé. They came from Vishnevets, in what was then Poland and is now Ukraine. He was of military age. They walked all night through the mountains to cross the border, I was always told: at dawn their guide pointed down into Austria-Hungary, out of reach of the Tsar's army. Together they took the trains to Holland and a ship to America and at Ellis Island he was sent back, because of his health. She never saw him again. She met my grandfather's father in New York City, they ran a general store on the corner of Broadway and Hooper in Brooklyn near the elevated station and the trolley stop, their two children were born in the building and their son fell in love with the movies. For their descendants, her lover's story ends in a maze of railings and benches. He is faceless to me; he looks like a photograph, with chalkmarks on his coat and a suitcase in his hand and even that is imagination. When they say sent back, I don't know where he went to. I have always wanted to know his name.

I am thinking about these stories, obviously, because I am thinking about people caught between definitions and borders and I feel some things should have changed in a hundred years.
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Date: 2015-11-19 22:40
Subject: How our hopes, our lives unraveled
Security: Public
Music:The Klezmatics, "An Undoing World"
Apparently the country I am living in is now simultaneously belligerent and isolationist. It's a pretty terrible combination. Tonight my mother and I were discussing the Syrian refugee crisis and her desire to write a letter to the Boston Globe—which I encouraged—expressing her disappointment in Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, who recently declared himself, along with twenty-nine other governors of the United States, "not interested in accepting refugees from Syria." I'm sure everyone has invoked Emma Lazarus vs. hypocrisy in this discussion already, so I've gone with a slightly later Jewish poet.

Copper-plated, nailed together, buffeted by ocean weather
Stands the queen of exiles and our mother she may be
Hollow-breasted, broken-hearted, watching for her dear departed
For her children cast upon the sea

At her back, the great idyllic land of justice for exilic
Peoples ponders making justice private property
Darling, never dream another woman might have been your mother
Someday you may be a refugee

—Tony Kushner, "An Undoing World"

[edit] Courtesy of rushthatspeaks: an online petition from Massachusetts voters to Governor Baker.
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Date: 2015-11-18 17:07
Subject: So I put out the fire and I wrote you a note
Security: Public
Music:Caitlin Rose, "Shanghai Cigarettes"
I am really not sleeping. I can't tell if I'm sick or not. I am exhausted to the point of staring throughout my day, but I don't fall asleep until I've spent useless hours in bed and the light comes in around the windows, no matter how little sleep I got the night before. It takes forever for me to put sentences together and then I don't like the results, but I don't like absence, either. Things about which I have been too tired to write recently:

On Monday night, gaudior and B. and I saw Nobuhiko Obayashi's Hausu (1977) at the HFA with the director in attendance. Correctly divining that this event would sell out in advance, we arrived an hour and a half early and—after some place-holding switching around of feeding meters and picking up foodstuffs—ate dinner on line without incurring anyone's wrath and got perfectly reasonable seats while the house filled up around us and we waved at teenybuffalo. I hadn't realized we were getting a short before the feature: Emotion (1966), a forty-minute avant-garde curiosity which plays like an art-house melodrama run through a Cuisinart until about five minutes from the end, when the director muses wistfully on his plans to make a movie about Dracula someday and then does so in the time remaining. (Obayashi's Dracula has greasepaint Lugosi eyebrows and drinks from his victims demurely, through a soda straw. I suspect it's charming even if you haven't just seen the real thing.) Hausu was as gonzo and weirdly adorable as I remembered it, full of camera tricks and deadpan sendups that somehow combine into a real ghost story, albeit the kind with bananas as well as bakeneko. Obayashi himself turned out to be a delightful interview subject, especially since he was visibly trolling his interviewer: asked to speak about his relationship with 8 mm film, he told a story about being three years old and mistaking a 35 mm projector for a "choo-choo train," from which he expanded on his history with both trains and cinema, complete with sound effects—his train coming through the mountains is worthy of Pete Seeger and he does a great Tarzan yell—and at no point actually answered the question. We could not stay until the end, but the evening was very much worth all its logistics. I am not sure why Hausu should register as a comfort film when it contains an unstoppable haunting and a cast of characters being devoured in surrealistically freaky ways, but it really does.

On Tuesday, I met Matthew at Pandemonium and we browsed their used book shelves while talking about other books. I bought three Magic cards from a box of lands and artifacts, all selling for fifty cents to three dollars: Brushland, Adarkar Wastes, and Urborg; I always liked them when they were under glass at Hit and Run Games. I did not buy for a dollar a card I remember retailing for much, much more in 1995; I didn't like it that much then. Afterward I stopped by Rodney's, where I found a copy of Elizabeth Goudge's The Joy of the Snow (1974) for rushthatspeaks and a well-read hardcover of The Theatrical World of Angus McBean for myself. I have a book of his portraits already, but these are mostly a mix of selections from photo calls, designs for posters and programs, and portraits of actors in character. Right at the start of the non-Shakespeare section was a shot of Pamela Brown, Richard Burton, and John Gielgud in the 1949 Globe Theatre run of The Lady's Not for Burning, after which everything else was a bonus. Elsa Lanchester as Peter Pan in 1936, poised in the window with her eyes on top-hatted John: that production must have been nightmare fuel.

Sparked by a conversation with fleurdelis28, I have started watching seaQuest DSV (1993–1996). It's on Netflix and not only did I miss it when it was on TV, I wasn't aware it had even existed. At this point I would not say that it's a good show, but it's flawed in ways that incline me to keep watching until it either bores or annoys me too much to continue. I am fascinated by the worldbuilding of the first season. By 2018, the sea is the source of all natural resources because humanity has wrecked the land, so there are aquaculture stations and mining operations on the deep seabed, slowly growing into colonies and communities jealously guarded, patrolled, and sometimes raided by submarines from neighboring confederations while the seaQuest itself serves as an enormous one-sub peacekeeping force—it's like the militarized bizarro version of Arthur C. Clarke's The Deep Range (1957). There are video calls, holograms, dolphin-to-human speech translation software. The seaQuest's hull appears to make use of a squidlike organic tech and the boat's weapons include plasma torpedoes, which I take as one of the reasons Fleur-de-Lis described the show as "Star Trek set underwater." Otherwise it looks and sounds incredibly of its year, right down to the feathery undercut hair on the cocky genius teenage hacker and his grunge-style flannel overshirts. The diversity mix is not brilliant, but for 1993 it's not terrible. The scripts are some of the clunkiest dialogue I have ever heard professionally produced. People don't have motivations so much as they explain them. Information flies out of left field and then vanishes without a ripple. You would really expect some aspects of this future to work differently given the things we learn, but not as far as I can tell. I have become unsurprisingly attached to the communications offer, an angle-faced polyglot in round-rimmed glasses: he's "fluent in six languages, okay in a dozen more," susceptible to claustrophobia in a way that doesn't seem to have screened him out of serving on the seaQuest, and intermittently telepathic with the resident dolphin, at which point I realized that my ideas of worldbuilding and the show's are not the same. Is telepathy normal in this future? Is it normal that it works across species? Did anyone know this was a thing about the communications officer? Did anyone know that dolphins in this future are not just intelligent, but sentient? Who knows! Nobody says a thing! Personally I am now assuming until proven otherwise that Lieutenant JG Tim O'Neill is intermittently telepathic with everyone and it's just been camouflaged for years as an uncanny gift for languages, but I fully expect the show never to return to this subject again. (I am also a little nonplussed that the character is apparently Catholic, considering how much Ted Raimi looks and sounds like many fine nerdy Jewish guys I have known, but that's probably more me than the show.) Anyway, I've seen the pilot and three episodes so far and seem to have gotten into a routine where I watch an episode, complain to Rush-That-Speaks about the plotting, the dialogue, and the science fiction, and then watch another one. I guess that means it's working out.

Today is Wednesday, although I'm having trouble with the concept. As of last night, thanks to the generosity of desireearmfeldt and Jan, derspatchel and our cats have returned to Somerville. I plan to see them tonight. I have found it useful to learn about new bus routes these last few months, but I admit I'm looking forward to being able just to walk twenty-five minutes.
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Date: 2015-11-16 01:28
Subject: I have never been so happy to have risen before noon
Security: Public
Music:Fever Ray, "The Wolf"
I had a really nice day meeting [personal profile] skygiants at the MFA at noon for a screening of Peter Miller's Projections of America (2015) on the last day of the Boston Jewish Film Festival, curling up on the couch in the afternoon to read Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown (2015)—highly recommended—and then making dinner with rushthatspeaks in time to eat with gaudior and B., but I have slept three to four hours a night since Thursday and the part of my brain that generates critical response appears to have temporarily closed down. It's not that I can't think of anything to say: I think it's going to take me hours to say it. On that level of sentience, I should finish my work and sleep instead.

Zingerman's report of the day: goat's milk gouda plus moutarde violette equals a ridiculously tasty sandwich. I don't know why people eat mustard that isn't made with grape must. If it's got horseradish in it, that's different. Otherwise I think I have a new favorite condiment.
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Date: 2015-11-15 01:58
Subject: In which the reader is introduced to our hero—such as he is
Security: Public
Music:Kelly Owen, "Charlie's Dance"
I have had a very long day, but it involved cats, useful conversation, and dinner for the second night in a row with rushthatspeaks, gaudior, and B., although not the terrible movie we keep planning to watch.

1. My gift package from Zingerman's arrived, meaning that the kitchen now contains: garum colatura di alici, moutarde violette, fennel paté, half a pound of pecorino romano, half a pound of goat's milk gouda, and baobab jelly. So far I have tasted only the last two items (not together—although, as I write it out, it's tempting) and they are delicious. Some of these I am looking forward to cooking with. Some are just going to vanish very rapidly. Thank you, [personal profile] yhlee!

2. While on various forms of public transit this morning and evening, I read Davis Grubb's The Night of the Hunter (1953). It's great. The language is dense and poetic, changing tense and perspective mid-sentence if it needs to; the story is so many seamless parts fairy tale, murder ballad, melodrama, and social message that it feels like its own independent genre of Southern Gothic. It does a great child's voice and a great serial killer's. It's not supernatural, it's mythic. Laughton's film is a startlingly faithful version. There are some differences in the ending that I recall, and the character of murderous, self-styled "Preacher" Harry Powell gets a sexiness upgrade of several hundred percent when played by heavy-lidded Robert Mitchum, but there are entire passages that I recognized at once on the page, dialogue and visual allusions included. I'm glad it's been reprinted; I have the impression it's been neglected in favor of the movie, which itself was rehabilitated only relatively recently. If I say it reminded me of both Caitlín R. Kiernan and Henry Roth, I don't know if that helps anyone except me.

3. Matthew Timmins has self-published his first novel, The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows. I read this book in draft form in 2012 and loved it at once. I wrote at the time:

It's a hard book to synopsize, not because nothing that happens in it matters, but because so much of what happens in it matters on a level that is barely perceptible to its harried protagonist. Late in the year 1869 of a Victorian century that somewhat resembles our own, or perhaps early in the same 1870—the calendar is not the only bewildered authority in this story—the task of delivering a mysterious box to its equally murky owner devolves on Robin Sparrows, the long-suffering clerk of the wickedest law firm in Claudon. He is supposed to return it to a prisoner by the apt name of Tarnish, the man who over twenty years ago embroiled Albion in the disastrous Crocodile War and broke it from an imperial power to something the sun is quite definitely setting on. It is a story known by every schoolchild in Albion, the shame and tragedy of the Empire; it is these bright painted colors of heroes and villains and patriotism and myth that Robin finds himself raking up and reevaluating as he traces the ghosts of the Crocodile War from Minister's Tower to the slums of Scurwell—and he scarcely has time to notice, overtaken as he is by misadventure after misadventure as he tries gamely and rather hopelessly to fulfill his commission. It's very funny, with a strong component of the absurd and the grotesque; it can shift gears instantly into real, three-dimensional consequences or poignancy and even now and then a touch of the numinous. The city is a character. So are the islands of Crocodon. The elevator pitch would probably be, "A bit like Bleak House if one of the original Jarndyces had started the Trojan War. Also, Kafka." And although the book is titled after Robin, it cannot help but feel significant that the one character who really understood everything that happened those long, legend-burnished years ago is the person with whom Robin cannot communicate at all.

So, a baroquely written, tragicomic, alt-Victorian (but not steampunk!) semi-mystery which works some clever undercutting of colonialism and imperialism while reading like Charles Dickens and Mervyn Peake. At present it exists only in e-book form, but I hope for a print copy someday. Check it out!
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Date: 2015-11-14 14:11
Subject: They learned all your lessons—you taught them all they know
Security: Public
Music:Poison Girls, "Piano Lessons"
I am spending the day in Malden with my cats, writing this post from derspatchel's laptop because it seems the local wireless doesn't like Bertie Owen. Hestia is more skittish than the last time I was here and has not yet flopped over for petting, but Autolycus has latched onto my shoulder as usual. They are play-fighting with enough gusto that I am reminded we need to trim their claws. In the meantime, I am making sure no one leaps onto any horizontal surfaces they shouldn't.

I heard about the attacks on Paris last night while at dinner at Sapporo Ramen with rushthatspeaks, gaudior, and B. I am grieved at the violence and I am fearful of the consequences. It was not my city, so I do not know what else I can say. I was there once in 1999; I saw it partly through Tanith Lee. I remember what the roofs looked like by night. I hope the city will be all right and everyone in it, meaning everyone.

I am going to watch my cats watch the world through the window.
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Date: 2015-11-13 01:09
Subject: Five hundred years, I was a ghost for you
Security: Public
Music:Against Me!, "500 Years"
A writing-related announcement! Relevant to anyone in the Boston area, or who really feels like driving, I suppose:

Next Friday, November 20th, at 7 pm, I will be reading at the Sloane Merrill Gallery in Beacon Hill with A.J. Odasso, Gillian Daniels, and April Grant. I expect to read from Ghost Signs and new work. Come and listen to poetry while surrounded by art! It will be edifying. Also, you know, fun.
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Date: 2015-11-12 17:07
Subject: Only the biggest sap in the world thinks crime pays any dividends
Security: Public
Music:Jennifer Castle, "Walkin' Down the Line"
I had two very different kinds of nightmare last night and I didn't like either one of them. In the first, I looked out the bedroom window of my parents' house and saw a planet that looked like Saturn hanging in the upper atmosphere, blotting out the moon, but its rings were billowing away into charcoal-colored smoke and out of this rolling tarnished wavefront translucent things were dropping like milkweed floss, graceful and luminous as moon jellies. They did not fall very quickly or with any apparent purpose, but where they landed, the grass blackened, and you could already hear screaming. In the second, I was shopping in the Market Basket near Union Square when a young man made his entrance armed with jars of acid. He didn't hit me; he wasn't after me. He didn't even manage to harm anyone, since at least in dreams the customers of Market Basket are very fast responders to dangerous situations: he wrecked a man's backpack and the contents of a woman's cart before he was wrestled to the ground. But he was shouting the whole time about women and what they owe him and, yes, he was a young white man, he just wasn't carrying a gun. Last night I saw The Martian (2015) with my parents at the Somerville Theatre, tried unsuccessfully to track down some pre-Code movies on the internet, and then re-read a few chapters of Mary Stewart's The Moon-Spinners (1962) before bed, so I have no idea what went wrong. Awake, I feel like the first nightmare owes an obvious debt to Pern's Thread, but I haven't re-read those books in years.

1. Courtesy of strange_selkie: a guy jamming out on a dolphin, like you do. Thank you, Etruscan red-figure vase painting.

2. I don't know what it says about me that while I love the idea of reading Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) through the eyes of its female character, I really kind of want the fic version, not just the article. Maybe at least a poem?

3. By way of conversation last night with nineweaving—she showed me George Raft dancing—I ended up recommending Fritz Lang's You and Me (1938), his quasi-musical collaboration with Kurt Weill. The HFA screened it last year as part of their Lang retrospective; I loved the hell out of it and then I never said anything about it in print. Raft doesn't dance in it that I remember, but it was the first time I'd seen him play anyone other than a straight-up heavy. Mostly reproduced from e-mail:

It's a really fantastic little social justice romantic comedy with three songs! Sylvia Sidney and George Raft play a pair of ex-cons employed by a department store whose owner runs the business as a kind of halfway house for recent parolees, straight jobs and second chances with no strings attached; they meet and fall in love without knowing about each other's criminal pasts, which presents something of a problem when their marriage violates the terms of Sidney's parole. An embittered Raft gets drawn back into a heist with his old gang, Sidney knows sentiment won't change his mind because it never worked on her . . . Like many films of its decade, it's deeply cynical in a way that is inseparable from its willful idealism; no one in it is acting out of blind faith in humanity, not even the filmmaker. The movie opens with a dazzling montage of consumer goods, luxury products and necessities alike, over which the camera runs its market-pricing eye while a theatrical off-screen baritone cautions like a choir of capitalist angels, "You cannot get something for nothing / And only a chump would try it / Whatever you see that you really want / You may have—provided you buy it." The spoken-word showstopper "Knocking Song" trades social realism for expressionism as a Christmas gathering of Raft's old colleagues—and cellmates—becomes a spooky, fatalistic ode to the solidarity of the criminal underworld over the fragile ties of respectability; the stark angles and the shadows isolate them all behind bars again, listening down the prison grapevine for the cautionary tale of the "big shot" who tried to "go it alone." Sidney's climactic speech starts with reform-school rhetoric and then tosses it pointedly out the window: "Crime doesn't pay! I don't mean because you get caught by the law and punished, because sometimes you're not. And I don't mean because it kills something inside of you, because a lot of you wouldn't care about that. What I mean is, it doesn't add up in dollars and cents. You can't make any real money stealing!" In a perfectly Brechtian touch, she uses a blackboard and simple arithmetic to demonstrate that the heist wouldn't be worth its expenses: bribes, fences, trucks, lawyers, the boss who takes the biggest cut of the takings; the big shots get rich, yes, but "the big shots aren't little crooks like you. They're politicians." Bertolt Brecht did not actually work on You and Me, but he is Lang's obvious muse throughout. The criminals themselves are all character faces like George E. Stone and Roscoe Karns, plausible no-goods who can turn on a dime from Dreigroschenoper to Damon Runyon. I didn't think the film existed on DVD, but TCM seems to have changed that. Good for them; I resented for years that they never ran it when I was around to see. It is weird and worth experiencing.

This post somewhat delayed by the unexpected (and earsplitting) felling and woodchipping of several trees in the back yard and the fact that I had to clean up twice after the same cat. I am meeting derspatchel for dinner tonight, which I expect to improve things.
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Date: 2015-11-11 15:00
Subject: They know, not only everything that is contained in it, but all the rest that can never be written
Security: Public
Music:Clock DVA, "You're Without Sound"
The solders who came home from 1918 are gone, but I bought a paper poppy as I left Wilson Farm from two men who were very much alive and my brother's best friend lives in Vermont. There are soldiers who have not yet come home. Not all of them are among the dead. Not all fronts are western.

It is always the same on the road. It is always the same. All these motor cars full of men keep coming along the road—the long road that leads to the war. Sometimes it is hot and there is sunlight and dust on the road, and the smell of petrol is strong; sometimes it is cold and the rain beats down from the sky; sometimes it is night and there is a lantern to wave instead of a flag, and there is the fear of falling asleep. But the road is always the same and the box by the road is always the same, and deep down there is the same truth always.

Mary Borden, The Forbidden Zone (1929)
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Date: 2015-11-11 05:30
Subject: I'm a civil engineer, but they changed the government, so I had to go to work
Security: Public
Music:Estelle, "Stronger Than You"
I try not to be that reviewer who swears all the time. I'm not good enough at it. You want primo-grade narrative profanity, read Better Myths. I am more likely to stick to "Flipping Hades Terwilliger!" as an expression of my amazement (and affection for Daniel Pinkwater) than to attempt a roll call of Anglo-Saxon intensifiers. Nevertheless, when I say that I have just finished watching a movie whose heroic climax involves Edward Everett Horton machine-gunning the oncoming Tartar hordes while wearing more eyeliner than the rest of the cast put together, Marlene Dietrich knock-off included, I hope you will all join me in a resounding chorus of "WHAT THE SHIT."

The movie in question is Roar of the Dragon (1932), a pre-Code pulp adventure which plays like a bargain-basement cash-in on Josef von Sternberg's Shanghai Express (1932). Instead of Dietrich, we get Danish-born Gwili Andre as the mysterious white woman with elegant cheekbones and a murky past; instead of Clive Brook's Army doctor, masculine top billing goes to Richard Dix's hard-drinking riverboat captain; instead of a train captured by Chinese rebels, the close-quarters setting is a hotel besieged by Manchurian bandits. The guests are the usual assortment of colorful characters, including Dudley Digges as the riverboat's blowhard owner, ZaSu Pitts as a fretful Midwestern matron, Arline Judge as a cornet-playing chorus girl, and Horton as the civil engineer turned hotel clerk whose apprehensive stoop and bemused double-takes are recognizable even in long shot. I can't tell if C. Henry Gordon increases or diminishes the Orientalism playing a Russian in charge of a band of Chinese central casting Tartars, but either way he wants revenge on both Andre and Dix—the one fled his bed, the other bit his ear off during a pre-story, evidently no-holds-barred brawl. To no one's surprise but their own, the initially incompatible leads become an item during the course of the siege, to the point where she volunteers to sacrifice herself sexually to save his life. I have no idea of the film's production history, but it is impossible not to view it in some degree as the Asylum mockbuster of its day. But let's return to Edward Everett Horton.

Horton's sexuality is not a vexed question. All biographical sources I've been able to find on him for years indicate that his long-term partner was Gavin Gordon, whom I saw this spring in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1932). His screen persona, however, was based on a dither of plausible deniability between high-strung ineffectual fussiness and actual effeminacy—in pre-Code films and after, he could be found among the most nervous of nellies, not flaming, but easily flustered, a man whose masculinity was constantly questioned but never definitively debunked. This is the mode Dragon's mild-mannered Busby begins in, a middle-aged makeshift concierge already spooked by the political situation and rattled by hotel guests' demands for information he doesn't have. He's nominally straight, but terrible at it; his diffident declaration of intent toward Judge's Bridgeport1 ("I'm thinking of marrying her") is shot down not only by the girl's preoccupied deflection ("Thinking's awfully bad for people with weak backs"), but by a parting kibitz from Dix's Carson, who has just made a much more confident pass in the same direction ("My, what a rough Daddy you'll make"). When she's assigned care and feeding of a passel of Chinese war orphans, he's the one who discovers a goat on the premises and insists on reserving the milk for the children alone. It takes him half the film to learn to carry a rifle the right way round. I am not joking about the eyeliner. I can't tell if it's meant to make him look careworn, youthful, emo, or what, but the results are the kind of stylized makeup that would have passed without comment in the silent era and in a sound film cause the viewer to wonder if anyone bothers with subtext anymore. Most of Horton's roles would leave him here, stealing scenes with precision-timed bewilderment. Roar of the Dragon doesn't, which is the only reason I am writing about it tonight. He's such a reliable comic actor, I genuinely enjoy seeing him get a character arc: it's the standard milquetoast-to-manhood, but assigning it to an actor of Horton's particular strengths produces some fascinating results.

For starters, he never turns square-jawed. Busby can still undercut himself, even in moments of assertiveness: confronting the riverboat owner over an exceptionally low act of theft, he seethes, "I have a strangely vicious desire to cut you in pieces and use you for bait—if I knew how to fish!" Bridgeport has no trouble throwing him off balance, meeting his admiring "You're like a picture on a magazine cover!" with the cheerfully provoking "No, you're wrong. I'm wearing too many clothes." Having bluffed his way into staying behind as a diversion at the finale, he cringes at Carson's apparent rebuke—"So we all go out here together, eh? What a first-class liar you are!"—until some awkward male bonding over cigarettes makes it clear that the newly sober captain is deeply touched and grateful for the clerk's choice. Even at the apex of his bravery, he still glances nervously around the windy walls of the abandoned hotel; he holds a pistol like it's more talisman than weapon. It is an endearing anxiety rather than a strictly comic one, a weirdly realistic touch among all the boy's own boilerplate.2 I find it harder to believe that his transformation is motivated by love, at least for the socially appropriate character. The dialogue insists on his feelings for Bridgeport, but their sweetest and most natural scene together is a moment of found family rather than a torrid clinch: while she wrangles orphans, he offers to play some music. She expresses indifference, he switches on the radio and gets Irving Berlin's "Always"; looks at her uncertainly until she gives him an approving wink, whereupon he cranks up the volume and she puts her tongue out at him, smiling. Cross-legged on the floor—out of sight of the latticed windows through which Voronsky's snipers have been taking potshots—he looks for once relatively at ease, tucking into a bowl of leftover noodles while Bridgeport settles one orphan for a nap and looks around for another. The tragedy that strikes a few moments later impels him toward the machine gun that started me on this whole mishegos, which is fair enough from the standpoint of the siege, but I can't read it as a romantic act. He dies in Richard Dix's arms. Saying something heterosexual, but still. This entire plotline fascinates me. It delivers such mixed messages and I can't tell which to assign to the writing, the acting, or the interaction of the two. I'm not even sure the finished film knows what it's doing. I'd love to know what Horton thought. I would also like to ask his eyeliner, which deserved a supporting credit of its own.3

I really want to be clear that I am not recommending this movie on its own merits. The plot is a pile of Orientalist action clichés, while the script is full of unintentional punch lines, as when Carson tells Natasha, "You better go inside while I explain to everybody just what a tough spot we're in," and we fade directly to Carson indoors, addressing the assembled guests: "You might as well know, we're in a tough spot."4 On a narrative level, I appreciate that Bridgeport is not a natural mother and her first attempt at establishing a "kindergarten" in the besieged hotel is filled with crying toddlers; on an aesthetic level, that was an entire scene full of crying toddlers and it went on forever. Gwili Andre has bone structure comparable to Dietrich's, but that does not mean she shares the same ability to act. Richard Dix plays a less clean-cut character than he did in The Lost Squadron (1932), which at least gives the audience something to look at that isn't his stalwart jawline, but I still found myself utterly failing to care whether he would get over his alcoholic indifference in time to save his fellow Caucasians. ZaSu Pitts is amusing, but ultimately wasted on her flightily helpless role when I have seen her be just as scatterbrained and much less deadweight in Going Highbrow (1935). I don't even know what to do with the late scene in which a Jewish shopkeeper, attempting to sneak food to the starving hotel guests, is caught by Voronsky's men, tied to a pole, and set afire while alive—I'm sure I wasn't intended to read it as a one-person pogrom, but I still found the relevant thirty seconds uncomfortable to watch. Please understand that I am delighted that this film exists in the world; I am always glad when more survives of an art form than just the canon, or even the acknowledged counterculture secondary gems. The fact that the Golden Age of Hollywood could produce mediocre to dreadful movies is curiously warming to me. It's both more real and more interesting than the glossier alternative. I will still freely admit that I watched Roar of the Dragon because I saw Edward Everett Horton's name in the credits and I pretty much endured the rest of the film in between his scenes. I think my curiosity was rewarded. It certainly showed me something I had never imagined onscreen.

Oh, God, how did I write 1900 words about this movie? I am stopping here. I did not sleep almost at all last night and have spent the day with a very small, very active child. (We took her to Drumlin Farm. The owls and the sheep were especially a hit. Worth it.) This incongruity brought to you by my brave backers at Patreon.


1. The character is listed as "Hortense O'Dare" in the credits, but no one ever calls her anything other than her nickname, after her home city. Occasionally she's "Little Bridgeport," which strikes me as more Dickensian than is ideally the case.

2. And he does get a few nice lines in, as he graduates from perpetually startled straight man to occasional snarker. When the society matron plaintively blames Busby for her stomachache after the third day on starvation rations—"He gave me some chewing gum and I was so hungry, I swallowed it!"—Horton doesn't protest or even double-take, just mutters wearily, "Keep away from sailors. They chew tobacco."

3. I could find very little information on this film beyond IMDb's claim that the supposed source novel does not seem to exist, but I would love to know anything about how Horton was cast in the part. I keep wondering if it was anything like the process by which Peter Lorre ended up starring as the romantic lead in Three Strangers (1946) instead of David Niven, Robert Montgomery, or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

4. Seriously, isn't that one of Leslie Nielsen's lines in Airplane! (1980)? The script isn't incompetent, but after a while I had to conclude that Howard Estabrook had temporarily lost track of his sense of humor, because every few scenes it seemed to have gotten underfoot. I believe it was the tense nighttime standoff in which Voronsky is trying to make his escape with his former lover held as a hostage at gunpoint that just made me give up: Carson growls with time-honored masculine protectiveness, "What are you going to do to Natasha?" and Voronsky snaps back, "Oh, use your imagination."
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Date: 2015-11-10 00:45
Subject: I like boys in Beatle boots and tall slim girls in well-cut suits
Security: Public
Music:Dorothy, "I Confess"
Today has been mostly quiet. I am spending the night in Lexington, the better to help my mother with Charlotte-care starting early tomorrow morning. TCM is not showing any of the pre-Code movies I lately desire to see, but on the other hand it is offering some seriously weird objects I am hoping to report back on. Just probably not while I am helping to look after a nearly-two-year-old. I'm expecting a lot of running around.

1. Thanks to a gift card from [personal profile] yhlee, I have just placed an order with Zingerman's for several food items I didn't know were available in this country and/or century. rushthatspeaks and I already have plans for the garum.

2. This playlist is a nice mix of obscure and traditional ballads, with snarky summaries: "I Guess My Corpse Is a Swan Now: A Weird Folk Education." It's worth reading just for the synopsis of "Tam Lin." The recommended recording of "Sovay" is the first one I ever heard, in high school when it was still possible to find a record store and a bookstore on the same block in Lexington Center instead of banks, banks, and more banks—I didn't buy the CD for the Touchwood track, but it was my favorite at once. Later I learned the arrangement's sprightly, off-kilter time signature was the bequest of A.L. Lloyd, to whom nineweaving would introduce me as we traded folk songs in the fall of 2004, about three months before I named this journal. I had been using it as an internet alias since 1998, which I had almost forgotten: my interactions with the internet were otherwise minimal until I left for college, at which point I also acquired an e-mail address I checked regularly. I had to talk about Babylon 5 with people somehow, all right?

3. While recently reading about Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), it came to my attention that the original 1924 version of the stage play on which the film was based, instead of deleting Quincey Morris like pretty much every adaptation since, genderswapped the character. I know this is not what Hamilton Deane intended—or created—but if anyone out there wants to write Quincey Morris, Bowie-knife-wielding lesbian American adventuress, I will read it.
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Date: 2015-11-08 23:59
Subject: I don't believe you when you say you ain't got what I want
Security: Public
Music:Poison Girls, "Closed Shop"
Public transit today was terrible. I ended up walking from Park Street to the Boston Public Library because the station closed while my train was in it. derspatchel, attempting to meet me for dinner shortly afterward, waited half an hour at Assembly because the snafu with the Green Line caused the Orange Line to fall over. On my way home, cautiously renegotiating my relationship with the Green Line, I waited twenty minutes at North Station for a train to Lechmere.

Within this framework of failed MBTA, however, I renewed my library card at the BPL with no difficulty whatsoever, made arrangements to return and read their non-circulating copy of Leslie Howard's Trivial Fond Records (1982), walked over to Trident while Rob was stalled on the Orange Line and read three-quarters of a novel called Wittgenstein Jr (2014) by Lars Iyer, and successfully met Rob for dinner at Sweet Cheeks Q. I got home and rushthatspeaks and gaudior showed me the next three episodes of Steven Universe (2013–) including the one with the song that is both a terrific piece of science fiction worldbuilding and a great queer anthem. One of the few Tumblrs I follow just presented me with some nice Greek sphinxes, a Roman soldier's sidearm, and another phallic windchime, this one looking oddly as though it is starring in a children's picture book. Liz Berry's "The Black Delph Bride" is one of the best poems I've read recently, a Black Country murder ballad, with water.

On balance, it has not been a bad day.
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