Log in

Myth Happens

Date: 2015-08-31 22:45
Subject: It's no wonder your wife kicked you out. But it's no wonder she fell for you in the first place
Security: Public
Music:Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, "I'll Love You (Till the End of the World)"
Because I have not yet seen the finale of Hannibal, my Tumblr interactions are currently self-limited to sites where it should not be possible to encounter even a stray crossover Richard Armitage, like Archaic Wonder, Dark Beauty (tentacles, nice), and Leslie Howard Forever. The latter has just reminded me that I never wrote about The Petrified Forest (1936), even though it formed a critical part of my adult discovery of Leslie Howard in 2008. Let's fix that.

When I say that I have acquired my knowledge of film all out of order, I mean it. The Petrified Forest also marked my introduction to Bette Davis. She was my age at the time and has no difficulty playing about fifteen years younger as the story's heroine, Gabrielle Maple. Gabby is the only child of a man who runs the most neglected roadside café in Arizona and an absent Frenchwoman who stuck out a year or two in the tumbleweed wastes with the father of her war baby before fleeing prudently back to Bourges, from which she sends her daughter yearly care packages of French literature; she's smarter than her father, who still plays at soldiers with the Black Horse Vigilantes, smarter than her grandfather, endlessly retelling the time Billy the Kid didn't actually shoot at him, and orders of magnitude smarter than the college football never-was with whom she is going through the motions of courtship because there's nothing better to do. The desert is beautiful and she despises it: "They say it's full of mystery, and it's haunted, and all that. Well, maybe it is. But there's something in me that makes me want something different." True to the double-edged nature of wishes, two strangers from the outside world arrive on her doorstep in the same day, a down-at-heels drifter with a fatalist's way with words and a gangster with a nationally broadcast manhunt close behind him. The results are very clearly a well-filmed stage play, with only minimal effort made to open the action out for the screen, but unless you have a problem with tightly focused character dramas, it doesn't suffer thereby.

Famously, The Petrified Forest is the movie that made Humphrey Bogart a star—he had originated the role of Duke Mantee in the original Broadway play, but Warner Bros. planned to replace him with Edward G. Robinson on film. Leslie Howard refused to reprise his part onscreen unless his co-star was given the same consideration. The rest is film history and Casablanca (1942) playing at the Brattle every Valentine's Day until the end of time.1 Saying that Bogart's subsequent career rewarded his friend's trust, however, skips over the fact that he's also just really good in the part. Playwright Robert E. Sherwood based Mantee's character on John Dillinger, who was dramatically gunned down by federal agents in 1934; Bogart reportedly studied footage of Dillinger and his gang for his portrayal. I can't evaluate the likeness for myself, but it's notable that while some of his crew have the slangy theatricality of movie hoods, Mantee himself looks mostly like a man who's much too young to be as hard-bitten as he is. Even in his shirtsleeves, unshaven, run to earth, he has an edgy magnetism, hands curiously suspended like a gunslinger ready to draw; his eyes are constantly taking in the room, combat-focus. He doesn't have a romantic streak so much as an odd, deliberate loyalty, so that he will wait as promised for his lover long past the point where any other self-respecting gangster would have chucked the moll and run for the border, and he'll agree in all seriousness to honor a quixotic deathwish from a stranger he met only a few hours before. The violence in him is nothing so obvious as simmering. Onstage, where the audience's attention cannot be directed as meticulously as on film, you'd have needed co-stars of Howard's caliber to keep him from simply walking off with the show.2

[Two-hour delay goes here, in the course of which I obtain my father's assistance in figuring out how to uninstall a particularly sticky application that installed itself without bothering to ask me first. That was . . . not fun.]

Although the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's description of the delicacy and melancholy of Howard's performance is quite accurate, they are not primarily the reason I love him in the film. His character is a curious twist against type: his poetry3 and his whimsical fatalism make him look like the disillusioned dreamer looking to do one last good deed, but the facts of Alan Squier's life describe a rather sketchy failure—a novelist manqué who was more content to be kept by his publisher's wife than to write the great American anything, a self-declared intellectual who proclaims himself an outmoded species and neurosis the work of a vengeful Nature, his air of melancholy romanticism undermined by his volatile sense of humor. He's as likely to snicker after a philosophical pronouncement as cap it with another aphorism. Even his accent is not quite the cachet of class it first appears: when eagerly asked if he's English, Squier replies with the half-apologetic admission of a commonly disabused illusion, "No. You might call me an American once removed." He attempts to pay Gabby for his meal with the romantic gesture of a first and last kiss, only to be made to confess shamefacedly that he hasn't a penny in his pockets. He doesn't intend to entangle himself in her life any more than the play-acting of chivalry demands. It seems to surprise him more than anyone that he changes his mind. If he's really in search of anything, it's a grand exit: he claims to be hitchhiking across America to drown himself in the Pacific Ocean, which he later modifies to a burial in the Petrified Forest. "It'll inspire people to say of me, 'There was an artist who died before his time.'" Sydney Carton, he's not. He's no Quixote, either, a gentle anachronism hurt into gallant madness; he seems to find tilting at windmills too much of a commitment, choosing instead to fade elegantly out of the picture, trading on a kind of wistful self-destruction. And it is exactly that confusing blend of genuinely attractive qualities with the danger signals of a complete fuckup that interests me, much as it does Gabby. It all goes a bit Liebestod in the end.

And Davis is very good, though she's less complicated than her male foils: the nowhere girl whose innocence is curdling for want of experience. She was a studio substitution, but she holds her own.4 I just like the film, all right? It's not as dreamy as it first looks. This recollection sponsored by my wonderful backers at Patreon.

1. In thanks and memoriam, Bogart and Bacall's daughter—born in 1952—was named Leslie Howard Bogart.

2. I don't know if Slim Thompson originated his role onstage, too, but he's one of the supporting highlights of the film: a rare black character in the era of the Production Code who doesn't have to be subordinate. As one of Mantee's gang, he carries a shotgun and operates as independently as any of his fellow criminals; he has a striking, scathing interchange with a black chauffeur who won't accept a drink without asking his employers for permission: "'Is it all right, Mr. Chisholm?' Ain't you heard about the big liberation? Come on, take your drink, weasel!" He appears to have done very little else on film, which I was sorry to find out.

3. Gabby is reading her way through François Villon as the story starts. Once she and Alan meet, Swinburne's translation of the "Ballade for a Bridegroom" forms a recurring refrain.

4. I still haven't tracked down the 1934 Of Human Bondage in which she and Howard starred together for the first time, although I know it was her breakout role. Recommendations for? Against? I bounced off the novel in college.
7 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-31 01:39
Subject: Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance
Security: Public
Music:Ruby Friedman & Nick Page, "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive"
Saturday: I spent the afternoon baking a birthday cake for rushthatspeaks with three layers of chocolate meringue and chocolate mousse. Gladly accepted a ride from my mother because that was not a cake that would have survived public transit. Delivered cake to Rush-That-Speaks and gaudior's refrigerator, where it would spend the next five and a half hours as we drove to Providence—making sure to pick up jinian first—and celebrated Rush's birthday dinner at Julian's. Fun fact: scallop rangoons are exactly what they sound like, only really good; less cream cheese, more scallop mousse. The avocado-wasabi purée that came underneath the smoked duck was so good, I think I just need to make it as a regular condiment. I had a drink called the Bruce Banner. Cachaça, chartreuse, basil and bitters and one other ingredient I cannot remember; in the low light it glowed a pale radioactive green and tasted, as Rush correctly diagnosed, as though it could Hulk out on you at any moment. I liked it when it was angry. For dessert we all split the gummy bear sorbet, because we were curious; the weird thing was not that it tasted exactly as advertised, the weird thing was that it was delicious while tasting exactly as advertised. Afterward we drove back across the highway, parked I have no idea where because I find Providence both non-contiguous and non-Euclidean, and walked around WaterFire for maybe forty-five minutes. The bonfires burning on the river were beautiful, the music a pleasant and unexpected combination of folk-pop in multiple languages and opera, and the grove of memorial lanterns was really amazing. We saw a person in a Pierrot costume poling a boat on the river; later we saw them listening to a body-positive punk brass band that was covering "Killing Me Softly" with more trombone than that song usually sees. After that my tolerance for breathing woodsmoke ran out right around the same time Rush maxed out on crowds and we retraced our steps to the car thanks to Jinian's navigation skills and Gaudior drove us home. Cake was eaten. We ended up watching old Sesame Street songs off YouTube, mostly the ones scored by Philip Glass. I got home and looked at too many apartment listings and melted down, which was not the fault of anyone I spent the evening with, including the smoked duck.

Today: I was so exhausted that I got nothing done in the afternoon unless you think making a sandwich is serious business, but I still managed to leave the house with derspatchel in time to catch the closing night of Maiden Phoenix's inaugural all-female production of The Winter's Tale. Staged outdoor at Powderhouse Park, using the powder house itself as the backdrop for Act I and the natural stage of the climbing rocks on the other side of the park for Act II. The sun set during the intermission. I keep forgetting the play is basically a Greek romance instead of a Ruritanian one, but there's the Delphic oracle just in case you weren't sure. All of the cast were good: most vivid to me were April Singley doubling as a frightened, steadfast Antigonus and an outrageously Mummerset Shepherd, Cassandra Meyer's grave Hermione with eyes like an inlaid statue giving way in the second act to a shepherd's son just clever enough to be a fool, Sarah Mass' ribbon-bedizened Autolycus alt-rocking out "Two Maids Wooing a Man" to the admiration of rustic groupies, and Juliet Bowler as a chilling and chastened Leontes. I have drunk and seen the spider. The exit-pursued-by-a-bear was done so ferally, it made me want to want to see this company take on the Bacchae. And they reconstructed the ending in two ways I agreed with, first by undoing the neatly tied loose ends of Leontes' last speech to more emotionally nuanced effect (I know it's a comedy if it ends with a wedding, Will, but not everyone needs to pair off like place settings) and by redistributing the messenger speech of the climax among the characters each set of lines pertained to, so that Leilani Ricardo's Perdita named the recognition tokens by which she was identified as her father's daughter and the ghost of Antigonus appeared for a moment to relay the long-lost story of his death and kiss his wife, Gail Shalan's staunch Paulina, once more before vanishing, like a shade from the Greek underworld. There was a dance to see all the characters out, some in the floating jackets of their costumes, some not. It was pretty great. I am looking forward to whatever this company does next.

(But I do think the Bacchae would be fun. I've never seen a female Pentheus before.)

Tonight: I am looking at this Colchian woman's diadem. That's Medea's jewelry. Or would be, if my visual template for Medea's jewelry was not the archaic golden coronets and chains worn by Maria Callas in Pasolini's amazing Medea (1969), but it's still an evocative object. This black-figure kantharos just mostly makes me think of the next door neighbors' obnoxious party two weeks ago.
21 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-29 23:52
Subject: τὸν ἐπὶ Ὑακίνθῳ λεγόμενον Ἀπόλλωνος ἔρωτα ὑποσημαίνων
Security: Public
Music:Räv, "Awakening"
Happy birthday, rushthatspeaks, my best cousin, my blue-haired love. We live in a world where people make photoshoots of the death of Hyakinthos in Apollo's arms.

13 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-27 13:31
Subject: Are your symptoms more at ease or is it hell?
Security: Public
Music:GRNDMS, "Bending Out"
My poem "Firebrands" is now online at Through the Gate. The title comes from a line attributed to Nicholas Noyes, an ancestral relation of my husband's and the officiating minister at the Salem witch trials: "What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there." He was speaking of Martha Corey, Mary Eastey, Mary Parker, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd, Margaret Scott, and Samuel Wardell, Sr., all executed in September 1692. At the hanging of Sarah Good earlier that summer, he had famously urged her to confess and received the reply, "I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink." He died of a throat hemorrhage, choking on his own blood. Nathaniel Hawthorne was so struck by the story, he put it into The House of Seven Gables (1851). When derspatchel and I were in Salem last spring, we talked about looking for Nicholas' grave, but we looked at the sea instead. It is pretty much the fault of Warlock (1989) that this poem exists at all.

The rest of the issue is small, but very sound. Go read all of them!
6 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-27 00:30
Subject: With gray and with white and with blue fruit
Security: Public
Music:Räv, "Mooring"
1. My short story "Skerry-Bride" has been accepted by Devilfish Review. It was written while listening to Moss of Moonlight's Winterwheel in November 2013, right before I saw Thor: The Dark World; it's about jötnar. The magazine is a new one for me and it should be obvious why they got my attention. They give out the Kraken Awards.

(Moss of Moonlight are now Felled and have a new side project. I recommend.)

2. The fuzzy nautilus is not extinct! I do not think I had known that Allonautilus scrobiculatus existed prior to this article, but I'm very glad it does. I hope it continues to. Those are beautiful animals.

3. I realize that these archaeological windfalls have caused the city of Istanbul so much construction tsuris that The New Yorker cannot resist invoking Boston's Big Dig, but who says history doesn't have a sense of humor?

In fact, a tiny Byzantine church did turn up in Yenikapı, under the foundations of some razed apartment buildings. But the real problem was the large number of Byzantine shipwrecks that began to surface soon after the excavation began, in 2004. Dating from the fifth to the eleventh century, the shipwrecks illustrated a previously murky chapter in the history of shipbuilding and were exceptionally well preserved, having apparently been buried in sand during a series of natural disasters.

In accordance with Turkish law, control of the site shifted to the museum, and use of mechanical tools was suspended. From 2005 to 2013, workers with shovels and wheelbarrows extracted a total of thirty-seven shipwrecks. When the excavation reached what had been the bottom of the sea, the archeologists announced that they could finally cede part of the site to the engineers, after one last survey of the seabed—just a formality, really, to make sure they hadn't missed anything. That's when they found the remains of a Neolithic dwelling, dating from around 6000 B.C.

The shipwrecks are wondrous to me. The article asks some worthwhile questions.

4. I like George Mackay Brown's poetry wherever I find it and "The Horse Fair" is no exception. I still need to track down a recording of Peter Maxwell Davies' The Kestrel Road (2003); it sets two of my favorite poems that are not "John Barleycorn."

5. This gemstone looks like the start of a story: the god Pan studying a dramatic mask. I keep forgetting that he has anything to do with Greek theater. I imagine him the kind of critic who throws things and heckles. God of fields and wild spaces, also the peanut gallery.

Autolycus has draped himself over the arm of my office chair and is patting at the screen with one paw. I am not sure if he's reacting to the movement of the cursor or the world's cutest sea slug. derspatchel calls it the Shaun the Sheep Slug. My favorite may remain either Nembrotha cristata or Stiliger ornatus. Yes, I'm still missing the sea.
10 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-26 03:30
Subject: You've got to care about money to a certain extent
Security: Public
Music:TV on the Radio, "Will Do"
Last night I met with [personal profile] skygiants to watch Max Ophüls' Caught (1949), the first of his two American films noirs. It's not as complex or as coherent a picture as its follow-up The Reckless Moment (1949), which stunned me in May, but it's a striking, strange, surprisingly blunt examination of the ways in which a woman can be trapped and bound by social conventions, constructions of gender, her own body and the laws which govern it. Much of it is still all too relevant and recognizable today, and I don't say that just because the film opens with two roommates morosely totaling their limited finances and complaining about the humidity.

At first the story looks like a simple cautionary tale: the terrifying ease with which a Cinderella romance can turn into a Bluebeard marriage. Despite his brusque manner and his contemptuous affections, ex-carhop and recent charm school graduate Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes) allows herself to accept a proposal of marriage from high-powered businessman Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan), because he's worth ninety million and how do you say no to that? No sooner are the wedding headlines yesterday's news than the reality of Leonora's situation sets in: her husband is a chilly, controlling, volatile man who gets his philosophy straight from Ayn Rand; he views every interaction as a transaction and despises his wife for marrying him, because her acquiescence only proves that he met her asking price. He only married her to spite his psychiatrist.1 Very sensibly, she flees Ohlrig's cavernous rococo mansion and takes a job as a receptionist in an East Side clinic where she forms a friendship with unfazeable obstetrician Dr. Hoffman (Frank Ferguson) and something closer with his partner Dr. Larry Quinada (James Mason), an idealistic dropout from the upper middle class still figuring out what a bedside manner looks like. "I'm a very good textbook doctor," he admits after his underestimation of an anxious mother risks a child's life; he's tactless and prone to mansplaining, but we are encouraged to view him sympathetically in part because the film consistently calls him on it and he actually learns. He's the obvious romantic hero. He can't quite understand why Leonora is shy of him, especially when the mutual attraction is as plain as the smile on her face. Inevitably he proposes to her, but she's still married to Ohlrig and there's an additional catch . . .

This is almost exactly the two-thirds mark of the film, by which point it had taken several turns neither of us was expecting. I wasn't even expecting the main characters, honestly. Turn the trope kaleidoscope a little and Smith Ohlrig could be the alpha hero of a billionaire romance, wealthy, workaholic, control-freakish and ultimately vulnerable—but he exists in the real world, and so he's an abusive asshole. He gives a touching speech about the hardship of his upbringing in which we learn that his father only left him four million, he had to bootstrap the rest: "I didn't drink it away, I didn't gamble it away, I didn't marry it away . . . That's what everyone wants, isn't it? Well, I've got it. And I made it myself." When he can't get what he wants by social leverage or main force of money, he suffers apparent life-threatening nervous attacks that he attributes to "a bad heart." The aptness of his words bypasses him completely. He needs either to own people or destroy them. As Skygiants pointed out, the film is a primer on the ways in which a relationship can be abusive without physical violence. Ohlrig never lays a hand on Leonora. He doesn't need to, when he controls her finances and her social access. He calls his wife his highest-paid employee, treats her as if she's a prostitute not worth her price; he humiliates her in public and private and holds the simultaneous lure and threat of a divorce over her head, freedom if she complies with him, ruin if she doesn't. And over and over again, he browbeats her with the reminder that she only married him for his money—an accusation that Leonora protests whether she hears it sneeringly from Ohlrig or uncomprehendingly from Quinada. We never see her think of herself as a gold digger. She's reluctant to accept even a party invitation from Ohlrig's slithery factotum Franzi (Curt Bois) because it makes her feel "cheap"; it's her roommate who advised her to put herself through charm school, in order to equip herself with the proper graces to land a rich husband, but Leonora's daydreams are romantic: Prince Charming discovering her at the perfume counter.2 Each stage of her attempts at self-improvement, from the aggressively socialized, self-effacing femininity of charm school to her new job as a department store model that requires her to display herself and a $4995 mink coat equally, reinforces the idea that she's a piece of interchangeable merchandise. What she wants is to be loved for herself, not the glaze of nicely mannered passivity she's been taught to put on like a beauty mark over the small mole on her cheek. But the entire weight of societal expectation is against her and the compromise she makes, in order to marry an industrial tycoon without feeling like she's sold herself, is to convince herself she's in love.

I am fascinated by the film's willingness to star a heroine this ambivalent and, for lack of a better word, implicated in the system she's trying to resist. She's more sympathetic if she's a "good" girl, isn't she? She's more realistic if she's not. And the film rewards her throughout with a sympathetic sensitivity that didn't shock me after The Reckless Moment, but still found ways to surprise me. Her marriage has wounded her in ways I don't think I've often seen depicted onscreen. There's a beautifully observed moment early in her relationship with Quinada in which he drapes the surprise overcoat he's bought for her—after she told him not to; he thought she just didn't want to be a bother—around her shoulders and she freezes utterly. It is not pleasant for her to have men buy her things. It does not make her feel like a valued colleague or even an affectionate friend; it reminds her that she's trapped in a toxic economy where she is expected to reciprocate a material down payment with her body. She knows what Quinada means by the gesture; it's a trigger all the same. That's like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) levels of unspoken attention to the small details of surviving abuse.3 And once again I can't talk about the aspect of the film that really interested me without spoilers, so proceed at your own risk as usual.

He can"t hold her now. She"s free.Collapse )

I know I am shortchanging Quinada, when Mason does a very good job with his first American role and one of his rare positive leading men. It is crucial to the film that neither Ophüls nor his scriptwriter Arthur Laurents positions him as an unmitigated hero; he is Leonora's ally and would-be lover, but he's not her savior, and he has perhaps even more trouble disentangling himself from absently sexist, heteronormative habits of thought than she does. She is not rescued from one man by another. With his background playing charismatic antiheroes for Gainsborough, Mason has the ability to acknowledge the problems with Quinada while making him believably appealing. He's complicit, too, but he's trying. I'm not at all surprised that Ophüls gave him an even better part in The Reckless Moment, morally shadier and even more attractive. That's a film I recommend for Mason; this one I recommend for Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Ryan, and Ophüls' awkwardly paced but astonishing confrontation with all the things wrong with being a woman in America, in 1949 and nowadays. Since I have said nothing at all about the cinematography, which is magnificent and pointed, as effective and conspicuous as a good prose style, I leave you with Mason's last word on the subject, written after two films with the director:

I think I know the reason why
Producers tend to make him cry.
Inevitably they demand
Some stationary set-ups, and
A shot that does not call for tracks
Is agony for poor dear Max,
Who, separated from his dolly,
Is wrapped in deepest melancholy.
Once, when they took away his crane,
I thought he'd never smile again.

This study courtesy of my steadfast backers at Patreon.

1. Ohlrig's psychiatrist is a magnificent human being played by Art Smith who is obviously not being paid enough to listen to this self-justifying Randian bullshit. Whenever he offers an insight about Ohlrig's behavior, his client dismisses him as a Freud-babbling quack. The movie spends the rest of its runtime proving that everything he said about Ohlrig was right.

2. Her roommate Maxine (Ruth Brady) is cheerfully upfront about her intent to marry for money if she gets the chance, love being an incidental but not necessary bonus. We thought she'd have done fine marrying Ohlrig and then living as a glamorous estranged wife in Paris with a stipend and a string of admirers.

3. Skygiants made some cogent points about the character of Franzi which I hope she will repeat in a post of her own, but he illustrates the complexity of the system: he is both an enabler of Ohlrig's abuse of Leonora and a victim himself. When she slaps him in a moment of uncharacteristically violent frustration and apologizes at once, he responds evenly, if a little breathlessly, "It's all right. It saves him from getting hit. That's what I get paid for." It doesn't make him a nice person, but it makes the film subtler and more like the world it's representing, where the patriarchy lets very few people off lightly.
13 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-25 04:07
Subject: I am in constant communication with the Mikado of Japan, who is a leading authority on such points
Security: Public
Music:Pavement, "Baptist Blacktick"
I am so tired that I feel like an idiot. It is difficult to think and difficult to write anything without feeling that I'm doing it wrong. I tried to describe my favorite romance plot from Gilbert and Sullivan's Utopia, Limited (1893) to [personal profile] skygiants earlier this evening and I'm worried it came out like affectionate word salad.

I have fleurdelis28 to thank for introducing me to the operetta; she mentioned it favorably sometime in 2007 and I read the libretto out of the gigantic volume of G&S with illustrations that I inherited from my grandparents and fell in love with the secondary couple on the spot, even though I think I've heard the music exactly once on a road trip. The whole thing is a satire of Englishness set on a fictitious South Seas island recently opened to commerce with Britain, which is one of the reasons I suspect it is rarely performed. I don't remember being knocked over by the music, either, which may be another. And while I suspect the deus ex absurdo of the Joint Stock Company Act of 1862 will still resonate in an era where corporations are considered people, it's a particularly abstruse get-out-of-jail-free card even for G&S. I have nonetheless hoped for a number of years for a local production to turn up, because I love this one thread and it justifies the existence of the rest of the operetta for me.

At the start of the story, King Paramount of Utopia has imported an English governess, the redoubtable Lady Sophy, to educate his two younger daughters as is now the fashion among all the royalty of the South Seas. (The eldest is off at university in England; her return will precipitate the second act.) She's the middle-aged contralto and he is desperately in love with her, but his unscrupulous advisors have taken advantage of a loophole in the Utopian constitution—the government being of the form known as "Despotism tempered by Dynamite," it's always been an option that a King who governs badly can be blown up by order of his Wise Men—to force him under threat of explosion to write scurrilous articles about himself under various pen names, with the result that even his own Public Exploder believes he's an embarrassing libertine. He takes a kind of sad professional pride in his skills as a satirist and is otherwise very depressed. Lady Sophy, meanwhile, having progressed through the courts of Europe with a wreckage of royal hearts in her wake—she vowed to marry only a monarch of blameless character and hasn't found one yet, though not for lack of trying—actually returns Paramount's affections, but his reputation makes it impossible for her to tell him. In person she finds him sweet, smart, and honorable; then she picks up the latest paper and reads such things as would make Elegabalus blush and despairs all over again. Her attempts to determine the truth of the rumors are prevented by Paramount's resigned insistence that he cannot put the authors to death even if they are lying. It's weirdly poignant for a completely ridiculous situation. Fortunately, common sense and legal obfuscation come to their aid: the Princess Zara returns from England, discovers her father's situation, and determines that the solution is to turn Utopia into the joint stock company of the title, legally rendering the King a corporation rather than an individual and therefore no longer subject to dynamiting ("You may wind up a Limited Company, / You cannot conveniently blow it up!"), whereupon Paramount and Lady Sophy come clean to one another, perform an adorable duet, and kiss so enthusiastically that it embarrasses his children. There's more plot, but I pretty much don't care about it. I am in it entirely for the eccentric middle-aged couple who are just so happy to be able to make out at last. My post-canon fantasy is that ex-King Paramount becomes a political humorist on his own time and is very successful at it.

(This is not a movie, of course, and I need to be writing about those. I need to start sleeping more first. It's four in the morning; much chance of that.)
31 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-23 03:58
Subject: And the mighty fine print hastens the trip to our epilogue
Security: Public
Music:"Cut the Ties," Repo! The Genetic Opera
I just got back from Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008). I love the movie: it is the Gothest, splatterpunkiest imaginable mash-up of Rigoletto and The Revenger's Tragedy with dystopian science fiction and a healthy dose of corporate satire. Some of the music is forgettable, but some of it gets stuck in my head not infrequently. I love Paul Sorvino's classically trained tenor and Alexa Vega briefly metamorphosing into Joan Jett for her adolescent rebellion showstopper, right before the uncredited cameo by actual Joan Jett; I love Terrance Zdunich as the prowling Graverobber and Paris Hilton's face falling off. Grieving, secretive Nathan Wallace is my favorite role by Anthony Stewart Head. The story, the music, and the setting are an obvious case of the creators throwing all the influences they loved into the same piece of art regardless of how they fit together and it works for me: it knows which of its elements to treat seriously, which to send up, and which to play like grand opera, damn the clichés and full coloratura ahead. I genuinely find the central relationship, between a sheltered daughter and a dangerously overprotective father, affecting and painful. Also, the primary visual aesthetic is an assortment of fetish gear and I am fine with that. There's a lot of blood onscreen. I am fine with that as well.

When I saw the film for the first time with greygirlbeast and humglum in 2009, I distinctly remember writing, "If it doesn't become a cult movie with midnight showings and audiences dressed to the gothic nines, there is no justice in this world."

I just saw a midnight showing with a shadowcast, à la Rocky Horror. It did not work for me at all. I am sad.

The company themselves were fine. The costuming was excellent throughout and some of the actors came uncannily close in gesture and attitude to the characters they were shadowing. (I was really impressed by their Luigi.) I had a lot of trouble with the spotlights that consistently washed out and often actually whited out the screen; I had even more trouble with the audience constantly talking through the soundtrack. I'm not complaining about the sing-along component: I like the music, I know most of the lyrics, and under less alienating circumstances, I might have joined in. But the rest of the audience participation came off a lot less like Rocky Horror callbacks and a lot more like the kind of spontaneous MST3K that evolves when a bunch of friends decide to cope with a bad movie by shouting at it, which as anyone who has ever been the one person in the room enjoying the movie knows is extremely irritating and dispiriting, especially if you have been looking forward to a theatrical viewing of Repo! The Genetic Opera since it was announced at the beginning of the summer. I didn't know about the live performance until this evening. Plainly I was not the target audience.

I felt like the only person in the theater who had come to see the movie, not the live show. (derspatchel joined me when he got off work, but I think his tolerance for the live show was higher than mine.) Having the stage lights on while the film was running, spotlights on the screen, and the audience mocking every other line made it very clear that the movie was a secondary part of the experience. I hadn't expected that. None of my college-era showings of Rocky Horror shone lights on the screen. The screen is God. The screen is worth more than you. I hope what I was seeing was affectionate ribbing rather than ironic enjoyment, but I really couldn't tell. It was a disorienting experience and not one I'd had in a theater before. Audience members heckling, yes: it memorably marred my first experience of The Birds (1963). Being so out of sync with an entire moviegoing ritual, I really don't think so.

And as far as I could see, no one in the audience came dressed in their fetish Goth opera best. I might have felt better if they had. I am listening to the soundtrack of Repo! and thinking that I should pick up a DVD when I can, so that I can at least rewatch it with the proper color saturation. I really had been looking forward to the showing tonight.
16 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-20 23:36
Subject: We might sing like angels with each arm in a sling
Security: Public
Music:The Londonairs, "Dearest Emma"
I washed my hair with my regular shampoo last night and today my head smells like an ersatz strawberry. Without changing a word of their packaging, Pantene has switched the scent of its products—including the kind I've been using for years—from relatively neutral and mildly floral to fake fruit air freshener. Sickly sweet, intensely artificial, chokingly strong. It filled the shower. derspatchel coughed, "It smells like Strawberry Shortcake," and then had to explain that he meant the doll character, not the dessert, which tends to smell a lot better, generally like actual fruit. I stood in the shower for ten minutes after my hair was done, just trying to wash the smell out. It wouldn't leave. It was on my hands. It was still clouding in my hair when I woke up, clinging to my skin. I didn't even have any other shampoo to fall back on: I'd run out earlier in the day and bought a new bottle from CVS as usual, not suspecting it had undergone a noxious alchemy. I didn't have any reason to. On the shelf, it looked like the same stuff. So this afternoon I went back to CVS and purchased some alternate shampoo options, at least one of which should not smell horrific when applied to my hair and not trigger any allergic reactions either, but I am frustrated and disappointed and sad. I have used Pantene for more than ten years now. I am used to its scent, which I think of as part of my own. And if they were going to make their shampoo and conditioner smell like a chemical accident in a jam factory, they could at least have said so somewhere on the bottle.

Some things from the internet. Via the internet, at least:

1. The AV Club, in praise of David McCallum's Illya Kuryakin: "There was no template for a character or a man like him, and the element of the unknown was enthralling." My mother loved The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964–68) and especially McCallum's intellectual, enigmatic character; decades later, she wanted to name my brother Ilya. My father vetoed it on the grounds that, as family legend has it, "'Sonya and Ilya' sounded like a Russian vaudeville routine." So my brother ended up named after her favorite character from Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden (1911) instead, and it's worked out fine as far as I can tell, but I still don't think her first choice would have been such a terrible idea. My father, of course, was the one who counter-proposed "Igor."

2. While we're on the topic of spy shows, please enjoy one of the weirder pieces of pop culture I've run into recently: The Londonairs, "Dearest Emma." I can find no information about the band except for the songwriters' last names and the fact that the record was recalled for copyright infringment after about a week of airplay, because it's a fan song to Diana Rigg's Emma Peel and its opening fanfare is right out of the theme music to The Avengers (1961–69). I am fascinated by its existence and the fact that it's kind of unapologetically kinky. We faint at the things you do, though red-blooded men / Now that just ain't good for us, but do it again . . . We'd take all that you can give and come back for more / You'd find we look great piled up in heaps on the floor. Nowadays, you just record this sort of thing and put it on the internet.

3. This has been around for a year, but I just saw it now and it's wonderful: "Deaths in the Iliad: A Classics Infographic." Paris is correctly rated "Most Useless."

4. Etruscan shark's tooth pendant? Yes, please.

5. I wish I owned a DVD of Leslie Howard's Pimpernel Smith (1941). I've mentioned the movie before: it's his WWII retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel, the definitive movie version of which had starred Howard in 1934; it downplays some aspects of the original story and sharpens others, it's weirder and more numinous than any film in its genre except Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale (1944), and it stars an unabashedly intellectual hero. I love that while Percy Blakeney only plays at being a brainless fop, Horatio Smith really is an idealistic academic; his disguise is a broadly drawn version of himself, the archaeologist so unworldly, he'll tramp cheerfully through the Anschluss to excavate the rumor of an ancient Aryan civilization predating the Semitic Near East. (Historically speaking, this is as much garbage as Reichminister von Graum's ponderous insistence that Shakespeare was really German, but it's such an irresistible coup for the Nazis, they let him right in.) He's introduced lecturing on classical sculpture; he pronounces the word chiton correctly. Where most men carry a pin-up or a picture of their best girl, his wallet contains a photograph of Aphrodite Kallipygos. His intelligence and his erudition and even his eccentricity are real; it's his pretense of scholarly shortsightedness—a man so concerned with the past that the present is of no consequence to him, even when it contains concentration camps—that's the front. He's a tricky hero, not a two-fisted one. He falls for the girl who sees through his stories, like Odysseus with Athene. Because it features a heroic archaeologist battling the Nazis, I would love to be able to consider the movie a predecessor of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), but I've never heard that anyone involved in that production actually knew about Pimpernel Smith. It did inspire Raoul Wallenberg. Anyway, I'm thinking of it because of this gifset of Smith showing off his photo of the woman he loves, marble draperies and all. The pose looks more like Aphrodite of Knidos, but I'm willing to believe she has a very beautiful ass.

[edit] Trying to find a better shot of Smith's Aphrodite, I've found this article from a 1941 issue of Picturegoer in which a critical fan attempts, on the set of Pimpernel Smith, to persuade Leslie Howard to play more romantic parts and leave the intellectual ones alone. I am afraid my first reaction to this argument was, "What an idiot." No, Mr. Cole, I should not have liked Howard to throw over his "bespectacled Professor Higgins" or "his archaeological-minded Mr. Smith." We can agree that it would have been a shame to lose him as an actor entirely, but your ideas of a romantic hero evidently differ from mine. Rest assured that there is a thriving population to this day who find Leslie Howard disheveled and snappish in nerd glasses to be one of the hotter things filmed in 1938. Show me a leading man who tinkers with oscilloscopes or knows his classical Greek and I'll show you someone I pay attention to. The smarts are part of the sentimental appeal. Fortunately, Howard appears to have been unmoved: "This, considering I had just finished delivering an impassioned plea for Howard to give up the intellectual stuff, was a bit of a blow. Rather like lecturing somebody on the danger of playing with matches and, at the end of it, being idly informed that he was planning to set fire to a cathedral." Well, here's to pyromania.
38 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-18 15:52
Subject: Nothing but a mouthful of air and a promise as wide as the ocean
Security: Public
Music:Méav, "You Brought Me Up"
From the department of cool things happening to other people: Yoon Ha Lee has sold his hexarchate trilogy to Solaris Books. I have read the first two of these books and they are brilliant; I am deeply looking forward to the ability to file them on my shelf in print. Read "The Battle of Candle Arc" if you want an idea of the universe, along with the forthcoming stories "Calendrical Rot" and "Gamer's End," and then join me in waiting with poor patience until next June.

From the department of cool things happening to me: ladymondegreen sent me a care package of selkie materials, including a DVD of Ondine (2009). Thank you so much! I look forward to rewatching it, which is as close to the sea as I can get right now.

It saddens me that neither of the extant film versions of Her Cardboard Lover (1928 and 1942) star Leslie Howard, who originated the eponymous leading man on Broadway opposite Jeanne Engels in 1927, but at least I have the Guardian's review of a production with him and Tallulah Bankhead. Looking for images of him in the role seems to have netted me a fashion profile. Works for me.

Tonight is my brother's belated birthday observed. We must leave the house before the storm hits and we drown while waiting for a bus.
16 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-16 18:23
Subject: If she was a seal, though, would you still do the wedding?
Security: Public
Music:Lisa Hannigan, "Braille"
Having just been talking about Neil Jordan's The Crying Game (1992), I realized I have never told this journal much about either of his films that I really love, Ondine (2009) or Byzantium (2012). I still miss the sea desperately and the summer is almost over, so the former gets my vote right now. I saw it twice in two weeks in 2010 and then never wrote about it. [personal profile] umadoshi, this is for you.

I said five years ago that Ondine is a film about "the sea and secrets and the reasons that people tell themselves stories." I could also say accurately that it's about an Irish fisherman and his folklore-loving daughter and a woman who might be a selkie, but there are conversations in this relatively familiar tack of retelling/deconstruction that will bewilder an audience unfamiliar with or unwilling to follow the ways in which people shift registers of story within their own lives—adopt characters, try on narratives, talk in metaphor until it becomes the real thing. A woman speaks of herself as dead and seals as her kind and a priest agrees to be a tree. Names matter as much in twenty-first-century Castletownbere as they do in myth. The fisherman who sets off the story by drawing in his nets with a seemingly drowned girl in them is named Syracuse (Colin Farrell), but everyone in town from his ex-wife to the priest to his own ten-year-old daughter refers to him as "Circus," for the fool he used to make of himself when he was the town's spectacular drunk.1 When the resuscitated girl with the foreign accent (Alicja Bachleda) gives her name as Ondine and Syracuse asks her what it means, she replies, "She came from the water," and he takes this as a literal translation until corrected. His better-read daughter Annie (Alison Barry) hears the name and asks promptly, "What's a French selkie doing here?" Because Annie's stepfather claims to have "invented selkies in the Outer Hebrides . . . they're a Scottish thing," Syracuse and his daughter begin to tell people that the camera-shy, fair-haired, sea-gazing stranger now staying in their caravan is from the Orkneys. Do they believe it? Does Syracuse believe everything his daughter tells him about seal coats and seven tears and how a selkie woman can bury her skin and stay on shore seven years for love of a landsman unless her selkie husband comes to claim her first? The story doesn't snowball so much as it stitches itself together from things everyone says except for Ondine, who answers almost all of Annie's questions with an amiable "Maybe." Syracuse knows for a fact that when she goes out with him in his trawler and sings, his usually empty pots come up full of lobsters and his nets leave him ankle-deep in salmon, which you shouldn't even be able to catch trawling.2 So there's the obvious question for the viewer, but it's not an either/or split so much as it is, for most of the film's runtime, a slipstream non-issue. Syracuse is and is not the fisherman in a folktale; Ondine is and is not the seal-woman he drew out of the sea; they both know it, although they do not know the same things. How they tell the story they find themselves in makes a difference to the kind of story it turns out to be.

All of this is the kind of liminal fiction that can turn into Calvinball if it's not grounded, by which I mean that it can feel arbitrary, without either the necessary constraints of the mundane world or the traditional rules of the folktales it's working within. Ondine's shape-shifting narrative actually helps avoid this problem—its fancies are anchored in the "real quotidian world," but the real world is always invoking the fantastic one, even just in figures of speech or wishful thinking. The results are gritty and evanescent at once, a scallop's eye of sky rippling in cold brackish water. I love how much attention the film allows the details of life in its contemporary coastal town, so that the miraculous image of a seaweed-tangled woman dangling from a trawl net does not carry more weight than fish guts and flaking ropes and euros per pound of salmon; some scenes take place under the peat-blue skies and Carrara-white clouds of a postcard from Ireland, others beneath the kind of half-misting overcast that strings everyone's hair damply and doesn't photograph well and shows no signs of blowing off any time soon. Frail Annie spends most of her time in a wheelchair, which aligns her with stories of mermaids come ashore—like Miranda—but there is nothing otherworldly about congenital kidney disease which requires dialysis twice a week.3 Her home life is normal post-divorce messiness; mother with custody, father's the sober one. As far as her health goes, thank God for the CRC. But the sea gets in everywhere, through the cracks of visual resemblance as well as words—I love how Jordan's cinematographer shoots the occupants of a pub as if they were exotic sea life in an aquarium, nighttime streets blurred and lit up like things seen underwater. A hand stretching a fishnet stocking looks webbed, scale-shadowed. Dusk and driftwood make fin-shapes against the sky.

And it is true that encountering Colin Farrell first in Oliver Stone's Alexander (2004) did him no favors, because he really is talented and I couldn't see it through the unconvincing blond hair and the lack of chemistry with Jared Leto. Syracuse is not and cannot be a showy role; the character's had years of being showy and he's sick of them, of the shaming reminder of a nickname that greets him even in the confessional.4 He's more tongue-tied than taciturn—a dark-browed, sad-eyed man who must be in his middle thirties, but moves like someone ten years older and wearier, a dogged air of keeping his head down even as he lifts and stacks lobster pots or swings his daughter up into his arms, unexpectedly lithe under his cable-knits. He's a good father, but you can see that he doesn't believe it. He has nightmares about being back with his ex-wife Maura (Dervla Kirwan), who still drinks the way he used to, like they're canceling alcohol tomorrow. Ondine frightens him in different ways—worse than being the luckless clown is suddenly having something good, because then he could screw it up. He has absolute faith in himself when it comes to that. I've never seen Alicja Bachleda in another role, but as Ondine she has the tricky task of portraying someone sufficiently enigmatic to entertain the possibility of selkies and yet three-dimensional enough that she doesn't merely look like the hero's catalyst. She has a watchful happiness, a way of gravely answering as if she is learning the rules of a game; then she'll swim out into the bay in a dress Syracuse brought her and sun herself smiling on a floating dock and that looks more natural than anything she's said. The script is clear that the story taking shape around her is one she has more than an accidental hand in.

You"ve got some unfinished sea business.Collapse )

I don't know if Neil Jordan has seen Night Tide (1961). The comparison didn't occur to me when I saw the earlier film; I would be surprised if there were a direct relationship, but the handling of supernatural ambiguity reminds me. Its closest cousin is probably The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), though Ondine is explicitly more modern in both setting and approach. I like this sea-shifting movie very much, is the short version, and it didn't get as much critical approval as I would have liked. In between starting and finishing this post, I saw a midnight screening of Jaws (1975), which I should also write about. This recollection sponsored by my considerate backers at Patreon.

1. It is conceivable that Jordan got the one name by working backward from the wordplay of the other, but I would have chosen it for the classical city whose patron was the nereid Arethousa: she appears wreathed with dolphins on the coinage of Sicily, pearls in her hair; nets sometimes. Fleeing the river Alpheus in Arcadia, she came to land at Ortygia and turned into a fountain. I wrote a poem about her in 2012. The myth is never mentioned in the film, but it occurred to me as soon as I heard Syracuse's name and it would not be out of keeping with the story's themes.

2. I appreciate that the fishing inspectors are also confused.

3. She's also just a very well-done example of an intelligent kid onscreen. Annie reads voraciously, has a vocabulary a college student could be proud of, is almost certainly brighter than both of her parents—her mother tries to pretend it isn't true, Syracuse is a little awed and quietly proud—and it doesn't make her a four-foot-tall adult or one of those cinematic child savants who understand everything better than the grown-ups around them; emotional intelligence is not the same thing as reading levels.

4. Syracuse is not a religious man, but once a week he sits the priest down and makes him listen to the state of his life, including the two years, seven months, and eighteen days he's been sober, "because there's no AA chapter in this poxy town!" Fortunately, the priest is played by Stephen Rea and therefore gives the impression that he's seen weirder. He doesn't even bat an eye when they end up discussing what kind of tree he would be. "You look more like one of those they make hurley sticks out of."
6 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-15 19:16
Subject: Stay the night, I swear we'll sleep
Security: Public
Music:The Chandler Estate, "Flash"
I am heat-stunned and exhausted to the point where I feel I cannot talk intelligently about anything, which is especially bad when I have outstanding Patreon obligations to complete. Our new next-door neighbors have been holding a party all afternoon, complete with blasting, bass-heavy music—they brought speakers out onto the back porch—and beer pong. They appear to scream "WOO!" a lot. I tried to nap this afternoon and was prevented by the noise and the heat, which the window unit upstairs is having trouble even ameliorating. I am averaging about three hours of sleep a night.

I got up early this morning for British Car Day at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum. We were taking my father as a very belated birthday present; the event had been rescheduled once already from June. I took lots of pictures of Jaguar E-Types and two lovely examples of the XK120, including a 1954 roadster in British racing green. All sorts of classic MGs, though not a 1962 MGB like the one a college friend of my mother's once drove her from Oklahoma to upstate New York in. A flaming magenta 1974 TR6 Triumph. A Tardis-blue Morris Mini Traveller its owner had decked out with Doctor Who stickers. And after we came in out of the sun, an amazing array of motorcycles from the museum's current exhibit, Beauty of the Beast. My favorites were the 1912 Flying Merkel Board Track Racer and the 1928 Indian 101 Scout used in the Wall of Death at a California amusement park called The Fountains. The former is a low-slung caramel-colored curlicue with its name written in dynamic capitals on the gas tank; it looks like a candy wrapper and an elegant piece of jewelry and it influenced all later motorcycle design. The latter was the one bike in the exhibit that didn't look like a museum piece, lovingly restored and polished, chrome-shining under the spotlights. It is beat to hell and back, peeling at least three different colors of paint; it has patina like a Greek bronze helmet and the front fork is held on with baling wire. The whitewall of its front tire is scuffed a chalky green. I took pictures, but I don't know if they'll convey the astonishing sense of survival the bike gives off. You can see time in it. I don't know who rode it. It probably still remembers them.

(The 1928 Indian Scout was the preferred bike of Bessie Stringfield, Motorcycle Queen of Miami, who I need to learn more about. I'd heard of Anke-Eve Goldmann, but none of the other women mentioned in the exhibit.)

So that was all worth the early rising and the walking around a car-crowded lawn half-melting in midday heat and the one awkward interaction with a young man who I thought was asking to take my picture, but turned out was just sarcastically asking me to move out of the way of the car he was trying to photograph. I just resent deeply the fact that I couldn't come home and pass out for even a couple of hours. It is my hope that when the thunderstorm finally breaks, it will at least short out the party's sound system. They're still at it. It's like living in New Haven all over again without even the payoff of being in grad school.
12 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-15 02:52
Subject: She makes a banner with her hair
Security: Public
Music:Mad Planets, "Gold Monte Carlo"
My short story "A Cherry Without a Stone" has been accepted by Not One of Us. It was supposed to be a poem: [personal profile] yhlee had given me a handful of prompts, including "a siege of cherry blossoms." The phrase took off immediately into prose instead. The title comes from a riddle song that my mother used to sing as a lullaby, although technically her version was a cherry that had no stone. It has trees, and war, and stories; it is honest-to-God secondary-world fantasy, which is rare for me. I am back to feeling that my body has completely forgotten how to sleep.
10 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-14 02:53
Subject: Strength through joy, he had a car made out of soy
Security: Public
Music:Mad Planets, "Phineas Gage"
I intended to shower immediately after the last post, but a moment of link-distraction led me to a page of haiku about CEOs.

I can write haiku about Henry Ford, too:

Hey, Anti-Semite!
How's that rubber plantation
working out for you?

8 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-14 02:25
Subject: Brushing ash from your hair, comparing alibis
Security: Public
Music:The Chandler Estate, "Spies"
I loved Sylvia Townsend Warner's Mr Fortune's Maggot (1927) and The Salutation (1932), handily collected into one volume by the NYRB (although I prefer the cover of the edition I have), but most things are pretty terrible right now.

nineweaving scanned me a photo of Ralph Richardson circa David Storey's Home (1970).

It does not make everything better, but it's really nice. derspatchel told her I would hang it on my wall if it were a real portrait. I probably would.
10 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-12 23:37
Subject: How people change—but you were never like the others
Security: Public
Music:Cat's Eyes, "The Duke of Burgundy"
At the end of a long, exhausting, and frankly demoralizing day, the mail brought me my contributor's copy of Wilde Stories 2015: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction, edited by Steve Berman. It is a very elegant hardcover and I am honored to have "The True Alchemist" reprinted alongside stories by Chaz Brenchley, Craig Laurence Gidney, Alex Jeffers, Sunny Moraine, and other people I should read more of. I dreamed one night in December 2013 that I was writing a story for ashlyme, so like a reasonable person I stayed up the next night and wrote it. The title comes from a line in Mattie's "A Portrait in Rust," one of the best autumnal stories I have read in recent years—appropriately, both stories were eventually published in Not One of Us #51. This is the second time "The True Alchemist" has been reprinted this year and I am delighted. Seriously, check this collection out. There is a lot of lovely weirdness in it. Tom Cardamome's "The Love of the Emperor Is Divine" is another one for the classics list.

I am in the middle of reading George Gissing's Born in Exile (1892), Sylvia Townsend Warner's Mr Fortune's Maggot (1927), and Ray Monk's Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (1990), so that's how I'm doing.

[edit] Speaking of emperors: the director of I, Claudius (1976) has died. Herbert Wise. I hope someone deifies him.
17 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-11 23:52
Subject: Like a cyclist I have to keep pedalling, to keep moving, in order not to fall down
Security: Public
Music:Broadcast and The Focus Group, "Oh You Chatterbox"
I visited the Million Year Picnic earlier tonight; I had just been discussing Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2008) and, being reminded of how much I loved that show, thought I would finally check out some of the comics. Sadly, I cannot afford to buy any of the complete arcs right now, especially not the nice hardcover editions. So I went to browse Raven Used Books to console myself and seem to have ended up with a biography of Wittgenstein.

This is my life.
17 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-10 21:36
Subject: When I enter the earth I take this sky with me
Security: Public
Music:Scylla, "Helen's Face"
I am entertained by the Guardian's poem of the week: Nic Aubury, "Decline and Fall."

Trying to compile even a short list of poems about the classical world is fraught, because that way lies a truly endless chain of retellings. I have at least two anthologies that are nothing but reworkings of classical mythology: Orpheus & Company: Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology (ed. Deborah DeNicola, 1999) and After Ovid: New Metamorphoses (ed. Michael Hofmann and James Lasdun, 1996). I see more every month on the internet and many of them are amazing. I could start with Erik Amundsen's "Under the Asphodel" (Mythic Delirium #26, 2012) and come up for air days later without having gotten even so far as Derek Walcott's Omeros (1990). So here is another totally incomplete list of poems I like, mostly trying to focus away from myth or at least the direct retelling of it. There will be inevitably a few.

All of H.D.'s collections from Sea Garden (1916) through Red Roses for Bronze (1932) are deeply classical, specifically Greek, a mode she returned to late in life with Helen in Egypt (1961) and Hermetic Definition (1972). New Directions' Collected Poems: 1912–1944 (1986) is a solid, comprehensive collection, including some very good uncollected and/or unpublished material like the cycle A Dead Priestess Speaks and her early war poems. Ignore the biographical essay unless it's been updated, because among other things it gets Bryher's name and most of H.D.'s relationships wrong. I didn't even know Vale Ave existed and I suspect I should find it now.

Christopher Logue's modernist retelling of the Iliad, incomplete at the time of his death—the published installments were War Music (1997), All Day Permanent Red (2004), and Cold Calls (2005)—was as monumental and idiosyncratic a project as it sounds. I find the earlier books more faithful and the later more fragmentary and impressionistic, but the whole thing is wildly anachronistic, densely poetic, neither a translation nor a version in the usual sense, and passages of it convey better than anything except Homeric Greek the strangeness of the world in which the epics are anchored, which was never as historical as the Bronze Age. His description of Thetis' appearance in Book 1 won me over to the original volume.

So many of C.P. Cavafy's poems are set in the varied classical past, I might as well point to his Ποιήματα entire. The first complete translation I read was by Stratis Haviaras, but Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard appear to be the choice of the Cavafy Archive.

And, Diomed, you did; nicking Love"s wrist.Collapse )

A handful. Carthage gets better representation, though.
4 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-10 01:59
Subject: Wishing like hell that I'd never, ever met her
Security: Public
Music:Bill Dees & Roy Orbison, "Tennessee Owns My Soul"
And tonight I had a solid wall of headache for five hours. I hadn't felt fantastic since I got up around noon with the unpleasant, sticky sense of nightmares I couldn't remember, but it really started on the way back from Porter Square with schreibergasse. I met derspatchel for dinner on his half-hour break despite not being hungry, because I thought food might help; it didn't. By the time I got home, it was functionally a migraine, light-sensitivity, noise-sensitivity, and nausea included. It cannot have helped that the next door neighbors were grilling essentially under my office window and the room was filled with charcoal smoke. I closed the window, brought in the fan and the air cleaner from the living room, turned both to full blast and fell over on the couch, where I lay with my eyes closed until the light went out of the sky. Autolycus slept on the couch above me. He did not once entice me to play, or bite my wrist as he sometimes does when he believes he's not receiving enough attention. He just stayed close enough for me to hear him breathing and was an immense comfort. I lost track of Hestia during this period, but she turned out to be sleeping under the papasan. Rob came home when his shift at the Somerville ended and inadvertently provided the clue for breaking the headache, because he brought me some very cold water from the refrigerator and it was the first thing that had felt good in hours. He went out to J.P. Licks and returned with coconut-milk vanilla ice cream. I just sort of held it in my mouth. It helped a lot. I am somewhat worried this means the problem was the TMJ or directly my braces. I need to survive two more years of these things. I can't think much about it safely right now.

The latest song that I'm playing over and over again is a random internet find: Bill Dees and Roy Orbison's "Tennessee Owns My Soul." It's a theatrical little murder ballad and it's one of the oddest songs, musically speaking, I've heard in a while. About half of it sounds like a strain of country-folk that I recognize from the late '60's, with little pop touches here and there. And about half of it sounds like the kind of unclassifiable weirdness that would get aggregated as proto-punk once punk had established itself sufficiently for antecedents, especially in the early outsider art days when knowing a band was part of the punk scene would tell you absolutely nothing about its sound. And it's all intercut in the same song. It uses nearly the same arrangement, but Orbison's studio version is nowhere near as strange. It's a bigger production, smoother and grander where the demo is energetic and eerie and scuffed around the edges. I haven't played the studio version twenty-four times in a row. Maybe it's the string section that's turning me off.

Anyway, never, ever met her made me think of PJ Harvey's "Rid of Me" and Captain Beefheart's "Dirty Blue Gene," so there's some actual punk to close out the night. I am going to try to sleep.
7 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2015-08-09 03:08
Subject: Rome is far off. You are not Rome
Security: Public
Music:My Favorite, "Absolute Beginners Again (aka The Preppy Murder Song)"
So the problem with me and lists is that I want to make them comprehensive. Therefore this is not a catalogue of all the fiction with classical settings that exists, or even all the fiction with classical settings I've read or own. It is an attempt at listing some of my favorites of the genre without falling down the sinkhole of completism. If you don't see your favorites, please feel free to name them in comments. It may be that I've accidentally left them out. It may be that my local library does not contain enough Naomi Mitchison. It may also be the case that I'm not sure I need to re-read all of The Bull from the Sea ever again. This endeavor brought on by recent discussion of Dorothy J. Heydt's Cynthia stories.

Genres considered for inclusion are historical fiction and historical fantasy, with a flexible exception for contemporary narratives in which the classical past plays a prominent part. I have tried to stay away from mythological retellings because otherwise we'll be here all day. Honorable mention at the end goes to alternate histories or secondary worlds drawn so strongly from classical history that they feel like it.

Good cheap wine, great shellfish, sulphur fumes, thousands of people running around making money. Interminable noise, and no Sirens.Collapse )

The other problem with putting together this list is that it made me realize I want to edit an anthology of short fiction set in the classical world—I know the reprints I would want to ask for; I would want to hold a reading period for new material—and even if I knew a publisher to pitch it to, this is not a project for which I have time right now.

And I still don't really have any stories where the Carthaginians come off positively. Cato the Censor and the Aeneid cast a long shadow. Does anyone know any?
25 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

my journal