Viewing Diary May 2017

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The White Reindeer (1952), directed by Erik Blomberg

The sun hangs over harsh tundra. A bride transforms into an ungainly reindeer. She trots over snow-crusted ridges, luring hunters after her, leaving their bodies throughout the wilderness. This brisk folktale plays out like any werewolf story—in its last minutes, her husband slays her with an iron spear—but Blomberg dwells less on the mechanics of the curse than on the starkness of the landscape. Each dog or deer is a smudge of gray stumbling through a field of white. The doomed heroine gazes out at her world, and the camera pans for a good 45 seconds across the seemingly infinite, shrub-dotted expanse. This is Lapland, the north of the north, where townsfolk travel by sled and gather around the bonfire. Their dialogue’s sparse, and the film’s music is bombastic. Sometimes it feels a bit like a silent movie. (Like, say, the pastoral poetry of Alexander Dovzhenko.) Near the climax, a mob sets out after the reindeer, and their quarry crouches in human form behind a dune of snow. The camera keeps her in the foreground as they file past in the distance. It’s a typical composition for this atypical horror movie, brimming with both tension and desolate beauty.

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8 Years??

That’s a long time to maintain a blog, especially in this fast-paced online ecosystem. Hell, I’ve been using Pussy Goes Grrr as a writing platform since I was a teenager. In the context of my life, it feels like the digital equivalent of those towering redwoods that grew from saplings over a span of millennia. Other apps and profiles may since have fallen by the wayside, but here I am, still typing on this likely antiquated website. It’s seen me through half a dozen distinct disillusionments, with writing or film or criticism; periods of dormancy and regret. After all that, I’m still struggling to hone my writing, and this is as good a place to hack away as any. At this rate, maybe I’ll find some creative satisfaction midway through the 2020s. In the meantime, well, I suppose I’ll keep on posting.

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Viewing Diary April 2017

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Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), directed by Doris Wishman

The camera follows a fugitive housewife through a series of drab apartments. (Here’s a painting of two Siamese cats hanging on a bathroom wall; there’s a clock in the shape of an eight-pointed star.) It roams the streets of late-winter Manhattan, leavening the film’s somber sexploitation with a soupçon of documentary. Actors’ faces receive little attention. It’s camouflage for the shoddy post-synchronized sound. Voices drift, untethered from mouths, in a miasma of lounge music. “Oh, what can I do?” gasps the displaced damsel while Gigi Darlene, the actress playing her, paces in lingerie. She’s the victim in this catalog of abuses, this no-budget Life of Oharu. Trauma and tedium overshadow the film’s slivers of titillation. Its “hell” is no moralizing fantasy, but rather the here and now: a crummy couch, a beat-up fridge, any room cheap enough to shoot in.

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Viewing Diary March 2017

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The Marquise of O (1976), directed by Éric Rohmer

In static medium shots, actors share the screen with candlelit curtains, household statuary, and bowls of fruit. The camera keeps their delicate faces at arm’s length. Rohmer meticulously blocks their movements for the Academy ratio frame. Sometimes he composes whole shots within a doorway or ends them with a fade to black, swaddling the action in layers of decorum. The arcane rules of aristocracy circumscribe the widowed title character. Her destiny depends on her perceived sexual purity. When she grows visibly pregnant, her straits worsen, and her parents entangle her in a string of emotional gambits. Both her father (who forsakes her) and a persistent suitor (her likely rapist) lay claim to her. A marquise’s body can be anyone’s but her own.

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Viewing Diary February 2017

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The Man I Love (1947), directed by Raoul Walsh

Ida Lupino’s eyes have heavy, steady lids. Her lips curl into a pout—is that insolence, or is it sorrow? Her face anchors the frame. She leads the cast of this noir melodrama as a torch singer lovesick over a jazz pianist. They wander the waterfront together. She calls up the club where he’s been working: “Is he there?” The bartender goes to check, and as she waits in the phone booth, the strains of her sweetheart’s furious playing pour through the receiver. “No,” lies the bartender. “He ain’t here.” She’ll end the movie by walking toward the camera, her eyes full of tears. She deserves happiness, especially after patching up her sisters’ love lives and extricating them from the grip of a sleazy impresario. But this is a downbeat Warner Brothers potboiler, so she’ll have to keep chasing her happiness after the credits have rolled.

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Viewing Diary January 2017

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You and Me (1938), directed by Fritz Lang

As a parolee love story, this is frustrating. As soon as the premise is established, it’s clear that the wife will eventually fess up about her past, and the husband will backslide toward burglary. Each plot point till then feels like it’s marking time. So I’m grateful for Lang’s love of strong diagonal lines, and the emotional eyes of the two romantic leads. (George Raft’s: narrow and weary. Sylvia Sidney’s: wide and mournful; incapable of keeping a secret.) On the few occasions when You and Me becomes a Kurt Weill musical, however, it’s astonishing. An opening anthem mocks department store consumerism; a sprechgesang torch song echoes “Pirate Jenny.” These numbers slip into the movie, and suddenly you’re watching something strange and didactic and sublime.

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“I Dreamt of You Touching Me”

Here’s a PDF of my minicomic “I Dreamt of You Touching Me.”

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