Monthly Archives: July 2009

Reading Neil Gaiman and enduring summer

So, I am back in Minnesota. Ashley and I are separate once more. Blogging may become more frequent, mainly because there’s so damn little else to do. And of course there’s still a lot to talk about – everything to talk about, that is. Ashley’s Internet still isn’t working, which is utter bullshit. Right now, there’s not a whole lot that feels very comforting or reassuring. In fact, I would go so far as to say we live in an inconvenient, uncomfortable, impersonal, unfeeling, and generally hostile world. And more evidence is added to the heap each and every day, unless you’re having some peculiar string of good luck.

It seems so far like every single part of life is a crossroads, splintering months or days into times when you can go in one of many directions, seeking out the lesser evil. I feel so consumed with tedium. I guess I just want to go forward and embrace what pleasant things life has to offer. What was I remarking about to myself earlier today? It’s hard to decide that what you care about in life is art, when that’s not what the rest of the world cares about, and they’re going to try to force you to stop caring by starving you to death if you don’t devote parts of your life to what you consider less meaningful. Like slaving at some pointless task that just happens to exist, quite possibly for inane reasons, and which someone is willing to pay you money to do. It’s so Sisyphean. Desperation takes hold.

I feel like I should talk or think a little about culture. Beautiful culture, able to carry me away from the gloom and heat of everyday life. Thank God for it. I haven’t yet been able to watch many movies, for one reason or another, but during my depressing bus ride back here, I did finish Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things. I’ve had Gaiman on my mind occasionally, it seems, in recent weeks – after all, he’s dating Amanda Palmer, he wrote the stories for the Who Killed Amanda Palmer book, I’m halfway through his Sandman series, etc., etc. Gaiman is just a great (in all senses of the word) creative presence in the world today.

As for the WKAP book, it’s a very pretty multimedia explosion: all these photographs, from all over, all with Amanda Palmer, and she’s (almost) always dead. Often we’re left to wonder who killed her and why (the last page mentions that Gaiman himself is serving 20 to life in Sing Sing for her murder); sometimes the stories scattered throughout give hints, or more, as with the picture that shows AFP lying on a hillside, surrounded by groceries, with a typewriter on her head (one of my personal favorites). Some of the pictures are deeply creepy, such as the image of Amanda’s corpse with her eyes painted over her shut eyelids, accompanied by a villanelle that goes “We dine together every night…”

© Amanda Palmer

© Amanda Palmer

So in the end, what to make of the book? It’s a whimsically morbid little achievement, blending photography, short stories, poetry, and even music (the album lyrics are interspersed throughout); it’s certainly perfect for anyone who hasn’t yet had enough of Amanda Palmer and her death. I’m sure Ashley will have more to say about the book once her Internet starts working again. And, of course, the amount of nude photos here makes it a hardened necrophiliac’s wet dream. But I’m kidding. It’s equally sexy for those of us who prefer the living. (Incidentally, I happened upon this interesting review of a Q&A featuring Amanda and Neil.)

Ashley's Murky Turkey - appropriate for the occasion

Gaiman’s Fragile Things, meanwhile, was about as exciting a way as there is to spend a 30-hour bus ride. Makes me wish I’d had a novel or two of his, as well. The collection jumps all over the place: poems both humorous and sublime; stories about love and loss; and some very chilling horror. The best, I’d say, example of the latter was “Feeders and Eaters,” which is hard to summarize, except to say that it kept me in a very creeped-out state of suspense until just about the last few lines. Gaiman claims in the introduction that it was inspired by a nightmare, and I’d go so far as to say it’s probably inspired a few nightmares itself. My other favorite story would have to be “Keepsakes and Treasures,” all about an enterprising psychopath who calls himself Smith and his boss, the fabulously wealthy pederast Mr. Alice.

More than anything, Gaiman’s fiction makes me want to write, as it trades so heavily on the act of storytelling itself; his poem “Locks” repeats what Gaiman calls the closest thing to a credo he has – “We owe it to each other to tell stories” – and it’s this passion for spinning a yarn, creating fiction, bequeathing some nonexistent occurrences to posterity, this is what strikes me most about these stories and what they give to me (as, after all, my Digital Storytelling instructor Rachel Raimist said endlessly: a story is a gift). As I recall, in Sandman, Dream is repeatedly described as the lord of stories, and his realm even contains a library with all the stories never written, such as Alice’s Journey Behind the Moon. And in his own way, it looks, Gaiman is himself a lord of stories, a kind of meta-storyteller examining and reappraising the value of everything from the Alice books to Narnia, Goldilocks, and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve always rather wanted to tell stories, and this is a desire that reading Fragile Things has rekindled. So thank God for this multitalented inspiration who, unsurprisingly, last I heard resides around the Twin Cities.

I guess I’ll go now. I’ll eat a little, try to finish Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud and start something else. Maybe read, maybe write. These are desperate days. So I’ll probably spend a lot of them at the library.

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Chaplin, screwball, and sexual ambiguity

There’s really so much to blog about, and so little time. I want to dive head-first into the strange intersections of film history and sexuality – for example, Ashley and I have recently been watching many, many Charlie Chaplin films – right now we’re halfway through Monsieur Verdoux. Here he plays a Bluebeard, seducing women and then killing them for their money (to support his ailing wife and child). However, I recently noted that one reason we can sympathize with the Tramp or Buster Keaton is because they’re so unthreatening; they’re lovable and couldn’t genuinely, intentionally hurt a fly. So Chaplin’s turn from harmless icon to mass murderer is pretty astounding, and creates a kind of absurd confusion. It reminds me of the oddity that is Adenoid Hynkel, one of Chaplin’s dual roles in The Great Dictator.

Megalomaniacal whimsy

In the Politics & Film class I took last year, the professor made a note of Chaplin’s hilariously weird movements when he’s dancing around with the globe, as well as the way he scuttles up a curtain when telling his assistant Garbage, à la Greta Garbo, “I want to be alone,” and she suggested that it might indicate some kind of, oh, fruitiness or queerness of his character – thereby implying the same thing about Adolf Hitler (for which I turn your attention to the WWII song “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball“). This makes me wonder about queer characters in classical Hollywood films, and the role of sexuality in a comedy icon as timeless and endearing as the Tramp.

As a little more textual evidence regarding queerness and Chaplin, watching City Lights the other day, Ashley and I noticed a funny little scene where Chaplin flutters his eyes at a half-naked boxer, prompting the boxer to recede out of Chaplin’s view. Maybe it’s the possibility of homoeroticism being played for laughs. But I think it’s at least interesting to see how sexual fluidity works in comedy; another example is Bringing Up Baby, which we watched a couple days ago, where Cary Grant makes the (supposedly) first use of “gay” as a synonym for “homosexual” on film. (Watch it here, at 1:33.)

David: Because I just went gay, all of a sudden.

This, in a totally off-the-wall ridiculous screwball comedy where the rules of the normal universe seem to regularly break down – since identity, social class, dignity, everything is able to bend (and break) in Bringing Up Baby, why not sexual norms as well? And, thinking about all the cross-dressing going on (in Katharine Hepburn’s excessively garish outfits, no less), I remembered that some years later, Grant starred in another Howard Hawks film, I Was a Male War Bride, which also involved cross-dressing. I feel like I need to somehow get a handle on Cary Grant’s on-screen sexual persona.

Since I’m not sure where I’m going with this discussion (this is a relatively short, superficial post), I might as well also touch on another interesting topic brought up by Gloria in a comment on an earlier post:

I often wonder how many comings out of the closet of deceased people are actually true or just the result of unconfirmed rumour… when not the result of fan-fiction!

When personal affairs aren’t meticulously documented, when sources conflict, or for whatever reason, it can be hard to pin down facts about historical personages, even ones who lived in the 20th century. And one aspect of identity that’s especially hard to ascertain is sexual orientation. One reason could be that in many parts of the world, sometimes until relatively recently, homosexuality was considered not just perverse, but also a mental illness, or even a crime. (Cf. the sad case of Oscar Wilde, or the film Victim with Dirk Bogarde.) And so a question can be, does it matter? Do you regard their art, their life any differently whether they were hetero or not? Well, I think I would argue (I’m sleepy, mind you), does it matter if they were male or female? Black or white (or other)? Religious or nonreligious?

I guess this all just goes into this big question of how much life and art do or should interact. Can we set life aside and regard art as detached, or can we even admire someone from a purely biographical perspective? All I know is, I like to know the facts about artists (in this case, in film) who I’m interested in. And just as I enjoy looking at representations of or by female or black filmmakers in an era where their contributions were generally unappreciated, the same goes for queer actors, directors, etc. Just to give a random example, I think James Whale’s sexual orientation is very worth considering when analyzing The Old Dark House or Bride of Frankenstein. Not that the films are brimming with gayness or anything; just that it’s one of many parts of the artist’s identity to take into account.

And so, that brings us to the fact that it’s often hard to determine sexualities in retrospect. This causes all manner of problems; I’d recommend Cheryl Dunye’s intriguing film The Watermelon Woman for an example of this. One scene involves Cheryl interviewing a relative of a lesbian director from the ’30s about her relationship with the titular black actress. The relative, an old woman, is infuriated, insisting that the director was straight and that it’s nothing but rumors. This reaction seems to happen a lot, as if the suggestion that a deceased person may have been queer is akin to calling them a crazed sexual deviant and does a disservice to their memory. Maybe it’s related to the sentiment “speak no ill of the dead”: “speak no sexuality of the dead.”

My point, ultimately, is that as with anything else, we should base our conclusions about people on solid research. Random, poorly-formatted Spanish-language websites that speculate wildly, however entertaining, should not be taken as solid evidence; reputable biographies should. And so, I think I’ll wrap up this little post for now – I want to write about more actors and actresses, but I’m not sure who. I realized that the closest this blog has come to addressing the subject of pussies going grrr is my earlier exploration of the film Cat People, which gets better and better every time it enters my mind. But in the interest of further accuracy to the title, despite my hatred of lolcats, here you go.

Yakov Smirnov, eat your cat out.

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An Alternative History of American Film

This is my final project from the We Media: Digital Storytelling class I took last term. We were asked to tell a story in whatever form we chose, so I decided to give an alternative take on film history through short clips. This was basically putting into project form a series of ideas I’d been going over for over a year: all the celebration over the first century of film, with tributes like AFI’s “100 Years…” series or Chuck Workman’s montage “100 Years at the Movies,” seemed to focus on a set canon of mainstream, acceptable American films. And, by and large, this is what people tend to assume as their cinematic heritage – the classics, the ones referred to when they say “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” The question, though – the kind you always have to ask – is, who’s making this canon for us? What values do they have in mind when they start making their lists? What kind of canon is this going to be; is it just more received wisdom as to what constitutes “the greats”?

I was heavily inspired by an essay written by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, countering the AFI’s lists with his own. Taking this as my jumping-off point, I began questioning: what movies weren’t being mentioned or seen? Sure, we can all be reminded how great Gone with the Wind and Star Wars are, but are we getting anything new out of the experience?

So I ran through my personal filmic experience with a few criteria in mind. What kinds of movies were being neglected? I focused on a variety of underappreciated genre: adult animation, the avant-garde, horror, exploitation, independents, and cult films. I picked movies that were, for better or worse, ahead of their times, movies with strange traits that endeared them to me. Some of them were great. Others were bad in the most extreme and oddly compelling ways. Some made bold statements about race, gender, and politics, while others were just plain bold. From there, I edited out bits & pieces I remembered as being particularly effective, mixed it all together, and created my project.

I could probably write an individual blog entry about each of these movies, and that’s not at all a bad idea. But the greater point was one that I made more eloquently in a previous draft of this blog, deleted when the power went out. It was this: film history is not dead, buried, and in a textbook. Film history is alive, and it’s reincarnated, reformed, and reconstituted every time you rediscover a forgotten masterpiece (possibly through a blog like this), every time you unearth a dusty old treasure left to rot by corporations who couldn’t find any dollar value in it, and every time you say to a friend, “Hey, you liked Citizen Kane? Well, check out The Magnificent Ambersons” or “You enjoyed The Godfather? Then how about The Conversation?”, to give 2 totally random examples. Film history is ours to study, play with, and redefine. I’m inspired here by the final paragraph of Rosenbaum’s essay:

In the final analysis, selecting America’s 100 greatest movies has to be an ongoing effort of exploration and discovery–something that can happen only if we stop to consider what we still don’t know about and try to set up some mechanisms for educating ourselves. The saddest thing about the AFI’s list is that it proposes that we stop looking, go home, and proceed to pick more lint out of our navels for the remainder of the millennium.

So make what you will of my video, but know that this is the thinking behind it. And now, for your browsing pleasure, here’s a little list of the films I used.

How a Mosquito Operates (Winsor McCay, 1912)

Eveready Harton in Buried Treasure (Unknown, 1929)

Heavy Traffic (Ralph Bakshi, 1973)

Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, 1936)

Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)

Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1983)

Just Imagine (David Butler, 1930)

Maniac (Dwain Esper, 1934)

Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)

The Devil with Hitler (Gordon Douglas, 1942)

Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945)

Glen or Glenda (Ed Wood, 1953)

Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972)

Sex Madness (Dwain Esper, 1938)

Shock Corridor (Samuel Fuller, 1963)

Targets (Peter Bogdanovich, 1968)

The Sniper (Edward Dmytryk, 1952)

Blast of Silence (Allen Baron, 1961)

Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968)

Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

Our Daily Bread (King Vidor, 1934)

Baby Face (Alfred E. Green, 1933)

Midnight Shadow (George Randol, 1939)

Salt of the Earth (Herbert Biberman, 1954)

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)

Born into Flames (Lizzie Borden, 1983)

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song (Melvin van Peebles, 1971)

Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984)

In the final analysis, selecting America’s 100 greatest movies has to be an ongoing effort of exploration and discovery–something that can happen only if we stop to consider what we still don’t know about and try to set up some mechanisms for educating ourselves. The saddest thing about the AFI’s list is that it proposes that we stop looking, go home, and proceed to pick more lint out of our navels for the remainder of the millennium.

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Machine men with machine minds

It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything – between the Independence Day weekend and Ashley’s pinched sciatic nerve, it’s been difficult to find time for writing. So I figured I might take a few minutes to go over whatever it is I’ve been thinking about lately. We’ve watched a fair amount of (very good) movies; it’s nice to be able to go back and rewatch beloved classics. Since I’m so preoccupied with watching films I haven’t yet seen (and checking off lists, always lists), this is an opportunity I don’t often get.

And, well, I think all in all repeated viewing is important to understanding and loving film – after all, it’s a very visually and aurally dense art form. So it’s good to be able to watch movies from all time periods, regions, styles, genres, and directors, but at the same time, occasionally it’s good to do some deeper viewing, possibly paying attention to aspects of the work you haven’t noticed before. Beside that, it’s just fun: the two of us are sharing movies we love with each other. What’s more romantic than that?

Among the movies we’ve watched have been, as I mentioned the other day, The Third Man and White Heat. This is going to be short, so I don’t really have time to jump into a full-blown exploration of the two films’ many nuances and significances, but I might as well just touch briefly on the thoughts I had while rewatching.

The symbolic recursion of man within man within man

With The Third Man, every other line in the first half of the film seems to be a clue, a subtle hint to the mysteries Holly spends the rest of the film furiously unraveling. The way the film so carefully traces the effects that Harry Lime had on those around him reminds me of some of Orson Welles’ other contributions to film: say, for example, Citizen Kane, which asks if one word can really sum up a man’s life, or Touch of Evil, which concludes with Marlene Dietrich asking, “What does it matter what you say about people?”

Of course here we’ve instead got the direction of Carol Reed, filling in the darkness and disorientation, as in his earlier films, Odd Man Out and The Fallen Idol, where the confused protagonists (a dying IRA operative and an ambassador’s young son, respectively) wander through situations just as undecipherable as Holly Martins’ stay in Vienna. Between the nonstop canted angles and the blissfully idiosyncratic, often incongruous zither music, it’s a decidedly off-balance film – the truth is always behind another shadow, another corner, or as Calloway says, “We should’ve dug deeper than a grave.” And the film always keeps a very British sense of dark humor about the whole affair.

Martins: A parrot bit me.

Calloway: Oh, stop behaving like a fool, Martins…

I think The Third Man forms a great contrast with the other film on my mind, released the same year, Raoul Walsh’s White Heat. Both contain blithely smiling villains. But while The Third Man coyly clings to secret after secret, layer after layer, White Heat is blunt as hell. (I wonder if I could draw a parallel between Walsh and Samuel Fuller, in that both seem to trade in subtlety for raw brutality.) In the first 5 minutes, we’re introduced to our weirdly sympathetic, totally psychotic central character, Cody Jarrett, a mercilessly hands-on gangleader played by veteran actor James Cagney.

Cagney was returning to the gangster movie a decade after having helped define it with roles in Warner Bros. films like Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties, Michael Curtiz’s Angels with Dirty Faces (both opposite Bogart), and of course the grapefruit-smashing iconography of William Wellman’s The Public Enemy. His performance as Cody Jarrett, though, drops the relatively well-intentioned rags-to-riches element of these Depression-era films for a delusional but brazen figure fixated on the support of his mother and her dreams of him going to the “top of the world.” Jarrett doesn’t just want to be well-off and have his best girl by his side; instead, he’s consumed with id and despises his best girl (played with sluttiness and self-interest by Virginia Mayo).

The film is filled with one weird turn after another, from the scorching of gang member Zookie with steam from a train engine (the first of many symbolic images of “White Heat”) to Jarrett’s transferred devotion to partner-in-crime-but-actually-police-informant Vic Pardo, played by frequent noir straight man Edmond O’Brien. It almost reminds me of the way black holes curve space-time: Cagney’s white-hot performance seems to skew the whole film in bleak, slightly disturbing directions. So here we have an interesting way that two films are similarly effective: The Third Man‘s driving force is powerful through his absence, while White Heat‘s makes his mark through an overwhelming presence.

Finally, since you can never embed too many videos in one blog, here’s a climactic excerpt from another movie Ashley and I watched recently, Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. It’s a great artist’s first sound film, and a passionate paean to human freedom.

I’m not sure when there’ll be more writing forthcoming from either of us, but we’ve both got plenty of ideas stewing in our heads (both collaboratively and individually), so more eventually.

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In search of… search results

Search results are funny things. I intended, at some point, to start writing about movies Ashley and I have been watching recently – The Third Man and White Heat, two 1949 crime films with some great performances, in particular – but then realized that between a short attention span, a face with constant blurry vision and sinus issues, and a few other factors, this was unlikely to pan out in the immediate future. Another forthcoming blog could also be about the significance of cult figures or icons in general. We shall see. Because of course there’s such a clamor for my Internet-based wisdom and insight. At least, from me.

In any case, search results. Someone goes onto the Internet. Types in a few words. “I want to know about…” you name it. They go to Wikipedia, Yahoo, Google, whatever resource they know will suit their question, and then go with keywords or questions: Tell me about Facebook. Tell me about the rabbits. What is Twitter? What is my IP address? Unsure about some strange new aspect of the world? (E.g., What is Twittering, dammit?!) That’s why God (or Wesley Chan) made search bars. Instant gratification and access to endless information. Search results by the millions – 380,000,000 for “What is Twitter?” alone. Oh, this curious thing called the Internet and all its series of ever-so-helpful tubes.

Thankfully, my knowledge of people’s searching habits is no longer limited to just guessing: Google kindly shows popular searches with just a little prodding. And that’s the purpose of this post. To express my extreme amusement at the results I find. I tried to search for a line said by Moe to Rainier Wolfcastle and quoted in Planet Simpson, a book I recently read by Chris Turner (and have cited before in this very blog). I saw some interesting search suggestions start popping up, and lo and behold, we have gems like these.

Suggestions for "is it," "is it true," and "is it true that"

Do I really want to delve into the obsessions and curiosities that these searches suggest of the (American) public? There’s the nonexistent minutiae in the lives of low-culture icons like, dear God, the stars of Twilight and beloved ex-lovers Chris “Breezy” Brown and Rihanna, and their high position in the public psyche. We’ve got the whole-hearted paranoia and gullibility, with stories about Obama supposedly not saluting the flag, or the world ending in 2012 (in fact, a lot about the 2012 thing), or your heart stopping when you sneeze. And of course the eternal quandary of using it vs. losing it.

Lingering swine flu fears are there from the start, wondering about if Mexico is a safe travel destination yet. So it seems like when someone’s not looking for frivolous, celebrity-obsessed shit (OMG Miley’s preggers?!?!?), they’re nearly hysterical about whether Obama’s lack of patriotism is going to lead to some global cataclysm before his term is over (in fact, just typing in the word “is” yields the suggestion, “Is Obama the antichrist?” Hysteria indeed!)

So yes, I admit that seeing search suggestions like those both reassures me in my opinions (people are stupid!) and makes me laugh with regard to said conclusion (haha, people are stupid!). Mainly because you have to laugh. Or else you cry. Shut up about 2012, fuckers; you didn’t care about Incan codices before, so what what makes them so important now? Google, of course, is one of many resources for finding out about what’s on everybody’s mind. Since WordPress very sweetly includes search engine terms amongst the blog stats, Ashley and I have been able to witness a parade of curiouser & curiouser keywords being used to find Pussy Goes Grrr. I’ve been meaning to write about these terms for a long time, or at least use them as inspiration for a blog (some are, in fact, rather interesting), but never gotten around to it. Now the chance has arisen. Behold.

rosemarry from titanic heroiens fucking

gay boy

faith gnd pussy

amanda palmer pussy

women leaking pussy

lesbian art

I’ve seen Snopes and Happy Bodies do similar reviews of search terms – they’re just so fun! So fun to glance over the weird and wild ways people navigate the ‘Net. (Especially when it’s done with heavy alliteration.) Someone even found this blog once while searching for Snopes – oddly enough, that’s the same way I found xkcd in the first place. But who can help but enjoy talking about search terms. Meta-examination is just an endless joy, to contemplate one’s navel to your heart’s content. There’s probably some proportionality relationship between wanky enjoyment and wanky uselessness. But all I can determine is that when navel contemplation is involved, the word “wanky” is very, very appropriate.

I don’t know why the word “fucking” is so often tossed onto the end of search terms. For what it’s worth, the most commonly used keywords to find us are “pussy fuckers,” tied with “one flew over the cuckoo’s nest,” which as I recall was discussed in the first post I wrote. But, oh well, it’s a popular movie. We get a lot of pornographic inquiries – we discuss sexuality pretty often, after all, and the blog’s name does include the word “pussy” – some of which make us happy, like “amanda palmer pussy,” and some of which… do not. These are the far more common variety. For your viewing (dis)pleasure):

kid pussy

very young lolita pussy

childhood pussy

infant pussy

It was also a mistake to include the word “necrophilia” as a tag, apparently – it’s led to searches where it’s paired with “monkeys,” “squirrel,” and of course, “pussy.” So what’s the moral of this story? Lots of idiots with weird preoccupations happen to stumble upon this blog? Yes, that’s pretty much it. Though I do like the searches for lesbian art – and since people want to read about it, maybe Ashley and I will incorporate it as a topic of discussion more often. (Same goes for other LGBT topics, though not for human/animal sexuality.) So remember, I guess, when you type a few random, possibly ill-considered words into Google: you vote with your search bar and add to the totality of public consciousness and interest. You just might reveal your love of apple blossom fairy quilts to the world.

"i want to know about..."

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