Tag Archives: the sandman

Link Dump: #85

Giant, person-devouring KITTY!

This week’s man-eating kitty is from the Sandman series, specifically the story “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” from the book Dream Country. Remember: Watch out, because with a single collective dream, cats could overturn the natural order again! And now, I give you our last set of links for 2012:

We’ll close off this year of Link Dumps with a pair of pussy-related search terms: “oozing foaming pussy vedios” (eww) and “two gey one pussy” (huh?). Yeah, I think “eww” and “huh?” just about sum up the Pussy Goes Grrr search term experience.

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Link Dump: #10

Let me just get this out there: I love the movie Cat People. I love it so much that I’d be OK with it if, every time I was aroused, I turned into the movie Cat People. Don’t question how that’d work. The point is that I really, really love that movie. I love its brevity, its odd visual poetry, its confusing but wonderful morals; I love Tom Conway’s sleaziness and, most of all, Simone Simon’s fractured innocence. Cat People is complex, poignant, perverse, and really sexy. I fucking love Cat People. Anyway, I just wanted to talk about that because I haven’t touched on that movie at all this month. Oh, and I have some links! Read them at your leisure.

  • Have you bought issue 10 of Paracinema magazine yet? If not, look at this. Now are you convinced?
  • Wow, even Fangoria hated the I Spit on Your Grave remake! Then you know it’s bad.
  • THIS is an incredible video and I love it. It’s just so in-your-face and totally refuses to bullshit. Fuck hate! Fuck yeah! (Share it with everyone you know who can take the word “fuck”!) [Via Four of Them]
  • Here’s another great video, this one being an ultra-NSFW song by MC Sex about period sex, accompanied by clips from dozens of gory horror movies. [Via Hold onto yr genre]
  • This is a really, really stupid NYT article that just wastes space. Oh no! We don’t have lines like “Stupid is as stupid does” in movies anymore! How can we endure?
  • Christopher Nolan is finally disclosing some Batman 3 – excuse me, “The Dark Knight Rises” – details. I’ve been back and forth about Nolan lately, but I have to admit a measure of excitement for this movie. And I, for one, thought it was obvious that he wasn’t going to use the Riddler, since 1) how would lime green fit into the Nolanverse color scheme, and 2) wouldn’t another joke-cracking villain be redundant??
  • Neil Gaiman on Arthur. This makes every fiber of my being happy; while watching it, I was literally giggling with joy.
  • And speaking of Gaiman, want to be one of his most iconic characters, Death from The Sandman, for Halloween? Well, The Powder Room’s Locus Ceruleus Media will tell you how with this awesome makeup tutorial.
  • Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here’s a listing of some great Japanese horror movies, including a few we’ve talked about on this blog. Any list that includes Jigoku is good enough for me!
  • A few sites have pointed out this video of a Texas NBC station asking the leading question, “Will acceptance of gays lead to the downfall of America?” Jesus. Fucking. Christ. It’s pretty abhorrent and unbearable, and it just gets worse toward the end. People like this make me fucking sick.
  • There comes a time in every boy’s life when he has to explain the Internet to a 19th century Cockney street urchin. This flowchart should help.
  • To tie it back to Paracinema, their blog has been doing a Halloween Countdown of their own! It’s got snuff films, Japanese wackiness, Vincent Price, and more. And on a related note, Stacie Ponder of Final Girl is rounding down her list-tastic Shocktober lists. Read both of these for some great movie suggestions as Halloween arrives! (Just two days.)

On the search terms front, we had some weird shit this past week. One searcher complained that “women never have sex with men”; another creepily wrote, “my daughter in law has good pussy.” I saw the perfectly unpleasant instruction (?) to “pull my pussy n hurt it grrr,” as well as the more reasonable injunction of “don’t piss off your plastic surgeon.” I’m sorry to say that I don’t know what “professor & the sexy girl japanese movie” refers to.

My mention of Ava Gardner’s performance as a real estate agent in The Sentinel earned us such anomalies as “real estate agent rape scene” and “simulated ava gardner naked fucking” (??!). Finally, my favorite two of the week: “licentiously yours,” which I think should replace “sincerely” or any similar sign-off in correspondence, and “recorded in bathroom, guitar, died, fall,” which is just… I don’t even know. What does that mean? I think it means “Happy Halloween.” So yes. Happy Halloween.

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Sand, film, and comics: representing the oppressed

So, first things first.

Pussy Goes Grrr in the best of WordPress

This is a screenshot from Tuesday of an earlier post, “Asking and Telling,” being featured in “Freshly Pressed: The best of… WordPress.com.” Which is, to put it bluntly, awesome. It led to a scad of views (a whole scad!) and was a pleasure to learn about. I have no idea who selects this list, or how it’s determined, but whatever; it’s a point of pride, and I take it as an indication that this blog is going in the right direction. Whatever that direction may be (possibly drilling diagonally into the mantle of the earth?).

So, with that out of the way, there is much to discuss. Thing #1: following up on Ashley’s recent post, I watched the beautiful, moving video and decided to look up Kseniya Simonova. She’s a 24-year-old Ukrainian artist who is currently enjoying a wave of worldwide popularity for winning Ukraine’s Got Talent. Her art is both aesthetically striking and highly unusual – it’s a visual performance, not something we frequently see. It reminds me of a movie I haven’t actually seen, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Mystery of Picasso, which similarly films an artist creating in real time, as well as one that I have seen, Lotte Reiniger’s dazzling The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the first extant feature-lenghth animated film (take that, Disney!), which uses shadows in a way similar to how Kseniya uses sand.

I think what I like best about Kseniya is that she’s such a heroic anomaly: artistically, for creating and destroying images (with sand, no less) right in front of an audience, and geographically – well, when was the last time the global Internet community paid attention to anyone from eastern Europe, let alone the Ukraine? (Likely but disappointing answer: when the Moldovan band O-Zone’s song “Dragostea din tei” was popularized as the “Numa Numa” song.) And better yet, she’s not just an artist who happens to be from eastern Europe; it’s wonderfully integral to her art, which concentrates on the wartime atrocities suffered by the Ukraine, a nation with the misfortune to lie right between Germany and Russia.

Ukraine's location, courtesy of Wikipedia

It’s fascinating, too, how Kseniya’s performance really is a performance: she’s not just drawing in sand and letting the pictures telling the story. She tells it as much with her hands and with the music, whose pace is synched up with hers. It’s so appropriate that a piece of art about how war changes the shape of a country – in terms of people, buildings, connections, identity – should be done in such a temporary, rapidly shifting medium where each hand movement looks arbitrary but ends up producing a precise, recognizable image. And the final status of the sand, with what appears to be a family torn apart and the words, “You are with us always” (alternately translated as “You are always near”), makes a bittersweet conclusion to a uniquely told tale of a human landscape, savagely altered by sand and bombs. Even if Kseniya fades away like most foreign Internet sensations, hopefully everyone will still be just a tiny bit more thoughtful and more open-minded. And maybe we’ll eventually get a show called “America’s Got Genuinely Interesting Talent” (but I doubt it).

[It’s worth noting that Ashley discovered the video of Kseniya when it was linked by Neil Gaiman on Twitter with the words, “If you are an ad executive planning to rip off this Ukrainian Sand animation for Coke or Sony, please die first.” Which means he’ll be indirectly responsible for like 2/3 of the content of this blog – pretty amazing.]

Other topics need exploring: one is Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène’s Mooladé (2004) which I watched recently, one of the few African films I’ve seen. It deals with the subject of female genital mutilation, placing it within the context of the greater battle between tradition and modernity in western Africa. On one side of the conflict are a group of women, led by the buoyant, defiant matriarch Collé Gallo Ardo Sy. When a group of young girls fight against the “purification” rite and opt to remain “bilakoro” (i.e., uncut), they receive mooladé, or sanctuary, in Collé’s home, signified by a rope stretched across the doorway. As the film progresses, other groups – the male leaders, who include Collé’s husband, and the Salidana, the female elders who administer the cutting – take more and more desperate measures to curb Collé’s rebellion, but the ending is nonetheless triumphant and inspirational.

The Salidana and their would-be victims

Mooladé lets its audience see the initial attitude toward female circumcision as the status quo, a religious rite that signifies a coming of age, and then the traumatic personal consequences that lead to a wellspring of activism and solidarity from the village’s women. We see how one person’s disobedience, even when prompted by children’s fears, can help overturn firmly entrenched mores (interestingly, bilakoros are denigrated and considered unfit for marriage, which at first reinforces the cutting as normal). Mooladé both strikes a blow for human rights and tells a powerful story; it also makes me want to watch more African movies.

This is kind of a laid-back post, trying to get across some random thoughts about various art I’ve been experiencing. One of the most sublime experiences I’ve recently had has been finishing Neil Gaiman’s comics epic The Sandman after 10 volumes and, I’ve been told, about 2,000 pages. So you can expect to hear a lot about it in the coming days. Especially because there’s so damn much to look at! The Sandman is, simultaneously, a great, beautiful tragedy; a compendium of horror and fantasy stories; a series of character studies; a re-examination of mankind’s myths and folk tales; its own elaborate mythology; and a masterful juxtaposition of words and pictures. Much has been written already about the series, but as with most great literature and art, there are still, I’m sure, rich veins of gold lying just under the surface, still waiting to be tapped. And what that ornate metaphor means is that with such an ambitious, expansive (and recent) work, there’s sure to be some layer of meaning nobody’s dived headfirst into quite yet.

In conjunction with earlier posts, then, I want to look into the fascinating subject of LGBT characters and issues in The Sandman. Glancing over some information on the subject, it’s interesting to see how slow comics as a whole and mainstream/superhero comics especially have been to incorporate diverse sexualities into their stories. Fredric Wertham speculated about Batman and Robin’s relationship in Seduction of the Innocent, the Comics Code banned homosexuality, and reportedly Marvel Comics in the ’80s had a “No Gays” policy; Marvel’s first outed character, North Star, became so in 1992. Sandman #6 (“24 Hours”), meanwhile, was published in 1989 and features Judy, a visibly lesbian character (who, like everyone else, sadly comes to a very unfortunate end).

Judy in "24 Hours"

My point is not just that Gaiman was ahead of his time in writing these characters, but that they’re written sincerely; they don’t feel like he’s filling a diversity quota by randomly making a character gay. They feel, as is so vital to Sandman‘s literary power, like real people, or barring that, at least like convincing characters. One of the big reasons for this is, naturally, that Gaiman (as he’s disclosed in interviews) gathered a lot of his details from real life. The behavior of a character dying from AIDS in The Kindly Ones, for example, comes from his own knowledge of friends who died from AIDS. Another reason, I think, is that the characters’ sexuality isn’t foisted upon them as a superficial, obvious trait, let alone their single attribute, as with so many stereotypical gay characters in the past. It grows organically as part of their character as a whole, just as naturally as the sexualities of anyone else in the series. Gaiman clearly likes his characters, and I really think this helps.

Chantal and Zelda sleeping

On the other end of the spectrum, The Doll’s House contains one memorable character Gaiman describes as gay because he only eats the eyes of little boys: The Corinthian. The strange boarding house Rose Walker stays at also introduces some new and varied queer characters: there’s Hal, a drag queen, and Chantal & Zelda, the spider women, who share an ambiguous relationship (clarified slightly by Rose in The Kindly Ones when she says, “Their only drug was each other”). One of the beauties of these characters is that they’re so fleshed out, yet understated – Gaiman says the spider women are based to a degree on a couple he knew, and they’re certainly very remarkable, unsettling characters. But ultimately they’re just another very satisfying side dish to the main narrative, one of many secondary characters who populate the series’ bizarre yet believable world. They’re introduced and developed, but not lingered upon.

Hazel McNamara with Barbie (The Sandman #33, "Lullabies of Broadway")

This changes somewhat in A Game of You, the fifth volume in the series. One of The Sandman‘s “female” stories (along with The Doll’s House and The Kindly Ones), it draws a group of women from New York into a Narnia-derived fantasy world, including the very cute, friendly Hazel and Foxglove (the latter of whom, under the name Donna, was the ex-lover of Judy from “24 Hours”). This story also establishes a character who, I’m guessing, must be one of the most lovably portrayed transgender characters in all of comics, Wanda Mann (formerly Alvin). Wanda is brassy, maternal, loyal, and ultimately sacrifices herself for another character, who in return makes a sweet gesture with “Tacky Flamingo,” Wanda’s favorite shade of lipstick. Wanda’s death comes largely as a result of the cosmic forces of the moon regarding her as chromosomally male, but as she retorts:

Well, that’s something the gods can take and stuff up their sacred recta. I know what I am.

This forceful self-determination, regardless of what the gods of nature may think, is backed up twice in the final pages of A Game of You, both by friendship and by one of Sandman‘s most beloved characters, Death. Overall this story arc, like the series as a whole, comes down on the side of individual concerns, decisions, and interpersonal relationships over any lofty, world-shaking forces. The characters are defined by their decisions, and Wanda’s decision is to be female; she takes this self-definition to her grave, and beyond.

The motherly transsexual Wanda (The Sandman #34, "Bad Moon Rising")

The series contains a few other LGBT characters – I couldn’t forget Alex Burgess and Paul McGuire, who appear briefly in both Preludes and Nocturnes and The Kindly Ones, the latter of whom quotes Quentin Crisp in describing himself as “one of the stately homos of England” – but I think I’ve gone over the most significant ones. The Sandman is a series that emphasizes the kinship of all beings: gay or straight, fairy or 16th century English actor, talking raven or nightmare incarnate, immortal Greek witch or living concept. And, through Gaiman’s incredible storytelling abilities, the series introduces a number of likeable, well-defined characters allowing for the representation of queer people in a medium that has historically shut them out.

So that’s about all I have to say on that topic for today. I think the three works this blog touches on just show, very well, that art and beauty are alive and well in the world today. And God, am I thankful for that.

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Evil corporations and sprawling epics

I stopped at a McDonald’s today, ate a double cheeseburger, and pondered the unholy alliance of corporate fast food and automotive culture present in the existence of the drive-thru. It’s really an insidious mixture, because it so perfectly combines all these supposed virtues – speed, convenience, low price – allowing for total instant gratification. Hell, I’m sure there’ll soon (if not already) be one-window drive-thrus so we don’t have to do all that pesky waiting for them to prepare the food and serve other customers.

Glossy iconography for a monolithic institution

So why do I complain if it’s so damn easy and useful? 1) Because I’m a total fucking malcontent. And 2) because as I was saying to myself while walking out of the restaurant, corporate America wants to control what we eat, buy, think, and believe, and wants us to pay them in order to be controlled. We shell out our money and are given a one-size-fits-all vision of how life should be lived. McDonald’s, Disney, Walmart, whoever else – all allied, loosely but vertically integrated, in an effort to make money and simultaneously establish their values as the hegemonic norm for America (and by extension/globalization, the world!). I mean, seriously, it’s possible to receive Disney toys in a Happy (happy, dammit!) Meal from a McDonald’s located inside a Walmart. This is looping multiple levels of corporate control over our lifestyles; this is the belly of the beast, in the belly of the beast… in the belly of another beast.

And of course one of my biggest complaints is that practically by virtue of living where I am, I’m forced to participate in this system I disagree with so passionately. Sure, I can grumble about hating cars and fast food that pickles the human body, and stores and gas stations and all of it, but nonetheless, I pretty much have to drive, and I have to eat; I’m just lucky I don’t really have to buy shit from department stores that often because, well, I don’t. But still, I think it’s all bullshit. We’re coerced into so damn much by the environments we live in. Escape is a dream worth having. One problem I think about a fair amount is corporate control of the media.

In one informative (but frightening) scene in This Film Is Not Yet Rated, director Kirby Dick points out that the MPAA represents a select group of major film studios, and goes on to show that each studio is owned by another, larger corporate overlord: companies like GE, Viacom, News Corp., AOL-Time Warner, and of course Disney. Then he reveals that between these corporations, they own about, oh, 95% of the American media. As Deep Throat said in All the President’s Men, “follow the money.” A quick search on Google turns up, for example, this quote from the CEO of Westinghouse, who in 1997 owned CBS:

We are here to serve advertisers. That is our raison d’etre.

Raison d’etre being, of course, the French for “reason for being.” So it’s all about ads, selling, getting you to buy, but you can’t just buy a product – you’re also buying ideas and values. On a related note, in the course of some random research earlier, I read that a certain Star Trek slashfic called “The Ring of Soshern” was, in fact, circulated illicitly in a practice called “samizdat” (meaning “self-publishing”) in the USSR until 1987. This means that some Russians in the ’80s decided to risk legal repercussions in order to let others read early Trek fanfiction. And I find this kind of fascinating. Regardless of the nerdy and pornographic Kirk/Spock content of the story, the fact is that someone cared about a story being told, a story that managed to cross the Iron Curtain, and that someone undermined governmental authority over the media in order to tell it.

I think that on a microcosmic level, this is a great example of the human drive to share information. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, information abhors captivity; it’s like a genie (a surprisingly apt comparison, what with knowledge’s ability to grant wishes and change lives) and dammit, it does not want to be cooped up in a bottle. I think I remember the Bible’s Book of Revelation having a warning at the end, which I found via Wikisource.

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Revelation 22:18-19

What I think this amounts to is an early kind of license permitting the reader to reproduce the material, so long as nothing’s added or taken away. See, intellectual property is even addressed in the Bible. And it says lo! do not fuck with the original text. So my point so far? Look out where your media is coming from, and who owns it. Create original content and stay free.

Yesterday I had a little discussion about video games as a medium that made me think, about the contrast between video games, comics, film, and prose. Hell, might as well toss poetry and theater in there, too – the point is that these all intersect and overlap in such worth-examining ways. Questions like, how is it created; what senses does it engage; what stories can this medium communicate at which the others fail? We know about, say, unadaptable novels: how, for example, Ulysses takes such advantage of the formal abilities of the novel that its story can’t properly blossom in the wildly different context of film. And it makes me think of not only how, for example, identity, time, sensory perception, etc. are conveyed in each art form, but also how this affects what kinds of stories different artists tell. How someone who’s incredible well-skilled at filmmaking, or instead painting, or whatever, might gravitate toward a particular subject matter simply because of the limitations and possibilities inherent to their medium. I think it’s an interesting question.

And, naturally, I want to take a brief look at these issues through the lens of the epic saga I’m currently reading, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Through his constant allusion, Gaiman plants himself in the midst of a global literary heritage – he reworks Greek myth, Shakespeare, Milton, and more; in Fables and Reflections, which I just finished, his story reaches out to touch on the Roman Empire, the French Revolution, the adventures of Marco Polo, and the city of Baghdad under Caliph Harun al-Rashid (to use Wikipedia’s orthography, which is only one of many). I wonder if Sandman‘s ability to communicate grandeur (of, for example, Hell, the Dreaming, al-Rashid’s Baghdad, just to name a few) pictorially might contribute to its ability to nonetheless keep everything under the sweep of the massive, greater storyline – described once by Gaiman as “The king of dreams learned one must change or die, and then makes his decision.”

The capacity for epic storytelling is itself, interestingly, the subject of a Sandman story, “Calliope” (available in volume 3, Dream Country), named for the muse of epic poetry revealed to have once been Dream’s lover. The story has her kept captive for decades by a once-famous author, then traded off to the up-and-coming Richard Madoc, who rapes her repeatedly because, well, she’s a muse, not a person. The story, I think, broaches two aspects of writing: one is the willingness to sacrifice virtue for creativity, as with the Faulkner quote, “The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one… If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies,” which I first saw in reference to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and saw again in the Sandman Companion. The flip side of that is the pain of the writer’s block; Gaiman describes his personal vision of hell as “staring at a blank computer screen without being able to think of a single believable character, a single original story, or a single thing worth saying,” so I’m guessing he sympathizes somewhat with Madoc’s initial dilemma.

The captive muse Calliope - art by Kelley Jones

In any case, this makes me digress even more and consider the nature of the “epic” itself – Homeric, Miltonian, by Virgil or his pupil Dante, a popular genre for millennia, which has carried over, now, into comics and film. But while an epic poem can be like Spenser’s The Faerie Queene – i.e., virtually endless – film is more constrained. So we have 3-4 hour sagas like, among the most well-known, Ben-Hur, Intolerance, or Gone with the Wind. In general, I tend to prefer my movies precise and localized rather than grandiose and overblown, though I can’t deny there’s some appeal in being able to create a story that large. Maybe, in this regard, The Sandman shows an advantage that comics as (usually) a serial format hold over films, most of which are created as single-unit works meant to stand on their own. Yeah, there are film series, but I think it’s rare for a director to accomplish the same kind of breadth and continuity in a series of films that Gaiman does, or Dante or Homer. Consider one of the most ambitious of all film epics: Star Wars. Originally described by Lucas (as I recall, around 1980) as a planned 9-part series, the first 3 films successfully form a single story arc, and the prequel trilogy does fit coherently into the narrative, despite endless quality issues. Or, I suppose, we also have The Godfather and Lord of the Rings, although the former works best as a two-part epic; maybe LOTR deserves the hyperbolic, wide-reaching praise it received just for accomplishing what it set out to do – faithfully tell Tolkien’s long, ambitious story in film form.

Interesting to note that longer-form, single-narrative film projects like the Godfather trilogy have only become common and popular since, well, the ealry ’70s. I’ve long wondered about the history of film series themselves. Sure, there was the Universal horror cycle (e.g., Frankenstein, followed by Bride, Son, Ghost, etc.), there was Toho’s Godzilla series, there were the Thin Man movies, but in general each of these series resulted from the decision to tack on a sequel to cash in on the original, rather than a preconceived, limited storyline like The Godfather, whose sequel is the first one I can find to include the number “2” in it (now a universal practice).

So I guess my point is that epic storytelling is very worth looking at, partially because the longer form allows for longer emotional build-ups (like Rhett and Scarlett’s neverending love affair) as well as the ability to, well, just pack in more: more events, characters, detailed information, contrasts, to achieve the desired effect and get everything they want across to the audience. I think the epic can also be linked to the desire for spectacle; Intolerance, for example, was once marketed with a list of numbers: the total extras, the dimensions of the Babylonian palace, etc. It’s like standing back to gaze at a skyscraper. It’s enthralling just that it’s so big in the first place, that it doesn’t topple under its own enormity. The Sandman, I think, succeeds as an epic on all these counts. Even in the 6 volumes I’ve read, barely over half the series, Gaiman’s crammed in an astounding amount of erudition, cosmic speculation, intriguing characters (some of whom only feature briefly, at least so far), and stories within stories within, ultimately, the extreme scope of the meta-plot of Dream deciding to change or die.

So, I think I’ve managed to successfully explore a small part of what makes up medium specificity and the epic as a whole; at the very least, I got some point across there. I guess I’ll conclude by directing you to this shudder-inspiring AV Club article about the upcoming G.I. Joe movie; it’s pretty obvious and clear that when the Paramount executive says “We want audiences to define this film,” he means, “We want audiences to pay to see this film and not be warned away by intelligent critics.” And so, as I was saying earlier, watch out who’s producing what you’re watching or reading, because odds are good that they don’t have your best interest in mind.


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