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My first pass of annotating Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire is complete. There is more that could/should be done, of course, but that will never cease to be true; "Art is never finished, only abandoned". Not that I'm abandoning this, but I am mostly moving on for the time being, having gotten this project to a point that I am proud of. Additions and corrections still happily accepted, of course!

I'm particularly pleased that the last note was for the phrase "full stop" :-)

[Obligatory Patreon link]
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It’s been three months, as suspected. The finale of Providence wasn’t as time-consuming as feared, but on the other hand, the last chapter of Voice of the Fire is proving to be quite dense. Plus, gardening season started, and, sadly, weeding still pays better than scholarship. That said, plenty has been annotated.

I’ve also gotten a good start on the final chapter of Voice of the Fire, featuring Moore himself. Next update should feature that, another issue or two of Cinema Purgatorio, and the first few sections of “Round the Bend”. Be seeing you!

[My Patreon]

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Kestrell and I watched a nifty movie yesterday, an obscure Gothic horror from 1998, written and directed by Michael Almereyda. “The Eternal” is the name we saw it under, but as often seems to be the case with low-budget horror movies, it had several other titles as well: Trance, The Mummy, and Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy – possibly others.

All this mention of a mummy is perhaps deceptive, though not false. Our setting is not Egypt, but Ireland; the body emerging not from a pyramid, but an ancient peat bog. Also featured are Druids, witchcraft, transmigration of souls, terrorists, guns, explosives, whiskey, broken glass, broken hearts, broken promises… Plus most of your traditional Gothic elements: the creepy, isolated old house, the family secrets, the madwoman in the attic, the creepy girl, the thunderstorms. No individual ingredient was anything we hadn’t seen a million times before, but the sheer quantity of volatile moving parts meant that we had NO idea where the plot was going to go next.

The film ended up on our radar because it has Christopher Walken in it. As is often the case, his role was relatively small, though important to the plot. His faltering attempt at an Irish accent was perhaps the weakest element of the film, but that didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment.

So, what’s the basic set up? A loving couple of alcoholics bring their son to Ireland and the ancestral house. Ostensibly, so he can meet his grandmother, but possibly also to try and stop drinking. (The script does acknowledge that going to Ireland to dry out is perhaps not the wisest choice.) Such family as remains alive within the ancestral house mostly accuse each other of having “lost the bucket” (apparently the Irish equivalent of losing one’s marbles – there seems to be a series bucket shortage in their neighborhood). Uncle Bill (Walken) is perhaps most obviously bonkers, since he’s spending a lot of his time hanging out in the basement with a remarkably well preserved 2000 year old corpse that he seems to think might be able to be revived.

One thing that particularly pleased me about this movie was that the script did not depend on anyone holding the idiot ball. At various times, characters are inattentive and miss details that one wishes they had not, and there are no shortage of poor life choices, BUT no one wastes any time denying the evidence of their senses (once they notice the weird shit), and they make reasonable efforts to get out of danger, even if these don’t always work. There is a character who looks for a while as if he will be a traditional Fatal Boy, but he does not fall into that trap, and even makes effective use of his one real life-skill (partying hard) before the end.

Many reviewers panned this on the sadly-traditional basis that it is a horror movie without a huge amount of blood, or even that large a body count. For those (like me) who like their horror with a lot of atmosphere and characterization, it’s an overlooked gem. Recommended.
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The strawberries are in bloom, which means it must be weeding season. Progress is happening at a goodly rate. Nonetheless, the project is eternal. Estimating from both my progress and observed growth rates, I should have the spider wort vanquished by approximately 2020. And by “vanquished”, what I actually mean is “cut back to the point where I can keep it away from the strawberries with ONLY constant vigilance”. Slow and steady wins the fruit.
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I found this film on YouTube (split into 12 parts, not sure why) as part of my great Thelma Todd binge. She’s only got a supporting role in this one as “the bad girl rival”, but does quite well in it. The film stars Charles “Buddy” Rogers, one of Todd’s classmates in acting school, and the only other member of her class to have a significant Hollywood career. Nancy Carroll plays the female lead, a local golf champion in competition with Thelma Todd for both trophies and for Rogers’s affection. The lead couple aren’t called upon to do much of a dramatic range, but do carry out their roles pleasingly. Also notable in the cast is a pre-Tin Woodsman Jack Haley, whose face I did not recognize but whose voice I did, in an extremely silly role. Matching him in silliness is Zelma O’Neal; the romance between her and Haley is delightfully off-kilter.

O’Neal and Haley had both been in the Broadway show that this film was based on. With a well tested story, and some of the actors already very familiar with their roles, I found the film more successful than the average of this era.

Of technical interest, this is one of the very first Technicolor films. They were still working the kinks out, so the whole thing has a fairly muted palette, but the history-of-technology geek in me found that neat to see.

In addition to the romantic comedy, it’s also a musical, mostly using pre-existing pop music of that era. The songs are well sung, if not enduring classics. Most of the choreography is either quite restrained, or looking very much like a stage number that was filmed. That said, there is one bizarre exception. A production number late in the film (section 8 of the split up YouTube version) “I Want to be Bad” starts out with some fairly nifty pyrotechnics and what could plausibly be practical effects. But it just keeps going more and more over the top, with angels descending literally from heaven and getting caught in the flames of hell, cupids in the clouds summoning astral fire engines, and things like that. I have to wonder if they borrowed young Busby Berkeley to choreograph that section. If they didn’t, I have to believe it was an influence on him.

Overall, a pleasant bit of fluff, and mildly recommended. But Sovay, you should at least check out that one song.
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Had a dream that I waa reading _Finder_ by Carla Speed McNeill. (Well, earlier, I was watching an old Babylon 5 tape, but in the manner of dreams, the experience shifted.) There was a memorable incident where someone was meeting and negotiating with a tribal chief. I don't remember his name, so I'll call him X. X was a very big man, and had his (rather ancient) wife next to him during the meet. After the negotiations were over, and the foreigner had left, X removed the outer layer of his robes to reveal that "he" was actually three slender women!

It seems that, a while back, this tribe had a difficult situation. Tribal law dictates that the chief must be male (mostly due to the neighboring tribes being sexist). The original Chief X, when he died, had three daughters, but no sons. None of the daughters had married (partially due to the fact that any husband might end up Chief, and they didn't see any acceptable candidates in the dating pool). Faced with this conundrum, X's wife managed to convince the tribal Council to accept the legal fiction that X's daughters, collectively, *were* X, and could maintain "his" Chieftan-ship.

That seemed like a nifty enough idea to be worth sharing. I'm not a fiction writer, so if anyone wants to pick it up and run with it, feel free.
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The kestrel-cam in Boise, Idaho is active again. There are five eggs in the box, despite a long hiatus after the first two, possibly caused by an unseasonable snowstorm at that time.

Right now, mama-bird is sitting on the eggs determinedly, as wind blows snow hard enough that there are drifts inside the box with her. Brrrrr!
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Yesterday, Kestrell and I watched a bunch of YouTube videos from the British Film Institute, mostly ones connected with their “GOTHIC” film festival from a few years ago. Which may have had something to do with the incredibly odd film I dreamed last night.

I was at a… party? At any rate, there were a lot of friends around, and we were snowed in. I was channel surfing looking for something interesting to watch. I eventually landed on a PBS station from out of state, which seemed to be showing this movie repeatedly and/or in random order. I can’t be quite sure, because the snowstorm was intermittently knocking out the signal, so what bits I did see were in random order at any rate.

The overall antagonist of the piece was Godzilla, but he was attacking Victorian England. In order to combat this threat, Sherlock Holmes had enlisted the help of Dracula, Jack the Ripper, and others (maybe Frankenstein’s Monster?). Near the end of the film, Jack had a speech about how he envied Godzilla for having spent most of its life in a world without humans.

Much earlier in the film (probably the opening scene) a prehistoric tribe of white furred hominids are about to be trampled by rampaging woolly mammoths. We focus in on one of them as he closes his eyes and prepares to die – but he doesn’t die, though blood splatters across him. A ghastly roar is heard above the noise of the trampling mammoths. He opens his eyes and sees (though we do not) the towering form of Godzilla, chomping down on the mammoths, inadvertently saving the ape man’s life. His name is Zaius, and he will become the shaman of his tribe.

Meanwhile, in Victorian England, criminals are taking advantage of the chaos of a Godzilla attack at night to break into a bank vault – but Sherlock Holmes has anticipated this! Sadly, his near-superhuman speed is not sufficient to stop the criminals, who escape in a waiting coach. Several of them were dressed as cowboys (Including Billy the Kid?) but most of them were uniformed Bobbies. Some sort of government conspiracy at work?

I was telling someone else at the party about this incredible film I’d been watching, when I woke up enough to realize I wanted to tell all of YOU about it. And now I have.
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Given the latest round of shenanigans, I'll be largely abandoning LiveJournal going forward. I'm not personally worried, so I'll be maintaining crossposting for the time being, though really just for the further-crosspost-to-Facebook functionality. But I won't be reading LJ, so if you expected me to see something there, try another means of communication.
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An idea occurred to me the other night, which I am not currently in a position to use, so I release it freely to the world. It is suitable for RPG campaigns in a fantasy or historical milieu which have been going for a while and perhaps need something different to shake up the players.

The party encounters a group of small children (mixed genders and ages) who dress and talk strangely, and who seem to know the party members. These kids are the protagonists of a Magical Adventure story, in the mode of Edward Eager or E. Nesbit. By means of some magical McGuffin, the kids have been transported here to meet their favorite Heroes, in the midst of one of their greatest adventures!

The kids should all have distinct personalities. These don’t need to be (and arguably shouldn’t be) terribly complex, just enough to keep them distinct, and possibly provide extra conflict. Possibilities include but are not limited to: the Brat, the Responsible One, the Shy One, the Worrywart, the Skeptic (who doesn’t believe this is happening), the Boy who thinks Girls Are Icky, the Girl who CAN SO do anything a Boy can, the Snitch, the Gushing Fan…

The kids, of course, know all the players’ characters intimately, potentially including significant secrets, almost certainly including details of their futures. The older children probably have some notion about paradoxes which will incline them not to talk about such things too much, but the GM should totally use this opportunity for foreshadowing and/or awkward reveals. Of course, while the kids have read all the way to the end of the “book”, that’s not to say that the book was necessarily accurate…

Naturally, the kids will get in trouble, and the players will have to rescue them. Possibly repeatedly. (If your players are the sort who are too callous to rescue hapless children, make sure to spring this subplot on them in a circumstance where powerful NPCs will pressure/force them into it.)

Depending on how meta the GM wants to get, the “book” which the kids have been transported into (and which the players inhabit as their own reality) may be classified as History or Fiction. Depending on the past behavior of the players, it may be appropriate to classify them as favorite Villains instead of Heroes.

The magical McGuffin which brought the kids here may perhaps be a McGuffin which the player characters either own, are seeking to own, or are seeking to destroy – though at a later point in the McGuffin’s own timeline. Even if none of these seem to apply, the kids should certainly possess a few artifacts of a much higher Tech Level (or magical equivalent) then are prevalent in the campaign. Not necessarily things which adventurers would typically find useful, just interesting and/or hilarious. (And if the players DO come up with some devastatingly powerful use for such a thing, let them get away with it once or twice, but remember that there are no batteries or repair shops that will let them use it indefinitely.)
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Well, my prediction of managing a Patreon update every other month seems to be holding true. Since last time, I have:Looking forward, the next update should include another Cinema Purgatorio, the conclusion of Providence, and possibly the last few chapters of VotF, depending on how much effort Providence #12 turns out to be. After that, on to Jerusalem!
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Speaking of both frugality and fun, I recently picked up the latest Humble Mobile Strategy Bundle. Some I had played before and enjoyed (Kingdom Rush especially), but two are new to me and are proving particularly fun.

Hero Generations is a sort of highly condensed RPG. Each move takes a year of your current character’s life. When your lifespan runs out, it’s game over – unless you acquire enough fame before then to win a mate; if you have, the game continues with their adventures, starting with a hand-me-down item or two, or perhaps some other advantages. Each generation takes only a few minutes to play, so it can be rewarding in small chunks. However, there is clearly an overarching plot which will take a significant number of generations to complete. While a few things are constant, much of the world is randomized each game, so there is plenty of replay value.

Guild of Dungeoneering has many similar qualities: each session is relatively short, but the over game could take a long time, and there’s plenty of replay value. The theme is a little like the old PC game Majesty, in that there are lots of adventurers in the world, but you don’t directly control any of them. Instead, you act as a sort of Game Master, laying out dungeon tiles, treasure, and monsters in a way which hopefully will entice the adventure into challenges which will level them up successfully so that they can defeat this particular dungeon’s quest. The combat mechanic is a simple card game, but each character class has a different default deck, and what loot you pick up inside a dungeon also affects the cards in your deck, so it’s got a little bit of deck-building character as well.

Both games are recommended. If you like playing on an Android device, and act soon, you can get both of them and many more besides for a whopping five dollars. I expect (though have not checked) that these games are also available on other platforms, though you might have to pay retail.
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So, you know that thing about the Evil Republican who said poor people are going to have to decide between new iPhones and health insurance? I’ve seen many arguments go by about how many cell phones it takes to equal the cost of health insurance, and similar arguments on an economic or factual basis. The same sort of dialogue is happening about the National Endowment for the Arts, and many other recent political issues.

But I think there is a moral argument worth having here, also, which seems to be largely overlooked.

One of the moral stances implicitly held by many people on the Right (though they are usually too canny to come right out and say it), is that if you spend ANY money on something that isn’t a necessity, you are Not Really Poor. Or, to look at it from another perspective, anyone who is actually poor does not deserve to spend any of their meager resources on entertainment.

This, I find abhorrent. A life which is entirely spent on the bare means of survival is worse than that of most mammals. A life in which one is not allowed to EVER choose enjoyment is a life not much above that of a slave.
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Thelma Todd has a fairly small, thankless role in this as a tough society dame who has the misfortune of not being nearly AS tough as headliner Clara Bow. But Bow, in her apparently-best talkie role, is riveting. In this, her penultimate film role, she demonstrates that she definitely still has IT.

The story is purely melodrama, but it is pre-code melodrama, with lots of room for implied salaciousness. Bow plays a young lady named Nasa, who has a fiery temper and a wide emotional range. By the time she’s out of finishing school, the tabloids have nicknamed her “Dynamite”, and she’s earned it. Her character arc brings her all over the map; from rich society girl, to destitute single mother prostitute, back to riches, and finally (perhaps) true happiness with the one who quietly loved her all along. Along the way, she rides horses (and men), whips rattlesnakes (and men), has knock-down drag-out fights with Thelma Todd (and men), and enjoys lots of offscreen sex with men (just men, though I gather the original novel had rather more range).

One notable historic tidbit: this film apparently contains the first not-even-coded depiction of gayness. At one point, Bow goes slumming to a cabaret with mincing waiters singing a saucy song about sailors! Like many incidents in the film, it’s hideously offensive by modern standards, but historically interesting.

I can’t say it’s a GOOD film, but I mostly enjoyed it.
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Seven Footsteps to Satan (1929) is the earliest Thelma Todd film I have found. Indeed, it is so early that it is a silent movie (apparently one of the last silent horror films).

While I found it interesting enough to finish watching and to write about, let me be clear up front: this is not a good movie. Not much plot, unevenly paced, poorly directed. The acting is passable. And, though this is not a fault of the original makers, the existing print that this was restored from is incredibly washed out, lacking nearly all visual detail. The ending is a narrative cheat that is only half a step above “it was all a dream”.

The story begins with a somewhat nebbishy leading man who is practicing marksmanship in his secret lab, so that he will be well prepared to go exploring in “darkest Africa”. Soon, he gets tangled up with robbers and then he and his girlfriend are suddenly kidnapped. So far, so pulp.

But then the film takes a sharp left into dream logic. Our heroes find themselves in a huge mansion that seems not unrelated to Castle Frank-N-Furter. It is packed to the rafters with secret passages, thugs in tuxedos, tortured damsels in distress, mysterious dwarfs, screeching apes, inscrutable Orientals, men with Exceedingly Strange facial hair, femmes fatales, ominous shadows, groping hands, and orgiastic cultists whose cult leader is named Satan. This is not a complete list.

Our hero keeps insisting that he just wants to go home, in the apparent belief that this will have any positive effect. But things keep happening. It’s never really clear why he has been brought there at all, what Satan wants with him, which of the weird characters are actually on his side, or much of anything really. (At least until the last few minutes, whose existence I deny.) It’s very nearly Lynch-ian. If you’re a fan of the surreal, I recommend starting at the 20 minute mark, and turning it off at 1:10 (just as the clapping starts).
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Well, now I have seen all three film versions of The Maltese Falcon. The 1941 is, of course, a classic. The 1931 was, as I posted earlier, good and interesting. The 1936, however, turns out to be nearly a complete waste of time. Bah.

Remember how I said that in the 1931, the lead seemed to think he was in a comedy, despite everyone else being in a crime film? In this version, they have just decided to straight up make it a comedy. I don’t think that this decision was necessarily fatal; one could tell a successful humorous version of this story. But it definitely went poorly for them that they decided to throw away the Gift of Hammett’s timeless dialogue and substitute their own “wit”. Only a few lines are recognizable from the source material, and the replacements are neither funny nor memorable.

I had high hopes for Bette Davis, but she had no real hope of saving the picture. Despite having top billing, her role is relatively small. And really, with this script and this director, no actors could have rescued it.

While the plot is clearly recognizable, they changed all the names and the identity of the MacGuffin. Perhaps Warner Brothers felt a little shame at remaking the film so soon, and sought to make it a little less obvious. But, as much as I like the Matter of France, Roland’s Horn is just not as interesting a MacGuffin as the Falcon. The protagonist’s secretary is ditzy well beyond the point of annoying. There was one change that I thought had a chance of being interesting; the Gutman analogue was a gray-haired, matronly crime boss with a kitten. Sadly, in the execution, she was as dull as the rest.

Strongly dis-recommended. If you want to see an interesting variant, stick with the 1931 version.
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Kestrell is, at long last, starting to write up some of her vast accumulated knowledge (and opinion) about Umberto Eco's wonderful _The Name of the Rose_. Recommended to all bibliophiles. http://kestrell.dreamwidth.org/263842.html

(And there's a Patreon attached, so consider that, if you want to encourage more such writing.)
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This is the FIRST movie version of the Hammett novel, now known basically as a footnote to the legendary classic remake in 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart. I watched it because of a Thelma Todd part, which turned out to be a poor reason, as her part is small and without much scope (Mrs. Archer). On the other hand, as a piece of comparative storytelling it was FASCINATING!

In this case, the interesting comparisons are largely to be found in the acting and direction. Both sets of writers wisely realized that the source material was sufficiently strong that it didn’t so much need to be adapted as transcribed.* The screenplays are not identical, but each of them takes about 90% of their plot, and even dialogue, directly from the novel. With so much the same, the differences are starkly highlighted.

The biggest difference is in the character of Sam Spade himself. While Bogart would focus on a cynical world-weariness, Ricardo Cortez spends more time grinning than not. He seemed to me to be saying, “YOU characters may think you’re in a gritty crime novel, but I’M in a romantic sex comedy!” Emphasis on the sex; this pre-Code Spade is a complete slut. He spends a lot more time getting laid (and thinking about getting laid) then Bogart. Our first view of this Spade is in silhouette, through his office door, smooching a VERY satisfied client; he then returns to his inner office and straightens up the disarranged pillows of his sofa. Bogart may have slept with Mrs. Archer, but he gave the impression that it was under duress; Cortez also breaks off with Mrs. Archer, but only because she has become inconvenient, not because he has any objection whatsoever to sleeping with his partner’s wife. Cortez is certainly capable of being tough or serious; he just does so as little as possible.

This lighter-hearted Spade plays excellently well against Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly (this version dispenses with the multiple aliases of the femme fatale). In fact, Daniels is the one actor who I would say did a distinctly better job than their 1941 counterpart. This is no great surprise, as I think Mary Astor is the weakest element of that version. Daniels is more obvious in her duplicity, but also significantly more vivacious and seductive. Cortez’s Spade knows enough not to trust her from the start, but obviously also thinks that she is sufficiently hot that he is more than willing to go along with her for the time being. It’s tawdry, but it makes obvious sense, something that their relationship in the 1941 movie never did for me.

On its own merits, as a pre-Code proto-noir, this is a fine little film. It’s not an enduring classic like the 1941 version, but you knew that.

Of course, having watched two versions, now I’m going to have to go watch the in-between 1936 version, Satan Met a Lady, starring Bette Davis. No doubt I shall report back…

* Kestrell and I refer to these as “gift stories”. As in, “You were given this as a gift; all you had to do was not throw it away.” I’m not always a purist when it comes to adaptations, but when you’re given perfect source material, have the sense to recognize it. Case in point being Treasure Island, which is been filmed a dozen times at least, but only a couple of them had the sense to just tell the story they were given.
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I finally got around to reading this, some months after its release, but at least before the new season of Twin Peaks itself. Short review: mixed, but indispensable for the serious T P fan.
At more length:Read more... )

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Alexx Kay

June 2017

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