?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Welcome note

Hello, and welcome to my journal. If you would like to know more about who I am and how I use this journal, please visit my profile page.

Underneath this note you can view my most recent journal entries in reverse chronological order. If you would like to view older entries, you can find them by using my journal archive or my tags.

You can comment on my journal using your livejournal account, Facebook account or OpenID (login options will pop up when you click 'leave a comment'). Anonymous comments are disabled, to prevent unwanted comments from spammers or trolls.

Logged-in friends can view my contact information here.
This was my first film of 2019, seen with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 at the Hyde Park Picturehouse, though it's taken me over a month to write about it. It's basically about a female news reporter called Hildy Johnson who is about to get married, leave the fast-paced, hard-nosed, high-stakes world of journalism behind her and settle down to a life of ordinary domesticity with an insurance salesman. Except that her fatal mistake is to pop into the offices of The Morning Post to say goodbye to her previous husband, the paper's editor, before she goes. He, a smooth operator who was never knowingly out-competed, knows full well she can't really resist the thrills of her former job, so puts one last scoop her way and, despite her protests, keeps on drawing her deeper and deeper into the story - which itself obliges by developing in very dramatic ways. Much farce and many remonstrations follow, until she has long missed the last train out of town, realised she can't leave it all behind after all and agreed to remarry her first husband.

Obviously that's a plot which wouldn't work in a world where everyone assumed and agreed that women could have both satisfying careers and domestic bliss without having to choose between them. But it's not like we've got to that point yet even in the 2010s, and it must have been pretty radical for 1940 to show a woman choosing career (albeit personified in the form of a man) over domesticity. And although her Morning Post editor former husband certainly tramples on her agency initially, undermining her plans for marriage by manipulating her into taking one last story, that's a strategy which would only have worked if she had genuinely been passionate about her career. We see that passion - not to mention professionalism and talent - very clearly throughout the film, and are left in no doubt from her confident manner to snappy striped suit and hat that Hildy is a woman to be reckoned with.

I noticed while we were watching it that I struggled to follow some of the dialogue because people were talking over each other very rapidly, and browsing through the Wikipedia page afterwards I learnt that this was apparently quite deliberate. Many of the lines were written to allow for interruption without missing plot details, while recordings were also speeded up to create the feeling of realistic, rapid-fire conversation. To be honest, even with the dialogue designed to allow for overlaps I'm still not sure I followed every detail of the murder story Hildy is trying to cover, or the various shenanigans which her former husband stages. But it doesn't really matter - the main story of her character trajectory is perfectly clear and very enjoyable.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

I saw this with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 at the Hyde Park Picture House shortly before Christmas. It's basically Glee in a British small town school with a zombie apocalypse and a keen awareness of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh, and it's also a Christmas film, because that's when it is set. As you might imagine, this adds up to a great deal of fun, although it does also involve quite a lot of gore and a surprisingly-high death rate for well developed characters. It has something it wants to say about modern communications technology. On the whole, this is portrayed negatively, for example though a song about how the surviving characters are desperate for a human voice rather than something on a screen (full lyrics here), by drawing attention to the self-absorption and distorted priorities of selfie culture through people posting their zombie escape selfies to Instagram, and by having the zombies themselves easily distracted by TV screens. But then again, it's clearly a disaster for the human characters when they lose their mobile phone signals and internet connection, and we are invited to feel great sympathy for one character who, knowing he has been infected by the zombies, helps his daughter to escape and then lies gazing lovingly at her picture on his mobile phone screen as he dies. So it's a bit mixed. The songs were generally pretty good, with an absolute highlight being an upbeat dance number sung as a duet between Anna and her best friend John as they leave the house for school and work their way across town to meet one another, so wrapped up in their own determination and sunny outlooks that they don't notice that zombie-induced carnage has broken out all around them. That said, I personally found that my enjoyment of the songs qua songs dropped off rather as the film went on, partly because I'm not very keen on musical-style music anyway, and partly because they just began to sound a little samey. So I won't be buying the soundtrack, but I would recommend the film.

Well, that about wraps up my film reviews for 2018 - hoorah! I've just got to get started on the four films I've already seen in 2019 now...


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

I saw this with my sister and Eloise on a visit just after Halloween. It's a live-action Disney film with only a minor in-story ballet performance, which builds very freely on the original story of The Nutcracker, drawing along the way from other children's portal fantasies like The Wizard of Oz (four realms with a capital city in the middle, Clara saying "I guess I'm not in London any more") Alice in Wonderland and Narnia. Once in the land of the Four Realms, Clara must defeat the villain and save the kingdom - but who is the real villain? Therein lies the twist - and an excellent character for the unexpected villain to play. The whole thing looks absolutely beautiful, from the costumes to the CGI to the Nutcracker-soldier's delicate gold lip-liner, and we had quite a lot of fun afterwards discussing which of Clara's various outfits we liked best.

But Clara is no dress-up doll - she has inherited a passion for mechanics from her mother, quietly encouraged by Drosselmeyer (her godfather and also an engineer), and uses it in the Four Realms to save the day through the laws of physics. Because this is a Disney film, though, the mother herself is already dead when the story begins, and Clara's challenge is to understand her legacy and negotiate a new relationship with her grieving but repressed father in order to find her own sense of identity. Gradually we learn that the mother not only had a gift for engineering but actually used it to create the whole kingdom of the Four Realms by building an engine to bring her toys to life. So, Clara is able to step into her mother's shoes and use this knowledge to set things back to rights in the kingdom, before returning to the real world to restart her relationship with her father.

In the course of all this, though, it was made clear that the father had never known anything about the mother's engineering skills or the rich fantasy world which she had created, which seemed very sad indeed to me but was never really addressed or explored at all. It seemed like we were being shown a world where eccentric men like Drosselmeyer (played by Morgan Freeman being amazing) might recognise women's skills and creativity, but the staid traditional men at the heart of the patriarchy like Clara's father never could, and had to be approached solely on their own terms. Still, I'd rather Eloise got to see films about clever, creative female engineers saving the day but still having to fit the mould their fathers require of them than not at all. She found some aspects of this film quite scary, especially when Clara and her friends went into the abandoned amusement park-themed kingdom of apparent villain Mother Ginger, and had to cuddle up to my sister to be reassured. But it clearly made quite an impression, as she watched another film which made a twist revelation about a character's motivations over Christmas, and offered this as an example of the same device. It's so lovely watching her learning how stories work. :-)


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

I began reading this in early December, hoping that it would provide some seasonally-appropriate chills in the run-up to Christmas (as Dickens did for me last year), and finished it last night. My leisure reading is always glacially slow, but that's still at the slower end of the spectrum, and does reflect me struggling to really take to Gaskell's style. I can't even really put a convincing finger on why, either. One basic factor is that the stories aren't all that ghostly, so they didn't tick the box I was looking for. The title of the collection is accurate in placing 'Mystery' first - there are rather more highwaymen, robbers and false identities than ghosts. But while I like a good ghost, I'm not rabidly against the other types of stories presented here. Nor do I have any particular problem with their shared central themes of family feuds, lost and uncertain orphans and hard circumstances. And I entirely see that they are well crafted, with lots of attention to character, local dialect and historical detail. The only reasons I can really put forward for not being wowed by this collection are that sometimes the misery just gets too grinding and inescapable, and that at those points the only hopes and comforts alluded to revolve around Christian religious piety. (One story literally ends with a miserable, wronged person dying, followed by the final sentence "But the broken-hearted go Home, to be comforted of God", which is more or less exactly calculated to me want to barf.) However I do know that both the misery and the piety were just reality for many of the sorts of characters Gaskell writes about, and many of the people around her. Anyway, although there are nine stories in the book, no-one wants to read in any further detail than I've already outlined why I wasn't that into seven of them. So instead I will focus on recording why two of them were really great.

The Old Nurse's Story. This was the first story in the collection, and involved the old nurse of the title relating her teenage experience of being sent, with a little girl as her charge, to a huge house occupied by only a few servants and reclusive elderly people. As winter sets in, she begins to notice strange phenomena - the sound of the organ in the great hall playing, even though no-one is sitting at its keyboard and its pipe are lying in dusty disarray on the ground, and a little girl outside in the snow banging on the window to be let in but making nary a sound. We have there a nice pairing - sound without a source and a source without a sound - demonstrating in each case that something supernatural is going in. The nurse's little charge is, of course, particularly sensitive and susceptible to the ghostly girl knocking on the window, but she does just about manage to stop her from running out to die in the snow with her, while also learning of the old family injustice which lies behind the strange events and is being lived out over and over again until the wronged parties are avenged. Very spooky and effective, and just the sort of story I was looking for.

The Grey Woman. Much later in the collection, this too mainly consists of an ageing woman looking back on and narrating a story of her youth. This time, she is a German miller's daughter who is courted by and marries a rather effete French aristocrat, only to find when she goes to live in his château that he cuts off all contact with her family, keeps her shut up in a suite of rooms, and eventually turns out to be part of a band of robbers who murder a local landowner and bring his body back to the château to dispose of it. At this point, she and her pragmatic maid / companion Amante decide to escape from the château, and most of the rest of the story features them on the run while her former husband tries to hunt them down. So it's already basically a story of a woman escaping from a disastrous coercive relationship with the help of another woman, and has a lot of power and emotional heft to it just for that. But then, while they are on the run, Amante chops all her hair off and adopts men's clothing so that they can pass as a married couple to evade the murderous husband's pursuit and earn some money by working as itinerant tailors. In other words, it basically became a lesbian love story - an impression not at all dampened by the way they share beds and lodgings as they journey onwards, sentences like "I cannot tell you how much in these doubtings and wanderings I became attached to Amante", or the fact that the narrator is already pregnant when they escape they chateau, so that their little family is soon completed by the arrival of a baby. I really doubt Gaskell meant anything of the sort, and indeed the queer honeymoon does not go on forever - the husband's gang eventually catch and murder Amante, while the narrator goes on to marry a sensible local doctor who helped deliver the baby. But it was nice while it lasted.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

31. Fright Night (1985), dir. Tom Holland

I saw this in late October when I went to the Whitby Goth Festival for the first time in some 17 years (yikes!). I don't think I ever wrote about that at all here on LJ / DW, but anyway it was very nice - I attended a Dracula-themed literary salon, hung out with multiple chums and of course did a bit of shopping. The festival has naturally evolved a little since Ye Olden Days, but this year also saw a particular change in that a completely different set of organisers booked the Spa for the dates of the usual Goth weekend, and put on some more recognisably Goth bands than have been booked in recent years, as well as dipping a toe in the waters of associated film screenings and related talks. Hence it was that I got to see Fright Night, along with big_daz, avaritia and her partner.

Its OTT black comedy style and special effects reminded me a bit of An American Werewolf in London, and Roddy McDowall was a great as you would expect him to be as Peter Vincent, a washed-up horror film star making a living in TV. His trajectory in the story is the same as that of the star-ship crew in Galaxy Quest - an enthusiastic fan turns to him in the belief that he's a 'real' vampire hunter, and after initially trying to protest that he is no such thing he eventually rises to the challenge. It's a motif I like, both because it's a nice meta poke at the relationship between drama and reality, but also because the way the character it's happening to both adopts the role as a kindness to another person and finds themselves living up to that person's expectations, giving a heart-warming perspective on human nature. Other than the lovely Roddy, though, the rest of the cast failed to wow me. There was a lot of very mannered acting going on, by people who don't seem to have had much of a subsequent career.

I also felt there was a distinctly homophobic undertone to the portrayal of the main vampire, played by Jerry Dandrige. He moves into the house next door to the main point-of-view character (the enthusiastic teenage fan of Roddy McDowall) with a male human companion, and they are shown at various points with their arms draped around each other, and in one scene with the human on his knees and his head in the general vicinity of the vampire's groin. (There's a nominally non-sexual explanation for this, but the director definitely intended it to look like giving head). When the vampire turns the main character's friend, 'Evil Ed' down a dark alley, he says some dialogue to him about he knows what it's like always feeling different and being an outsider, and when Ed is later staked (in wolf form), there are some very suggestive shots of his hand grabbing at the stake in his own chest. Since the vampire is (obviously) the villain, this all basically boils down to coding him as an Evil Gay, and I think two particular contemporary fears are played out through him as well: him moving in next door with his human lover makes him a Gay Neighbour, and his interaction with Ed equates to Recruiting Your Children. It's all very AIDS-hysteria, and really tainted the film for me.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Serial killer movies just ain't my bag, and I only watched this because we were ushered into a premiere screening of it during the Brașov Dracula Congress which I attended in October, without being told what we were going to see. I have seen the original film a million years ago (though not any of the intervening sequels), and as far as I can tell this one was trying to be a clever, modern, self-aware take on it while actually really being not all that different from it at all. It was marketed as being about women fighting back, and indeed Jamie Lee Curtis' character (Laurie Strode) is well-developed and well-acted, while the film ends with her, her daughter and her granddaughter managing to reconcile their differences and defeat Michael Myers after multiple men have died in the attempt. But we're still shown flash-backs into Michael Myers' childhood which include his sister sitting naked in front of her dressing table brushing her hair, before being murdered by him and ending up on the floor as a Sexy Corpse. There are a couple of references to chess-sets early on, presumably to help establish Myers and Strode as deadly opponents, and some stuff about how Myers' prison psychiatrist has become obsessed with him as an object of study to the point of enabling his crimes. But fundamentally, the plot boils down to a lot of people dying, usually shortly after scenes which have portrayed them as stupid or assholes - another big hoary old trope strongly rooted in the original Halloween. I mean, don't get me wrong - I'm well aware that the Gothic vampire and ghost stories I love best are absolutely packed full of tropes as well, often reflecting the same kind of conservative bent. But a few soaring ruins, dark supernatural beings or pagan shenanigans make all the difference for me. If you liked the original Halloween, and / or the wider serial killer genre, you'll probably like this film - but all I really got out of it was a reminder of why I don't.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

This film is mainly famous for featuring Bela Lugosi in a Draculaesque role. His costume is much like the one he wears in Dracula (1931) and he inhabits a ruined castle, but he is called Count Mora and has a daughter called Luna. The plot seemed like vampire cliches galore at first - a victim found dead with two pin-prick bite marks on his neck, lost travellers scoffing at the superstitious locals in a tavern, villagers who refuse to go out after dark, flitting bats, etc. But this is in fact all a set-up for the big reveal - that the supposed 'vampires' aren't really vampires at all, but actors hired in an attempt to flush out the entirely human murderer of the first victim. I was left at the end of the film with an uneasy sense that this twist hadn't fully made sense in retrospect, in that there had been some scenes when the actors were fully in character as vampires when they hadn't needed to be for the purposes of their deception. But I'd have to watch it again to be absolutely sure of that. There were also very definitely some loose ends, such as the fact that Bela's character goes through the entire film with a gun-shot wound to his head which is never explained, or that considerable screen time is spent introducing the lost (and apparently British) couple who end up in the local tavern, suggesting that they are going to be major characters, but after that scene we never see them again. At least some of this is probably explained by the fact that what survives now is a cut version of the original film, though. Meanwhile, what we get is very much worth watching, both before and after the twist. Before it comes, the atmosphere created around the two vampire characters is sheer 1930s Gothic poetry - we get misty graveyards, spider-webs, Gothic ruins and some very effective creepiness from Caroll Borland's Luna as she glides through the darkness and stares through windows. And afterwards we are treated to the wondrous spectacle of Bela, now out of character, swishing his cloak with self-satisfaction at his own performance and proclaiming "Did you watch me? I gave all of me! I was greater than any REAL vampire!" It's a fascinating insight into how iconic his performance as Dracula had evidently already become that it might work as a subject for this kind of meta-reference.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Obviously there has been much political drama over the past couple of days, but I don't really have anything profound to contribute to the related commentary and speculation other than "What a farce! Revoke Article 50 now." So I shall tidy up and post these thoughts about some old telly instead.

Mystery and Imagination is a Gothic anthology series broadcast on ITV in the late '60s. It originally consisted of five series. The first three, produced by ABC, offered several 30-minute episodes usually based on short stories, and the final two, produced by Thames Television, tackled whole novels in an 80-minute format. Sadly, all but two episodes and an additional three-minute clip from the first three series have been lost - I assume wiped for similar reasons to the BBC's Doctor Who recordings. Reading through their titles is an actively painful experience for anyone who loves Gothic horror and old telly. I'd especially love to have been able to see the four M.R. James adaptations they did, which are obviously crucial context for the ones the BBC started producing from 1968 onwards. But the two Thames Television series remain intact, and they plus the surviving remnants of the ABC era are now available on this DVD box set which I received for Christmas.

I have been watching it regularly in the evenings since, taking notes as I went along - and with increasing intensity and enthusiasm as I realised just how good this series actually is. I wanted the set primarily (and inevitably) for the 1968 version of Dracula with Denholm Elliott in the title role, but made the decision once I had the whole thing to watch what remained of it in broadcast order. That was absolutely the right thing to do, because it turned out that the Thames Television parts of the series in particular were actively innovative almost to the point of being radical - if that's not too ridiculous a thing to say about what is still fairly stagey and largely studio-bound black and white (except the final series) telly. Anyway, since the Dracula episode came more or less in the middle of my viewing experience, it meant I was prepared to expect something unusual by then because of what I'd seen before - and also knew I could confidently expect more of the same afterwards. Of course, now I've seen everything which survives and know how good it is, the loss of the early episodes seems all the more painful - but there it is. Comments on each individual story in (surviving) broadcast order follow below:


Series 1

3. The Fall of the House of UsherCollapse )

4. The Open DoorCollapse )


Series 2

No surviving episodes


Series 3

13. Casting the Runes. Just three minutes of this survive, so it's hard to judge what the original would have been like, but they are enough to show the same combination of faithfulness to the text yet freely self-confident adaptation found elsewhere in the series. They mainly cover the scene in which Dunning seeing a mysterious death notice in the window of his omnibus (so far, so true to the original), but in this version it is his name in the notice rather than Harrington's, and is displayed with a date of death one month hence. Frustratingly intriguing!


Series 4

19. Uncle SilasCollapse )

20. FrankensteinCollapse )

21. DraculaCollapse )


Series 5

22. The Suicide ClubCollapse )

23. Sweeney ToddCollapse )

24. Curse of the MummyCollapse )


That, then, is the lot, and hugely enjoyable and interesting they were too. Come for the Dracula, stay for the innovative adaptations, female agency and insights into telefantasy history. Great work all round.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

This is an excellent black and white Universal scary house movie which [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 lent me on DVD. There is nothing supernatural in it, but it is very Gothic indeed, featuring as it does an ancient and remote Welsh manor-house on a stormy night, inhabited by a crotchety sister and a spiky brother who harbour dread family secrets including an aged father and another criminally-insane brother locked in the attic. Into their world stumble a collection of very modern characters who have lost their way driving through the storm, including a fairly ordinary married middle-class couple, their louche bachelor friend, a self-made northern industrial millionaire and a show-girl. Over the course of the night, drama unfolds and romance blossoms. The cast includes Boris Karloff as a mute butler who turns violent under the influence of drink, while the industrialist is Charles Laughton in fine form and the show-girl is Lilian Bond, who looks so much like [personal profile] wicked_prose that I believe I wrote and told her so when I originally watched it. But the story really works above all because of the brother and sister who are the main inhabitants of the house - Horace Pemm, played by Ernest Thesiger who has a wonderfully beak-like nose for peering down at people over when thrown into high relief by a candle, and Rebecca Pemm, played by Eva Moore who cackles and mutters beautifully and is very insistent about telling both her brother and the lost travellers that "We've no beds! No beds." As a result, they have to spend the night on rather hard-looking sofas in front of the fire - a tough fate in particular for the wife of the middle-class couple, played by Gloria Stuart, who early on changes into a backless silk gown for no better reason than this is a 1930s Hollywood film and someone has mentioned dinner, and thus presumably spends the entire story absolutely freezing to death while the storm rages around the building. She doesn't help this by opening a window in the room she's been sent into to get changed immediately after putting on the dress, even though she was explicitly told not to, leaving her battling with a howling gale and severe reproaches from the sister. Highly recommended for everything except sensible clothing tips.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

OK, 2018 film review catch-ups start here. I'm self-imposing a rule of one paragraph-long post per film to help myself get them done. Except for this mini-paragraph here, that is - this is meta.

This is a Hammer vampire film which isn't part of their Dracula sequence. I saw it once over twenty years ago, but hadn't remembered much about it other than the ending in which the vampires are defeated by a swarm of bats. This, I learned more recently, was originally intended to be the ending for Brides of Dracula (1960), and indeed is in the novelised version of that story which I read recently but was vetoed by Peter Cushing during production. Hammer were nothing if not frugal, so they just rolled it over into their next vampire film. The opening sequence consists of an as-yet-unidentified man thrusting a spade into a coffin to kill its vampire occupant, whom we learn later is his daughter. This must surely have been inspired by a very similar stake-through-a-coffin scene at the beginning of Blood of the Vampire (1958), itself a second-rate rip-off of Hammer's earliest technicolor Gothic films, and along with the recycled ending speaks of a film at the more cheap-and-cheerful end of Hammer's production spectrum. Nonetheless, it's worth watching, I think especially because of the way it explicitly frames vampirism as a religious cult - something hinted at (only very subtly) in Dracula (1958) and given a single line of dialogue in Brides, but developed more fully here. The Ravna family, who are actual vampires, have a whole coterie of apparently-human acoltyes dressed in white robes who process after them in cultic fashion, presumably reflecting contemporary fears about new-age cults, communes and the like. A couple of aspects of the story didn't entirely make sense to [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and I when we watched it, though, including why we never saw who the female heroine (Marianne) had heard crying when she was locked in a room and found the older male vampire (Dr Ravna) lying as though dead, and why at the end of the film the vampires just seemed to sit there rather than chasing the human characters who were escaping from their house. Looking now at the Wikipedia entry, it's possible that the answer to those questions is 'because we were watching a cut version', but I don't think it was the alternate version described there either, as I don't remember any scenes with a family called the Stanghers. The version we saw was recorded off the Horror Channel, so I will look out for opportunities to see it in different contexts in future, and try to pay attention to the running time so I can figure out exactly what version I'm seeing when I do.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

I received these two volumes of graphic adaptations of M.R. James ghost stories for Christmas, and had read both before the end of Boxing Day. John Reppion, one half of the production team, spoke about how he and Leah Moore had approached the stories and showed us some of the artwork from them at the M.R. James conference I went to in York in late September, and I was impressed enough by what I saw to put them on my Amazon wish-list in anticipation of Christmas. My sister did not disappoint, though opening them on Christmas day at her house proved a little dicier than I had reckoned when Christophe (four years old) saw them, realised that they were basically picture-books and demanded a story... I solemnly obliged, but thankfully (as I'd felt pretty safe in predicting), he'd got bored and wandered off by the end of the second page of 'Count Magnus' - though not before having cause to ask what a 'mausoleum' was!

They contain the same eight stories as the original James collection of the same name, four per volume, but with each story drawn by a different artist in their own distinctive style. Drawing the stories of course forces particular artistic decisions which writing them can elide - particularly whether or not to show monsters which James deliberately only partially describes, or events which are only implied such as Mrs Mothersole transforming into a hare in 'The Ash Tree' - and it was the intelligence with which John talked about the reasoning behind these decisions at the conference which was one of the main factors that made me want to read the books for myself. On the whole, the lean is in favour of showing the monsters (though not Mrs Mothersole's transformation), but usually sparingly - e.g. only partially (like James himself) or not until the very last panel. I think it is the right decision, and actually more Jamesian than not. For all that he argued for treating ghosts 'gently', he does also like to deliver what I have heard called 'the Jamesian punch' - that is, those few very evocative words with which he conveys utter grotesque horror after a long and tense build-up, such as “a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being”.

The pleasure of good M.R. James adaptations is that they make you see and appreciate things which you might previously have missed in the stories. I got the same out of the Radio 4 adaptations written by Mark Gatiss which were broadcast in the run-up to Christmas, of which 'The Mezzotint' particularly inspired me to realise in a way I never quite have before how much the story capitalises on and plays around with the subjective real-life experience of viewing art. I think it was having different people playing the various roles (Williams, Binks, Nisbet, etc.), and commenting on the different things which each of them had seen in the picture, that really brought that out, in a way that reading it yourself or hearing a single narrator like Robert Lloyd Parry read the whole thing isn't as likely to capture. Likewise in this collection, I found I appreciated the structure and menace of 'Count Magnus' more than I usually do the written version, and that my rather jaded over-exposure to 'Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You' was overcome by the freshness of experiencing the story in a new medium, with characters whose faces I hadn't seen before. There is also lots of charming detail to soak up in the panels, delivering content not conveyed by either the original stories or the inset narrative bubbles such as images of pages from the manuscripts the characters are poring over or details of the rooms and other locations they inhabit. I can highly recommend both volumes, and hope that John and Leah feel inspired to progress on to some of James' other stories at some stage in the future.

That now concludes my books read for 2018 in the sense of books finished. I selected a volume of ghost stories by Elizabeth Gaskell for the run-up to Christmas, also lent to me by [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313, having enjoyed doing the same with Dickens last year, but haven't yet finished those, so that they will have to count in due course as my first book read of 2019. Another seven films of 2018 yet await...


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Since the two books I read before this one had been awful and disappointing respectively, I turned to this one for a reasonably-guaranteed good read. That's the advantage of literary classics - people are likely to have kept reading and recommending them for a reason, so you're on safer ground than with something new and untried. This one was lent to me by [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 probably up to a year ago now, when the film was on at the Cottage Road cinema and we were thinking of going to see it. In the end, we didn't, but I kept the book anyway and this was its time. I have seen the film in the past, but before I began regularly blogging films here I think.

Breakfast at Tiffany's itself is a novella of c. 100 pages. It's told in the first person from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who is a writer by profession, and has a fresh, light modern style which seems simple but is actually quite finely crafted when you stop to look at it. The broad set-up is similar to the film - Holly Golightly moves into the same brownstone apartment block as the narrator, lives an expensive and aspirational lifestyle funded by her rich lovers, turns out to be the child bride of a simple Texan farmer, gets arrested for inadvertently assisting a drug trafficker, and is then released on bail. But the ending is very different, in that the film gives Holly and the narrator-character (Paul for screen purposes) a romantic happy ending, whereas in the novella she gives him the slip and disappears from New York and his life forever. This is hugely more in keeping with everything we learn about her character over the course of the novella - she is a fly-by-night, living in the moment but always searching for something better, who is fundamentally incapable of settling down anywhere or with anyone. That doesn't mean her portrayal in the film, or its ending, isn't appropriate and satisfying in its own right, of course. It's just that the two have to be treated as quite different animals.

The novella paints a picture of New York living which must have seemed quite shocking at the time (and certainly led to a bit of difficulty getting it published). It's not just Holly's transactional relationships with men, but the fact that she smokes weed, speaks openly about her 'dyke' friends and at one point declares that a person ought to be able to marry men or women because "Love should be allowed. I'm all for it." Indeed, the same sort of subjects come up in two of the other three stories included in the book. The first, 'House of Flowers', is about a Haitian woman who starts the story as a sex worker in Port-au-Prince and ends up going into the mountains to marry a simple farmer (who treats her appallingly). She's a kind of reverse Holly Golightly, in fact. The second, 'A Diamond Guitar', is about an older prisoner who becomes such close friends with a younger man who arrives in the compound one day that "Except that they did not combine their bodies or think to do so, though such things were not unknown at the farm, they were as lovers." Capote himself was gay, but also clearly more broadly interested in challenging conventional morality and exploring the lives of people at the bottom of the social pyramid. The final story, 'A Christmas Memory', is more sentimental and wholesome, featuring the friendship between a young boy and a much older female relative who conspire to make Christmas cakes together despite their very limited means, but Wikipedia confirmed my instinct that it too reflected Capote's personal experiences, drawing on his rather financially and emotionally deprived childhood. I certainly read it at the right time of year, since I finished this book in early December, though I hadn't planned that.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Oh dear, yeah. I didn't have hugely high hopes, but I'm afraid that really did feel like Doctor Who by numbers to me. Basic plot-line - a Dalek is unleashed, causes a bit of havoc before being tracked down by the Doctor, and is then defeated via a combination of Technobabble and the Power of Love. We've definitely seen that story before, and the arc involving Ryan's Dad was particularly poorly integrated into it. It really made me miss RTD, who made those sorts of emotive personal plot-lines into the beating hearts of his stories, rather than feeling like an awkwardly bolted-on extra.

It's a pity, because I have a soft spot for Doctor Who stories involving archaeology (which as a real-life form of time travel offers a lot of potential for parallels with what the Doctor does), and the three Custodians seemed exciting initially. I could really have gone for a story in which their descendants had to come together and work with the Doctor (in the place of the lost third) to save the world. But we didn't get that, and even within what we did get I felt the design department did a pretty poor job of putting together the materials about the legend. Would it have been too much to ask for some authentic-looking ninth-century documents, rather than a picture-book which looked like it had been bought in The Works?

Oh well. Plenty of time to forget all about it before the next series...


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

This novel was written by two sisters, of whom the elder, Emily Gerard, was a Polish cavalry officer's wife and spent time living in the Transylvanian Romanian towns of Sibiu and Brașov where he was stationed. It's well known in Dracula circles that she used that time to research an article and book on Transylvania which were used in turn by Bram Stoker in the course of his research for Dracula:
  • 1885: 'Transylvanian Superstitions' in The Nineteenth Century 8: p. 128-144.
  • 1888: The Land Beyond the Forest: Facts, Figures, and Fancies from Transylvania, New York: Harper.
But her experiences also clearly informed this novel, which itself also relates closely to Dracula. The connection is flagged up explicitly in the one and only newspaper interview which Bram ever gave about his best-selling novel, conducted by one Jane Stoddard, which begins like this:
One of the most interesting and exciting of recent novels is Mr. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” It deals with the ancient mediaeval vampire legend, and in no English work of fiction has this legend been so brilliantly treated. The scene is laid partly in Transylvania and partly in England. The first fifty-four pages, which give the journal of Jonathan Harker after leaving Vienna until he makes up his mind to escape from Castle Dracula, are in their weird power altogether unrivalled in recent fiction. The only book which to my knowledge at all compares with them is “The Waters of Hercules,” by E.D. Gerard, which also treats of a wild and little known portion of Eastern Europe. Without revealing the plot of the story, I may say that Jonathan Harker, whose diary first introduces the vampire Count, is a young solicitor sent by his employer to Castle Dracula to arrange for the purchase of a house and estate in England.
It's important to notice here that Stoddard isn't saying that Bram's novel wholly resembles the Gerards' - only that theirs is the only other novel she can think of which, like the first 54 pages of his, is set in Eastern Europe. But, recognising the surname from the publications on Transylvania, that was enough to make me look out the novel, and see just what Stoddard meant about its resemblance to the opening chapters of Dracula. None of the libraries I have easy access to had a print copy, and it seems long ago to have gone out of print so that there wasn't a cheap second-hand paperback or Kindle copy available either, but it is on the Internet Archive, and after a bit of experimentation I discovered that downloading the pdf version to my tablet resulted in a readable text which I could take to bed with me. So away I went.

It's a Victorian novel written by women for women, so it isn't a great surprise that the main subject-matter of the book is the question of who our main character, Gretchen, will marry. There are multiple contenders in the field - the sensible, middle-aged, middle-income lawyer Dr. Komers, the wealthy, aristocratic and childishly selfish Baron Tolnay, and (very much lagging behind the field and utterly repulsive to Gretchen) the obsessive Dr. Kokovics. A lot of time is spent establishing their (and multiple other) characters, at first in Gretchen's German home-town and then in the valley of the Waters of Hercules, to which the action shifts from the 7th of the novel's 53 chapters. Gretchen herself is bright, perceptive, and (as we are repeatedly told) sensible, but she begins the novel rather obsessed with the idea of marrying into wealth. Needless to say, she will learn over the course of it that there are other things more important, and that the lawyer has hidden depths which weren't initially apparent on his sensible-to-the-point-of-dullness surface. The style was pleasantly easy to read. The Gerards like to play with our expectations, setting up a scene from one point of view and then switching to another which reveals something different. They are good at establishing settings and moods, and occasionally quite happy to devote a whole chapter to what might seem like a mere comic distraction (such as the various fishing methods espoused by different visitors to the Hercules Valley), but which of course reveals a great deal about character in the process.

The titular and main setting for the story is a very real valley and spa town in what is now part of western Romania, but belonged to Hungary at the time when the novel is set. It contains healing baths and a statue of Hercules, who is supposed to have stopped in the valley to bathe and rest. But much of the action and drama of the novel is in fact driven by another (as far as I can tell) fictional location in the mountains somewhere above the valley: Gaura Dracului, a yawning and apparently bottomless chasm with many a legend attached to it, which wanderers through the forest come upon almost before they have realised it is there, and sometimes stumble and fall into as a result. Obviously, the name of this geological feature is yet another of the likely pointers which nudged Bram Stoker towards settling on the name 'Dracula' for his aristocratic vampire, and indeed it may also lie somewhere behind references to 'deep caverns and fissures that reach none know whither' of which Van Helsing speaks in Dracula's Transylvania. In this novel, the name of the chasm has nothing to do with the Dracula family, and simply means ‘The Devil’s Hole’ - actually a very common name for deep caves and pools all over the world (see here for just a few largely English-language versions). But that is quite enough to underpin a number of Gothic horror tropes which run throughout the novel alongside its main romance story.

As the action shifts into the Hercules Valley, the Gerards work hard to establish the right kind of atmosphere of lingering paganism and local superstition for the legends of Gaura Dracului to work on their characters and within their plot - just, of course, as Stoker does on Jonathan Harker's journey into Transylvania. Indeed, Gretchen and her family's journey to the valley adheres to the same basic Gothic model of the journey into a strange and dangerous land as Harker's. Once they get to the valley, we hear a lot about how paganism has survived there, overseen by the statue of Hercules whom the locals treat as though he were still a literal god, and we are treated to some ripe stereotypes of the superstitious Romanian peasant that will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has read Dracula. Indeed, when Gretchen asks some local goatherds where she can find Gaura Dracului, they react with terror and cross themselves. Gradually, we learn that the god of the valley has sworn that the hole must have human blood once a century, which to me rang bells of Polidori's The Vampyre, in which Lord Ruthven must have it once a year. Indeed, a prologue set in the time of Trajan establishes that this has been happening since the Roman period. That was particularly interesting to me in light of the paper I gave on Dracula and Classical antiquity at the Brașov conference, because it means the Gerards were here doing one of the very same things I had argued Stoker was doing in Dracula - rooting his menace in the ancient, pagan past as a way of emphasising how long and deeply-established it is, and of capitalising on the blurry line between pagan gods and demons in the western Christian tradition. Meanwhile, we also hear that Gaura Dracului contains secret hidden hoards of Turkish, Russian and many other coins, just like the dusty corners of Dracula's castle, and all sorts of Gothic vocabulary is used to describe it. It is an open grave, haunted and full of ghosts; it has fanged jaws like a monster; Gretchen feels when lost in the forest around it as though the bats and moths flitting about her are phantoms; and a climactic fire-storm which rages through that same forest in the final chapters of the book contains descriptions of trees writhing in agony and an army of fire-demons rampaging through them.

So, yes, it definitely has more than a touch of the Gothic to it, and does resemble Dracula in more than the purely geographical matter of being set in Eastern Europe. I don't think we have any proof that Stoker read it, while since we do have proof that he read the article and book on Transylvania by Emily Gerard which I've mentioned above, it's quite possible that a lot of what appear to be connections between this novel and Dracula were actually ideas he took from those. But, having read it, I could definitely believe that he had done so too. I think one of my little projects for the next year might be to read up a bit more on the Gerards, including reading Emily's work on Transylvania and learning a bit more about their biography, so that I can understand their influence on Dracula more fully. It might well make a decent paper for another Dracula conference at some stage.

Meanwhile, there were other themes in the novel I found interesting in their own right, regardless of any connection to Dracula. One, inevitably, was its assumptions about and attitudes to gender. It's no surprise that Gretchen's main concern is marriage, or that this is couched primarily in terms of how she can best marry her way to a comfortable lifestyle, but I found it interesting that one of the plans she hatches over the course of the novel is to find the treasures supposedly hidden in Gaura Dracului, on the grounds that if she finds her own fortune she can marry whoever she likes. This is hardly a feminist parable, of course, since she still clearly doesn't have the option to lead a genuinely self-sufficient working life, but the very idea is still one of the ways in which Gretchen is cast as a radical, modern thinker, and she feels she needs to hide it like a guilty secret from her more traditionally-feminine Italian friend, Belita. I was also struck by two separate scenes in which Gretchen is cornered very horribly by entitled suitors, and which read very much like the sort of horror stories women have to relate all too often on Facebook and Twitter about their experiences with creepy men today. In one, she is trapped in a gorge with a sheer drop at the end of it by Dr. Kokovics as dusk is falling, and her terror as he approaches, coupled with his dismissal of her terror, together made it very clear (without ever spelling it out) that her basic fear was of being sexually assaulted. In the other, Baron Tolnay gets her alone in dark forest, demands her love on the basis that he has proved his to her by committing a terrible crime, and tells her that him doing so was all her fault for leading him on - which she internalises and believes. Between the two they very much demonstrated how much the novel acted in the Victorian period as a forum for women to share such experiences under the cloak of fiction.

Also striking was the carefully-ranked hierarchy of national stereotypes into which all of the characters are slotted, and which belong very much to the fundamentally racist thinking of the day. Strong east-west and north-south fault-lines are in evidence, so that the Romanians are swarthy, Oriental, lazy, stupid, natural liars and superstitious, the Hungarians are more competent but ultimately not to be trusted, and the Germans (our point-of-view characters) are blond, noble, intelligent and morally sound. Gretchen's Italian friend is warm and effusive but thinks of little other than fashion and status; the novel's one English character, Mr. Howard, is reserved and hidebound by social etiquette, but does warm up and come round to Gretchen and her family over the course of the story; and a reference to hook-nosed Jews pops up in the context of a discussion about debts. All of this, too, can be found in Stoker's Dracula, of course, though there's no need to believe he got it from here. It is the widely-accepted thinking of the day, occurring unsurprisingly in both novels. That's Victorian literature for you. If you can read round it, though, and like the sound of pagan superstitions, yawning chasms and a German girl's marriage prospects, I would on the whole very much recommend this one.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

I'd lost count a bit when I sat down to watch this, so didn't realise it was the final episode of the season until the continuity announcer said so at the end. I'd thought there was one more. Still, I did obviously notice the closure of the Tim Shaw / Stenza / stolen planets / Grace's death arc opened in the season's first episode, as well as the stirring programmatic speech about why it's important to keep exploring the universe at the end. It was a solid closer, with Ryan's success in persuading Graham away from his plans of revenge on Tim Shaw a particular strength. I enjoyed meeting the Uk (sp?) too, and the gentle exploration of both the potency and the vulnerabilities of religious faith which they allowed.

Overall I think this season has been a success. I like Jodie Whittaker's Doctor, I like the companions, the story quality has been strong overall, with some excellent ones and only a couple of duds. That said I do also know it hasn't excited me on the same level as the First Doctor's stories with Ian, Barbara and Susan, the Fourth's with Sarah Jane or the Tenth's with Donna. I'm not even quite sure why - it is something small and emotive, about taking time to enjoy the little things and engage with ordinariness in the middle of the adventure and the fantasy, I think. It is probably more important to have a solid platform which is open to plenty of new people to come in and play around with, which certainly is the case with the current set-up, than to have something exceptional now but resting on one person who won't be able to sustain it indefinitely, though.

So, I'm looking forward to the New Year special, and will certainly be watching next season.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

New phone, who dis?

So I got a new phone. My last two have been Samsung Galaxies (first an S4, then an S7), but after I had owned each of them for about two years, the microphone on the first started to fail and the battery on the second went rapidly downhill, so that recently it hasn't been able to make it through a full day without needing a booster charge. Nonetheless, I was familiar with what Samsung had to offer, and liked in particular their high-quality built-in cameras. That meant I did look pretty hard at the S9, and especially the S9+, on which the various extras include a larger battery. But then when I actually logged into EE to check out their upgrade deals, they recommended a Huawei P20 Pro as the closest replacement for the S7 I had, so I looked into it to find out more.

The real clincher for me was the 4000 mAh battery (as compared to 3000 mAh for the Samsung Galaxy S9 or 3500mAh for the S9+). But then it also turned out to have twice as much storage capacity as the S9+, to be available in a very pretty ombre colour called Twilight shading from dark blue to rich purple, and to have one of the best cameras (or actually set of cameras) currently available in a mobile phone. So I have kissed goodbye to Samsung and made the move.

This in fact turned out to mean I was setting up the new Huawei on Thursday evening while listening to news stories about their chief financial officer being arrested for breaking US sanctions on Iran and fears about them using 5G kit they have supplied to spy on western countries. I do wish I had known about any of that before I bought the phone, but it's rather too late now - I already own it, and besides I don't think there is really any such thing as an ethical high-end smartphone.

I've been getting used to it, and setting everything up the way I want it, over the last couple of days. All my contacts and apps transferred over very smoothly via my gmail account, despite the move to different hard-ware, although a lot of the apps have taken the change as permission to switch back on all the annoying notifications which I'd spent ages hunting down and switching off on the old phone. So I had to redo a lot of that, and I'll need to put my music back on it and make a new set of lockscreen pictures for it at some point - all Dracula-related, of course, just like on the old phone, but they need to be different dimensions now.

I hadn't quite got round to the camera until this evening, but I realised when I began thinking about it that I had an excellent opportunity to test out its supposedly-excellent low light settings. Just over a month ago (in fact specifically on Halloween evening), there was a power-cut in Headingley, which hit around 7pm and last for about half an hour. It was fully dark outside by then, so I lit some candles to provide at least some light in my lounge, took a picture with my Samsung Galaxy G7 and tweeted it:

2018-10-31 19.16.23.jpg

Actually, power-cuts have been a major feature of this week too, but only at work, so I didn't actually need to dig out the candles at home. But I realised that recreating the picture above, with the same conditions of five tea-lights and no other illumination, would be an excellent way to test out my new Huawei's capacities. So that's what I've just done and here is the result:

2018-12-08 20.39.02.jpg

It did something quite different from the Samsung while taking the picture, announcing that it was 'processing' for about four seconds and taking what I think were actually a series of shots that allowed it to calibrate and perhaps even stitch together the best overall picture by using different lenses and settings on different parts of the scene. Anyway, whatever it did, the results clearly are in a different world from the Samsung equivalent. Much better colour balance between the candles themselves and their surroundings so that they don't just look like balls of white light, and then much better colour and detail on things like the round table-top, the carpet, the items on the mantelpiece, the chair and the cupboard behind.

Oh, and meanwhile the battery is currently sitting on 56%, whereas by this time on a similar day I would have expected my old S7 to be plugged in getting a second charge. So apart from accidentally supporting China's efforts to destabilise the west (whoops!), I guess I'm pretty happy. Definitely looking forward to seeing what else the camera can do at least.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

New Who 11.9 It Takes You Away

Tonight's episode really made me realise how much I love it when Doctor Who does surreality and alternative universes - like the Fourth Doctor's trips inside the Matrix and into N-Space. You can't do it all the time. The series has to be kept grounded in reality, otherwise the sense of any real stake in anything would be lost and people would lose interest. But every now and then it's great. I especially loved the way they actually flipped the film footage for the mirror universe in this one, so that everyone's partings were on the wrong side and their faces looked familiar yet wrong.

That's all I really got right now, though. I am SOOOO close to finishing the first draft of an article that it's all I can really think of or want to do. Hoping to return from my own little zone back to the real world soon....


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

New Who 11.8 The Witchfinders

This story raised the question of the Doctor's non-interference policy for Earth history early on, when Yaz asked "even if something's not right?", but it also found two ways to dodge really answering it. Graham's insistence that he has never heard of Bilehurst (sp?) Crag equates to the way Hartnell and Troughton's pure historical episodes were increasingly slotted into explicit gaps in the historical record (e.g. The Highlanders), while this one eventually proved to be a pseudo-historical in any case.

I'm afraid I found the Moxon hordes pretty underwhelming once they were released from their tree and able to speak through what had been Becka Savage - just another roaring monster, blithering about its plans and then being implausibly-easily defeated, really. There was also a bit of a stylistic mis-match between crisp, twinkling King James and the dreich, dismal atmosphere of the village - itself sometimes so muddy it threatened to tip over into Monty Python or Maid Marian and her Merry Men-style comedy territory. And I fully expected to hear at some point exactly what had happened to Mistress Savage's husband and why she had had all horses shot - some poor script editing there, perhaps, leaving unresolved loose threads?

Still, the early witch-ducking sequence was pretty good, as were the possessed revenants; there was just enough dialogue about systemic misogyny without it becoming preachy; and I enjoyed both Siobhan Finneran as Becka Savage and Alan Cummings as the king - especially when he was flirting with Ryan. I think I'd sum this one up as 'could have better, but definitely not bad'. Certainly better than last week's, anyway, which I liked less and less the more I thought through its implications over the couple of days following its broadcast.


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

New Who 11.7 Kerblam!

I'll admit my heart sank for a moment as I realised this was going to be another story about a big corporation. I expected something similar to Arachnids in the UK, which had probably been my least favourite episode so far this season, and wasn't relishing a repeat of its pretty unsubtle message about corporate greed. In fact, though, this was a much more interesting story, with a nuanced perspective on automation that I genuinely didn't expectCollapse )

Looking forward to some folk horror next week! :-)


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

8. James Blish (1957), Year 2018!

This book was my response to the 'Doesn't belong to me' prompt when I did the book a day meme back in June. I hadn't actually read it yet at that point, but had spotted it on my Dad's bookshelves, and felt it deserved to be read in this year of all years. The cover looks like this, and was at once promising and off-putting:

2018-06-03 19.42.20.jpg

I mean, on the one hand that's a great example of a hand-painted pulp SF cover; but on the other in my experience novels with that sort of cover tend in practice towards jet-packs and misogyny. Thankfully, now that I've read it, I can confirm that the latter expectation was entirely unfair. This is actually a very thoughtful vision of what the future might look like from the standpoint of 1957Collapse ) All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this book, not to mention somehow comforted to find that as badly as we seem to be fucking things up here in the early 21st century, someone in the 1950s imagined nothing very different and possibly something worse. Glad not to have disappointed too badly...


Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Latest Month

February 2019
S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
2425262728  

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by chasethestars