freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, there's this thing about voices. I'm not consciously aware of how important voices actually are to me until (a) I sit through an hour's meeting run by someone with a horrible voice and stagger out feeling as though I've been compulsively running my fingernails across a chalkboard, and (b) I do a quick check of a judicious sample of my various film and TV obsessions over the last few years and realise how many of them are inhabited by actors with beautiful voices. (Also beautiful hands, but that's another post entirely). I'm not sure if this is about musical training and a somewhat musical ear, or if it's about being hyper-linguistic and all about the words - probably a combination of the two.

The admin person with the horrible voice is actually a very sweet and efficient person, but ye gods, her voice. It's nasal, high, weirdly inflected, and cursed with an unpleasantly Souff Effrican accent which flattens and slides the vowels. It makes me think she's probably tone deaf, which is a diagnosis I tend to make about people with that strange flatness of tone, following the excellent example of Lord Peter Wimsey, another of my teen literary detective crushes. (Also ran: Sherlock Holmes, Albert Campion, Archie Goodwin). It doesn't help that she's also given to the exact opposite of incisiveness, and is capable of wandering on for several minutes enthusiastically agreeing, in excruciating detail, with my suggestion that the point under discussion should be taken outside the meeting as being boring and irrelevant to all others present. And it really doesn't help that I was in three different meetings with her today. My teeth are on edge.

Fortunately there are counter-irritants, actual and remembered. Snape. Alan Rickman reading Shakespeare sonnets. Alan Rickman reading my largest and least favourite board schedule, for that matter. Jackson's Tolkien is full of them - Galadriel and Arwen's contraltos, Gandalf, Boromir. Sean Bean has a lovely voice, it's always one of the trip-you-up unremembered pleasures of an Oblivion replay. (Voices are hugely implicated in any gaming choices I make: to be honest, I only ever romance Fenris in Dragon Age because of his voice). Smaug. Ye gods, Smaug. Sherlock, for that matter. What the fanfic does to Sherlock's baritone is quite something to behold. Thor's slightly gravelly dignity. Patrick Stewart doing pretty much any character. Annie Lennox.

There's a theme here, of course. A baritone is a lovesome thing, god wot. Or, if female, a contralto. I will have me some timbre on my ear. It's soothing. As is, apparently, a beautifully-enunciated British accent.

In other, tangentially related news, my Tumblr feed has just presented me with a string of ten different images of Benedict Cumberbatch crinkling his nose. My day has improved materially.

The subject line is Lewis Carroll, just for Scroob. I am in the brief, abated pause between the frenzy of orientation prep and the first programme hitting on Monday. You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

The BBC has just released the third series of Sherlock, which I have contrived to watch by dubious and immoral means justified to myself only by the fact that I've already ordered the DVD. (Lawful Good in spirit!). This was an absolutely essential gesture of false-identity piracy, as my Tumblr feed has exploded like a tribble in a fireworks factory into comment, analysis, speculation, heartbreak, angst, accusation, fangirling, death threats and squee and I simply couldn't read it at all until I'd seen all the episodes. Like the others, the series consists of three movie-length episodes (The Empty Hearse; The Sign of Three; His Last Vow, for extra credit name the three Doyle stories these reference...); for those of you not following along at home, Sherlock swandove off a roof last series, and is now Back. There may or may not be a certain moustache theme to subsequent proceedings.

I don't propose to spoiler the series, because it does have some enjoyable twists and overall some lovely moments and good television, and its cast is bloody brilliant. But I have, so to speak, some Generalised Beefs on the writing side. Dear god, this series is a hot mess. For a start, my girly writer-crush on Stephen Moffat is Officially Over. Whatever elegance he possessed during the "Blink" era has departed for parts unknown, lamented by all. The season is full of weird events imperfectly justified by giant plot holes, and the inherent misogyny is not, apparently, assisted by the heady power of showrunner status. He still writes terrible, paper-thin, stereotypical women who lack coherent motivation or backstory or character and who are too often utterly defined by the men they associate with.

The first two episodes are actually rather fun: Empty Hearse plays lovely metanarrative games with fan interpretations of the faked death, and Sign of Three is funny and goofy and emotionally very real. These two episodes, however, are not only written by different people, they're apparently written about different characters to those in the final episode, which is an abrupt about-face in tone, mood, characterisation, character objective and, regrettably, coherence. There are a few weird plot glitches in the first two episodes, but Last Vow seems to have been written on the Russell Davies Principle, viz. punchy set scenes you think will be particularly cool which are carelessly strung together with cardboard and string or, preferably, actual gaping holes. Alternatively, the writers are being actively misleading and/or actively withholding information to make it all Mysterious so they can do Twists next season, in which case they have borked narrative satisfaction something 'orrible. I should point out, gently, however, that Last Vow is an entirely Moffat script, whereas the first two episodes are some combination of Gatiss/Moffat/Thompson. I think this is Significant.

There's another problem. It's not just because I'm reading fanfic, although I'm reading a lot of fanfic (and, ye gods, after the myriads of versions I've ploughed through, nothing the series does can actually be too much of a surprise - I swear, I have run across most of the major developments in several forms during my slightly obsessive reading over the last few months. Either fanfic writers are good at narratives cues or the show writers are predicable. Probably both.) Even before the slashy fanfic - in fact, even before the BBC version - Sherlock Holmes has been highly susceptible to a queer reading. The Holmes/Watson relationship is so powerful, so central, you cannot avoid the homoerotic subtext with which it is rife. The BBC version has always been hyper-aware of this, probably because Mark Gatiss (who, apart from his own identity apparently has something of an obsession with Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), but it's painfully obvious in the third series that the writers are not only not on the same page, key members are actually not on the same page as the actors, directors, photographers and editors. Really, this show is constructing Sherlock as gay in the teeth of Moffat's determined refusal to admit that he is. Everything is against Moffat. Everything and everyone. His resolute scripting blinkers are undercut by the production on every level, which is one of the major sources of the incoherence and frustration of the final episode, and for the uncomfortable sense that this is degenerating into queer-baiting. Seriously, the rabbit they're going to have to pull out of a hat to reconcile some of these elements in Series 4 is at this point eight-legged, twelve foot tall and gently radioactive.

Don't let the whinging mislead you, though - I still love this show. It's still a vital and compelling interpretation of Doyle and is productive of various viewing pleasures, not all of them dodgy or Benedict Cumberbatch. I wouldn't be getting my teeth-gnashing on with poor Moffat to quite this extent if I wasn't still invested as hell. I'm just terrified that he's going to do something irrevocable to Sherlock, to close off the multiplicities and queer readings I find so interesting and generative. And I'm saddened and disappointed, because the writers are not quite as wonderful or in control as I thought they were.

While on the subject of Fan-Beloved Texts Currently Bedevilled By Poor Writing, Sarah Rees Brennan has parodied the second Hobbit movie, to her usual effect. (Spit-takes). I have shamelessly nicked my subject line from her.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
sherlock irene

The new season of Sherlock starts on 1st January, and the BBC has just released a new, longer, interactive trailer that's pretty spanky and all. Tumblr is having hysterics, predictably enough. I must confess to a certain excitement. (Although, warning, that trailer made me exclaim "Sherlock, you bastard!" at least twice. They're interpreting the two years dead in the way the bulk of the fanfic does, which is to focus on how brutally the deception affects Watson and how emotionally detached Sherlock is from it; he's not going to be likeable this season). But I watched the trailer, and in particular the bit with the Stephen Moffat interview, and something crystallised for me, possibly because Moffat in interviews comes off as slightly smug.

See, my love for the narrative elegance of his early Doctor Who episodes notwithstanding, I still can't forgive Stephen Moffat for what he does to women across Doctor Who and Sherlock alike. He's not an enlightened thinker, certainly not a feminist one; his female characters tend to slide back into reactionary gender roles to a somewhat worrying extent. They wait. And have babies. Or unrequited crushes. Or are royally screwed around by circumstances. They're quite often passive in one or another way. They're almost always reacting to men, rather than having their own goals and agency, which means that ultimately any power that they have tends to reside in their sexuality.

And what he did to Irene Adler is the single thing that most annoys me about Sherlock. I've always vaguely assumed that it was because he insists on bloody well sexualising Sherlock, which I think is flat against both the letter and the spirit of Doyle's character. But today I realised it's not that, or at least not just that. It's also about the way he sexualises Irene herself. In the Doyle story she's "The Woman" because she's an intellectual equal to Sherlock: she doesn't seduce him, she out-thinks him. She's a sexualised figure in that she's beautiful and adored by men, but in fact she's characterised as a spurned woman more than an adventuress, and she doesn't randomly focus her sexuality against Sherlock himself: she triumphs over him in the story because of her intelligence, not her looks. The story takes for granted that Holmes himself wouldn't be susceptible to seduction anyway, it has to be a intellectual tussle. (In the original story Sherlock is actually fooled into not recognising Irene while she's disguised as a man, which I think is an important index both to how little her power is about her sexuality, and to how much Doyle equates her with Holmes himself - disguise is his own skill, after all). Moffat's Irene Adler is a complete reversal of this: the assumption in the episode is that she only prevails over Sherlock because her sexuality attracts, confuses and distracts him, which rewrites both of them.

That would be annoying even if Moffat hadn't gone the whole hog and made her into a dominatrix, which I find to be quite one of the most unpleasant symbolic sexual roles for women. A dominatrix, in the sense of a woman for hire as Irene is (I don't mean women in consensual BDSM relationships), is not about female power. The encounter is not about her desire to dominate: it's about the customer's desire (and that's usually male desire) to be dominated. She's a commodity, very much a sexual object whose apparent power is entirely illusionary. Irene Adler in Sherlock is thus neatly undercut in the same way that Molly's technical skill is by her infatuation with Sherlock, or that Donovan's strength of personality is by her affair with Anderson. Moffat can't think of women separately from men, and very often he can't think of them separately from their sexual identity. Even Mrs Hudson, apart from revolving around Sherlock, is tied to him through his past interference in the case against her husband. Irene Adler is the most extreme example of a worrying trend. (She's characterised as a lesbian who's helplessly attracted to Sherlock, for fuck's sake. Good grief. Sexist clichés much, Moffat?)

I love what Sherlock does to the canon, its creative re-interpretation of the characters, its updating of the narrative arcs. It's an amazing piece of adaptation. But it's also flawed, and a lot of what flaws it is Moffat's ideological ineptitude. It's doubly saddening, because I adore the elegance of structure of "Blink" and "The Girl in the Fireplace", but now I re-watch them with a critical eye for their women, and ultimately their women are sad.

(And it's only tangentially related, but while we're on the subject of women trapped in and punished by their sexual identities, you have to read this on the Susan/Narnia problem. It made me cry, and not so much forgive CS Lewis, as realise he's actually irrelevant.)

Subject line from "A Scandal in Bohemia", naturally: Watson talking about how alien the concept of romantic love is to Sherlock. I want to rub Moffat's nose in that paragraph.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Last night I dreamed that I was faced with the difficult choice between re-training as a doctor and re-training as a sailor. I went the doctor route (alongside Jo, sorry, Jo, it's probably about your family), and after a few slightly frantic scenes of digs cooking with fellow med students, woke up feeling vaguely terrified about having to learn chemistry again, and wistfully sad that I couldn't have both sets of skills. Something about knots and ropes and setting sails with technical verve. General hatred of my work life notwithstanding, it's not actually as bizarre as it sounds to say that wistful doctor dreams are almost certainly the result of reading really quite an unlikely amount of Sherlock fanfic over the last month or so. The strangely fetishised things that fic writers do to John Watson as a deceptively cuddly BAMF! are ... strangely fetishised, actually.

I also blame the fact that I randomly woke up at 3.30am on Monday morning and couldn't get to sleep again, as a result of which I wandered through most of yesterday on four hours of sleep in an exhausted daze which didn't, for some reason, prevent me from giving a really rather good double period tut on Dracula, to which even my cabbage class responded fairly well. Then again, I probably didn't need to demonstrate the fact that I can babble entertainingly about vampires and gender roles and Victorian anxieties literally in my sleep. (In this case with added postcolonialism at no extra charge, on account of dodgy Eastern European reverse invasion of London by degenerate lowlifes). However, it didn't help to be woken up promptly at 3am this morning again by Golux being heartily sick on my bedside rug. I did manage to get back to sleep this time, but the free pass she's currently getting on horrible behaviour on account of her nose cancer is wearing a little thin. Especially since the nose cancer has retreated, for its own inscrutable reasons, to a small black spot rather than a giant black sore, which is either sinister or encouraging, I'm not sure which.

We have set a date for the vetination of Macavity early next week, following a slightly drunkenly uproarious session of dinner and cat-fondling at our place on Sunday night. Currently the major challenge is going to be preventing Carlo from exiting stage left with a two-for-one ginger ex-tom deal, he seems rather taken with Hobbit. Put down the floofy ginger kitty and back away slowly, say I. He's a slut anyway, and doesn't mean it.

Subject line a quote from "Life on the Ocean Wave", which is one of those saccharine little Victorian ditties I blush to say I know entirely through the bastardised versions occasionally perpetrated by the Goon Show. On the other hand, a hasty lyric search suggests that them saccharine Victorians can seriously turn a stirring phrase.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Operation Macavity proceeds apace! Our simple principle of (a) feeding him and (b) not chasing him out the house has very quickly brought him to the point where he spends most of the day sleeping on the sofa, is fairly amenable to stroking, purrs like a rusty tractor during the aforementioned, and if he does suddenly startle and swipe at your leg, does it half-heartedly and largely to miss. Both the EL and I can pick him up, although he tolerates it a lot better from the EL, whose cat-fu is legendary. Said Macavity is almost at the point where we can betray him utterly by stuffing him into a box and subjecting him to a serious assessment from Graham the Lovely Vet, who advises a thorough check for things like feline HIV and feline leukemia and a short, sad, merciful needle if he's positive for either. If not, then Carlo&Karen have agreed to take him, since the niche for thuggish ginger ex-tom in their home is apparently empty. (Ours is full, because Hobbit).

I called him Macavity not so much because of his disreputable gingerness, but from his ability to levitate to the roof instantaneously from a standing start the second you think about coming into the kitchen ("His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare/ And when you reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!"), and because it's one of my favourite of the Practical Cats. I didn't realise, though, until about a week ago, how much T.S. Eliot ripped Macavity off from Doyle: it's the kind of epiphany you only have while re-reading Sherlock Homes simultaneously with implementing a Macavity-taming operation. I mean, I knew about the Moriarty connection because the last line of the poem identifies Macavity as "the Napoleon of Crime", which is the classic Moriarty epithet straight out of "The Final Problem", but the parallels go a lot deeper than that. Viz.:

Macavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

"He is extremely tall and thin, his forehead domes out in a white curve, and his two eyes are deeply sunken in his head ... His shoulders are rounded from much study, and his face protrudes forward, and is for ever slowly oscillating from side to side in a curiously reptilian fashion..."

And when the Foreign Office finds a Treaty's gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scap of paper in the hall or on the stair--
But it's useless to investigate--Macavity's not there!

"Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed - the word is passed to the Professor, the matter is organized and carried out". (Quotes all from "The Final Problem").

I am enchanted by this. Intertextuality makes me happy. By way of illustration, have an actual Macavity. The black on his face is the remnants of the somewhat piratical slash which appeared across his eye, cheek and nose a few months back after a night of more than usually ferocious cat-mangling noises.


He is enough like Hobbit that Jo, wandering into the house a week or so ago, saw Macavity sitting on the kitchen floor and exclaimed "My god, what happened to Hobbit?!" in tones of dismay. (This picture of Hobbit from the same photoshoot as Macavity, taken because Hobbit has to be part of whatever's going on and can't be having with photos of upstarts happening when photos of himself, or possibly Himself, are clearly more important and interesting).

Hobbit, interfering

Drive-in Saturday

Sunday, 28 April 2013 10:08 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Movie club! As you know, Bob, we (being me and jo&stv, occasionally with the EL) have a technically monthly movie club, whose simple and stated purpose is to watch two movies back-to-back, preferably films none of us have seen before, with a common theme or possibly "common" "theme" and excellent food of the eat-on-your-lap variety. The proceedings (and discernment of theme) tend to be well lubricated by lots of relaxing alcohol, which is very rewarding to the critical facilities. We rotate the responsibility for choice and cooking. We're terribly erratic timing-wise, but have managed to actually achieve two movie clubs in the last two months, the first of which I didn't ever get around to blogging on account of general wossname. I shall now proceed to Catch Up, TM. Reviews lurking under a cut, on account of length. )

Movie Club: dislocating your neck with rapid thematic transitions since 2009. Watch this space for further updates!

Jade Lady

Tuesday, 17 April 2012 09:39 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Lo these many moons ago, [ profile] strawberryfrog introduced me to the Phryne Fisher mystery stories by Kerry Greenwood. A couple of years later, after some slightly addictive behaviour involving Loot, my credit card and my burning desire to read more, I have the whole collection, or at least those that are still in print. In my usual spirit, i.e. with my apparent and not particularly subliminal need to infect those in my immediate vicinity with whatever cultural effusions currently grab my attention, I shall now proceed to babble about them.

Kerry Greenwood is an Australian writer and the books are set in Australia, mostly Melbourne, which is a city I loved utterly after a two-day stay. And they're period pieces, 1920s, mid-Wars, which you can gather from the beautiful artwork here reproduced. (I love their covers. Striking, and minimalist, and absolutely atmospheric). Also, the books are well-researched: I am always obscurely cheered by an author who lists her references at the end of her novel. 1920s Australia is fascinating, both in comparison to the 1920s literature I'm more familiar with, which is very British (P.G. Wodehouse et al), and in its identity as a colonial space with resonances with our own South African history and experience. And the setting is shown with some really quite acute and occasionally nasty political realism. They're never actually gritty, but the stories dally repeatedly not only with murder but with abuse, rape, torture, poverty, back-street abortions, child slavery and the occasional severed ear.

Phryne herself is a beautifully-constructed icon, offering a fascinating balance between the above grittiness, and wish fulfilment (she's young, beautiful, rich, aristocratic, efficient and Bohemian). I like her because she's kick-butt effective at what she does, but also because she's a poster kid for various political manifestations of which I heartily approve. There is something of a Utopian gloss on her activities, which don't really have the serious social repercussions they ought to have, but they're nonetheless heartwarming. I think the Australian context is possibly less repressive than it would be in England, but there is still enormous prejudice against the Jews, Chinese, Socialists, prostitutes, anarchists, homosexuals, Bohemian poets, circus folk and various other categories of individual she cheerfully associates with and, in many cases, has ecstatic sex with. In the 1920s, Bohemianism notwithstanding, she's doing it all in the teeth of considerable social disapproval, which she either blithely ignores, or the perpetrators of which she confronts head-on in order to wrest them to less bigoted behaviour by sheer force of personality.

Above all, Phryne is a feminist icon. Not only does she represent agency and political awareness, but her sexuality is defined in terms which are directly appropriated from a particularly male stereotype which affirms the value of pleasure without either exclusivity or attachment. The stories are well-written detective pieces - and the Wodehouse echoes are in more than the setting, there are occasional phrases which, if not quite in the Performing Flea category, are neat and witty enough to make me laugh out loud - but they also chronicle Phryne's unabashed and wholehearted dalliances with a long string of beautiful young men. She's a vamp, and proud of it. The vamping doesn't in any way impair her intellectual and physical efficiency: she's a very cat-like creature, selfish, fastidious and hedonistic at the same time, and capable of being absolutely merciless when appropriate.

This multivalent strength, while rather rose-tinted, is also nicely rationalised. One of the huge attractions of the setting to me is the way in which it weaves the First World War into Phryne's life. Her origins and childhood are in lower-class Australian life; the wholesale swathes the war cut into the British population raises Phryne's family to nobility and wealth by dint of killing off all the other heirs. But she's an extremely reluctant aristocrat in many ways, and runs away from suitable marriages in order to, at the age of seventeen, drive an ambulance in the trenches. The blood and slaughter, and her need to deal with it in order to do an essential job, tempers her: she's a sprung steel construction in many ways, and you can see how she's earned that strength. She then refines it by hanging around Bohemian Paris for a couple of years as an artists model, while incidentally being taught street-fighting by Les Apaches. When she roughs up Australian wharfies who deserve it, you don't feel that it's too far-fetched.

This is not serious reading; it's detective pulp, and proud of it. But it's enormously pleasurable reading, not just because of the appeal of its main character and the rag-tag band of eccentrics which make up her world, but because of its unexpected historical and political layering. The feline creature which these novels represent may be unrealistically beautiful and effective, but she has teeth.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Readers of a nervous disposition may have been startled the other night by the faint, echoing cry of rage and frustration wafting across Cape Town's southern suburbs. My apologies. This was occasioned by an unhappy discovery: having cooked supper, served myself a plateful and a glass of wine, put the relevant DVD into the player, booted the cat off my tv-watching chair, settled down with a sigh of content and pressed PLAY, it was something of a kick in the teeth to immediately discover that the final DVD in Season 3 of Veronica Mars contained, not the climactic final episodes I was anticipating, which would sort out all the problems, discoveries and implications raised in Episode 20, but merely a fistful of somewhat lame special features. (Although I rather enjoy the extent to which Rob Thomas resembles Buffy's Riley: it's obscurely reassuring. I've always had a soft spot for poor Riley.)

Veronica Mars is another Firefly, an unhappily-truncated, prematurely-ended, excellent show whose cancellation is clearly the result of the unacceptable degree of intelligence in its writing. I've devoured three seasons over the last month, and despite the lack of ultimate narrative pay-off am unabashedly a fan: in my secret moments, I suspect it's actually better television than Buffy, which is truly odd given that I usually need a chunk of fantastic content in order to for a show to genuinely warm the cockles of my unrealistic little heart. (And Joss does a guest spot. He clearly likes it too).

I said in a tweet somewhere that VM is effectively "Buffy meets Brick", and that still holds: it's a high-school (and, in Season 3, college) series about a private eye who just happens to be a sassy blonde teenager, and its play with the thematic intersections is witty, perceptive and extremely effective. Despite its apparently fluffy school setting the series is dark; it doesn't flinch from dealing with death, murder, rape, abuse, violence, drugs, alcoholism, social divides, sexual orientation, gender politics and pretty much anything else that grabs its fancy in a given episode. In that it's very clever; the intensity and heartfelt trauma of the teen experience don't, after all, map so badly onto the threats and angsts of noir. The first two seasons present a beautiful balance between meta-plot, a detective puzzle which arcs across the whole season, and more minor investigations which are tied up neatly at the end of the episode. Season 3 isn't as neat; its meta-arc finishes too early, and the whole thing trails off a bit - I blame the cancellation, personally - but it's still satisfying television. And, while I called the bad guy early on in the first and third seasons, Season 2 blindsided me totally while being, in retrospect, totally inevitable. I love it when a detective story does that.

I think I'm enamoured of this series particularly because of Veronica herself, whose construction makes me realise that, Joss's feminism notwithstanding, there are points about Buffy that bother me. For a start, Veronica's "superpower" isn't physical (her idea of "backup" makes me laugh a lot), it's intellectual; Veronica's skills are equally about brain, application and hard-won experience, not mystical ability to kick butt. Secondly, the angsts it causes her are not the traditionally feminine insecurities: if she has flaws or problems they're more about arrogance, over-confidence, a certain predeliction to vengefulness. She has none of the traditionally "blonde" moments with which Buffy is occasionally plagued. Hers are flaws of strength, not weakness, and unlike Buffy, while she's also a social outsider, her response to that marginalisation is extremely together, defiant and often aggressive, the antithesis of the shrinking, hypersensitive outcast. Veronica's snarky one-liners cause me infinite delight; she insulates herself from the world and its all too frequent rejection with a screen of wit. Buffy is used to being the strongest and most cosmically important person in the room, but Veronica is used to being the most intelligent, and I find that I identify with that a lot more easily.

I'm going to cut the next bit, as it'll be spoilery if you haven't seen the series, and I seriously recommend you see the series. )

One of the joys of Buffy is its currency, the extent to which its quotes and images and icons are rife among my friends. I want to watch Veronica Mars again, preferably several times, to imprint some of these quotes and people and catchphrases onto my wayward memory, but I also want everyone to go and watch it too so I can share some of that pleasure, and argue the 'ships, and have my references recognised. Please indulge me. I don't think it'll be a waste of your time.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I reproduce my subject line, unedited, from the closing sentence of the latest Harper's Weekly. The juxtaposition of the horrible punning sentence with a cetologist called Thomas Jefferson completely cracked me up. Also, I recommend Harper's Weekly as an injection of global happenings, great and small, into your inbox in a pleasingly punchy format rife, on the macro level, with weird juxtapositions. Also, "juxtaposition" is a lovely word.

I seem to be turning into the kind of blogger who blogs about her cats, which is alarming: I shall attempt to stem the tide by blogging about other people's cats. I have developed a sad addiction to the detective fiction of Lilian Jackson Braun, whose books are rife with eccentric life in American country towns. Her middle-aged sleuth attains the truth with supernatural aids, namely his cats, who are charming brats, and psychically sussed in spades. (I have also been attending Flanders and Swann revues, can you tell? I thoroughly recommend Hats Off! at the Theatre on the Bay. Their performance of "Madeira, m'Dear" is pitch-perfect).

Abandoning spontaneous doggerel, I shall simply say that the slow pace, whimsical detail and slightly wry tone of Braun's writing really works for me in my current state of fatigue, which has been particularly bad this week. It seems to be the case that I'm OK as long as I only try one activity per day that isn't noodling around on the internet or lying on the sofa reading slim "The Cat Who..." vols. I've given four hours of seminar this week, catching up after The Great Migraine Debacle, and am consequently somewhat deader than usual. I discover, however, that it's perfectly possible to keep absolutely on top of my work email if I'm at home unbothered by students. There's a tragic irony in there somewhere. Sigh.

Tonight, tapas! Salty Cracker hits Fork. In preparation, I have been lying on the sofa all day, so hopefully I won't actually slump gracefully into the marinated sardines.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
For some reason I seem to be re-reading, yet again, the entirety of the Sherlock Holmes corpus (I'm currently in the middle of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which one of these days I really must teach as a Gothic novel, just for the hell of it). I have that lovely facsimile edition which reproduces the whole lot from the Strand magazine stories, with their slightly faint, slightly mannered illustrations. I cannot work out if this dedicated re-discovery is motivated by any one of the following more than the others, it may be a cumulative sort of thing:

  • the running thread of Data's Sherlock Holmes fixation through seven seasons of STNG;
  • too much diligent playing of Echo Bazaar;
  • the rather spirited discussions we've been having in my second-year English tut about Dracula as a figure of inverted Victorian masculinity ("...each age uses its vampires to express its fears and desires. What does Twilight say about us?" *horrified intake of breath from class*. Maybe there's hope for the youth of today);
  • the need to re-watch my shiny new copy of the RDJ Sherlock Holmes with an eagle eye for fun adaptation in-jokes (and as an attempt to persuade myself that it's not just an unholy fascination with RDJ with an English accent);
  • the complete absence of brain currently occasioned by the fact that Cape Town's pollen has been studiously mutating over the last few weeks in an effort to lay low the human population and take over the world. (Fact. I know three separate people who are off work owing to allergies, sinusitis and general incapacity, and I'm only at work myself out of sheer bloody-mindedness and orientation planning panic. I have a dark suspicion that this planet has actually had enough and is dusting its hands preparatory to ridding itself of us by hook or by crook).

Anyway. Sherlock Holmes. Either fanfiction has hopelessly infected me (which, to be fair, it probably has), or there is a seriously slashy subtext here. Watson/Holmes is rather sweet, they have an old-married-couple comfort thing going on which is extremely enjoyable to watch. In fact, surprisingly, Watson isn't as annoying a twit as I'd remembered, and Holmes is rather sweet all on his own - I'd remembered him as far more of a cold, distant and madly eccentric figure, but he's capable of erratic but rather endearing acts of empathy. The blatant lack of realism in Holmes's deductions does get to me a little, and I remember just enough of the stories from my last reading that none of the detective outcomes are actually a surprise, but I'm also really enjoying them. Some things don't date as much as you'd expect.

Speaking of which, I've now finished STNG, and boy howdy does it date. I loved it, but I am reserving serious narrative fulminations for a whole long post of its own. Right now, the Spirit Temple in Zelda beckons, because really I don't have the brain for much else.

the house always wins

Thursday, 15 April 2010 03:21 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Still sinusy, spaced, with cement in my cheekbones and an incipient headache about two feet back from my eyes. Lurking. On the upside, being at home yesterday meant I could supervise (a) the gardener, who continues annoying but at least washed my car, and (b) the house alarm guys, who rewired various sensors disrupted by the renovations, and then cheerfully told me that no, in fact the alarm wasn't working, it can't send a signal to the control room. No, they can't fix it. No, they can't even look at it. The system is too old, they won't repair it, it needs to be replaced. Since the Evil Landlord in fact only arranged for the rewiring after an extended wrestle with the bloody salesman, who is the kind of person who oversells to the point where you don't want to give him any money at all, and who was pushing for us to install a new 20-zone system "in case we want to expand" (to beam sensors in the garden, apparently), I find this curiously suspicious. Rotten swizz, if you ask me.

Also, the particular issue with the alarm failing to communicate means that it keeps innocently trying, thereby knocking out the phone line for 20 minutes and the ADSL for about an hour, or until you reboot the modem, leaving me with no internet for the day as the technicians kept on setting off the alarm in the course of their fiddling. I was, to say the least, narked. Fortunately this is exactly the kind of situation for which the EL's particular brand of Germanic stubbornness is made, and I can just leave him to get on with biting the heads off alarm company droids and burying their bodies in the garden. He's such a comfort to me.

Of course, my Sid-induced absolute lack of brain or initiative means that I've been driven to spend the time by re-watching Castle from the start, since no-one I know yet has the last five or six episodes of the second season and I'm still jonesing for precisely that level of fluff. (Besides, a classic detective plot has a very precise and different pleasure the second time around, as you spot all the clues). This has engendered a certain amount of meditation on the subject of guest actors, their weird recurrences, and that strange form of recognition they cause.

I've obviously now hit a specific sort of threshold where I've watched just enough recent American television to be able to routinely identify minor actors I've seen before. The first five episodes of Castle present the head zombie bad guy from "The Zeppo" playing a meth-head, Supernatural's Agent Victor Henricksen as the friend who helps bury the body plus the kid in "Croatoan" as a spoiled rich brat, Director Brandon from Alias as a corrupt ex-cop private eye, and the haunted lady from "Shadows" (early X-Files), playing a councilman's wife. Later episodes feature Roxy Wasserman from Middleman and a positive plethora of Buffy alumni, including Graham the square-jawed Initiative agent, Riley himself as an amnesiac, and the slightly delectable Principal Wood. The peculiar pleasure of watching TV on the computer is that you can pause the damned thing the instant a familiar face pops up, and head straight to IMDB to ID them accurately instead of having to sit there for the rest of the episode twitching because you can't remember where you've seen them before. (Or is that just me?)

But it does make me think that the guest-acting world must be very small. I don't watch a lot of TV, at least as compared to most non-five-armed-aliens, and they're really starting to pop up now. (And this is quite separate from the tendency of people like Joss and JJ Abrams to re-use actors from one series to another). One factor is, I think, that a bunch of the fantasy/sf TV I watch is apparently made in Vancouver, probably quite a small acting pool, although that doesn't explain all the crossovers with Buffy, filmed in LA. The actors also tend to get really, really typecast, which suggests many of them are types with a fairly limited range. Acting must be a really odd world in which to live and work: some of them have worked for dozens and dozens of series in minor parts. I find myself, possibly as a result of the temperature I was running yesterday, trying to invent LARP scenarios in which feature all the characters played by a single actor. Don't try this at home, kids. Your brain may explode.

Of course, the second side-effect of all this Castle is that I had enjoyably dodgy Nathan Fillion dreams all night, so score.
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One of the things I inherited from my dad was the family clock, an old wooden one like a small, sturdy wooden house with a minimalist outbreak of carving and gold leaf. It dates from about 1910 and belonged, I think, to my grandparents: it has a Westminster chime which was forever getting out of sync, and with which I remember my father endlessly tinkering, like the Duke of Coffin Castle, to try and persuade its dings to mesh with its dongs. So to speak. When I inherited it it had travelled all over Zimbabwe, up to France and then down again to Cape Town, and was very firmly Not Working. However, by one of those wonderful fortuities [ profile] friendly_shrink's father is a clockmaker specialising in old clocks, and he very kindly restored the workings for me at a fraction of the usual price for such things. This was particularly kind as it was apparently a total bugger, causing him to have to rootle endlessly around its innards, presumably with strange Germanic clockmaker's oaths, and to actually machine new parts for the gaps in its rather shoddy workings. (Don't, apparently, go for German clock parts, they're not as good as the French or Swiss.)

Now it's on the piano, gently chiming the quarter hours, and every time I wander through the living room and catch it in mid-chime, I have to swallow this enormous lump in my throat. That sound is part of my childhood: the clock stood on the mantelpiece in our house in Harare when I was in high school, between the two foot porcelain dandy peering coyly around the muchly rose-bedewed fencepost, and the gap where his frothy-petticoated shepherdess sweetheart stood before the cat knocked her down and shattered her into fifty million porcelain bits. (And good riddance. I hated those things, they were perfect examples of Rococo Twee). The clock, though: the clock is memory and evocation, and a familiar household god, and it somehow makes the house slightly more fundamentally home to have it anchored by that gentle soundtrack. Even if I am now forced to add it to the ever-increasing list of the Approximately Three Million Random Things That Make Me Cry.

Things That Make Me Giggle, however: Castle. Castle is jolly detective romance TV: it's the froth on your cappuccino, the flourish to your hat, the cheerful solid child-friendly blocks from which your narrative is built. It's gosh-darned perky, composed mainly of one-liners, good humour and perfectly obvious twists. It works mostly because Nathan Fillion could put across the debonair bastard with the heart of gold with the mere power of his eyebrows while reading from the telephone directory. It's worth watching for Castle's relationship with his daughter alone, but I am developing a fondness not unakin to horrified fascination for the opening corpse montages with the pretentious photography and the nice indie soundtrack. I am unable to acquit them of taking the mickey out of themselves. I finished the first season in a giant, glorious gobble as a distraction from my current state of sinus headache, and am possessing my soul in patience until the second season finishes on Monday and I can extract it from long-suffering friends. It's no bloody good at all, but it makes me happy.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

Oh, dear, I've discovered Fringe. I'm beginning to think that a misspent youth dallying with Sayers, Allingham and Marsh has actually imprinted me heavily on the investigative genre: give me detectives, private eyes, FBI agents, I'm happy. (Memo to self, break out Castle). From quite another angle, also give me grandiose paranormal paranoid conspiracy theories and I'm ecstatic. This means that I intersect with J J Abrams far more than is probably healthy, insofar as I have a completely unrepentant addiction to Alias, although mercifully I never bought into Lost. So far Fringe isn't throwing aliens around, but otherwise it's an unashamed X-Files rip-off; my happy triumvirate of pseudo-scientific paranormal investigation is now (a) X-Files, (b) Fringe, and (c) Shadow Unit. (Supernatural, Buffy/Angel and The Middleman, of course, fill the equal and opposite mystical paranormal investigation slots).

Fringe isn't brilliant, and it certainly isn't original, but it's kinda cute. Points in its favour: Joshua Jackson (endearing), Denethor (John Noble does a good mad), nice line in mystic mumbo-jumbo ("the Pattern"). Points not in its favour: predictable, done, occasionally icky (I'm not big on exploding heads) and six episodes in the bad guys seem prone to repetition. I'm also not madly taking to the slightly brittle female lead, although I'm willing to concede she has pretty hair. Bonus points: cow in the basement lab, tendency to one-liners, occasional outbreaks of piano-playing. Also, the bogus science is entertainingly bogus, but actually pays slightly more lip-service to rational logic than poor old Spooky ever did.

I'm finding myself wondering, though. These paranoid-conspiracy-pandering TV shows seem to generate enough of an audience to engender new variations every few years. Do you think this is because people actually want to believe this stuff? Because, eeeuw. As a Sturdy Rationalist I classify both detective fiction and paranormal-conspiracy firmly under "fantasy", the former because of its narrative structure, the latter because of its content. I like fantasy. I like it because it's fantastic. The world doesn't work like that, but it's fun to imagine what it would be like if it did. I'm hoping the audience for these shows enjoys them as hokum in the same way that I do, rather than leaping up to shout "I knew it!" every ten minutes. However, I look at the human tendency to latch onto the pure hokum disseminated by the religious right, tabloid reporting, advertising, corporate spin doctors and random passers-by, and I'm not sanguine.

Further fascinating thought for the day: do you think that if we strapped J J Abrams and Russell Davies down in a basement lab somewhere and scientifically crossed each of them individually with stolen DNA from Stephen Moffat, we'd get interesting stories that actually held together instead of falling apart at the moment of narrative crux? I can't help thinking it might be worth a try.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Much movie-watching to start the new year! I consider this to be a good omen. Of course, much movie-watching has also resulted because I've finished watching Season 4 of Supernatural, woe is me, and will have to possess my soul in patience (as befits the subject matter) until Season 5 finishes and gets its (cute) butt onto DVD. Season 4 was ... dark. Very dark and angsty, and featured angsty boys being dingbats and being led around by the nose by both angels and demons while apocalypse lowered. Given how absolutely steeped in Christian mythology the whole series is, I'm surprised I'm enjoying it as much as I am. On the other hand, the writers really are throwing their hats into the ring on the whole "Judao-Christian notions of God lack all sense or logic" issue, which is probably helping.

Anyway. This weekend I watched two movies: Brick, on DVD last night, about which I say wow, and Sherlock Holmes on circuit this morning, about which I say yay. Reviews follow. Spoilery. You Have Been Warned. )

This week: Avatar! alias Thundersmurfs!. And probably 500 Days of Summer, just to show the world that I do too have a brain.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
This is a public service announcement. Gratuitous fangirling will follow. May cause dizziness, disorientation, disbelief and retching in extreme cases. Void where prohibited by notional academic dignity.

So, Doctor Who. The fourth season has been enjoyable, but my socks have remained firmly un-knocked-off until the other night, when I and the houseguests, nicely buzzed on too much food and the EL's wine stash, sat down to watch "The Unicorn and the Wasp", followed in quick succession by "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead".

The Agatha Christie episode was brilliant: jo and I sat there going "It's a LARP!" with unholy glee at frequent intervals. It was beautifully constructed, magnificently and playfully self-conscious, and completely immersed in its period. I loved the tongue-in-cheek games with dissolves, and the deliberate artificiality of the setting and of the traditional detective-holding-forth approach to the problem-solving. Also, bonus subtextual homoeroticism and vaguely Cthulhoid elements! And the actress who played Agatha Christie was superbly cast.

However, that was no more than the tasty starter to the main course, which was the delirious joy of a two-parter constructed by my favourite scriptwriter, Steven Moffat (fangirlfangirlfangirl). This may be spoilery, so I've cut it. )

Now, of course, we do the usual sudden, dizzy descent into the season finale à la Russell Davies. Phooey.


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