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Monthly Archives: May 2017

Summer Tasks

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So I was thinking I’d be doing some traveling this summer, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen after all, outside of some very brief weekend trips here and there.  And for a while I was pitying myself over that.

But no more!  I am going to enjoy myself, dammit.  I am going to make sure I do things that generate more fun, for myself and sometimes for others.  This is a season of fun and laughter and carefree merriment, and I need to make myself embrace that.

So. Herewith: my bucket list for the summer of 2017; or, rather, my bucket lists, because I this thing has run so long it’s got entire categories.


  • Making my own popsicles.
  • Making my own ice cream.
  • Eating ice cream from a Mister Softee Truck.
  • Making an ice cream sundae.
  • Keeping the fridge stocked with peppermint iced tea.
  • Eating corn on the cob.
  • Making pies and letting them cool on the windowsill.
  • Eating a peach.
  • Eating watermelon.
  • Eating a tomato sandwich.
  • Eating a fried clam roll.
  • Keeping various flavored sugar syrups on hand for funky flavored cocktails and iced desserts.


  • Run through a sprinkler or a hydrant.
  • Do a cannonball.
  • Skip stones.
  • Build a sand castle.
  • Spend an hour blowing bubbles.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Go barefoot.
  • Read in a hammock.
    • Side goal – reading 3 new books.


  • The sunset
  • Fireflies
  • The Perseids
  • A thunderstorm
  • Fireworks


  • Make and wear a flower crown.
  • Get a pedicure with bright nail polish.
  • Wear a sundress with a swirly skirt.
  • Wear bright lipstick.


  • Go to at least three free outdoor movies.
  • See at least two free concerts.
  • Go to a late-night dance event.
  • Throw picnics.
  • Hold an outdoor tea party.
  • Ride the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel.
  • Water slides.
  • Mini golf.
  • Make out with someone.
  • See a movie in a drive in.


  • Explore 3 new neighborhoods I’ve never been to.
  • Take a class in shibori-style tie dying.
  • Go on a road trip.
  • Get more stamps in my National Parks Passport.


  • Go on 3 hikes.
  • Try inner tubing.
  • Stay overnight in a cabin.
  • Stay overnight in a tent.
  • Round up some friends and play backyard games like tag or Red Rover for a night.
  • Have a water fight.


So whaddya think?  A good summer, yes?


Movie Crash Course – Our Hospitality

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My word this was fun.

Set in the early 1800s, Our Hospitality is an early Buster Keaton film, taking the story of the Hatfields and McCoys and playing it for laughs.  Keaton plays “Willie McKay,” the only surviving son left in the McKay family.  When he was just a tot, his father died in a mutually-fatal shootout with one of the patriarchs of the Canfield family; his mother fled with him to her sisters’ place in New York City, hoping to save him from meeting the same fate at the hands of the surviving Canfields.  But twenty years later, an estate lawyer tracks him down and informs him he is the sole heir to his father’s estate, urging him to take ownership.

He excitedly runs home to pack, but his aunt warns him of the feud. No matter – he’s determined to go, picturing a grand mansion waiting for him to move in. On the train to the mansion, Willie gets quite cozy with Virginia, a young lady headed to the same Blue Ridge Mountains town as he is.  It’s something of a bumpy ride, and they’ve bonded by the time they arrive in town.

But in the rush of arrival, they lose each other in the crowd; Virginia is too excited to see her family again anyway. And who’d have thought – her family name is “Canfield”.  Papa Canfield, along with one of her brothers, whisks her home, while the second brother lingers in town long enough for Willie to ask him directions to the McKay estate.  Brother Canfield offers to show him the way, seeing the perfect chance for a revenge killing of Willie – except, he’s unarmed.  He stops them at each of the first two houses they pass, excusing himself and running inside to beg at each residence for the loan of a pistol. But no one he asks is armed; and by the third house he stops at, Willie has decided to strike off on his own anyway.  He arrives at the house and soon discovers it’s a ruined cabin, and dejectedly turns back for town.

But on the way, he passes by the Canfield’s house, where Viriginia is strolling in the yard, and Willie takes the opportunity to reconnect.

A delighted Virginia invites him to dinner that evening, and an equally-delighted Willie accepts. The rest of the family is initually just as delighted that Virginia has met a charming fellow and look forward to meeting him at dinner – but are stunned to see that it’s Willie.  The Canfield sons scurry for the gun cabinet, but Papa Canfield stops them – it would be a violation of their code of hospitality to kill him while he is a guest in their home.  (And besides, the Parson is also due for dinner as well.)  He makes them all promise to be perfectly fine to Willie during dinner, but the second he leaves the house, he’s done for.  Willie, meanwhile, has consulted with the family butler and learned whose house he is in.  By the time all assemble for supper, things are a little….tense.  And almost as soon as they are done, Papa Canfield all but strongarms Willie to the door, telling him through a grit-teeth smile that he must come back again some time.

Willie dawdles as long as he can – “losing” a hat, “forgetting” an umbrella – and the Parson finally decides to take his leave first. But a storm has come up outside, and Papa Canfield declares that it’s not a fit night for anyone to travel and invites the Parson to stay with them for the night.  As Virginia shows the Parson upstairs, Willie follows, inviting himself to stay as well.

Willie is still lingering in the house the next day, knowing he’s done for if he leaves.  Fortunately this gives him a chance to sweet-talk Virginia more.

But Papa Canfield finally takes her aside and tells her who Willie is. The initial shock causes her to reject Willie, and he starts to leave, dejectedly – then realizes one of the Canfield boys is laying in wait outside.  So he takes a somewhat desperate measure.

The Canfields figure things out soon enough, though, and the last act of the film is a zany chase scene, with Willie leading the Canfields on a madcap chase as he tries to escape on horseback, by train, and then a raft down river. Virginia, who has by now regret spurning him, sees him struggling with his raft and sets out to rescue him in a rowboat – but she too founders, and soon both are in danger of being swept over a waterfall.

But Willie manages to acrobatically save Virginia, and they clamber ashore just as the Parson is passing by.  The rest of the Canfields arrive back home just in time to find the Parson wrapping up a spontaneous wedding service marrying the pair.  The brothers rush to the pistol cabinet to find it empty, and Virginia tearily turns to Papa Canfield, asking him to accept Willie.  Papa finally relents, urging his sons to disarm themselves.  And – when they do, Willie does as well, returning all the Canfield guns he’d taken and hidden in his coat.

My words do not do this justice.  I repeatedly laughed out loud watching this – there were moments that were straight out of Warner Brothers cartoons. Keaton’s performance only underscores the comedy; any kind of wide-eyed mugging in the midst of the slapstick would be overkill, but Keaton’s famous deadpan face is the perfect foil for the action. There is a take he does to the camera when he realizes he’s about to be pulled off a cliff that had me howling.

Movie Crash Course – Foolish Wives

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With 1922’s Foolish Wives, we also have our first meeting with a larger-than-life filmmaker – Erich von Stroheim, the son of an Austrian Jewish hatmaker who emigrated to the United States at the age of 24 and claimed to be an Austrian count.  He found his way west to Hollywood, and after an unofficial apprenticeship to D.W. Griffith (he was one of several assistant directors on Intolerance), and after appearing in some World War I-era films as the German villains, he struck out on his own, making and starring in his own work.

His lead role in Foolish Wives is a bit of a wink to his past.  He plays “Count Wladislaw Sergius Karamzin”, one of a trio of Russian con artists trying to live high on the hog in Monte Carlo between the wars; it’s never established whether he really is a Count, but since his “cousins”, a pair of women on the run from Moscow, certainly aren’t royalty, it’s safe to assume he isn’t either. But they have much of the glitterati fooled, thanks to criminal instincts, a stylish home, and regular visits to a local forger to purchase fake bank notes.

But the Count’s real M.O. is seduction – winning over wealthy women and swindling them out of money.  Their maid, Marushka, is already wrapped around his finger, and throughout the film reminds the Count of his promise that one day they would marry.

However, since she only has a few grand, he has bigger fish to fry. Like, say, the wife of the newest American envoy to the city.

Helen and Andrew Hughes arrive in Monte Carlo amid much pomp and circumstance, and the Count quickly notices that Andrew is a bit older and stodgier than his wife – and both are clearly rich. He gallantly offers Helen his acquaintance so that she has someone to hang out with on the dull days when her husband has diplomatic duties, and Helen readily accepts, soon spending more time with the Count and his “cousins” than she does with Andrew.

On one notable outing, Helen joins the Count and his “Cousin Olga” on a day trip to a small nearby town. While Olga relaxes at an inn, the Count and Helen rent a rowboat to do some exploring.  The Count seems strangely unconcerned about an impending storm, and when it finally strikes, he seems unusually certain that they’ll be able to find shelter in one of the local neighbors’ cottages for the night.  (This isn’t the first time the Count has done this, mind you.)  At first all does seem to be going to plan – they “discover” the peasant woman’s cottage, and she sets up a bed for Helen and relegates the Count to an easy chair – but when both women have fallen asleep, the Count tries making a move – only to be interrupted by a traveling monk who is genuinely lost and in need of shelter.

The party returns to the city the next day; Helen’s husband is unsuspecting, as Olga has sent the message along that all three stayed at the inn for the night.  The Count renews his efforts to win over Helen, further discomfiting Marushka.  The Count is even working on a third conquest – the daughter of their forger, a developmentally disabled girl who is awed by the Count.  It’s clear that the Count sees her as just a bit of skirt on the side, though.

Finally, The Count makes a plan to corner Helen during a society ball, whisk her to another room for an intimate dinner and put the moves on her there.  If she gives in, he’ll have made his score – if she resists, she can be blackmailed for being alone with him.  Luckily for the Count, it seems Helen is on the verge of giving in – but then Marushka, driven mad by jealousy, snaps and starts a fire in the tower where the Count and Helen are meeting.  The Count is so panicked at his plans gone awry that when the firemen come to rescue them from the balcony where they are cowering from the flames, he shoves Helen out of the way and jumps to safety first – a fact which Helen notices in the midst of her own panic. She is rescued soon after, though, and whisked off to safety by Alfred.

Things unravel quickly after that – the police soon catch the Count’s “Cousins”, fingering them as a pair of escaped convicts from Moscow.  Marushka has drowned herself from grief after setting the fire. Helen is being tended to by Alfred.  The Count still figures that well, at least he can try getting some other action, and goes after the forger’s daughter, climbing through her bedroom window – but the forger hears him, kills him, and dumps his body down the sewer.  And thus endeth the Count, and pretty much the movie with him.

The plot felt a bit…slim, and I actually found myself nodding off a few times while watching. But the original run time Von Stroheim had in mind would have been absolutely interminable – he originally wanted the film to run a full six hours.  The studio said no, however; especially after seeing the bill for the shots that von Stroheim was doing – using real caviar in meal scenes, taking copious takes of each scene for “safety”….instead of six hours, the film clocks in at a bit more respectable two hours and change.

There is one scene I quite liked, though.  The first time the Count meets Helen is on a hotel balcony; she’s just seen Alfred off with the Prince of Monaco, and has settled in with a book.

The Count follows her, and for the next five minutes proceeds to go to progressively greater lengths to catch her attention – edging closer and closer in his seat, paying a messenger boy to page him “and the louder the better”, and such. But Helen seems to find it ridiculous, pausing each time only to give him a cocked-eyebrow glance before returning to her work. Finally  the Count gives up and just asks someone to introduce him to Helen.

I admit I was a little disappointed to see how easily Helen fell for his antics after they were introduced.

Movie Crash Course – Haxan

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1922’s Haxan really tries to go for a mixed audience. Ostensibly, it’s a documentary – billing itself as “A History of Witchcraft Through The Ages”. But director Benjamin Christensen used the then-novel technique of dramatizing certain scenes – and his dramatic recreation have a little too much more nudity, gore and creep-out details to be entirely necessary.

Inspired by a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum he found in a used bookstore, Christensen kicks things off with a dry anthropological lecture, punched up with the occasional illustration, about how different societies held beliefs in evil spirits, including the Judeo-Christian world. By the time Christensen is showing a chart of the celestial spheres and the purported location of heaven, you’re left thinking that this is indeed all pretty stuff, but it sort of feels like a really old junior high film strip.

And then Act 2 starts.

The bulk of the film is taken up with a pair of dramatized sequences demonstrating medieval inquisition practices and folklore about witchcraft and Satan. The Devil appears hither and yon, startling priests and seducing women.  Dog-headed demons urinate on churches. There is a black mass where the parishoners line up to kiss a demon on the backside. A group of women huddles in a basement, mixing potions out of things like dried corpse fingers and cat feces.

And there’s nudity.

And also nudity.

And did I mention: nudity.

Midway through it all, Christensen works in a how-it-usually-happened case of witch hunting, introducing his tale with a scene of a beggar woman asking for food at a middle-class house where the husband is ill.  At first, the kindhearted mistress of the house feeds her.

But a less-sympathetic member of the house suspects the beggar woman of bewitching the master of the house, and accuses of her of witchcraft. However, the tortures of the inquisition lead her to accuse the family back, and before long the mistress of the house is herself imprisoned for suspected witchcraft by the time the sequence ends.

For all its purience, though, Haxan takes a sympathetic view of the medieval witches.  One sequence with our beggar woman points out that she’s older, unmarried, ill, and poor – and who in her condition wouldn’t see the appeal in a belief system that promised to slake those unmet desires?

Christensen also devotes some footage to the tortures imposed on those accused of witchcraft, through a fairly academic illustration of some of the inquisitors’ tools.

Christensen claims that one of the women in his cast wanted to try the thumbscrew, skeptical it would have much of an impact – but he then claims that he elicited “the most shocking confessions” from her through its use.

The last few dramatizations concern a contemporary woman, whose story is intercut with a vignette of a medieval nun.  Both find themselves strangely compelled to commit some transgression; the contemporary woman suffers kleptomania and is compelled to steal a ring at a jewelers’, while the nun is compelled to deface her convent’s altar. And yet the two women are treated very differently, Christensen shows us; the kleptomaniac tearfully returns the ring and checks into a sanitarium, while the nun is confronted by her Mother Superior, but cracks and sparks a riot in the convent.

Both women, Christensen argues, were suffering from psychological pressure rather than demonic.  A more contemporary understanding of mental illness offers a better understanding of the compulsions, anxieties and other social and mental difficulties that would have branded women as witches in the past. The film closes with a few scenes that contrast the cruelties of the inquisition with some scenes of women being treated at sanitariums and fed at homeless shelters, emphasizing the kindness and charity of the modern response.

Audiences didn’t quite know what to make of the film; the nudity was a little too intense for many, and the film didn’t get a showing in the United States for decades.  And some of the demons come across as more ridiculous than anything else; one of the beggar woman’s confessions is that she has given birth to demons, and Christensen “stages” that with a clip of her miming labor as a series of people in animal-headed costumes crawl out from under the table where she lies.  The film’s “Satan” also has a puzzling habit of keeping his tongue continuously stuck out and waggling.

But towards the end, there’s an affecting sequence; a series of portraits of poor, older women whom Christensen said would have been targeted as witches – a woman with Parkinson’s, a woman with one eye, a woman with a hunched back from osteoporosis.   The hunched back, especially, matches with the stereotypical idea of a “witch”, but the woman with the hunch back in the film is a sweet, smiling little woman, patiently turning in a circle so Christensen can film her.  And it reminded me that my own grandmother also had a bit of a hunched back in her 80s as well.  It drove home hard the notion that Christensen was going for – that nearly all of the women affected by the Inquisition were no doubt just poor and sick older women with no resources who met cruel ends.

The hubba-hubba nudity was no doubt there to pull audiences in, but it also sets audiences up.

Movie Crash Course – Nosferatu

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Oh my word the overacting.

Admittedly, it’s probably no surprise that a 1922 horror/fantasy film about vampires would trend towards the melodramatic.  But all of the leads in Nosferatu are in a constant state of Heavy Emoting – wild laughter, hand-to-forehead swooning, biting-nails recoiling.  Even a simple scene when our hero comes home from a day at work – at the sight of his wife, he’s way more overjoyed than seems necessary.

This young man is our hero, “Thomas Hutter”, a young German realtor who is sent to Transylvania to convince the mysterious “Count Orlock” to invest in property in his town. Unbeknownst to Hutter, his boss, “Knock”, already knows Count Orlock’s supernatural secret, and is hoping his spunky young employee will be a tempting treat. He suggests to Hutter that the abandoned house across the street from where Hutter lives with his wife Helen would be perfect for the count.  Count Orlock agrees – but only after accidentally seeing a portrait of Helen. Handing it back to Hutter, he observes that “your wife has a lovely neck.”

….I’m not going to go into the plot. It’s a vampire movie.  You know the drill.

I can appreciate this film’s historic and critical significance, and yes, Max Schreck’s creepy turn as Count Orlock is notable. But I simply couldn’t get past the melodramatic acting.  One early moment, which no doubt was supposed to be shocking, made me instead laugh out loud – Hutter is in an inn, and casually mentions that he’s heading for Count Orlock’s castle, and – just like the old “E. F. Hutton” ads of the 1970’s – instantly everyone in the crowded inn gasps and turns to him in shock.

That moment also paves the way for a puzzlingly bizarre sequence.  After Hutter announces his travel plans, the innkeeper finally recovers and urges him to stay inside that night “because the werewolf is out tonight.”  Hutter nods thoughtfully – and then we see a few minutes of a hyena roaming around some hills.   Some horses run away from it, it watches them go, then walks off in another direction.  And…..scene.

We never see or hear anything about the werewolf again, and I spent several minutes after distracted by wondering where in the hell they got a hyena for the film.

To be fair, it’s very possible that my perspective was skewed by another, later film I really liked – Shadow of The Vampirewith John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe.  Shadow of The Vampire was a fictional “behind the scenes” story about Nosferatu, supposing that the character actor Max Schreck (played by Dafoe) actually was a vampire all along.   Dafoe is nearly unrecognizeable as the “vampire” Schreck, and Malkovich is perfect as the director.  I’ve also just re-watched this scene from the film, in which Malkovich is shooting Eddie Izzard as “Hutter” – it’s a pretty accurate homage, although Izzard isn’t quite as broad.  But still, something about Dafoe’s take as Schreck – or maybe the implication that it was real – seems creepier than Schreck as the vampire; while creepiest of all is Malkovich’s turn as the director F. W. Murnau, so obsessed with finishing the picture that he knowingly films Schreck murdering his actress just for the sake of a good take.

One final note – coincidentally, just a couple days ago there was yet another take on Nosferatu.  A Brazillian ad agency, who’s had a contract with the Getty film and image library for several years, just launched “The Non-Silent Film“, an interactive website meant to promote Getty’s stock sound library.  The site shows a slightly trimmed-down version of Nosferatu, but has painstakingly developed an entire sound design compiled from Getty’s stock clip library – squeaking doors, footsteps, rooster crows, music, crowd chatter. No dialogue – they still use the title cards, and just dub in gibberish for the actors’ talking.

I’m Still Here

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This blog has been sputtering along for a while now. The film project has helped, but I haven’t been writing anywhere near as much as I’d like, and as much as I used to once upon a time.

The fact is that my day job has had a great deal to do with that; I’m doing something unsuited to me, for too little money, and I’ve been trying to do that for too long.  The hopeful note is that I’m trying to do something about that, however, and there are some hopeful signs that things could change for the better very, very soon.  But “very, very soon” is not yet, and that leaves me sort of stiff-upper-lipping my way through the days.  Which gets hard.

My immediate supervisor is aware of, and endorses, my attempt to change – he agrees that I’m not in a job that fits me.  Others I know outside of work have also offered to help.  But someone recently gave me advice that maybe didn’t work in quite the way they thought it would; they implied that I wasn’t being aggressive enough in my search.  Which stunned me, because I’d just told them in the breath before about the list of multiple job interviews I was about to have that very week. But the “advice” he gave me, nevertheless, was “less blogging, more job hunting.”

It took a minute – but I got well and truly pissed.  One of the reasons I told him, long ago, that I wasn’t satisfied with my job was because I didn’t have the brainpower to do much blogging; it was a part of me that was missing and I wanted it back.  And yet, here he was telling me not to do the very thing that was helping me feel most like “me”.

I chewed on that for most of the rest of that day, had a sulky dinner and went to sleep.  And I woke up determined to keep blogging, to get a job even faster and get out of there.  And I had a whole new motto in my head – “I’m me, so fuck you.”  Trying to have fun and trying to do the things I enjoy is just as important. It reminds me that I am not just trying to survive, but I am also trying to thrive.  And that I deserve both.

I’m going to devote some time this weekend to prepping for an interview.  But I am also going to spend it polishing up the house and baking, reading, and defiantly being me.



Movie Crash Course: Nanook of the North

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I’d heard the skeptical talk about Robert Flaherty’s documentary Nanook of the North well before watching it; how some of the shots may have been staged, how the family depicted in the film wasn’t even a real family.  Flaherty, who first encountered the Inuit while working as a prospector sent to the Hudson Bay, didn’t even want to do a film with a storyline at first; he just used the camera to capture bits of action here and there among the Inuit, recording their daily way of life.  However – as he explains during a series of lengthy title cards at the outset of the film – he thought that made for a boring moviegoing experience.  So he returned to the Hudson Bay as a proper filmmaker, and chose to follow the life of a specific hunter – Nanook by name – and his family, capturing what he breathlessly describes as “a story of life and love in the actual Arctic”.

So before we go on, let’s set some things straight.

  • “Nanook” isn’t even the name of the central character. He was an Inuit named Allakariallak.
  • Allakariallak’s “wife”, “Nyla,” was not actually his wife.  Nor, so far as we can ascertain, was her name Nyla – it was Alice.  And she wasn’t Allakariallak’s wife – she was instead Flaherty’s mistress.  Another woman in the film, “Cunayou”, was another paramour of Flaherty’s; her real name is not known, and the film glosses over her specific relationship to “Nanook”.
  • At the time Flaherty was filming, the Inuit had begun using guns, but Flaherty insisted on filming his cast hunting with spears. There is also an extended sequence at a “white man’s trading post” where a white trader plays “Nanook” a record on a gramophone, and he marvels at it – then, bizarrely, tries to eat the record.  In reality, Allakariallak knew exactly what a gramophone was.
  • During the film’s introduction titles, Flaherty claims that shortly after filming, Nanook had starved to death on the tundra after a failed hunt. In reality, Allakariallak had most likely died at home, in a cabin, of tuberculosis.


I knew about the staged bits going in; but the scripted bits also stand out pretty starkly.  There’s that business with the gramophone, and another meandering couple minutes’ worth of business after Nanook’s children have been sampling sweets at the trading post, which ostensibly gives one child a stomach ache and has to be treated with castor oil; “Nyla” talks to the trader a lot as the child dutifully stands with hands on his stomach, waiting for his dose, and then the camera zooms in a little close on his face waiting for his reaction.  …And there really isn’t much of one, so I’m assuming the kid’s acting chops kind of ran out.

For the most part of the film, though, it’s more footage than narrative; lengthy sequences as we watch Nanook and his family catch fish, hunt walrus and seal, or build an igloo. Nyla and Cunayou boil water for stew, the children slide down hills and play tug-of-war with seal flippers.  And it is these sequences – when Flaherty gets the hell out of the way and lets things just happen – that caught my eye most.

Two scenes in particular were actually a bit moving; scenes with Nanook and his children. In one, Nanook is patiently and proudly trying to teach a little boy how to use a bow and arrow, and has even made a tiny polar bear out of snow for him to use as a target.


Another sequence was even shorter – a child with a puppy and a toy sledge, coaxing the puppy to pull the sledge behind it.  For an inexplicable reason, I was profoundly touched watching him, imagining what his childhood and life would ultimately be like.  I found myself hoping he lived a long life and passed with ease.

And that is probably exactly what Flaherty wanted to happen. He was just trying to stack the deck with some staged sequences to grab his audience’s attention, or to give the story some structure.

This is the thing about documentaries, though, isn’t it?  Nearly a century later, another film about life at the poles was introduced by Morgan Freeman as being “the incredible true story of a family’s journey to bring life into the world”.  Prior to the film, Emperor penguins were going about their business at their end of the world, and we were going about ours, not giving much thought to them.  Maybe there would be the occasional clip of footage on a nature show which we’d idly have on the background while making dinner or something. But that same footage presented as a movie, with a narrative to follow, and suddenly everyone was well and truly obsessed.

Flaherty almost certainly went too far with his tweaking, but he was probably on to something.