Forced Post

I am forcing myself to write this post, because I haven't written in days and days.  I feel terrible about that, but I've been busy living life!  Also, I haven't felt inspired to write, but now I'm thinking that I need to just make myself get back into it. So, today I will write about Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents is a half hour television show that ran from 1955 to 1965.  The opening sequence is perhaps my favorite part of the broadcast, as it features Alfred himself engaged in a kind of strange tableau, making jokes with us (the audience) about things that may or may not be related to the short story which follows.  Sometimes, these little sketches are perfectly random, having nothing whatsoever to do with the program's content.  Other times, Hitchcock will find some funny way of incorporating an element of the story into his little set-up, and we will be made even more anxious for the ultimate reveal.  Also, the theme music is Charles Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionettewhich I just love and which my mom has in a Halloween music maker.

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The story at the heart of each episode of Presents can be atmospheric and unsettling, or it can be silly and overacted.  Even the campiest of the stories are vastly entertaining, though.  If you are an old movie buff, or if you grew up when this series first came out, you will recognize a ton of older actors.  That is half the fun of the show, picking out actors you know and trying to place them in the context of whatever film or show you first saw them in.

I just got the chance to watch the first third of season two this weekend, but so far my favorite episode is about a woman who is deathly afraid to be alone.  "Fog Closing In" tells the story of a woman who wishes she still lived with her parents.  Mary and her husband live in a big beautiful suburban home, but she doesn't like to be in the house alone, though we aren't quite sure why.  When her husband announces that he must leave for a business trip, she is very visibly upset and tries to get him to stay at least until her housekeeper/companion lady gets there.  He refuses, saying essentially "Get a grip!", and leaves her to her own devices with the parting instructions that she is not to call her parents until after the night rates kick in at 6 pm.

No sooner has he left, than Mary hears a crash in the kitchen, which is at the back of the house.  She looks into the dark kitchen hallway and sees two green eyes glowing back at her.  After racing to switch on the light, she discovers that it's only a neighborhood cat who's gotten in and knocked down a vase.  As she looks around to discover how the cat could have trespassed, she notices that the back door is open a hint and that the lock is broken, as if someone pried their way in.  She turns away from the door, and sees a scared looking man lurking against her kitchen wall.

For some reason she is not afraid of this man, perhaps because he is afraid enough for the both of them.  He explains that he is an escapee from the mental institution up the road and that he doesn't want to go back.  The woman agrees to cover for him and when the thugs from the asylum show up, she shoos the patient out the back door and shows the orderlies around her house.  Once they are satisfied that their patient isn't there, they leave and said patient sneaks back in. Mary confesses that she has the same dream every night.  In it, she is in her bedroom and hears heavy footsteps slowly coming up the stairs towards her.  She says that she always wakes up right before she sees who it is, but that she knows this is how she will die.

The story ends with the escapee leaving, the woman going up to the bedroom to call her parents, and then heavy footsteps on the stair.  Slowly a figure comes around the bend and by the time we can see who it is, the woman has grabbed a gun from her nightstand and fired a fatal shot.  We pan down to see it was her husband, having come back presumably to check on her after he heard about the escaped patient.  She steps over his body, picks up the phone, and says, "Hello?  Daddy?  Yes, everything is fine now, Daddy.  I can come home now."

I love female madness and this story, while short, summed up the tragedy of a woman who never really wanted to leave home, and who finally found what she thought was a way back.

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And with that I will say, "Good night."

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Crimson Peak

I finally got around to watching Crimson Peak last week.  This is a Guillermo del Toro film about a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) who falls in love with a mysterious inventor (Tom Hiddleston), only to discover that his family has a dark and sordid past from which she cannot escape.  The story checks off every gothic trope box with a Belluccian flourish, featuring the ruinous old manor, poisoned tea, tortured leading man, and bookish heroine you've come to expect from the genre.  In fact, this movie exemplifies Victorian Gothicism so completely, that I was left wishing there had been just a hint of something incongruous, maybe a woman with a scandalous past, or an exotic colonial setting.  As it was, the film is just a good old fashioned tale of murder, madness, and mayhem.

Fortunately, this movie quickly dispels you of the notion that it might be an innovative take on Gothic romance, so that by the 20 minute mark you have a choice to either suspend your critical filter and continue watching it as you would a cheap and dirty soap opera, or huff and puff about how overwrought and duplicative this piece of macabre smut is and throw your remote at the TV.  I chose to stick with it and enjoy the blood smeared historical costuming and pale, trembling kisses.  Also, this bathroom:

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The plot:

(Spoiler Alert)

Baronet Thomas Sharpe meets Edith in America, where he goes to pitch his invention for a clay mining machine to her father (an investor).  His creation has been rejected everywhere else and America is a last ditch effort to make the money he needs to restore his family's crumbling estate, Allerdale Hall, in England.  We find out that Thomas has been manipulated by his older sister, Lucille, to marry women before Edith, then let his sister kill them, and use their money to maintain Allerdale.  We also learn that Lucille killed her and Thomas's mother and spent time in an asylum as a girl.  In her defense, the mother was a horrible woman who pretty much kept her children locked in the attic (stunting their development and isolating them to the point that they started having sex with each other).  The first victim of the film is Edith's father, whose inheritance must be untimely passed down to his daughter in order for her marriage to be lucrative for the Sharpe siblings.

Unfortunately for Lucille, Thomas falls in love with Edith, a first for him, and begs Lucille not to kill her.  He is very close to perfecting his clay mining invention and tells her he thinks he can finally entice investors and save the estate through legitimate means.  But Lucille is obsessed with keeping Thomas for herself, and by the end it's not about the money, it is about love.  The final scene consists of Thomas confessing his love for Edith to Lucille, and the sobbing, wild eyed, Lucille plunging a knife deep into her brother's heart, at which point I spontaneously broke out into Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" ("…I don't want nobody baby").

Edith is weak from poisoned tea that Lucille has been generously brewing for her, but when she discovers Thomas's body, Edith miraculously finds the strength to go after his murderer.  The title of the movie comes from the nickname given to Allerdale Hall. The manor is built atop an abundance of red clay, causing a rusty colored sediment to ooze up from beneath the ground and seep even into the snow, making the house look as if it is situated in a pool of blood.  Lucille lures Edith out into the blood colored snow and proceeds to play a grim game of hide and seek, during which she terrifyingly flies out from behind Thomas's mining equipment to take a hatchet swing at Edith.  Thomas hasn't quite left the premises, however, and his ghost gives Lucille the distraction that finally allows Edith to kill her.

While this whole thing has been going on, a young man who worked with Edith's father, Alan, has discovered the Sharpe's grisly past, and come to save Edith from her horrible fate.  Lucille goads Thomas into (almost) killing him, and I rather wish he had, for we are to conclude that he and Edith end up together after they are rescued from Allerdale as the only remaining survivors.  Alan is dull, and while I should be glad that Edith ends up with a loving and stable young man, I would have much preferred she be forever haunted by the ghost of her fatally flawed Thomas.  Picture it: arresting in a thin white nightgown, Edith pacing the halls of that dilapidated mansion, living just for glimpses of him, while constantly harassed by the ghoulish Lucille.  Oooooh yes!

So, I liked Crimson Peak enough to watch the whole thing, but it borrowed too directly from classic literature, and was a bit heavy-handed with the gore, for my taste. However, if you like acutely puffed sleeves and gallery walls, I would recommend this as a worthwhile example of both.

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Writing Therapy

I found out today that the new girl in my office loves Frog and Toad!  In case you don't know who Frog and Toad are, please let me enlighten you.

Frog and Toad are an amphibious couple (speculation abounds) that have their own separate homes in the forest, but who spend most of their time together; giving into a shared appetite for cookies and dips in the nearby swimming hole. The creator of these characters, Arnold Lobel, came out as gay in 1974 and tragically died from Aids only 13 years later.  It hurts my heart to think of this, as Lobel's stories are so beautiful, yet fragile, brave, yet fearful, that I can't help but think of my brother (who suffers from severe health problems related to treatment he received for leukemia, and who is also gay) and all LGBT people who live in this world still full of bigotry and hate, without being free from illness or the other tragedies that can touch any human, regardless of sexual orientation.  To me it seems colossally unfair. Being human is a minefield of horrors already, why add unnecessary hate to the mix for certain types of people, especially ones that tend to be more creative and add more beauty to the world?

Lobel once explained why he wrote children's stories, "You know, if an adult has an unhappy love affair, he writes about it. He exorcises it out of himself, perhaps, by writing a novel about it. Well, if I have an unhappy love affair, I have to somehow use all that pain and suffering but turn it into a work for children."  You couldn't make a living by writing openly gay fiction in the 1950's and 60's, especially if you were married with two young children.

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So, Lobel created Frog and Toad.  Frog and Toad's anecdotes deal with the mundane, but they are infused with such a lazy-summer-day melancholy that even as a child you end up in a languid and retrospective mood by the end of the stories, a la Brideshead Revisited, but with amphibians.

After further research, I think it was a wise decision on Lobel's part to disguise his expression of a loving homosexual relationship as a platonic friendship between a frog and a toad. Evelyn Waugh, author of Brideshead, was abused by the media for his effeminacy and avante garde adoption of less conservative moral codes.  One reporter referred to Evelyn as "Miss Waugh" in a review of his work and Waugh suffered a mental breakdown in 1954.  But then he did exactly what writers do.  He wrote a book about it, titled "The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold"!  Writing is one of the best, and cheapest, therapies around, and if you're good at it, well, why not make a profit off your pain?

 

Update: this morning I found this in my mailbox at work:

There is a Frog and Toad story in which Toad is very sad because he never gets any mail, so Frog writes him a letter. Art imitating life imitating art…

Ready for Fall

I am so ready for Autumn this year.  It wasn't a particularly hot summer, and I LOVE going to the beach and having cook outs, but the cooling weather and shortening days are getting me in the mood to be cozy!  I have the perfect apartment for Fall, too.  I've got a fireplace which, even though it doesn't work, has a faux electric burning log that makes crackling sounds.  There is a front room, which I (probably pretentiously) call the 'parlor', and my boyfriend bought a burnt orange area rug for it that makes the wall color look more sage than moss and gives the whole room the feeling of being atop a pumpkin.

We also have the perfect kitchen for entertaining, with an island that seats a couple of people so they can keep me company while I cook.  Last year we hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas at the apartment, and I'm really excited to do that again this year.  And baking!  One of my favorite Autumn activities is baking, and I can already taste the fresh picked apple crisps and pumpkin pies that will soon be cooling on the counter.

I love to decorate, and there is no time of year more in keeping with my color scheme than Fall.  Orange, brown, crimson…they just melt into the patina of antique brass and ivory lace doilies.  September means I will start knitting again.  Hopefully making some Christmas presents for people (a goal I have every year, but never seem to achieve). Then there will be Halloween crafts and treats to make!  Hot cider to drink and fall walks in the woods to go on.  I can't wait!

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Night Moves

I found this at the local record store a couple of weeks ago and it wasn't even a question whether or not I was going to buy it. I mean, look at it:

Obviously, this needed to be mine. To the chagrin of my significant other, I decided to forgo the gym this evening and practice my night moves instead.

Here is a small sampling of what I've been doing for the last hour….

Now, before you judge my pink cheeks too harshly, please keep in mind that the room I'm practicing in is not air conditioned and is cut off from the rest of the (significantly cooler) apartment.

So far, I've learned the cross step, the two step turn, the four beat complete turn, the Freak, the Worm, and the Slide. For the second half of the book I need a partner and I'm just not sure to what extremes I would have to go in order to bribe my BF into filling that role, so for now my practice shall remain solo. But if anyone wants to stop by and cut a few rugs with me, I promise not to judge your moves and to play only late Bee Gees (none of that "I started a joke" crap!).

A Brief History of the Early 20th Century Kimono

Today I am sporting my short silk kimono, what I’ve come to think of as my ‘sensible typist shoes’, a long tasseled necklace, and a Grecian style dress.  Some days I enjoy dressing in costume so subtle that people can’t actually tell if it’s intentional or not.  I’m hoping that folks do a bit of a double take when they see me, because I look out of time, not out of place so much as out of time.  Time period, I should clarify, not ‘out of time’ as in, “God, she looks like she’s about to drop dead!”

Anyway, I’m going for a subtle early 1920’s look, right when the the Japanese influenced curves and sensuality of Art Nouveau was beginning to give way to the geometry and architectural severity of Art Deco.  The kimono is the focal point of my outfit, and so I’ve decided to do a bit of research on why this article of clothing made such a resurgence in the first few decades of the twentieth century.

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Art Nouveau, or ‘new art’ developed right before the turn of the century, when exhibitions and industrialization were figuratively closing the gap between regions of people, and objects and ideas from faraway places became more accessible. Think the World Fairs in Chicago and Paris. The industrial revolution effected growth in the middle classes of America and Western Europe, with many people enjoying expendable income for the first time in their lives. Meanwhile, farm to factory migration unintentionally spawned meccas of culture and art where innovation and creativity flourished. This movement of people, coupled with upward economic mobility, and exposure to exotic inspirations, conceived the shape focused, Oriental flavor of Art Nouveau.

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Americans and Europeans, the French in particular, became obsessed with Japanese art. They admired the artist’s focus, their exactness and level of craftsmanship, attention to detail and strictness of line, which expressed a dedication to aesthetics and almost antithetical perfecting of organic beauty that appealed to the newly industrialized world. While people went ga ga for mechanization, they still embraced the pastoral innocence and Victorian romance of previous years.  Kimonos expressed this dichotomy, plus the newfound fascination with Japanese style, and became extremely fashionable among women of the upper and upper middle classes.

Western culture loved the straight lines of the kimono, because they reinforced Art Nouveau ideals.  Inspired by women’s recent entrance into the workforce, and subsequent partial liberation, this era of dress was overtly feminist, valuing loose construction and shape-creating drapery, over the corseted restriction of previous decades.

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Then came war.

Quickly, the ethereal beauty of Nouveau was replaced with a harder style.  Art Deco was born, with its sleek, almost nihilistic, re-imagining of the disillusioned, post war, world. Though architecturally severe, Art Deco was indulgent in its opulence, providing an escape from and response to prohibition, economic depression, war, and increasing commercialism.  Americans and Western Europeans craved decadence in the aftermath of WWI, and kimonos held their spot at the top of the chic ensemble as an expression of post-apocolypse, devil-may-care attitudes.  They were worn while drinking champagne in a speakeasy, throwing your fun in the face of a self-destructing world.

I think it is the kimono’s representation of this era’s aggressive refusal to fear death and fierce attempt to suspend reality that appeals to me most.  There is something dramatic and rapturous; delicious and vindicating, about shaking jazz hands at the horrible things in life.

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The Swan Thieves

I just finished Elizabeth Kostova’s book The Swan Thieves, which was recommended to me by my friend, Katie Gilley.  It was mesmerizing almost to the point of being unhealthy. Some books are like that. They co-opt your mind and disconnect you from the physical world in which you must keep on keeping on, making it hard to differentiate between your feelings and those of the characters. I was in a bit of a daze yesterday because of this book.

The story is complicated, but also simple, on a ‘we are all just animals’ level. Robert Oliver is a painter with an obsession. The object of his single-minded distraction is a nineteenth century French artist who stopped painting shortly before her first child was born.  Her name is Beatrice de Clerval, but she painted under a pseudonym.  She had a passionate affair with her husband’s uncle, who is also a painter, and who was a good 3 decades older than Beatrice. I’ll just say it right now: all the main characters in this book are painters and all of the love affairs in this story are between younger women and older men. If that icks you out, well, I suggest you get over it, because off the top of my head I can think of over a dozen pieces of classic literature that feature the Humbert Humbert theme. Unfortunately, I knew girls in college who were tedious enough to succumb to this English professor as mentor and lover fantasy, and so was forced to develop a very strong stomach.

We don’t really know why Robert is obsessed with Beatrice, who died long before he was born, but we recognize the parallels between his life and her own. Beatrice’s lover was Olivier (one letter different than Robert’s last name), she was French (Robert is half French), she lived and worked during the rise of Impressionism (he is a ‘traditionalist with impressionistic tendencies’), they are both painters, and they are both people that others are drawn to, almost magnetically.

The main narrator is Dr. Marlow, who is treating Robert for a terrible case of ‘the Beatrice’. Robert was committed to a psychiatric institute after attempting to attack a painting at the National Gallery of Art. We find out (sort of) why he did this, but unless you buy into his obsession, you’ll probably be left a bit underwhelmed by the ending of the book. In a twist, in the process of trying to treat Robert, Dr. Marlow himself becomes sick with ‘the Beatrice’ and crosses basically every ethical boundary known to man in an attempt to find out her story, and therefore Robert’s.

In my mind, the best parts of this book are the women’s recollections of life with their men. We hear Robert’s ex wife, Kate, and his former art student/lover, Mary, wax poetic about Robert’s genius and unintended Narcissism. Beatrice herself, through letters to Olivier, shares her most intimate thoughts about her lover/mentor, as well as her poor husband. The women’s voices are believable and sickeningly relate-able in how they waft between satisfying independence and (almost) obsessive love for these men (who are never really theirs). When I was reading these chapters, I had to catch my breath several times, because I just felt whatever they described feeling.

I would definitely recommend this book, if only for the descriptions of art, artist’s retreats, and liberal arts colleges.  It was an intense, colorful experience that you absorbed more than understood, like a beautiful painting.

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Check out the book here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5983057-the-swan-thieves