cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (misunderstood)
This isn't exactly a Friday Faves installment. I wanted to do something Halloweenie, but there's no way I can list my favorite horror movies, books, stories, or anything. I love too many things. I didn't want to randomly recommend "movies to watch on Halloween," either, since everyone's tastes are different and our moods affect what we want to watch when.

I can't remember the last time a horror movie actually scared me. Revolted, yes. Saddened, yes. Lately I've been thinking, Even if a movie were to scare me, it wouldn't be enough. I want art that makes me think. With that in mind, I've paired up horror movies into double features that excite my "compare 'n' contrast" tendencies. Maybe you'll find something in this list to satisfy your itch, whatever that may be.

1. Carnival of Souls (1962) and Donnie Darko (2001 but set in the '80s) -- Carnival of Souls is a black-and-white, low-budget, minimally-cast thriller starring the absolutely luminous Candace Hilligoss. Donnie Darko is a full-color, big (enough) budget spec film, with a star-studded ensemble cast and Jake Gyllenhaal in the title role. Both movies focus on a person out of synch with the rest of the world, but in Carnival the consequences are individual, insular; in Donnie Darko, everyone is affected. Both films are spookier than they are graphic, although there are some brief moments of gore in the R-rated Donnie.

2. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, set in 1900) and Here Comes the Devil (2013) -- In both of these films, children on a holiday outing explore a mountain and something goes wrong. The PG-rated Picnic is less forthcoming about what exactly happened, obscuring with ethereal atmospherics apropos for late-Victorian repression, whereas the unrated Here Comes the Devil graphically depicts sex and violence. And yet, neither really explains why the tragedy unfolds. Perhaps the characters offend the genius loci? Maybe some places are just bad? Either way, both films are unsettling in their ambiguity.

3. The Descent (2005) and The Babadook (2014) -- On the surface, these are very different movies. The Descent follows women on a spelunking adventure who get lost in an unexplored series of tunnels. The tunnels are inhabited by humanoid cryptids and as the women fight to get back to the surface, they die in various brutal, bloody ways. The Babadook is about a grieving woman trying to survive daily life with her acutely sensitive child, who finds a book about a bogeyman-type monster that he thereafter insists is threatening their tiny, broken family. The Descent is a hard-R, with monsters and gore, while The Babadook works up to its R rating with psychological, real-world horror. But both movies are woman-centered explorations of grief in a world where bad things happen to good people, and they keep on happening.

4. Somos Lo Que Hay (2010) and We Are What We Are (2013) -- The connection between these two flicks is clear: The latter is an American remake of the former, which is Mexican. And I'm going to have to spoil it for you, because I don't think it's fair to send you into a movie and not warn you that it depicts  cannibalism. What's interesting about this pair is how very different the movies are, despite the shared premise. Somos takes place in a city; We Are has a rural setting. The family is complicated in Somos; in We Are, it seems a pretty straight-forward, misogynist patriarchy. I think Somos is about a lot of things (economics, power dynamics, ritual and modernity, homosexuality, nature versus nurture, etc) but We Are opts for a narrower, easier to understand focus. For extra "food for thought," maybe watch Jug Face (2013), about a young woman who tries to escape her rural community when she falls afoul of its peculiar customs.

5. Pontypool (2008) and Berberian Sound Studio (2012) -- I love both these stories because they are obsessed with sound in a highly-visual medium. Former radio shock jock Grant Mazzy hates his new assignment in Pontypool, a small rural Canadian community. A mild-mannered sound engineer, Gilderoy hates his new job creating the sound effects for The Equestrian Vortex, which is not a movie about horses, as he imagined, but a gruesome giallo flick. In Pontypool, a bizarre virus infects the town and Mazzy and the other employees of the local radio station must piece together the truth from conflicting reports, incoherent witnesses, and mysterious military injunctions. In Berberian Sound Studio, Gilderoy is an innocent adrift, desperately trying to hold together his reality even as it merges with the grisly fantasy he's forced to help create. Both films interrogate the gaps between sounds and meaning, facsimiles and reality, consensus/objectivity and dissent/subjectivity.

So there you have it: some brain candy to accompany your Halloween candy. I wish you a pleasant mix of tricks and treats. Happy Halloween!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee addicted)
I feel like I've done so much, it has to be February already, but I don't want it to be February yet, because then I'd be behind. Hi, my name is Lisa and I have more than two problems.

I just finished reading Easy Street (The Hard Way) by Ron Perlman with Michael Largo. I liked it a lot, but it's not a good book, per se. As I've learned from watching DVD commentaries, there's usually a reason an actor is an actor and not a writer. Perlman is a great storyteller though, and I've always admired his work. My gram watched the nighttime soap Beauty and the Beast, which put him on my radar, and over the years I came to think of him as "the guy who can act through all the makeup." I loved him in Cronos and The City of Lost Children, and I perked up whenever I saw him in some low-budget flick because he classed the place up. I was really glad when his ship (also known as Guillermo del Toro) came in, and the Perl got some well-deserved recognition.

(I enjoyed him in the first few seasons of Sons of Anarchy, too, until the Hamlet redux got lost and I couldn't stand any of the characters anymore. Not coincidentally, Perlman is very brief, and generously discreet I think, about his SOA experiences.)

Though a fan, I had no idea Perlman was married and has two grown children. I'd really love to read his wife's side of the story. She must be amazing. I understand her desire for privacy, but there's next to nothing about how women have affected his life. All his heroes, men. All his mentors, men. All his cohorts, men. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, given his macho persona, but in an autobiography, the absence of women echoes.

Nor did I know that Perlman had battled clinical depression or that his older brother was bipolar and committed suicide. This is another reason the book resonated for me as it might not for other readers. As laced with cliche as some of his recovery talk is, there's profundity to the cliche for fellow creatives facing the same battles. And Perlman expresses such deep respect for and joy in the arts, it's hard not to feel buoyed by his encouragements.

In way other news, my read-aloud with Tweetie is Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler. Fiedler doesn't talk down to her readers, which makes the story delightful on the sentence level. I currently identify so hard with the (thus-far) minor character Pinkie, the protag-mouse's little sister, who has extreme anger issues. Imagine Lilo from Lilo and Stitch, but she uses more teeth.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hansel and gretel)
My read-aloud with Tweetie of The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry continues at a good clip. The characters are not as dastardly as the cover copy would have you think. The parents are comically terrible and die at a distance while the story focuses on the children, who are not so different from most kids, as is proven by their sweetly growing relationship with Nanny. I believe the book is styled after Lemony Snicket's "Unfortunate Events" series, which I've not read, but it reminds me of Roald Dahl. Next up is The Fast and The Furriest by Andy Behrens, which I bought for Tweetie a while back and which is now on the ballot for the Iowa Children's Choice Book Award.

On the adult nonfiction front, I've made only a smidge of progress with On the Rim of Mexico. The "Asymmetry" chapter is easier for me than the Peso one, but I've needed comfort reading this week.

Thus I began and finished Story of the Scene: The Inside Scoop on Famous Moments in Film by Roger Clarke. At only one page of text per scene (although Clarke felt Spartacus warranted 2 scenes), it was a fast read and informative. I'm a movie lover, if not a cinephile, and yet I was learning things throughout the book. I laughed, I "huh!"ed, I scowled. The entries are arranged alphabetically, which was unfortunate, for several reasons but most obviously because it means ending with a James Bond film, You Only Live Twice. There were a few scenes included more because they are iconic scenes than because Clarke provides any new or especially interesting background, but not too many.

Clarke chose a rather "macho" spread of movies, and it's telling which scenes involving women make the cut: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet, Sissy Spacek in Carrie, Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. Not Sally Field in Norma Rae or Meryl Streep in Silkwood, for example. Though two Marilyn Monroe movies make the list, Clarke writes with such disdain for Monroe that I was irked. ...I think I just talked myself down from the 4 stars I gave this book on Goodreads.

Fictionwise, I've been loving There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton. What I like best so far about its depiction of Civil War-era America is that everyone and everything we encounter has a story, a point of view, a personality and desire--even the dead, even the animals, even the houses. And yet the story never feels bogged down in those details. Patty, a wickedly wise puppetmaster, plays a light hand over the myriad strings.

Now I'm thinking that comfort reads must be as various as comfort foods. What are your comfort reads? What kind of books do you turn to when you're feeling sad or sick or overwhelmed?
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (thinking bros)
In the hopes of filling in some of Tweetie's pop culture gaps, we've been rewatching old movies.

One was Ghostbusters, which we'd tried to share with her when she was much too young. For some scenes, she was maybe still too young. I always forget the ghostly succubus going down on one of the ghostbusters! In my defense, I may forget because it's not of a piece with the rest of the film. (Kind of like that one scene in Evil Dead.) I think Tweetie liked the movie in general. There were spooky parts but she got through them by speculating with her papa about how the special effects people had made things happen. And she jeered at the quality of the CGI.

We also watched The Addams Family (1991), so Tweetie would understand papa's joke about Girl Scout cookies being made with real Girl Scouts. She liked this movie better, not least because of Wednesday, so we'll probably watch the sequel soon.

A movie J and I watched without Tweetie was World War Z. I'd read the book and couldn't imagine how it'd be translated from an epistolary story with multiple, international, POVs to a big budget CGI extravaganza. Basically, they didn't. They opted to focus on one continent-hopping ex-UN guy, which worked surprisingly well. Brad Pitt has a good "listening" face, no doubt related to his real-world activism. During one scene, when he listens to an Israeli official explain why Israel hadn't been overrun by zombies, I forgot for a split second that I wasn't watching a documentary.

Despite the theme, opening credits, and plenty of suspenseful moments, I didn't consider WWZ a horror movie. The thing I liked best about it was that our hero's "super powers" were his powers of observation, his ability to observe even under horrific circumstances. There were plenty of shots of Pitt looking, listening, reasoning. Frankly, it kind of reminded me of how the camera lingered over Steve McQueen's thoughtful face in Bullitt, another action-y movie you wouldn't expect to find respect for mental prowess. And rather than being punished for seeing too much or too deeply, as would happen in most horror movies, Pitt's character eventually triumphs. In that regard, it's more of a mystery thriller: will our hero put together enough clues quickly enough to save his family and the world?!

My reluctance to categorize WWZ as a horror movie forced me to reexamine my criteria. It wasn't just that I didn't find WWZ frightening. I expect horror movies to promote the idea of forbidden knowledge--that there are some things humans aren't meant to see or know or understand. You look too close, you die. You read the book, you die. You recite the words, and your soul can only be saved through the act of bodily dismemberment. (back to Evil Dead, again) To be fair, in WWZ, the hero never actually determines where the zombie "virus" originated, so that may count as forbidden knowledge. But the hero gets off pretty easy, considering horror movie traditions.

The only exception to this heretofore unexamined criteria of mine that I've been able to think of is Suspiria, which is quite definitely horror, but also has a mystery component to it. The heroine accidentally sees things that turn out to be clues, and as the movie progresses, she does some actual investigation that permits her to fight the evil. Perhaps what makes the difference in my mind is that the camera's gaze in WWZ is clinical, scientific, dispassionate, whereas Suspiria's is fetishistic, lurid, even gleeful. While WWZ is very invested in what happens inside human bodies, on a cellular level, Suspiria is more interested in what happens when the interior becomes exterior on a celluloid level.

I'm not done thinking about what makes a horror movie a horror movie, but if I waited to blog about it until I was done...well, I'd probably look like the Cryptkeeper or be blogging from the great beyond. :)

Your thoughts welcome in comments!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (dancing bones)
Yesterday I knew I wouldn't get any writing done, but I was having a premenstrual power surge, so I continued The Culling. Basically, JJ and I have finally discovered our housepride, and we've been getting rid of a ton of stuff (books, movies, electronics, old toys and crafting supplies, etc). So much so, that Tweetie asked me the other day, "Are we just going to keep cleaning for three months?" (Not sure where she got the three months idea)

We sorted out our DVDs, some we'd never even opened, and I decided to finally watch Stop Making Sense, the concert movie by Talking Heads. Before long, I realized how much bands like OK Go have been influenced by David Byrne's concert-as-performance art. I don't feel the need to keep the DVD, so off it goes to be sold for the women's retreat fund. But in the special features was a "David Byrne interviews David Byrne" skit and two things he said really struck me.

First, discussing the big suit, he said he wanted to make his head look smaller (I guess because of the "stop making sense" theme?) and one way to do that was to make his body bigger, which was apropos because, in art and music, the body often understands before the head does. I sat up and paid more attention.

Later, he asked himself how he could be a singer when he didn't have a good voice, and he replied, "The better the singer's voice, the harder it is to believe what they're saying." Which I loved for being the EXACT OPPOSITE of the received wisdom, and for the matter-of-fact way he delivered this countercultural truth without a trace of cynicism.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (morena baccarin)
Last week I wrote about stereotypes regarding Latinas. This time I'm thinking about the men. It occurs to me that the stereotypes about women revolve around sex and those about men concern work. There's some overlap, of course (the Mexican maid, the Latin lover), but I wonder if the tendency to lump into those two groups reflects USian obsessions or my own observation biases.

By far the most prevalent Latino stereotype I see in fiction and movies is the gangbanger. I don't even know what to do with that. Can we just call a moratorium on writing Latino gang members?

If you write crime fic, if you've researched real gangs and their methods of operation, if you portray a range of Latin@ characters—individuals versus groups, I might give you a pass. Under those circumstances, you're less likely to mistake fashion (or camouflage) for a uniform, or confuse safety-in-numbers for gangs. For example, in INK by Sabrina Vourvoulias, anti-immigrant legislation has essentially criminalized the existence of most non-whites in the near-future US. Vourvoulias portrays a range of covert communities, including Latino gangs. Although not POV characters, the gang leaders Toño and Neto are portrayed sympathetically and distinctly.

Richard Kadrey veers from the gangbanger stereotype in Sandman Slim with his portrayal of Carlos, the owner of the Bamboo House of Dolls, "LA's greatest and only punk-tiki bar." Carlos has a physique that suggests ex-football player or boxer, but he has an aversion to guns. Carlos admits he did time for boosting cars as a kid, but he seems to have been on the straight and narrow since. He asks the main character to deal with the skinheads demanding protection money from him. It's refreshing that he doesn't have recourse to friends or relatives who are gang members.

When writing about different eras, take care not to fall into the gang member stereotype under another guise. For example, if your story is set in 1940s California, think twice about making your sole Latino character a gangster in a zoot suit. Likewise, don't assume futuristic drug cartels will use the same distribution pathways used now, or that a drug kingpin must always be brown.

The flipside of the Latino gang member is the Latino cop or military guy. With a backstory of struggling against the evil influences of drugs and gangs, the Latino cop or soldier represents the "good" minority who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and seeks to help his community. Grimm just featured one of these guys in its "El Cucuy" episode. Most representations of these "good guy" Latinos, especially the military types, ignore the social realities that guide Latinos into those careers, nor do they question the morality of police or military work.

"Jorge Mariscal, Ph.D., director of Chicano/a studies and professor of literature at University of California San Diego, has researched Latinos in the military and says that there are three basic reasons Latinos join–the lack of opportunities to pursue other careers since education is being priced out for many working class people, a tradition of military service in many families, and the appealing masculinity attached to serving. He points out that the highest percentage of Latinos is in the Marine Corps, which is often considered 'the baddest gang in the world.'" [emphasis mine; source]

From the same source: "the army intentionally uses Latino recruiters in Latino areas, and…to get families on board, recruiters often make home visits, which is very rare in the recruitment of other nationalities."

Agent Carlos Delacruz in Daniel Jose Older's Salsa Nocturna is a welcome departure from typical Latino cops. In fact, when reading Carlos's stories, one realizes how rare it is to hear a Latino tell his own story, cop or otherwise.  Although definitely one of the good guys, Carlos is matter-of-fact about his bosses not being awesome. We get an insider's view of the racism and power politics involved in the supernatural equivalent of the NYPD.

Private First Class Vasquez in ALIENS is memorable largely because she's a genderswap of the stereotypically macho Marine. But the critique of military force in ALIENS is important, too. And though Vasquez falls on the wrong side of that critique, she is shown dealing with sexism and mourning the death of one of her comrades. So she rises above the usual Latin@ (and action-hero) caricatures.

Latinos are often portrayed as lazy. This folds into the gangbanger stereotype, as the typical gang member is shown holding up a wall until called upon to fight or commit some crime. Ironically, in the double-think common to prejudice, alongside the cartoon Mexican who sleeps under a sombrero against a cactus (because I guess we don't feel pain like white folks?), we often have the martyred migrant farmworker. Cowardly, powerless, and/or ignorant, the downtrodden farmworkers need a charismatic savior to advocate for and organize them. (Mulder and Scully showed up to investigate once, because chupacabras, but the agents did nothing for the workers' living conditions.)

Cesar Chavez notwithstanding (incidentally, did you know he served in the Navy?), the charismatic labor leader story is a version of the "Great Man" theory of history. As such, it ignores the fact that Latin@s, Mexicans especially, have a long history of union and anarchist organization. Por ejemplo. It would be exciting to see stories that convey an understanding of Latin@ union history, or that portray Latin@ farm owners and their employees, whether those farms operate in the US or elsewhere, past present or future.

Terraforming is common in space opera, yet we don't often see Latin@ characters engaged in that work. Agriculture will be crucial to human survival on other planets, but too often, once ag work achieves that level of sophistication or becomes high-stakes, writers whitewash the workers.

On a slightly different note, the tv show Revolution caught my eye when it introduced Mexican day laborers, with a twist. In Revolution's post-techno-apocalypse, Americans clamor for the opportunity to do physical labor in Mexico. The white protags, who are searching for a family member in Mexico, pose as day laborers to get across the border. Unfortunately, we never see the labor reversal truly developed. Once chosen for farm work and smuggled across the border, the white protags hijack the wagon and head off in a different direction, quickly running afoul of—wait for it!--a Mexican gang.

I said I wasn't going to focus on the negative, but I'll harp on Revolution's misstep a bit longer, because I think it's emblematic of spec fic's failures. For this storyline, the writers had already broken with status quo by reversing the day-laborer scenario. They'd already done some world-building regarding US-Mexican relations. But the show failed to commit to its own innovation. Revolution needed conflict between the American and Mexican characters, and it resorted to an old standby, rather than using something that likely already existed in its nascent world-building.

If we truly want more diversity in spec fic, we need to go beyond the gesture or flourish. We need to commit.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (jack skellington)

Last night, over candlelit dinner, Tweetie suggested we end the evening with a Christmas movie. Since Fast and Furious 6 just became available for rent, we proposed that.

"How is that a Christmas movie?" she asked me.

"Because Vin Diesel and his body are a gift to all of humanity," I said.

She looked at me like I'd drunk more wine than she'd realized.

JJ said, "Because it has car chases and explosions and what could be more festive than that?"

Tweetie kindly said, "Well, because it's Christmas and it will make you two happy, we can watch it. But I may not pay much attention."

After the first big chase scene, Tweetie, who was curled up against me said, "I can't believe I'm actually watching this."

"It's good, right?" I said.

"Yeah," she said, sounding surprised.

About midway through the movie, I noticed her eyelids drooping and asked if she wanted to go to bed or stay up and watch the whole movie.

"Whole movie," she said, too tired for complete sentences.

And she did watch the whole thing.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (jack skellington)
I considered skipping the ofrenda for this year's Día de los Muertos. As busy as I've been, I just wasn't feeling it, the connection to Grampa, the memories, the desire to collect items that remind me of him. But I've decided to try. Maybe it's important to put myself in a position to remember. And because it's an effort this year, I've decided against using all the same items that I've used in years past, lest the ofrenda become a mindless ritual.

Ofrenda 1

Making a comeback are the lotería cards, the photo of Grampa that I love, and the glass calavera candle holder. New items include: a bottle of dry roasted peanuts, which was a favorite snack of Grampa's and the traditional birthday, Father's Day, every holiday gift from us kids to Grampa; a Hostess fruit pie, because he bought three for us kids every week on his grocery trip, long after we cared for the sugary treats; a glass bingo-printed tray, because Grampa played bingo so much that his car was littered with old, marked cards and dried-out or used-up bingo markers, and sometimes he won; and a couple of battery-op'd tea-light candles so I can have candles without worrying about the cats getting curious and burning the house down.

Some things I am still thinking about/looking for: a small plastic donkey; Marlboro cigarettes; a toy barber's pole; a piece of denim; Barbicide; cowboy boot salt & pepper shakers. Tweetie has also offered to make a collage, which Grampa and I would love.

Another thing I've been doing to feel festive is watching horror movies: The Lost Boys; Nightmare before Christmas; House; Scream; Scream 2; Scream 3. I'd never watched Scream 3 before last night, and was pleasantly surprised. It's a lot better than the second installment, though my favorite remains the original.

As a trilogy, Scream is an incredibly depressing story. Our Final Girl Sidney is continually victimized by the consequences of her mother's past. Her agency seems to be limited to the choice of whether to trust others or build her walls, with the correlative choice of whether to confront the horror or run from it. Which is so fundamental it's easy to depreciate. But looking again, we actually get a Final Trio, three survivors who make it from beginning to end of the trilogy, and they're a cobbled together family that replaces the illusory family Sidney started with. So that development is heartening. Also, the trilogy says some interesting things about race and feminism and male entitlement. And I love how Craven uses windows and doors throughout the movies, and Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" in each soundtrack.

But the first film is still my favorite because it has Billy and Stu, and they were treated as free agents, acting out their own murderous impulses rather than being manipulated by adults. And they were pretty and stood really close to each other. ;D

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (jack skellington)
Happy news to share this Monday morning! My long poem "Una Canción de Keys" has been accepted for publication in Strange Horizons. This is the poem I read at the Spindles and Spitfire reading at WisCon in May.

Other pleasing events from this weekend: the apple chutney I made on Friday night; the chocolate cake JJ and Tweetie made, also on Friday night; the spaghetti squash we had for dinner last night; (are you detecting a pattern?); buying two pumpkins for decoration, one a Cinderella variety, the other painted light purple and dusted with white glitter; watching Star Trek Into Darkness with JJ on Saturday night; watching Room 237 while JJ snickered on Sunday night.

Room 237 is a documentary about people's theories regarding Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, everything from the semi-plausible notions that the movie is "really" all about the Holocaust or the genocide of Native American tribes to the bizarre "explanation" that Kubrick was confessing his role in the supposedly staged footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I love The Shining, and it's about time to watch it again, but I love it for the cinematography and how Kubrick subverted the concept of the traditional horror movie. So my favorite part of the documentary was not the conspiracy theories, but the demonstration of what happens when one watches the movie forwards and backwards at the same time, that is, running the movie beginning-to-end while superimposing on it the movie end-to-beginning. For me, what becomes clear from that experiment is how precisely Kubrick selected his camera angles, and how consistently. The method is a very literal-minded version of how many (most?) critics analyze works: fold the works over on themselves to see where the correspondences lie.

Another point of obsession for many of the people interviewed in Room 237 is, not surprisingly, numbers. How the number 42 shows up x number of times, or how 237 corresponds to the distance to the moon, etc. I considered how I run certain of my stories and poems through wordle.net to create word clouds and realized it's a preemptive version of the same thing: I'm looking for unintended repetitions and whether or not the themes (or proto-themes) are represented in the words that frequently appear, ensuring that my form follows my function, if you will. A quantitative approach to a qualitative process.

A much less pleasant aspect to my weekend was the miserable headache that's persisted for about a week now. It's a bit better today--I haven't had to take any medicine yet--but if it's still a problem tomorrow, I'll have to head to the doctor. I've had migraine symptoms, but I suppose it could be a sinus infection also or instead.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (gun)
TW: discussion of film portrayal of real-life abuse, violence

Last week I tried to watch Snowtown (The Snowtown Murders), which is a movie based on the story of a real-life serial killer in Australia. Normally, I don't watch serial killer movies if they're based on real people. They strike me as cheap and sensational and celebrating that which they claim to deplore. But I am a horror movie fan, and I don't mind "dark" material, so even if it's not my bag, I hear and read about a lot of true-crime stuff. The lines get hazy. What tipped the scale for me with this particular movie was the suggestion that it examined how the killer got people to help him commit his heinous crimes.

I don't think I was even 15 minutes into the film when I had my first "crap, am I going to make it through?" moment. The mother leaves three of her sons (ages 7-14?) in a neighbor's care, and after the neighbor serves them dinner, he takes photos of the boys. We don't really see anything, but we know exactly what kind of photos he's taking and why. The look on the oldest boy's face is heartbreaking. So that was my first moment of dread.

The mother quickly realizes what's happened and attacks the neighbor, then reports him to the authorities, but justice is slow. The neighborhood vigilantes are faster, and soon drive the pedophile out of town. The leader of the vigilante group strikes up a romance with the boys' mother and soon they are one big happy family. Or not.

I watched until the first graphic torture scene, when it became clear the vigilantes were not acting out of a misplaced sense of justice but to get their jollies from destroying others. And by then, I had, in fact, understood how the main murderer got others to go along with his plots: he was a bully. He'd sense weakness and zero in on it. He manipulated, harangued, harassed, betrayed, blackmailed, and terrorized others. He didn't even seem all that smart (and props to the director for that).

Likewise, I realized that the violence would drag on and on until some trivial detail tripped the killers up. Just as there was no big revelation as to what triggered the people who cooperated, there wouldn't be a dramatic moment in which someone turned on the vigilantes and reported the murders.

If there's any mystery, it's why some violated people become violent themselves and others don't. And I suspect, as [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume suggests in a different context, every individual's tipping point is exactly that: individual. Unique. Case studies are only useful predictors to the extent they can replicate a phenomenon. Watching Snowtown, I decided I couldn't subject myself to any more of the reenactment, since it wasn't going to teach me anything I don't already know. People can be horrible. People can be irreparably broken. People can suffer and die for no good reason. That's reality, not my idea of entertainment, no matter how well crafted the movie might be.

Give me haunted houses or kaiju any day of the week.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hola)
Last night J and I watched John Dies at the End (courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] handful_ofdust). Originally, I'd planned to read the book, but then I got confused as to whether it was a book or movie, and I ended up with it in my movie queue. Given David's narration in the movie, I think it worked out for the best. I'm not sure I could've handled that voice in my head for long. (Although I was curious about whether the book made David's mother's mental status do more heavy lifting. Feel free to spoil me in the comments!)

That said, I'm unsure what I think of the movie itself. I'll have to watch it again. My first impression is that it wasn't as wacky as it made itself out to be. Also, I don't think it's just my degree in philosophy that made the film's questions about time and space feel sophomoric. David's philosophizing actually made Catholicism sound logical in comparison--which is not meant as a dig at Catholicism, because faith and religious paradoxes, etc. (The Catholic detective had the strongest characterization and some of the best lines in the movie.) As I watched, I kept thinking of Vonnegut and Lynch and Naked Lunch--all tough acts to follow. Or maybe I'm missing something, maybe I'm too old. The munitions factory sequence especially reminded me of Slaughterhouse-Five.

But Clancy Brown! I've loved him since Highlander.



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Michael Northen reviewed WisCon Chronicles 7: Shattering Ableist Narratives for Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature. Northen pays special attention to essays by s.e. smith, Nisi Shawl ( [livejournal.com profile] nisi_la ), Kathryn Allan, and Andrea Hairston (who provides a seriously awesome analysis of the movie Source Code). Northen also mentions my essay, "Dead Man Not Walking: Bobby Singer's Paralysis and Repair on Supernatural." Here's my thesis:

One might expect a show revolving around combat to tell its story through a range of handicapped bodies and injured psyches. Instead, Bobby's paraplegia is the only physical disability of a main character on Supernatural. In fact, Bobby's reluctance to "emote" about his disability mirrors the show's reluctance to depict a physically disabled character. Its limited depiction reflects discomfort with highly visible assistive devices, value judgments regarding accommodation, and fears of uselessness and lost identity. Furthermore, the miracle cure Bobby receives at a plot-convenient moment suggests ease of storytelling trumps full participation of the disabled character.

This was a really important essay for me to write because I love Supernatural like whoa, but the whoa is sometimes because the show is deeply flawed in its treatments of race, gender, sexuality, and yes, disability. (In fact, I've outlined another essay about how Bobby's wheelchair storyline is used in the show.) I am deeply grateful to editor JoSelle Vanderhooft ( [livejournal.com profile] upstart_crow ) for choosing my work for WCC7 and to Michael Northen for the in-depth review.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (lennon cat)
Fickle Spring has set her lightning hand upon Iowa, drawing worms up from rain-soaked soil to gasp and die on sidewalks and roads, by bird or burning light. At night, we sleep with windows open...until dogs still unaccustomed to sleeping out of doors startle at owl hoots and shadows. We know not whether short sleeves or sweaters are best suited to the day. Also, rabbits.

When not playing hopscotch over earthworms, I've been following news of the Arkansas tar sands spill. I wonder when I'll be cynical, paranoid, or wise enough to no longer be surprised that these things happen: that the rich and powerful are so careless of the rest of us, that corporations destroy our homes and lives with impunity, that the government allows the perpetrators to command airspace and control the media... Honestly, I write about this stuff and it's called science fiction?

(On a related note, I discovered this weekend that the used blu-ray of The Crazies I bought from the Blockbuster belly-up is scratched. Is it true I can use Turtle Wax to mend the disc?)

As for writing, yes, I'm doing it, but I'm shoulder-deep in novel revisions, discussion of which would only bore you. Trust me. But on the topic of writing, [livejournal.com profile] alankria has a good post on using "they" as a singular personal pronoun. It is a position I've come to share over the last couple of years. Copyeditors are not generally known for flexibility, and newbies especially enforce "rules" without considering the ethical implications of those rules. But as I've become more educated about gender issues and more familiar with genderqueer folks, I've discarded any stickliness/illusions about singular "they" being grammatically incorrect. I hope more people accept this usage moving forward.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (neon sign)
It is Spring Break at Limoncello. Even JJ took the week off. Last week we did a major cleaning, so all that's left are some odd jobs before we head to Wisconsin for adventures.

One of the odd jobs was buying new luggage for J and Tweetie. (My suitcase is in decent shape.) They found a deal at CostCo, getting a matching set of "Ricardo of Beverly Hills" hardcases with slick caster wheels. Tweetie has thus named her suitcase Ricardo and spent a LOT of time yesterday speaking in a loving robotic voice to Ricardo and her old suitcase, Space Giant. (Why was she speaking in a robotic voice? I don't know. But it was weirdly cute.) She also donned as a toga the foam sheeting that came in the cases, then had the suitcases wear it as well. And, she curled up to read in the big box that the luggage came in. So, good purchase!

We continue to watch Smallville as a family. We are in ssn 9 and I spend most of my viewing time rolling my eyes so hard it's a wonder they haven't rolled out of their sockets. The show is a debacle. Plot holes and fantasy elements that only a tween could accept, but with hokey sexual content that embarrasses us all. Alas, Tweetie is hooked. I enjoy Teen Wolf MUCH more, but it's scary for Tweetie, so we have to pace ourselves with that show.

I'll admit to one highlight of watching Smallville this week: after a magician cast a spell on Clark Kent to make him kiss and make out with her, Tweetie told me, "I know what that was. That was rape." I was astonished, but got it together enough to agree that yes, sexual activity without proper consent from the participants was rape. And I was proud that she knew that, even though she likes the show, even though it was a man who was the victim, even though the aggressor was a smiley female and the episode continued as if it had all been a game. Tweetie was not fooled.

We've been investigating the history of our town a bit. Using a Google program called Field Trip, J found mention of a devastating fire at a glove factory near the Iowa River back in 1911. We hadn't even known there was a glove factory. So we went to the site, which is rather glum looking now, being a run-down industrial area and now home to the sprawling recycling center. We agreed the site would've been a very convenient factory location, near the river, near the railroad tracks.

Also using Field Trip, J showed Tweetie a photo of a man fishing in the Iowa River right near a fish ladder. After explaining to her what a fish ladder was, I suggested it wasn't very sporting to fish there. I said, "It's like building a bridge over a highway so people can walk across, then shooting them." Tweetie's face went pale and tight. After a moment, she said, "Mom, sometimes you scare me."

A Blockbuster store was going out of business, so we went in to score some cheap DVDs. I got Pontypool, The Crazies, The River's Edge (all of which I've seen and enjoyed before), and a couple of things for Tweetie. I also saw about 500 copies of My One and Only, a 2009 Renee Zellweger movie I'd never even heard of. J suggested Blockbuster's inventory of that movie for the entire country had ended up in this store. It still seemed like way too many.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hola)
This weekend Tweetie went to a sleepover, so JJ and I had some ultra-rare adult time in which we spoke in complete, uninterrupted sentences in satisfyingly thorough conversations not suited to little pitchers with big ears. We figured out some stuff and got on the same page about other stuff and I surprised both of us by telling him something about me that he didn't know, which is difficult considering we met when I was 14.

We watched Seven Psychopaths, which was entertainingly meta about the limitations of American action films. Great dialogue, charming psychopaths, stunning scenery. As is often the case, however, lampshading the problems is no substitute for fixing the problems. Consider the poster for the movie, which features 7 white people, two women. Now, there is one female psychopath in the story, but she's black. And I don't think she has any lines. Her story is told by her male lover. So the marketing department clearly wanted to tell potential audiences that there were women in the movie, but we couldn't have *gasp* black women on the posters. (The most admirable, bravest character in the film is, in fact, an older black woman. But she dies. And Gabourey Sidibe, of Precious fame, is totally wasted as a sobbing object of fat-phobic verbal abuse.) Even  though one character tells the main character, a screenwriter, that he writes crappy women characters, the movie itself is no better. In fact, the movie's actual director/screenwriter admits he wrote that chiding scene just to let himself off the hook. Knowing that kinda defuses the truth bomb delivered by his most charming psychopath: "You can't let the animals die in a movie...only the women."

We also watched Robot and Frank. I found it sweet and visually appealing, often funny. Frank Langella has marvelous gravitas, making him believable as both a grandpa and a still-sexual person. But the threat posed by the police in the movie seemed unrealistic to me. Surely they wouldn't be allowed to access a person's medical records without a warrant, maybe not even then. Also, I'm not sure what the message of the movie is supposed to be except that, we can't always mind the gaps, because we can't always foresee what the gaps will be. And sometimes people will get hurt.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hangover)
I'll confess, I'm all outta whack. Some of it, I'm sure, is due to the boring saga of one decent night's sleep for every two bad. I've got a to-do list longer than my arm, and every day I tackle whatever item has reached a critical mass of induced anxiety so I can breathe again. Yesterday this went surprisingly well, because I'd been percolating over something long enough I knew how to fix it, but today...

Also surprising, at least to me, is that the poem-a-day project hasn't really been a source of stress at all, except those few times I forget about it and must race the clock to get it done before midnight. I think it was a wise decision not to commit to posting every day, because I am taking more risks and allowing myself to write bad poems when necessary.

I watched Lawless recently and really enjoyed it. Of course, Tom Hardy--what's not to enjoy (well, maybe Bronson, which I've purposely avoided). SPOILERS after the pretty pictures.

tom hardy lawless

smoking tom hardy lawless
(No, it's not the cigar. He's just SMOKING hot.)

What captivated me about Lawless was its busted moral compass. The protagonists are a bootlegging family, and what they do is presented without much rationalization, nor explanation of how these guys came to be such thugs. (I suppose one brother has war-related PTSD, but that motivation's not developed.) They don't go out of their way to make trouble, but there is no halfway with them, either. In fact, much of the movie is spent pushing the youngest, cockiest brother to become a full-fledged murderer. I wanted to shake him for always wanking out at the last minute, and my own issues notwithstanding, I think that was the intended reaction.

The movie unfolds slowly. You could even argue there's no plot, because the obstacles the brothers must overcome have no bearing on the conclusion. And that's where the wonky moral compass is most obvious, because--unlike, say, the Fast and Furious franchise, where the heroes are unabashed criminals with no intent of changing and we're still supposed to root for them--once Prohibition is over, the Lawless brothers have no apparent trouble becoming regular, small-town citizens. They get jobs, settle down and get married, have kids.

One reviewer said that the sentimental ending was meaningless because he felt no emotional investment in any of the protags. In contrast, I liked the older two of the three brothers, and I was happy they "lived HEA". And I appreciated the ending because it showed that conventional notions of good and bad, cop and criminal, are largely meaningless. If anything, it was the urban influence on rural communities that was the bad guy here.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (maleficent)
Last night, I overcame my dislike of Mark Wahlberg enough to watch Contraband. At some point, I'd seen the trailer and was really excited by the ensemble cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster, Lukas Haas, Caleb Landry Jones, and William Lucking--who, tbh, I was terribly relieved looks a lot healthier when he's not playing Piney on Sons of Anarchy; he really is only acting. :P My excitement was dashed when I realized the leads were played by Mark Wahlberg (and lbh again, I appreciated him much more when he strutted around in his underwear rather than, y'know, actually talked) and Kate Beckinsale.

The movie makes about as much sense as most action flicks--a little less, I suppose, than decent heist flicks. I was irked that the ensemble seemed to have been tamped down to let Wahlberg "shine." The only actor who doesn't tone it down is Giovanni Ribisi, who vacillates between stealing the show to chewing up the scenery. His character is undercut by the script, however, so there's no chance of mistaking him for the star of the film. I have loved Ribisi forever. I think the first time I ever saw him was in Season 3, episode 3 of X-Files, when he played a mouth-breathing loser/stalker with lightning powers, and Jack Black was his sidekick. The next thing I would've seen him in was Lost Highway, and by Boiler Room with Vin Diesel, I was a total fangirl. So I was thrilled by the idea of him getting to be a grownup big bad in an action flick. Sadly, this wasn't what happened in Contraband. 

Ben Foster continues to amaze and baffle me: how could a boy from Fairfield, IA, channel so much ick? His character's drunken interactions with the female lead were appropriately shudder-worthy, but beyond that, he seemed to be sleepwalking through the lackluster plot. Lukas Haas was sufficiently amusing as the only guy in this story who had no interest in the smuggling business, a.k.a., the only guy with any sense but not enough backbone to make a difference.

Kate Beckinsale's role was "wife/mother in peril." As a free agent, Kate (her character's name as well as the actress's name) was pretty much useless, which became interesting when I realized that she was the only white woman that mattered in the story. Other women with speaking roles included Kate's coworker/babysitter Jeanie, played by the same woman who portrayed the most physically beautiful Harriet Tubman ever in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, and a couple of Hispanic women working at the port in Panama. So on the one hand, we have Kate, and on the other we have smart, effective, independent women of color (although Jeanie felt, to me, only one step up from the devoted black servant who exists for the white family's sake). I'm not sure what that difference means entirely, but the movie seems to perpetuate an ideal of femininity that revolves around helpless white women of means.

But that is too depressing a place to end this entry, so to put me in a happier place, here is Vin Diesel menacing Giovanni Ribisi in Boiler Room:

giovanni-ribisi-vin-diesel-boiler-room 

and here is Ben Foster (with lollipop!) and some other dude with nice arms:

ben foster mark w contraband
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (gun)
This weekend, I watched We Need to Talk about Kevin. I'd not read the book, but I knew, vaguely, the storyline: mother feels antipathy toward her first child, insists that there is something wrong with him, which everyone else blithely dismisses, and in the end, she is proven terribly right. But was it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

J left the room halfway through the movie because he said it was too depressing. It's pretty clear from the first few minutes that something awful has happened to this woman, this town, and the story is working its way to what and how, if not why, it happened. J's attitude was, why endure this slow-motion tragedy?

Personally, I found the performances by Tilda Swinton and all the boys who play her son to be absolutely riveting. Here is an awesome photo of Swinton with the four versions of Kevin:



Note the haircuts, how the boys are all "behind bars." The oldest, Ezra Miller, is especially terrifying, partly because he is so beautiful. Like an angel. Deadly and distant, a sizzling permafrost. And he usually wears white.





Incidentally, that second image is Kevin shortly after he's poisoned someone.

True, there are plot points that niggle: if the mother so hated her son, why did she end up being his primary caregiver? who took care of him when she went away for two months to work on a travel book? and nobody else's internal alarms went off about this boy? etc., etc. To work, the movie focuses on mother and son so tightly as to be isolationary, like a prison *and* a womb. And that's why I was able to watch the movie to its conclusion, and even feel hopeful at the end. The director makes us feel that no one else is quite real. The same thing that makes the boy a monster, really. No one else matters, not if these two people can finally work out some understanding of one another.

(We see this happen a lot in possession movies: the victim, usually a girl or young woman, undergoes terrible tortures so that the male lead can have his epiphany. In We Need to Talk about Kevin, the mother is emotionally tortured, but it's other people who pay dearly so she and her son can connect. This may be a worthwhile departure from the norm, but it's not really what I'm concerned with right now.)

Granted, there's the possibility of voyeurism as motivation to watch the movie to the end. Like the train wreck you can't look away from, rubbernecking at a car crash to make sure it's not you who's dead, you might persist until the end credits because you want to know just how bad this boy is. But, honestly? We know this story, and there's nothing sensationalistic about the film. So if you hold out just for that, you're not rewarded. And I wouldn't say there's catharsis at the end.



Marion Wrenn had an essay in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of American Poetry Review titled "Catastrophist." She compared Brueghel's painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, noting its portrayal of benign indifference to Icarus's death, to the accidental death of professional wrestler Owen Hart in front of a live audience. (Icarus is the pair of legs in the water at lower right corner.)

Wrenn argues that pro wrestling fans "enact the opposite of benign indifference. They are deeply engaged in the choreography of disaster....'the spectacle of suffering'." Rather than being stupid, as the stereotype would have us believe, the fans are quite aware of the staging and usually delight in the blurred line between authenticity and spectacle. Wrenn likens it to a magic show: the pledge, the turn, the prestige.

But Hart's death was horrific and destabilizing to fans. The live audience struggled to make sense of the events while not wanting to believe they'd just watched a man die. The pay-per-view audience struggled differently: they knew from the (initially also perplexed) announcers that Hart was dead, but supposedly there was no footage of the death. Wrenn writes, "It's still hard to watch. But now it's got the traces of the tragic, in the classical sense: we hope that he's not dead, know he is, pity the folks who are finding out in front of us. We are secure in our knowledge, the unfolding narrative cannot traumatize us as it did when new...but there's something under the surface that needs to be re-seen." [italics mine]

I think it is this sense that we still have something to learn, something we halfway know, that determines if we choose to watch a catastrophe play out in art. Obviously it's a different level of catastrophe, but I, for one, cannot watch humiliation comedy because I'm overwhelmed by empathy. I can't get past what I would feel like if I were in that situation in order to learn anything. (And I daresay, typically there is nothing to learn from these scenarios.) There is no catharsis for me, and no lesson learned.

I *can* watch Tilda Swinton's character face-off with her son because (1) I identify with [am forced to identify with?] the "wrong" characters; wrong in the sense that, if these events really happened, I'd sympathize with the victims, not the perpetrator, and also in the sense that a mother who does not bond with her child--as I did not at first and Swinton's character never does--are automatically considered "wrong" or suspect by society. And thus (2) I feel like I have something to learn from the film. Still no catharsis, but there's the hope of intellectual payoff.

Days later, I am still processing what I saw. I think watching the catastrophe play out was worthwhile. The ending felt "right" to me. I can see being that mother and doing the things she did in the aftermath. I can see doing penance for something that isn't quite one's fault, accepting a burden that will never lighten anyone else's load because that is the only way to endure. If there are more questions than answers, at least they are the kind of questions worth considering. 


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (skull gloves)
Naked Flea Woodstock 99

In retrospect, we should've known this guy would be an awesome dad. I mean, when he wore pants, they were covered in stuffed animals.

redhotchilipeppers1989

Flea was definitely the highlight of The Other F Word, a documentary I watched last night about punk rockers turned fathers. Why focus on fathers? Because there are no women punk rockers, of course. /snark  Actually Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 provided a good explanation when he laughed about how low the bar is set for him as father. To paraphrase, it's awesome, because nobody expects anything good from him; they're ready for him to attend kindergarten graduation with a cigarette and a hooker. I suppose the corollary assumption is that if a woman punk rocker becomes a mother, she sheds her anti-authoritarian pose (because it was only ever an act) and intrinsic mothering skills kick in. If not, she's a monster (paging Courtney Love); no one's ready to wave the dysfunction away with a "what do you expect, boys will be boys" shrug.

ANYWAY...

It's a good movie. A little too long because it works too hard to explain how hard it is to tour 200+ days of the year when you have small kids. Maybe because I have a kid, I understood pretty quickly. A better angle on the dilemma is the fact that nobody chooses punk because it's a money-maker or comes with dental and 401(k). So the skills these artists have developed, their talents and philosophies, do not make them good providers--not in the sense of financial stability.

But the men featured in this doc are, by and large, incredibly supportive fathers. They are gentle. They encourage exploration and creativity. They work hard not to crush their kids' spirits. A lot of these guys had jackass fathers, bad stepfathers, no fathers... Several of the guys ran away from home in their teens (Flea when he was 12). Flea tears up when he explains that when he became a parent, he stopped drinking, he stopped using drugs, he committed to being fully present for his daughter, whether he was tucking her in at night or halfway around the world on tour. He explains, with heart-rending specificity, that while some parents say, "I brought you into this world..." (and I can take you out is implied), his children gave him life, gave him purpose and a reason to live. Sometimes having an awful childhood gives you more clarity on what's important for families than any number of happy memories.

I would've appreciated more detail about dealing with specific child-rearing difficulties. What if your child has a disability? What if you choose not to be monogamous? What roles do in-laws and extended family members serve? What exactly did Ron Reyes's daughter find out when she looked up her dad (former member of Black Flag) on Wikipedia? Maybe the tight focus on the fathers is the director's choice, or maybe it was a result of the fathers' protectiveness of their families. The exceptions are heartbreaking. One dad talks about a stillborn child, another talks about his son dying in a car accident. I didn't cry, but my husband did.

Like I said, a good movie, although feel free to fast-forward when you get bored. You won't miss much.


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (misunderstood)
Last week, Tweetie went to a sleepover, so J and I got to see a grown-up movie, in the theater! We watched Prometheus. I absolutely loved Michael Fassbender as David. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night, and I lay there thinking thinky thoughts about the character, about identity and performance, nature versus nurture, obedience versus resignation... No conclusions to be had from my late-night cogitations, but it was a good way to spend the time.

Before the movie, we saw previews for Savages and Django Unchained. My main problem with Savages is that we have two high-profile Hispanic stars, Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro, playing the leaders of a Mexican drug cartel. Still?! Still. Thanks, Oliver Stone. Thanks a bunch. Now, if we had more Hollywood movies featuring Hispanic actors in juicy, sympathetic roles, I might not be as peeved, but this just seems like a waste of talent to perpetuate stereotypes we really don't need, especially when a 96 yr-old former Arizona governor is regularly hassled by Border Patrol because he's Mexican-American. And I'm a little horrified that the studio is spending lots of money to lure in Spanish-speaking audiences, even organizing campus outreach screenings. The movie industry acts puzzled about how to cater to Hispanic audiences, but can't they just ask Vin Diesel? Oh wait, he's busy working on Fast & Furious 6. That's right, the sixth. 

On the other hand, I was surprised to see Django Unchained didn't look half bad. I'm not a Tarantino fan, and I was leery of how he'd handle a story that relies so heavily on American racism, but...eh. I might have to reserve judgment.


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (lightbulb)
I'm reading a conversation between several writers in the March/April issue of American Poetry Review, and Timothy Donnelly discusses the sublime:

  I remember when studying the sublime in college it was stated over and over again that the experience of the sublime depends upon the observer being in a position of relative stability/security. Then the powerful force that threatens or confounds or dizzies or otherwise overexcites the observer does so without posing actual harm. The difference is that between terror and horror. It's leaning over the railing at Niagara Falls versus actually falling in  .

And I am thinking about those of us who live in interstitial zones, which are inherently unstable, and what this philosophy means for us. Do we not experience the sublime? (Do we want to?) We are threatened, confounded, dizzied, and overstimulated by powerful forces that do in fact pose harm. The line between terror and horror may be as flimsy as the few seconds between contemplated harm and actualized harm. The line is less a railing than a fault line, still moving, still hungry.

Checking my external memory (aka Wikipedia), I see that the security of the observer is a facet of only some theories of the sublime--Edmund Burke's mostly: "The sublime may inspire horror, but one receives pleasure in knowing that the perception is a fiction." My own sense of the sublime is more in line with Schophenauer's: "The feeling of the sublime...is pleasure in seeing an overpowering or vast malignant object of great magnitude, one that could destroy the observer." Thus driving home the observer's nothingness and yet oneness with nature.

When I think of the sublime in art, I remember the scene in Cloverfield where, by proxy of a doomed character holding a video camera, we finally get to see the hitherto obscured monster full in the face. I think of the blue-skewed panoramic view of Hell and Leviathan in Hellraiser (which, not incidentally, is seen from atop the walls of an infinite labyrinth into which the characters may at any moment fall or be dragged). The only railing here is between art and audience.

Experiencing the sublime in real life is the domain of the privileged (or clueless), I think. The rest of us are just scared shitless--or experiencing "tragic consciousness," to use Max Dessoir's high-brow terminology. But the sublime in art gives us the illusion of being safe and secure while confirming our intuition that we are, at times, powerless. In this way, art is lies and truth in one.


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