Lists

Time For A New List

I think so.  It’s been a while anyway, and I’m a bit short on witty things to say about things in general.  Better to confine myself to a multi-part series.

This time I will make a list in response to the Nostalgia Critic’s list of the Top 11 Scariest Performances, most of which were not my cup of tea (and I’ll admit it right now, I’ve never seen Misery). The list is here, by the way (http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/28152-top-11-scariest-performances).

Of course, we all have different buttons, so what scared me may not scare the next reader.  We’ll see.  Hopefully we all come away from it with more movies to see, or at least some food for thought.

And a good fright is just like a tonic, which I definitely need this time of year if I want to be my usual scary self by Halloween.  This time the list will be ranked from scary(11) to SCARY!!!(1).

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Wandering the Moors

Some of you may have guessed… I am a fool for Wuthering Heights.  The blog’s name says it all, but since I spell my name with a “K” it’s not as obvious as it could be.

Why do I love Wuthering Heights so much?  I have Pat Benatar to thank for that.   Years ago, I wanted to own the Pat Benatar song “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” so I listened to the sample tracks on the CD Crimes of Passion.  The third-last song was called “Wuthering Heights.”  Oh.  My. God.  I went to YouTube and played the song on loop until my hour at the library was up. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZcLMVCsH14)

When I left the library, I had the book under my arm.  I loved it, and started watching the movies.  I still have two versions left to see: the Andrea Arnold version, and the one from 1992.  I hate the 1939 version.  I love Masterpiece Theatre version with Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley.  The 1970 version with Timothy Dalton has some problems, but is still worth a look.

But that’s not really an answer.  A big part of it, I suppose, is that I went in not expecting “the greatest love story of all time,” and I read it on my own time, instead of being forced to do it by my horrible 11th-grade English teacher.  I was able to take the novel as what it was– a dark, early Gothic story featuring troubled romance.

If you go into anything expecting it to be the best X of Y, you’re bound for endless disappointment, wandering the moors with the ghost, wondering how it all happened.  Best to go with the flow, and say afterward, “Gee, that was the best X of Y!”

Not that Wuthering Heights is… it just happens to be my favorite classic novel.  Give the song a listen, give one of the movies a try (don’t bother with Sir Larry and Merle Oberon), pick up the book.   Or try the Caribbean version, Windward Heights.  It’s different, but good as well.  You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find at Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling-place.

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Les Saints Miserables

Please don't sue.

Please don’t sue.

A well-loved cassette that resides in my car is the original Broadway cast soundtrack of Les Miserables (oh, dear, I’m showing my age).  I have no idea what I’m going to do when the tape finally breaks… it seems like every other cassette I play is that one.  And during the long car-trips, I have opportunity to think in varying degrees of detail about the musical.  One thought is particularly persistent, though… the religious aspects of Hugo’s magnificent octopus.

When I watched Cinema Sins for the new Les Mis movie, the narrator complained about the movie’s Christ imagery for Valjean (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KETiiptWKM).  I hadn’t noticed, honestly, but once he pointed it out, I agree with it as a quibble… but only because I see Valjean as a different early Christian figure.  To go into this further, I’ll go into Holy Week (out of season though it is).

Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday) features a lot of different characters in its story.  Two notable figures, besides Jesus, are Saint Peter and Judas Iscariot.  Both feature very prominently.  And the both betray Jesus.  Judas betrayed Jesus to the soldiers with a kiss (NRSV Matt. 26:14-16 and 47-56). Peter not only ran away with the other disciples, but denied Jesus three times before the cock crew twice (NRSV Matt. 26:69-75).  They’re both pretty major mistakes, but the big difference comes in their reactions.

Poor old Judas gives in to despair and hangs himself (NRSV Matt. 27:3-10).  Peter, however, only weeps, and lives to be forgiven by Jesus after the Resurrection.  It can then be argued that the major difference between the two of them was that Simon Peter, the rock on which the church would be built, had hope.  Judas, in the end, only had despair.

The outspoken St. Peter.

The outspoken St. Peter.

Now look at Les Mis… or more specifically Valjean and Javert.  It is established that both of them are devout Christians, probably both Catholic, since they are French.  They both have very strong ideas of right and wrong, and will defend them to the nth degree.  However, it becomes apparent just as early on that Valjean’s theology is that love and forgiveness, while Javert’s is that of condemnation and flames.  Their mistakes even illustrate this difference.

Valjean stole the bread to feed his family, and tried to escape from prison whenever he could.  He also tried to steal from the Bishop, who, like Christ did so often for Peter, forgave him and gave him another chance to do better (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elp47TSQZVc).  Valjean kept his hope and took that chance.

Javert on the other hand, had only his obsession, which is a huge mistake.  He’s an inspector throughout most of the play, which is a pretty low-rank.  His vendetta against Valjean hurt his career.  And he later betrays the man who saved him (Valjean), by trying to arrest him in the sewers.  When he realizes that he is wrong, he gives in to despair and throws himself into the Seine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFQvGJGpM1s).

It’s all debatable, of course, but worth giving the musical another look or listen to.  Poor Javert… won’t he be surprised to see who’s holding the keys to the kingdom!

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On Banned Books Week

bannedOnce upon a time, a young writer sent her aunt who was a teacher at a Catholic school a horror story she had written.   The teacher loved it, and since it was so close to Halloween, decided to read it to her students at the end of the day.  The students loved it, and went home to enthusiastically relay to their parents the awesome vampire story the teacher was reading.  A few parents were not amused.  And this is how your humble friend and narrator (with respects to Burgess) joined the ranks of authors of banned works, for her unpublished story “The Lady.”

That’s all true.  And honestly, “The Lady” doesn’t deserve to be banned, and it doesn’t deserve to sit upon the shelf next to the likes of Of Mice and Men, Fahrenheit 541, and Animal Farm.  There’s nothing political in it, and while it does contain some graphic bites, it’s quite conservative as far as vampire stories go.  The titular character is a foreign female vampire who begins preying on a quasi-Portsmouth, Ohio town when her coffin is accidentally removed from its spot in the river, which kept her from rising (running water).  She kills a few people, and then is staked through the heart by a doctor and a pastor.

The story challenges no one’s sensibilities, and takes very few risks.  It’s by no means my best work, or even my best horror.  So why all the fuss?  I admit, when I heard what happened, although I was concerned for my aunt, I was pleased that my writing had prompted such a strong reaction.  Ay, there’s the rub.  Is Banned Books Week truly celebrating intellectual freedom, or just seeking attention?

In all honesty, the answer is probably both.  And such an answer means that we who turn out at local libraries and independent bookstores, or even big retailers like Barnes and Noble should take the good with the bad.  Here is a whole cornucopia of “dangerous” ideas, ripe for critiquing, analyzing, and, most importantly, learning.  But keep in mind the sales-boostiness of the event… but not to the extent that you avoid the books anyhow.

I’d like to challenge the status-quo in my writing, and I feel I have in some of my unpublished works.  But I don’t want another story banned for some silly reason like “it has the supernatural in it.”  There’s no point in challenging that assertion.  Yes, vampires are supernatural.  So what?  Talk to me when I write something truly offensive.

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“Now is the winter of our discontent…”

So begins the dialogue of my favorite Shakespeare play ever… Richard III.  Also probably one of my favorite characters, ever.

The other day I read a Yahoo! article that took on a CSI: Roses tone and  detailed Richard’s death, from the wounds that probably didn’t kill him, to the blow on the back of the head that probably did, to the spiteful dagger through the backside after his death.  Quick, it asserted, but terrifying.  Probably nothing like the ending of Ian McKellan’s movie, where Richard dies smiling.  Cheeky bastard.

But that is Richard, as Shakespeare characterizes him.  Wicked, a wizard with language, blessed with acerbic wit, and full of self-loathing.  There is something about a villain who hates himself that the reader/viewer finds very appealing… it makes him (in this case Richard) seem approachable, especially in comparison to the saintly Henry Tudor.  I admit, I identify to a point with Richard… I have a decent way with words, admittedly though I am not an orator, I can have a biting tongue, and for years I cringed away from my reflection in the mirror.  When my now fiance first told me that he was interested in me romantically, I got off the phone and started, unfortunately, to quote the scene after Richard successfully woos Lady Anne.

“Upon my life, she finds, although I cannot,
Myself to be a marv’lous proper man.
I’ll be at charges for a looking glass
And entertain a score or two of tailors
To study fashions to adorn my body.
Since I am crept in favor with myself.
Shine out fair sun, until I have bought a glass,
That I may see my shadow as a pass.”
And then I fell downstairs.
I took it as an omen that I should not be Richard, and with a lot of unkingly words, picked myself up.  And just as well, for whether one believes the Bard and Saint Sir Thomas More, or not, the last English king to die in battle maintains an evil reputation.  The discovery of his makeshift, undignified grave even showed that he suffered from scoliosis– that part of the play and More’s history not being pure propaganda after all.  Go figure.
Historical debates aside, though, Richard III is still one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, and what a lucky day for historians when he was discovered!  As the morbid poem that immediately popped up on the Internet goes, “Roses are red, smothered nephews are blue. I’d wait 500 years under a car park for you.”  Definitely not Shakespeare, but not bad.
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A Lively Church

The sanctuary, post-service.

The sanctuary, post-service.

So this was a tricky blog post to write… for a couple days I considered writing about how pissed off I was at the bank, but then nobody likes to listen to somebody else complaining.  Unless one happens to be listening to a certain unnamed group of people play gin rummy (cough my family cough).  Now that’s hilarious.  But after zombies, something lively is in order.  That’s easier said than written… you need to think of something lively, and everything gets dead.

Then the answer hit me… church!  I am a Christian, an ELCA Lutheran to be exact.  Of course, in the high liturgical Protestant, and even in the Catholic traditions, “lively” is not a word used to describe the services.  Admittedly, a great deal of emphasis is placed on children sitting still and being quiet, or being banished to the nursery, except to make a brief appearance to receive a blessing during communion.  In my opinion, banishing the liveliest bunch from the sanctuary is a bad idea, but that’s another blog post.

But picture a Christian church, and the image of a bunch of people sitting, listening to a long-winded worship leader comes to mind.  But it wasn’t always like that.  The early church involved no sitting and a lot of processing.  Catholics still do some of that today.

“We Romans love marching,” a priest I know once said.

And the pew is a Protestant invention… one not especially associated with Martin Luther but with Jean Calvin.  Calvinists/Presbyterians and those denominations that evolved from Puritanism have a  reputation for incredibly long sermons.  Longer than most people could, literally, stand for, hence the addition of the pew.  Sitting became more an more normal, in pretty much all Christian denominations, although there are breaks in it.

We Lutherans have our “calisthenics” of standing up for the order of confession and forgiveness, sitting down, standing up for the gospel, sitting down, getting up again….. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of.  But even that can get monotonous… you don’t even really need to pay attention after a certain point to know when you should be up or down.

It is, perhaps, time for a change.  People don’t have to jump up and down and praise the Lord in a loud voice if they’re not comfortable with that, but a little more noise wouldn’t hurt.  The Lutheran church I currently attend has points in the service where the congregation is encouraged to make noise with the musicians: maracas, little drums, clapping.  I love it.  It creates a more open, relaxed atmosphere, because that’s the atmosphere we should have with our parents, be they human or divine, and it takes away the opportunity for there to be much complaining about the kids who hang around for the whole service.  Who cares if they get a little fussy during the sermon– everyone was being noisy ten minutes ago and will be again during the closing hymn.

Why not go and do likewise?

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The Last/Best Zombie Movie

plague-of-the-zombiesA zombie is a magically reanimated corpse.  Everybody knows that.  What they usually don’t know, is that they are deeply embedded in class.  Haitian slaves who acted as informers, or continued to work for their original master, after they’d been freed where known by a name similar to “zombie,” and, as you might guess, it was not a compliment.  Later the magic (usually voodoo) aspect was attached to the term, and once Hollywood got ahold of the concept, starting with 1932’s The White Zombie, the horse was out of the barn, and folklore was holding the door looking dazed.

Some zombie movies followed the slavery tradition, though.  The zombies were mindless drudges, performing slave labor for their evil sorcerer/master.  The White Zombie, in all its Pre-Code glory featured a graphic shot of a zombie falling into the sugar mill while his fellow slaves keep turning it, without missing a beat.  I Walked with a Zombie (1943) takes a critical look at class and racism in the Caribbean, but is more interested in retelling Jane Eyre.  And both of those movies had some serious plot problems, although they were by no means bad.

Probably the best zombie film to stay reasonably close to tradition comes from across the Atlantic at Hammer Studios… 1966’s The Plague of Zombies.  Given that Night of the Living Dead, which features “ghouls” that are now the popular zombie, it is probably the last of its kind.

The movie opens with Sir James Forbes, a doctor, receiving a letter from an old student, Thompson, who is at his wit’s end with a strange epidemic killing the locals in the village where he practices.  He and his daughter, Sylvia, go to visit the Thompsons, and find the village to be a very hostile, panic-stricken place.  Forbes and Thompson break into the cemetery late at night to perform secret autopsies on the victims, only to find all the coffins empty.  With the local constable now on their side, the men try to puzzle it all out, while Thompson’s wife, Anna, begins to get sick, and Sylvia is courted by Squire Hamilton.

A madman in jail talks of seeing the dead walk in the woods by Hamilton’s escape.  Anna dies, and Thompson has a truly frightening nightmare of meeting her and all his patients as zombies.  Forbes learns from the constable, that the squire had lived in Haiti for several years before returning to unsuccessfully reopen the unsafe tin mine his family owned.  Sylvia begins to sleepwalk– in the direction of the Hamilton estate.  Then the terror really kicks into high gear… and not only from the zombies.

The result is a clever, atmospheric, truly chilling piece that also, surprisingly, passes the Bechdel Test.  Admittedly, there is very little gore, but the violence is always effective.  Hammer Studios knew how handle action, and seeing the zombies that cannot be harmed by traditional weapons (a trick used to good effect in 1932) retains its power, despite the buckets of blood associated with George Romero and his ghouls.  If zombies had to change, or at least retire in favor of a new type of monster, at least they had an excellent movie to go out with.  Any fan of either horror, or zombies, should make a point to check out this classic.

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