12 December, 2010

Sex and Death

I was up late last night listening to a 1970 Neil Young concert on Rust Radio. I think Live at Fillmore East is great, and I'm glad it contains the highlights (namely, Down By The River and Cowgirl in the Sand), but I think it would be interesting to have a whole show, including Neil's acoustic set, where he does a bunch of Buffalo Springfield covers.

So anyway, I stayed up to catch the end of this show, and at the same time, I was studying H.R. Giger's artwork. Giger was, of course, the tortured genius behind the design of the xenomorph from Alien. In addition to the juxtaposition of organic and mechanical elements in his artwork, there is a disturbing combination of sex and death - skeletal forms engaged in erotic sex acts. When I finally got to bed, I mused to myself, I wonder if I'll have some kind of twisted nightmare after viewing all that creepy art.

By now, you've probably realized that I did have an interesting dream, or I probably wouldn't be relating this all to you. And indeed I did. It was related to The Walking Dead zombie apocalypse TV series I've been watching on AMC (the first season finished up last week). It's pointless to go into all the details of the dream, so I'll just tell you about the good part.

I was with a small group of people, and we were exploring an abandoned building. As far as we could tell, there were no walkers (zombies) around. We were in this fairly dark hallway, with partitions like the kind you see in a public restroom - in fact, there were some sections that were completely isolated like a toilet stall (though it was a hallway, not a bathroom, and there weren't actually any toilets). It seemed safe, so we explored a bit deeper, but then somebody spotted a zombie, so we rushed out and into a nearby room.

Except that I got caught behind. Everybody else was safe hiding in this other room, and I was there in the partitioned hallway, with not one, but two zombies sniffing me out. I got into one of the isolated sections (similar to a toilet stall), and I pulled myself up, trying to keep my feet away from the opening in the partition low to the floor. The zombies knew I was there and started banging on the door part of the partition that was between them and me. I was terrified.

Now, the significance of this experience is that previously, I saw the zombies almost as a novelty. Like an amusing gothic element from a popular horror fantasy. Like they were just walking corpses that were pretty easy to deal with - to stay away from, to neutralize, to avoid being eaten alive and turned into one of them. But with those zombies right there almost on top of me, I suddenly realized just how deadly and how terrifying they were. The smallest bite would mean the end for me - an end even worse than death. And they were right there. My respect for the zombies instantly shot up and I couldn't look at them in the same nonchalant manner again. Instantly, the horror became real for me, and it was no longer like a game of avoid-the-zombies - it was a fight for survival and relief from these nightmare creatures.

To make a long story short, I managed to knock out one of the zombies (don't remember how, or even if I was carrying any weapons), and skipped past the second one, making it to the safety of the room where the rest of my group was. Then some other things happened.

In a separate scene, later on, we were in some kind of prison yard or something, where there were a lot of people. And our group started shooting at them, trying to get them to respect our authority. I tried really hard to explain to the rest of my group how stupid that was, and that there was no logic at all behind it, and that it was a really really bad idea (we didn't have enough bullets to kill everyone there, they were alive non-zombie humans, and we were just pissing them off is all we were accomplishing). But I couldn't make them stop.

So it inevitably got to a point where we were running from this mob of pissed off people, and this is where the dream switched gears from death to sex, in a totally unpredicted, but ultimately pleasing manner. I kind of got behind the rest of the group, and found myself mixing with the mob of people chasing us - I guess I'm lucky I was arguing against my group's actions, because the mob didn't seem particularly concerned about catching me.

And then, as I was running down a long mall-like hallway (much brighter and wider than the one from the earlier scene), I looked off to the side and in an alcove I saw Emma Watson standing by a row of vending machines. I have no idea why Emma Watson showed up in my dream. I like her, but it's not like I've been thinking about her a lot lately (well, except for this one thing - incidentally, she's like 20 now, but if I told you how old she was in my dream you'd have me swinging on the gallows pole ;p). But that's beside the point - she was there. And she was wearing a pretty hot outfit - really short skirt (nothing underneath), and one of those tops that acts like a shirt, but it's really more like a bra, that ties in the center of the front - you see it in a lot of those "sexy costumes" because it barely covers anything more than what is legally necessary.

Well, when I saw her standing there, I was immediately attracted to her. Like, the way a paper clip is attracted to a powerful magnet. I forgot the mob and went straight for her. She took on a very inviting posture, essentially welcoming me to have my way with her. So I sat her down on a bench and pulled up her skirt (not much pulling was necessary ;-). She spread her legs, and I immediately went down on her in full public view of the disinterested mob rushing past us. It was really hot, but the dream soon ended, before I was able to get any further.

You might find it hard to believe, but I very rarely have dreams that are sexually explicit in any way, so each time it happens, it's a real treat for me.

(I'm thanking god Emma wasn't a zombie in my dream!)

10 December, 2010

Christmas Cheer

The idea of Christmas is a mutual gift exchange. So although I'm purchasing gifts for other people, I expect to get gifts in return. Perfect balance aside, the idea is that I come out even in the end. But that's assuming that whatever money I spent (and then later recovered in gifts given to me) could be afforded on gifts and leisure items. What if I needed that money just for basic survival? Through the gifts exchange, that money is transforming into leisure items I can live without. I'm crossing my fingers that I get enough cash just to make up for my losses.

I didn't ask for gifts anyway. I'd be happy not to receive any if it meant not having to buy any for anyone else. (I like buying my own things, thank you very much). But it's an unspoken agreement, and to sit it out is to spit in the faces of those who love you. What a splendid affair. My hands are tied!

02 December, 2010

Mermaid Princess

I just learned that an anime version of The Little Mermaid was made 14 years prior to the Disney version, in 1975. Wow. And in the anime version, the mermaid is not only blonde, but topless (imagine that!). And the story allegedly follows Hans Christian Andersen's story more closely than the Disney version (no they-lived-happily-ever-after here, folks). Do you have any idea how excited that makes me?

But the bad news is that it's probably impossible to get a hold of. This is a movie I don't just want to see, but would love to own. But the problem is that even if I found a copy, I couldn't trust that it's a good copy. Firstly, it's an old film that's not very popular, so it's not like it's been released and re-released on different formats and advertised and whatnot. I found a DVD copy on Amazon, that a lot of people seem to be happy with, but at least one review mentions that there have been some edits. The offending material? Violence and nudity, as you'd expect. And those are the parts that make this movie worth seeing, right?

I don't think the whole "uncensored" market was as big a deal in 1975 - on the other hand, they may not have felt the need to edit it back then, so maybe I could find an old VHS copy? But you know what else wasn't a big deal back then? Subs. I don't think there was much of a market for English audiences watching anime in Japanese in the seventies. I don't think anime itself was nearly that popular then as it is now. So how do I find an old movie like this that has Japanese audio, English subtitles, and no edits?

The obvious answer is to turn to the black market, but you're still in trouble if what you're looking for isn't very popular, or is really old, or isn't actually available in just the format you're looking for. I'm sure an unedited Japanese copy could be found, but what are the chances anyone has ever produced English subtitles for it? And with bootlegs, you can never be completely sure of what you're getting. I can't be any more sure than with the official DVD release that I won't be getting an edited copy of the movie. And having not seen it before, I might not even realize it.

Not that that makes it okay. I hate few things more than being duped into seeing something censored without realizing it. I saw the original Last House On The Left on account of a lot of cult hype I had heard, but my reaction to it was underwhelming. Then I discovered that I almost certainly watched an edited version of the movie, with all the best parts cut out. (Why is it always the best parts that they cut out?). Which just ruined my whole experience of the movie.

So I come across something like this, and it happens from time to time, and I get all excited, and then I think, it's all just pipe dreams. I'll never get my hands on what I'm looking for...

The movie is actually viewable on YouTube I see, but it's in English of course. (Maybe I'll watch it anyway).

Here are some screenshots, courtesy of this wonderful English fansite.

Here's another version of the story from 1975. It's pretty good, too.

21 November, 2010

I've Been Thinking

I've been thinking. I spend a lot of time defending the lifestyle I'd like to live. I think this defense serves two purposes. First, it gives me an excuse to avoid going out and living it, if I feel like I have to convince the entire world that what I'm doing is right before I can actually do it - and talking about it isn't as scary as doing it. Second, I feel like if the entire world did become convinced then it would be a lot easier for me to do it, if I had the entire world's blessings. But that's an unrealistic expectation. I will never be loved by everyone. There will never be a time when there aren't people who think what I'm doing is wrong. And they could be right, or they could be wrong, it doesn't matter a whole lot - because I've just gotta go out and do it. And find out for myself. Life is full of risks - that's inevitable. But if you don't take any, you won't get anywhere. If I have to wait until I'm absolutely certain before I jump, then I will never make it across the gap. I've just got to jump. To hell with all the what-ifs.

17 November, 2010

Talk About Really Fucking Stupid

I had a "blonde" moment while sleeping, that very nearly became a nightmarish trauma. I remember dreaming; I was dreaming successfully, and although I don't know if I had the power to control the dream, I somehow sensed that I was dreaming. It felt kind of like I was in one of those half dream states, where I'm drifting off to sleep, and I can sense the dream occurring, because I'm not fully absorbed in the dream, and it's like I still have some control over my consciousness. I had a sense that I was still falling asleep, from first getting into bed, but when I finally awoke just a few moments later, it was over two and a half hours since I had gone to bed, and I know I wasn't lying awake for that long before drifting off to sleep. (oh noes, missing time!)

So anyway, I kind of felt the one dream coming to a conclusion, and I thought about what to dream about next. And here's where I did something extremely stupid, though I had no indication of how stupid it was until I fully regained consciousness a moment later. I thought to myself, I wonder if I could recreate a "Paranormal Activity" style home tape experience through my dreaming world, but with an "alien abduction" theme.

Really stupid, right? You know how you can tell that it's really stupid? Because it's really obviously fucking stupid! But that "check" part of my consciousness didn't seem to be functioning at the time. So off I went, starting to imagine myself in a home movie, wondering if I could will myself to have an alien abduction type experience - staged for the camera of course, but reality and fake tend to blur together when it's a dream! And you know how this is worse than seeing a movie of this happening? It's a dream, so I'm not watching it happen, I'm actually there!

So...lucky for me, in the "tape", I wasn't alone, but in a crowded room. Still, it's little consolation when I start to feel "sleep paralysis" start to kick in. I feel like I'm lying on a table, and suddenly, I can't move at all, as much as I try. And this is where I know it's coming. But it's not really fun anymore; I'm terrified. I try to scream, to get this crowded room to notice what's happening, so they can do something to help me, to stand between me and the terror - but my voice won't come out. Oh fuck.

I finally start thinking to myself, this is a really fucking stupid idea, and to my relief, I am released. I wake up. The weird thing is, I don't feel like this experience "just happened", I feel like I willed it to happen, at least with my dream consciousness. But do you know what would have been much worse? If I hadn't willed it. If it caught me by surprise. If I hadn't seen it coming. Maybe then I wouldn't have been able to stop it before it got really bad.

So here I am, awake, crisis averted, and I just want to go back to sleep. But now that I'm thinking about the nightmare, I can't shake it off. And me, with my hopeless curiosity, can't help letting my mind wander to what that experience could have been like. Intellectually, it's fascinating. But it kind of chills the blood, so it's not really an avenue I want to explore. But I can't control my wandering mind, so the best thing I can do is take a break from trying to sleep and write down my experience, so I can share it in the morning...

And now, the question is, can I return to a gentle, non-tormented, sleep?

16 November, 2010

Censorship Reaches New Lows

I'm getting used to the censorship of Family Guy on the local TV station - not that I like it. There are lots of wandering clouds of pixelation - oddly, usually covering up bare bums (cartoon bums are hardly offensive). But today, there was a scene that I remember involves Peter Griffin squeezing some woman's boob. But that part of it was replaced with a title card - a black screen with a dictionary definition for "vulgar" ("lacking sophistication or good taste") in a funny font, with circus music in the background. I agree, the scene is vulgar, but this all just begs the question: if they don't like the show's humor, then why are they airing it? There's this arrogant sense of entitlement, like they can say, oh we like this show, but we're going to change it however we want in order to impose our own personal morals on the people watching it. And as an artist and an anti-censorship activist, that enrages me.

02 November, 2010

A Note on Voting

Voting only works if you're in the majority, and then you don't need representatives, because you've got the advantage of numbers. Democracy is a system constructed to suit the whims of the majority. The idea is, "let's make a system where whatever the most people want, is what everyone gets". The only purpose that voting serves is to survey the public and found out what the majority wants. If you're a Democrat or a Republican, there's a point to voting, because the majority has shifted back and forth over the years, and it's the way to find out whether or not you're in the majority. If you're not a Democrat or a Republican, or if you're like me, and you know that your political views are in the minority, then voting is pointless. The idea that every citizen has a duty to vote is based on a presumption that every citizen believes in democracy, and a misguided belief that voting is some kind of mystical process by which a person testifies his needs and desires to the state. If you're not in the majority, the state is not going to listen to your views in a vote - there are other, effective, ways to have your voice heard. And if you don't support democracy, then don't support democracy. Abstain from voting.

30 October, 2010

The Screaming Axe

If you haven't already heard (or noticed the new link in the column to your right), I've started a new blog. Not to replace this blog, but to supplement it. It's a music/movie review blog, and it's where I'm going to post all my music and movie reviews (and perhaps related posts) from now on. I'm looking into the possibility of making some change off of it from the traffic, but one step at a time - and even if I don't, I still think it's a great idea for me to have this blog. So go check it out. It's not really snazzed up yet, but I've already started posting some content, so give it a look. And feel free to tell me what you think of it.

The Screaming Axe

22 October, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

How does a movie cause a grown man to be scared to go to bed at night? Do you know how, when you climb into bed, your mind starts reviewing the things you've seen and done and said throughout the day, as you begin to drift off to sleep? And do you know, the way that a nightmare makes you feel? When you wake up from it, and your skin is tingling, and you're sweating, and you turn the light on just to push away the darkness? And you try extra hard not to think about what happened in your nightmare, because the mere thought of it gets you frightened, and you know, that if you don't push it out of your mind, the second you close your eyes, it'll come back, and you won't be able to get back to a peaceful sleep?

Now imagine a movie that makes you feel the way a nightmare makes you feel. It gets you frightened and all tingly. And then think about trying to go to bed after watching that movie. Your thoughts keep straying unavoidably toward the movie, and each time you think about it, you get scared all over again. The only way to sleep like this is to try your hardest to push those thoughts out of your mind, long enough to slip into a hopefully dreamless and restful sleep. Hopefully.

Paranormal Activity 2 follows the same basic formula as the first one. This is a good thing insofar as the first one's formula was a success (I mean at being scary, not at making money, regardless of whether or not that is also true), so it's basically taking a winning formula and using it again. The potential drawback is that the movie may become overly repetitive and predictable. The predictability didn't bother me much, seeing as, even if you know the direction it's headed, you still can't know exactly what's going to happen when; and the repetitiveness didn't bother me either, as I felt they added enough new elements to this film to make it a novel experience in comparison to the first.

One of those is the cast. In the first movie, you had a lonely couple struggling with their ghost problems. In this one, you have a whole family - mom, dad, vulnerable toddler, loyal watchdog, and, my favorite, cute teenage daughter. You might think more people means less scary, but that didn't really turn out to be the case. We also get, in addition to the handheld camera POV we had in the first movie, a whole security system set up inside the house, with multiple stationary views of the house, with night vision, allowing for more consistent coverage of the hauntings.

And another thing, I felt that they successfully upped the ante in terms of the hauntings in this movie, which is exactly what I would expect from a sequel. It's hard to talk about the scares without spoiling the surprise, so if you haven't seen the movie yet, you might not want to read the next few sentences. The whole pool cleaner thing was far more funny than scary, but it was clearly intended to be that way, and the humor enhanced the audience's sympathy for the characters, I think. My favorite specific haunting is probably when the cupboards shoot open. I felt that was very creepy/effective. But I really can't say anything bad about any of the scares. I felt satisfied by the climax, which, as frightening as the first movie's was, this one was even more chaotic and exciting.

One of the other interesting aspects of this movie is that it manages to be as much a prequel to the first one as a sequel. Most of the action in the movie occurs before the setting of the previous installment, and the plot fleshes out much of what happened in that one, giving it more perspective, and answering some questions. Yet, the movie experience itself, the way that it expands on the first, feels very much like a sequel, so I think it's interesting that the movie manages to be both sequel and prequel simultaneously. And without spoiling too much, the ending very obviously leaves room for a third installment.

I had an observation while watching this movie, which is worthy of mentioning. We go to a movie like this to be scared - essentially for the purpose of entertainment. Of course, if we sympathize with the characters, the idea of being taunted and terrorized by a ghost or demonic spirit is sick and sadistic, and our natural feeling is to say, "stop, why are you doing this?" And you start to think, what is it like from the demon's perspective? Is he scaring these people just for his own amusement? And then you realize, we're sitting here watching this movie, and scared as we are, in the backs of our minds, we're secretly thinking, "I hope the demon does something horrible", because we know it will make for a great scare, and will thus greatly entertain us. And so, it seems, we are participating in the torture, we are, in effect, allying with the demon's sadistic games, and while simultaneously fearing for the characters we want to continue watching their torture...

Paranormal Activity 2 was a great film. I think it was even better than the first, and it's fully possible that it was even scarier (to me) than the first. That's a hard thing to gauge, because fear is subjective, but there's no question that it was at least as scary as the first. I'm excited to be able to say that I went and saw it at its opening midnight showing - and I survived my first night after viewing it! No nightmares so far, but I had to go to sleep with the light on and the radio playing.

It was fun watching the movie last night with a packed audience. As is always the case, sometimes they'll react in certain ways or at certain times that interfere with the flow of the film as you're perceiving it, but it was a mostly constructive atmosphere, in which they laughed at the jokes and jumped at the scares - and it's always fun to experience that type of communal atmosphere, when you can tell that other people are enjoying the movie, too. I think there were actually some girls crying, and possibly somebody who had to run out in the middle of the show (can't say for sure it was due to fear, but one can speculate). I myself felt the tears streaming down my cheek at one point. I wasn't crying out loud, but just the intenseness of the fear was permeating my body, causing me to have that kind of a reaction. Terrifying. Awesome. I'd like to see a third installment in this series, but the bar is set high. I can imagine some angles that would work, though. I guess only time will tell.

20 October, 2010

25 Movie Halloween Marathon

I was just confronted with an irresistible prompt on the classic rock forums (yes, I know, it's a music forum, not a movie forum), asking what 25 movies I would pick for a Halloween weekend marathon. Usually, making lists of this sort is a lot of hard work, and I tend to avoid it rather than risk battling my perfectionist impulses. But in this case, I couldn't resist. I committed myself to picking out the best 25 horror movies I could think of in a reasonable amount of time, with an eye towards what would be good in a public Halloween marathon (so I wanted to have variety, and focus on some of the classics of the genre, but every title is one I'm proud to put on there, and that I'd enjoy watching on Halloween weekend), and this is what I came up with. I will talk you through my selections.

We start with the quintessential slasher trio. If you think Halloween and horror movies, you can't avoid thinking of slashers. And it's rather convenient that the first one we start with is actually titled Halloween - John Carpenter's groundbreaking film that is the epitome of slasherdom. We follow that up with its slasher cousins, Friday the 13th, and the supernatural A Nightmare on Elm Street.

We'll supplement this trio with the gruesome Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and follow that with Motel Hell, to add some humor and lighten the mood - briefly. And speaking of Hell, we'll throw in the great Hellraiser, which also successfully weaves humor with unquestionable horror. And then we'll toss in The Howling, because every Halloween movie marathon needs at least one good werewolf film.

Now begins our zombie sub-marathon. We shall present the original George Romero trilogy with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead (all original versions). And if watching the progression of the zombie apocalypse isn't fun enough, we'll finish with The Return of the Living Dead, with just enough humor to revive your cold fear-stricken corpse and prepare it for the rest of the weekend marathon.

Next up we'll run Dario Argento's Suspiria, which provides a terrifyingly beautiful audio-visual setpiece for Halloween, and introduces us to a mini-theme on witches and paganism. This will continue with the original version of The Wicker Man, and follow into The Blair Witch Project, the first of a "reality horror" double shot that includes Paranormal Activity.

Now with ghosts on the mind, we shall present the special effects-laden Poltergeist, a far cry from the previous low budget reality horror. That will lead into The Exorcist, widely regarded as one of the most terrifying films of all time. Fear of the devil will serve you well as we continue with Jacob's Ladder, one of my favorite horror films of all time, and a truly terrifying psychological puzzle of a movie.

After descending the ladder, we will ascend to the heavens, but instead of the divine, we'll find Alien - another terrifying classic! We'll come back down to earth for the overlooked Fire in the Sky, an effectively frightening telling of the standard alien abduction tale. And then we'll confront John Carpenter's The Thing (from another world), buried deep in the Antarctic ice.

And while we're digging, we may as well go spelunking and experience cave-horror The Descent. The paranoia is enhanced by claustrophobia. This will kick off the final leg of the marathon - modern horror. The vampires come out in the next feature - 30 Days of Night - this nightmare taking place amidst the Alaskan ice. The marathon closes with a modern two-shot resurrection of apocalyptic zombie horror - 28 Days Later, and its sequel 28 Weeks Later. If you can survive all of that, you must be a hero.

Here is the list, for reference:

Halloween (1978)
Friday the 13th (1980)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Motel Hell (1980)
Hellraiser (1987)
The Howling (1981)

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Day of the Dead (1985)
Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Suspiria (1977)
The Wicker Man (1973)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Paranormal Activity (2007)

Poltergeist (1982)
The Exorcist (1973)
Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Alien (1979)
Fire in the Sky (1993)
John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)

The Descent (2005)
30 Days of Night (2007)
28 Days Later (2002)
28 Weeks Later (2007)

Go ahead and tell me which movies I left out, and I'll tell you why I left them out (or how I managed to forget them!). I'm considering putting Evil Dead in there, because even though the sequels are more humorous than horrific, and the fanbase is kind of...not in tune with my style...the first one was pretty good, to be honest.

I might swap out The Wicker Man for that one, because as much as I adore The Wicker Man (and I do), and as terrifying as the ending is, it's kind of less of a straight horror, and I'm a little concerned that it's more seasonally appropriate for the spring than the fall. That's the reason why I didn't include Black Christmas, because it just belongs at Christmas and not Halloween. But the truth is, Christian holiday sensibilities are far more ingrained in the public consciousness than pagan ones are.

And as for the werewolf movie, I do really like The Howling, but I'm not convinced it's the best werewolf movie I'll ever see, necessarily. I've heard good things about one called Dog Soldiers, which I intend to watch, hopefully between now and Halloween if I get the chance. I can't predict that it'll make me change my mind, though.

There is one obvious omission from the above list, and that's a good Asian horror. I chose not to include Audition because it's a little...intense...and also kind of a slow burner. Creepy movie, but I wasn't sure it fit in the context of the marathon. I'd put in Ju-on (a.k.a. The Grudge), which I really liked (all those years ago that I watched it), but I'll confess the true reason I didn't include an Asian horror title. I don't feel that I've seen enough of them to know which titles are the "classics" (apart from which ones were popular enough to be remade in America) and which are truly the "best", and I don't want to throw one on just because I've seen it and liked it. But if I did want to, I could see myself putting Ju-on up there in the ghost block.

Anything else? You'll notice the majority of these films are "serious" horrors, with a couple exceptions for breathing space. That's just because I'm more into serious movies, and those exceptions are just the few funnier ones I've seen that stand far enough above the crowd that I don't feel uncomfortable placing them alongside the others.

One thing you don't see is anything older than 1968. Sorry, not trying to be ageist, but I think the whole aesthetic of horror films pre-70s-ish is just fundamentally different from that of the films listed above. So, apologies to Monster Mash fans, but no Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Wolfman, or Boo Berry here.

I did briefly consider Carnosaur, but that opens up a whole new world of low budget, b movie, and grindhouse/exploitation films. Perhaps that could be a whole different marathon. No Attack of the Giant Killer Iguanas (or similar) here either, because that type of old movies tends to be more cheesy than scary.

Also, I didn't consider Horrorfest movies at all, because they're too indie and non-mainstream. I would definitely put Autopsy on that list without shame, though. And maybe a few others. But that opens up yet another can of worms, and let's just leave those worms in the can, shall we?

19 October, 2010

The Cell (2000)

The Cell starts out with a fascinating premise - experimental technology that allows one to dive into the dreamspace of a coma patient, presumably in the hopes of being able to coax the patient out of the coma from within, by confronting their demons and rearranging their mental states. Throw in a deranged serial killer and a race against time, and you've got a compelling plot. And the artistry of the dreamspaces fills in the gaps and fleshes out the surreal atmosphere of the film.

Said dreamspaces are indeed a wonder to behold. They add a lot of color (proverbially and literally), giving the film a fantasy element to counterbalance the very real horror at the heart of the story. And that horror comes in the form of a disturbed SM freak, who enjoys the torture of drowning young women in a custom-made sealed underground cell. After years of following him, the FBI manages to finally track him down, only to lose him to a sudden attack of a rare form of schizophrenia that puts him in a coma. Meanwhile, he had just picked up his latest victim the night before, and she has hours to live, if the FBI can't find her. Trouble is, the killer is the only one who knows where she is, and he's definitely not talking - whether he'd want to or not. And so they must enter his mind and coax out his secret.

It's hard to criticize this film, because it's very unique and very dreamy, and is such a great premise. I like the idea of "going into a serial killer's mind", as morbid as that is. I'm fascinated with the concept of the "origin of evil", and what drives a person to commit unspeakable acts. Yet I felt a little unfulfilled on that count. There were some pretty creepy scenes, but I had the feeling that they didn't go quite deep enough into the killer's darkness, or stay there long enough. In the end, I think the fantasy won out over the horror, though horrific it was, and though the fantasy was impressive.

One part that captivated me was a discussion during a break from mind-diving, between the trained coma-counselor and the FBI agent. He explained the killer's traumatic history, and she expressed sympathy for what he had been through. The movie addresses the morally difficult questions of whether a killer is born or bred, and whether we should feel sympathy for him. She wants to heal his shattered soul, which I would argue is the noble and righteous thing to do, yet there is an argument to be made for the simple elimination of evil of this level.

But what captivated me was how the counselor believed that a rough childhood could explain a life of heinous crime, yet the FBI agent was convinced that it wasn't sufficient. When challenged, he didn't explain, but merely spoke in certain terms that he knew for a fact, that a person could go through much worse and not grow up to have a desire to do such terrible things to another human being. I believe him. I think such trauma can certainly contribute to a terrible outcome, but I don't think that's the necessary outcome, that another person could come through it differently. I think there is both nurture and nature at work. Yet I can still sympathize with the killer, without in any way condoning his crimes.

However, the FBI agent's conviction convinced me that he must have experienced much worse as a child, having come through it virtuously, so when it came his turn to dive into the mind of the killer, I thought there would come a chance for his demons to be explored. I don't think that really happened, and I was a bit disappointed that the plot didn't seem to follow through on that point. Maybe I was seeing more into that discussion than was meant to be there. In any case, I really do like the premise of going inside people's minds, and I want to see more of it!

17 October, 2010

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

The Midnight Meat Train is disturbing. And for a movie based on a short story by Clive Barker, I'd say that's just about right. I meant to see this film back when it was released in theaters (barely), since I had recently read the story, but I didn't get a chance on account of the distributors (or whoever was in charge) sabotaging it. Now that I've finally seen it, it's been too long for me to compare it to the original story, as all I can remember are the main details. But what's important is that the film successfully captures the essence of the story and channels Clive Barker's twisted imagination.

I don't remember whether this was part of the plot in the original story, but I liked the main character's role as a photographer, trying to make it in New York City. As a photographer myself (though not a street photographer), I could relate to his struggle to get the shots he needed - the really good shots, that would impress people and get his foot in the door, and that would fulfill his dream of finding the true heart of the city (a destiny he would fulfill in a most unexpected way). It was really palpable the danger this photographer put himself in the middle of, all for the sake of being in the right place and the right time, in order to get that magic shot. And that one shot of the gangbanger, it really was just as captivating as the plot required it to be. This movie really made me think about what it takes to be a good photographer, and the kind of risks you have to take. That alone is kind of scary, and we haven't even touched on the serial killer in the story yet.

The gore in this movie was pretty heavy. Some of the CGI was ridiculous, like the flying eyeballs. I'll admit, even as someone who can handle a gory movie (Cannibal Holocaust anyone?), I thought the gore was a little much. If you like that kind of thing, that's fine, but I could do without quite so much of it. On the other hand, there was only a tiny hint of nudity (I'm not counting the "meat" on the train, because that's just gross :p), and a really disturbing sex scene (pretty much fully clothed). But at least it was in tune with the Clive Barker aesthetic.

Spoiler Warning! Having read the story, I knew exactly where the movie was headed toward the end. And I'll say, it's a fantastic touch to the story. You got this mystery about a serial killer on the subway, and then at the end, there's this grotesque left turn into Lovecraftian horror. I was concerned about how the monsters at the end would be depicted in the movie, especially after seeing some of the ridiculous gore effects. I knew the depiction of the monsters would make or break the film for me. I'm happy to say that I was impressed with how it turned out. You didn't see a whole lot of them, so they weren't overexposed, but you saw enough to be freaked out, and they looked pretty convincing. And the ending itself, just gloriously horrifying, which is the way it should be.

This film is a cut above the standard modern dime-a-dozen horror fare, and I'm happy about that, as a fan of Clive Barker. As I've said, the gore is a bit heavy, but the most important thing is that this movie manages to get under your skin and freak you out, which is what horror films are supposed to do. Also, I think this is the first time I've seen a serial killer whose preferred killing tool is a meat tenderizer. Always points for originality. ;-)

26 September, 2010

Dreamworld Continuity

Have you ever noticed that sometimes there's a dreamworld continuity that exists only in your dreaming state, that's separate from waking life, like as if it were a separate reality - lived by a different person, such that your waking life knows nothing about it? That is, until some random trigger during your waking day unlocks those memories and the dreamworld continuity lays itself bare to your waking consciousness?

I was reading Cherie's memoir (which is fantastic and highly recommended, by the way), and it got to a point after the end of the Runaways first tour, their first time back home after making it as a band. And there's a part where Cherie talks about going back to her school for a day to stick it to her teacher who always said she'd never amount to anything, and maybe to stay and sit in on some classes, just for the hell of it, knowing that she's a rock star and doesn't need to go to school anymore if she doesn't want to. And that reminded me of a long series of dreams I've had since graduating college and thereby finishing up my schooling years.

I don't remember much in the way of specific details, nor statistics like how many dreams I had or when I had them. All I have is this sensation, and some vague recollections, of multiple dreams that I'd had since graduating college, in which I'd be going back to high school to attend class. And in the dreams, there would be like this faint understanding that I had finished school and didn't need to go anymore, yet at the same time, there was an uncertainty about me being supposed to be there. So I felt like I was going back, when I didn't have to, and there was some anxiety about being too old, or whether I was actually finished, or if I belonged there, or if somebody else would say, on the one hand, I shouldn't be there, or if I left, that I should. And it seemed that with every passing dream school year, I wondered, is that it? Is that the last one? Am I finally done for good now? Or do I have to go back again for another year?

And it seems like all of this, all these thoughts, previously existed on a different plane than my conscious reality. I could be wrong, but I don't remember being consciously aware of having these recurring dreams about going back to high school, yet now that I face them, they seem so very familiar to me, like I am certain that they were there all along. Bizarre.

22 September, 2010

Slumber Party Massacre

This is one of those movies that, before seeing it, I thought for sure that it would be too good to be true. I was convinced that it would be some tacky low-budget cash-in on the slasher craze that erupted after the popularity of John Carpenter's Halloween in 1978. But I was wrong, it actually turned out to be a serious slasher with that vintage 80s movie feel. Perhaps not free of cliches (I just shook my head at the cat-in-the-closet gag), but I give it the benefit of the doubt considering that it was made in 1982 - before even the first A Nightmare On Elm Street. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining movie, that builds to an exciting climax (if a rather abrupt ending), and I recommend it to fans of the classic slasher genre. And the fact that the girls are played as eighteen is made up for by the actual inclusion of nudity (in addition to the not infrequent innuendo) - something I was afraid the movie would shy away from.

"Yuck!" "Oh, faker, you were beating off boys in the fifth grade."

04 September, 2010

Cosplaying Chii from Chobits

If everything goes as planned - and I hope it does - I'll be cosplaying Chii at the next Tekkoshocon. Now, I know what most of you are thinking, and I sympathize. My love of girly things has not blinded me to my own limitations. However, I have some kind of complex where I have to assimilate everything I love, much like Zeiram, the immortal space monster in Iria.

And I love Chii. Chii is, to me, the epitome of beautiful and girly. For those of you who don't know her, she is an innocent and adorable persocom (personal computer) from Chobits. Who wouldn't want a technologically-advantaged android companion designed to look like a pretty girl? I know I sure do.

It just so happens that I knew a girl once who would have made a perfect Chii in cosplay, but she wasn't interested in indulging my (and the rest of the world's, I am sure) otaku fantasies. As a result, the torch has been passed to me. So unless you're a pretty girl, and willing to don the outfit, I don't want to hear any complaints from you.

There are two types of cosplay: cosplay for fun, and serious business. Each has its merits. Cosplay for fun is simply that - fun. Serious business results in some really beautiful - and photogenic - costumes. As a visual aesthete, and a generally serious guy, my focus tends toward the serious business type of cosplay. I am quite concerned about costumes that look good, and that's what I'll be talking about today (as an admirer, not as a creator). Nevertheless, I understand the point of cosplay, so if I criticize a costume, it's from an aesthetic perspective, and it doesn't mean I don't think that costume should ever be worn. If you're having a good time, it honestly doesn't matter how you look. It'd be even better if you had a good time and looked great - I'm not gonna lie - but we can't all look like supermodels all the time; nor should we have to.

Opinions will vary, but mine is that to make a truly successful costume, it shouldn't look like a costume. Your clothing should look like something that would actually be worn (I don't mean you should eliminate fantasy elements, but that you should use fabrics and outfits that don't look "fake" and "costumey"). The goal isn't to copy the character's look point for point, as it appears in the fictional 2D realm, but to adapt that look to the real, 3D world. Otherwise, the logical conclusion to your cosplay philosophy is some kind of cosplay horror like this:

And honestly, you don't want that, do you? This is not "Chii in 3D". This is an abomination. This is what you would get if you put a human and an illustration of Chii into one of Professor Brundle's Telepods. And that is a place you do not want to go.

On the other hand, very few people have the hair (not to mention the legs) to match Chii. So while wearing a wig (unless it's a really high quality wig) is bound to scream "costume!", you have to balance that against the potential drawback of not having the right hair - and her hair is one of Chii's defining characteristics. Still, I give bonus points to anyone who can pull off an effective Chii without using a wig.

Another one of Chii's defining characteristics is her distinct earpieces (which are actually USB ports). I've seen a lot of tutorials online about how to make your own persocom ears (from paper? felt?), and fewer good, solid constructions up for sale. It seems to me that those ears should be hard and plasticy, not fragile and cheap. These look promising, although I couldn't access their store on account of not having the latest version of flash installed. :( But you've gotta have convincing ears - seriously. Lest you end up with something like this:

What are those, pillows? Ear muffs? Yikes. Compare:


And now I will proceed to show you some of my favorite Chii cosplays that I've come across on the net. I like this one because it looks more natural and less costumey than most:

Notice the real hair!

This Chii/Freya set (Freya is Chii's evil protective sister) effectively capitalizes on the duet's sex appeal - notice the emphasis on the legs! Bare legs may not always be practical, but hosiery designed to simulate bare legs is (in my opinion) unforgivable!

Enjoy these other pretty persocoms:

Photo by MiNe (sfmine79)

I love this next shot because it really brings the scene to life. Even Hideki is there!

And speaking of scenes, here's another (rather humorous) scene brought to life:

And in the alternate costume department, here's a super sexy variation - Chii in bandages (as she is first discovered in the series)!

And continuing in that vein, here's super secret project Chobit:

So, as you can see, there are plenty of attractive Chiis out there. I may not be able to compete with the best of them, but I think I can at least do a little better than this:

29 August, 2010

The Last Exorcism

I went to see The Last Exorcism today, and as much as I hate to speed up the end of the summer, it was a good jump start to the horror season (fall/halloween/shocktober). I first heard about the movie from my brother, and then again from my friend, both in passing, and my reaction was, "huh, another exorcism movie?" That's not to say that there's anything wrong with exorcism movies - The Exorcist holds a special place in my heart, and the theme touches on demonology which is a topic I have always been fascinated by. But, when it comes to picking out movies to go see in the theater, I have to be selective. I would love to go out and see every horror movie that comes out - and I even tried that once, for a very brief period of time - but considering my finances, and the ease of viewing films in the comfort of my home, I tend only to go out for the ones that really catch my interest.

And there are films like Paranormal Activity - though rare, and hard to anticipate before seeing - that are good enough that getting to see them in the theater is a treat. So it's worth taking the risk every now and again. I had heard that this new exorcist movie was really scary, and I read that it took a documentary approach, and the opportunity came up, so I decided to see it. I'm glad I didn't go into the movie with a lot of knowledge, or supposed knowledge about it - I don't even think I remember the trailer, though I probably saw it once or twice - because it's good to go into a movie fresh (rather than risk being disappointed that the supposed army of Predators turns out to be a single Predator, with just two and a half more throughout the movie).

Anyhow, the plot of the movie revolves around a preacher who doesn't really believe, but is nevertheless a good performer at his church (the "praise Jesus!" kind). He's done lots of exorcisms throughout his career, and thus, as an insider, knows how fake they are. But because there are potential dangers involved with these exorcisms (accidental deaths and the like), he wants to reveal the hoax for what it is. So his plan is to film one such exorcism, while revealing all his tricks, so the public can know once and for all what a sham it all is. Of course, it's not spoiling much if I tell you things don't go quite as smoothly as planned.

Actually, the movie does a good job of keeping you guessing at what's really going on, even through (and beyond) the end of the movie. Is she really possessed or not? Is it a demon or a psychological disturbance? What are each character's motives? And the ending, for me, was really exciting.

SPOILERS (Stop reading if you haven't seen the film and don't want it to be spoiled)

At the end, the movie veers left into Rosemary's Baby territory, with a bonfire and a satanic ritual and everything. The only thing missing is the demon himself. Of course, seeing it would erase any questions, but for once, I would love a documentary-style cinéma vérité film to actually have the balls to completely throw out realism, and conjure up some really wicked looking monsters a la the fx in John Carpenter's The Thing. (Cloverfield was entertaining, but J.J. Abrams' CG Colossus wasn't horror enough). It wouldn't be "realistic", but damn would it be scary. Like a nightmare playing out on the silver screen.

I really like how, as the plot twists and turns, you get all these different possible explanations behind the possession/exorcism, and possessions/exorcisms in general. Like, there's the question of whether it's real or a hoax, and if it's real, if it's actually the devil, or is it merely a psychological condition. I love how, at one point, the reverend determines that the girl is suffering not from possession but from shame - from her severely conservative upbringing. She's so ashamed of having gone off and gotten herself pregnant that she's killing livestock in cold blood, and lashing out at her brother, and she's convinced that she's been possessed by Satan. Ha. Too bad the explanation then veers away from even that. Though the territory it occupies instead is even cooler.

A couple things bothered me about the film. They go on about how this is a "young girl" being possessed, when the character is all of 16, and the actress is probably around 24. The girl in The Exorcist (the unforgettable Linda Blair) was 14, playing a convincing 12. Now in backwoods Louisiana, I could see an overzealous, overprotective father treating his 16-year-old daughter like an infant, pure and innocent (aside from the demonic possession), but even the somewhat more worldly reverend repeatedly mentions how he doesn't like getting involved with "kids".

Now if ever there was an advantage to casting a 24-year-old in this role, it would be to milk the scene where she takes off her clothes, wanders outside with the camera in hand, to the shed in the back yard at night. But the most you get to see is a bare shoulder. In fact, you can see more (which still isn't a lot) in a different scene, when she's wrapped in a towel presumably after bathing. The aforementioned scene is a perfect opportunity for some good old-fashioned nudity, and they completely waste it. She proceeds to bash a cat to bloody bits in that shed, and though the camera is jerky, you at least get flashes of the carnage, but you don't get to see any bare skin at all. Sigh. It speaks for itself.


So maybe it's not perfect, but I enjoyed it, and I thought it was very good. I always feel the inclination to visit the IMDb forum for a film after I watch it, to catch the buzz, and hear what people are talking about. But unfortunately, the average poster on IMDb is a moron, and there's a lot of threads complaining about the ending, which I thought was awesome. Whatever. Regarding the film, I liked it, and if it's within your scope of interest, I recommend it.

24 August, 2010

ZML^2 - The Teenage Years

This theme came to me all of a sudden, while I was sitting in bed listening to Stevie Nicks sing Edge of Seventeen on my radio. The idea sparked my inspiration, and I spent a whole day looking up songs to represent the various years of being a teenager. I ended up expanding my usual musical horizons in order to find songs that fit the theme, so you might find something a little bit different on this list than you might expect. Still, I tried to keep it firmly rooted in my blues and rock experience. But it's nice to branch out every once in awhile. It's interesting to learn that certain teenage years appear to be more popular as a song topic than others. We'll start the fun with an amusing track I stumbled upon, which isn't part of the official lineup, but perfectly sets the stage for our journey through the teenage years - it's a chorus song called Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love, from the TV show Glee, and the subject of the song is the onset of puberty!

Big Star - Thirteen [#1 Record, 1972]
Comments: I read that this song was written by band member Alex Chilton when he actually was thirteen. I hadn't known of the band Big Star before discovering this song, for this theme, but can you believe - they're an authentic band from the seventies! In fact, the album that features this song also includes a track called In The Street, which was used (famously covered by Cheap Trick) as the theme song to the hit television series That 70's Show! It turns out the song Thirteen has been covered quite a lot through the years - I'm fond of Garbage's version, myself. Having a female vocalist brings new meaning to the line, "come inside now, it's okay." :-o

The Vandals - Fourteen [Look What I Almost Stepped In..., 2000]
Comments: Can you believe this was the only song I could find with "fourteen" in the title (referring to the age)? Apparently The Vandals are something of a tongue-in-cheek music act. Which may make you feel more comfortable (or at least less outraged) when you realize this song is about a man lamenting the fact that he can't make love to his girlfriend because she's only fourteen. Regardless of the controversial subject matter, if you take the humorous lyrics at face value, they're actually quite sensible. -_^

Taylor Swift - Fifteen [Fearless, 2008]
Comments: Being that she's a country pop artist, Taylor Swift is not really the kind of music I listen to. But the fact is, she's so gorgeous, that I don't mind using one of her songs in this theme. You might notice that I linked to the video rather than just the song - this is entirely intentional. Anyway, the song fits the theme perfectly. I was originally going to use The Who's 5:15 which, despite the title not referring to an age, has the line "girls of fifteen, sexually knowing", and anyway, comes from the album Quadrophenia which is a rock opera about the "teenage wasteland". But I thought of a different theme to use that song for, so instead of rock n roll, you get a pretty girl. I think that's an acceptable trade-off. :-3

Iggy Pop - Sixteen [Lust For Life, 1977]
Comments: Sixteen is, not surprisingly, one of those ages that is really popular as a topic for songs. Whatever it is, "sweet" sixteen is an age that gets a lot of attention. There was no shortage of songs to choose from, but I forsook both B.B. King and Chuck Berry, and went instead for something a little different. Hence, Iggy Pop's not-so-sweet Sixteen. Listening to the album Lust For Life, I sense that it has a similar aesthetic to Iggy's earlier albums with The Stooges, but it's lacking that raw power that made those albums so damn good. :-/

Jethro Tull - 17 [Stand Up, 1969 (Bonus Track)]
Comments: What, you thought I was gonna pick Stevie Nicks' Edge of Seventeen? Sure, that's a great song, but you've heard it a billion times already, haven't you? So here's an ultra obscure track by Jethro Tull instead. I actually considered - believe it or not - Janis Ian's At Seventeen, only because I knew the unorthodox nature of some of the songs in this theme would let me get away with it. In fact, that song probably fits the theme better, but my reputation is safer with the Jethro Tull track. :-p

Alice Cooper - I'm Eighteen [Love It To Death, 1971]
Comments: This is the one track I had the least trouble deciding on, as it's not only a great song that I've known for a long time, but it fits the theme of adolescent uncertainty (despite the fact that 18 is the age of majority) to a T. Although, that having been said, I have to admit that I thought about a different song I've been hearing on the radio a lot lately - that is, Skid Row's 18 And Life. Though I think that might refer to a prison sentence rather than an age. I don't know, it could be a double entendre. o.O

Steely Dan - Hey Nineteen [Gaucho, 1980]
Comments: Nineteen is one of those ages that is apparently not very popular. There was one other good choice, but I already used it for the Young Lust theme. I guess, once you hit nineteen, you're practically in your twenties, you're an adult, and all the fun is behind you. Though, ironically, this song seems to emphasize the generation gap between the band member(s), and a girl (or girls) of "just" nineteen. Granted, the generation gap is real, but I think it's frequently over-exaggerated. We all - regardless of age - suffer from the human condition. And though those of wiser years have much to impart to the inexperienced, it is also true that the child is father to the man. :-D

21 August, 2010

Evaluating the Seasons

I know I've done this before, but it's fun. I overheard some girls talking today about how they love the fall because they can put on longer clothes and get cozy in them. My heart sank. I love the summer because girls can get away with wearing skimpy clothes that show everything off! It seems that so very few people, like me, love the heat. I'll go out on a bright sunny day, with temps in the upper 80s, and it'll be beautiful to me. Other people will complain that "it's so hot." Then, a couple days later, it'll be milder, in the mid 70s, and everyone else will be like, "it's gorgeous out!" I'll step outside and feel like, "I dunno, it's kinda cool."

It just reinforces how out of the ordinary I am.

Anyway, I think all seasons have distinct advantages, but some of them have more disadvantages than others. Winter, for example, has snow and quiet, which I think is just beautiful. But the harsh cold hardly makes it even worth it. Spring and Fall both have great atmospheres - I can appreciate the moods of both the coming creation and impending destruction. I'm tempted to say that, between the two, fall wins out for its own merits, but where fall suffers from the anticipation of winter, spring excels thanks to the anticipation of summer.

Ah, summer. Does summer even have any disadvantages? A lot of people complain about the heat, but as you know, I love it. Summer is the vacation season. Although people have different schedules, and it's less prominent after you get out of school, summer still has a relaxed, casual attitude, that I love.

I wish summer could be a little longer, at the expense of winter. It's good to have winter every year, but I hardly think it needs to be as long as it is. December is fine - as long as it snows throughout the month (since if it's gonna be that cold, it might as well be snowing) - but January, February, and March are worthless months. The winter just drags on, and everybody is miserable. We should make those months spring, and then extend the beginning of summer back to April. Then we could have five months of summer before September, when the fall begins to settle in.

And speaking of fall, as much as the "back to school" and "end of summer" spirit taints the season, I have to say it has a lot of charm. After all, it features my favorite holiday of the year - Halloween. I don't like to think of myself as a "creepy" person, but there's just something about horror that is exciting, and fascinating, and really holds my interest. Maybe because I can relate to the pessimistic "life sucks", "nothing works out", "the whole world is against you", kind of attitude. Anyway, it's infinitely more enjoyable than brainless comedy. Yes, that includes zomcoms.

Also, the panic/devastation/emergency/apocalypse kind of situation interests me, because I feel that living under those conditions would be so much more exciting than normal day-to-day life. I know, it's horribly morbid, but I sometimes wonder how much more interesting life would be if something completely devastating were to happen. I'd feel like, with the stakes that high, the little things I constantly worry about wouldn't matter so much anymore. Honestly, I was kind of disappointed when 9/11 didn't lead to World War III and Armageddon...

18 August, 2010

Good vs. Bad Endings

You may be vaguely familiar with my story titled Jabberwocky. The reason I haven't written [much of] it is because the story is alive. It is the story of my life. And I do not yet know how it ends. But I was just thinking about it, having advanced beyond a previous stage in my life/the story. Previously, the ending appeared to me to be a "bad end" type ending, with the hero wandering aimlessly through the jungle, after losing his sense of purpose thanks to a faerie enchantment, and ultimately being destroyed by the demon that haunts him - the Jabberwock. Now, the way my life is going, I feel more inclined to write in a more positive ending, where the hero eventually (though not yet) conquers the demon and wins the day. Now I ask myself, which ending is a better ending to the story? Ultimately I'll choose whichever ending is the true ending regardless, but it's interesting to think about.

Most people would say that the triumphant ending would be better, but I've always gone against that trend. Considering the way my life tends to go, I can relate more to the tragic endings. They move me, more profoundly than a happy ending usually does. But looking at it right now, I can see the merit of a "good end". You want to see the hero overcome the obstacles and achieve victory. Maybe not because that's how life always goes, but because it gives you hope in life - it gives you a model to follow, something to keep you positive, with your head held high, advancing towards the castle in the sky (oh god, I love the irony of using that image here).

So anyway, I can see the merits of both endings. In fact, I might be able to get away with using both of them. It's like Final Fantasy VI. SPOILER! When the last person alive on the planet - after it has been utterly destroyed by a madman in a clown costume - driven to depression after the death of her foster grandfather (the second-to-last person alive on the planet), leaps to her certain death from atop a mountain peak, with the scorched sky in the background, and a beautifully morbid melody playing all the while...when she leaps to her death, I say, it is the perfect tragic ending. It is like the demise of Romeo & Juliet, but on a worldwide scale.

And yet...and yet, she survives, and the game continues, and she discovers that she is not the last person alive - in fact all (or most) of her friends are alive, and they have a chance yet to take the madman down, to foil his plans to build a monument to nonexistence, that love and companionship prevails in the end, and it is a beautiful ending. I think, perhaps, it is better to have had both endings (though the previous one is not truly an ending - but merely an interlude). END SPOILER. And perhaps I shall take my cue from that model.

04 August, 2010

A Confession

that I am free!

I glanced out the window at around 12:30 and noticed a fog in the distant glow of a streetlight. The mood struck me and I decided it would be a great opportunity to take a video of me walking nude in the fog, under a streetlight. I knew exactly which streetlight to use - one close by, with a relative amount of privacy as it is situated on a hill, between properties that are facing away from it.

The question was, what to wear. The video would be nude, but should I go nude all the way? I decided against that surprisingly quickly, considering that my usual instinct would be to go for it. I don't know what it was, but I felt like for this objective it would be best to wear something I could slip in and out of very quickly, so as to protect me during the time I wasn't shooting the video, in case I were to stumble upon somebody in the night.

I thought about using my sarong, which would cover me just as much as I needed, and be easy to slip out of (and relatively easy to slip back on), but I had just tossed it in the wash (which, on second thought, it didn't really need). So I had to choose something else. It had to be one piece, it had to cover my genitals, and it had to be easy to get off and put back on - that last condition eliminated most of the dresses I have. I thought about wearing the pink tiered skirt, which was, practically speaking, the perfect thing, but I figured if I was seen wearing that, I'd have just as much to explain as if I was nude.

Discretion was the key here, so I just slipped on my shorts, which turned out to be the perfect thing - easy to get in and out of, covered just what needed to be covered, and normal enough that nobody would get suspicious. And as a bonus - it had pockets! I slipped my video recorder into one of them and went out.

The temperature was comfortable, the air was very humid, accentuated by the fog. The ground was slightly damp from earlier rains (more so in the grass, which I didn't do much walking in). I thought I heard a noise before I left the property, but I shrugged it off. It was dark, and it seemed as though noone was about - perfect. Cresting the hill, I lamented that one or two of the houses had their house lights on even at this hour (I left at around 1:30). But I remembered back to an earlier night and reassured myself that lights on doesn't necessarily mean anyone's paying attention.

Coming down the other side of the hill, close to the lit yards, I noticed a growing light behind me - clearly a car creeping up the opposite side of the hill, coming towards me (I have a suspicion that it was waiting with its lights off for me to come out for a walk, but hopefully that's just my paranoia talking). The only thing I did then was switch the video recorder from a back pocket to a front one, because the mini tripod it was attached to was sticking out the top, and I didn't want anything about me to look suspicious. So I kept walking and when the car passed me, I saw that it was a cop car. Eep. But it kept going. Until it got to the intersection ahead of me (very close to the streetlight I was headed for), where it turned around and came back up the street towards me. As it was making the U-turn, I quickly and surreptitiously unscrewed the mini tripod that was now sticking out of my front pocket and pushed it further in, so it couldn't be seen.

The car (it was actually one of those SUVs) stopped shortly ahead of me. I kept walking, into its headlights. The cop got out as I approached and asked me how I was doing. I stopped, and in a cheerful voice I said, "fine". He told me the reason he stopped me was because, in addition to walking the streets at a quarter to two in the morning (not illegal!), he saw that I had no shoes on (I wonder what the chances are that he really thought I was a topless woman, seeing me from behind). I looked down at my feet and said with a grin, "I like going barefoot." [Which is an acceptable argument and yet is only a step away from "I like going nude"]. He asked me where I lived and I told him just down the street. He confirmed the name of the street we were on, but didn't pry further. To show my appreciation for the atmosphere of the night (or, in other words, to give myself a harmless motive), I mentioned how cool the mist looked. He said, "yeah, it's like that every night." As if I don't live just down the street and know what it's like each night. Besides, it's clearly not this misty every night, because the mistiness in particular, brought me out of the house... But hey, he's apparently on the night patrol, he must know better than I do. [The only reason I'm bitter about this is because I feel like I am compelled to agree with the cop - in order to stay on his good side - even if I disagree. That's not to say that we couldn't possibly have a friendly argument, but why take my chances, you know?]

Anywho, as it seemed that there was nothing untoward going on, the cop let me know, casually, that I was free to go about my business. In order to keep up the friendly atmosphere, I said "groovy" before walking away, just as casually as before. Of course, he probably thinks I'm a stoner since I said "groovy". No matter, he drove on, and I was alone again. I got to the intersection, went down the hill, waited to see the cop come around the lower parallel street and go on his way, then proceeded to take my shorts off and record the video under the streetlight that I had come out to record. I got it, I put my shorts back on, and then I walked back home without further incident.

Now, some questions come up about this whole scenario. I had heard from my brother, who takes a lot of night walks on his days off, that he'd been stopped by cops a number of times recently. On the one hand, this allays my paranoia that maybe some neighbors are getting smart to my naked walks, and are in collusion with the local cops to catch me in the act (thank god I wore shorts tonight) and/or scare me straight (you can't scare me with this gestapo crap). On the other hand, I don't like the idea that cops think their job is to "investigate suspicious activity". If I want to walk down the street in a pair of shorts, barefoot, in the middle of the night, I can do it, and I shouldn't expect to be hassled by cops. I should be able to do it nude, too, but let's stick to current laws, as idiotic as they may be. You might not get served at some establishments if you're barefoot (not to mention shirtless), but lucky for me, "exposing one's feet in public" - even where "public" includes no other person but the police officer - is not (yet) illegal.

I understand how easy it is to think that this is a natural extension of the desire to "keep the peace", but what it really is, is "keeping the conformity". If somebody behaves in an unusual way, they are necessarily suspicious. This should not be enough reason for cops to hassle a person, but it often is. I don't think police officers should be allowed independent action, personally. That is, they shouldn't be allowed to investigate anything unless a non-PO citizen has reported a concern (unless a crime is unambiguously in progress, I suppose). And even then, common sense should prevail (which would prevent unscrupulous citizens from unfairly harrassing people they don't like, especially for reasons of nonconformity). The PO has an equal responsibility to protect my freedom to act suspiciously (e.g., not conform) as he has to alleviate complaints by citizens who are offended by another person's nonconformity.

Ultimately, the cop was very friendly and let me do my thing, and I'm grateful for that, but I still feel that this terror-mongering technique - in essence, a constant patrol going around just to let you know that "we're watching you" - is not acceptable in a free society. I don't feel like, even with my rights, that I'm on an equal level with the cops. I feel like they are above me, wield power over me, and take advantage of that intimidation factor. Maybe this is partly self-inflicted, considering that I have so many non-standard interests, some of which skirt the lines of the law - but this is only because the current state of our society has inherited a moral backbone that outlaws certain activities that are not harmful to anyone, but merely "offensive", even when it is not intended to be so.

As a final note, when I started writing this, I felt like I couldn't possibly post it, because it would be an admission of my true motives, and posting it would be public, and what if the PO happened upon it (as rare as that would be, it'd be irresponsible of me not to accept that possibility)? But at this point, I'm thinking: I'm not harming anyone. I have no intention of harming anyone. If you want to know my true motives - good. Legal or not, "decent" or not, at least it's clear that I am not a menace to anyone (society doesn't count as a person). If walking the street at night naked, even when making reasonable precautions to avoid being seen, and thus offending others, is unambiguously illegal and cannot be tolerated, say it to my face. Whoever's got a problem with it, I'd like to hear it from you personally. If there are neighbors who are bothered by my nonconformity (this is my paranoia coming back into play), try talking with me about it, instead of telling the cops to intervene for you. I'm not gonna hurt you or anyone else. You're just afraid that I may have a point. That I do have freedom - just as much as you. You want to take advantage of scare tactics to get me to stop doing things that may not be illegal or harmful, but offend you and your sensitive conservative values.

Let me say this: America is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. I was walking down the street the other day (a completely unrelated walk), thinking about how brave some of the things I do are. And I consider myself to be an anxiety-ridden coward. But I will stand up for the things I truly believe in, and I'll march straight into the gates of hell if I have to, just to preserve my values. I am brave, and I won't back down, no matter how much terrorism you subject me to. And if someday you manage to find a dishonest way to strip away my freedom, I will still remain free. In my heart, in my mind, and in my spirit. You cannot defeat my strength of will. And if torturing me satisfies your twisted ego, then I feel sorry for you. I really do. Because it doesn't have to be that way. You can be free, too. And I'm willing to show you the way. My goal is not harm or offense of any kind but eternal, unbounded love for all.

02 August, 2010

Better Done Than Argued

The Yardbirds have some really good lyrics. They're good 60s anti-Establishment lyrics that I can really relate to. For example, the entirety of Mr. You're A Better Man Than I is brilliant social commentary. Even as the type of music listener who usually tunes the lyrics out, there are examples like this that I've noticed. But surely more that I've skipped over.

Like, I was just listening to Think About It - a song I love from the Jimmy Page era with a guitar solo that was recycled when Page recorded Dazed and Confused for Led Zeppelin's debut album - and I noticed the line "when will the good people have their say?" Now, I could see some people writing off lines like this as being a sort of cliche appeal to the corruption of the Establishment and an idealistic jab at how things could be better - but those are the same people who would write off John Lennon's Imagine; which, as a song, is kind of bland, but its lyrics deserve the repeated mention they frequently get.

I may be a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us, and the world can live as one

Anyway, I was listening to Over Under Sideways Down, and, after noting the line in Think About It, I was paying more attention to the lyrics than I usually do. And I realized that, as simplistic and poppy as the song is (though it has a great riff), the lyrics really are pretty interesting. And I've come to understand why my brother has said in the past that he relates to this song. It's not just about "cars and girls are easy to come by in this day and age", it's about "when I was young people spoke of immorality; all the things they said were wrong are what I've come to be". And it's not just about "I find comments about my looks irrelativity", but "when will it end, when will it end?" Funny how I'll pick out some lines in a song, but not really notice others. Not that I didn't know those lines were in the song - I probably could have sung them from memory - but that I never really thought about what they mean before.

Well, the one line that got to me was, "I'm not searching for a reason to enjoy myself, seems it's much better done than argued with somebody else." Now that's something I can relate to, and not strictly in the context of doing things to enjoy myself. Often I'll decide something I'll want to do, but then I'll pretend to be undecided and surreptitiously seek the encouragement of others in the guise of asking them what they think about it, whether it seems like a good idea. And inevitably, in the cases where they disagree, which is bound to happen now and again, my plan backfires and instead of getting encouragement I get discouragement! And yet, in some cases (where it isn't clear that my idea was really a bad one to begin with), I'll go ahead and do what I wanted to do anyway. I didn't really need other people to sign off on my plans - at the end of the day what matters most is what I want to do and not how others feel about it - yet I still felt like I needed that extra encouragement to work up the courage to go through with my plans.

But what this line in the song articulates for me is that it really is much better for me to just do whatever it is I want to do, without seeking the approval of others - which can so easily turn into an argument where I'm trying to support my plan (if just in my own mind) against a less sympathetic world view, which doesn't take into account my initial drive to do it (which is purely subjective) that is the most important factor in the first place.

27 July, 2010

Free Fallin' - Like The Rain That Night...

I just read a review of the Tom Petty concert in the paper, and I couldn't resist making some comments about it. Apologies to the author - nothing personal, it's the general phenomenon of Tom Petty that I'm critiquing.

The review opens with a lame but unavoidable joke, and a reference to the rain, which the author mentions three times throughout the review.

"Though heavy rain demolished chances of the ... concert ... being a comfortable experience, fans wouldn't back down." (groan)

"Aside from a small run [how depressing] of new songs, Mr. Petty's Saturday night set was a hits-only affair, and the audience ate up [like a good audience] every familiar guitar riff, every radio chorus."

Familiar guitar riffs? Radio choruses (chori?)? Sounds like a formula for excitement. Considering the state of radio today. Was this really the same musician who recorded The Last DJ? "And that music that had freed us became a tired routine." Then again, I have no reason to believe that Petty's ever played a song from that album in concert. I guess the live arena is a whole different animal from the music studio, where mediocrity reigns supreme, in the name of subduing the masses (with the gentle sounds of corporate rock radio). Oh yeah, and there's money involved, I'm sure.

Continuing, the reviewer claims the opening act are "worthy heirs to Mr. Petty's straightforward rock approach." Well, in their defense, they were pretty bland (tongue set firmly in cheek). Mention of the song You Don't Know How It Feels opens us up to reference number two to the rain:

"But we did know how it felt - damp." (groan)

According to this reviewer, Petty then launched "a string of his most classic sing-alongs." Oh boy, sing-alongs. The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell...

"The appeal of Mr. Petty and the Heartbreakers [have you ever before seen anyone refer to them as, not Tom, but Mr. Petty and the Heartbreakers??] ... has forever been their normalcy [wow, normalcy - that is awesome; definitely a quality worth admiring]. These guys look like your uncle [true], and they play without the pretension of many bands just as legendary."

Alright, I can understand the appeal of "simple" music. Or better yet, straightforward music, as it was described previously. I listen to a lot of "simple" music - blues has a pretty simple form. But I would never hold "pretension" against a band if their music was good. For example, Yes was a good band - ivory towers and unicorns and all. And maybe Led Zeppelin's pretension got the better of them on a track like Carouselambra, but who would say that Led Zeppelin is "pretentious" when they played great, epic tracks like Dazed & Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Achilles Last Stand, etc.? Oh, that's right, the punks.

The reviewer gets it right when he says that the band "showed off most during a five-song 'little mini-set of mojo'" - where in this case showing off means playing good solid music, as opposed to fan-favorite sing-alongs.

"Instead of spreading new jams throughout the set, thereby forcing people to listen, Mr. Petty all but gave uninterested fans a long bathroom break. Their loss."

Their loss, indeed. I liked the mini-set, I thought it worked well sticking those Mojo songs together. Although I still would have liked to hear some more throughout the show. But the notion that people would use that opportunity to take a bathroom break - so readily believable as it is - sends a shudder down my spine. As if their hooping and hollering for the sing-alongs wasn't bad enough, they'd actually spitefully turn their noses away from the stage for the best part of the performance? It's a scary thought, indeed.

"Mojo may not include a future rock radio classic, but these songs twisted and grooved with the best of them..."

And therein lies the tragedy of the system. The songs on Mojo really are that good. I would be ecstatic to hear them on the radio alongside Petty's tried and true (and retried and retrue) classics, but you think we will? There may be one exception - I Should Have Known It (probably because its riff has been described - in this review and elsewhere - as being "Led Zeppelin-heavy"), which I have heard on the radio - but what are the chances that it gets forgotten after Mojo is no longer Petty's "newest release!" - like Saving Grace before it? And, before that - oh wait, The Last DJ never had a radio hit...

Time for mention three of the rain:

"An acoustic rendition of 'Learning To Fly' evoked the night's biggest crowd chorus, even if everyone's wings were soaked..." (groan)

You know, I think I've lost my appreciation for Learning To Fly. The whole crowd chorus thing is just kinda...lame. Breakdown has a far more interesting "crowd chorus" section, and besides, it's a far more interesting song to begin with.

Wrapping up the review:

"It may be subdued, even subtle, but Petty's mojo was in full throttle Saturday night."

That sounds almost like doublethink. I'll leave you with this question: what does it say about Petty's mojo that, even in full throttle, it is subtle and subdued? Hm? Well, I guess the answer was in the musician's name right from the start. So at least you knew what you were getting. ;)

Again, no disrespect to the reviewer himself - I felt it was an entertaining read, and a good review for the newspaper, that accomplished its objective (just like the Petty concert did). And though I playfully rib Tom Petty, he knows I still love him. The fact that I do it just shows that I really do care. :p