Those pesky ads

18 Sep

old_style_tv_setPlease ignore any ads you see in this space.  The opinions expressed therein do not not reflect the view of the (for want of a better word) author.

On viewing Fellini’s “La Strada” again

20 Feb

We saw Federico Fellini’s 1954 film,  La Strada  (in English, “The Road”) last night for perhaps the 3rd time. Repeated viewings of a film can reveal things that you hadn’t noticed the first time around, and with last night’s viewing, we saw something as obvious as a speeding Mack truck  that we had somehow managed not to notice on previous viewings.

OK, we’re getting a mite ahead of ourselves.  If you haven’t seen La Strada, and you want to see it free of anyone else’s opinion or perceptions, please stop reading this and by all means, view the film. (If so, we hope you’ll return to this post later.)

Have you seen the film? Great! Glad you’re back. If you’ve not seen the picture and you don’t care about spoilers, La Strada is the story of Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) and Zampanò (Anthony Quinn), a traveling performer on a run-down 3-wheel motorcycle that doubles as a sleeping quarters.

As the film begins, Zampanò’s erstwhile partner, Rosa, has died. Zampanò turns up at Rosa’s mother’s home, where the mother promptly offers Gelsomina as Zampanò’s new partner for 10,000 lire. As for Gelsomina, well, nobody really asked her opinion.

Zampanò is your basic bully, and while training Gelsomina to be his partner, he applies a switch to her legs for not following his instructions to the letter. He’s also essentially a one-trick pony; his act consists of breaking a chain fastened around his chest and performing a brief farce in which Gelsomina is a duck and he the hunter.

OK, so what was the big, obvious thing that we noticed on this viewing that we failed to appreciate on previous viewings?  This time around, we saw Gelsomina not just as the naif-saint of previous viewings, but as a woman trapped in a relationship with an abusive partner. (If you find yourself thinking “Duh!”, we understand.) We don’t get the sense that theirs is a sexual relationship – Zampanò thinks nothing of leaving Gelsomina stranded while he goes off with women, but it’s relationship nonetheless. To be fair, Gelsomina is not completely passive; she makes an attempt to leave Zampanò, only to be found and forced to stay with him again.

Zampanò joins up with a larger traveling circus, where he manages to get himself thrown in jail. While he’s in the hoosegow, Gelsomina has a conversation with The Fool, a tightrope walker (Richard Basehart).  In response to her lament that she feels useless, The Fool observes that even the pebbles below their feet have a purpose, adding that if one thing is useless, then everything is useless. Gelsomina, holding a pebble in her hand, is radiant. She seems to decide that The Fool’s meaning is that she should stay with Zampanò, as he needs her. Others in the traveling circus entreat her to join them and leave Zampanò behind, but she declines, despite their seeming a lot kinder and a lot less dysfunctional than Zampanò (which would not be hard.)

We won’t summarize the rest of the film, as we don’t want to completely spoil your viewing experience. This time around, though, we were left with some pretty disturbing questions: Why did Rosa die?  Was she ill or did the brute Zampanò hasten her demise?  Why does Gelsomina pass up a chance to join a more congenial group of people? (True, she’s a bit of an innocent, but still, ya gotta wonder.)

Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve failed to appreciate something obvious in a film.  We remember watching Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring with our spouse.  As the film ended, we reflected on the acting, the great cinematography, and the like.  We turned to our spouse, who was weeping.  She pointed out that the film was extremely sad – a young woman is brutally raped and murdered in the film. In our focus on acting, lighting, and photography, we had failed to see the forest for the trees.

So, in addition to providing you with new insights and things you’d not noticed before, sometimes repeated viewings of a film can show you how out of it you were on the first viewings.Nonetheless, on this viewing,  we again appreciated how Fellini frequently juxtaposes scenes of religion with scenes of show business. Even better, once again we were struck by Guilietta Masina’s expressive face.  With just a movement of her eyes, she can speak volumes.

giuletta_masina

Her face speaks volumes

Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups” and the difference between US and European movies

30 Jan

Knight of Cups is essentially a deeply personal student film made with a big budget, famous actors, and first-rate cinematography. This is not your conventional narrative – the film frequently works on the level of a collage. Christian Bale is Rick, a guy who, from what we can tell, is some kind of big deal in the film industry, though we never really know what his job is. Titles with the names of Tarot cards introduce characters and scenes. Early in the film, we see the title “The Moon”. We’re trying to recall what happens next (and we’re too lazy to put the DVD in the player again), but we think that next come scenes of Rick and a young woman cavorting by the sea or on an outdoor stage or something. It’s hard to remember, because during the course of the film, Rick frequently cavorts by the sea with people, usually women (we’re not using ‘cavort’ as a euphemism – a lot of excited jumping and dancing goes on.) The film shows us women who have come in and gone out of Rick’s life, including Cate Blanchett, who plays a doctor, and Natalie Portman, a married woman with whom Rick has an affair. There is also a dancer in a topless club (The “High Priestess”, if we recall correctly) that Rick takes to Las Vegas, and other women, apparently prostitutes, with whom Rick cavorts in a room (again, not euphemistically.)  Interspersed are scenes of Hollywood parties at too-opulent mansions and scenes of Rick’s adult life with his father (Brian Dennehy) and brother, which  consist mostly of lots of yelling between the latter two.

The guy in the New Yorker seemed really ga-ga about the picture, but we weren’t as enthusiastic.  Halfway through the picture, it occurred to us that if the film stopped following Rick and instead chose to focus on another character, we’d have been just as happy.  This is not to say that the film is not worth your time – the cinematography is beautiful, and the film, though in our view not fully satisfying, is nonetheless intriguing.


The difference between American cinema and European cinema, in our humble opinion, comes down to the tendency of US movies to tell you too much, and the tendency of European movies not to tell you enough. We recently watched Orson Welles’ The Stranger (1946)  (and no, it’s not based on the Albert Camus novel of the same name) where Welles plays an escaped Nazi living in a small college town. He tells a fellow Nazi “You know how I gathered and destroyed every single item in Germany and Poland that might have served as a clue to my identity. Only my heart knows who I am…”  OK, we the audience are smart enough to have figured out that the guy probably did his best to cover his tracks before he split, so why do we need this line?  Or, if we do, why not ‘every single item in Germany’?  Do we really need to know that he destroyed stuff in Poland, too? Do we even really care?  Sheesh…

the_stranger

WTMI, Orson!

Contrast that with Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964) (which we’re not yet done watching)*, where we see the main characters partying in this horrible shack by the sea.  We don’t know why they’ve chosen such a horrible setting for their partying, the scene seems to go on forever, and we’re about halfway into the picture and nothing seeming to resemble a plot has really shown itself.

Now, the difference may have less to do with these films’ countries of origin and more to do with the decades in which the two were released – conventions in filmmaking changed between the two periods.  Nevertheless, we think that US pictures tend to give you too much info and European pictures tend to toss you in and leave it to you to figure it out.

*we’ve since finished watching the picture.

God Bless You, Fred Ianelli, Wherever You Are!

21 Dec

We’ve wanted to say “God Bless you, Fred Ianelli, wherever you are” for a while now but we didn’t for several reasons:

  1. Fred Ianelli is the name of an actual guy that we knew, though not well.  We weren’t (and still aren’t) sure about how he’d feel about our use of his real name (assuming he ever even sees this.)
  2. We thought that the gang down at Atheism, Inc. might boycott us if we invoked the Diety

We’ve long known from personal experience that sometimes a comment made during a brief encounter can make a big difference, as Fred’s did for us on a Friday many autumns ago.

We majored in Communications at a university in the Midwest. (Upon graduation, we were all set for a career in broadcasting in the 1950s – unfortunately, it was the late 1970s.)  Back in those halcyon days, we were taking this 400 level TV  directing class.  The first assignment seemed simple enough: theme music, fade in on a title card, cut to the talent (the person in front of the camera is called the talent, even if that person has none), let the talent speak about a subject, cut to an object or diagram, back to the talent,  more talking, fade out. The whole thing is over in 3 minutes.

tv_camera

All set for the 1950s

Each student was to direct a talent and also be the talent for another student’s segment. The chap slated to be our talent proved a bit elusive – he didn’t seem to want to meet with us, and the most we could get out of him was that he’d be talking about stereo stuff – woofers, tweeters and the like.  He said he’d refer to a diagram to augment his short spiel. The diagram worried us – graphics must be bold to be visible on camera. We offered to take his concept and produce the graphic ourselves, but he assured us that he would take care of its creation.

On the day of the class our worst fears were realized – far from creating a graphic that would show up well on camera, our talent had created an ill-defined diagram that we knew instantly would display as washed-out white with faint dark lines. It looked like a kid in grade school had made it. Oh, well, nothing to do but tape the segment. Needless to say, the result was underwhelming. In his critique, the instructor stressed that the graphic was poor and needed to be visible to the viewing audience. We got a C.

On the trek back to our dorm, we happened to encounter the eponymous Fred, with whom we exchanged a few words of greeting.  We mentioned our less than stellar experience in  the TV directing class, which he had also taken in the past. As we finished our tale of woe, we saw that Fred seemed really amused.  He clapped us on the arm and said “Don’t let them mindf**k you, my man! And that’s what they’re going to try to do.  Don’t let ’em.”  The “they” he was referring to was the entire Communications department at our august institution.  We realized that he was right, and it cheered us up immensely.  We’d taken the whole thing way too seriously. By the time we got back home, we were smiling.

 

Arrivals and Fast Runners

29 Nov

Moviedom has a lot of stock characters – the debonair spy, the macho soldier, and the female linguist to name a few.  Wait, the female linguist – is that a thing?   It is now – the movie is Arrival based on Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life and we found it amazing that the picture got made at all.  This is a movie with lots of ideas, and it doesn’t treat the audience as if they were idiots.  That’s a recipe for box office poison, right?  We don’t think so;  we first tried to see the film the day after Thanksgiving, only to find the show sold out.  (We came back the next day.)

Amy Adams is Louise Banks, who’s recruited by the US to figure out a way to communicate with some aliens after a whole bunch of space ships appear at various sites around the globe.  Louise is befriended by Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) a physicist who’s also trying to figure out how to communicate with the new kids in town.

The heptapods (the aliens) are non-humanoid and their spoken language cannot be rendered by the human larynx.  A better avenue is offered by their written language, Heptapod B, which is unrelated to the spoken language.  It’s as if sentences were shapes, and you had to know how you were going to end a sentence when you started writing it, or at least that’s how we understood it.

The film (not so much Chiang’s story) amps up the tension, stressing the fear and xenophobia that comes with the arrival of the heptapods.  China becomes bellicose, with the Russians and the US not far behind. Intercut throughout the film are scenes of Louise and her daughter, the significance of which is revealed later on in the story.

As per usual, we find ourselves reluctant to reveal much else – the fun of watching a movie is diminished if some loudmouth like us tells you everything that’s going to happen. This is the holiday season, with lots of movies coming out over the next several weeks. This one is worth your time.

arrival

There goes the neighborhood

——

We’ve always wondered what it would be like to watch a movie about native people with no white people in it.  After all, Westerns that feature Indians are always about the interactions between the two groups, mostly told from the vantage point of the whites.  What if there were only native people in the film?

The Fast Runner (available on video – your library may have a copy) answers this question by retelling an Inuit folk tale.  So what is it like to watch a film about native people that’s not about their encounters with Europeans?  The answer is, really cool. The film is so intriguing that we plan to watch it again just to get the nuances we missed on the first viewing.

fast_runner

Dear Philip K. Dick

13 Nov

Dear Philip K. Dick,

We know you died in 1982, but we’re contacting you in the hope that the metaphysical state you’re in now might be like ‘half-life’ in your novel  Ubik – a condition that allows the departed and the living to communicate, at least for a time. Here’s hoping.

Many of your plots deal with the question of reality. We recall your short story, Faith of Our Fathers, for example, and your novels The Man in the High Castle and “Flow My Tears”, the Policeman Said. We could name others, but you know your oeuvre a lot better than we do.  We’re living in the US in the year 2016 (or at least, we were), and we think we’ve ended up in an alternate reality, cut off from our fellow citizens back in ‘normal’ (for want of a better word) reality.

multiverse

Is it just us, or are you in a parallel universe, too?

The parallel universe into which we’ve  just  been thrust features an orange-hued alien who apparently has the power to bend people’s perceptions on a mass scale. This entity has just been elected president of the U.S. We know something in our neck of the multiverse is out of whack, Philip, because things just don’t add up. For example, during the campaign:

  • Said candidate (the aforementioned orange-hued one) came into the race with a complete lack of qualifications, never having held office, even at the local level.
  • He insulted women and minorities, and even encouraged violence at his political rallies.
  • Candidate exhibited insensitivity to the grieving parents of a slain soldier.
  • He bragged about his business success, yet went bankrupt several times, with a string of business failures in his past.
  • He ran a dubious operation that he called a University. Defunct university currently under litigation.
  • In videotaped footage, he bragged about his ability to grope women’s genitalia and get away with it.
  • He paid no taxes for twenty years. Further, he failed to release his tax returns as many who sought the Presidency have done.
  • Candidate said he was blameless for not paying taxes, suggesting that his opponent was responsible for the tax code. In general,  he exhibited an inability to take responsibility for anything – it was always someone else’s fault.
  • He had a server that communicated inexplicably with a bank in Russia.

The thing is, Philip, any one of these things would likely have torpedoed the candidacy of anyone else, but what the hell, he won! He WON! That’s why we think we’re in Bizarro world with an alien who has the power of mass hypnosis, because we can’t believe the American people could elect such a total loser. We desperately want to get back to the universe we came from, where facts mattered at least a little and things made at least some sense.  At this time, we’re not sure if we’re the only ones trapped in La La Land, or whether our fellow citizens are in the same boat.  If you’re in half-life, we’d appreciate any observations you may have.

Regards,

Harry Calnan

Ekkekos, Elections, and “Er Ist Wieder Da”

17 Oct

We’ve not written much about the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. The thing’s already a surrealistic debacle, so we didn’t think we had anything to add to the mess.  And what the heck, we don’t, except to notice that many people treat their favored candidate like their own personal ekkeko.  “What’s an ekkeko”, you ask?  So did we. Years ago we received a gift of a small open-mouthed guy in a brown suit and bow tie.  He’s  festooned with a tiny basket, bags of grain, small play money, a box of laundry detergent (go figure),  a small pair of huaraches, and the like. (There was also something in a small plastic bag, but we put him on our workbench in the basement and a mouse ate whatever was in there – we forgot what that was.) We lost the tag that goes with him, which explained that one puts things on him related to what one wants to manifest in one’s life, so his burden of treasures increases over the years.  (When we were studying computer science, our youngest daughter thoughtfully drew a picture of a computer and put it on our diminutive plaster person. What the heck, we got an A.) Only after a Web search did we recall that this droll little man is called an ekkeko, and it comes from the Incan tradition.

ekkeko

We’re on Facebook, and some of our friends (and people we don’t really know – we’ve gotta adjust our filters) like to post things of a political nature. We wonder if the candidates are emotional ekkekos of sorts, something for people to pin their hopes and dreams on.

—————

We’ve seen David Wnendt’s “Er Ist Wieder Da” (“He’s Back”, or “Look Who’s Back” in English) twice now. The first time, we didn’t realize that there were optional English subtitles on this German language film and we missed about half of what’s going on.  (Nevertheless, we have long believed that if you want to see if a film is engaging, watch it with the sound turned off – if it still holds your attention, then the film is cinematic.  Some very good movies may fail this test, but on the whole, it’s not a bad way to judge a movie.) “He’s Back” could be described as “Borat meets Network meets Rip Van Winkle.” It’s based on a novel of the same title by Timur Vermes, and the one who’s back is none other than Adolph Hitler (played by Oliver Masucci.) As the film begins, we hear Hitler’s voice over expressing amazement that the German people have survived World War II, despite his order that all Germans be killed.  We see shots of clouds, and it’s not clear if Hitler has descended from the sky or been vomited up from the bowels of an Earth that has rejected him, as we then see him lying in the dirt near the former Führerbunker. In the course of the film, a hapless videographer named Fabian begins an uneasy relationship with the dictator, thinking him a demented actor who refuses to break character.  He takes him on a road trip of sorts around Germany. We don’t want to say too much else about the picture, as we’re always cautious about revealing plot points, but we found the film intriguing, funny, and disturbing all at the same time.

look_whos_back

We suspect that the novel is less Borat-like than the film is.  Oliver Masucci, the actor who plays Hitler has said that during scenes shot at the Brandenburg gate, many people seemed happy to see him, and unprompted, begged him to bring back concentration camps.  (One woman hit him, and he felt that it was the healthiest reaction he received.)

The one quibble we have is that Masucci, a 6′ 1″ tall actor, is too tall for the role (Hitler was 5’9″.)  Nevertheless, the film is worth your time, and it raises some disturbing (and in this election season, timely) questions.

Werner Herzog’s “Lo and Behold” (and the Mud Guy)

22 Aug

Werner Herzog may well be our greatest living filmmaker, with a body of work spanning decades and as diverse as Aguirre, the Wrath of God (a film about a crazed conquistador), and his current documentary, Lo and Behold, an often disturbing exploration of the Internet.

As the film begins, we learn that the letters L and O were the first two characters ever transmitted between two networked computers (the sender was attempting to log in), whereupon the recipient machine crashed.  In those early times, the entire community of internet users could be (and was) listed in a single directory.  From such humble beginnings came the networked world we know and love (and hate) today.

Herzog’s film is wide ranging, exploring such topics as networked driverless cars that learn from the mistakes of their peers, the potential for total internet disruption by solar flares, a family cruelly traumatized by internet trolls, young people addicted to internet games, the problems stemming from an inability to track individuals on the internet, the problems posed by too much internet trackability, and internet communications on Mars (Herzog expresses an interest in going even if it means remaining there.) We especially liked Herzog’s interview with Kevin Mitnick, a famous hacker who paid dearly for his hacking with a prison term.

Over the years, Herzog has pretty much figured out that people find his Teutonic eccentricities a mite zany and he now seems to go out of his way to include Herzogian touches in his films.  For example, “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” ends with a bewildering epilogue about albino crocodiles living near the cave in water flushed from a nearby nuclear reactor.  While Herzog does not go that extreme in Lo and Behold, his voice over declares the corridors of a university building ‘repulsive’ and he throws in a bit about Buddhist monks tweeting on iPhones in a future Chicago where the populace has apparently emigrated to Mars.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but we like it ‘cause it gives a chance to nudge our partner as if to say “Oh, that Werner.  What a zany guy!”

Eccentricities aside, “Lo and Behold” gives the viewer a lot to think about and it’s well worth your time.  The one thing we found odd about the documentary is that Herzog manages to explore the topic of the Internet and its implications without ever mentioning two Internet mainstays: pornography and cat pictures.

Lo_and_Behold

______________________________________________________________

Our eldest daughter is a photographer  who often creates assemblages from disparate photographic elements. She recently asked us to be the subject of one of her photo shoots.  We don’t like to be photographed (it steals the soul), so we didn’t take to the idea until she told us that we were to be covered in mud.  Being caked with mud would provide a certain anonymity. Too, there was something Werner Herzogian (see above) about being covered in mud that appealed to us.  We agreed to  be photographed.

On a weekend, we conducted the shoot.  Clad in shorts and our own hirsute epidermis, she and her sister used sponge brushes to apply the mud. After about 10 minutes of application, she pronounced the result satisfactory.  We assumed that we’d then shoot among some trees, but she posed us in front of the white garage door.  We’d be electronically separated from the background in the final assemblage.

As we awaited her instructions, we decided that channeling our inner Incredible Hulk would be just the thing.  We began to psyche ourselves up, putting what we fervently hoped was a Hulk-like grimace on our face.  With the camera in position, our daughter gave us an instruction that was breathtaking in its simplicity. “Dad, I want you to look at the tail light on that car”, she said, indicating her sister’s vehicle about 10 feet away. That was all we needed. We forgot all about the Incredible Hulk, and abandoned the idea about psyching ourselves up. The world now consisted of that tail light, and if we were supposed to look at it, then by gum, we were going to look the hell out of it. As the shutter clicked, she provided a few more instructions, but stressed that we should continue looking at the tail light.

At length the session was over and our daughter had the images she wanted.  She explained that the mud guy was to take up only a section of the final piece. We went inside to wash off the mud, reflecting on how powerful a simple instruction to a non-actor can be. It occurred to us that when directing people (especially space cadets like us),  a simple instruction often suffices.

We caught a glimpse of the mud guy in the bathroom mirror. Some of the mud had dried, while some of it was still wet.  The two-toned effect was awesome. We thought about reporting for work the next day still caked in the mud.  Since that was impractical, we washed it off.

Jaws and Scams

9 Jul

The perception that the English have terrible teeth is supposedly a myth, but we’re not so sure. Our ancestry is a mélange of Irish, Scottish, and English folks, and we’ve got the crooked teeth to prove it.  Less than a week after we finally had our wisdom teeth out (our oral surgeon laid a big guilt trip on us for our not attending to this in our teens), we busted our jaw chomping down on a Bahn Mi sandwich. (It’s a French- Vietnamese fusion of pan-fried marinated tofu with thinly sliced carrot and chipotle mayo on a baguette – our taste buds are dancing just thinking about it.) Our jaw has been wired shut for the past three weeks. Some setbacks have their advantages though – it’s done wonders for our figure (we’re sipping meals through a straw), and now we can do convincing impressions of Stephen Hawking.  On the down side, it’s a bloody nuisance. This might be karmic payback for something rotten we did in a previous life.

busted_jaw

Teeth

If you’ve not had your wisdom teeth removed and you’re in your teens, now’s the time to get it done (ideally, you have dental insurance.)  It’ll save you a guilt trip from your oral surgeon later.  If you’re past your teens, you might want to look into it – it becomes more of a big deal the older you get.  If the teeth are really impacted, you may wish to be careful and eat softer foods for the first month or so after you visit the oral surgeon – baguette isn’t exactly hard, but it’s rather chewy, so go easy on the chewy stuff.

Several days after this misfortune, we got a call from a guy (telephone number 1-156-566-5556) who said he was working with Microsoft and they’d discovered a lot of Internet traffic from emanating from our PC (or something to that effect – the upshot was that our PC had been taken over by others and he, concerned guy that he was, would tell us how to fix it.)  He sounded like he was in a room with lots of other good Samaritans also making phone calls. It was clearly a scam, but we decided to play along.  He told us to open a command prompt and run netstat -an.  This command essentially shows you information about network connections. The guy offered this as proof that the computer had been taken over by invading marauders (it proved nothing of the kind.) He then asked us to run other commands which also did nothing to show that the computer had been compromised but were apparently intended to convince us that he knew what he was talking about.  (He didn’t) We pretended to follow his instructions, waiting for him to get to the heart of the scam. By and by, he did, asking us to open a browser and visit some Web site that would cure our PC’s ills.  At this point we got bored and starting making things up when he asked us to describe what was on the web page.  We hadn’t even bothered to open the browser.  Sensing he was getting nowhere, he said he’d call back when we were actually in front of a computer.  We thought that’d be the end of it, but he actually called back several days later. This time, we weren’t amused and told him not to call back.  (He hasn’t.)

This post has been brought to you as a public service announcement from the British Dental Association and the Society for the Prevention of Guys Running Telephone Computer Scams  – exercise caution after oral surgery, and don’t believe some guy who calls you saying he’s going to ‘fix’ your computer.

Lemming of the BDA

Our man Lemming from the British Dental Association.

Blood and Robots

1 Jun

Our local Red Cross chapter called recently to ask if we’d donate some blood platelets.  Since we had some left over, we said “sure.” To get the platelets, a machine whirls the blood around in a centrifuge, as a tube in one arm sends blood to the machine and one in the other arm receives blood back from the machine (sans some of the platelets, we assume.)  The whole process takes about two hours or so.  As the arms must remain still during the process, reading a book is out; there’s no one to turn the pages. The procedure is, however, tailor-made for watching movies, which our local chapter thoughtfully provides on DVD.  We steered clear of the Adam Sandler section – we wanted a pleasant movie-watching experience, not the Ludvico technique from  A Clockwork Orange. We got hooked up to the machine and with the centrifuge whirling, the nurse started the film we’d chosen to re-watch, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, directed by Robert Wise (the original one, starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.)

Gort

Gort

We think this 1951 film is one of the better sci-fi films of its era, but thematically, it’s a bit muddled. At the opening, a huge flying saucer touches down in Washington, D.C.  Out steps Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his laser-eyed robot friend, Gort. Klaatu, as we come to learn, is an odd mixture of Jesus of Nazareth and Al Capone.

Here’s the Jesus part. Klaatu is wounded when he reveals a gift for the President that a soldier mistakes for a weapon. Taken to Walter Reed hospital, he doesn’t spend much time on the mend. Klaatu swipes a suit from the hospital cleaners (?) and soon he’s out to explore D.C. on his own. Examining the tag on the purloined suit (which just happens to fit perfectly), he sees it belongs to a man named Carpenter. Later in the picture, Klaatu is killed by the military, who shoot first and ask questions later. It’s Gort to the rescue as Patricia Neal awakens the behemoth with the words Klaatu has given her: “Klaatu barada nikto.” (Memorize these words in case you’re ever on a quiz show, and with a million dollars on the line, they ask what the words are.) Back aboard ship, Gort hooks his humanoid master up to a gizmo, and in short order, raises him from the dead.

Here’s the Al Capone part.  Klaatu has come to give the people of Earth a message.  Sure, he comes in peace, but he’s backin’ up his peaceful words with muscle.  Earthlings have developed atomic weapons and them atomic weapons make Klaatu’s people and those on other worlds a mite nervous. (The fact that Earth people have no interstellar delivery systems for those weapons, and until he showed up, didn’t even know there were other inhabited worlds seems to have escaped Klaatu’s notice.)  He doesn’t give a fig about how Earth governs its own affairs, but if Earthlings start waving those atom bombs around on his world, well, they just might have to reduce Earth to a burned-out cinder. The Luka Brasis of Earth are gonna sleep with the fishes. With that, he and Gort hightail it out of there at warp speed.

As the credits rolled up the screen, the centrifuge ceased its whirling, the platelets were collected, and we gorged ourselves on juice and cookies.

Outlander, Dr. Who, Star Trek, and Brigadoon

28 Apr

We were at a bachelor party some years ago (a rather sedate one) where a chap gave us his observations about the difference between Star Trek and Dr. Who.  Star Trek, he explained was the “American Male Fantasy”, whereas Dr. Who was all about “Labor Relations.” Dr. Who, he observed, mediated quarrels between bellicose aliens, whereas Captain Kirk got all the women.

We wonder if Outlander, now in its second season, functions as Star Trek for women – a not-necessarily-American female fantasy. Even the show’s  theme  song  muses “Say, could that lass be I?” After falling through a stone into 18th century Scotland last season, the main character Claire is unfazed by the era’s lack of modern plumbing. This season, she and her husband Jamie travel to France where they make their entrée into the French court with surprising ease. All the while, Claire runs around in the haute couture of the day. If she has to make that temporal jump to the left, a woman could do worse. And like the proverbial hedgehog, Claire knows one important thing; the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 must not happen.

We know that it’s going to happen, though. The show removes all doubt with the opening sequence of the first episode of the second season.  Claire’s back in the 20th century asking a passing motorist who won the battle of Colloden.  (Hint:  it isn’t the Scots.)  In stories involving time travel, at least two schools  of thought contend. One is the “Watch out – the slightest thing you do in the past will change everything in the future” school.  (Think  Ray Bradbury’s  “A Sound of Thunder”, for example.)  Another is the “No amount of meddling in the past changes the future one bit” school.  (Think Alfred Bester’s “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed.”)   Outlander seems to be in the latter camp. (By the way, we took issue with the fact that Claire’s 20th century husband is upset that she’s been away for two years –  just because she’s spent two years in the past does not mean that two years have passed in the 20th century.  However, that’s how author Diana Gabaldon apparently chose to do it, so we shouldn’t quibble.)

The show is a bit of a mixed bag – it’s a romance, but it’s punctuated by scenes of ultra-violence that would give Sam Peckinpah pause. Production values are high, and the acting is top drawer. We particularly like the scenes with Simon Callow, who plays the Duke of Ham Sandwich or the Duke of Sandringham or something like that.  Also high on our list this season is Andrew Gower, who plays  Bonnie Prince Charlie with dotty fervor.  He can hold forth on how it’s the will of God that he should reign while delivering this heartfelt speech in a bordello.

Bonnie_Prince_Charlie

You’re a dotty one, Bonnie Prince Charlie!

As per usual, we don’t know where we’re going with this.  We started watching Outlander because our spouse was watching it, but we’re not sure if we’ll be able to stay with it – it’s a show that makes one uneasy (we’re wusses, what can we say?) Our adult youngest daughter perhaps said it best: “I can’t watch Outlander for the same reason I couldn’t watch Brigadoon as a kid. It’s a story about being trapped in the past.”