Friday, June 17, 2016

I'm not a prepper, but...

...you know that thing where they say that we're all three days away from complete loss of civilization?

It's more like 45 minutes.

My water has been out since Tuesday - burst pipe in the slab, so I've only been switching the water on at the mains for an hour a day, to shower and do the dishes and so forth.

My electric went out for no good reason at about four pm today. (The reason given is that they can't keep the lights on when it's hot because they've run out of gas because they had that big gas leak that put a hundred thousand tons of methane into the air early this year, and apparently they need gas to make electricity, but they don't actually care enough about either to ensure the supply to customers.) On the radio today, they said, ominously, "Rolling blackouts are coming if you don't conserve the 'letrit!" but there was a clear implication they meant Sunday and Monday, not "in the next two hours".

With the electric went the wifi, fairly obviously, but less obviously it also took out the mobile network. DON'T ASK ME WHY*

I imagine the gas was still on - they're not THAT short - but it only powers the heater and the water heater, and the water's off, and it's 95 degrees today. (It's the start of a heatwave; 110 expected in the next few days, which is unheard of in these parts.) And I do have a barbecue grill, assuming I want to eat grilled ground beef, grilled brussels sprouts and grilled sugar snap peas, which is all I have in the fridge, which I couldn't open because I didn't want to let the 95 degrees into it and risk ruining all the food.

I'm currently binge-watching Supernatural, but obviously I couldn't continue doing that. I knew I should have gotten a Spectral TV that runs on ectoplasm and demon blood, but alas mine's electric. And anyway, Netflix is on the Interwebs, which is on the other side of the non-functioning wifi.
The picture I was going to use as a reference. It's Jack White as an extra in a movie called The Rosary Murders.

I couldn't spend time painting the picture I wanted to paint, because the reference picture is on my One Drive, which is also on the other side of the wifi from my laptop. And even if it wasn't, the printer doesn't run on demon blood either, and I obv can't keep the screen lit for too long as the battery won't last long enough. And eventually the daylight will go on the painting, as well.

I couldn't continue to write the story I'm in the middle of. The notes are on One Note, which is - surprise! - on the laptop, but the actual words of the story are on another machine, which is on a UPS, but computers today being what they are (greedhogs) the UPS was already out of power by the time I thought of it and went to get a flash drive.

I could have read a book - it's almost the longest day, so technically I could read until 8pm. In practice, I didn't want to. One other thing I actually could have done is practice a PowerPoint presentation I need to give next week, but as you can imagine, buckling down to actual work was not on the cards. (Now that the power's back on I'm thinking of all the things I could have done with it and planning to put those improvements off until about five minutes before I'm due to give the talk.)

After about 15 minutes I couldn't stand it any longer and decided to go to the gym for a shower. The last time I drove in a power outage, every traffic light in Orange County was off and I got trapped in Mission Viejo (nasty!) and spent five hours in a traffic jam.  I forgot about that, and forged ahead. I spent a few minutes trying to remember how to get out of a garage door when the power's out. Then had to try to remember how to set the alarm when the power's out.  It's over 100 degrees in the garage. No insulation in there.

Anyway, got to the gym in good time. Only half the traffic lights were out this time! Unfortunately, the gym also has no power. My one chance of a shower today recedes. Off to Vons, which does have power. And plenty of ice. I buy ice. The last time the power was out it was for eleven hours, and both freezers got to the slushy stage. I'm not a picky eater but I don't want to do that too often. And I buy ice cream, because. As I leave, the person-wanting-money-of-the-day at the exit wishes me a happy Friday. I can't think of an answer in time. (I suppose "Thank You!" would have done, but it wasn't coming to me at that moment.) At the car, I remember what's at home - 95 degrees, no aircon, smoke in the air from the recent brush fire, no wifi, no mobile, no printer, no Netflix, no Facebook. I turn round, go back into Vons and buy a HUGE bottle of wine. "Forgot the most important thing, eh?" says the checker. I mumble something about planning for the power to be out all evening. The line behind me gasps. They have no idea the power's out over half the town. How could they? You can't even phone out of the black hole it's become.

The PWMOTD wishes me a happy Friday as I walk back to the car, and offers me an opportunity to help the homeless, which I decline to take as I never know if these guys are legit or not.  I get home and try the garage door opener. No dice; the power is still out. I begin heaving the two giant bags of ice - one for the chest freezer, one to keep the kitchen fridge cold, into the house, followed by the ice cream and wine.

As I lift the surprisingly large ice to the surprisingly tiny gap between the jammed-in foods in the ice box and wrench it from side to side to clear a space, there comes that shaking-a-dewar musical rattle that fridges make when the compressor comes on. It gets lighter in the kitchen. Yes, the power is back on.  The UPS says "beep, beep", the computer says "bingly bong!" The fifty decibel background hum of the house reasserts itself.

Oh good. Maybe I should have waited instead of assuming this would last all night.

I will still drink the wine.

Tomorrow I will back up all files to each computer and write a Plan to keep only the latest version on each one and ...oh gods no I won't. That's beyond the power of mortal men and I'm sure nobody has come up with an app for it yet. I'll keep old magazines on hand with interesting pictures in them for reference pictures. I'll practice opening the garage door, find out where the candles are while it's still light, and maybe buy matches. (Lighting candles off a barbecue grill is difficult; I did it once.) I'll fill the tank - they always suggest you keep it full - and maybe even check the tires. I'll keep all my devices charged 100% so they're ready for bug out.

At least I've got plenty of ice.



*According to a nexpert, the phone takes a few minutes to stop trying the wifi network and go it alone. A power cycle would speed it up. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Brush fire season has started

...even though we still have heavy June Gloom.

We had a bit of a fire in San Juan Capistrano, between the megachurch-that-has-the-100-foot-Three-Wise-Men-at-Christmas and the creek. Perhaps that's Laguna Niguel, who could possibly know? At the time I passed it, there was a little bit of remaining smoke to the north and an open fire to the south.

Apparently it's out now and no Wise Men were damaged.



(There's a slide show in OC Register article here.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

George Berger: The Story of Crass (2008 book, review)



This was an easy read, a mostly linear story of a relatively uncomplicated band.

Crass were the archetypal anarcho-punks of the late seventies and early 80s, representing in my opinion, the forces that developed punks from Bowie-inspired teens to angry, anti-Thatcher, pro-union adults.

If the book is correct, Crass managed to incorporate a few problematic elements. They were founded by an upper-middle class hippie, introducing the sort of snake-in-Eden auto-schismatic effect that seems to occur in the origin stories of so many otherwise benignant movements. They pissed off the ordinary London squat-dwelling punks by attempting to placate skinheads. They were of the opinion that you could raise consciousnesses by one-on-one post-gig talking sessions that, as you can imagine, used up one Crass member per person targeted for hours on end.

Their hearts (and dogma) were in the right place, however, and the book quotes long passages from Penny Rimbaud's pamphlets that really brought back to me the anger and despair of those early Thatcher days. Remember the Falklands War? This book does! The marches, the strikes, the atmosphere that lead to Rock Against Racism?

It doesn't discuss the music much, and when it does, it makes it sound borderline unlistenable, which is doing it a major disservice. Because, obviously, Crass's music is TOTALLY unlistenable.

This passage resonated with me.

It's not hard to see how this could happen: Britain still harboured a macho culture wherein 'queer bashing' was still a socially acceptable pastime in many areas. For every kid that was enlightened when David Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson whilst performing on Top Of The Pops, there was a whole gang who denounced him as a 'poof'.


Punk itself had gone from being a decidedly non-macho, gay and woman friendly movement to a place where men strutted around in big boots, leather jackets and Mohicans in a barely related parody of what they thought punk was originally about.

I bought tickets to see The Clash three times. The first time, they cancelled. The second, I forget. (Probably cancelled.) The third time, they played, but I was behind a wall of giant guys in leathers and boots and all I could see was their logos painted on the backs of their leather jackets. So in point of fact I've never actually 'seen The Clash live' even though I have been in the venue when they were playing. I feel I've lived this part of the punk story, at least.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Star Wars Ring Theory (Mike Klimo)

LYLE HOPWOOD·SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2016











Well, this is a hell of a theory. I used to hear all the Star Wars theories because I was on all the Star Wars theorizers' groups - but they are on Yahoo, and nobody goes there any more. (And not because it's too crowded.) So I came to Star Wars Ring Theory a little late. 

You have to read it to really get the full impact of it, and it's 8 chapters long. I had to put it aside until I had an hour to read it, and even so I was getting punchy by the end and will have to read it again. But in a nutshell, he says that the prequels match the original series almost scene by scene, but not in a straightforward order. They form a ring, with the middle two inverted against each other. (It's called a chiasmus, which I'm familiar with from genetics - and it's fascinatingly so!) All those points where you think, hang on, hasn't someone else had a hand chopped off? Or, wait, is that the third time somebody's had a bad feeling about this? Or, didn't the last one open on a shot of a giant space vehicle approaching a planet from above, not below? And so on, and so on... They all fit together in a complex pattern, which he explains and illustrates with screen shots that make you wonder why you didn't think of this yourself. 

One of my theories (what is mine) is every sufficiently large text is like the Bible, by which I mean that if you have a big enough corpus - Lord of the Rings, or Shakespeare, or Harry Potter - there is enough STUFF in there to make any random theory sound good because you can always find something that matches your thesis. I mean, I’ve read Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. I’ve read The White Goddess. I’ve read the Golden Bough. I started reading this in the same light, but he managed to convince me that there’s a single path through all of the films that makes sense as a ring/crossing over structure. 

One sticking point for me was the discussion of good versus evil in the Star Wars universe as I'd gotten used to thinking of evil as a privation of good, a la St. Augustine, rather than a thing in itself. This theory seems to involve evil as a separate and equal force in the...er, Force. But if so, why does bringing balance to the Force involve the death of ALL the Sith but only SOME of the Jedi? That was always my sticking point with it, but he brings out several quotes from Lucas that not only support this view but actually state it in so many words. Yeah, I have to read it again.
What do you think?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

David Bowie: The Prettiest Star

I was tagged by my friend Dan to post a Bowie song a day for seven days. This is day seven. Unfortunately for the chain letter effect, I don’t know any more Bowie fans to pass this on to for the next seven days. Anyone want to step up?

Ok, you knew this was coming.
This track isn’t *about* Marc Bolan – it just features him on guitar. According to standard Bowie lore, the “Prettiest Star” herself is Angie Bowie, back in those halcyon days when Angie was his girlfriend and both Bowie and Bolan were graduating from being hippies – fabulous clothes from Granny Takes a Trip, all the right friends in Ladbroke Grove, all the right gigs at UFO and Middle Earth – to full-fledged swans, all the satin and tat and cool visible to all but paddling like motherfuckers out of sight below the water, trying to get ahead.


The track was released as a single, a follow up to Space Oddity and it appears Bowie thought it would soar away. In fact it fell back to earth with a thud, selling (it says on Wikipedia) 800 copies. It’s remarkable that people we regard as natural stars like David Bowie struggled so hard for so long. The old adage attributed to Edison that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” certainly applies to popular music, though I’m sure Bowie would never perspire. “Glow”, perhaps, but not perspire.
Bowie redid the track shortly afterwards with Mick Ronson on guitar, though Marc’s chiming Beard-of-Stars guitar figures were deemed matchless and were re-played as is. The video above obviously isn’t that one, because I have my biases. It’s the original 1970 single cut. (I hope.)

David Bowie: Queen Bitch

In case I don't get round to Day seven of Seven Days of Bowie for a while, Dan, here's a stopgap. I came across it in Suzi Ronson's feed.
I have a theory about Rock and Roll. Here it is, the theory what is mine.
All rock and roll is by and about four men who have 10,000 watts of amplification,150,000 watts of lighting, 6 ex-con roadies-cum-heavies led a manager with ties to the Mafia, 5,000,000 record-buying fans supporting them from behind and 5,000 screaming, fanatical fans in front of them...and they're belting out a song putting down a nameless 16 year old girl who dissed them after school like ten years ago.
Many kudos for Bowie for riffing on that trope and seriously subverting it in Queen Bitch.

(I have to link to the Facebook post as the specific video is not available outside Facebook. If you don't like Facebook, and many don't, there are other versions available on YouTube.)

Video link
Posted by The Crazy Ones: The Mad Rock&Roll History on Wednesday, August 26, 2015

David Bowie: Memory of a Free Festival

I was tagged by my Facebook friend Dan to post a Bowie song a day for seven days. It's after midnight, but pretending for a moment it isn't, this is day six. 
I wanted to pick one of the singer-songwriter early songs and had a furious argument with myself over which one. David Bowie is probably the only person who fits the late-sixties/ early-seventies singer-songwriter mold that I can stand. I can cheerfully hate all the others, whether they're critically acclaimed or otherwise. From Giblets O'Sullivan through Joni Mitchell to Fat Reg from Pinner, I've switched them all off in mid-spate and walked out dreaming of proper music. Music with metal in it. 

But David Bowie, despite the lack of feedback and stratospherically-high stacks of Marshall amps on the backline, manages to hold my attention.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Web bloat woes

Reading the interwebs on a laptop is a miserable experience anymore.

I assume the pages have been optimized for reading on a phone screen (portrait orientation) which along with the gigantic amounts of cruft each page loads means there's almost no actual
information per page.


Screen capture from today

In the screen capture, there are 79 - seventy-nine - words of news story and about an acre of other stuff. It's not that most of the real estate is taken over by pointless stock photos (a problem on many other sites). In this case there's part of a real photo, two or three sidebars of other available content, a social media sharing widget that I can't work out how to minimize, a pop-up link to the video I skipped watching in case I want to share it with others (I don't, and I don't know how to get rid of the pop-up) and a banner along the top advertising yet more content, but this time in categories instead of titles. 

And I dread to think what it'd look like without AdBlocker switched on!

79 words per page. I think I was doing better than that with Compuserve in 1989.  Simply scrolling down enough screens to get the gist of the news story is wearing out my left-click mouse button. 

Update: 

Eh, this one's even worse. 


No words in the news article visible for three screens down. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

David Bowie: Lady Stardust



LYLE HOPWOOD·FRIDAY, MARCH 18, 2016

I was tagged by my friend Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie song a day for seven days. This is day five.
 
It's difficult to recommend a track from Ziggy Stardust. The album has reached such a saturation level that everyone has heard it, and worse, for the majority of Pop Pickers today, the album has literally always existed. It was released in 1972, and so for anyone under 43, it's part of the bedrock of society along with Mickey Mouse and the internal combustion engine. Some albums can escape this fate by being obscure - if I recommended J’ai Mal Au Dents from The Faust Tapes (1973), I could assume the vast majority of people have not heard it. But Ziggy Stardust is not a diamond from the hot and dark mine tunnels of ancient rock, a la Nuggets. It’s more like a large city limits sign on the Highway to Hell.

But it was once new. No punter had ever heard it before. Albums back then dropped with a couple of weeks notice, signaled only by hyperbolic wodges of text in the inkies (the weekly rock papers in England) either calling them out as better than the best thing ever or useless slabs of ruined wax by no-hopers who should just give up and go home. Yes, Bowie had played a few Ziggy gigs here and there, but you couldn’t watch them on YouTube, nor where there video cameras that could fit in your satin split-knee loon pants.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that when it was released, I had heard it was good (no one knew it was revolutionary until later) but I didn’t have the faintest idea what, exactly, was good about it. I’d be here all day if I gave an account of my reactions to it, so lets just concentrate on this one track. Lady Stardust. 



I don’t recall previously ever hearing a songwriter sing about himself in the third person. Star, the following track, is in the first person (“I could make a wild transformation as a rock and roll star.”) Lady Stardust is sung from the point of view a watcher. “Lady Stardust sang his songs of darkness and dismay.”

(It didn’t help that I assumed Lady Stardust was Ziggy’s girlfriend. Don’t laugh. I had *heard* of gay people and I knew rather more gay slang than most of my cohort, but for some reason the (no pun intended) straight reading fixed itself firmly in my brain and I imagined Lady Stardust (a combination of Elkie Brooks and Tina Turner) on the stage belting out Ziggy’s lyrics. (Ziggy himself being, obvs, the guitarist.))

It’s impossible to not believe the narrator is actually at the show and recounting what he’s seeing in real time - as though he was a video camera in loon pants. Even once I’d put two and two together and made one, so that the people who are staring “at the makeup on his face” are staring at Lady Stardust, not at her guitarist, the picture remains clear. I can almost remember seeing the boy in the bright blue jeans jump up on the stage, because the image is so bright it might as well be one of my own memories. And the way the narrator’s singing, it’s almost a lament. You surmise that something bad has already happened and Lady Stardust is not going to enjoy his fame for long, even if, as the narrator exaggerates for effect, the song seemed to go on forever. And that’s what special about this track. The words are plain and photorealistically descriptive; the melody is disconsolate and dejected, superficially because he cannot admit his love of the singer, but underneath it seems to be because the man he sees on stage does not really exist. He’s a projected image that will shortly disappear, perhaps lingering a while like the phosphor dot in the center of old TV screens as they were turned off.

Or not. There are other interpretations. One popular theory is that the song is about Marc Bolan (and you know how I love Marc Bolan). I can imagine Bowie thinking of Marc as a queen, but it doesn’t quite fit. His songs aren’t about darkness and disgrace, for one. For another, I don’t see Bowie looking at Bolan and thinking “animal grace”. If it is about Marc, the prediction still came true eventually, a little while after Ziggy’s own demise.

David Bowie: The Width Of A Circle

No interwebs today so this will have to be short. I was tagged by Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie track a day for 7 days. This is day 4 (I think). 

This one seized my mind as about the filthiest track it would be possible to ever get past Mary Whitehouse. Today I'm not sure if it is about a sexual encounter or about a trip to The Chapel Perilous, though I suppose it could be about both. 

I hope it's the former as it sounds so much more memorable than today's ideal of "Netflix And Chill". We should all have it like this occasionally. 

This is the live version though frankly I prefer the unadorned album version - it's rawer. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

David Bowie: Standing Next To You



LYLE HOPWOOD·WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16, 2016
I was tagged by my friend Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie track each day for seven days. This is day 3.

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a Marc Bolan fan. I’ve been a fan since about the time I bought Electric Warrior hot off the presses back in 1971.



Marc, who had always wanted to be famous – he wanted to be the biggest thing since the Tyrannosaurus rex, he said, at least according to Jackie magazine – took to fame like a duck to water. In doing so, he alienated just about everyone he had grown up with, or who had helped him along the way. He famously stopped speaking to John Peel, a special friend who had supported him since the early days at the Middle Earth Club, when Peel did not consider one of his new pop singles worthy of his (determinedly non-pop oriented) evening radio show. Fellow DJ Whispering Bob Harris did not get cold-shouldered, but as best I can recall, he came to feel no need to continue speaking to the world famous object of T. Rextasy, as he’d become arrogant and needy. I didn’t really notice from down here in fandom, though I did notice in the movie Born To Boogie, Marc wears a t shirt with his face on it while standing in front of a larger than life-size cardboard cut-out of himself. 

His friend David Bowie also started to baulk at his pushiness. I remember reading a pull quote from Bowie, in 1972, that Marc was “prissy and fey and engrossed in his own image”, which at the time struck me as funny – Bowie was nothing if not fey and engrossed in somebody’s image, though I’ve never thought of him as prissy. That led to a minor high-schooler’s dilemma for me. Keep on liking David Bowie and sort of betray Marc Bolan’s trust, or drop Bowie? The latter, obviously, was the correct immature way to go, so I took it. 

I wasn’t one of Marc’s friends, but it did dawn on me after a considerable time that the Boppin’ Elf was not the sunny, dimpled hippy of his earlier incarnation, and even I eventually stopped buying T. Rex records in 1973, between Tanx in January 1973 and Zinc Alloy in February 1974. Ironically, not much later than that, everyone else started liking Marc again. He’d come through his own coke-and-red-wine addiction and gotten seriously into punk; and punk admired him back. He got his own TV show in Summer 1977, which he used to feature himself (natch – the show was even called “Marc”) and a few punk bands. Then, eventually, in September 1977, he featured David Bowie, back on his friends list once again. Bowie sang “Heroes” and looked quite fabulous.

The show was taped on the 7th September, and went out on 28th September. By the time it aired, Marc was dead, killed in a car crash. His second stab at fame was not to be. Since I’d stopped listening to him years earlier I wasn’t aware of his TV show, or of his revival amongst the punks until later. 

For his last live TV appearance, Marc and Bowie rehearsed a song called Standing Next To You together and then played it live on stage. About half-way through the song, Marc fell off the stage and the camera caught Bowie laughing at him. Although it was taped for broadcast later, the live gaffe was used in the show, when it finally aired, and played over the credits. It’s always been one of life’s little ironies that Marc’s last TV appearance is of him fucking up, but it’s wonderful that he was back to playing with one of his old mates, David Bowie.

The partial song as aired is on the second video, but you can hear the whole song (sound recording, with visuals added later) in the first link of them rehearsing. It’s clearly a Bolan song – who else would write that riff? Or that hook? – but it’s great to see Bowie smiling and working on playing his guitar here. 

Rehearsal of Standing Next To You


Highlights of the show as aired, with David Bowie singing Heroes, among other things. The new song starts at 6’ 10” in.


David Bowie: Heroes/Helden



LYLE HOPWOOD·TUESDAY, MARCH 15, 2016

I was tagged by my friend Dan to post a David Bowie song a day for seven days. This is day 2. 

This song has been around the block a few times and may be too well-known for some people. It wasn't a hit when it was first released, but it had so many versions, and was played live so often, that it became a legend in its own lunchtime. A cult hit by dint of hard work, maybe. 

I liked it from the get-go, mainly for its mood. It has some of the elements of Big Melancholy, a type of song that's usually too much for me - makes me feel too sad - but, straining and soaring against the dark ages of rock music ((c) Tony Palmer), it comes to a super positive conclusion. We CAN be heroes, but just for one day. 


I guess my thought process was: "Well, that's the best you can expect, innit. Who doesn't want to be Frodo or Paul Muad'dib or the Beastmaster, or whomever, and the time limit is a good thing, because then you can go back to huddling with your friends in solidarity, and not have to die or go to The West or generally become a demi-god, which is let's face it, a lonely profession."

And this is the German version, as played on the titular car radio of "Radio On", a deep film about deep things from a deep era that I also loved back then. German's usually a mild, quiet, sentimental language, but Bowie, god bless him, manages to bring the histrionics to it nevertheless. "Ich, Ich bin ein Konig, und du, du Konigin!" is so filled with hope and longing and anticip...ation and so forth that it completely rules, except the line about dolphins eclipses it in yearning majesty even though, lets face it, when you read it cold on the page, it's just a line about some dolphins. 

David Bowie makes it magic.

David Bowie: Sound And Vision



LYLE HOPWOOD·MONDAY, MARCH 14, 2016

I was nominated by my friend Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie song each day for seven days.
I don't have an extensive collection of Bowie deep cuts, so some of these are going to be old faves - but ones that mean something special to me. 


First up is Sound and Vision from the album Low.

It starts with a heavily-treated snare drum announcement - rat-tat..tat! and goes into a long instrumental introduction that struck me as perfectly worked out, like a song in the round, in that you could listen to it forever and it would always lead back into itself in such a way that there is no part where you could imagine getting off the ride. And I didn’t - when it first came out, after each listening I lifted the tone arm and dropped it again and again back at the start. There’s the bass playing - and that fine guitar - and that...thing...that takes the place of a crash cymbal with its unusual and yet perfect sound - tfff! and the two times Bowie’s voice seems to wake up to its (electric blue) surroundings with that delighted sigh - ah ah! and Mary Hopkin comes in as the (moon)colored girl who goes doo-doo-doo, and then, finally, Bowie comes in on an unexpectedly low register to tell us that he’s holed up in his room, waiting for the gift of sound and vision. Before you have time to wonder why he thinks he doesn’t already have it, he’s out of here, and it’s time to drop the needle at the start and begin it again. 

Having said that, I’m not sure you can hear much of that on a Youtube rip. Unless you have it on vinyl or CD, it’s probably best just to think of it as a nice choon. A lot of its iconic quality comes from its situation in its own milieu, in any case. The seventies, English world of Chris Petit’s Radio On movie, with the Man Who Fell To Earth similarly playing with film grammar, the fact that I was away from home for the first time, living in the Halls of Residence at university. Listening to Sound and Vision again, I can feel that time again, smell it and almost touch it. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

X-Files: Home Again (TV, 2016)

Spoilers below.

Fourth episode out of six - only two left, now. And yet again, TPTB have put in a mytharc episode, this time in the sense that it's the ongoing saga of Scully's family (as opposed to aliens, hybrids and world domination). Mixed in with this, the -spoilers - death of Scully's mother, is a rather jarringly-different-in-tone monster of the week story.  The pairing required Mulder to juggle being available to Scully in her grief within minutes of cracking wise about corruption and self-interest in local government. Duchovny's acting is up to it, but I'm not sure he should have *had* to do it.

There was at least one quotable line. As her mother lay dying, Mulder admittd to Scully that he'd tried to develop a technique for wishing people back from the dead when she was in her own coma. Scully replied, "Mulder, you're a dark wizard."

The story itself seemed to have grown out of the fighting phrase 'takin' out the trash'.  The homeless of Philadelphia are being harassed alternately by a developer and by a do-gooder who claims she's on their side but is actually fighting to prevent them being relocated only because she doesn't want them living anywhere near her. Mulder quickly deduces they're both in it for themselves, and so does a super-strong monster called the Band Aid Nose Man, who literally takes them both apart. His modus operandi includes arriving in the back of a garbage truck, and often, dragging bits of them out and throwing them into the back and jumping in after them as he leaves.

M&S are called in to investigate, and Mulder notices a piece of Banksy-style graffiti art on a wall nearby. So does a pair of low-lifes, who steal the piece of drywall it's painted on. It's signed by The Trashman, and they reckon they can sell it off for thousands. The monster kills them for also being self-serving and making money off the homeless. The local police analyse the paint on the signature, leading Mulder to the only store that sells that brand of paint. He tails a buyer to some warehouse where the kid runs away, but it's okay because the Trashman is there as well. (If all they had to do was test the paint, why do we even have the art thieves subplot? It just crowded out an already brimful episode.)

Anyway, Mulder finds the artist, who not only makes graffiti art, but also creates a sort of golem, which he describes as a tulpa (until Mulder gives him the dictionary definition of a tulpa, which is apparently different). The animated thing/whatever has picked up the artist's hatred for those who exploit the helpless and is out there killing them; the original artist knows of no way to destroy it. (And for his troubles gets a lecture from Scully about taking responsibility.)

The outsider-art aspect of the show is well done, and the artist's halting explanation of his work is a great set-piece.  (He's played by Rancid's Tim Armstrong, who seems to embody the character. Maybe he's a good actor or maybe that was great typecasting.) Scully gets in a short action sequence that marks her out as a badass and, when Mulder whines about having to "do" stairs, she quips she used to "do" stairs in three inch heels. Scully's anguish at her mother's death and continuing remorse over losing her adopted-out son William is also wrenchingly-well done. Mulder gets to be sarky, knowledgeable about mythological creatures and a strong support for Scully, so it's all round a good episode.

Don't know who drove the garbage truck, though. Or how M&S could possibly write up the case report without being called delusional.

And there's one big error - Gillian Anderson fluffs one of the most important lines. After her mother has heard from her estranged younger brother and died in relative peace, she should say, according to the subtitles and to common sense, "She wanted to know before she left that he'd be okay." What she actually says is "She wanted to know before he left that he'd be okay." It's odd that either the director didn't notice (which would be bad) or that he didn't have the money to reshoot or work around it (which is arguably worse).

You can watch the X-Files here. 

Sunday, February 07, 2016

X-Files: Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster (TV 2016)

The second episode of the re-launched X-Files was a bit iffy. It was a mytharc-style episode, and it seemed kinda odd to start a new mytharc when the old one was never really finished, in a six-episode season that may not be picked up next year for any further elaboration.  Called Founder's Mutation (a sort of X-Filian pun on the 'founder' of a charitable foundation that looks after mutant kids and the founder mutation, which is the mutation that precipitates a speciation event), it went everywhere from telekinesis through telepathy, mutant kids with cronenbergian bodies, Mulder and Scully's separate fears over what may have happened to their adopted-out child William, to ice-pick suicides and good old-fashioned male terror at the concept (sorry) of pregnancy.  

It was a decent X-Files episode but seven hundred years of Orphan Black (at least) have aired since X-Files went off the air, and in that we've seen so many foundations and founders and children in orphanages and mutations that the original source has been eclipsed by its...clones. (Sorry again.)

Scully mentions a paper on Founder Effects by Batini and Hallast - which says that 64% of the population of Europe can be traced to three male ancestors in the Bronze Age. This is a real paper. You can read it here. 




Now, the third episode, Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster was helmed by one of the best of the original writers, Darin Morgan, and is a perfect X-File. A monster-of-the-week episode, it trotted along nicely with all the eye candy of a good episode and all the clever-dickery of the very best episodes.  The poor editing and iffy acting of the pilot and second-aired-episode failed to make an appearance.

Almost all the lines were quotable and it was all I could do not to pause every couple of minutes to write them down and put them here. Scully's "Mulder, the internet isn't good for you," was one of the best delivered, and the scene where the game warden and Mulder stop in mid-screaming-and-running to find "settings" on Mulder's newfangled cellphone was another memorable moment. Oh, and I must mention Mulder saying, "I'm a middle-aged man - no, Scully, I am!" followed by a cut to Scully, who hadn't said a word in protest. 

 - spoilers everywhere below -
Not for the first time this was an episode where the peaks came from reversing the normal course of things. In the prologue, Mulder is going through old files and throwing them out, as they've been solved since he was last in the office. Student pranks, advertising gimmicks and in the case of mysteriously moving rocks on a 'racetrack', simple ice-formation, have now been shown to be the explanations of the 'mysteries'. He's no longer the believer. He's throwing pencil-darts not at the ceiling tiles, but at the I Want To Believe poster, which Scully, when she comes in, declares is actually hers

The monster, when today's mystery is finally solved, is a lizard who was bitten by a man and therefore becomes a man each full moon, much to his disgust. This reversal is used to great comedic effect as the were-man gets an opportunity to show how absurd much of human culture actually is. After his transformation he found himself compelled to...get a job. So he could qualify for a mortgage, whatever that is.  He was worried it was too late for him to write a novel. 

The bad guy (doing the murders and the biting) is the game warden. The babes in the woods who stumble across the murders are huffing paint fumes and the man who runs the motel with the creepy hidden corridor and peeping-tom holes into every room (which are full of animal skins and weird-ass stuffed heads, including a jackalope) drinks rubbing alcohol. Mulder sympathizes with him - that's what he expects in a motel-keeper.  The motel keeper tells him to go away, in quite a friendly fashion and adds, without malice, "Or I'll kill ya."

Although it sounds depressing, an entire hour of hearing that humanity is crap and everything anyone cares about is meaningless, completely-arbitrary hooey, the writing is light and funny.  The were-man (yes, I'm aware that 'were' means 'man' and so that means 'man-man' but what else would you call him?) is played by Rhys Darby, the New Zealand comedian. You may remember him from such films as What We Do In The Shadows, a vampire mockumentary in which he played a polite were-wolf. "I'm a were-wolf, not a swear-wolf!" He has exactly the right touch for a role in which he's called on to wave his arms and point out the ridiculousness of human existence, much of it expounded while standing around a gravestone named for Kim Manners

He's also wearing clothes in the style of Kolchak, the Night Stalker (having taken them from the corpse of one of the people murdered by the game warden) and there's a story behind that. The whole script is taken from an unfilmed episode of the latterday Kolchak and repurposed for the X-Files. The full story is here.

One thing I'm always interested in is how a story is put together, how the scenes are written to cover the story adequately. The following is just a set of notes to myself. 

I was particularly taken with this sequence: Mulder finds some pills in the were-man's motel room and of course pills have the prescriber's name on them. He goes to see the psychiatrist named and presumably asks about the patient. We don't hear about the patient. The scene opens with the psychiatrist telling the story of a man who was tormented by a lizard dragon and eventually finds a gypsy who tells him to stab it in the appendix with a shard of green glass.  He stabs the creature and as it dies he realizes he's looking in a mirror and it is himself.  The psychiatrist says the moral is it's easier to believe that there are monsters out there than to look inside yourself.  

This 'legend' turns out to be the actual story. Without any connecting 'real story logic' being offered, it seems the only way you can kill this creature is to stab him with a broken bottle. Or did the lizard-man just believe that because the trick cyclist told him the story? Why is the psychiatrist telling this story to people anyway? (Whenever a question about the were-man's life-cycle comes up, both the lizard-man and Mulder agree there's no logic to it, and yet, overall, it works in the story.)  

The psychiatrist also tells Mulder he told the lizard-man to go to a cemetery, because if nothing else, it'll bring home the fact that all one's troubles are temporary. Mulder questions this, but the doctor says, "It's what I do."  That gives Mulder enough information to find the lizard-man. He's going to be in a cemetery.  How-to-write columns always say that each scene should not solve the mystery, but should give sufficient information for the next step to take place but I've never seen two togeher that are so pure.  In the motel room the bottle. From the psychiatrist, the location. When Mulder finds the were-man by the gravestone, he explains that until a few days ago he had no idea he could die, so I guess the psychiatrist has his uses. 

For equally illogical, but strong story reasons, the were-man is due to hibernate for 10,000 years soon and hopes to wake up cured. As endings go, it's total bollocks, but it solves all the story problems. No one now alive will be around and so you don't have to think of a happy ending. It's out of our hands. Assume all live happily ever after. 

I've seen a couple of comments on the interwebs asking why a lizard-man in America who hibernates for 10,000 years at a time would have a New Zealand accent.  What accent should he have had? The mind boggles.
(Edited for clarity.)













LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
I sometimes mention a product on this blog, and I give a URL to Amazon or similar sites. Just to reassure you, I don't get paid to advertise anything here and I don't get any money from your clicks. Everything I say here is because I feel like saying it.