See It: The Shape of Water


Many thanks to Peg for the chance to see this ahead of release. We were both saying that it will be great to see it again on a big screen. It’s del Toro, so of course it’s just a lovely lovely film on the visual level: the greens and the reds! Breathtaking. The cast of course are wonderful: Sally Hawkins always is, ditto Octavia Spencer and of course Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Jenkins — well, really. What a cast — the whole cast.

But a word about Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins together: this is a film about being in love with the movies. All I really knew about it was del Toro and a nod to The Creature from the Black Lagoon (probably from Bissette mentioning it). But it’s also about musicals and the magic of films and how that can make your horrible (or even just difficult) life bearable. So yeah, there’s music and movie magic and a movie house showing its age.

At the centre though is a silent pas de deux between Hawkins and Jones. At the ISATMA conference Michelle Temple talked to us about American Sign Language not just as a tool for communication but as a part of a culture. She gave us an example of how to leave a party, going around and saying farewell individually not just to make sure everyone knows you’re going but because ‘we watch out for one another’ Temple emphasised. Hawkins’ character is mute (though not deaf) and speaks through sign language. Jones’ character lacks human speech, but they soon learn to communicate. So many films rely on dialogue and facial expressions. This is whole body acting. Hawkins and Jones will slay you.

It’s melancholy magic, sad and beautiful, fun and painful — which is to say it’s del Toro, right? I more often think about Pan’s Labyrinth than I watch it because it’s so harrowing. This film covers traumatic subjects but with a lighter touch–more fable than fairy tale, perhaps. This makes it sound lesser. It’s not. But takes place on a more intimate stage. You peel back the Technicolor skin and you see people struggling against forces they know may crush them (oh, the scene with Spencer and Martin Roach or the pie shop). But in spite of that — or maybe because of that — they won’t back down from doing what they know has to be done.

And that’s what we need to see right now. I don’t want that to be a fairy tale.


kingston kenI am bound for London — well, actually Kingston-on-Thames first for the conference. Never been to this campus before but it looks lovely. I’ll be near Hampton Court so I might finally go there. The Royal Horticulture Society had a big show there: the gardens are bound to be lovely.

Of course the conference ought to be a blast. I really get to enjoy it because I am the first speaker after the welcome! Heh, that makes a difference from going in the last panel of the last day. Far more relaxing. All the papers look interesting — after all, it’s Ken Russell!

I’ll be flying down which is a change. Rail tickets have gone up so much it was actually cheaper (not to mention quicker). Going by way of Surbiton which always puts me in mind of Monty Python.

I will have adventures to share, of course: at least a couple of concerts in London afterward, too. I will doubtless share my opinions here. In the meantime I’m just glad to have my paper finished well before time!

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Representing the skulk always!

Review: Gimme Danger


Music is life. And life is not a business.

When I came out of the theatre there was blood on the pavement and a guy whose face had been smashed by something. It seemed out of place on a quiet Albany afternoon, but not after this film.

The Stooges are a perfect meeting of the mind-bending exuberance of youth and the free-floating impotent anger that often accompanies it when that energy has no place to go. Surrounded right now by a cultural climate that has filled most of the women I know (mostly past that first exuberance of youth) with a rage that has few outlets, it was a good catharsis. It could have been many things — like an Iggy film — but it was tightly bound to the band. Jarmusch, too, stayed out of the way (I hate those big name doco directors who make it all about showing what good taste they had).

The film is stripped down, filling in missing footage with Iggy’s narration and found footage, crazy cultural references and even animation. I can’t even begin to tell you anything rational about it because I was so immersed in it that I wasn’t making mental notes. There was a point where all three of us in the theatre laughed out loud at something so unexpected I couldn’t tell you what it was because the movie clipped right along.

Things that stuck this first time around (because I will be watching this again and again as soon as I can get my hands on it): how weird it was to hear all these mid-Michigan accents I grew up with that now sound totally alien. Every time I hear Iggy talk there’s that dislocation. How the band all lived up to that hippie ideal of ‘communism’ — living communally, sharing everything, even song writing credits. ‘That was before we knew about intellectual property rights,’ he said drily. How the younger girls they met in Washington Square who were a[n unnamed] band were much better than them spurred the Stooges on to want to be better. How they saw the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame induction as crowning the coolness of losers. How visionaries like Danny Fields saw their promise and pretty much no one else did — until suddenly every band in the world seemed to be covering the Stooges.

Soupy Sales. James Williamson’s second career!

Near the end of the film, Iggy remembered bringing a bunch of guys from his high school back to his folks’ trailer, trying to get in with them and they made fun of where he lived and how small the bathroom was. And his avowal that he wanted to outlive them and show them and put them in their place (like Tori with ‘I want to smash the faces / of those beautiful boys’).

Anger is an energy, as that other guy said. Let it lift us.


FFB: Ritual by David Pinner

The library's only copy: large print edition!

The library’s only copy: large print edition!

David Pinner’s novel Ritual is probably best known for inspiring the classic film The Wicker Man, which counts as horror or comedy depending on your religious alliances (or maybe a little of both — those poor animals!). Having come up in conversation on Twitter (I think? Rod McKie I believe can refresh my memory), I figured I should finally check it out (despite having several other books on the go, as usual — I am given to whims).

Pinner wrote this initially as a treatment for an occult film in the same vein as his recent play, the vampire comedy Fanghorn. He was also starring in Christie’s The Mousetrap (“Keeping New Plays out of the West End for decades!”), so combining the procedural with occult seemed cool. Director Michael Winner (according to Wikipedia, take that as you will) liked it and thought to make it with John Hurt but dithered too long about it. So Pinner turned it into a novel and then Robin Hardy read it and the rest is history — insofar as the film was made but it was scripted by Anthony Shaffer. Good choice.

I won’t say Pinner’s novel is bad, but it was a slog. Major problems are headhopping and purple prose. The dialogue would work to better effect on stage in the right hands to give it readings that might tread the line between parody and satire. There are moments that work beautifully — the death of the girl at the start has a dreamy quality. I like that the detective names his inner Puritan as Oliver Cromwell. Anna’s understanding of her own sacred sexuality fits the fevered verbiage well.

David Hanlin comes to a remote Cornwall village to investigate what he thinks is a ritual murder; he has a bit of a Satanic Panic going on, but as in The Wicker Man the villagers (or islanders) seem to be up to something dodgy as well. There’s a down-at-the-heels peer in the novel who’s rather less dramatic than Christopher Lee’s legendary turn as Lord Summerisle. There’s even the seduction through the wall scene, though without Britt Eklund’s body double (I think). But it doesn’t at all add up to the same thing.

Hanlin is bonkers and gets more so as he goes along. Though you jump unexpectedly at times into other people, there’s no real sense of the other characters. His would-be seducer Anna is just your patented woman-as-sexual-temptation, she’s not a person. The Reverend is just the impotent hypocrisy of the church, etc. Like a script the focus is on the diaolgue (inner and outer) and not so much on the character development. He does make nature seem evil and cruel, but it’s mostly a reflection of Hanlin.

Can’t say I’d recommend it. I far more enjoyed Hardy’s novelisation of Shaffer’s script, which made an effort to add a little background and context to the story as scripted. This was a curiosity and I skimmed as much as I could after getting frustrated with it. Time is my most precious commodity. If I’ve saved you some, all the better.

See the round up of Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s site.

Update: some cool pagan news from Finland – official recognition for the Karhun kansa (Bear People). Thanks, Byron!

NB: I have put up my first story at Medium, the new blogging site set up by one of the founders of Twitter: Getting Medieval on Love, a little bit about the medieval creation of Valentine’s Day celebrations. Take a poke around the site to see what it’s all about.