See It: The Shape of Water

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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.

Out Now: Madonna of the Wasps 2

TBRE2The second issue of The Blood Red Experiment is out and it’s a doozy. Includes the second chapter of my giallo novella The Madonna of the Wasps. Great stories by some other geezers, too! You know their names and quality is always the game.

The Blood Red Experiment Issue 2 is out now for purchase on Kindle. If you like Giallo Horror, then this magazine will be for you. We have the talents of Richard Godwin, Kate LaityKevin BergTom LeinsJim ShafferMark Cooper and Jack Bates in each issue. Issue One is available to read if you haven’t read it already. The episodes run sequentially so read issue 1 first, you won’t be disappointed!

Ken Russell: Perspectives, Reception & Legacy

I was fortunate to attend this ground-breaking conference and experience all its delights. Here are a few pictures (the rest on Facebook). Host Matt Melia is looking into publishing the proceedings, so I’ll certainly let you know when that happens. There was a really high ratio of excellence, as might be expected with many people waiting years to have a opportunity like this: really a terrific bunch of folks. I finally got to meet the lovely Lisi face to face and we were all graced with Murray Melvin‘s stellar presence. Yes, I got to hold Ken’s Peruvian madonna.

Southbound

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!

Film for a Friday: Woman Who Came Back

Yes, it is written like that in the title card: no article on Woman. Low budget offering from Western Television, Woman Who Came Back (1945) offers a tale of the past invading the present in the form of a witch burned at the stake who wants revenge. In New England — where of course no one was burned as a witch.

Criminy people: witches were not burned in the US, they were hanged (and occasionally pressed). Also EARLY MODERN ERA was the time of the  wild witch crazes: you needed the print era to really get propaganda going on a massive scale.

Anyhoo: this is a fun little no-budget film. Including great creepy vintage Halloween costumes.

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The story is simple: Lorna Webster (Nancy Kelly) on a bus returning to her hometown and the man she ran away from at the altar meets an old woman who claims to be Jezebel Trister (Elspeth Dudgeon – best name I’ve heard in a while), the witch who had been condemned by Lorna’s great grand pappy. Of course she’s back to curse his progeny and the bus crashes killing everyone except Lorna and the old woman’s dog who haunts her the rest of the film.

Her paternalistic head-patting fiance (Now Voyager’s John Loder) assures her everything will be fine and the epically old guy pipe-smoking Rev. Jim Stevens (Otto Kruger) agrees. Let’s just all forget this bus full of dead people and get on with our charming New England lives of small town paranoia: Shirley Jackson meets Grace Metalious.

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Of course weird things happen: everything Lorna touches dies and it spooks people, like Expositio her housekeeper (okay, her name’s not really Expositio but she does explain a lot of back story before giving notice presumably because the windows won’t stay shut and the curtains billow mysteriously in the ever-present wind).

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Naturally, Lorna discovers the truth about her curse from a volume in old grandpappy’s study that just happens to be in a mausoleum in the crypts under the church. The townfolk don’t like these goings on especially when her fiance’s niece falls ill and they react accordingly.

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Will they gather into an angry mob or will clearer pipe-smoking heads prevail to show they’ve all been Scooby-Doo’d? It’s only a little over an hour so you can watch and find out for yourself. Hardly a masterpiece, it’s nonetheless fun and goes on my list for the course on witch films I’m thinking about doing sometime in the near future.

I learned about this film from a terrific piece on the folk-horror of Powell & Pressburger’s Gone to Ground.

Film for a Friday: Sweet Charity

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I just needed some Fosse to get me motivated on finishing grading. Some great stuff but no time to enjoy it all — but I have some really sharp students (of course!). Once all this is done and graduation over, I’ll be updating more frequently. And having a little fun, laughs, and good times.

Panel Tonight: SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY

marque-3Thanks to Peg Aloi, I’m going to be appearing with her (and possibly some other folks) on a panel tonight after the documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry on 2nd wave feminism of the 60s & 70s. Join us for a lively discussion. See The Linda’s site for more info.