Friday, May 29, 2009

Movie Kisses of Taste: 0.68 Seconds of Temptation

What makes a movie kiss memorable? Romance? Body heat? Tentacles?

This is the eighth in my series of Favorite Kisses on Film (or "movie kisses of taste" as mangled by a Japanese-language web translator). 

I got the idea of compiling a list partly from enjoying The Sheila Variations: "15 Best Movie Kisses". When I started my list, I figured it would look something like her collection of classic clinches. I'd even already written about seven of the movies on her list: Rocky, Notorius, The Big Easy and Streetcar Named Desire, To Have and Have Not, Gone with the Wind, and Casablanca, though I didn't necessary write about them in terms of romance.

I notice, though, that after 8 posts on the topic, it's not the classic kisses that are tempting me to blog about them, wonderful though they are. Maybe because they've been so thoroughly covered? I don't know, but as I'm about to put together my second kiss involving a female who has tentacle-like appendages (Laliari from Galaxy Quest is the other), I wonder...

Today's kiss isn't even a kiss, exactly. It involves the mysterious, sensual, bad-to-know Borg Queen, left, (interview with Alice Krige) and the true-blue android, Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner), of the starship Enterprise.
They meet in a really spooky erotic scene in Star Trek: First Contact (1996).
(I never got into The Next Generation series, but this is such a good sci-fi movie, it stands on its own.)

The Borg are cyborgs (part machine, part flesh) who make up a collective entity, like a bee hive. The Borg Queen is the only one who thinks for herself. She's like a sexy version of Stalin. Hard to imagine, but she is. The Borg seek to assimilate all living beings into the collective. The Borg Queen uses Data's desire to be human to lure him to cooperate, seducing him by grafting a living piece of human skin into the circuitry of his mechanical arm.Then she blows across the bare patch of skin.Can you see here? The skin shivers, the fine arm hair rises in response.And Data for the first time in his machine existence experiences physical sensation.
Besides sight and sound, it's hard to convey the senses on film. Movie kisses may be arousing, but they rarely actually capture the sensation of touch. This one truly does. It's my choice for Movie Kiss #8, even if it's not technically a kiss.

There is an actual kiss between the Borg Queen and Data later, however, which I had entirely forgotten, until I came across it looking through the screencaps. It's amusing so I'll include it here.
Borg Queen: Are you familiar with physical forms of pleasure?
Data: If you are referring to sexuality, I am... fully functional, programmed in... multiple techniques.
Borg Queen: How long since you've used them?
Data: Eight years, seven months, sixteen days, four minutes, twenty-two... Borg Queen: Far too long.
At the end, the Borg are put out of commission and Captain Jean-Luc Picard rescues Data, who betrays the Borg Queen. Data tells Picard that the Borg Queen had succeeded in seducing him into considering her offer of partnership, for a time.
Picard asks, "How long a time?" Data answers, " 0.68 seconds sir."
And concludes, "For an android, that is nearly an eternity."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Mystery of Marriage (1932)

What a treasure trove! I just discovered the 221 early films (I think they're all documentaries, from 1899 through the first half of the 20th century) from the British Film Institute archives at the BFI channel on youTube. They include footage from India to Blackpool, and cover educational topics such as Tea Making Tips, because "many people get careless about tea making."

This scientific clip points out that even molds don't like to marry their cousins and offers insight into the present-giving stage of courtship, for humans and flies.

I must get back to filmmaking... as soon as Slovakia's done. Until then I'm not even blogging, as you see.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's Disordered?

Is my inability to write anything about Slovakia unless I understand what I'm saying a disorder?
A disability?
I don't know, but it's a genuine problem. Trying to understand the raison d'etre of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which we never studied in school, in order to write two sentences about it in the History chapter seriously slows me down. All I have to do is paraphrase some expert's opinion on the empire, I don't have to formulate my own opinion about it. But I feel compelled to.

Problem. The publisher pays a flat fee, not by the hour and not much, for compiling these kids' reference books, so I consistently end up turning my work in late (my first one, left, took me months, while other people crank their country books out in a few weeks), and I earn something like $0.78/hour.
I think of it as a poorly paid but interesting internship, one that doesn't afford health insurance. You can see, I also slow myself down considerably by blogging. You can't see, but I also stare into space a lot.

I've always been like this. In fifth grade, for instance, I wrote an in-depth 15-page illustrated report on horses (my passion when I was ten) but never bothered to do my math homework, even when my father threatened me with physical punishment. My report cards looked disordered, all right.

But, on the other hand, my "disorder" (I don't know what string of letters to attach to it) also means I am a handy person to know if, say, you are inviting descendants of the Hapsburgs to William Shatner's annual charity horse show. (They seemed to like horses, or anyway having Velazquez paint their portraits on horseback. Philip III of Spain, here.)
So maybe it's a good thing.
I like to think so, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way.

Last night Laura took me out to dinner and we were talking about this, and she said that our personalities could be seen as a bunch of disorders. And maybe our gifts show in the way we work with or around our eccentric qualities, the ones that are out of the center of the social norm.

To borrow a line of thinking, just for a moment, from Harry Lime in The Third Man, if we were all neurologically normal, we would never invent anything more interesting than a cuckoo clock.

II. Spock on the Spectrum

I recently wrote that I objected to the new Star Trek movie making Spock too human, as if he were merely an Earth person with Asperger's syndrome, one of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD). I objected because that's a human condition, not because Asperger's is bad--in fact, I used the word "adaptation" rather than "disorder" on purpose. I meant I want Spock's character to reflect Vulcan, where he grew up, not Earth, home of other fictional characters on the spectrum, Cliff, Mr. Bean, and Lisa Simpson (left). If Vulcans cultivate a philosophy and way of living that happens to look a lot like Asperger's (which it does), fine. But keep Spock rooted in Vulcan.

Momo sent me a link to this wonderful article:
Autistic Trekdom, by Matthew Baldwin (of defective yeti), who says, "As I watched this film last Saturday, and Mr. Spock walked onto the bridge with his stiff demeanor and his formal language, my initial reaction was: 'Oh man, that guy is so Asperger’s.'"

Baldwin writes as someone whose own son is autistic, and he finds hope in the movie that in the future his son, like Spock, will be "perfectly comfortable" with who he is. And further, that he "will be judged not by the conventionality of his cognitive process, but by the content of his character.”

Kirk/Spock: The Movie, by Mortmere

Mortmere is my favorite vidder--she makes me choke on my coffee every time.

Is Sotomayor a Trekkie?

Cause that sure looks like a Star Trek Next Generation uniform to me. Photo taken in 1998, when TNG was still on, too, from the White House bio.
(I did a search and find no other evidence, however, that she is a Trek fan.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Towel Day 2009

This is the second Towel Day we have celebrated in honor of Douglas Adams, here at L'Astronave. This year all my friends are at the lake for Memorial Day while I'm sitting here at the computer working on Slovakia. At any rate, I'm sitting here at the computer.
Since I can't round anybody up to pose in a towel, I had to turn to my favorite standby...

"Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy... and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with."
--Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2)

Captain Kirk isn't exactly a hitchhiker, but he does know what to do with a towel.

Kirk nicely matches this Douglas Adams quote too:
"If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now."

And this one.
"Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable, let's prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all."

And, "It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes." Kirk clearly demonstrates you need ham too.

Read more Douglas Adams quotes.
Make your own posters at Parody Motivator Generator.
(Top photo from "The Enemy Within"; bottom photo from "The Corbomite Maneuver.")

365 - 24: Towel Day, 2009

To show that I am prepared to hitchhike the galaxy at any moment too, here's a self-portrait of me draped in my towel.

The self-timer wasn't set the way I thought it was, but I like the photo anyway. You can see my very own tulip chair in the background, to the right, which I bought this weekend at a garage sale.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"A Thread of Grieving"

This morning, doing a little blog clean up, I came across a few notes I'd jotted down about this movie among my unpublished drafts. I'd written them months ago, after someone told me she thought my writings about my mother's suicide were "too emotionally remote."

I didn't agree.
I told her she was used to overly sentimental representations, packaged to sell. In my eyes, most representations of the aftermath of suicide crank the emotion too high. Not that I've done a thorough study, partly because I don't have much stomach for seeing suicide treated with mawkish reverence or clinical sterility or sexed up awe, and that's mostly what I've encountered.

So, she asked me what I'd recommend that matched my experience.
The only movie I've seen that, in my eyes, got it 100% spot on was Love Liza (2002), starring the phenomenal Philip Seymour Hoffman.

He plays Wilson, whose wife, Liza, commits suicide and leaves a note, which he can't bring himself to read. Instead, he spend most of the movie inhaling gasoline fumes, to the point of passing out, for some kind of fucked up comfort. This is exactly how I felt after my mother's death.

I was so astonished, so grateful to see my blasted self depicted on screen, I almost bought a DVD of the movie, except I never want to watch it again. When Wilson finally reads Liza's letter at the end, well, as my sister said, love's not enough to save you, but you've got to have it.

Philip's brother Gordy Hoffman wrote the Love Liza screenplay. It's not based on his experience of someone he knew committing suicide but on a general awareness of loss. Gordy said, "Life is always a thread of grieving that never ends. It's not that we are always depressed or sad, it's just life..."

Yeah. I found I could understand people's pain about almost anything so much better after I myself no longer had any firm ground to stand on. (Pain is pain, it just varies in degree.)

Btw, the movie poster is misleading. A bizarre humor attends horror--but I would hardly call it "comic."


For more info on suicide prevention or help if you are struggling:

"The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals."
Outside of the United States, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Star Trek XI, Redux

How much am I failing at my blog hiatus? As of today, I'd say a lot.

[Of course this image (from Poulpe Pulps) has nothing directly to do with Star Trek, though the damsel does sport Spock's bangs; but we've all seen enough images from the new film, right? I have, anyway.]

When I wrote my first impressions of the Star Trek movie, I held myself back because I didn't want to spoil the movie for anyone. Maybe that was a mistake, as it made for a vague review. Or maybe it turned out for the best, as what I have to say now is more thoughtful.

This morning I replied to Mortmere's right-on Star Trek review "Punch It." (and to Mrs. Conclusion's comments in reply too). Mortmere broke it down into "Things that I loved" and "Things that I hated (or at least was left wondering why)."

Here's a version of my "Things I Loved/Hated about Star Trek XI" comment to Mortmere:

Reading your and Mrs. C's, Lee's, and other friends' reviews!
Like Mrs. C says--the audience reaction in the theater was fun, and I'm enjoying this after-the-theater reaction more than anything in the movie, probably. Except Chekov's "I can do that! I can do that!" enthusiasm and his look of sickened horror when he loses Amanda in the transporter = the only expressions of emotion in the movie that stayed with me.
I'd even forgotten the cute dismay of the ewok-like creature left behind on the dinosaur-plant planet you mention. What a mishmash of Star Wars visuals this was! (Scotty/Creature slash: too funny! You should write it, Mrs. C.)

I totally agree that the Corevette/Nokia commercial could/should be cut--and a wee bit of character development/interaction added instead. Or on top of. Or just stuck in anywhere. Anywhere. Please?
(Oh, wait, that's not something I loved. Though I did like the car, and I read somewhere it was a 1966 model, same year as Star Trek first aired.)

[I take that back. It does lead to something I love, since I love people talking abotu Star Trek more than the product itself, this time around. And the car scene led to these images (right) from "The Physics of Kirk's Star Trek Car Jump". Someone did the physics and figured out that our captain must have extremely strong fingers, which answers my questions about how he manages to cling on to the edges of so very many cliffs in the movie though not why the filmmakers felt compelled to show this to us so often.]

I was surprised, but I agree Chris Pine was pretty much OK as the captain. The swaggering male (captain/cop/cowboy) is such a normal American character, a lot of actors could play him convincingly, and Pine did. I just have to accept that growing up without a father, and with his mother off in space, makes this new Kirk very different than the one I love.

******But Pine did cross his legs in the captain chair an the end, surely a conscious tribute to Shatner's Kirk, and I LOVED that! That was my favorite part of the whole movie come to think of it--even better than Chekov. I haven't seen a still photo of that yet--and I do want one.

You're right about Bruce Greenwood. I overlooked him, but his Captain Pike stood out as a real character among a bunch of mostly cartoonish ones.

Scotty wasn't the Old Scotty to me, no; but I am predisposed to love Simon Pegg, so I was just, like, "Hooray: It's Shaun of the Dead putting on a bad Scottish accent in space!" And he woke me up as I was about to slump out of my seat in the last third of the movie. Where, oh where, were the editors?

"Uninteresting" is the perfect word for Red Matter. And for the movie, overall: it just didn't move me much one way or another.

II. THE THING I HATED (hated, hated, hated):
The one scene that makes me declaim, "THIS IS A DISASTER!"[1] is Spock and Uhura kissing in the transporter room, in front of the new captain.

It was wrong for both characters and the ship:
Even if Spock had a lover, he'd be private his sexuality--in "Amok Time" he couldn't even bear to tell Kirk about Pon Farr in the privacy of his quarters. I don't see why an alternate timeline would change that about him--but given that it did, a Spock who acts this way is of no interest to me--it was his struggles with his emotions, his choice to try and control them in service of some Higher Good (in Vulcan eyes, anyway) that I related to--and that made him sexy. Remove that and he's just another one of us, suffering from a repressive childhood, or maybe he has Asperger's syndrome, which is a human adaptation, not a Vulcan philosophy.

Uhura, for her part, would be professionally discreet about a love affair with a fellow crew member, even as a young woman. Even if--especially if--they are facing death.
On the show, Uhura only flirted with Spock when the captain was off-bridge or they were in the rec room. And after the first season, she seemed to give it up as a lost cause. (This is their early days, of course--maybe what we saw on TV was the flickers of dying passion before she moves on? But I still don't buy in any way the PDA.)

I always thought the Enterprise woman Spock responded to with some sparkle was Janice Rand. But I think that was because they were sort of friendly rivals--they both loved the captain. (The flip-side of the unfriendly rivalry, as I see it, between McCoy and Spock.)

Now that would be an interesting romance--if Spock and Janice became lovers because they loved the same third person.... No doubt some fan has written that pairing? (I don't read much fanfic.)
It could be a comedy: in the heat of passion, they could both call out "Jim!" Gosh, if it doesn't exist, I should write it! Oh, I just did.

Further, in the movie, it's ludicrous to think that someone who's just watched their mother die wants to be kissed romantically, as Uhura kisses Spock in the elevator. But that was just bad writing to introduce a plot device--more of what Mrs C. called "the screenwriters' house of cards"-- not a rift in the very nature of the ship.

Finally, the Enterprise is supposed to be a naval vessel, and to see naval officers kissing publicly while on duty blows that reality out of the water. I like how director N. Meyer played up the naval qualities of the ship, and I met a navy man at the Star Trek con last summer and he told me with delight how correct the details are--on the TV show too.

It's the restraints that make the story interesting, that give the characters something to push against--the restraints of proper naval behavior (Hornblower's struggles with this add a layer of emotional complexity too), and the restraints of Vulcan philosophy, and of course the restraints of our own personal limitations, whatever they are.
Remove them, and the story goes limp.

III. Left Wondering
Obviously I was deluding myself that this movie didn't move me--given my long rants here!
I was going to add that another thing I hated was the callous, almost casual, way the movie wiped out 6 billion Vulcans. To newcomers, Vulcan's just another planet sucked into a black hole; but to those of us who've cared about it for decades, that's like blowing up, say, Hogwarts.

But then I thought, you know, the destruction of Vulcan mirrors one of the many genocides or destructions of culture in human history--certainly the Holocaust of World War Two, but also the experience of Africans taken into slavery, Native Americans after the arrival of Europeans, Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, people in Darfur, Tibet, etc.

And so the wipe-out of Vulcan sets up the possibility of dealing with the aftermath in future stories--just like Jews, African Americans, Tibetan Buddhists, and other survivors have to deal with the loss of their homelands. How, afterward, to keep the culture alive? How to recover, insofar as that's possible, from the horror?

They'd better pick this up in some future movies or else it was just senseless slaughter for the sake of a house of cards.

[1] Footnote: Netspeak

I'm not sure about the first use of "THIS IS A DISASTER," but I think it's from an overwrought comment objecting to Scotty being wrongly placed (in Chekov's seat) on Star Trek: The Cake posted on last year (5-25-08). At least that seems to be the funniest early use of it... And did it spread through io9's post "Star Trek Cake Upsets Nerds" , which appeared 2 days later and which as of today has 36,693 views?
Anyone know?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Eavesdrop on the Sun

Darwi is a scientist who took this picture of the Sun with her telescope. (Not her very own telescope, of course, and I guess she didn't really take it, but anyway, she works with it.)

I recently asked her if the Sun makes noise, and she told me it does--and you can hear it!
Here: she sent me the link to Stanford Solar Center's The Singing Sun.
They explain it all in simple terms.

They say the sun sings, but to me it sounds like a cat purring. Listening to it was oddly moving--the idea that it's out there purring and we're such nosy darlings we have to figure out how to listen in. Kinda like kids playing in the mud.
Space exploration is such a nice counterbalance to reading about our less darling sides on display in Slovakia.

[image from Big Bear Solar Observatory]

Thursday, May 21, 2009


[Looks like I'm breaking my blog hiatus, but this is more of a compilation than an essay, so it's not distracting me much from Slovakia. Not much...]

"...under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet honor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."
--Ecclesiastes, 9: 11

Damon Runyon famously noted, the race may not go to the swift, but that's still the way to bet. Luck is a slippery customer.

I'm lucky, in certain ways.
There've been some dreadful things in my life, but generally I've been aware that those same things could exist AND I could be living in a refugee camp in Chad. Not only is it my good luck to live in a place and time well-supplied with hot-and-cold running water, but to have a personality able to be happy about that is a matter of luck in itself--and not a sign of superior virtue, as some people claim for themselves.

Besides the sort of luck of being born, for instance, where there's a dentist if you need one--or, even better, being born with good teeth--there's another kind of luck: sheer luck, that freaky, out of the blue, accidental luck that shows up in a crisis. In my research on Slovakia, I just came across a good example:

In January 2006, a military plane carrying Slovak peacekeepers home from a six-month tour of duty in Kosovo crashed into a Hungarian forest and burst into flames. Rescuers in the dark, freezing cold forest found the remains of forty-two bodies strewn over a wide area. They were amazed to find one survivor in the wreck too--in the lavatory, protected from the worst of the damage.

This reminds me of one of the survivors of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. When the airship caught fire as it was landing in New Jersey, Werner Franz, the teenage cabin boy, was saved from the fire by a shower of water. A water ballast tank burst open, and soaked him. He was then able to make his way to a hatch, which he kicked open and dropped through to the ground, "wet.. but unhurt."

[Photo of Werner Franz, left, from Thirty-Two Seconds.]

Some people seem to have more luck than others. Napoleon said that he wanted his generals to be lucky, as if it were a personal quality, like hair color.
But luck isn't just something we have. Sometimes we have a hand in creating our luck (if we're lucky...).
As Field Marshall Archibald Percival Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell said, in 1941,
"A bold general may be lucky, but no general can be lucky unless he is bold."

Still, no matter how lucky we are in the short run, time plays the final hand. As John M. Keynes said, "In the long run we are all dead." I find that rather comforting, even if I am lucky enough to have a basically chipper personality and decent dental care.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Indispensable Relationship

"...At that point, I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person but with an unspecified number of readers. ... I don't see my readers' faces, so in a sense my relationship with them is a conceptual one, but I've consistently considered it the most important thing in my life."

--Haruki Murakami, “The Running Novelist,” The New Yorker, June 9 & 16, 2008, p. 72

(Excerpted from his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.)

Images from haruki murakami resources. Click on banner below to embiggen and read the quote.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

With This Exception: Funny Little Things about Slovakia That Don't Fit in the Book

Seems that like some other central/eastern Europeans, Slovakians have a wry sense of humor, with a lively awareness of the dark absurdities of life. (I have a pal of Polish ancestry, anyway, who says the best Poles hope for is "a happy kind of sad.")

Here's some advice about Driving in Slovakia that cracked me up, from Your Guide to Slovakia. Driving in Slovakia is fairly safe, they say, however:
"The pedestrians have priority on zebra crossing and they usually use this right to the fullest extent, crossing the road without watching for approaching cars. They may be committing suicide, but you will be charged with manslaughter.

"You should also pay attention to some rare 'brave' men in strong cars who think the road belongs to them. However, this phenomenon appears worldwide."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ta-Ta Till June

I am a champion procrastinator and I work best under a deadline, if it's work I don't particularly want to do. I have put off getting serious about the Slovakia job (geography reference book for teens) for so long that the deadline is looming like the maw of the Doomsday Machine. Actually, I like that work very much, it's just that I like blogging a whole lot more.

So, given that I seem unable to whip out a quick blog post (today's, below, took 4+ hours to put together, what with all that octopus research), I am imposing a blog-writing hiatus on myself till June 1--the equivalent of a desperate PhD dissertator I once knew who moved into a motel for a month and told no one of its whereabouts.
Of course I'm on e-mail (blog comments get sent there), and I'll follow all your blogs, so please post juicy stuff, eh?

'Bye for now. *wipes away tear*

Movie Kiss of Taste, 7: Tentacle Grope (Galaxy Quest)

As a corrective to Zefram Cochrane's disgust that he let some alien "crawl around inside" him, I put together a post in honor of one of the sweetest, funniest, inter-species romances on film--and my favorite:
the romance between Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) and Laliari (Missi Pyle) from Galaxy Quest.

He's a Human has-been TV actor from the longtime-cancelled sci-fi series Galaxy Quest. She's a Thermian, one of an alien group who come to a Galaxy Quest fan convention to recruit the crew to save their race from an evil lobstery villain.
Thermians have no concept of fiction, and they mistake the transmissions they pick up of the old episodes for "historical documents." Thinking the Thermians are fans who want to hire them to make an amateur movie, the crew accepts--and end up playing their roles for real.

The minute Fred and Laliari encounter each other on the spaceship, their eyes meet and they know they were made for each other.



Without the help of an "image generator" to make them look like humans, Thermians look like some kind of cephalopod. When Fred and Laliari finally kiss and her tentacles come out, he blissfully swoons to the floor in her arms. Eight, I presume.

I was thinking I was so clever to see the connection between this hook-up and the Japanese woodcut of two octupi making love to a blissful woman: "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife" (1820), by Hokusai--the guy who did the Great Wave (left), which makes such a nice poster.
But I know "The Dream..." from Art History, not from fandom, and merely one google later, I learn I'm a latecomer to a whole world of what Wikipedia calls Tentacle Erotica.
(A less friendly term is used--I don't want to mislead any Googlers by repeating it here--in this round-up at Blast Shields Down. BSD bloggers Matt and Caleb seem to be great guys, and the stuff can be weirdly fun in that way Japanese sexual manga can be, but some might find it disturbing.)

Not explicit or particularly disturbing, but gloriously cheesy is the world of octopus art in pulp fiction and comics.
In this art, octopi most commonly threaten women in titillating ways; but in honor of Galaxy Quest's romance, I chose this cover of Argosy (March 30, 1940).

I suppose this octopus is threatening, but the guy doesn't seem too unhappy about it, and neither was Fred.

I don't know, but I bet that while I was ignorant of this tentacled history, Galaxy Quest writers, David Howard and Robert Gordon, weren't. I'm just guessing, based on how deftly--and lovingly--the movie handles sci-fi tropes at the same time it skewers their silliness.

I found the cover at the wonderful Poulpe Pulps, where blogtrix Francesca Myman features "hard-to-locate images of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure pulp and comic covers featuring the wily octopus". (Poulpe means "octopus" in French.)

Octopoids aside, the most satisfying thing about Galaxy Quest is that it's a classic quest, in which the characters discover some home-truths about themselves.
Hard-won personal transformation is a quest formula that has worked since forever, from the Iliad to the Wizard of Oz, and storytellers who skip the personal part, no matter how many other explosives they add--well, their stories usually turn out like my chemistry lab experiments in 10th grade always did:
they just never turned colors and blew off steam like they were supposed to.
(Should I name a certain recent movie that comes to mind? Aw, naw, no matter.)

Finally, for those who like plain old Human-on-Human hetero kisses, Galaxy Quest provides a pretty good one of those too, between Jason (Tim Allen) and Gwen (Sigrouney Weaver).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dickens, Etched in Flesh

From TTR Studio (click on "body art', then the photo, for a high-res image.)

I. A Dickens Tattoo

I went looking for a picture related to Charles Dickens that wasn't one of the same old ones we've seen a hundred times, and I found this tattoo of the opening lines of his Tale of Two Cities. *
I've never wanted a tattoo before; but I now I'm tempted to have my favorite first line engraved:
"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."

That's Dickens's David Copperfield (1850), you know, which I just finished for the dozenth time last night. I first read the novel the summer I was nine. My mother had bought an old copy whose green board covers were barely attached, and we all took turns reading it, until the boards fell off. (I wonder if my father still has it?)

My original impressions are lost under the layers of many successive readings; but, along with Jane Eyre, published three years before D.C., which I first read when I was ten, it is one of the books of my life.
Both are semi-autobiographical stories of an individual's agonized struggles to become their own person--the hero (or the author) of their own lives. What could be more appealing, given that they succeed?

II. Dickens Is in the Details

I'm a greedy, speedy reader, however, and I never read D.C. carefully until now.
Why now? As I approach the mid-century mark, am I more patient?
I think so. I feel some distance between myself and the human drama, having seen it so many times. I can slow down and attend to the details with more patience--and more disinterested interest.

Turns out, I'd missed so much, in skimming!
I'd been so impatient with Dickens's wordy details, I didn't realize how much they add. His details aren't throw-aways, they serve the story. If he mentions the silverware, and he does, it's for a purpose (Traddles's good-natured poverty). His descriptions are never just to set the scene, as modern, mechanistic writing workshops sometimes teach. (And then we must read about knives and forks because the author wants to impress the real-lifeness of the story, which only moves us to put the book down.)

[OK, too much text. Here's a classic portrait (right), after all: Charles Dickens, 1839, by Daniel Maclise]

Dickens's details about people, however, sometimes seem to be throw-aways, told for the delight in telling, like Mr. Micawber's verbose letters, where one word is never used when three are at hand. I see no reason, for instance, to describe Mr. and Mrs. Micawber's eldest son, except for fun--and the writer's and readers' fellow feeling for David spending an evening with the Micawber family.
It's a perfect description of a child society would now dose with Ritalin:
"These observations, and indeed the greater part of the observations made that evening, were interrupted by Mrs Micawber's discovering that [her son] Master Micawber was sitting on his boots, or holding his head on with both arms as if he felt it loose, or accidentally kicking Traddles under the table, or shuffling his feet over one another, or producing them at distances from himself outrageous to nature, or lying sideways with his hair among the wine-glasses, or developing restlessness of limb in some other form incompatible with the general interests of society; and by Master Micawber's receiving those discoveries in a resentful spirit."

But fellow-feeling is one Dickens's many strengths. (He has plenty of weaknesses to match--in fact, I can't stomach most of his books.)
I could almost imagine choosing the description of Master Micawber as a tattoo simply because it's a description people of all times might recognize, and laugh at, much as we recognize "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." (though there's not much funny in that book). That is why, of course, we still read Dickens, if we do, or even carve him on our bodies: we recognize ourselves, our feelings and our times being so like his.

III. On Writing

I wish Dickens had written more about being a writer here, which he makes David's profession too. What he does have David say, some of us might recognize more in wishing we had his confidence than in fellow feeling of it:
"Having some foundation for believing, by this time, that nature and accident had made me an author, I pursued my vocation with confidence. Without such assurance I should certainly have left it alone, and bestowed my energy on some other endeavour. I should have tried to find out what nature and accident really had made me, and to be that, and nothing else."

I recognize more fully his claim to lifelong little self-doubts:
"A distrust of myself, which has often beset me in life on small occasions, when it would have been better away, was assuredly not stopped in its growth by this little [humiliating] incident outside the Canterbrury coach. ...I felt completely extinguished."
Still, those small occasions didn't keep Dickens from writing biggly. What energy the man had!

What if F. Scott Fitzgerald had possessed Copperfield's drive "to be that [a writer], and nothing else"? One of the most cutting comments on its lack comes in Fitzgerald's letter to his daughter mourning his wasted talents:
"What little I've accomplished has been by the most laborious and uphill work, and I wish now I'd never relaxed or looked back--but said at the end of The Great Gatsby: I've found my line--from now on this comes first. This is my immediate duty--without this I am nothing."
This always gives me pause--a real Marley's ghost, it is...

Reading David Copperfield, on the other hand, makes me think--go on! Write reams and reams of stuff! Then I recall David's schedule, which he tells us didn't include much sleep, and I confess that after all, I'm much more like simple-minded Mr. Dick, who by the end of the book is still taking the sheets of his failed efforts to write his memoirs, the Memorial, and turning them into kites.
The last Dickens shows us of him, Mr. Dick is among David's sons at summer holiday time:
"I see an old man making giant kites and gazing at them in the air, with a delight for which there are no words. He greets me rapturously, and whispers, with many nods and winks, '...You will be glad to hear that I shall finish the Memorial when I have nothing else to do....'"
Ah! I have found my tattoo!
"I shall finish the Memorial when I have nothing else to do"!

* IV. Opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

V. The Inevitable Star Trek Tie-In
Like Mr. Dick endlessly endeavoring to keep Charles I out of his Memorial, to no avail, I never do seem able to keep Star Trek out of my blog for long. I fully intended to take a break from it, but it will sneak in.

Trekkies among us will recognize the opening lines in the section above. Spock gives Kirk an antique copy of A Tale of Two Cities as a birthday present, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, maybe the ST movie with the most literary references? including Moby Dick and Paradise Lost.

Quotes from the tale bookmark the movie, opening with Spock's "the best of times, surely?" referring to Kirk's birthday, and closing with Kirk saying, " It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before. A far better resting place that I go to than I have ever known," in reference to Spock's death, as self-sacrificing as Sydney Carton's.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Guest Star Trek XI Reviewer: Lee

link to my first no-spoilers review
link to my updated with spoilers review (5-23-09)
link to mortmere's review (5-22-09)

My (Fresca's) favorite bit of Star Trek XI: Chekov (Anton Yelchin), who reminds me of Laika, above left, the Soviet space dog. (Though we hope he does not meet with her sad fate.)

Here, below, is a review from my fellow Classicist Lee. I don't agree with all of his points (I thought the Romulans' "giant serrated cuttlefish" ship was fun--sort of a relative of a parrot, and I'm partial to parrots), and I'd only give the movie a C-, to be nice, but in general I'm there.

Lee's Star Trek Review—in exactly 500 words!

Top-Ten Ups:

• Laughed my ass off
• Opening scene with Kirk’s family a tear-jerker
• Enterprise looks great on the outside
• Dude who plays Kirk nails it
• Get to see more of Uhura
• People playing “ethnic” characters can actually do the accents
• Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy: his first scene has the best lines in the movie
• Young Kirk and young Spock were great; their introductory scenes super
• Lots of clever jokes and references to old series and characters
• They wiped out the entire series—TV and movies—to start from scratch!

1st half of the movie: A+!
I was mesmerized!

Top-Ten Downs:

• Time travel: make it stop
• So frenetic it seemed choreographed by Jackson Pollock with a strobe light fetish
• New Uhura gets more air time than Old Uhura, but now her function is mainly sexual (albeit with a brainy, thin veneer)
• Inside of Enterprise is basically a brightly lit photo-shoot OR a series of tubes (Admiral Ted Stevens will be happy to see the future bear him out)
• Hell’s Angel Romulans flying around in giant serrated cuttlefish (also, they’re too young)
• Leonard Nimoy acting through his dentures
• Spock’s 15 minute Metamucil ad—I mean asinine echo-cloaked exposition
• More slander of alien animal species: why do they ALL have to run around screaming, trying to eat you, smashing through everything that gets in their path? Always?
• After hearing the ST proem at the end I wondered: when did seeking out new worlds and new civilizations become boring? When did action-adventure so completely take over? Maybe this is why I still harbor tender feelings for the Motionless Picture: at least it was trying to generate and sustain a sense of mystery and wonder.
• They wiped out the entire series—TV and movies—to start from scratch!

2nd half: C+
I was kinda wishing it would hurry up and end.

Final Grade: B+

The movie would almost certainly have been an A or even A+ if they’d kept to a manageable canvas and ejected all that bric-a-brac whose sole purpose was to create an excuse to make more movies without worrying about continuity. The first half was a real movie; the second an elaborate spin-off ejaculation-and-artificial-insemination program which, in its details, was fairly standard (contemporary) sci-fi issue. I would’ve preferred a single “how did they begin?” film that stayed focused on the characters, even at the cost of more movies.

Bonus quibble: Please stop almost destroying the Earth! It’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t really mean anything anymore.

Bonus “up:” I loved the silent alien dude seated between Uhura and Kirk in Iowa. He looked like a sad-sack character having a rough day, trying to drown some sorrows (or extreme boredom) in a beer. I wonder what HIS story was? I HIGHLY recommend him for Re-Start Trek II: The Wrath of Big-Face Alien Dude. I just know he’s the villain we’ve all been waiting for.
[end Lee's review]

Star Trek & Noughty Design

Dave Campbell asks, "Where did the Enterprise crew get all those wonderful lights?" They're sure not Sputnik lamps. Read the whole (brief, funny) post at The Society for the Advancement of Dave.

I first found this at Look at His Butt. (The butt in question being Shatner's, this is for the most part a movie-free haven, since he's not in the movie.)

Who's Watching My Fanvid?

News flash: Motmere answered my question. It's here, at Topless Robot!
How WEIRD. Last night when I checked, views of my 10-month-old John Donne/Star Trek fanvid Kirk: "To His Mistress", which had been dawdling around 5,000, had jumped to 8,261. This morning it's 8,512. (Views of my other vids remain the same.) How does this happen?!? Hits from the new movie's opening weekend? Or someone recently posted it/shared it somewhere with a lot of traffic? I wish they'd say, if that's the case. Not that I'm complaining! And I think Donne would be tickled.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek & 1960s Design, 15: Space/Spock/Op

[I'd said I was done with my pictorial pondering of Star Trek and Sixties Design, but it seems not.]

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space (link to youTube), tells how, after he parachuted to Earth from his capsule, on April 12, 1961 (I was 5 weeks old), the first people he met were a farmer and her daughter:
"When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don't be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!"

"Britannia" (1961), top left, painting by Bridget Riley, whose work was central to 1960s Op Art, the art of optical illusion.

2. Yuri Gagarin in his flight suit, 1961 (wikimedia).

3. Spock's science station, Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror," 1966.

4. Vogue magazine cover, September 1965.

[As always, thanks to for the Star Trek screencaps.]

Star Trek & 1960s Design, 14: "Let Us Create the Future Together" (Bauhaus to Cardin)

(Of course 1960s modern design has roots in the past, such as the German Bauhaus, as well as branching toward the future.)

"Let us desire, conceive, and create the new building of the future together. It will combine architecture, sculpture, and painting in a single form, and will one day rise towards the heavens from the hands of a million workers as the crystalline symbol of a new and coming faith."

--Bauhaus Manifesto, by Walter Gropius, 1919

Clockwise, from top left:

1. Eightieth birthday party, in 1963, of Walter Gropius, German founding member of the Bauhaus modern design school (1919 - 1933). (Found here.)

2. "50 Jahre Bauhaus" ("50 years Bauhaus") exhibit poster, 1968, by Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer.

3. Costume designer Wiliam Ware Theiss created Star Trek's uniforms, here from the episode "Operation: Annihilate!" (1967). The episode's outdoor scenes were filmed at TRW Space and Defense Park in the city of Redondo Beach, California.

4. French fashion designer Pierre Cardin's Space-Age Collection, '67-'68, from the retro-fashion blog Glamoursplash.

"The clothes that I prefer are those I invent for a life that doesn't exist yet - the world of tomorrow."
--Pierre Cardin Past, Present, Future, 1990.
As always, Star Trek screencaps from

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Movie Kiss of Taste, 6: "Be My Baby" (Dirty Dancing)

Johnny (Patrick Swayze): What's your real name, Baby?

Baby (Jennifer Grey):Frances. For the first woman in the Cabinet. [laughs]

Johnny: Frances. That's a real grown up name.

--Dirty Dancing (1987)

Stef is coming over for breakfast this morning, and I had to run out early to the grocery store to get some yogurt. Standing in the check-out line, I saw Patrick Swayze on the cover of the National Enquirer. They exaggerate things, of course, but I got kinda choked up to see how ill he is with cancer. I walked home thinking, How many women, me among them, would point to Swayze as Johnny in Dirty Dancing as playing a role in their early sexual imagination? A lot, I bet.

I read a study once that reported that women are afraid men will physically hurt them, while men are afraid women will laugh at them.
Swayze falls in the category of a certain sort of man attractive to women: physically powerful, masculine men who you trust would never rape you. (Compare with Marlon Brando, for instance, who is not in this category.) And he was never better than as Johnny, the object of sexual desire for "Baby" (Frances) the girl-woman protaganist of Dirty Dancing, who doesn't laugh at him.

How could I not have already written about this movie? Besides being a steamy dance movie set to a classic soundtrack, it's got one of the most interesting seductions--and tastiest first kisses--in film.

The film is among my Top 100 Movies. Written by a woman, Eleanor Bergstein, it's about the sexual awakening of a girl, Baby, told, rather unusually, entirely from her point of view.
Feminism has never looked better, entirely lacking the shrill edge it sometimes scrapes your ears with. In Dirty Dancing, feminism sounds like the Ronettes' "Be My Baby".

The story is told as a memory of the summer of 1963, before the assassination of JFK, before the arrival of the Beatles, and before the young woman everyone calls Baby goes off to college. Baby is staying with her family--her father's a doctor--at a holiday camp in the Catskills. There she sees Johnny, a working-class hunk, who keeps the rich, bored women campers happy with dance lessons ...and more.

To do a favor, Baby ends up replacing Johnny's usual dance partner for one performance. She's instantly attracted to him, but the movie captures how girlish she still is. When they rehearse, she keeps breaking down in giggles when he touches her ticklish waist.

He's used to mature women coming on to him and he pretty much just leaves her alone. She has to seduce him, which she does when she goes to his cabin late at night, after they perform their dance. Johnny's standing shirtless in front of a ripped poster of a matador, listening to Otis Redding's Love Man. He tells her he admires her--he's just a nothing, while she's afraid of nothing.

She tells him he's not a nothing, and as for her: "Me? I'm scared of everything. I'm scared of what I saw, I'm scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I'm scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you."

The camera follows her point of view as she dances with Johnny, and as she touches him. They kiss, eventually, and go to bed together, but the really tasty stuff is in this playing around with who's leading whom in the dance of seduction.

I bet some film student has written a dissertation called "Dirty Dancing and the Female Gaze," but I certainly wasn't thinking analytically when I first watched it. I was just melting. Like I said about the Star Trek movie, if you're sitting in a dark theater thinking about film criticism, it's maybe not such a great movie. (Or it's French.) But years later, I'd say one of the things this extraordinary film is about is how looking at and saying what you want is a powerful act, sexually and personally--even politically. Being able to do that is the mark of a grown-up.

"Baby" becomes Frances--no one in the film asks her her real name except Johnny--when she looks at Johnny, knows she wants him, and finally gets the guts to acknowledge that, not just to herself, not just to him, but to her father, who thinks Johnny's a loser.

And Johnny is a man, not a "nothing" whom rich women use for stud service, when he gets real with her. He too has to get up the guts to challenge her father, which he does in a classic movie moment, returning to the camp after he's been fired and calling her out from where she sits in a corner with her family, saying the famous line, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner."
Look at me, he tells her early on when they rehearse, and she does. (And so do we.) You just know there's a Cabinet position in Baby's future, like her namesake, Frances Perkins.

May Mr Swayze have comfort in his illness.
Dirty Dancing screencaps here.