Monday, October 29, 2007

the horror! the horror!

Having spent the weekend cleaning my house with the television on, I have once again (sort-of) seen the Bravo "100 Scariest Movie Moments" and "30 Even Scarier Movie Moments." I have to say that whoever it is that they are polling is really, truly, deeply confused about what entails a scary movie moment. Here's how I see it: there are movies filled with scary moments, and there are movies filled with completely disgustingly gross moments. People, I think, are now confusing the two. At least, this is what I believe accounts for the movie "Hostel" coming in at numba-one on 30ESMM. I have not seen "Hostel," despite my love for ucky movies, because all things being equal, there are just some things I don't think I need to see. I have not seen "Wolf Creek," or "Old Boy," or "The Audition," or whatever the latest entry into the Completely Awful Sweepstakes is. I saw Saw-s I and II and profoundly wish that I had not.

Anyway. I was glad to see David Cronenberg well-represented. I was afraid it was going to be all Hitchcock, all the time. Don't get me wrong, I love Hitchcock thrillers, but I just never thought Vertigo was all that scary. I'm more of the "out of a clear blue sky whammo" school of thought on psychological horror. I'm not so completely art-school-ified that I go all "Cahiers du Cinema" on this issue...I am not here to agitate for the last 45 seconds of the Rififi heist scene as the height of tension in all of modern film. I did not find the original "Wicker Man" frightening at all. But I feel as though there's still some kind of place for true thrillers in the marketplace.

I also do not understand how the villains of films like "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" became icons of frightening-ness. Did the sequel-makers actually see any of these films? Because Michael Myers was not supposed to be the scary thing in Halloween. The dread of being punished for what you did wrong, and what you knew was wrong when you did it, was the scary thing. It's scary because of the dread. It's scary because Laurie finds herself wondering what the heck she did wrong to deserve this kind of terror. She's the good student, she takes care of the children, she's living a life of rectitude...but somewhere, somehow, she must have done something wrong...if only she could figure out what. The message is: no one is innocent. No one is good enough. Evil might find you, for no good reason. That, my friends, is terrifying. (Of course, Halloween III is just scary because of the idiotic script.) Anyway, the mother was the killer in Friday the 13th, not Jason Voorhees, so I don't even know why the whole freaky-cat-in-a-hockey-mask thing had any legs at all. Then in ANOES, Freddy Krueger was not the scary thing -- having no control over the subconscious was the scary thing. Also, the parental lynch-mob was the scary thing. Freddy was punishing the parents who burned him alive -- the terror was inherent in the fact that the children were being punished for the sins of the previous generation, which had literally sacrificed a human being to get their flawlessly manicured lawns and conspicuously expensive cars. Seriously -- I saw these films. I remember seeing them. I remember the plot points. But I guess concepts don't make for such good sales and residuals in the costume division of Megaconglomerate Studios, Inc.

So: my scariest movie moments are apparently not especially scary, but, well, there it is. They say that psychological horror plays on the individual's particular fears -- "they", in my case, appear to be correct.
1) the moment in "The Shining" where Shelley Duvall suddenly figures out that her writer husband has been spending 12 hours a day writing different permutations of the same sentence over and over again
2) that moment in "The Exorcist" where the demon addresses Father Karras in his mother's voice and begs him to explain why he abandoned her
3) the moment in "Dead Ringers" when we realize just what exactly Beverley and Elliott are intending to do to Claire in a drug-addled haze ** editor's note: I realized that actually the horrifying moment is at the end, where everyone's all drug-addled and we see what it is that Beverley did to Elliott. The only horrifying thing about Claire is Genevieve Bujold's accent. **
4) the moment in "The Blair Witch Project" where the camera turns to that corner in the basement and sees Michael with his back to Heather...and the audience suddenly puts two and two together about what's about to happen, and then it's over! Whammo! Cut to black! Eek!
(note: I actually was thrilled when this film was finally finished because the cinema verite video made me motion-sick, so that may be why I had that ultra-Greek kind of catharsis at the end of this highly overrated film. But that moment -- boy, that was something.)
5) the "reveal" scene of what happened to Cleopatra at the end of "Freaks"
6) the "blood-testing" scene in John Carpenter's "The Thing"
7) the end of "Night of the Living Dead" upset me more than anything that happened anywhere else in the movie, go figure.
8) the last shot of "The Vanishing" (no, not...I repeat, NOT the lame-o remake...the original) gave me nightmares for a month.
9) Lars vonTrier's "The Element of Crime" was fairly horrifying to me for a variety of reasons.
10) Of all things, the torture-terror-dome in "Brazil" still freaks me out (those masks! Gives me the cauld grue).

All things being equal, if I really want to get scared to bits, I tend to read a book. I prefer the chiaroscuro of Lovecraftian horror to the crisp, hi-definition realism of, say, "Saw III." Anyway. Happy Halloween. Go watch a scary movie. Drink some hot cider, eat some popcorn, go wild.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

there's famous, and then there's impressive

You are never going to guess who I just talked with on the telephone. No, seriously -- guess. Okay, forget it, you're never going to guess. I just got to talk with Lee Mendelson, the producer of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

In my accidental life as a journalist, I have talked with a lot of famous people, and it's kind of a little rush, but after a while, not that big a deal. You just say what you have to say and move on. I've gotten to talk with Presidents, Secretaries of State, Prime Ministers, Nobel Prize winners, National Book Award winners, Pulitzer winners, and they are invariably polite and kind of straightforward. I've talked with lots of celebrities, and invariably they are rushed and a bit bemused because of their "if it's Tuesday, this must be Chicago" kind of schedules.

But once in a while, you talk with someone who is so quietly impressive that it leaves you with this kind of glow all day. That's what happened today. An artifact of my childhood that made a profound impression upon me, then and now -- it came from this person's mind. It was created out of the force of this person's will and commitment. I just talked with someone who did, and does, his job with a kind of dignity and calmly self-confident excellence. I guess the reason I'm so completely over the moon about this is that the show itself always telegraphed a kind of low-key, stately quality. If I aspire to anything, that's what I want out of life -- I want to leave something behind me that, 40 years down the road, someone says "that person who made this -- I'd have liked to have known her. That person knew what she was doing. That person was good at her job."

All this philosophizing aside: squee! I talked to someone involved making in a MAJOR piece of pop culture that isn't a complete embarrassment!

Monday, October 22, 2007

the October Classic

I have been occupied by work to the extent that this past weekend, I was so tired I simply could not muster up the energy to do anything that required conscious deliberation and thought. As a result, I watched a fair number of sporting events.

Now, I love baseball. I really like the World Series. I guess I am rooting for the Rockies this year, for two reasons. Number the first: I like that they don't have the highest or second-highest payroll in baseball. When a team is so completely loaded with talent because the management has apparently nothing better to do with, oh, 300 million dollars, I just don't have any kind of warm feelings towards them. Seriously - Red Sox management - could you guys, like, cut that Julio Lugo and funnel the 36 million bucks to Medecins Sans Frontieres? It seems as though 36 million dollars would buy a lot of that creepy super-charged peanut butter stuff that's saving thousands of children from dying of malnutrition. Maybe if we could make the case that some of these children might grow up to be outstanding middle-relief pitchers? Anyway.
Number the second: I love that there was seven inches of snow in Denver on Sunday. Brr -- get out your woolies, Manny Ramirez. It would be super-cool to see the baseball fans turn themselves out for the home team at Coors Field all decked out like Packers fans at Lambeau. But other than this, I don't really care much. I tend to always root for the team with the lowest payroll (makes my support of the Kansas City Royals seem almost rational, when I put it that way). And the Rockies story is pretty remarkable. Of course, this is their kiss of death -- whichever team I prefer will get waxed, and disillusion me further about the world. It's not that I'm naturally depressed -- it's just that things have this way of working out not in favor of the underdog. Except in, say, major motion pictures like "Rudy" or "The Bad News Bears Go To Japan."

Speaking of Japan, we want to send out a big Konichi-wa to Trey Hillman, who is coming to Kansas City after a very successful stint coaching the Nippon Ham Fighters beisuboru team. Nice to have you with us, Trey. You will be able to find nice housing at an affordable price here in the City of Fountains. No light-rail, though, so you'll want to buy a car. They'll treat you right out in O-uh-woh-lathah. Or Tiffany Springs. My friend Mark kind of burst my bubble when he informed me that the Nippon Ham Fighters are more accurately the (Nippon Ham) (Fighters) rather than the (Nippon) (Ham Fighters), which is what I had thought. I had no idea what a ham fighter was, but it was kind of surrealist and cool, in keeping with the old-fashioned moniker of Nippon, so I was all excited about it. Because really, after a certain point, as a Kansas City fan, all you can ask for is some retro Surrealism. There's a giant lion who walks around Kauffman Stadium shooting hot dogs out of a cannon into the stands. Where do you go from there? Some guy who fights ham in pre-Imperial Japan. Works for me. I'll buy the jersey, sure, why not?

Anyway, I'm all ready to watch the Series, with my husband who will dismiss all of my comments about fielding and defense and "strategery," because I think he thinks I don't understand the game all that well. He will gripe about the overpaid Red Sox, and be all mad about the sponsorship/paid placement stuff, and rail about the Coors Company (which I guess is now the Miller Company), and in short, it will make me kind of long for the days when I used to watch the Series with my dad, and it was in early October because we didn't have, like, a month and a half of playoffs to make more money for the networks and the owners. I will think about the Big Red Machine and Reggie Jackson and Bob Gibson and Rod Carew, and feel, once again, that things were actually marginally more enjoyable in the 70s (hairdos, Qiana jumpsuits, and lack-of-cell-phones aside).

Monday, October 15, 2007

another sign of the coming apocalypse

Okay, so both KU and UK are now doing really well in football. This is a completely disorienting phenomenon, for someone who grew up just accepting that she was destined to be a college basketball supporter for her whole life. Also, it's driving me to actually watch college football, which was always something that I only ever did if something exceptional was happening. Or if Boise State was playing, because I kind of really am digging on the blue astroturf or whatever it is. I find myself rooting for the weird plays, like when the Stanford band took the field at the end of that one Cal-Stanford game and everything was all screwy. I find that I watch with a kind of desperate hope that someone will run the Statue of Liberty play, or the flea-flicker. It doesn't happen often, but it fills me with a joy that is downright unnatural when it does. It beats the whole sort of "Marty-ball" drudgery that my favorite pro football teams get caught up in: each play is a running play, and it gets 3 yards, and then they try to run some kind of locomotive-straight-ahead play on 4th-and-1, and the guy will invariably run into the knotted, twisted clot of 350-pound men in the middle instead of, I don't know, walking around the giant wad of linemen...and they turn over the ball on downs.

Anyway, it's strange, and I'm pleased, but I now don't really know what to say when someone asks me about college sports. I am used to only being asked about it once NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament time rolls around in April.

Also, I want to point out that I have a comparatively finite space, mentally, for sports, and I'm kind of all focused on baseball right now. Note well: if the Rockies get to the World Series...and sweep it...people will be talking about this team for the next 50 years, about how extraordinary their achievement was.

In other news: I have a new and really good recipe for Hello Dolly cookies. The secret is the toffee.

Friday, October 12, 2007

for fraternity between the nations, and the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded today. I found it exceedingly odd. Then again, how odd is it that this prize, possibly the most well-known prize in the world, was established by the guy who invented dynamite (and apparently something called ballistite, which I don't know what that is).

I went and looked up who else had won this prize, as the only other people I knew off the top of my head were Jimmy Carter, Arafat/Peres/Rabin, Mother Teresa, Wangari Maathai, Elie Wiesel, Muhammad Yunus, John Hume, David Trimble, Medecins sans Frontieres, Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, Lech Walesa, Amnesty International, Mairead Corrigan, Norman Borlaug, Dag Hammarskjold, Willy Brandt, Albert Schweitzer, Cordell Hull, Linus Pauling, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. It turns out this is a creditable list to know off the top of one's head. I either never knew or had forgotten that Henry Kissinger had won one. I had thought that Mahatma Gandhi had won one, but he did not. I had forgotten about Fridtjof Nansen. I had forgotten about Robert Cecil. I didn't know Jane Addams got one.

I had never heard of Frank Kellogg (1929), and so looked him up. He won for something called the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which I had also never heard of, and so looked that up. This is because it was more commonly called the Pact of Paris, which I had heard of but was only a distant, hazy thing, tamped down in the memory-closet alongside the Hawley-Smoot tariff act and Jack Paar and mapping polar coordinates. Apparently, at some point, nations signed a treaty agreeing that war is really no kind of useful instrument for national policy. Hm. What do you know? Seems like that would be useful, if anyone remembered that we all signed such a thing. Apparently, it is still a binding part of international law. I guess it's useful enough AFTER someone launches a war...kind of like when they throw in all kinds of arcane violations when you get pulled over by a traffic cop. "Okay, you were going 98 in a 45 mile an hour zone, so that's a pretty big fine, right there. Plus, you were not wearing a seatbelt, and your windows are tinted too dark, and you can't have more than six trolls in your back window, and your brakelights are out, and you can't drive on the Turnpike with a cracked windshield, and there was also failure to yield, and also I don't like your haircut. 2500 bucks, see ya in traffic court." I picture the World Court filling out charges against the government of Sudan this way: "Okay, you violated human rights, so that's a pretty big fine right there. You misused NGO aid; you used your military to attack your own people; oh, you violated the Kellogg-Briand Act...and your windows are tinted too dark. See ya at the Hague, or you can just pay the fine by mail."

Anyway, I suppose that any day in which I learn that someone, somewhere, actually keeps track of the idea that there is such a thing as a "crime against peace" is not a wasted day.

I also learned that the first winner of the NPP was the founder of the International Red Cross, Jean Henri Dunant. He shared it with Frederic Passy, the founder of the Societe d'arbitrage entre les Nations. This seems like a good choice, in retrospect.

Albert Gore. I'll be darned. I'm not opposed to this per se, just extremely surprised. Perhaps next year is Bob Geldof's year.

Monday, October 8, 2007

(sing along with the 5th Dimension now)

Daylight Saving Time does not end until November 4th. I am sure all you people who go on and on about how great it is to have light later in the evening (I'm lookin' at you, Mom) for, I don't know, your marathon training sessions or 20-mile bicycle rides, are pretty self-satisfied about this. I'm going to point out here that while this is completely fine for you people who don't get up at 4 am, those of us who are now wired to get up at the crack. of. dawn. are pretty sick of it still being pitch-dark outside at 7 am. I cannot quite get over that somehow people who prefer the quality of light in the morning are somehow regarded as irrelevant idiots, while the ones who like evening light get all the breaks in this issue. Seriously. I like the sunrise. It is the only positive thing that has ever come from my protracted morning-shift radio job. I learned to love morning light. And now I can't see it because I'm already in my cubicle by the time I'm getting any of it. But no, no, we all love DST. Tsch. I hate the entire concept of it. This is ground I have trod before, but just wanted to bring it up again. I looked it up: the GOLF INDUSTRY was instrumental in getting this extended-DST stupidity through Congress. So, you people are indebted to nimrods with khakis, tucked-in pique polo shirts, braided leather belts, and quarts of Drakkar Noir. Thanks. No, seriously, thanks.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

united, we stand. divided, we blog.

Okay, so I updated the layout so there's less interminable scrolling-down to be done. Also, I like this sort of Prussian Blue color better for the post titles. This has nothing to do with Prussians. Whom I often confuse with Hessians. And Cossacks. I really have to read more.

The last few days, I've been reading up on the Siege of Leningrad (about which: there is no way I would have survived such a thing. I get cranky when I can't have a Nilla Wafer or two after supper. I never cease to be amazed at the sort of thing that people manage to endure) and am, as a result, into stripping down the fancy and keeping to the essential. Hence -- the more minimalist layout. I am a true daughter of my generation: in keeping solidarity with the survivors of the privations of war, I am...*streamlining the design of my blog.* I'm an idiot. It's like that story I always wanted to write where I'd have these guys sitting around watching "Apocalypse Now" over and over again with the heater turned up to 90 degrees and vaporizers running so they'd feel more "in-touch" with the Vietnam experience...I sit, reading, in my house with the windows open and fans trained directly on me so that it's freezing cold, resisting the urge to go get a snack. Puts me more in touch with what I'm reading about. Did I mention that I'm an idiot? Oh, I did? Okay, then.

Other things being read and re-read, with less of the urge to create environmental verisimilitude:

Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Auerbach)
The Ecclesiastical History of England (The Venerable Bede, whose name I just love)
Epictetus: The Discourses (Oldfather)
On War (Clausewitz) (hence, the obsession with Prussian Blue, hee)
The Holy Rule of St. Benedict (Verheyen)
Christian Iconography (Grabar)
American Tabloid (Ellroy)
The Great Deluge (Brinkley)
Murder Must Advertise (Sayers) (and might I add, this is just swell, just like eating a box of chocolates that turns out to consist only of your favorite kinds, which in my case would be dark chocolate buttercreams)

Surely everyone else in the world is reading something much more useful, or challenging. I despair of my chances at ever getting serious about learning anything. Anyway, the thing I'm getting at here is that while I'm doing a lot of reading (and not nearly enough real writing), what I'm really enjoying these days is taking a few minutes here and there to read these little snapshot bulletin-boards of my and my friends' lives, because it's this kind of interesting way to have a certain kind of conversation, without us being on a conference call or in the same room. It's from looking at these other discussions that I feel like I'm actually learning something useful, more than anything I read or see in other kinds of media. And so, for this, I thank you kindly, and beg your indulgence as I try to figure out what it's going to take for me to feel engaged in something meaningful, for the first time in a long time.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I can write a washing-bill in Babylonic cuneiform, and tell you every detail of Caractacus's uniform short, in matters vegetable, animal and mineral I am the very model of a modern Major-General, but I am having a bit of a time figuring out what the heck I'm supposed to do about changes to my health care plan. The website that is allegedly the answer to all my problems is raddled with broken links, and no one has really clearly spelled out in the glossy cardstock catalog that arrived to explain it all for me what the darned new program that I think I'm supposed to enroll in is even actually CALLED, so I'm kind of at a loss, here. While I am by no stretch of the imagination what anyone would call profoundly intelligent, I can follow instructions (and, you know...can read) and am fairly web-savvy. But this process takes me down blind alleyways and labyrinths that would make Borges weep with terror. Wha-?

There are plenty of stone morons out there. I know, because I tend to be standing in line behind them at the DMV (or any other place involving the filling-out of paperwork...remind me to tell you a less truncated version of the story of my last flu shot at an open clinic where I got in line behind Mr. and Mrs. "Remember the Maine" and their complete bumfuzzlement at the idea that they might need to reveal...or at the very least know...THEIR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS if they wanted Medicare to pay for it...which of course they did, because why would they pay for it themselves because he's a veteran of the freaking battle of the Somme, or San Juan Hill, or possibly Agincourt, for all I could tell). And basically, I don't know how these people are getting by. I don't know how they pay their taxes, I don't know how they register their cars, and I now have added to this sad compendium another thing to wonder about. How on earth are these people, who cannot figure out that the express lane is for twelve items or less...that the tollbooth does not take pennies, despite the giant sign printed in five languages that says "NO PENNIES"...that one should not reach into the diamond cross-cut paper shredder while it is are these people going to handle dealing with health insurance, which as it turns out, is actually hard to figure out? So here's what I'm saying: if the powers that be want people to choose lower-cost health care options, and get more involved in the administration of their health care, would it not be a good idea to make the brochure that tells you how to do it, you know, less complicated than a schematic diagram of flipping UNIVAC?
I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
and yet, when it comes right down to it, I cannot really effectively say at the moment if I would be better off with preferred provider plan A or program 2008 B or the QHDHP with HSA. WTF. And let's not even get into the intricacies of the new prescription drug formulary, which requires three years of organic chem, a PDR and a consult from Elvis Presley to decipher.
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
Next week: pondering the mysteries of the adminstration of NGO programs by the United Nations with a sing-along from the Mikado! He's the U-N-High-Comm-MISH-on-er!
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A Microscopic Cog in a Catastrophic Plan by Laura Lorson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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