Monday, May 28, 2012

Don't Make Him Thor. You Wouldn't Like Him When He's Thor.

Art by Jack Kirby. Dialogue and SFX by me.

That Thor is actually a pretty good movie and, I think, watchable even for non-funnybook types, probably says more about the changing times and tides than it does about anything Kenneth Branagh brought to the table. Mr. Branagh thankfully spared us his intolerably smug onscreen presence for this one, limiting himself to, we assume, coaching Chris Hemsworth in how to speak Stan Lee Faux Medieval whilst keeping a straight face. As a director, Branagh shows us nothing more than that as a director he can learn how to act Hollywood; at the beginning, it says "A Kenneth Branagh Film," but why do I think this would have walked, talked and played much the same if it carried anyone else's name?

Twenty, thirty years ago, I would have told you that Thor was one of the most unfilmable characters in the Marvel Stable (Marble?) -- and, you know what? I would have been right. In the 'Seventies, no one in Hollywood would have taken this stuff seriously -- look what happened when Bill Bixby tried to team up Thor with the TV version of The Hulk all those years ago (P.S. if you didn't see it, it was painful.)

My how times have changed. CGI has been more or less perfected, so the scale can actually be brought up to the standard that Jack Kirby created in his drawings all those years ago. They've even figured out a way to keep the shoulders of Thor's cape all buoyant and pouffy the way Jack drew it. Modern audiences have been so inundated with big-budget comic book style fantasies that Thor no longer seems as, well, goofy as he would have done back then. In other words -- for the first time in history, it's possible to film Thor with a straight face, and Marvel have done it.

I missed this one when it first came out, but as it happened Hemsworth's Thunder God was one of the things I liked best about this Spring's Marvel's The Avengers, despite the shabbily careless way that he was introduced into the story (all the more so, I realize now, because the God of Thunder is left stranded in Asgard at the end of his own movie -- how is he suddenly able to turn up on the roof of SHIELD's aircraft in The Avengers? That's something that made me Mighty Thore!). So, I just had to go back and check this one out.

As modern superhero movies go, this one is remarkably uncomplicated and straightforward. So focussed on moving the plot is it that the supporting characters barely come into focus (it's saying something that Natalie Portman's Jane Foster is so much of a non-entity that Agent Coulsen actually upstages her). It's all setup, setup, setup, then BOOM, get the pieces into place, establish the menace and let Goldilocks deal with it. Very businesslike, is what I'm trying to say. If you were expecting Shakespeare from Branagh, you'd be disappointed.

Everything looks great, even down to the way Hemsworth weilds the hammer. When the Destroyer touches down and starts doing what he was named to do, the only thing that separates him from Kirby is that Kirby would have found a way to get even more tooth-gnashing action in there.

The climactic setpiece is actually very reminiscent of the sequence in Superman II where the three Krytonian villains menace a dustbowl tank town. What differentiates it is the technology to make things bigger and louder and ka-blooier than was possible in the late seventies. Given that, it's nice that The Mighty, thore as he is, doesn't pulverize the Big Guy into little bits and pieces and gears, but instead uses his powers to provide a more intelligent and satisfying end to the brawl.

Anthony Hopkins as Odin? Ehm, okay. I guess. Someone had to strap on the beard and about a thousand pounds of padding and say the words, and it had to be someone who could say those words without making everyone in the audience go "CH-hee-hee-hee!" -- so, you know, Brian Blessed would have been a heckova lot more fun to watch in the part, but I guess you've got to take what you can get.

If I sound dismissive, it's only because this, much like The Avengers, didn't fully engage me emotionally the way that the first Iron Man and Captain America pictures did. Marvel has certainly succeeded here in creating a larger mythology that encompasses more than one movie or even more than one movie franchise. It's bigger, though not necessarily better, than its parts. If I had to stand all the connected Marvel movies side by side and arrange them best to worst, Iron Man would still be at the top of the list, followed distantly by Captain America, then Thor, then The Avengers, then Iron Man II, then the lamentable Incredible Hulk bringing up the rear.

I guess that's okay. I mean, who's going to tell the Hulk to his face that his movie sucked? Maybe Thor.

-- Freder.

In Which I Realign the Universe

No matter what anyone tells you, the alternative methods of reinventing oneself are all a heckova lot more expensive than alcohol. I'm learning, among other things, that I don't have to be drunk to spend money like a drunken sailor.

Addict behavior is as addict behavior does, or something like that, and if my credit card had lungs it would be screaming at me about how I've been treating it in the past month, all in the service of "freshening up" my personal Cosmos.

It began one morning when I climbed out of bed feeling like I wanted to do the same thing with my skin. I'd been sleeping in one of the t-shirts that we sometimes get as freebies from the college -- defective stuff that can't be sold but is perfectly OK to knock around in. Except that this particular T-shirt was about two sizes too small, and its tightness on me was driving me nuts. I guess this is not just an Asperger's thing, but it is a True Fact that most people with the syndrome like their clothes to be excessively loose.

I'd been in kind of a dithery state for more than a week, and that morning I realized part of the reason why: I'd been wearing the wrong skin, I mean clothes. Most everything I had that was still wearable in public had the college logo on it. That too-tight-tee was just the last straw. Since when did I become a billboard for my employer?

I threw that tee aside and put on one of the very loose, western band-collar shirts that I'd gotten two years or so before from a place called River City Junction, and immediately felt better. Not just more comfortable. I had an immediate sense of feeling like me again, and knew that it was time to invest in some new clothing -- stuff that I'd been coveting for a long, long time but had held back from spending the money.

It's not really about Steampunk. I don't even like the name: why do we have to label and classify  something that's been around for over a hundred years?

Fact is, every time I looked at a British Costume Drama when I was growing up (and in those days that was practically every Sunday night on Masterpiece Theater), I would, more than the dramas themselves, look at what the people were wearing -- especially the men. I would say, I want a coat like that! or That's what I want to look like!

Thanks in part to Steampunk, Victorian-style clothing is a lot easier to get nowadays. So that's how I've been outfitting myself. There are cheaper ways to dress, but none of it makes me feel as good about myself when I put it on. I haven't felt remotely good about myself in a long, long time.

But wait, don't forget the accessories. And I must say Steampunk accessories are cool. Even an iPhone takes on a whole new aspect when paired with leather and frock coats. It was that aspect that caused me to break a long-standing rule that I swore I would never break.

For years I have been contemptuous of people and their cell phones. People who have their cell phones glued to their ears everywhere they go really drive me crazy. I swore that I would never become one of them. Now I discover that all it took to sell me is thinking how cool an iPhone would look against my Victorian image. Ye Gods, put a mahogany skin on the thing, slide it into a leather pouch attached to my belt, and suddenly I'm Captain Freakin' Nemo!

The practical uses of joining the 21st century will, I am sure, be many. But I wasn't thinking about practical when I ordered it.

(When I told one of our student workers what I'd done, she said, "Dude, you didn't just sell out." And here she raised her hand way up over her head. "You SOLD out!")

It hasn't all been buying. Looking at all of the Etsy artisans and what they do, I realized that recycling plays a big part in Steampunk design. I said, "I can do that," and in the last few days I've actually spent some time in my studio room, where I made half a dozen brooches for the lapels of my frock coats out of old buttons, ribbon, coins, Asian card decks and even my mother's earrings. I've made my bedroom cooler and more functional by nailing wooden berry boxes onto the walls. Instant shelving. It's helped.

It's said that clothes don't make the man. On the other hand, Makeover shows of one kind or another are terrifically popular these days, and I think I know the reason why. Sometimes you just really need to Set the Stage and Put on the Costume to find your character.

-- Freder.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

In the Shadow of 4 East: Shades of Grey

Yesterday, booze threw down its first serious challenge since the day I walked free from 4 East. Although I'm not sure it was so much about the booze as it was about desire: specifically, the desire to be something other than what I am.

I was doing my post-workday shopping at the stupormarket, feeling fine and strong, when I turned down into the potato chip aisle, which not coincidentally the store managers have set up so that you have to walk past the booze to get to the chips (or vice versa). On the lower shelves were all the brands of vodka that I abused and misused: I gave them a sneer and walked past them untempted.

But then my gaze settled on a black bottle of liquour. The label was off-white and had a drawing on it of a gnarled old tree.

It was the designer in me that was tempted. The bottle was simply beautiful to look at, very dark and gothic, an object  all by itself that you might set on a study shelf and admire while you settled back into your velvet chair and sipped vampirically at the contents.

I picked it up and held it in my hands. The glass was thick and heavy. I was so struck by the beauty of the thing as an object that I confess feeling covetously towards it.

I thought: It's not booze, it's a liquour. Wow, it's gorgeous. I know just the shelf I'd put it on. Up in the Halloween room.

In more ways than one, I've been attempting to re-make myself lately. To make myself over. More about that next time, I hope. The designer in me who is working on that makeover thought: this is just the sort of thing a gentleman of style in which you imagine yourself becoming would have in his collection.

That's what Madison Avenue does, isn't it? That's what design has become: a tool appealing to the imagination, a drug carrying the scent of the person you imagine yourself to be.

Then I thought: You know you'd drink it.

-- All right. So what if I did. A little nightcap just before bed, taken slowly as I relax before the television. What of it?

I thought: You know what would happen.

-- Everything is black and white to Americans. Everything is either Good or Evil. Europeans have a much more sensible view, they see shades, they see the benefits of drinking in moderation, as part of a happy lifestyle. Why do Americans have to demonize absolutely everything? Wow. This bottle is freakin' gorgeous.

I thought: You might drink it in moderation at first. You might even be able to go on that way for months. But you know what would happen, sooner or later.

-- Come on, it's not vodka. It's a liquour.

I thought: You'd be buying vodka in Nothing Flat.

-- You know what? You're right.

With a CONSIDERABLE amount of regret, I put that beautiful, gothic black bottle back on the shelf. By the time I turned into the next aisle I was thinking of something else.

So much faith is poured into A.A. that even people who will never go to a meeting believe that an alcoholic can't quit without it. For my part, I'm not saying that I will never go to another meeting. I know where they are if I need them. But the beneficial part of A.A. is all about dialogue, and the people who absolutely need A.A. are the ones who cannot carry on an objective inner dialogue with themselves, who cannot divide their mixed feelings into separate entities and carry out the arguments faithfully, in character, not sparing any of the details.

Does this mean that the writer in me is coming back? I carry my own meetings around with me: the name is Legion, and like all good fiction the conflict defines the shades, and which ones will dominate.

-- Freder.

Theory of Mind

There's a whole section on Theory of Mind in Tony Attwood's scholarly Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrone; meanwhile, in her more populist text The Way I See It, Temple Grandin takes it down in a single neat paragraph: "Theory of Mind is the ability to understand what other people may be thinking. In its most elemenary form, it's the ability to understand that different people have different thoughts. ... These are all social thinking skills that develop without formal instruction in neurotypical individuals, starting at a very early age. These are also skills that most people, including educators, assume exist in all people. ... This is not the case within the autism population."

It's a fascinating subject, or it would be if it didn't explain so much about the missteps and mis-comprehensions that so deeply mark my relationships with other people. With all people. I have begged, literally begged certain ex-girlfriends to "please, please, please don't play the game of 'Guess Why I'm Angry At You,' or 'Guess What I Really Mean By What I Just Said,' or 'Guess What I Want From You."

Because I can't.

To some extent this factors into every aspect of my life, including this blog. Autistic and Aspergian individuals grow up believing that everyone else thinks the same way they do, that everyone else is essentially sympathetic, trustworthy, and without any kind of different agenda that might be in direct opposition to theirs.

This results in a lifetime of making social blunders and missteps and learning the hard way that abilities, sensibilities and especially thoughts and emotions are not mirror images of our own.

My father tells me, "You have no sensitivity as to what can be said in public."

Most likely, Theory of Mind is the reason "my Perfect Woman" is someone that I don't and can't actually know: "The Perfect Woman" is a Sphinx, a cypher, bearing outward confidence and the appearance of wisdom, upon which I can project my own interior universe. It happened again while I was in the hospital. I wrote a whole novel about this. I thought it was a good novel at the time. How depressing to realize that I was just using it to Figure Something Out.

All of this has a huge effect on Asperger's patients that I have only just now come to comprehend: It makes us, on a biological level, insensitive and unempathetic to the thoughts and feelings of others, while at the same time creating a burdensome level of anxiety and depression because others do not appear to be sensitive and empathetic to our thoughts and feelings.

That sense you might get of a person with Asperger's or Autism living inside an invisible bubble: that's, in part, our failings in Theory of Mind at work. If a person with Asperger's sometimes behaves like a small child, or seems not to comprehend things that are patently obvious to everyone else in the room, Theory of Mind is the reason why; and just being aware of it, although it illuminates so much of my past, unfortunately does not rid me of the problem.

Just yesterday I confided to my boss that I don't think I'm as good an employee now as I was when I was drinking because I am having much more difficulty focussing and keeping my mind on task. I actually told her that when I was coming in to work all hung over, I felt so lousy that I knew I had to focus in order to make things happen. Only today, well after the fact, did I realize that this might not have been such a hot idea after all. Performance Reviews are coming up; I inadvertently gave her ammunition to use against me because, in that moment, it never occurred to me that her agenda might be demonstrably different from mine.

You saw it again in my recent "Y Post." So, I doubt that this is something that will ever completely go away, I doubt that I will ever completely understand The Human Race. But from here on, if I pay attention, just maybe I will be able to understand why I can't understand them.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

No Place Like Home: Back from the Dead

IOP doodle from my journal, which has more doodles in it than it does words.
I guess the thing that I like about eyes is that you can turn them upside down
and have an eye with a completely different expression.

In no way have I finished writing about the time that I spent in Detox and the outpatient program: but there are Current Affairs that need some attention, too.

F'rinstance, it came to me early last week that I was Really Happy to be Home full-time at last.

I don't need to point out the operative word in that sentence.

It turns out that there's nothing like being away from home, to make your house feel like home. Certainly no one thing that I've done in the last year and a half went as far towards making me feel really settled as did the my two weeks stay in the hospital, and the month of the outpatient program

It hasn't been cleaned properly in -- well, I'm not even going to tell you how long. Beyond keeping up with the fur balls and the vomit sometimes left behind by the quats (and -- shudder -- I sometimes even fall behind on that), I haven't had the time or the inclination to bother. But, dirt and all, it's my dirt and my home.

It's not just where my cats are, it's where everything that survived my former life came to rest. It finally feels like my safe haven.

The day that I fished my spare key out from its hiding place and walked through the back door -- still somewhat shell-shocked from the experience, in need of a shower and a shave, a change of clothes and a quick breath of non-medicinal air before I had to run straight over to the IOP (there hangs another tale) -- it seemed like I had been away for months and months. The place was both familiar and strange. Pandy Bear, Patches and Whitey all came out to greet me, and there was no sense of "Who is this one?" -- they recognized me at once and really welcomed me home.

Honey was nowhere in sight. I called her and called her, and did not find her until I went upstairs and all the way back to the end of the house. Then she came out of the studio, looking disoriented and confused and frightened, tentative, as if thinking to herself, "I hear his voice, but is it really him? Can it really be?"

She came for a hug and soon enough she was purring away like mad. When I set her down her whole body language indicated disbelief and relief.

That's something right there: not having to come home to an empty space, but getting hugs from animals who have actually missed you.

That first night I set some loose ends to right (the good people who put themselves out to care for your pets in these circumstances don't necessarily do things the way you are used to doing them; this is not a complaint! It's only Right and Proper, and arranging things the way that you want them is a big part of home ownership, I have discovered; it's the way we leave our mark and define spaces as being specially ours), then settled down in front of the telly with two cats in my lap.

It all seemed unreal -- the moment at hand and the weeks just passed. In comparison to the Detox of two years ago, this was much more: bordering on a complete emotional breakdown. It's meat for another post, but my sense is that the alcoholic cycle could not have been broken otherwise than accompanied by the meltdown. Metal has to be proofed, and so do Humans.

I have to reference Disaster Movies again. It was just like that: you go through a horrific experience and then you sit down on the other side in quiet circumstances, and the situation you are living in either opens up to embrace you or it rejects you like a faithless lover. I was fortunate enough to experience the former. I was able to have one night in my home to catch my breath and wonder what hit me, how how it all came to happen, and where it would go from there.

For the month that followed I was on the go far beyond my normal habits. When I wasn't at work there were doctor's appointments and AA meetings and four hours at the IOP four nights a week (someone I met told me that they had been in an IOP for six months. How did they manage it?)

So it wasn't until last Tuesday that I really had a Whole Day to just stay at home and do what I wanted to do, not what other people wanted me to do.

That turned out to be: some laundry, some posts here on the blog (one was just a scanned drawing from my journal), some other chores -- and also a few minutes spent just walking from room to room, looking around. thinking to myself: Here I am. This is where I belong. Good. Good. Good."

-- Freder.

There's No Place Like Home: Dream Time

During the month or so following my release from the horse-pistal I took prescription sleeping pills so that there would be no ifs, buts or how-some-have-its about sleeping through the night. My doctor wisely made the prescription non-refillable, so when they were gone I was on my own. Can't tell whether or not this would have been a problem: fortunately, I guess, we have entered one of our busiest times at the college and the extra hours ensure that I've been tired enough to pack it in at the end of the day with no worries about whether or not the Sandman will choose to kaboosh me in the face with whatever his Magic Formula consists of.

The side effect of sleeping naturally for the first time in years (remember that I was drinking myself to sleep for approximately the previous decade) is that I remember my dreams.

Or is that what's happening? I'm not sure. The last few mornings have been like something out of Doctor Strange.

It follows a pattern. I wake about 20 minutes before I actually have to get up, feeling alert (as alert as I ever am before eleven AM) and aware of my surroundings; only to drop off again for what seems like hours, days, as I sink into a dream state that's too deep and distant for comfort. Inevitably when I wake, only a few minutes have passed, and I emerge disoriented as to time and place, feeling woolly and cocooned, blinking at my own bedroom as if the real world is somehow behind me and I've just been shoved through a curtain onto a painted canvas set.

The dreams that come to me in that state are not a romp in Disneyland. Work is being done and business is being transacted. This morning I found myself in the Old House.

We arrived home to find it outwardly calm and unchanged. But somehow the back door had been locked on the inside and we had to around to the front, the door under the two maple trees.

As soon as we passed through, we found that the center of gravity had changed and everything was on a slant. There are details here that I'm already forgetting. There may have been a stranger there inside the house, a young man. My mother went to speak to him, and I maneuvered my way into the sitting room so that I could head downwards towards the kitchen.

Everything was on end, everything was a jumble. It was just like The Poseidon Adventure, but I was moving in the opposite direction from the filmic survivors of that disaster. Most all of the furniture appeared to have been secured to the floor, so I was able to use the tables and sofas for support in my descent.

I went down through the living and dining room and through the little hall into the kitchen. There I found my maternal grandmother Mel, sitting in a rocking chair, knitting, smiling to herself as she sometimes did, serenely ignorant of the world shift that had gone on around her.

She looked up at me and said, quite calmly, "There was an Earthquake."

That was all. That was where I woke up.

The night before was worse. Again I was in the kitchen of the old house. It was in the middle state that I had lived in for a couple of months: the auctioneers had been through and ruined the place, practically dismantled it, taken what they wanted, and I had done my best to make something livable out of the space with what I had left, not knowing yet where I was headed.

So I knew that I was in a dream, because I knew that the past year and a half had actually happened, that I was visiting the old house after having been away for some time.

My mother was there, in her nightshirt, moving between her bedroom and the kitchen as she did for the last year or two of her life, the only walking she did at all other than to get out to my car and back on our weekly errands run, or to walk into the doctor's office. Except that her right leg had not been amputated, or had miraculously grown back.

She had been drinking heavily, much more heavily than was normal for her, and was stumbling about in a state of disorientation and disconnectedness, the likes of which I actually saw once in real life when I found her one morning flopping about in her bed. I thought that she had had a stroke. Instead, her blood sugar had dropped into the 20-30 range.

In the last year or so of her life, her sense of engagement with the Real World sometimes came and went. She could be very sharp and focussed, much sharper than I am at my best; and other times she seemed not to have a clue, to have shifted into a regressive state in which she had poor short-term memory and sometimes looked at me with the eyes of a child.

It was in this latter state that I found her, alone in the kitchen, not even a cat or a television to keep her company.

Instead of feeling empathy, I was angry that she would drink in front of me, that she had reached that childlike stage in her mind which forced me into the position of responsibility that I did not want. I growled at her and cast about looking for the vodka bottle so that I could start drinking, too.

She paid me no mind, answering me only vaguely is if the conversation was in her head, not mine.

It seemed to me that she was facing, for the first time, the physical consequences brought down upon the house by her own death, that she had mentally removed herself from the kitchen so that she did not have to see it in that state. I could not make her focus. In my frustration, and trying to learn why I'd been brought to this point, I walked away, out into the front yard.

Things were happening there. People were taking it all apart. Striking the set? For many years now I have had a recurring nightmare of Suddenly Remembering that the barn animals, the horse, pony, goat and sheep who are long gone now, have not been fed in years. Because of course they haven't.

But in a dream it doesn't matter if someone is dead. The animals would still need to be fed. I felt the familiar horror that this nightmare always carries, of having neglected the animals. This part of the dream ended the way it always does: I rushed through the barn and out the back only to find them all grazing contentedly in the far field, in the sun, down by the pond.

But this time there were workers in the near field. What were they doing? Planting something? I could not tell.

Day became night. I moved aimlessly in an alien location. There were corners. I came upon a black man who said to me, "You had to [something something] first. Now you can go."

(Welcome to my life. Whenever people talk at or around me, especially in groups, what I hear is "Something something] on the [something something] and you'd better [something something something.]" I now know that my lifelong auditory comprehension is a symptom of my Asperger's, but imagine having this trouble and never knowing why until you're 53 years old.)

I went back to the house, back into the kitchen. It was still daytime inside there; the afternoon light had filled up the room. My mother was sitting there, although not in hr favorite chair, which did not get left behind. She had started to come out of the spell that had taken hold of her. She could not speak, but for the first time she looked me in the eye and I could see that her intelligence had returned.

I took both of her hands in mine. I said, "Is it you? Is it really you?"

She blinked once at me, and nodded.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On the Straight and Arrow

It's only fair to follow up my thoughts on The Avengers with those on an equally "light and frothy" movie from the past (the quotes are to show that I'm being sarcastic): Kurasawa's Throne of Blood. Again (I've typed this enough times that it is monotonous to me) this is something I've seen only once before, so many years ago that I might never have seen it at all. The only part of it that I remembered was the ending -- but if you've ever seen the ending of Throne of Blood, you'll never forget it.

Point of interest: there are only about two close-ups in the entire first half-hour, and because they are so scarce they land with a powerful impact. Mifune gets the first one, and here we note that Washira in Throne of Blood is one of his most stylized performances, resonating with Bunraku and all the other traditions of Japanese art and craft: it's *BIG* and scowling and even a bit grotesque. Kurasawa is wise to shoot him mostly in long shots, although the thing that allows Mifune to get away with something this far over the top is that it seems to be deeply felt and genuine.

I wonder how many times Kurasawa had to shoot the fog that rolls through so many of the scenes in order to get it just right. And it is Just Right: it's not going too far to say that fog is both a character in and the narrator of the movie, that the kind of Japanese Greek Chorus that opens and closes the story is actually the voice of the fog. The mysticism of Shakespeare, it turns out, is perfectly suited for the Japanese treatment, and you almost wish that Kurasawa had tackled more of The Bard's plays.

It's a simple story, telegraphed well in advance by Washira's encounter with the corporal form of a forest spirit, here replacing the three witches with their histrionic toil and trouble. Indeed, that's the whole point: that everything is written, that men do not have free will at all, that Washira/Macbeth is doomed to follow his fate even when he's had enough Advance Warning to well avoid it. Even when the predictions of the Forest Spirit are patently ridiculous, somehow they all come true.

Forests play a large part in both Macbeth and Lord of the Rings, and one wonders if Tolkein was borrowing more or less consciously from Shakespeare (or, more likely, the same mythic sources that Shakespeare was borrowing from) when he planned the victories at Helm's Deep and Isengard as aided by the trees. Either way, Peter Jackson's computer-driven solution in the movie version, though entertaining as all get-out, is nowhere near as effective as the two shots in Kurasawa's movie that show the trees advancing through that selfsame fog as if by magic.

Look at any picture of actress Isuzu Yamada out of her Throne of Blood / Lady Macbeth make-up, and she looks like a nice person; but she's at the heart of one of the most mortifying shots in the movie. From the moment we first see her character, she speaketh treason; but she speaketh it with her face downturned, her eyes averted in the respectful manner of her position. But there comes a time in the conversation when she wants to make a particular point: and she raises her stark, painted face and fixes her eyes on her husband's just as if he's a moth about to pinned down on a specimen sheet. It's a shot worthy of any screen monster, a shot as horrifying as any you'll find in a really good Monster Movie. Mifune recoils into himself at the sight. Me, if I were in his sandals I'd have screamed and run from the building.

Come to think of it, that might have been the wisest action for Washira to take.

The original Japanese title of Throne of Blood is Spider's Web Castle. I can see why the American distributors changed it to something punchier, but I like the original title best. Both are descriptive in their own way, but the Japanese title is ripe with images of its characters twisting away against the fates, against all hope: a bit like the ending of the original 1958 version of The Fly: "Help me, help me!"

Sorry, Washira. The Forest Spirit doesn't want tunas with good taste. He wants tunas that taste good.

-- Freder.

P.S. Okay, I mix my metaphors. It's more fun that way. As Diane Keaton said in Annie Hall, "Lah-dee-dah, Lah-dee-dah, Lah Lah."

Would THE AVENGERS by Any Other Name Smell as Ripe?

For me, The Avengers have always been, and will always be, John Steed and Emma Peel as played by Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg. Honestly, when I was first exposed to Marvel Comics' Avengers in the late '70s and early '80s, this was a bothersome issue to my fussy, nit-pickety brain: How can Stan Lee get away with stealing the name of THE AVENGERS? THE AVENGERS is a British TV show. This isn't right!

This wasn't my only problem with Marvel's Avengers. Although its supporting cast boasted such colorful characters as Hawkeye, The Scarlet Witch and her eventual beau, the android Vision (pictured above), the core team was always Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Ant-Man (yes, they started out with The Hulk as a team member, but he proved unmanageable and soon instead of buddying up with him they were hunting him down -- some friends they are!). It was the whole, and openly stated, reason for the series -- to answer the demand for a team-up of Marvel's most powerful solo characters.

But even while Stan Lee was writing it, there was little of interest that he could do with those characters, as they all had their own separate storylines going on in their own individual series. And so The Avengers became a repository of the kind of plotting Stan had perfected in The Fantastic Four: Get all these different temperaments in the same room, stir 'em up, and let them fight among themselves while the Villain of the Month digs his heels in and nearly succeeds in bringing his scheme to fruition. Then and only then will Our Heroes realize that they have to put their petty differences aside and pool their resources to send the likes of Kang the Conqueror nee Rama-Tut nee Doctor Doom back across the event horizon.

The Avengers were always putting aside their petty differences. They never learned to leave each other alone when they weren't pounding villains into the pavement.

It was entertaining, but not being a Team Player myself I liked these characters best in their solo series.

Up until about two years ago, I would have told you that The Avengers was one of those funny books that was completely unfilmable. That they proved me wrong, and that the resulting movie is actually sort of good at various moments in its runtime is to Marvel's credit. But I still defy Joe and Jane Average to walk in off the street having never seen any of the other Marvel movies (starting with Iron Man) and be able to make a lick of sense out of the thing.

Has the demographic really changed all that much? Has it really become plausible that a studio could and would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make a movie that is specifically unwatchable by a mass audience, that is geared only towards the Comic Book Geeks who are still, I would think, a fringe market?

I guess so. Who'da thunk it?

No doubt my viewing was colored by the unpleasant physical experience of going out to see it. I generally prefer my library and DVD player to the movie-house experience, and this was worse than average. The house was fully packed, I was hemmed in on both sides, like a Tuna Fish in a Sardine Can, if that makes any sense. The only good thing about it was that it did allow me to compare the audience reaction to that of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which I saw in a similarly loaded theater.

The audience at Pirates hooted and applauded and stomped their feet on the floor. They cheered and roared. At The Avengers, the audience laughed at a couple of the predictable Laugh Moments, but were otherwise silent.

Sort of speaks for itself, hmm?

The in-fighting at the core of the movie is pure Marvel fun, and is probably what the mass audience will fall for, never having seen this sort of thing in a superhero movie. Yes, the very first thing all these "heroes" do when they get together is try to beat each other up. They all seem to be asking "How big is yours?" I'd still lay my money on The Hulk. They say that the madder Hulk gets, the bigger he gets.

But the set-up at the beginning of the film is Plain Tedious, the villain is too small a threat and spends too much of the move basically standing around, and the last half hour is sheer torture. How freakin' long can you destroy Manhattan with unconvincing CGI non-entities? Even the hand-to-hand combat is boring: it's obvious that Scarlett Johansen and the others are just doing kung-fu moves to the empty air, that they face enemies of no physical substance who are added in later as special effects.

But the movie's largest problem is its lack of Soul. Joss Whedon does what Joss Whedon always does: serve up a meal that looks to be very well thought-out, but turns into air the minute you bite into it. As the individual members of The Avengers part company at the end of the move, we should be left with something to care about.

Even the worst episode of the old Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk TV series used to be able to strike a note of wistfulness, or sadness, or some other emotion in the final fade-out. Joss Whedon's Avengers doesn't even leave you looking forward to their return.

I guess that the heart of the movie is supposed to be SHIELD, that super-secret organization whose machinations are felt throughout Marvel's line of funnybook titles. But by making SHIELD into nothing more than the catalyst for the heroes to get together, the agency becomes -- well, nothing more than a Hollywood kind of agency, a casting company to assemble a package. (For non-funnybook types out there, this is emphatically NOT the way the original Avengers came about!)

And don't even get me started about Whedon killing off Agent Coulson.  Much more so than Samuel Jackson's misbegotten Nick Fury (which strikes me as a little bit like casting a black guy as Rooster Cogburn or Sam Spade), Coulson is the backbone of the Movie Franchise version of SHIELD: he is, or was, the best thing to come out of the movie series, having been lurking about with his wonderful deadpan since the first Iron Man movie.

The unspoken word of his dying statement is typical of the shallowness and self-reverent times that we live in. Whedon forces arrogant Dying Words into the mouth of a humble man. Without his death, Iron Man, Captain America and the others would have nothing to avenge?

What about the hundreds, nay, thousands of Manhattanites who perish, unseen and unmourned, in the final half hour of the picture as a new 9/11 of Hiroshima proportions is rained down upon New York?

-- Freder.

It's Fun to Be in the I-OH-O-P (Not!): Aht fer Aht's Sake

During the prolonged four-hour evening sessions at the IOP there were acres and acres of dead space, wasted time. This is the sort of thing that I got to drawing in my journal when that happened. I think you can click on the image to see it full-size. If not, I hope you have glasses!

-- Freder.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Y Post

So, the blossoms in the very top branches of the Strange Whatsit Tree beside my home have fully deployed. Meanwhile, the leaves on my Maple tree have barely begun to sprout. My neighbor has little leaves out already on his maple tree, just a few dozen yards away. What's up with that?

I haven't heard from my Dad in a long, long time. I was sure this meant that he and his wife were traveling back from Out West -- but you never know, right? I mean, you really never know.

( --A little over a year ago, in the dead of winter, in the middle of the night, an ambulance pulled up the driveway of my back neighbor's house. It wasn't a false alarm, but they got him to the hospital in time and he recovered [You can read the post I wrote around that event here]. This afternoon as I was mowing the lawn for the first time this year -- not coincidentally venting some ill and black emotions in the process -- the ambulance pulled up to that doorway again. Actually, it was two ambulances. The EMTs came out of the house after too short a time, and stood about with body language that was was decidedly unrushed. Something was brought out of the house on a stretcher and it sat in the driveway for several minutes. Magicians teach us that nothing observed can be trusted, especially when one is focussed on other things. But it's gotten awfully silent and dark at that house. Why do things happen when they happen? Why did Mom live through a hard winter only to die in he spring? What's up with that?)

Anyway, I hadn't heard from my Dad in what seemed like ages, and last night he picked the exact two minutes that I was outside feeding Tiger Whitestockings to call in. I never heard the phone ring. It wasn't until four hours later that I picked up (for entirely other reasons) to see if there was a message.

Now, my phone answering message is a rather terse and surly admonition that I am best reached by email, and you should already have it, or have easy access to it, if I want to hear from you. Dad left a message saying "It's your father and I'm trying to call because I don't have access to my computer!"

I felt bad about that, but I felt worse that I had no way of returning his call because he didn't tell me where he is. East coast or West? I tried his cell phone, just to be on the safe side, and didn't get an answer. What's up with all that?

What's up with any of that? What's up with all of it? What's the point?

When I was done with the lawn I was so tired and sad that all I could do was stand in my side window, leaning on the sill, looking at the blossoms on that Strange Whatsit Tree, and thinking how badly I wanted a drink. It would be easy. The stores were still open. I had hours and hours. I wanted that drink so badly that the only things keeping me from getting in the car and going to the store were the pains crippling my shoulders, arms, legs and back (that first mow of the season seems to get harder and harder every year) -- and the fact that I was stark staring naked, having left my clothes in the laundry room so that I could step right into the shower.

By the time I was done with my shower the craving was gone, but it was the worst and most serious one so far, fueled not just by habit or a desire to relax, but by the kind of sadness that I'm all too familiar with, the sadness driven by "whys," and "What's up with thats;" by knowing that I will never make sense out of the world and it will never make sense to me -- by knowing that things are never going to change and all that I'll ever have is what I have right now.

I wanted that bottle of vodka real bad.

Near the end of my "recovery" journal, my off-the-cuff record of 4 East and the IOP, there is a page dominated by an allegorical cartoon with a caption. It became ever so briefly irrelevant this past week, only to become more relevant than ever Friday night into Saturday. Not for the first time, nor I suppose for the last, I felt that l'd taken a knife blow, if not to the heart than to some other vital area of my body. It wasn't about desire or Romance. It was more dangerous than that: it was about innocent affection.

I'm writing around the thing that's really bugging me here, and I apologize for that, but even if I didn't have to be discreet, I've become aware -- and if if you've been paying attention, you should have too -- that I'm not the sort of person who deals with issues head-on.

Why do people do what they do? Why do people, let's say on the newsworthy level, commit atrocities and murders? Why do people cheat and steal and torture? On the not-at-all newsworthy level, why do people cause hurt when it would be the simplest and easiest thing to avoid, just by being honest?

I imagine the phone vibrating in her hip pocket. I imagine her, perhaps, pressing her lips into a barely-noticeable frown, and letting it go to message, knowing full well who is on the other end and that the call is both expected and invited. She may not even have any choice in the matter, but the person on the other end will never know. I imagine her breathing in through her nose, and going on with what she's doing. Perhaps, if she thinks about it at all, she does so in medical terms: It will only hurt him for a minute.

What's up with that?

-- Freder.

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