Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Good morning, Wednesday, how is everyone holding up so far this week?

So Laura apparently isn’t going to be too much of a thing in New Orleans, but things aren’t looking good for eastern Texas/western Louisiana. Keep safe, my friends, and everyone else, do keep them in your thoughts and send them positive energy, as I certainly shall be doing until this too has passed. It’s similar to 2005’s Rita; following the same path and intensifying pattern. We’ll still get about 2 to 4 feet of storm surge into Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain, and a lot of sudden, intense rain (street flooding), but for the most part, New Orleans has yet again dodged a bullet.

And compared to a direct hit, yes, that’s not too much of a thing in New Orleans.

It was very strange to not have to go into the office this week (I did have to go by yesterday–and will again today–to get more supplies) to do any work; especially when you take into consideration the vacation days I took last week. I’ve not been into the office to actually work now since last Wednesday–a full seven days–and it’s made me feel very disconnected from my job this morning; I really don’t know how all of you who’ve been having to work at home all this time without ever going into your offices have managed to do that without feeling untethered at best, disconnected at worst. At this point, it feels as though the pandemic has been going on forever, and the last days of what was previously our normal existence–late February, early March–seem like ancient history to me now, and I’ve already accepted the fact that life, that world, that way of existing, is gone forever. Whatever it is we will see when this ends–should it ever end–will be completely different. This is one of those “sea change” experiences, where life and society and culture change irrevocably forever. The world before the first World War ceased to exist after it ended; the interregnum between the two wars was a kind of stasis world, where all the problems unresolved by the Treaty of Versailles coupled with the crash of the American–and by extension, world–economy created a bizarre vacuum which fascism swept in to fill, with the inevitable war that followed–one that took a look at what had been, up to that time, called “the Great War” and basically said, “Hold my beer, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The world in the spring of 1914 was almost completely different in almost every way in the fall of 1945–a span of only thirty one years.

So what will our world, culture and society look like in a post-pandemic environment? Will we ever get to said post-pandemic environment? Or will those of us who survive this look back at this time and say, “ah, yes, the beginning of the dystopia?”

How depressing. Which is one of many reasons why I never look forward or back, and try to live in the now. The now is depressing enough as is, if you let it be.

While I didn’t work on the book yesterday or read anything, I did educate myself somewhat by watching the Kings and Generals channel on Youtube, something I discovered recently. I watched the episodes on the Battle of Lepanto and The 1565 Siege of Malta, which were extremely informative and educational. I had previously watched the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; the Sack of Constantinople in 1204; the Battle of Mojacs; and the Siege of Vienna. Most of my study of European history has always been western-centric, primarily focusing on Great Britain, Spain, and France, with a smattering of Germany/Holy Roman Empire thrown in for good measure (and primarily the Hapsburgs); it is only recently that I’ve realized how much I’ve not looked at eastern Europe, other than some post Peter the Great Russian history–which also is primarily because it impacted western Europe. My knowledge of Asian history is non-existent; and if you ignore the scanty knowledge of ancient Egypt, I really don’t know much about African history either, other than the colonial period and not much of that. I also don’t know much about Latin America, either. Several years ago–after the Italy trip of beloved memory–I started looking into Venetian history, which is entangled heavily with that of the Byzantine Empire and its successor, the Ottoman Empire–both of which I know very little about, and as I started reading more about these eastern European empires (the Venetian included), I began to get a better concept and grasp on how little of world history I actually knew.

I would love to have the time to study more of the history of Constantinople/Istanbul, as the capital of two major historical empires that covered 1500 years of human history.

We also watched a two part documentary on HBO about the Michelle Carter/Conrad Roy case, I Love You Now Die. If the names mean nothing to you, it’s the case where the boyfriend committed suicide while his girlfriend was texting him supposedly ordering him to do it. The facts of the case–which I hadn’t really looked much into before–aren’t what they seem and it was an interesting case; her conviction, held up under appeal, set a legal precedent that can be seen as either scary or good. Was she a sociopath? Or were they both emotionally damaged teenagers locked into a strange co-dependent relationship that was actually toxic, made it even more dangerous because no one else knew how toxic it had actually become? As I watched, I wondered–as I am wont to do–how I would tell the story were I to fictionalize it, and finally decided that the best way to do it would be from multiple points of view: both mothers, the sister of the suicide, and one of the Michelle’s “friends” from high school–all of whom claimed to not be really friends of hers in the first place–and the real story is loneliness, on the parts of both kis, really. A truly sad story, without any real answers.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I also continued with my 1970’s film festival by watching the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate, which is one of the most cynical political films I’ve ever seen–and almost every political film made since that time has been highly cynical. The 1970’s was an interesting decade for film; a transitional period where the old Hollywood was done away with once and for all and cynical, brutal realism took its place. Watching these films has also reminded me, sometimes painfully, how questionable style and design choices were in that decade–clothing, cars, buildings, etc. It was an ugly decade–remember the hair styles, with the carefully blown dry “feathered bangs” hair-sprayed into place? Sideburns and porn-staches? The bell bottoms and earth tones? The enormous steel cars that were essentially tanks? How dirty everything seemed, and how trash littered the sides of the roads and waterways? It’s all there in these films, as well as that dark, bitter cynicism.

The Candidate is about an idealistic young lawyer who works for social justice causes named Bill McKay, whose father was a powerful two-term governor of California. Recruited by a political operative played to sleazy perfection by Peter Boyle, McKay–who has always disdained politics–agrees to run for senator against a long-term, popular Republican incumbent. No one expects him to win, and McKay agrees to it so he can talk about issues that are important to him–and he immediately makes it clear he wants his campaign to  have nothing to do with his father. The movie follows him from his own first faltering public appearances and watches as he slowly develops into an actual politician. He’s perfectly fine with everything, and he wins the primary–but the numbers extrapolate to a humiliating defeat in the general…so he starts watering down his message, speaking in generalities and never addressing issues directly–and his campaign begins to take off, and winning becomes more important to him than the issues, to the point he even allows his father, played with sleazy perfection by two-time Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas, to get involved in the campaign. He pulls off the upset and wins, and as the celebrations begin, he asks his campaign manager, “So, what happens now?” as no thought has ever been put into the future should he actually win; and that’s how the movie ends, with that question unanswered. It’s a very strong indictment of modern politics, and still relevant today; essentially, he wins because he is handsome and never says anything that means anything. We never really are sure, as the viewer, what he wants and what he stands for; which is a very deliberate choice by the filmmakers–we’re basically shown a little bit behind the curtain, but mostly we see what the voters would see. This movie doesn’t have a Frank Capra ending, but the typical cynical view of the 1970’s. The screenplay, incidentally, won an Oscar.

Aliens was the second movie on yesterday’s condom packing double feature. I had originally intended to watch Alien and Aliens back to back; don’t remember why I didn’t rewatch Aliens back then, but I didn’t, but I also figured it was equally appropriate to rewatch the day after rewatching Jaws, because it too is a monster movie, and one of the best of all time. Sigourney Weaver is even better in this one than she was in the first; and while I love Marlee Matlin and think she’s a terrific talent, I still think Weaver should have got the Oscar for this (if not for Alien). Once again, a primary theme for the movie is “no one listens to the woman who is always proven to be right”–amazing how timeless that theme has proven to be–and again, as in the first film, the Ripley character is given a relationship to soften her and make her more “womanly”; in the first film it’s the cat–which really, I felt, weakened her character, while at least in this one it’s the little girl, Newt, that she risks her life to go back for when everyone else, including me, is screaming get the fuck out of there are you fucking crazy? There are also some other terrific performances in this movie, which is a non-stop adrenaline ride, including Bill Paxton’s first performance of note as Hudson; Michael Biehn (why was he not a bigger star?) in a  great follow-up to The Terminator as Hicks; and Paul Reiser, who was so sleazily perfect as the company rep (and should have been nominated for an Oscar himself) that I have never been able to stand watching him in anything else since I saw this movie for the first time because I hated him so much as Burke that I cannot see him as anything else. Everyone in the cast is terrific; but there are some small things that date the film–Hudson makes an illegal alien joke about Vasquez (would this still be a thing that far into the future?); the analog transmissions rather than digital; and of course–the cigarette smoking; would cigarettes never evolve over time?

If all goes well, I expect to be here tomorrow morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader.

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Single

Well, Constant Reader, we’ve made it to Thursday again; how lovely is that?

I have a busy day ahead of me, so I am priming myself with as much coffee as I can hold–which I will undoubtedly regret later, when I can’t sleep tonight. I did sleep well last night–only waking up around six when Scooter decided to lie on me, purring and kneading me with his paws, but I fell back asleep relatively easily. I could have slept for another three or four hours, frankly.

While making my condom packs yesterday I watched two movies on HBO MAX: Eyewitness and Foreign Correspondent. Both were enjoyable, if flawed; the second more flawed for being a product of its time (1940) more than anything else. Eyewitness was also very much of its own time–the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, and is particularly memorable for being the first major film roles for William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver. Watching the movie put me back in mind of the 1970’s and all of its bitter cynicism. Hurt plays Darell Deaver, a Vietnam vet who now works as a janitor in an office building in the evenings; yet can afford a fairly decent apartment in Manhattan–which I suppose was still possible in the 1970’s–and his best friend is Aldo, played by a very young James Woods (also playing a racist Vietnam vet). In the building where Darell works is the office for a Vietnamese businessman (played Chao-li Chi, best known as Chao-li from Falcon Crest; obviously, back then it wasn’t an issue having a Chinese-American actor play a Vietnamese character) whom both he and Aldo remember from Saigon. Mr. Long has gotten Aldo fired from his job, and one night Mr. Long is brutally murdered while Darell is in the building. Darell, thinking Aldo killed him, pretends he didn’t find the body…but the newspaper reporter covering the case (Sigourney Weaver) he’s been watching on the news and has a big crush on, so he begins a minor flirtation with her. She thinks he knows more than he’s saying, and so plays along with the flirtation….not knowing she is more connected to the murder than he actually is. It’s a nice neo-noir film, if a bit flawed, and watching it reminded me of how much things have changed in our society and culture since then–and also reminded me of other things about the 1970’s; the rampant paranoia, for one, and how New York was in decline (or at least, seen to be in decline by the rest of the country), and was a much grittier, messier place. It also reminded me of how much public perception in the United States towards Jews and Israel have shifted–there’s a subplot about Sigourney Weaver’s parents being Russian Jews who managed to escape that is more important than is let on at first, and Christopher Plummer has a role as Weaver’s actual lover who is an activist helping Russian Jews escape from behind the Iron Curtain. Morgan Freeman and the guy who played Adam Schiff for years on Law and Order play the police detectives investigating Long’s murder–which was an interesting twist.

Foreign Correspondent was one of Hitchcock’s first American films, and since it was made in 1940 and was about the possibility of war breaking out in Europe (it already had; the movie was set in August of 1939), as one can expect it was very anti-Nazi and pro-Britain. Joel McCrea plays a reporter for the New York Globe who, as a crime reporter, is seen by the publisher as someone better equipped to handle reporting the double-dealing and backroom deals prior to the possible outbreak of war. McCrea does a good job in the role–if his character is quite a bit naive–and eventually he falls (as one does so frequently in Hitchcock films) madly in love with the daughter of the head of the Peace Party, who is supposedly working very hard to prevent the outbreak of war. There’s a typical Hitchcockian plot about a Dutch diplomat who is party to a secret treaty between Holland and Belgium and a secret clause only known to the signatories who is being pursued by the Nazis; a double stands in for him and is murdered very publicly–but the McCrea character knows he’s a phony and the search is on for the real diplomat. The suspense that Hitchcock is known for is there, and props to the studio and Hitchcock for doing a plane crash at sea in the third act–it’s totally not how a plane crash would work, of course, but no one in 1940 would know that–and, of course, as required by the Hays Code there is a rousing happy-ever-after ending with McCrea reporting from London during a bombing raid a la Edward R. Murrow, and as the credits roll a rousing rendition of a patriotic American song plays.

I had a headache for most of the day yesterday, so I didn’t read or write at all, but despite the headache, I couldn’t help but think about both movies, and how their stories couldn’t really be updated very much to a modern era–perhaps Eyewitness could be, more so, since television reporting isn’t going anywhere, but do newspapers even have foreign correspondents anymore? I don’t think so.

Paul and I are also watching a German Netflix series called We Are The Wave, which is interesting and rather well done; it’s based on the old “Wave” experiment that was actually done at a high school and then made into a movie, with a book adapted from it later; about how easy it is for fascism to take hold. It was done as an experiment, a teaching moment for an instructor for his class to show them–who wondered about how the Germans could embrace such a toxic political philosophy as Nazism–precisely how easy it was. This show is a bit different in that it shows that Nazism is again on the rise in Germany, and the “wave” in this show is actually a resistance movement towards both capitalism and Nazism. It’s interesting, only about six episodes long, and we are almost finished. We won’t be able to finish tonight because I am doing one of those Zoom on-line promotion things for The Faking of the President anthology.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

The Second Time Around

Up early to start another week of work, and I feel pretty good. Obviously, I would have preferred to stay in bed for another hour or so, but that’s just not in the cards so here I am, drinking coffee and writing a blog entry while I wake up.

I only managed to get two more chapters finished yesterday; I still call that a win, and am very happy to be nearly halfway through the manuscript. If I keep up the pace of one chapter per day, with more on the weekends, I’ll be finished long before the end of the month–which was the original goal, and then I can get back to the WIP.

I spent most of the day yesterday reading A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, and I do have some thoughts on it. Was it a great work of art? No, it wasn’t even the best crime novel I read published in 2018. But it was good enough, you know, and it held my attention enough so I wanted to find out what was happening and what was really going on. But…it was also a very paint-by-numbers thriller; as though the author were simply ticking off boxes as he wrote the book. I’ll always wonder if my read of the book was influenced by the back story of the author–that piece in the New Yorker, in particular. It was very Hitchcockian in some ways, with nods to Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt, among others, and nods to Gaslight and numerous other films…the great black-and-white noir thrillers of the mid-twentieth century. I’ve not read the other blockbuster novels of the last few years (The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10) in whose footsteps this novel follows; I did read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl when it was first released (and before it became a national phenomenon) and greatly enjoyed it.

Here be spoilers.

Continue reading “The Second Time Around”