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Thursday, January 2nd, 2020
10:18 pm - Collected Fanfiction Post
Links to all fanfiction I've written in various fandoms. That I'm admitting to.

Alias )

Angel the Series )

Babylon 5 )

Battlestar Galactica )

Breaking Bad )

Buffy the Vampire Slayer )

Citizen Kane )

Doctor Who )

Farscape )

Earth: Final Conflict )

Heroes )

Highlander: The Series )

Historical Fiction )

Lost )


Merlin )

Mythology )

Once upon a time )

Rome )

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine )

Star Trek: The Next Generation )

Star Wars )

Sunset Boulevard )

The Americans )

The Beatles )

The Borgias )
The Godfather )

Torchwood )

X-Men )

The West Wing )

Crossovers )

current mood: exhausted

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Tuesday, October 18th, 2016
1:53 pm - Versailles
As has been pointed out to me after I posted my recent book review, the tv series Versailles is now available, and thus I could finish marathoning it (all ten episodes) just before leaving for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair.

So, as historical series go: on a scale from cheerfully ahistorical teen soap a la Reign to show beloved by critics, historians and viewers alike a la John Adams, Versailles is... Somewhere on a level with The Tudors (though it has more authentic looking costumes). Which is to say: mixes the occasional clever historical detail/interpretation with lots more blatantly invented stuff and historical nonsense, firm emphasis on the soap opera and the sex, but no such howlers as worshipping pagans and religiously tolerant Mary Stuart in Reign. The original characters don't carry cheerfully anachronistic names, either.

Spoilery musings follow )

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: amused

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Monday, October 17th, 2016
10:17 am - Elementary 5.02
In which Holmes meets Another Mr. Sloane, and Watson does seem to get the arc I was hoping for after the premiere.

Read more... )

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: pensive

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Saturday, October 15th, 2016
12:19 pm - Madame and her brother
One of the many reasons why I'm curious about the tv show Versailles and hope it will show up either in dvd form or on Netflix in my part of the worlds is that the audience favourite is Philippe d'Orleans, aka Monsieur, brother to Louis XIV. This surprised me, to put it mildly, until I realised that a) played by Alexander "Mordred" Vlahos, and b) openly gay male relation of powerful person striving to be with his (male) true love = audience favourite, of course.

The reason why I was at first surprised at first is that Monsieur has had a terrible press, as far as historical novels I've read are concerned, and a not much better one in non-fiction I've read. (The only positive film depiction of him I can recall is as a minor supporting character in Alan Rickman's last movie, A Little Chaos, where there's a lovely little scene between the middle aged royal brothers as played by Alan Rickman as Louis and Stanley Tucci as Philippe.) Not because he was gay, though of course one can never discount homophobia in older sources, but because he was a terrible husband, and that is the context in which I mostly encountered him. When I say "terrible", I don't mean "cheating because arranged marriage and gay", I mean "using his social power over his wives to humiliate them on a regular basis, strip wife I. of all her friends in their household, act incredibly jealous of every man (including her brothers and nephew) who comes near her while simultanously making it clear he despises her and loves only his favourite" and "unable to stand the idea of the children loving either wife I or wife II better, tries to get the kids to hate their mothers at various points".

Wife II was Liselotte von der Pfalz, aka Charlotte Elisabeth of the Palatine, whose thousands of letters to her German relations through the decades of her life at Versailles provide a tremendously entertaining glimpse at the era and the people. Wife I , the first Madame, was Henriette Anne, aka Minette, Charles II.'s favourite sister. I'd read Liselotte's letters before (where Monsieur mellows down somewhat as they grow old together, and the last three years of their marriage are downright harmonious, and also the only ones she later describes as happy), but I hadn't read Minette's, other than what gets quoted in Antonia Fraser's biographies of Charles II. and of Louis XIV. This I've now rectified:

Ruth Norrington (editor): My Dearest Minette: Charles II to the Duchess of Orleans.

Despite the subtitle, it collects all of Minette's stille existing letters as well and isn't a one sided correspondance. Technical notes on the editing: Ruth Norrington provides context not with footnotes but with explaining texts in between letters, which is sometimes very helpful even if you're familiar with the era (like yours truly, though not an expert), and sometimes feels redundant, as when she's essentially just repeating what then gets said in the next letter. She's also unabashedly partisan in her descriptions: both Charles and Minette often get described as "charming" and "delightful", the Chevalier de Lorraine (Philippe's favourite boyfriend) hardly shows up without the moniker "evil". (To be fair, I haven't yet found any one, either in memoirs or letters, who had anything good to say about the Chevalier aside from his looks, and he comes across as both obnoxious and vile, as when he's boasting of having gotten rid of Minette's governess and confessor and being powerful enough to get Philippe to divorce her as welll; not surprisingly, this was when Minette and the English ambassador did their level by lobbying with Louis XIV to get rid of the Chevalier instead.) Occassionally, you wish that Norrington when stating something as fact that's actually still hotly debated would at least indicate with a footnote that hers is not the only interpretation out there, as with the question as to whether or not Charles II. actually meant to convert to Catholicism in the Treaty of Dover. Norrington taking it as granted that Charles meant to and totally would have announced it, too, had Minette not died made me raise my eyebrows in scepticism because given what actually happened (Charles pocketing the money Louis XIV provided him with for that promised conversion but not actually converting & announcing it until he was on his death bed, which is how he technically fulfilled the terms of the Treaty but certainly not the spirit) and given Charles II.'s life long pragmatism and dislike of dogma and clear awareness that the country wouldn't stomach a Catholic monarch ("I'll not go on my travels again"), I very much doubt that had Minette lived, he'd have done anything else than what he did. (I.e always arguing that he'd love to, sure, but the political situation right now won't allow it, in the meantime, how about some more cash?)

Despite her open dislike for Philippe ("a vainglourious narcisisst and bully"), Norrington actually provides a more interesting interpretation for his jealousy re: Minette than I've seen so far, which makes it about more than ego, by pointing out that Philippe's relationship with his brother was other than the one with the Chevalier the central one in his life, and both the supposed Louis/Minette affair early on (whether or not they actually had sex or just engaged in an intense flirtation, it was serious and public enough to make both their mothers remonstrate with them) and the fact that Louis took Minette later seriously as a politician in a way he never did Philppe (who wasn't privy to the secret negotiations between Louis, Minette and Charles about the Treaty of Dover, presumably because he wasn't trusted to keep it secret) were interfering with that relationship. Hence Phiippe retaliating by using his status as Minette's husband to delay her journey to England as much as he could, then forbid her to stay longer than three days etc.

Another technical observation: as Norrington says, most of Charles' letters are written in English, not least because he wanted Minette, who'd lived in France since she was two years old, to practise the language, while all of Minette's letters but one were written in French and thus are translated in the present volume, and come across as a bit more formal due to this fact. The one exception is a letter not directed at Charles but at Sir Thomas Clifford, written just a few days before her death, and its conclusion gets across what people, not just Norrington, mean when they talk about Minette's charm:

This is the ferste letter I Have ever write in english. you will eselay see it bi the stile and tograf. prai see in the same time that i expose mi self to be thought a foulle in looking to make you know how much I am your frind.

re: the correspondance in general in terms of content, even given the more emotional language of the time, it's very affectionate on both parts, with the siblings clearly adoring each other, which doesn't mean they always agree. Minette doesn't hesitate to chide her older brother when she thinks he's in the wrong, as when he made his mistress, Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemain, a lady of the bedchamber to his wife Catherine of Braganza over the later's understandable anger and hurt:

But to speak seriously, I beg you to tell me how the Queen has taken this. Here people say that she is in the deepest distress and to speak frankly I think she has only too good reason for her grief.

(After this, Charles made a point of mentioning spending time with his wife in his letters to Minette, though he's a bit defensive on the subject of his mistresses: If you were as well acquainted with a little fantastical gentleman called Cupide as I am, you would neither wonder, nor take ill, any sudden changes which do happen in the affaires of his conducting.) They also confide some pretty intimate details to each other; in a sadly lost letter Minette seems to have told Charles that on her wedding night she had her period and hence there was no sex until a few nights later (and then it wasn't , because he references both when telling her that Catherine, too, had had her period on their wedding night:

"(A)and though I am not as furious as Monsieur was but I am content to let those pass over before I go to bed to my wife, yet I hope I shall entertain her at least better the first night than he did you.</i>

The letters are usually a mixture of family and friends gossip, state affairs - Charles talked politicis to Minette long before the Treaty of Dover was in anyone's min; he basically treated her as the inofficial English ambassador to France, which was a good thing because his first two official ambassadors were lousy at the job - and the occasional interesting oddity, like the meteor which fascinated Charles. He more often than not ends his letters by remarking he's off to the theatre. His irreverent sense of humor also often comes through, as in this reply to Minette's swearing that her newborn daughter resembles her uncle:

I hope it is but a compliment to me, when you say my niece is so like me, for I never thought my face as even so much as intended for a beauty.

("Oddsfish", he famously said on another occasion, "I am an ugly fellow." You wouldn't have caught Louis XIV. allowing anyone to think that.)

As for religion: "I am of those bigotts," writes Charles to Minette, "who thinke that malice is a much greater sinn than a poor frailety of nature." Minette, otoh, was a passionate Catholic, with one of her main childhood memories being when her mother, Henrietta Maria, threw out her brother Henry (who was to die young, not long after Charles was crowned) for not converting. But she doesn't talk dogma often in her letters (even the Treaty of Dover letters are mainly concerned with possible political percussions of Charles converting).

An interlude with contemporary resonances comes when early in the Dutch-English war Minette to her horror hears about French sailors getting tortured by the crew of an English frigate (France at this point was peripherally involved in the war, though with opposite alliances to those it would have later): It is also reported that your people have made some Frenchmen prisoners, and tortured them cruelly, to make them confess they were going to Holland, but I maintain that this cannot be true, or at least that it is done without your approval, and that so generous a soul as yours would never allow such treatment of your enemies, far less of Frenchmen who are your friends. Write me word, I beg, of what has happened and whether, if this is true, you have taken care it should not happen again, since nothing is more worthy of you than to use your power to make yourself at once beloved and feared, and to provent all the horrors which too often accompany war.

Sadly, Charles found the story to be true, but promised Minette the perpetrators would be punished: "I do assure you I am extreamly troubled at it, there shall be very seveare justice done."

Having read the biography of Charles' oldest illegitimate son, James, the Duke of Monmouth, recently, I was struck by how many loving (and funny) references to him there are in the letters (he visited Versailles repeatedly, which Monsieur took offense to; one of his conditions for finally letting Minette visit England was that she was not to meet Monmouth on that occasion, which Charles promptly ignored). He's invariably referenced as "James", which made me wonder what they called his uncle James, the Duke of York, when talking about him, other than "brother", which is the designation from the letters. Anyway, some typical Monmouth references: "Your kindnesse to him obliges me as much as tis possible, for I do confesse I love him very well", "I (...) only desire you to have the same goodnesse for James you had the last time, and to chide him soundly when he does not that he should do. He intendes to put on a perriwig againe, when he comes to Paris, but I beleeve you will thinke him better farr, as I do, with his short haire, and so I am intierly yours".

The letters Charles sent by way of his son are also more detailed than the ones by courtier couriers (which could presumably be intercepted). When Minette's marriage goes from bad to worse, the siblings at first alludes to it only indirectly and discreetly, but then there's one letter which discusses it in detail:

I take the occasion of this bearer to say some thinges t you which I would not send by the post, and to tell you that I am ver glad that Monsieur beings to be ashamed of his ridiculous fancyes; you ought undoutedly to oversee what is past, so that, for the future, he will leave being of those fantasticall humours, and I thinke the less eclairecissement there is upon such kind of matters, the better for his friend the Chevalier. I thinke you have taken a very good resolution not to live so with him, but that, when there offers a good occasion, you may ease your selfe of such a rival, and by the character I have of him, there is hopes he will find out the occasion himselfe, which, for Monsieur's sake, I wish may be quickly.

That turned out to be wishful thinking on both Charles' and Minette's part. Instead, it was the Chevalier who got rid of Minette's allies in the Orleans household. Because the correspondance between Charles and Minette from the last year of her life is not preserved, it's paradoxically a good thing the Chevalier caused the governess of Minette's children to be replaced, because Minette then kept up a correspondance with her old governess and confidant, Madame de Saint-Chaumont, and Ruth Norrington includes these letters near the end of her book. At this point, the English ambassador (not one of the two incompetent ones mentioned earlier, but the first good one, Montagu), had already written an alarmed letter to Charles about how bad things truly were, Charles had remonstrated with Louis, and the Chevalier finally overreached himself when Philippe asked for the income from two abbeys being given to him, which Louis refused to do, which caused the Chevalier to speak out against the King. Cue banishment to Italy, for which Philippe blamed Minette, at first refusing to let her travel to England at all, hoping to blackmail both Kings into letting the Chevalier return. Writes Minette to her governess:

The King has worked hard to bring him to reason, but all in vain, for his only object in treatin gme so ill is to force me to ask favours for the CHevalier, and I am determined not to give in to blows. This state of things does not admit of any reconciliation, and Monsieur now refuses to come near me, and hardly ever speaks to me, which, in all the quarrels we hae had, has never happened before. But the gift of some traditional revenues from the King has now osftened his anger a little, and I hope that by Easter, all may yet be well. (...)

Fat chance. For:

I have indeed wished to see the King my brother, but there has been no question of the Chevalier's return in all Monsieurs opposition to my journey. Only he still declares he cannot love me, unless his favourite is allowed to form a third in our union. Since then, I have made him understand that, however much I might desire the Chevalier's return, it would be impossible to obtain it, and he has given up the idea, but, by making a noise about my journey to England, he hopes to show that he is master, and can treat me as ill in the Chevalier's absence as in his presence. This being his policy, he began to speak openly of our quarrels, refused to enter my room, and pretended to show that he could revenge himself for having been left in ignorance of these affairs, and make me suffer for what he calls the faults of the two Kings.

Charles tried to help by offering to give the Chevalier an honored place at his court in England, but again, no such luck. (Otoh he refused to invite Philippe himself along with Minette, using the excuse of protocol - the King of France's brother couldn't visit England without the King of England's brother visiting France, and since his brother the Duke of York was absolutely needed elsewhere. Writes Minette to her friend the governess:

This refusal has renewed Monsieur's irritation. He complains that all the honour will be mine, and consents to my journey with a very bad grace. At present, his chief friends are M. de Marsan, the Marquis de Villeroy and the Chevalier de Beuvron. The Marquis d'Effiat is the only one of the troop who is perhaps a little less of a rogue, but he is not clever enough to manage Monsieur, and the three others do all they can to make me miserable until the Chevalier returns. Although Monsieur is somewhat softened, he still tells me there is only one way in which I can show my love for him. Such a remedy, you know, would be followed by certain death!

This line took on an entire new meaning when after her return from England Minette died after drinking some chicory water. She believed herself poisoned; Philippe said if that was what she suspected, they should give some of the water to the dog to test it (in one version of the story, he also offered to drink himself), and today historians largely think Minette died of natural causes, but either way, she died in horrible agony which lasted for hours. She had asked for the banished (thanks to the Chevalier) Bossuet to give her the last rights, and he was sent for, but before he arrived, the bigoted M. Feuillet even added spiritual agony to the physical one. When she cried out "My God, will not these fearful pains be over soon", he said "What, Madame, you are forgetting yourself; you have offended God twenty-six years, and your penitence has but lasted six hours; rather say with St. Augustine, cut, tear, destroy, let my heart ache, let all my limbs thrill with anguish, let dung flow in the marrow of my bones, let worms revel in my breast!"

Minette even in this state still had the gift of irony she shared with her brother Charles, and replied: "Yes, sir, I hope so; in case God were to restore me to health, and I were so wretched as not to practise them, I entreat you to remind me of them."

When the English ambassador asked her, in English, whether she had been poisoned, Feuillet interrupted and warned her not to think of recriminations but the plight of her soul. Minette told the ambassador: "If this is true you must never let the King, my brother, know of it. Spare him the grief at all events and do not let him take revenge on the King here for he is at least not guilty."

"The King here", Louis, later told the second Madame, Liselotte, that Minette had been poisoned but not by his brother, otherwise he'd never have let Philippe marry again. Otoh he also ordered an autopsy of Minette's corpse, where the doctors found no traces of poison. Charles when the news reached him had no doubt she was poisoned. He cried out "Monsieur is a villain! at the unfortunate messenger", retreated in his bedchamber and didn't leave for five days. All in all, it had taken Minette eight hours to die, and only at the end when Bossuet had arrived and replaced the odious Feuillet was she comforted. To read about it makes for a harrowing ending to what is mostly a very endearing book about a brother-sister relationship.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: contemplative

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Friday, October 14th, 2016
3:19 pm - John Le Carré: The Pigeon Tunnel.
Which is a not-really-memoir, a collection of autobiographical stories, several of which have been earlier published, here arranged not in linear order but thematically, in a way. Le Carré puts himself in the observer role in most of the stories, which are focused on the various people, famous or not, he encounters. For all that he's a superb raconteur about them, he keeps his own emotions about the people he describes mostly in check; understatement is the name of the game. The big exception, and unsurprisingly the chapter that got the most attention in reviews when this book was published, comes near the end, in the tale of his dastardly conman of a father, Ronnie, a born life ruiner (and occasional beater, but the devastating damage Ronnie does both to marks and to his family is usually non-physical in nature), and his absent mother Olive, who left him and his brother with Ronnie when our author was five and whom when reencountering her as an adult he never quite managed to form a relationship with, not least due to her habit of addressing him as Ronnie. Lé Carré is far too self aware not to realise the connection between spying, being a conman, and being a writer, and thus warns the reader early on, re: veracity of the stories he's about to tell:

““I’m a liar . . .Born to lying, bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living, practised in it as novelist. As a maker of fictions, I invent versions of myself, never the real thing, if it exists.”

Ronnie and Olive remind me a lot of Charles Dickens' parents, for all that Dickens and Le Carré aren't really much alike as writers; the parallel extends to adult Dickens' senior embarassing his son by writing out cheques in his name till Charles had to publish an advertisement in the papers to say he wasn't countenancing this, while Ronnie uses his son's novelist successs in a similar manner (and even signs the novels), to the novelist sons putting their fathers in more bearable form in novels while in rl living in an uneasy tension between trying to avoid their fathers and being unable to let them go. While carrying a less obvious but as deep-seated grudge against their mothers due to what they see as an utter lack of affection. Le Carré's terse description of Olive as the mother without a scent (he can't remember what she smelled like because she never hugged him) says it all.

But the Ronnie (and Olive) chapter comes, as mentioned, near the end of the book; Le Carré knew of course it was the most emotional and the climax. Earlier, we're treated wrily and drolly to such gems as lunch with Rupert Murdoch (who wanted to know who killed Robert Maxwell) being his over the top tycoon self, Alec Guinness, whom Le Carré befriended due to Smiley, being as gentlemanly and enigmatic as you want him to have been, with the occasional one liner to his fellow actors when they go over the top, Yassir Arafat putting on a show (in more senses than one) while Le Carré is busy roleplaying himself as Charlie, the herone of Litlte Drummer Girl, and so forth. Of particular interest to me and a red thread through the book is Le Carré's life long fascination with all things German. He was stationed in Bonn in the 50s, is fluent in the language (and says these days he can't focus on a book for longer than an hour, except if it's in German), keeps coming back here and provides German locations as guest spots in many of his novels. His descriptions of the many, many old Nazis on all levels of the administration in the 50s and 60s is dead-on, I'm afraid. (Just recently, our justice department published a study on how many former Nazis were there in the post war justice system until the 70s. Over 77 percent, I kid you not. Even allowing for the usual argument (which is: well, non-Nazi German lawyers and judges were hard to come by in the 1950s; not untrue, but there were the emigrés, who found it harder, not easier, than the Nazis to get those kind of jobs if they were willing to return, plus there was no encouragement of the younger, less tainted generation), that's devastatingly high. As for the reformed spy network, you probably had to search for a non-former Nazi with a flashlight. Le Carré's description of Gehlen, who founded it and got the US licence for it is wickedly on point. He also can't resist some sarcasm re: the US and British attitude, which was as he sums up that as a Nazi, you were per definition not a Communist, and so okay in the Cold War era CIA's book. (Ignoring that Gehlen was a fantasist and that having a dark past makes you easily availablef or blackmail,with the end result that according to Le Carré 90 % of the German agents working in Eastern Europe were really working for the Stasi. Which I'm completely ready to believe. Competence isn't something the BND was ever famous for, even after the Nazis died out. In an account of a more recent German episode, he maks me cringe because that one concerns the German citizen tortured at Guantanamo, and I remember the (non-)reaction from our governments all too well.

Like Le Carré's novels, The Pigeon Tunnel features far more men than women, though the occasional memorable woman makes it through, like Yvonne, the original for Tessa in The Constant Gardener. Someone I'd like to have read about more is his younger half sister Charlotte Cornwell, who inspired Charlie in The Little Drummer Girl and who, since she's an actress, he wanted to play the character in the movie version, which didn't happen. (Not a fan of Diane Keaton he.) Unfortunately with the exception of saying this about Charlie, he doesn't talk about her, or his other siblings really, other than saying his brother Tony was basically his only source of affection in his childhood (Ronnie and Olive weren't). Various ladies with the designation "my wife" are spotted at the edges of these stories, but as I said, for the most part, Le Carré manages to remain deepy private in this collection, taking the not unreasonable position that describing all these other people is where his and the readers' interests allign.

All in all: highly readable, and no, you don't have to be into his novels to enjoy it.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: chipper

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Thursday, October 13th, 2016
9:49 am - Spotlight (Film Review)
Courtesy of Amazon Prime, I finally watched the last best picture winner Spotlight, which I had missed in the theatres. In case you have as well: it deals with the Boston Globe's investigation and uncovering of the systematic abuse going on by Catholic priests in the Boston area. (Not that the abuse was limited there, I hasten to add, but that was what the investigation was about.)

In many ways, this felt like an old-fashioned movie to me, and not just because of the obvious parallels to the most famous of "reporters uncover corruption" movies, All the President's Men. There's the technical aspect - the story is set 2001, the internet is around, but hasn't yet taken over the news cycle (for example, when the story finally breaks, the letters to Cardinal Law proving he knew about various abuse cases for decades are put online, but that's an addendum to the story, not a main thing), the reporters are making notes on paper a la Woodward & Bernstein while interviewing sources, and an editor is confident enough to allow his team months of investigation before breaking the story, instead of going for NOW NOW NOW. Indeed, it's pointed out that going after just one or two particular priests would allow the cases to be dismissed as "a few bad apples" and that systematic abuse can only be proven if you allow for a long term investigation.

But it's also an old fashioned (in the best sense) movie because it doesn't try to create artificial suspense by, say, inserting sensational action movie moments (Vatican death squads sent after our heroes the night of the publication? The movie industry would be entirely capable of it, but thankfully this movie's creators abstained). Nor does it set up romances or relationship drama. (Several of the reporters are married or in steady relationship; this is acknowledged in a few lines of dialogue, but no more.) It relies on the enormity of the story it tells, and puts the narrative emphasis on it. We follow the reporters through the story, various of the victims get narrative room so they become individualized and not "just" names as they tell their stories (I should probably add there are no flashbacks to the acts when the victims were children - the quiet and not so quiet agony of the adults is allowed to say it all).

Perhaps the most unusual touch is that the movie painfully avoids glorifying its investigative team. Not only because it depicts the initial reluctance to tackle the story (which happens because a new editor, not from Boston, not a Catholic, asks for some follow up to one particular case), but also because our heroes realise that they could have written this story far earlier, and that several of them were guilty of looking the other way/ignoring/burying it as well. At one point, a character says "if it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to abuse one", which is a red thread through the story - the culpability of various institutions, not solely one, and a lot of people on all levels.

There are a lot of great character actors at work here, and several of them play anti type - Michael Keaton as Walter "Robby" Robinson, for example, very low key instead of the extroverts I've seen him play so far, Live Schreiber as Marty (the outsider editor) Baron ditto in a different way (deeply uncomfortable yet quietly determined), whereas Mark Ruffalo as gabby reporter Mike Rezendes gets the movie's sole big loud explosion into horrified rage. Stanley Tucci as the victims' lawyer is brilliant, and Rachel McAdams as the team's sole female reporter also gets the role of role of the person losing her faith over this, and while not getting the big loud outburst is as effective in her low key reactions, never more so than when to her surprise the priest she's tracked down starts to talk and insists that what he did was just fooling around, not rape, and that he knows the difference because he's been raped himself. It's McAdams' face that sells you on all the layers and enormity of this moment.

Like All the President's Men, the movie ends with the reporters continuing their work, and refuses to give the audience a neat wrapping up. Yes, the story breaks, and more victims come forward, and Cardinal Law resigns, but he's also then just transferred, as he transferred the guilty, and the damage will never heal. I've seen criticism that there are no great cinematic shots and that this could have been a tv movie; it certainly plays out powerfully on my Ipad. I'd argue that its visual low key-ness contributes to its emotional power. Definitely a must.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: contemplative

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Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
9:13 am - Can I cancel this 2016 and get a new one?
The world is a scary, scary place right now. By which I'm not referring to the orange menace, though the fact that he got this far and continues to spread his poison is horrible. But frankly, what scares me more is how in so many countries, including my own, so called mainstream politicians are adopting the vocabulary of right wing thugs while said thugs are on the rise. UKIP is pretty much superfluous in Britain right now since the current Tory P.M. puts scorn on the term "citizen of the world" in an almost literal quote from the 1930s Nazi papers (I'm painfully aware of Godwin's law, believe me, but she truly did - and that was a pretty famous quote at that), and wants to "shame" British firms employing foreigners by publishing lists, Orban in Hungary has just destroyed the last independent paper, comes fresh from a xenophobic campain that would feel right at home in the 30s and, just to show he wants to emulate his buddy Putin in everything, dishes out insults at LGTB people in his spare moments (asking Hungarians whether they want a family with mother and father or "people who can't tell whether they are men or women"). Poland is ruled by similar right wing nuttery, and like Hungary, it was elected by popular vote. In France, you have Marine Le Pen and the National Front who to me is more frightening than Drumpf because she could truly become President the way it looks right now. As for my own country: see above: re: mainstream conservatives falling over themselves trying to emulate the AFD thugs. Two weeks or so ago the general secretary of the CSU said that his nightmare was "a football playing altar boy from Senegal" because "we'll never be rid of him". (See: he didn't even use the "non working, Islamic menace" type of cliché. Instead, he conjured a completely integrated asylum seeker.) If you believe he had to step down or that there were in any way negative consequences for him from within his own party, think again. On October 3rd, holiday of German unity, our chancellor and president were in Dresden precisely because Dresden has become such a hottub for right extremists, as a counter gesture. There were hundreds of people screaming the Nazi word "Volksverräter" (people's traitor) at them. The Saxonian police wished them (the demonstrators) "a successful day".

All of this, far more than Drumpf by himself (who makes me throw up), makes me live in a constant state of dread.

Briefly on non-rl news, which are a welcome distraction: Yuletide assignment: that was fast! Not something I've done before, not what I expected, but not a problem, either, I can do it, and will enjoy doing it (which is why I had offered the fandom in question to begin with).

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current mood: scared

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Monday, October 10th, 2016
10:00 am - Kieron Gillen: Darth Vader Vo.3.: The Shu-Torin War.
Third volume, collecting issues 16-19 of Gillen's Vader comic. This one, despite the connection to the ongoing storyline (i.e. Vader after being demoted post A New Hope working his way back to the not quite top of the Empire past rivals and Palpatine playing mind games), feels like a self contained adventure, which has its plus side (there's a clear beginning and end of the story this volume tells) and its downside (no Aphra! She's off stage, err, page, for the entire volume!).

The ostensible charge Vader's been given by the Emperor is to deal with an ore producing planet in revolt (though the revolt happens more for inner scheming than for freedom fighting reasons). The true interest of the story lies in new character Trios, at the start youngest daughter of the Shu-Torin ruler and deemed expendable by same, and by the end something spoilery ), her learning arc, and her interaction with Vader. If R2 and CPO have their evil (and hilarious) counterparts, and Aphra echoes in various ways both Han and Ahsoka in a dark manner, Trios strikes me as a dark counterpart to Padme (Leia, too, but mostly Padme). Specifically Phantom Menace era Padme Amidala. And when I say "dark", I don't mean in a Mirrorverse way, i.e Trios isn't evil. It's just that the narrative she's in isn't one that favors heroic defiance, the force user sent to her isn't Qui-Gon but Darth Vader, and there isn't really a good option for her to take. Spoilery talk again. )

I complained in my review of the last volume that the Vader-Leia encounter felt so unsatisfying while acknowledging that given continuity, there isn't much Gillen can do. Avatar/counterpoint characters seem to be a good solution here, since Trios works both as a might have been for young Queen Amidala, had she lived in the Empire not the Republic, and for Leia, if Tarkin hadn't blown up Alderan but used it as extended leverage. (Though of course Leia IS in a narrative where heroic defiance is always rewarded.) Incidentally, just to clarify and avoid possible misunderstandings, when I say Trios is a Padme counterpart, I don't mean it romantically. There is never even the slightest sense of that. The one compliment Vader pays Trios early on is a paternal one (he says her father should be proud of her), and it's later revealed to have been part of his (Imperial) agenda (when it's paralleled to what Trios does by the end of the story). Otoh the fact that here is a brunette royal, hailing from a formal culture fond of elaborate getups and rituals, defying the odds in a desperate situation can't have been lost on him.

In terms of Gillen's ongoing storylines: Spoilers are speculating. )

In conclusion: a good installment, but now I want Aphra to return to the on page storyline more than ever!

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current mood: contemplative

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Saturday, October 8th, 2016
11:38 am - My enemy has remade itself
New official trailer (after the teaser trailer from a few weeks ago) for Black Sails, season 4!

Completely trivial observation du jour: at last, Billy has joined the bearded brigade. When exactly did "growing a beard" become a tv marker of "getting more ruthless" (see also: Breaking Bad?) It wasn't back when Riker did it on TNG. :) Also, Max looks great on horseback.

More seriously: can't wait! And then I shall dearly miss this show once it's over, but it feels just right in terms of the story they're telling to have this be the final season. After all, if you pitch your main character versus the British Empire in 1715, then you do limit your options as to how long this can go on without suspension of disbelief snapping entirely.

Meanwhile, checking out the summary of requests and offers for Yuletide so far, I see there are plenty of sign-ups for Black Sails, which augurs well for at least some stories getting written.

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current mood: cheerful

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Friday, October 7th, 2016
1:21 pm - Luke Cage
I liked, but didn't love it. (Though I dearly wish I could have done, for the obvious reason.) Partly for tangible reasons - which I'll get to in the spoilery section of the review -, and partly for reasons that are all about it emotional resonance, which has nothing to do with objective criteria. Of the Marvel tv shows, Jessica Jones and Agent Carter, different as they are from each other, grab me on a deeply personal level, Daredevil and Luke Cage do not. (And I still haven't gotten around to Agents of SHIELD.)

What's great about Luke Cage: definitely the Marvel show with the best sense of place, says the non-American tourist who's been to Harlem all but two times. Even with that qualification, though: for all that Daredevil has both Matt and Wilson Fisk go on and on about "my city" re: Hell's Kitchen, I never got a sense from the show of what Hell's Kitchen is like as opposed to other sections of tv and movie New York. In Luke Cage, Harlem is definitely a character, and main locations such as Pop's Barber shop or Cottonmouth's night club aren't ornamental but crucial to the plot, and part of several people's characterisation.

Also, this is a good ensemble show; it builds up its characters, gives them important relationships with each other, not solely with the hero. And not to delay stating the obvious any longer, all but two or so of the minor supporting characters are black, and so, articles about the show tell me, are the writers, which is still unusual enough to be noted in the publicity for the show, apparantly. There is no attempt to pander to the audience by inserting one of those supposed audience surrogate white characters into the narrative, and the show is the better for it.

And one more general observation: it's an unabashedly geeky show, with Luke as well as several other characters often depicted reading and discussing novels as well as movies. (Even in the last scene of the season finale.) I love that about it.

With all those virtues, what's keeping me from loving the show?

Well, there's... )

None of this means, btw, that Mike Colter isn't appealing in the central role - he makes Luke quietly charismatic with a sense of humor, and I'd take him over Matt Murdoch any day. And did I mention he's into debating favourite books and movies?

So all in all, flaws not withstanding, it was a show I enjoyed watching. But not one that leaves me with the urge to rewatch, if I had the time, or with the need for more.

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current mood: contemplative

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Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
8:03 am - Elementary 5.01
Previously, on Elementary: loved the first season, had mixed feelings about the second one, loved the third season, had mixed feelings about the fourth one, am hoping for the reverse of the Star Trek even numbered movies curse and thus a good fifth season.

As season openers go, this was a low key but good one; no cliffhanger situation from the previous season to resolve for our heroes. Instead, it mixed the case of the week with good character stuff for Joan and the Holmes-Watson partnership, and introduced what looks like a new recurring character.

It gets spoilery from here. )

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current mood: contemplative

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Monday, October 3rd, 2016
7:39 pm - Eight Days A Week (Film Review)
Back in Munich, I finally had the chance to watch this. A good thing, too, doing it today, because some of the news were stomach-turning. (If you're German and have watched them, you know what I mean. If not, you don't want to know.) I needed cheering up.

Which this film, subtitled "The Touring Years", did. No, it's not an in-depth documentary about the Beatles in totem, or does much in terms of analysis, but then it doesn't pretend to be. It skips, dips and glides on the waves of the ocean that's the phenomenon, and is incredibly charming and a fannish love declaration.

What it does do: give a great sense of both the utter sense of joy the Beatles were able to evoke in their audience at their best, and the increasing madness/claustrophobia/freak show feeling that was a big reason why they stopped touring in 1966. In addition to old interview snippets from George and John and now ones with Paul and Ringo, you get the usual suspects dead and living (even those who rarely went on the record in front of the camera, like Neil Aspinall), plus a couple of very prominent fans who were teenagers then and fully in the grip of Beatlemania, like Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver, Eddie Izzard and Richard "Four Weddings and a Funeral" Curtis. I found it both amusing and touching that Richard Curtis declared his entire career was in a way an attempt to recapture what the Beatles were to his teenage self, friends who know each other really well effortlessly bantering with one or two glasses down already. (Richard Curtis movie characters: all Beatles avatars. You know, it works for me.)

(Ron Howard, btw, is really good with using not just the songs but the banter from various studio outtakes and live performances, so it's not just Curtis et all explaining this as a quintessential part of the Beatles allure but the audience sees/hears it as well.)

Being the avid fan I am, I had seen much of the footage before, but never on the big screen, or with this sound quality, and I fell in love all over again. With the music, but also with the great chemistry and connection they had with each other (I hear you, Richard Curtis). The movie has two endings, since there's a remastered version of the Shea Stadium documentary attached, but the documentary proper ends thusly: decision to stop touring -> off we go to the studio to make Sgt. Pepper -> artistic triumph - > short "and then there were five more albums, but they only played live together one more time" credit explanation -> excerpt from the rooftop concert from "Let it Be", to be specific, "Don't Let Me Down/I've Got a Feeling", which is the final scene of Ron Howard's documentary. This could have been a bit of a gamble, considering we go from moptop Beatles concert excerpts to the 1969 look and music, and it's a bit of a shock how much older they look only three years later if you're not familiar, BUT the gamble pays off because lo and behold, there it is again, that joy of performance, that clicking with each other and the audience. (That, btw, is the marvel of the Let It Be movie this excerpt is from, too - misery misery misery and suddenly! Joy!) It's a great way to wrap things up, and as a bonus through the credits, we get more banter (from the Christmas Record for the fan club from 1963 when fame was still new and wild), going full circle from end to beginning.

There are lots of tributes to Brian Epstein and George Martin (to whom the movie is dedicated), and the credits also single out the late Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans and Derek Taylor for special thaniks (and justly so, given Neil and Mal were the roadies/condidantes since Liverpool and Derek Taylor had to manage the PR madness through the touring years), but one particular name dropping was my favourite: when Paul, referring to how by 1966, they all needed some non-Beatles space and passion in their lives, mentions George found Indian music "and I got involved with a gallery owner, Robert Fraser" - cue photo, thanks, Ron Howard, because there aren't many available other than the famous drug raid one with Mick Jagger. (The Paul and Robert Fraser relationship being something of a special interest of mine.)

Like I said, the movie skips and dips, which means you get due mention of the fact they were stoned throughout "Help!" (obviously), but no more than that, and other than George's comment about ye early Hamburg days ("being 17 in the naughtiest city of the world"), no mention of the part of being a touring musician that includes lots of sex. Otoh you do get an unexpected brief excursion into the 1965 US civil rights state when the fact the Beatles refused to play to segregated audiences (which became an issue in Jackson, Mississippi) comes up. I thought Ron Howard was playing it just right; he doesn't claim they did something major for the cause here, but lets the story speak for itself, by using interviews not from years later but made at the time (by Larry Sanders, in which they all unequivocally say that segregation is nuts, we also see their original contract for the tour which indeed has s a clause saying that the artists won't play in front of segregated audiences ), then lets a black fan describe what it was like.

As mentioned, after the film proper is over, you get the Shea Stadium documentary remix, cut down to thirty minutes (the original documentary of Shea Stadium was 50 minutes and included footage of the other groups playing that night and some interviews), which, seen uninterrupted, not only provides a great sense of what it was like but in fact allows you to do what neither the audience nor the Beatles could at the time due to the scream level - hear the music. (Earlier in Howard's coumentary, Ringo says he could not hear anything and had to focus on John's and Paul's backsides and the rhythm to goes where in the song they were.) Like Elvis Costello said, it's amazing that it sounds as great as it does under these insane conditions - and when two young 'uns behind me expressed (impressed) amazement that the Beatles would finish said concert with "I'm Down" and make that song hilarious instead of depressing, I felt that pang/gratification you do when hearing people experience something you're fannish about for the first time. (Yes, self, there are lots of people who don't know they used to finish their acts with Paul doing one of his Little Richard-like numbers. Resist the temptation to turn around and provide a know-it-all-explanation!) Which is one of the reasons why I'm glad this new movie exists - not just for nostalgia but to introduce newbies to the Beatles. The best kind of fan service.

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current mood: bouncy

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Friday, September 30th, 2016
7:21 pm - Yuletide Letter
Dear Yuletide Writer,

thank you so much for writing a story for me! I’m greatly looking forward to it, and hope you’ll enjoy writing it. We share at least one fandom, and hopefully some of my ideas will be of interest to you.
General likes/dislikes: Generally, I’m fond of canon settings. By which I mean: I don’t want to read about the characters in a coffee shop AU, or a high school AU, or in a story where no one evolved beyond their pilot characterization and the plot went totally differently from there.

This isn’t an absolute demand. I’ve come across A U s which I have truly loved, and some had pretty cracky premises. So if you are truly inspired to write about, say, Lily Frankenstein’s adventures in space, fine, go for it. “If possible, canon era setting” is a guideline, no more.

On the other hand: no A/B/O, please. Can’t stand it. Also, no character bashing. By which I don’t mean characters can’t have negative opinions about other characters. But there is a difference between that and story intent. To choose a Black Sails example: Jack Rackham having no good things to say about Eleanor Guthrie post s3 would be in character and more than likely. Flint, otoh, passing judgment on Eleanor on one particular act given what he did to Mr. Gates would be hypocritical, and if the entire story is devoted to all the characters hating on Eleanor and Eleanor getting humiliated by the narrative, we’re definitely in bashing territory, and I want nothing to do with it.

Slash, het, bi, poly: I’m fine with it all, and you can write non-generic sex scenes, more power to you, I’m envious (I tend to go for the discreet cut between scenes not because I’m against explicit writing but because I’m not good at it), but I’d prefer it if the story consists of more than just an extended sex scene.

On to fandom specifics.

Penny Dreadful )

The Americans )

Black Sails )

The Last Kingdom )

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current mood: cheerful

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Wednesday, September 28th, 2016
5:52 pm - Also...
Back home with the APs, busy unpacking, washing, and soon, ironing; still, I've just had a first look at the Yuletide fandoms and characters tag list, and am pretty excited, since in addition to the requests I knew I'd make some more will be possible, due to other people kindly nominating the fandoms in question. Also, I'll be able to offer plenty. Currently I'm composing one list of fandoms I can offer to write in without caveats, and another for possible treats which I could write in, but only if a prompt pushes a button (and if there's enough time, of course).

(I also noticed someone nominated Sunset Boulevard and specifically Norma and Max, which made me smile, since I've written that story some years ago.)

While hiking through the Southern Tyrolian mountains I couldn't get online often, but I did notice the announcement that Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor himself, will be joining the cast of Sense8 next season. This makes me wildly curious as to which character JMS has written for him. (And the W's, naturally, but JMS is the one whom I know actually watched Classic Who for sure, so.) Also, are there any DW/Sense 8 crossovers in existence? Given Freema A. playing an important role in s1, there probably are, but I haven't checked out the fanfiction for ages.

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current mood: cheerful

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Monday, September 26th, 2016
10:15 pm - Scenery Pic Spam: Southerin Tylorian/Northern Italian Lake Edition
Like (almost) every year, I spent the last week (and half of this one) with my APs in Southern Tyrolia, aka paradise on earth.

I mean:

Unser Tal photo 20160925_130949_zpsd9vosj0q.jpg

More under the cut )

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current mood: exhausted

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Monday, September 19th, 2016
10:05 pm - This just in
Briefly, as I am travelling:

Emmys: I'm thrilled Tatiana Maslany has finally won. She deserves this. I mean, I was rooting for one of the actresses on this particular occasion, but Tatiana Maslany does so amazing things on this show and in all these roles that she can win any time and I'm satisfied.

Otoh "Battle of the Bastards" winning best written episode over ANY episode of The Americans, season 4, is just baffling. (Yes, Sansa's scene at the end is great, and the overall direction is good, but the script otherwise? Ah well. Spectacle over character drama, I suppose.)

Politics: dire dire dire dire everywhere, including my own country. For some reason, the Washington Post coming up with a journalistic first of the most cynical type is my current personal least favourite, though. They published Snowden's original revelations together with the New York Times and won another Pulitzer for it, and now they're asking for him not to be pardoned but to go to prison. Somewhere, Nixon is cackling. And Ben Bradlee is turning in his grave.

Trying to cheer myself up: since it's "talk like a pirate" day, I give you Black Sails' version of Anne Bonny, in the s2 finale:

I can't be your wife, Jack. But you and I are gonna be partners till they put us in the fucking ground. "

(The Anne and Jack relationship: forever great.)

Also, going back a bit in (my) fannish time, here's the pirate king herself, Elizabeth Swann (sidenote: why I've never been tempted to watch any Pirates of the Caribbean movies post the third one - for me, that saga was Elizabeth's story, and the trilogy told it, completely), rallying a fleet: Hoist the Colours!

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current mood: busy

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Saturday, September 17th, 2016
2:01 pm - Together, they fight crime
Considering the current fashion of making everything into a procedural, and one with a male and female lead to boot, and with Restoration England recently in my mind, I've decided there's an obvious tv show opportunity here in the Interregnunm, those eleven years (1649 - 1660) between Charles. I. execution and Charles II. return to England, when England was a republic.

Now, the male detective would be young Charles II. Who had ample time at his hands during his exile, was eternally short of cash and on the move on continental Europe between Holland (where his sister Mary of Orange lived), France (where his mother, being a sister of the late Louis XIII, found shelter with his youngest sister, Henriette Anne aka Minette) and various principalities that would have him for a while. Charles was undoubtedly the smartest of the Stuarts and never short of a bonmot, which is good for a detective, and he really needed money. (For a while, his mother when he was dining with her in the Louvre made him pay for his part of the food.) He also was physically fit and good at escaping dire situations. (See famous escape out of England after the battle of Worcester disguised as a peasant.)

The female lead? A member of a Dutch merchant company who had provided Charles with some cash and then realised there was really not much of a chance to ever see it again, or even getting royal favours out of it. (Remember, no one at the time knew whether this Republic thing would be permanent or not, whether or not it would survive Cromwell, and thus whether or not Charles would ever be in a position to do anything for anyone.) Our heroine's original job is making sure the merchant company gets at least SOMETHING for its money, which is, solving crimes that have a negative impact on the company's trade otherwise. If he has nothing else, Charles has access to Royal circles at the continent where our bourgois heroine would not get to, so there's that.

Big twist before the mid season hiatus: we find out the Dutch merchant company isn't our heroine's only employer: she also works for OLIVER CROMWELL as his secret agent abroad, supposedly to keep an eye on Charles (at least in theory, if he ever got enough cash by, say, marriage to a rich princess, he could try an invasion). She's also half English and her parents have suffered awful fates in the reign of Charles I., which was part of the reason why she works for Cromwell.

Considering the audience knows Charles will make it to the English throne alive post Interregnum, the main suspense has to be in the fictional female lead's fate and decisions. And since there's entire decade to choose from, the show is good for 5 to 7 seasons. The episodes set in France can also be stealthy Musketeers crossovers, given the most recent version was cancelled (free actors) and this era is roughly the one (immediately after) Dumas' first Musketeers sequel, "20 Years Later".

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current mood: silly

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Friday, September 16th, 2016
6:58 pm - A Novel, A Biography, Same Subject
Connie Palmen: Du sagst es. That's the title of the German translation. The kindle edition I purchased does not give me the original title, and since the author is Dutch, I'm assuming there is one. Anyway, this is a new novel about the marriage between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, written in first person from Hughes' pov, and right there you have a basic problem. Not that it's a fictional take on people who lived and died within many readers' living memory (Hughes as late as 1998); there have been others, and fiction at least doesn't declare itself to be THE TRUTH, but the author's imaginative speculation on same; it's more honest than many a non-fiction in this regard. No, it's that both Plath and Hughes were fantastic writers who wrote about their relationship, and sorry, but that's a very high standard to aim for if you're going for first person.

(First person is tricky in general to believe for me as a reader and to do as a writer. I've done it occasionally, but rarely, and as a reader first person more often breaks the suspension of disbelief for me than not. Especially if the narrator is supposed to be someone whose voice has been preserved in written or audio form.)

Connie Palmen doesn't really manage, but that's not the only problem I have with her book. Another, related: there's a lot of prose paraphrasing of Hughes' Birthday Letters poems, which means something real Ted Hughes expressed in a few concise sentences is expressed by fictional Hughes rambling on for several pages. This isn't helping with the comparisons to the detriment of the novel. Then there's the question as to which type of readers this book is aiming for: can't be people either unfamiliar with the Plath and Hughes saga, or just casually aware of both poets' existence, because the novel rarely bothers with explanations and settings; for example, it starts at their first meeting at the St. Bodolph's Review party in Cambridge but doesn't bother explaining what Hughes was doing there, what Plath was doing there, and expects the readers to know all this already. Otoh, if the book is for readers who know their Lucas Myers (American poet, friend of Hughes) from their Richard Sassoon (on-off boyfriend of Plath's pre Ted), then it feels a bit like the kind of fanfiction that solely describes with a bit more dialogue or inner monologue scenes in broadcast episodes which fans are already familiar with with, you know what I mean? I've read Plath's breathless account of her first meeting with Hughes in her journal, written a day or two after the fact. I've read Hughes' elegic take on it, written decades later in his poem "St. Bodolph's" in "Birthday Letters". Palmen trying to match either writer's command of language by paraphrasing them, and not adding something uniquely hers, just feels - well, second rate, sorry to say.

Then there's the way no one but Plath, and maybe her mother Aurelia, is really fleshed out as a character. His siblings, Olwyn and Gerald, were enormously important to Hughes (see next review), but while that's said in a tell not show way by Palmen's narrator, she doesn't bother with the show not tell, actual scenes (other than Olwyn vs Sylvia arguments) that would show us who they are. Again, I can understand some of the why - both died only this year, which means when this novel was written they were still alive, and one feels more inhibited because of this. But it's still for me a narrative failure.

(Also irritating: Palmen's Hughes repeatedly describing Plath's eyes as "black", when real Hughes described Plath's brown eyes in some of the most memorable passages of Birthday Letters. What is up with that? Maybe a Dutch-German translation error, and the original novel means something like "dark gaze"?)

Lastly: having read a lot of Hughes - poetry, drama, letters, some essays - I don't think he comes across as self-pitying in his published voice. IMO, and that doesn't mean he wasn't, just that his own texts, either due to command of language or editing, don't feel like he was. But Palmen's Hughes feels extremely sorry for himself, as if the author wants to make absolutely sure we do, too, and thus paradoxically prevents it.

Jonathan Bate: Ted Hughes.: Subtitled "The Unauthorized Life", because while the author originally had the cooperation of the Hughes estate and thus access to Hughes' unpublished journals, poem drafts etc., he inevitably (if you know something of the long saga of the Plath biographies and Olwyn Hughes) clashed with them, authorization was withdrawn, and thus the subtitle. This being said, Bate clearly has a lot of respect for the tough as nails Olwyn; when she died in January this year, he wrote her obituary, and if you read it, you'll see what I mean.

As biographies go, this is a good one. Bate takes Hughes seriously as a poet, which doesn't mean he praises all his work, but it means we get a lot of Hughes' development as a writer - this includes some quotes from early drafts, and to me at least, it's fascinating to see how various alternatives of a later classic phrase were considered before the final one happened - , a strong presence of his Yorkshire background and his love of nature, detailed accounts of his threatre work with Peter Brook etc. - instead of just accounts of his love affairs. Which are, of course, present as well. If there's anything to critisize, it's that brief relationships like the one with Emma Tennant get more in terms of quotes from the lady in question than second Mrs. Hughes, Carol, gets about her decades long marriage, but since this is also because Carol Hughes still won't go on the record for journalists or biographers, I see Bate's problem.

Anyway, Carol aside, Bate is great with bringing the supporting cast of his biography to life. Definitely the siblings, Gerald and Olwyn, and other long lasting relationships, part ally, part adversary Al Alvarez, but also people hardly noticed even by all the Plath biographers before, like Shirley, Hughes' pre-Sylvia girlfriend who was with him during that fateful first encounter, or Susan Alliston, whose affair and breakup with Hughes turned into a long term friendship and who died of cancer the same year Assia Wevill committed murder-suicide with their daughter and Hughes' mother died (supporting Bate's argument that 1969 beat out 1963, the year of Plath's death, as Worst Year Ever for Hughes). His narrative voice is generally non-judgmental, literary judgments aside (I'm with him on "Shakespeare and the Great Goddess" as Hughes at his prose worst, btw, and also that the Ovid translations work as something of a poetical rebirth), and he comes across as trying to be fair to everyone in the big dramas of Hughes' life: case in point, the last but one of the stormy Olwyn versus Sylvia encounters, where they both thought the other was rude, Bate points out Olwyn smoked non-stop despite Sylvia asking her not to and yours truly entirely sympathizes with Sylvia until Bate also points out that Sylvia's other complaint, that Olwyn stayed so long on this particular visit, overlooks that Olwyn lived in Paris at this time and hadn't seen Ted in more than a year, so had a lot of catching up to do.

Bate declares right at the start he wants to write a complete life, not just another take on the Plath and Hughes relationship, and points the reader to Diane Middlebrook's "Her Husband" for one of the most recent and thorough, but inevitably, though her suicide happens on page 216 of 556, Sylvia Plath is the strongest non-Hughes presence in the book. There's a good argument to be made that dead Sylvia had a stronger grip on Hughes - both as a poet and as a woman - than any of the other living women he became subsequently entangled with, and certainly more than poor doomed Assia. (Another plausible argument can be made that if Sylvia had lived, so would Assia have; both Assia and Ted Hughes despite their affair were anything but sure they wanted to have a permanent relationship before Sylvia died, they both still had other relationships - Assia with her husband David plus a brief fling with, of all the people, Al Alvarez, Ted with the aforementioned Susan, and if Sylvia had lived, the Ted/Assia affair probably would have burned itself out quickly, and they'd have moved on, whether or not they would have re-committed to their respective spouses. But being known as The Other Woman after Sylvia Plath had killed herself trapped Assia in a competition she could no longer win, and in a relationship she and Hughes thought they HAD to make work now which went on to ensure it didn't.)

Bate shows that the poems addressed to Plath collected in Birthday Letters were indeed written (and redrafted a lot) during decades, not a last outburst before Hughes' death (the decades long process had been mentioned at the time Birthday Letters was published, but was met with scepticism), and again, the early drafts are interesting to me both in terms of how a poem is written and as an endlessly attempted dialogue with a woman who is gone. (Ditto for Hughes' comments on her poetry and prose, be it in private letters or, rarely, in public.) His version of Euripides' Alcestis, the last complete Hughes work to be published within his life time, wasn't something comissioned or otherwise inspired by an outside source, he chose to write about a woman dying and then returning to her husband as he felt himself dying, and since I thought there were repeated Sylvia echoes in ALCESTIS, I was gratified that so does Bate. (He found a Wuthering Heights allusion Hughes has smuggled into Alcestis which I missed, though, and which has no equivalent in the original Greek text. In Hughes' Alcestis, Admetos after Alcestis death imagines his own death:

"I think of cool soil
A mask over my face,
A weight of stillness over my body,
A darkness
In which she lies next to me - her lips
Maybe only an inch from my lips,

This, Bates speculates, is Hughescliff, imagining himself in the moorland graveyard at Heptonstall, and goes to quote the relevant Wuthering Heights passage:

"You were very wicked, Mr. Heathcliff!" I exclaimed, "were you not ashamed to disturb the dead?"
"I disturbed nobody, Nelly," he replied, and "I gave some ease to myself. I shall be a great deal more comfortable now, and you'll have a better chance of keeping me underground when I get there. Disturbed her? No! She has disturbed me, night and day, through eighteen years - incessantly - remorselessly - till yesternight, and yesternight I was tranquil. I dreamt I was sleeping the last sleep by that sleeper, with my heart stopped and my cheek frozen against hers."

Wuthering Heights was of great significance to both Plath and Hughes (who grew up almost next door, well next village, in Yorkshire), and there are poems about it and Emily Bronte by both of them, but that parallel had still eluded me before.

After describing Hughes' death and giving a brief overview of the lives (and in one tragic case death) of his surviving family in the subsequent years, Bate returns once more to the tale of Ted and Sylvia, and after 500 pages of trying to keep up a matter-of-fact, occasionally ironic tone, at last throws caution into the wind and goes for the bloody passion, and does it better in half a page than Palmen does in an entire novel:

Sylvia Plath's death was the central fact of Ted Hughes's life. However he tried to get away from it, he could not; however the biographer broadens the picture, it is her image that returns. In the letters of his final months, even after the expiation that came with Birthday Letters, Plath remains the most vivid presence in his mental world. So, for example in a simple sentence of luminous poetic prose in a long letter to his German translators who had sought advice on the meaning of various phrases in such poems as 'The Bee God', Ted explains how the image ' Your page a dark swarm':

"brings together SP bending over the bees (pending over the beehive with its roof off), SP bending over her page (where the letters as she composed writhed and twisted, superimposed on each other, displacing each other), her page, as a seething mass and depth and compound of living ideas - carrying, somewhere in the heart of it, in the heart of the words, of the phrases, of the poetic whole struggling to form itself, the vital nuclei of her poetic operation - her 'self' and her 'Daddy' - and finally, her poem (in process of composition there on her page as she bends over it) as a warm of bees clinging under a blossoming bough."

"The lit blossom", he writes, "is also Sp's face." It is as if Sylvia instead of the thought-fox has entered the room and is bending over Ted as he writes. Her face is radiant. Her ghost has returned in recognition of the knowledge that he loved her until the day he died. Before him stands yesterday.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: contemplative

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Thursday, September 15th, 2016
12:11 pm - Q & A: Bligh edition
Writing about Pitcairn made me refresh my Bligh & Bounty knowledge by browsing in the books I already knew, and check outs some I didn't, which is why you get some more ramblings on the subject.

Top Pop Culture Misunderstandings About William Bligh:

"Captain Bligh": when in command of the Bounty, he wasn't. He was Lieutenant Bligh, which isn't unimportant. After the end of seven years war, he'd switched from navy to merchant vessels as Lieutenant; there, he'd made Captain (of the ship Britannia), but when returning to the navy for the Bounty mission had to accept being a Lieutenant again, with the pay of a Lieutenant (far less than a Captain's) while being an acting Captain (and adressed as Captain on board the ship). The Bounty was rated as a Cutter, which meant it didn't rate a navy degree Captain. It also didn't rate soldiers, as, for example, Bligh's mentor James Cook had had with him. And it meant Bligh had a very limited possibility to choose his own appointments among the other officers. He had to put up with a drunken surgeon (though he managed to at least get permission to hire an assistant surgeon) whom everyone one expected to die (he was THAT obviously an incompetent drunk), which he did eventually on Tahiti, but not before doing some damage), a Master whom he couldn't stand from the get go and vice versa, John Fryer, and no purser, instead having to do the job himself (this is important because if financial incorrectness and losses were found after the journey, the purser had to pay them out of his personal fortune; the fuss Bligh made about the stealing of items and food wasn't because he needed an excuse to rant).

Bligh was within his rights to promote people during the course of the journey, which he did with Fletcher Christian, who was hired as a Master's Mate and was made an Acting Lieutenant by Bligh. If the Bounty mission had gone as planed, the navy would probably have promoted not only Bligh from Acting to genuine Captain but also Fletcher Christian to real Lieutenant, with the time spent as Acting Lieutenant on the Bounty counting as years of service. Again, in terms of pay and career, this was all important, but the most significant thing about it is that because Christian's temporary promotion was solely due to Bligh, any failure of his would reflect back on Bligh and Bligh's judgment as well.

Floggings: his pop culture image being that he basically had sea men flogged if they as much as sneezed wrong. The two "Mutiny on the Bounty" movies even have him order corpses flogged. (A movie innovation which even the anti-Bligh writings at the time did not charge.) It therefore surprises most newbies to the Bounty saga to learn that Bligh started out the journey determined not to order any floggings at all. This was one of his main goals, stated not post facto as a defense but in letters written to his patron from the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, before the launch and during the first part of the journey. He's backed up in this by letters sent back (from South Africa and via passing whalers) during said first part of the journey by other crew members, such as the assistant surgeon Ledward and the future mutineer Peter Heywood. The first time Bligh did order a flogging was when the ship's Master Mr. Fryer logged a formal complaint against future mutineer Matthew Quintal. Bligh downgraded Fryer's complaint from an accusation of mutiny to an accusation of insolence towards on officer, but the later still warranted flogging as a punishment (the former actually warranted, if taken seriously, a death sentence, or at least captivity for the rest of the journey). Until the arrival on Tahiti, there was just one other occasion when flogging was ordered. On Tahiti and after, until Mutiny, he did order floggings for various misdemeanours as part of the ultilmately vain attempt to restore discipline, but still significantly less than avarage compared with other Captains at the time (we have everyone's logs to prove it): as a historian said, he scolded where others flogged, and flogged where others handed out death sentences. (Not that being scolded by Bligh was fun. Something that pop culture doesn't get wrong is his capacity for verbal eviscaration; I'll get to this.) Whatever caused the Mutiny of the Bounty, fears of the the seamen of being flogged to death by Bligh wasn't it.

Not unrelated: Pressganged Seamen: press ganging was a vice of the time, but the crew of the Bounty actually consisted of volunteers. Not least due to its destination: the women of Tahiti were already a famous incentive. Again, we do have the written records (and yes, if men were press ganged it was written down).

Bligh and Christian couldn't stand each other from the start: this is a legacy of the 1930s "Mutiny on the Bounty" novel and the two film versions based on it. In fact, Fletcher Christian was a protegé of Bligh's who'd already sailed twice with him, on the Britannia when they had both been in merchant trade. He owed his job on the Bounty, both the original one and the promotion to Acting Lieutenant, to Bligh, was familiar with Bligh's family ("you danced my children on your knees" said an outraged Bligh on the day of the mutiny), and according to his brother had said pre: Bounty that Bligh was "passionate" but that he, Fletcher Christian, prided himself on knowing how to handle him. He also was literally in debt to Bligh in that Bligh had lend him money in Cape Town (a rarity for the tight fisted Bligh, who had a wife and four children to support on a Lieutenant's salary, see above). Quite what turned the two against each other on this third journey together is still under debate, Bligh's harsh language and Christian's falling not just in lust but in love on Tahiti being the most often named culprits. The third movie on the Bounty Mutiny, The Bounty, not, as the first two, based on the 1930s novel but on a 1970s biography called "Lieutenant Bligh and Mr. Christian", script by Robert Bolt, was the first one who went for homoerotic subtext, nowhere more obvious than its version of the mutiny scene, which is the first one to use actual memoir dialogue including Christians "I am in hell!" yelling at Bligh (which Clark Gable and Marlon Brando could not have said to Charles Laughton and Trevor Howard respectively, since they were the hero confronting the evil villain and bringing him to judgment for his misdeeds). Here it is, with Anthony Hopkins as William Bligh and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian:

Bligh, as opposed to his crew, looked down on the Tahitans, was British imperialism personified and had no interaction with the Tahitans: he certainly was the only one not getting laid on Tahiti, but far from not interacting with the people of Tahiti, there's the interesting fact that the sole account of the whole Bounty saga which absolutely focuses most of the narrative on the Tahitans, their customs, their personalities, not on the Europeans, is William Bligh's A Voyage to the South Seas, which you can read here. Until the play Pitcairn, I hadn't yet come across a fictional version that bothered to flesh out any of the Polynesians at all; they usually show up in female form to sexually liberate the poor British seamen, are pretty and willing, and that's it. The narratives grant them no personalities or agenda beyond having sex with the Brits. Now don't get me wrong: Bligh wasn't a modern man, and he certainly shows in his account no doubt in British superiority etc. But he was truly interested in the Tahitans, describing them both as people and as individuals, their customs, their hierarchy, even the games their children play (which interested Bligh, father of three young daughters and his wife pregnant when he had left England, not just on an explorer level). He gives us their names and those of their stories he learned, and tells about his conversations, such as the one with the Queen, Iddia, who asked him how British women managed childbirth and when hearing it was unimpressed and told him how it was done in Tahiti (with the woman squatted in the arms of a male attendant who massaged and rubbed her), or the fact that Iddia learned how to load and shoot a gun far better than her husband Tainu. (Iddia being, like her husband, very heavy and middle aged, you won't spot her in any of the Bounty movies as anything but a background figure, whereas Bligh has quite a lot to tell about her and Tainu, including the death and funeral of one of their children - again, of personal resonance to Bligh, some of whose children had died as infants as well, or the fact Iddia had a young lover with Tainu's approval.)

Which brings me to:

Top Unknown To Pop Culture Yet Interesting Facts about William Bligh

Curious Mind: he truly had one. He had started out his career under James Cook, and never ceased to feel as an explorer. Leave it to William Bligh to note down looks and behavior of birds and fish when being on the open see for an incredible 41 days in a small boat with 18 other men, navigating by memory and with a compass over roughly 3600 sea miles. And like I said, his account of the whole Bounty saga remains the only one that focuses not on himself and the men, and conflicts with same, but on the Tahitans (and before that on various animals and natural phenomenons on the journey).

Bligh the Reformer: serving as Captain Cook's Master had led him to adopt several key Cook innovations, such as ordering three shifts instead of two, giving the men accordingly more time to sleep, having sauerkraut on board to prevent the most dreaded of seamen's diseases, and to insist on one hour of dancing per day (this was the sole reason why the Bounty had a fiddler on board) to keep the men fit. (Unfortunately, the one hour per day obligatory dancing wasn't seen as fun or as a preventing illness measure, but as part of Bligh's being a perfectionist irritant among the men.) He also was a fiend for hygiene, insisting on the men washing themselves and keeping the decks clean. (All of which worked in the intended way - there was just one man of the Bounty crew who died during the journey on board, and he died due to the drunken surgeon's incompetence - the surgeon fumbled a blood letting which led to blood infection which led to gruesome death.)

Dedicated husband and father: To his wife Elizabeth "Betsy", and their surviving daughters. This included one who was an epileptic and also otherwise handicapped, Anne. Anne never learned to speak and could only communicate via movements. In an age where, depending on your income, you dealt with handicapped family members by storing them in country hospitals or city madhouses or the proverbial attics, Bligh raised his along with his other daughters and proudly pushed her wheel chair through the park when at land. His wife sharing an interest in natural history with him and having a shell collection, he collected shells for her (now there's an image you don't see in the movies), and if he ever cheated on her with anyone, even his direct enemies (of which he had many in the end), who told all types of stories about him, didn't bring it up. He also (as opposed to Fletcher Christian, Peter Heywood and a great many other sea men, mutineers and loyalist alike) was never diagnosed with a veneral disease. The first account of the mutiny he ever gave was in a letter to his wife once he'd made it safely on shore in Timor, starting: "My Dear, Dear Betsy, I am now, for the most part, in a part of the world I never expected, it is however a place that has afforded me relief and saved my life, and I have the happiness to assure you that I am now in perfect health....Know then my own Dear Betsy, that I have lost the Bounty ..." and closing "Give my blessings to my Dear Harriet, my Dear Mary, my Dear Betsy & to my Dear little stranger & tell them I shall soon be home...To You my Love I give all that an affectionate Husband can give – Love, Respect & all that is or ever will be in the power of your ever affectionate Friend and Husband Wm Bligh".

(The "dear little stranger" was the child Betsy had been pregnant with when he left - he didn't know yet, of course, whether it had been a boy or a girl.)

But, I hear you ask, if Bligh was such a capital fellow, how did he end up with not one but several mutinies and all those enemies? Well:

Top Facts Pop Culture History Gets Right about Bligh:

Thin Skinned Verbal Eviscarator: when he ranted he RANTED. His was the temper that if you like someone you describe as "doesn't suffer fools gladly" and if you don't you call verbal bullying. Unfortunately, this was coupled with a complete lack of insight on how this affected people. For Bligh, there was no contradiction in chewing Christian out in front of the entire crew over the disappearance of some coconuts and cursing him, and then, when he'd cooled down, inviting him for dinner (Christian declined; this was immediately before the mutiny). It's no wonder one of the books on Bligh is called "Mr. Bligh's Bad Language": the same man who was infinitely patient with his handicapped daughter flew off in a rant when feeling himself offended quite easily, and he often did. Also, tact? Never heard of it. When Heywood's family wrote to him to ask whether their boy truly had mutineered, whether this wasn't a horrible misunderstanding, Bligh wrote back that they should resign themselves to their son's fate because Peter Heywood was traitorous scum. The Heywood family was later instrumental in turning public opinion on Bligh from heroic Captain to sadistic brute. (However, since verbal humiliation isn't seen as a horrible slight on one's honor anymore, it's not surprising the 20th century didn't leave Bligh's sins at that but added good old physical sadism and non stop flogging.)

Brilliant navigator: even his enemies conceded this. The first Bounty movie, with Charles Laughton being a sadistic flogger, still concedes him his moment of heroism post mutiny, the other thing he's famous for: the seemingly impossible 3,618-nautical-mile (6,701 km; 4,164 mi) voyage in an open small boat to Timor, the nearest European settlement. Bligh succeeded in reaching Timor after a 47-day voyage, despite having no maps and food only for five days. The only man lost during the journey was one killed during the initial stop on an island (the murderous result of that stop was why they didn't try the Fijiis or another landing point but went for Timor). The third movie, with Hopkins as Bligh, which is largely sympathetic to him but has him lose it between Tahiti and the mutiny, uses this navigational and disciplinary miracle as Bligh's redemption, as in this scene:

(The second movie, with Trevor Howard as evil Bligh, doesn't bother with Bligh's fate post mutiny.)

In the play Pitcairn, which is solely about the mutineers on the title island, Bligh is only occasionally referenced, with most of the mutineers believing he surely died and only Fletcher Christian convinced he died, precisely because Christian, due to his having sailed with Bligh before, knowing what a brilliant navigator he is so that he actually had a shot at survival. Whether or not this is true or whether Christian as well as the other mutineers thought Bligh and his loyalists would all die when they exposed them is anyone's guess, of course. I'll leave you with the end of the 1983 movie, which depicts its two main characters on Pitcairn and in London at a court martial respectively:

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current mood: cheerful

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Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
4:28 pm - Dancing the night away
If your day, like mine, needs brightening up, why not watch this fantastic Unexpected Dance Sequence from the movie Pride, which I reviewed here? Short version: fabulous movie about the irresistable union of London based gay activists and striking Welsh miners in the early 1980s. Stars a great many well known and not so well known British actors. Here's Dominic West as Jonathan shaking things up:

If you're wondering, the song is Shame, Shame, Shame" By Shirley & Company.

And while you're in a musical mood, have another Ron Howard interview about his new Beatles documentary. In this one, he compares their touring days to Das Boot, which cracks me up not least because it's...not wrong, in a way. Also the article promises Sigourney Weaver, her teenage self identified in one of the concert clips. I knew Meryl Streep had been at Shea Stadium, but didn't know about Ms Weaver screaming her heart out, too. Just goes to show: they always had great taste! :)

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current mood: working

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