strange_complex: (Gatto di Roma)
People who don't have much time should probably learn how to write short film reviews. Let's see how I get on with that...

This was a recent purchase of [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan's, which has also been in the 'high priority' section of my Lovefilm list for a while, and which we watched together. It is a Universal picture starring both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, and is based very, very loosely indeed on Edgar Allan Poe's short story of the same name. When I say loosely, I mean that it contains a black cat, and involves a dead wife, but otherwise it has pretty much nothing to do with the original whatsoever.

Stylistically, it is a Gothic horror, involving such motifs as a dark and stormy night, an innocent young couple finding themselves trapped in a dangerous situation, a hill-top house, an apparently-charming host with malevolent intentions, a decades-old personal feud, the supernaturally-preserved corpses of beautiful women, the afore-mentioned black cat, and some Satanic rituals. Yet at the same time it is more profoundly concerned with the issues of its present day than any other Universal film I have seen. It's often forgotten that Universal tended to translate their Gothic stories to a present-day setting, and it's forgotten for the perfectly good reason that apart from putting the leading ladies in 1930s frocks, this makes almost no difference whatsoever to the setting, action or dialogue. But this film is basically all about the hangover horror of the First World War, and the impact it had on the lives of those who survived it.

Thankfully, this aspect of the film is discussed in detail in this excellent blog post, saving me the trouble! But the executive summary is that Lugosi's character had suffered terrible wrongs at the hands of Karloff's during the war, they are both still psychologically trapped reliving their old feud and the horrors of the war, and the main setting for the film is a luxurious modernist house built directly over a concrete First World War fortress and only thinly veiling the horrors concealed below. It is also one of the first horror films to do any of this so clearly and directly, a full 20 years after the war had broken out, which says quite a lot about how difficult it is for any society to process and assimilate true horror on that sort of scale enough to weave it into its stories. Once it had happened, though, it was very powerful - or so we felt. Had the exact same story of personal feuds, dead wives and Satanic rituals been told in a more traditionally Gothic setting, it probably would have seemed fairly run-of-the-mill and unoriginal, but the engagement with recent history gave it an urgent emotive power which we were really struck by.

Other than that, the film's main stand-out features include some very beautiful frocks, absolute flying sparks in the confrontations between Lugosi and Karloff (an epic pairing which would make the film worth watching on its own, regardless of anything else), and some completely mad cod-Latin from Karloff in the climactic Satanic ritual, which is basically not a Satanic ritual at all, but a load of proverbs cobbled together with no concern whatsoever for what they might actually mean. This is of course an interesting insight into Universal's estimation of their audiences in the 1930s, who were clearly not expected to notice this. In fact, it reminded me of the All Purpose Latin After-Dinner Speech from Henry Beard's book Latin for Even More Occasions - and as such made the film a lot more fun than it would have been if someone had sat down and written a SRS BSNS ritual for the scene.

Only down side - our sympathies are clearly meant to lie with Lugosi's character rather than Karloff's, since Lugosi has spent 15 years in a Hungarian prison camp during which time Karloff has stolen both his wife and his daughter and built himself the luxury house where the action takes place. But this was scotched for me very early on by a scene set in a train carriage, which sees Lugosi reaching out to stroke the hair of a sleeping woman who is a stranger to him. This transpires to be because she reminds him of his lost wife, and seems to have been intended to convey the tragic suffering of his character - but for me it just set off Extreme Creep Alarms which meant I could never really fall into the role of cheering for and sympathising with him which the rest of the film seemed to expect of me.

Other than that, though, top notch stuff, and very definitely a must-see for anyone interested in the direction which horror films were taking in the mid-1930s.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Whew! It's taken me a couple of days to type this lot up, as I saw a lot of films on the final day of the festival, and I think we all know I am a bit prone to tl;dr reviews, even when I think the thing I'm writing about was rubbish. But I've managed it now! It's up to you to decide if you are brave enough to read it all. ;-)

15a-f. Short Films )

TV Heaven: Children of the Stones (HTV, 1976) )

16a. Intrusion (1961), dir. Michael Reeves )

16b. The Sorcerers (1967), dir. Michael Reeves )

17. Robocop (1987), dir. Paul Verhoeven )

18. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974), dir. Jorge Grau )

So that was a pretty intensive weekend of film viewing all told - in fact, coming out of the other end of it I find that I am now well ahead of 2009's total of 14 films seen over the entire year, even though it is still only June. I absolutely loved it, though, and have found myself haunting Amazon and eBay ever since it ended, swooping up copies of films I saw, or other works by the same actors and directors to add to my collection. Debate is currently raging on miss_s_b's journal about what form next year's festival should take. But whatever the final line-up, unless life conspires to stop me I'm pretty sure I'm going to be there.

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

Past and present

Thursday, 16 March 2006 17:34
strange_complex: (Latin admirable sentiment)
In November, I made a passing comment in my LJ about using the word 'fuck' in one of my lectures. I'd done so, perfectly legitimately, because it cropped up in an accurate translation of some Pompeian graffiti I was covering in a lecture on literacy. My comment was tongue-in-cheek, but the point I was making in the lecture was serious. I was showing the class that writing wasn't just used to display educated erudition in the Roman world, but as a means of expressing the simple pleasures of the flesh: much as it is on walls today.

Now, I've learnt that a High School teacher in America was recently suspended for using what I presume must have been much the same material in a Latin class.

I realise that this is a one-off case, and it's clear from the link above that plenty of parents associated with the school were shocked and horrified by the suspension, and fully in favour of their children encountering the material which had prompted it. But that this should have happened at all is to me a sad reflection on the current cultural climate.

I believe that learning history, and the languages which help us to access it, is about broadening our horizons. It's about coming into contact with cultures whose values may not be in keeping with our own, and / or encountering aspects of human experience which we may not have encountered before. The knowledge so gained allows us to assess, understand and re-evaluate our own lifestyles and beliefs. It gives us the chance to ask whether, just because we have always done or believed X, that is necessarily the best available option, given that others prefer, or have in the past preferred, Y. And it helps to reveal to us the great wealth of variety which has always characterised, and will always characterise, human interests and experiences.

The same, in fact, could be said to apply to almost any avenue of intellectual exploration. Scientia est potentia, no? But it is history that is at stake here, so forgive me if I restrict my focus to that topic.

Does it harm a High School Latin student to learn that the inhabitants of Pompeii paid for sex, and then wrote about it cheerfully and explicitly on the walls of their city? If that was the truth of their experience (which it was), then, I believe, no. In fact, to try to pretend otherwise is willingly to apply blinkers which surely have the potential to cause far more harm than the use of the word 'fuck' in a Latin lesson ever could. The Romans were not emotionless automatons who spent all day sitting on pedestals, composing lofty poetry or designing aqueducts. They fucked, they shat, and they enjoyed a good knob joke: just as we do today.

If we cannot accept their humanity, how can we ever learn to accept - or to manage - our own?
strange_complex: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
Or, Why I Cannot Stop Listening To This CD.

For one thing, I have waited a long time to hear the voice I am listening to now1. Without even knowing I was waiting, for much of that time.

My long journey to the Vatican )

Moreschi - a critical appreciation )

A scraggy brown tail-feather, in which Penny demonstrates her remarkable aptitude for excessive over-romanticisation - with pictures! )

Well, if you’ve read all of the above, you deserve a medal. I don’t mind if you didn’t. I wrote it for me, primarily, because I wanted a reason to think closely about this music and why I like it, and I want to remember my reasons and initial reactions in years to come. But the least I can do either way is to let you judge Moreschi for yourself by leaving you with the link for an mp3 I found while Googling for pictures of him and details about his life. It only takes about 20 seconds to download over broadband, which, for a three-minute track, tells you volumes about the quality of the original recording before you even listen to it. And I must say that then going on to listen to it over tiny, tinny computer speakers doesn’t do Moreschi any favours. Still, for whatever you may make of it, I give you Gounod’s Ave Maria, after a theme by Bach, performed by Alessandro Moreschi.

(And an alternative source if that one isn't working – just click on 'escuchar').

Goodnight.

-----------
1. As its length makes obvious, this entry ended up being written in several sections over a series of evenings. I did listen to Moreschi's CD for most of the time I was writing. But any use of words such as 'now' should be taken as applicable to the specific sentence concerned, not necessarily the whole piece.

Hic mihi placet

Wednesday, 15 December 2004 14:23
strange_complex: (Cleo wink)
I generally detest MemeGen memes, on the grounds that they aren't funny and reveal nothing of interest or value about the people who do them. However, even I could not resist finding out what Latin case I am:

Cut for those who feel as I do about MemeGen memes )
strange_complex: (Urbs Roma)
      
latin is love
(lingua latina amor est)
brought to you by the isLove Generator


Yes, I did add the translation in the second line myself: seemed kinda appropriate. Perhaps even nicer would have been 'latina lingua amoris est': 'Latin is the language of love'. :)

Unfortunately, though, the rather lovely purple 'rainbow' banner it generated for me doesn't display itself, and I haven't been able to see them when other people have done this meme either. I looked at the code and can't see a good reason for this: it works by creating a table of 6 cells, each containing a non-breaking space, and with the background colour in each cell set to a different shade of purple, which seems sensible to me, and did work on the isLove Generator page. Anyone know what's going on? Are my journal's colour settings over-riding it? Can anyone else see it, for that metter?
strange_complex: (Default)
... that's according to The Passion of The Christ at least, which I have just seen with James, Hugh and Zahra.

I've heard stories about churches buying tickets for this en masse in the belief that it will convert people, but having seen it I really can't see why. As a committed non-believer (nay, heathen), it just came across to me as a story about stupid people getting whipped up into stupid actions by religious extremism, with stupid and contemptible results. Not understandably misguided and tragic: just stupid. And I'm afraid I include Jesus in the category of 'stupid people' there.

The Passion is definitely capable of being put across in a more compelling way than this. Bach's Passions (the St. John and the St. Matthew), and the relevant parts of Handel's 'Messiah' (which I'm listening to right now because a biblical quotation at the start of the film brought it instantly to mind[1]) make this very clear. OK, so they could never convert me either - but at least they have an emotional impact on me. Bach and Handel make the story seem like an regrettable human tragedy, but somehow Gibson's failed to engage me emotionally in any way.

I think the problem could be phrased as being that the film was 'plot-driven' rather than 'character-driven': in other words, we just got a sequence of canonical events from the gospels, rather than any recognisably human scenes which might help us to relate to the characters or make sense of the transitions from one event to another. There was one scene which almost managed this, which was when Jesus fell down while carrying his cross to Golgotha, and Mary ran towards him to comfort him, which was interspersed with a flash-back of her running to pick him up when he fell and grazed his knees as a child. That gave us a chance to feel human pity for the motif of a mother losing a son she had raised. But other than that it left me cold (except for the occasional 'yuck' at the abundant violence).

I asked James, who is training to be a priest, whether it engaged him on an emotional level. He basically said that it had stirred the same sorts of emotions in him as a regular meditation on the stations of the cross would have done, but that these were emotions which he'd brought with him into the film from his church experience, rather than emotions which the film had stirred in itself. Yet obviously it has stirred great emotional responses in some viewers, because there are stories in the recent edition of The Cherwell about people confessing to long-undetected crimes after having seen it. I wish I could understand how it managed to do this: possibly those people also had to bring pre-existing emotions into the film, which were then sparked off onto a new level by it?

I wasn't too happy with the Latin either. I'd need to see it all written down to decide what I thought of it properly, but many of the sentence structures sounded very English, I spotted at least one example of someone not using the vocative when they should have done, the soldiers who are scourging Jesus inexpicably start counting from eight after they have turned him over to start whipping his front[2], and all the Romans used pronunciation which was a cross between medieval Latin and modern Italian. Plus, why were the Romans speaking to people like the Jewish high priest in Hebrew? At least, I presume it was Hebrew, although I can't distinguish Hebrew from Aramaic: but it certainly wasn't Latin or the actually-more-likely Greek. That doesn't fit with my knowledge of Roman provincial administration, although I'll admit that Judaea wasn't entirely a typical province, and I don't know much about its specifics.

And on top of all that, they also rather gave the game away for the sequel by showing him sitting up in his tomb at the end! So much for Passion II: The Resurrection.

Ah well, at least I've seen it now... I expect to enjoy 'Troy' a lot more when it comes out next month.

----------
[1] Isiah 53.5: 'He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement
for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed'.

[2] And no, they're not carrying on from where they'd got to on the previous side, because they'd reached about twenty-something on his back.

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