Holding a grudge

Peek-a-boo.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching some (but far from all) of the Ju-on or Grudge films, both from the Japanese and American franchises. Along the way I muse a bit about the whole J-horror phenomenon. Is it over now? Did it ever amount to much? What was its significance?

Here’s the line-up:

Katasumi (1998)
4444444444 (1998)
Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
The Grudge (2004)
The Grudge (2020)

Lovesick aliens

The origin of species.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the Species movies. In which Natasha Henstridge plays a murderous and broody alien who isn’t comfortable wearing clothes. Unfortunately, the movies aren’t quite as much fun as that sounds.

Species (1995)
Species II (1998)
Species III (2004)
Species: The Awakening (2007)

Bond’s law of billiards

From From Russia With Love (1957) by Ian Fleming:

Kerim turned and faced Bond. His voice became insistent. “Listen, my friend,” he put a huge hand on Bond’s shoulder. “This is a billiard table. An easy, flat, green billiard table. And you have hit your white ball and it is travelling easily and quietly towards the red. The pocket is alongside. Fatally, inevitably, you are going to hit the red and the red is going into that pocket. It is the law of the billiard table, the law of the billiard room. But, outside the orbit of these things, a jet pilot has fainted and his plane is diving straight at that billiard room, or a gas main is about to explode, or lightning is about to strike. And the building collapses on top of you and on top of the billiard table. Then what has happened to that white ball that could not miss the red ball, and to the red ball that could not miss the pocket? The white ball could not miss according to the laws of the billiard table. But the laws of the billiard table are not the only laws, and the laws governing the progress of this train, and of you to your destination, are also not the only laws in this particular game.”

Michael Reeves

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the movies — three in total, not counting Castle of the Living Dead that he only got called on to finish — of Michael Reeves. The three movies are She Beast (1966), The Sorcerers (1967) and Witchfinder General (1968). Aside from dying young, Reeves’ reputation rests mainly on Witchfinder General, which is a really good period piece. The Sorcerers is more a curiosity and She Beast barely that.

This chair rocks

This morning I was surprised to read, in Sue Roe’s The Private Lives of the Impressionists, that in Paris’s Universal Exposition in 1867 “The Americans exhibited an amazing new invention: the ‘rocking-chair.'”

Could that be true? I mean, it seems like such an obvious and fun bit of furniture as a rocking chair would have been around forever. And in fact it does seem to have an earlier provenance. Surprisingly enough, however, they were indeed an American invention. That’s where they apparently got their start in the early 1700s. Though cradles had been rocking since the days of ancient Rome. I wonder why the idea took so long to catch on.

I think Roe must have been thinking of Michael Thonet’s first bentwood rocking chair, which premiered in 1860. Which was a breakthrough but technically wasn’t the first rocking chair. Still, a much later development than I’d thought.

Go big

Humble beginnings.

So, over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching Godzilla movies (and a few of their close kin) for the past few weeks. Not the whole canon, which consists of 36 movies to date. Guinness World Records lists it as the longest-running continuous film franchise.

I grew up with the early Toho Godzilla movies. They were fun, and I think they still have a certain charm. I wasn’t aware of the original Gojira (1954) much later, and it really is a slightly different animal. More recently CGI has taken over, with mixed results. I can’t say I was blown away (or flattened) by anything though.

Here’s the list:

Gojira (1954)
Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
Gorgo (1961)
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964)
Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
The X from Outer Space (1967)
All Monsters Attack (1969)
Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
Godzilla (1998)
Godzilla 2000 (1999)
Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Godzilla (2014)
Shin Godzilla (2016)
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

What worries me

In an earlier post I mentioned how I thought the long-term consequences of the current pandemic were going to be staggering. I didn’t mean that in a medical sense. Bodies aren’t piling up in the streets. It doesn’t seem as though COVID-19 is going to have any significant impact on the world’s population, which is probably still going to peak somewhere around mid-century. But the economic and political fallout from the pandemic will be huge.

What I was thinking of is the comparison between what happened in the 2008 financial crisis and what’s happening now. Specifically, what’s happening now is that the pandemic is deepening economic inequality, which is already at a dangerous level after a decades-long widening of the gap between rich and poor. The subprime crisis was just another big step in this process, but the pandemic is proving to be even worse, exacerbating the so-called Matthew effect (“to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away”).

As Don Pitts writes in a recent piece for the CBC: “There was speculation early in the pandemic that the crisis might be the catalyst for a move away from wealth polarization. But just as they did after the 2008 crisis, lower-for-longer interest rates have once again flowed straight into the pockets of the wealthiest.” Funny how that always seems to happen.

On the individual level it’s well documented now that densely populated and poor areas (both within states and globally) have become virus hotspots, while minorities and workers in low-wage jobs are most at risk both of catching the disease and finding themselves unemployed. On the other side of the great divide, big businesses are able to ride out this crisis. For Amazon it’s even been a boon. And so corporate and capital concentration continues apace while, once again, the little guy goes to the wall.

There will be a political reckoning for all this and I think it would be foolish to think that it is bound to take a progressive turn. Of course that could be the case. As Rebecca Greenfield reports for Bloomberg, “Catastrophic events such as the pandemic have historically been a catalyst for reshuffling the economic order. During the Great Depression, with the New Deal, American workers gained a safety net. After World War II they won leverage with employers and higher pay.” So you can say it’s happened before. But I don’t see a lot of grounds for optimism. Instead we’re likely to see more divisive politics leading to even more regressive outcomes.

Buckets of blood

They’re gonna rise again.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the so-called Blood Trilogy of the director Herschell Gordon Lewis: Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), and Color Me Blood Red (1965). I say “so-called” because that’s not a name Lewis himself used. They were only dubbed a trilogy later by a new distributor. In fact they have little in common but blood.

Lewis if often credited — and even more often credits himself — with having “invented” gore. Whatever the case may be, most of his movies are very bad: cheap exploitation work that only just clear a low bar of competence. That said, Two Thousand Maniacs! deserves its reputation as a cult classic. It’s a genuinely disturbing movie, and it got the ball rolling (downhill?) on a lot of later trends in horror, like the murderous rednecks and the showrooms of theatrically staged killings. Maybe we didn’t need to go here, but we did and Lewis in many ways drew us the map.

The committee for justice

For some reason an open letter “On Justice and Open Debate” appearing in Harper’s Magazine has been getting a lot of attention.

I say “for some reason” because the letter is short and doesn’t say much of anything. It’s been praised for being signed by names from across the political spectrum, but that spectrum is actually quite limited. Insofar as the letter has a political point of view it is anti-Trump, who is said to be a “powerful ally” of the “forces of illiberalism.” Given Trump as the bogeyman, it’s not too surprising that Noam Chomsky and Francis Fukuyama would find themselves on the same side.

As far as the rest of the letter goes, the message is (as some signers were quick to admit) anodyne. This is often what you get when you write by committee. The letter inveighs against “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments,” which is presumably referring to today’s “cancel culture.” Apparently such censoriousness has long been a staple of “the radical right” but has since spread. In any event, and in conclusion, “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.”

No, it’s not quite J’accuse.

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t sign on to such a banal pseudo-declaration. Still, some people did take exception. Richard Kim, a director at HuffPost, said he didn’t sign “because I could see in 90 seconds that it was fatuous, self-important drivel that would only troll the people it allegedly was trying to reach — and I said as much.”

More criticism has been leveled at J. K. Rowling’s name appearing. This is because Rowling herself has recently been the target of the “new set of moral attitudes and political commitments.” Oh well.

(An aside: I don’t know why people like Rowling are on Twitter. Just keeping her name out there? I really don’t understand. She has nothing to gain, and no good can come of it.)

Of course when I said that “for some reason” the letter was getting attention I was being deliberately obtuse. The reason the letter is getting attention isn’t for its statement of principles, whatever they are. It’s getting attention because of the roll call of prominent people who signed on to it. The vacuous letter wasn’t nearly as important as the function served by presenting us with a who’s who of media people whose opinions matter. It’s not even virtue signaling so much as celeb signaling: politics as a form of bird-watching.

I only wish some of the people whose opinions I am being told matter had opinions worth paying attention to.

Instead, one gets the sense that the letter was motivated less by an urge to declare some vague political position rather than as an exercise in celebrity brand management and collective self-preservation. As Billy Bragg put it, it’s “a howl of anguish from a group that has suddenly found its views no longer treated with reverence.”

Many of those who attached their names to the letter are longstanding cultural arbiters, who, in the past, would only have had to fear the disapproval of their peers. Social media has burst their bubble and they now find that anyone with a Twitter account can challenge their opinions. The letter was their demand for a safe space.

The mob has claimed many heads already and there probably isn’t a name on the list who isn’t worried that it might be coming for them. Indeed, with even Rowling being pilloried who could consider themselves safe from being canceled? Time to nip this #Movement in the bud.

I’m no fan of cancel culture, and I think its excesses will likely result in some nasty political backfire to go along the already considerable collateral damage it’s caused. That said, I can’t abide this self-interested moral posturing against it.