Saturday, December 25, 2010

Make Glad The Heart of Childhood

Well,  it seems that Christmas at the Gougère-Rombaur household has once again limped across the finish line, exhausted yet still victorious. At this hectic point in child rearing, Reg and I take our successes where we can find them. We woke a little around seven in the morning, the clarion call of greed in our ears as our children heralded the arrival of more bedroom clutter. Faster than you can say whatever strange mumbled curse my husband groaned out when he woke, our children were at our bedroom door, their eyes so bright that it even mollified my loathing of early morning rising. In their hands they clutched their stuffed stockings tight, eager to begin the august and inviolable rituals of Christmas morning.  Reg, whom I have selfishly molded into something resembling a morning person, clomped downstair to put on a pot of coffee. Will (at five our youngest) went with him, saying he needed to tell the pets about their stockings. Annie, seven, stayed with me, dancing around the bed in a flurry of grace and exuberance, extolling the virtues of the holy gentleman who filled our house with stuff for her. There's a Great Big Santa and an itty bitty Jesus, as a rather cynical priest of my acquaintance once said. In a sober whisper, Annie told me that she had made sure that she had gotten the most presents. I smiled wryly at this- Annie appears to have inherited my (in)ability with mathematics, because Reg and I had made very sure that the amount of presents was equal. Satisfied with her Christmas supremacy, Annie sat down with her stocking on the bed.

Reg, that stunning paragon of Yuletide virtue, came in at last with the blessed coffee, trailed by Will, who had chosen to eat a candy-cane for breakfast. It stuck out of his mouth at a jaunty angle. In his one arm he clutched his stocking, under the other he held Withnail (the cat-of-long-suffering), the arm looped around Withnail's rear, with his front half dangling, reaching desperately for the floor. With an amused look, I was informed by Reg that the dog, Sasha, had already opened her stocking, which explained the odd crunching noise coming from under our bed.

The Opening Of The Stockings is the first of several time-honored Christmas traditions, which started with watching the Muppet Christmas Carol the night before, the kids singing along to the songs and me quietly hiding my tears every few scenes. Christmas morning begins at an ungodly hour with the stockings on the bed, filled with candies and tiny toys, clementines and almonds. Annie is pure unfettered id, living only in the moment. She likes to pull everything out as fast as she can, spreading it in her corner of the bed, finding the thing she likes best and the fawning over it as much as possible. This year it was a pink sparkly cat comb that she immediately used on everyone but me- I was given a long, appraising look before she declared dramatically "I'm sorry, Father, but there is no hope for you. That hair... my comb is too late!" I took this pronouncement with as much dignity as I could. Will is very imaginative, living entirely in his own world, as grave and serious as a five year old can be. After handing the traumatized cat off to Reg, Will had pulled a Sleeply LaGoof, slowly taking out the candy cane and placing it beside him on the bed, leaving a pinkish stain on my duvet. Setting his Bolt toy over it as a guard, he carefully and slowly pulled out each item with a contemplative smile on his face. He likes to arrange them in some arcane order, occasionally showing something to Bolt for approval. Even when his sister tried to tame his unruly mop of brown hair, he kept to his task until he was satisfied.

By the time he was finished, Annie's attention had already switched tracks. She had first tried to open Sasha's stocking, but the dog could not be persuaded to climb out and relinquish her new bone, so she had turned her focus to Withnail, showing him his new catnip mouse and explaining to him in a rapid-fire stream of instructions about how he was to make sure this mouse lasted and stayed clean and so on. Withnail endured this with the same look of horrified panic and wounded pride with which he seems to go through life, the poor fellow. Soon enough, Annie's 'beans' and Will's attempt to use his wet candy cane to draw drove us out of the bedroom and downstairs, to commence the wrapping paper massacre once more. Soon the ground floor was littered with scraps of paper as Annie and Sasha struggled to outdo one another as agents of chaos. Annie feels that she has to emulate cartoon shows and reduce any wrapping paper to confetti, while all the revelry over-excites the dog, who is liable to grab wrapping paper debris and tear around the house, shredding it in the process. Eventually we end up on the couch, Reg and I side by side, Will on Reg's lap, Annie exerting her independence by curling up with some Barbies in the big armchair. As always, we sit down to watch Pee-Wee's Christmas Special, long on a dying VHS and recently and poorly transfered to DVD. We eat it with waffles, the only thing that Reg does better than I and, thus, the only time in which he is allowed to work in my hallowed kitchen unsupervised. We start later than usual- Will needs to make sure that both Bolt and his new teddy bear Ambrosias II (his predecessor having had an unfortunate encounter with Sasha six months ago) have a good view of the TV. As always, Reg and I argue over wether-or-not k.d. lang could have worn an uglier outfit, and I again declare it my life-long dream to have Frankie Avalon as my personal Christmas Card Slave. As always, watching this will make Reg throughout the day suddenly exclaim "Now all it needs is Charo!" to the general bewilderment of anyone around him. And again,  as always, the end of Pee-Wee heralds the oncoming cold- getting dressed, bundling up and setting out for Christmas Day at Nana Gougère's- or Red Nana, as the children insist on calling her, in order to distinguish her from Grey Nana, Reg's mother. I will not go into too much detail here, as mother's post-Christmas Column is inevitably devoted to her yearly Christmas menagerie of relatives. Like every year, my mother commanded the sea of people with Pattonesque flair, her wooden spoon a riding crop as she barked orders, directed people around and tried to make order out of madness. Cousin Arthur's drunken carols at the piano were inappropriate for everyone (Darlene left him again),  and Grandma Gougère has only gotten more cantankerous with age, until she espies her great-grandchildren, who seem to make her melt like hot butter.

The children are finally asleep, their fingers inexplicably still sticky from sweets. They were so buzzed from the sugar high that it took almost an hour of my sister reading them bedtime stories before they calmed down- thank God for Mairia Kalman. I hear the siren song of my childhood bed calling out to me, so I will draw this column to a close.

I hope you all had the most Merry of Christmases, and will have a very happy New Year.

I remain, as always,

W. Gougère
Christmas 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Some Random Thoughts on Christmas

Odd Visitors

Do you think that Joseph was at all weirded out by the three Magi showing up carrying some rather unusual gifts for a new born? Think about it- Mary had just given birth, which means she was probably pretty "out of i"t at that point in time. A traumatic, unexpected birth in a goat barn alone in the middle of the night with only a panicking husband and a donkey to help. Add in the euphoria of proud new-mothers anywhere, and I'll bet you that she sat though the whole evening with beatific smile and slightly glazed eyes, sitting upright only because she was too tired to lie down. So there's poor Joseph: He's got a new-born kid, an exhausted wife and he's probably wondering why the shelter he is in is being slowly surrounded by rural peasant folk with their faces suffused with awe when all of a sudden three Babylonian/Persian/Yemenis show up carrying incense perfume and gold, saying it is "for the baby".

Maybe it's just me, but I'd be confused.

The Three Magi, According To Western Theological Tradition

And Frith So Loved The Earth....

Hark the Hare, Auld Angels sing. I am convinced that this so-called "Christmas" carol is in fact a subversive coded message trumpeting the second coming of Hazel rich will banish are predators, and  that the flayrah will be uncountable, silfray without end.

Christ! The saviour is bored!

I mishear this lyric constantly. The word is either 'born' or 'bore', but I always hear it as "And Mary, she bored Jesus, our saviour for to be" and the like.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Terrible First Line Competition Entry 2

By the time the puddles of olive oil and poodle fat had stopped burning, Terrence found himself deeply annoyed- not so much because he was dead, but because he would now never be able to tell Tina how little the last three years worth of Friday Fish n' Fungus meals had meant to him.

I swear, the quest for completed content will be brought to conclusion, dear readers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sweet memory: For lo the bridges burneth

Attempting to play Dwarf Fortress puts me heavily in mind of my five-year old self's attempts to play Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards: It's colourful, very pixelated, and I have absolutely no idea about what I am doing or how to do it. Should my dwarves spontaneously be run-over by taxi's or mugged by someone dressed as a villain from Cigars of the Pharaohs, my heart will be warmed by nostaligic childhood memories. Should my dwarves suddenly drop dead of STD's, then it'll be the memory of a an older child who tried to track down his childhood game memories and learned, for the first time, that LSLLL was game that you win by having safe sex, something of which my five year old self was unaware of.

However, I'm pretty sure my memory is lying to me. Our first computer (that I can remember) was the Mac Classic, which had a nine-inch monochrome CRT screen (And, Wikipedia tells me, ran at the now quaintly bizarre 512x342 resolution, and had 4MBs of memory). And I am also sure that the LSLLL mugger was not dressed in the weird purple Cigar of the Pharaohs outfit, partially because that doesn't make any sense, and partially because as I said, our CRT screen was monochrome- black and white, which means no purple robes.

I remember Felix the Cat: The Movie being something I was obsessed about for a brief period, but when I tried to watch it again, I had to turn it off in disgust. "Terrible"... doesn't even come close to describing it. Since then, I can't revisit treasured childhood classics, like the Lost in Space remake or David Lynch's Dune (I was a strange child) for fear that they won't be deserving of the the shinning altars I laid them on as a small boy. I'm sure Jim Varney will no longer be funny (although the theme song from Ernest Rides Again remains totally kick-ass). Ghostbusters I and II were actually funnier when I saw them as an adult. I'm sure Alien³ isn't as good, although I am sure the lovely Ms. Weaver is as intense as always. Pee-Wee is also better as an adult than a child. 

Still, the bad outweighs the good. I used to watch Sonic Underground, which had Sonic and his siblings... fight evil villains by turning into nineties rock musicians.... who are hedgehogs. Yeah. Or the Caspar movie? It's really best not to think about that one. And the less said about Beyblade the better.

Better authentic mammon than a bogus god

When is passion forgivable? 

Gastrimargia, porneia, philargyria, lupē, orgē, akedia, kenodoxia, hyperephania. Working from Greek, the monk Evagrius Ponticus writes these down- to warn, to preach, to proselytize. Time and tide play with them, and these eight sins are later whetted down to the manageable seven, and as the language of scholarship becomes Latin, we get luxuria, gula, avaritia, acedia, ira, invidia and superbia. Socordia replaces acedia, but the intent remains the same, and we reach our modern Seven Deadly Sins, which most of us know- Lust and Gluttony, Greed and Sloth, Wrath and Envy, and ever ascendent, Pride. 

Theologians have always been partial to our friends the sins, that is when they aren't fighting over Arianism, Nestorianism or Chalcedonian doctrine, which is just as fun as it sounds. Saint Aquinas, the dear, felt the need to divide gluttony into six different subcategories, the sort of inane minutiæ so beloved of scholars when they run out of the truly ground breaking ideas. Some enterprising fellow chose to whittle it down to three groupings- the sins of lustful appetite, irascibility and intellect. But all of this is the splitting of hairs- our sins are all those of the passionate bent. We find that this extends into both the social and legal milieu- we have crimes of passion, we accuse others of getting heated or riled up, and we mean it pejoratively. While we may describe a speaker as passionate, we also apply it as a derogatory adjective- the passions of "Latin women"- a euphamism to affectionately describe the same attitudes one might find in an angry, toy-throwing toddler.

When is passion forgivable? As a culture, existing in the Western-European tradition of the Song of Roland, the Matter of Britain, Gallic romantics and Mediterranean Lotharios, we raise these passionate people up while at the same time we condemn their passions as our sins. We go so far as to lock ourselves into a catch twenty-two. While we decry those who fall victim to their passions, that killjoy Pope Gregory I felt the need to add Sloth to our little list and thus condemn those one might think we would consider our greatest compatriots- those who have handily rid themselves of any passion whatsoever. Perhaps it's an offshoot of the Catholic guilt that St. Peter bequeathed to Europe, that masochistic glee of the constantly guilty. We let ourselves be passionate, write our stories and then we prostate ourselves in the confessional, overwhelmed by guilt. Then with God's love and our penance we're off again to unleash our passions on the world. For many of us that embodiment of all the sins, Henry Tudor, managed to deprive us of even confession, leaving only heavily mounting guilt as our passions rise and fall and we sin and sin again. The joy of our modern world is that we're free to confess our sins in any number of ways, from psychologist to blog post, but we've utterly eliminated culturally approved redemption and penance, save for the few lucky celebrities who get time in rehab clinics for the very wealthy. You've sinned, shame on you, feel guilty. And then that's it.

If modern culture is going to continue on it's way- so vocally, so at odds with our own conservative morality, than we require a new set of sins. My personal set of even would be Boorishness, Lack of Charity, Overuse of Buzzwords or Academic Jargon, Poor Hygiene, Crudeness, Violence Towards One's Fellow Man and Not Understanding That One Can't Carry A Tune And Yet Singing Anyways.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your thoughts. Write in what you feel should be the new sins of our modern world. I'll make it a contest. The one with the best sins will be allowed forgiveness with only three Hail Mary's and a single act of contrition.

...Ideo firmiter propono, adiuvante gratia Tua, de cetero me non peccaturum peccandique occasiones proximas fugiturum par publius Karaoke.... 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What are we?

When they asked
And I knew
It was over, again,
Like before, and before
(What a time is has been!)
And I ask
Why it is
That they're going away-
When they asked
And I know
I have drove them away.

"I am sorry"
The words that I most hate to hear
"I'm am sorry"
Well frankly, my dear, I don't care
Because she said it, he said it, she said it again
And it's great that they're sorry
But they left all the same
They go off unburdened
They leave silence behind
To entreats and paens
They give no reply

And I ask
To my self
When the question is laid
What it is about me that makes it all seem
That absolute silence is preferably seen
As the option to take
Act as though I were dead
To never again hear the thoughts from my head
And I wonder
In anguish
Though detached, it is true
Because of the way that my thoughts are construed
I am always observing my every move
Critiquing myself, here on the outside
To myself I have never successfully lied

And I ask
As I watch it all crumble apart
Why in God's good name did I bother to start?

And yet, (in this moment, I'll unburdened my heart)
If the chance came again..... I'd still play my part.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A very personal letter

Dear authors of Girl Genius,

Stories have ebb and flow. Please allowed this current storyline to come to a goddamned end so we can have a breather and maybe feel comfortable in any given setting. It's been at least a year, JUST RESOLVE THE BLOODY CONFLICTS FOR A MOMENT.


The Human Race

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Post Delayed

There is a moment where it all makes sense to me again. For a scant couple of minutes, I am no longer in the loop. No longer part of the web. For a moment, fit only for observation- although not an impartial one. I am hardly self centered enough to think that it revolves around me, but I consider myself a considerable force in getting fifty-odd technicians aimed in roughly the right direction long enough to bring us to this point. I am required to stand at the door, inside the house, and watch the show's delievery. For those few minutes, I have no headset, no technitions around me, just a little corner as the lights dim. The audience probably can't feel it, but the tension tastes bitter in my mouth. All those moments in the mind's eye- every failure, every delay, every mistake- they're all bound up in this moment, when I could choke on the tension. But in that moment, I remember why I wanted it in the first place- it was this, this being apart from those in their seats. That energy... that potential- it is Schrödinger's studio. Every waveform of every mistake and triumph exists on this empty stage. And then- the voices go, the lights rise, the actors enter. The play is observed and the waveform collapses. Wether it it will go well or not is now beyond my power. I have brought it to this point, and it is those under me who must now see it through.

So I return to my office, to do my paperwork and to only listen- the birthing of the show reaching my ears through a small black speaker. But that moment will stay in my mind, that little singularity of why.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Rebuttal to Mr. Ebert

I have so much respect for Roger Ebert, but he recently wrote this awful hate screed called Video Games Can Never Be Art, a sentiment really bothers me. I mean, he doesn't complain that CGI scenes in movies aren't art, after all the love and attention showered on it by artists, so what makes a CGI scene different from a video game? Control.

An audience member at a film is entirely at the mercy of what is on the screen- a director has to show or tell everything via the strictly linear progression of the film it was printed on. In a game, a director has to work around the movement of the audience- should the player choose to run to here or there, or do this or that- a director has to still be able to tell a worthwhile story without obviously limiting the movement of the player.

In film, a masterful director (and writer and so on) knows how to say everything they need to within the time limit of a film or an episode. Can your story survive segmentation, and be told in a two hour film, or twelve forty-five minute episodes, or a six-part miniseries each an hour long? A master film game director and writer (and, god knows, these are often far and few between) know that the length of their game runs anywhere from 30 to 100 hours, and it runs continuously. I mean, people can save and quit and you can have narrative arcs, but the story has to run continuously from point to point. Casablanca is a two hour self contained film- you're left asking questions at the end, but the story's narrative and major plots have been checked off and we're leaving the theatre feeling romantic and tragic and all that jazz. A game has to deal with the fact that by the end of two hours, you may only be finishing the tutorial, and the reveal of the game's villain, or the betrayal of a loyal friend may still be seven hours away, and the hero’s victory may not occur for more than an entire day in real time. That’s twenty-four hours worth of interaction that has to retain its ties to a narrative. The reason so many games are BAD is that they just can't sustain a story on that kind of a level. That being said, not all games are about story; many of them are just about having fun. Crafting beautiful worlds or landscapes to let people run around in, doing absurd things because they're having a good time. A complex musical game, where you've got to meld the harmonies of music into a unified theme to create lovely symphonic sound or the loopy absurdity of something like Mario- the little fat plumber in his overalls flying through outer space on a green dinosaur to save a princess from a giant, fire-breathing turtle. It’s absurd, and it’s hilarious and it is so much fun to inhabit this world.

Film needs to put you in a story- you need to care about the story and the people in it, and you'll suspend your disbelief because you care about who and what your seeing. A game needs to put you in a world, and it has to be a world where your interactions make sense, where things mesh together- and why we call a game broken when the world doesn't act in a way we feel makes any sense- when our ability to control our game-self is clunky or badly designed or where the actions of things around us are wrong.

I think I'm mad because I've been playing a game that understand story better than almost anything I've ever played before, Mass Effect 2, an epic trilogy, full of complex themes. An escaped slave who has no sense of herself beyond property, an angry young woman who was a test subject as a child, and carries around fury and baggage like you wouldn't believe. A scientist who struggles with having had to sterilize an entire species that threatened to conquer the galaxy, and now he has to watch them stagnate culturally and slowly die. The game always offers you a choice- what kind of person are you in this world? Are you the hero, who saves people and helps the downtrodden, or are you the selfish anti-hero, out only for yourself and not caring about who gets in your way. I care about the people in this game, because the actors who voice them aren't just phoning it in. Martin Sheen (Martin Sheen!) is an enigmatic and creepy head of a humanity first organization who funds your resurrection, but you can't trust him a millimeter. Michael Dorn as a belligerent viceroy, Marina Sirtis as a matriarch gone mad, Tricia Helfer, Adam Baldwin, Michael Hogan... the list goes on. These are sci-fi greats, and A-list actors, and they help build this world for you just as effectively as if they were acting on your DVD player.

I normally love Roger Ebert, but here he just comes off as a bitter old man who can't accept this kind of new medium. I can't help but think of Peter O'Toole in Ratatouille, when he gives his speech about how it’s more fun to write harsh criticism as a critic, but a critic really puts himself on the line when he comes to the defense of the new, because the new needs friends. Ebert was writing his piece as a response to a speech by a young woman who wanted to talk about why she thought games could be art- not always art, but have the potential to be. Ebert had to go and spit vitriol all over that. Games are often crap, but I have been as touched by the people of Mass Effect 2 as I was in the characters of Casablanca, or Star Trek, or as I did reading about the death of the boor Bolgs in the nuclear winter comic When The Wind Blows- and there's another medium that has to fight for people to give it a chance, for people to say that it can rise above pulp and be art. Ebert is just being old and spiteful, but it has got to hurt to the thousands of industry people trying to elevate their work so that a grumpy old critic will call it worthy. Andy Warhol painted a picture of a soup can, and we hail it a great art. Why can't we do the same to something like a game, which had hundred of artists and programmers laboring for years, and great actors lending their voices... when I'm old, and ranting that the Twitter holograms they beam into our brains will never be art, I hope I can remember that young people are trying to make something they can call their own.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Such delay

"The psychology of the orgiastic as an overflowing feeling of life and strength, where even pain still has the effect of a stimulus, gave me the key to the concept of tragic feeling, which had been misunderstood both by Aristotle and even more by modern pessimists. Tragedy is so far from being a proof of the pessimism (in Schopenhauer's sense) of the Greeks that it may, on the contrary, be considered a decisive rebuttal and counterexample. Saying Yes to life even in its strangest and most painful episodes, the will to life rejoicing in its own inexhaustible vitality even as it witnesses the destruction of its greatest heroes — that is what I called Dionysian, that is what I guessed to be the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to be liberated from terror and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous affect by its vehement discharge — which is how Aristotle understood tragedy — but in order to celebrate oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity — that tragic joy included even joy in destruction."

-Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

I've got previews in two weeks. I'll start posting agin when I start having the time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Growing Old To Get Back To

Whilst in the midst of my evening washing-up, I was suddenly struck by the most poignant and ethereal memory. For merest fraction of a second I recalled with complete clarity the downstairs bathroom at my Grandmother's home in Don Mills. An odd room to remember so vividly, one might ask? Perhaps, but it is a room imbued with much memory. It wasn't always a bathroom. I believe in my very youngest days it was some sort of closet, or perhaps a pantry, I am not sure. Indeed, it may have always been a bathroom, and my memories are merely engaged in their constant habit of lying to me. When I was quite small, my grandparents decided to renovate their kitchen and dining room, a process that would, as I aged, be extended throughout the entire house until, when we sold it a few years ago, very, very little of the original sixties decor remained. I remember only seeing the white coverings over the kitchen hallway, and of visiting with my grandparents in the always chilly basement, where for the first and last time in my life had what I think were Ladies Fingers, a type of long confectionary cookie that have been an unrequited desire for the last seventeen odd years since I tried them. In addition to the kitchen redecorating (which would create a rather bizarre placement of electric ranges at an odd angle to a wall mounted oven, something I never understood), the little pantry or what-have-you was rebuilt into a small bathroom. Simple furnishings, just a sink, mirror and a toilet, with not even a counter or shelves. The mirror was oval (I think), functional if nothing to write home about, the sink a tad spindly and the toilet an unremarkable example of its species. The wallpaper was green, bright but not lurid, multi-hued but not overbearing, pseudo floral without ever merging into a precise geometric shape. A little white wicker wastepaper basket stood between the sink and the toilet, and there was a toilet brush behind. The toilet paper dispenser equally white and functional. The floor tile was the same as the hallway and the kitchen and dinning room, large six inch tiles of alternating terracotta and pale brown, with grey mortar in between. In fact, I think it was the only original furnishing still extant on the ground floor, the heavy stonework on the fireplace not withstanding.

Why is this little water closet so enshrined in my memory? Well, it largely has to do with its location, which I shall attempt to illustrate with some simple ASCII art:

,,,,, __ [->
->] ^

Those three lines are three doors. Following the arrows from left to right, you would go OUT from the the bathroom into the hallway, up and IN through the door to the kitchen, and the THROUGH to the living room via the door on the right. Make sense? Capital. That little bathroom was therefore at the almost intersection of the two most important rooms in the house. And that little rest room was quite pivotal. The always lovely smell of the soap (my grandmother never bought anything less then the nicest of soaps) would mix with the smell of roasted French chicken as you would stop to wash your hands before sitting down to dine. The agony of having to leave a fascinating conversation or witty story behind in the leaving room as you darted to the washroom because you urgently needed to pee. It was also a temperature affair. With the fireplace on, the living-room would get quite hot, and when dinner was under construction, the kitchen would be equally warm. That green sea of sweet smelling soap was then a place of refuge from the heat, a moment of cooling the senses before returning into the social fray. I would often dart out to that little loo and then stay in the relative coolness of the hallway; thinking back on it now I would venture to say that this may have been an incipient symptom of what I have decided to euphemistically call my “Screaming Child Early Warning System”. Those gathering could get quite noisy, and spending time in the cool and quiet bathroom and hallway was a way to disengage from all that noise.

I miss the house. I grieve for it, to be blunt, and miss it with a longing that fills me with such sorrow. I don't feel this way for many people. For me, what that house represented was serenity, a refuge from the chaos that was the world. It was in the economically troubled and oft-times emotionally turbulent house in Creemore, and in my less cash-strapped home in Guelph, that I spent most of my growing up, but my grandparent's home was the bulwark against turbulent change and uncertainty. With my grandparents death, and the loss of that house, I have at times felt anchoress. With no Grey Havens to find my way too, my feelings of being adrift seem only to have intensified.

When I was younger and in some ways dumber then I am now, one of my recurring fantasies was that was the home I wanted to settle down with my partner, perhaps renting from my grandmother, and start a family after attending some no-doubt prestigious Toronto university.

In various ways, all those elements are now long gone, and mostly to my detriment, although I note with a touch of deep humility that I am astonished to find myself in a relationship far more healthy, stable, loving and noteworthy then those that preceded it. I must then ask myself a question, and that is this. If such dream-elements can become true again, then may it might not be a sign that I am finally coming out of the sea of uncertainty that I have found myself lost in over the past few years? If this postulate is true, then one can only wish that I will find another serene harbour for a second home.

I can only hope it has nice bathrooms.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Captain Scarlet Episode 2

Previously: Captain Black blew the mysterious Mysterons up real good. The Mysterons vow the destruction of all earthly life, starting with the assassination of World President Number Six. Six is saved, and agent Captain Scarlet is rendered apparently indestructible. Incredible Helmet hair is observed.

If anything was missing from my last review, it was any sort of analysis which makes these reviews more than just a blow-by-blow of the action. If I were to rate the Mysterons, I'd probably give it a C. It is not bad little episode, but its need to dump all the exposition on the viewer means that the pacing becomes rather glacial. A large cast is introduced, but we get no chance to know them. And annoying little questions are left unresolved- what happened to Scarlet's original body? Why did the Mysterons switch from assassination to kidnapping? What did it net them?

Anyways, this next little episode is much tighter affair. Let's go to press:

Winged Assassin. Original UK Airdate: October 6th, 1967 (ATV Midlands)

With a cymbal crash, we're back in. The opening narration has changed a bit, it is now the standard voice-over that will remain for much of the series. "The Mysterons, sworn enemies of Earth, possessing the ability to recreate an exact likeness of an object or person... but first they must destroy. [Cat howl] Leading the fight, one man fate has made indestructible. His name... Captain Scarlet."

We open with an establishing shot of a hotel. Inside the ugliest hotel room I have ever seen, a man is rappelling down in front of the window. As he is about to fire about the man in the bed, BANG! He's shot by Spectrum agent in the doorway.
In Her Majesty's Secret Room Service

That, despite a colour palette maddening close to Captain Black, happens to be Captain Grey. The sleeping man sits up, and is revealed to be wearing a goofy pseudo-asian dressing gown. The title of the episode superimposes itself over his dressing-gown logo, and that's scene. This is, in television parlance, known as the teaser. after every teaser in the opening of Captain Scarlet, we cut to a series of vignettes of each character- Captain Blue driving. Colonel White rocking his desk- while the name of each character is shown on the screen. Over this, the voice of the Mysterons states their desire for vengeance, and then states what their plan-of-the-week is. Today's gameplan is to assassinate the Director General of the United Asian Republic , which I hope will be carried out with more efficiency then their rather pathetic attempt to kill, and then Kidnap, World President Six. The Mysterons have a motif, by the way, that every-time they talk, little white circles drift around the screen.
That is such a white trash name.

Captain Black is in the opening, by the way, hanging out in a misty graveyard. You know, 'cause he's a villain. On Cloudbase, Colonel White is chatting up the troops via videophone, informing them of the Mysterons plan to kill the Director General, who aparently is the elected leader of two hundred million people. I'm pretty sure that that is a smaller population than any current Asian country. Maybe there was a war or something? Anywho, Captain Blue is watching the broadcast from the Cloudbase lounge, where Colonel White is appearing via the world's most useless wallclock.

In tonight's performance, the roll of Big Brother will be played by Lorne Green

Blue leaves to help with security while Captain Scarlet is still under medical observation. He has a flashback to the moment before the crash ("something we don't understand"), but remembers nothing else past that point. He is free of the Mysterons, now. According to the doctor, he now possesses the Mysterons ability of retro... something. He will take damage, feel the pain, even die, but the Mysteron science will bring him back, good as new. The Colonel will take the risk of Scarlet's Mysteron connections- he restores the Cap'n to active duty, and Scarlet jet-sets off to London with Blue, who apparently hasn't left yet.
He looks so cute with his hands like that

The Colonel tells Lieutenant Green that they've switched to Plan B, all Angels launch! There's a great little shout out to Fireball XL5 when Green tells the Angels that their radio call is "Zodiac". There is also a odd moment when Green says "Yes Sir!" in such a smooth, seductive sort of way that you almost think he is channeling Isaac Hays. Meanwhile, in New York, an absurdly heavy airplane is about to leave for a flight to London, but a smirking Captain Black in the terminal tells me that things aren't going to go so well.

Look at that thing. How does it get any lift?
Vislor Turlough doesn't trust Black, but Shatner seems unconcerned

To maintain security, Blue and Scarlet land 30 miles from the airport and drive the rest of the way in a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle. One of the series gimmicks was that these SPVs are hidden in various places all around the world. Last episode it was a tractor trailer, this time ts a mobile home. Meanwhile, on that airplane, complications occur in-flight, the power goes completely out. With everything out, the plane crashes into the ocean in huge fireball as we see a Mysteron replacement plane fly overhead.

This is just tragic.

Wow. See, remember when I said this was a darker series? In Thunderbirds, that plane would sink into the water, and Thunderbird 4 would try and pump air into the sinking fuselage while TB1 and Brains would work out a way to bring it back to the surfacing, saving everyone just as the air ran out. not in Captain Scarlet, oh no no. Here, the Mysterons just kill everybody and go about their business. Like I said, Dark. its a nice scene, and the pilots desperately trying to get control of the aircraft is really rather poignant.

At the hotel from the opening, a decoy Director General gets in a motorcade, while the real one sneaks out back in an oil tanker with Captain Grey. In the control tower, Captain Blue repots that the airport has been sealed and infiltrated with disguised Spectrum agents. At the same time, the Mysteron airplane, Delta-Tango One-Niner comes in for a landing. As it does, Scarlet suddenly acts weird, getting all sweaty and headachy, but it passes. The plane docks with the terminal as the decoy and the real Director General arrive, with the Director getting on board his private jet.
In the future, Air Canada is even less popular

Air Traffic Control gets a report that Delta Tango is acting weird. Apparently they won't open the doors. A quick glance through binoculars proves the aircraft to be empty. Suddenly, while still attached to the terminal, the airplane accelerates, ripping the docking arms off in a flurry of crumbling concrete and driving head on towards the Director's departing jet. Scarlet and Blue rush to the SPV, chasing after it.

I originally was rather annoyed, as the Angels come in to shoot at the plan, and manage to either miss it or barely dent it, odd considering the size of the target. On further reflection, I think it has something to do with the Mysteron invulnerability. Captain Blue tries to shoot the tires off the plane, but the gun is jammed! Scarlet takes matters into his own hands, ejecting Captain Black and taking the suicidal risk of jamming the tires.
Crap, I already made that Rocket Man joke last time...

Scarlet rams the SPV into the landing gear, causing them to rip away! Scarlet's SPV goes crashing into a bunker by the side of the runway as the the plane skids to a grinding halt. The Director's jet almost clears the wreckage but it nicks Delta-Tango's tail fin and it too goes crashing into a giant fireball!



Great job, SPECTRUM

Seriously! An cut away to the inside of the SPV is the rather grisly image of a bloody, dead Captain Scarlet. As an ambulance takes away the body, Captain Blue and an air traffic control survey the wreckage and have this little dialogue:

Controller: "A brave man. A pity he died in vain."
Blue: "Maybe he didn't die....:
Controller: "What?"
Blue: "...In vain"

Its rather tragic that Blue can only make note of Scarlet's rumored invulnerability, rather than note any kind of victory. This was an absolute failure, no two ways about it. The ambulance rides off into a fade-out, and we go to credits. Falling Boxes! Speeding Cars! FILMED IN SUPERMARIONATION

Wow. That is a darker episode. Lets see, the DT-19 was about the same size as an Airbus 380, which seat about 520, plus fifteen odd crew and two pilots. Plus the Director General, his pilot, co-pilot and maybe four crew. Plus Captain Scarlet, and maybe on or two people killed when the airplane smashed the terminal docking arms. That's a death toll of about five hundred and fifty people, with absolutely no one rescued or saved. Taking the personal killed when the Mysterons blew up the safe-house in the first episode, the gunman at the beginning plus the rescue of President Six, the current record stands at:

Mysterons: 600
Spectrum: 2

Our heroes, ladies and gentleman.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Captain Scarlet Episode 1

In an effort to shake things up around here and to force myself to write things on some kind of consistent schedule, I am attempting to write a complete review of the series Captain Scarlet. I will commence with an overview, before going on to the first episode. May God have mercy on my soul.

It was 1967, and Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's careers were on the decline, although they didn't know it yet. Coming off the success of Thunderbirds, the Andersons would never again make a product as successful. They had just completely the spectacularly unwatchable Thunderbirds film, and would go on to to create the deeply bizarre Joe 90, jumping around from one thing to the next before their marriage and partnership would crash and burn along with everything else in the making of Space: 1999. But that was all to come. For now, there was the new project: Captain Scarlet.

Captain Scarlet is kind of the distant older cousin of the Andersons' oeuvre- its a much darker tone than its predecessors and the shows that would follow it. Technology had progressed from when the Andersons' had begun Thunderbirds- the device that moved the puppet's mouths was rather large, giving rise to the oversize heads and caricatured expressions one can find on the Tracy family. But these devices had shrunk in size, so that the puppets of Captain Scarlet are much more proportional. Unfortunately, as the puppeteers would complain, being more realistic meant that an audience expected more realism from the puppet's movement- difficult with the clunky fibreglass figures. As an added downer, the smaller faces of the puppets had less charm, less character, and everyone came off as looking rather stoic. This, coupled with the aforementioned darker tone, led to there being much less affection for the series than from Thunderbirds or Fireball XL5.

Don't get me wrong, though, when I say this is a darker series. It's still a mixture of delightful models, goofy dialogue, crazed actions sequences and some of the worst pacing even seen on television outside of eighties cartoons. But I love Anderson's work, and thus this quirky little series has a special pace in my heart. If you want to enlarge the screenshots, just click on the image. Let's go to press:

Episode I: the Mysterons. Original UK Airdate September 29, 1967

With a line of violins and a cymbal crash, Gerry Anderson's fancy-pants new logo appears on the screen, struck through with a rocket. BAM, we're in.

Classic Fifties Pulp-Novel Rocket

A harp glissandos and competes with a crashing Hammond organ chord, and we fade into an dark brown Alleyway, fraught with mystery. A deep voice intones: “The finger is on the trigger. About to unleash terrible powers beyond the comprehension of man. This force we shall know as- The Mysterons”. The font for the credits, by the way, appears to be Metrostyle Extended, one of my personal favourites. The camera pulls a hard turn, a cat squeals and there, in the shadows, is the figure of a man. Harsh lights turn on, a gun is raised in the camera's Point of View, and the figure is riddled with bullets. But they have no effect. The man razes his own sidearm, and shoots the gunner down. We jump in to a close-up, and to thudding drums, across the screen these words are written:

This expression isn't going to change very often

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a title. The sonorous, booming voice returns: “This man will be our hero, for fate will make him indestructible. His name? Captain Scarlet!” The show is really pulling no punches. There will be no dark-horse secondary character rising to take the audience's affections here, no sir. Captain Scarlet will be your hero, and dammit, you're going to like it. Scarlet, by the way, is supposed to resemble a young Carry Grant, but I've never thought so.

We fade out and onto an orbital shot of a planet, which the title helpfully informs us is Mars, in the year 2068. As we cut away to a little buggy riding on the surface, our friend the title narrator returns. Apparently picking up where he left off in the credits, he tells us that “This is the trigger. Inside, three men from Earth.” Inside the buggy, he is proven correct. The ground of Mars, by the way, is uniformly grey, and there appears to be no atmosphere to speak of. In fact, if the title hadn't exactly specified that this was Mars, I would have said that this was the moon. Our three little amigos, including the delightfully attired Captain Black, are apparently driving slowly around Mars in search of some signals that were picked up back on Earth by an organization known as Spectrum, which makes me giggle for oh, oh so many reasons.

I'm not sure which I love more, the goofy logo or the see-through visor.

They haven't found anything, but Black, being the conscientious guy he is, wants to keep looking. He suggest they go looking over the next ridge, and we're treated to another shot of the little buggy slowly crawling into shot. Suddenly, the red jumpsuited fellow at the wheel exclaims “Will you take a look at that!” The strings play a jarring a chord and we are treated to our first look at an alien city! It's... um.... wow.

Pictured: Wow.

Usually, given the limitations of what he was using, Gerry Anderson was pretty good at making small objects look bigger than they were, but in this shot, the city just looks really tiny. Do you notice that “unearthly glow” surrounding the city? According to the commentary, the shot was made by putting a sheet of glass in front of the lens and rubbing it down with Vaseline. And boy, does it show. After some blurry establishing shots, we cut inside of the scene, and man.... this room couldn't look more life a set from the original Star Trek if it tried. Giant glowing ball, twisted blue pillars, it even has the seemingly obligatory green and magenta mood lighting. Pretty impressive for one eighth scale.

I think this set shows up in 'I, Mudd'. And 'Mirror, Mirror'. And 'The Cage'. And 'The City on the Edge of Forever'. And 'Spock's Brain'. And....

Suddenly, we hear the a deep booming voice, like the narrator's, but an octave lower and more echoey. The voice gets all dully excited that the humans are here, what with their “curiosity about their universe”, something also shared by the voice. The voice wants to observe them closer, so it says to train the cameras on the earth people. We cut to shot of the turret cameras, which look a little like multi-barrelled ray-guns. This causes Black to IMMEDIATELY jump to conclusions. “They're about to attack!” “Let 'em have it!”. The adorable little buggy fires off a few shots, and then...

The aliens clearly do not have very well-enforced building codes

Man, the whole city just explodes! I hope Black doesn't overreact like this all the time. Goes to the park, sees a kid picking up a stick- "They're going to attack me!". Blows up the playground, bits of backpacks and plastic shrapnel rain down everywhere...

No one in the buggy seems at all affected by their little genocide. They instead calmly talk about surveying the wreckage before going home. Suddenly, a radar dish comes up out of the ground and shoots a soothing blue ray at the ruins. Through the power of Alien Science, the city is restored to perfection. The booming voice comes back, identifying itself as the voice of the Mysterons. Calling themselves a peaceful race, the voice mocks the Earthlings for their inability to destroy them, and then totally chews them out for being aggressive. The voice says that their revenge will be slow, but will lead to the destruction of all life on Earth. So, not that peaceful then. I never quite got it- what is it with aliens specie? One human shows up and does something boneheaded, and then aliens blame every single last member of the human race, often along with anything living on the planet. In this case, for Captain Black's rash destruction of their city, the Mysterons blame everyone from Swifty Lazar to the entire species of Anthonomus Grandis to my mother's old aloe plant. I mean, I know it takes a village to raise a child well, but this is taking sociological blame way too far.

Blah blah blah, resistance is futile, etc. To sum up, The Mysterons will turn one of the three men into their agent on Earth (guess which one!). Their first act of revenge will be the assassination of the World President.

We now get the first example of Captain Scarlet's trademark style of switching from scene to scene. Rather than a fade out or a slide dissolve, CS gives us some drum beats on a timpani and cuts back and forth a few times between the last scene and the new one in rapid succession. Its really disorientating and headache inducing if you watch an episode with out any breaks.

"Dex had a hand in building it. Its kind of a secret. You can keep a secret, can't you Polly?"

Spectrum is simply FABULOUS

Welcome to Cloudbase, the headquarters of Spectrum, who I'm pretty sure are some-kind of world police. We arrive to find the station launching jets. Jets flown by women! In the sky! In the FUTURE! The orders are given by a Colonel White, to a Lieutenant Green (A black person! In the sky! In the FUTURE!). Are you detecting a pattern with names here? The lady-pilots, by the way, all have names that are [blank] Angel- Destiny Angel, Rhapsody Angel...

.... Helmet-Hair Angel...

Rhapsody Angel and Helmet-Hair Angel are ordered to their jets, and we come across a familiar Gerry Anderson motif. Ya see, these puppets, while great all, have one little itty bitty flaw- they really, REALLY don't walk very well. Its rather embarrassing. Because its the FUTURE, Anderson cheats. Whenever possible, the puppets ride something somewhere, be it a mobile couch, a chair or moving sidewalk, even when just outright walking would take up a fraction of the time. In this case, the Angels ride little deck chairs right up into their jets. Its not as cool as the epic Thunderbirds secret doors, but it gets the job done.

As pilots, you realize these ladies are wearing diapers?

The jets are away, and Colonel White radios our hero, Captain Scarlet, who finally shows up. Scarlet is totally chilaxing in his rad sports-car with a Captain Brown. The Colonel is calling to tell Brown that he is in charge of the mission, which is to protect the World President. Apparently, the Mars guys brought the message home. Brown is perturbed by The Mysterons, calling them something "we don't understand". This is a phrase that'll come up a LOT. I'll let you know. While the two chums banter exposition, the entire shot suddenly turns the same blue colour we saw on Mars. Suddenly, the car pops a tire, flies off the road, and explodes in a giant fireball!

No! Not these guys! All my favourite characters, dying!

We suddenly see Scarlet's body being dragged by about a foot. The person doing the dragging is none other than - shock!- Captain Scarlet (man, do his pants have a tight crease)! I'm going to go out on a limb here and say "Mysterons did it". We cut away to see the not dead-Scarlet reporting to Colonel White. All security has been prepared.

A Bump-bump-bummm takes us to New York, where Captain Brown (also replaced, apparently) is escorting the World President to a Spectrum safe house. They've pulled out all the stops- the streets are cleared (and unnaturally clean), the Angels and their jets are flying overhead, gunmen on the roof, helicopters in the sky and Brown's armoured car has a bunch of escorts. The face of the World President was driving me crazy, until Wikipedia helpfully pointed out that he was modelled on Patrick McGoohan, which he totally is if you squint enough. Since he is never given a name, I shall proceed to call him President Six until I get bored of doing so.

I am not a president, I am free man!

Pres. Six mentions that they are dealing with forces they they "don't understand". That's two. Our duo reaches the safe-house, where they take a moving sidewalk through a security barrier. The alarm goes off when Brown passes through it, and all these guns are trained on him. There is a close up on Brown's pocket, and a very real and human hand reaches in and throws away a brown metal device- it's a cigarette holder. Good on him, those things are bad for you. Having satisfied the guards, Six and Brown reach the safe-house room where the two of them will apparently be spending the next few weeks. The door opens and... and.... oh god, that's just....

Who thought this was comfortable? Who thought this was pleasant? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS DECADE?

Man, remind me not to have Spectrum design my home. Brown point out the room's cameras before sitting down. El Presidente Seis hopes that Brown play a good game of 3D chess, but Brown is too busy smoking.


I think he borrowed that turtleneck from Wesley Crusher

President Six goes for his intercom, but we cut away to see the building go up in a giant fireball! Man, the Mysterons sure know how to pick up the pace. Destiny Angel, in her jet with her sexy French accent, reports back to Cloudbase with about as much emotion as Black did when he blew up the Mysterons. Good times.

Meanwhile, at Cloudbase, Scarlet, Pres Six (not dead, apparently) and Colonel White are going over what happened. They review the footage, wherein we see that Six escaped through a nifty sliding wall panel just before Brown exploded. White says that the President can learn two things from this. 1) He barely escaped with his life and 2) Brown had some kind of bomb on him. I'm pretty sure Six should already know this seeing as, you know, he was there. The President seems shocked that Brown was in on the plot (Again, weird, seeing as, you know, he saw it). The Colonel mentions this as being part of a number of odd occurrences, and reveals the fact that Captain Black went missing after his return from Mars. Scarlet is to fly Six to a new safe-house, escourted by the angels. Remember, White reminds him, they are facing forces they "do not understand". That's three.

The jets take off, using the same footage from earlier in the episode. As they fly off, Lieutenant Green (remember him? Black dude) tells White that they found the body of Brown at the car crash site. White says that something must have happened there that "they do not entirely understand". That's four. White turns his pimpin turn-table desk around to look at a wall chart, and he and Green work out that Scarlet must also be an impostor. They order Scarlet to turn around, but no response. Things just got real.

Guess which one is Lieutenant Green?

Hint: it's not this guy.

Destiny Angels' warning shot is ignored by Scarlet. Pres Six tries to radio for help, but Scarlet bitch slaps him in the face before ejecting them both from the jet. Destiny reports that once on the ground, Scarlet took the President at gunpoint into a nearby car. The chase is on!

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!

To help with the chase, the Aryan Captain Blue arrives at a gas station, where a truck is being used to hide a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, a bullet shape car that Blue drives facing backwards, looking at a TV monitor of the front of the car. This apparently helps reduce injuries in the case a forward collision or something. Anyways, he goes off after Scarlet's stolen car. To keep him on a single road, Destiny Angel orders one of her wingladies (wingmanette?) to blow up an overpass! Boom! Now Scarlet can only go one way, onto a towering edifice known as the London Car-Vu. As far as I can tell, you drive to the top and look at things.


Scarlet drives up, and Blue is in hot pursuit. What follows is about a minute and a half of the two cars going up that thing, ALL THE WHILE there is a horrible screeching noise of rubber squealing of asphalt. The whole time. Its awful. I had to mute. Finally, they reach the top, and Scarlet takes Six at gunpoint to a girder that's jutting off the building. A cut-away reveals our old friend Captain Black. Remember him? He looks zombieish now. Apparently, he's the Mysterons agent (shocking, I know). He reveals via radio to Scarlet that they (the Mysterons) have taken over a Spectrum helicopter which is coming to get them.

The foulest stench is in the air, the funk of forty thousand years!

Captain Blue reaches the top, and slllloooowly uses an automated chair to get out of his car. He slips on a jet-pack, for some reason. He tries to shoot down Scarlet, but the helicopter shoots at him! A frantic- a decently paced game of cat and mouse is played between Blue and the chopper.

All this science, I don't understand...

Bullets are flying, everything is crazy! Destiny Angel shoots down the helicopter, it hits the Car-Vu and blows it up real good! The Car-Vu starts to tip over. Blue shoots Scarlet, and grabs the Pres! Scarlet plummets to the earth, the Car-Vu blows up, AND THE DAY IS SAVED!!!!

I think he looks more like Richard Hatch

Back at Cloudbase, Colonel White is talking to his staff. Not only is Scarlet still alive, but he is apparently now indestructible. They apparently have some kind of science thing that can figure that out. Also, Scarlet is no longer under the Mysterons control. We have a final shot of Scarlet looking... same as always, while wearing his grandmother's dress. Then the credits roll.

What else could it be?

The credits really are the best part. There is a rocking score by Barry Gray, who also did the music for most of Andersons' other series. The music accompanies a bunch of drawn images of Scarlet in danger, being far more emotive and flexible than the real puppet ever could be. Seeing as he's indestructible, he's not really in any peril. In fact, the credits have more action than the average episode. Scarlet fights a snake! Falls off a building! Surrounded by sharks! Falls in Goo! Wall with Spikes! FILMED IN SUPERMARIONATION!

A force we do not entirely understand. One down, thirty odd to go.