...as Sydney Bristow used to ask during the one and a half first seasons of Alias. The Yuletide assignment were sent, and I'm pleased with mine; mind you, something that happened to me last year with a completely different fandom and a completely different recipient also happened this year, which cracks me up (it's nothing bad). But I already have ideas for the fandom and request in question, so I'm pretty sure I can do something decent with it.

Meanwhile, I'm eyeing at least one treat, unless rl collapses on me.
Aka the siblings tale in the X-Men Movieverse I wanted to write for ages, for [profile] yetanothermask.

Longer than the road that stretches out ahead (5417 words) by Selena
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: X-Men: First Class (2011), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Raven | Mystique & Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr & Raven | Mystique
Characters: Raven | Mystique, Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr, Sharon Xavier

Raven and Charles: the ties that bind when you grow up together and still remember the past in two different ways.

selenak: (Darla by Kathyh)
( Oct. 29th, 2014 08:06 pm)
The AV Club has posted their list of ten vampire centric tv series episodes; as they put it, they might not be the 10 best episodes, but they’re the 10 episodes that’ll help you understand what the show’s all about—without having to watch the whole thing.

Naturally, I found myself arguing with some of the choices for series I'm familiar with. Not in a "never! not this one!" way, on the contrary, these are good choices; in a "hm, I'm not sure this fits the criteria" way.

For example: Being Human (original UK version, naturally), season 2, episode 7, Damage: On the one hand, I can totally see their argument. Which is spoilery. )

My own choice would be episode 3.05 The Longest Day. And no, it's not just because my darling Nina has a central role in it. It examines what it means in this universe to be a vampire not just via Mitchell but via spoilery people )

Their choice for Angel is: Are you now or have you ever been? Again, I agree with their arguments : it stands on its own (i.e. is accessible for newbies), tells a self contained story while at the same time showing an important step in the main vampire character's development, and the paranoia demon as 50s metaphor works; indeed, as the poster says, the demon is hardly necessary.

Which is perhaps why it wouldn't be my choice. Angel being a vampire is not touched upon in the episode, either. That he's immortal, yes, but it would work just as well with, say, a Highlander type of immortal - and the episodes should say something about what this particular series makes of vampires, how it uses them. Spoilery objections and alternate choices follow nonetheless. )

No argument at all with Closer than Sisters for Penny Dreadful. Because Eva Green acting the hell out of everyone and Vanessa having messed up relationships with Mina and Malcolm so is what this show is about. :) What do you mean, there is no vampire activity at all in this episode?
So I was curious as to who people in the 40s thought was writing Hitchcock movies - contemporaries, not biographers with hindsight or people within the industry. Turns out that the Syracuse Herald in 1941 had an article about "filmdom's only feminine writing team-", which is patronizing as hell about women working together, but still valuable testimony as to general knowledge:

"There must be something about writing that does not bring out the best in the girls. There is only one feminine writing team in Hollywood!

Male writing teams are as common as raisins in fruit cake. Those pairing a man and a woman are rare. Usually, the girls who write movies write alone...and like it better.

Many, many women writers have put on double harness, but if they got through one picture they were lucky. Women writers just don't get along together.

"That isn't true of Joan and me," Alma Reville denied.

Alma (Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock) and Joan Harrison (formerly "Hitch's" secretary) have collaborated on most of the thrillers Hitchcock has directed in the last three years.

Alma has been writing screenplays for about 12 years. Before that she was a cutter. She laughed and covered her face with her hands when she confessed she started as a script clerk in 1916 with the London film company.

Joan became Hitchcock's secretary six years ago and has been a writer for three.

In concocting their latest picture, "Before the Fact," Alma said that Joan first boiled the novel to its "plot bones" in a one-page synopsis, then made a rough treatment or story line. Next, both women batted ideas back and forth with Hitchcock, and in about two months completed the screenplay.

This was turned over to a dialog writer. Alma and Joan doctored and tightened the script for the final version.

"Arguments?" said Alma. "Of course! But no bad feeling. I'd just as soon work with a woman as a man, just so she's good."


I had alredy seen the teaser trailer for Avengers II, but here it comes with an actual (and hilarious) scene attached, featuring the whole gang:

In other Marvel news, good to know about Carol Danvers and T'Challa getting their own movies, am still not clear who needs Ant-Man, and am blackly amused by the Cumberbatch for Strange? rumours.
Finally read this one. I was familiar with Sweetman's Vincent Van Gogh biography, which is good, and his take on Mary Renault didn't disappoint, either. Some of the biographical details were expected: most of all, the mother from hell (thanks, Clementine Challans, for providing your daughter with a life long complex about a) women, b) being a woman, and c) mothers), though I'm gratified Sweetman doesn't let the father get away, either. (Apparantly Dr. Challans was Mr. Bennet without the charm or the actual bothering about the emotions of his daughter, i.e. he withdrew into his study and work, and kept husbandry to snide remarks and parenting to not doing anything.) I'm also not siurprised Mary was greatly influenced by Tolkien when she was at Oxford - go figure. More surprised, though I shouldn't have been (see also: Mask of Apollo), that she had an interlude of wanting to act and a passion for the theatre. (Makes me belatedly wonder about Julian-as-self-portrait, though.) And of course the whole nursing background. The John Guildgud as favourite actor crush fits, too, though I hadn't made the connect, as Sweetman does, between the publication of The Charioteer and the scandal of John Guildgud getting arrested for soliciting.

What did surprise me: the generous, restrained and mature way she dealt with love-of-her-life Julie's two heterosexual flings, letting Julie figure out whether or not that was what she wanted. I don't think many people, no matter their orientation, would have had the strength. I also hadn't known about her clash with Nadine Gordimer, though it made me realise, since I know some people from the International PEN who were already around at the time, I could ask for more details.

(Not surprised by what the quarrel was about, though. We're talking about Mary Renault the exceptionalist here.)

Re: Renault's works, I thought David Sweetman - who obviously loves her as an author - did a good job of presenting them in context but not overlooking flaws and developments. He really brings home what it meant to a lot of gay (a word M.R. disliked) readers to have homosexual characters presented sympathetically, and has his own favourites, I noticed - thus Nikos and Thettalos from Last of the Wine are for him more rounded a portrait of a homosexual couple than the cast of The Charioteer, which he sees too strictly divided between camp and heroic. He also seems to ship Alexander/Bagoas over Alexander/Hephaistion; his biography praises The Persian Boy and the Alexander/Bagoas scenes as the most senseous thing Mary Renault has ever written, while good old Hephaistion in Fire from Heaven doesn't merit a mention (other than as part of a Mary Renault quote about something else).

On the other hand, while he praises Mary Renault for getting better and better with her male homosexuals, he also decries the decline of her female characters, from the contemporary novels to the late Greek ones, or, as Sweetman puts it when talking about Funeral Games: "All the women in the novel are dismissed as irrelevant or murderous. Alexander's wives and children, along with his mother Olympias, die hideously, at the hands of other women. Eurydike's humiliation is only the most extreme example of a tendency to marginalize her female characters which had grown as Mary's novel progressed. The early, English novels are unsual for having strong women at the centre of the action, though even the strongest, Hilary in Return to Night, is obliged to accept that her life and career must be scecond to that of her lover. By the time she wrote North Face Mary's women were caricatures, and with The Charioteer she finally gave up the attempt and began to write about men who did not need women at all.

Again: thanks, Clementine, you domestic horror, and your non stop campaign to erase any self respect in your daughter because she wouldn't fit with what you thought were feminine ideals. Seriously, Clementine was the type of mother who even came up with a death bed rejection as a final blow. Olympias, Mrs. Fleming, Mrs. Odell, eat your hearts out.

Criticisms: I wonder whether David Sweetman tried to interview Nadine Gordiimer for this book to get her side of the Gordimer/Renault/PEN blowup? If so, he doesn't mention it, but it's a lack. (He interviewed Mary Renault herself, at first for the BBC, and had the cooperation of Julie Mullard.) Also, I wonder which history teacher he had, because his summary of Cleopatra is, err, very odd:

Was it, I suggested, too much to hope that Mary Renault was going to write a novel about Cleopatra? That she would even consider writing about a woman, let alone one who had frittered away her chance of power for something as unworthy as sex, was a joke she might have resented. Happily, she took it in good part (...).

Um. Say what now? How, pray, did Cleopatra fritter away her chance of power for sex? Even Augustan propaganda at its most hardcore wouldn't have said that, because Roman pnropaganda accused her of just the opposite: that she was using sex (first with Caesar, than with Antony) to get power. Now you can complain about her strategies, or that she bet on the wrong horse (Antony) in who among the triumphirate would ultimately come out on top. But she certainly didn't pick Antony because he was good in the sack. He was the one actually willing to make territorial concessions to her, whereas Octavian by the very fact of his adoption was Caesar and his claim to be the only son was bound to see her son as a threat, and certainly wasn't willing to make any concessions.

(And you know, it's interesting that for someone whose "sexpot of the Ancient World" image was there before Hollywood, Cleopatra had a remarkable lack of known lovers. In fact, there are precisely two men we can be absolutely sure she had sex with, and she regarded herself married to both of them. Frittered away her chance of power for sex, indeed. Brush up your Plutarch, Sweetman.)

Surprise trivia: Mary Renault's first fannish crush wasn't Alexander. It was Edward, Prince of Wales, briefly King and later Duke of Windsor. Now the remarkable thing isn't she crushed on him - a great many people did in the late 20s and then 30s - but that she kept it up throughout her life, no matter what came to light about him. Talk about fannish loyalty.

Biggest "there by the grace" escape: The King Must Die was about to be filmed by the people who'd made The Robe until the project folded. If you've ever seen The Robe you know why Mary Renault was very relieved indeed.

Overall: informative biography of a remarkable writer. Not a must if you're not already curious about Mary Renault, though.
This show is currently my comfort food in a stressful time. With shards.

Read more... )
selenak: (Malcolm and Vanessa)
( Oct. 26th, 2014 05:29 pm)
Penny Dreadful:

Furnace Room Lullabye: the Vanessa and Malcolm vid of my heart, and [personal profile] d_generate_girl made it. (BTW, am very thrilled so many Penny Dreadful requests were written for Yuletide - surely that means at least some will be fulfilled?)
Despite the title and the presence of a certain animal, I found this one much more C.S. Lewis in early Narnia mode than William Blake. A charming quiet fantasy interlude before the storm (since the season finale is approaching).

Can I take a picture of the lion? )
The latest entry in the Shardlake series, and one which could very well as a finale, were it not for the fact the ending makes me conclude Sansom will continue the series, which started with Dissolution.

Back then, the series hero, lawyer Matthew Shardlake, had been an eager Protestant and agent for Thomas Cromwell, and the time the novel was set were the months after Anne Boleyn's execution. The novel also was a pretty straightforward whodunit. By the time Lamentation comes along, we're in the last year of Henry VIII.'s life, Matthew Shardlake has been thoroughly disillusioned with both sides of the religious divide, the series gathered a vivid supporting part, and though there are two murders in Lamentation, their solution in both cases is just a minor subplot, while the main plot is more or less following the rules of the spy thriller. I.e. a McGuffin has been stolen, Shardlake must find out how, why, by whom, and who has it (and then either get it back of destroy it). Since the McGuffin in question is Catherine Parr's book Lamentation of a Sinner, the danger it poses is for the Queen to be seen as disloyal and heretic by her husband, Henry (who decides what's heretic and what's not in the new faith on a how-I-feel-at-the-moment basis), one of the not inconsiderable feats Sansom pulls off is to make this suspenseful even though readers with a cursory knowledge of the Tudor period know this is not how Catherine Parr will meet her maker, that on the contrary, she'll survive Henry.

Partly, he does it through the fact while Catherine is protected by history, Matthew Shardlake and his friends are not. The danger being involved with politics poses has been a constant theme through all the Shardlake novels, and he's had some close calls, but always was saved, as were his friends. This time, however, there really is a price paid for the fact Shardlake agrees to help the Queen, whom he's nursed a crush on for two novels now. Partly, it's because Sansom is a good writer, especially great in bringing home the paranoia rampant in Henry's England, where with the ever switching dominance between Traditionalists and Reformers you can find yourself denounced as a Papist or Heretic at any given moment. He also highlights aspects overlooked in much historical fiction set in the Tudor era - how Henry's French wars literally bankrupted the country, and the contrast between the increasing number of beggars in London and the growing palace of Whitehall is glaring. And he makes the catastrophes more than set pieces; living through the sinking of the Mary Rose in the last novel left Shardlake with an ongoing trauma. The burning of Anne Askew, which opens the novel, is reflected upon and remembered throughout.

But if you don't care about the characters, this doesn't matter, and Sansom has become good in making this reader care. (I say "has become" because in Dissolution, he wasn't quite there yet with part of them, and to me the first novel where he really hit his stride was Sovereign.) They also aren't subjected to unrelenting misery. The bullied servant girl Josephine is now happy and doing well, so are Jack Barak and Tamasin, and MYSTERY CHARACTER WHOSE EXISTENCE WOULD BE A SPOILER FOR THE NOVEL HEARTSTONE, whose further fate I was very curious about after that novel, is off stage due to being on the continent but still present in Shardlake's life and corresponding with him regularly. Shardlake's friend Guy (ex monk, doctor and apothocary), whom I missed in the last novel, is very present again in this book. Long time antagonists/villains from the entire series start to have fate catch up with them: Knealnap the sellout, Richard Rich (Shardlake's eternal arch nemesis), but most of all: the King himself.

Sansom kept Henry, as far as personal appearances go, off stage for most of the books, with the memorable exception of Sovereign where Matthew Shardlake meets him in person for the first time (and an awful experience it is, too). But every one of Shardlake's temporary patrons (Cromwell, Crammer, Catherine Parr) and foes (the Duke of Norfolk, Richard Rich) depends on Henry for power and survival. And Henry, of course, is the origin of all that paranoia, of the poverty. (And he's the one who also enabled reforms when it served his aims, the novels don't forget that, either.) So it's inevitable that in this novel, where things come full circle, Henry is an important factor. Still more often than not offstage. But much talked about. He's also an example of what I'd call the deep humanity of the Shardlake novels. The first time Matthew Shardlake spots him in this novel, a grotesque mass of fat and ulcers barely able to move without help, he's not only aware of Henry's physical decay but also of the fact the man must be in constant physical pain. Now Shardlake fears and at times hates the King (for both general and personal reasons), and the narrative agrees with him on Henry's culpability and monstrosity. But he also is able to see, and acknowledge, what that life in constant physical torment must mean for Henry (for any man, but especially one who once prided himself on his athleticism), and the courage those few public appearances must take where he's walking. Just as he sees what cancer does to a fictional minor foe of his, or how a very dislikable client has her own tragedy instead of being an inexplicable harridan. What I'm getting at: even the boo-hiss villains aren't caricatures. They're responsible for their crimes, and the narrative doesn't excuse them, but it also acknowledges their humanity.

(Well, other than Thomas Seymour, who so far is simply a boo-hiss idiot with good looks and cruel "jests", but hey, Shardlake is aware that the Queen loves him, and both he and his author think she could do so much better.)

There are a great many new characters introduced in this novel, both fictional and historical: most importantly a fellow lawyer whom Shardlake takes a liking to, Philip Coswelyn, another up and coming lawyer named William Cecil (the fact young Cecil plays a fairly prominent part in this book is one of the reasons why I don't think Sansom will end the series here), Mary Tudor (Shardlake met Elizabeth already in Heartstone and briefly meets her here again at her stepmother's) and her fool Jane, Shardlake's new pupil Nicholas (who gets a crash course in the art of detecting and surviving during the novel), William Paget, currently Henry's go to minister. But I never had the impression Sansom is overdoing it, I felt it was possible to keep a good overview.

Nitpicks: most of the novels have Shardlake simultanously solving a political case dumped on him by a powerful person and one that's due to a client he chooses to represent. Lamentation varies this in that he takes on the political case (which is the main one) due to his feelings for the Queen and tries to get rid of the client who ends up firing him first and then proceeding his life more miserable, but whose backstory mystery he eventually solves. The problem here is that her backstory mystery is glaringly obvious and consequently those passages drag a bit, though they do serve to introduce and then let Shardlake befriend the very likeable Philip Coswelyn.

Otoh: there is a great twist/ZOMG moment when Shardlake finds out who actually has the manuscript. Which I wouldn't want to spoil. It's a revelation in two steps - the first one makes you think, oh, that's lame, and then it turns out it isn't really SPOILER but SPOILER, which results in a fantastic scene. So what I'd call the spy novel plot does pay off.

Trivia: Sansom makes great use of some actually existing portraits from the era. Must reexamine the "Henry VIII. and his family" one with this in mind.

In conclusion: a good novel, but not one for readers unfamiliar with the (fictional) characters. As I said, it brings a lot of things full circle, and you need to have followed Shardlake & Co. until then.
While preparing another book review, I got sidetracked by musings which have nothing whatsoever to do with the novel in question or its plot, so they get their own entries. To wit: the differences in pop cuture memory/reputation/novelistic and tv use of two guys who were, at different times, Henry VIII.s brothers-in-law. In one corner we have Charles Brandon, later first Duke of Suffolk. Best remembered for marrying Henry's sister Mary (and getting away with it) after her brief stint as Queen of France, and for being the closest thing Henry had to a life long best buddy. Charles as far as I could see usually ends up as a romantic hero in Tudor era fiction.

In the other corner we have Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane (aka wife No.3 to Henry), married to Catherine Parr (Henry's widow, wife No.6 ), and probably best remembered for how he ended (messing with teenage Elizabeth, losing his head). While there have been attempts to turn Thomas Seymour into a romantic hero as well (Young Bess comes to mind, the film version of which starred Jean Simmons as Elizabeth, Deborah Kerr as Katherine Parr and Stewart Granger as Tom Seymour) by interpreting him as a man who can't help loving two women,these are rare, especially in recent years. His image both in biographies and pop culture these days is rather dark. At best, he's a a none too bright playboy who's just too sexy for his and everyone else's good (Susannah Dunn in both The Sixth Wife and The May Bride); at worst, he's an ambitious ruthless sexual abuser (with Elizabeth) and faithfless ambitious cad (with Katherine) who ruined Katherine Parr's well deserved happy ending against the odds, broke her heart and sent her to an early grave (Patricia Finney comes to mind).

Now here's what interests me: if you look at Charles Brandon's marital history, he comes across as easily one of the most ruthless go getters at Henry's court. There was:

1.) Anne Browne; Charles was engaged to her, which was binding, and it wasn't a platonic engagement, either, as it produced a daughter. However, she also had a very rich aunt. So.

2.) Margaret Neville. The aunt. Yes, one of those Nevilles, niece to the Kingmaker. Charles temporarily ditched Anne and married her. This did not make the Browne family happy, who went to court. Ultimately they won, the Neville marriage was dissolved, and Charles married Anne officially. They had another daughter, and then Anne died. Then there almost was:

3.) Elizabeth Grey, eight years old orphan and heiress of Lord Lisle. Also Charles' ward. (Buying wardships was immensely profitable in Tudor times and beyond.) (Keep the ward thing in mind, this isn't the last time this will happen.) Charles became engaged to her, at which point his good friend Henry VIII. transferred the title of Viscount Lisle to him. However, Elizabeth upon reaching the age where she could become legally married (which if I recall correctly in this era was 13) refused to marry Charles (good for her). (She later married Henry Courtenay.) Charles kept the title, though.

4.) And then there was Mary Tudor. Who got married by her brother to old Louis XII of France which she agreed to under the condition that she could pick her next husband by herself. At this point, she was already in love with Charles, who duly showed up as soon as Louis bit the dust. They had to pay fines to Henry (and Mary's entire dowery that she'd been given when marrying Louis), but otherwise, as mentioned, they got away with it. There were four children, two sons - who died young, more about one in a moment - and two daughters. Then Mary died. Which brings us to:

5.) Catherine Willoughby. This young girl would turn out to be one of the most colourful women of the Tudor era. Her mother had been Spanish, Maria de Salinas, Katherine of Aragon's best friend, but Catherine her daughter would turn into a fierce reformer who'd even go into exile when "Bloody" Mary Tudor came on the throne. But back to her youth. Catherine, a very rich heiress, was Charles' ward, grew up in his household with him and Mary as parent figures, and it was planned that she should marry his son Henry. Then, as soon as Charles was a widower again, either because young Henry was already sickly or simply because he wanted more direct access to the cash, Charles married Catherine himself. She was 13 or 14 (I've found both ages given), he was 49. The marriage seems to have been harmonious; at least, no scandal is known, and it resulted in two sons. (Catherine's previous intended having died in the first year of her marriage to his father, her oldest son was also called Henry.) Catherine survived Charles and would go on as the formidable Duchess of Suffolk.

Meanwhile, Thomas Seymour, despite his image as Tudor playboy extraordinaire (he's usually written as the Don Juan in contrast to his brother Edward who gets written as a prig), actually seems to have had no scandals with women attached to his name until he hit the big time. He wasn't married until then, either, which is interesting, because as the late Queen Jane's brother, he certainly should have had plenty of opportunities for profitable matches. Mind you, not that he wasn't also a go getter. No matter how much or little in love with Katherine Parr he was, when Henry showed interest he was prudent (and survival-oriented) enough to step back. And when Henry died, he first tried to marry either of Henry's daughters, Mary or Elizabeth, before proposing to Katherine. (This princess marrying idea was immediately rejected by his brother Edward the Lord Protector, not surprisingly.) He even indulged in the lucrative ward trade, getting young Lady Jane Grey (Charles Brandon's granddaughter, btw) as his ward, with an eye of arranging a marriage to her cousin, his nephw Edward the boy king later on. And whatever went down between him and Elizabeth, he certainly, at the very least, risked her reputation by overly familiar horseplay (waking her up in bed by tickling her, cutting her dress to bits while his wife the queen was holding her) before his wife died when as her stepfather he should have guarded it, and his scheme to marry her when he was a widower behind the council's back could have easily resulted into her dying with him if Elizabeth hadn't shown her survival skills for the first time.

But my point is: anything Thomas Seymour did, Charles Brandon did as well. Charles simply did it more efficiently, and hence died in bed in full possession of all he gained, in an age where most people close to Henry VIII didn't, with Henry even insisting Charles should be buried at Windsor in St. George's chapel (so they'd be together after death). Meanwhile, the nicest thing anything could find to say about Thomas Seymour was Sir Nicholas Throckmorton who described him as "hardy, wise and liberal, fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter", though young Elizabeth's "today died a man of much wit and very little judgment" comment is better remembered. In other words, the guy lacked smarts, which certainly could be lethal in the Tudor age. But as to morals, I see no difference.
Reccommended to me as the best current Hitchcock biography around. Not having read the others - though of course I knew about Donald Spoto's The Dark Side of Genius (i.e. Spoto is to Hitchcock fans what Albert Goldmann is to Lennon fans) via pop culture osmosis, Spoto having been the one to launch the Director-as-Actress-Abusing-Monster interpretation -, I couldn't say whether or not it is the best, but it's certainly solid, if noticable biased on the pro-Hitchcock side. Some of McGilligan's points against Spoto are well earned, for example, this one about young Hitchcock's school days:

One notorious transgression was the dangerous practical joke presented by Donald Spoto as a tone-setting anecdote of his biography The Dark Side of Genius. As Spoto told the anecdote, Hitchock and an accomplice grabbed a younger student named Robert Goold and hauled him off to the boiler room, immobilizing him for a "carefully planned psychological torture", ending when the two depantsed Goold and pinned a string of lit firecrackers to his underwear. Goold told this story to Spoto and others over the years. Unfortunately, his recollection couldn't possibly be true; admission records show Goold entered St. Ignatius a full term after Hitchcock departed. Confronted with the contradiction in 1998, Goold realized that he was "wrong in ascribing the incident to him (Hitchcock)".

Game, set and match for McGilligan. At other times, though, his defense of Hitchcock isn't nearly as well founded, as when the biography gets to the wretched chapter(s) of Hitchcock's relationship with Tippi Hedren. "What if he was only joking" doesn't quite cut it. (Cunningly, McGilligan quotes previous Hitchcock leading lady Joan Fontaine on that one: "'I was with Tippi Hedren once on a CBS show', recalled actress Joan Fontaine, who could boast of surviving a similarly complicated relationship with Hitchcock, 'when she said he had propositioned her. Well, what he did was to see her Achilles' heel, and, knowing that pretty young actresses wanted to feel that he was a dirty old man, he would play it up. 'Yes, I must get into your bloomers, young lady', he would puff and growl. I can just see him leering at them in jest, but they never realized he was teasing them.' With all due respect to Ms. Fontaine, she wasn't present during the shooting of Marnie, and whether or not Hitchcock was teasing when she knew him, implying that Hedren (or anyone else) should have just handled it with a wink and an "oh that Hitch!" attitude is just wrong.)

What makes McGilligan's biography a great source, though, is that defensiveness of Hitchcock aside, he's thorough, especially with the collaborative process that is moviemaking, and very time, place and period evocative. Because this biography doesn't rush to to get to the point where our hero makes it to Hollywood but goes into great detail about his English youth and silent movie days, I learned a great deal that was new to me. As for example: the first film Hitchcock directed - after working his way upwards from advertising to script lettering to editing and set decorating to assistant director - on his own, The Pleasure Garden, was actually made mostly in Germany, in Munich, 1925, for the Emelka (a production company which tried to be a South German alternative to the Berlin based UFA), with young (as in: early 20s) Hitch, his future wife and life long collaborator Alma Reville (who came along as editor and assistant director, exactly the same age as himself - she was born one day after him, but had started working for the movies at age 15, five years before Hitchcock did) and a handfull others the only Brits involved. McGilligan is great in pointing out how international the silient movie era truly was (and could be because the actors weren't limited to the languages they could speak). So the Hitchcock/Reville team could work with a mostly German crew, Alma could take the actresses to Paris to buy their frocks, and once photography at the Geiselgasteig in Munich was done, everyone was off by train to Genoa, Italy for the outdoor shootings. Bear in mind here this was a first time director and his motley crew with not a big budget, not the later Hitchcock who could command millions from the studio. It must have been an incredibly exciting time for everyone involved, and it was followed up with another German film, The Mountain Eagle/Der Bergadler, where they got snowed in while working on the script in Obergurgl, Tyrolia. (Nice skiing area, btw, I've been there.)

McGilligan is very good throughout the biography in pointing out the importance of Alma's input, whether or not she was officially co-scriptwriting. (She stopped being credited after Capricorn, the failure of which gave her a crisis of confidence, but still mapped out, storyboarded and co-edited the later Hitchcock movies. McGilligan gives us some great examples of how that shared brainstorming of the Hitchcocks worked, because there were peope present to witness it for To Catch a Thief and the original plan for Frenzy, which wasn't the scenario Hitchcock filmed years later.) Which is why the ending for both of them is so heartbreaking to read - Alma suffered a series of strokes culminating in one when they were both 78 which crippled her, took away both her physical ability to move (and unlike her husband, she'd always kept fit) and some of her mind. He'd lost touch with the audience by then and only kidded himself, plotting movies that would never get made anymore, and Freeman with whom he plotted such a never-made-movie once observed them together when he and Hitchcock moved their plotting sessions from the studio to the director's home at Bellagio Road: 'He was showing off for her,' David Freeman recalled. 'Strutting his stuff. He was saying, 'Look, I can still do it. There's a future. There's going to be another movie. It's worth it to go on.'

But there never was, he drank more and more while sliding into senility, she was able to understand the world around her less and less, and then he died, with her surviving him for two more years and not knowing even that he was gone (according to their daughter, Alma would tell visitors "Hitch is at the studio. Don't worry, he'll be home soon".) I must admit that even bearing in mind how flawed Hitchcock was as a person, this made me maudlin and misty-eyed when I had finished the book.

With the decades that Hitchcock's career lasted, there is of course a very huge supporting cast in the book. McGilligan, on a mission to be anti-Spoto, points out that for every Vera Miles and Tippi Hedren, who got bullied and had to deal with a creepily possessive and vengeful director, there were Ingrid Bergmann (who adored him, stayed friends through the decades and was one of the last people to see him before he died), Grace Kelly (mutual adoration society) and Janet Leigh (found his pranks funny and remained fond of him post movie as well). (Also Anny Ondra, who was one of the first Hitchcock blondes and another case of "wow, it was a small movie world" for me because I know her name in completely a different context - she was an Austrian-Czech actress who later married Max Schmeling (he of the Louis/Schmeling boxing match); they were one of the few celebrity couples who never divorced and are in fact buried next to each other. Hitchcock was so fond of her that when the studio decided their next movie would be a sound one, which would have ordinarily cancelled her out because of her accent when speaking English, he insisted on Joan Barry dubbing her instead so he could keep Ondra as the star). Which is worth bearing in mind, but what McGilligan seems to ignore is that kindness to one person doesn't excuse or cancel out cruelty to another. Hitchcock's relationships with his male actors is also interesting to read about. He got along best with those playing villains (Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, and, against type, Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt) and classified a great deal of those playing heroes in his movies as "too weak" , with the notable exceptions of Cary Grant and James Stewart (not that he was best buddies with either, but he respected them); McGilligan points out, accurately, that Hitchcock got darker performances out of both Grant and Stewart than their usual screen persona allowed in other films. The famous "actors are cattle" quotation is duly examined (it's one of those quotes that everyone is sure the celebrity in question has said but nobody can trace down to a first use and source) and given context; what I hadn't known is that it was already (in)famous in Hitchcock's lfe time so he himself was asked whether or not he had said it, and believed it. With the result of Hitchcock writing an article - in 1940! - titled "Actors aren't really cattle": Silliest of all Hollywood arguments is between the school that claims to believe the actor is completely a puppet, putting into a role only the director's genius (I am, God forgive me, charged with belonging to that school) and the equally asinine school of 'natural acting' in which the player is supposed to wander through the scenes at will, a self-propelling, floating, free-wheeling, embodied inspiration.

(Three guesses as to what Hitchcock's reaction was once method acting got popular.)

Voluminous as it is, the book still leaves open questions, but I think in a fair way, i.e. the author acknowledges they are there but doesn't pretend to have the answers. Alma's whole pov on her marriage, for starters. She only gave a very few interviews in her life, and those almost exclusively dealing with her husband's films. Now, Hitchcock through the decades kept telling all and sunder that not only was their pre-marital relationship chaste (during their first German film, he didn't even know what menustration was until an actress told him she couldn't do a scene in the water because it was her time of the month - apparantly they didn't teach female biology at St. Ignatius) but that once their daughter Pat was born so was their post marital relationship due to him being impotent. ("Hitch without the cock" was a favourite pun.) (Most people McGilligan quotes seem to agree he got his jollies the voyeuristic and gossiping way instead, with the occasional tongue kiss launched at an embarrassed actress thrown in.) But, as McGilligan writes, If Hitchcock was sexually impotent, what about Alma? He could make wisecracks about his impotence, his lack of sexual activity, but what how did Alma feel? He could flirt with or try to kiss an actress, but what about Alma? Wasn't she a perfectly normal woman with a sexual appetite that wasn't satisfied?. In lack of any statement from Alma, McGilligan can only offer her co-writer Whitfield Cook's account who says they had an almost-affair, with their one and only attempt at making love interrupted, true movie style fashion, by a phone call from her husband. As to what she thought about her husband's relationships with actresses, full stop: no quotes exist, and thus McGilligan leaves it at "we don't know".

Other observations: actresses aside, McGilligan's partisanship is also noticable in any Hitch versus writers dispute. Hitchcock filmed a great many books but usually considered them just a springboard on which he build his movie, and the biography gives you the impression that the first thing he and Alma did was to take a few ideas from the book in question and then rewrite the story an dcharacterisations entirely. And McGilligan, being a fan of the end result, always considers whoever objected to this - be it David O. Selznick re: Rebecca where his memos frequently had the refrain of "go back to the book!" , John Steinbeck who wrote an unpublished novella that was to be the basis for Lifeboat (bye, bye, novella) or Raymond Chandler (who was supposed to adopt Patricia Highsmith's Strangers in a Train with Hitchcock; he and Hitchcock ended up developing such an hate/hate relationship that his treatments literally landed in the dustbin while Hitchcock went back to Alma, Joan Harrison and some more of his regular staff writers for the script) as in the wrong and not thinking cinematically enough. In this reader, this evoked a "Yes, but" reaction. I mean, I can see McGilligan's point - a book is not a movie, etc. But speaking as someone who often experienced a favourite book turned into a non favourite movie (not by Hitchcock, though), a little more empathy for the writerly side of things wouldn't have gone amiss!

Lastly, first a quote that amuses me and might you: Cary Grant didn't requite Hitchcock to pick out his wardrobe. Cary Grant gave grooming tips, and Hitchcock usually told him just to "dress like Cary Grant'.

And a favourite bit of trivia: Hitchcock loved the US, loved living there. But he also stood by his inner Englishman: Years later in Hollywood, when the slate board reading 24-1 went up, Hitchcock would murmur, "Hampstead Heath to Victoria", that being the route of the 24 bus in those days.

And with a whistle of "in spite of all temptations, to belong to other nations", I conclude this review.
selenak: (Alicia and Diane - Winterfish)
( Oct. 23rd, 2014 03:35 pm)
Due to having been on the road, I only got to watch this one now.

Well now... )
selenak: (Obsession by Eirena)
( Oct. 21st, 2014 08:37 am)
This was the season finale, right? It definitely felt like one. And I am ever so glad we're getting another season.

Some revelation is at hand )

In conclusion: definitely one of the smartest shows of the year, about complicated people and issues. So many pop culture stories treat WWII basically as the ultimate role playing game, clear cut good/evil issues, compromise with the other side impossible because the other side is bent on genocide and led by the embodiment of evil in the 20th century, therefore only dashing heroism on the Allies side. And so often it gets contrasted to the present with murky issues, endless wars, and ever shifting alliances and the impossibility to see anyone as the dashingly heroic side. Yet here is this show, picking up a very specific part of the homefront of the war seen as the "good war" in US public memory, and relates it directly to one of the most disturbing current day issues, the way state surveillance, "enhanced" interrogation and the giving up of liberties has become an accepted and even deemed necessary practice. Wow.
In which Goethe joins the ranks of OuaT writers, and given Regina's stated goal this season, this suddenly makes me think of crazy RPF crossovers. She'd be his type. Emma, otoh, would be Schiller's.

Hat der alte Hexenmeister sich nun einmal wegbegeben... )
selenak: (Default)
( Oct. 20th, 2014 07:15 am)
Dear Yuletide Writer,

I'm happy and grateful you're going to write a story for me. We must share at least one fandom, and I hope you'll have fun writing in it. The ideas in my requests are just that: ideas. If you feel inspired by another direction of story altogether, go for it, as long as it features the characters I requested.

General likes and dislikes: pretty ordinary. I don't like character bashing. (Or the bashing of a relationship in favour of another, but that hardly applies with my requests.) Not to be confused with whitewashing; some of the characters I asked so have canonically done some pretty apalling things, and you don't have to pretend they didn't, or that it was all someone else's fault, just because I love them. As long as they come across as three dimensional people with flaws and strengths, I'll be content.

Quiet character exploration or plotty tale, gen or slash/het/any combination thereof, humor or dark fic, canon or AU, it's all good, though unless you're one of those awesomely talented people who can write characterisation via sex, I'd prefer a story that's more than a PWP.
Now, as to individual requests:

The Americans )

Penny Dreadful )

15th Century RPF )

Bates Motel )

Armadale )
In case I haven't mentioned this before, I really like this season. Not without individual complaints, of course, but those always happen. In totem I haven't liked a Moffat season so much since s5. (There is a difference between liking individual episodes and liking an overal season.) I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but the dynamic between Clara and Twelve works for me, the Doctor's re-emphasized alienness works for me, and the way (present day) Clara suddenly came into her own constantly reminds me that in the utopian day when I have more time, I want to write an essay about Doctor-Companion combinations and why some Companions work with different Doctors (though in different aspects, like Sarah Jane), while others click with just one specific regeneration.

Now, on to Flatline, which definitely belongs into the "liked much, want to rewatch!" category of episodes for me.

To misquote Stephen Sondheim, exceptional is different from good )
Sometimes it really seems that the time between fannish expressions being coined and them being used in a way that's far from their original meaning gets shorter and shorter. The most prominent example being "Mary Sue" which after a gazillion people used it just in the sense of "female character I don't like" lost all its usefulness. Two or three days ago, I started to add "man pain" to the number, after reading a tweet wherein the writer of same talked about Steve Rogers' "man pain" in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."


Steve isn't even my favourite MCU character. Or comic book character. But. If there is one superhero who reliably puts saving people first and his own angst for later, it's Steve Rogers. This, btw, is something I like about him. "Man pain", as far as I know, was coined to signify a character (usually male, though I did see people use the expression for the occasional female character as well) making not only something bad happening to him but something worse happening to other people into fodder for his own angst, and his own drama. (Come to think of it, wouldn't the female version be the expression "white women's tears"? Though that one is strictly related to poc's fates being used as angst fodder for a white female character, which "man pain" is not.) Meanwhile, Steve throughout "Winter Soldier", where he gets a couple of shattering revelations both general and personal, never loses sight of what's most important (that would be: no fascist surveillance state taking out its enemies) while finding the time to comfort Natasha through her moment of of "what the hell was my life about?"' angst. The point where he whited for spoilersprioritizes Bucky isn't until Hydra is already defeated. When it's solely his, Steve's, own life n the line. Which he's prepared to sacrifice rather than kill his friend. But when everyone else's lives were still at stake, he did fight, and he did finish that mission. Again: if there's one superhero currently in the MCU who never prioritizes his own pain over anyone else's danger or pain, and who certainly does NOT make other people's tragedies about himself, it's Steve Rogers.

End of MCU Captain America Has No Man Pain rant.

Meanwhile, via [personal profile] lonelywalker, a fabulous interview with John Logan, the creator of Penny Dreadful, in which we find out that Vanessa Ives is a Wilkie Collins kind of heroine (of course she is!), the Ives-Murray abode in London is the bridge of the Enterprise, and Victor Frankenstein isn't likely to find out happiness in season 2 (naturally; he's Victor). Consider me more thrilled than ever we'll get more of this show.
selenak: (Raven and Charles by Scribble My Name)
( Oct. 17th, 2014 01:08 pm)
Briefly, re: multifandom news:

1) New Twin Peaks: Do not want. Leave well enough alone, I say. The second season has been pretty shaky already, and although the ending was great (in a completely mean way, of course), I can't see what a follow up would achieve that would improve on it. I'd rather not know for sure one way or the ther whether SPOILER ever managed to get rid of SPOILER. Or whether SPOILER survived. And that's leaving aside that a lot of what made Twin Peaks so charming and original back in the 1990s has been copied, quoted etc. ad infinitum ever since.

...Otoh, what do I know? I'd have said "do not want" about a Shining sequel, too. And Doctor Sleep turned out to be Stephen King's best book in years (not least because he ditched the first person narration of the last few again), which I wouldn't wanted to have missed.

2.) MCU does Civil War rumor: I'll believe it if it's a bit more substantial than, well, rumor. For starters, the whole Civil War premise makes no sense in the current MCU as it is - only a few superheroes who, after Captain America: The Winter Soldier, had their identities revealed to all and sunder. And that's before we get to the part where the emotional content of Civil War depends on these people having been friends for eons, not being a couple of new aquaintances who just started to get over hostilities.

And a vid rec from the X-Men films: A beautiful portrait of Raven/Mystique!


selenak: (Default)


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