Suspiria

Have you ever had the kind of dream where after you wake up, you can’t remember for a few minutes if those events really took place? As the fog of sleep retreats, you reassure yourself that the things which you have witnessed couldn’t be real. After all, you remind yourself as the sunlight chases away the shadows of night, there’s no such thing as witches.

Right?

Last night I was lucky enough to see an early premiere of the 2018 remake of Suspiria by Luca Guadagnino, and it felt like a three hour long waking nightmare. I went in with high hopes, having heard that the soundtrack was composed entirely by Thom Yorke of Radiohead and of course that Tilda Swinton stars in a double-role as the ominous dance teacher Madame Blanc and the elderly German psychiatrist-turned-detective Doctor Josef Klemperer. I am happy to report that this movie exceeded all of my expectations.

In remaking this movie, Guadagnino has turned a run-of-the-mill Italian horror film from the 70’s into an expression of anxiety about the nature of the world. And yet, fundamentally, this film is also an expression of hope that, although it may not seem like it at first, cooler heads will prevail. All will, inevitably, be well. It is just a question of how many heads need to explode before we get there.

If you are unfamiliar, Suspiria is the tale of a small town girl from Ohio who travels to Berlin in the 70’s to live and work at a renowned dance studio run by a variety of interesting women and headed up by the reclusive Mother Markos. The head choreographer Madame Blanc, played by Tilda Swinton, quickly notices Susie’s instinctual talent and begins preparing her for something bigger. Meanwhile, Dr. Klemperer, concerned following the disappearance of his patient Patricia who had also been a student at Mother Markos’ academy, begins to investigate the goings on at the insular school.

Because this is a spoiler free review, and because the movie doesn’t go to wide release until tomorrow, that’s as much of a plot summary as I am willing to give. However, I am going to discuss some of the themes of this movie (again, without going into too much detail), because at nearly three hours long, there’s a lot to unpack here.

One thing with which this movie is concerned is the power of love, and the different ways in which it can be exploited by those who wish to cause harm. Though this movie certainly puts love through its paces, I think again that its ultimate message is hopeful. Love can be abused, it says, but that in no way means that the solution is to stop loving. Rather, we must persevere and be brave with our love, so that we can use it to guide us through those harrowing trials which surely await us. The redemptive power of love is the one that wins out, not that perverse distorted abuse which may pass for love in the eyes of one who wishes to do harm.

Another clear theme which Guadagnino explores in this movie is the idea of art as magic. In the universe of this movie, and indeed in the universe in which most artists (myself included) would like to live, the energy and power generated by an expression of art (say, an animalistic dance) is equivalent to a certain magical power and can be used in occult rituals. Put another way, an artist’s work can have a measurable, noticeable impact on the physical world. Sure, the witches in Suspiria use their art mostly to dismember and kill people, but it stands to reason that the opposite could be true as well. I think this is as much of a utopia as anyone who creates will ever see. I know, 1970’s Berlin? A utopia? Well, bear with me here. If I may so bold as to presume I know the thoughts of every person in the world for a second. I would suggest that all anyone really wants is to know that their actions, be they positive or negative, have a measurable impact on the world. All anyone wants is to know that they can make a difference. And this is precisely what these witches offer the girls who study in the Mother Markos Dance Academy: a chance to shape the world. And again, though this film surely puts this hypothesis through its paces, the positive force eventually, inevitably, wins out.

The single aspect of this movie that, in my opinion, set the tone was the score by Thom Yorke. It’s available on iTunes and I highly suggest you give it a listen if you’re on the fence about seeing this movie, because it manages to evoke a sense of dread mixed with curiosity. You are afraid, but you want, need, to know more. This is exactly how I felt throughout the entirety of this movie. If you don’t want to shell out the 15.99 to apple, and honestly who can blame you, I recommend listening to Burn the Witch by Radiohead. Its rhythmic ambiance together with Yorke’s slightly incomprehensible vocals seem to evoke a similar feeling.

All in all, this film is a masterpiece. Containing especially great performances from Dakota Johnson and Chloë Grace Moritz, as well as the aforementioned double-role by the incomparable Tilda Swinton and a small appearance by Jessica Harper who starred as Susie in the original 1977 film, Luca Guadagnino has managed to create a horror film which somehow combines the tenderness and love he portrayed in films like Call Me By Your Name with a sense of intense dread.

I give this film 9.5/10 dancing witches.

Cross promotion babey

Remember that thing I said at the end of last post about how I’d be posting every week? Yeah, so that was a lie.

My very creative Chicago/Seattle/Ann Arbor friend Cecilia made a blog & you should check it out! It’s at randomqueerwritings.blogspot.com.

Also, I guess I’m doing nanowrimo this year so look out for that.

Ok, I’ll try to be back with something of substance tomorrow.

Rambling, Memories

I have always been slightly embarrassed by my enjoyment of classical music. I’m quite a self-conscious person, and I think there are certain conclusions which are drawn about people who enjoy classical music. Not that drawing conclusions is wrong, because quite often those conclusions turn out to be correct. Not that that fact alone justifies the act of drawing those conclusions, it doesn’t, but it does make it quite a lot easier to justify to oneself on those occasions when one finds oneself lying awake at night with a videotape of one’s most embarrassing moments playing on a loop in one’s brain.

Or maybe that’s just me.

All of that is by way of saying: I like classical music, but not in that way. Quite a prologue, I know, but hey, if you don’t come here for the witty asides and extensive digressions, then there’s really nothing left for you here.

What do I like about classical music? I’m so glad you asked, conveniently interrupting imaginary audience member. Mainly, I like the fact that it doesn’t have any words. I recognize that lyrics make up probably 50% of why most people listen to music, maybe more. And I am in no way disparaging lyricism. In general, I am a big fan of lyrics. The thing to understand though is that the main time I listen to music is when I am writing, and lyrics, no matter how beautiful, would distract my train of thought and make it generally very hard to finish typing a sentence, let alone a blog post. I should note, I don’t listen exclusively to classical music, even when I’m writing. Anything with no lyrics or lyrics that aren’t in English is fine with me. I’m looking at you, Enya. (A quick aside, but did you know Enya lives in an honest-to-god castle? Look it up). But when I do listen to classical music, probably ~75% of the time when I’m writing, I find myself going back to the same few songs by the same few artists. So I thought I’d share some of them.

The first song I really enjoy when writing is called “Spiegel im Spiegel” by an Estonian composer called Arvo Pärt. You might recognize this composition from any sad movie or documentary ever, because it gets used in all of them. But that’s only because it’s a very sad song. Or maybe it’s happy. It’s good, anyway. And it’s pretty long which is nice because then I don’t have to worry about changing the music every three minutes. That’s another advantage of classical music, often the songs are quite a bit longer than three minutes.

Because I’m nothing if not contradictory (no I’m not [that was a joke (no it wasn’t [yes it was (ad infinitum) ])]), here’s a classical song which is three and a half minutes long. It’s called “The Swan” and it was composed by noted French composer Camille Saint-Saëns [who, despite the name, was a man]. This was composed as part of a much longer work, but it was the only piece which Saint-Saëns deemed worthy to be performed in his lifetime. Or so Wikipedia tells me. I was very surprised when I first heard this piece, because of just how accurately (in my view at least) it evoked the image of a swan, swanning around on a lake. Usually, music named after an animal is hard pressed to evoke any image, due to the fact that it is music and not, say, a nice painting.

Classical music is not the main topic of this blog post, however misleading the above paragraphs may seem. I wanted to share two experiences I had at the College of Wooster where I was once a student. They are two memories that I cherish as two of the happiest points in my life, ever. They both took place during the one year that I was at the College which for those who may not know is located in the middle of Ohio, about a three hour drive from Ann Arbor (if you don’t get stuck waiting for a seemingly endless freight train to pass, which actually happened a lot).

The first memory is as follows. This must have been a Friday night. Possibly a Saturday night. I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter either way. We (that is, myself, my friend from Ann Arbor and a group of people he had introduced me to, who will probably henceforth be referred to as ‘friends’ so as not to write this out every time) had decided to go see a movie. The movie was ‘Arrival’, and it was pretty good. The movie isn’t the memory, though, the memory is what happened after the movie. Because we were a large group (maybe eight people) we had taken two cars to the movie, which finished around 1:30am (it was a midnight movie, as I recall). It was winter time, so by the time we got out of the theater it had begun snowing. Not heavily enough to restrict visibility, but heavily enough that the ground had begun to turn white. Those in our car elected to stop at a McDonalds on the way back to campus. That’s one positive about the College of Wooster: there are three McDonalds’ within walking distance. That doesn’t really apply to this memory though because we were driving. Anyway, that’s the memory: the McDonald’s parking lot, the snow, the friends.

The other memory is more solitary. It also took place at the College of Wooster, but this time in a dorm room. Specifically, the room of aforementioned friend from Ann Arbor. He had a single, because his roommate moved out after one semester. He transferred back to his home town. It was a shame because I liked him, but it was cool because then my friend got a single. So that kind of became the designated hang out spot. But again, in this memory I am alone in his room. It was nighttime, and everyone else had gone to some event. I don’t remember which one. I hadn’t wanted to go, so I stayed behind and watched Silence of the Lambs on my computer. It was dark in the room because I had turned the lights off, and it was raining outside and I had opened the window to hear the rain. That’s the second memory: the room, the rain, the silence of the lambs.

I don’t really know why I’m writing this, other than I want to have these memories recorded for posterity. Sorry if you didn’t enjoy this blog post, it was mostly for me. As a prize for reading all the way through, I’ll tell you that I’m aiming [read: I’ll try but bear with me because my life is kinda busy at the moment] for weekly posts on this here blog. Also, I think my mom’s work life would be perfectly adapted into a TV show so I might try writing one episode and see how that feels. So be on the lookout for that. Also I may or may not be writing a novella and it may or may not be a murder mystery and it may or may not be titled “The Spider’s Web”. Ok, that’s all for now. I’ll post again, hopefully, next week.

Politics

Before I get into the main purpose of this post, a quick update on the story that was promised and is still coming. That was the update, actually. I’m working on it. Expect part one on this upcoming Sunday 7/8/18, with one part each week for like four weeks and then a week break, which serves a dual purpose. From your perspective, it lets you catch up with the past few weeks, reread, etc and also lets any new readers catch up. From my perspective, it lets me write the next part. So, that’s the plan. As for the results of the poll, with 100% of the vote, the winner is an Agatha Christie style murder mystery. So look forward to that. And special thanks to the one person who voted in the poll, I do it all for you.


Hegel once wrote “World history is not the ground of happiness. The periods of happiness are empty pages in her”. I think it is a truth universally acknowledged that the times we currently live in are not altogether happy ones. This blog post will utilize an American perspective on American politics, but before I get to that, I want to take a brief world tour and show that, as ever, the world is bigger than America.

We will begin in the United Kingdom. As you may know, there was a vote on that fair isle in June of 2016 in which, by an incredibly narrow margin, England (and therefore the entire United Kingdom) voted to leave the European Union. I don’t want to spend this whole post re-litigating Brexit, but to put it briefly: although England (and Wales, which hardly warrants a mention) voted Leave, the other two countries which make up the United Kingdom, Scotland and Northern Ireland, voted to remain. But as is so often the case, England’s vote is the one that mattered. So as of the writing of this blog post, the UK is hurtling towards a hard exit date of 29 March 2019 with very little plan. Also, let’s face it: Theresa May is not great.

Moving on before I get too off track, let’s look at Germany. The German federal elections of last year were, to put it simply, disastrous from the perspective of the party of longtime Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. For one thing, her party won a measly 33% of the vote, with big wins going to the relatively new Alternative for Germany party which is essentially Germany’s response to the French National Front and far right extremist parties like it across Europe. Just to give you a taste of AfD’s platform, they are against gay marriage and gay adoption, they want to reintroduce conscription in Germany, and they are ‘climate change skeptics’. On top of that, Merkel’s CDU party is unlikely to be able to form another coalition government with the other dominant party, the SPD, and thus be unable to govern at all.

That’s all by way of proving that these are indeed not happy times. But now I’d like to turn to America, and spend some time discussing how our party system could be on the verge of a monumental change. My suggestion is based on two presuppositions: first, the Republican Party is dead, or will be very soon. And two, the Democratic Party is no longer a progressive party. Let’s take those one at a time.

First, the Republican Party is dead. I think if this current national embarrassment of a President has proven anything, it’s that the current Republican elite are more far right than center right. From barely-hidden white supremacy to nationalism that even Hitler would think was a bit extreme, this party is an exercise in extremism. Importantly however, I don’t think the problem is Trump. I mean, yeah, one problem is Trump. But another, bigger problem is that this party, which still laughably proclaims itself one of the two major American political parties, has been like this for, by my estimate, nearly 40 years now. Thirty seven years to be exact. And to save you the googling, that’s when Reagan was first elected President. That’s right, it’s time to talk about Reagan.

Political scientists often speak of the ‘Reagan Revolution’, but I think the term ‘Reagan Revelation’ might be more appropriate. This is because the true damage of the Reagan presidency was, in this wholly unqualified observer’s opinion, a certain celebration of populism. Reagan turned politics into a game of ‘who can appeal the strongest to the emotions?’. And sure, sometimes these are good emotions, like hope and joy and laughter, but all too often these emotions are hard for politicians to get enough political energy out of, so they move to the short-but-powerful emotions: anger, hate, fear. Think of these emotions as newspaper which has been lit. It burns easily, but for how long? This shift is what has allowed such extremism in the modern Republican party.

But the Democratic party is not blameless in this situation. This brings us to my second assertion: that the Democratic party is no longer a progressive party. I often find it helps to think of political parties in America as ‘The Progressive One’ and ‘The Old People One’. This is because, as I see it, a political party’s specific platform can only last about one generation. As a generation ages, it becomes as a whole more conservative. Therefore if young people join a political party when they are young, they will join and shape the more liberal, progressive of the parties available to them. As they age these people tend not to switch parties, instead electing to change the party platform to be more in line with their needs and desires. This is one of the many reasons that a two party system is a terrible idea.

In this specific case, it is the turn of the Republican party to attract all the young progressives and the Democratic party to become the more conservative one for a generation. But this time, something is different. As mentioned previously, the Republican party is tearing itself apart (thanks in part to Reagan and the populist politics he helped to popularize), and so the Republican party no longer is a viable political actor. It can’t be taken seriously. In effect what has happened is America has reduced its political party system yet again from two parties to one. This is bad. But don’t worry, I have a solution.

In my view, a new progressive party must form. Be it an existing one (the Socialist Party of America which has existed for 45 years) or a new one (some sort of Progressive Party, or even take a hint from England and form a Labor Party of America), this new party must be uncompromisingly radical and liberal.


If you’ve read this far, thank you. Here’s a video of a bunch of foreign people telling jokes in their native languages on a British talk show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0iaciZNojY.

John Steinbeck

I think if there was a case to be made that God was real and moved the hand of certain writers, the example with which the thesis would be driven home would be that of John Steinbeck. To put it simply, gosh this man could write. I was first exposed to Steinbeck’s writing in high school as, I assume, were most of you. But a half-hearted teenager reading the Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men not because they have a genuine interest in the themes or the time period but because they are being graded on it is a surefire way to turn someone off of a book. And that, if you’ll excuse my french, is a fucking disgrace. To relegate possibly the greatest writer in American history to the trash heap of a high school English classroom is unthinkable. So if you would be so good as to indulge me, let this serve as a reintroduction to the works of John Steinbeck.

The first Steinbeck novel I read of my own free will was East of Eden. I bought it from amazon on a whim, because I’ve always been interested in novels with Biblical themes, and everyone’s heard of Steinbeck. As it turns out, this is one of my favorite books. It ranks up there among the best chronicles of life in the American West, and it does so in a way that never drags or feels boring. It’s a truly enthralling epic of Biblical proportions, and it also contains some of my favorite dialog ever penned.

Consider the following: http://timshel.org/timshel.php

I’m currently reading Cannery Row, a book which is less interested in story and instead which seeks to chronicle a community, and I’m enjoying it greatly so far.

So next time you’re looking for something good to read, might I recommend Steinbeck?

 

 

 

Follow me on Twitter to be notified whenever I post: @patr2016.

The Inspiration Project

I’ve been getting kind of fed up with the negativity on social media (and in a larger sense, the Internet) of late (and in a larger sense, always), and so I’m going to be starting a new project on the ol’ website Namely, I’m going to be writing up people/places/things that inspire me or that I like, and sprinkling them into the regularly scheduled “posts that have a vague sense of sarcasm about them” that anyone who reads this blog (if anyone is out there) has no doubt become accustomed to. The first will probably be either Ben Franklin or John Steinbeck (they won’t all be people, and they certainly won’t all be straight white men). Expect it later today/tonight. Maybe. I’m not great at deadlines, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.

Decisions, Decisions

Time for some audience participation.

Would you prefer to see:

A: a sci-fi story set on a spaceship.

B: a murder mystery ala Agatha Christie

or

C: other

To respond to this poll, simply email your decision to responserecorder at gmail.com. If you choose ‘c’, please elaborate. The choice with the most votes in one week (11:59 pm EST 6/30/18) will be presented on this website in serialized format, one post every week for four weeks, then one week off to let people catch up.

I’m very excited to do this, so please share with anyone you know in order to get lots of responses to the poll. I don’t make any money off this website, I just like writing.

Also you can follow me on twitter if you want: @patr2016.

Chocolate Custard

Yesterday for Mother’s Day my brothers and I made dinner for my mom. I was in charge of dessert, and I made a nice chocolate custard. I’m putting the recipe here for two reasons: one, I wanted to share it in case anyone else wants to try it, and two , so that I don’t forget it. Ok.

You will need:

1/2 cup milk

two egg yolks

4 tbsp sugar

6 oz semisweet baking chocolate (I used Ghirardelli) [don’t use unsweeted]

4 tbsp butter, softened

Procedure:

First, add milk and sugar to small pot. Heat until milk is steaming and sugar is dissolved. Then, slowly pour into bowl with egg yolks in. Don’t go too fast or the eggs will scramble and that’s not what you want.  Once all milk is added to eggs, pour back into the pot and heat while whisking constantly for about two minutes. At this point, the mixture should be a lot thicker. Then, remove from heat. Add in chopped up chocolate and the butter. Mix until smooth.

You can refrigerate or serve hot, it doesn’t matter.

This recipe is enough for four small servings or two regular size servings. Plan accordingly.

The Boll Weevil, or A Case Study in the Resilience of the Human Spirit

I have something of a short attention span, and so I often find myself navigating to Wikipedia, clicking ‘Random Article’ a few times, and getting lost in the beautiful standardized formatting of Wikipedia.

So imagine my joy when I learned that there was a Firefox extension which redirects every new tab that you open to a random Wikipedia article. It’s like someone at Mozilla has a copy of my dream journal. That firefox extension is how I came upon today’s topic: the Boll Weevil, and specifically the Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, Alabama. Travel with me back in time…

<insert that wavy time travel flashback effect>

The year is 1918. The place? Rural Alabama. Understand, in 1918 Alabama was about one thing: cotton. If you so much as breathe a word about corn, God save you. If this economy was any more made of cotton, you would have to air dry it for fear of shrinkage. Enter… the Boll Weevil.

The Boll Weevil is a beetle which is indigenous to Mexico, but which migrated to Alabama and which by 1918 were wreaking havoc on the cotton trade in that state. Whole fields of cotton were being devastated by this pest. This is because the Boll Weevil not only eats cotton buds, but also lays its eggs inside of them. Thus when the larva hatch, they add to the destruction of the white fluffy lifeblood of the early 20th century American South. Well that and the Great Depression. If only FDR had focused more on the Bull Weevil! But I digress.

Rather than be discouraged by this terrible disaster, an enterprising Alabaman named H. M. Sessions saw an opportunity. He convinced a desperate farmer named C. W. Baston to plant and grow peanuts instead of cotton. The result of this risk was unmeasured reward. Not only was Baston able to pay off his debts, he sold his peanuts to other farmers who wanted to take a chance on this new wondercrop. It’s not that the farmers of Enterprise stopped planting cotton. Rather, they planted cotton AND new crops like peanuts. This is a concept commonly called “diversification” and it’s helpful in the case of, oh I don’t know, a pest which only preys on cotton? Just as one hypothetical example.

This moral tale was not lost on the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama. They recognized how close they had come to ruin, but instead of cursing the Bull Weevil they did something strange.

They built it a monument.

The monument appears thusly: on a podium stands a woman in a flowing white gown. Think classical Greece/Rome. The woman’s arms are outstretched above her head, and in her hands she holds a small cushion. And on that cushion sits a miniature version of the podium on which she stands. And on that miniature podium sits a Boll Weevil.

So if you ever get sad thinking about things that have happened to you, things that might not have been fair, times when you did everything right and still got a bad result. Just think of Enterprise and their statue, and remember: often it is only through adversity that we are empowered to do extraordinary things.