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.

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.

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.

On Books, and Classics

For the past few days, I’ve been re-reading (or rather, listening to) “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and it got me thinking about so-called classic books. But let me first say, this is not going to be a hate post about TKAM. I think it’s a fantastic book, and this revisit, my first in what must be four years, has all but confirmed my suspicion that this book is a classic for a reason. With that said, I’d like to examine the idea of a classic book. What makes a book classic? But before I do that, I just have to write this so it’s out of my head:

F U C K   A U N T  A L E X A N D R I A.

In fact, I kind of want to write a separate post about TKAM, so be on the lookout for that. Or don’t. You don’t exist, so it doesn’t much matter.
Oh, and just in case someone sees this later, I write that because I don’t expect anyone to read this not because I’ incredibly solipsistic.

OK, classic books.

Let’s tackle this one question at a time: What makes a book classic? An oft-propagated theory in this regard is that classic books are defined simply by age. The older the book, the more classic. In order to test this theory, I’ll perform an experiment through the medium of text. Which of these books, dear nonexistent reader, do you think is more of a classic: The Code of Hammurabi or the Old Testament of the Bible? Common knowledge would tell you that it’s the Bible, one of the most important and influential books in Western civilization. However, according to this test, it would be the ancient law code of the king of Mesopotamia Hammurabi. I think I’ll probably leave that argument there and move on to the next possibility.

Perhaps, if not the age of the book, then its length, width, difficulty in reading, or some other physical attribute is the decider of quality. If any of those were the case, then one would expect that something like the phone book would be the most famous book in the history of man. As it happens, it is not. Far from it, in fact. Well, then let’s move on.

OK, so here’s what I believe (prepare for thesis statement): it is my belief that a book is a classic if and because it answers, or attempts to answer, a question which is inherent in the nature of humanity. Let me give some examples of the type of question I mean.

“What is the nature of justice?”

“Why are some people evil and others good? That is, asking after human nature.”

“What is the meaning of life?”

“Why are some people prejudiced/xenophobic?”

“What is truth?”

“Does God exist?”

… and so on.

Harper Lee’s 1960 M A S T E R P I E C E “To Kill a Mockingbird” addresses and attempts to answer at least two or three of these questions. However, I think the most important statement made by Harper Lee is this: please don’t be condescending to kids, they’re a lot smarter than they are often given credit for.

But before I get into that, I’ll make a separate post all about this book.

That’s all for this one.

11.19.1942 Camp Robinson, Arkansas

This is the first of the letters sent from my mom’s dad to his mom that I have. There may be earlier letters not in my possession, and if so I will update this. Included with this letter are three somewhat faded pictures. The first is a small photograph of, I think, Jack’s mother. The second picture shows the Eiffel Tower up close. The third is a picture of what I believe to be the Arc de Triomphe. The letter itself is written on one sheet of yellowed military paper. The return address on the envelope reads (slashes denote new line) “Pvt J F (his last name) (32556742)/ Co “C” 108th Med. Tr. Bn./ Platoon #1 U.S. Army/ Camp Robinson, Ark.” I translate this as “Private (his name) (I have no idea what these numbers are)/ Company “C” 108th Medical Battalion/ Platoon #1 U.S. Army. Camp Robinson, Arkansas”. The letter was sent to “Mrs. M.J. (her last name)/ 17 Bostwick Ave./ Jersey City, N.J.”. The letter is transcribed below, spelling is preserved from the original.

—————————————————————————————————————
Dear Mom:
I just received your letter with the two buck in. Gee I never thought you would return the two bucks. I had a feeling that you were a sure thing for the Saturday Night Bingo. If not for the “Jack-Pot” surely the “Round Robin”.

I know your only kidding when you say that you aren’t going yo play Bingo anymore. I’ve heard that too often to believe it. You know way down deep inside that you can never trust that enticing game. Remember what Barnum use to say “There’s a sucker born every minute and two to play Bingo”.

In one of your recent letters you asked me if I needed any money. Well it’s a fact that we don’t make much money but it’s also a fact that we don’t get much time to spend money. When we do get the chance, we discover that everything we buy is very cheap. Like the movies. We can go to one of the camp theaters and see a double feature for only 15 cents. The pictures are all new too.

Another funny thing is church. When I went to my first Sunday Mass in this camp the Chaplain told us not to leave any money in the church. If we did he would get very peeved. All the magazines and telegram papers in the back of the church are free. There are also prayer books, rosarys, crucifixes and medals free for the taking.

This Chaplain is one of the most interesting men I’ve ever heard preach. He has been all over the world and the little religous tales he tells us are from actual things he has seen or picked up on his travels. (a big change from Sacred Heart, eh mom)

Now about the O.C.S. I’m not going to try for it just yet. There are a lot of reasons why. One is my age,another is I lack the experience. You see if I was an officer I would have to stand in front of a bunch of troops and give orders. The Preparatory School is more or less based on a fellows ability to give commands. If you flunk the Preparatory School you lose all chance of ever trying the O.C.S. So since I lack a lot of army experience I think it is best for me to wait a while. If I want I will always be able to try later. And I will do so when I think I have developed sufficient capabilities.
Love,

Jack