Lost and Delirious and Show Me Love

While home yesterday, laying in bed with a sinus infection and headcold from hell, I watched a lot of tv, including Lost and Delirious and Show Me Love. Spoilers for the movies follow.

I hope everyone reading this remembers the emotions portrayed in these films. Not the steady, day-in-and-day-out love of established relationships, no. That gut-twisting, breath-stealing drug we call “falling in love.” That thing that makes Agnes smile fondly at Elin, even while their classmates pound on the bathroom door for them to come out. That thing that makes Paulie dress up like k.d. lang and ask Tory to dance. That thing which makes acts of madness seem plausible, sensible, and well-reasoned. And then there’s the dark mirror of falling into insanity — the betrayal. That is a crazy that leaves a mark. When the one your entire heart and body ache for mocks your passion and turns you away.

I hope everyone remembers that feeling because sometimes it’s the only explanation for insanity. Anges makes a (thankfully half-hearted) attempt at suicide after Elin’s friends mock her. Paulie succeeds in killing herself after Tory’s final rejection. But even discounting these love-driven acts, there are the lesser moments of insanity. Agnes shouts insults at Viktoria. Paulie not only fights a duel, but gets into screaming arguments with her teachers.

Surely we all have done insane acts. Insanity fueled by a chemical soup poisoning our judgment and spurring us to leave our families, move to a new town, and reproduce with strangers. Insanity driven by that unreasonable thought, “if she just knew how I feel she’d love me back!”

In the name of infatuation and it’s twin, rejection, I have written poetry. Written fanfic. Written original stories. Shorted myself on sleep. Walked unnecessarily in rain and snow. Driven places I didn’t want to go. Forgotten to eat. Burned mementos. Buried mementos. Flushed mementos. Spread lies. Spread truths. Sabotaged the relationships of others. Sabotaged my own relationships. Failed homework assignments. Missed work.

None of these things seem that extreme, which, frankly, I think is good. But I remember the moment, I remember doing some of those things, and I remember the feeling that I might very well die right there on the spot if this person I so desired did not look at me kindly. I remember the feeling of seeing that person happy with someone else. It’s a tribute to the actors I remember those feelings when I watch Lost and Delirious and Show Me Love, and I’m glad I remember.

And I am more grateful than I can possibly explain, that I am no longer fifteen years old.

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Character design and The International

Now, granted, I tried to watch this while half-dozing and not feeling well. But I still thought that, for an international espionage thriller, it was as boring as watching paint dry. I like Clive Owen, I like Naomi Watts. I like Naomi Watts a lot. Yet I found nothing in this to compel me towards the lead characters.

Clive walked and ran around looking intent, sweaty, and sort of dirty. Oh, and angry. Watts walked around looking intellectual and weirdly distant. Weird because she was supposed to be playing a passionate district attorney. The supporting cast of sinister bad guys all looked alike. I had trouble remembering which dark-haired white guy with an accent was supposed to be a bad guy, a good guy, or a traitor.

See, that’s one of the strengths and weaknesses of the Hollywood casting system. In a movie, we gets a few minutes to fix in our heads who each character is and what their relationship. Often the characters superficially look alike. We in the audience rely on clothing, hairstyles, voice qualities, body language, dialog, and a host of other things to tell us who a character is. We also rely, strongly, on character actors.

I love character actors. They are an amazing mental shorthand for filmmakers. I wish more people would use the power of the character actor. Character actors make it easier for an audience familiar with films to slot the characters into position, to remember who is who. More importantly, character actors cue the audience as to how we are supposed to feel about the character. Whether we’re supposed to trust them or not, whether they mean well or are sinister.

When I watch movies made outside the U.S., or with actors outside Hollywood, I find there’s a steeper curve of understanding for me. I lack the cues of clothing and hairstyle that tell me things about social class and education. None of the faces stand out very much, and I can’t keep track of which character is which. These hurdles can be overcome, of course, by paying close attention, or by re-watching a part to catch someone’s name again.

I wonder, though, how universal this experience is. Whether this is part of what keeps audiences away from foreign films and unfamiliar casting. It’s not that we wouldn’t like the story, it’s that the difficulty threshold is too high to be fun. Is this audience laziness? Is it laziness on my part?

Probing at this brings into question the entire purpose of filmed storytelling. On one level, it is the job of the filmmaker to make everything in the movie as transparently easy for the audience as possible — except the part of the movie the audience is supposed to pay attention to. In a mystery, everything should be easy for the audience except the question of who did it, and why. In a romantic drama everything should be easy except the question of how the lovers will be torn apart this time. In an action film everything should be easy except the question of whether the hero will overcome his past trauma to engage the crisis one more time. While I’m watching the lead hero and villain negotiate across the bomb, I should not be wondering whether the villain was the same guy who poisoned the reservoir or not.

But that still doesn’t answer the question — is the reliance on character actors and familiar faces to convey meaning a boon or a problem? Does my reliance on it make me a lazy viewer? Does a filmmaker’s refusal to use familiarity as a tool for easing the viewer’s entry into the story make them a bad filmmaker?

I can think of foreign films that leaped this hurdle with ease. Run Lola Run was a great film and incredibly easy to watch. Femme Fatale is a Brian De Palma film with a cast I largely did not recognize, yet I had no trouble following the cast and story. Luc Besson’s movies feature international casts with whom I am frequently unfamiliar, yet I love them. Is this because Besson uses some sort of “Hollywood sensibility,” — I’m not even sure what that means — to make his films accessible to me? Or is he just a good filmmaker, better than some others at establishing characters and scene?

Characters design is crucially essential, regardless of medium. In the submission I sent off to SLG this week, they ask for a sheet of character design. In an interview I recently heard with Paul Levitz, he described the differences between writing scripts for comics and animation, and the impossible-to-undervalue contribution of the voice actor to character design in animation. When I was fangirling people at Baltimore Comic-Con, one of the things I thanked them for was good character design. In the most recent Detective Comics, Cully Hamner drew a panel of a room full of unidentified Mexican women the audience has never seen before — and they all look different from each other. Kudos to you, Mr. Hamner. That one panel did a better job for character identification for me than the entire first hour of The International.

Hmm. Sinus infection, cold, or flu?

I feel crappy. See title of post for my theories.

1. Today’s Fantastic Fangirls’ post discusses the misogyny of the Baltimore Comic-Con Costume Contest. I was there, and it was as described. I draw your attention, though, to the comment by Matt, sixth down. He suggests that the solution is to raise little girl geeks to be a part of fandom from a young age. Any thoughts on this?

2. Comics today were delightful.

3. I watched the first half of The International because it has Clive Owen and Naomi Watts in it. I didn’t finish it, which says something either about the movie or my attention span, because I really like those two actors.

4. This TechCrunch report on the Motorola Droid makes me happy. My Moto Q has been a loyal, reliable companion for a couple years now.

Quick link round-up for Tuesday

I’m writing this Monday night, before I go into work. I’ll work all night, then come home and sleep all morning. But I don’t want to forget the linkspam I meant to post today. I know, I know, no thanks necessary — I know you all are pining for linkspam from me.

1. Over at InsaneJournal, the_willow posted a thoughtful piece of analysis on the popularity of Twilight and, by extension, urban fantasy.

“Edward / Bella is the romantic story of the century (at least right now contemporarily) because the heroine is aware of, and is allowed to feel her own desire and have her own sexual wants outside of the social act of the new female/feminine performance of pretty and the hero gives a damn about it.

But that’s not the creepy part. The creepy part is that suddenly the Urban Fantasy genre, despite its, to me, soft core presentation, begins to make sense/be feminist/seem political. These characters are women in leather with guns who allow themselves to feel both arousal and power.”

The comments are also thought-provoking.

2. xkcd did a tribute to GeoCities today, on the day the GeoCities was being erased. I’ve linked, but I doubt the webpage will look the same today. (Is there a cache of this anywhere, for posterity?) I was immediately nostalgic. I remember spending hours drifting through GeoCities, looking for fanfiction. There was this Babylon 5 archive, somewhere . . . .

3. The International Yuletide Candy Swap has started. Sign up and get random winter holiday candy from a foreign country, in exchange for you similarly gifting someone else.

4. The preliminary report from the NTSB on Northwest 188 has come out. Apparently the pilots were having a serious discussion about the new crew schedule signups. They both pulled out their laptops (which is against company policy) and began checking out the scheduling procedures. They were listening to the radio on loudspeaker, and heard a lot of chatter, but didn’t hear their call sign because they were busy. The flight attendant knocked on the cabin door at five minutes to scheduled landing, asking for an update. At that point the pilots contacted center.

Apparently the DEN, the Domestic Events Network, was a bit peeved when this happened on Wednesday night. I am glad I’m not either of those pilots.

You know, it doesn’t work that way

I’ve been wearing these gloves at work, the last week or so. Awesome hand-knit fingerless gloves, made for my by a friend who understands that sometimes you just need black fingerless gloves. I’m wearing them at work because a chilly draft blows out from the computer consoles at all times. Part of the environmental controls, you understand, ensuring that the radar screens don’t overheat. This is all fine and good, but my hands get cold.

So I’m wearing these gloves. And, in my head, I feel vaguely bad-ass. Not super bad-ass, you understand, but vaguely bad-ass. In my head, fingerless gloves are things drummers, bikers, and mercenaries wear. They are, in short, pretty cool.

So I’m wearing these gloves. And I catch sight of myself in the bathroom mirror, and I have to laugh. Because, lo and behold, I do not magically look like Mary Stuart Masterson at age twenty. I look like me, in my jeans-and-a-t-shirt, except I’m wearing knit handwarmers.

So, I’m wearing these gloves, still, today, even though I in no way whatsoever look like a bad-ass, because they do keep my hands warmer, and I’m pondering the power of the totem item. These gloves are not the first time in my life I’ve worn, carried, or wanted some specific item because of the power it carried in my head. I recall the first such item, in fact — a neon green sleeveless shirt. Why, yes, it was 1986. The shirt looked just like one from Jem and the Holograms, and I loved it. I only wore it once, though — no-one else at my junior high seemed to recognize the power of the shirt. When I wore the shirt, I was not more confident, with longer, dyed hair, and I could not suddenly play in a rock band. I was at a loss as to why these things were not true.

There have been a host of such things in my life. In high school I bleached part of my hair, in honor of Rogue and Polgara. It didn’t have the effect I’d hoped for. In the photos of me at the time, I still look like me. Me, with a blond streak. In college I shaved one side of my head and braided five little teeny braids, intertwined with circuitry wires and beads. I did not find myself suddenly able to hack the global internet via my cranial jack — nor could I suddenly play Celtic drums and call up the urban Fair Folk. I wore Dr. Marten’s boots for years. I never managed to become a bad-ass British punk, though.

In all the photos through all the phases, you’ll see the incongruity of the totemic item. The boots, or the leather jacket, or the bracelets, or the pocket knife belt sheath, or whatever. The totemic items stand out because I always look the same. A little fatter every year, certainly, and the length of the haircut changes. But it’s always me — jeans, t-shirt or buttondown shirt, glasses. Me grinning at the camera regardless of how alienated or antisocial the characters I admire are. I was and am always me — a geek who loves, passionately, a host of different worlds and people, pasts and futures. But who ultimately is not interested in losing what I am in order to become someone new.

I wanted to be seen as punk rock. But I certainly didn’t want to drop out of my prestigious liberal arts college and make a living as a dishwasher. I wanted to be seen as cyberpunk. But I didn’t really care about computers or hacking at all. I wanted to be seen as mystical, magical. But I couldn’t actually bring myself to believe in Wicca, The Otherworld, faeires, or ley lines. I was — and am — too pleased with my life as it is to be willing to relinquish any of it in exchange for membership.

The transformations never worked the way I thought. They never worked because I was never willing to throw away who I was in order to be someone else. I wanted a day-pass, a return ticket. I wanted to dabble in identity. I was — and am — that thing so loathed by members of a culture. I’m the tourist.

Sunday morning rushes about

In no particular order, a list.

1. The common consensus at my workplace is that we have no idea how the two pilots of a Northwest flight forgot to land their plane. We don’t know if they were asleep, or fighting, or having sex with each other, or what. We also don’t know why the flight attendants didn’t bang on the door earlier. The only insight being in my profession gives us all is that we sit around and tell stories about previous famous aviation accidents. (None of which I’ve personally worked.)

2. M’s reading has improved by leaps and bounds in the last month. It’s flat-out awesome, watching him get it.

3. The supervisors at my workplace are bidding for which area they are in, in a facility-wide bid. This is causes much stress and anxiety, in a “who moved my cheese?” sort of way. Nobody likes not knowing who they are going to work with.

4. I have very mixed feelings about my 11-7 shifts. I love getting up with my family and getting ready in a leisurely fashion. And I love getting home in time to put my kids to bed. But I get nothing else done that day except work. Well, and a couple loads of dishes, let’s not forget those.

5. I’m re-reading Connie Willis’s Bellweather. This is a fantastic book about the history of science, the origin of fads, “Pippa Passes,” falling in love, the inscrutability of inspiration, and the stupidity of sheep. Highly, highly recommended.

Atypical Saturday

J has an all-day choir rehearsal today. She’s already left for it, so I am home this morning with the kids. We’re doing school now, then lunch, then I will take them to K’s flamenco class. After flamenco I’ll haul them over to J’s choir rehearsal, then head off to work. The timing *should* all work out.

It’ll be nice to see K’s class. I haven’t seen her dance in over a year, and I’m looking forward to it. Also, in a really nice move, one of K’s friends from Circus has joined her flamenco class. And said friend’s brother comes along to play with M. So everybody gets something out of the arrangement. This, by the way, is a short video of my daughter’s class.

It snowed yesterday. Snowed. And today it’s supposed to be warmer again. Sigh. I had to get my snow-brush out of the trunk and *use* it yesterday. I’m not emotionally prepared for this!