Archive for October 31, 2006

Honoring the Dead

On Halloween (also known as Samhain), Wiccans honor the dead.

We might grieve, or we might be at peace. It can be a solemn celebration, or a joyful one. We can honor our ancestral dead, our predecessors, our loved ones, our pets, friends, or heroes. The veil between the world of the living and the realm of the dead is thin at this time, and we can communicate with the other side. We can share a feast, make merry, weep, or simply remember. Tomorrow the veil will thicken, but once a year we walk the worlds together.

So, to my honored dead… » Read more..

Monday Movie Review: Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) 8/10
It’s about 1950 in the Pacific Northwest. When a fisherman drowns, murder is suspected, and the trial of Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune) brings up the history of racism against the Japanese community here, the damage wrought by internment, and the childhood romance between Kazuo’s wife Hatsue (Youki Kudoh) and Ishmael (Ethan Hawke).

The moral center of this movie is trite. Prejudice is bad, justice is good, and some wounds can heal. Wow. But That’s a wire frame on which to hang the coat of many colors that is Snow Falling on Cedars. Other than the thin structure of an unfair trial fueled by racism, there is little in this movie we’ve seen before. Japanese internment hasn’t been dealt with much in movies, certainly not as an element of a personal tale.

Snow Falling on Cedars is primarily a visual study of the way that memory works. It is full of imagery; beautiful imagery, horrific imagery, images that pop up out of sequence in the mind’s eye of the people haunted by them. Ishmael looks at Hatsue and sees their childhood together, sees their first kiss, sees her family taken away to the internment camp, all in a blur of memory and feeling. The memories are haunted, angry, frightened, and lost, but feeling is dampened; it is the images that dominate. The dampening of feeling is, I suspect, intended, and tied with the symbolism of a blanket of snow; it also prevents the film from being a soap opera.

Images provide questions as well as answers. Revelations, when they occur, are visual, except in the somewhat forced dénouement to the trial. We see a letter being written and read. Is it written sincerely, or under duress? We don’t know. We see memories…or are they fantasies? As a heavy blizzard falls, everything is shrouded in coldness and fog.

One revelation bothers me. Without revealing it, I still wonder if it was a revelation at all; if the filming cleverly hid something, or stupidly failed to show it. It was something I didn’t feel needed hiding, nor was the reveal particularly…revealing.

As usual, Ethan Hawke gives a passable performance that, while good, will never be studied by acting students. Youki Kodoh is extremely affecting, and Rick Yune does little but be stoical and very handsome (but he’s very good at that). Supporting players, including Max von Sydow, Celia Weston, and Sam Shepard, are impressive. But the star is the cinematography, and the way that the cinematography is edited together to create an impression, not of beauty, but of the memories of beauty. Everything here is bittersweet.

Event Report: Witch Festival, Smithtown, NY

I was pretty much floored by the New York Witch Festival.

Despite the fact that my host had described it to me, I had pictured something much smaller. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the right visual. I was expecting, I dunno, six speakers, twenty tables, a medium-sized room, a lot of schmoozing.

Instead, it was a huge ballroom with easily 200 tables. It was jammed with people, with vendors, with readers, with shiny distracting things. Jammed. Plus a steady schedule of workshops, live music, and a Samhain ritual.

My workshop went really well and was very full. I sold every book I brought with me (which wasn’t that many, but that’s because I don’t usually sell all that many, even at big events.)

Plus, I dunno, I was suddenly moved to be in Long Island, the birthplace of traditional Wicca in the U.S., the home of the oldest Gardnerian covens in the U.S., some of which are still running. I was touched by that; I felt rooted.

My smartest spammer

There’s a spammer out there who has a porn site. The thing is, he’s got this brilliant spam technique, where he leaves film star comments. His search engine finds references to certain movie stars, and then the spam is a note with an apparently meaningful comment about that star. So when I review a movie with Meryl Streep, I’ll get a remark about how great she was in The Devil Wears Prada.

When I look at my moderated comments folder, I can scroll quickly past most spam, because most of it is full of links, and has no plain text. But this guy’s porn links are only in his name, and his comments seem sensible. If you don’t pay attention, they get through.

…but if you click the name at work, BAM firewall. Tres embarrassing. So I moderate the name.

What Superhero Are You?

Your results:
You are Spider-Man

Wonder Woman
Iron Man
Green Lantern
The Flash
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Walking on fish

Sometimes you don’t know what a dream symbol means, but you’re sure it means something.

Last night I dreamt I was walking on fish. I was walking in a stream, and it was some sort of punishment or penalty or something, that I had to take this extra walk, and the stream is very shallow; ankle-deep, and my path is all these small pebbles. I see some tiny fish swimming past (downstream) as I walk uphill, and then I realize that some of the pebbles are the bodies of the tiny fish. No, all the pebbles are really fish. I dislodge a few from the path and they’re little silver-blue fish, about an inch long and kinda fat.

I wake up thinking, That’s got to mean something.

Friday Catblogging: Waiting for the door

I just love the way he sits at the door and waits. Fanty will mewl, but Mingo just sits there, like assuming that I’ll mosey along and open it for him.

Open sesame

In the City

I heard this amazing song on the radio. It’s called “In the City” by a band called Milton.

The lyrics describe the panolopy of experiences and sensations involved in walking in New York City. I felt moved by it, and I think no one has ever nailed down the contrasts quite so urgently and beautifully.

You know what’s great about the Internettubes? I couldn’t find the lyrics anywhere, so I looked up the band’s MySpace page and wrote to them and explained how moved I was and asked for the lyrics. They sent them! (Lyrics below the fold.)
» Read more..

Literary Interval

I interrupt your regularly-scheduled blog for this literary interval.

I am currently reading The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I came to this sorta backwards, having loved Brick, and noticed that it was practically a remake of Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, and then Brick’s writer-director said his biggest influence on the film was Hammett, and there it was in the bookstore, so…

What is remarkable about this book is how fresh and modern it sounds. Sometimes I pick up an older book and I feel like I’m plodding through an earlier style of writing that doesn’t agree with me. F. Scott Fitzgerald does that to me. So does Ian Fleming, but I put up with it because it’s important to me. But Hammett is immediate, lively, and sly. He’s stylized without being overblown, he’s dialogue-heavy without being melodramatic, he’s funny but not ironic. The whole thing breezes by and it’s wonderful.

I am definitely going to read more Hammett, and also give Raymond Chandler a try.

Ignorance in the face of victory

Today, the New York Transit Authority settled a lawsuit with a transgendered woman. She had been arrested three times for using the women’s bathroom in the subway (she works for Verizon and was repairing payphones in the subway).

When I heard this story on the morning news, they chose to devote a lot of airtime to some “woman in the street” interview spewing a lot of ignorance. Seriously, they give major news ten seconds and this woman was quoted twice, for a total that must have approached a half a minute.

First, she blathered about how “they” shouldn’t be in the “wrong” bathroom and so on and just basically expressed her discomfort with the whole notion of transgender. And then she said how the obvious solution was to have them use the bathroom for their “real” gender.

Right. Because it would be so much more welcome for a woman to show up in the men’s room. That would definitely go over better. Geez Pete, even if you insist that a transgendered woman is “really” a man, how thoughtless do you have to be not to envision the kind of problems, including violence, that would ensue?