Monday, October 29, 2012

A Silent Difference

One of the first movies dealing head on with the subject of homosexuality was the 1919 silent film Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others). It was created in Germany during the Weimar Republic as a direct response to Paragraph 175, a sexual deviance law that was enacted in 1871 (and wasn't removed form the books officially until 1994).

The film tells the story of violin virtuoso Paul Körner who falls in love with one of his male students, Kurt Stivers, but they fall victim to a devious blackmailer named Franz Bollek who threatens Paul with exposure as a homosexual if he doesn't pay Bollek's price. When Körner refuses to pay, Bollek breaks into his house but is caught in the act by Körner and Stivers. During the ensuing fight, Stivers learns that Bollek was the one blackmailing him as well and, unable to deal with the situation, he runs off.

Stivers' family doesn't understand why their son has run off, and when Körner attempts to console the family, he discovers that Stivers' sister Else has fallen in love with him. In order to make her understand about his life and that of her brother, he presents her a ticket to a lecture from Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a leading sexologist who feels that homosexuality is normal.

Nothing goes Körner's way though, especially after a hearing concerning Bollek's break in. Körner finds himself shunned by the public, and his concert promoters release him from his contract. Unable to deal with the state events, he takes his own life.

A fairly standard conclusion for a gay man in the movies, but the fact that Dr. Hirschfeld (who co-wrote the script and financed much of the production) determines to show that gay men and woman are natural parts of society and should not be shunned. Plus, the movie shows the inside of a gay bar, with same-sex couples dancing and holding each other. Quite impressive for the time.

The film was censored shortly after it was released and was thought to be lost. The DVD I saw was a reconstruction pieced together from what film reels they could find, photographic stills, censorship cards, and other means. It's definitely worth checking out if you're into movie and/or lgbt history.

German poster for Anders als die Andern. {{PD-1923}}, {{PD-GermanGov}}.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Quickie Book Review: Nightwood

by Djuna Barnes

I'm slowly working my way through the list of books that appear on Publishing Triangle's Top 100 Best Lesbian and Gay Novels. More than halfway through the list, and the difficulty with finding some of these titles increases. Luckily I found a copy of Djuna Barnes' Nightwood (#12 on the list) earlier this year, thanks to a reprint of the title in 2006.

In a roundabout way, the story focuses on Robin Vote, a young woman seemingly dissatisfied with the world around her. He story unfolds through the eyes of the three people most profoundly connected to her: her husband "Baron" Felix, Nora Flood, and Jenny Petherbridge. With the Baron, she Robin hoped that marriage and, eventually, a child would settle her restlessness, but the night and its mysteries continually called until one night she walked out the door never to return. Her next attempt at stability comes from a young woman named Nora, and at first, their life together appears wonderful. But the restlessness returns, and after one of her frequent and long-lasting disappearances, Nora spots her in the garden of their home with another woman. This other woman, Jenny, latches herself onto Robin like a leech. She becomes so obsessed with Robin that she connives her way into constantly being in her presence. Again, the restlessness takes hold, and Robin rebels in the only way she knows how: by flirting with a younger woman in front of Jenny.

Another character is privy to much of these goings on: Dr. Matthew O'Connor. Finding himself the sounding board for the Baron and Nora to try to understand Robin, he paints a dark and gloomy picture of love -- especially the kind of love that Robin offers.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this novel. The story actually begins with a brief history of the Baron and how his phony title came about. Once Robin stepped into the picture, I thought the story would focus on their relationship -- which it did, if almost too briefly. The novel then shifts focus to Robin and the disastrous effect she has on Nora and Jenny, and I was left wondering about the purpose of revealing the Baron's history. I also wasn't a fan of the dialogues from the good doctor. They rambled quite a bit, using conjuring strange images that didn't make much sense to me, and more often than not, I had to re-read those sections three or four times and still am not satisfied that I understood them.

The whole book felt uneasy, unpleasant, and not altogether complete. I don't know that I would have sought this story out if not for the List.

Nightwood
by Djuna Barnes
A New Directions Book
trade paperback, 182 pgs.

purchased book

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mid-Week Music

VanVelzen is a Dutch-born singer-songwriter and a judge on the original Dutch version of The Voice (which inspired the US version). He has a great voice, and I'm actually surprised he hasn't caught on here in the States.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What To Write?

My writing hit a dry patch recently -- both for blogging and for fiction writing. Maybe "dry patch" isn't the correct term. I think of ideas, but lately sitting down to write anything has felt more like a chore. I'd much rather pick up a book or plop myself down in front of the TV with a game controller in my hand. I tell myself that I will write something tomorrow, then tomorrow comes, and I re-tell myself the same thing. Like a mantra. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow....

I'm hoping this is just temporary.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

inFAMOUS

Video games are not my friends. Too many times, I'm happily playing along, sending demonic ghosts back to their graves or smashing murderous teapots with glowing red eyes and boiling tea shooting from their spouts, when I hit an impasse. The ghosts gang up on me or the teapots boil me alive continually, and no matter what I try, I can't get through that one scene to move the game along. My frustration grows, sometimes to the point of wanting to hurl the game discs out the window into oncoming traffic. Instead, I move on to another game until I reach a similar scenario.

(Right now, five games are gathering dust because of this....)

I received another game for my birthday and started playing it. And, surprisingly, I have yet to find myself stuck at any point. The game is called inFAMOUS and takes place after an explosion rocks most of Empire City. In the aftermath, the main character, a bike messenger named Cole McGrath, somehow picked up the ability to channel electricity, and now he's on a mission for the government to find a missing soldier trapped somewhere in the city. The problems: most of the remaining citizens fear and distrust Cole; junkies and other bad guys morphed into terrifying creatures called Reapers that will stop at nothing to destroy you -- and are continually vomiting, which is kinda gross; and Cole's girlfriend wants nothing to do with him, blaming him for her sister's death.

The coolness of the game? Cole is a parkour master, scaling five, six, seven story buildings with ease, zipping from rooftop to rooftop using electrical cables, falling great distances without injury, can drain electricity from cars, lightposts, and generators, and shooting lighting blots from his hands. And, I've reached certain levels so that Cole can now heal people, restrain them for the police, or suck the bio-energy from them. AWESOME!

So far, I've secured almost half the city (via my two-hour, almost daily sessions of gameplay) and am enjoying the variety of missions that Cole must complete. Some move the story along -- such as what I'm in the middle of now, trying to find and shut off the city's water mains that are pouring a black, hallucinogenic tar into the drinking system; some help to secure sections of the city from the Reapers; and a third set are offered in pairs, facing Cole with a moral decision -- do good or follow the path of Evil. Choices made with these missions affect the rest of the game, especially how the citizens react to you.

The graphics are amazing -- Empire City itself is a gigantic environment that still surprises me when I uncovered things such as the dark sewer system, or the underside of a bridge that I had to cross early in the game. The world just keeps growing and growing, and I'm barely halfway through.I haven't been this interested in a game since the first four installments of the MYST series.

Image from JacobMetcalf Flickr Photostream, CC BY 2.0.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Quickie Book Review: Spiral

by Koji Suzuki

To keep his mind occupied so as not to continually stray toward the thoughts and nightmares about his son's drowning, Ando throws himself into his work performing autopsies. One evening, a surprise awaits him on his operating table: the body of a former classmate and rival, Ryuji Takayama. At first glance nothing seems wrong with Ryuji except that he died from a heart attack. Cutting him open reveals just that: a tumor obstructing an artery in the heart cutting off blood flow. What troubles Ando the most, though, is the odd patch of an unknown white substance found in Ryuji's throat. He'll just have to wait for the test results for the answer to that little mystery.

Ando sews the body back up, he notices a strip of newspaper sticking out from one of the sutures. It contains a series of numbers, and believing that perhaps Ryuji may have discovered some way to communicate from beyond the grave, sets to work trying to decrypt the numbers. Back in school, he and Ryuji would challenge each other with such cyphers, and after some perseverance, Ando comes up with the word "Ring".

He should know what the word means, but nothing clicks into place until he discovers more bodies that died under similar circumstances to Ryuji: a tumor blocking an artery and a mysterious white patch in the throat. As Ando researches the deaths, he uncovers the story of a video tape which caused its viewers to die after seven days, and he realizes that he must find that video and destroy it. When he does find it, the tape has been altered, changing the nature of the Ring virus and forcing Ando to make an horrific choice before the story ends.

Spiral (Rasen) is the sequel to Koji Suzuki's novel Ring (Ringu) and picks up almost immediately after Ring ends. I didn't find it as terrifying as when I read Ring, but it still tells a good story. Much of the focus remains on the "virus" contained within the viewing of the tape, but the few copies still in existence have been recorded over, affecting the nature of the virus and what it can do. The virus takes on a human intelligence and a specific purpose other than simply killing a viewer after seven days. That purpose leads to Ando's decision at the end which, I feel, wasn't as satisfying as I hoped. I understood Ando's decision as well as the new purpose of the virus but couldn't wrap my imagination around the virus' ultimate result. (It's not easy to write about this without giving away a major spoiler so I'll just have to leave that statement as ambiguous as it is.)

I did enjoy the journey to that end, though, and that makes this a book worth reading.

Spiral
by Koji Suzuki
Vertical, Inc.
hardcover, 281 pgs.

purchased book

Image: Triple-Spiral-Symbol {{PD-self}}

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Scary Scary!

Huzzah! My copies of Fear: A Modern Anthology of Horror and Terror, Volume One finally arrived! One for my folks, one for my brother and sister-in-law, and one for my growing collection of anthologies containing my stories. Now, if I can only work up the courage to finish editing the first incredibly rough draft of my novel, I will be an even happier camper.

And for anyone interested in purchasing a copy of Fear (volume one or two), you can find out more information at the Crooked Cat Publishing site. Remember, all proceeds from the sale of the books go to Doctors without Borders and Barnardo's. You'll be helping two great charities and also getting an introduction to some terrifying authors.

Update! 10-16-12: And, another of my flash fiction pieces was ePublished over at Flashes in the Dark.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Quickie Book Review: It Can't Happen Here

by Sinclair Lewis

I try my best not to discuss politics of any kind on my blog. Not that I don't have strong opinions about the government, social issues, taxes, and so on, but when it comes to their discussion, I tend to lose any sense of eloquence, and the resulting words are a hodgepodge of ideas. Others speak and write about such topics with a much keener and precise style. Plus, I should stick to fiction and little vignettes of what goes on my world.

With the debates being at the forefront of the news, though, I decided to finally read my copy of Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, his glimpse into what life in 1930s America might be like should a political figure the likes of Hitler somehow be voted into the highest office in the United States.

The "hero", if you will, of the story is Doremus Jessup, a newspaperman by profession who follows the political rise of Berzelius Windrip. His rise to the presidency begins with radio broadcasts supporting him from a prominent radio evangelist, along with speeches crated to make Windrip appear as a true man of the people, wanting the same things as the common worker; Doremus and his group of friends listen in astonishment as Windrip's popularity grows. But when Windrip wins the election, his changes are swift, and America finds itself confronted with the same ideals as those that rushed through Germany only a few years before -- though Windrip and his cabinet called them by other names, trying to distance themselves from any correlation to those politics.

With the new era of governmental control of the United States, state borders are redrawn, freedom of speech is censored, a new "army of the common man" comes into being to enforce the new laws and policies (though it's peopled with thugs and criminals and lowlifes). The years slowly move forward, with average people being thrown into concentration camp-like institutions, with the majority of citizens out of work, but Doremus and a few others finally decided to take a stand against Windrip and his dictatorship.

It Can't Happen Here is a very dark and sobering novel, and in the political climate of today, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to the way events are shaping up in 2012. I find it amazing how something written almost 100 years ago can hold such relevance today, even though it's fictional. But great fiction always dares to ask the "what if..." questions, which makes this an incredible -- and sometimes scary -- book to read.

It Can't Happen Here
by Sinclair Lewis
NAL Trade
trade paperback, 400 pgs.
purchased book

"Poster for Detroit Federal Theatre Project presentation of 'It Can't Happen Here' by Sinclair Lewis at the Lafayette Theatre, showing a stylized Adolf Hitler carrying a rifle standing behind a map of the United States and a fist in a raised-arm salute." {{PD-USGov-WPA}}. Copyright holder: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/98513193/.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Going with the Flo

Earlier this year I told Caesar that I wanted to see Florence + the Machine in concert. He agreed on the condition that we would also see Scissor Sisters in concert, which we did. Sunday night, we hopped aboard a Park & Ride bus for the concert at the Hollywood Bowl (and a birthday present to myself). And we had a great time, even running into my Sister-in-Law and her sister. (They lucked out with box seats, closer to the stage, while we made do with the benches higher up the bowl.)

Before Florence + the Machine took the stage, we were treated to The Maccabees -- a fantastic group that reminded me of a harder, rock-edged Coldplay -- and The Weeknd. I preferred The Maccabees; their sound fits into much of what I enjoy listening to. Plus, Florence came out for the last song and sang with them. The Weeknd was okay, not my style of music, but the crowd was getting into it.

And then Florence + the Machine....so awesome! They performed most of the songs from the Ceremonials album, including my favorite No Light, No Light, and ended the encore with Dog Days Are Over. Florence's strong voice sailed over the audience, up the sides of the amphitheatre, pouring into the canyons. And she took advantage of the entire stage, running back and forth, even using the small proscenium to wade into the audience more than once. I think Caesar was a bit miffed, though, that they didn't perform Seven Devils which he fondly remembers from the season finale of Revenge. No matter, we loved the show, and I'm glad we could see them at the Bowl.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Gardens

My company encourages its employees to spend their birthdays away from the office, so that's exactly what I did on Wednesday. My friend Clark joined me on a brief trek to some of Long Beach's historical spots.

We began our journey with the Earl B. Miller Japanese Garden on the CSU Long Beach campus. The garden was created in 1981 and spans about 1.5 acres -- just a tiny corner of the campus. A few different styles of Japanese gardening -- including a zen garden and various bonzai trees -- surround a large koi pond. The fish appear to be keenly aware when people are present as we watched a group of students hand feeding the fish who crowded around the shoreline directly in front of them. Some petted the large fish while one young woman set some food in her hand then placed the hand in the water. The koi swam into her hand and gobbled up the bits of food without any fear. The quiet of the garden surprised me: we couldn't hear the cars zipping along Bellflower Blvd. nor the may students heading for classes in the buildings around us. Nothing but the splash of waterfalls and the chirping of birds.

After about an hour in the garden, we drove to the north end of campus into a gated community to check out the Rancho Los Alamitos, one of the properties that makes up most of Long Beach and the surrounding communities. The area belonged to the Gabrielino-Tongva people. Their spiritual center was the village of Povuu'ngna which is now located at almost the center of the Rancho. But in 1790, The land was granted to Manuel Nieto for his service to the Spanish Crown. The original adobe that he constructed still stands and supports much of the rancho, though a second story and two wings were added as time progressed. Today, the grounds contain numerous gardens, a tennis court, two enormous bay fig trees, some of the original pepper trees planted to mark the boundaries, and a few barns. The tour provided much history about the Long Beach area and the families that built it up: the Bixbys, the Irvines and the Huntingtons.

Our final stop before meeting with Caesar, my brother and sister-in-law was in Wilmington. Clark thought he remembered a big house in a park along Pacific Coast Highway that he believed held some historical significance to the area so we forged ahead. Sure enough, 30 minutes later we pulled up before the Banning Museum -- a gigantic Victorian home built in 1864 for Phinneas Banning who not only founded the city of Wilmington, but is considered to be the "Father of the Port of Los Angeles". Unfortunately, we arrived to late to go inside, but I plan on making a future trip just to see the view from the uppermost floor.

I love learning about all this history, especially when I never knew these places were even near me. And if your interested in seeing some pictures from the day, they're posted on my Shutterfly site.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

A Little Fear

I'm proud to announce that the two-volume collection, Fear: A Modern Anthology of Horror and Terror has finally been released into the world! I'm excited for two reasons: first, one of my short stories was selected to appear in Fear, Volume One along with a whole slew of incredible authors; and two, all proceeds from the sale of the books goes to charity -- specifically, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders and Barnardo's.

So I encourage everyone to go out and spend money for charity!