. . . 2000-09-03 . . . The Hotsy Totsy Club
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Three Women The 100 Super Movies au maximum: Peking Opera Blues

For a not-very-observant observer like myself, there was King Hu, and Jackie Chan, and any amount of reasonably distracting nonsense, but it took Peking Opera Blues to show that the Hong Kong studio system worked, and that it was working to an extent that hadn't been seen since 1930s Hollywood. A pool of talent placed under immense pressure to produce had somehow been broken down into a primordial soup where genres, techniques, and formulas spontaneously recombined in new (and sometimes even viable) forms.

Unused to genuine movement in movies, first-time Peking Opera Blues viewers often feel at a loss; the opening sequence plunges them into a whitewater of Nashville-style protagonist relay, precision slapstick, satire, and suspense with absolutely no exposition to cling onto. If you can't make sense of it, rest assured it's just because there's so much sense condensed into the can -- albeit well befuddled by English subtitles that have been hacked out in the manner one might expect when English subtitling is dictated by colonial law. [Hint: Distrust pronouns and verb tenses.]

(The VHS tape fuddles all the more by being neither letterboxed nor exactly pan-and-scanned: instead it's kind of squoze up skinny so's you have to lie on your back under the TV to watch it. If you can't get to a theater showing, get to the DVD.

And then and only then get to the next paragraph, because I'm about to, quite literally, give away the ending....)

Similarly, many first-time viewers are mystified by an apparent lack of closure. There is, in fact, an ending to the film. It's just that the ending is positioned entirely outside the story proper and seems so incongruously dismal that it's easy to overlook. But given the violent shifts in mood and technique that have already been established, the ending, once noticed, is deeply satisfying: The movie gains its power from alternating current, and this is where the plug's pulled out.

The ending's even easier to overlook on the DVD release, because it's been removed, probably for political reasons.

Many 1980s HK productions -- Tsui Hark's especially -- display a cynical pessimism entirely understandable in colonial subjects who are about to be handed over to a dogmacracy. (Compare James Joyce on Ireland....) "The People" are Busby-Berekley-choreographed sheep, and anyone with the hubris to try to save an entire country will soon become a betrayer, a victim, or a tyrant.

Two of the five heroes of Peking Opera Blues are revolutionaries, but they're hopelessly naive and their Democracy is merely a MacGuffin. The only sacrifices the film can wholeheartedly endorse are those made for communities small enough to fit in a room: the accidental friendship of the five protagonists, for example; or a theater troupe; or one's family. When the movie's autocratic General justifies his acceptance of a usurious foreign loan, he's corrupt and villainous but he's also right: "What'll the world be 47 years later [when China's repayment is due]? Who knows?" And when his daughter betrays him to bring democracy to China, she's patriotic and heroic -- but she's also wrong.

The story proper ends with the five friends reluctantly, individually, deciding to split up. They exchange some final reassurances: "After the revolution, meet you in Peking." "See you then." "Take care." "OK!" And the DVD then rests on this very long freeze frame, bare even of the expected "Coming Soon: Peking Opera Blues II - The Charge of the Ticketmaster!":

Separation

But the original release, as shown in theaters and on VHS, goes on to explain...
Five months later, Yuan's conspiracy was exposed Parliament was dissolved
Yuan proclaimed himself Emperor The country split in two, war broke out Thus the Chinese democratic revolution began all over again

... before decidedly terminating for good and all in a close-up of a theatrically demonic laugh:

Kleio, HK style

. . . 2000-09-04

Why I Am Not a Diary, as explained by James Thurber of Columbus, Ohio:

"The sharp edges of old reticences are softened in the autobiographer by the passing of time -- a man does not pull the pillow over his head when he wakes in the morning because he suddenly remembers some awful thing that happened to him fifteen or twenty years ago [or he doesn't do it oftener than twice a week, anyway - RD], but the confusions and the panics of last year and the year before are too close for contentment. Until a man can quit talking loudly to himself in order to shout down the memories of blunderings and gropings, he is in no shape for the painstaking examination of distress and the careful ordering of event so necessary to a calm and balanced exposition of what, exactly, was the matter."

. . . 2000-09-05

What ever happened to Roxanne Shanté, the fiercest freestyler in the whole Old School?

This we learn from some English twerp tracking her down so's he could get her on his record and loop the one line where she mentions his name: She retired from music at age 21 to get her master's; she works for the state as a criminal psychologist and still lives in Queens. Which is certainly more interesting than the fate I'd dreamed up for her. But at least I'm in good unimaginative company, since it's also more interesting than the fate Nabokov dreamed up for his Lolita....

[... Jodie Foster as troubled Detective Lieutenant Dolly Schiller bursts into the dust-besparkled room in time to just barely not prevent Anthony Hopkins as Humbert Humbert's murder of Robin Williams as Clare Quilty ...]

. . . 2000-09-06

It's a time of transition: candidates stagger mire-choked toward the White House, a new crop of serially-processed hops is vomited over the campus, and here in California the very earth shifts in its sleep.... Thus it is that we come to the final chapter of Constance Kandle's Nonprofit Chronicles. Kandle has bade farewell to Bossy the Clown and ridden forth. (And good riddens.) Don't forget us, Constance Kandle! For we will never forget you.

Bossy's Theory of Time Management and Compensation, Part 2

Excerpt from a phone call from Bossy to the head of a professional association:

"You know, if you want me to do work for the Association, you're going to have to set up a budget for staff. The last person who worked on the project I'm doing used up a lot of her employer's time -- she got paid while she did the work. I don't have that luxury -- I work for the Association as a volunteer, my organization has no funds to contribute to this -- I'm not getting paid a dime."

Bossy made this call at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, from her office at the nonprofit. The phone call was to Association headquarters in Belgium and lasted for four hours.

. . . 2000-09-07

Talking to yourself in a public place (prompts via NQPAOFU and Alamut and David Auerbach)

Insider Art is art produced to fit the particular marketplace in which it's exhibited. Outsider Art fetishizes the disconnect between the artist's assumed goals and the audience's assumed attitude.

Of course, most inedible artifacts have at least some chance of outliving or being shipped outside their original context. Which is to say that, just like all writing eventually becomes readable as Literature, all art eventually becomes viewable as Outsider Art. But that's in the long run, which is notoriously hard to plan for.

In the short run of our lives as producers and consumers, what we'd like -- what we turn to these models of artmaking for -- are rules that will guarantee success and relief. Unfortunately, neither model guarantees anything but occasional outbursts of wistfulness or petulance: industry pressure usually leads to disappointing results and, in contrast, purely personal initiative almost always leads to disappointing results. Back-and-forth-ing between "insular self-absorption" and "meeting expectations" is what most artists seem to compromise on, but, as critic Nora Charles concluded in her exhaustive genre investigation, "it's all pretty unsatisfactory."

For completely other reasons, a correspondent directed me this morning to the critical work of Gerald Burns, but, coincidentally, the only online piece I can find by him is this truly horrid poem addressed to his old Harvard classmate the Unabomber:

Just yesterday a young maybe gifted writer said he'd write a poem
about Nabisco executive offers, sock it to 'em. I told him Socrates said
a cobbler has two jobs, making shoes and persuading people to buy them.
"Writing is the easy part." Buried in a mimeo'd magazing isn't an action,
and told him at least you had distribution. He liked the wit of that.

. . .
Why'd you do it isn't interesting. I know why you did,
pretty much. It's much the reason I write poems in sections.
Paleface Potter

So why I don't want to persuade people to buy my shoes must be much the reason I don't send letter bombs...? Insular self-absorption looks better all the time.

. . . 2000-09-09

Our Motto: Hotsy Totsy Enamel (submitted by an anonymous reader)

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To unclench our previous entry on the transformation of Insider Art to Outsider Art....

The process can always be side-stepped by looking at artifacts as History: History, like Cheese, is capable of digesting all. But inasmuch as we try to keep our receptiveness aesthetic instead of historical -- focused on surface pleasure rather than background book-larnin' -- when faced with an artifact imported from outside our assumed position, narrative impulse veers us towards seeing the alien context as the alienated individual and the artist as Outsider (rather than ourselves as Importer).

Some examples:

To be fair, one reason Spicer's group allegiance doesn't stick to his reputation is that his group was so dismal. Which brings up the biggest problem with deciding that you're not going to rest easy with being a solitary crackpot: who you end up with. I mean, the insular self-absorption of an attic painter or bedroom songwriter at least tends to make a talentless crank more affable. The real problem is when talentless cranks band into an insular group, cheering on each other's mediocrity and adding an ugly self-righteous odor to their formerly fairly innocuous waste product.

And unless you're talking bestsellers and movie deals and posters on bathroom walls, it's awfully hard to be sure you've made it off an insular group and onto the mainland. "Professional" or not, in my cartography, the arts and book reviewers of the semi-major media look just as self-congratulatory and determinedly deluded as any communal gallery, small press magazine, indie rock scene, little theater group, or crosslinking weblog....

. . . 2000-09-11

Like the rest of us, the evocative Peterme needs to spend more time with Wynonie Harris's "I Like My Baby's Puddin'" and Tampa Red's "Let Me Play With Your Poodle"....

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The Cat according to Edward Topsell:

It is needelesse to spend any time about her loving nature to man, how she flattereth by rubbing her skinne against ones Legges, how she whurleth with her voyce, having as many tunes as turnes, for she hath one voice to beg and to complain, another to testifie her delight & pleasure, another among hir own kind by flattring, by hissing, by puffing, by spitting, insomuch as some have thought that they have a peculiar intelligible language among themselves. Therefore how she beggeth, playeth, leapeth, looketh, catcheth, tosseth with her foote, riseth up to strings held over her head, sometime creeping, sometimes lying on the back, playing with one foot, sometime on the bely, snatching, now with mouth, & anon with foot, aprehending greedily any thing save the hand of a man with divers such gestical actions, it is needelesse to stand upon; insomuch as Coelius was wont to say, that being free from his Studies and more urgent waighty affaires, he was not ashamed to play and sport himselfe with his Cat, and verily it may well be called an idle mans pastime. As this beast hath been familiarly nourished of many, so have they payed deare for their love, being requited with the losse of their health, and sometime of their life for their friendship; and worthily, because they which love any beasts in a high mesure, have so much the lesse charity unto man.

Therefore it must be considered what harmes and perils come unto men by this beast. It is most certaine that the breath and savour of cats consume the radicall humour and destroy the lungs, and therefore they which keepe their cats with them in their beds have the aire corrupted and fall into fever hecticks and consumptions. There was a certaine company of Monkes much given to nourish and play with Cattes, whereby they were so infected that within a short space none of them were able either to say, reade, pray, or sing, in all the monastery; and therefore also they are dangerous in the time of pestilence, for they are not onely apt to bring home venomous infection, but to poyson a man with very looking upon him; wherefore there is in some men a naturall dislike and abhorring of cats, their natures being so composed, that not onely when they see them, but being neere them and unseene, and hid of purpose, they fall into passions, fretting, sweating, pulling off their hats, and trembling fearefully, as I have knowne many in Germany, the reason wereof is, because the constellation which threatneth their bodies which is peculiar to every man, worketh by the presence and offence of these creatures; and therefore they have cryed out to take away the Cats."

. . . 2000-09-12

So then I says to her, I says... a peculiar intelligible language

Perhaps because so much of my life centers around no one knowing what the fuck I'm talking about, I've always enjoyed the company of animals who attempt conversation.

My favorite dog, an elegant Sheltie bitch named Foxy, used to mimic human speech with a complex set of muffled ladylike coughs -- sounded like Mimi in Russian....

And at present I live with a plush and cobby black cat, Emma, who'll exchange declamations and outraged kvetches pretty much as long as I care to keep 'em coming. Who needs Slashdot?

. . . 2000-09-13

so much the lesse charity unto man

Resentment toward PETA seems to be widening; myself, I thought they went as low as they could go with the "Laura Palmer" campaign and then just broke out their lounge chairs and stayed there. There's something so pure about using a sexually enticing naked dead woman to publicize animal rights... I bet the PETA folks were really teed off that Hustler came up with the model-in-a-hamburger-grinder idea first: "The Other White Meat."

American politics isn't built of coalitions but of flash cards; we're willing to abandon any previously maintained sense of morality to scramble to the new high ground of focus. But when it comes to violent imagery, give me frustrated lust over self-righteousness any time....

Your rabbit's happier
"Brenda Starr" panel by Fradon & Schmich

2000-09-14

take away the Cats
Il gatto
photo by Christina La Sala
The feral cats I saw in Tuscany and Umbria seemed unusually healthy and well-fed; several times I saw old ladies bringing food to a colony, and I was told that these gattare were funded by the state in gratitude for the cats' usefulness in plague prevention -- an explanation both quaint and sensible, but apparently not true, at least not in Rome.
From "The Cat in Law," North American Review, February, 1895, Gertrude B. Rolfe reporting:
"A certain citizen of Baltimore stole a fine Maltese cat from a neighbor, who had him arrested for theft. When the case came up for trial the prisoner's counsel entered the plea that it was impossible for anyone to steal a cat, as that animal is not property, and that to take forcible possession of a feline, even though it be a pet one and wear a ribbon and answer to its name, is not a legal offence. The judge held this argument to be good, and the Attorney-General, to whom the case was appealed, agreed with him. The latter in his formal opininon, declares that the cat is really nothing but a wild animal, that it is of no use to man, and that the taking of a cat without the consent of its owner is not an indictable offence."

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Old Style New Yorker Typo Corner:

"Here," the Israeli veterinarian added, "the situation is the opposite, because the reservoirs for rabbis are the wolves, jackals and hyenas." - San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want....

... an' anotha thing ...... then again ...

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2000 Ray Davis.