Archive for the Science Category

The Sunnyside Intertitle

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2021 by dcairns

Full dissection of SUNNYSIDE soon.

it’s 1919. Chaplin has married, unwisely. Either she married him for his money or the career boost or love (David Robinson favours the middle option, but supplies no definite proof), but at any rate the honeymoon period ended quickly and the Chaplins find themselves living largely separate lives. “No mental heavyweight” is Chaplin’s summation of his bride in his memoir.

Chaplin describes making SUNNYSIDE as being “like pulling teeth,” and blames his marriage for doing something bad to his creative process. He was able to marry several more times without the same creative crisis, so Glen David Gold, in the novel Sunnyside, blames the block on Hannah Chaplin, Charlie’s mentally ill mother, joining him in California. It seems credible. So does the claim that Hannah’s illness was caused by syphilis, though diagnosing the long-departed is a dicey business. If true, it means that Charlie’s fear that he himself would suffer a permanent mental collapse were unfounded, since the illness would likely have showed itself before adulthood if he had it.

So much for the spirochetes. What we’ll be embarking on is a breakdown of what’s generally agreed to be Chaplin’s weakest film of the period, a movie that proceeded in a series of fits, starts and abortions, far more so than the usual fraught process, and ended with the film not so much finished as abandoned, with the funniest scene left on the cutting room floor for inexplicable reasons.

First, though, Charlie and I both need to wake up.

Geeks Bearing Grifts

Posted in FILM, literature, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2021 by dcairns

Got our copies of THE HANDS OF ORLAC and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD a while back. The Wiene film is a really great package, with Fiona and I’s video essay, Extremities, joined by a plethora of extras. My favourite is Tim Lucas’ study of the film’s ongoing influence, and on the works of original author Maurice Renard.

I just recently read The Light of Other Days, the award-winning sci-fi story by Bob Shaw, which deals with slow glass, a scienti-fiction substance through which light passes very slowly, so that you can see things that happened on the other side decades before. Shaw’s story uses an affecting tale of bereavement to dramatise the concept — a man can still look at his wife and children, who died years ago — but he says, in How To Write Science Fiction, that he first considered a murder story, where the killer fears that his guilt will be discovered when the light finishes its glacial journey.

Well, according to Lucas, Maurice Renard got there first, in Le Maître de la lumière, which has the murder and the slow glass, here named Luminite. But I suspect this wasn’t plagiarism, but what they call parallel development. Every idea will occur to multiple people, unless the first iteration becomes so universally famous that nobody thereafter can think they’re the first to come up with it. Renard’s own big idea in his novel Les Mains’ D’Orlac, the hand transplant where the recipient imagines his new parts retain their owner’s (murderous) impulses, was not wholly original to Renard. I’m quite chuffed that Fiona and I were the only extra-makers on this disc to dig up the earlier version, Mortmain, by Arthur Cheney Train. You can read it online. It’s terrible.

This film adaptation has been lost, last seen at The Cozy.

In other news, the stack of discs I’ve worked on now comes up to my nose.

But not up to Richard Kiel’s

Further reading: a few stories from the collection Far Out by Damon Knight, the first of which, To Serve Man, became a celebrated Twilight Zone episode. It’s a fairly dumb story on some levels (even assuming the titular cookbook has no giveaway illustrations, the idea that the title could be translated before any of the contents is a preposterous distortion of how translation works) but the idea is fun. Idiot Stick, the second story, is a variant on the same “too good to be true aliens” idea, and while the premise proves to be equally illogical (aliens want to blow up Earth to create an asteroid belt as a barrier), the human solution to the alien invasion is awe-inspiring. I think maybe it was Theodore Sturgeon who defined an sf story as “a scientific problem with a human solution.)

Dear Valentina, I can throw your pictures off the screen

Posted in FILM, literature, Radio, Science with tags , , , , on July 26, 2021 by dcairns

This I swear: I will give you regular updates on my progress through Lindsay Anderson’s Making a Film: The Story of Secret People.

In this installment, imported star Valentina Cortese receives a letter at the Dorchester:

Dear Valentina Cortese, — Hoping you will forgive an Englishman not as old or as young as your lovely self according to the Mirror photograph. It would be the greatest pleasure of my life to have just a good Cup of Tea with you. My assets are the finest Sight in the World and three small pensions. If I told I have all birds and animals, Millions of Human Beings see under water like fish, whales, sharks, crocodiles and all Electric Rays from Earth to Beyond the Sun and Moon. This letter is actually written by Radio. I have sent a Ray through the wireless around the Earth, as I am the only one who causes faults at night. I should like you to answer this letter from a lonely Englishman Who has eyes like you, hands and feet as the Master you see in all your Churches… Post-script: I see more than anyone else when I go to the pictures. I can throw your pictures off the screen.

Valentina’s comment: “Yes, it’s horrible–but that’s nothing, darling.”

It might seem presumptuous to diagnose schizophrenia by mail, without medical qualifications, but I nevertheless have little hesitation in doing so. In its more florid forms the illness has so many signature characteristics, all on display here.

REFUSED

I used to get the occasional comment here from a Howard Hughes III, whose communiques had much of the same “energy”. And on another movie-related note, when Fiona was briefly in psychiatric hospital with severe depression, we discovered a tabloid newspaper extensively annotated in biro by a fellow patient. It was all celebrity conspiracy theories, with religious and supernatural overtones, a mess of contradictory and interpenetrating delusions. I remember one line, added to a photo of Julia Roberts: “NOT the real Julia Roberts. The real Julia was killed in 1987 for refusing to take it up the arse of the pope.” (sic)

What was fascinating was the way the whole subject of his sentence shifted from JR to the Pope without, seemingly, the author realising it. He experienced it as consistent and logical, though how he could have sustained this if he read it back, I don’t know. That, perhaps, is the strange superpower of the schizophrenic, to contain contradiction. (OK, maybe we all do a version of that.)

Fiona remarked to a staff member that she hadn’t realised the author was so floridly insane. “I’m very glad to hear you say that,” he said, “because there’s a lot of people here who think he’s perfectly normal.”

There was also the ex-flatmate who stalked two celebrated Scottish documentarists, one of whom she insisted had proposed marriage. “This was all done telepathically.” Never officially diagnosed so far as I know, she seemed perfectly healthy when last we met, I’m happy to say.

On this evidence, schizophrenia can be seen as not merely an illness but a genre, built around consistent elements endlessly recombined, and subject to fashion. Telepathy has now probably supplanted radio as the invisible influencer of choice, celebrities are still big (royalty holding their own against movie stars) and religion a near-essential component, like pistols in a western.