". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, August 29, 2016

Start The Revolution Without Me (1970) -- RIP Gene Wilder

    Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) is near the very top of my list of favorite films.

It's so close to the top because it may be the funniest film ever made, and that's because it starred Gene Wilder, who is always known for being one of the greatest actors who played comic roles, and Donald Sutherland, one of my all time, all around favorite actors, who is not known primarily for his talent in comic roles.

Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland play two sets of identical twins, switched at birth, to be raised with the twin that isn't their twin. This happens in the years prior to the French Revolution.  It gets more zany and silly than that, continuously.

Dialog sharp and crisp, precise and perfect delivery timing.  And silly, silly, silly.  I laughed my silly head off every time I watched it.  Even the time I watched it with a guy who had no idea of who Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were, what the French Revolution was, and probably what France is or was either.  So the film provided the additional benefit, beside laughing laughing laughing, of showing me that this fellow and I need never go out with each again. Thereby this fellow was saved a great deal of time and future misery, because really there could be no future for two people, one of whom cared a great deal about the French Revolution and the other who didn't know what the word history meant.  :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Watching Reading Wednesday: The Affair - Season 2 No Spoilers

The Affair is a television series from Showtime that mimics perfectly on screen the dynamics of a certain kind of middle-brow literary fiction.  Beyond the narrative and plot, the dynamics include the milieus that publishers, consumers and creators of such fictions inhabit, or presumably inhabit, or fantasize they inhabit -- or even aspire to inhabit as their entitlement as publishers, consumers and creators of such fiction.  This latter presumably is particularly the case if the writer is male (despite, as it seems, according to sales, the buyers of such novels are predominately female though the "critics" of these novels remain predominately male).

I watched the first season last summer, a year ago on dvd with ice packs held to my jaw, during three hot evenings. This was in the wake of an infected mess under the crown of a long ago root canal, which had so damaged the bone of the gum that an emergency bone graft had been done along with the emergency extraction of the final pieces of tooth to which the crown had been anchored.  Antibiotics, pain meds, ice packs (to keep off swelling and bruising -- this worked!).  The day after the extraction el V had to leave for Cuba.  In this context there was nothing that would have worked so well to distract myself from myself, particularly as much of the location of much of The Affair took place by swimming pools and the ocean of Long Island.

 Lots of beautiful cool water to look at during the heat of those August nights. As appropriate for this literary work, water imagery is all over this series, starting with the opening credit sequence, accompanied by music, composed and performed, lyrics written by Fiona Apple.

It's the same this August -- warm, steamy evenings, and el V's in Cuba, but -- no dentistry.  Still, this summer is also different. At this time last year we'd just turned in the final ms. for The American Slave Coast to ye Editor, but this August we're working on the script for the stage version, with music by Donald Harrison, at Symphony Space.

 Due to last summer's antibiotics and pain meds,  I couldn't drink, and due to the wound, I couldn't eat many things either. This summer I can drink chilled Verdejo, from Spain's Rueda region, which goes so well with oil cured black olives, cantaloupe, Jamón serrano and Manchego cheese -- with crusty bread and a Calabash tomato from  Chiapas.  I couldn't have any of these last year.


Last summer The Affair seemed to me slickly produced superficial "quality" tv,  centered on families and communities who generally have more of everything than they need, and who aren't the enthralling people they believe themselves to be.  It demonstrated some pretension to edgy narrative craft, in which plot lines and events arrive for the viewer in fractured chronological sequence and crucial information is withheld.  This latter has become technique of choice it seems in the last few seasons of television story-telling.  But too often, as with, say, Bloodline, there is no organic need to put off telling the audience essential facts. When these less than compelling facts arrive, the viewer makes a moue -- that's all ya got? -- since the surprising info falls flat and does nor enhanced or expand of anything that's gone before.  This willful withholding drags on the pacing and prolongs a season, which would have been much better as six episodes instead of 10 or 13.   

Noah Solloway, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, outside his wife's brownstone, before his second novel, Descent, becomes a sensation.
The Affair is presented through the perceptions of a variety of characters who rotate around the planet figure of Noah Solloway, played by Dominic West, who is -- a novelist! Most of the episodes are divided into two parts.

Alison, in a state of misery.  Perhaps.  She's supposed to be mysterious to everyone, mot of all to herself. But who knows? Since she's so often given to us through the eyes of the men in her life, particularly by a man who is a novelist basing what will be a blockbuster on his interpretation of Alison, and ultimately presented by the writers of a television series, who manipulate her feelings and maneuver her actions for the purposes of the series.
The initial episodes' parts are divided between Noah and Alison Lockhart, played by Ruth Wilson, the married woman with whom he falls into an overwhelming, passionate sexual affair. This life disrupting adultery happens while on the annual family summer vacation at his father-in-law's luxurious Long Island estate, the summer in which Noah is hoping to finish his second novel.  Alison, like her husband, Cole, and his family, are native for generations to Montauk and Long Island.  They are not fond of summer people, but they have no choice but to serve them for their livelihood.

Noah's father-in-law, Bruce Butler, played by John Doman, who like West, is recognizable from his role in David Simon's The Wire, is also a  novelist.  Unlike Solloway, Bruce's writing is highly successful and richly rewarded.  Films are based on his novels, and he writes the screen plays too, which is why he was able to buy this Long Island luxury (since it seems his wife's WASP family are currently down on their financial luck) and hang out with other successful and vulgar figures who summer in Montauk.

Helen Solloway, crossing my hangout, Washington Square Park, looking for a bench on which she can vape some weed.

Noah's wife Helen, played brilliantly by Maura Tierney, is dependent on her father's money, while her mother, still controls her life to a degree that Helen has not yet understood, starting with paying for her grandchildren's private school education (while Noah teaches in public school).

Helen's perfectly horrid mother, Margaret Butler, played magnificently by Kathleen Chalfant.

Helen and Noah have 4 children.  Noah teaches English in a public high school in Brooklyn; Helen has a boutique new-agey store stuffed with useless stuff of interest only to Precious Mummies with husbands who run hedge funds, so can afford to spend their days in spin classes, yoga studios, the hair stylist, while drinking wine, shopping and trundling their very special children from one place to another.  The store does not make a profit, but Helen has a (very big) trust fund, set up -- I think -- by her wealthy grandfather.  Her wealthy father is a self-made man who married into a WASP family.  

So here we are, located in a classic cesspool of seething class conflict and family dysfunction -- opportunity for lots and lots and LOTS of drama, which there is, and emoting about it, which the characters do. Nevertheless season 1 involved me enough that I requested the second one when it became available from Netflix.

The first season ended on a cliffhanger, with no conclusion to the primary plot line, and leaving puzzles of what happened, and to whom? not to mention who did it and why.  Ah, this viewer said to herself, "Not literary fiction at all, but serial fiction, long the most popular form of narrative."  Just like, as it turns out, we will perceive, with Solloway's own novel by the end of season 2, despite having been declared the bravest and most interesting voice to appear on the literary scene since Philip Roth. I get a kick out of trying to figure out if the writers are being sly and satirical or if they themselves believe that this is what "literature" is.

At first diving again into the roiling waters of The Affair again seemed too daunting.  But once I dipped into season 2, I went happily all the way to the bottom of the pool.  A great deal of this is because Helen Solloway gets to have her own parts in almost all the episodes.  Tierney nails and dominates every scene she is in. 

A scene in which Helen, already stoned, is drinking her wine, entirely miserable and angry after a terrible time in the divorce mediator's office, trying to get undressed, while karaoking along to "I Changed the Locks" is one of the most brilliant things ever put on television. Not to mention the courage of Tierny to do it, the way she does it.  Her Helen is the most interesting person in the series. 

Noah's the writer, so most of the time he's feckless and dull, while demonstrating his extreme selfishness, which is ruled by his dick, and petty egotism.  Alison's neither deep nor complicated -- she's too much like an opera's tragedy queen, or least that was how she came across to me in the first season, and I've probably not gone beyond that first impression.

However, her ex-husband, Cole, gets his own parts in season 2 as well, and he gets more interesting all the time. There is a new character, Louisa, brought by her parents from Ecuador when she was 11, who is anything but tragic, and who adds a great deal. Her insertion into the narrative is organic and plausible.

The other reason I fell happily into The Affair's season 2 was my slow comprehension that this wasn't actually a television thriller, but a portrait of how a certain kind of novel gets written, and the obsessions of a writer writing this kind of novel.  It goes so far as to dwell with even boring detail on the novelist's manner of moving his characters around, manipulating them and maneuvering them for the sake of the plot, not for the sake of psychological plausibility at times.  There is as much dwelling on these matters as plot given to the viewer, in the way many writers bang on too much, too long, too minutely,  to be in the least interesting about how they are such good and conscientious creators, who work,  Work, WORK!

If one can enjoy this sort of thing presented dramatically on screen, with a highly glossy surface, then this series is for you.  It evidently is for me.

The third season of The Affair premieres in November. 

Other reading, of real books, not watching on tv,  includes The Romanovs 1613 -1918 (2016) by Simon Sebag Montefiore; for the second time, Napoleon: a Life (2014) by Andrew Roberts; Grant (2001) by Jean Edward Smith; and, for the first time since an undergraduate, Travels Through France and Italy (1766) by Tobias Smollett.  I haven't finished any of them yet, but all 4 are wonderful.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Reading Wednesday -- Charlemagne

It's not easy finding histories published in English about  the kaleidoscopic geopolitical  arrangements among religions  and regions, when the strong men of those we tend to call Merovingians took control of the old Gaulic Empire (5th - 8th centuries). We can glibly recite the names: Charles Martel, Clovis, Pepin, Charlemagne, but how little we know of what went on then -- or how large parts of Gaul became part of Charlemagne's Frankish Empire.

This summer seemed a good idea to fill in some details.

In possession of a gift certificate, off to the Strand I went, certain there would be shelves of books in the European section on these matters.  Well, no. Feudalism in France, there were many, many books, all of which began with a short introduction that explained what we already know: that structural roots of what is understood as pure feudalism began with Charlemagne's administrative organization of his own empire, for taxes, for defense and law-giving.  Feudalism is FRENCH in origin. Well, yah, we know that.

Derek Wilson's Charlemagne (2016)  was only book in the whole enormous place that had Charlemagne as the subject, front and center.  Charlemagne, by Brit popular historian, Derek Wilson, who specializes in biographies of colorful monarchs for trade - commercial publishing, not academic. The books are dense with information, though they are on the prestige end -- not quite coffee table books, but have full-color, beautiful art reproduced to illustrate. It was first published in England (Hutchinson Press). Doubleday reprinted here, but as I said, this isn't a subject of  interest to U.S. trade publishing. 

My reasons for reading Charlemagne  (2006) by Derek Wilson were many..  Most of them were not satisfied, for reasons of length (it's short) for reasons that the work was more geared to dealing with what seems to have been Charlemagne's character.  

However, Wilson's book did reveal something important to me, both personally and for the project in which I am currently engaged. Wilson, methodically, providing excellent sources throughout, debunked the mythology which is what almost all of us know about this first western Roman emperor.  In other words almost everything we think we know about him, no matter how little we know we know, is false -- phony history, deliberately constructed as PR both in his own time and later, for all sorts of reasons.  Best of all, Wilson describes how Charlemagne himself, his scribes and advisors, and those who followed them, employed minstrels / singers / poets to do this. 

Another way of putting it is that these powerful elites engaged in deliberate revision of history for the purpose of convincing those over whom they ruled that things that were not, were, and what had happened, didn't happen.

My copy, acquired for Senior Honors Comp. Lit course.

All of the purposes for which popular culture was deployed to change history find their nexus, naturally, in La Chanson de Roland.

For purposes of brevity, cut to the chase: 

Q: Why was Charlemagne in Spain and the borders of the Gaulish provinces in the first place?

A: To keep the Moors from invading Christian Gaul.

Well, no. 

At that time the Abbasid Caliphate had prevailed over much of the strict religious Umyyad Caliphate, Iberia -- Spain, the western edge of the Muslim world was much divided, with the Umyyads under siege by the Abbasid factions.  (There were other splinter groups as well within Islamic Spain, just as there were splinter groups among the precariously hanging on Christians in northwestern Spain.  One of the Umyyad groups invited (with money payment as a carrot) Charlemagne and his forces to come and help them against the largest Abbsid group. And he did.  That's what he and his forces were where they were -- not fight Saracens, but helping one group of Saracens against another group.

The interpenetration of Muslims in Charlemagne's kingdom was so common in terms of living, trade, marriage that everyone pretty much got along -- particularly for the sake of trade and taxes.

Bet this hadn't been heard by most of us before, who aren't actual scholars of the era and read the languages of the documents . . . .

But the rep of Charlemagne as Christ's Defender of the Faith, who held off the defeat of Europe's heart by the Spanish Saracens holds to this day.  As to a somewhat lesser degree, does Charlemagne's great efforts in taking Jerusalem from the Saracens.  Not true, he never went there, of course.

Mostly he fought other Christian warlords, while all fought with each other, and maneuvered, most often with military might, to overcome his warlord, rivals -- and not infrequently even the Pope himself (who wasn't in Rome at this period).  But Charlemagne had greater vision than all of them.  

This is where he and the western Church came together.  Charlemagne had more than glimmers of Christiandom -- which could be viewed as a spiritual version of the Eurozone.  However many bastards he sired, etc.,  Charlemagne's faith and belief in Christianity and the Church were as deep as his drive to power and control, and both were equally sincere.

He divided his kingdom for the sake of peace in his later years. None of his heirs had his faith, his talents or charisma, and what he built fell apart quickly (rather like what seems is happening with the Eurozone?)

Leo III crowns Charlemagne emperor.

Napoleon coerces the Pope to crown him emperor.. Though being Napoleon he places the crown upon his own head, and further crowns Josephine empress himself.  The creation of the portrait of this event, who was included and what action was depicted, was carefully overseen and dictated by Napoleon.
For his time and place, the scope of his vision of Christendom was exceptional.  It became a dream ideal, a foundation of the equally dream ideal of Chivalry,  that all of those west of the Adriatic were part of something that was unto itself -- special, under God's and Christ's particular, protection and affection. Which drove crusades and other incursions unto this very day.  Charlemagne's empire was the foundation of what later became the Holy Roman Empire, often more an idea or a claim than an empire at all.  But it lasted until WWI finally put it forever in its well-earned coffin.

I understand rather better now why Charlemagne is the patron saint of the very idea of Europe, even though much of his sainthood is founded in faux deeds and deliberately created romance.

I still am unable to outline all the steps along the way though, from the 5th century through that of the 11th.

The American Slave Coast Appears To Have Won Something

      A couple of evenings ago,  this appeared from Publisher's Publicist:

Ned and Constance Sublette’s  The American Slave Coast ( 9781613748206, October 2015) was named one of the winners of the 2016 American Book Awards.

The American Book Awards are handed out by the Before Columbus Foundation. The Before Columbus Foundation was founded in 1976 as a nonprofit educational and service organization dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of contemporary American multicultural literature. The goals of BCF are to provide recognition and a wider audience for the wealth of cultural and ethnic diversity that constitutes American writing.

The American Book Awards winners selected by a panel of writers, editors, and publishers who also represent the diversity of American literary culture.

For more information about the awards and the Before Columbus Foundation, click here.

The 2016 American Book Award Winners are:

Laura Da'
Tributaries (University of Arizona)

Susan Muaddi Darraj
Curious Land: Stories from Home (University of Massachusetts)

Deepa Iyer
We Too Sing America:
South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future (The New Press)

Mat Johnson
Loving Day (Spiegel & Grau)

John Keene
Counternarratives (New Directions)

William J. Maxwell
F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature
(Princeton University)

Lauret Savoy
Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (Counterpoint)

Ned Sublette and Constance Sublette
The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry (Lawrence Hill Books)

Jesús Salvador Treviño
Return to Arroyo Grande (Arte Público)

Nick Turse
Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa (Haymarket Books)

Ray Young Bear
Manifestation Wolverine: The Collected Poetry of Ray Young Bear (Open Road Integrated Media)

Lifetime Achievement:
Louise Meriwether

Walter & Lillian Lowenfels Criticism Award:
Lyra Monteiro and Nancy Isenberg

Andrew Hope Award:
Chiitaanibah Johnson

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What To Do When Unrelenting Hot & Humid

Last night, after midnight, it was still 88º.  Excessive Heat Warning still in effect.

It's been like this for over a week now, with no end in sight.  Thunderstorms forever predicted but they never appear.  We are hunkering in our a/c-ed and floor fanned cave.  If we don't move around too much we're OK.  But outside it just keeps getting hotter as the mid-90's sun keeps heating up even further the cement and pavement and the the high rises belch hot air from their massive cooling systems into the street and the vehicles pour out even more heat.  the humidity is indescribable.

What to do?  Taxes, is one thing we were able to do. Some home improvements. Meeting friends for dinner.  Going out to the freezer that is Subrosa to hear the best latin jazz, which is about the best music going in this era.

As for history -- something I hadn't previously considered encountered my radar, finally, this past week: the relationships among 16th and 17th century protestants and Islam.  Oddly, despite doing so much religious and political history of European powers the 16th and 17th centuries in the variety of our church's study programs, this never came up.

What made me think of this the other day was another of my many duh moments, the recognition of something staring one in the face all one's life: the first siege of Vienna was 1529 -- and by then Martin Luther had substantially contributed to political and military upheaval in many of the Germanic states that chafed equally at the domination of the Austrian Holy Roman Empire and the Pope in the Vatican.

A bit of digging ensued.

     It turns out that Martin Luther had quite a bit to say to the ruling elites of his time and place and quite a bit to say to them about the ruling elites and Islam. Well, of course he would, since he had so much to say about everything -- frequently in his favorite rhetorical scatology,

But more to the point there were political ramifications to this, from the Balkans across to England, Europe and into Spain.

The Ottoman rulers, such as Suleiman the Magnificent, were in dialog with protestants, as part of various strategies, describing how much more say, protestant Queen Elizabeth had then in common with Islam, than with the Pope and the European rulers who followed Rome.

Suleiman the Magnificent 1494 - 1566

Later, in the century, at the Battle of Lepanto, there were protestants, particularly from England and the Netherlands, fighting allied with the Muslim sea forces, for instance, against Spain.

However, one doesn't see anywhere, probably for what seem obvious reasons, any western European protestant rulers actually making a common cause with the Turk. Further east though, certain groups and their leaders probably didn't have a lot choice in the matter, if they wanted to survive. But Catholic rulers did make the choice, such as the long-standing Franco-Ottoman Alliance of 1535.

Divide and conquer, make allies and stand strong.  The Ottomans were major players in the European power rivalries of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, something we so often forget to factor into our thinking of the events of those centuries. It drove so much of Queen Isabella's policies during and after the conclusion of Spain's reconquista, which she herself accomplished.  The Ottomans had indeed penetrated into southern Italy during her reign.  It was the challenges presented by the Ottomans, the New World and Luther's Reformation that every European monarch had to navigate for a successful reign.  These rulers included, of course, whoever was currently seated in the Vatican's Chair of St. Peter's.

Jeremy Irons, as Pope Alexander VI.
The televisions series, The Borgias, included Ottoman politics in the series.

Rodrigo Borgia - Pope Alexander VI
For instance, here is this:
Overall, the military activism of the Ottoman Empire on the southern European front probably was the reason why Lutheranism was able to survive in spite of the opposition of Charles V and reach recognition at the Peace of Augsburg in September 1555:[15] "the consolidation, expansion and legitimization of Lutheranism in Germany by 1555 should be attributed to Ottoman imperialism more than to any other single factor.


  Currently, disturbingly, one sees the xtreme xtians, including so many politicians such as Ted Cruz, who are engaged in Spiritual Warfare with those inhabiting Satan's belt of the globe, mining Luther's writings for instruction as to how to defeat Islam, which in many places he did declare to be powered by Satan himself.

It is also disturbing that I hadn't thought of any of this myself until this last week.  I should have been connecting these dots all along.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Reading Wednesday -- What We CAN'T Read

Science Fiction and Fantasy short fiction written by African American authors is what the average sf/f reader won't be able to read.

Fireside's  Fiction’s report, #BlackSpecFic, finds less than 2% of SF stories published in 2015 were by black writers; Black science fiction writers face 'universal' racism, study finds.

Full data Excel spreadsheet of African American stories can be viewed here  found in Sf/F short fiction publications, including Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies (still despise that name!), etc.
The report, published by the magazine Fireside Fiction, states that just 38 of the 2,039 stories published in 63 magazines in 2015 were by black writers. With the bulk of the industry based in the US, more than half of all speculative fiction publications the report considered did not publish a single original story by a black author. “The probability that it is random chance that only 1.96% of published writers are black in a country where 13.2% of the population is black is 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000321%,” says the report.

 The report, with links, that includes accompanying essays, here.
Author Troy L Wiggins wrote in another accompanying essay that: “The truth is that I have a better chance of being wrongfully convicted of a crime than I do of selling a piece of short fiction to a major speculative fiction magazine.”
This situation is just, just -- well there are no words to describe what this situation is, except three.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Again, Canadian Television for the Win - Murdoch Mysteries

         This time it's Murdoch Mysteries, which began it's first season on Canadian television in 2008.

Constable Crabtree, Dr. Ogden, Det. Murdoch,
Inspector Brackenreid
Prior to that there were made-for-Canadian television movies, though featuring a different lead. These and the series are based on a book series by Maureen Jennings. The series has run for 9 seasons so far, and seems to still be going strong.

    . . .  First, a Netflix complaint. All summer I've waited and waited for the things I really wanted to watch out of my dvd queue to show up and they never did, series seasons for such as Borgen, Vera, DCI Banks, Scott & Bailey I'm STILL waiting for. War & Peace did arrive in July finally, just as we took off for Pennsylvania, Orphan Black's 4th season came last week . . . followed by Borgen, MONTHS after entering it into my queue. Borgen's 1st disc was supposed to arrive last Thursday. But it did NOT. However, the two next discs did arrive, on Saturday, but what use are they, since I don't have the first three episodes? Monday the first disc finally does get here -- BROKEN! So it needs to be returned an another shipped in its place. Considering how long it took for it to get here in the first place after first requesting it, who knows how long it will take for the replacement.

This is my one real dissatisfaction with Netflix. So many things one wants to see are offered in their DVD d catalog -- but either they aren't available so you must "Save" them until they do get acquired, maybe or it's a Long Wait which means who knows? or a Short Wait which can often be what a reasonable customer would consider a Long Wait. If Netflix wouldn't list these titles as available, I wouldn't ask for them and be disappointed. I can't figure out what their strategy is here.

Without what I was counting on watching, really, really, really wanting to watch on dvd there's been nothing really I wanted, including streaming, since the second season of Marco Polo and the first season of The Last Kingdom arrived streaming (both of which were seemingly made for my tastes -- they're both terrific historical fiction television series).

    . . . . Kept poking around on Netflix, of course, looking for something new instead of going back to old favorites, whose entertainment quotient has been used up by now.

Enter . . . Murdoch Mysteries.

I watched the first episodes of Murdoch Mysteries first season some years back, via Netflix. I can't remember if I saw them streaming or via dvd either. But now the series is certainly streaming from Netflix. This time the series's charm reached me. Why it eluded me in the first place I cannot say.

In other words it has all the qualities viewers seem to have responded to so strongly in long-running favorites of comfort television such as Morse, Midsomer Murders, Foyle's War, Lewis, Doc Martin and so on.

So much so that these favorites easily, seamlessly negotiate changes in the ensemble cast members, without audience recrimination. These are comfortable series, though all feature serious crime and murders, often quite grisly. With Foyle's War, there's also a stark realism in many ways that are not part of, say, as examples, such as Midsomer Murders and Lewis, with highly convoluted plotting on the part of the murderer, frequently connected to ancient mystical practices, generational vengeance and suggestions of the supernatural. Most of them, including Foyle's War's Hastings, Sussexare located in areas in which the beauties of the scenery are as much a part of the ensemble as the characters. Some of the locations such as Vera's Yorkshire, are breathtaking, or, as with Midsomer, portraits of centuries of cultivated and gardened communities, exploding with English gardens, fertile field crops, and fish-filled rivers. A significant portion of the comfort of their continuity is that, despite the grisly homicides, the primaries and their attachments themselves are generally not in personal danger, and one's knows they are not going to die -- quite the opposite of, say Happy Valley, or Broadchurch, for instance.  Though the tension of the suspense for some of the characters' fates can occasionally reach almost unbearable levels -- because we're so invested in the characters.

Issues of the day make it into Murdoch Mysteries.
Murdoch Mysteries share all of this, substituting Toronto's 1895 turn-of-the-century, still gas lit (not historic that -- Toronto's electrification of street lights and so on was already going in the 1880's). However this is something that the other series don't do: often the 1890's Toronto is given to us in what seems like sepia photography and / or the very early 'moving picture' shorts, recreated from actual historic photos and moving pictures, that then morph into colored action scenes featuring our primaries. There are quite a few innovative ways of moving story-lines, explicating character and narrative that are technologically more imaginative than the usual police mystery series.*

In some ways this mirrors the period in which the series takes place, and the character of Detective Murdoch himself. Murdoch's deeply versed and well read in the science and technology of his period, like so many really were, before the world insisted on professional specialization.  He tinkers.

   He builds devices to help himself and Dr. Julia Ogden, the forensics expert, based on the prototypes of technology that were being tried out in the day, including but not confined to lie detectors and x-ray machines. Dr. Ogden is deeply learned in her chemistry and medical science. She loves her work.

   Detective William Murdoch grew up essentially orphaned, child of mother suddenly dead and an alcoholic father who abandoned him.  He was raised in a Catholic school taught by Jesuits. Despite such a background, he doesn't carry the weight of his past as an angst-ridden moody self-destructive fellow. He doesn't drink, but he's not puritanical. He doesn't resort to the brothels that fill Gilded Age Toronto, but he's anything but a woman-hater -- though he is awkward at times. He does have a sense of humor. He's quite young. And, of course brilliant.

Nevertheless, Murdoch is a man of his time.  As forward thinking as he can be in many ways, particularly scientifically and technologically, and even with class issues, when it comes to women he seldom can understand them wanting something other than what society has already decreed they should want, how they should behave and think,  Nor does he believe they should.  Recall -- he's a member of the Catholic Church, in Canada, in Toronto, in the 1890's. Women's reproductive equality, sexual expression and choice, for him are not matters of women's personal choice. Even if other kinds of revelations of human behavior may make him doubt his faith's decrees, this matter does not.  There may be individual women who can be exceptions is as far as he can go. But for the general population of women what his faith decrees is unquestionable. That he is a man of his times, and not that exceptional fellow who thinks as we think now -- in some ways this is the best part of the series, deepening and broadening the scope of his character and the series beyond the same old.

Of course, the characters also have opportunities to dress up in gorgeous period costumes.
As observed above some of these long running BBC and Canadian comfort series include small suggestions of supernatural pressures.  In keeping then, here's Our Murdoch, who, it seems is suggested possessing a wee Gaelic capacity for clairvoyance quite  like Orphan Black's Sarah's Caledonian daughter, Keira.** (Canada, let us keep in mind, is filled with Irish and Scots, as well as French and English).

Another element integral to this series' formula is the frequent appearance of  celebrities of the era showing up in Toronto. Naturally they become mixed up with Murdoch's cases. Conan Doyle is present twice, in the first season alone. Houdini opens the second season.  There have been story-lines that are based on this early era of bone-hunters -- dinosaur archeology, the excitement of the canals discovered via telescope on Mars and even crop circles.

Detective Murdoch's primary mode of transportation to crime scenes.
Like another of my favorite Canadian series,**Lost Girl, Murdoch Mysteries refuses to take itself too seriously, which adds even more to its high entertainment quotient. That light touch is not as easy to achieve as one might think. Morse, though endlessly popular, never possessed it, and its prequel, Endeavour, was positively dreary and dull in its gloom.

Murdoch Mysteries is a pleasant, comfortable, entertaining series, which even includes comic moments that emerge out of the situational context of the fine ensemble of interesting looking actors who play interesting characters. It has the added incentive as the episodes are generally only about 45 minutes long, making it perfect watching while getting dinner ready.

However, keep in mind I've only seen sp far 1 & 1/2 seasons of Murdoch Mysteries' nine seasons, with the 10th one beginning its run this fall.

*  Though it does seem to me, after watching so many of these long lived British and now these later Canadian series, that all along, though not trying to draw attention to it, the directors and photographers have always done a great deal with with their cinematic techniques to keep the narrative unfolding on screen lively and nimble.  This includes the scoring.  There's a great deal of talent displayed in these series, beyond that of the actors.

**   See Orphan Black Season 4 -- No Spoilers,  here.

*** These highly recommended Canadian series, from my perspective anyway, would be, in no order of liking or excellence: Continuum, Lost Girl, Orphan Black, and now Murdoch Mysteries.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Orphan Black - Season 4 - No Spoilers

Orphan Black's 4th season is just available from Netflix DVD. Yes, I binge watched the whole thing.  That was that tense and suspenseful -- and interesting.

It was an excellent season, and way darker in some ways than the others. Alison's dire straits weren't dark or otherwise comic relief, though Donny did his best to sub for that, and in an odd way, so did Helena as she subbed as Alison when the cops come to the Hendricks'.  There were no Klone Klub Kumbya scenes of eating, dancing, drinking and / or reunion.

One way MK makes sure nobody sees her face.
Appropriately this summer was also Dolly the Sheep's birthday, though she died early of complications that turn out not to have anything to do with being cloned.  Her own clone daughter-sibs are doing fine.

The new Leda clone, MK's still out in the cold and evidently dying. 

Helena, eating for two and three.

Helena's still out there in the wild. But though it may be cold she's not out in the cold, so to speak.

Krystal explains what's going on.
Krystal, introduced in season 3, flatly dismisses she's related in any way to Sarah. Instead of Kumbya / reunion, the season finale ended on a bloody cliff hanger.

There was so much to appreciate.  Among my particular appreciations is how the writers redeemed sticking in the seemingly useless (innocent, Neolution calls the unaware cloines) and dim Krystal, who isn't really dim at all.  Or useless.  Takeaway here: don't ever think women who work in the beauty industry not bright! Krystal provided the comic relief in this season, while authentically a Leda.  She's a spectacularly successful character, i.e. yet another unique Leda, herself and herself only, entirely different from the others, yet a Leda like the others.  She's even voluptuous in figure in the classic va va voom manner (and mannerisms) that Sarah isn't, just as Cosima is ill-thin, as Sarah isn't.

This season Maslany, particularly as Sarah, Alison and Krystal, looked stretched, i.e. exhausted, as well she might be after 4 full seasons of doing what she does.  I'm so glad the producers et. al are being smart and cutting it off after 5 seasons. It is enough.  Any more will ruin what they made, the very best Science Fiction ever to hit the screen, filled with meaningful content while vastly entertaining, and with a great actor.

And let us not forget Maria Doyle Kennedy.  Has there ever been an actor who is so convincing carrying a rifle, threatening torture -- and doing it --  and being the nurturing, caring and even strict mom, all at the same time?  Gads, she's good. The show would be so much less without her.  Also less without the actress who plays Sarah's daughter, Kira.

I do hope the final season will provide an explanation for Kira's visions, clarivoyance and her particular connection with the clone sistrahs and their whereabouts and feelings.  And that season 5 finds more to do for Felix instead of side-lining him via a went nowhere subplot of his biological sister -- who naturally found herself veddy outside Fe's real family . . . .

I read a lot of commentary and recaps online while season 4 was broadcast on BBC America, to which I have not access. After seeing it myself now, what's interesting to me, in terms of the writing, is that while I'd seen all the previous season, nothing commented on, discussed and recapped about Season 4 made any sense until I was able to watch it myself.  Then, watching it, it all made sense (mostly :) ). 

   There was a bit -- a very bitty bit -- in one of the last episodes, when Cosima arrives at Dr. Susan's Duncan's house, where she's on a sofa, a glass of red wine in hand.  "Welcome," she says, "to the Island of Dr. Moreau."  Or something like that -- I don't recall the exact words other the "welcome," "island," and "Dr. Moreau" ones.

Is this telling us what and where will be centered the action of the final season, season 5?

If so, that's pretty darned cool.  Actually, if Dr. Duncan's Island of Dr. Moreau reference doesn't mean anything more than what it signifies in that brief bit, it's also very cool.

Good writing, writers of Orphan Black.  You get to do it one more time.  Imma lookin' forward. 

Tatiana Maslany -- get some r 'n r, plus zzzzzz's, OK?