". . . 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

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Frankenstein Chronicles - Sean Bean

     . . . . The Frankenstein Chronicles first aired 2015 on ITV, Sean Bean as associate producer of the first series/season.  Picked up in the US by A&E, both season 1 and season 2 are now streaming on Netflix. 

It's pleasant seeing Sean Bean on screen again. This time he's John Marlott, a grizzled river police officer, diffident, who knows his place. He's carrying, naturally a heavy burden of guilt that has something to do with his dead wife and child.

London, 1827. There are some sly references to previous roles. Sharpe’s Napoleonic wars are part of them, as his character served in the Second Battalion 95th Rifles; he has the green jaket and a Waterloo Medal. At one point Marlott hums Sharpe's theme, "Over the Hills and Far Away." Another musical signal of a past part were in an appropriate scene that referenced Lord of the Rings motifs.

Robert Peel tasks Marlott with investigating who it is digging up the bodies of young children, and / or murdering them.  Robert Peel, "father of modern British policing",  during his first stint as Home Secretary (1822- 1827) will soon be organizing his London "peelers."

Some other characters from the period participate, about which I could be rather skeptical, particularly the deathbed William Blake and widow Mary Shelley's relationship. It was Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's mother, who knew Blake; he illustrated her instruction book,  Original Stories from Real Life (1791).* In the show, a page of Blake illustration to one of his own works plays a role, so maybe it is fine that  Mary Shelley knows Blake intimately enough to attend his deathbed. Additionally Mary Shelley's dead husband, Percy Shelley, admired Blake greatly. 

Boz / Charlie Dickens; do you believe it?

Boz/Dickens getting involved in such a grim and grisly case is easily believable -- except he was still a kid in 1827, not writing or working on a newspaper. 

Still, I admit to a certain amount of satisfaction with a series that earnestly attempts connect bloody insane butchery with London's literary scene. 

Lots of the wet, filthy, grey, miserable 19th c London mean streets whose mud we've traversed so often via historic period television thrillers such Ripper Street, Taboo, etc., whether set in the eras of the Napoleonic Wars, the British East India Trading Company, or in that of the Boer Wars (but never, of course, in the frothy fandangos of the ilks of Downton Abbey!).

Many of the scenes are that "let's slit our wrists right now from the sheer misery of this mud blue screen."  

Another criticism, if one feels the need, is that there might be too much the sense of check off the boxes of what an historical period drama must have: one black character (in a subordinate role) 🗸; at least one strong woman (probably in a subordinate role) 🗸; burden of guilt or sin or deep secret on the protagonist 🗸; a temptress woman of a higher social rank who may well be eviLe, or just needing the heart of gold belonging to the man who is the protagonist 🗸 -- well you get the idea.

Still, it is Bean and a highly professional, talented cast, and the writing is not bad and a lot better than much.


*  Wollstonecraft's Original Stories From Real Life with Blake's engravings can be found here on Gutenberg. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hitler's Playbook - Eleanor Roosevelt - Babylon Berlin

     . . . . I am immersed in the disasters of 1920's, 1930's and 1940's Europe and the US and the sheer idiocy of so many of those catastrophes. Marx and Engles predicted much of this. (Their work isn't Stalinism or Maoism, etc. which are always used to derail the descriptive brilliance of Das Kapital: Critique of Political Economy.) 

It's not only Babylon Berlin, with the starved poor, the scapegoated labor unions that pulls me down into the disasters leading up to the Great Catastrophe of WWII, but the second volume of Blanche Weisen Cook's biography of Eleanor Roosevelt: The Defining Years, 1933 - 1938 (1999).  This volume of ER's biography so many reviewers back then, and still now, professional critics and readers -- not just males -- seem to sneer at: it's way too long for such a short period of time; don 't want or care about HER personal life, stop with the lesbian stuff; so tired of Lorena Hicks (pioneer woman who rose to the top of the cut throat masculine newspaper reporter profession); nothing happens.  This latter accusation in particular -- in this close, detailed coverage of the Roosevelts and their circles in 1933-1938, these readers don't see anything happening? These are the years in which the US's sexism and racism are shown in all their depressing detail as to who gets what help and who doesn't get any.  

Volume II is a brilliant book. Among its many unarguable strengths are the explanations of the many many angles of Hitler and the nazis' playbook, how and why and when all the terrible things happen, which the plans were laid in the 1920's, and came to fruition in the 1930's. These are  disturbingly like the horrors our country is experiencing right now, including deliberate deniers of reality and construction of fake news, all with the objective of taking down the legitimate governments and replacing them with a terrible new world order. 

Here in the USA, at the moment the problem for our US neo nazi libertarians is that with the ADD Orange supposedly leading the charges, there are too many enemies.  He's s easily distracted, which is exactly what Hitler says one must not have. Only a single enemy and beat beat beat beat on it -- for them it was the Jews, behind which they planned and performed their tragically successful project to eliminate everyone not conforming to their concept of worthy to live.

Charlotte Ritter, one of the principals of Babylon Berlin.  She's a single Berlin woman in 1928; born of the WWI generation  who never had enough food.  Unless she marries soon, she will be targeted for the camps . . . .
 The unworthy included single women who were excess mouths devouring food that the worthy should have, and they too were sent to the camps, early on. Germany had nearly 2 million single women after the first world war. These women were the earliest and first group the nazis successfully did away with. 

Dr. Alice Hamilton, first female faculty at Harvard's School of Medicine.
The reports of ER's friend and colleague, Dr. Alice Hamilton (among Hamilton's sisters, all of whom became educated, credentialed professionals, was the famed classicist Edith Hamilton whose works include The Greek Way, The Roman Way, and Mythology), from her her philanthropy mission to Germany in 1933 to research and relieve the many starving there -- that the world could and did demand denial about Hitler remains incomprehensible.  These women certainly thought so.

Perhaps that is why critics and reviewers from Maureen Dowd on dislike this book so much.  It's about women, all those brilliant, often wealthy women with a burning passion for justice, educated, who worked so hard to change the world starting even back the era we call the Gilded Age.  They tended to gather around ER. As First Lady she did everything she could to give them their heads to make the USA and the world different from the cruel, hard-hearted, mean and selfish place it was to where everyone could at least have a decent meal and place to sleep, and catch a decent break as well as their breath.  O those men in D.C. hated her.

Monday, February 19, 2018

La Vie en Rose - Babylon Berlin - Sala One Nine

     . . . . Friday night the temperatures plummeted again.  The wind blew mean and sharp.  Yet two of our most beloved friends joined us at Sala One Nine to celebrate my birthday, with an endless flow of tapas dishes and wines, concluded with a melt in the mouth, not too sweet not too bland, but all perfectly balanced Almond Cake with a mountain of whipped cream, port and coffee.  The mostly Cuban music played was of the best -- and there are no televisions anywhere in Sala One Nine, a basic criterian for us all.

 As Darling C, who creates, fabricates and sews high fashion and designer outfits happens to be doing the costumes for Ballet Hispánico Nueva York at the moment she wore over her sparkly dress an authentic matador's jacket, which is part of the entire costume she picked up some time back in Mexico, though it was constructed in Spain. Sala One Nine is owned and principally staffed by a family whose home town is Madrid. The gorgeously handsome young maitre d',  as well as the rest of the attractive staff who were serving us, immediately noticed this jacket, and swooned.  They recognized it as the real thing of the most high quality.  It turns out their uncle back in Madrid manages matadors.  Trust Darlin' C to always be wearing the exactly right thing at the right moment in the right place!

"La Vie en Rose," Winter, NYC 2018, by Darlin' K
I have been watching Babylon Berlin, the German television series set in Weimar Republic Berlin, adapted from the Detective Gereon Rath novels of Volker Kutscher, becoming more enthralled with every episode.  Though netflix doesn't so designate -- it doesn't break the available episodes into season 1 and season 2 -- the first two seasons are both up. The third is being written now.

It took nearly three episodes, watched far apart, before I submerged into this narrative cop drama. I'd read the first novel in Kutscher's series, and there was little on screen that resembled that book.  Also, unlike RAI TV's brilliant Gommorah, or its Suburra, which consciously follow in Italian fashion the US treatments of such crime dramas, this German production isn't in your face.  It is as stylish and elegant as the Italian show, but deliberately understated, in that restrained way of Mitteleuropa.  Both taste and proportion are exercised in every frame, even those of torture and sexual abuse, but there's ample tension and suspense. Which is funny in a way, since the Italians are doing opera, and the Germans are doing the nightclubs, music halls and bars.  O lordessa -- the song and dance sequences of Babylon Berlin are worth the price of time alone -- they are just brilliant.

Best of all, which takes a while to notice, there are many small moments unlike any usual television moments (it's that inability to resist being in the audience's face of this selfie era perhaps), particularly not 'cop' television or movies, and they are adding up to be more than the sum of their parts.  As well, without changing any of the beats or emphasis of the historical - political events in Germany at the end of the 1920's -- and in the larger world, particularly the Soviet Union -- these  have disturbing ripples when looked at in the context of our own mid - to end second decade of the 21st century.  Yet, as the Cubana who sang us boleros Valentine's Day evening said so movingly, "In these times we still must look for and make the light in any corner that we can."

I think the photo by K has captured both the disturbance and the light perfectly.

Monday, February 12, 2018

It's A Comic Fer Pete's Sake!

     . . . . How can any film, even if it weren't merely part of a superhero COMIX franchise, fulfill the astounding amount of hype-aspiration-inspiration-political-cultural significance that has been piled upon Black Panther?

See the New York Times Magazine article earnestly explaining in detailed personal terms how this is the messiah of the second coming of the brave new world in which, finally African Americans are taking their more than well-earned position.  

URL rather than link presented since this is NY Times pay wall article: 

No matter that Black Panther surely is more imaginative and beautifully designed than the general dreary samey-same muddy brutality of the general superhero comix movie -- it is still a superhero comic movie, which means it must follow the endless arcs of blow it up, beat it up, zoom it up, throw it down, all to a howling decibel sound track, and do it for 30 minutes at a time.  Especially when the movie leaves the Panther's Wakanda kingdom and goes to hum drum superhero mundane 'white' cities . . .  as evidently it must?

Which, the Black Panther soundtrack, brings us to the accusations that British-Liberian artist, Lina Iris Viktor has brought against Kendrick Lamar -- already well-known for grabbing hold of other people's work and passing it off as his own -- has stolen her work for a sequence design of a music video that goes along with the Black Panther music album. A description of the problem is covered in this New York Times Arts section article:

The sequence in question shows up about 3.03 in this Youtube of the Vevo video:

Viktor's standing in the art world  is  high enough that she can have one woman exhibitions well reputed venues-- one at the New Orleans Museum of Art is scheduled for October. To some eyes her work actually looks like graphic superhero panels anyway, so her work would be a natural to be considered for Black Panther on that level alone. Then, the work's got all that gold on it, providing weight and -- cheap? -- authority, or so it appears.  Viktor's work can be seen easily via Google Image.

In any case the rabid puppies - alt right - white supremacist - racist - sexist conspiracy to destroy Black Panther's record breaking, record setting ratings from fans and critics alike, as they did with the female Ghostbusters (they did do damage to this Ghostbusters, I fear) and Wonder Woman has failed miserably. As with Wonder Woman,the advance ticket sales are through the roof, and beating Wonder Woman all to heck -- there's never been anything like it before for a comic book movie. There's not a single person who lurves superhero comic movies who is going to stay away from this one. Not to mention how the hype machines of every media platform going has been cascading ooooo and awwwwwwwwwwwwsume! and life-changing for over a year already. 

On the other hand, this is Black History Month, all month, and there's not much happening on the main stream media platforms with that this year. So at least Black History Month has a comic book superhero as a platform on which to speak to and perform Black in this nation's current actively vicious virulent racism roiling south and north, from sea to shining sea. 

I'm such a cynic. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Reading Blanche Wiesen Cook's 3 volume Biography of Eleanor Roosevelt

     . . . .  I began, naturally at the beginning with Vol. I The Early Years, 1884-1933  (1992).

Blanche Wiesen Cook

I had read this volume around the time it was published as I was working at its publisher, Viking - Penguin, at the time.  

This is pure Gilded Age era material, and Eleanor Roosevelt was as at the center of the Gilded Age as one could be as a member of the ruling, affluent class of old Dutch New York families. Recall Eleanor's uncle was Theodore Roosevelt, so like Henry Adams, Roosevelts could fairly believe the White House was part of their natural heritage.  But unlike the bitter and disappointed New England aristocrat, Henry Adams, Franklin and Eleanor actually did do politics, and hold political offices -- even if Eleanor, despite her many breakthroughs, could only do so through her husband, so to speak. 

This re-reading, in the depths of our own Gilded Age, while like the previous one should also be more aptly named the Age of Miseries, has me noticing things that must have just slipped by back at the start of the 1990's. Back then I  knew much less of our history than I do now, and truly far less of this period of bottomless corruption and cruelty, ushered in by end to the War of the Rebellion, than I do now. 

ER in Inaugural Ball Gown
Which is why I shudder at the preening announcements of shallow Julian Fellows and his joy in 'the 400' of New York where and when he's locating his new television series, title, of course, The Gilded Age, which was not in use until much later, taken from the title dreamed up by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner for The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today 1873),  their still famous satire of the era's idiocies and excesses.

As Theodore Roosevelt was Eleanor's uncle -- brother to her alcoholic father -- Cook gives us a great deal of background to his family.  What I didn't recall on the first reading was that David McCullough's Mornings on Horseback (1981) contained all this material too (I re-read this one too, rather recently, back in 2015).  As mentioned that the first time I read Vol I. I didn't know all the history I now do -- and I sure didn't know it when reading Mornings on Horseback on the subway to work, morning and night, and at lunch, These two works make good introductions to the residents of their class, for good and a whole lot for ill, who lived at the apex of the age's vaunted opulence, snobbery, bigotry, exploitation and racism.

Having finished Vol I over the weekend I immediately started Vol. II The  Defining Years, 1933-1938 (2000). In the later chapters of Vol I., when Franklin goes through his first campaigns and other election experiences, and takes full advantage of everything Eleanor can and does contribute -- without even acknowledging to anyone else much less ER (throughout the work Cook refers to Eleanor Roosevelt as ER) that she's contributing anything.  It was just what he was entitled to, and many women held him up at all times, beginning with his mother and her money.  The portrait of FDR in these books isn't flattering.  Cook gives him credit when credit is due, but in many ways and far too often FDR shows himself a selfish sob, and even just plain mean, and certainly ready to descend into political skullduggery against other politicians -- but then, he was a consummate politician and that's how they roll.

When ER begins to think politically and of politics and of unfathomable obstacles to women emerging in this sphere, I thought constantly of Hillary Clinton's What Happened (2017). I was certain, of course, that Clinton has read these books, and many more about Eleanor Roosevelt. With what knowing bitterness she has had to recognize ER's conclusions.  So it was exciting then, when the Acknowledgments and Introduction to Vol. II, Cook names First Lady, Mrs. Clinton, who gave her personally a guided tour of the White House in preparation for ER's own White House years.

As ER, with the help of an ever growing circle of brilliant and close friends, began her education in feminism and then became one herself, FDR was already deeply in politics.  ER found everything about politics exciting and felt right at home in all the phases of campaign, and particularly policy, but didn't allow herself to say so, either to herself or the public. She wrote and spoke constantly of the dislike of women by the political patriarchy, and their loathing and disdain at the very idea that a woman could be one of them, either as a designer of policy and strategy or as a candidate herself.  Among her many articles on these subjects in these years she shared with other women in the 'ladies' magazines that when a woman was allowed to run, it would be in elections for seats in which there was no chance of the party winning. This way the party men could say they lost the election because "the candidate was a woman."  ER wrote and spoke of these matters openly and often.

Kirkus review here; NY Times review here.
This project took Cook's adult life, as we see since the concluding  Vol. III The War Years And After, 1939-1962  didn't find publication until two years ago, year of That Election, 2016.   Nothing she learned about the reception of an effective and influential woman at the higher levels of politics either for policy or as a candidate seems to have changed, not even a bit.  Clinton isn't the only one who reads these texts with bitter familiarity.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Charlie Stross Runs With My Anti-Vampire Holy Water Humidifier

     . . . . That dream / nightmare I had, about fending off vampires with my humidifier filled with holy water (see here) -- remember that?

Well, via el V's twitter feeds he learns that science fiction writer Charlie Stross presented my Holy Water Anti-Vampire Humidifier to the twitverse -- go here to see the discussion:

Reading through this twit discussion I see that though I dreamed my Holy Water Humidifier, many others have also  thought of such or related anti-vamp devices. Charlie just didn't know about them until reading the account of my nightmare, any more than I knew of them. Ha! 

SO -- is this great minds think alike or just a buncha monkey brains sloshing around in night time primeval oooze?