". . . 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, March 22, 2018

Taboo, First Season - No Spoilers + Peaky Blinders + Count of Monte Cristo

     . . . . This week I completed the first season of Taboo.

The premise itself seems written with me particularly in mind.  It opens in 1814 as a mysterious figure, with a terrible reputation, long assumed dead, named James Delaney, arrives in London. It is still the War of 1812 (my "favorite war" -- meaning the war I've studied with the greatest pleasure -- I never get pleasure out of studying the War of the Rebellion), while secret negotiations to end it are taking place in Ghent.  Due to the inheritance from his recently deceased father, Delaney is the focus of extreme interest to the Crown, the United States and the East India Trading Company.

Delaney hears the dead singing.

It was one of the most immersive, ah-hem, series I've seen in a while. Water imagery, drowning imagery, along with that of dead who sing their siren songs, everywhere. 

     . . . This is straight-up Bo-Kongo cosmology and belief -- these characters crossing that Kalunga Line, which is the water, between the land of the living and the land of the dead -- which is why Taboo's principal / protagonist Delaney knows all.  He's crossed and re-crossed that line many times, beginning when he was a newborn. 

This referencing to his experience in his many years in Africa, as a slave himself, slave dealer and trader, and living in the Angolan province of Cabinda (Kongo, a/k/a especially in his time as Portuguese Kongo)  is brilliant writing, that proves how carefully the writers did research their material. This is how Alexandre Dumas, godfather of Historical Fiction, researched his novels. As he also advises, the research isn't supposed to call attention to itself, and in Taboo it doesn't.  It doesn't matter if the watcher knows these things, but if the watcher does know about Kongo religion, culture and practices, and Kongo history and geography, it adds a great deal -- particularly to the viewer's appreciation of the writers.

My experience of Taboo is the opposite of what was described by the many people who disliked it to a progressively greater degree, when it aired last year, to the point they quit watching before the 8 episodes concluded. Why so many viewers thought that nothing happened during most of it, I don't understand, but then a lot of people -- even the same people -- say the same thing about season 2 of Jessica Jones (another of the best in a while), which I don't understand either.

Surprisingly too, though it rains a lot in Taboo, and there is, of course a lot of mud -- and even Mud Larks, those children who squeeze a bit of living out of the flotsam and jetsam washed up by the Thames along the piers -- the show is nowhere near as dreary gloomy grey as other London-based period series -- there is even sunshine, and streets that the street sweepers, who would be everywhere, have cleared of horse manure.  (Evidently no street sweepers were in the world of the Olympic Champion of 19th century filthy London,  the terminally boring The Frankenstein Chronicles -- despite Sean Bean, one just had to give up.

Peaky Blinders' Alfie Solomons.

Maybe I could criticize Tom Hardy's delivery as Taboo's James Delaney as being too much like that of Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders (one of my all time favorite series, due no little to Cillian Murphy and his Shelby. For those who haven't seen it, in Peaky Blinders, for two seasons, Hardy and Murphy played frenemies, though the enmity as well as the helping hands, were all business, which both of them understood.

In Taboo, Hardy retains Peaky Blinders' Alfie Solomons's characteristic grunt, as well as Alfies low, throaty mumble. The voice is also hard to hear, never raising its volume, and getting slower and more quiet the more dangerous and angry James is. This latter is shared with Peaky Blinders' Thomas Shelby -- but Cillian Murphy originated this mannerism (and he's easy to hear and understand), in the two seasons prior to Alfie's appearance. Delaney also keeps Shelby's  long stare into the distance and the future (during which Delaney's presumably communing with the dead).

Thomas Shelby too has crossed the Kalunga Line more than once, though his crossings involve earth and fire, not water -- but he's an Irish Roma, not African or Native American. 

By his return to London, Delaney is both African and Native American.  He was given an African education -- a terrible one. His mother, whom he's never known, was a Native American from the Pacific Northwest.  However Delaney presumably possesses something of second sight via his Irish father, and maybe his mother too.  I could not help recollecting that the Shelbys are an Irish Roma clan.

There were occasions when I thought I'd been catapulted up the time line to Peaky Blinders, so closely do the actors resemble each other when speaking and often, in gesture.

Both Shelby and Delaney ride beautiful horses, something else they have in common.

As one can see from the above photo, Shelby on the right, Delaney on the left, that resemblance of voice and body language is quite and achievement, because the two actors do not look alike.  So I, at least, find this more interesting to think about than to criticize.

Both of the actors and their characters present intense physical restraint and self-control, even while drinking themselves blind -- and both are capable of the most extreme explosions of violence and are adamant ordering others to commit violence. The difference between Taboo's Delaney though, and Peaky Blinders Alfie and Shelby-- is for the latter and their people this is organized violence in the service of  business and profit only (unless a family member has been killed for a reason that was't business).

Not so for Delaney. He returns to London with a fortune of his own already. So this is a lot more Count of Monte Cristo than organized crime (that can be left to the East India Company). After all, is the Count's era we're in.  From Wiki's Count of Monte Cristo:

"The story takes place in France, Italy, and islands in the Mediterranean during the historical events of 1815–1839: the era of the Bourbon Restoration through the reign of Louis-Philippe of France. It begins just before the Hundred Days period (when Napoleon returned to power after his exile)."
I found the plot of a man who is entirely outside the rules and regulations of society, race, religion, manners, mores and presentation -- who breaks all the taboos that hold in almost all societies, such as incest (this is also the era of the infamous Byron and his half-sister scandal), to be the target of English crown, the East India Company and the US in the War of 1812 interesting, particularly with so many fine actors one enjoys watching, and even plausible. 

The scripts' dialog and business are sharp and witty and entertaining

     . . . Nevertheless, I do have a few criticisms. 

It's dreadful, when it comes to thinking of roles for women and who they could be, these are what in period drama we keep coming up with:

1) powerless sister, victimized by both husband and half brother, and evidently crushed and ignored by her father -- worse, played by Oona Chaplin, an actor I've never liked; 2) a whore(s) OF COURSE!; 3)an actress who provides another vector of conflict, who is more of an antagonist, and yet serves to somehow soften the character of this, let's face it, dreadful man, yes, he is dreadful even though he's opposed by other dreadful men who are as dreadful and criminal in their own lives as he is / has been -- and then she falls for him; 4) dead mother.

That's it for for female characters, other than the occasional deus machina, a very young mulatta

 Worst of all the actress character (her name is so forgettable) doesn't even have a maid -- and what woman with hair and outfits done as hers are, even an actress, maybe especially a successful actress who changes costumes so quickly, could even get into those dresses without a maid to dress her? 

That Delaney would be given entree to a ball room dressed as he was, that's not plausible, nor is a London ball, even in Georgian London, that degenerates into a fantasy Roman orgy plausible. 

The finale of the final episode -- the Stars and Stripes are raised, indicating, o, I don't know -- that the New World is a place of freedom and equality and better lives than anything corrupt old Britain,  ruled by a degenerate, vindictive monarch and depraved corporation -- i.e. the East India Company?  Presumably this was written and shot before the US presidential election of 2016.

End of criticisms.

     . . . Despite the initial reaction in the UK and the US, Taboo found numbers enough enthusiastic viewers via BBC Player, so a second season is in the process of being made.  The second season goes to the New World in some way or another.  One only hopes that most of the cast survive the voyage -- Taboo's cast is superb, featuring one after another of actors who made alive roles in many of my favorite televisions series, including Steven Graham, who played Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire

Taboo has picked up six 2018 Bafta nominations:
The Crown has picked up the most nominations at this year’s Bafta TV Craft Awards, leading the way with seven nominations.
The Tom Hardy drama Taboo isn’t far behind with six nominations, while Peaky Blinders, Planet Earth II and Black Mirror have all picked up five nominations each.

I'm also looking forward to the next and -- perhaps -- final? season of Peaky Blinders, though one does presume there will be no Alfie.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Jessica Jones, Season 2 -- 4 Episodes In -- + Cooba

     . . . . Yesterday was the mad vortex that inevitably envelops the household the day prior to flying off to Cuba.

As this time  I am staying home I had nothing to do contribute, beyond decent food and reminders of what should not be left behind, and finding what has been lost or misplaced. I stayed out of the way of el V and B's whirlwinding unannounced and constant in and outs of the apartment, as they collected ever more good to to take to Havana such as adult diapers, an audio and cam recorder, hard drives, and the containers in which to carry all the goods.  One cannot bring any electronics etc. into Cuba in their own boxes, because it will be assumed they are brought in to be sold on the black market and confiscated.  So such things must appear to be part of one's personal luggage.  This is a huge job of packing in itself.

Love Jones's jeans and the whole outfit.  So practical.  Why yes, Jones can fight in such clothes.  Since she does so much climbing, leaping, throwing about of massively heavy objects and fighting, this is superimportant and supersmart. For what can only be sexist reasons a lot of male reviewers object to the way Jones dresses, and feel superentitled to complain about it in public, just like the a-holes who even now will occasionally be found admonishing women for making themselves uunattractive by wearing sensible shoes on the NY Times op pages

     . . . So.  The best way to dispose myself while providing dinner, cleaning up and before bed was to begin the new season of Jessica Jones, which went up on Netflix yesterday, as part of observing International Woman's Day.  This made sense since almost all the episodes were written and directed by women this time around.

I didn't want to stop watching, I liked it so much. I liked much more than the first season's opening episodes, not least because of what the reviewers seem to be complaining about, particularly the lack of a Super supervillain, and particularly the absence of Killgrave. And Jones's clothes, particularly her jeans and boots

So many of these favored writers complained about the episodes being "flabby", unfocused, lacking any real Big Bad, no action, blahblahblah.  I disagree wholly.  I am fascinated as the episodes dig into Jessica and Company's condition since season 1, their so-called mundane challenges.  But even for Super Sorts, threat of losing one's apartment, revelation that one is sentenced with a mortal health condition, loneliness, the knowledge that one is 'different' and disliked, even hated for it by society at large, even paying the gddamned rent, and the constant struggle with the traumas visited on body and soul in the past, and the deeds one has committed oneself that whether or not justified, were terrible and wrong -- these are far more real opponents than yet another Super Other.

And Jessica and / or her cohorts have all these on their shoulders like a ton of steel I-beams. It shows in all their faces, particularly Jessica's.  She's worn looking, fatigued from the endless struggle which seems to be going nowhere.

This watcher is admiring of this approach to a Super series that so much is established and so quickly.  And deeply interested in how all of the people I am seeing on screen handle everything as the series continues.

What this watcher is not, is bored!

In the meantime el V, after having felt rotten for two days, is feeling splendid and thrilled to have (already!) landing in sunny Havana, into daytime temperatures in the 80's.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Netflix's 2017 Marvel "Defenders" Mini Series

     . . . . QUESTION:  Was Netflix's 2017 Marvel Comix Defenders mini series a bottle series?

     . . . . Jessica Jones returns Thursday for her second season, as we all know (YAY!). 

What I didn't know is that Luke Cage is coming back for a second season too, June 2 -- currently the most handsome man on tv! Nobody wears a hoodie with the perfection that Luke wears one.

Not being a comix fan of any sort, following them not at all, reading them never, don't go to their movie versions, when these two series arrived on Netflix, this watcher was unaware that both Jones and Cage were ancient Marvel comix superheroes. Generally, this means they come with an enormous amount of superhero history and superhero relationship baggage. But in their Netflix incarnations,  if they displayed the baggage, I saw none of it -- and it didn't matter!  I didn't notice I was missing anything. I enjoyed the characters, found them interesting, felt badly for their struggles, and sympathized with them. 

However, there were aspects that I didn't enjoy so much -- because they were comic bookishly unreal -- guess what, they were comic book ridiculous. For example, as a person who lives in the locale of their shows, I know these neighborhoods since young adulthood. These and the city generally are nothing like what the series tell us they are: gritty, crime-ridden, drug-sodden, filled with cheap dives, cheap diners, and cheap apartments. And Cottonmouth, villain of Luke Cage, why yes he did behave like a comic book supervillain, so I lost interest in all that. 

Claire Temple, Luke Cage's love interest, though there have been hints, alas, that she's also a super something.

I could listen to Detective Misty Knight talk all day.  Alas I hear she's also a super something in season 2 of Luke Cage.  O. Dear.

It was Cage himself and his relationships with the people in his life who weren't super comic cut-outs, but there got to be less and less of that, in terms of anything but action.  It was Pops, Nurse Claire and Detective Misty Knight and how they related to Luke that I found fascinating.

Having discovered by chance yesterday that the Netflix Defenders (2017) included Jones and Cage, I watched the first four eps -- it moved well enough to do that. Plus, you know, Jones and Cage! plus Sigourney Weaver.

But what the eff?  This Daredevil -- huh?  No self-respecting man, blind or not, would ever run around the image-conscious streets of NYC dressed like like a dork. And this childish Iron Fist, comes from what sort of mysterious oriental city [sic -- coz that's how its presented -- not Asia or Asian, but some inscrutable oriental sorcerous hidden location from white folks' fantasies of the 1920's] complete with ninja Asian girly side-kick -- and, Lordessa, is he really Batman, with all his vast inherited wealth? He can't be Iron Man, since Iron Man actually works . . . .  And why does Sigourney Weaver care?  And what is this timeline of 1991 or something and then "TODAY"?  Not to mention how obvious the choreography of the fight and action scenes were, how obviously edited and body doubled.  (I have enjoyed seeing Justified's Raylon Given's dad on screen again though -- Stick.  I guess he's a superhero too? Justified consistently had some of the best actors matched with the most perfect roles -- one of my all time favorite series.)

There was so much baggage in our faces, about which I knew and cared nothing.  Especially the relationships. I kept getting thrown out of episodes in utter disbelief of anything that was going on -- except for Cage and Jones.  I loved them!

Except -- they were merely cool with each other, not even sending a Valentine text, since 2015, so to speak. Which maybe them not even having a coffee catch-up  since 2015 barely made sense since Cage had gone to prison in 2016. But what was Jones doing for three years? [Perhaps though, we'll learn the answer to that starting tomorrow!] And suddenly this this quest to save the city with a ridiculous beyond speaking Iron Fist -- what's his name anyway? and Daredevil -- what's his name anyway?

In other words having two action figures who are real people with real names, sans silly costumed superhero secret identities of vast wealth or connections, works a whole lot better.  It makes for better characters with whom one can invest feelings. 

   . . . Whereas, how in the world could anyone invest in anything looking so foolish? No man with any self-regard would venture on the streets of self-consciously stylish NYC looking like this!  

Defenders was in 2017, the first season of Luke Cage was 2016, and the first season of Jessica Jones in 2105. Both Cage and Jones get their second Netflix seasons this year -- so -- was last year's mini series, Defenders a bottle season?

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj

     . . . . A while back an amiga mentioned she was reading Anne De Coucey's 2012 The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj. 

I'd wanted to read this book when hearing about its publication, but it wasn't possible at that time.  However, this last week I've been seriously sidelined from almost all real life due to a very bad pinched nerve condition that has made sitting at desk and many other things impossible.  So this was a good time for books I don't always have room for during real life.

It's a good enough book.  The research is extensive and broad.  De Coucey is a good writer, and with this name, presumably is part of the class out of which the Fishers who could presume alliances with the Heaven Born came.

Also, I love these sorts of histories, and I particularly enjoy books from the era of John Company -- the East India Trading Company from before the Mutiny and the imposition of the Raj by the British imperial govenment, and after, once it was imposed.  Much changes between those two eras of the British dominance of India, from when the Company imposed its will unimpeded and when the English began governing as opposed to 'only' extracting India's resources.

The first Fishers of men, English women looking for decent marriages, were coming out before the Raj.  The Company paid young women who qualified a fee as well as their carriage costs, and provided various goods and services.  All through these decades there were more women of marriageable age in England due to Napoleon first, and after WWI and the Influenza.  There were all these white British  men in India with no white English women to marry. Early in the history of the Company it didn't matter, and British men from the army and the Company married into Indian families.

But after Cornwallis came out as governor general -- post surrendering to the French and Washington at Yorktown -- that changed.  Laws of all sorts were passed that kept the children of anglo-Indian marriages from any significant post in the companies or in government.  With the Raj this was already hard social and economic reality -- no posts were open to anyone Indian or of Indian background.  This was equally true of the government as of the military and of business -- which continued even though the Company no longer ran things.

Along with these conditions things changed a great deal for the Fishing Fleet ladies as well.  Now they had to pay the equivalent of $30,000 to go out to India as a license to travel there as an unmarried woman without family waiting for them, they needed to supply all their own needs and they need to pay their own way.

Now these are the times that would have been really interesting to read about -- who were these women, how did it work out for them, all sorts of things.  However, the author isn't interested in these women, and authors get to write about what they want.

The author is interested in the young women of her own class, who don't have to pay to come out, and who are related or connected in some way with those running India.  So we're in the early 1900's and mostly in the 1920's and 1930's.  These are the people she knows . . . .

So the book, interesting enough in its own way, is also quite disappointing in my way.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Versailles (2017) Season 2

     . . . . Adoring Versailles (BBC 2) season 2  It's sumptuous, gorgeous, bitchy, poisonous (in more ways than one!), gossipy, cross-dressing, witty, over-the-top.

The Sun King played by George Blagdon
THE two actors playing King Louis XIV, George Blagdon (the muchly reviled byaudiences after a certain point, Athelstan, captured monk and object of life long yearning of Vikings's Ragnar) and his 

Philippe I, Duc de Orléans, Louis XIV's brother, played by Alexander Vlahos

brother Monsieur, Philippe I, Duke de Orléans, Alexander Vlahos, who played Mordred in Merlin, make a great job of their roles, because they know better than to be sérieux. It's only the astounding gowns and suits -- and scenery -- that anyone takes seriously. Beats the hella outta the earnest endless emo of Reign, while managing to stay far closer to history than that travesty. (There really was an epidemic of poisonings at Louis's Versailles, and spells cast, etc -- or at least so the court was convinced, and people were executed for it.)  

Though again, with contemporary historic costume drama set in courts and filled with royals, the protocols are much truncated and people are much too familiar with these figures for historical reality. Not even the maîtresse-en-titre would be allowed to take the lead when the wife of a royal Duke arrives in a room -- especially in the Sun King's Versailles.  Montespan would have been required to rise and curtsy -- the Princess and Duchess does not sit in a corner and wait to be noticed by her. But all those endless heralding, bowings and curtsies and other formalities would eat an entire episode's time if done accurately, and following the forms correctly allow for less delicious cattiness.

Princess Palantine, Wife to Monsieur, Philippe I

This season was added the character of the German Princess Palantine, Elizabeth Charlotte, second wife of Monseiur -- and she's fabulous.  Happy, healthy, hearty, smart, pretty -- not scrawny -- sensible, she rapidly became my favorite lady, no matter what the court ladies may have thought.

She wasn't this pleasant to other people in real life, however.  In her real life, haughty and filled with self-importance, and quite homely, she took to having heralds preceding her and following her, announcing her presence where ever she went -- in other words she was as much a theatrical raging queen as Philippe I, her husband. Which, from this vantage point in time I find hilarious rather than the disgusting class bs that it was, and which helped bring in the Era of Revolutions

Amusing it is, this series set in Louis XIV's France, but produced by Brits and played by Brit actors.  They are all talented professionals, who do a praiseworthy job of not tripping on their lines, robes or high heels or the writers' fooling with the manners of the period. There are many familiar faces from many other series, including The Tudors and Got.

The film locations included many of France's most fabulous palaces and châteaux, not least including Versailles itself.

The horses' beauty, elegance and grace are more than equal to that of the inhabitants of the palace.

There will be at least a third season, which makes me happy. 

Season 1 and 2 stream on Netflix.