Review of the Vampire Film ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

14 09 2014

It is Only Lovers Left Alive - Posterone of the most striking films I have ever seen. Vampires Eve and Adam re-unite after a few decades, and the younger sister, Ava, tries to shatter their dreams by acting like a no-good Angelena. The premise is bizarre, yet fascinating.

Eve and Adam text about Adam’s depression, and she, the ever-sprightly one, decides to travel from her base in Tangier to his place in Detroit, where she attempts to soothe him. Everything is weird—she is texting her lover on an iPhone via her Moroccan boudoir, which is decorated in embroidered fabrics and is probably suffused with various exotic scents. Gold, blue, and white are the main colours. He is consumed in a mess of guitars and violins in a decaying Detroit mansion.

Eve and Adam are humane vampires who acquire blood by bribing hospital staff and local friends to quench their thirst. They have no desire to feed on humans unless necessary. Much like modern-day human vegans refuse to consume animal products unless necessary. Until Eve’s younger sister, Ava, arrives and starts acting like a total douche-bag. "only lovers left alive"She drinks Adam’s musical assistant to death, and Eve and Adam have to dispose of his corpse in a vat of acid somewhere in an abandoned building in Detroit.

After kicking Ava out on her own, Eve and Adam decide to return to Eve’s favourite place—Tangier. Unfortunately, Tangier is infected with contaminated blood. Even Eve’s reliable source of blood—Marlowe—lies dying of contaminated blood. Eve delicately lays her hand on the head of his human care-taker. It is actually a quite moving scene.

The last scene is amazing. Since Marlowe and his special source of blood are gone, Eve and Adam are forced to walk the streets ofOnly Lovers Left Alive - Last Scene Tangier, seeking a source of blood. They are starving. Eve in particular catches the scent of blood. It is a couple making out. She convinces Adam to turn them. He acquiesces. The look in their glassy eyes is disturbing.

Only Lovers Left Alive is amazing not only because it is so cryptic and peaceful, but also because it forces the viewer to re-imagine the vampire as a creature with human emotions. After all, humans are just cattle in the eyes of the vampire.

 





My Halloween Night

1 11 2013

You know how parents protect their children a little too much? How they enfold their children from a frightening sight?

Rubbish.

Halloween is supposed to be a little bit scary—a little bit unsettling. I understand if your child is very young—around the age of 5—but even then they should be allowed to experience a little bit of the macabre, in my opinion. I will modify my actions for a young child, but not for a frowning father or mother who cares nonetheless.

With that, I thought I would share with you my thoughts on my Halloween dressed in full drag as a witch-priest raised from the dead as a vampire passing out candy to trick-or-treaters. Ultimately I decided that she might be some sort of vampire Carrie, but they didn’t know that. Nor did I until I looked in the mirror.

What a horror they must have beheld: Brandon - Halloween 2013

Can you imagine this camp queen spooning processed candy into the already-full baskets of your young ones?

It doesn’t help to acknowledge that this vile image exists: Brandon - Halloween 2013 II

The satisfying  thing was that I gave candy away to a tiny little girl dressed in full Superman costume. I have to give kudos to her parents for that.

But this other little boy said, as he was taking his candy away, ‘Wow, she is a real vampire!’ Brandon - Halloween 2013 IVWell, thank you. Yes, I am.

But on this solemn date, I must implore you to treat your animals with care:

Brandon - Halloween VI

There are still superstitious assholes out there who hurt cats for no logical reason.

Halloween is a night when the fairies run afoul of men, but it is also a night when parents let their children enjoy being scared shitless. It used to be a time when parents themselves were scared shitless. Why can’t we return to this, whether parents or their sweet, trick-or-treat child-things?





The Creepiest Vintage Halloween Costumes

29 10 2013

Halloween 1910What makes something creepy? YouTube user Vsauce cogently explains that creepiness arises from uncertainty over whether or not something is a threat. It is never straightforwardly frightening; rather, it is unsettling because it straddles the border between safety and danger. Humans have difficulty handling vagueness and ambiguity.

This is a natural topic to discuss in relation to the upcoming Halloween holiday. Halloween is about uncertainty. Very brief history: The Christians Christianized a Roman holiday of the dead called Lemuria, which occurred in mid-May. They christened it All Saints’ Day. Then they realised there was another nasty pagan death holiday over in Ireland called Samhain (SOW-in) which occurred on 1 November, and they moved the Christianised holiday Lemuria forward six months to 1 November to co-opt the Irish holiday. That day became the new All Saints’ Day. Hence Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve. For pagans, there lay uncertainty over the intentions of the dead, and it was deemed wise to propitiate them, often by dressing up to imitate them and offering them food.

So, Halloween was never really about running around trick-or-treating dressed up as Superman; it was about exploring the strange world of spirits, be they good, bad, or mercenary—we never know for sure. (In fact, trick-or-treating isn’t even a hundred years old.) Well, I think Halloween celebrants have appropriately reflected this cognitive dissonance toward the dead in the form of some very disturbing masks and costumes. Below are some of the most unsettling vintage photographs and stills of humans mimicking the dead or otherworldly creatures. Importantly, they are utterly lacking in any modern-day commercialism or skimpy ‘sexiness’.

Take the following portrait, for instance:

Halloween - Vintage Witch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a drear and dour portrait. The expressionless face and slightly smug grin creeps me out. I can’t tell quite what she is thinking. Is she going to hex me, or ask me to go bobbing for apples (which, creepily enough, actually stems from a pagan divination ritual)?

But that one only scratches the surface. Consider some of the more clown-like masks and costumes, as in this image:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes XI

Holy shit. Look at the one in the bottom middle. Is that Michael Myers from Halloween in drag?  I can’t tell what she’s thinking. Some of them are scowling, but others are smiling. Others yet are just characterless black masses. Um, I’ll pass on this party. (Or will I?)

It gets even creepier when you put children in masks. Look at these little creeps:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes IX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh my God. These creeps outdo everyone at the local cosplay convention in terms of effect. It just goes to show you don’t have to spend a thousand dollars on a costume to look like the spawn of Satan. Just dig it out of your grandmother’s closet.

You know how they say clowns are creepy? Well, not as creepy as these gorgeous creatures:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look at the creep on the bottom right with the triangle balloon head. Is he dressed for a German S&M porn film? Why don’t we do this anymore? Old-timey Halloween was way creepier than modern-day Halloween.

But, still, children in masks are creepier:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VI

I seriously feel concerned for that little kid in the foreground with the hat turned askew. Look at that fucked-up Uncle Sam behind him and the creepy rodent thing in the Boy George hat to his right with the garden tool in his hand.

But these little creeps, they are truly disturbing:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes III

In 1985 when I was in Grade One our class watched an old film about Norwegian troll folklore. There were music trolls, graveyard trolls, and bedroom trolls. The bedroom troll lived under your bed and would reach up and grab your hand, trying to pull you under. The actor playing the bedroom troll had this matted fur covering his arm. Some of the others wore prosthetic skin masks. Ever since then, I have been unable to sleep with my hand dangling over the edge of the bed. These creeps remind me of that.

Look at these shady creeps:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes V

This isn’t creepy because of the masks they’re wearing, but because they’re a bunch of brown rabbits surrounding a little white rabbit like they’re about to pounce, and they have these fucked-up grins on their faces. Especially the white one. And those ears are unnatural-looking.

Still, the masks are the creepiest, in my opinion:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes

Masks like these look like they’re half-melted; they resemble the face of a terribly deformed burn victim. The ratty mime costumes don’t help to allay my—fear?—no, uncertainty.

More little creeps from the suburbs:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VII

I personally think these kids look creepier than Michael Myers or Jason. But again, they’re not exactly scary—their masks have ambiguous half-smiles, which makes them even more disturbing.

The younger they get, the creepier they get:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes X

I call this one China Doll Black Face KKK Bloated Child Corpse Mash-Up, because that is exactly what it looks like to me.

The little creep below is one of the most disturbing of all:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VIII

Not only is she creepy because she looks like one of those trolls in the classroom film I watched, but she is creepy because she is alone, like some solitary hunter,  about to run at me with a hatchet concealed beneath her cowl.

But this, oh, this is the creepiest image of all:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes XII

This is actually a still from the Vsauce video I mentioned above about why things are creepy. I don’t even know what these little creeps are supposed to be, let alone what they are thinking underneath their fucked-up masks. That is the unsettling part.

So, those are the images of the creepiest vintage Halloween costumes I could find. I really think Vsauce is spot-on in his observations—the creepiest things are those which straddle the border between our sense of safety and our sense of danger, those which toy with our need for certainty. And none of these costumes is in the least cute or sexy. They aren’t princesses or fairies (unless you mean fairy in the sense of the Aos [Ees Shee], the capricious spirits of ancient Irish folklore). Maybe we can stop with this trend of marketing sexy French maid costumes to women and revive the custom of disturbing people’s minds.





Austra

18 01 2012

I think I may have discovered my new favourite band. That is hard for me to say, since Erasure have occupied the most prominent setting in my crown of musical gems since 1995. That may soon change. Their competitor is Austra, a synthpop/darkwave/indie electronica band from Toronto who just released their debut album, Feel It Break, last year. (Yes, I know, as usual I am late to the game.) However I am not yet ready to give the number one position to Austra, simply because Erasure have produced fourteen studio albums, and I have only heard one by Austra, but if they keep up the amazing work, they very well could earn that place. Besides, a tie between the two bands isn’t entirely out of the question.

OK, so you want to know what the hype is all about, don’t you? It’s about their coherent, well-developed style, their professional-sounding technical wizardry, their eerily fun dance sensibility, lead singer Katie Stelmanis’s chillingly pure, cold voice, their artistically spooky themes, their rich harmonies, their otherworldly melodies. All of these in combination produce a lush, full, satisfying sonic experience. Listening to their debut album, Feel It Break, one imagines opening up a book of occult lore and exploring the hidden mysteries within. I would liken them to a cross between Florence and the Machine, Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, and Karin Dreijer of The Knife and Fever Ray. But at least as creepy as Karin Dreijer. Finally, an album that sounds weirdly Scandinavian without getting mired in slow, dissonant, undanceable experimentalism. It’s musically exploratory, thematically fascinating, and fun to dance to.

Check out the video for their single Spellwork, taken from the debut album. In my opinion is encapsulates the overall deliciously spooky theme of the work:

This song gives me goosebumps. One thing that stands out is the strong verse-chorus structure characteristic of pop songs—but it’s all done in such a beautifully strange and ethereal way that it doesn’t sound commercial or formulaic. Stelmanis’s eerily quavering vocals are spot-on, the melody soars like some dark-winged bird over bare tree branches, and those rich harmonies complete the vocal arrangements. And those layers upon layers of tinkling synthesisers just sweep you away into a glittering fairy world of yore. I can’t get enough of the cryptic occult references, either. Lots of Youtube commenters have said that the video is “weird”, but it’s supposed to be. The song is about pagan rituals (or so I think), so obviously the video reflects that. It’s so enticing because it’s so arcane.

Then there is the light, bright, beautiful synthpop gem Lose It. This is probably as pure, pretty, and pristine as synthpop can get, and Austra have distilled the essence of the genre in this song, and yet we haven’t quite heard synthpop done in such a fresh, clever way before. At least I don’t think so. Just have a listen:

Isn’t that just delightful? It makes me pee my pants. And it makes me pregnant. With twins. The most remarkable thing about this song, I think, is the perfect harmony between Stelmanis and the background singers in the chorus. Together, they create this plaintive, crystal-clear, birdlike song of hope and sorrow. It almost sounds like Enya in a strange way, but a cool, synthpoppy Enya. Delish.

OK, on to our last video. Showing their ability to master a range of synthpop sub-genres, Austra reveal their goth goth side in this video for their single Beat and the Pulse, and boy is it sexy. Be forewarned: I don’t do censorship, so this video is not safe for work! (That means it’s NSFW):

So what did ya think?? In my opinion, This is the difference between pornography and erotica. The models are portrayed in a seductive, tasteful manner, and they exude a mysterious power. It’s not crass and exploitative; it’s subtle and stylish. Besides, listen to the pulsating bassline that suddenly creeps into your ears when the beat kicks in. And, again, that rich texture of harmonies fills out the song and sends chills down one’s spine. This is dark, sinister synthpop at its finest.

Speaking of weird Scandinavian-sounding dance music, compare Austra to Karin Dreijer when Dreijer accepted the award for best dance artist on behalf of her band Fever Ray at this Swedish music awards ceremony:

Kooky! And fabulous. Now that we’ve established that both Austra and Fever Ray are cool, creative bands with a statement to make, it’s time to ask the question: which one is weirder? All that matters is that they are weird, and there’s a rhyme and reason to it, even if the typical Beyonce-glamoured American can’t see past his milquetoast Top 40 music collection. Consider this Youtube commenter’s post about the above Fever Ray video: “Its unfortunate most people cannot understand the statement of the absurdity of award shows, come up, make a stupid speech and say thank you within 20 seconds and walk off stage for the next commercial, absolutely meaningless. If viewers can only see the surface level and think ‘Man that lady is weird, whats with the face?’, they need to start digging deeper past the surface [sic]”. So true. So, so true. I cannot improve upon that observation, except to say that the average American isn’t into the musical creativity of artists like Fever Ray and Austra, because they’re only exposed to the commercially successful acts.

Anyway, I haven’t written about a cool band in a while, so when I discovered Austra I just knew I had to say something about them and spread the word. I entreat you to do the same. Spread the word. As you would your seed. No, just kidding. Sort of. I can’t wait to hear their next album! I’m thinking of writing about new releases by a few other bands who make me want to diddle myself, like Glass Candy and Chromatics, so keep visiting this blog. (Oh, and I’m posting another instalment of the fabulous lady-comic Julie Gentron and the Lady League very soon, so look for that too.) So go out and buy Austra’s debut album Feel It Break—make sure it’s the deluxe version—and support one of Canada’s most talented and interesting musical products of recent times. (The album was released by Domino or Paper Bag—can’t remember which—and it’s on iTunes, of course.)





The “Divine Feminine” and New Age Sexism

11 12 2010

Greek Minoan Snake GoddessDespite my spiritual predilections and fascination with the occult and all things arcane, there is one current of thought within the New Age movement which I find irritatingly sexist. It is one of the reasons I can’t pick up a deck of Tarot cards. It is the concept of the “divine feminine”. In popular New Age thought, we find a strong tendency to revive the goddess, but this goddess is yielding, nurturing, life-giving, and emotional, in contrast with a god which is aggressive, disciplinary, life-taking, and rational. Not much different from the Iron Age. The concept of the “divine feminine” reflects a philosophy which simply recycles the old paradigm of male dominance over a female who is glorified for her self-sacrificing, self-effacing submissiveness.

The problem is that we attribute virtues such as emotion with one sex, and virtues such as logic with the other sex. All of these, however, are universal human virtues which one would think we would want to exploit as much as possible in either sex whenever the situation demands. If this is so, then the “divine feminine”, with its ostensible equalization of the sexes, actually inhibits this equalization and the realization of these universal virtues. In occult thought, the goddess is traditionally associated with various esoteric symbols, such as water (emotion) and earth (nurturance and fecundity); the god, on the other hand, is associated with symbols such as air and sky (logic) and fire (manipulation and authority). The result is a binary of characteristics consisting of these “feminine” and “masculine” attributes.

Already, many young modern people will view this binary as romantically archaic and saccharine, which is ironic since New\ Age thought is supposed to be more radical than that. At any rate, the New Age movement has attempted to balance out the sexual pre-eminence embodied in the monotheistic male-god religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) by reintroducing a female divinity. This I resonate with, for I was raised Christian, and all I imagined was a god with a penis and long, white beard telling me that sex was wrong. (It really is a literal image one has when God is constantly associated with all that is considered male.) And I was told the first human was male, and this male was created in the image of God, who was male (somehow). It left me feeling empty, and always questioning, wondering why this “other sex”–the other half of humanity–should exist at the periphery. If our prototype for humanity was the male, what, then, was this “female”? Where did she come from–other than a rib? And I believe a lot of New Age thinkers have asked the same questions, but I think that in doing so, they are accidentally reviving the mainstream paradigm.

Freja Norse Nordic VikingThis brings us to the crux of the problem of New Age sexism. New Age thinkers often claim that in each male there is a feminine aspect, and in each female, a masculine aspect. The problem is that the statement “in each male is a feminine aspect, and in each female, a masculine one” consists of a circular argument. By using the terms masculine and feminine to neutralize the sex binary, New Age thinkers inadvertently reinforce that binary, because the terms masculine and feminine themselves constitute a sex binary of male versus female. In other words, one cannot describe males as part male and part female, and females as part female and part male, without presupposing a male and female to begin with. (It should be noted that in typical New Age parlance, feminine is associated with actually being a female human being, and masculine, with actually being a male human being–whether this association is right or wrong.)

So what should we do? First, we should get rid of misleading terminology such as the “divine feminine” and the “divine masculine”, because a lot of people associate feminine with “being female” and masculine with “being male”, and yet a lot of women aren’t feminine, and a lot of men aren’t masculine. And if men are indeed more aggressive than women because of testosterone (which is questionable), so the fuck what? Maybe they shouldn’t be. (I thought y’all believed in spontaneous evolution, anyway.) To assume that they should be would constitute multiple logical fallacies: the is/ought fallacy and the appeal to nature fallacy. That a thing is true doesn’t mean it should be, and that a thing is natural does not mean it should be, either. Even if you proved that men are more aggressive than women, it doesn’t constitute a moral imperative.

To illustrate, we do not say that black people should be more susceptible to heart-attacks because they have higher cholesterol levels, or that Native Americans should be more susceptible to liver disease simply because they are more susceptible to alcoholism, or that East Asian people are well-organised. It is a very socially-influenced phenomenon–not a principle to be lived by. So why not prescribe estradiol supplements to males who are overly aggressive? We wouldn’t excuse rape or murder on the basis of testosterone. Their behaviour is maladaptive and needs to be fixed, although I believe the ultimate solution is allowing boys to be feminine.

What we should do is attend to the demands of the modern-day environment, not the ancestral one. This may require more men to take care of children, and more women to work outside the home. (Women are working outside the home anyway, but men aren’t picking up the pace when it comes to domestic chores.) Concomitant to this, more people demand a female presence in their religion. But Western religion lacks the multitude of female figures available in the typical pagan pantheon. What is our recourse? In the Christian West, it is the Virgin Mary. Initially, it would seem as though Mary is a new goddess. But Mary is non-sexual, and a mother. She performs her duty as a mother by conceiving the Christ-avatar, but she does so without having intercourse. She is defined contrarily by her maternality and her virginity. Mary does serve as a crucial figure of feminine authority and divine intercession in the Western world, but most women need or want to have sex (for every male who wants to fuck because of testosterone, there has to be a consenting female–and hopefully an excited one), and many also undergo childbirth as a direct consequence, so Mary is an impossible archetype to live up to. If we want to identify the “divine feminine”, we must seek further. We must discover the woman who is equally sexual, maternal, aggressive, and strategic. . This brings us to the sovereignty goddess of pagan lore. The sovereignty goddess was basically a goddess of the earth who granted fertility by bestowing kinghood on the man who drank from a well occupied by her, or from her chalice of menstrual blood. Something which constituted fertility, or a male union with the feminine land. The idea was that the aspiring king (male) would unite with the earth (female) to render the land fertile, hospitable, and long-lasting.  The most famous sovereignty goddess of all is probably Medb (pronounced literally as MATHV [Medhbh] in Old Irish, or as MAV in Modern Irish) of Iron Age Ireland. Medb might be either a humanized goddess or a euhemerized (deified) heroine. In the great epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), pronounced as Toyn Bo Cool-nya, Medb, Queen of Connacht (a region in the west of modern-day Ireland), seeks to outdo her husband, Aillil, in terms of number of cattle. In anticipation of her triumph, she consults with Fedelm, a fili (a learned poet) and powerful druidess, a mistress of law and decision-making as well as divinatory lore, who, ironically, prognosticates her own mistress’s defeat. This might seem feminist except that, during this long, drawn-out battle in the Irish countryside, Medb basically pimps her own daughter, Finnabair, out to various enemy suitors–including the most ferocious of them all, the infamous Cú Chulainn, of Ulster–in order to win a battle over a bull which would make her property equal to that of her husband, Aillil. (In actuality, neither side won [the bulls on either side killed each other], highlighting the futility of avarice, in my opininon.) Finding out how she is being used, Finnabair dies of  shame. Showing her sovereignty goddess potential, weirdly enough, at the end of Táin, Medb is desribed as fighting in battle and having all of a sudden to take an exit because her bladder is full. Cú Chulainn finds her urinating behind a bush, but doesn’t slay her since she is a woman, and the scribe describes her motioning him off as she actually creates furrows in the ground with her urine. According to traditional scholarly lore, this was either a very humorous, or very mistaken, interpretation of her menstrual potential as an earth-goddess. You can see how ideas get distorted when one plays telephone, as oralists did in the olden days. (Personally, I find the story of Scathach more interesting. Scathach is a master warrior queen of northern Britain [Pictland] who is assigned the task of training Cú Chulainn in the arts of war on the condition that he help her defeat a rival queen. But that is another story which falls outside the scope of this article and its theme of sexism. Indeed, this particular story challenges traditional sex roles and attracts my attention for the same reason.) Medb has been described as a virago, based partly on the Latin vir, or man (hence virile) First, why is it manly to be strategic? Second, how loyal is she to her own sex if she pimps out her own daughter to get a cow? BIG ego. So, Medb may be a trailblazing goddess of fertility and war, but she is basically an avaricious egoist who prostitutes her own daughter to get what she wants. She is ambiguous at best. But still I want to imagine what this goddess might be. It may not be complete in its mythology, nor is it necessarily the foremost example (there may be others, like Athena), but I think of the Norse goddess Freja (after whom the English day Friday is named). Freja was neither just a fertility goddess, nor just a war goddess. Rather, she was the realization of both. She was fertile and war-like, capable of nurturance and of destruction when required. And she didn’t pimp her own daughter for a cow. This, to me, is redolent of sexual possibility, which I believe is most important. Usually, the revival of the goddess has consisted of a revival of traditional sex binaries–the logical, barefaced, aggressive male and the emotional, invisible, clever female. I do not agree with this duality. It assigns some virtues to one sex, and other virtues to the other sex, when all virtues should be present in every person. Why shouldn’t men be more sensitive when they can be? Again, it is environmental stimuli which should mould our behaviour, and not genetic ancestral precedence. What do you think about the “divine feminine”? Do you think it hearkens back to an age when a sun-based god fertilized an earth-based female, or do you think it reflects a potentially multi-faceted, and truly new-age, archetype of womanhood?