Archive for August, 2009

The movie Exorcist 2: The Heretic has been soundly trashed as one of the most awful movies of all time. I’ve seen awful movies and this one doesn’t even come close. I’m not a fan of the original, as it seems to me to be more about the disruption of the conventional as a result of people’s messed up expectations than about actual possession, which is a genuine problem today.

I am a fan of Exorcist 3, which truly is a sequel to the original. It deals more with issues of disbelief and unredeemed longing than possession, but it does so dramatically and with narrative wholeness. We are answered, by a self that is both guide and daemonic adversary.

Exorcist 2 is a development on the ideas of the first film, yet it stands on it’s own. It actually deals with issues of possession, using the locust swarm as a metaphor for the outbreaks of collective insanity in our world. Issues of obsession and willful denial make appearances in the plot, as expressed through the priest’s search for meaning and the doctor’s attempt to hide from the supernatural.

Linda Blair plays a more mature, post-exorcist girl named Regan who remembers everything of her horrific ordeal, and appears to be dealing with it quite well. Her ordeal isn’t over, but it’s obvious she has healed way ahead of anyone’s mundane views of her. In fact, she’s taking the next step in discovering that her experience has given her the ability to rescue those still in darkness.

I hesitate to support the narrative premise of “the way for women to gain power is to get jacked first.” That position too often leads to stories where heroines are violated as a means for them to move forward. But I don’t want to shy away from reality with rose-tinted glasses either.

Maybe the heroine’s journey that begins with a sparagmos (a crucifixion or tearing apart by the darkness) is the archetype we still need to come to terms with through a certain base popular culture.  I’m just keeping an eye on what I think is a little too much of one thing to be balanced.

Here, in this movie, it’s what Regan is dealing with; she’s working stuff out and not flinching. And this is some dangerous psychic material she’s working with, totally radioactive stuff that messes up the people around her. The main character is meant to be the priest, but his journey is our journey of getting on board with the real deal: A young woman’s coming to terms with how she has changed as a result of her possession.

The film is far from perfect—Richard Burton delivers solid actingas the priest at times, but for much of the film he’s off his game.  The film suffers from an undeveloped script, offering scant answers at times when a fuller revelation would have resonance. The timing on many actions is poor. There are moments when a hesitation or a cutting of scene time might have made things more clear.

However, there are ideas here that need worth thinking about. The main idea is that people who have been tainted by evil and have recovered can help other people who are possessed. There is the larger theme of how nature is working towards creating people (known as “good locusts”) who have the power to lead the rest of us out of confusion and back to harmony again. A constant theme is the interconnectedness of all things, the connection we all share unconsciously, and the forces of evil, which are both guides and adversaries.

There’s ambiguity, the hybrid effect of the individuated being, in all the characters. Regan wears white, is attracted to dove symbolism, and is sweetly friendly. Yet she has a knowing resolve, a crazy element to her that no one understands, and there’s the wicked side of her drawn out by contact with the demon. The demon itself is dangerously harmful and disruptive, yet also an instrument of destiny, with parts that can be understood and even assimilated into ourselves.

This dichotomy extends to the other characters as well, good and evil being relative, but still both aspects that can’t be ignored. The lines between science and mysticism are blurred.

At the end of the movie, surrounded by the collapse of the world, Regan discovers her true calling and completes herself, stilling the world back into harmony. The other characters still lack a complete picture, but they’re learning. Scarred, looking for the puzzle piece they have yet to find in themselves. But Regan stands out as an example of how we can find the good locust in all of us. The harvest of our lives and of others can still be saved and the hidden violence in our nature redeemed.

Like all good fairy tales (and the better Terry Gilliam films) we are brought back into the world to regard what we have witnessed. The flash of the synchronizer upon the doctor’s face as the movie fades to black leaves us with the knowledge that the struggle continues; even as nature creates a garden we have yet to notice. Given that at this point time and space are fluid, the doctor’s point of view becomes a remembering (with who as witness and/or participant?) of the last time she saw Regan and the priest.

Is the doctor showing us what she has witnessed? Are we the subject sitting on the other side of the synchronizer, descending into the earth of the unconscious so she might show us what she knows and feels first hand? The movie itself might be seen as our own “going deeper” via the synchronizer; to see how things are working out in other people’s lives, the present examining the past while the future watches the present. The connection crosses all time-space barriers because it is irrational.

The disease of possession might be something our bodies are adapting to, building up a psychic immunity, or rather more properly forcing the phenomenon to reckon with us as an evolving organism and establish ties with.

The hybrid, the cyborg, the tainted angel. Crossing boundaries and making us whole in all times and spaces.

I wasn’t going to post this one. Sometimes what I cook up, trawl out of the nets for a glimpse and witness in the wild woods is a little too personal, somewhat disturbing, or not ready for prime time viewing. This one skirts the edges, perhaps in need of a twist and turn to the spoon, a light touch on the strands, or a respectful pretending not to see quite what one sees in the shadows.

I mean, maybe I make it look easy. This dancing through the darkness of the other world for fun and Hek of it, with a slight hope that what I find might be of use to the larger us of us. Sometimes you have to show mercy to the unknown, and throw back what you catch. Generosity is required when one is immersed in such matters. That quality requires a foundation of focus, else things turn to goblin gold (that is, sand and bones) in the light.

“Don’t turn around,” says the scary voice of our dragon enemy-forward slash-instrument of destiny, “there might be something behind you.” Can you dig the Behinder? It creeps up from the past and jack moves you. That horrific aspect of yourself that makes sure you don’t escape the sins of your past. But oh-ho, without sin there can be no redemption. Or so I heard from a wise man dressed in red and offering me a get-out-of-jail-free card if I would only confess.

I confessed for real, and got that card. But as surely as one can’t buy redemption for the price of one’s soul, knowing isn’t always the same as understanding. I still had work to do.

Like getting down with the psychic planting of community seeds. We do this thing—leave seeds in the psychic ground of the people we meet. When the time is right, those full bore crops call to us to complete the cycle. Maybe this is too complex for how life really is. I mean, who can keep track of most of the impressions we make on people?

Maybe the folks we make impressions on do it for us. It’s a complex, social-contract thing that might seem complex, but which is really easy. Because that’s how we’re made, how we’ve become made. And we don’t know what seeds people are carrying. It might not be for them at all, it might be for us, and handing it off helps them move forward in whatever strange winding pathway they choose to explore.

So what the Hek am I doing carrying all these seeds for other people? What kind of reality am I experiencing where I have ground for people to drop by and plant a few? Am I a peddler, wandering about with a huge backpack on my shoulders, plants galore growing out of it, my hands full of all-you-can-eat seeds?

I have a few secret entrances here, so I’m going to pry one open and meander through a while so I can make sense of this one.

It’s irrational, this watering and fertilizing of other people’s burdens in the deep tunnels of the sideshow life. What’s it got to do with me?

Everything. I want to scream EV-RY-THNG, but that’s just blowing off steam that isn’t mine. Hek, who says the plot I’m standing in is even mine? What if I’m just the lamp showing people where to try?

Past the wind-swept tunnels of hillside regurgitated youth I roam, until I find the flowering I’ve been seeking. I don’t know whose backyard plot I’m trespassing on, or even if I haven’t gone in a circle and ended up back on my own immediate brain-garden.

You always return to yourself. Where else would the fruits of your own soul come to light? I’m thinking you have to take care of your own business, with a mindful realization of the selfishness yet still able to be yourself. Hard stuff to take care of our business, when so many outside demands and inside eruptions distract us. It’s a balancing act.

I got gardening to do. So I head over to the plot. Where the weeds are driving miss daisy crazy and the ground is making me feel full effect. The big tomatoes are all huge and green, but still not turning, even after a ferocious, record rainfall yesterday.

Let’s see. There’s a gray, mole like rodent thing moving through the plants and over to the horseradish to hide. Until I water that area. See, I keep a section open for the weeds to run free, just because I’m crazy like that. Bermuda grass, thistles, morning glory spiral pests—they all get to play in that plot.

I spot a spider with an egg sac clutched below its abdomen, migrating to the next safe zone. Gotta stop at the intersection and let her pass. A carpenter bee takes some time to examine the weak spot of my wooden border. Yellow finches fly overhead looking for physical seeds to eat (physical hunger needs a physical food, spiritual hunger needs…you get the idea).

An elder ladybug of many spots shows up, hanging out on a thistle leaf. I move aside a wooden board to hand-scrabble some earth and find myself face to face with a blackish-crimson, squishy salamander. Whoops, that’s somebody’s home, gotta make course adjustments.

I leave the critters to their own devices and dig up some earth, coming across several rocks. The plot is far from having been cleared of obstacles. Rocks are like storage batteries. They hold minerals, particles, nutrients for us until we need them. Likewise, they hold truths for us until we need them. I feel bad putting them into a pile to be tossed into the woods when I’m done.

I pick a bunch of small cherry tomatoes that are definitely done. The smaller fruits are ready faster than the larger ones I suppose. As I pick these gifts I stare back at the plot where the weeds grow taller than me.

I remember last year, a woman working on the plot, trying to get her two sons to help her. She’s serious, striving, taking care of business. That year she got a lot of great peppers and pumpkins. The sons are all bored and squirming, as if this is the worst thing in their lives they have ever had to endure.

Funny thing is, I know what those kids are feeling. I remember when my mom dragged me over here and made me help her bust sod and fill water jugs. I was like, why do all this work when we could just buy it at the store? Complain, fuss, moan and resist. Yet, here I am decades later plunging head first into the struggle of my own free will to snatch a smidgen of something worthwhile.

Seeds planted, full bloom.

I talked like that plot was a graveyard of those who tried and failed. But for all I know, the two-second look of encouragement I gave those kids, the chitchat I had with the mother, placed seeds in a plot not visible. An appreciation of something difficult for its own sake. Or they might pass those seeds along to someone who needs to have that experience.

We’re pollinators of psychic flowers like dat.

My mom drops by and gives me a bunch of tomatoes from her plot. Overflow procedure, too much to use. Same here. I got my hands full of little tasty morsels. I’ll bring them into work, where I know a bunch of folks will revel in the gift. People need what we generate. Generosity, as we march along the weird road of understanding.

I mean, yeah, the seeds that are exploding in you right this very moment. They’re going to last a brief while or they’ll go dormant and come back next year, but it’s a cycle. Down into the dirt again. Is that any reason not to water yourself? What flowers, what fruits of your life are you hiding under a bushel because of the crows you grant power to?

Let yourself grow, to fill the mammoth form you inhabit. There’s a bursting forth right this moment, having been laid in the ground with care or scattered carelessly, but ready for you to connect the dots. And you have, you just don’t want to admit it.

You know about the special bonus plants right?

What if your harvest is the one that gives others the margin of survival?

Or gives you the margin of survival?

Some people deposit crops in you because it’s their quest. What, you thought it was just some fed-ex XP thing they had to do? Yeah it was, and who knows who designed their adventure. Look around your immediate psychic hang-out. Stuff is growing that you have no clue what it is. Some people dump a load on you, and it’s fertilizer man, you just got to roll with it. Other times you’re so messed up it’s God’s good humor and a wheel of fortune as to whether you let anything sprout.

One things for sure, yesterday is becoming today and tomorrow. It’s in yur plot growin yur foodz.

It’s all about farm games.

K and I break out the tea collection and get busy organizing the life support system module number tea-oh-yeah.  My friend Snow would be modestly and politely moved by our devotion, as so Level 3 it is to her Level twenty-four forward-slash seven, know what I’m sayin’?

Side note:  I mean it.  When you’re that level, you are big dudette generous and make it look easy.  “Here, have everything you need to start.  Here’s a location on a map.  Get adventurin’ and maybe you’ll connect with ultra-power tea-ness your own special way.”

Back to K and I.  We’ve bought a number of glass milk jars from the local upper-cruster Whole Foods.  Plastic caps, but what the hey weeds have to make do with what they have right?  While we do have tea bags, our focus is on resealable containers of loose-leaves for mix and match.  Since I’m a honey-freak, I have my honey in the rough for getting my freak on.

Now K is pretty crafty.  We get tired of boiling the water the usual way, so she investigates a location on the map and we find ourselves with the bonus round—an electric teapot that rapid-boils water in less than five minutes.  Just fill with water, plug in, flip the switch, and pow.  Yes, this is very much dependency on instrumentality (not to mention electricity), but as I said this is the approach of the lightning age (which is very aquarian).

So now we can make large quantities of water for brewing tea.  When it’s cool we fill the jars and put them in the fridge.  Goodbye, buying high priced tea in the store!  I’m also a soda-fiend, so anything that alleviates my vice for soda varieties is good.  Water’s too boring for me, juice too strong, milk too bland and coffee too strong.  Tea gives me the watery goodness, and a flavor, so I can drink lots of it and not burn out.

Special bonus:  I tell Snow about this amazing teapot and she’s floored.  I give her the info hookup and I get the feeling she teleports one to her kitchen while I’m standing there talking to her.  Next week I run into her again and she tells me the thing opened up a new level for her in the tea-realm, allowing her to adventure in a new area.

The teacher shares what they know and maybe it’ll pay off in those hidden rooms you missed when you were fighting the tea ogre with squid tentacles back on level eleven.  When you hold onto that hunger for knowledge, keep striving with joy for what you do, it pays off.  Snow polishes that gemstone of a hankering she has a little more, while K and I get life support system bonus for more XP.  That’s what generosity does for you.

So what does this have to do with farm games?  Well, seems like on Facebook lately there’s been a surge in farming games.  You socialize with your friends, care for each other’s farms, raise crops and harvest goodies.  Mainly in the dungeon and dragons kind of reward cycle—you kill monsters so you can get better at killing monsters, only here it’s grow crops so you can get better at growing crops.

It’s a slight paradigm shift in games, I think, which bears careful watching.  Is this the seed that falls in the right ground at the right time, the spark that kindles a new way of thinking that will grow grow grow?

The thing is, there’s a growing interest in resource management games (SimCity, the Sims, Civilization, and so on).  The shoot-em-ups and the side-scrollers are still there.  But now you have a growing awareness of “Hey, it’s fun to farm.  To raise animals, plant corn, and build wells.”

Yes, the reality is hard work and thankless repetition.  But it depends on how you look at the reward cycle.  K and I are looking to be healthier and happier.  This formula (of many) is about the reward of having something we make that keeps us going without resorting to the kiddie pool that is mainline industrial food production for loyal, stunned workers.  For Snow it’s about a passion for the pursuit of what interests her.

Both operate under systems that farm games mimic to a degree.  You look for stuff, gather stuff, make stuff, improve your skill with stuff, and then the stuff benefits you.

Then you get into complex games like Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility, where you need to have good relationships with people to get the stuff.  There’s lots of stuff to master—mining stuff, cooking stuff, animal stuff, plant stuff, clothing stuff.  You’re in the realm of a community and the need to ration your time to develop the stuff you need.  The ultimate goal:  To be the best “stuff” person you can be, in this case the archetype of the farmer who are their own means of production.

What does being a good farmer mean?  That you can court a partner and raise a family (and the game allows you to do this, ending only when it is the next generation’s turn to find their fortune), and you can also save the world (or the world of this game anyway)—your knowledge as a farmer revives the Goddess of the land and brings blessings back to the community.

You got that?  Your ability to beat things up here is worth zilch.  Your ability to be patient, adaptable and friendly can save the world for everybody!  Or allow you to have a happy home life—either as a farmer who just loves making bread for the Hek of it or as a family person moving things forward to the next spiral of that life that is greater than ours.

I’m living it a little, others are living it, and the games are representing it.  What level is your watering can skill yo?  Can you make perfect pickles?  How’s that ability to make butter?

I’m wondering what the next signpost will be to what’s evolving right before our eyes.  In the meantime, I need to get more and better skills, talk people up more, and get busy on the farm!

Because I think there’s a comprehensive picture here forming.

Harvesting this year’s crop of tomatoes, corn, and basil.  A much better outcome than last year’s withered out crop of rotten potatoes.  No joke about it, last year’s harvest was a crash and burn bummer.

This year was worse in a way though.  The weeds kicked us around the block with their modifier-bonus allies the insect brigade.  With morale low, the agriculture worthiness guardians could have easily made us cry uncle.

Hek, our plot neighbors didn’t show up once this year.  I can see the skeletons of their hopes dashed to the ground, in the form of scattered forgotten tools and half-opened fertilizer bags colonized by wind-borne seeds.  Their weeds and brambles are taller than me now.

For a moment I catch a glimpse of another labyrinth traveler’s camp, taken over by the wild.  Could have been us.  No shortage of remains around here!

I might have mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating.  I emphasize with the weeds, and admire their tenacity and inventiveness.  If there’s something in the plant world that I think of as resembling the hyper-ferocious predators from the Alien movies, weeds fit the bill.  Break ’em up into pieces and they spread doom.  Removing them is tricky and back-breaking work.  If you let them past the beachhead of sprout they soon grow out of control.

Weeds are also our friends in a twisted sort of way.  They move into hostile ground and turn it to their advantage, wresting a baseline of nutrients out of almost nothing and returning it to the ground.  You can’t argue with a series of plants that insist on growing no matter how difficult the repression of our desire for the “order” of a cultivated garden.

Do weeds suffer, and cry out as they transform the land into something from nothing, messing up our plans for an easy go of things like tricksters keeping it real?

Artists today are like weeds.  The environment of inauthentic wasteland monoculture breeds tougher and tougher weeds.  Until those who aren’t committed to growing to their vision, and I mean committed enough to be humbled by the whole thing yet keep doing the work, end up not being there the next time.  You’ll just see their remains, swallowed up by the earth.

If they do suffer, they’re singing the blues, from the ground up mutha-scratchas.

Okay, so like what the dame Hek is going on?  I’ll tell you what’s going on, total craziness, that’s what’s happenin’ yo.

The brand new trans-triple headed crossroads warp core is installed and calibrated.  The whole honeycomb hideout resonates with the sound of the rhythms of the grave, from the ground up.  The cats might as well be staying on a gigantic spaceship of peace and love with catgrass on the house.  Even the catboxes are ghost free and soothing to the rump.

Took me and K a while to recover from “stunned” and then the disorientation hit.  That kind of strange contentment that comes from breaking free of a conflagration-fulmination into blue skies.  At first you think you’re hallucinating.  But it’s true, it’s true, it’s dame Hek true ahroo!

Back at the controls, I’m thinking about Ariadne’s thread.  Yeah, we all need a grounding out technique to keep us from getting lost.  But what if the minotaur needed a thread too?  You know, so he could keep from getting lost to the outside world?  What you say?!  Monsters with a guidemap to jack us?  Hek-yeah.

It’s a two way street, coming and going, departure, return.  Aum.

And that goes for the divine as well as us human losers on this patch of dirt.  The living spirit looks to us to try.  Judging by that haunted house labyrinth I think some journeys are a one time only limited time offer.

I have the sense of answering the living spirit’s own prayer here, that there is a seeing up at the heavens and beholding earth.  How many people ever get to go to the moon and look up in the sky to see themselves, their home suspended above from what was supposed to be above for so long in our imaginations?

I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles.

We are the aliens, landing at a Mount Olympus near you.  Do we bring messages of peace and advanced technology, or are we coming to invade?  Are we bound by the prime directive when visiting Saint Anthony’s cottage for a cup of tea?  Whose outside world manifestation are we anyway?  Boxes within boxes, elephants all the way down.

Okay, I know there’s a reason we have “drains” at the front of bathtubs.  To keep water from overflowing and making a mess.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to override this safety feature.  And the bathtubs in this country as a default really don’t serve adult size bodies very well.  They’re too shallow.

I suppose this is to allow easy step-in and step-out, or maybe to make crawling out easier in case one is overwhelmed by the hot water.  But then why not just make all bathtubs shower stalls instead?  It’s a middle of the road compromise that makes for a pretty shoddy generic bath experience.

I mean, if the average bathtub were even a few inches deeper it would make all the difference.  Part of the pleasure of civilized immersion is in the knowledge that one is, without a doubt, securely doused.

Yes, yes, one can always do a workaround or purchase for themselves a more suitable arrangement.  I’m well aware of that.  Why, imagine, one could very easily just drive to some facility somewhere and partake of their options.  What a truly advanced civilization we are!

My point is, we’re talking about the default, absolute minimum you can expect.  You can always buy yourself a plastic cover for the front drainage area, but if the bathtub has a textured surface this won’t work.  One is forced, as always, to use advanced technology suitable to the undeveloped situation at hand.

The washcloth.

Jam that confounded cloth into the drainage holes and you will get some measure of improvement in the situation.  Although, as I have noticed, some bathtubs are plus or minus a few inches.  One cannot pretend to be a pleased crocodile with eyes and nostrils peering above the water for tasty ideas to crop up in one’s saurian brain if one does not have a satisfactory illusion propping up one’s suspension of disbelief.

I’ve got a technique to maintain here people!

However, there’s a second potential fly in the soup to consider.  How powerful the water heater is.  There’s the pathetic half-size heaters in many apartments that barely give you a decent shower, let alone allow you a solidly hot and full bathtub.

Then there are the “almost there” heaters that seem to choke on the last 10% of the amount required.  Scalding hot water comes out cool within moments, and if you aren’t paying attention you’ve got ice cubes in your hot tea, so to speak.  What a major rip off!

There was one good thing about the haunted house.  The downstairs bathtub had a decent volume, it was one the same level as the heater, so no loss of amount on its way up the pipes to reach you.  The water never failed to be perfectly hot and satisfying.

As long as I was willing to ignore the third light bulb of four flickering on and off at random moments, the door with no doorknob (just a big hole for ghosts to peer through), and the thought that only a drywall separated me and the Chucky doll in the spooky basement—why I could regularly have an awesome experience!

It really is like trying to put together an alchemical experiment at times.

The new living quarters are situated in a nice forgotten world, suitable for K, the kitties and I to recover safely from our ordeal in the crum-bum haunted house.  We’re puttering around the house, K and I, trying to figure out what to allocate our slowly increasing warp power to today.

I get a transmission from my way-out, surprisingly random Aquarius friend Mar-Jam, also known as “Goddess”, solver of prickly practical problems, and strangely clever girl.  She knows I’m a big-big monster, so I like a big-big bite.  Thus the three-megabyte image attached to the transmission of a tri-force shelf unit of impeccable usefulness in just the right dramatic moment.

Move heavy objects and do some more work on the new place’s layout, when we’re still recovering from the month long moving nightmare?  You bet.  We need more shelves and they need to fit this one area near the kitchen in just the dramatically appropriate way.  We’d be fools to turn down this mission, and all it’s attendant experience points (only true adventurers need apply).

We get to see Mar-Jam’s nifty living quarters (and we take notes on the controlled randomness obscurity circuitry we see), and her adorable little ones absorbing nutrients from the tidepool they are living in.  With the help of her handy other half we transport the goods to the Honeycomb Hideout .  They get rid of junk, and we make use of junk!

Everybody wins, ice cream on the house.

There’s some damage—cuts, aches and pains—all that good stuff from taking on such a mammoth task.  But the three shelving units plug into the hyper-altimeter retro space byway like they were meant to be there all along.  It’s then that we realize what has come to our humble abode:  Cat Town.

By some strange arrangement of the furniture, the tops of the tall shelves are a perfect place for the cats to hang out and survey the downstairs situation.  Frankee finds the secret route over the mountains first.  Then Michael, fat and ungainly monticore that he is, manages to attain heights I haven’t seen since he was a young monticore.  It’s unreal!

Of course, the shelves make perfect storage units for the china, extra dishes, and various assorted things we’ve been dying to unpack but couldn’t find the right disembarkment combination for.

So, welcome to Cat Town, highest point in the downstairs living energy flow, with lots of space to plop down comfortably.  Plenty of great angles to rub one’s fur against, and also enough of a sunk-in effect to peer down if necessary or hang one’s paws over lazily.  I am sure it will only be a matter of time before cat beds, soft towels and other assorted comfy surfaces begin to accumulate.  Along with favored toys carried up to be ripped lovingly to shreds in the safety of alpine security.

But wait, there’s more!  It even comes with a bonus for humans too.  Within moments of plugging in Cat Town, K and I find ourselves inspired to do more work on the house.  The downstairs and upstairs bathrooms are cleaned, cleansed, and made fully pleasing to our mind’s eyes.  Unpacking galore!  At last we can open up both rooms to the cats, having arranged all things to our liking.

It’s like in a video game when you open up a whole new area of the adventure board.  Hey, I’ll take the bonus.  The cats are the happiest I’ve seen them since we smuggled them free of the haunted house under a blood red sky, and landed them in the new place with their eyes bugging out, hardly daring to believe it was true.

There is no place I know to compare with pure imagination.

My policy is not to talk about work, but I believe this is a suitable exception.  I’m not one for following my rules off a cliff I suppose you might say.  Mr. Punch, being an intriguing rascal, appears to enjoy stirring things up.

So.  Not one to easily forget the discovery I made of Mr. Punch in an earlier post, I bided my time.  The passing of time elapsed, and an opportunity presented itself to me in the form of a talent show at work.

I didn’t immediately recognize it as such.  Many folks where I work recognize that I have certain leanings towards the creative performance.  So it wasn’t a surprise when I said randomly, “Sure, sign me up.  I don’t know what I’ll do, but whatever.”

The show approached, and all I could think of was doing some unformulated comedy routine.  Meanwhile, the other volunteers honed their ideas and practiced what they would share with the rest of us at the office.  Heartfelt duets, piano-violin duets, funny duets.

Me, I had nothing.  And from nothing comes something, or rather, Mr. Punch came along and said I should do a show for him.  The folks at the office would love it, and I would get a chance to actually run a show.

You see, I’ve been doing a lot of Internet reading about Mr. Punch.  Not just to search for clues, but because I found the whole concept fascinating.  Perhaps I might actually become a “professor” one day!  That’s a person who is a Punch and Judy performer, by the way.  It has roots in the old days, when professors weren’t merely academics but also people with mystical or showmanship skills.

Okay, I have no funds right now, having spent all my reserves moving out of the haunted house.  There’s no way I was going to actually be able to buy real props.  Not with two days to go before the big show, where I was getting the feeling I’d be standing up on stage like a frightened Andy Kaufman, except it wouldn’t be an act.

So, I pored over Punch and Judy scripts and made one of my own.  Well, in true rip-off street entertainer style I snatched up a bunch of ideas from other professors online.  I decided on Punch, Judy, and the Constable, with the Devil for a chaser.  Memorized some classic lines and that was that.

Next, a makeshift stage.  Obtained some tall, stiff cardstock and taped it together.  Large enough for me to sit behind and raise my hands above.  A bit wobbly—wouldn’t it be hilarious if it fell down during the performance?  Well, that’s show biz folks.  I’d run with it.  The great thing about Punch and Judy shows is they are designed to be totally improvised and mobile if the situation calls for it.

Finally, the puppets.  Again, ripping off pictures of Punch characters from the Internet and printing them out.  I traced the outlines onto a fresh piece of paper and exaggerated the lines a little to make them larger.  Then I colored the faces and cut them out.  Taking four brown paper lunch bags, I glue-sticked the faces on to the bottoms.  When the bags are folded, the faces “face” forward and have a little motive ability.

For Punch’s stick I used a cardboard tube from a paper towel roll.

I practiced the voices and the lines back and forth for an hour.  Slept on it.  And then the next day I’m at work ready to go!  We are talking a dirt cheap, bare bones, never been done before by me, on the fly show.  Boy I sure hope I don’t choke!

Mr. Punch came through.  I did the work, and he had my back when the time came for him to show up.  There’s something primordial about puppet shows, and archetypal characters on stage that has a strong life energy of its own.  The show was a big hit, with people laughing at the stupidity of the paper bag puppets talking in funny voices.  The interactivity really makes the audience implicit in the story, while still allowing them to be particpationists (it’s all rote responses right….right?!).  This is what genius is made of.

I didn’t think I would be able to run all three side characters in the five-minute time slot, but it all flowed beautifully.  Judy boggled at the audience larger than she could cook for, so she decided to call in delivery (the office was having a lunch afterwards of Chick-Fil-A).  The constable was suitably outraged at Punch’s misbehavior.  And when the Devil showed up there was a nice chill down the audience’s spine, at the same time a hope Punch would get his comeuppance this time!

I don’t know when I’ll get to do a Punch and Judy show again.  It’s a tremendous privilege for Mr. Punch to come along and give me even one opportunity in life.  I feel as if I’ve participated in an ancient, honorable tradition and made people happy.

And that’s the way you do it.

Okay, so what did I like about the Harry Potter movies?  Some of the characters stand out as appealing to me.  There are times when I really enjoyed what was happening because it was portrayed well.

I like Snapes a great deal.  He strikes me as the most human of all the characters.  His bitterness is compelling all the more because its over a love lost to one’s tormentor.  Despite his obvious competence he wears a serious face to mask his insecurity.  He hides it well, but also seems to have a realistic fear of and appreciation for what Voldemort can do.

I continue to be impressed by Alan Rickman’s work as an actor.  His portrayal of Snapes never lets me think for a moment he is an actor playing a part.  His mere presence improves nearly every scene he appears in.  Easily, he’s consistently the best part of the movies.

I also like Hermione.  I’ve had my fill of overt, know-it-all female sidekicks, but somehow she works for me.  I totally buy that she’s a driven overachiever, attempting to live up to the pressures of being from a non-wizard family.  Despite her mask of self-control, she shows moments of vulnerability and insight.  Of Harry’s friends I feel she comes closest to being his equal in adventure.

The actress portrays her with a little less depth than I’d like, but still does a good job.  Better anyway, than a lot of the other actors around her phoning it in.  Harry always gets the attention and Ron is there for comic relief.  But I usually get the feeling that whatever Hermione is working on is based on her hard work.  Whether it’s saving the day with a little time travel or brewing a shapechange potion, when she gets to act with agency she does it nicely.  No fumbles there.

As far as scenes go, I think a few are done well enough to make me forget I’m watching a dysfunctional Hollywood movie.

I liked the scene where a torrent of letters come flying into the house to tell Harry his adventure has arrived.  I found that both hilarious and heart-warming.   It’s an affirmation that our destiny will drag us toward it willingly or not, and push anyone who stands in the way aside.

The scenes involving the cloak of invisibility tend to be pretty good.  Invisibility is an awesome power to have, and whenever Harry uses it I feel like he is being his own person.  There are so many people keeping secrets from Harry, not just enemies.  I like that he is able to turn the tables and get his own answers at times.

When Harry uses the Patronus charm to save his other timeline self and his godfather is pretty awesome.  He’s been practicing, facing his fears under the tutelage of probably the only competent Dark Arts tutor in the series.  Then when the time comes for him to be the great wizard (that is, embody the image everyone has of his father for once), he performs magnificently.

Come to think of it, the whole adventure where Harry and Hermione travel back in time to complete the timeline is pretty awesome.

The return of Voldemort just after Harry and Cedric win the tri-wizard cup is probably my favorite.  Cedric is killed almost immediately, showing us how stupid the cup challenge is as a measure of best wizard.  For once, Voldemort has the upper hand.  He achieves a major goal in getting a physical body again, punking out the so-called good guys and getting in some serious gloat while he’s at it.  He chitchats with his death-eater pals, showing us exactly how the other side interacts.

It was a mistake for him to let Harry go, given that Harry still had a really stupid Deus Ex Machina card to get him out of the jam.  But I can forgive Voldie for not having meta-story knowledge.  It’s still cool to watch Harry say, “fine, have it your way” and go out fighting.  Essentially tossing the expectations on his shoulders aside and accepting his death.

I was hoping he’d use the Patronus charm and catch everyone off-guard enough for him to escape (let that be a lesson to you Voldie!), which would make logical sense and rock the mike.  But the confusing and out of the blue save by the power of love ruins the scene, reducing it to just awesome.

Finally, even though it leads nowhere, I still liked Harry’s training of the students in the secret room.  Having fought and escaped the big dude baddie makes him somebody worth listening to.  And the dedication it takes to deceive the school authorities while teaching the students to fend for themselves is awesome.

The community rallies together in a sane and serious manner to prepare themselves for danger.  Plus the fact that the school reveals a hidden personality dedicated to just such a purpose is a nice touch.  It turns the school into something more than just an indoctrination center.

Basically I enjoyed scenes where I felt the characters had permission to matter.  That is, where they had agency enough to control their fates.  Too often I felt they were pulled around by circumstance and forced to react rather than act.  When they assumed control of their own lives, for good or ill, I was drawn in.

Fundamental problems aside, the movies themselves are awful for the most part.  Like the Batman franchise, the people at the helm have no clue about what to do with the material.  It’s dysfunctional, all over the place, amateurish attempts at audience manipulation.

Despite a pretty detailed (if simplistic) world in the books to draw upon, the movie-makers seem unable to work with the material.  They are simply unable to craft scenes that get to the heart of the plot, let alone draw out nuances implied in the text.  A lot of time is spent throughout all six movies watching scenes thrown together without logic or understanding.

Unless you’ve read the books most of the scenes are extremely confusing.  Half the time I was wondering what was going on or what the significance was of what had just happened.  So much looked like filler that could have been cut out.  That’s not an endorsement.  If you need recourse to the books to understand the film it’s a poor adaptation.

I don’t buy that there’s too much to fit into a movie.  You could literally tell the story of all seven books in one movie.  People want to believe all of it is important, but it really isn’t when you are talking the short-term medium of the film.  You want the whole thing made visual, clamor for a TV series.

Given that we have a film a book (and two for the finale!), not only is it possible to fit in the essentials but more than a few nice touches.  It’s possible, and it’s been done before for other adaptations.  These movie-makers just aren’t up to the challenge.

This isn’t a manifesto or a detailed analysis (I just ain’t that interested), but here a few major goof ups from each of the films that illustrate what I’m talking about.  I’m not even going to touch the theme that some of these ideas are pretty basic Dungeons and Dragons awfulness, that’s fish for someone else to fry.  I’m assuming that you at least buy the world as it is even if it doesn’t please you.

Spoilers are a-comin’ in, ahroo!

HP & The Sorcerer’s Stone
Too much time is spent getting us into the world of Hogwarts and not enough developing the main conflict (the race to reach the stone).  For example, once it’s established that the letters are going to keep coming until Harry goes to school, move on to the next scene people.

Instead we get a ridiculous scene where Harry’s foster family somehow manages to go to an island lighthouse just off the coast and hole up there so we can go through this again.  Never mind the believability, this just wastes time.  The point was made very well clear the first time that Harry’s Destiny is ON.  The Call To Adventure doesn’t take fifteen minutes for goodness sake!

The time they wasted on that could have been used to shorten the movie (and improve the pace) or make room for a longer scene to allow themes to develop better.  I’m biased, but for example they could have put back in the deleted scene with Snape.

It’s an interesting scene because it demonstrates his incredible knowledge (and it’s a clue for viewers as to the identity of the “prince” in movie six), as well as drives home the point that there’s something about Harry that is personal to Snape—look how close the man gets even as he applies realistic skepticism to the fanciful image of Savior Harry.  It’s a character “tell” as well as a good lesson.

HP & The Chamber of Secrets
In the first film, a hostile giant troll roamed the halls of Hogwarts without getting jacked by all sorts of magical defenses one would think the professors in a magical society would have.  We can fan-wank (that is, imagine given our meta-story knowledge) that “the man with two faces” being in a professor’s position disabled those, allowing the troll free reign.

In this movie we have a gigantic snake-like creature roaming the halls turning people to stone.  At least, I think that’s what was happening.  One wonders why the basilisk didn’t poison the victims for good measure, but Voldemort (in the form of Tom Riddle via mental possession of Harry) isn’t exactly eating with both hands here.  Which makes me wonder how he’s still alive, because crazy people tend to make mistakes in high-stakes games.

Anyway, it’s hard to imagine a gigantic snake moving through the halls without somebody else noticing.  Even more so in a restrictive environment where Harry can’t walk through the halls at night without the risk of someone giving him detention.  This thing is gigantic (maybe sixty or seventy feet long), and not exactly quiet or likely to leave things like wall hangings or furniture intact as it slithers about.

I think the basilisk is made huge because Hollywood movie-makers equate size with power.  The basilisk really should have been a lot smaller.  The strength of the tooth Harry uses on the book is in the poison, not the size.  Really, you have a poisonous monster that can kill you if you look at it (or petrify you if you see the reflection), does it really need to be that size and stretch all credibility?

Go to YouTube and watch what constrictor snakes only fifteen feet long do to guys trying to capture them on nature shows.  Now imagine that if it bites you or you look at it you’re dead.

HP & The Prisoner of Azkaban
There’s a scene where Sirius Black, the super evil second-in-command werewolf to Voldemort, shows up to initiate The Big Reveal of the film.  He’s really a good guy who was framed.  Lupin, the new tutor for Defense Against The Black Arts and Harry’s new trusted friend, has been protecting him.  And he’s also a werewolf (but a different kind).  The real bad guy is rat-tooth man who has been masquerading as Ron’s rat all along.  For fourteen years.

Got that?  All of this is revealed onscreen so fast I could barely understand what was happening.  Other than a vague hint that something is amiss with Lupin, and the sudden additional screentime of Ron with his rat familiar (the function of rat familiars is never explained), there are no hints to any of this throughout the entire movie.

No sooner does Harry start to comprehend that his new friend has deceived him (like all the other adults) then the movie drags to a halt, as the plot has to assimilate these new developments and make some sense of them.

Hollywood loves the surprise ending, but they nearly always fail because it isn’t the audience that should be surprised.  It’s the characters.  Movie-makers always focus on the audience instead of the characters.

HP & The Goblet Of Fire
My favorite WTF moment is in the beginning of the film.  You have a camp of what must be tens of thousands of wizards with their families and friends.  If I understand the context it’s an international grouping so you are bound to have all sorts of people with different points of view, life experiences and magical training.  The magical arena must be seating at least fifty thousand people.  All the big dude dinners of the magical world are there, including Dumbledore.

As near as I can tell, a half dozen Voldemort supporters (called death-eaters) attack this gathering with what look like crappy fire bolts.  These thousands of wizards run screaming home as the camp burns up in flames.  There’s a panic, but only Harry gets trampled into unconsciousness (without any physical or psychological after-effects from such a traumatic experience).  The death-eaters then disappear without taking any casualties.

Nobody talks about how six wizards terrorized thousands without a scratch.  If it was just the section that Harry was in, why isn’t this portrayed?  Not that this would explain how they escaped without a scratch or why everyone panicked, given that the magical world is so violent and random.  It makes no sense at all.

I mean, at this point in the series are we supposed to be taking all this as fantastical metaphors of some kind?

HP & The Order Of The Phoenix
Two-thirds of the film is used to build up a repressive, insane bureaucrat as the villain.  The students band together and train to learn magic despite the bureaucrat’s attempts to crush them (without any interference from parents, faculty or the slight majority of bureaucrats who voted Harry “not-guilty”).

When the big moment of confrontation comes, the community doesn’t band together to remove this madwoman from power and put her away.  Harry and Hermione lead her into the forest where she conveniently disappears.

Do the efforts of the students mean anything?  No.  They neither defeat the madwoman nor show off their new skills (and foresight) fighting off a Voldemort attack.  Do the efforts of the madwoman lead to tragedy when the students are unprepared, showing how one must not surrender to repression?  No.  It’s all filler.

The movie might have well started with Dumbledore and Voldemort fighting, then ended with Prime Minister Whats-his-name saying, “Voldemort is back!”

HP & The Half-Blood Prince
Traitorous Malfoy lets the bad guys past the now-activated magical defenses into Hogwarts.  Okay, Trojan Horse idea done to death but it works.  Malfoy’s inner struggle might prove interesting if they focus on it.

Nope, all about young lust for half the film.  And letting the bad guys in is all part of the cunning plan to let the death-eaters see Snapes kill Dumbledore.  Because Voldemort, being enough of a chess player to beat the chess challenge in the first film, does not understand the concept of sacrificing pieces to set up a checkmate.

Lets see, most powerful good wizard dead.  Second most powerful on bad guys side (or at least pretending to be and thus needs to stand by while atrocities are committed).  Near as I can tell just Miss Crabapple, The Mini-me Magician, and a handful of no-liner professors left.  Students are totally unaware and vulnerable.  Bad guys have run of the place.

Do the evil death-eaters, led by crazy woman who kills people at the drop of a hat go on a rampage?  This is their chance to wipe out all the students and professors unsympathetic to their cause.  They should have a list of the dozen or so people they’d spare, given that Malfoy and others have been observing events at Hogwarts for six years now.

Do they take this opportunity to loot for powerful magical items and destroy any parts of Hogwarts not suitable to the new Voldemort order?  Do they even take Harry Potter with them as a prisoner?


They blow up the dinner hall furnishings and burn Hagrid’s hut for dramatic vandalism appeal (which comes off as funny, not tragic, because Hagrid is always an un-serious character and thus the butt of jokes).  Then they depart.

This is never explained.  There’s no excuse for this kind of plain lazy movie-making.  We aren’t talking about Critters 2:  The New Batch!  I mean, to explain why they don’t go on a mass murder rampage, all you have to do is have the following occur:

Random death-eater: “Crazy woman whose name begins with a B, I sense the dementors are coming.  We’d better split, sister.”

Crazy woman whose name begins with a B: “You’re right.  Even though we could take on fifty thousand wizards in the fourth film, I feel an intestinal grip coming.  Lets leave it for the next two films.”

Sadly, Hollywood continues only to be able to make good movies by accident.  But all is not completely lost, stay tuned.