Alright, so in the previous post I somewhat circuitously got around to explaining how keeping up with my friends has resulted in my being exposed to movies I would not otherwise have seen. That was only half the fun. I’d like to share with you some films we’ve watched over the past few months along with absolutely ironclad reasons why you too should watch them.
Elevator to the Gallows was our first film and an absolutely fantastic film. You can hardly go wrong starting with a Criterion restored flick. The first film from the director of My Dinner with Andre and Au revior, les enfants, it is the story of a successful businessman who plots to kill his boss—and love’s husband—and the series of circumstances that follow. It is somewhere between film noir and New Modern and features an unexpectedly spectacular score.
One of my own picks—though I’d never seen it—and one I was unlike to watch on my own. I first heard of Ordinary People from Martin Starr’s character on Party Down. There should be no mistake, this is one amazing downer of a flick and it is as likely as anything else in your life to drive you to nihilism. It features perhaps one of the worst mother’s this side of Baby Jane and plenty of early influence of contemporary mumblecore. All that said, it is a very powerful movie and for my money, a film that everyone in their late twenties out to watch.
Chosen by my lady and promoted to the group as “The Crucible with lesbians’” The Children’s Hour tells of the witchhunt that ensues when spurious rumors against a grade school teacher’s sexuality earn her the ire of the community. A good deal more follows after that, as well. Chelsea chose this flick for us because so many of Hepburn’s films have fallen by the wayside in modern consciousness and, as she said, we far too often do not get to see her talent on the silver screen. Acting along side Shirley MacLaine, she was quite right. Hepburn had chops.
Dark Star was my friend Walter’s pick and I can only assume he was trying to play his (and his lady’s) love of camp against my affinity for sf. This was another film with which we were all unfamiliar and we went into it unaware that it was meant to be a comedy. Even so, it is often funny unintentionally, features a scene of inter-species sexual assault, more ’70s hair that you’ll know what to do with, and the best space surfing ever seen. This was John Carpenter's first film, evidently written and rewritten during the course of his adolescence.
Another of my picks, though in this case I had previously seen the movie. I love recommending The Man from Earth to people because though the acting is very strained and the entire action takes place in the living room of a remote cabin, it is great fodder for conversation. The story depicts a man who has survived 14,000 years revealing to his latest group of colleagues and friends his hallowed past. My group is pretty evenly split between religious and non-religious folks and when you see the film, you’ll recognize immediately why that is significant as well as just one of the many discussion topics this high concept film evokes.
Did you know there was a made for TV Star Wars Holiday Special? Well, I did, but for reasons that are perhaps quite obvious I never sought it out. Why? Ok, well, I don’t care for variety shows. Doesn’t much matter that I never sought it out, as it has never been released for purchase. It only ever aired once and with good reason, though we can thank or lucky stars—or maybe Satan—that someone out there got the whole thing down on … I wanna say Betamax?
The TV special opens with Han and Chewy before quickly moving to a scene featuring Chewy’s family utterly devoid of subtitles that culminates in what I can only imagine must have been the Wookie grandfather’s orgasmic to his Life Day gift. Confused yet? It won’t get any better. Honestly, never watch this movie. Even the RiffTrax version was virtually unwatchable and we bailed about half way through. Lots of good jokes, sure, but almost all of it gallows humor. You know, the jokes you tell your similarly scarred war buddies.
LATE BONUS ADDITION:
Another of Jenn’s favorites, this movie is beyond ridiculous in so very many ways. Part of a slew of gang flicks from the ’70s, Swtichblade Sisters is what happens when you drop politics and court intrigue into the middle of modern day Detroit. If you like Tarantino’s obsession with grindhouse, check this one out. I can’t stand the guy—not since Kill Bill, at least—but it’s a ton of fun to watch with a group of friends.
We watch entirely too much TV, and I’m sure I’m no exception. When I was a kid, I remember seeing the average number of hours spent by America’s youth watching television and thinking it seemed low. But, of course, I was propping that number up. Some kids watch nothing at all while others, you own ilk, watch ridiculous amounts.
I was a latch-key kid and somewhere between my childhood adoration of books and the late teenaged rekindling of the same.
That isn’t to say I don’t still watch a lot of TV. We all Netflix is crazy, passionate sessions. Netflix says that most people finish a seasons of television in a week. Not to knock it. Some TV is far better in binge form. But just as I read voraciously as a youngster before giving it up for a time, I once jumped on the no-TV bandwagon, only to abandon it a couple of years later for a Nintendo Wii.
Over that same time, I swapped from a diet heavy on TV to one wide ranging in films. Then, it seemed, I went back on that as well. It seems I spend far to much time watching TV, often at the expense of movies. It isn’t hard to see why. Stephen King has lamented the unwillingness by most people to read short fiction. In his estimation, we like novels and series especially because we can down play the risk of not liking a character with the promise that, should we find one we love, we get to cozy up with them for days, weeks, or in the case of enormous fantasy series, months. We’re afraid of short stories, King insists, because ever new title is a game of Russian Roulette.
I’m inclined to agree, even as I see myself doing the same things. Over the last couple of years, I’ve read more genre than not and more series than standalone while also watching more episodic television than films. It is very cozy to be wrapped in people and stories you understand. I also try to fight that impulse by making myself read short fiction and watch unfamiliar films. Much like a morning run, I’m never sorry when I do and I’m often disappointed when I don’t.
Recently, some friends and I inadvertently made part of this process easier for me. Trust when I say I have no shortage of films I want to see, just limited time in which to watch them. With the constant constraints of work, my friends, lady, and I have been getting together weekly for movie nights. We all live in close proximity, but even so it can be hard to get to see people. Once a week, we meet at rotating houses to pick movies on the same basis. Sometimes there is a theme, other times the only rule is that no one else can have seen the film.
It’s been a mix, thus far, of exposure to new flicks and an absolute riot. Though we have all trod a common ground, those places where our tastes differ have been rich ground for movie nights, exposing each other to missed gems and under-appreciated titles. Of course, sometimes that leads us to absolute garbage flicks and out come the catty remarks, cat calls, and tomfoolery. All fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, we almost always descend into ridicule at some point in every movie. These movie nights have been a great way to keep us in good company, keep close to good friends, see new movies, and have a laugh.
It occurs that the more interesting version of this post might have been my favorite flicks from the new movies club, so let’s do that next…
It’s Saturday morning and I spent last night with excellent people sipping fine cocktails, eat dive bar food, and dancing to the ‘80s. I’m not quite ready to embark on writing today, so a little pseudo-writing procrastination, why not.
What was the last sf/f/h book you finished reading?
What was the last sf/f/h book you did not finish reading and why?
What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you liked but most people didn’t?
What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you disliked but most people did?
How long do your 1-sitting reading sessions usually last?
What are you currently reading?
Do you like it so far?
How long ago did you buy the book you are currently reading (or the last book you read)?
What was the last physical sf/f/h book you bought?
What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you like the most and why?
What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you dislike the most and why?
What is your favorite electronic reading device?
What was the last sf/f/h eBook you bought?
Do you read books exclusively in 1 format (physical/electronic)?
Do you read eBooks exclusively on a single device (eBook reader/ smartphone / tablet)?
Oh damn, I’m done. Time to write, slacker!
A lot of my shows are ending soon/have ended already (Mad Men, Parks and Rec, Falling Skies, Breaking Bad… ok, now I’m getting sad), so I’m always excited to replace them with something as good or better. It always seems a daunting prospect.
Outlander is a new novel adaptation from Starz, based on a series of the same name authored by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve not read any of the series, though a good friend recently pointed me towards the 2nd and 3rd books. As she said it, the first book is really about establishing place, character, and tropes before it gets at the meat of things.
The story’s premise is quite simple: Outlander is a time-slip story about Claire Randall, a former British Army nurse putting her life back together with her husband after WWII until she transported to the middle of the 18th century while on vacation in Scotland. It follows her attempts to get back to her husband and her own time. That said, the Wikipedia article indicates that the series overall is not just a time-slip story but instead covers multiple genres including “elements of historical fiction, romance, adventure and science fiction/fantasy.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the impetus for adapting this series is part of a trend in historical fiction and premium cable in general and a reaction to Game of Thrones in particular. While many series have come out of an interest in historical fiction, fewer have been adapted from genre-blurring works. As a big fan of both, they didn’t need much convincing for me to give the show a chance.
In that vein, the way the show adheres to and at other times defies the conventions of just these shows has made it an interesting addition to the list of those my lady and I watch together.
First, a tip of the hat to historical accuracy or, at the very least, earnest attempts in that direction. Eighteenth century Scottish dress and mores are not really in my wheelhouse, but if I’m to believe at least half of what I have read from reputable sources, they’re making a good effort. That said, Chels has more than once expressed concern for modern attitudes tempering the portrayals, most especially in Claire’s nicer than expected clothing as bestowed by her captors. I’m willing to accept that perhaps she is kept in nicer garments because of the pretense that this is still a guest, rather than a prisoner, but she is more skeptical. YMMV. In either case, the show makes for properly immersive historical world building, even if at times it messes with the facts.
One of the items in early reviews that most captured me was that the show featured prominently a sex-positive female protagonist. So many shows are all about male gaze and I was looking forward to a change of pace. I got it, to an extent, though perhaps some judgment must still be reserved.
The sheer volume of male gaze sex scenes in premium cable television had become a turn off of late. As a liberal cis-male, I’m almost tired of saying “enough already” to female nudity. Sex is an integral part of being a human and has a place in our fiction. So too is defecation a normal human function. Funny how that hasn’t similarly invaded television. Unfortunately, as sex is over used, we get to a point where we almost can’t tell what is meaningful use and what isn’t. Or perhaps worse yet, we get so sick of these depictions that we don’t even want to allow for the good uses.
I say we not merely for the like-minded but specifically for the people with whom I most often watch TV. Chels has hit a threshold already and I can’t blame here. Sex scenes on the big premium channels have tried to equate male and female torso nudity. Maybe one day we will get to that, but it isn’t the world we live in now. Right now, there is a continuum and at best female nudity from the waist up is somewhere in between male torso nudity and genitals, and it is definitely closer to the latter. JackOSpade (the other person with whom I watch a lot of TV, most especially GoT) is somewhat more selective, seeing as suspect every scene in every show but a little more willing to accept that it might have a use. Of course, he is often wrong, but it makes sense that another cis-male would be more willing to accept a sex scene, given that these scenes are basically meant for us. That said, he and I have both abandoned shows for the overuse.
The issue, besides a false equivalence, is often in sexualization. Far, far more often than not, female nudity is sexualized, even in instances of sexual violence, while male nudity is a joke or meant to discomfort the audience. I was almost excited to see male nudity proceed female nudity on The Leftovers until it became clear that the man was mentally unbalanced. Then, just one episode later, female nudity and YUP, it’s supposed to be sexy.
I digress a bit on this point because it is something that is bothersome as we watch more and more shows on premium cable and I don’t think I’ve expressed this concern before.
In the first three episodes of Outlander, there is at least one scene of the protagonist topless. In the fourth and most recent episode, no such scene. Most of these scenes are needless. While the pilot uses its nude scene—in addition to another sexual scene devoid of nudity—to establish the character as sex-positive and progressive, subsequent scenes haven’t served much of a purpose. Thankfully the show also works to sexualize one of the lead male roles (the show’s only looker, says Chels), though it is to an obviously lesser degree. So far, I have been happier with these changes, if not quite satisfied.
But there is something further to complicate the mess. I don’t think that they are wedging these scenes in for the typical “hook-the-18-to-34-year-old-males” angle. Instead, the writers and directors for Outlander don’tquite seem to trust either themselves or the audience. Outlander made heavy use of voiceovers in the pilot episode to deliver a lot of exposition. While not strictly necessary, I can understand the want to do this. The only problem is, they’ve continued to use it. It’s the worse part of the show by far. Every episode explains things directly to the viewer, spoon-feeding and thus undermining an otherwise pretty intelligent show. They’ve also made some strange musical choices to somewhat ham-fistedly push viewer emotions in one direction or another.
Outlander doesn’t need these nude scenes any more than it needs the voiceover or awkward music. Claire’s clothing choices, discussion topics, and comportment have been ample to convey the idea that she is progressive and sex-positive and that she is likely to be a disruptive influence at Castle Leoch.
It is an interesting show with a lot of promise. The first season is half through but they received an order for a second season of 13 episodes next year. Let’s hope the showrunners and writers are listening to the dialogue generated. It would take so little to shave off these extraneous elements from the show and restore execution to the story’s promise.
Are y’all listening?
The first thing to recognize is that these people do not seem to actually, physically exist. Everyone deserves it. At some point, everyone needs it. It should be out goal to give it freely and our hope that others do the same. Empathy can be difficult and it is certainly misunderstood. It is also one of the greatest, most important skills you can have towards a kinder, more cooperative world.
So let me begin by saying that I have significant empathetic failings before sidestepping that fact to explain issues important to empathy and how I have planned/will continue to implement them.
Without empathy, true understanding is not possible. It represents the difference between knowing something and getting it. I might know that the victims of violent crimes feel a sense of helplessness or might even experience PTSD or similar symptoms, but without empathy, it is never more than a flat fact. Empathy allows for understanding. Empathy allows us to make the fact human.
This is not to say that empathy is default or that by empathizing you will automatically agree or permanently see from X person’s point of view. You will only be capable of doing so.
Empathy is often seen as a prosocial behavior and if the plethora of blogs, stories, and essays posted daily dealing with empathy are any indication (they are) then you can safely say that the ability to empathize is of central importance to our daily lives.
Empathy tends to breakdown into two components, emotional and cognitive. One without the other can be problematic, so I’d like to think about both in concert.
Emotional empathy is about being able to identify and share the feelings of others, be that your SO, your best friend, your enemy, or a stranger. In theory, all one should need to do to identify and share is first listen, then care. In practice, this is not always the case. Just as every person deserves empathy, every person can be unique in a million different ways pertaining to their interpersonal skills. Personality disorders present some empathic difficulties, but so too do rough conditions in upbringing, political divisions, and the state of one’s life needs being met, to name a few. Listening is the biggie here and listening means more than hearing and judging. It means actively listening. If you’re listening to family talk about something they often experience and relate, maybe you’ve heard this story before. Or maybe you’ve fought recently and that comes to mind. Maybe you think they are approaching a problem or a feeling incorrectly (side note: short of self-harm, do not suppose that you know the correct way to address any feeling). But you (and I, because this is somewhere I fail at times) must stop, because that isn’t listening. It’s judging and it steps into the attempt to empathize and messes up the place. Instead, take the words as they come, place them into context, and dismiss your reactions to them. For now, only listen.
Maybe you are listening, though, and the person is experiencing something difficult to convey or you’re just not getting it. There is a lot of research to indicate that physically mirroring someone can help to place you in their state of mind. Keeping in mind that body language can be just as important to the listener as is your pretense, you can try to mirror their stature, position, and facial expressions to kick start motor neuron imitation and get you a little closer to their state of mind.
Which brings us to the cognitive portion of empathy. If you’re someone who readily understands emotions, perhaps this is where you have difficulties. I know it often is for me. This is the point at which I often step back from the person with whom I should be empathizing and instead consider their feelings from my own POV. I shouldn’t do it and neither should you.
This is a strange point for me because I often find it effortless to empathize with fictional characters or far off/abstract people while I have to make an effort to empathize with the person right in front of me, often a loved one. The issue, I think, may be a mixture of burnout and frame of reference. Burnout because this is a person with whom I engage regularly, while the Other, the character, the person in Australia is in a different part of the world, I don’t know them, and I’m willing to allow for a lot more variance in lifestyle and emotion. The frame of reference follows immediately, because when someone is of the same culture, location, age, perhaps even sex and gender, it can be much easier to think that they see the world much as you do and thus your response might work for them. This presupposes too much, including the idea that you own Theory of Mind is mirrored by theirs. So very much goes into understanding the mind of another and assuming that it is like your own is an almost sure-fire way of missing the mark.
To be sure, these things are neither automatic nor necessarily easy. There is a good deal of research to support a predisposition towards empathy and just as much to assert there is not. We often find gender differences only to turn around and find that we’ve measured the wrong part in emotional response or that we’ve only tested for social, rather than innate, attitudes. It seems the better approach may be empathy as skill, regardless of how well one empathizes to begin with. Perhaps the more intelligent approach is to work actively at empathizing so that, in the best case, you only get better with time and in the worst, you are making progress towards engaging people in a helpful, hopeful, and kind manner.
As with many talks about self-discipline and how we engage with others, I’m reminded of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, as related in the short film “This is Water”. If you’ve not seen it, I recommend watching it a few dozen times. It is perhaps one of the best bits of personal improvement advice I’ve ever heard. It comes to mind because Wallace points out how easy and automatically we can suppose the worst of someone. Inside our own minds, it is quite easy to suppose that someone is being a jerk, or inconsiderate, or oblivious. In the example of being stuck behind someone in traffic, he urged the students of the class of 2005 to take a moment to imagine that the person in front of you might be considering far more than you realize: “It’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive … Not that that … stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.”
It may seem a stretch in the wrong direction, but Wallace’s point that “[the] only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it” barest a repeat. This is perhaps one of the few capital-T true things about the human condition. It is up to the viewer to perceive as they wish and to do so with consideration of the rest of humanity. You can choose to be empathetic. It is necessary and like many things that are, it isn’t automatic.
What is initially active will become easy and automatic in time. Empathy can be treated as a skill for one to work on until the purposeful actions and thoughts become second-nature. In the meantime, focus on all that is gained in the attempt.