Monday, April 24, 2006

Heads Up: Vagrant Post Weeks Ahead

BTW, due to the coming workload and a bit of travel, I won't be posting daily for the next couple of weeks, after this Thursday's post. This doesn't mean I'm leaving the blog or inattentive, just dealing with limited computer access and precious little time, in which other duties take precedent.

I'll be back on the daily regimen as of May 6th. Thanks!
A Word Challenge I Had Fun With before 8 AM, a Quiz for You to Take, Awful Places I Love, and More...

I just cobbled together the following, using a list of "8 words you probably don't know" emailed from HomeyM -- the word list is at the end of this morning's post:

"Though living and practicing his craft in the late 1700s, by all accounts Andre LaTouche was apparently a forensic pathologist avant la lettre; lit only by a contraption comprised of candles with bobeches, affected not at all by the rebarbative, LaTouche breached resting coffins at many a lich gate, completing his labors before the funeral procession even knew he'd been there, and entered countless mausoleums in his time. He decoded arcane and boustrophedon runes on coffin lids; demonstrated himself proficient as a vexillologist, including the most unusual familial coats-of-arms imaginable; and it is reported that he once lifted a dactylogram from the glabrous pate of the recently-deceased. He may have done much, much more, but there were not the words in his lifetime for all he had pioneered."

Hmmm, maybe a story in this... maybe not. Come to think of it, it's a bit too much like the character Johnny Depp played in Sleepy Hollow; anyhoot, a fun Monday morn exercise.

A far more engaging Monday morning game is this bit of fun, compliments of an email from my amigo Jean-Marc Lofficier; he and I both scored in the 80s (Jean-Marc a bit higher than I at his 85% score).

How did you do? Check it out
  • the LGF quiz!

  • ________

    Before I get back to the WRIF films and Existo (a long time waiting on that, eh? Wanted to time it a bit closer to the WRIF showing), just a quick note to say I caught Silent Hill at a weekend matinee and loved it -- in fact, it's the first horror flick in some time to have impacted directly on my sleep, and that's saying something for this grizzled horror vet.

    It's not that the film per se 'scared' me (few do, ever), but that the imagery and atmosphere really stuck with me. Though drawn from a video game (reportedly one of the best horror games, though I've never played it and have no interest in doing so -- I'm not a video game kinda guy), the nerves Silent Hill plucked in my skull were resonant ones: specifics from some of my favorite Italian horror films (a bit of Bava, a little Soavi, a lot of Fulci), some echoes (in a way, a culmination of) of the better Clive Barker films (specifically Hellraiser), and the overall ambience of the films I loved most from the '60s and '70s. No, the film touched something deep for me, and though it may not for you or anyone else, my experience of it is all I can address.

    Roger Avary's script is a construct that places us in "awful place" after "awful place," giving the characters (and the viewer) just enough time to taste, touch, and see the "awful place" just long enough to get a little of your head around it, then -- voomp -- on to the next "awful place," after just a piece of the narrative jigsaw puzzle is given in the lull. This clearly drove much of the (surprisingly middle-aged) matinee audience nuts, but I love this approach to cinema. I go to horror movies to visit such "awful places," as many as I can, and whether the "awful place" is Moreau's isle or Henry's apartment (Eraserhead) or a certain corner of Texas where a man wearing a mask made of human skin dwells, it's the exploration of those "awful places" that pulls me back time and time again.

    Some of my favorite "awful place" films make no linear narrative 'sense' -- Carnival of Souls, The Beyond, Tourist Trap, Eraserhead, Begotten, etc. -- though they maintain their own perverse internal dream/nightmare logic, and that is part and parcel of any truly "awful place." As I've noted here, even as pallid an "awful place" film as the recent House of Wax work for me as long as the "awful place" resonates (and that one did, especially in its last fifteen minutes).

    And make no mistake: Silent Hill is a pip of an "awful place" movie.

    It didn't hurt, either, that Silent Hill organically meshes elements of Italian horror (Operazione Paura/Kill Baby Kill), Japanese ghost films and Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (first and foremost, from all, the iconographic 'spectral child' driving the movie) and The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone (from OL's "A Feasibility Study" and a number of beloved TZ gems) without losing its own distinctive flavor and identity in the blender. Much as I liked Avary's confection (the best video-game derived feature yet, though that might be considered damning with faint praise), though, it's director Christopher Gans who pulls it all together with ample style and intensity. I looooooooooooooved Gans's marvelous Brotherhood of the Wolf, and he has helmed another potentially ungainly cross-genre effort with the same rigorous attention to character and setpieces, utter conviction, and at times visionary zeal that made Brotherhood so delicious an experience on the big screen.

    But I think it was the core premise of Silent Hill -- the suffocating sense of a placeless place, the cartography of 'limbo' -- that stuck with me with such lasting malignance.

    A brief explanation and back story: Being raised Catholic as I was, cathechism was a staple of every week, usually taught by nuns who made the trip to Waterbury, VT for our weekly instructions. The very point at which I began questioning the faith in which I was being raised was during one of the most memorable of all Catechism classes, around the age of 7 or 8, when our absent classmate C---- (I'll not give his name) returned surrounded by the news his mother had "lost" her baby, the baby C---- had spoken of with such anticipation. C---- asked our nun instructor -- whose name I simply don't recall, only her face -- what happened to his little brother who hadn't made it into this world. We'd already been taught about "Original Sin," the necessity for baptism, and C---- was deeply concerned about the soul of his little unborn (never-to-be-born) brother.

    So the sister told us about Limbo.

    I recall most vividly the look on C----'s face: the color slowly draining, the quiet tear that ran down one cheek, the look of slow trauma settling like a caul over him.

    I recall C---- thereafter unable to speak to any of us, sitting by himself thereafter for days, and absent from Catechism for some time after that.



    I couldn't imagine, at a tender age, a more horrible 'place' -- a 'non-place' that sounded worse than any imaginable hell, all the more chilling for being 'un-earned' and 'un-deserved.' It forever changed my view of the world, of the religion I was being raised within. The rational question that emerged, unbidden, in my 7 or 8-year-old mind -- "How does she know that?" -- turned, in the time it took me to recognize the irrevocable damage registering on C----'s face, to "How could she know that?" to "How can anyone know that?" By the end of the class, I couldn't reconcile the sadism of what we'd all just experienced sitting at our desks, the cruelty of it, with all I'd been led to believe about our teacher, all nuns, all priests, Catholicism, all religion.

    That's what Silent Hill tapped for me.

    Silent Hill lifts its most hellish imagery from the video game, including some staggering demonic presences (accompanied by those damned human-faced stinging insects) that are as imaginative as any ever put on film. In this way, for all its touchstones (via imagery and action) with the video game and the films and filmmakers I've already named, among so many others (most creative use of barbed wire since Prison and the UK WW1 gem Deathwatch; most vivid burning witch imagery since The Witchfinder General and The Devils, though there's echoes of Pyro, Mad Max, The Medusa Touch, Patrick, etc.; and the most wrenching narrative turn regarding characters since, well, Gans's Brotherhood of the Wolf), Silent Hill didn't just evoke, it inhabited the clammy Lucio Fulci universe of The Beyond and House by the Cemetary.

    It's a threnody to those spirits in limbo; it places us 'in-between,' and teases us with the exits and stairwells out.

    That's what haunted me all the night after I saw Silent Hill: the sense of being 'unstuck' and 'in-between' -- limbo.

    Though images from the film indeed informed my fleeting dreams (I can't call them nightmares, honestly, as I enjoyed them too much; I love these cinematic residuals when they come), it was more the way having seen the film made deep sleep impossible. I was, for hours, in my own bed limbo -- in between fitful bouts of sleep; in between elusive dreams, all informed by the film; in between waking and sleeping, laying with eyes open and dreaming with eyes shut -- and that was all thanks to Silent Hill.

    From me, that's a recommendation.


    [As promised, the contents of HomeyM's "8 words you probably don't know":]

    avant la lettre  before the (specified) concept, word, person, etc. existed [a mid-Victorian matron who was a feminist avant la lettre]

    bobeche  n. a disk of glass, metal, etc. with a center hole placed around the top of a candlestick to catch the candle drippings

    boustrophedon adj. designating or of an ancient form of writing in which the lines run alternately from right to left and left to right

    vexillology  n. the study of flags --vexillologist n.

    dactylogram n. a fingerprint

    glabrous adj. Biol. without hair, down, or fuzz; bald

    lich gate [Brit.] a roofed gate at the entrance to a churchyard, where a coffin can be set down to await the arrival of the clergyman

    rebarbative adj. repellent, forbidding, grim, etc.