Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Side Trip!

Different focus this week, as Whedon has been a busy little bee.  It's been a big week.

First up, have you seen the first trailer for The Avengers?  Have you seen the fan-made shot-by-shot spoof of it?  Labor of love, I'm telling you.  (And thanks to Nikki Stafford for sending this our way)

The all-official trailer

Fans with too much time on their hands, but with some lovely dialogue:  "Gentlemen - and that one hot chick over there."

Time will tell if the film is anything other than a summer popcorn flick with pretty explosions, but to hear Whedon dialogue being said by Robert Downey, Jr. gives me hope.  And a happy.

Then this hit the world a couple of days ago - seems that when Whedon reached a break on Avengers, he gathered a few friends to put on a show in the barn.  The difference is that these are vertigo-inducingly talented friends, he's got a big barn, and the source material is the frothy comedy Much Ado about Nothing. 

Over at the Rewatch, Season Six hits a couple of episodes that sharply divided fans.  Is anything we've been watching for nearly six years real?  And "Seeing Red" - oh, my.  I'm telling you, when things go bad on this show, they REALLY go bad.  Let Alyson Buckman and Cynthea Masson explain it to you.

In class, we also were dealing with the question of "What is real?" with Alex Proyas' Dark City.  How can you run out of time if you can control it?  Who are you if your memories are switched around like so many
paper plates?  And how does film noir mix with science fiction?

As I said, big week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who Are You?

Reel One:  In the film class, we continued our exploration of the ways aliens are depicted in film.  Remember that last week was Ridley Scott's Alien, in which the alien is big, scary, ravenous, and pretty much only seen in bits and pieces until the very end.  (It's brilliant to let the audience's imagination fill in the blanks - we always manage to scare ourselves better than anything we actually SEE!)  This week was an overlooked gem of a film called Impostor.  In this film, we've been at war with the Centauris for years now and we're not doing so well.  We never actually see the enemy, for he has discovered a way to infiltrate our society.  Walt Kelly's Pogo was right - the enemy is us.  (Actually, the Pogo line is far sadder, for that enemy is us without an alien walking around in the skin.)  At its heart, Impostor asks one of the biggest of questions - something that good science fiction does very, very well.  Just what does it mean to be human?  Impostor is based on a Philip K. Dick story, and Dick was nigh-obsessed with the idea of memory and its role in making us, well, us.  Good discussion on this one and I look forward to my students proving to me that they are, in fact, human.

Reel Two:  Over at the Rewatch, we deal with some different sorts of identity crises as Willow tries to put away magic, Riley returns from the jungle all growed up, and Xander calls off his wedding with nearly perfect bad timing.  Have you ever seen that car pile-up of a show Bridezilla?  Imagine the situation with an ex-demon.  Who are you?  How do you know?  Who do you want to be?  How do you get there?

I've heard it said that Babylon 5 (a show I'm beginning to watch in the next few weeks in an organized way instead of my up-to-now scattershot approach) boils existence down to two questions:  Who are you?  What do you want?  We change, so the answers change.  And it's always wise to know the answers to those two questions.

Coming Soon:  Hold on to your hats, viewers!  The film class takes on the magnificent neo-noir that is Proyas' Dark City and the Rewatch tackles insanity, reality, and sexual assault.  (You were warned that Season Six got dark!  But how else can you see the coming of the light?)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jazz and Thoughts

Among the many highlights on this conference trip was meeting Jim the Tour Guide.  Not only did he give us information on history, architecture, and ghosts, he also pointed out any number of restaurants (including Irene's, home of that fabulous creme brulee I told you about.  That's not a dessert as much as it's something to note to include in confession!).  It's always nice to get out of the hotel, even if it's a very nice hotel* and see more of the host city.

In this way, we wound up at The Court of the Two Sisters for a jazz brunch.  There actually were two sisters (and currently the place is run by two brothers, although there's no longer a connection to the original family).  The Camors sisters were born just around the the outbreak of the Civil War and survived that, built a notions business to cater to women of style who wanted Parisian laces and perfumes, then operated this "hidden courtyard" restaurant.  You walk off the street and through the foyer/bar area into the buffet area (landing strips have been shorter) and through that into the walled courtyard.  FryDaddy and I were seated under a wisteria-draped wrought-iron arbor at a table with a great view of both the jazz trio and the wishing well.  A well-fed cat genteelly begged for any dropped shrimp.  The waitstaff was dignified, dressed to the nines, and friendly.  You know those all-too-elusive moments of "yeah, this is exactly where I want to be" that occur sometimes?  Get thee to the Court on a warm October morning before the tour buses descend and you just may have one of those epiphanies.  Better souvenir than cheap plastic beads, but be sure to pick up some of those, too.  FryDaddy thinks the coffee is better here than at the Cafe du Monde; I'm think it was the tranquility and jazz. Either way, if you're in New Orleans, put this one at the tippy-top of your list.

Now it wasn't all beignets and chicory.  I had my paper to deliver, as did FryDaddy (his was on Saturday) and there were both entire panels and individual papers we wanted to hear and people we wanted to talk with.  I won't go into overmuch with the details, but I've added a number of movies to my queue based on papers I heard, I'm thinking about how writers have moved from having detectives who are "exceptionally smart" (the original Sherlock) to having them be flawed and somehow disabled (Bones' Brennan, who can't react appropriately in society without help - a trait that is apparently NOT found in the books!).  Although I'm not sure I want to read Chuck Palahniuk's Snuff, the paper was extraordinary.  My paper was well received to the point that I am planning on expanding the section on direct linkages between Bebop and Firefly for next year's Slayage conference in Vancouver.  FryDaddy's paper was a hit - he has a wry delivery style and, face it, the man knows his topic.  I caught up on work being done in fan studies and the use of hard-core statistics to categorize instances of whatever it is you study in filmed texts.  Quite strong arguments were made that we're in the midst of a continuing "Golden Age" of Quality TV and yes, I came home with half a dozen new books and journals.

And zydeco rules!

Some much still - post-Katrina tours just seem well, unseemly.  We saw a wedding party heading into a Voodoo Garden - who knows?  The wrought-iron balconies are covered in lush window boxes and Bourbon Street on a Sunday morning is just sad.  The Saints beat the Panthers and I had a good enough time in N'Awlins that I was generous about it.  Go. To. New. Orleans.

*True fact.  My hotel bill listed a charge for the hotel restaurant.  Since we never ate there or had room service, I called about the charge - the cab was waiting to take us to the airport, so it slipped by me.  Those who know me will chuckle when I tell you that the restaurant told me the charge was for "looks like a couple pitchers of Bloody Marys."  In which case I know that's not mine, Drake!  There were very nice about removing the charge, by the way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let's See the City!

So on our very first night in town, FryDaddy and I wander the streets of the French Quarter, simultaneously taking in the local sights and sounds while trying to find a place to eat.  We'd already laid in supplies for the room fridge and attacked I mean "gently examined" the cheese plate in the lobby (yes, it was the kind of hotel that has a wine and cheese reception in the lobby on Wednesdays).  During our walkabout, we were entranced by an energetic Cuban man hawking for a hole-in-the-wall called "Country Flame" on Iberville that offers Spanish, Mexican, and Cuban food for rock-bottom prices - an academic's dream!  We weren't the only ones who thought so - we ran into three of our "conference buddies" and chatted briefly (like many of us, they wanted to fine-tune their presentations before giving them "live" during the conference).  Back at the hotel, FryDaddy settled in to the room and I took an exploratory turn around the pool - no one was there, so I had a lovely quiet moment sitting in the gathering dusk and listening to street jazz while looking at the garish neon beckoning me to come back to the tawdrier sections of the Quarter.

Thursday was the first day of the actual conference - let me tell you now that you won't be hearing much about specific panels and papers (a little bit, sure).  I decided to do this as more of a travel review/journal, but don't worry - comments on the conference and the people are woven in.  I must say, there were some oddities this time - individual papers were often quite good, but the panels lacked an overall through-line, which made for some challenging scheduling.  "Well, I want to see Paper A here, but Paper B in this panel at the same time looks interesting, and Paper C here seems good . . ." so there was a certain amount of discreet ducking and slipping in to panels late.  It's a good problem at a conference like this one - popular culture/American culture is such a broad field (c'mon, there are panels on film, teaching Shakespeare, Cajun culture, and the use of technology in the classroom all at the same time!) that you can't see everything you'd like to see.  Therefore, you use the list of e-mails at the back of the program a lot to connect with those you missed.

Since the first panel wasn't until mid-morning, we struck out for some early sightseeing.  FryDaddy and I had decided that we'd rather spend our time in the Quarter and amble a bit rather than doing a rushed tour of a larger area.  We need to go back, definitely!  We walked down to the world-famous Cafe du Monde for beignets and chicory-laced coffee.  Now a beignet is not a pastry to be taken lightly.  A French cousin to the doughnut, a proper beignet is a square of fried dough that is smothered in powdered sugar.  As our tour guide Jim would tell us later, "There's no neat way to eat a beignet.  You're going to look like you had breakfast with Charlie Sheen."  He's right!  The sweetness of the sugar cuts the slight bitterness of the chicory (I had mine as cafe au lait, so the bitterness was already cut.)  The Cafe is one of those "you just have to go" places - it's crowded and noisy and I wonder what it's like at 3 a.m. (it's open 24 hours a day) but I didn't find out.

We explored Jackson Square to work off the sugar.  Tow mounted cops were taking pictures of themselves in front of the statue of Andrew Jackson ("The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved" on the plinth was added after the 1864 Battle of New Orleans).  By the way, it's the first statue to portray a hero astride a rearing horse.  Beyond the statue is the St. Louis Cathedral, which has been designated as a "minor basilica" (the major ones are in Rome).  The interior of the cathedral was somber, as the late Archbishop (who had been a paratrooper in WW2, thus earning the nickname of the "Jumping Padre") was laying in state.  I'm all for taking unobtrusive photos in stunning churches, but I personally found walking up the nave to snap a pic of the Archbishop in his open casket tacky beyond the telling of it.  But maybe that's just me.

Deciding that we needed assistance to cover the Quarter, we hired Jim and Crawdad (that's Crawdad at the top of the post) from the line of mule-drawn carriages.  We paid extra, but we had Jim (who bore a disturbing resemblance to Sam Elliott) and Crawdad to ourselves, which turned out to be a wise choice.  Jim was an excellent, excellent tour guide.  Among the things we learned:

  • New Orleans was originally a city built of wood.  Two major fires changed that.  Only three buildings in the Quarter are now built of wood - most everything else is "brick and beam," a style that provides more stability in high winds and also doesn't burn easily.
  • "Romeo & Juliet" spikes - think huge barbed wire wrapped around balcony supports to discourage visitors to teenage daughters.  You might go up a Romeo, but you're coming down a Juliet!
  • The country's first apartment buildings (still rented, going rate about $2800 a month) are at the edge of Jackson Square.
  • Those beautiful wrought iron balconies and fripperies were added much, much later.  New Orleans is an old city and it began as a port city.  The iron came later, say around 1830 or so.
  • Celebs have discovered the Quarter - Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their brood have a house there, Sandra Bullock is having one gutted, and Nic Cage owned (but did not live in) the Quarter's most haunted house, which was the scene of gruesome human experiments done on slaves.  The horrors were discovered when a kitchen slave who was literally chained to the stove set herself on fire to summon the fire brigade during a dinner party.
  • New Orleans had slavery, but due to the French/Spanish ownership, the "peculiar institution" was different.  (By the way, France owned New Orleans for six weeks in 1803 before they sold it to the USA as part of the Louisiana Purchase!)  Slaves had the weekend off and were permitted to gather and sell their own goods (baked goods, leatherwork, etc.) and keep the money.  Many slaves bought their freedom in this way.  Slaves had legal standing to sue for mistreatment and, if they won their case, they were freed and a fine was paid to them by the master.  It was also customary for a slave to be freed after a long period of service (very long, like 20 - 25 years).
  • Then there were the "Quadroon Balls."  Prepare to be grossed out.  These mockery of debutante balls were held so that young free women of color could meet wealthy planters in search of mistresses.  Girls were trained from childhood for these parties.  If a pretty young thing caught the eye of a rich man, negotiations began between the man and the girl's mother.  (Pimp your daughter!)  These were binding contracts that covered housing, allowance, the raising of the children, etc.  While not legal marriages, these were common-law arrangements that gave the young "quadroon" a degree of autonomy and power, despite it being based on sexual attraction.  Desperate times, desperate measures.  The fact that it was considered genteel and legitimate just makes me shudder.

This is so long already . . . let me just add the first souvenirs we bought were high-end pet snacks for the critters, I had quite possibly the best creme brulee EVER that night at Irene's (our "big" night out) and street bands are everywhere!

Next:  Conference report and more from our attempts to eat our way across the Quarter!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Digression That Isn't

I know, I know.  You want more dirt on my Big Easy trip and fear not - it's coming.  There's much to discuss there - post-Katrina tours, voodoo shops, mule carriage rides, learning about "Romeo & Juliet" spikes, the accepted horror of the "Quadroon Balls," and more besides!

But at the moment, a few other items bear mentioning.  So please - enjoy this tonight and more on the fine city of New Orleans tomorrow.  Let's go to the tape.  Or DVD.  Or DVR.

First, the film class reconvened today after Fall Break.  We started our next unit of focus with Ridley Scott's Alien.  Although 30+ years old, this is a film that holds up nicely.  Scott melds science fiction with horror and also creates a scary, scary place by focusing our attention on what we don't see.  Space is very, very large and air ducts are very, very small and fear comes in both sizes.  Raw capitalism is alive and well beyond the frontiers.  Technology can save us or set us up for the kill.  And the magnificently human Ellen Ripley saves the day (and the cat!) instead of the more traditional male captain.

Second, the Rewatch continues to rocket through Season Six.  Our fair moderator, Nikki Stafford, is still enjoying the charms of the Big Easy, but Stacey May Fowles, the poster this week, has things well in hand.  "Dead Things" is a difficult episode to watch and her analysis explains that there are some darned good reasons for that. As Angel reminded Faith way back when, sometimes it's supposed to hurt and this is an episode that stings.  And sings.

Last, did you see - I mean DID YOU SEE - the finale of Season 4 of Breaking Bad Sunday night?  Holy.  Cow.  (Don't worry - the link is to a spoiler-free promo.)  They need to make some extra Emmys for Best Supporting Actor.  I'm not sure where the next season will go, but FryDaddy has a theory that I think is just delicious.  I'll keep it under wraps for now, but if he's right, then the final season of Breaking Bad will blow the top off the television set.

Next:  Back to N'Awlins.  Having eaten the Godiva chocolates that we treated ourselves to during the layover in Memphis, it's time to find a beignet, explore a cathedral, and tour the Quarter.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Good intentions, meet Road to Hell.  Turns out that we got to the airport with everything we'd need for a several-day-long sojourn in the Big Easy except for the laptop!  This actually turned out to be a blessing - not having it meant we didn't spend time hunched over the keyboard and instead spent more time visiting with friends, eating really, REALLY good food and exploring the French Quarter.  So that's my sort-of apology for not posting during the trip itself.  Let me just give you a taste tonight and I'll start more detailed postings once I dig out my notes (yes, I take notes when I travel).

First off - and being a Piedmont Airlines girl until the very day it merged into the cargo-carrying-mindset behemoth that is USAirways - go Delta!  On the leg from Charlotte to Memphis, we had a FANTASTIC captain who reminded us all to "take a look at that safety brochure, won't you?  Many people don't want to, but really - a picture's worth a thousand words."  He also reminded us that we ought to pay attention because "when a gentleman's speaking to you, the polite thing to do is to pay attention."  Add to that a crewmember who offered me peanuts, pretzels, or cookies and then gave me all three when I asked if I absolutely HAD to chose and perhaps you begin to see the appeal.

Next, the fine and venerable city of New Orleans is a treasure of the highest order.  I thought I knew a thing or two about Southern hospitality (and I do), but this city is just made for tourists.  Maps remind you that "if it's illegal when you're from, it's probably illegal in New Orleans, too" but they want you to have a really good time.  More on this during my discussion of the French Quarter.

The hotel was the JW Marriott on Canal Street, which is a boundary of the French Quarter (or "Vieux Carre"), the oldest part of the city.  (By the way, the Quarter is laid out in a grid, but it's not quite as north/south as the map indicates - the bend of the Mississippi isn't that linear.)  The hotel was one of those luxury hotels that makes you feel as if you're truly on a vacation.   A most excellent tour guide disguised as a bellman whisked our bags upstairs, showed us the view of the Quarter, and pointed out a few of the bigger sites, including making sure we knew where Bourbon Street was (hint - turn right at the Foot Locker).  Two thick, lush robes hung in the closet for us and yes, we could even hear jazz music coming up from the streets.  Streetcars ran up and down Canal Street and downright quaint mule-drawn wagons took tourists around to map out their visit.

We might not have had the laptop, but we were there!

NEXT:  Beignets, Crawfish the mule, and a little history . . .

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Off to the Big Easy!

There's only one reel this week - my college is on fall break, so my film class has the week off to digest What We've Done So Far before we dive into the depiction of aliens in science fiction and the ways in which their changes reflect our changes.

I'm off to New Orleans tomorrow for the regional PCA/ACA conference, where I'm due to present on Cowboy Bebop's potential influences on Whedon's Firefly.  It's only a short presentation, so I (as usual) wind up scratching the surface and asking more questions that perhaps actually get answered.  Here's hoping it goes well - tune in later this week for an update following Friday's presentation.

Of course, it's not just about me - this is a large conference and there's also a "conference within a conference" centering on some little show called Lost or Misplaced or something like that.  There will be much to see and hear and speculate upon, as there always is at a conference with such wide-ranging topics.  (FryDaddy is scheduled to present on Saturday about Samuel Colt in real life, myth and on Supernatural, which promises to be a show-stopper.)

I plan to post often - maybe even once a day, but that may be a goal too lofty.  Check in and see, won't you?

Also, over at the continuing Rewatch, that's me who's in the hot seat this week.  I cover three "Willowcentric" episodes from Season Six and my interpretation is met with some resistance amongst part of the fan base.  However, I stand by my assessment - Willow's an addict and she hits some form of bottom by the end of this week's trio of episodes.  Read the post and the comments and see what you think!