“I use many different kinds of wood for spoons, but my favorite kind of wood is free.”
“Feel free to adopt the sceptical raised eyebrow, but keep an open mind behind it. When a sceptic becomes a cynic it turns them sour.”
“I would argue that it isn’t technology that is at the root of our anemoia.”
“I believe soon the answer to the question “Can a computer write poetry?” will be “yes, of course,” for most casual observers. I’m going to take this assertion one step further and make a stronger claim: in fact, the only thing computers can write is poetry.”
“Quite a few composers have had their scores rejected by dissatisfied directors… it’s a recognized risk of the profession. A few films do exist with entirely different scores, almost always as a result of release in different countries. Until now, however, I’d never come across a film that exists with three different scores.“
If you’ve been heeding my exhortations then you have long since already subscribed to The Roof is on Phire and no doubt caught this months ago, when it went up. But I’ve been trying to figure out how to do something more emphatic than simply quote from “labour of love” ever since I read it (and read it again), so here it is: the extremely legitimate and hallowed NFDABPOTYA for this very long year, presented to my friend Jenny, for extraordinary work.
“Loving this planet enough to fight against the man-made systems that harm us all, instead of retreating, is the hardest work there is.”
I have felt stuck about writing here for a while, and there has been a death in my family that I will need to write more about when the words come to me. But right now I just want to talk more about blogs. One of the most exciting things that has come to my awareness recently is Phil Gyford’s ooh.directory of blogs and its RSS feed of newly added URLs. I don’t know if Mr. Gyford’s manual review and curation of these things is sustainable in the indefinite, but what a great idea! It seems to me like social media and SEO supremacy have rendered personal blog discoverability broken, but one need not fix the entire internet to build a little free library in one’s front yard.
By way of that directory, I have found a new source of dailyish poems, Janette Haruguchi’s ongoing explication of sashiko stitching, Bartosz Ciechanowski’s extraordinary interactive physics lessons, Jani Patokallio’s quest to find food from every Chinese province, special administrative region and contested island—in Singapore, and Bloom, a journal devoted to authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older. And Eric Idle’s book reviews! A fan blog that’s just for Peanuts! Librarians dunking on books that need to go! And the directory is still so new. I suspect there are many more entries to come after the holidays.
Lucy linked, last month, to Dave Rupert’s suggestion to be a carpenter this time, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind ever since. I don’t know any real carpentry, though I’d be glad to have the space and time to learn. But the tools I do know can still make good things at the scale of individual humans, and that’s delightful to see, after a long time when I didn’t know where to look.
“There’s a Chinese phrase for when you lose money on something that translates to ‘paying school fees.’ I’ve paid a lot of school fees, and I don’t consider any of it wasted money. Even through the mistakes, I’ve learned a lot.”
I was supposed to go on a trip (my first!) to Canada to visit friends and attend TIFF a couple weeks ago, but instead I got you-know-what. I’m fine now. But I had been looking up things about Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose film The Woman King (2022) debuted in Toronto, and who I knew as the director the wonderful Love & Basketball (2000); in this way I came to watch her enjoyable Criterion Closet Picks video, and saw comments there noting that the last movie she picked, at random, was one of director Ichikawa Kon’s best. I’d never heard of it, but as long as I was on youtube anyway, I decided to type the title into the search bar and found this lovely video from a cool and new-to-me channel called Pitching Room.
That made me sure I wanted to watch the movie, so last night Kat and I did, and I loved it. Here is a list of my current top ten favorite movies, as of today, in no particular order except for the first one:
- Hackers (1995)
- Brick (2005)
- Magic Mike XXL (2015)
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
- Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
- The Matrix (1999)
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
- Spirited Away (2001)
- Out of Sight (1998)
- Toy Story 3 (2010)
- Tampopo (1985)
- Rumble in the Bronx (1995)
- Your Name. (2016)
- Alien (1979)
- Moonlight (2016)
There’s a separate shortlist of movies that might get promoted when I watch them a second time, which I should really do, and An Actor’s Revenge (1963) immediately joined them. One thing I think the above entries mostly have in common is that they have genre devices they use for stunts, literal or figurative; one I think they all have in common is that they put up a strong conceptual framing and fucking commit to it, without backpedaling or compromising. Even the places where Tampopo (1985) explicitly winks at the audience are a device to prod the viewer deeper into the movie’s world, not an apology or excuse.
In its first fifteen minutes, An Actor’s Revenge (1963) establishes itself as gorgeously stylized, theatrical, liminal, serious about its stakes, and brazenly queer. It throws grand plots, competing thieves with cool sobriquets, hidden weapons, stage-lighting scene transitions, night fights, soliloquies, a jazz-meets-kabuki score, and secret scrolls from martial arts masters at you right from the start. But the most impressive thing to me was its central performance, and the way that performance was framed. The protagonist, Yukinojō, is an onnagata, a stage actor who uses masculine pronouns but whose presentation is consistently high-feminine, in or out of the theater (and indeed, Kat reminded me, even during internal monologue). Hasegawa Kazuo, who played the same character in the original 1935 version of the movie, was in his 50s by the time this one was shot; there are not a lot of movies I have seen where a middle-aged person of what can be fairly described as mincing affect is portrayed as a total badass, eminently desirable and desired, heroic, and internally tormented—but never tormented over gender presentation or sexuality. Even though Hasegawa also plays another character in the story—a fact I didn’t realize until Kat pointed it out—the film never makes that contrast into a joke, or anything else about Yukinojō either. It’s busy doing so many other cool things!
In 2022, even with filmmaking technology and distribution more nimble and fluid than they ever have been, it seems like the people making movies still have to pad their queer stories with explanatory commas and self-conscious asides. An Actor’s Revenge (1963) was shot, as you may gather, sixty years ago, and it never bothers with any of that. As of today, it’s available on the Criterion Channel, and if you like the same things I like—with the content note that it includes a brief depiction of suicide—then I bet you’ll enjoy it a lot.
So you were really hoping to wrap up your weekend reading five thousand words about a movie you haven’t seen and literally can’t watch anywhere online even if you pay for it, right?
“Don’t look into a room that’s full of fire and say, ‘You can go in that room and you’ll be fine.’ Say instead, ‘There’s fire in the next room. We’re going to calmly figure out how to get out of here.'”
My mother, a prolific listener of audiobooks from her many years of long commutes, likes to send me recommendations for podcasts sometimes; one that’s really stuck with me is Pádraig Ó Tuama’s Poetry Unbound. I truly don’t know how popular it is, or if everyone I know who likes poetry is already over it, so apologies if I’m walking in here like “any of you nerds ever hear of Star Track?!” But I really like listening to Ó Tuama’s soothing voice and gentle perspective.
In particular, one episode on Rafiq Kathwari’s poem “Mother Writes to President Eisenhower” has been on my mind, perhaps because of certain recent events involving the British monarchy. I found the poem and the episode about it affecting on their own merit, but also because of what is left unsaid: Ó Tuama doesn’t claim to have deep knowledge of the history of Kashmir or of Partition, and he unpacks the work without comparison to his own experiences. I wouldn’t have known, if Mom hadn’t mentioned it, that his career background is in conflict mediation, and specifically in working in reconciliation organizations in his native Ireland. I’m glad the things he chose not to say weren’t lost on me, here.
“I think he’s inviting us to pay attention to all the other voices that it can be easy to consider silencing, as a result, perhaps, of not liking the medium of their communication or as a result of thinking, oh, they’re just distressed because of the war. He’s saying, Yes, they are; and listen.”