Category: Nostalgia

In praise of the starship ceiling

The ceiling of the bridge on the Enterprise 1701-D has not, I feel, had sufficient love bestowed upon it. I am very fond of all the purplish-gray, padded-upholstery, conference-hotel interior design elements of TNG, but their relationship with the progress of aesthetic trends in this century has not been entirely amicable or graceful. But the ceiling I’m talking about doesn’t seem dated or even retro, perhaps because it started as retro: I’m no expert, but to me this design reads as pretty much straight Art Nouveau.

Perspective from the view screen of the Enterprise-D bridge

That’s actually from the rebuild they did for Generations (1994), but it’s the best view I can find from an actual photo. Most of what shows up in image searches now is from fan CGI recreations, but I think the quality of light and material you can see there are an important part of what I’m talking about. It’s of a piece with the rest of the set, but it also looks like something set apart. Here’s a partial perspective from an actual episode.

Side view of the rear portion of the Enterprise-D bridge.

I noticed this angle while watching “Descent” with Kat, whose enjoyment of TNG is mild and reserved largely for the characters of Lore and Hugh. It was the first time I’d realized that the center of the ceiling is actually a porthole with stars in it. There’s a helpful writeup about the origins of the design on Forgotten Trek, but it focuses more on the production history than on concept artist Andrew Probert’s thought process.

Charming marker-art concept sketch for the bridge

It doesn’t address this either, but I suspect that the production function of the ceiling as a stage light was pretty helpful. While it looks like at least in the first season, they did set up lights for each individual shot the way one normally does on a soundstage, the show’s primary set also had a built-in hemispherical softbox! The crew could bounce flattering light on multiple sides of an actor’s face without having to do anything special or worry about lamp stands getting in the shot. Meanwhile, the science station alcoves in the back are shielded from that soft light by the overhang and can be lit by monitors, from underneath, for increased drama whenever Geordi tells the captain that teching the tech tech is worth a shot.

I really wonder if Ron Moore was thinking about the soft light of that design, two shows later, when they came up with the layout of the Battlestar Galactica CIC.

I say this with love: it is an inferior design, at least in terms of pure spatial reference. I watched every single episode and webisode of BSG, and I never had any idea what the horizontal axes of this room were supposed to be, or what most of the people on screen were doing. The nice thing about having all the chairs turned in the same direction as Picard when he points at his big tv-windshield and says “go” is that, as an audience member, you don’t have to guess whether that’s the front of the spaceship. Sure, maybe it makes military sense that the CIC would be buried in the deepest and most armored part of a battlestar, rather than having a big round window on top of it. But in effect it often felt more like they were sitting around somewhere underground, not charging into the fray or leaping through the fracking galaxy.

As pieces of functional stage go, though, the CIC poetically inverts the bridge in a way that works well. Its ceiling is a pit of darkness; almost every light on set faces upward or bounces off the floor, casting faces into shadow. Maximum drama at all times! In Star Trek, the captain can always look around and see the face of someone who’s going to give him a suggestion for the problem at hand. But in BSG, everyone keeps their eyes down, because they all know none of their answers are going to be good ones.

“This, to me, is the definition of a desert island film: a foundational text, a perennial source of comfort, a go-to reference that lives, in the parlance of today’s youth and the adults who want to be like them, rent-free in one’s brain.”

“In a tree’s rings you can see the years of drought.”

Sumana’s been on a pretty amazing run of posts, and this one struck me right through:

“We come together every once in a while to refill on trust and camaraderie and a shared understanding of what we’re trying to do and who we’re trying to do it for; I assume that, for some folks, those wells have now run dry.”

Eight years ago, I was already feeling a kind of nostalgia for my own version of con season, even though I was right there in the thick of it. A long summer is one thing, but a drought is another. I feel the ache for my friends as if it’s a loss, even though, by impossible fortune, I don’t think I have lost anyone yet. But the time we could have spent together is life we won’t get back.

It’s Still June Somewhere, Part 1

  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006): Second in a series of “bittersweet, moving anime movies about adolescent feelings as crystallized through a speculative fiction device which I watched with Kat and her friends Courtney and Kailey, which activity has delivered some of my favorite moments in the last few months.” Not quite the technical or emotional haymaker of Your Name. (2016), but why only compare it to the first movie in the series of “bittersweet, moving anime movies about adolescent feelings as crystallized through a speculative fiction device which I watched with Kat and her friends Courtney and Kailey, which activity has delivered some of my favorite moments in the last few months?” I wish I’d known about this movie a decade ago, when it became clear that the entire genre of Teen Movies had given way to the juggernaut of Young Adult Adaptations—two ways of telling a story with the same target audience but very different ways of getting there. I think this story draws a bridge between those approaches pretty well. The animation style is interesting: I’d bet it made heavy use of rotoscoping, there’s some frame-stretching every time they go to slow-mo, and the lighting on most of the characters is quite flat, all of which are ways to save money in production. But assuming that was a budget decision, I think it was a smart one, because it looks more stylized than cheap.
  • A Whisker Away (2020): See this is what I was talking about with “a particular wistful, hazy-gold anime-style aesthetic” back in my review of Your Name. Third in a series of “bittersweet, moving anime movies about adolescent feelings as crystallized through a speculative fiction device which I watched with Kat and her friends Courtney and Kailey, which activity has delivered some of my favorite moments in the last few months” but also the one that skews youngest—more a middle grade story than a YA story, if that makes sense. It didn’t get me quite as much as the others, and I had some difficulty tracking the pace of events, but the plot threw me some good curveballs! I wish it had been distributed under a direct translation of its Japanese title, Wanting to Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat.
  • Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001): Same animation-watching crew, same country of origin, but quite different otherwise. Kat led me through the entirety of Cowboy Bebop: The Series back in the spring, a formative influence on her and on many of my friends which I’d never glanced at before. I liked it very much and I wish I’d watched it sooner, and yes, yes, Lisa et al, you were right to pester me about it. That said, I’m glad I got to watch this outside the context of its original release in September of 2001.

    The movie amounts to an extra-long episode of the series with more money involved, and since it came out after the series ended—and was set partway through its chronology—it’s quite episodic. I was glad of the chance to hang out with all the characters again after the series conclusion, but that separation flattened its emotional impact. My least favorite TV trope is when the writers introduce their new OC, demand that we get emotionally involved in their story by having the whole recurring cast just react to them, and then heap pathos on whatever happens to them, from which we learn nothing about the main cast, and after which the guest is never mentioned again. It’s not exactly a Mary Sue—just a boring device that is invariably going to happen when you’re a writers’ room working on an episodic show. (This also happens a lot when you’re playing a tabletop RPG with the kind of DM who’s more interested in telling their own story than hearing yours.)

    Anyway, this movie isn’t that, but its place in the canon means it can’t quite avoid touching the trope with one toe. But I had a great time watching it! The fight animation looks great, the backgrounds have a beautiful depth, and I got to hear Kat clap and cackle when Spike says “I love the kind of woman that can kick my ass.”

  • To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995): Mmmaybe the first film focused on queer characters that I watched? Much like Paris is Burning (1990)—from which I’d bet it directly lifted its opening scene—it now seems clear that there is a missed opportunity here; RuPaul is the only actual drag queen with a (brief) speaking role. But I was glad to learn from this touching retrospective on how the film got made that its creation included and involved gay people, at least. And because of that I think it holds up pretty well. Mitch Kohn writes “the film itself may not have sparked much if any social change,” and indeed I don’t know about “sparked.” But it’s in part because of this movie that I grew up in small-town Kentucky perceiving drag as something fun and attractive, not menacing. I’m grateful for that, and fond of this.
  • Notting Hill (1999): Caroline Siede’s AV Club series on romantic comedies, one per year, has been reliably great and insightful; after reading the linked article about Notting Hill I found myself nostalgic and talked Kat into watching it with me. She had never seen it; I remembered it fondly, but unlike To Wong Foo, the surface sheen is gone for me here.

    During my most intense phase of teenage longing for heartache fiction, I was ready to project a lot of subtlety onto work that didn’t actually have much to offer. Even a few years later, I had figured out that ridiculous movies like In Love and War (1996) or Bed of Roses (1996) were not worth the feelings I had assigned to them—though While You Were Sleeping (1995) is still one for the ages. I don’t think WYWS is shot remarkably better than Notting Hill—though it does have a better score—and I don’t think Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts lack for chemistry and charm.

    But one of a few things that has happened between my initial viewing of Notting Hill and the present day is that its writer, Richard Curtis, directed Love Actually (2003), which I have been made to watch several times and which I dislike more with each repetition. The similarities in stagy dialogue and artificial stakes are obvious now, and are more than enough to sink this movie for me. Its bravura long take introduced me to Bill Withers, though, once upon a time, and it is one bit that’s still worth watching.

  • Shaolin and Wu Tang (1983): Man, it has been a very long time since I wrote about movies! One thing I started doing back in May is subscribing to a series of live-streamed movies through 36 Cinema, which is a spinoff from 36 Chambers, which as you might guess is a Wu-Tang production—specifically, one created by RZA and a startup marketing dude named Mustafa Shaikh. A link to the livestream costs ten bucks, but you’re not just watching the movie, you’re listening to live commentary from a couple of charming experts. For the first few, that was RZA himself, accompanied by Dan Halsted! You probably don’t know who that is, but he has made cameos in movie roundups of days past, because he’s the guy with the huge celluloid collection who programs and presents Kung Fu Movie Night at the Hollywood Theater in Portland.

    I found this combination irresistible: two nerds who not only have decades of history with the genre, but have done a lot of work in their respective ways to honor it and introduce it to new audiences. They named appearances by veteran actors and talked about production history; Dan told stories about finding stacks of film reels in disused auditoriums and RZA pointed out different styles of kung fu in action. I learned a lot! Despite that, my full notes on the film read as follows: “this movie rules.”

  • Shogun Assassin (1980): Same situation as above, except this time my notes read, in toto, “this movie rules so hard.” It actually comprises the opening of one Lone Wolf And Cub movie and the remainder of another in the same series, but it works really well! (And it was originally distributed by Roger Corman!) Because it’s a samurai movie, of course, not a kung fu movie, there’s lots of standing still while blood fountains out of people rather than intricately matching choreography. I never got into Lone Wolf or any of its various adaptations—I have a hard time with impassive, impenetrable protagonists, inasmuch as Ogami functions as a protagonist at all. But the use of film as a medium—composition, color grading, bold editing, even vignetting—is superb.

Notes from the New Normish

Hi, we’re alive and fine. My privilege is as evident as ever, as my daily routine of isolation with Kat resembles what Maria called “an extended snow day,” mostly but not entirely without snow. I hurt for the sick and grieving; I worry for the essential and vulnerable; I watch Bon Appetit and experiment with vegan baking; I do my internet job and I watch out my window and wait. Here are some things that have held my interest in the last little while.

  1. As mentioned in asides, I read too much about menswear online and off these days. My favorite habit is to bargain-hunt for clothes from Japan on eBay, prance around the living room in them to aggravate Kat, and then secret them away so I can buy more. But the emergent result is that I’ve learned a lot about things I might have disdained ten years ago. I don’t have any special interest in James Bond, for instance, but Matt Spaiser’s blog about the tailoring of the films has taught me a ton about men’s fashion in the last sixty years. His post on how Cary Grant’s suit in North by Northwest (1959) went on to influence Bond’s costuming is a great example of the dry clarity of his writing.
  2. It seems like I’ve never written about Porpentine Charity Heartscape here before, which is strange, as her work has loomed large in my view and admiration for… seven years? Eight? Her work in writing and game design blends the sweet, the filthy, the transgender and transhuman, the pure and the skin-crawlingly cute in a way I find singular in every sense. If that sentence doesn’t hint at some content warnings, then I hope this one does. But that boundary is very much worth braving if you are so emotionally equipped. Her recent story “Dirty Wi-Fi” on Strange Horizons is a good introduction to her prose and perspective.
  3. Despite my limited dabbling in microelectronics, I can’t follow many of the technical specifics in this review of process and call for aid on a final, perfect Super Nintendo emulator. But the SNES was a system that still informs my design and aesthetic sensibilities, twenty-seven years later, and I respect the author’s work very much. The most striking quote to me:

    “I can tell you why this is important to me: it’s my life’s work, and I don’t want to have to say I came this close to finishing without getting the last piece of it right. I’m getting older, and I won’t be around forever. I want this final piece solved.”

    What an extraordinary thing it seems, to me, to know what your life’s work is. I hope one day I do.

General Clap

Hey, I finally discovered that back in May I placed in the 2018 Lyttle Lytton contest! Specifically I placed with an entry in the Found division—just scroll down to where my name is spelled wrong. I am proud even though it’s not like I wrote anything for it. But the reason the biggest category on this old blog is called “connections” is that I still delight in plugging one thing (a bad sentence I read) into another thing (a web site I love).

And there are a lot of connections that really worked for me in this year’s list! It’s good company to be in. Not only did another Found winner pull an egregious bit from my most hated episode of one of my all-time favorite shows, but there’s an entry under the Perennials that recalls my first entry. There are bullet journal and Engagement Chicken jokes too (hi Kat). But the thing that really rang my bell was seeing a semi-vanished webcomic writer—someone I still admire—pop in with a brilliant entry, and Adam Cadre give her a wink and a nod. I don’t chase the Internet as hard as I used to, but I’m glad the cool-kid serendipity of a decade ago isn’t all gone.

The past is a foreign country: I miss my friends who live there

In April my friend Russ Gilman-Hunt died. He was one of the first four people who worked at my job with me. He was funny, kind and clever. He was not very much older than me, but he had a deadpan world-weary affect and a quiet warmth that made him seem like everyone’s dad. I wish I had known him better, but most of his life was outside work, with his wife and two children and his community in the SCA. I wish they still had him.

In May I lost the job where I had worked with Russ, as did a number of my colleagues. I have a lot of support from people who care for me, and I am lucky in my socioeconomic class; that has allowed me to inform myself that this is an opportunity, more than a setback. (I have done so often and stridently.) I will probably have a new job soon. I like working, if not always working terribly hard. I hope I can make that work amount to something good.

It sometimes feels like the only things I write here are podcast show notes and epitaphs. I haven’t allowed myself much time to work on podcasts in the last month; hunting for what I perceive as a replacement means of survival has meant little available concentration for creative work. So this goes in the epitaph category. Sure wish there were fewer of those.

I didn’t always love my old job but I always liked it, and I took comfort in the idea that I was cultivating a good place to bring in new people and help them excel. I wanted to contribute patches to the leaky pipeline. I think Russ did too. I don’t know how much of that we managed. Some of the people I patched in got laid off with me. I’d say we did what good we could while seeing to our own survival, but. Well.

A job that you treat like just a job is, eventually, just a job. I want the work of my life to be more than that. Maybe in seven more years—if, God forbid, this WordPress install is still operating—I’ll tell you how that’s going.

In February I got an email from my old laptop, and then another, both suggesting that it was in Germany. I had not seen that laptop since it left the back of my car through a shattered window in 2010. The home page of its default browser, at the time, happened to be one I controlled and that was not linked anywhere else, so I told that page to blare alarms and notify me when and whence it was requested. It took seven years for that to (probably?) happen. I wonder if someone actually has that laptop, in more or less the same crumbling shape it was when it vanished. I wonder how well they read English, and what they can find out about me if they dig around on it. Surely nothing worse than the things I’ve written here myself.

I guess what I am doing here is reflecting, which is to say, looking for myself in a flawed surface. I started writing online in part because I wanted attention and in part because I already knew that my built-in memory could not be trusted to retain my life. My pipe is too leaky. All pipes are too leaky. Among my driving fears is the idea that anything I lose is lost forever, and that history unminded is a black hole, a /dev/null, a point of no return.

But to really believe that is to assert that I know the future, which is presumptive: the future and I have never met. Sometimes a setback is an opportunity. Sometimes the past writes you an email. Sometimes a kid whose dad dies grows up a whole person anyway. Even black holes leak back.

Dual Reflections on Cruel Intentions

It’s time once again for Reel 90s Kids, the podcast you have forgotten that we did one time! We have now done it again. Here is the audio click button thing that tells you the wrong file duration, and below it are the show notes.

0:00 – Thanks to Oliver Schories for this episode’s intro song, which I think has a 40% chance of deeply irritating my cohost.

5:23 – I could put links to the Wikipedia articles for Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Dangerous Liaisons here, but you can type names into Wikipedia as well as I can.

8:37 – A 1954 Jaguar Roadster.

10:48 – Sorry, Mr. Lester.

12:41 – Shooter the 2007 movie; Shooter the 2016 TV series. Since we recorded this episode, USA has apparently decided we’ve had a long enough gap between mass shootings to actually premiere and air it! Yaaaay

17:03 – Judge for yourself.

19:03 – I cannot put anything about the confluence of Bittersweet Symphony and Shakespeare in Love in the show notes, because my brain completely manufactured it. Why did I think this was a thing?! If you have a clue, please call our toll-free line.

20:13 – Audio taken from this Fusion interview.

22:48 – Movie studios were forced to stop running their own theaters by United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc, in 1948.

24:36 –

28:44 – The eclectic production history of Cruel Intentions 2, a “2000 American comedy-drama prequel.”

31:13 – I neglected to congratulate her, but Anne batted a thousand on these!

35:55 – The Deadline story in question. Alas, Cruel Intentions was not picked up to series after all.

37:35 – See you back here for the Drive Me Crazy episode in June 2019!

38:11 – And thanks to Jade Berlin and her terrifying accompanist for our outro music:

A Timely Varsity Blues Podcast

Kids dressed up like the characters from Varsity Blues. It's cute

Apparently the thing I do here now is, once a year, post a podcast I made with friends about a movie that already came out. This time I made one with my friend Anne! It’s about the non-classic 90s Teen Film Varsity Blues, for no clear reason that either of us could recall. Despite our claims at the beginning, we DID think of a belated title for it: Reel 90s Kids.

Because we remember.

I’m not going to link to the site we discuss for the latter half of the podcast because I don’t want to make anyone’s life sadder, including yours. I have faith in your ability to find it if you want to. Please don’t. Special thanks to small genius Aidan James for our outro music!