Friday, July 24, 2009

An Amusement (XVIII)

A Doubtful Egg is on holidays. Please feel free to browse through the archive, and if you find anything that interests you, let me know. I'll be back in a couple of weeks. Here's a suitably themed video.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Deleted Scene from "Oldboy"

[Warning: The following contains major spoilers for the film Oldboy (in fact, it reveals the whole plot) so don't read unless you've seen it]

A deleted scene from Oldboy

Revenge-obsessed villain (ROV) and evil henchman (EH) are seen sitting in ROV's office.
ROV: Remember that guy who spread the rumour that I was doing my sister in school? The one that made her commit suicide?
EH: Yeah, I do. (To himself:) You dirty bastard...
ROV: Well, I want to get him for that. I settle his hash alright.
EH: So what d'ye want me to do? Get a few of the lads, drive the guy down to the warehouse, and torture the shit out of him? That'll learn him!
ROV (shaking his head): No, no, no. That's too simple. I want his family to suffer too.
EH (getting visibly excited): We'll kidnap his kid and kill her in front of him, then torture him too! That'll really learn him!
ROV: Oh, EH. (Shakes head ruefully) You just don't see the big picture ... Here's what we'll do. We'll kidnap the guy and toss him into a room for 15 years. Then we'll hypnotise him so that when he gets out, he'll sleep with his own daughter. But we won't tell him why he's been shut away for 15 years, so he has to find out for himself, like a detective. Then, when he's discovered everything, he'll be destroyed and I'll shoot myself! Brilliant, eh?
EH: (Stunned silence.)
ROV (imperiously): Well, what do you think!
EH: Oh, it's fantastic, pure genius! There's no way I'd ever think up anything like that. So we'll lock the guy in a room for 15 years - wait, won't he be horribly weakened and disturbed after 15 years of solitary confinement? Like, if you let him out on the street you'll be lucky if he makes it ten feet before collapsing. He'll need months in hospital and a team of psychiatrists to get him over it! 
ROV: He'll be fine. We'll keep an eye on him while he's locked up. 
EH: But 15 years in a single room with no sunlight and eating nothing but dumplings will destroy his constitution. An infection, or even a single dodgy dumpling, could kill him!
ROV: He's strong; he'll be fine!
EH: But when he gets out, even if he's not horribly weakened and psychologically unable to function, he'll be incredibly disorientated. What if he gets run over by a truck, or falls down a flight of stairs, or gets killed by a mugger? That's 15 years of planning down the toilet, isn't it? 
ROV: I'm getting a bit tired of all these objections.
EH: And it'll cost you a fortune. You'll have to pay for his kid's upbringing and to keep this guy locked up (and what if she dies before the 15 years are up? Or turns out to be a lesbian? What if he's impotent after all that time?) And what if the guy's too thick to figure out the mystery? You'll just have to go in and tell him, which'll spoil the mood. What if you die before he gets out? You going to leave him a letter?
ROV: Shut up.
EH: Isn't it an incredibly roundabout way of getting revenge? Why not just shoot the guy? I mean, the guy gets out after 15 years and you tell him he's just slept with his daughter, right. And he could say: "Hell, that kid wasn't mine; my wife had an affair with the postman. Me and the wife had a long talk, and decided to keep the baby and raise it as our own." Or he could say: "Oh, that's horrible, but after being locked up for 15 years I'm not really bothered." And when you go on about how awful what he's done is, he'll just say "Oh great, lectures on morality from the guy who slept with his own sister! Pot and kettle, huh?" You really don't know how he'll react after all that time.
ROV: Shut up!
EH: Alright, alright; you're the boss. (Stands up to leave, muttering to himself:) Oddball...
ROV (puts feet up on his desk, and opens a box of Blue Dragon dumplings): Ah, dumplings! The perfect side dish for .... revenge! Now to listen to the radio. (Turns on the radio, which plays the following song. A frown crosses his face...)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Giant Wasp Terrorises Small Irish Village

The sleepy hamlet of Ballygombeen was thrown into chaos today by the appearance of a gigantic wasp, which flew over the village and devoured several citizens before noon. The army, which would normally deal with such monstrous insects, was unable to respond as all military vehicles in the province were being used by government ministers to protect themselves from enraged constituents. "I don't know which is worse, An Bord Snip Nua or this," quipped one unemployed builder as the wasp partially demolished the roof of his house while seeking victims to feed upon. Local GAA players pelted the beast with sliothars to no avail, and it was only when the Holy Stump of Rathkeale was rushed to Ballygombeen in a white Hiace van that the enormous bug fled. It is speculated that the wasp was part of a publicity stunt that went horribly wrong, and locals are already blaming Bono, for no reason other than that nobody can stand him.
[Some of the above may be lies. Thanks to my partner of taking and altering the photo above on her fancy new camera.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Amusement (XVII)

It's raining again, which is as good a reason as any to post the above picture, taken last year in the Alcazar in Seville on a blazingly warm day (in October!). It's on days like today, staring out at the rain-soaked dreariness of an Irish town, that I get the overwhelming desire to be in Andalucia, munching of tapas, being astounded by some of the most dementedly overdone Baroque churches in the world, marvelling at the beauties of (what's left of) Moorish treasures, and surreptitiously ogling Spanish women when my partner's not looking (I know, it's naughty!). It's just that at the moment I can't think of one single goddamn reason that isn't negative (i.e. my mortgage) as to why I should stay in this gombeen-ridden, crooked, callous, miserable backwater of a country. Oh, here's a reason: 

I'm not sure if he'd be a happy hound away from the beaches and muddy lanes of the South East! And just for closing, here's a photo of a rude vegetable, and something amusing:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wicklow Sights (I)

As I was passing by (or indeed, bypassing) Arklow today, I decided to pull into the town and take some photos of the attractive St Saviour's Church, located near the town centre. I took two pictures, one a straightforward view from the road, and the other a David Hockney-style collage (shame on me for mentioning my effort in the same sentence as the master!). The collage allows one to get more detail by giving a closer view of the building, while the one-off picture gives you the accurate height of the steeple (which looks a bit squashed in the collage). The harmonious interior of the church, which dates from the late 19th century, is very nice also (and has a fabulous vaulted oak ceiling) but I don't have any pictures from there as my camera's batteries went dead. I hope you like the pictures.

Some Thoughts on Milk

A while back, I wrote about my dislike of the standard Hollywood biopic here. My biggest issue is that I don't trust them to be straight with me, and facts that may complicate the audience's perception of their protagonists are often airbrushed out for commercial reasons. With that in mind, I watched Milk last night, a film about noted gay activist and politician Harvey Milk, who was gunned down in 1978 by a fellow official. It wasn't brilliant, but it wasn't bad either; however, there are two facts the filmmakers decided not to share with us which I'd like to jot down here (again, mainly culled from Wikipedia). I wish to point out that I'm not seeking to denigrate Milk's achievement in any way; he spoke out as an openly gay man at a time when, to utilise that old chestnut, it was neither profitable nor popular, and put his life at risk by doing so. However, there is a real danger, especially if the person died tragically, of elevating such individuals into iconic martyrs, a status which often ignores the fact that they were only human beings, with the same flaws and blind spots as anyone else. In Milk's case, the fact that he stood up for an oppressed minority meant that at times he was willing to overlook certain ethical considerations (the end justifying the means, in other words), and to include the facts below would have given us a more flawed, but also more real and accurate, portrayal of the man.
1) On September 22nd, 1975, an ex-Marine called Oliver "Billy" Sipple prevented the assassination of President Gerald Ford by a woman called Sara Jane Moore, who pointed a gun at Ford as he left the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco and was about to fire when Sipple deflected the shot. Sipple was gay, and had been at one stage the lover of a man who attempted suicide after Sipple left him; the same man had previously been involved with Harvey Milk. Milk decided that it would be good publicity to out Sipple as a gay man to the media after his heroic act, regardless of the fact that many people, including Sipple's parents, didn't actually know that he was gay. Although Sipple apparently held no grudge against Milk for this, the excessive media attention caused him an awful lot of problems and led to an estrangement with his mother, a Baptist. Many people have strongly criticised this action by Milk, stating (rightly, I believe) that the decision to expose someone as gay is one that should never be taken except by the person themselves or with their explicit consent, rather than, as in this case, to drum up positive publicity for the movement. (Facts taken from an article on Sipple here.)
2) Another aspect of Milk's life which the film ignores is the political connections that both he and Mayor George Moscone, who was murdered by the same guy who shot Milk, had with the notorious Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple (sic). From Wikipedia (click here for the unedited article):

Harvey Milk, who later became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, first became acquainted with the Temple while running for a seat in the California State Assembly against Art Agnos. Jim Jones initially telephoned a Milk campaign worker and stated that he wished to back Milk, apologized for earlier backing Agnos and said he would "make up for it" by sending volunteers to work on Milk's campaign. When told by friend Michael Wong of Jones' earlier backing of Agnos, Milk retorted "Well, f**k him. I'll take his workers, but that's the game Jim Jones plays." Temple member Sharon Amos organized the Temple's leafleting campaign for Milk. Amos requested the delivery of 30,000 pamphlets and Milk's campaign delivered them to the Temple ...
While the Temple aided some local politicians, it did not do so entirely without suspicion. For example, Harvey Milk felt that Temple members were odd and dangerous. When a Milk aide became wary of the Temple's large and imposing security force following a delivery of election pamphlets, Milk cautioned the aide "Make sure you're always nice to the Peoples Temple. If they ask you to do something, do it, and then send them a note thanking them for asking you to do it. They're weird and they're dangerous, and you never want to be on their bad side." Jim Rivaldo, a political consultant and associate of Milk's said that, after later meetings at the Temple, he and Milk agreed that "there was something creepy about it." ...
Similarly, Milk was enthusiastically received at the Temple several times during his visits, and he always sent glowing thank-you notes to Jones after visits. Milk ally Richard Boyle recalls "[b]oth Milk and I spoke at the temple to the cheers of thousands of Jones' followers and won their support." Following one visit, Milk wrote to Jones: "Rev Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave." In a hand-written note, Milk wrote to Jones "my name is cut into stone in support of you - and your people." Jim Rivaldo, who attended Temple meetings with Milk , explained that, until Jonestown, the church "was a community of people who appeared to be looking out for each other, improving their lives." Boyle explained that it was vital for both his campaign and Milk's that they be received well at the Temple "because Jones was not only Moscone's appointed head of the Housing Authority but also could turn out an army of volunteers." ...
While most influential allies broke ties with the Temple following Jones' departure after increasing media scrutiny, some did not. For example, Willie Brown stated that the attacks were "a measure of the church’s effectiveness." San Francisco columnist Herb Caen wrote "Hot story, but where's the smoking gun?", concluding, "so far lots of smoke but no gun." The Sun Reporter also defended the Temple. On July 31, 1977, just after Jones had fled to Guyana, the Temple conducted a rally against political opponents attended by Willie Brown, Harvey Milk and Art Agnos, among others...
Harvey Milk remained popular among temple members. Two months before the tragedy [in Guyana] Temple members sent over fifty letters of sympathy to Milk following the death of Milk's lover, Jack Lira. The letters were formulaic and one typical letter ended, "You have our deepest sympathy in your loss and we would be glad to have you with us [in Jonestown], even for only a short visit." ...
[O]n Sunday February 19, 1978, Harvey Milk wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter supporting Jones and making statements about Timothy and Grace Stoen. Milk wrote "Rev. Jones is widely known in the minority communities and elsewhere as a man of the highest character." Regarding the Stoens, Milk wrote "Timothy and Grace Stoen, the parties attempting to damage Rev. Jones reputation". Milk also wrote "[i]t is outrageous that Timothy Stoen could even think of flaunting this situation in front of Congressman with apparent bold-faced lies." The letter ended with "Mr. President, the actions of Mr Stoen need to be brought to a halt. It is offensive to most in the San Francisco community and all those who know Rev. Jones to see this kind of outrage taking place." ...
Milk spoke at a service at the Temple for the last time in October 1978 ...
[And finally:] On the evening of November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Jones ordered his congregation to drink potassium-cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. In all, at Jonestown, a nearby airstrip and Georgetown, 918 people died, including over 270 children, resulting in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the incidents of September 11, 2001. Congressman Leo Ryan was among those killed at the airstrip.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Put the Needle on the Record (VII)

Various Artists: The Bells of the Alexander Nevski Memorial Church (Balkanton BXA 1642, undated: pictured below is the album cover after the hound muscled his way into the photograph)
I must admit from the outset that my knowledge of Bulgaria and all things Bulgarian is a little sketchy. Obviously, I know where it is and that its capital is Sofia, but if you were to leap out of a dark alleyway as I ambled vacantly around town and yell at me: “What is Bulgaria’s chief export? Who is its prime minister? What percentage of its population is non-Orthodox?” and so on, I would burst into tears and cry out, “I don’t know! Dear God above, why am I such a simpleton?” (See below for answers.) I could tell you what I do know, to show that I’m not wholly ignorant: Byzantine Emperor Basil II was notoriously horrible to the Bulgars who rose up against him in the tenth century, blinding nearly 10,000 of them in a particular nasty example of Imperial vindictiveness; the ship carrying Dracula to England came from Varna in Bulgaria; the Bulgarians were extremely uncooperative with the Nazis during the Holocaust (according to Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem); buying properties in Bulgaria has been a bit of a fad amongst the Irish in the last few years; and it’s notoriously corrupt. So I needed to do a bit of homework before writing about this LP, The Bells of the Alexander Nevski Memorial Church, of which one side is the eponymous composition celebrating said church and the occasion of its construction, which was to celebrate the liberation of Bulgaria from under Ottoman rule by the Russians in the late 19th Century (the other side is some fine Bulgarian religious choral music, the kind of thing that Eastern Europeans do so well).

Alexander Nevski Cathedral, Sofia (Photo (c) Neva Micheva)

Now, the primary reason that I am writing about this is not the composition itself, a lengthy poem or panegyric backed only by the bells of the cathedral, as it's all in Bulgarian (which is, as is evident from the above, a language I am entirely unfamiliar with (although I do know they use the Cyrillic alphabet, and may have been the first to do so) [A Doubtful Egg trots off to Wikipedia, the internet's premier source of unverified and questionable facts, and finds this is indeed the case: "Paul Cubberly posits that while Cyril may have codified and expanded Glagolitic, it was his students at the Preslav Literary School in the First Bulgarian Empire that developed Cyrillic from Greek in the 890s as a more suitable script for church books. Later the alphabet spread among other Slavic peoples...".] It has also proved impossible to find any information on the writer, Liza (or Lyza) Mateva, but it is, rather, the curious liner notes that I want to focus on. Penned by the Archimandrite Gorazd in Bulgarian and translated alongside in English by an unknown hand, they are quite clearly written at the time of the Iron Curtain and with the clear knowledge that a guy in a Moscow office will be scrutinising the text carefully for seditious insinuations. (For some reason, Blogger won't let me place the text in a separate box, so I've rendered it in a different font.)

Gratitude is an beautiful and exhorting manifestation of every mentally and harmoniously advanced individual. This virtue is repleting human hearts with bright feelings, imparting high value and dignity to every human being. Gratitude is drawing people together, reassuring them as to the possibilities of achieving general weal. It exercises a salutary effect upon the education of individuals and, if expressed as a virtue of a whole nation, it is bringing a great deal about the latter's intercourse with the community of nations, suggesting thereby its elevated national aspect and character. Any expression of the feeling of thankfulness and the very ability thereto ought, therefore, to be considered as a standard for the behaviour of every real human being.
The St Alexander Nevski Memorial Church, situated in the centre of Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, is an imposing witness of Bulgarian cultural life, a mastership of architecture, being as well a historic herald of an unfading and bright virtue, characterising the whole Bulgarian people and their fathomless gratitude towards their Russian brothers-liberators.
Famous chimes are resounding towards the celestial expanse from the exquisite belfry of this temple-monument of Bulgarian liberty, won in 1878. At that, every Bulgarian heart starts beating synchronously with them. The imperious sounding language of these enchanting chimes, descending from the azure vault of heaven, is commanding respect to every Bulgarian, as well as to foreign tourists, sojourning as guests. Characteristic historic recollections are evoked at every phase of the consequent chimes, narrating the dreadful tale of bygone times and events almost prodigiously survived by the Bulgarian nation during its five centuries tyrannical oppression on the part of a cruel conqueror, contributing thereby to make to everybody as clear as the bright day its deepest thankfulness and highest confidence in Russia, its liberator.
Bulgarian history is for over a 1000 years connected with this great country, having played an immense role with regard to the affranchisement and safeguard of the Bulgarian nation as a whole, and its spiritual and cultural rise and development. This bright national expression of gratitude has imparted charm to the architectonic forms of the St Alexander Nevski Memorial Church and to the marvellous sounding narration of its chimes, every blessed day heralding with silvertoned sounds the beginning of the divine service. The memorial church the largest in the Balkan Peninsula and sixth as to its size in the whole world, is an everlasting witness of the historic remembrance of the Bulgarian nation and its deepest gratitude towards fraternal Russia, as expressed in the appeal addressed to the Bulgarian people in connection with a nation-wide drive with a view to collecting funds for its erecting:
"The erection in Bulgaria of a temple, dedicated to St Alexander Nevski links the history of our liberated country with that of our liberators" (Official Gazette, 4th year, 1882, p. 481)
The charming tale with regard to these chimes by the priest Boris Stoyanov corresponds perfectly to its emotional literary version, composed by Lyza Mateva. She has been successful to combine organically the melodies of the temple's chimes with her own word painting, full of sense and saturated with quotations from works of classic and contemporaneous authors, imparting thereby a peculiar strength and solemnity to the temple's chimes, resounding as an unceasing glorification of the feats of heroism of our brothers-liberators.

I'm not sure, if you were to ask the average Bulgarian about the "unceasing glorification of the feats of heroism of [their] brothers-liberators" now, or just how "fraternal" Russia has been towards countries in the Balkans, what his/her response would be. (This isn't a rhetorical question, by the way; I genuinely don't know, but my suspicions are that it would not be entirely positive...) And the answers to the questions in the first paragraph (as I'm sure you're keen to know) are (according to Wikipedia & the BBC): Chemicals and plastics, food and drink, tobacco, machine-building equipment; Sergey Stanishev; roughly 18%.

Friday, July 3, 2009

I Haven't Felt This Way Since "Funky Town"! (IX)

Having spent yesterday slaving away, ripping rotten fenceposts out of the ground and installing spankingly new ones (the joys of homeownership!) (and in the process displacing a veritable diaspora of scurrying wood beetles, who infested the crumbling timber in their hundreds (along with the occasional mighty centipede)) and today painting and then cutting dozens of strips of paper as part of my strange art projects, I am seriously in the mood for some old-style music to soothe my soul. (It is also to assuage the depression I feel after reading this.) So I've chosen a few different versions of one of my all-time favourite songs, "Lush Life", a piece that, when heard in an extended instrumental version by John Coltrane on one of the first jazz records I ever bought, embodied everything that was extraordinary about this new music I was discovering. I know it's theatrical and somewhat self-pitying (but then again, so am I) but I love the eloquence of its lyrics and the breathtaking beauty of its music, written by longtime Duke Ellington collaborator Billy Strayhorn. (Before the various versions of "Lush Life", I've included the last track of Ellington's And His Mother Called Him Bill (the album he made after Strayhorn's death), a deeply moving, poignant piece recorded after the session had ended (you can hear the musicians chatting in the background) with Ellington playing solo. The rest of the album is damn good too, and worth buying if you're so inclined). There's lots of versions of "Lush Life" out there, so if you like it they're worth tracking down (especially the Coltrane version on the album of the same name).