Dog model: Brewski (thanks Penni)
December isn't the best time for new album releases but a couple have caught my attention: London-based Sophie Jamieson's contemplative Choosing, and Canadian Black Ox Orkestar's Everything Returns "offering a distinctive take and timbre within the contemporary landscape of Jewish, Yiddish and klezmer music." (from their spotify bio). Irish multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Anna Mieke's album Theatre from a couple of weeks back is also worth checking out.
Otherwise this friday''s playlist is populated by mostly instrumental and ambient music.
It's a good playlist to walk in the woods to, I think, or wherever you can walk.
by Michael Seymour Blake
You’re an innocent British child in 1992. It’s a quarter to 10 and your parents allow you to watch some nighttime television with them. BBC’s been on in the background, but none of you have been paying it much attention.
Turns out it’s a live news broadcast from an allegedly haunted house. One of the reporters is Sarah Greene, a children’s programming host. It becomes increasingly obvious that this whole “investigation” is just the network’s way of serving up some spooky Halloween fun—even if it is at the expense of homeowner Pamela Early (Brid Brennan) and her two daughters.
But something doesn’t feel right. There’s a ghoulish figure lingering near the curtains in the children’s room. You’re sure of it. Others are too. People keep calling the provided number to talk about it.
Back on the set, Host Michael Parkinson, a trusted and familiar journalist/broadcaster, pulls up a still of the curtains. The thing, whatever it is, looms there. You feel its eyes on you. Michael and his guest, parapsychologist Dr. Lin Pascoe (Gillian Bevan), attribute the illusion to shadows and rumples in the material.
They could be right. Maybe it’s just a trick of the light.
No, something’s there. The Early children refer to this entity as “Pipes” because that’s initially what their mother blamed the ongoing strange banging noises on—the benign innards of an unhaunted house.
Pipes. The denomination gives you goosebumps.
Outside on the streets, locals tell frightening stories involving dead dogs, ghost defecation, and child killers. All this, and you’re pretty sure (you keep doubting yourself) that you’ve spotted Pipes a few more times. Silently surveying with those black, sunken eyes…
Your parents exchange poorly concealed looks of concern. The thudding in your chest is almost unbearable. Something evil is unfolding before the entire nation’s eyes. Your parents call the network in a panic. The signal’s busy. Any semblance of youthful security crumbles away as vomit rises in your throat.
Many people were similarly traumatized by the brilliant, misguided airing of Ghostwatch.
Had those poor souls tuned in earlier, they would’ve seen a message making it very clear this was all fiction—a TV movie written by Stephen Volk made to look like a live broadcast. But it’s 1992. You can’t rewind in real time, and the internet is nowhere near what it is today. Thousands felt duped, angered, and traumatized.
Missing that essential opening disclaimer left deciphering the authenticity of the events purely up to everyone’s own critical thinking abilities… and when people are afraid, critical thinking is often the first thing to go. Entire households temporarily lost their footing with reality, women went into early labor, a man defecated in his pants, people puked from pure fright, and, saddest of all, a boy reportedly took his own life days after watching.
The BBC didn’t see it coming. They anticipated some people phoning in, but they’d set up automated messages assuring everyone what they witnessed was for entertainment purposes only. They also had operators on standby to assuage the occasional extra nervous viewer. Thing is, the lines became so flooded that many were met with a busy signal.
Panic and outrage led to this being the first and only airing of Ghostwatch.
This movie’s controversial history may pique your interest or turn you off, but is it any good?
For my money—very.
Director Lesley Manning recalls the filming experience as “fantastically technical.” That much is apparent from the start. It takes a lotta work to create the illusion of live television, and there’s an undeniable meticulousness about Ghostwatch. Executives initially pictured a more traditional filming style—ya know, shot on film with dramatic angles, a polished look, maybe a bit more cinematic distance from all the action—but Manning was committed to verisimilitude. Why ruin the broadcast TV effect by shooting on film? She wanted it to look as authentic as possible. No fancy cinematography or any of that. And she wanted it all on tape, and a good portion utilizing a handheld camera. The final product mimics what a live TV special would look like at the time.
Creative restraint pulled me further into the deception. Besides the opening security footage, Ghostwatch holds back the horror as much as possible, making every effort to seem like nothing is going to happen. Hanging back so boldly earns it a ton of believability. But if you’re not into subtlety, don’t worry—it gets pretty apocalyptic later.
There’s a possession scene that I’d stand by as being one of the best in cinema thanks to how understated it is. Movie possessions often go over the top. They’re frightening in the moment, but eventually kinda blend into each other with tons of screams, howls, and guttural ramblings. This one feels domestic and conceivable. I still can’t stop hearing “what big eyes you have.”
Even at its mildest, there’s an ominous mood throughout Ghostwatch. I never felt safe (despite occasionally having to remind myself I wasn’t, in fact, watching some dry British program). Take the infrared camera demonstration at the beginning for example. Excited people wave and laugh, all thermally lit up. I couldn’t quite say why, but it put me on edge. And any technical blip sent a jolt of fear down my spine.
During an interview about Ghostwatch, a concerned mother described how deeply the pseudo-documentary disturbed her child even before anything spooky actually occurred. There was just “something very sinister in the presentation,” she says.
Something sinister in the presentation. Couldn’t have said it better.
The acting is almost flawless. There are some points when you can see through the charade, but everyone knows the mission. They keep it natural, occasionally sloppy (even stumbling over their words), occasionally awkward. The imperfect stuff of real life. During the first act, a jovial (maybe selling it slightly too hard?) Craig Charles speaks with the Earlys. They seem uncomfortable, words almost muttered, mouths too far away from the microphone. The impression we’re left with is a believable family desperately looking for help. When Pamela chokes up I bought it so hard I went broke.
Further selling the “live television” fiction are the street interviews, which involve local non-actors sharing ghost stories. These apparently-unscripted segments are like sinister pinches of realism spice sprinkled over the baked slow burn horror pie that is this movie.
Some beautifully planned moments can, even if for a second, trick you into thinking you’re watching genuine events transpire.
One of my favorites is when a mysterious circle of goo appears on the Early’s living room carpet. Reporter Sarah Greene uses a handkerchief to check the light fitting for a leak from above, finding everything perfectly dry. Dr. Pascoe asks her (through an earpiece) to sniff the “hanky.” I wanted to scream “don’t do it.” She brings it to her nose and takes a whiff. Nope, no smell. Then the ever-professional doctor requests a sample of the stuff. Greene agrees, but doesn’t have anything to collect it with. That’s when the sound recordist hands her a lens duster. The flow here is so natural that I was momentarily impressed by his spontaneous resourcefulness (of course, it was all in the script).
I could stop here, but I want to describe a little more because I just love it:
Improvised sample tool in hand, Greene crouches over the ooze and uses the suction created by squeezing and releasing the duster to siphon some up. Slurp, slurp, slurp. Such an uncomfortable moment. While you’re busy being vaguely worried about her interacting with the substance, one of the children suddenly appears for a nice little jump scare.
Lurking at the center of it all is Pipes, whose menacing presence violates even the most lighthearted of scenes. By the end, the dribs and drabs we get of his backstory form a haunting mythology. Also, watch closely and you’ll notice him popping up now and again. After I finished Ghostwatch, I went back and rewatched some of the appearances I’d missed. Somehow knowing he was present without my having noticed it made Pipes even more frightening.
This movie asks us if we should trust something simply because it’s on TV. Should we accept whatever a familiar face on the screen tells us is true? Whether this movie explores these concepts successfully, I can’t say. It sure fooled a ton of people. But did it make them question their favorite news sources, or fact check a celebrity’s comment on some sociopolitical issue? Either way, I respect the ambition.
I may admire this movie too much. I don’t necessarily think it has mass appeal. It’s almost 2023 and most of us have seen some grisly stuff. You may come away underwhelmed. Still, I find it to be, at minimum, among the best “found footage” horror movies ever made. It’s classy without being too stiff and gruesome without using gore.
One thing’s certain: had I seen Ghostwatch as a child that one fateful night in 1992, I would’ve spontaneously combusted.
by Michael Seymour Blake
For some, 1925’s Battleship Potemkin was basically a horror movie. It was banned in France, The United Kingdom, and America due to fears it might incite a mass uprising. Let me repeat that. This film was banned in France, The United Kingdom, and America because they thought maybe a bunch of citizens would watch it and be like, “Let’s overthrow our government! Communism!”
As of now it still holds the record for being banned longer than any other film in British history. But the best part is that it was eventually banned in The Soviet Union too. That’s right. This movie, which drips with Soviet ideology, was banned by Stalin because even he worried it would cause people to revolt. That’s one terrifyingly powerful film.
But it’s not only famous for the sociopolitical weight of its story, the movie also showcases some incredible examples of montage that people still oogle over today. And the Odessa steps sequence itself. Whew! Still shocking and affecting.
The movie doesn’t give us much of a backstory, it simply shows us a situation and unrolls from there. You don’t need to know more than that. Still, it’s nice to have a barebones understanding of the historical context.
By 1905, the Russian Empire was riddled with social unrest. Multiple defeats in The Russo-Japanese War further stirred feelings of discontent and disillusionment. Revolution seemed imminent. Millions of dissatisfied workers were on strike, and naval mutinies began to spread. One of these mutinies took place on the Knyaz Potemkin Tavricheskiy. That’s our ship.
We’re quickly aligned with the already-agitated Black Sea Fleet crew, who are abused and disparaged by the officers in charge. After they refuse to eat maggot-infested meat, the ship’s doctor is called for a public inspection. He clearly ignores the squirming insects and asserts (in title cards) “Those aren’t maggots.” They are, he claims, simply dead fly eggs. The crew rejects the rotten meat.
The ship’s captain, tired of everyone’s complaints, doubles down. He separates those who are “dissatisfied” with the food and condemns them to death. But before the assembled firing squad carries out their sentence, a heroic sailor named Vakulinchuk shouts, “Brothers! Who are you firing on?” His words give them pause. They lower their weapons. An officer tries to reassert control, grabbing for one of the rifles. Then total chaos erupts. The firing squad joins the crew in mutiny. Vakulinchuk is killed in the skirmish.
After successfully commandeering the ship, the crew ports at Odessa and displays Vakulinchuk’s body for all to see. The citizens are roused into action, sending skiffs packed with supplies to the mutineers. But czarist troops appear at the top of a long flight of steps and descend on the crowd like one barbarous creature, killing without restraint or mercy.
The ending is suspenseful, but don’t expect a ton of excitement after the famous Odessa steps sequence (how could it possibly get better than that anyway?).
Propaganda doesn't have to work as a great piece of art, but this movie is both. While modern audiences might be a little bored at times, an underlying vigor keeps this cinematic ship afloat (sorry). Director Sergei Eisenstein said, “Language is much closer to film than painting is.” And there is poetry here; semi-surrealistic images of ghostly hanging sailors, a priest who looks like he belongs in Clash of the Titans, and three lion statues cleverly edited to give the impression of one waking beast all contribute to a feeling of watching an ode on the screen.
The outbursts of violence rival almost any other movie I can think of, at least on an emotional level. Stanley Kauffmann describes the overall feel of the film as “extraordinary eavesdropping,” and that’s one reason why it packs such a punch. At times I was so invested it seemed like I was watching real footage some creative weirdo had shot and stored in their basement.
At one point, the camera cuts to a woman who’s been brutally slashed in the face. There’s no story arc for her as we’ve only just “met” her moments prior. Yet she doesn’t feel expendable. We grieve her loss because she represents the people, and this is largely a story about groups, not individuals. Their deaths are everybody’s deaths. In fact, the ship itself reads as a kind of mass entity… like how some ants can interlock themselves into a raft for crossing bodies of water. The ship becomes the people. Or the people become the ship? Now I’m babbling.
Despite Battleship Potemkin’s legendary status and it being nearly 100 years old, I don’t meet many people who have seen it (outside of film-loving circles and some students). If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to—and not just for the Odessa steps sequence. It’s an important piece of work that explored what montage (which is basically editing) is capable of. Notice how and when the cuts occur. Something’s always being said. We take much of these things for granted now, but back then this was some truly wild stuff.
Eisenstein ideally wanted the score to be rewritten every 20 years so it could remain relevant to newer generations. A cool idea that’s, for me, unnecessary. What’s presented to us works as is. Simple. Direct. Inspiring. Hell, Potemkin radiates sonic energy even without any soundtrack.
This movie is a warning: Don’t tell people that maggots aren’t maggots, literally or symbolically.
Dog model: Joe (thanks Janie!)
Over the last week I've listened alot to Laura Jean's album Amateurs, which has a nice 90s indie rock kind of vibe. This friday we have a new album by Weyes Blood I look forward to getting into more. I'm also enjoying Melissa Carper's old-timey country sound on Ramblin Soul' aswell as Fousheé's softCORE (the songs Simmer Down and Die go hard).
Adrian Quesada's album Jaguar Sound is FUNKY nice.
Black Belt Eagle Scout released two songs this week and announced a new album for February (and a video for My Blood Runs Through This Land).
Here is the full Pup Sounds Friday playlist of for November 18th, 2022. Hope there's something you'll enjoy!
I loved talking with my most taurus friend Steven Dunn about canned fish and more (but mostly food). He's so generous and cracks me up on fb all the time. Also if you haven't read his books you're really missing out (go and do)!
K: Steven, maybe I misremember but I think the first time we interacted was when you posted about being part of a Canned Fish Club and that you’d have meetings where everyone would bring different canned fish and eat it and that was basically the club and I thought that was so amazing and I wanted to join or start my own Canned Fish Club, to just sit around and open cans and talk shit and maybe pair them with a drink or two.
One of my favorite foods growing up in Östersund (Sweden) was this very particular mackerel in tomato sauce (Makrill i tomatssås by ICA) that we’d eat on crispbread. It’s still one of my favorite things in the world and I haven’t really been able to find it here in the states, but every once in a while my mom will ship me some and I space them out to enjoy on special occasions. It was just cool to find out someone else was into canned fish and it inspired me to expand my taste. Lately I’ve been getting into sardines.
Anyway, how did the canned fish club come to be and is it still happening? And I’d love to know how you first fell in love with canned fish and what it was for you?
S: The Canned Fish Club was at my old engineering job. I was eating some fancy sardines in the break room one day, and a dude got excited and we talked about all the fish we loved. And he said they'd already had a Canned Fish Club at work, where once a month they'd all bring in stuff and share. A lot of people traveled for work, so they'd bring stuff back, like miso halibut from Japan or black bean sardines from Thailand. I quit that job in 2019, but I need to start a new club.
And speaking of traveling, thanks to you talking about how much you loved the mackerel in tomato sauce in Sweden, I made sure I ate some when I went to Sweden and Norway a couple months ago. I didn't get that particular brand you mentioned, but I bought a bunch of mackerel in tomato sauce. I love how you talk about food, so I also ate some lingonberry while I was there because I'd never heard of it until you were longing for it on facebook.
I first fell in love with canned fish when I was maybe 4 or 5, because me and my grandad would sit on the porch in the summers and eat sardines and yellow mustard on saltine crackers. He'd always assemble it for me, and I loved how he always made two lines of mustard that ran the length of the fish.
K: I love that story, the two lines of mustard. Plain saltine crackers are underrated, I need to try that. My grandpa took me fishing sometimes, ice fishing, and I have this vivid memory of sitting in a tent on the ice and fishing in a hole in the middle. I don't remember what fish but I remember eating it fried on crispbread with butter.
I really miss lingonberries. We’d eat it on or with just about anything: porridges, macaroni casseroles, meatballs. It’s not super special I guess in itself but just a lot of taste and food memories associated with it for me (I should have told you about cloudberries too! Warm on ice cream). Another thing I really miss is my dad’s beef patties made with liver, it has a very special taste and it goes amazing with lingonberries. But I don’t have a meat grinder. Did you care for the lingonberries? I just had lunch and now I’m hungry all over again. I love how you write about food too, and just your life in general.
I feel like I have a lot of canned fish to explore. I ordered some Nuri Mackerel Spiced in Olive Oil and loved it a lot and have been meaning to get more but mostly I get less fancy, affordable cans at the store. The sardines I had the other day weren’t great, more like a mush. You have anything at home you’re looking forward to eating?
I was excited about you going to Norway and Sweden. My grandmother was Norwegian but lived in Sweden but we didn’t really visit there much so I'm not that familiar. What were some of your favorite things you saw or did during the trip? Favorite places? It sucked that the fish church in Gothenburg was closed.
S: Oh man, I love your memory of you and your grandpa ice fishing. I love it so much it feels like my own memory. I had to think about why, and of course there's the overlap of our grandpas, but I think the root of that memory is care, like someone spending some one-on-one time with us relaxing and feeding us. The luxury of rest, connection, and care. And speaking of care, the adult and young adult author, Emily Franklin, in Massachusetts, recently sent me a box full of tinned fishes, all new things for me, like a lot of paté de cavala (mackerel paté). She also sent spiced mackerel from the famous Pinhais in Portugal--I've watched a documentary about them a lot but I've never had any of their fish. Oh, and she sent homemade honey from her own bees. I'm impressed she has those skills, and I admire and appreciate her care to send me those things. We only know each other from facebook, and she sees how much I post about tinned fish. That's what I'm looking forward to eating. I'm in the process of getting a box together for her.
And yes, I loved the lingonberries. I had them with beef patties, gravy, and potatoes, because that's how you talked about having them, so I'm glad you mentioned that meal again in your response. I know you said you have a lot of memories tied to lingonberries, do you mind sharing one that stands out most.
K: Probably the liver patties. I actually talked to my dad about them the other day because I’d written to you about them, asking about what went into them. It’s tied to a memory of helping make them as a kid. But also a macaroni casserole (makaronipudding), and I know you don’t like mac and cheese and I’m not going to sell you on it but it does incorporate bacon and kielbasa sausage! And we’d eat it either with ketchup or lingonberries, a sunday meal.
One time my dad tried to bring homemade lingonberry jam in an old taped up milk carton through customs and I can’t remember if they confiscated it or were so puzzled they let it through. Anyway, I make the casserole from time to time when I want something comforting and use ketchup on it, reluctantly. Oh and blood pudding. It’s a kind of loaf made out of blood and flour, and sliced thin and fried. With lingonberries. Some use syrup, smh. Enough with the lingonberries!
That’s amazing about your friend. Spiced mackerel and mackerel pate sounds delicious! I love that she’s sending you food and you’re preparing to send her something back. And that we’ve made a similar connection through food. I’ve been thinking about food and memories a lot even before us talking about it. I have these comfort attachments to certain foods from when I grew up and maybe it’s heightened by moving to a different culture. How food becomes carrier of memories, a little like some music, connecting you to a place or feeling.
Sometimes I feel like I should write down recipes so these dishes won’t get lost but I almost never follow a recipe and the dishes are never quite the same so I don’t even know what I would write. I don’t have any recipes of my parents or grandparents either, only a Swedish cookbook I consult sometimes, but mostly it’s memory and repetition, using whatever ingredients I have. I wonder what will stick for my kids and what they might try to recreate later on? Are your kids taking interest in the foods you love? Do you keep recipes? Growing up in West Virginia and living in Colorado, I imagine it’s very different too. Any other nostalgic food memories that stand out or brings you comfort or you like to recreate?
S: Okay, mac & cheese with bacon and kielbasa sounds beautiful! I do like mac & cheese, but I think it's an overrated dish--I don't get the big fuss about it, but I'll definitely eat it. Black America is hilarious about mac & cheese, like it's the holy grail of all food, and as if nobody makes it better than Black Americans. We have so much good food in our culture and mac & cheese and potato salad is what we make a big deal about?? And everyone swears their grandma makes the BEST mac & cheese. Okay, rant over ahaha!
And yes, the memory of repetition of cooking. I don't have any recipes but I have certain WV dishes that I feel are important for kids' education: salmon cakes (canned fish again, ahah, and my nostalgic food), potato cakes, and cabbage roll soup. My mom is sorta like the town cook, and she used to be a cook at the elementary school...so food was important in our house growing up. Oh, and speaking of recipes, my wife has a recipe book from her Portuguese mom. My wife was born and raised in Hawaii, but is ethnically Filipino and Portuguese, so it's important to her to cook the foods she loved: Portuguese bean soup, chicken long rice, mung bean soup, spam musubi, and loco moco (fried rice, gravy, hamburger patty, toppied with a fried egg). Our kids are growing up in Colorado with West Virginia and Hawaii foods.
K: First of all, I’m so excited to try these fish tins you sent! That really made my day. I haven't gotten into them yet but I will soon. And I’m here for any and all food rants. I tried to make potato cakes after you posted about it once but it wasn’t successful. Also I’ve never tried salmon cakes but want to (I think R’s family used to make them). It’s interesting picking up all these different foods via the people and places you encounter. My aunt lives in Rome so I have good memories of Italian food I want to recreate and I’ve picked up dishes living here in VA that I never knew before, like pinto beans and cornbread, chicken and dumplings, that I like and make regularly. I’ll stick to Swedish pancakes tho.
I love how food ends up in your writing too. Your first book is called Potted Meat and I love the story in Water & Power, which is your second book about the navy and military culture, where the “I” (you? I hope it’s you lol) ends up stranded in Japan and refuses to eat at Hard Rock Café with the rest of the crew and gets on a random train to find some good food. I like the thought of getting lost without a map and seeing what happens. Do you have any aspirations to write specifically about food and travel? I feel like something like that was mentioned at some point.
Parallels: my dad was a cook too and I think cooked for the preschool I was in as a kid. And he also got on a ship when he was young and ended up in Japan.
Another question: are there any foods you’d be happy to cut out of your life forever, and on the other hand, if you had to eat something every day, what would it be?
S: Oh my god man, your dad was a cook too, and ended up in Japan! That's wild. I'm so happy we're talking about this and learning more about each other.
And thanks for recalling the Japan story in water & power--it's my favorite story in there but people usually don't bring it up ahaha. So extra thank you! That story is one of my favorite food memories, and it made me so happy to write about it.
Re: having any aspirations to write specifically about food and travel. YES! I've had this idea for about 10 years now of mapping French colonialism through sandwiches. But I wanna travel to each place and eat the sandwiches, like eat a torta in Mexico, a po' boy in New Orleans, banh mi in Vietnam, a grilled merguez sandwich in Algeria, and so on. Imma do this in life one day! Hopefully I can get a grant or something.
Okay, so foods I wanna cut forever: Chicken strips and mozzarella sticks (bland-ass foods).
Foods I could eat everyday: some form of eggs, and some form of fish.
What about you, what are the foods you want to cut forever, and the foods you could eat every day?
K: Holy shit you need to pitch Netflix for this Sandwich travel show! And write that book. That would be so good.
I need to ask my dad about Japan and get back to you because I'm not sure if I remember that story right. Do you ever feel like you regret not asking people in your family for more of their stories? I wish I would have asked my grandparents more questions. The older I get the more important that feels, whereas back when I was younger I was too busy with myself to bother, which is probably a pretty common thing. But I still have my parents to ask.
Doing these interviews is kind of a version of that too. Wanting to get to know people better, wanting to connect more. I feel like you keep up with alot of people? How do you keep up with people and do you find it overwhelming at all?
For foods I'd be fine with not eating: I was gonna say chicken but I do like chicken wings, and chicken soup, so maybe not. Eh. Chicken breasts and boiled eggs can go for me.
I'd eat pasta every day, but that wouldn't be good, so I'll say a caprese salad, with good tomatoes. I could eat that every day. Funny that you said you could go without mozzarella sticks.
I'm gonna open one of those fancy tins for lunch in a little while and look forward to it.
S: Yes, chicken breast can get the hell on for me, also. But I love boiled eggs ahah!
I wished I would've asked my grandparents more about their stories also. One of my grandmas died when I was 7, so I didn't get to ask her much anyway, but I was with her a LOT during those seven years. My other grandma, who didn't die until I was 19, told me a lot of her stories, especially about when she used to clean houses for white people, and how the coal companies were like modern slavery, so I feel like I didn't miss much. But I wonder, because she told a lot of stories, that she had a lot more that I could've asked her about. The more I think about myself as a writer, the more I realize I'm basically mimicking my grandma telling me all these stories, and not only the stories, but the material was so important to her, like she'd tell me details about beans, and clothes she wore, and the little space between people's houses in the coal camp, and how couples were cheating on each other. And I also have my grandma's sense of humor because I thought she was the funniest person ever. I've been laughing for 30 plus years at the time I was in the backseat when my dad was driving my grandma through the drive-thru bank, and something unfair was going on and the white lady bank teller was being sassy with my grandma, and my grandma called her a slew-foot heffa who couldn't pour piss out of a boot if it had a hole in the toe and instructions on the heel. I fell out in the back seat DYING laughing.
K: Haha I love those sort of elaborate creative put downs that’s like a whole story, and that you’ve taken it with you. I don’t remember any phrases my grandparents used to use and I kind of wish I’d just cuss in Swedish sometimes but I’m too self-conscious, too assimilated now. Even if I stub my toe or hurt myself I cuss in English, it seems like a missed opportunity!
I’ve been enjoying the shift to fall here in VA and finally being able to wear a jacket and cooking some warm hearty meals. You said on fb something about scheduling your readings and visits to catch east coast fall foliage. You excited about that and is there a particular kind of fall experience you’re looking for, different from there? Is it your favorite season?
S: Oh man, I hope one day you get your Swedish cuss words back! When I was learning Spanish, in college and with people in the town, the people who were teaching me were the most proud of me when I learned how to cuss well. On the other side, a group of Chinese dudes at my college, who were learning English, wanted me to teach them how to cuss in English. It made me so happy when they came to art class cussing me out after they did their homework the night before, which was watching Black 70s movies that I'd given them. What you said reminded me of that: the sorta authenticity or confidence to cuss in another language. In summation, cussing is great ahaha!
And yes, I loooove fall, and Colorado's fall isn't that great because it's not super colorful and it's still hot here, so I run to the east coast every chance I get in the fall. Fall feels cozy to me, and peaceful, and much deserved after a hot-ass busy summer. It's like the world is chilling the fuck out. But mainly, it's just fucking beautiful, especially the light. I can never decide if fall or winter is my favorite season. What's your favorite season?
K: First I have to say that one of the tins you sent, Fangs Sprat No. 2 (smoked) Baltic Sea (sounds like a fancy perfume!), was one of the best meals I’ve had in my whole life. I can’t even explain it! Every bite was so good!
Fall is definitely my favorite here. It does feel like a big chill out. Everything quiets down somehow. I love walking around and the leaves falling around me and it getting darker earlier. Summer is probably my favorite in Sweden, here it’s mostly miserable, having to mow lawns and get eaten by ticks and wasps while you can’t even enjoyably sit outside.
But more a struggle with having quit smoking, in the fall? How do you feel about that now since it’s been a while? If you want to talk about it. I quit several years ago but I definitely kind of miss it when it feels like this, also miss having like… a vice? Don’t know if that makes sense.
Any fall album or artist you’re getting extra into at the moment? I feel like I’m shifting to more melancholy stuff.
S: Man, when we were in Norway and Sweden this past summer, I thought, "This is how fucking summer is supposed to be!" Then I came back to the Denver dessert and was miserable. Fuck a summer.
I miss smoking so much in the fall and the winter. I quit at the beginning of summer 2021, and it was easier because I never liked smoking in the summer anyway, but when fall and winter came with its crispness and beautiful snows, it was so hard not to smoke.
As far as fall albums, Freddie Jackson's Time For Love (1992). My dad used to play that album a lot while he drove us to football games and stuff in West Virginia fall. I forgot about it until I was recently in West Virginia for the fall, and the first thing I listened to was that Freddie Jackson album while I was driving from Pittsburgh to Morgantown, WV. And I usually turn to more melancholy stuff, especially Damon Albarn's Everyday Robots (2014), and that group he was in The Good, the Bad, & the Queen's self-titled album from 2007.
Dog model: Tiggy (thanks Lisa)
Sault is one of the most interesting and dynamic (and prolific) musical collectives of the last few years. Having already released the album Air in April this year, last week they surprised released no less than 5 more albums for limited time free downloads on their site with a password you had to figure out from their Instagram post (11, Aiir, Earth, Today & Tomorrow and Untitled (God)). 4 of these are now available for streaming and I'm excited to listen through them all! (they all exist on bandcamp). Two Sault songs bookend this week's Pup Sounds Friday playlists.
Benjamin Clementine's album And I Have Been didn't make last week's playlist because I hadn't listened to it yet but it's been on heavy rotation since. Ane Brun's Norwegian language album Nærmere is also haunting me so far.
Here is the full Pup Sounds Friday playlist for November 11th, 2022. Hope there's something you'll enjoy!
Dog model: Banjo
I was excited to find new albums by British punk trio Big Joanie (Back Home) and Norwegian-American Okay Kaya (SAP) this friday. I'm also really digging The Hanged Man's album Tear It All, a swedish band I was unfamiliar with who makes "nightmarishly beautiful pop".
Here is the full Pup Sounds Friday playlist for November 4th, 2022. Hope there's something you'll enjoy!
Michael Seymour Blake talks movies
(This won’t be spoiler-free, although I truly don’t think anything written here with diminish your viewing pleasure.)
Artistic, contorted, claustrophobic set designs. Creepy, uncanny atmosphere. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’s legendary reputation is well deserved.
During the winter of 1918/19, two pacifists (one a disillusioned officer during WWI, the other feigning mental illness to avoid service) wrote a screenplay for a movie that would influence a myriad of horror films and more for years to come. We owe so much to this German expressionist classic.
But listen: there’s more to it than just cinematic importance. It’s still friggin’ great.
I first saw an unrestored version of the film, spending most of my time squinting at indiscernible set pieces and blurry-faced characters who seemed like clouds masquerading as humans. Still, Caligari is so good that I came away satisfied.
Then I watched the newly restored version, and to quote the great Pointer Sisters—woo-wee! Seeing everything in the clarity I’m sure director Robert Wiene intended was a staggering experience, elevated by having initially viewed its visually inferior predecessor. I kept inadvertently yelling “damn!” as the background’s twisting depths revealed themselves.
Told as a frame story, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari follows Dr. Caligari, a crazed hypnotist who debuts a prophetic somnambulist named Cesare at a local town faire. After Cesare correctly predicts fairgoer Alan’s brutal demise, police stop another murder in progress. Is it the same perpetrator who killed Alan? And where does the mysterious Cesare fit into this whole mess?
There’s a bunch of allegorical readings to be wrung out here, from championing authority to challenging it, but the film works without intellectualizing anything. It conveys a general “allegorical feel” with or without historical context. (Though I do think understanding the historical context will only enhance your appreciation.)
The world of Caligari is unsustainable, slumping, on the verge of collapse. Having just experienced the horrors of war (in one way or another) undoubtedly influenced the writing duo’s darkly creative vision. But for me there’s also much to celebrate here. You can sense the human hands that crafted the sets and painted the shadows. Morbid as it is, it’s a testament to the beautiful power of people, to the act of making.
Alright MSB, enough with the sentimental stuff.
Conrad Veidt nails it as the ghoulish Cesare, portraying the tranced-out sleepwalker like he was born for the role. The guy looks to have been torn directly from the hypnagogic backgrounds.
With all Caligari has to offer—murder, intrigue, suspense, inventive sets—somehow my favorite scene is when Caligari feeds Cesare. There’s something oddly sweet about glimpsing this top-hatted man’s mundane, daily task (even if it’s just a necessary requirement to continue his nefarious plans).
The frame narrative setup wasn’t in the original script, but producers demanded a more hopeful ending. Both writers (Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz) vehemently opposed the change. I think they were right to fight against it, even if the added plot twist arguably helped make Caligari so memorable. The twist was more than unnecessary, perverting one of the intended themes—healthy distrust of authority figures. It also lessened the horror of the work, patting us on the head and assuring us that everything is under control. All this terror is our own mental illness. And good news! We can be cured of it.
Even this significant criticism can be almost painlessly forgiven. And to be fair, we’re offered the slightest hint of ambiguity as the camera lingers on the benevolent “real” Caligari’s face at the end. A filmmaker’s wink—maybe it’s not all in our heads? Maybe the world is a crooked, nefarious place run by crooked, nefarious people.
This genuine classic still manages to feel fresh and exciting. Got nothing but respect for it.
I wanted to use the word “perspectivism” here somewhere, but I ain’t smart enough to use it organically…
Michael Seymour Blake talks movies
Welcome to Potters Bluff, a sleepy seaside town that ain’t so sleepy at all.
An unlucky photographer (played by Dennis Redfield) meets a woman (Lisa Blount) wearing painfully tight jeans on the beach. They flirt. She seduces him. Then a bunch of townspeople show up, and the movie throws a surprise left hook that leaves you dazed on the floor. The overcast sky in this ruthless introduction (created by suspending a huge flag from an overhanging cliff to block the sun) sets the tone for more dark events to come.
When an overturned car is found with a charred person inside (the photographer?), Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) is on the scene. Assisted by eccentric town coroner/mortician Mr. Dobbs (Jack Albertson), the sheriff grows suspicious about the mysterious crash. His wariness deepens after a body turns up—an obvious murder. Stranger still, he learns that his wife Janet (Melody Anderson), a local schoolteacher, knew the burned man in the car. But her story doesn’t quite check out, and Sheriff Gillis is left wondering who he can trust.
Dead and Buried is the opposite of slow burn horror, throwing ghastly events at us left and right with pacing that never eases up. The momentum-focused screenplay by Aliens writers Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon (although apparently O’Bannon claims none of his ideas were used) has some smart dialogue and a ton of intrigue. Gary Sherman (who also helmed a movie I highly recommend--Death Line) gives us foggy streets, bloodthirsty cabals, and a constant sense of lurking danger.
Farentino adds some humanity to the role of a local Sheriff tossed into a nightmare version of the town he once knew and served. Anderson plays his loving wife with a peculiar innocence. Even those with smaller roles, like the harmless-but-overzealous wannabe cop Betty (Estelle Omens), have a unique touch. But the obvious favorite is Albertson’s Dobbs.
What to say about Dobbs? Here’s how we meet him: two headlights shine through the night as 1938’s jazzy “And The Angels Sing” echoes throughout the surrounding darkness. He’s on his way to join the scene of a horrible accident…
“Talk about an entrance,” remarks Sheriff Gillis.
The car rumbles forward, passing a Potters Bluff sign. It pulls up in sluggish fashion. Dobbs has arrived. He’s dressed like an old school gentleman—shirt and tie, fedora, white flower attached to his lapel. The sheriff is frustrated by Dobbs’s tardiness, but Dobbs shushes him. He maintains eye contact with the sheriff as the song plays out, light reflecting off his black rimmed glasses like the glowing headlights that marked his introduction.
I loved him right away.
Dobbs takes extreme pleasure in making corpses look as good as ever. Better even. His appreciation for old-fashioned big band music, dedication to his craft, and sharp wit make for a character I couldn’t get enough of. Albertson was very ill during production and died shortly after. His performance was impressive with or without knowing this, but it does add a certain extra weight.
Equally as impressive are Stan Winston’s practical effects—from needles in the eye to the complete reconstruction of a human head, he and his team have accomplished something horror fans will continue to discover and love for years. Even if the surrounding story had nothing to offer (and it does), the work Winston and co. display here make it worth a watch.
Take the body in the car wreck for example. The camera sits nice and close to a mutilated person hanging limply upside down in the front seat. It’s all glistening muscle and bone and teeth except for a small patch of skin around one of the eyes. Nasty stuff. Already memorable. But then as a hand reaches towards it, something shocking happens. I won’t say what, but it’s a horror moment that stands with the best of them.
A scene involving acid up someone’s nose stuck out to me while watching. It looked noticeably cheap in comparison to everything else, like it’d been edited in from a weaker movie. Later, I learned it was one of the only effects Winston didn’t have his hands on, a glimpse into what could have been. His contributions are essential.
Dead and Buried does have some weak links. Like when a family spends way too much time searching for the inhabitants of a so-clearly-derelict house. It rocked me out of the movie with a big eye roll. (What happens because of this sequence, though, more than made up for it.) There were characters I wish took a different turn, and the ending, while somewhat fitting, felt a little too tv-movie and a lot too obvious. All is forgiven thanks to unforgettable effects, colorful characters, and of course super spooky atmosphere. It’s all so damn entertaining. This belongs on any horror fan’s watchlist.
Bonus: if you’re a philosophy fan, there’s a “free will” discussion waiting for you and your pals at the end of this.
Kim talks to Addie Tsai about their new biracial, queer, gender-swapped retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
KG: Hey Addie, and welcome to VA btw! I haven't read Unwieldy Creatures yet but I want to. It feels like a good season to read it too. I'm curious why you decided you wanted to write a retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein? How did it start?
AT: Hi K! Thank you! I'm loving fall!!
I've been obsessed with Frankenstein since I read it in a Romantics Literature class in college. I just recently figured out that I became obsessed with the novel at the same age that Shelley was when she wrote it, which feels special to me. I would say that I relate to it in more unexpected ways. I related to it because as an identical twin, I was interested in how Frankenstein and the Creature mirror one another while being, of course, very different. As a person of mixed race reading the novel at a time that mixed race was incredibly stigmatized, much more so than today, I related to the Creature's tale of isolation and being othered by society. In fact, it's only when society turns on the Creature that Shelley begins to call him the daemon, the wretch, the ogre, etc. Finally, as a child of narcissists and in particular a child of maternal abandonment, I felt seen in the novel, especially as a teenager. I began to reread Frankenstein, as I like to say, as a "self help book," when a relationship with a pathological narcissistic painter (one who, ironically enough, I was collaborating with on a Frankenstein gallery show at the time) ended terribly. I wanted to understand narcissism, and so I began to delve back into Shelley's masterpiece to understand it, to somehow free myself of being drawn to narcissists. That led me to propose a dance theater adaptation (and a collaboration) of Frankenstein, with a local choreographer where I lived at the time. We co-created Victor Frankenstein a decade ago this past February, which was a contemporary dance theater adaptation of not only the narrative of Frankenstein, but also some of the circumstances and relationships of Shelley's life that I felt informed her creation. It was in the summer of 2019 that I started thinking more about a Frankenstein retelling, though, while my ex-partner and I took steps to begin IVF. As I learned more about IVF, and started to consider the rise of the access and use of reproductive technologies, reproductive rights began to be challenged, particularly in the American South. It was then that I thought we were living in the perfect landscape to consider a new framework for Frankenstein. From there, UNWIELDY CREATURES grew.
KG: That’s a lot of different interesting connections! Being a twin and mirroring, but also traumatic experiences re narcissistic parents and partners. Did you find any insights in Frankenstein, as a “self help book”? A dance theater adaptation sounds really fun, too. The Creature is kind of like the ultimate othered literary figure. I read in your book description that it’s a modern retelling with an embryology lab and queer biracial characters (and a nonbinary creature!) which sounds super exciting. What kind of story did you want to tell and how did Mary Shelley’s original inform your version?
AT: I wish I could say that Frankenstein did offer me insights? I mean, it probably did, but it was a slow burn, if you know what I mean. SPOILER ALERT I think one of the things I really thought about re-reading it in this lens is how Frankenstein (the scientist)'s unprocessed trauma leads to his narcissistic irresponsibility.
UNWIELDY CREATURES is definitely a story written for Frankenstans, as I created a parallel scene or storyline for almost every part of the original, aspects of the original that aren't often included in adaptations. I also attempted to use a diction that was a kind of hybrid between a contemporary diction and Shelley's 19th century language.
KG: Oh that makes me want to read them together and compare lol. And that's also something I think about alot, narcissism as a result of trauma, and what you can do about it. How trauma puts you in survival mode? It feels like a difficult topic to talk about.
Speaking of adaptations, we watched Young Frankenstein this past weekend, which is alot of fun. I'm also a fan of Penny Dreadful (the first two seasons anyway) and their Frankenstein and Monster. I remember watching the original Frankenstein in a high school film class but don't remember anything but the lake scene, vaguely, as horrifying. I need to rewatch it. Do you have a favorite film adaptation? Did you find any inspiration there too or was it mainly the book original? It's interesting that you said you created parallel scenes, which is like a mirroring!
AT: Yes, I hope you do! Haha, tell me how it goes. I think the trauma and forced enmeshment that Victor experiences as precursors to how he decides to embark on his "experiment" is largely missing from adaptations. At the moment, I think narcissism is talked about badly! And too generally.
Young Frankenstein is my favorite adaptation! I am trying to get access to Penny Dreadful! I hear it's really great. The original Frankenstein is charming, but certainly not my favorite. I did not really look at film adaptations for this work, probably because UNWIELDY CREATURES is more an homage to Shelley's text than to all the many adaptations of it.
KG: Can you elaborate a little bit about what Unwieldy Creatures is about? What's the story in your adaptation?
AT: Unwieldy Creatures is set in a few different locations--Indonesia, Oxford, West Texas, Vermont, and somewhere in the southern United States. Most however, occurs in real time in the final location. Our narrator, Li, also known as Plum, tells us the story of meeting Dr. Frank, also known as Z, who is a queer biracial Indonesian reproductive scientist and the first to create an embryo without using sperm. Plum is a biracial Chinese intern at Dr. Frank's lab, and through a number of circumstances, ends up caring for Dr. Frank in her apartment. It is here that Dr. Frank tells Plum about her childhood, and the events that led to the sordid story of her creation (and how it went dreadfully wrong) to ultimately ask Plum to collaborate with her on an experiment. Plum has to decide what her desire for ambition is worth. This adaptation largely takes on in vitro technologies as the scientific basis for the creation narrative, and considers some of the ethical dilemmas as our technology around in vitro grows more ethically complex.
KG: Thank you, that sounds super fascinating. So, something else, kind of unrelated but also feels connected, that I wanted to talk to you about is photography. When I first added you on fb I remember you were posting a lot of polaroid self-portraits and double exposures (which I love!). I’ve been getting into photography more in the last couple of years too and also self-portraits, thinking about and exploring/interrogating masculinity (it feels, as a construct, so resistant to being seen as a body? and also any sort of ornamentation?) which is something that has paralleled my own slow understanding of myself as nonbinary.
What’s your relationship to photography, has it always been an interest, and specifically these self-portraits? And why polaroid, which has gotten really popular again? My daughter is into it! There’s also like a general simplistic idea that taking selfies is narcissistic, but do narcissist really want to self reflect? lol. In my experience they want to use others to reflect them (Frankenstein?)
AT: Ah! I love to hear about you using the self portrait to explore/interrogate masculinity. I also consider many of my self portraits a way to interrogate gender norms, especially considering "the male gaze" as it has proliferated among photography in particular. I've been interested in photography, in one form or another, since I was ten years old, and I asked my mother for a snap and shoot 35mm Vivitar camera for my birthday. I wish I'd had the money and access to formally train in photography, but alas. I started with a 35mm Pentax in my late twenties, and largely focused on self portraits, and then double exposures shortly thereafter. But, as film has become harder and harder to process - you could still get your film developed at Walgreens back then - I'm enjoying the Polaroid because it's still analog and because of its quick nature. Polaroid cameras are being reissued, with a bunch of contemporary app features, and I really love the physicality of the object and how finicky they are. There are so many things you can't get with a Polaroid! I love the tension in that. Writing is something I work very hard at, technically speaking, but with photography I really enjoy not knowing *too* much about its processing. It's a place I enjoy playing, experimenting, failing, and seeing what will come of it.
I suppose you could always use any sort of medium to indulge in one's narcissism, but I'll first say that I think self portraits and selfies aren't the same, and I get very frustrated by the conflation. To me, self portraits are works involving the creator as the subject and are very carefully cultivated and considered, and selfies are snapshots taken of one's self. I'm not saying selfies aren't ever working in ways that a self portrait does, but I don't think it's necessarily the case. I agree with you, though! That narcissists are less about self reflection as they are about seeing everything around them as reflections of themselves, which is very different!
Polaroids by Addie Tsai
KG: Ideally I would want to get into film photography but the process feels intimating, and also more costly to keep up. I wish we had more access to photography equipment because it’s so expensive! They should have cameras at libraries, in an ideal world, that you can check out. I have a used Canon but it’s had some problems which has kind of killed the joy for me, temporarily, but I hope to get back to it eventually. A polaroid sounds fun and relatively easy tho, and I like the idea of limitation and the physicality and not being fully in control over the outcome. Maybe I’ll look into it too. When I was looking at cameras last I was trying to find some sort of analogue and digital hybrid because I don’t want my creativity to be dependent on being able to buy film.
Anyway, photography is kind of on pause for me at the moment but I’m sure it will come back, what about you? How often do you use your polaroid, or other camera? And do you have any other literary projects you’re working on at the moment?
AT: My institution does have access to cameras ... but alas, they are all digital. It would be amazing to get more into it. When I have time I want to also start using my old 35s again...maybe one day. I hope you find a way back to it also! In 2020 and 2021 I was taking a lot more photos with the Polaroid, especially when our version of quarantine was happening and I was teaching from home. But right now my life is just way too overwhelming and so I mostly just use Polaroid when I'm specifically inspired. I miss it, though.
I'm working on a few projects! I'm currently trying to gather submissions for this new anthology project I'm editing with Jessica Kingsley Publishers, EXPRESS YOURSELF, an anthology centering LGBTQIA+ teens on fashion and will also feature a few prominent adults: https://addietsai.com/express-yourself-anthology-seeking-submissions. I'm also working on a non-linear lyric memoir, a graphic novel in verse, and I have a couple of other ideas up my sleeve.
KG: I look forward to hearing more about them! And also seeing your photography when you get back to it. Thanks for taking time to answer these questions and I’m happy to have gotten to know you a little more!
One final question, do you associate any particular music with writing Unwieldy Creatures? Any songs or artists come to mind? Does your writing process involve listening to music? Or just anything you feel would pair well with it. I always find myself making playlists this time of year, as it gets colder and we approach Halloween.
AT: For many years, which includes UNWIELDY CREATURES, I listened to Sufjan Stevens's Carrie & Lowell in order to write. I can't explain exactly how it put me in the exact frame of mind I needed to write the novel, but it did. I think I finally wore that one out, though, and am currently taking new requests! Lately I've been writing to instrumentals. My writing process doesn't *have* to include music, but it often does help me get into the mood. But it has to be the perfect thing, and sometimes what works one day doesn't work on another.
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