Friday, 19 December 2014

Flying Without A Net

There's no curtain here at the Quirky Muffin and sometimes things get retconned out. Specifically I had been thinking about the difficulties of continuing the story 'Wordspace', as repeatedly mentioned, and it occurred to me that all the trouble might be due to this portion of the story having naturally closed. It happens all the time, and I do have a crackpot theory about it, that stories naturally reach end or rest points, and that's really nothing you can do but end or rest when you reach them and then formally re-launch when you get going again. So, the last episode of 'Wordspace' has been obsoleted, put in the vocabulary burner, telescoped into oblivion, but remains there to be seen by anyone who can be bothered, but no longer canonical and leading nowhere. Ah, canon, that odd idea that someone gets to say what is and isn't official! Believe what you will, but it's the entertained who get to choose what's real in their own personal canons. You can end up thinking about the idea of canon a lot when you've seen, read and listened to enough 'Star Trek', but ultimately we all choose our own and discard the things that don't make sense.

Flying without a net, it's time to get on track, so with 'Wordspace' filed away with 'Triangles' in both having a chapter or phase done, one of 'The Glove' or 'Oneiromancy' gets upped to the front line, both of which are in prime states of development. Or, more honestly 'The Glove' is in a deep state of crisis but it can be salvaged. Is any of this interesting? Does it matter if it isn't? Difficult questions both, both of them subject to themselves too, recursively looping on forever. The annoying thing about 'The Glove' is that it doesn't have a central folly to power it, and so it flounders. No triangular portals to parallel dimensional versions of Aberystwyth, Plain Chocolate Digestive Detectives, words masquerading as characters or a narrative partly being conveyed via dreams. It's just Scottish people on another planet, with a possibly conspiracy in the background; hardly enough folly or conceit to power a small custard pie factory. Still, it will turn out well in the end, or at least turn out in some manner.

"To turn out well"?

Never before have I considered the origins or significance of that colloquialism. It's a baking term, surely? It refers to baked items coming out of their trays or moulds well when they're turned over, hence a well cooked cake 'turns out well' when it is done right. That never occurred to me. Has the 'Quirky Muffin' turned a corner into an imaginary street of accidentally educational content? Did the editors suddenly discover the truth behind the mothballing of the entire story 'Rasputin at the Linseed Shop'? Has your author turned over a new leaf? All will be revealed next time! Stand by for action!


(Edited to allow for additional nonsense.)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

How does any of this happen?

Turning off quality controls now...
A lot of the time the world doesn't make sense at all, or more specifically the people don't make sense. It's very hard for a river to not make sense, or a boulder, but people take to it naturally it seems. A religious group besieges a school in Pakistan and 145 people are killed. Torture is used by the so-called liberal countries of the world to extract information. Intolerance, inequality, and divisiveness seems to reign supreme and what gets done about it all? At least Cuba and the US seem to be putting the past behind them, which is one good thing, even as Russia becomes more and more of a problem.

The hardest thing to understand in the people of the world is the apparently widespread inability to accept plurality of beliefs. Person A believes in one thing and Person B in another, and so do they agree to disagree, or even engage in a friendly debate? No, because A and/or B is incapable of accepting plurality of thought and they fight to the death. Madness, and it's even worse when it comes to matters of the faith! You would think that when it comes to unprovable beliefs people would get along in a shared house of tolerance but no...

Actually I have a crackpot theory about fanaticism and religious intolerance, which states that intolerance and fanaticism is broadly linked to insecurity within the fanatic. People who truly believe in something wouldn't need to go mad in attacking other people's faiths; It's much like the man in his mid-life crisis trying to act young and convince other people to bury his own rampant insecurities. I'll have to watch out for this myself, and try not to start buying sports bikes and giant sombreros in 2019. End of crackpot theory, which may well already exist out there anyway. Of course this theory doesn't allow for people driven by massive egos but that's another story.

This inability with plurality is inexplicable on many levels, as a lot of human behaviour can be. How do all these terrible things happen? And why? How do companies get so ridiculously big that they lose all touch with morality? What is the deal with professionals charging hundred of pounds per hour? Why does any of it make sense? Maybe it doesn't make sense, and trying to find a reason drives people insane? You can't help but feel bad for Obama, trapped in the middle of a sea of lunatics, fully aware that a rotten person could get much more done in his job than a decent one. See, there is political comment sometimes, superficial though it might be.

Somehow optimism lives on though. Good things do happen, and life does go on. People help other people and random acts of kindness continue. It's easy to forget when the news is filled with bad things and neglects the good, but pluses do exist. Plurality does exist, too. Non-fanatical people from different beliefs can and do coexist and even get on together. If you can understand that liking something isn't equivalent to it being good, or believing something isn't the same as it being absolutely true then the world is truly a fascinating place of variety, wonder and diversity. Just watch out for the ones who can't see that, or watch beautiful clouds on happy summer evenings and be dazzled, or smell a flower on the road less travelled.


Monday, 15 December 2014

Movie: 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' (2004)

I can't work out this film at all, especially amidst the rampant and unapologetic apologism that seems to permeate how I approach problem films. If you present a film that was received badly to me, my reaction is almost always to defend it. If it goes on like this this blog will be getting a valid reputation of some sort! Blast.

Now let's put that aside and begin. 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' is a film by Wes Anderson, the man with the style and atmosphere all his own in a world of contemporary mediocrity. He is one of the few living directors I actually respect, but his movies can be a bit sweary, except for two that I love: 'The Fantastic Mister Fox' and 'Moonrise Kingdom'. 'The Life Aquatic' definitely falls into the 'too sweary' category for me, but it also ticks another box that rarely gets ticked, the box that 'Joe Versus The Volcano' pioneered here at 'The Quirky Muffin': the category of being 'categorically misunderstood'. Just as 'Joe Versus The Volcano' is misunderstood because people are expecting a conventional narrative, so is 'The Life Aquatic'. Neither of them are conventional narratives, but are closer to being filmic versions of poetry perhaps? Or epic verse? Or mythology?

Parenthetically, mythology is distinct from fiction both because it is usually created in deep history and is involved mightily with archetypes. I'm not qualified to talk too much about archetypes but they are fundamental ideas, stories and characters that form the building blocks for all derived fiction. Archetypes appeal to us on a whole other level than derived works, even if an entirely archetypal story might be very simple.

So, is 'The Life Aquatic' mythology? No, but it's definitely something far more in line with verse than prose. It's a fascinating watch. It's the story of seagoing documentary maker and explorer Steve Zissou and his team, clearly modelled on Jacques Cousteau although every such reference on the commentary is bleeped out, and his struggles with the decline in interest in his films and adventures which is mirrored by his own growing lack of engagement in those pursuits. There is also piracy, a love story, and some redemption but let's not layer in too much here.

This is a fascinating film, lyrical in nature, but somewhat undermined by its own language. It's harder to make a sweet movie with the swearing, although that's my prejudice and not others. Visually it's stunning, as stunning as any of Anderson's films, and features the now rare Bill Murray leading man performance. If you like the enigma that is Bill Murray then this is a movie for you, but it's also an enigma of a movie in itself. 'The Life Aquatic' didn't do well, which is completely predictable upon viewing. It's not what people expect it to be, and the eradication of an explicit reference to Cousteau probably makes it harder still. It's funny, and touching, but also human and sporting a massive number of red bobble hats, all adrift in a poetical sea of context. There are masses of things to like, as well as a multitude of things to look at and wonder at how they got there. Does that make it more real or more ridiculous? The stylisation is spectacular, reminding me of my own love for such things, and entirely typical of Anderson.

The late and apparently great Roger Ebert and I never agree on anything, except on 'Joe Versus The Volcano' and 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou'. Could either of us recommend this film wholeheartedly in a review? No, but you absolutely should watch them anyway, because they're utterly different to everything around them and in a world of movies which all tend to be the same, that's an essential experience. However a warning: Angelica Houston is in this film so beware if you can't handle that creepiness!


PS Not too apologetic after all. It's a good film, or at least it's a good something!

Book: 'The Big Over Easy' by Jasper Fforde (2005)

Fforde is my favourite (and possibly only) living author. His books are so funny and distinct from all others that reading them is refreshing, like a cool stream of coherent nonsense, or paradoxes that revel in their own natures. You could throw the word 'meta' around trendily to describe them, but that would be a cheap shot, and one which demeans the effort that must go into their writing. The two Nursery Crimes novels, of which this is the first, represent his earliest writing projects as far as I know. They were polished up over time to be released after Thursday Next, his leading character, had made her debut and launched his career, and represent an author at the peak of his daffiest comedy. There may be a third and concluding novel one day, although everyone stopped holding their breath from fear of asphyxiation long ago.

'The Big Over Easy', or TBOE, is a novel that does its best to defy description. It's set in an otherworldly version of the classically regarded metropolis of Reading, home of the only Nursery Crimes police department in the world, as Nursery Rhyme characters are apparently real there, as are talking bears and all other kinds of odd phenomena. The story revolves around the death of one Humpty Dumpty, a formerly walking and talking egg, but did he fall off his wall naturally or was he pushed? The story is actually about a dozen things more than that arc, but it is the title arc so it gets the primary descriptor role. If you suspect it might be noir-ish from the title, you're not in the wrong.

This is a completely different kind of book to 'Shades of Grey', a book so close to the source of all puns and jokes that it becomes almost primordially funny while still maintaining a decent storyline. It's incredibly impressive. Not only funny, it takes a juvenile sounding concept and straps it to a procedural case and a host of other grittier problems to make it a novel for a broad audience. It's remarkable that a story which features Wee Willie Winkie, a golden goose, and a four thumbed alien from the planet Rambosia can still be for all ages but it is. Abundantly.

Why read 'The Big Over Easy'? It's a noirish detective/monster/fantasy/comedy full of jokes that demands to be read in its entirety without interruption. On many levels it and 'The Fourth Bear' represent Fforde at his absolutely best (so far). Oh, how I longed for the third novel for so long, but it is apparently still a long way in the future, gestating. It would be nice if Thursday Next could be delayed for it to happen but maybe Fforde is still collecting the necessary jokes? Are there that many more jokes in the world? We will have to wait, and wait, and finally see!


Note: Closely allied with 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' in my mind, if that helps in the understanding.

Saturday, 13 December 2014


It's late on a Saturday evening. The Quirky Muffin has yet to be written. A rejected draft on writing supporting statements for application forms has been, well, rejected. Re-assessing reviews for legendary turkey movies 'Her Alibi' and 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' remain on the slate for future entries. What to fill up the space with this time?

Should this be a commentary on being sick and suffering multiple ice slip abrasions all in one day? Should it be about one of the most stonking defeats ever suffered in 'Ticket to Ride Europe', where not a single route ticket was accomplished? Should it even be about 'The Big Over Easy', that wonderful Jasper Fforde I just finished re-reading for the umpteenth time? It's hard to say. Inevitably, if this goes on, it could end up being a post about what the post could be about. No, that's just too meta, and the Meta Police are already after me for crimes committed in commentaries. When the 'Forbidden Planet' commentary goes up we may all have to hide in the Film Bin Vault until the New Year!

No, no meta, just gibberish. Gibberish is easy with a rusty mind. In fact it's beneficial. The saga of 'Wordspace' has been preoccupying the rusty mind recently, with no end in sight and the perils of a first person narrative weighing it down. Every weakness has a strength on the flipside if you can but find it. We have a narrative wherein there exists a Wordspace, populated by the words of the English language, all of whom are defined mostly - but not totally - by their dictionary meanings. Our protagonist is Mystery, who has to date met a word from another dimension (ie language), been to meet the Silly Stone in the point of intersection between all worlds, discovered another possible invader was loose in the Wordspace, returned to devastation, journeyed to the Zone of Meaningless Jargon to negotiate with and release the destructive words long imprisoned there, and is now somewhat at a loss for things to do while the long wrongly exiled War and friends set out to defend their home space. Mystery is at a loose end... It's entirely possible that his story has finished, and I missed it. Oh no, a missed natural ending?

Blast this coughing. If it weren't so late I would be listening to some Merrison/Williams Sherlock Holmes right now, but it is late, and there is not time. That's a strange thing to say on a weekend! Oh, for those wonderful weekends of not being compelled toward anything! They must have happened sometime, somewhere, and to someone.


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Story: Oneiromancy, XIII

(Part O , XII , XIV)

The hypnotist's office smelt nice, like a warm loaf of bread straight from the oven. Dr Kibbel stood before the fire, hands steepled before him, his thoughts concealed for now. Stanley lay half-exhausted in one of the easy chairs, watching Kibbel and Helen alternately from beneath half-lowered eyelids. Nothing about being a geography teacher had prepared him for this.

Helen was reading deeply, rubbing her tired eyes from time to time, skimming through the abstracts of academic articles, cuttings from various newspapers, and what looked like signed accounts of tales various and unknown to him. He could swear he had seen one page that looked like a picture of a cute brown donkey pass through her hands as she parsed through. He was willing to bet waitressing hadn't prepared Helen for any of this either.

"Dr Kibbel," Stanley began, "you might try to explain to me what's going on as my friend reads."

"Yes, I might." Dr Kibbel said blankly.

"That's not hugely helpful."

Kibbel shook his head, as if coming out of a trance, as he probably had been from his meditative air. "You're right, you're right, it's not helpful. I had allowed myself to become ensnared in past events. You must both have been through most harrowing events. I still can't believe it's happening. Before I begin I should tell you that I can help you both with your dreams to some extent, but that your only sure recourse for safety is the drastic one of dealing with 'The Tweedy Woman'."

The doctor settled down onto the only spare seat, a stool, and began to tell a story as if they were all out camping in Yosemite instead of in a hypnotist's small rooms in quaint old Britain. "A long time ago, my mother was part of a project called Alpha Dreamline. It wasn't 'hush hush' so much as 'dull dull'. No-one talked about it due to everyone thinking it completely crackers. The theory was that certain people could tap into a communication channel that ran through the collective unconscious. It was one of Jung's pet ideas that he kept under his hat and ran through various friends and students. Mum was apparently a great receiver, but as time went on it became clear that the dreamline had a singularity, an event horizon, a blockage in the line. You get the idea."

Helen was by now listening as well. "Yes, we've met the blockage in question."

"And you've named her, we'll assume it's definitely a her for now, 'The Tweedy Lady'." An ironic grin touched his lips for a moment, before an incoming iciness. "She has a lot to answer for. For decades now Alpha Dreamline has been dead, an artefact of another age, no trial successes, nothing new from past sensitives except for old chatter fading away. Tweedy Lady is exercising her block for all it's worth and the project is all but gone, as are the minds of many a person we think might have been tapped in to the channel. You two are very, very lucky to have not joined those poor souls."

Helen already knew why. "It's not so much luck as force of numbers."

"Yes, somehow your close proximity means you communicate very clearly and act in unison, protecting each other." Kibbel hesitated. "The only horror being possible if either of you were asleep without the other also asleep. But we can fix that to some extent. Our knowledge of the brain has advanced just a little since Alpha Dreamline was in full flight. At least we can ensure that you go to sleep simultaneously."

Stanley Simonson stood up and faced the hypnotherapist. "That all sounds very neat, but how does a hypnotherapist end up with so much information about a non-secret project like this? Just because your mother was part of it?"

"No, because I am still part of it, and now for better or for worse, you both are too."

There shall be more...

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


Up until 1956 there was an extra element of fun associated with going to the cinema. Not only would you get a couple of movies, the news reel, and some cartoons for your entrance fee, but you might also get to see a chapter of a serial. Yes, the serial stories that infest this show have both cinematic and literary forebears. It seems like a whole other world now, that land of double features, matinees and serials at the cinema house.

My thoughts have been turning towards serials of late after finally beginning to watch the 'Superman' serial from 1948, which along with its sequel form the live action precedent that allowed 'The Adventures of Superman' to land on television. In fact television is what killed off the movie serials, but that would be a subject for minds more learned than mine to expound upon. The serials practically were early television, but far more thrilling than the plays of the week you would find on the magic box in the living room.

How marvelous it must have been to turn up week after week, ready to get that set of celluloid entertainment you were expecting, and wondering how they would resolve that cliffhanger from the week before? Well, I'm assuming that chapters were released weekly, which seems sensible. The 'Superman' serial is brilliant, and so much fun that I'm regretting not having played the DVDs before. With 'Atom Man vs Superman' still to come, and the two Batman serials, a whole new world of fun adventure could blossom before my eyes. The titles of these golden age serials are so tantalising! Oh, how could anyone resist 'King of the Mounties', 'Zorro's Flying Legion', 'The Drums of Fu Manchu', 'Perils of Nyoka', 'Jungle Girl' and all the other serials that flashed before the eyes of all those people? Politically correct? Probably not. Fun? Certainly! Fun fun fun!

Fortunately the serials aren't gone completely; The most popular and iconic ones are out there on DVD, as are the serials that have fallen into public domain. There's even fan work in restoring some notable examples of the form and redistributing them. Oh, some day, some day, we'll all be able to dig into some of the long neglected serials that thrilled people with excitement and peril. Roll on the next job, so some money can be diverted to sampling these pulpy sequences of cliffhangers and resolutions.

Pulp, now that's a theme that's popped up a lot recently...