Thursday, May 14, 2015

The History Nerd's Guide to Wolf Hall Pt 1 - Costume

Like everyone else that goes apeshit about stuff on PBS, I've been devouring Wolf Hall. Everything that's been said about it is true. It's beautifully put together, astonishingly faithful in its details, beautifully acted, all of it. It's lush and alien and fascinating and the final episode is brutally riveting.

But on another level, as a history nerd, the show is a candy store of references.  It's like Wreck-it-Ralph for people that own copies of 'The Tudor Tailor' and obsess over Renaissance music and Holbein paintings.

About those paintings. It's been said that the shots are composed like paintings. And one of the main reasons for this is a number of the shots -are- paintings. A lot of the costumes for characters are just whatever that character is wearing in their portrait. What follows is me gushing about the details for several paragraphs, with a focus on costumes. In the next post I'll talk about set design.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dragon Age Grows Up

Dragon Age: Origins came out when I was fresh out of college and living in a shitty apartment where the heat didn't really work. I'd started a job I didn't love to pay rent and I was thinking of life as something I was doing until I did the next big thing. I'd play Origins late at night with a lap blanket and still end up shivering (this was a winter when it didn't get above 20 for 2 week on end. In Maryland of all places)

And Origins seemed right for where I was in life. It had a lot of stories about characters finding their destiny and coming to terms with their childhood. Of the 'core cast' of Leliana, Morrigan, Alistair and the Warden (most of the versions thereof), I think their average age seems well under 25. They haven't done great deeds yet, they either haven't really started or they are starting over. Their stories seemed to revolve around being a bastard, or being the traumatized and sheltered child of a a demon woman, or <insert fucked up Warden family situation here>. The oldest of the 4, Leliana, adopted an affected innocence. I mean, there was an option to have the two virgins in the group (I am assuming this about Morrigan) deflower each other. Morrigan would freak out at the prospect of falling in love in a way only a true innocent could. The games title, 'Origins' said it all. This was a game about beginnings. About starting out and where you came from.

I'm nearly 30 now. Still have a job I don't love, but I'm thinking of the life I live as an end and not just a means to what comes next. I'm married. I play Dragon Age Inquisition in my well-heated and less-shittily furnished house. I romanced Cassandra, who bears a passing resemblance (mostly "-disgusted noise-" to my wife). And when I play I meet characters who are not defined by their childhood. Characters who have done things. Cassandra is in her late-ish 30's, she's been right hand of the divine for 18 years. She's grown disillusioned with the chantry and her own order while retaining her faith; she's loved and lost. That's what defines her, not what happened to her brother when she was young. Leliana is now 10 years older, and she's not defined by what happened with Marjorlaine, but by all the ways that spying for 10 years has twisted her soul. Iron Bull is scarred by a brutal counterinsurgency and already well on his way to building a new identity for himself in Thedas. Vivienne was formerly one of the most powerful mages in Orlais, and Cullen isn't haunted by what happened when he was a kid, but by all the awful shit he's endured during the past 2 games. If Origins was a game about rather young people making their way in the world (and saving it), Inquisition is a game about people coming to terms with what they've done in the world and who they've become. It is not a story about young people anymore. It's a story about grown ups. And maybe I've changed. Maybe the games changed. I think we both have.

And this is not to say that Origins was adolescent in a negative sense. Or that stories about coming of age are bad. Dostoevsky wrote almost exclusively about the problems of young men and he is one of the greatest novelists, well, ever. But for years the games I played were about adolescents or post adolescents, and those stories are well-travelled. It's nice to see other stories being given the spotlight.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Album of the Year - 2014

Just about any year he releases an album, David Eugene Edwards puts himself in contention for the most interesting, inventive music of the year.  It's what he does -- there is no one like him, not even within the lilliputian subgenre of Gothic Americana, and certainly no one who flirts with the indie rock mainstream the way he does.

But this year was special.  Refactory Obdurate is some of his best work ever, and after a career like his, that's saying something.  It's his probably his heaviest and darkest album - we haven't heard guitars roar like this since Secret South, and both 'Salome' and 'Obdurate Obscura' are haunting even compared to his back catalog.  It's also his most hook-filled and accessible, probably.  These are some catchy tunes.  Terrifying, sure, but eminently hummable.  The rhythm section gives the songs a punch they lacked on his earlier albums, and Edward's voice has only grown in power of the years -- here he whispers, sings, and barks like Michael Jira.  Every track here is at least very, very good, from the straightforward 'My Good Shepherd'* to the atmospheric 'El-Bow' to the metal riffs of 'Hiss'.  And the best tracks - 'Salome,' 'Obdurate Obscura', 'Corsicana Clip' - are transcendent.

I should have perhaps posted this earlier, in advent, because to me this is advent music.  It's full of eschatological dread and hope, not unlike the words of Jesus himself.  If you can follow half of the biblical allusions - to martyrdom ('only one man stood up for Stephen'), the crucifixion ('if you release this man, you are no friend to caesar') - you can get an event better sense of the depth here.  This is a sinister, beautiful, sacred album. 

And so it beats out a lot of other great music from other great musicians (Swans, Agalloch, At the Gates, Pallbearer, and many more) to make it the best album of the year, in my estimation.

http://deathwishinc.bandcamp.com/album/refractory-obdurate







*(which would be a Christian radio hit in a just world, but alas, the sun shines on the talented and the talentless alike)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jack Aubrey Reviews Indie Rock Songs

"The Mariners Revenge Song" by the Demberists.
JA: I don't know who these decemberists are but they are no seamen.  Only a lubber would be caught up like that and eaten by a whale
JA: Anyway, Stephen, you know more about these reptiles than I. You can't live in the belly of a whale, much less murder a man for acting the scrub to your mother, can you?
SM: Jesus Mary and Joseph! They're not reptiles, Jack.
JA: They're cold and slimy. Surely that is a reptile, Stephen.
SM: -fumes-  -Plays a bit on his cello-
JA: (worried) Well you can't live inside a whale's stomach, can you, Stephen?
SM: -Sighs-  I should think not.  They are more like bags then caves, really.  So one could not murder any scrubs whilst inside of one.  And all the specimens that I am aware of have throats far too narrow to swallow a man whole.
JA:  There was the Jonah, though.  The first Jonah Cove, with the rum run of luck.  What about him?
SM: It stands to reason, then, that that was a miraculous whale, with a capacious gullet and a voluminous gut.
JA:  Well then, I suppose that settles it.  No seamen, and ignorant of whales as well.  Shall we play the Boccharini?

"Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident" by the Mountain Goats
JA: This...Darnielle fellow seems like a bit of a scrub, doesn't he?  I mean, if a woman should, well, you know, undo one's breeches and...in a privy.  Well one should at least thank the lady for her kindness, and not write a song about it.
SM: You are the soul of gallantry, Jack.
JA: I don't see what's so diverting.  I just think that a gentlemen aughtn't tell the world of such things, let alone insult the lady by telling everyone he was thinking of another woman.  It is very badly done, Steven.  What's Marduk, anyway?
SM: The god of Babylon, I believe.
JA: Awfully odd thing to have embroidered on your chemise, ain't it?
SM: There is no accounting for the fashions of the young.
JA: Well, I'm still plenty young, and I don't understand it.
SM:...
JA: Oh come now, Steven, don't say I'm old.  Any more than the dear Surprise herself!
SM: -mutters- in your current state you more resemble the horrible old leopard, down to the unsound knees
JA: Eh?  I didn't hear that.
SM: I said you are still in your prime.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Metal Monday Double Header

We have a double-header for today's metal Monday.

First up is the latest from A Pregnant Light, a one man metal/<something>core/indie band out of Grand Rapids, MI.  It's probably inevitable that a guy who describes his own music as 'Purple Metal' releases a single called "Purple Pain."  It's a testament to how good this is that I'm not disappointed that it's not a tremelo-picked and screamed tribute to Prince.

The songs here are nothing really new for 'Deathless Marantha', but when you have one of the most unique sounds in loud music today, that's not so bad.  It's more hook-heavy, emotionally raw and generally rocking material that mashes up metal rifts, hardcore-esque vocals and some lovely post-punk guitars.

http://colloquialsoundrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/purple-pain-b-w-ultraviolet

Since today's theme is apparently emotionally gripping material from one-man bands the next song is from Dawnbringer.  Even their last album was pretty deeply felt; it is probably the most emotionally gripping concept album about murdering a Urizenesque solar deity.  But these songs from their latest are stripped down and powerful, like some alternate universe Jason Molina that still played heavy metal.  It's great stuff.

http://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/night-of-the-hammer

Sunday, September 14, 2014

May Her Memory be a Blessing, Part II

To follow up on my previous, I went to Mrs. Maschler's memorial service this morning. I heard from her former colleagues and students and her daughters. And everyone speaking worked together to paint a picture of her. She was a woman who was incredibly blunt, and also incredibly interested in everyone she talked to. When you talked to her, she really listened. And when she told you that you were wrong and told you why (quite forcefully!) she did so not because she delighted in putting you in your place, but because she really took what you had to say seriously. She took -you- seriously. And she would hold up your words to the same (merciless) scrutiny that she applied to Sts Augustine and Paul or Kant. You were in the same boat as they were. You were not just some kid, you and your words mattered to her.

And because you mattered to her, your life mattered to her, and she would worry over it. She always thought I was not living up to my intellectual potential, working the job I did. But she said that because she really did care about me. And so it was, apparently, with everyone she knew.

I value kindness a lot. Which might be funny or hypocritical coming from me, I don't know. And I generally take little stock in people that are blunt or abrupt because they are 'being honest'. But from her, telling you that you were -wrong- sir, that was a kindness. It was a mark of respect. I will never forget that.

May her memory be blessed.



And if I may be abstract, I think my experience with Chaininah is instructive.  All my life I was told I was smart and special and was awarded parts on the back for doing as well as could be expected for someone of my years.  Chaininah was a rare person who did not hold me to some kind of weighted 'pretty smart for a punk kid' standard, but held me to the same standard that she held the great minds of history.  And perhaps that's what we need more of in our teachers and our education -- an attempt to take students seriously, to ask them to really put their minds out there and hold themselves up to no less standard than finding the truth.

May Her Memory be a Blessing

A friend of mine (St John's tutor from way back whom I used to drive around town) died in August. I was never that close to her, and her death makes me sad in that general 'I will miss you' kind of way that I feel when non-close friends or non-immediate relatives die. Since my parents are still alive and all my closest friends are still with us, this is all I've known of death - missing people.
Mostly I suppose I wanted to share a bit about her. Chaninah Maschler was born in the Berlin in 1931 but grew up in the Netherlands. She was Jewish. The first thing I heard her say about the war was 'I didn't go outside much', then she had been hiding with a gentile family in Utrecht, that her brother had run messages for the resistance, and that she'd survived the hunger winter of 1944-1945.  I later learned that her Mother had survived Bergen-Belsen, and her brother had not.

She was a philosopher to the bone. Sharp like Wittgenstein or Pascal, not jovial like Hume. She was a Pierce scholar (and general fan of pragmatism) who studied at Princeton and had ended up at St John's because she was friends with a faculty member there, I think it was Eva Brann. Knew Rorty a bit, I am not sure how well. That's to say she had a mind like a trap, and I could only just keep up.
She married an artist and art dealer who (as far as I can tell) had never gone past high school, and as far as I can tell she was happy with him until he died a couple of years before I met her. She had two twin daughters.

I last saw her two months before she died, trying and failing to solve printer problems for her. My biggest regret is that I saw her less than I ought to have when she had cancer. My last memory of her was that she was much the same as ever, but weaker and more tired. I am glad I have that.