Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sleepless Night

by Shawn K. Inlow

I was first to bed last night.

It was almost midnight and my family was quiet.  Mrs. had drifted off in front of the teevee.  Boy was under headphones and thinking about music and art.

The stories I did not write today gnaw at me every night.  They visit me when I lay down and I think of where I left them every night before I drift off to sleep.  Someone is trying to tell me something.

I awoke at 4 a.m.  Sometimes the fear of life grips me and to settle myself down I open a book and read until I can no longer keep my eyes open.  Lately, though, I have felt fine.  Right.  Good with things.  But still I lie awake.

I open a book and read a few chapters under a tiny light and transport myself into someone else's story.  I put the book down.  Turn off the light.  And lie awake looking at the dark window.

And everything comes back.  My stories return to say, "Hello, and you've been given another day."  I think of my father.  Gone.  My mother.  Gone.  I notice the woman beside me who came to bed while I slept.  I think of the love story between us.  How I sang at her doorstep.

The ribbons of memory and startling, breathless tendrils of joy curl out from my body as the window frame hints a shade lighter.  The world between the sleeping and the waking, you can breathe in it.  You can feel in it.  You can remember who you are.  And be glad.  And be grateful.  And so deeply, deeply in love.

I sit on the side of the bed and put on my Sunday clothes.  Impossible sleep, I am the first out of bed today.  I quietly make some coffee and I can see the dim white of snow outside.

I have been given another day.

The dawn breaks and I walk into it fully alive.  Not knowing what's next or how this story turns today.  But something woke me and whispered in my ear.

You have another day.
You have another day.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Video Vault: Carnival of Souls

Carnival of Souls: Evocative low budget film may have helped shape the zombie genre.

 by Shawn K. Inlow

Anyone who's seen a lot of cinema can quickly note the antecedents of and precedents set by today's tidy little horror masterpiece.  Perhaps the little film has never got its due, but it reminds of a very good Twilight Zone episode and foreshadows films like "Night of the Living Dead."

What sets this small budget 1962 indie apart, though, is its thoroughly eerie atmosphere.  Even scenes of very normal every day life seem uncomfortable to the viewer.  And the movie isn't a shocker.  It's ... idunno... ominous?  

Mary Henry
Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Candace Hilligoss is a poor man's Janet Leigh, a pretty-ish blonde who manages to crawl out of a river (at right) after a terrible car crash.  She doesn't remember anything about the crash or others who might have disappeared in the water, but she decides to continue to a small Utah town where she will take up employment as a church organist.

Mary Henry is a woman on a very strange journey.

"Date!  Yeah!  That's the ticket!"

She distances herself from people and seems not to know how to mix in.  She doesn't know what to do with the lothario, John Linden (played by Sidney Berger, he's the spitting image of a young John Lovitz' "Liar Guy" who's taken a step right to the edge of creepy.) who boards at the same house.  Despite working in a church setting, she does not take religion seriously.  (On the cusp of the moralist 1950s, I can see this being a glaring road-sign more then than now.)

Completing the picture of isolation are these unnerving sequences when the film goes utterly quiet in an otherwise mundane setting and Mary feels like nobody can see her.  A psychologist explains her fright by noting she's had a recent shock.

Zombie #1?
Zombie #1a by Romero?

And then there's this guy.  Herk Harvey, until then a director of industrial educational films, used egg white on his face to transform himself into the quintessential pallid phantasm who seems to pursue Mary.  The use of this image, through a car window, or submerged in shallow water puts a cherry on top of this film's atmosphere.  Harvey's phantasm (left) perfectly imagines the nattily dressed, freshly buried zombie (right) from the opening scenes of 1969's zombie classic by George Romero, "Night of the Living Dead."

An abandoned music pier seems to call out to Mary Henry. Drawing her toward her uncertain fate.
One of the principle locations used in the film is an abandoned amusement park, set shadowy and broken down on a music pier.  The place looks byzantine in its affect, with domed spires and Arabian arches.  Like some broken down Coney Island, it echos a past liveliness gone to seed.  This location seems to call out to Mary and peak her curiosity.  In the way a clown can look laughable or lurid, this setting was a nightmare come true for Herk Harvey when he was able to use it at no cost.

And "Carnival of Souls" makes gorgeous use of its black and white.  The lighting and the use of shadow in this film propel the film like a broken wheel-chair careening downhill toward spooky-town.  There are countless still frames here that bear pausing the grinder and pouring over the image.  Add this to a soundtrack that can soothe or jar the senses.  The use of heavy doses of organ music makes obvious sense in the plot and the way it darts between sacred and hellish adds nicely to the film's themes.

I run the risk of giving this little late night gem too much credit.  But I cannot escape the thought that it is one of those little movies, like "Targets" (1968) or "Last House on the Left" (1972), that helped change the genre, bridging the gap from classic Universal monster mashes and Hammer horror to the nascent stages of what we have today.  The fright went from being external (a monster) to being internal (fear and uncertainty).  Or worse, the horror of the perfectly normal.

Candace Hilligoss portrays Mary Henry - A woman on a most unusual journey - in today's feature, "Carnival of Souls."
THANKS & DEDICATION:  This post was the result, albeit a late responding one, to a reader somewhere in the northeast.  She'd dropped me an email and I don't have it anymore asking for a treatment of this film, so I got right on it.  Within the week I'd gotten the Criterion disc from Netflix and studied the film for about three days, doing a shot by shot viewing and producing dozens of pages of notes.

So my apologies to that reader for taking so long and I hope this post reaches you somehow.  I doubly apologize for letting your note slip such that I couldn't remember your name.  My bad.  But your taste in film is good, at least by this example.  And this was a fun film to study. 

So if anyone else wants to put a delicious film on the Voice of the Mountain list, please fire away in the comments below and I'll be happy to oblige.  I especially love finding the little films that people may have missed.  And to the nice lady who suggested "Carnival of Souls," please drop me a line again and let me know your reaction to the post.  For now, accept this review as my thanks.

Until next time, Enjoy!

Monday, February 3, 2014

State of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

I worry too much.  Or do I?

To say that one worries too much implies that maybe there's nothing to worry about.  I care a lot.  I love a lot.  I laugh a lot.  And I worry a lot.  How's that sound?

The Artist, I was telling someone in church this weekend, feels the weight of the world more keenly than most.  Do you ever feel that tidal wave of melancholy?  All the beauty and sadness of this life just wailing on you?  It is, if you are well balanced, a wave that knocks you topsy-turvy and then, when it ebbs, it has by contrast the effect of making all the good things even brighter.

It is, my friend Julie would say, the Libra in me; constantly out of balance and constantly seeking it.

I am opening to you today, dear reader, a larger window on things that has been brought on by my recent thinking on politics, expressly the president's recent state of the union address.  Everybody and their brother had a "response" to the Obama speech.  And they generally all missed the boat.  This is my response:  The State of the Mountain Address.

The Mountain abides.  As my old friend Lao Tzu might say, those things that are not born do not die.  The life on or about The Mountain, though, is in constant turmoil.  Constant change.  We, dear reader, are the little things clinging to life.  The Mountain owns you.  You don't own it.  You may think you do, but one day you return to it.  Your waking life, though, is one of precarity.  Mr. Obama was talking about the ten-thousand things, all of which are reflections, I think, of two basic things:  Economic Problems and Moral Problems.  The two, on a real level, are the same thing.

The sickness lies in an economic paradigm that prizes profit over sustainability.  Profit even over common decency.  Continual growth and increasingly complex energy throughput and waste over simplicity and health.  This world of human affairs is sick.  It is out of balance.  We need to strike a balance.

Continual growth is impossible.  The Mountain is, after all, finite.  There is only so much coal you can dig and so much natural gas you can frack.  Meanwhile the waste heap grows higher and higher, poisoning the air we breathe and the water we drink.  More energy.  More power.  More things.  More pollution.

There are too many people for everyone to live like Americans without us toppling off the Malthusian cliff.  Thus Americans, rich and in the driver's seat of the best of warplanes, can and should lead the world.  But how?  We must decide if we're going to be heroes or villains (the moral question) in the equation.

The words are scary:  Communism, Socialism, Terrorism.  Show me a new "ism" and I'll show you a new war.  The words are scary because you've been propagandized to have negative feelings about these when all they are is ideas.  Capitalism and Imperialism have probably caused more death and destruction in the world.  Communism, Socialism and Capitalism, after all, are just methods of accounting; ways of counting what we have and determining who gets most of it.

We need to think about Idealism.  Altruism.  We need to think about ways that we can share our wealth in ways that improve the world around us.  For instance, I would, with all my money, figure out a way to start an electric cooperative and build a solar or wind farm to help supply my town's needs and use the overage to do the same for other towns.  I could still make some money for my trouble, but is there a need to make a killing?  How much do I need to live well?

We need to shift from a purely capitalist system which demands unsustainable growth to one that includes slow growth or possibly zero growth models for the common good rather than the individual massing of wealth. 

Capitalism has done very well, thank you, at creating wealth.  Since the founding of the USA and through the industrial revolution, the capitalist paradigm magnificently lifted the masses to a quality life.  This wealth has been built on a seemingly endless supply of natural resources.  But the wars are now raging for possession of those dwindling resources that are left.  All over Africa and the Middle East the last fateful gold rush is on in the selfish death spiral that is capitalist, imperialist perpetual growth.

There are big businesses rushing to establish electrical grids in tribal regions of Africa not to enlighten the people but to gain access to their resources.  Soon a tribal person in Africa won't be able to see the stars at night for all the blinding light.  The people will begin to have abnormal rhythms as their days become longer and more "productive."  Then they will get sick and seek medicine.   Can we not just leave them in peace?

I think Cargill and Monsanto and other giant agri-businesses have already changed our DNA with their genetically modified foods and they spend millions of dollars to prevent you, the consumer, from knowing what Faustian bargains they've made to engineer food.  These kinds of companies are destroying farms, destroying soil, and poisoning habitat.  The fossil fuel industry, though it has been hugely beneficial, needs to be grandfathered out because with global warming we're now paying the piper.  And don't get me started on the bankers.

NAFTA unleashed a tidal wave of cheap corn on Mexico and drove whole generations of farmers from their fields, where their labor no longer turned a profit, to the cities, where there was nothing for them, and then, finally, to cross in wave upon wave across the American border to find some way to survive.  This is how an economic decision has caused, not only an immoral disruption of a way of life, but the shattered families of illegal immigration as well.

NAFTA was touted as being great for everyone but it turns out it was a shitty deal for almost everyone.  NAFTA, the North-American Free Trade Agreement, 20 years since it was instituted has been hellish on decent American jobs but very, very nice for corporate profit margins.

And now President Obama wants "fast track" authority to execute another, far worse, "free" trade deal in the Pacific Rim, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.  We are waging global economic capitalist warfare, a destructive brand of economics that will negatively affect much of the population, be a bonanza for corporate ledgers and simply stab the working man in the heart and wreak havoc on the world's climate.

Unless.  Go and read the Dr. Seuss book "The Lorax."  Unless.

We must pull back on the reigns of the runaway engine that is unbridled capitalism.  Capitalism, I heard someone say, must serve democracy rather than impede it.  And given the price of a congressman nowadays and the ways in which corruption and bribery have become the rules of the road, the United States is in no position to lead.

Men like Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch spread disinformation and sew the seeds of scientific illiteracy.  Men like Charles and David Koch are seeking to buy out the government to free themselves to continue their wanton exploitation and ruination of the environment.  There are so many corporate interests lobbying Washington that it is clear that capitalism is hurting democracy.  The government no longer serves the voters.  The government serves the wealthy.  For the love of God, the only people claiming responsibility today are terrorists.

The world's answers cannot be had without American action.  And the villains in this game have have tipped the balance in their greedy self interest.  In fact, they may well have broken the scales entirely, making the societal choices that are needed impossible to come by via common governance.

Time is short and America is unable to move.  Its emperors are fat and lolling on beds padded by legal bribery.  The lock on the doors of power must be broken and the scurrilous bastards who have put us here must be confronted.  They must change or be removed.  Otherwise, these greedy fools will take us all down with them.

Now Hear THIS!!