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Saturday, October 29, 2011

November Biblical Studies Carnival - The Undead Edition

The November Biblical Studies Carnival of the Undead - put together by biblioblogger Tom Verenna - is out now - a ghoulish collection of articles, essays and other assorted writings in biblical studies.

This month's freakish monstrosity includes a link to one of my posts (horray!)

There's lots to read and study here.  Dive in.  Don't be afraid.

November Biblical Studies Carnival - The Undead Edition

Friday, October 28, 2011

Arabic Zebra Print

My daughter made this print for a school project.  She carved the image into the back of a Styrofoam plate, covered it with printer's ink using a roller, and then transferred the image to her paper.  She also drew the calligraphic border -which reads:

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp 
(the lamp in a glass, 
the glass as it were a glittering star) 
kindled from the Blessed Tree.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Photos, Old Photos

Since I've added something new to this blog - namely the advertisements (whatever revenue they generate for me will be given to the Salvation Army in Fairmont, Minnesota.), I decided to create new header and footer pictures for the blog.

But in case you get nostalgic for the old ones, here are the previous pics that have adorned this blog.

A Test of Something New

If you are one of the few (but growing number of ) people who read this blog on a regular or semi-regular basis, you might have noticed something new in the past day or so.  There are now advertisements appearing on the page.


I have succumbed to the lure of filthy lucre.  I have given over to mammon's siren song.  Sorta'.

I'm not entirely comfortable with them. But, what I'm hoping is that these ads will generate some small amount of money that I can, in turn, give to The Salvation Army of Fairmont, Minnesota.  If this blog can help us to make our budget, I'll be pleased, and it will be worth the discomfort it causes me to have them on the blog.

The ads are here - for now - as a test.  If they do well, and if they aren't overly obnoxious, I'll continue to let them stay.  If not, I'll drop them.

Meanwhile...Thanks for stopping by this little corner of the internets.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Once More and Again

This song was made using only one sound sample. Using Ableton Live (lite) and Adobe Soundbooth
Hang Song 1 -from The Freesound Project -  was looped, twisted, and subjected to various reverberations to make something new.

If you've enjoyed it, feel free to download it, or to leave a comment below.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

S&Man – What Does it Say About Me?

Why are horror films so popular?  Why do these stories of death and dismemberment and destruction come back to us again and again and again?  And why do we find them so entertaining? I’m sure that I don’t have an answer. No one answer will be complete. 

How is that we can be entertained and amused by a movie’s depiction of someone being killed – but we (most of us) are repulsed by the idea of watching someone actually die?  Do we derive some sort of voyeuristic thrill from watching a horror movie? 

In 1960 the British filmmaker Michael Powell released the movie Peeping Tom to great controversy.  The film revolved around a serial killer who murders women while using a portable movie camera to record their dying expressions of terror.  Though it was initially scorned by critics, it has since become regarded as a complex and classic film.  Do we, like the film’s main character, derive a thrill from watching horror movies?  We would loathe to admit it.  But it might be true. 

Roger Ebert, in his review of Peeping Tom, says that "Movies make us into voyeurs. We sit in the dark, watching other people's lives. It is the bargain the cinema strikes with us, although most films are too well-behaved to mention it."[i]

But put aside the horror film for the moment. Voyeurism as entertainment has all but swallowed up television programming.  Every so-called “reality show” on television is based on the premise of allowing cameras (us voyeuristic viewers) to watch people as they are without a script. How is it that admitting that you like Survivor is acceptable – even respectable, but mention that you like horror movies and people look at you as if they suspected you to be mentally unstable?  Is there really that much of a difference?

Yes. I’m sure there is a difference, but I’m not sure I could define it. That’s why the question – Why are horror movies so popular? – is difficult to answer. And that’s part of what makes the movie S&Man (2006) so compelling and so revolting.

On the surface S&Man is a documentary about the world of underground and fetish horror films, films with a limited and specific audience.  These are not films for my mother (or, I’ll assume, your mother).  It is a journalistic look at the directors, and actors who make films about simulated death, torture, and paraphilia (aberrant sexual practices).  Through interviews with a variety of people like Carol J. Clover (a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film), a forensic psychologist,  and horror film director, Bill Zebub, a fairly balanced view of this underground world is presented to the viewer. 

But quietly and without fanfare, director J. T. Petty, slips something horrible beneath the surface of this pseudo-documentary.  One of the filmmakers that he interviews – Eric Rost[ii] - may be crossing the line between “reality-show” entertainment and voyeuristic murder.  And the deeper we look, the more horrifying it becomes.

Is it a “snuff” film?  Or is it just a movie?

This movie, like Peeping Tom, turns us viewers into voyeurs of a sort.  And that is the horror of this movie; that we are pulled in, that we are simultaneously entertained and repulsed by what’s being put on in front of us. It is horrifying and is entertaining.

Did I like the movie S&Man?

What does it say about me if I did?

[ii]  A fictional character… as real as it seems, keep in mind that he is a fictional character.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Black Swarm

I was out of town for a couple of days and missed a few movies from my list.   But I’m home again now and back to the horror movies.  

I’ve watched a lot of bad movies over the years, low-budget movies with lousy special effects and talentless actors, movies directed by film-makers who make Ed Wood Jr. and Colman Francis look like auteurs.  Sometimes you get lucky and one of those creature-feature B movies actually turns out to be something interesting.  This is not the case with the Canadian made for television movie Black Swarm (2007).

It begins as a horror movie should, with a plausible premise that plays on the fears of the age.  And this fear isn’t a new one, it’s a fear that’s been exploited by story tellers for as long as there have been scary stories: the fear of man’s works turned against him, of science and technology (that could be used for the good and prosperity of mankind) being turned into agents of destruction and death. And the genetically altered weaponized wasps of Black Swarm that turn their victims into zombie-esque drones and breeding hosts make for a particularly nasty type of monster. 

While it begins well, the movie fails as most B-movies do.  Around the 45 minute mark it starts to go a little weird, and after 1 hour it’s spiraled off into a buzzing incomprehensibility.  The characters behave in an inexplicable manner, there are chasms in the plot – let’s not call them “holes.”  Even horror veteran Robert Englund starring as the basement dwelling ‘mad-scientist’ can’t bring this movie anywhere near scary, let alone social commentary.

But what if it had been different?  What if the director had been able to make a compelling story from this premise?    

The story takes place in the fictional town of Blackstone, New York – a town name that brings to mind the English jurist, William Blackstone, whose Commentaries on the Laws of England  helped to codify English common law into a just and fair system applicable to all citizens.  Without law, without justice there is only chaos.   The movie has plenty of chaos, and even though one of the protagonists is a sheriff (deputy sheriff, actually) there’s very little application of legitimate law. 

Late in the film we’re told that the weaponized wasps are the result of one of those “secret government programs” to develop biological weapons.  The only problem is that they’re unable to distinguish friend from foe.  The wasps, once agitated will attack anyone in the area, and since they are all but indestructible, it’s impossible (except for the film’s heroes) to stop them.  Here again is potential for great story telling, and for great social commentary. … Something about great power and great responsibility, perhaps?  Or …he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword? 

I wish that this could have been one of those lucky finds, one of those creature-features that rises above the rest of the snarling and growling beasties. Black Swarm is a movie with promethean potential but… that’s all.  Potential. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Importance of Music

"The Bible certainly teaches the importance of music..."
At least that's what we've heard.

My son and I spent a few hours tonight playing with some music.   We put various samples into a MIDI keyboard and then layered on some wild effects to see what kind of tones we could create.  Eventually we put together  song.  This is my ten year old son playing the synth, bells and the preacher's voice.

Please feel free to download it for your continued amusement.
Leave a comment.  Tell a friend.

This Can't be Real

This Can't be Real by thatjeffcarter was here

This song features a dirty trumpet sample from AfroDJMac,
and from the freesound project - cymbal roll.

This song is available for download.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Living into the Visions

As the stars flicker into the purpled dusky sky, the prophet Zechariah extinguishes the flame from his lamp. He says a prayer before he sleeps – ‘Lord of the Universe, it is true, that before You there is no night, and the light of the world is with You. You make the whole world shine with Your light. Keep me as I sleep.’

Zechariah sleeps as the moon climbs into the dark skies over the city of Jerusalem. And in his sleep he looks up into the darkness at the intersection of heaven and earth and sees a grove of aromatic myrtle trees. The trees are rooted in the depths of the abyss, “the extremity of the world …at the extreme limits of life (Ollenburger, 750).” The dark seas are filled with danger and mystery.

A wind whispers in the branches of the myrtles carrying the fragrance of Eden into the night. The whole world is quiet, but the air is charged, tense, expectant.

In the shadows of the myrtle trees he sees a man riding a red horse, and behind him more horses – red, chestnut, and white – pawing at the ground and snorting. They are powerful creatures.

Zechariah turns to the angel that is now suddenly standing next to him and asks, ‘Sir, what are these horses doing here? What’s the meaning of this?’

The angel-messenger answers ‘Let me show you.’

Then the rider of the red horse speaks up, ‘These are those whom YHWH has sent to patrol the earth.’ And now the horses deliver their report to Angel of YHWH, the rider of the red horse,’ We have patrolled the earth, and lo, the whole earth remains at peace.’ They are Yahweh’s agents sent to patrol the earth. They are God’s dominion over all of creation and have unlimited, universal range (Ollenburger, 751). They are the hosts of heaven, the angel armies of God returned from a reconnaissance mission.

Hearing their report, the Angel of YHWH cries out to YHWH, ‘Oh, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, how long are You going to stay angry with Jerusalem? How long will You withhold mercy from the cities of Judah on which You have inflicted Your anger for the past seventy years?’

And from the darkness of the grove YHWH speaks words of grace and comfort to the Angel of YHWH, who then addresses Zechariah: ‘Proclaim this message, it is Yahweh’s message – I am jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. And I am extremely angry with the nations that are comfortable and at ease.

‘I’ve come back to Jerusalem, but with compassion this time. I’ll see to it that my Temple is rebuilt. My cities will prosper again. I will comfort Zion again. Jerusalem will be back in my favor again.’

Zechariah is commissioned to preach the return of YHWH to Jerusalem and his compassion and consolation for the people. But his message isn’t just a “there, there” type of consolation. Zechariah is to alert Israel and the world that Yahweh’s determination is to change the world – to rearrange the present order. YHWH is remaking, recreating the world, and restoring the world to its proper order. Governments are going to be cut off and cast down, while Zion is going to be lifted up and exalted.

“For YHWH has chosen Zion, He has desired it as home. ‘Here shall I rest for evermore, here shall I make my home as I have wished.'" (Psalm 132: 13 – 14)

Through the night Zechariah receives a series of eight visions – at one point the interpreting angel awakens him “as one is awakened from sleep.” Using a variety of both familiar and, at times, bizarre, Zechariah is given a vision of the world as it is, and as it will be. The visions move from a focus on the whole world to a focus on Judah, then Jerusalem, and then at the heart of the visions, of the Temple itself. The visions then move back outward again through Jerusalem, and Judah, to the whole world.

Zechariah sees horns that represent nations being cut off by blacksmiths that serve the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, an un-measurable Jerusalem being measured and surrounded by YHWH as a wall of fire. He sees Joshua the high priest standing before a heavenly tribunal accused by the Satan. He sees a vision of the seven-branched Menorah within the Temple flanked by two olive trees. He sees a flying scroll that condemns thieves and perjurers. He sees a basket that contains a woman who is wickedness, and he watches as the basket is carried off by two women with wings like storks, to Babylon where it will be set up and worshipped. And in the final vision he sees horses, again as the servants of YHWH Sabaoth (the LORD of Hosts), sent out to patrol the ends of the world.

And because Zechariah is unable to understand what he is seeing in these visions they are interpreted for him by an interpreting Angel. The visions are devoted to a number of related themes:

The rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The return of Yahweh’s presence to Zion.

The reformation of the moral and social character of the world.

And the inclusion of all nations within the glorious future of Zion.

The world, according to the visions of Zechariah and the rest of Scripture, is a sanctuary in which the reign of God is visible and unchallenged. God’s holiness is all-pervasive in the temple that is the world.(Levenson, 86) “YHWH is in His holy Temple, let all the earth keep silent before him."(Habakkuk 2: 20)

What Zechariah sees in his series of visions is not just the restoration of the temple, not just the restoration of Jerusalem, not even just the restoration of the nation of Israel – but the restoration of the whole of the created order within the heavenly city of Zion, wherein all nations are gathered and restored.

In his final vision Zechariah lifts his eyes and sees four chariots coming out between two mountains of bronze. Drawing from a variety of ancient near eastern mythical ideas Zechariah envisions these horse drawn chariots as coming with the dawn and the rising sun. The two mountains of bronze are ablaze with the light of the rising sun.

“Arise, shine out, for your light has come, and the glory of YHWH has risen on you. Look! though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples, on you YHWH is rising and over you his glory can be seen. The nations will come to you light and kings to your dawning brightness." (Isaiah 60: 1 – 3)

This solar imagery is appropriate for the final of his eight visions. The fist image came to him in the night. And now, at the break of dawn, he is receiving the eighth and final vision. The number eight is often used in scripture to represent a new beginning, a new day. Eight were spared in the flood (Genesis 7:13, 23) when God gave the earth a new start. Circumcision was performed on the eighth day (Genesis 17: 12). Thomas saw the risen Christ on the eighth day (John 20:26). The Eighth vision of Zechariah describes the beginning of a new world order, a new creation.

He sees four chariots pulled by horses of varying colors heading out in all directions. The horses burst like the sun from between the mountains. They are vigorous and strong and impatient to be about their work. They are about the work of a new creation. They are the winds or the spirits of God and they are taking God’s Spirit to bring peace to the world and to the north country in particular. The north country being the land of exile, Babylon. They are the divine winds of (re)creation sweeping over the land (Genesis 1:2)

The final vision ends with the Spirit of God at rest. The first vision began with the world being at rest – but the rest is different now. Things have changed during night. Thing have changed during the course of the evening’s visions. “The world is at peace when Zechariah first sees in the night, and it is at peace when the visions conclude. But the word has changed. International, internal, and cosmic order have been recreated. Sacred space has been restored. (Ollenburger, 784)”

Within Zechariah’s visions, oppressors have been brought down, exiles have been brought home, and Zion has become the gathering place for all the peoples of the world as they all come to worship God. Zion becomes a place without walls – for no walls of stone and mortar could ever contain the multitudes that are gathered within YHWH’s protective walls of fire.

But was it just a dream. What happens to the visions when Zechariah awakens in the morning? Do they disappear into fleeting and vague memories as dreams often do – or will they become a reality?

Zechariah invites us to imagine with him the things that he has seen. We are to envision these signs along with the prophet. When we read what he has written about his visions we see them in our minds along with him. But we are also called to inhabit those visions – to inhabit the world according to what we have see – to inhabit the world according to what it will become on YHWH Sabaoth’s initiative.

People often make the statement, “well, it’s not a perfect world…” but that’s a cop-out. It’s an excuse, and a miserable excuse. The author of the letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that “what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church of first-born sons enrolled as citizens of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and to the spirits of the upright who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant… (Hebrews 12: 22 – 24)”

We have come to Mount Zion. We are gathered within those protective walls of fire. The kingdom we inhabit cannot be shaken. To say, 'oh well, it's not a perfect world' is to awaken from Zechariah's visions and forget what we have been shown.  We need to inhabit those visions, and to make them real in the world around us.  We need to live into those visions.

Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988)

Ben C. Ollenburger, The Book of Zechariah: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections – The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume 7 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Undead or Alive

Undead or Alive (2007) is a genre blending RomZomCom along the lines of Shaun of the Dead – a romantic zombie comedy for those who liked Brokeback Mountain.  I didn’t expect very much from this movie when I started it (I mean, come on…Chris Kattan is in it!), but I was pleasantly surprised and I laughed out loud several times. 

All the western clichés are present – from the frontier women in long cotton skirts baking pies in wood burning stoves, to the corrupt and mustachioed sheriff, the saloon girls, horses, and six-guns. These common western tropes are combined with recognizable zombie movie chestnuts like the shambling rotting corpse eating the brains of his wife and daughter.   It’s not, by any means, a great movie, but it does deliver all that it promises:  Cowboys and Zombies and not a few laughs. 

But, I should say, my enjoyment of this lighthearted movie was very qualified.

Zombie movies can generally be divided into two kinds based on their explanation for the origin of the zombies.  One says that the dead are reanimated by some sort of bacteria or virus, that is to say, a scientific and natural explanation (however un-scientific it might be).  The other kind of zombie movie suggests that Zombies are the result of a supernatural curse.  Undead or Alive is one of the latter.

The movie’s prologue tells us that the legendary warrior and medicine-man Geronimo, “renowned for bravery in the face of overwhelming odds…was credited with supernatural powers.”  After many years of guerrilla war against the U.S. Army, Geronimo was finally cornered and his final act was to make “the secret medicine known as the White Man’s Curse.” This curse is what causes the white-men to become zombies.

And this is where part of me started to object.

If the curse of the film were cast by any unidentified Apache warrior / medicine man, I could have watched the movie without struggling to maintain my suspension of disbelief.  But crediting it to the famous and historically important Geronimo causes several problems.

Geronimo was indeed renowned for his raids against Mexican provinces and later against US territories.  After a lengthy pursuit, he finally surrendered to US forces in 1886. He was taken as a prisoner of war and lived for many years and became something of a celebrity.  He also became a Christian and urged his people study that religion, because it seems to me the best religion in enabling one to live right.[i]

He didn’t die until 1909 - from complications from pneumonia.  So the history and characterization of Geronimo is far from accurate.  And he’s hardly a character in the movie anyway.  We see him only briefly during the prologue and in a few very short flashes as the curse is passed from victim to victim, so I’m not sure why the filmmakers thought it necessary to attach Geronimo’s name.

But then again, having all but cleansed the old west of authentic “Indian” characters in real-life, why should we expect our films to portray them accurately.  Why bother when we can pit cowboys verses zombies or cowboys verses aliens?

"I was living peacefully with my family, having plenty to eat, sleeping well, taking care of my people, and perfectly contented. I don’t know where those bad stories first came from. There we were doing well and my people well. I was behaving well. I hadn’t killed a horse or man, American or Indian. I don’t know what was the matter with the people in charge of us. They knew this to be so, and yet they said I was a bad man and worst man there; but what had I done? I was living peacefully there with my family under the shade of the trees, doing just what General Crook had told me I must do and trying to follow his advice. I want to know now who it was ordered me to be arrested. I was praying to the light and to the darkness, to God and to the sun, to let me live quietly there with my family. I don’t know what the reason was that people speak badly of me. Very often there are stories put in the newspapers that I am to be hanged. I don’t want that anymore. When a man tries to do right, such stories ought not be put in the newspapers. There are very few of my men left now. They have done some bad things but I want them all rubbed out now and let us never speak of them again. There are very few of us left." - Goyathlay (Geronimo)[ii]

[i] Geronimo, His Own Story. New York, New York: Ballantine Books.   page 181
[ii]  quoted in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown , page 392

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Existential Life and Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill

What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain knowledge must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. ... I certainly do not deny that I still recognize an imperative of knowledge and that through it one can work upon men, but it must be taken up into my life, and that is what I now recognize as the most important thing.
—Søren Kierkegaard, Letter to Peter Wilhelm Lund dated August 31, 1835,

Creepshow (1982) is more than just another horror movie.  When director George Romero and writer Stephen King came together to produce this now classic movie, they made something more profound than most creature-features.   It is, of course, a horror movie, (more accurately, an anthology of five short films tied together with the comic book motif). How could it be otherwise with Romero and King at the wheel?  And fans of the horror genre will appreciate the blood and gore and zombies and other various horror tropes.  But the second of the collected stories, The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, filmed with a blend of comedy and horror, is something more than the sum of its horror cliché parts.  The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill is almost philosophical.

Based on a previously published short story by Stephen King[i], The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill tells the tale of a dimwitted yokel living alone on his farm in rural Main. When he discovers a meteorite that has crashed on his property he sees this as his opportunity to become rich by selling the space rock to the “department of meteors” at the local community college.  He dreams of receiving the extravagant sum of Two Hundred Dollars for his extraordinary find.

But his dreams of wealth are dashed when the meteorite breaks in half and spills out a phosphorescent blue goo over the ground and over Jordy’s hands.  The “department of meteors” wouldn’t be interested in a broken space rock.  He chides himself for being a “lunk-head.” 

“Still,” he says in spite of his disappointment, “I got to try.” He struggles on with his limited abilities and his limited imagination, trying to find that one thing me must do - the one true thing which will give his life meaning and purpose. 

This is the existentialist’s quest: to find something that will give meaning to this life.  And Jordy Verrill is the quintessential existential man – disoriented and confused in the face of a meaningless and absurd world.   

And it is absurd.  The meteorite that Jordy Verrill discovered is contaminated with some sort of extraterrestrial life that begins immediately to grow everywhere.  Even on Jordy himself (“No!” he screams in an off-camera scene, “Not there!)  This green growth spreads across his body, his house, and his farm.  By morning everything is covered and Jordy has become a monstrous plant-man.  As he gropes for a shotgun to put an end to his misery he pleads “Please God, let my luck be in just this once, please God, just this once…” 

Jordy’s television and radio play in the background of several scenes. If you give careful attention you can see that even in these background sounds and images, the horror and absurdity existential life is described.

A wrestling match between Bob Backlund and Samoan No. 1 (is anything in life more absurd than professional wrestling?)

A Star is Born (1937)
…everyone in this world who has ever dreamed about better things has been laughed at, don't you know that? But there's a difference between dreaming and doing. The dreamers just sit around and moon about how wonderful it would be if only things were different.

Christian homily
Look up. Lift up your head. You will succeed.  Be confident of this one thing: that God who has begun a good thing in you will complete it   The hope in this inspirational message, delivered by a smiling priest, is cut by the ironic voice-over announcement that follows. “Pre-recorded.  It wasn’t a message for Jordy.  It was just a senseless voice carried through the airwaves.

Farm and Weather Report
And in today’s weather…well not much for the outdoor types but you farmers are going to love this. The current 30 day forecast released by the U.S. Meteorological station in Portland calls for moderating temperatures and lots of rain.  Castle County is going to turn green so fast in the next month that it’s going to be almost miraculous.   

And that’s the lonesome death of Jordy Verrill, absurd and meaningless. He lived and died alone in a strange and incomprehensible universe. The world itself is meaningless and amoral (not immoral. They are different).  The universe doesn’t care one way or another about Jordy Verrill.  The meteorite that crashed on his farm was neither a gift nor a curse. It was just absurd. 

[i]  Weeds by Stephen King – which in turn is loosely based on the story The Color out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft.  The title is based on the song The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll by Bob Dylan.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Barking Dogs Never Bite...

Yun-ju is a part time college lecturer.  This isn’t much.  According to a poll that he and his friends read,, this puts him somewhere around 50th on the list of “best husbands.”  He wants to become a professor at the university but he has no connection, no “in” with the dean, not unless he wants to put up $10,000 as a bribe. Furthering his angst, his pregnant and demanding wife berates him constantly and treats him like a little child.  But she’s the one that holds a steady job and supports their burgeoning family and she reminds him of this, over and over again.

All of this and he can’t sleep at night because of a yapping dog that barks all night. And dogs aren’t even allowed in apartment building! 

What else can Yun-ju do, except kill the mongrel?

Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) listed on Netflix as a horror film isn’t exactly a –horror- film.  It is more of dark and morbid comedy.  And yes, it is very dark and it is very funny. This film from South Koreamy second Korean“horror” film this month – is funny in a dry, deadpan sort of way.  Many of the jokes are visual, created by slight camera movement and by the odd juxtaposition of images.

In his frustration and anger at the life-shaping forces beyond his control, Yun-ju kills the obnoxious dog that has been keeping his awake.  But he soon discovers that he's  killed the wrong one.  There’s another stupid yappy dog in the apartment building!  It’s not long before dogs begin disappearing from the complex.

And for the building’s janitor who finds their bodies, this is a boon because he enjoys a nice bowl of Boshnitang – that is, Dog Soup. It’s a Korean dish that has it’s origins in antiquity – though it has been ostensibly banned by the government since 1986.  Despite this, it is still available at many restaurants in South Korea.    The literal translation of the name Boshintang is “invigorating soup” and is eaten by many to increase their virility.  

Perhaps if Yun-ju had eaten the dogs he killed, he might not have been in such a desperate situation.  But he’s cowardly and weak.  And he’s ashamed.  He’s ashamed that he isn’t more at work, ashamed that his job is a nowhere-nothing kind of job; and he’s ashamed that has to depend upon his wife’s income for his family.  For a young man in a culture still rooted in Confucian values this is an intolerable situation.  He should be the man.  He should be respected by his peers, and, especially, by his wife. 

Hyeon-nam is equally disconnected in her work.  She works as a bookkeeper at the same apartment building but she’s bored and dissatisfied. It’s not until she notices the recent disappearance of dogs from the apartment building that she is really motivated.  She dreams of becoming a hero, of doing something important and being recognized and applauded by people.  And so she begins to track down the person responsible for the missing dogs.

The movie has some clever nods to horror and kung-fu movie clichés and some really great camera work.  The sound track is an amazing blend of alternating jazz and Asian percussion tracks.  The script is well written and the acting is solid.  And it asks great questions – What does it mean to be successful?  What does it mean to be man?  How does one deal with frustrated ambitions?  How can you get rid of that noisy neighbor’s dog? 

Strangely enough, that same year the movie How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog was released in the U.S. Though the American film is less about social commentary and more about a mid-life crisis, it has similar premise – a once successful playwright struggles to deal with a decade long streak of bombs and a wife who is desperate for children – and a noisy bothersome dog in the neighbor’s yard.   The two films have a similar set up, but wind up in very different places at their conclusions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Arang: Seeking Justice in a Wondrous Strange Universe

You remember that scene in Hamlet, right?  After having seen a ghostly figure stalking about the castle parapets Hamlet tells Horatio that:

“there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio
 than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”[i]

Horatio, like his good friend Hamlet was a student at the University of Wittenberg, a noble bastion of Protestant humanism.  They would have been students of a classical education, studying ethics, logic, natural science, and of course philosophy and theology.  This sort of rational, logical, scientific study left little time for superstitions and ghost stories. 

I’ve had no personal experience with a ghost, much to my continued disappointment.  I have never heard the shriek of a banshee, been thrown across the room by a poltergeist, witnessed an apparition from the etheric plane, or found ectoplasmic residue from a spiritual encounter.  But I’ve always believed in ghost stories, or at least I’ve wanted to believe in them. Like agent Mulder and his UFO’s, I’ve wanted to believe in the strange and inexplicable all my life.

The world is a strange place but most of the time it makes sense, most of the time the world behaves in an orderly and predicable manner.  Scientists would have a difficult time if their experiments produced different results every time without a rational explanation. We live, as we do today, with electricity and internal combustion engines and chemical pharmaceuticals and etc… because the world behaves in a rational and orderly and predictable way.  Usually…

But we’ve all heard those stories. A friend of a friend heard a voice speaking to him in that empty house or so-and-so’s great grandmother got off the Titanic at the last moment because she felt a presence warning her not to go.  We’ve heard stories about haunted houses and strange happenings and we wonder.  Maybe you’re like me and you’ve wanted to believe that they might be true.  Maybe you hoped, as I did, that some of those stories might be true.

But at some point people tried to tell me, for my own good – of course, that ghosts and vampires and other assorted supernatural lore are not appropriate material for a Christian young man to study.  Ghosts, I was told, were nothing more than demonic spirits masquerading as departed spirits in order to lure people into the occult.[ii]  There was no room for a wondrous strange world.  And there was no room in my instructors’ philosophy for ghosts.[iii] 

And, for a time, I believed them.  I tried to put away those childish things, but I began to wonder.  Stories and legends about wraiths and ghosts are numerous and varied  but it seemed to me that most of the stories about ghosts involved departed spirits lingering in this physical world for one of two things (and sometimes both).  Either spooks and haints haunted a place seeking justice for a wrong committed upon them while they were alive or they haunted a place were a great and terrible tragedy occurred.  And if ghosts are nothing more than demons trying to lure us into a diabolical snare – why do they so often seem to be trying to find justice in this world – if not in the next? 

But, as I said, I’ve never had a personal encounter with a ghost, demonic or otherwise.  To this point it’s all been stories from a friend of a friend of a friend or something I’ve read,

or a movie that I’ve watched.  And since I’m watching a horror movie every night this month[iv] it was inevitable that I would eventually watch the movie version of a ghost story.  Arang (2006) is my first ghost story this month. 

It’s also my first Korean horror film. And as such there was a lot in the film that was difficult for me to understand.  Filmmakers (and storytellers in general) make certain assumptions about what their audience knows or doesn’t know.  If I tell you a story about my family loading up the station-wagon for a summer vacation visit to my great-grand parent’s home in Kansas I probably don’t have to explain to you the idea of summer vacations, Kansas, or station-wagons (unless you’re under twenty years old and you’ve only ever known the station-wagon’s marginally cooler cousin, the mini-van…).  These are things that we understand together.  But if someone in my audience was unfamiliar with these things, the story would be more difficult for them to understand.  It wouldn’t be impossible; visiting family and being cooped up with others for long and difficult travel are probably universal enough that anyone anywhere can understand them even with cultural differences but it might be difficult.

And that’s how watching Arang was for me. 

It probably would have helped if I’d have known the legend of Arang before watching the movie.  The Legend of Arang is a fairly well known ghost story – at least in Korea – but I had to look it up.  Thank God for the internets…

It is the story of Arang, the daughter of a city magistrate.  A servant in her father’s house conspired with her wicked nanny to seize and rape Arang. But Arang resisted and the servant stabbed her death and hid the body.  Her father, thinking that she had either eloped with a stranger or that she had been abducted, resigned his position in shame and spent the rest of his life trying to find her.  Newly appointed magistrates were visited by the ghost of Arang, who pleaded with them to find her murderer.  But the visit was so frightening that they all died from fear.  Soon no one was willing to take the position.  But at last a bold and good man was appointed to the post and he promised Arang’s ghost that he would seek out justice for her. He found the wicked servant, arrested him and had him executed.  And after that Arang’s spirit ceased to haunt the town.

Maruyam Okyo's painting
The Ghost of Oyuki
It’s a pretty typical ghost story, and one that we’ve probably heard before with a different name and with different details.  So it’s not as if the story was completely foreign to me.
But it’s the details that differ.  If you’ve seen the recent American versions of Japanese[v] horror films like The Ring (2002) (based on Ringu) or The Grudge (2004) (based on Ju-On) you’ve seen a pretty typical example of a Japanese ghost – the pale skin, white robe, and the long disheveled dark hair.  These are things that the Korean audience of Arang would notice immediately. 
But even with the cultural gap, the story plays well.  It is one part ghost story and one part detective thriller.  After a series of bizarre deaths two police detectives, So-young – a young but experienced woman with her own intense reasons for becoming a police officer – and Hyung-gi, her new and naïve partner – realize that in order to solve the mystery they’ll have to investigate a 10 year old crime.

To say more would be to give away the story and I don’t want to do that.  I encourage you to watch the movie and to experience it for yourself. 

The bible really says very little about ghosts.  To insist with dogmatic certitude that they are nothing more than demonic lures goes beyond what the bible actually says and leaves us in world without the potential, at least, for the wondrous and strange things of this queer universe.

[i] Hamlet Act I Scene v
[ii]  Citing 1 Timothy 4:1 " [they] come to deceive people and draw them away from God and into bondage."
[iii]  They wouldn’t have agreed Hamlet or with the British geneticist / evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane who said, “ is my suspicion that not only is the universe queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we can suppose.” 
[v]  Yes. I am aware the Japanese and Korean cultures are different.  But they are more similar than American and Korean… 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What Could Be Worse than Nazi Zombies?

I’ve made another change in my Monster Movies in October schedule. I swapped out The Bloodstained Shadow for the 2009 Norwegian film Dead Snow (Død Snø) about Nazi Zombies.  Dead Snow is a movie that I wanted to like.  Seriously.  Nazi Zombies!

It seemed like a great concept.  And I really wanted to like this movie, but the movie knows that it is cliché and is never able to rise above the level of cliché.

How many movies start with a group of friends on a trip to a cabin?

There are a few clever moments in Dead Snow but never gets around to adding anything new to the zombie genre.  It just quotes all the old zombie favorites but with amplified blood and gore.  But the great zombie movies aren’t really about the zombies.  The great zombie movies are about the human characters.  Dead Snow is just about the zombies… the zombies and lots of gore.

And it could have been so much more.  Given that Zombies (usually) are mindless flesh eating creatures a film about Nazi zombies could have explored the nature of evil and the choices that humans make.  It could have been about guilt and shame.  It could have been, but it wasn't. And I was disappointed.  I wanted something more than a lot of blood.

Of course Nazi Zombies aren't really new. There was the 1977 movie Shock Waves that featured Nazi zombies and Peter Cushing.

The Boring Black Belly of the Tarantula

Yes, the tarantula is a terrible insect [sic].  It has only one fatal enemy, a hymenoptera, a so-called wasp with salmon colored wings.  The wasp is always the first to attack.  Once the wasp has attacked it becomes a battle to the end.  The wasp is always the winner, you see.  The tarantula has no escape.  To finish the battle, finally, she’ll sting the tarantula.  The tarantula’s stung and paralyzed by the wasp. The wasp will then disembowel it and put her larva there, you understand?  The tarantula remains alive while the larva is nourished by its flesh.  Thus the victim can do nothing to defend itself though aware of being disemboweled and eaten alive.

I’ve been watching horror movies this month – one each day and then writing some of my thoughts to share with you.  In an earlier post I noted how European films seem better in general than American horror films.

But (and there’s always a but, right?) they can’t all be good, I suppose.

The Italian giallo film Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) is a bit of a clunker.  There horror elements are there, certainly; the premise is particularly gruesome.  A mysterious killer is attacking women involved in a blackmail conspiracy.  He seizes his victims by paralyzing them with an acupuncture needle laced with poison and then slices open their bellies.  But Black Belly of the Tarantula never quite fulfills its potential.  It moves too slowly.

The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is interesting, though.  It switches back and forth between an easy listening jazz and modern and disorienting horror cues. It's not as memorable as his music for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,  but it's pretty good.

I was bored, overall, by this movie but it did lead me to something really horrifying.

Those spider killing wasps are real.

Don’t Torture a Duckling

The director of Don’t Torture a Duckling, Lucio Fulci, is known to horror aficionados as the ‘Godfather of Gore.’  Many of his films (like Zombie 2  and The Beyond) feature gore filled murders and flesh eating creatures.  His films are not for the squeamish.

Don’t Torture a Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino) marks the beginning of Fulci’s use of gore in his movies but it’s very restrained.  Well... as restrained as a scene can be when it features a human being crashing head first down a stony hillside, having its flesh ripped away by jagged rocks as it falls. Or when the scene features the mercilessly cruel beating of woman by angry mob using clubs and chains.

But don’t let that pull you away from this film. It is a very sensitive film.  Fulci has said in several interviews that this was his most personal and his favorite of all his films.  It is a complex criticism of social values – traditional versus modernity, the nature of innocence, fate and free will.  It was the title that drew me to this film, but I’m still not certain I completely understand its relevance.  Don’t Torture a Duckling is a film about injustice and society’s cruelty to children. 

Children are being murdered in the small Italian village of Accendura. Though this is shocking, it isn’t a new thing.  Murdered children have a long history in horror films – going back as far as 1931 to Fritz Lang’s film M and James Whales Frankenstein.  Accendura is an isolated community in the mountains, only recently dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world by a newly constructed highway.  The villagers are superstitious and fearful and suspicious of outsiders. And when the police are unable to discover the killer, a mob mentality takes over the townspeople.  Everyone becomes a suspect and suspects are guilty and they must be dealt with – violently.  It’s mob rule. It’s vigilante justice.  And it is ugly.

Vigilante justice is always ugly (despite our fascination with the Lone Ranger and Batman…).  Genesis 34 tells another story of ‘frontier justice.’  And it’s just as violent and gory and ugly as any film by Lucio Fulci.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jesus is Coming, Everyone Look Busy

Harold Camping still insists - despite his stroke and despite his many failed predictions - that the rapture will occur this year.  It didn't happen like he thought it would back in May but he's confident that it will most definitely happen on October 21, 2011.  But it will be so quiet and such a non-event that we probably won't even notice that it has happened.

You can hear him talk about it here.

I don't believe in his particular brand of eschatology - I think he's a bit of a loon, actually.  But just in case, I've prepared this little pastiche of end-times material. It's a re-post, yes... but if Harold Camping can continue to recycle his material then so can I.

This is the Beginning of the End from jeff carter on Vimeo.

As you can probably tell, there's a lot of stuff mixed together in here.

Unidentified 35 mm Silver Nitrate 1920’s Home Movie

Signal to Noise – “Entropic Principle”
Signal to Noise – “The Void Inside”
File Under Toner – “Thrillerphonics”
Filer Under Toner – “Harmonica”

“Revelation Revealed” – by Jack Van Impe
“Global Peace and the Rise of the Antichrist” – by Dave Hunt
“Revelation Unveiled” – by Tim LaHaye
“Revelation Visualized” – by Dr. Gary G. Cohen & Salem Kirban
“The Great Escape” –by  Jack Van Impe
“The Beginning of the End” – by Tim LaHaye

I think this identifies everything but I might have missed something.

Slow Rivers of Unconscious Desires

Here's a dreamy, fuzzy, piece of feedback that I've been tinkering with for awhile.  I hope you like it.

Slow Rivers of Unconscious Desires from jeff carter on Vimeo.

I used a few sounds from the Freesound Project:

Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
reviews: 2
ratings: 3 (avg rating 4.33)

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