kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
Last week I rented Railway Man, the second recent Colin Firth film I've watched lately that has made me think Mr. Firth needs to be pickier about the roles he accepts. (The other was The Devil's Knot.) Railway Man isn't a bad film, but it's not as good as I was expecting. It's hampered by a script that has to accommodate people's ignorance of what happened to FEPOWs, and also by the fact that the war-era flashback sections necessarily feature younger actors. Poor Jeremy Irvine has the thankless task of playing young Eric Lomax, which means he has to play Colin Firth playing Eric Lomax, and while he tries valiantly his performance feels constrained. The most thankless task, though, goes to Nicole Kidman as Lomax's wife Patti, who in the script isn't so much a person as a romantic fantasy and a catalyst.

More seriously, the story suffers from the biopic tendency to idolize its subject, to the point where it's sort of implied that Eric Lomax's suffering was uniquely terrible. Not really spoilery, but cut, also warning for references to torture )

Also recently watched: Philby, Burgess, and Maclean, a 1977 Granada production starring Alan Bate as Philby, Derek Jacobi as Burgess, and Michael Culver (who played Major Brandt in Secret Army) as Maclean. The script is a bit stodgy and the music and other effects are almost hilariously overdramatic, but the acting is good. Jacobi gives Burgess a louche charm, and Culver is amazing as the unstable, doubting Maclean. Philby, the sanest character and therefore the least interesting, is unfortunately the focus of the story and I don't think Bate (not helped by the script) quite conveys a sense of hidden depths. Not something I can recommend unreservedly, but worth it if you're a fan of any of the actors, and there are standout scenes with Burgess and Maclean together and of Maclean's wife confronting Burgess.

And now, a pairings meme! Grabbed from [personal profile] flo_nelja.

click here for questions and answers )

update

Aug. 20th, 2014 10:48 am
kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
1) I haven't had connectivity from home for ages, nor the energy to get myself and my computer to the library, which is why I haven't been around. Currently I'm in a damned uncomfortable chair in a coffee shop. (Are coffee shops furnished with uncomfortable chairs on purpose to keep people from lingering?) I miss talking to you all more regularly. Lack of connectivity has also made it impossible for me to do my German lessons on Duolingo, so today or tomorrow I'm going to the library to acquire a book and hopefully a CD.

2) Reading: I'm working my way sloooooooowly through Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which is very accommodating of the economically ignorant and written in a style that's clear and direct even in translation, but still makes my eyes glaze over if I try to read more than twenty pages at a time.

I recently re-read Bram Stoker's Dracula; my previous reading was twenty years ago for a grad school class (how is it even possible that I was in graduate school twenty years ago??? where does time go?????). It was my first year in grad school, before I'd switched fields to Renaissance lit, and I was historically challenged to put it mildly, so my impression of the novel was that it was written Very Long Ago and was Old. Re-reading it I was struck by how deeply interested Stoker is in the modernity of the very late nineteenth century--it's all typewriters and shorthand and gramophone recordings on wax and, startlingly, Jonathan Harker taking photographs of the Transylvanian landscape with his "kodak." Of course all that modernity is challenged by ancient evil, but ultimately defeats it (most strikingly when Dracula burns all of Team Van Helsing's documents, but it's okay because they have typescript copies). Something else I didn't notice on first reading was how stuffed the book is with religiosity, in a way that feels forced and in sharp contrast to the modernity. In particular, Stoker can't decide whether Mina Harker is a modern woman with a "brain like a man" or an angel in the house who prays and talks endlessly about God and whose most important characteristic is her purity. (I don't think I'm creating a false dichotomy--Stoker doesn't seem able to have Mina be both at the same time.) I often get the sense that part of Stoker, at least, wanted to write a much stranger and more subversive novel. It's not just the erotic undercurrents he gives to vampirism, but the recurring (it happens twice) homosocial-triangulated structure of a group of men bound by their devotion to a single woman as well as by their friendships among themselves (including the symbolic polyandrous marriage of Lucy Westenra via blood transfusion and the symbolic multiple paternity of Mina's son); the story's omissions (notably Jonathan Harker's unlikely escape from Dracula's castle); the peculiarities of Van Helsing's affect; and everything about Renfield. Also this passage from chapter 15, when Van Helsing takes Seward into Lucy's tomb for the first time: "Holding his candle so that he could read the coffin plates, and so holding it that the sperm dropped in white patches which congealed as they touched the metal, he made assurance of Lucy's coffin." I actually double-checked that against a different edition to make sure it wasn't some transcriber's idea of a joke that had slipped past the Project Gutenberg editors. Stoker is referring to a spermaceti candle, but he can't have been ignorant of the other possibilities inherent in the image of white sperm congealing on a coffin lid. With all this oddness, the insistent religious-ness of other moments feels to me like Stoker trying to hold the story's subversiveness in check.

3) I've been listening to a lot of podcasts, because my job at the moment involves hours of shelf-stocking, which is utterly mindless but which mostly happens before the store is open, so I can listen to music, podcasts, etc. Does anyone have recs for good (free) podcasts? I'm already listening to Welcome to Night Vale and some public radio podcasts (Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Ask Me Another, and The Splendid Table--I'm finding the last strangely unsatisfying despite fond memories of it from years ago; either I'm a more advanced cook now or the show has been dumbed down, also there are too-frequent segments about dubious "nutrition" and "anti-obesity" fads). I'm especially interested in science, pop culture stuff, cooking, and quizzes/games/panel shows; I'd prefer to avoid anything political or current-events focused because I get too upset.

4) Speaking of music, I keep meaning to post about an old album that I love and that I think is underrated: Thomas Dolby's The Golden Age of Wireless. It is, alas, best known for the single "She Blinded Me With Science," a silly novelty song that's unlike everything else on the album, which is a meditation on . . . oh, radio and technology and loneliness and eras ending, and to a surprising extent on the Second World War and its legacy. I've been fond of the album since I was a teenager, but I only made the WWII connection in the last couple of years. One of Our Submarines was inspired by the death of Dolby's uncle during the war. And I didn't realize how creepy the lyrics to the beautiful Cloudburst at Shingle Street were until very recently (I was listening to it one night in bed and suddenly thought "Wait, is the narrator dead?"), and then I did some googling and discovered that the song is about the persistent myth that an attempted German invasion at Shingle Street (which is a coastal town where some secret weapons research happened during the war) was stopped by the use of gas/petrol pipes buried under the beaches that burst into great clouds of fire at the flick of a switch.

I'll admit that some of the music does sound dated now in its early-80s synthesized way, but I also think that early 80s music is unfairly stigmatized even now that every other era has had its revival.

Unrelatedly, but I have to complain about this somewhere, at work the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack has been on heavy rotation, and I am more sick of 1970s soft rock than I can possibly tell you.

5) And now I'm off to see if there's any good Dracula fic on AO3.
kindkit: Two British officers sitting by a river; one rests his head on the other's shoulder. (Fandomless: officers by a river)
I tried to fight the urge to post about this, but sometimes someone is too wrong on the internet to ignore.

Siegfried Sassoon was an oficer, not an "ordinary enlisted soldier." His drawing "The Soul of an Officer" is a mildly satirical take on himself and his fellow officers, not an expression of "disdain." (When he did show disdain for those running the war--in which category he did not include junior officers on active service--he was a lot blunter about it.)

The fact that this example of stupid assumptions and failure-to-Google appears in a blog from NPR--National Public Radio, one of the most important and prestigious news sources in the United States--depresses me beyond words.


(In case the NPR blogpost gets edited, the bit I'm talking about reads "In a sketch in one notebook titled 'The Soul of An Officer,' Sassoon — an ordinary enlisted soldier — showed his disdain for those who were, quite literally, calling the shots. Under a picture of a figure in officer's cap, he scrawled 'death' and 'fear,' and below 'eating and drinking,' and 'commonplace chatter about war.'" The actual sketch can be seen at the BBC's more intelligent report about Sassoon's war diaries.)
kindkit: Man sitting on top of a huge tower of books, reading. (Fandomless--book tower)
I've gotten no further in Bitter Eden than I had when I posted about it two days ago. As I said, not an easy read.

In other reading, I've tried a couple of books recommended by Ellen Datlow in one of her The Year's Best Horror anthologies.

The German, by Lee Thomas, is about a Texas town during the Second World War. A series of brutal murders of teenage boys sparks panic, and blame soon centers on the town's German immigrants, particularly on an unmarried loner. You can predict most of what happens next. The German a pretty standard novel about Why Prejudice Is Bad, except for one extremely weird authorial choice. spoiler )

Michelle Paver's Dark Matter: A Ghost Story tells of a 1937 British expedition to a Norwegian Arctic island that intended to overwinter and study the climate etc. A string of bad luck pares the original five-man team down to just our narrator, Jack, who only joined up because his scientific ambitions were ruined by the Depression. Jack now finds himself alone in constant darkness. Dark Matter is scary as hell in a very primal way, tapping into our fears of what might be out there in the darkness, but it's not gory or gratuitously violent. It's also well-written and an engaging read, and unlike Dan Simmons's The Terror, to which Datlow compares it, it's not homophobic either. I liked it a lot.
kindkit: Finch looks thoughtfully at the computer and so does Bear (POI: Finch and Bear thinking)
1) My internet has gone away again. It's been gone for two days; all the usual caveats (it could come back at any time or it could stay gone) apply. So if I don't seem to be reading, posting, or commenting in a timely manner, that's why. (Right now I'm at Starbucks, enjoying both the wi-fi and the air conditioning.)

2) It turns out that the novel I thought didn't exist--the novel about WWII-era POWs that focuses on homoeroticism/homosexuality/love between men in POW camps--actually does. It's called Bitter Eden and was published in the UK in 2002 by the South African writer and activist Tatamkhulu Africa, who was a POW in Italy and Germany during the war. It's just now been republished by a US publisher. I'm about halfway through it; it's not an easy read for several reasons, which I'll post about once I've finished it, but I'd say it's a good novel as well as, by virtue of its subject matter, an important one.

3) I recently watched The Devil's Knot, an Atom Egoyan-directed drama very closely based (as in, they're using the real names and everything) on the case of the West Memphis Three, who were convicted of the 1993 murder of three young boys on extraordinarily unreliable evidence, plus the fact that they listened to heavy metal music and were interested in "the occult." Colin Firth plays an investigator working pro bono for the defense who begins to uncover how compromised and in some cases perjured the prosecution's evidence was, while Reese Witherspoon plays the mother of one of the victims, who begins to have doubts about the defendants' guilt. It's a decent movie, not great but powerful because the subject matter is powerful, and worth seeing for that if, like me, you're not sure you want to watch the series of three documentaries that have been made about the case. (Trigger warning for disturbing images, though--since even now no one knows exactly what happened--there's no onscreen violence.)

4) Today at work I received some unsolicited diet advice from a customer. That was awesome! (No it wasn't.) It's never happened to me before, and I'd like it to never happen again. (She recommended the paleo diet, by the way. Surprise surprise.)
kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
Having been told by many people that I'd like it, I've finally surrendered and watched the first two episodes of Band of Brothers, the HBO series about a paratroop company during the Second World War.

So far it's not doing much for me. Explanation and question under the cut )
kindkit: Medieval image of a mapmaker constructing a globe (Fandomless: Mapmaker)
In news from the desert southwest of the US, it has been snowing intermittently all day. The snow melts as soon as it hits the ground, but it's still a bit of a shock in the middle of May. And tomorrow's supposed to be even colder.

Some folks were curious about things I included in the movie/tv meme I posted the other day, so, some explanations.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp made my list partly to represent the whole genre of WWII films, because the world wars have been a consuming interest of mine for several years now, and at least a vague interest ever since I was a teenager. Colonel Blimp also has a number of qualities that made me pick it out from the rest. To start with, it's simply a very good film in all respects. And because it was made during the war, it lacks the mythologizing and sentimentalizing that crop up in many (not all) WWII films made in the 1950s and 1960s. It has a strong m/m homoerotic element (always a plus for me), but it also has interesting female characters with agency and personality--which is probably another benefit of its being made during the war rather than during the postwar backlash. I've written more about the film here if anyone's curious.

An anon asked whether I think Brideshead Revisited (the miniseries, not the dreadful film from a few years ago) is worth rewatching. I can only say "I don't know." I haven't rewatched it for years, and I'm not sure if I could stand to rewatch the whole thing because I want to stop while Charles and Sebastian are happy and Charles is less of a complete git than he later becomes. But Brideshead was so formative for me that I had to put it on the list. When I was a young teenager in rural Minnesota, the only television station we reliably received was a PBS affiliate, and the things I watched then--Brideshead, Monty Python, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--marked me for life. They were a glimpse into another world, but they also resonated for me in a way that American TV never had (this was the era of Dallas, the Dukes of Hazzard, and endless reruns of Hogan's Heroes and the Andy Griffith show in afternoon syndication). In particular, Brideshead was the first really homoerotic thing I'd ever seen onscreen; I'd already developed a reluctant taste for m/m homoeroticism, which I fed on fantasies and any hints or implications I could find in any media, but in Brideshead it was all right out in the open, and with the emotions, at least, lushly detailed too. Brideshead gave me a fondness for men walking arm in arm, pairs of men punting on lovely English rivers, men wading barefoot with their trousers rolled up, and men wearing white flannel. Plus the show boosted my developing Anglophilia, so I think it explains a lot about me.

As for Hot Fuzz--I didn't like it the first time I saw it. But I couldn't resist Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's chemistry for long. I guess it's on the list as "what every buddy movie should be but seldom is"?

Finally, I listed White Christmas partly because I really love Christmas, and partly because I really really love Danny Kaye. I still haven't figured out how he managed to have a stage person that was that gay and still be beloved in 1940s and 1950s America, but he did. (And yes, I am convinced by the biographical claims that Kaye himself was gay or bi. Not sure whether I believe he was really having an affair with Laurence Olivier, but I badly want to believe it.) Anyway, in White Christmas Kaye and Bing Crosby have astonishing chemistry as showbiz partners and best friends, and the het romance for Kaye's character is so blatantly tacked on that I find it ignorable. Plus, there's a bit with Crosby and Kaye sort of in drag. Yes, really.
kindkit: Text icon: "British officers do not cuddle each other. (Not when there are people watching, anyway.") ('Allo 'Allo: British officers do not cud)
I'm still watching a lot of shows and movies related to the world wars, though I'm starting to think I've seen all the really good ones already.

A Perfect Hero was a 1991 six-part miniseries that aired on London Weekend Television. It's about Hugh Fleming, an RAF fighter pilot and all-around golden boy who is severely burned on the hands and face when his Spitfire is shot down in 1940. The bits of it that were actually about his treatment and his recovery process were interesting (and the marvellous James Fox plays his plastic surgeon), but unfortunately a large chunk of the show was about Fleming's love life, which can be summed up as: he was a lying cheating dickhead before his injury and remained a lying cheating dickhead afterwards. That, too, might have been interesting if that had actually been the point, but we were meant to think that he was a better person after the accident, even though he continued to treat his girlfriends badly, including the one he eventually married (after treating her as second-best and panting after a society beauty who no longer wanted him once his face was scarred), who was far too good for him. Also, the ending was pure wish fulfillment that drastically undermined the realistic view of Fleming's injuries up to that point. Fleming was supposedly based on the historical Richard Hillary, but the movie didn't have the courage to give us the ending Hillary had, which was that after using every bit of influence and pressure he could muster to get himself cleared to fly again despite his badly injured hands, he promptly crashed a plane on a training run, killing himself and his radio operator. The miniseries goes for an inspirational ending instead, although the ultimate outcome is left ambiguous. Verdict: Worth seeing if you're a completist like me, or a big fan of James Fox or Bernard Hepton (who plays Fleming's father) but not of general interest.

The Captive Heart, from 1946, tries to be both a gritty POW drama and a romantic melodrama and doesn't quite succeed at either. The main character is a Dutch escapee from a concentration camp, who assumes the identity of a British officer killed in the Dunkirk retreat and is sent to a POW camp. He then gets a letter from the officer's estranged wife, to which he has to reply in order to keep a suspicious Gestapo officer off his trail. Naturally, he falls in love with the wife, and the wife falls in love with her mysteriously kind and thoughtful husband all over again. The Captive Heart a rarity among POW movies in not focusing on escape--escape in barely mentioned and never shown--and I liked it for that and for the fact that it gets some of the details of POW life right, such as the crowding and the hunger (especially in 1940 when the Germans suddenly had tens of thousands of POWs to feed, but a good system for getting Red Cross parcels to them hadn't yet been established). However, a lot of the details, including some plot-crucial ones, are wrong, and the overall picture of POW life is pretty rosy in a way that must have infuriated any ex-POWs who saw it. The romances (there are actually three storylines about three different prisoners, each of which centers on a romance--heterosexual of course) are very movie-ish and did nothing for me. I had hopes for this, because it was directed by Basil Dearden, who later went on to "social issues" movies including Victim, the first relatively positive portrayal of homosexuality in British cinema, but The Captive Heart didn't feel Dearden-y to me. Verdict: another one I can only recommend to WWII completists.

Finally, and unrelated to the world wars, last night I watched the first part of the Red Riding Trilogy. It turned out to be an example of how my spoiler aversion can lead me into trouble. Not having read much about it, I thought Red Riding was about the investigation of the actual Yorkshire Ripper case and would be a sort of procedural. Instead, the first installment deals with a completely fictional case and is about as far from a procedural as you can get. The journalist hero seems to have no clue how to investigate anything; instead, he goes around baiting the suspected bad guys and having lots of explicit sex with the mother of one of the child victims. The bad guys, meanwhile, do the classic conspiracy-movie bad guy thing of starting to threaten the hero long before he knows anything, when if they had just left him the hell alone, his leads would probably have petered out. The plot is implausible on every level. Plus there are a bunch of pointless dream sequences. And did I mention the explicit sex? There are seriously four or five sex scenes in a movie less than two hours long (all het, of course), a total pretty well matched by the number of graphic scenes of beating and torture. I hated this so much that I have moved the other two installments off the top of my Netflix queue and I may not bother with them at all. Because I do not want to see any more torture sequences, thank you.

As a palate cleanser, I've put some comedies next in my queue.
kindkit: Two British officers sitting by a river; one rests his head on the other's shoulder. (Fandomless: officers by a river)
[livejournal.com profile] halotolerant, your package arrived! Apparently it was delivered to someone else in my apartment complex, who then brought it to the management office. Thank you so much for the lovely presents! I'm so glad they weren't actually lost in the mail.

(For the curious: a copy of a world wars sticker book in which you dress all the people up in their uniforms, or in other worlds the coolest thing ever (there are little sticker rats to put in the trenches!), and also a copy of Jane Stevenson's novel London Bridges, which is described on the back cover as a "classic English crime novel" featuring among other things "a sixth-century manuscript of a homoerotic poem." Halo knows my tastes very, very well.)
kindkit: Text icon: "British officers do not cuddle each other. (Not when there are people watching, anyway.") ('Allo 'Allo: British officers do not cud)
[personal profile] naraht asked me to talk about Mary Renault's The Charioteer as a war novel.

I think TC has--very understandably--received so much attention as among the first gay novels in English with a happy ending that the extent to which it's also a Second World War novel is neglected. The war is omnipresent in the story: blackouts and air raid sirens, the aerial combat that happens over the hospital, the uniforms and fire-watch duties, the rationing and the sentimental songs. The lightning-fast romance of Laurie and Ralph, who go from "gosh, it's been seven years, what have you been doing?" to "and of course we'll live together, circumstances permitting" in the space of maybe a month and a half, strikes me as a very wartime thing too. A lot of straight couples got married after knowing each other for even less time.

The importance of the war in the book goes beyond background details, though. One thing I've been thinking about is Andrew's status as a conscientious objector. Modern readers tend to admire him for that, but I wonder whether Renault's original 1953 audience, many of whom would have served in the war in one capacity or another, would necessarily have done so. A lot of them, I suspect, might have been more inclined than modern readers to agree with Ralph's less sympathetic judgment of Andrew as "a passenger when human decency's fighting for survival." I'm not arguing that this is the right way to view Andrew, but I wonder whether in 1953, the novel would have come across as more critical of Andrew than it seems to readers now.

Most significantly and interestingly in my view, TC focuses on characters who have become disabled due to wartime injuries. There aren't a lot of war novels that do this--characters either die or they fight on. Laurie and Ralph's injuries are severe enough that neither will ever go into combat again, although Ralph continues to serve in the Navy in what seems to be an intelligence capacity. Most of the novel is of course set in a military hospital, and we follow Laurie through the last of several surgeries that don't repair his leg as well as he'd hoped, through physical therapy and the corrective boot to help him walk (the first version of which actually makes his leg worse), through his grief over his disability and his beginning to learn to live with it. Coping and adapting are things we see both Laurie and Ralph do a lot of: Laurie has to deal with stairs, low sofas, not being able to kneel in church, and pain and fatigue, while Ralph struggles with his car's gearshift and with other people's reactions to the sight of his damaged hand. I can't think of any other war-related story (in fact any story) where disability is so much a pervasive, ordinary part of the characters' lives. There's a general theme of physicality in the novel, and I think it's significant that it deals so matter-of-factly with the consequences of war on human bodies.

To conclude, I want to bring things back to the basic fact that The Charioteer deals with gay men serving in the armed forces in wartime. Even now, war novels and history books hardly acknowledge that such men existed, or lesbian servicewomen for that matter. It's sad that sixty years later, the trail that Mary Renault blazed in 1953 is still so little followed.
kindkit: Two British officers sitting by a river; one rests his head on the other's shoulder. (Fandomless: officers by a river)
[personal profile] halotolerant asked: "You have the power to comission a high-budget HBO series dramatizing any book/turning movie into series/updating TV series of your choice. What do you choose? Who is cast? What is so great about it and why does it win Emmys?"

Although I nearly changed my mind at the last minute in favor of a good adaptation of Pat Barker's Regeneration (the existing film is dreadful), I have to go with my first impulse: Mary Renault's The Charioteer. I've wished for ages that there were a film or miniseries of this book.

One important point: this has to be a BBC/HBO co-production, with HBO mostly just putting up the cash. The actors and the screenwriter(s) must be English.

The difficulty with details like casting, etc. is that I need a time machine. In an ideal world, Arden Winch writes the adaptation, a young Benedict Cumberbatch plays Laurie (if you've only seen Cumberbatch as Sherlock or as Khan, you'll have to trust me that he does vulnerability and quiet strength extremely well), a young Ralph Fiennes plays Ralph, and a young Steven Mackintosh plays Andrew.

Lacking a time machine, I'm only sure about Laurie, who should be played by Shaun Evans:

Click here for image and the rest of the discussion )
kindkit: Two British officers sitting by a river; one rests his head on the other's shoulder. (Fandomless: officers by a river)
There are still lots of open days if you want to ask me anything!

For today, [personal profile] executrix asked why I like military fandoms.

I have to start my answer by borrowing a phrase from [personal profile] oursin: it's all more complicated. I wouldn't say that I like military fandoms in general. I'm only interested in a small subset of them: those set during either the First or Second World War and focused on Britain, or at least not on the United States. Stories about wars more recent than 1945 tend to engage my political brain and make me angry, whereas WWI is distant enough that I can see it as tragedy, and while I do have political thoughts about WWII, essentially I believe that both the Nazis and Japanese imperialist expansion had to be stopped. And stories that are primarily about the US experience of those wars don't appeal to me, partly because of my Anglophilia (I might as well openly admit it) and partly because I strongly dislike the way American involvement in the world wars is presented in American popular culture and popular history. The U.S. did not save the world either time, nor did we make great heroic sacrifices; our involvement in both wars was comparatively limited. To the extent that we did play a crucial role in WWII, it was mostly due to our industrial capacity, which kept both Britain and the Soviets armed. The country that came closest to single-handedly stopping Hitler was the Soviet Union, but even now the hangover of Cold War politics makes that almost impossible to say in the US in a popular medium. Basically, I think U.S. war stories are parochial and very often jingoistic. British war stories can be both those things too, but it's less common and less blatant. (I said in another post that the difference between U.S. WWII films and British WWII films is that in U.S. ones, the hero lives and triumphs; in British ones, he dies. That sums up the different attitudes fairly well.)

Having said all that, the question still remains: why am I attracted to war stories at all? click here to read more )

I'll end with a few recs in case any of this has piqued your interest. Colditz has been my favorite fandom for some years now: it's a British drama that aired in the early 1970s about the eponymous high-security POW camp and the men who lived in it, sometimes escaped from it, and more often failed to escape. Wings is another British drama, this time about Royal Flying Corps pilots in the early years of the First World War. It has its flaws, but at its best it's wonderful. Manhunt is a 1969-70 British drama about two French resistance members and a downed RAF officer trying desperately to escape from occupied France; it's slow to get going and can be offensively sexist, but it gets better, has some consistently great acting and intermittently excellent writing, and its final episode packs a hell of a wallop. Secret Army is yet another 1970s British drama; it focuses on the members of Lifeline, a Belgian underground organization that helps downed Allied pilots escape back to Britain; it's bleak, bleak, bleak, and after series 1 it gets bogged down in its creator's anti-communist views, but the first series is great. Almost everyone with any interest in WWI had read Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, but if you haven't, do. Mary Renault's The Charioteer is well known, but worth thinking about as a war novel as much as a gay novel. And I like Susan Hill's Strange Meeting, an exploration of the tender friendship/love that develops between two young British officers in WWI.
kindkit: Second Doctor looking throughtful. (Doctor Who: Second Doctor thoughtful)
As the Christmas season approaches, the time comes for an important seasonal question: what's the bleakest, most depressing Christmas-themed episode of a TV series you've ever seen?

Note that it has to be a Christmas-themed story, not just something that aired around Christmas. This disqualifies the final episode of Blake's 7, which would otherwise sweep the category.

My vote goes to "A Different Kind of War," from the 1969-70 series Manhunt, which aired on London Weekend Television. Manhunt follows the tribulations of two French resistance members and a British airman on the run in occupied France. One of the resistance members, codenamed Nina, has crucial information and must be smuggled to Britain or killed rather than fall into German hands.

"A Different Kind of War" is set at Christmas 1942. spoilers under the cut, but this isn't a show anyone is watching )

So, what are your choices for the bleakest Christmas episode?
kindkit: Two British officers sitting by a river; one rests his head on the other's shoulder. (Fandomless: officers by a river)
Today's Guardian includes the results of a project created by British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who invited contemporary poets to respond to the work of First World War poets.

There's a hint of arrogance about the project that troubles me: the original poems responded to a horrific and unprecedented kind of warfare. There is nothing, nothing comparable in modern experience, and I'm not sure we can adequately or honestly respond to the art of that time. Especially in those cases where people can't be bothered to get the history right; Carol Ann Duffy's expression, in her poem's introduction, of sadness at the death of Wilfred Owen "during the second world war" makes me wince.

Even when more thought seems to have been put in, some inadequacy or incommensurability shows up in the modern poems, which are almost uniformly less interesting than the originals. The best ones work with that historical distance, contextualizing the war within modern concerns. I recommend Simon Armitage's "Avalon" (responding to Ivor Gurney), Blake Morrison's "Redacted" (responding to Ewart Alan Macintosh), Daljit Nagra's "The Calling" (responding to Sarojini Naidu), and particularly Andrew Motion's "A Moment of Reflection" (responding to Siegfried Sassoon), which I found the most satisfying, poetically, of the modern poems. But I must admit to my bias: I don't generally like contemporary poetry, so I may not be the ideal audience for these modern revisitings.
kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
A couple of late answers for the "name a character and I'll tell you one of their hangups" meme.

[livejournal.com profile] lilliburlero asked about Havelock Vetinari (Discworld) )

[livejournal.com profile] halotolerant asked about Owen Triggers (Wings) )
kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
Title: Death and the Soldier
Fandom: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (film)
Pairing: Jacques Celliers/Yonoi
Rating: Teen
Word count: 500
Kink: Possession/Marking
Content Notes: Major canonical character death. No other standard Kink Bingo content notes apply.
Summary: Jack Celliers dreams of Yonoi.
Notes: This will be cross-posted to AO3 as soon as the damn autocomplete starts working again.


Click here to read )
kindkit: Man sitting on top of a huge tower of books, reading. (Fandomless--book tower)
It's Wednesday again. How does that happen?

Currently Reading:

I've been re-reading some Sherlock Holmes stories. The good thing about re-reading is that you can skip over the case details and just focus on Holmes and Watson. I've been thinking about how Holmes behaves in The Sign of Four; of course the last line, where Holmes basically says, "So, you're getting married, huh? Well in that case I'll just shoot up ALL THE COCAINE, so there!" has stuck in my head in all its passive-aggressive glory. What hadn't entirely registered before is how hard Holmes tries to show that he can be the perfect companion (so what does Watson need with a wife???). He notices when Watson is tired and makes him lie down and plays soft music to help him sleep. He arranges nice meals and makes damn sure Watson notices: "I have oysters and a brace of grouse, with something a little choice in white wines.--Watson, you have never yet recognized my merits as a housekeeper." (Athelney Jones joins them for this meal, but Holmes didn't know he was going to be there--the effort certainly wasn't for his benefit.) He talks charmingly "on miracle plays, on mediaeval pottery, on Stradivarius violins, on the Buddhism of Ceylon" and seems quite another man from the Holmes of A Study in Scarlet who insists that it's a waste of his brain space to know about anything unconnected to crime. (Just as SoF Watson, with his wounded leg, occasionally seems quite another Watson from the one in Scarlet with the bullet in his shoulder! Oh, Conan Doyle, you needed a story bible like no other writer.) Holmes also calls Watson "my dear boy" and worries that a long hike across London will be too much for Watson's leg.

I just want to hug him, poor man, to make up for Watson's obliviousness.

Not that Watson's marriage seems to come between them all that much, in the end. Watson starts out "A Scandal in Bohemia" claiming that he hardly sees Holmes anymore what with being so happily married, oh no, nothing interests Watson anymore but domesticity. Which would be why he's popping in to visit Holmes all the time, ignoring his medical practice if Holmes wants his help or just his company, accompanying Holmes to restaurants and concerts, and sleeping at Baker Street when he has a perfectly good home of his own. All typical of a happily married, domestically minded man.

(Incidentally, and going back to SoF, I wonder if anyone's ever written a fic where Mary Morstan refuses Watson's proposal because she and Mrs. Forrester are lovers. Doyle's description of Mrs. F. waiting up for Mary and holding her and comforting her makes that interpretation perfectly possible. And if Mary had the courage to be frank with Watson, which I think she might, it would do Watson some good to think about the possibilities for love outside of a conventional marriage.)


Recently Read:

I gave up on Charles Glass's The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II because it was much too focused on three individual stories and not very informative in a general sense.

I did finish Stephen Jay Gould's Full House, but my first impression of it as a rehash of themes Gould explored pretty thoroughly elsewhere turned out to be true. Also, I got the sense that Gould really just wanted to write a book about baseball, and I don't give a damn about baseball.


What I'm reading next:

Interlibrary loan finally sent me Demobbed: Coming Home After the Second World War by Alan Allport. It looks interesting and actually remembers to talk about POWs, yay!

And I should read Ben Aaronovitch's Broken Homes, but I'm kind of afraid to. Even though we're just in the middle of the big plot arc, I feel about the new book almost like I do/did about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics and about new Discworld novels: no, I don't want more canon, thank you. More canon could ruin things for me. It's not a matter of declining quality, as it is with Discworld and was with Buffy, just that the story universe and certain characters in particular (*coughThomasNightingalecough*) have a definite shape in my mind and I don't want it changed, no. (This is one reason, I think, why my fannishness gravitates towards closed canons. In a closed canon, you can read or watch the whole thing and then develop theories and headcanon, instead of having big lags where you wait for new canon and start having Ideas which are then jossed. How do you people who prefer open canons stand the tension?)
kindkit: Man sitting on top of a huge tower of books, reading. (Fandomless--book tower)
Title: Shoes For His Feet
Fandom: Lord Peter Wimsey
Pairing: Bunter/Peter UST
Rating: Teen
Word Count: 4757
Kink: Foot/Shoe fetish; also a lot of service kink as a bonus.
Content Notes: No standard Kink Bingo notes apply.
Summary: In 1919, Bunter takes up the position of valet to Lord Peter Wimsey, and finds his master so traumatized that he can't even put on a pair of shoes.
Notes: Writing this, I began to think that the reason there's not more fic from Bunter's POV is that it makes the writer decide what Bunter calls Lord Peter in his thoughts. I've used several different names/titles as seemed appropriate. (This is the second fic I've written in which a character is mostly thought of as "his lordship" by someone who's in love with him. I find that kind of hilarious.) Also, Sayers is not consistent about Bunter's backstory, especially as regards the war, so I've taken the bits I found useful and ignored the rest.


Click here to read )

Alternatively, you can read the story here at AO3.
kindkit: Two British officers sitting by a river; one rests his head on the other's shoulder. (Fandomless: officers by a river)
What do you do when you've got "tentacles" as one of your Kink Bingo squares, but you've decided you want to write all your KB stories in fandoms that relate to the World Wars? You thank your lucky stars for the canonical magic in Rivers of London.


Title: All Parts There Made One Prisoner
Fandom: Rivers of London
Pairing: Thomas Nightingale/OMC
Rating: Explicit
Word count: 1871
Kink: Tentacles
Content Notes: No standard notes apply. The kink is risky in the context of the story universe, but fully consensual.
Summary: Fear won't make Thomas refuse this.
Notes: I have not yet read Broken Homes, the latest RoL novel, so this story might contradict Nightingale backstory included there. I've reused Desmond Tolhurst, my OMC from Ghosts of Ettersberg, although this story can be read without having read "Ghosts." The title comes from Robert Herrick's The Vine, the earliest example of tentacle kink I know of (warning if you're going to read the poem: it contains rape fantasy).


Click here to read )

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