Monday, September 23, 2013

It's sleepy and it's hollow

What do you get if you combine Once Upon a Time, Grimm and the Secret Circle? Tedium. The writers of Sleepy Hollow took a great idea - moving the Headless Horseman legend into a modern day Sleepy Hollow - and made it...bloodless. Even last year’s failed American Horror wannabe Park Avenue 666 had more style and a better script. That said, there are a bunch of positive reviews on IMDB that made me wonder if I had seen the same show as everyone else. Or maybe the network paid a bunch of people to write positive reviews. Or it was just silly fun all around and I’m being too earnest. Except I was bored. DO NOT bore me.

We open on a Revolutionary battlefield, where an Ominous Soldier on Horseback appears in the melee. Ichabod Crane engages and discovers that, live the Weebles of old, the horseman wobbles but he won’t fall down. So Crane lops off his head, but not before receiving some sort of injury. Fade to mist. Now we’re in a cave with jars of murky liquid sitting around who knows why but they look creepy and make a fine scene when they shatter. And they shatter because Crane is punching his way through the soil, emerging crusted with dirt and some sort of weird white stuff - was he preserved in salt? Off he lopes through the woods and onto a road, in time to be nearly plowed down by a car. Crane looks vaguely puzzled. You’d think he might go Holy Shit what was that? given that his last mode of transport was a horse.

Meanwhile an older cop and his younger partner run into trouble investigating a potential crime at a creepy old stables with an Ominously Frightened Horse. You’d think the horse would be bucking at his stable door since there’s a Headless Horseman hunkered down in there. If I were a horse I would do more than whicker. So the older cop gets his head cut off, which is a real bummer for his partner, who calls for backup.

Cue for Ichabod Crane to appear out of nowhere for no clear reason and run into the street right in front of a cop car. I guess if you are dirty and scruffy and run into the middle of the street the legitimate police response is to hold you at gunpoint and arrest you. That’s a pretty stiff penalty for jaywalking, don’t you think? But of course maybe he just cut off someone’s head, right? What, he’s not covered in blood and he has no weapon? No problem.

You would think that waking up 250 years in the future would put more of a kink in his brain, but Ichabod Crane is remarkably unflustered by the COMPLETE TRANSFORMATION of the town he lived in, by the changes in noise levels and fashion, by electric lights, skyscrapers, concrete, and motor vehicles. He does ask about the TV screens in the police station (but not the big machines moving by magic along the road or the torchless illumination), the end of slavery and Starbucks (part of a really, really stupid and obvious joke), and he asks when women started wearing trousers, which would have probably been scandalous 250 years ago, but hey, he’s an easy going guy I guess. He doesn’t even flinch getting into a car for the first time or comment on the remarkable lack of horse-drawn carts and manure in the streets. Somehow he has survived all this time in some sort of coma in a cave, and yet all his clothes are intact. It would have been much more interesting if they’d fallen off.

Others have pointed out that most cops don’t let suspects, or people being transported to a mental health facility for pete’s sake, sit in the front seat of a police car. But if he wasn’t in the front seat he wouldn’t have been able to get out of the car at a crucial point to wander around a cemetery, where the plucky female cop decided to check out a new crime scene. Get that - she’s going to a crime scene with a potential, possibly dangerous, mental patient in her care, which, even if she thinks he’s okay because she saw the Horseman, probably won’t go over well with her superior (played by Orlando Jones, like THAT makes any sense).

There is no chemistry between the leads. Nada. Zip. I think he is supposed to help her accept her own psychic/witchy abilities so that they can partner up to fight Evil. She comes to terms with this pretty quickly, like Hey, I was gonna go join the elite at QUANTICO but instead I’m going to say fuck my career because this guy who crawled out of a hole tells me I’m going to have to fight a headless adversary. ‘sall cool.  I don’t expect romance - at least they haven’t written the female as a love interest  - but where’s the snappy repartee? Where is the initial distrust that must be overcome? Where are the humorous misunderstandings. Anything? Nope, the relationship is completely flaccid.

The headless horseman himself is a disappointment. If you met someone headless in real life it would be terrifying or at least icky, but on screen a head really adds a special something that axes and guns fail to deliver. (The guns, by the way, seem to shoot fireworks - pretty!) The writers should take note of the show’s theme song, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Mindless, mechanical evil is boooooring. There has to be a villain with personality, a Loki or a Moriarty or a Crowley, to earn your guilty admiration.  We don’t even have a whole person. When we are finally introduced to the horseman’s skull, it has all the menace of something from a display at your local Halloween store. Actually, strike that because I’m sometimes scared of the displays at the local Halloween store. We also glimpse a demon that looks strangely like a tall, skinny Dobby. I’m not exactly quaking.

It’s a shame this is so very lame, because Tom Mison who plays Ichabod Crane has a British accent (always, always a good thing) and is very pleasant to look at, or he would be if someone gave him access to a shower, a barber and some clean clothes. If I do watch another episode it will be to see if they have the wisdom to dress him in tight jeans. Because I could be persuaded to suspend disbelief. 

As for the plot, they are setting up a good coven/bad coven narrative - yawn. Who in the town can you trust, blah blah blah. Something about Revelation (of COURSE) and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Well, I can tell you right now that the Winchester brothers already shut that down, and they did it with flair and sass. Much as I thought the last couple of seasons uneven, I am now really looking forward to the return of Supernatural. I need some proper scaring.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why can't I be you?

Envy is thin because it bites but never eats.   - Spanish Proverb

My husband puts up with a lot. Chaos usually follows in my wake, because I tend to make and ignore messes, distracted endlessly by the many shiny things in the world. I am disorganized and frivolous while he keeps the bills paid and the accounts balanced. He sees work to be done and I see books to be read. I hope I’m amusing enough to make up for what I lack. I try his patience in many ways, but right now I think Benedict Cumberbatch may top the list. 

I am obsessed with BC. If his name appears in the credits, I’m there. Now whenever I mention a movie I want to see, Dear Husband responds with wary suspicion. My Pinterest account has been overtaken by photos and videos of Benedict. I await the return of Sherlock with an intense anticipation that most people probably reserve for the birth of their children. I’m nowhere near the worst or wackiest out there. Thanks to fans far more obsessed than I, there is an ecstatic proliferation of Tumblr accounts offering an endless supply of photos and gifs capturing every performance, public appearance, change of hair color, and shift of expression. This is the standard by which I measure my sanity - at least I have not opened a Tumblr account and started creating my own screen caps. I have, however, considered creating a Sherlock themed Christmas tree.

Dear Husband  probably thinks this is my ultimate fantasy: 

Yeah, well, someone who went on and on and on and on and ON about Amanda Tapping really shouldn’t be so judgey.

I think celebrity obsessions originate in a part of the building you don’t usually visit, but if you give any thought to the matter you’ll probably discover something unexpected and possibly unwelcome about yourself, and it often has less to do with sex than with other desires.

So yeah, he definitely has 1000 watt sex appeal - beautiful eyes, tousleable auburn/blond/black curls, swoony voice -  but there is another side to this.


And if it wasn’t a teensy bit of a downer, would I even bother telling you?

So here goes, I have a silly fantasy of a long, meandering conversation in which I ask him endless questions about acting and writing, and what’s his take on the NSA/GCHQ business, and who are his favorite poets and how the hell does anyone get into character anyway (something I’ve never understood, as I can barely get into my own character). Just me and my imaginary friend chatting about creativity and art and, I suppose, the meaning of it all, over tea at a nice little bohemian cafe on some London side street. I wouldn’t even care if he smoked, but he wouldn’t, because that’s the sort of gentleman he is.

He’s so very clever. I like clever people. Clever people make me happy. I get high on clever. In interviews Benedict comes across as intelligent and eloquent. He navigates his ocean of crazed admirers with grace, poise and humor. He does charity work (check out this blog by a young girl with Cystic Fibrosis and tell me he isn’t a sweetie). He did a series of videos with the pianist James Rhodes and what’s that - he can play piano, too? He survived a car jacking in South Africa. He taught English in a Tibetan Monastery. He can go from elegant to charming, to dorky in seconds without any apparent embarrassment. He’s adventurous. He’s athletic. He’s humble. He’s exotic.

And his acting - I think he may be channeling the gods. He delivers, as one writer put it “ a level of acting almost messianic in its quality.” Oh yes. He so completely embodies Sherlock that I’m convinced the character now exists as a real person in an alternate reality. Imagine the level of talent and dedication it would take to get to that point, so it seems to flow from you as naturally as sunshine falling over water.  

And then when I thought he couldn’t get any more amazing, he does this: Benedict Cumberbatch Sends A Message To The Government Through The Paparazzi

And this.

And then he gives an interview like this, and I think I may cry from the sheer joy of witnessing someone talk using polysyllabic words.

I’m in awe, with a side of hero worship.

And I’m so very jealous.

I wish I could go back to my 15 year old self and say - this, this is the person you should take as your role model. Keep to this and you might get somewhere and be somebody. You might be something more than the chaotic, chronically distracted person who has never created anything admirable, or noble, or beautiful, who instead stumbles from day to day in a state of existential confusion with the vague sense of having missed the point.

So, at the end of that long conversation in the fictional cafe, I imagine him saying: “So what have you done with your life lately? Hmm. I’m just going to take this BAFTA now and go help some disadvantaged youth. Laters." ‘Course he would never say that. He’s too much of a gentleman.

It's better when it's just about sex.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

To Bedlam

“Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind”
― Anne Sexton, To Bedlam and Part Way Back

My mom was crazy. Literally.

It’s a word meant to insult, discount. My mom hated it, but she would have taken exception to any word that called her mental stability into question. Really, the acceptable term “mental illness” doesn’t sound much better.

Both my parents are dead now, and they left behind a lot of stuff. Recently I was going through some of their papers and found letters that my mom had saved for years, including a packet of letters that my dad wrote to her while she was at Milledgeville State Hospital in the late 50s, one of the largest mental hospitals in the country  at the time. I was born in 1966, so her stay happened a number of years before my birth, and I knew nothing about it for a long time.

Mom with three of my brothers
Growing up I knew that my mom was unusual, but I had no idea that she had a mental illness. It wasn’t until I was 22 that one of my brothers mentioned it in passing, and suddenly chaos settled into pattern and meaning. Her official diagnosis was schizophrenia. I’m not sure that diagnosis was completely accurate - in many ways she was more like someone with bipolar disorder - but she heard voices and at times had paranoid delusions. Despite this, she was, to the best of my knowledge, unmedicated and untreated while I was growing up.

As you have probably guessed, no one talked about this. So, when my mom told me about conversations with doctors that I knew did not exist, or mentioned being part of a mind control experiment conducted by the Soviets, or became convinced that the neighbors were spying on us, when she began huge projects with a massive burst of energy only to drop them completely and take to bed, when she went on angry paranoid rampages spewing the most bizarre stories, I - well, I don’t know what I did. In between these strange phases my mom was like any other mom, affectionate and protective, if a little shy and socially awkward. She was smart and curious. No matter what state she was in, she made sure we had three meals a day and clean clothes. She made doctor appointments for me, sewed clothes for me, and read to me (although sometimes not the best choices - most moms would not read Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” to a six-year-old). I was never neglected. So it was very disorienting to switch from that to the the freaky mom who thought she might be the victim of demonic possession.

I lived in a strange world, pretending that everything was normal, or approaching normal, when it was anything but. My father acted as if her behavior was a deliberate ploy to destroy his life, and he spent a lot of time away from the house. My much older brothers had long before moved out and if at any time during their visits my mother acted strangely, they simply ignored it. In all the time I was growing up, my mother never saw a psychiatrist, a therapist or even a social worker. I never saw my dad seek any assistance either, although he now and then he threatened to have her “locked up,” which did indeed have a squelching effect on my mom.

That makes my dad sound awful, and for a long time I was angry with him for the way he treated my mom, but I have to remember that he had to make this journey practically by himself. I don’t know what triggered my mom being committed, but my dad must have been out of his depth, and he may have been afraid for my brothers. My dad’s letters reveal his struggles trying to keep the family going alone - juggling work with 4 school age boys. He rarely had any help, and the boys were left to their own devices most of the time. He expressed more resentment as time went by (she seems to have been there for at least a year), and he often asked why she couldn’t come home. There were also letters from my brothers, which are sad to read, tidbits about school and home life and appeals to her to come home written in awkward childish handwriting. Saddest of all are a few lines from my dad, a response it seems to a question from my mom, that he had no idea why her parents did not write or visit.

What’s missing are my mother’s letters to him. Maybe my dad didn’t bother to keep them - he liked to forget unpleasant things. What she experienced there remains a mystery. Even as an adult I was extremely reluctant to broach the subject with her. I don’t mean that she never mentioned it, but I really had to read between the lines, and I was so used to ignoring the absurd that sometimes I wasn’t sure what I was hearing.

So much secrecy. Those were the days when you still didn’t admit to or talk about mental illness, when it tainted your reputation and the reputation of your entire family. Even though attitudes had loosened by the time I was born, it was deeply entrenched in the family dynamics, so much so that I was trained early, without any sort of explicit instruction, to ignore blatantly odd behavior, to keep it quiet. And I didn’t want anything to be wrong - the very idea of anything being wrong was so terrifying that I lived this odd life of pretending that I didn’t know what I knew.

I’ve concluded that the invisible doctors were probably actual psychiatrists who treated her. I had thought the voices schizophrenics hear would say horrible things, but her voices always seemed to give her encouragement and advice. She insisted they understood her completely. When I was much older, she alluded to electro-shock treatment in such a way that it was clear that she had terrible memories of it. She also once mentioned medicine that made her too drowsy, and so she never took it again. I think she wanted to talk about it, but none of us wanted to listen, not in the way she needed us to listen. Instead we were eager to refute or, god help us, try to reason it away, or ignore it as if it were bad behavior that shouldn’t be encouraged.

With this history, you might think that I would be afraid of inheriting schizophrenia. It helped that I didn’t know the true nature of her illness until I was an adult. By then I was pretty confident that I never had and never would have hallucinations or paranoid fantasies. The problems I did have - well, it would be hard to emerge from that household unscathed. We were all dinged in some way.

I recently ran across a study that has found a common genetic source for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, major depression and ADHD. Here’s a quote from the article: “But what surprised them was that while one person with the aberration might get one disorder, a relative with the same mutation got a different one.”

This has made me rethink my mother’s legacy, which I thought I had nimbly evaded. I think every one of my siblings and I have something on that list, whether or not we admit it, whether or not we have ever been diagnosed. These days it’s so much easier to talk about mental illness, and I’ve made sure that I don’t hide that part of the family history - or my own history - from the girls. I hope for the best, that whatever genetic mishap, if there is one, that bled into our lives, ends with me.

I wish I had my mother’s files from that time, that I had a little more insight into that part of her life. Some people might think that talking about my mom’s illness is somehow invading her privacy or revealing too much. But I think the one thing my mom wanted but only found in the hospital, was someone to talk to who would not judge her, someone to acknowledge that her invisible doctors and strange thoughts did not make her a bad person, or less of a person, or someone whose opinions should be discounted because she was “crazy”. That it was really okay.