More on the Karnstein myth, Jess Franco, horror, and softcore porn

A month or so ago I got a subscription to the horror movie channel Shudder. We saved money by Cutting the Cable Cord, but now are approaching the same budget by a-la-carting so many other streaming providers (“The tragedy of your times my young friends is that you may get exactly what you want.”). I subscribed to Shudder out of genuine interest in horror and indie horror, and the fact that it was only $5/month made me more pliable. Streaming services take note: $10/month seems to be the standard price so $5/month is an irresistible target. Go for the long tail.

So far on Shudder I’ve watched Frontier(s) (2007), It Stains the Sands Red (2017), and Daughter of Dracula (1972) (not Dracula’s Daughter from 1936, fwiw).

From Female Vampire: Lina Romay as Countess Irina Karlstein

I dove into a few Jess Franco films back in November 2015 and I still value them for their inventive variety (he’s done ~160 films!): the three films I watched were of such wildly different styles that they were effectively from different directors. His film Female Vampire introduced me to the pre-Bram Stoker vampire story Carmilla (1871) and all of it’s variations since then. Daughter of Dracula is connected to that literary lineage, also known as the Karnstein/Karlstein vampire myth, and includes the Franco films along with Hammer films and an LGBT web series (see also this wonderful THE KARNSTEIN TIMELINE collection of all media Karnstein-related). They are all part of a larger style of lesbian vampire stories.

Although Daughter of Dracula was filmed in Lisbon (cf. Female Vampire filmed in moody and beautiful Madeira), I did not recognize the city that we had visited. Living in Midtown Atlanta I should know the radical differences that 40 years can impose on a city.

From Daughter of Dracula: Franco, Anne Libert, and Carmen Yazalde as Luisa Karlstein

Daughter of Dracula has the softcore porn aspect of many of Franco’s films. The opening scene includes a woman, full frontal preparing for a bath, and the camera more than lingers. Other scenes I-kid-you-not dramatically zoom in to 1970s-era unshaven et ceteras. Whether this was titillating back then I’m not sure but it is incredibly non-sexual today. During one “lesbian” scene there was such an invasive soundtrack referencing show tunes, comedic, and dance styles, that the extended breast licking was completely unbelievable. And, yes, I typed “extended.”

Daughter of Dracula differed from the previous vampire film of his that I watched, Female Vampire. That one was more static and moody, expressing the lead’s curse more with lingering camera shots and frequent foggy, daytime scenes. Daughter of Dracula felt more conventional. Said daughter learns about her heritage as the local police attempt to solve a series of recent murders. Both films are worth a watch and would be good as a double-feature. Are you listening, Plaza Theatre?

Three pulp sci-fi novels (set #1)

Updated 2 Aug 2018 (art)

Updated 14 Sep 2018 (notes on all three)

Updated 21 Feb 2021 (Night Slaves movie)

I’ve been purging all of my CDs by sending them to a ripping service (I used MusicShifter) and then selling what I can and donating the rest. I sold a hundred or so to Book Nook and with a small portion of that fine fine cash got my book on. There were some classics, and then there were these:

Continue reading Three pulp sci-fi novels (set #1)

Not like us

I just read the article The evils of Cultural Appropriation recommended from Arts & Letters Daily. This was the same day that Scarlett Johansson quit her future role in a move where she would have played a transgender man.

The appropriation article–very good, by the way–brought up the history of sumptuary laws which, dating back to BCE civilizations, describe a social convention of restricting clothing based on social class. No dressing like royals; no dressing above your caste; no specific colors that represent the ruling class. It then went on to discuss the current issue where voices defending equality condemn instances when a group in power (whites) adopt the culture of those not. I remember when we visited Thailand that we were warned not to pose in front of a Buddha and mimic his pose. Our guide said it would be like if someone were to go to a church and pose as Christ in front of representations of him on the cross. Similarly, the article pointed out that the idea of cultural appropriation came from the adoption of others’ religious symbols for profit or, in general, in any way that disrespects it.

Originally derived from sociologists writing in the 1990s, its usage appears to have first been adopted by indigenous peoples of nations tainted by histories of colonization, such as Canada, Australia and the United States. Understandably, indigenous communities have been protective of their sacred objects and cultural artifacts, not wishing the experience of exploitation to be repeated generation after generation.

Again, an act of the powerful over the less so.

The label cisgender came about with the intent of not not labelling hetero males and females and thus treating them as the normal, thus others as abnormal. Cis is a non-chosen type just as gay or lesbian or bi or trans. The cis vs. LGBT+ can be seen as power vs. less so.

Scarlett Johansson has been at the center of two orthogonal issues of cultural appropriation and power dynamics. First, her casting in the role of Motoko Kusanagi in last year’s live action Ghost in the Shell remake (of which I had an opinion). Quite simply, she’s an American/white actress playing the role that was originally a Japanese cyborg, and many had issue with not casting a Japanese actress in the role. Now, she was to play a transgender man from the 70s and many LGBT+ groups were angry. I once saw a play where the same actors, in different acts, swapped characters of sometimes different genders (e.g. a male played Joe and a female Jenny in the first act, then opposite in the second). In that play, an actors’ genders were a meta part of the story (coincidentally, IIRC, about colonial whites in South Africa). Men or women playing ambiguously gendered characters of opposite sex by birth or by reassignment is not like the swapping of roles in that play. Neither is it an example of the power dynamics of Renaissance males-playing-females or, ugh, blackface.

Maybe it’s more like the healthy playing the ill or crippled. Or–to get closer to our discomfort–the mentally abled playing those with disabilities [ed. perhaps I have used crude labels?]. We’re uncomfortable with these situations in a way that we’re not with a non-doctor playing a doctor.

The appropriation article brings up a speech that the author Lionel Shriver gave regarding freedom in fiction for any writer to write any character. I had an epiphany once when a writer (who?) explained the value of novels. They said that in life we only know with certainty what we ourselves think. Others of varied histories are opaque to us. In novels, we get a window into others’ impulses and intention and thus may understand the surface differences we see in real life. This seemed an important point, and possibly why us book folk can be a bit arrogant: by creating greater empathy, there is a greater value as a member of society to read than to not.

The label of “politically correct” has become a pejorative denoting a sort of debilitating consideration toward the different. Conservatives use it as a shorthand for liberal deference to blacks, gays, hispanics, southeast asians, and any with a different culture or social history. It’s an issue of those in power and those or those-historically not. With consternation the use of these polite terms, some conservatives express, in a sort of paradox, that they are victims of political correctness and that they are labeled as shameful based on arbitrary and Victorian-like mores. When is a racist not a racist? When they no longer have power.

One concerning quote that comes later in the appropriation article is about responsibility:

The notion that a person can be held as responsible for actions that he or she did not commit strikes at the very heart of our conception of human rights and justice.

Should there be civil rights laws offsetting a previous imbalance? Should there be reconciliation commissions to ameliorate racial or ethnic violence? Should there be protection laws forcing all citizens to pay taxes for curb ramps and elevators? Should Japan, post World War II, have been barred from having an army?

Transitional periods can be those of caution and conflict. The norm of sensitivity towards those that had less, often considerably less, power in the past is not a weakness, but there is no definitive point where that power has equalized.

There are worse things

I recently became afraid of dying.

Recently meaning: in the last year, a few months after a hospitalization. I did not see heaven or hell or even get close to any brush with mortality that, justifiably, sends some to fear their mortality. I experienced a personal, existential bleakness that felt like a threatening, eternal prison. So many others have gone through very real threats of a quality that mine was very really not (cf. the Thai kids), but the experience was personal, so there you are.

Not long after the event, I–unfortunately–read the Harlan Ellison short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, in which a small group of people have been tortured for a century by a computer that was built for war and rebelled in anguish, killing the entire population but those five. In retribution for being created only as a weapon, he gave them gross physical alteration and tortured them with depravation and insanity, yet kept alive and uncertain of what punishment would be visited next. This is a story that you should not read if you’re on-or-close-to the edge.

Though much diminished, any random event can trigger the memory, but honestly it can appear without prompting. I’m tied down, in emptiness, forever. I think: “maybe that’s how it will end,” and there’s no option of a pleasant or absence of pleasant eternity, just existence. As a nearly lifelong atheist it’s a weird feeling. Is this how the non-secular feel throughout their lives? More important: is this how those with PTSD feel and, if so, I can’t imagine the grief.

Faking it

I was with a large group of people recently, drinks then dinner then drinks then concert, many of whom I hadn’t met before and who were diverse in their professions, passions, and history. Impressive lives. The conversations were those of a quality that you could hardly keep up with in insight or humor. I was stressed and miserable the whole time.

But then I also looked around and at various times in the evening saw others that just maybe under the surface betrayed a hint of the same stress. That kind of cornered dog reserve. Some people just aren’t build for crowds, but it may not show.

When young, preteen to teen? I remember that reserve being mistaken as arrogance. I think maybe others experience that response growing up and it imprints a hopelessness when in a crowd. Absence of engagement can make you seem the asshole. I see it still from listening to friends/acquaintances and hearing their response to others’ reserve. Although, I often don’t know these third parties so maybe they are assholes. Do women experience this to a greater degree? The only possible personal response to such misunderstandings is ambivalence.

Cocktail parties, as with most experiences, are never like those in the movies.