Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tricia on the News

I'm currently watching the last "Lost" of sweeps. This episode, a Hurley-centric affair, is titled "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead." In the first flashback of the opening credits, we see Hurley (Jorge Garcia) shortly after he won the lottery. He's standing outside a chicken restaurant where he used to work, only he's now standing there as the owner. He's also being interviewed by an Asian woman who is quickly becoming frustrated at the fact that Hurley's life as a multimillionaire has been less than peachy. Then, in true Hurley bad mojo fashion, a meteor crashes into the restaurant. Kaboom. Hence the title, I'm guessing.

The character strikes me because she's the third female on-the-scene news reporter I can think of named "Tricia" or some variant thereof who has appeared on a popular television show. First off: Trisha Thoon (Stacey Grenrock-Woods) of "Arrested Development," whom I mentioned in a post just a few days ago. Second: Tricia Takanawa, better known as "Asian reporter Tricia Takanawa," from "Family Guy." Now this Tricia, whom I will refer to as "Short-Lived Tricia."

And, in all this Hurley wonderful, not a sign of Cynthia Watros, as Libby or any other ghost from the past.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Boy and His Wii

Because I’ve owned a NES, a Game Boy, a Super NES, a different kind of Game Boy, a Nintendo 64, a Game Boy Advance, a Gamecube and a Nintendo DS, it like the idea of me getting a Wii was more a matter of when than if. That knock-off I picked up, the Fintendo Pii, did not prove an adequate substitute. Upon close inspection, all that abomination did was produce a small yellow puddle that quickly soaked through its cardboard frame. Thus, I sent away for the real deal. Saturday morning, it arrived.

wii 1

It made me happy.

wii 2

I immediately felt close to it.

wii 3

I read its name over and over, as if it were something that actually sounded like a good thing.

wii on my face

Look! Wii all over my face!

wii in my mouth

Wii in my mouth.

It should be clear from these photos that “Wii and Me” bonded instantly. As I type this, I’m all sore from going too many rounds with Wii Sports boxing as my new alterego, Driiw.


I can’t believe I took the time to write this, when I could have been playing simulated tennis.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fucking the Subjunctive

A few days back, George wrote on I’m Not One to Blog, But… about the origins of the phrase God bless you. Though the accuracy of his history seems to range between “fudged” and “delightfully embellished,” as near as I can tell, the post reminded me of an extensive conversation I once had with Vicky, a now long-time-ago Nexus copy cat, about whether English could entirely drop the subjunctive mood from English.

Though I wasn’t offended by her idea, I responded with two words: “Fuck you.”

She laughed.

For those for whom grammar falls into that gray category of shoulda-kinda-learned (a mental place that often houses the multiplication tables beyond twelve, central African geography and the reason we celebrate Cinco de Mayo), the subjunctive mood is a form that verbs take in English, similar to how verbs have tenses and voices and all that, only it is nearly invisible and undetectable in most speech and writing. Americans typically only learn about it when they start taking foreign language classes because the mood factors into Spanish or French a lot more.

Generally, verbs take the subjunctive in following situations:
  • When wishing (I wish I were taller rather than the indicative I wish I was taller)
  • When stating a condition contrary to fact (If I were taller, then I could see down her shirt.)
  • When someone is commanding, suggesting or recommending (I demand that the leering, tall man leave, rather than I demand that the leering, tall man leaves, as it would be spoken in a more typical sentence.)
Stuff like that. There are others, but I don’t want a grammar lesson to foil my attempt at being interesting. That last form I gave for which I gave an example is the most important here, so don’t forget it. Raise your eyes slightly and re-read it if you feel you have to.

You may have noticed that a quality many forms of the subjunctive have is that they sound like normal sentences with the wrong choice of verb implemented in them. Since the pronoun I is a singular, nominative pronoun, it might seem more correct to use was with it, since the two usually go together. (I was tired. I was running. I was technically a woman until the softball accident.) In fact, saying If I was taller actually doesn’t sound all that incorrect. Anybody listening would understand your meaning so well that it seems one could, in fact, do away with the subjunctive altogether and make everyone’s life more grammatically correct and therefore easier.

This is what Vicky said. And to an extent, I agreed with her.

This silly mood has been rendered a peculiarity in English so much so that it’s all but banished to the back of grammar textbooks, where teachers can’t get to it in the allotted duration of a school year. However, even if people are less and less conscious of how and why it works, they will still use it. For whatever reason, I argued to Vicky, so many of English’s little verbal groups put their verbs in the subjunctive. My old writing teacher called them “set phrases.” I call them “word buddies” or “gangs of words.” They’re little chunks of language that, for whatever reason, persist over time in a certain sequence. Wikipedia offers the following as examples:
  • if need be
  • so be it
  • be that as it may
  • far be it from me
  • truth be told
All of these are phrases any English speaker should be familiar with because they’re spoken so often that they’re ingrained into our brains. As we speak, these centuries-old synapses fire from our brains into our tongues and then out comes these word buddies — staid but in perfectly grammatical subjunctive mood. I’d imagine most people never stop and think about how awkward these phrases sound if the listener doesn’t understand the subjunctive mood. Seriously? “If need be”? Why not “If need is”? Why would that verb even be in that sentence without a good reason?

The best examples of word buddies, however, has to be the jussive subjunctive — the form of it used when the speaker is invoking a supernatural power. God bless you, for example. You’re not saying “Hey, God! Go bless that guy!” or “God, bless him.” You’re saying “May God bless you,” only the “may” gets dropped. (Apparently people are too busy ordering around God’s benevolence to be polite. Nice one, Christians.) Or, you know, there’s also “fuck you.”

What’s that? Oh. Fuck you. You. Fuck you.

Rude, yes. But grammatically correct and understandable when you consider that that all-too-common phrase is spoken in the subjunctive.

Think about it. You’ve doubtlessly said it before. You may hear it on an almost daily basis, depending on what kind of asshole you are. But when you look at the phrase fuck you grammatically, it’s not immediately clear what sentiment the phrase is trying to express — you know, aside from hatred. I doubt the desired meaning is Fuck yourself, as that insult exists in its own right. Why would the self get dropped? It seems too important to be chopped off the end. And I don’t think you’re saying “I’m going to fuck you,” because that’s not necessarily insulting, depending on how and to whom it is spoken. Despite its ambiguity, however, fuck you always manages to convey the right emotion. Noting that fuck you and bless you are structured similarly and used in practically identical grammatical contexts — if opposite social contexts — it seems reasonable to conclude that the blasphemous one is another example of the jussive subjunctive mood.

“No! God doesn’t fuck people!” you may say.

That’s true. With the exception of Mary, God stays out of mortal business. Knowing, however, that the rest of those musty word buddies — bethatasitmay, and all those other set phrases that might as well be one word, given how we use them — originate from an older period of English in which the subjunctive was commonplace, think about the superstitions people back then had. About fucking. And supernatural entities.

That’s right. The Devil fucks you.

It seems plausible to me that far from being a command or a request, fuck you is actually a invocation of the Devil or his underlings to fly into you bedroom and ravage your privates in your sleep. Literally, fuck you could be May the Devil savage you in your sleep. And that, I have to admit, is probably the worst curse I could ever think to hurl at somebody.

Thus, grammar once again saves the day, by proving that an often-used insult is an entirely proper construction with a rich social history, that a rarely used and little understood aspect of English is alive and well on the lips of drivers throughout southern California, and that you’ve probably invoked engorged demons into the lives of your enemies.

Fuck you. Bless you. It’s all the same. Thank grammar!

And sleep with you knees together tonight.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Spiders Hate Lasagna Mondays

"Garfield" isn't the most innovative comic strip. This is not news. But the Garfield Randomizer helps prove that assessment true. Evidence:


[ source: Zack Klein ]

Naming Conventions in "Arrested Development"

Having completed the third DVD set of “Arrested Development” a few weeks back, I’m pleased to say that I’m still picking up little throw-away jokes. For example, in the second-to-last episode, “Exit Strategy,” Gary Cole plays a CIA agent-posing-as-a-taxi cab driver named Richard Shaw. His name is a callback to the joke in the same episode about Buster wanting to hire “the only rickshaw in Iraq.” Cute, no?

I remember reading a review of that movie “The Baxter” that noted that Peter Dinklage’s character therein was named “Benson Hedges.” The review cited the name — which references Benson & Hedges, a brand of cigarettes that I suspect most Americans aren’t too familiar with — had been created in an “Arrested Development”-like style. Ever since then, I’ve wondered exactly what criteria constitute an “Arrested Development”-like name. The names of the minor characters — and some of the central ones — are unusual in a way that leads me to think there’s an ulterior motive for that specific arrangement of words, much in the way most of the conspicuous groups words are a pun or at least a reference to something else from the show. Some are explained outright — like Hel-Loh “Annyong” Bluth — or at least commented on — like George Michael sharing his name with the singer. But most are left hanging, all tempting and sexy for the bored English major.

I can get nothing from “Michael Bluth,” but GOB’s name seems to be poking fun at our current president. Television Without Pity forums on “Arrested” feature a theory that George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb Bush, is actually named “John Ellis Bush,” his nickname being derived from the first three letters of his name just as “George Oscar Bluth” adds up to “GOB.” (Though the show refers to the character as “GOB” with almost perfect consistency, the pilot does indeed specify that his full name is George Oscar Bluth. The same episode also spells out Buster’s full name as Byron Bluth, only to never mention it again. Weird.) Like the Bushes, the Bluth family has a patriarch named “George” and an eldest son named also named “George.” It’s a bit odd, I guess, that this possible parody of the Bushes would conflate George W. Bush and Jeb Bush into the same character, but the similarities are striking nonetheless. Given that the show ultimately details the Bluth family’s heavy involvement with Saddam Hussein, I think the GOB-Jeb parallel is plausible.

The writers didn’t hide any inherent puns in Maeby or Lucille’s names, but they did eventually spin storylines around both. Specifically, a major plot point for all three seasons is the confusion about whether Maeby is biologically related to the rest of the Bluths. In short, it’s a big maybe. And season two gives a throwaway joke to Lucille’s name with the warning to Buster that the part of the ocean he’s chosen to escape from his mother into is inhabited by a “loose seal.”

Here’s as much as I put together for the minor characters whose names I think mean something.

Oddly like how the show pokes fun at Tobias’s apparently gay tendencies, so it does with Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler), who plays the Bluth family lawyer for most of the series run. Taken literally, Barry’s last name could mean “horn sucker,” as “korn” and “corn” mean “horn” in most contexts. So essentially, his name could be Barry Dicksucker… Barry’s replacement in the final season, Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio), has the name that’s most obviously explained. The show squeezes a lot out of its resemblance to “blah blah blah,” the best being the mention of Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog. I can’t figure out why the writers named his daughter, Hope Loblaw, though… Another lawyer character, Maggie Lizer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), makes a joke about her own name. “Maggie lies her ass off,” she says of her reputation as a notorious liar before she proceeds to prove the remark true by continually lying through out all three episodes she appears in… The Spanish soap opera actress, Marta Estrella, appears in three different story arcs, and played by a different actress in each one. It seems too obvious that her name is Spanish for “star” and she is a Spanish star. However, her name also makes me think of Starla (Mo Collins). GOB dates with both Marta and Starla, only to have one of his brothers end up forming a more serious relationship with either woman afterwards. But that’s as far as I can take it… Amy Poehler’s character — whose name is never spoken and who is referred to in the credits only as “Wife of GOB” — could be a play on the wife of the Biblical Job. The episode that introduces Wife of GOB makes a point of describing her as someone who goads GOB in more and more daring stunts. In the Bible, Job’s wife — who also lacks a name — pushes Job to renounce God as when He repeatedly screws poor Job over. That’s about all she does really… Unlike most characters’ surnames, Stan and Sally Sitwell’s (Ed Begley Jr. and Christine Taylor) actually registers on Google as one that real people have. That may be the end of it, even though the writers eventually found a way to pun it with “Standpoor,” a mysterious corporation that begins purchasing shares of the Bluth Corporation at one point in the series. The Bluths deduce that Stan must be trying to commandeer the company only to later realize that “Standpoor” is the business set up by Lucille Austero (Liza Minelli), who suffers from vertigo… “Austero” itself just seems to be a cognate for “austere,” which wouldn’t seem to have any meaning for Lucille Austero, who lives about as extravagantly as Lucille No. 1… Larry Mittleman ("Super Dave" Osbourne), acts as the surrogate for George Sr. while he's under house arrest, seems like a no-duh pun on "middleman." Johnny Bark (Clint Howard), the environmental activist who tries to prevent the Bluths from cutting down a certain tree, seems like a pretty obvious one… Agents Cummings and Freeling, two FBI types investigating the Bluths wouldn’t have to seem much in common except for the structure of their names, but the fact that the actors playing them (Michael Blieden and Matt Price) were also the male leads in “Melvin Goes to Dinner” makes me think the characters were written to be connected, maybe in a more direct way than I can figure out… Lindsay has a brief infatuation with Moses Taylor (Rob Corddry), a firearms enthusiast and actor known for playing a detective named “Frank Wrench,” the name of whom would seem to be a play on Dick Spanner, the name of a robot detective featured in a “Thunderbirds”-esque puppet show in Britain. The Brits, for the uninitiated, call wrenches “spanners.” I can’t figure out anything with “Moses Taylor, though.

This leaves the following as unexplained, as far as I know.
  • Ann Paul Veal (Mae Whitman), whose middle name seems to be especially trying to get at some kind of joke that’s so far completely lost on me.
  • Trisha Thoon (Stacey Grenrock-Woods), the oddly-named news reporter who shows up repeatedly in the first season.
  • Kitty Sanchez (Judy Greer), whose last name isn’t introduced until well after her introduction to the show. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they would have picked “Sanchez” as a last name for a character played by a white woman.
  • Phil Gunty (Bob Odenkirk), the relationship counselor that Tobias and Lindsay visit together.
  • Stefan Gentles (James Lipton), the prison warden, whose name just sounds so dirty.
  • Cindi Lightballoon (Jane Lynch), the FBI mole who accidentally falls in love with George Sr., probably confounds me more than any other character on the show. Granted, a lot of “Arrested Development” characters have names that sound like the writers just looked up, saw an object and assigned that noun as a surname. This one, to me, stands out.
  • Jan Eagleman (Carrie Preston), the third lawyer the Bluths hire. She seems like she suffers from the same syndrome that apparently affects Cindi Lightballoon, but since all the other lawyers are named for a reason, I’d guess this character is too.
  • James Alan Spangler (Sam Pancake), Barry’s gay secretary.
  • Gene Parmesan (Martin Mull), Lucille’s private eye.
  • And J. Walter Weatherman, Rita Leeds, Steve Holt, Earl Milford, Wayne Jarvis and Jessie Bowers, none of whose names sound particularly unusual but by virtue of being on “Arrested Development” could easily be hiding some little in-joke that I’m not aware of.
So what makes for an "Arrested Development"-style name? If you take two nouns and stick them together, that seems to get you in the ballpark. Like now — I looked up at saw my computer speaker and a water bottle. I'd be Drew Speakerbottle. Or just a funny-sounding word that may or may not be an actual last name — like "Gunty" or "Thoon." Or just a pun. So, I guess I don't know what the hell the guy who review "The Baxter" meant when he tried to characterize the names of characters on the show in any one kind of way.

Now, at least, the list is there and Google-ready. Maybe you all reading this — or other people with too much time on their hands searching for origins for names on "Arrested Development" — can figure these out.

EDIT: Roommate Aly points out that Moses Taylor is probably a reference to NRA bigwig Charleton Heston, who played Moses in "The Ten Commandments."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Golden Hour on the Miracle Mile

For those strong enough to live in Los Angeles, I’d imagine the power fades from the names of the things there. “Sunset Boulevard,” for example. Associations with the movie aside, the very name of this street brings to such a perfect image to mind — a wide street, stretching into the great, red end of the day. I can’t quite reconcile my mental Sunset Boulevard with the real thing. I doubt that the folks who live anywhere near Sunset stop and think about that disconnect. All this is being said by a person who will never live in LA. Mike Doughty, everybody’s favorite neo beatnik, described this southern California mess once as “exits to freeways twisted like knots on the fingers,” and I’d have to agree that I can rarely see past it as anything more than this. For all the good this strange, sprawling thing to the south can offer me, I’m put off by the fear I’ll tumble down some large crack in the sidewalk.

I managed to keep balance this weekend, however, when I braved the strangeness of it all. As I mentioned earlier, my friends pulled some strings and got two of my photographs into a charity show at Bonhams & Butterfields. It’s with no small amount of awe that I consider that Drew From Hollister had something some might consider artwork shown in a space on Sunset Boulevard. Again, for all I know, Los Angelinos might think art in a charity show on Sunset might be as big an accomplishment as eating a sandwich without choking to death. But it meant something to me.

By the time I got to the show Friday night, one of the two photos had already sold. For reasons I will never understand, some attendee snatched up “Donkey Ears” twenty minutes in. I’m happy they did, of course, but I can’t help wonder what they might have seen in a photo I thought would only have significance to the person who took the picture. My best guest: Somebody bought a motel and needs to decorate it, pronto. From what I saw, “Orange and First Rain” didn’t get picked up, which I’m also find with, since the fact that it was still hanging on the wall allowed me to get a photo of me standing next to it.

getart07 024

Photo credit goes to Hillary, who also managed to get me into the show in a way I didn’t expect.


Here’s a detail. If you’re confused, I’m standing on a giant PB&J, looking at the disembodied legs of some poor girl.


In all, I’m glad I went — and not just because I saw my name on a sticker. LA becomes a lot more manageable when the right people are there to guide me around and tell me what not to lick. I still don’t think I’ll be heading south again in the immediate future, though. The more I think about it, I feel like I’m better off staying an outsider who occasionally works up the courage to venture down and then be satisfied with himself when he does it without dying. Sunset Boulevard may be littered with trash — human and otherwise — but I’d rather be painfully aware of the difference between the idea of it and the reality of it than just getting used to the way it is. Spencer reminded me that LA isn’t inherently bad, exactly, just a lot more difficult when compared to a “little jewel box of a town” like Santa Barbara. LA is more like a trash heap. Like most trash heaps, there’s some good shit buried inside, but you just have to dig for it. To a small extent, I did that this weekend. I saw LACMA for the first time, for example, and whiled away a good twenty minutes lost among a netsuke exhibit that was entirely more interesting that any explanation I could give could make it seem.

I dug. I’ll dig again later. For the moment, maybe I’ll stay in Santa Barbara and maybe watch “Sunset Boulevard” again.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Picture of Me Imitating a Walrus

I could have gotten lip splinters.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Punctuation Round-Up, Part Three

In retrospect, this little series should probably be called “The Punctuation Etymology Round-Up,” but there’s something to be said for tradition.

[ Ask a Simple Question ]

I’m completely boggled by the idea of writing in English without the punctuation marks that we’re accustomed to using. The question mark, for example, is one of those squiggles that makes written language understandable. It’s funny how we don’t think twice how a little loopy fragment has come to be so widely understood as the written form of a raise in intonation at the end of a sentence, but the question mark is one of the few bits of punctuation that can convey meaning independently of words. Think about it: A cartoon character who has a question mark suddenly appear over his head is immediately understood to be confused, or at least inquisitive.

A little research shows that it’s not such a foreign concept. By far, the most commonly believed origin for the question mark is the Latin word quaesto, meaning “question.” Various sources cite that the word — sometimes abbreviated “Qo,” sometimes with the “Q” being placed above the “o” — was used as a suffix after interrogative questions. The Q-o stack was eventually stylized — or slurred, if you will — into what we call the question mark.

If you compare the two images, you can kind of see it, especially if you picture the tail of the “Q” being bent down into the bottom leg of the question mark’s top half. Well, that plus the bottom-left quarter of the “Q” vanishing. I like this theory of the question mark simply meaning “question,” since it would seem to make sense, providing the assertion is true. But thought most people think this is probably how this particular punctuation came about, a lot of people also say that no one knows for sure. This is especially odd, since the question mark is fairly new, as far as punctuation marks go.

Various other theories include that the question mark arose from a tilted, tilde-like squiggle coming out from a dot that Eats, Shoots & Leaves author Lynne Truss credits to Alcuin of York. Another recent book, Why Cats Paint, alleges that the mark was originated by Egyptians, who modeled it after a sitting cat, viewed from the back. In this theory, the dot is the cat’s anus. I have to assume that this theory is bunkum since Why Cats Paint is essentially a humor book, but the Wikipedia article on the question marks notes it nonetheless. (I’d guess that this inclusion speaks less to the cat’s anus theory and more to the fact that the Wikipedia is often written by idiots.)
[ An Excited, Erect Point ]
The theories about where the question mark came from may abound, but people seem far more certain about the exclamation point. The only theory I could find online about where we got the stick-with-the-ball-underneath or “yelling mark” posits that it came from the Latin io, meaning “joy.” I’m not sure if it was tacked onto the end of sentences the same way quaesto was, though frankly the idea of people shouting “joy” for no reason after sentences is pretty funny. (“Marcus, there’s an angry gladiator behind you. Joy.”) A slightly different explanation for the symbol has it coming from the “I” in io being placed above a full stop, though I’m not sure the Romans even used full stops.

All I really found of interest about the exclamation mark aside from its origin is the sheer number of alternate names for the symbol, depending on whether it’s being used grammatically, mathematically, in typesetting jargon or in some form of computer science. Wikipedia lists “screamer,” “bang,” “gasper,” “startler” and “dog’s cock,” the last being a fitting, if improbable, complement to the “cat’s anus” explanation for the question mark.
[ The Chandler Mark ]
The exclamation mark has a slight edge over the question mark in terms of versatility. The Wikipedia article notes that British writing sometimes employs an exclamation point inside parentheses to imply sarcasm. I’d represent this with an example enclosed in parentheses here, but it’s next to impossible to properly do that, since it would make it look like I was showing an exclamation point inside two pair of parentheses. I suppose I could set it off by itself, though.

Like that. There, I think that worked.

During a previous Etymology Round-Up, Bri pointed out that the French sometimes use the similar irony mark, or point d’ironie.

It’s just what it sounds like, and as a result I can see why it’s never caught on. Irony, when written well, doesn’t need to be specified as irony. The example the Wikipedia gives is “If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?” (Just mentally flip the end punctuation in that quote around for the full effect.)

While this punctuation bit has never been formally adopted by typesetters, it looks exactly like a backwards question mark used in Arabic. The blog Ultrasparky notes that it might be really bad form, however, to employ Arabic punctuation to signify the occasion in which someone is expressing the opposite of what they mean, though he admits that such a punctuation could help those on message boards and chat rooms understand when people are speaking facetiously.
[ Short and Simple ]
The proper name for the paragraph mark — that backwards "P" or weird-shaped pi sign, depending on how you look at it — is the pilcrow.

That's all I can give on the subject today. For those that made it this far, feel free to look at the original Etymology Round-Up — in which I talk about the long-lost letter thorn, the ampersand and the interrobang — or the second one — in which I talk at great length about the weird history of the dollar sign.

What’s Wrong With Muriel Puce?

Good friend and sometime Cereal Box reader Lauren did me a total solid last week and asked for use of two of my photos in Get:Art, a fundraiser for Project Angel Food, a Los Angeles nonprofit that delivers meals to people with terminal illnesses. I like Lauren and am all for helping those with horrible diseases, so I was happy to donate the follow images for her to frame, place on a wall and sell as a means of raising money.

donkey ears

orange and first rain

They’re apparently priced at $100 or so each, which I’m kind of astounded by. It’s the highest monetary value anybody’s ever put on my artistic efforts. It’s also the first time anything I’ve ever done has been exhibited in any kind of art-ish forum, so hurray for that. I might just have to head down south — if not just for this, then for Hilly’s submission, which I’m told implements some image of me into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Do the Whirlwind

Fucking amazing.

[ source: Paul Robertson's Journal, via Kotaku ]

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Here's to You, Helen Lovejoy

A nice touch in “Little Big Girl,” tonight’s otherwise so-so episode of The Simpsons: Helen Lovejoy’s old hair. In the episode, Bart gets a driver’s license and, shortly thereafter, stars in a partial reenactment of the show’s opening credits. Instead of following the chalkboard gag with his escape from Springfield Elementary on a skateboard, he does so in a car. This little meta-parody also includes the scene form the beginning in which Bart normally zips up the street, past such Springfield personalities as Moe, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Helen Lovejoy. For the recreation in this episode, the animators gave Helen Lovejoy the red hair that she sported early in the series but now no longer does — except of course in this one part of the opening sequence. I wonder if Helen’s hair eventually became darker in an effort to make her more easily distinguishable from Maude Flanders, whom she was often paired with before Maude’s untimely demise.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Who's Laughing Now, Alex Kidd?

I recently stumbled upon a note that early versions of the Sega Master System title Alex Kidd in Shinobi World featured a first-level boss named Mari-Oh. Intended to be a parody of Nintendo's Mario, much as Shinobi World is a parody of the popular Sega series Shinoboi, this boss was renamed "Kabuto" for the final release. However, the character retained some of Mario's qualities, namely fighting with fireballs and shrinking after taking damage.

Here are the only images of Mari-Oh I could find.

More than a passing resemblance, I think — especially to Mario's sprite in Super Mario Bros. 3.

Monday, February 5, 2007

La Terza Madre

During idle internet time I’ve been following the production of an Italian film called “The Third Mother.” It’s a horror movie that rounds out a trilogy begun in 1977 with “Suspiria” and continued in 1980 with “Inferno,” only to remain incomplete until later this year. Aside from the fact that I enjoyed the previous two films, however, I’m not sure why I’ve been so fixed on this third movie.

In “Suspiria,” an American ballerina attends a dance school in Germany that turns out to be a front for witches. We watched it in my Italian film class during my last few months in college, and I liked it for being both a gorgeously gory, color-bleeding slasher film but also a kind of modern fairy tale, what with the maiden running from the evil old women and all.

The movie is probably the most famous film by giallo king Dario Argento. Its biggest pop culture impact — for the audience reading this blog, at least — would probably be its opening murder sequence, in which one coed can't decide whether or not there's a man hiding outside her bedroom window. (Spoiler: There is.) The scene is profoundly violent and includes such directorial flourishes as close-ups of a knife entering a beating heart. Still, for the ballsy, it's worth a look, as the end of the opening murder is the primary visual influence on the Drew Barrymore jiffy pop scene at the beginning of "Scream." Thus, I'm being sensible and including a link to the YouTube video if not the clip itself.

The sequel, "Inferno," contains none of the characters from the first and instead details a man search for his sister, who vanished while living in a New York apartment building that, of course, is inhabited by a witch. Whereas “Suspiria” featured a lot of psychedelic imagery, the plot in “Inferno” is downright surreal to the point that if you asked me to explain the ending, I doubt I could.

While reading about “The Third Mother,” I found that the trilogy has a basis in Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, which I had to read for an English class the same quarter I took the Italian film class. In the text, de Quincey — clearly not letting his profound intoxication deter him from writing — conjectures that in the manner the three Graces governed the different facets of human loveliness, the three Sorrows are feminine representations of the worst of what people must endure. He names the Sorrows Mater Suspiriorum (Mother of Sighs), Mater Tenebrarum (Mother of Darkness) and Mater Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears).

Correspondingly, Argento designed the “Three Mothers” trilogy to confront these evil women, one-by-one. In the final scenes of “Suspiria,” the heroine kills the heretofore unseen headmistress of the dance school, a wizened corpse of a woman named Helena Markos. She, Argento posits, represents Mater Suspiriorum. And in the end of “Inferno,” an otherwise unsuspected character reveals herself to be Mater Tenebrarum. (Confusingly, a different Argento horror film — one of many — is titled “Tenebrae,” which concerns an axe murderer and no witches whatsoever.) Wikipedia states that “Inferno” also features an appearance by the third Sorrow, in a strange scene in which the main character makes eye contact with another student during a lecture in a crowded auditorium. That scene — which I didn’t understand until now — was to be Mater Lachrymarum’s only appearance until Argento finally got around to making “The Third Mother,” which will bring the story back to his native Italy.

I’m not sure what about this I find quite so interesting. The notion that a work could exist in an incomplete state for so long, I suppose, is worth noting, especially since Argento wasn’t in a coma at any point since 1980 and has found time to make dozens of other horror films. Still, the fact that I learned about these films and the literature that inspired them during the same period of study — and in such disparate classes, no less — makes me think this fascination is more about me than the director.


This is one of those exercises in which I aim to figure out how I feel about something by writing the situation out, yet now I haven’t got anything else to say on the matter and don’t feel I’ve reached a point.

This usually works.