Deep Space Nine: s07 e14- Chimera


Love-making, Changeling style

We’re now into the back half of the last season and, knowing about the long end-game, I’m growing impatient of these last few, more-or-less self-contained episodes prior to the beginning of the end. Which is a shame because ‘Chimera’ turned out to be a very strong episode throughout, as well as being a fundamental set-up for one of the very few things I (unfortunately) know about the end. This is why I try to be spoiler-free.

The objective of this episode was to undermine Odo’s commitment to his existence as Odo, Constable of DS9, senior staff and lover of Colonel Kira Nerys. This is done by the simple ploy of introducing another unaligned Changeling, in the form of Laas (played by J.G. Hertzler under a variation of his full name, as Garman Hertzler).

Laas is one of the Hundred, like Odo sent into the Alpha Quadrant as an infant to live among humanoids (or monoforms, as he prefers to call them), to return to the Great Link bringing back information. Like Odo, he has grown up isolated, having met no other Changelings: Odo tells him for the first time about the Great Link, the Founders, the whole set-up. The pair Link.

But Laas has been conscious as a shapeshifter for about two hundred years to Odo’s thirty. His abilities and attitudes have evolved considerably further, and he sees Odo as going to follow the exact same path, and he tries to save the Constable the other one hundred and seventy years of it. For Laas has developed a powerful dislike of humanoids, whose limitation of only ever adopting one form has led them to hate metamorphs.

Laas is insulting to Odo’s friends, wants Odo to join him in searching for others of the Hundred, to create a new Link and live as Changelings are meant to live, expressing every facet of their abilities instead of the single form Odo wears.

The ‘problem’, if you like to call it that, is that every word of what Laas says is true and irrefutable. Even the directly insulting ones towards human beings, from an environmentalist stance, are practically impossible to argue with. From the Link, Laas identifies that Odo only stays because of Kira. The problem, on a personal level, is that Kira, knowing the pair have linked, identifies that herself.

So the episode sets itself up for a conclusion by having Laas shift into a low-lying fog on the Promenade, two Klingon hotheads attack aggressively and Laas kill one in self-defence. The Klingons, in the form of an off-screen Martok, who can’t come to the visiscreen just yet because he’s playing Laas, step madly out of character by demanding extradition and deploying legal technicalities (a shameful lapse in the plotting) but Laas is allowed to escape and follow his quest, not by Odo but by Kira.

It’s a demonstration of love, albeit one with a cliched aspect: the lover loves so much that she will enable the loved one to leave if what they leave for outweighs the importance of that love. Nana Visitor plays this all in the face, and very effectively too. And she’s rewarded in a lyrical ending as Odo balances within himself the conflicting desires to find his own and really be a Changeling, and his love for Kira, and comes to the unenforced decision that that is more important to him. And in order to come closer to the effect of the Link that she can never enter, turns himself into the Aurora Borealis and surrounds her, a moment of great beauty.

But on every objective level, what Laas has said breaks the bond between Odo and the Solids. Only an irrational decision, brought on by emotion, acts to restrain his following the inevitable, and what will be becomes the only possible outcome. Very powerful stuff indeed.

Two more thoughts: at the height of the extradition crisis, Quark, of all people, comes to Odo to give him a very effective speech defining the genetic predisposition of humanoid lifeforms to trust only that which is like them. It could read like a defence of racism, although it’s not presented as a justification but rather as an evolutionary given, as impossible to fight as is the Changeling nature to try all forms. It’s cold, its practical, and it gains from coming from Quark (little though I want to acknowledge that), both in the Ferenghi’s status as unsentimental, and in it being Odo’s longest-lasting enemy who attempts to let him down easy.

And there’s a whacking great plothole in the midst of things when Kira, gaving switched off the containment field to let Laas out of his holding cell, and given him specific instructions on how to get off-station without being detected, tells Sisko that he turned into some kind of plasma form that forced its way out, without so much as the slightest suggestion of her tongue being in her cheek, and Sisko doesn’t call up the surveillance tapes to prove her a liar, because there are none, in a cell block, and yeah, right, sure.

Just because an episode is a great success doesn’t mean we can shut our eyes to blatant plot-fudges like this.

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Film 2018: Local Hero


Local Hero was Bill Forsyth’s third film as writer and director and his first to move beyond working with the Scottish Youth Theatre (though the connection is not entirely forgotten, with John Gordon Sinclair and Caroline Guthrie having minor but amusing roles). It stars Burt Lancaster, in a typically graceful role, though the film actually belongs to the unlikely duo of Peter Reigert and Denis Lawson, the latter of whom doesn’t even get billed as a star.

Like Forsyth’s first two films, the story is about, and largely takes part in Scotland, in the fictional fishing village of Ferness on the West coast. Knox Oil, a big American company owned by Felix Happer (Lancaster), plans to build an oil refinery in the only suitable place, Ferness. ‘Mac’ Macintyre (Reigart), a skilled negotiator, is sent to buy the place, everything between both headlands and up to a mile inland.

Mac is your fish out of water, complaining from the outset at having to actually go to Scotland: he calls himself a telex man (seriously dating the film or what?) and that he could wrap up the deal in an afternoon by telex. In Aberdeen he finds local Know representative Danny Oldsen (a young and fresh-faced Peter Capaldi) wished upon him as an assistant. They also meet and admire, Oldsen especially, a marine biologist named Marina (Jenny Seagrove in a dark-blue swimsuit).

The pair drive westward to Ferness. Forsyth adds a Brigadoon touch, having the pair stuck in mist after hitting a rabbit with the car (Oldsen names it Harry, Mac Trudy, after his ex-, and whilst they think they’re nursing it back to health, they end up with it being served to them as Casserole de lapin). After a night in the car, in the mist, they wake to a beautiful coastline and clear air. The nod to the magical village, which is accessible only once a year, sets the tone for the externally idyllic village, set in a place of immense beauty, and gives us expectations that Forsyth will quickly puncture.

You see, this tine, enclosed village, this home to families whose roots in the land go back centuries, this backwater of peace and stillness, where people do all that’s needed and time ceases to be a concern, can’t wait for the Americans to buy them out and make them stinking rich.

That’s the central joke of the film, and one that negates the traditional tension that stories of this kind tend to portray. Mac and Oldsen book in to the hotel, run by Gordon (Lawson) and Stella Urquhart (Jennifer Black), a married couple with a healthy appetite for each other that, in keeping with Forsyth’s approach, is treated as a semi-comic, semi-admirable joke. Gordon also turns out to be the Chartered Accountant Mac’s here to negotiate with, playing things cool on behalf of the village, who all want the money: Gordon’s just doing everything he can to make sure that they squeeze out everything they realistically can, rather than undersell themselves.

But it all takes time, and that’s the point. Mac begins as the fish out of water, chafing at having to work to Scottish pace, with nothing realistically to do except to hang around and wait, and gradually let the atmosphere of Ferness seep into him. His problem becomes that Ferness is unspoiled, that he is there to spoil it irrecoverably, that he doesn’t want to see that happen, but that the villagers want it passionately.

Typically, Forsyth throws in a Russian fishing boat captain, Victor (Christopher Rozycki), a regular and celebrated visitor, not to mention a closet capitalist whose portfolio Gordon manages, to remind Mac that the villagers lead a hard life, that the money he represents is a godsend to them, making life incredibly easy for them, and that at the end of the day they have the right to make decisions for themselves. Mac remains troubled however. He even offers to swap lives with Gordon: Gordon can have Houston, the Porsche, the salary and the stocks, Mac will have Ferness. And Stella, of course, don’t forget Stella.

I’ll come back to Stella, and Marina, and Caroline Guthrie’s part, but the story demands a twist. We’ve been expecting all along, because there’s always one in real life, and stories like this demand one to make them into stories as opposed to still pictures, but with everything going swimmingly, Gordon discovers the hitch; the beach itself, four miles of seafront, is owned by old Ben, the beachcomber, Ben Knox to give him his full name. Ben is played by Fulton Mackay, the third named star, in gently obtuse bucolic manner. And Ben won’t sell. There has to be one.

Ben’s attitude is that he needs to work the beach for its benefit, and it is his living. The idea that the money he could make by selling it would make him secure for the rest of his life doesn’t seem to penetrate. Not need to work: We  all have to work, he chides, gently.

We’ve already had the nod to Brigadoon, and without being in any way explicit we’re being invited to see Ben in a mythical light too, a protector of the beach, its guardian. He’s not the only figure we’re invited to see in such a subtle light: Marina keeps popping up out of the water, in ankle to neck wet suit, appearing to the faithful and besotted Danny. She’s proposed a marine biology study for the bay, and is convinced Mac and Danny are there to study its financial aspects. Even after Danny confesses about the refinery, she’s blithely convinced it won’t happen. And, like the water goddess we’re meant to see her as, she has webbed feet.

Everything’s being set up for a fairy-tale ending. Mac has a second task, direct from Felix Happer himself. Happer’s obsessed with astronomy and his legacy (which is played on in an unfortunately weak and unfunny strand in which his psychiatrist practices humiliation therapy). He wants a comet to name after himself and wants Mac studying the skies in Scotland. Mac starts off ignorant and bemused, but ends ignorant and enthused by the sight of meteor showers and the Aurora Borealis, the latter of which triggers the film’s denouement.

Again, there’s a gentle hint towards the mythical. Ben’s refusal to sell threatens the whole deal. The villagers start to converge on his beach hut at eve: give them pitchforks and flaming torches and the place could be Castle Frankenstein. Something bad could happen, but not in this film. Enter Happer, Burt Lancaster, arriving by helicopter, literally the deus ex machina, which means ‘the God in the machine’.

Happer’s here to see the skies Mac has raved over, and to talk to Ben, Ben Knox. We don’t get to hear that talk but when Happer emerges, the onshore refinery is dead. An astronomical institute instead. The gangling Oldsen seizes his chance to push Marina’s proposal, inverting the whole prospect: a happy ending. Ferness will remain unspoiled, there’ll still be money in it, though we sense that that will be less all round than for the refinery. Oldsen will stay on with Happer to plan things, Mac is sent back to Houston. That day. Danny, the non-swimmer, commits an act of propitiation, swimming out to greet his goddess with the glad tidings of her worship (though she promptly dives beneath the water).

The ending is deliberately downbeat, with a comic twist that is never more than wry. Mac, who’s come to love Ferness, is wrenched away. We sense it will be his Brigadoon: once gone, he can never return. Clean-shave, suit-and-tie, refusing a private farewell with Stella, helicopter, plane, return to his empty, modern, cold apartment in the Houston night: it’s overbearingly miserable which makes the last touch – the Ferness phone box ringing unanswered, impliedly Macs call – too slight to overcome the melancholy.

It’s not that the ending is bad: like the irony of the title, which makes the ultimate stranger Mac, who isn’t even of Scottish extraction despite his name, the ‘local’ hero to the villagers of Ferness, the ending is an ironic inversion of the theme: the village is not spoiled but Mac is. Completing the under-structure of myth, Brigadoon has been saved. Mac is the sacrifice that preserves the way things should be.

Watching Local Hero the first time, I eagerly expected more of the fun I’d had out of Gregory’s Girl, but these are two different films. Forsyth is dealing with adults and a much more adult situation, and whilst there’s a mild comic inflexion to much of the film, especially in the background, the humour aims more for irony than out and out laughs. The film’s deliberately slow, which sometimes, especially in its American sequences, drags. I’ve already mentioned the abusive psychiatrist, Moritz, which is a crashing mistake, and I’ve got to be honest and say that I don’t find Peter Reigart convincing, especially in his voice: for an American, his American accent sounds like a bad attempt at faking it. Reigart’s lack of energy plays true to the overall feel of the film, but given what he is, it’s unconvincing, especially in the American segment, at the beginning. Reigart has no dynamics, which detracts from his absorption into the life of Ferness less impressive: he comes over as ready for a rest, making the village’s quasi-mythical conversion of him less impressive.

I said I’d return to the ladies, MesDames Seagrove, Black and Guthrie. Watching the film this time, I was struck at just how much a male-dominated film it it (and by extension Forsyth’s first two films are). Apart from a middle-aged shopkeeper with an implied relationship with Victor, these are the only female roles of any note in the film and Guthrie (who was Carol in Gregory’s Girl) has a minimal part as the village’s spiky-haired punk girl who tries to get off with Danny at the ceilidh.

So that leaves two women. Of the two, Seagrove gets the better deal, as the biologist-cum-water goddess. The lady was a beautiful young woman, long hair, clear blue eyes, a slim figure, but she’s out of the loop as far as the story is concerned. With the exception of a few seconds in a lab-coat, and a slightly longer scene in a beautiful gown, she’s only ever seen in swimsuit or wet-suit, in the water. Seagrove looks lovely, plays otherworldly, and after her introductory scene, interacts with  nobody but the gangly, inexperienced Danny (Capaldi makes him into a miracle of loose-limbed unco-ordinated movement, a gem of a performance).

And Jennifer Black gets even less. She’s ever better than a background figure, cool, composed, always fully in control, but she’s nothing to do with the story, despite a last minute attempt to portray her as the Boss. All Stella has to do is stand around, looking pretty, at which she excels, with a natural understated charm that shines through big cardigans and ankle-length practical skirts.

Whereas Seagrove’s Marina was always intended to be a slightly unrealistic character, the film does fall down in failing to capitalise upon Stella, or indeed offering any kind of substantial female role, even though it suspends itself between two very masculine cultures.

So: a film mostly of parts that, for me, never quite wholly coalesce. Still, I wouldn’t get rid of Local Hero, even despite its bloody soundtrack, lauded by many but not me because I mostly cannot stand Mark Knopfler. It was the third of four Scottish films by Forsyth, that led to David Puttnam taking him to Hollywood and basically crashing his career terminally. I think this film stands testament that, limited as it sounds, Forsyth was at his best as a Local Hero.

 

A Musical Oddity


When I was first listening to music, in that far-distant land called 1970, there was an Australian band, a duo rather, going by the name of Tin-tin (whose cartoon adventures in stilted five minute bursts I absolutely loved), whose single “Toast and Marmalade for Tea” was a turntable hit, a record played heavily by Radio 1 that nevertheless didn’t chart. The following year, they came back with a follow-up, “Is That The Way?”, using the same distorted piano sounds that made their first single so distinctive. The story was the same: heavy airplay, no sales. Not even a Top of the Pops appearance, on which the signature sound could not be reproduced with even a fraction of fidelity, did the trick. End of story.

But years and years later, I found a rare Tin-tin LP, including “Toast and Marmalade for Tea”, downloadable as an mp3 from YouTube, which I planned to break down into individual tracks and burn to a CD-R for my preferred kind of listening. Tonight, feelingly massively tired, I let it play, and now I shalln’t bother recording it.

It’s too light, too wimpy, too featherweight in melody and instrumentation, too unoriginal except in that signature track, which stands out. And yet, in a weird way, it’s a near-perfect album. Because almost without exception it is an album of perfect intros.

Each songs begins with a tight, individual sound, a strong melody, the perfect cue-in that draw your ears… and then fails to live up to it in any way.

I’ve never heard that before. An album of songs whose intro makes you crave to hear what springs from it… and then disappoints unfailingly when you do.

 

Spitfires in Albert Square


Courtesy of word being passed on by my mate, John, I paid an unscheduled visit to Manchester City Centre today, for an open-air exhibition in Albert Square, outside our closed-for-refurbishment-until-2024 Town Hall, to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the RAF.

I’m not usually into military things but just as the E-type Jaguar is the sexiest car ever made, so too is the Spitfire the sexiest fighter plane there ever will be and the chance to see an actual one, up close, was irresistible.

It wasn’t the the only plane on show: there was part of a Lancaster Bomber:

A World War 1 biplane:

A Hawker Jet:

Something else modern, where you could see into the cockpit if you had the stamina to queue:

And the Spitfire.

Pure beauty.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls’


In those long ago, sunlit years of my youth, otherwise known as 1977, I was out of work and broke, broker than I have been since.
It was a year in which I only bought four new albums, and that counts the presents I got for birthday and Xmas, which didn’t involve my money.
Into that economic wasteland came the news that The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys! – had signed up to play a concert in Manchester, and not just a concert, an open-air stadium concert, albeit that it was at the Bitters’ old home, Maine Road.
I wanted to go. I wanted to be able to go but it was out of the question. I just couldn’t afford it, whatever the price, it would not be possible on Supplementary Benefit and walking two miles there and two miles back every Monday morning, at Matthews Lane in Levenshulme because that not only saved two busfares but it took up the entire morning so I had that much less of the week to find something to do.
So I didn’t have the cash (it says a lot about my relationship with my mother that I never even thought of asking her to lend me the money), but there was also the complications of getting there, with no direct bus and, much more pertinently, getting back afterwards, in the dark, from Moss Side, which even then had a reputation. It wasn’t on.
But every time I thought about it I had the same thought, almost a vision. The Beach Boys – the real Beach Boys when their voices would have been the voices of all those great Sixties tracks – at the front of the stage as the sun goes down above the stands, the last light beaming into our eyes like Star Trek lasers. And the piano picks out those notes with a bell-like clarity, the horns pick out their notes and then the song jogs into that organ-based rhythm, and they come together in those harmonies and the sound of ‘California Girls’ echoes around the ground. It would be incredible. Imagine, listening to the Beach Boys singing ‘California Girls’ live and for real.
It wasn’t incredible for me that year, nor anyone else because for some reason they had to cancel. And too many of those voices are gone and those that remain aren’t those voices any more, so I’ll never get to hear ‘California Girls’ with the sky draining of light and the voices filling the air.
Funny isn’t it, but with ‘God Only Knows’ coming as near to perfection as music will ever get, and ‘Good Vibrations’ still astonishing in what it does with a song, it’s ‘California Girls’ that comes first to mind when I think of the Beach Boys singing live. It’s simple, unadorned, musically naïve by the standards of what was to follow, and Lord knows you just couldn’t write something that sexist now, with its treatment of women as just faces and bodies, celebrating only those most superficial of characteristics. Even by the standards of Sixties pop, with its near universal negation of the woman’s viewpoint, this is going beyond every Pale there may be.
But they called the Beach Boys the sound of Summer, and this is the archetypal Beach Boys and it’s the sound of Summer, with its uninhibited, joyous and practically naïve celebration of women, or girls. You’ll notice that the singer hasn’t got a bad word to say for any of them. No matter where they’re from, be it a section of the United States or from far beyond its borders, they’re great and the guy loves them all, but the girls from where he comes from, from nearest to his home and his heart, they’re the best, they’re the ones. There’s no girls like them.
And yes, you know that it’s all about sex in the end, that’s all he’s responding to, the prettiest faces, the sexiest bodies, that indefinable sum of everything that makes you look at a woman and go ‘Wow!’ inside, only he’s saying it out loud, and proud, with such naïve enthusiasm that you can let yourself go with it, and obliviate that urge to remove their clothing and get up close and jiggy with it, and just glory in the fact that this world has such wonderful beings in it.
Yes, it’s sung by Mike Love, and yes, he’s a dick and always was and it’s so visible in those old TV clips that survive on YouTube, you wonder why it took so long for everyone to realise it, but in his voice he’s not being a dick, just a guy in awe of the fact that his home state produces the cutest girls in the world. And you too, no matter where you come from, no matter where your heart lies, you wish they could all be California Girls.
And somewhere, in the Infinite Jukebox, the Beach Boys – Brian, Carl, Dennis, Al and Mike – are out on stage as the sun dips towards an Ocean we cannot see and they’re singing ‘California Girls’ and I am lost in the music that reaches into forever.

Work in Progress


The fervent burst of writing that began the day of my Eskdale Expedition may have slowed slightly, but it’s still very much in evidence. Within the week, it had carried me to the end of the First Draft of my newest novel, a direct sequel to The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel or, to give it its formal title under which you can buy it through Lulu.com (hint, hint), Love Goes to Building on Sand.

Usually, once I finish a book, I take off a couple of weeks or more to cool off, but having been bitten so firmly by the bug, I went straight back to the beginning and started on the Second Draft.

The First Draft was simply compiled in a single document, entitled, in my usual manner, ‘Working Document’. For the Second Draft, I’m extracting Chapters in sequence, creating them as individual documents, enabling me to move quickly between parts of the story.

It’s been brisk work so far, already taking me up to chapter 14, about halfway through, though that count includes two instances where I split overlong chapters in two, having to build up the detail in one of the new chapters to avoid it being short.

It’s been the usual mixture of cutting and polishing and adding detail where needed, rearranging the order of events to create a smoother flow or avoid the awkward set-up of important sequences. But as I reach the midpoint, or thereabouts, I’m noticing a certain drop in the energy levels. I’m attributing this to the fact that I’m past the early writing period, which took place some months back, and coming into work that is considerably fresher in my mind, and also that, given my habit of working out the structure as I go along, I’ve come through the work that needs channelling towards what the book eventually turns out to concern, and into the section where I can an idea of where I was going, and where it would end.

From hereon in, the redrafting will be more cosmetic than substantial. Rephrasings, tightenings, that sort of thing. There are sections that I know will need a more radical approach, where I may well end up just rewriting from scratch. And my colleague who did the cover for LGTBOS has just returned to work after a lengthy absence and is eager to design another cover for me.

So: if I can get everything pulled together for Xmas, I will, or early in the New Year again. Though I’ve other incidents between my cast of characters in my head, and some of them drafting, I’ve no plans to turn this into a trilogy. Not yet, anyhow.

I do have four other novels in various stages of conception/part-completion, and I’m determined to get all of these completed. I’ve pretty much decided which one of the four will be my next project, and it’s not the one that has gone the furthest. I’m in the mood for something a bit more flamboyant for a couple of books.

Once I’ve got this one licked into shape.