Lazy Luddite Log

19.4.16

Fantasy Sketches

Last time I was lazy but this time I'm busy. I have three writing projects on the go concurrently and none of them will give me a blog post right now. The solution? Yet more stuff written for a past MonUCS camp revue. Last month it was cinematic science fiction but this month I'm giving you my sketches describing another genre close to my heart...

Fantasy Revue Act

Narrator: At our last revue we presented a set of scenes showing how science fiction movies had changed over the decades. Tonight we return to do the same thing for the fantasy genre, but it’s a more difficult task. There have been fewer fantasy films overall, and the trends have changed more slowly. Here then, are fantasy films as experienced in childhood by three post-war generations…

* * * * *

Narrator: The Baby Boomers grew up on fantasy films that took fables and legends and then scrambled them together in the melting pot of Hollywood script-writing…

Jack: I am Jack The Giant Killer!

Sinbad: I am Sinbad The Sailor!

Both: And I’m on a quest to save Helen Of Troy from the Cyclops!

Jack: Hey listen buddy, I’m the slayer of giant-kin around here!

Sinbad: What do you mean, around here? Cornwall’s a long way away, buster!

Jack: Well, I like walking.

Sinbad: And?

Jack: And swimming…

Sinbad: Swimming? I hate swimming! That’s why I own this magnificent ship, The Nomad.

Jack: It’s a nice ship. Say, could I come with you on your voyage?

Sinbad: Sure thing, I can navigate us to our destination, and you can kill the giant…

Jack: Gee, swell!

Sinbad: [directly to audience] And while he fights the Cyclops I’ll get away with the gorgeous gal! *waggles eyebrows*

* * * * *

Narrator: Fantasy had diversified by the time Gen-Xers like me were devouring movies of magic and daring-do. Some were aimed at kids but had surprisingly mature content…

Sadie: I must take the Crystal Pacifier to the Golden Child at the centre of the Maddening Maze, while at the same time learn some important life lessons, but I’m thoroughly lost at this t-intersection!

Puppet 1: Only we can tell you which path you should take, but there are rules we must follow!

Sadie: What rules?

Puppet 1: You can ask us any question you wish but know this! One of us always tells the truth and the other one always lies!

Puppet 2: Now that is a lot of bull-dust right there!

Puppet 1: How can you say something like that?

Puppet 2: Coz she can do what she likes, within the limitations of this imaginary setting she finds herself in. She can play logic games with us if she wants, but she could also choose a more violent course and knock the answer out of us!

Puppet 1: Preposterous! How could she intimidate us?

Puppet 2: Well we are only socks.

Puppet 1: How dare you! I’m a Gremlick!

Puppet 2: Or, honey-child, if you wanted you could try to seduce the information from us. I for one would happily be worn by feet such as those…

Sadie: [to the audience] See what I mean about life lessons…

* * * * *

Narrator: On the other hand there were fantasy films aimed at adults that we clamoured to see because – well – they were pretty juvenile…

Horora: I, Honora The Heathen, travel the wilds seeking fortune and fun times. Look upon the toned muskles of my scantily-clad body! At the tavern wenches and swains alike dig me!

Wenches And Swains: [crowd around and clasp Honora’s limbs while saying…] Oh Honora The Heathen have your hunky way with us a while!

Honora: But you know there’s more to my adventures than just nubile bit-part actors and baby oil, for there is also blood and guts! [wenches and swains cower away]

The Rendathar: I the Rendathar come from the Abyss to destroy your body and absorb your soul! Even you Horora The Heathen cannot resist my power!

Honora: Fiend! None can resist a heroine born in freedom and come-of-age in the blood of combat! Raaagh! [charges with club raised]

The Rendathar: Ouch! That hurts!

* * * * *

Narrator: Finally we come to the fantasy served to Gen-Y youngsters. The computer generated images are superb, the location shots are impressive, the actors have rather nice British accents and experience in performing the works of the immortal Bard. Meet the adventurers Tensi and Koray...

Tesni: Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!

Koray: I have let the dogs loose… but… one of them is still cowering here at our feet…

Tesni: Out, out, damned Spot!

Koray: There he goes, with the others, to attack that massive Dracolisk!

Tensi: Dracolisk?

Koray: Yes, tis the love-child of a dragon and a basilisk. Quickly, put on these, they will protect us from its petrifying gaze.

Tensi: It looks so very realistic. Witness the way the torch-light reflects off its ruddy scales… Behold how convincingly its shadow falls onto those canine statues…

Koray: Um… looks like it turned the dogs of war to stone…

Tensi: Yes, but we’re safe, right?

Koray: You speak to soon, for see, it closes its eyes! Quickly! We must don our Cloaks of Fire Repulsion!

Tensi: Okay, but why does it close its eyes?

Koray: It closes its eyes so that it will not accidentally petrify its own belching flames. But we are safe now, both from petrifying gaze and flaming breath.

Tensi: Yes. The only thing that could harm us now is if it turned its own flames into a storm of fine stony fragments, but I assume the eye-closing is a reflex action.

Koray: Ah… it’s actually a learned behaviour, and I think it heard you!

Tensi: Run!

Koray: Can we go back to fighting clay-mation giants?

Once more the Alex and Ben played key spoken roles with verve and aplomb. Next month I promise something more freshly written (but possibly also more sober).

Dungeon Crawl

Cross-posted here.

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23.3.16

SF Sketches

I have taken weeks to finalize the content of an entry I supposedly published last month. To compensate for that I'm now sharing something I produced a while ago but only shared with a select few. The revues that happen at MonUCS camps provide an chance to present all sorts of things to an open-minded audience. In this case I got a few fellow choristers to act roles in my summary of the changes in cinematic science fiction since the 50s. I present it now for the consumption of whomever...

SF Revue Act

Narrator: I'm a fan of science fiction in the form of novels, television shows and films. In this short set of scenes we will present to you some changes that SF movies have undergone since the mid Twentieth Century.

* * * * *

Narrator: In the 1950s SF movies were very earnest and the acting was rather wooden...

1950s (almost monotone American accents)

General: Mr President, the aliens are invading and our weapons do nothing to their saucers.

President: General, is there anything we can do to save the Earth?

Narrator: Or, in more enlightened movies...

Saucer Commander: Star Marshal, the humans have perfected the Atom Bomb. They seem destined to destroy one another.

Star Marshal: Saucer Commander, is there anything we can do to save the Earth?

* * * * *

Narrator: In the 60s things became more wild, zany and fun...

1960s (Professor has German mad scientist accent while Jamie talks like a hippy)

Professor: Jamie The Surfing Hippy!

Jamie: Yes, Professor?

Professor: The alien invasion has begun!

Jamie: What will they do to us, Professor?

Professor: They plan to fire their Attractor Ray on our cities!

Jamie: Zowee! What will that do?

Professor: It will make us all want to have the sex with each other!

Jamie: That’s heavy! Is there any way to stop them?

Professor: Why would we wanna stop them! *waggles eyebrows*

* * * * *

Narrator: In the 70s things were both serious and emotional...

1970s (increasingly brooding delivery, one accent American, the other British)

Young Woman: I'm sick of wearing identical while jumpsuits.

Young Man: I'm sick of looped elevator music.

Young Woman: I tire of this oppressive and sterile culture we live in.

Young Man: I wish I could see the stars but they are obscured behind this massive dome that protects us from the radiation of the last war.

Young Woman: If only aliens had invaded in the Twentieth Century, then none of this would have happened...

* * * * *

Narrator: In the 80s a lot more gritty action was injected into the mix...

1980s (lots of yelling and machine gun vocal effects, one accent American, one other accent of your choice)

Space Marine #1: The aliens are coming at us from all directions!

Space Marine #2: Look how many of them there are!

Space Marine #1: They're ugly bastards, aren't they!

Space Marine #2: Yep. Ack! Screw this machine gun!

Space Marine #1: What’s the matter with it?

Space Marine #2: This is the future! I should have a kick-arse laser right about now!

Space Marine #1: Your targeting sights are a laser...

Space Marine #2: (looks at comrade with an expression that says "SRSLY"...)

* * * * *

Narrator: In the 90s things still looked gritty but were they more or less realistic?

1990s (ponderous, wanky delivery, with mentor talking like a mystic of some sort)

Student: Look, mentor, aliens are approaching us!

Mentor: Ah, student, but are they aliens, or simply the sense impressions of aliens inserted into our synaptic passageways?

Student: You mean this could all be a virtual reality simulation?

Mentor: It could, and the truth may be even more shocking and sinister!

Student: So, what if you are a synaptic phantom too?

Mentor: My dear student, I am most definitely real. You, however, could be an illusion...

Student: Well then you won't mind if I do this... *gives Chinese Burn or similar jesting violence*

* * * * *

Narrator: Finally we come to the Twenty First Century, in which anything is as realistic as you want it to be...

2000s (excited and lively, any accents you want)

Human Hero: Hey robot buddy, look how realistic my power armour is!

Robot Buddy: Indeed, human hero, it is as if you are really wearing it.

Human Hero: I'm also super impressed at how realistically you move for something made of pixels.

Robot Buddy: Yes, it is thanks to Motion Capture from a celebrity break-dancer who does one mean robot walk.

Human Hero: Sweet. Hey, but look at this kick-arse cyber-attachment!

Narrator: *inserts sound and visual effects*

Robot Buddy: That is a most impressive plasma-charged laser!

Human Hero: Yes, and it even has an Attractor Ray setting... *waggles eyebrows*

Thanks to Alex and Ben who played the various roles and who did it with humour and verve.

Cross-posted here.

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25.2.16

Regenres

It is ten years since I posted this entry on the history of rock-and-roll or blues-derived popular music in its many-faceted form. In this post I will discuss whether I think anything much has changed in the decade since and look at some of the impediments to forming a coherent perspective on this topic.

One difficulty with mapping the family tree of popular blues-derived music is that there are far more names for sub-genres than I feel is warranted by authentic musical differences. There are any number of terms ending with the suffixes 'core' or 'wave' or 'hop' and much of this drive to name things comes from the desire of musicians or commentators or even fans to identify something they love as distict. In some cases the distinction is geographic - a music that is produced in the same manner on two sides of the Atlantic may get different names. In other cases it is generational in that a new term sometimes denotes a revival that lacks awareness of its own heritage.

Sometimes there are musical differences but they are so minute as to make one wonder why they bother. In electronic music there is a tendency to distinguish sub-genres on the basis of ranges of beats-per-minute. But I have to ask - if you take a particular track and change nothing but its speed then is that truly all it takes to shift it into a different sub-genre? If the change was sufficient to alter the response of listeners (from the relaxed groove of reggae to the frantic skank of ska for instance) then that could justify a genre distinction. But just a tiny turn of a dial? I think the issue here is simply the tribal desire to belong to a unique scene or the corporate drive to sell something as fresh.

If you reject this degree of specificity you face your own problems however. If I try and throw the net of definition wider and in a consistent way across all the music I'm considering then I need to find or re-apply terms that in some cases are more narrow in application. One case of my doing this is in using 'techno' to refer to all manner of electronic dance music forms. The fact that I acknowledge that it also refers to a more specific form and that my more general usage is something many other non-electronic fans do bolsters my case somewhat. But only somewhat. I'm still messing with words and in a way that may offend the aficionado.

If I dismiss a whole lot of changes as merely new words for existing things do I then think that anything has changed in the decade since I 'published' my musical essay? It will help if I can summarize the factors I think go into distinguishing genres as suggested in my Musical Genres 19550-2005. They pretty much divide into cultural factors and technological factors (which in turn impact on each other).

The adoption of a genre from one culture by another will inevitably result in the older genres embraced by that culture blending with the newly adopted genre. This is also true of sub-cultures such as youth 'scenes'. Sometimes a cultural practice other than music will also come into play - hippy musos playing blues while on mind-altering drugs resulted in psychedelia. The economic circumstances of particular demographics also contribute - playing on crappy dime-store guitars or re-purposing record players as instruments both spring to mind.

Instruments are a form of artifice so next we move to technological factors. There are many 'elements' of a musical composition and one that tends to be overlooked in defining genres is timbre. I personally find it important and so the kinds of instruments employed in producing particular genres is something I always listen for in a song. But I think it should take more than just substitution of the odd instrument and it should happen rapidly rather than with incremental slowness. Changing genre involves more than just auto-tuning your vocal recording.

All these potential changes need to pass the listening test. Texts can tell you all sorts of things but do you think rock or soul sound sufficiently different from the blues? Hopefully you can because they are! All-in-all I suspect that change across many characteristics is needed to justify a new tag. But I also suspect complete consistency is beyond my grasp. I will inevitably draw some lines more boldly than others as a result of my own preferences and vantage as an aging Gen-Xer. But it is time I made some substantive comments.

A big trend seen online is to take two existing tracks and edit parts of them together into a new song. This 'mashing' rarely if ever produces anything new. Sometimes it will involve the mixing of genres but any newness is incidental rather than the emergence of a new fusion. But just maybe this mass of attention-seeking experimenters in combining anything and everything will accidentally spawn a new sound that takes on a life of its own. I'm more inclined however to put trust in originality and a desire to express oneself personally rather than via the work of others.

The Internet facilitates all sorts of communication and even erodes the distinctions between different roles and functions. Someone with musical talent can now record a multi-track composition and then promote and even sell it online. A new generation of popular singer-songwriters like Lorde have come along and what they produce tends to have an ambient quality to it (which may itself be a result of the sounds they can access on home computers). These artists can be their own producer and promoter which is a radical change in relation to an aging and sometimes stuffy music industry. This may be a more responsive way for humans to develop new things. However for every trend there are counter-trends.

It seems that everything new is old again. There has been a growing interest in older genres as exhibited by projects like Postmodern Jukebox. A hardcore song will be performed by a hillbilly folk band or a hip-hop song will be performed by a swing-era jazz band. However playing a song in a different genre simply shifts it to that other genre. Whether this development will produce new genres is yet to be seen. It is however an interesting trend and may have something to do with a growing desire for authenticity in a technocratic and consumerist world. Possibly this is why we see such self-conscious retro experiments embraced by hipsters.

Another sub-culture I'm familiar with is nerds. Nerds are playing a role in musical developments but this is arguably nothing new. 70s progressive supergroups were the invention of college students but they were never ironically or self-consciously nerdy - they just did what they did and they did it well. For self-aware nerdiness in music we have to look to the somewhat more recent New Wave scene in the 80s and some of those bands (Devo, B52s, Oingo Boingo) fit the bill. Fast-forward to the Twenty First Century and nerd culture has impacted on a number of genres. Chiptune is a kind of techno that actively emulates the sounds of old computer games originating in Japan. However I feel some very old novelty tracks like Space Invaders by Player-1 did that too. The further back-and-forth you listen the more you can find that new things have incidental antecedents.

Something I think is new is dubstep. Distorting natural sounds has been happening for decades. Inventing artificial sounds is almost as old. But the way dubstep sounds to me is like artificial sounds are made and then distorted. The effect is of an electronic monster molesting a dance floor. This is arguably another level of development in electronic music. The name of dubstep is partly derived from dub - a studio-based relative of reggae - but listening to it suggests it is more akin to some of the more severe kinds of techno and that has been creeping into other genres since my youth. Pop since the 80s has been partly electronic and that component of it has become increasingly central so that now the only way to distinguish many pop tunes from techno is to find that it takes the form of a song rather than an instrumental. Is this a new genre? Or is it just an updated form of pop or a chart-oriented form of techno? Listen to the likes of Lady Gaga and decide for yourself.

Sometimes it feels like we have exhausted originality but I suspect that a continuing problem is a lack of global cultural cross-pollination. Even in the Twenty First Century music from beyond the Anglosphere only gets into our charts in the form of novelty dance hits or within underground world music scenes. Things are slowly changing however and once more the Internet comes into play. If an Australian is sick of charting pop they can always access Europop or Cantopop or any other international form. Even so what they may find is they have traveled more in time that in space. I for one find that a lot of foreign pop simply sounds like the charting music of my youth. It is as if the rest of the world is a generation behind the trends of the Anglosphere. But maybe I need to look further and escape global pop to find traditional or alternative forms of music. The biggest resistance to such a habit will come from the desire to understand a song. I would argue that one can 'understand' an instrumental in terms of mood but some insist in singing along.

What I have been seeing in the past decade is different ways of producing and consuming, different roles and relationships, different atmospheres, but rarely much new musically. Most of the music we have now is a revolving mix of what we had in the past. We are looking back over a total of sixty years of musical diversification and I feel as if the first three decades were more productive than the next three. Once you account for the tendency to over-name sub-genres it seems that the development of distinctly new forms of music has slowed. At most I think the trends I have discussed will be the ground in which innovation will eventually arise. Time is needed to say more.

Cross-posted here.

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12.1.16

Twenty Five New Years

I was sorting some paperwork recently and came across notes from a few years ago in which I had constructed a list of every New Year's Eve (NYE) celebration I'd been to. I'm now updating that list and turning it into a blog post because a bit of mental arithmetic tells me I've celebrated the turning over of the calendar twenty five times to date.

It surprises me that I did nothing in 1990 - my HSC year - but I was a sheltered home-body back then and nothing much changed till I went to uni. I confirmed this by looking back at my old diary entry from 31 December 1990 and I just did what a nerd who can fill his own time did. One interesting line is a sort of 'resolution' which read thus:

I stick to my plan of constant occupation of time with... fun, interesting, useful or necessary things... as determined by myself and the changing world..

I cannot say that much has changed in a quarter century but then with something as general as that how can you falter? Anyway here I go with commentary on each year...

1991

By the end of 1991 I had a bunch of new uni friends so I find it odd that the first NYE I went to was the backyard party of a schoolmate. My overwhelming memory of it is that I was kinda bored. I had gone there with a close friend so we had company but more was needed to compensate for the predominance of pedestrian conversation and the pushing of beer onto every guest. I think I may have compromised and accepted a wine cooler. Entertainment technology has vastly improved since then and I recall the host playing the best of Cold Chisel in endless loop. Possibly that is all they had. Someone declared that to be a true Aussie you had to like Chisel. It took me something like a decade to get over my aversion to them because of that night. I now think they do some classic tunes (particularly the ones written by Mossy).

1992

This time I had fun. A friend who lived in Somers at the time hosted a sleep-over for a smallish number of Korner friends. I cannot remember much but do recall walks to the lovely beach there. There was also some home-made dinner and good conversation. It was small and nice but I think I prefer something a bit more jumping and so we move on.

1993

I went to a large and crowded Korner party held at a share household on Stockdale Avenue close to Monash Uni. This was more what the youthful me had imagined NYE was supposed to be like. I remember enjoying the party despite the fact it was dominated by friends and acquaintances older than me. They did get a whole lot more drunk than I did but I think this is a continuing theme in much of my life - I get to be the one who remembers all the silly things you said and did.

1994-1995

I think I may have made a token visit to a Korner party at First Street in Clayton but then went to a sleep-over in the Ashburton area. A friend was house-sitting there and invited a small group that then called ourselves 'Us' along. It was fun and I vaguely remember things like listening to Meat Loaf albums and watching Red Dwarf. A very similar gathering in the same house happened 12 months later. These were relatively sedate gatherings and I suspect we went to bed shortly after Midnight.

1996

This year I was back to a big Korner party and once more it was held at the same Stockdale Avenue share house. It was a fun night and was made even better because a small group of us walked to another house - Animal Farm - for a rest from the crowd while sitting in a spa. By the time we got back to the big party it was after Midnight but we just re-wound our watches a bit and hugged friends anyways.

1997

The thing with Korner is it has never been one thing. It draws on different Monash Uni interest groups and cuts across many generations. As a result there is sometimes more than one party and at times I decided to go to them all. So I started the night at something hosted in Ashburton and I had been prepared for a two-party night because I'd pre-booked a taxi the day before. If I was having fun there well stuff it! I had a taxi to meet and it took me onto the other party held at a house I would later live in - Currajong Street back closer to Monash.

On getting to Currajong Street I got the distinct impression that the party was in full-swing. It was a hot night and many guests were hanging around the driveway. One of them drunkenly snogged me which was very surprising. I was sober and so diverted our activity into dancing inside to a song I particularly liked. From there I made my escape and into chatting with others. Friends have since discovered that cracking onto me while they are sober is more likely to get them what they want. But despite an absence of things that could have been I still had a fun night.

1998

Once more I started at a party at the same house in Ashburton. I think I can remember annoying others there by having the temerity to play Never Ending Story by Limahl on the stereo. That group have a problem with things that are overtly positive and hopeful and childishly fun. It is one of the ways in which I have never entirely fit and why I have always cultivated other friends too.

That night I also had another party to go to but it was one hosted by a disparate friend – someone who I knew independent of any friendship groups and who had recently moved to Brunswick. I got public transport there and it took longer than intended. In fact I got stuck sitting in a train carriage at Flinders Street Station as the bells tolled Midnight (I cannot remember if there were bells but that seems poetic). There were crowds both inside and on the platform all cheering and wishing the world a happy New Year. Many were drunk but they were cheerful drunks and it was something I'm happy to have experienced (once).

I got to the next party set in an apartment in a converted warehouse. It had some excellent fixtures including a lovely steel spiral staircase. The party was smallish but had a good vibe. However I was a stranger to everyone but the hosts. My friend very quickly told me ‘you will have to dance now’ and that's exactly what I did. Interactions with strangers are fine if you have some non-verbal common activity and I remember amusedly watching some of the guests mock-flirting while singing along to Outside by George Michael. As things got slower there was some conversation and eventually it was Dawn and I could get public transport home.

1999

There was only one Korner party in 1999 because a well-connected person decided to throw a huge one. He hired the Oakleigh Masonic Hall and purchased a bunch of second-hand lounge settings to define half the hall as a 'chilling space' while the other half was a dance floor. This was my first encounter with a computer substituting for a stereo. However there was also a live band - some friends who often rehearsed but had never performed. And there was catering. It was a big old night and to this day one of the best I remember just for dancing and chatting and seeing lots of familiar faces. I also got to become a 'furniture delivery fairy' the following day, but that's another story.

2000

This time I think I over-did things by attending three parties. One was a Korner party held in Balaclava and to fit everything in I only was there as guests started to wander in. The next was on Heller Street in Brunswick and I was there with sufficient time to get into a few interesting conversations with 'Us' and others. Finally I went to a party on Strelden Avenue Clayton. Everyone was gathered in the backyard holding alcoholic slushies and I only walked in minutes before the countdown to Midnight. Following that the party spirit started to wane and I suspect that travelling from party-to-party deprives one of time to truly enjoy any one event. I was tired from all the party-hopping and was happy to hit a bed.

2001

My diary tells me I started the evening at a pathetic party in Bettina Street Clayton which I have zero memory of. All I remember is that I went to a party in Clarinda (with a mix of Korner than 'Us') and then went onto another Korner party hosted at Prince Street Clayton. It was a good party house (what with different shared spaces and nice looped patterns of movement in its layout) and so I imagine it was a good party but I cannot say for sure. Remembering a life of partying sure can get difficult even for the mostly-sober.

2002

A big two-storey share house in Glen Waverley hosted a Korner NYE. There was a pool in the backyard and I remember other decent pool parties there featuring games like Marco Polo. On this night however it was surprisingly cool but some of us took a dip anyway (coz dammit we are having a pool party!). I managed to get a few non-Korner friends to come along and so felt as if I got to see more friends than I usually would at one party.

2003

There was a Korner party at Currajong Street and I remember it was pretty good overall. I suspect that looking at old photos would help refresh my memory as to who was there. I think I had a silk shirt at the time. The one thing I definitely remember is that a handful of us went for a walk to the nearby footbridge over Dandenong Road and watched the Sunrise from that vantage. I should try to do that sort of thing more often.

2004

On the afternoon of this day I had been at Monash Uni and found a public notice regarding Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) lying on the ground (rather than in a public bathroom as was intended). I put it in my bag on a whim and later it will return to our story. That night I went to a Currajong Street party and then after a few hours got a lift to another Korner party.

The next one was hosted in Ashwood and once there I went to the toilet and affixed the STI poster (‘Are you spoiled for choice?’) onto the back of the door. It stayed there for ages and it took the hosts months to discover the culprit. In other ways it was a fun night and included the indulgence of 'bulbs' as well as the amusing sharing of 'seconds' as a sly way of initiating snogging. A bit of titillation on NYE is traditional.

2005

Titillation of another kind happened at this party but was an incidental product of the temperature that evening. A Korner party was hosted in Jordanville and it was a stinking hot night. I remember lamenting that it had been cool a few years previously while we had a pool but now it was a sticky one and all we had to cool off on was the lawn of a backyard. A lot of the guests started stripping as if there was a pool and a few guests decided to take it a bit further by flashing each other. Having a pool would have been better.

2006

I started at a party on Shaftsbury Drive in Mulgrave. I just bet there was an alcoholic slushy machine. I'm sure it was fun and may even have still had dancing. Remember dancing? Following that I went onto another Korner party in Pinewood which I imagine was more chatty in nature. That tended to be the way of things - one party would be more dance-oriented and another more chatty. Eventually I went to bed at a home in South Yarra and had a well-rounded night all-in-all.

2007

There was a short-lived share household called The House in Oakleigh and it played host to a big all-in Korner party. I remember it was a long house with a big back yard well-suited to a large gathering. At Midnight there was the usually round of hugs and the odd snogging. One peculiar behaviour was someone who tends to make others standoffish seemed to follow me in my rounds of the crowd like some kind of 'cuckoo for kisses'. As fun as it was I think I was a bit tired of such characters and was happy to try something different next time.

2008

Choral friends had been organizing a 'Beach Trip' (set between Boxing Day and New Year's Day) and I had visited these in 2006 (for a night) and 2007 (for a few nights) but 2008 was the first time I went and never managed to come back to the suburbs for NYE. It just seemed simpler and nicer to stay at what was called 'Beach Trip Of Beds For All' in a hired dorm house in Rosebud a short walk from the beach. Extra friends and acquaintances visited on the night for a BBQ dinner and there was singing and dancing and welcoming in the New Year on the beach (complete with other groups in the mid-distance setting off fireworks).

2009

Hiring houses to accommodate big groups can be pricey so the Beach Trip I stayed at for NYE was in a bunch of tents at the Rosebud foreshore camping reserve. It was a mixed experience and there were big storms on NYE itself. Nonetheless there was good company to be had and I do enjoy the convenience of having suburbia and shops right by the beach like they are there.

2010

The Beach Trip this year was over the other side of Port Phillip Bay and I did visit it for one afternoon. However I spent most of my time at a different gathering of choral friends on Western Port Bay. We had a small collection of tents in a camping area close to Balnarring Beach. We had a pretty lazy time which included some skinny dipping one night that was rudely interrupted by a young seal. NYE itself was fun but tiring. I recall that an inflated mattress is as good as a bed once you are exhausted from having fun.

2011-2012

Both these years there was a Beach Trip at Stony Point in a mix of tents and hired cabins. I discussed these Summer Holidays in another blog post at the time. That was the last occasion to date that I have camped in tents.

2013

And then there was just one more Beach Trip - the tenth for those who had gone to all of them - and it was in a rather lovely holiday house and auxiliary cabin back in Rosebud. There were lots of fun and lazy things to do and one thing I think I miss is just hanging in a living room reading a book as various friends do other things or come-and-go on different sojourns. We had a lovely time and this included the obligatory walk to the beach to welcome in the New Year.

2014

This time I was back to attending one-date NYE celebrations in suburbia but was still spending it with choral friends. There was a party in Kooyong (at the same house that hosts my current role-play game). I helped with party preparation and some barbecuing. It was a night of good finger foods and raucous chatting. I'm on the same railway line so I even got to make my own way home now that the state government gives us all-night public transport on 1 January.

2015

Finally we come to the twenty fifth NYE celebration I've attended, and it was a good one. It was also a house-warming and a pool party. I got to engage in a favourite hobby by providing the hosts with a big playlist they could pipe over an excellent internal set of house speakers. And I also got to swim. Well sort of. There were so many guests and so many kids that it was difficult at times to move safely in the water. Still it was a hot day and the water was wonderfully refreshing. The house itself was charmingly kitsch but also well-fixtured for a party. I made some barbecue mushroom burgers to share. Later I snacked on grapes at the poolside. There was chatting and choral singing and a good time seemed to be had by all.

* * * * *

There is a lot of continuity here and so there should be. Since 1991 nothing much has changed. Humans still like to get together for a party and the kind of things they enjoy tend to be the same. Technology has only made small differences to what we do together and we still cannot take our smartphones into a busy swimming pool. If I have changed it is in better understanding how to pace things and to focus on what I enjoy. If there is a lull in that enjoyment I'm better now at just sitting back for a bit and watching the party go by.

Following a lot of the experience recorded herein you tire of having to accommodate every invite and be with everyone. Also during the Festive Season you get plenty of other chances to spend with various friends. And finally there is nothing fundamentally important in the last day of December. It is just an excuse for a good party and you can aim to have those all-year-round.

Cross-posted here.

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29.12.15

Crash Of The Magi

This short story was inspired by my Christmas gifts to Belinda (some Kinetic Sand and a small Star Wars Rebels spaceship model). It seems a nice way to end 2015 and I try to give it a sense of both adventure and community.

Nom and I sat close to the camp fire and indulged in our favourite argument. The others had all settled into their pouches, hanging from the sides of our sleeping Dune-Winders. Despite the need for rest in the cool of night, and the fact our caravan would resume its journey with the sunrise, we staved off slumber and engaged in discourse, as was our wont.

I had come from the Lunula Waterhole and there we believe that we are natives of this world, having always traversed its deserts and clustered in its clement places. Nom, however, was born in the Verdant Crevice and their legends say that our kind had fallen from the night sky long ago. We knew that the Cosmos was teeming with life because of the Shining City. Watch it from a safe distance and you could see the manifold star-faring craft come and go. But whether we once possessed such conveyances and then forgot how to use them was a never-ending contention among us.

Our fun was interrupted by a surprising light in the sky. We looked in time to see a meteorite careening across the night. As common as it was, such moments were always engrossing, and this one was brighter than most. Nom noted that, rather than fade while still aloft, it had rushed on towards the horizon to be obscured by a nearby dune. We looked at one another and then shared the same impulse - to go see if something had fallen into the desert.

We woke a Hopper from its slumber, mounted it and steered it over the dune and into the plain beyond. Nom also had the presence-of-mind to bring a Waft-Wing along, in case we needed to send word back to our companions. We traversed the sands quickly and could see our destination clearly, due to the light of one and a half full moons. As we approached, our excitement grew, as we'd never been so close to the handiwork of alien artifice.

The crashed craft had torn a long furrow across the ground and we could see its impact had produced dollops of melted glass. It was then we knew that there was profit to be made from this discovery, and we sent the Waft-Wing back to the caravan to summon help. Then we turned our attention to the crashed vessel itself. The mostly intact craft was huge. Three Dune-Winders lying snout to tail would approximate its length. Parts of it had come off and were scattered along the ground. I carefully examined a part, which looked and felt like an odd blend of metal and ceramic.

As we got closer we saw a gaping hole in the side and Nom decided to go in. I argued that we had always been too wary to get close to the Shining City. Nom retorted that just one crashed ship was nothing to be scared of and proceeded to enter into its darkened interior. Somewhat cautiously, I followed, drawing forth a small jar of glow-jelly from my satchel.

We discerned that there were several rooms on two levels arranged around a cross-way of narrow passages. Fully a half of its bulk was composed of whatever mechanics made it fly. There was a smell of burning throughout. In the forward-most chamber we found three inhabitants, and we could tell that they were alive, because they were moving, if with difficulty. Nom and I had sometimes speculated on what aliens looked like. We had wondered whether they had downy hides or scales or chitinous carapaces like the various living things that inhabited our world. Suddenly we had three specimens right in front of us. They all had the same arrangement of limbs as us, but beyond that each was different.

The smallest of them seemed to be encased in the same substance that the ship itself was made of, including glassy portions from which scintillating colours shined. I supposed it wore some kind of armour but Nom speculated that it could have been a wholly artificial burlesque of a person.

The largest was definitely a naturally-grown life-form and a bulky one at that. It seemed to wear barely anything but its skin looked tougher than the cured hide of a Crevice-Creeper. And it had other features that set it apart from us, too many of some things, too few of others.

It was the third skyfarer that drew the most attention from us both, not because of strangeness, but because of familiarity. Nom shot me a meaningful glance because, while the clothes and cosmetic markings were exotic, the visitor otherwise looked like us. Had I just lost our favourite argument? My private musings were interrupted then because the stranger suddenly started talking to us in our own language!

They introduced themselves to us by using role titles rather than names. The one that looked like us was Pilot. The big lumpy one was Cookie. The small lustrous one was Tinker. They asked us to bring them some devices from another room on the same level. Soon they were using these objects to re-set limbs and close wounds. Both Nom and I wanted to ask them so many things but Pilot interrupted us with just one very insistent question - could we help them get to the Shining City? They had crashed accidentally and needed to get back there. They knew nothing of how to survive in the desert or even how to navigate in it. We both rushed to agree that we would. It was only as we did so that we heard the calls of our companions outside.

I stayed inside with the castaways while Nom went outside to talk to our kindred. It was our intent to calm both groups and to secure help for us to fulfill our promise. Some in the caravan were wary but others were curious like us. Furthermore they were all interested in the profit that may come from the sand-glass and any debris we could collect. Such items could bring us other things we wanted at the next oasis. Pilot, Cookie and Tinker agreed to let us take anything loose outside of what they called the Magi Class Transporter. The sand-glass alone was reckoned to bring our caravan much bartering power and consequently our group were happy to assist the castaways.

Once negotiations were completed we had a plan. One of the three Dune-Winders was re-packed to take Pilot, Cookie, Tinker, Nom and I on our journey. The other two would be over-laden for a while but our wandering community had the capacity as long as the Hoppers took more baggage than usual. We were also allowed to borrow one Waft-Wing in case we needed it. Our intention was to take the aliens to within sight of the Shining City and then let them walk the rest of the way. Everyone then had what sleep they could at the crash site, with the Dune-Winders gathered around it.

At dawn we all shared food and told tales. The castaways were reserved and told us very few things, but they were courteous and kind. Cookie shared some of his spices to combine with our stew. It was tasty and even our youngsters decided that the bulky alien was fine by us. Tinker examined a small clockwork toy that had recently been broken and fixed it with amazingly dexterous fingers. Some of us joked that it was fitting for a machine to fix a machine, even if nobody had confirmed that suspicion. We were all too polite to ask many questions of our new guests.

Finally the time came for us to get into the interconnected pods atop our Dune-Winder and prompt it to get moving. We waved to the caravan and started our journey. Nom and I were excited. In part it was because of our destination, in part it was the responsibility we both shared for this task, and in part it was the strangers sharing the journey with us. Pilot told us that we would be rewarded once they got home. At that Nom started singing a song of celebration. I however fretted that we had taken on too much and were too trusting of our new companions. This I pondered silently as we crested the first of many dunes to come.

In this story I decided to let the reader imagine even more than I usually do. Description is limited and in particular I try to say nothing of what the various species look like. I even omit any reference to gender. Does this work? I would be interested if anyone told me what gaps their imaginations filled in for them.

Cross-posted here.

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24.11.15

Lazy Decade

Ha! This blog has existed for ten years this month! I just noticed in looking back over it and this gives me the perfect topic for my monthly blog post. The fact I do it monthly is one of many things to have changed since I started Lazy Luddite Log back in November 2005.

For a start it had more than one post per week. Admittedly it was new and some of the posts were 'housekeeping' in nature. Some of them provided a sort of guided tour of the sidebar (now much simplified in content). Some justified the existence of my blog while also expressing my wariness of the new medium. One is a short-but-sweet musing on the nature of written records as a way of us putting our tiny stamp on history. Since then my posts have gotten longer but also less frequent and I wonder why.

My level of time-commitment to work and non-work past-times has waxed and waned over that decade but never by themselves are they an explanation for my blogging word-count. Two things seem to have happened. One is that I started writing longer posts on substantive topics that interested me and then decided that this was what my blog was for. The other is that I lost the impetus to do that as much as I once did and so reduced the overall number of posts. Now they are monthly but usually rather wordy.

One thing that has definitely affected these trends is other kinds of Internet products. Facebook has had a major impact. Small pithy observations now automatically go to it. Announcements of events I wish to promote now go there too. All that is left for Lazy Luddite Log are true online essays. But I am likely writing more of those small things on FB now than in the days of only having a blog and surely we all have a total word-count per month in us. Maybe that is why I'm written fewer posts overall.

There may be other factors too. I am more of a private person than I once was in the sense that I have a much smaller role in public life than I once did. I also have a somewhat bigger private life than I did at the start of writing this blog. I also think I'm just slowing down a bit. I enjoy a night at home more than I once did but I also just enjoy passive distractions like looking at old movies. Once more the Internet facilitates this sort of thing like never before.

Some of those oldest posts have been edited since. That was in keeping with my original concept that this blog was subject-focused rather than chronological in nature. I therefore attempted to reflect changes in any post relevant to that change. The fact however is that as your blog archive grows that becomes a prohibitive task. It also makes dating information more difficult. Another and better method I am more likely to use now is the adding of comments to reflect a change while preserving the original post content.

I wonder if I will even be blogging in another decade. We shall see. For now I may spend some time looking over a decade of sometimes forgotten posts. And there may even be a few more excuses to turn an old topic into a new one in coming months.

Cross-posted here.

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20.10.15

Food Chart Scrambled

Much of what we know we try and reduce to models to help others understand or to better regulate public behaviour. One instance of this is charts providing a graphical understanding of foodstuffs and how much of them we need. Abstractions are seductive. Changing information and trends are also a factor. Who consults the old 'Food Pyramid' anymore? With all this in mind I decided to have some fun by developing my own food chart which is structurally inspired by the colour wheel of primary and secondary colours. The considerations behind it are nutritional, culinary and taxonomic but they are also personal. This schema is one that I can work for me. So my food groupings are as follows:

Primary Groups

* Animal Products

* Grains And Cereals

* Vegetables And Fruit

Secondary Groups

* Beans And Nuts

* Starchy Table Vegetables

* Fleshy Table Vegetables

I will let you guess which primary groups the secondary groups sit between as blended forms. I will however clarify what falls into some of those groups. Starchy Table Vegetables includes potatoes, cassava and maize (in relatively natural form such as corn kernels or corn cobs). Fleshy Table Vegetables are from an entirely different life-form altogether - fungi. Beans And Nuts includes chocolate…

One of the charms of this model is it reduces the emphasis on animal products by putting them all into one category. Another is that it differentiates between different kinds of plant matter in such a way to show those of us with a child-like aversion to our 'veggies' that there is more to it than just stinky greens. From here I then go and start making recommendations such as this - a 'complete snack' can consist of any primary food item and a food item from its most contrasting secondary group. So fish and chips (animal product with starchy table vegetable) is a snack. So is grilled mushrooms on toast (grains and cereals with fleshy table vegetable). So too is baked beans in tomato sauce (vegetable or fruit with beans or nuts). Of course you need more than snacks in your day and so a 'complete meal' should draw on three or more groups that maximize contrast.

To this end I decided to try and make a meal that drew on all six of my groups and, while I was at it, overcome a food aversion I've had ever since I was a child, and which I have practiced throughout adulthood. I have a problem with eggs. Something to do with the taste and texture and even concept of the things is off-putting. If they are processed beyond recognition then I'm fine with them. I like pancakes and mayonnaise for instance. And if I think back I admit that I also am okay with scrambled egg if adulterated with other ingredients. They say that eggs are a good thing. Besides if you want a cafe brunch you have to pretty much reconcile yourself with the things.

So I recently got some friends I was staying with to show me how to make scrambled egg and incorporated many ingredients into the dish. The egg provided the animal product. Some sliced button mushrooms were my fleshy table vegetable. Some corn kernels were my starchy table vegetable. Some pan-toasted pine nuts were my bean or nut. Some roquette and garlic and lemon juice were my vegetables and fruit, Finally I needed grains and cereals and wanted to throw in some risoni but my hosts objected on some sort of vague personal preference grounds. The compromise was that I could serve my scrambled eggs on a slice of wholemeal toast. It all worked very well and was a tasty and arguably nutritious meal. Next time I may fulfill my desire for a truly one-pan meal by replacing the toast with croutons thrown in while scrambling.

That is my model for now. Feel free to use it or develop your own.

Cross-posted here.

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24.9.15

Twisted Chamber

As a politics nerd I have always been interested in the different designs of representative institutions. In this post I will discuss one of the strangest and most deceptive - the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) that existed from the late 40s till the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I have a personal connection to this topic in that my father came from East Germany (common name for the GDR) but it is intriguing in its own right as a twisted imitation of more democratic institutions. But what is democracy?

Some criticize our own polity as merely a 'sham' democracy but I think it is more realistic to say there are different forms and degrees of democracy. The participatory democracy of some ancient Greek city-states inspired them all but the concept has been adapted to different cultures and societal conditions. Modern mass society is a very different thing from a community of a few thousand. Representation becomes necessary for all but the smallest of groups and some kinds of representation work better than others. There have always been flaws in design and implementation. There have always been distortions due to human fallibility. And in a model with any longevity there will be odd historic relics (for instance some of the senators in the anachronistic and elitist Irish Senate are elected by university graduates). However there are some basic ways in which to assess the democratic degree of a design. Here are two.

One is to consider the number of links or layers between citizens and governors. In Australia there are basically two - one link from the voter to the parliamentarian and another link from the parliamentarian to the cabinet ministers they choose from among them. This basic concept is replicated at every level of government. Contrast this with the number of layers in (say) the extinct Soviet Union - citizens voted for local representatives who in turn elected province-level representatives who in turn elected republic-level representatives and so on. It is a layer cake with as many connections between citizen and executive power as there are levels of government. Soviet citizens had elections but they were far removed form those in power nationally.

The other way is to look at the number of political parties involved in a polity. In the Soviet Union all those representatives came from the one political party. This contrasts hugely with our parliamentary model with its allowance of freely formed parties. One response to my comparison is to note that even in a one-party regime a variety of perspectives can be accommodated in the form of factions. Another is to say that the many parties in our polity all conform to the same capitalist ethos. But parties are organizations that take on a life and agenda of their own and evidence of that resides in the history of the GDR.

The GDR was one of many satellite states of the Soviet Union and the tendency across the Eastern Bloc was to replicate Soviet institutions. There were exceptions however and the GDR was a prominent case of a one-party regime pretending to be a multi-party one. I was told this long ago and it always puzzled me. How exactly would that work? I put my curiosity at the back of my mind till I saw a book entitled The German Democratic Republic by Peter Grieder and I purchased it. It referred to the multi-party phenomenon but never described it and I then remembered that I now have the Internet. Naturally Wikipedia told me what I needed to know. So how do you rig a multi-party parliament in an effective one-party regime? This is how...

The Volkskammer (Peoples Chamber) had 127 members from the Socialist Unity Party (SED). Incidentally the SED was the result of a forced takeover of the larger democratic socialist party by the smaller communist party in East Germany following World War II. This was the ruling party of the GDR and yet lacked a majority in the 500-member Volkskammer. Next came the four other political parties with 52 members each. These parties represented different strands of politics in German society - liberal, conservative, communitarian and agrarian respectively. They originated in authentic movements but were pressured and cajoled into a compliance with the SED as part of a National Front. They pretty much always voted with the SED but even if they behaved independently it would be rare for those four to all agree in opposition to the ruling party. Besides which there were also a number of demographic representative groups in the Volkskammer - 68 members of the labour union federation, 40 members of the ruling party youth wing, 35 members of the national representative body for women, and 22 members of a national cultural association. As soon as you consider these other groups you can see how the numbers were rigged so that the ruling party could pick-and-choose its partners in any given vote. Except remember that was never even an issue because all these groups were conditioned to do and say the same things in support of the SED.

How exactly do you run elections that result in these same parliamentary numbers every time? Well each voter is given one ballot paper. On that paper is listed all the proposed Volkskammer members across the various groups. The role of the voter is simply to say yay or nay to the list and that is it. You wonder why they even bother. Surely this is the most transparent bullshit. But this is the thinking of someone who has always enjoyed multi-party parliamentary democracy. If you had been living under the Nazis for over a decade and survived the devastation of World War II then the GDR model may well have seemed fantastic.

The other thing to consider was the proximity of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the temptation West Germany represented for East Germans. I can well imagine that replicating a semblance of what they had over the border helped to satisfy citizens and keep them home. East Germany had a huge problem with defecting workers and anything that could curb that was worth a try. The Volkskammer design shows both shrewdness and a degree of desperation. These were key ingredients of the Cold War atmosphere.

I was saying that parties have an agenda of their own and once the Berlin Wall came down the 'cringing lapdogs' of the ruling party in the GDR suddenly showed they had an ideological memory and began promoting those original values in the re-united Germany. Each of those parties participated in free elections and eventually merged with other parties across the augmented FRG. Authentic ideological diversity had been hibernating for decades in a facade designed to imitate it. Differences of opinion will find a way to survive till the day that oppression falters.

There are other deliberately deceptive models of representation in history and I may have to look at others in future. The 'tricameral' parliament of South Africa in the dying days of Apartheid was a doozy (and incidentally very different from the Israeli Knesset despite what some simplistic campaigns imply). More generally ones that play with demographic rather than geographic representation (such as the 'functional constituency' concept in Hong Kong) are also interesting. For now however I will look at the comparisons made and feel lucky at the kind of parliaments I get to vote for.

Cross-posted here.

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29.8.15

The Opposite Of Nothing

In this post I will show that I think radically differently from the rest of you. Or maybe I will just show that I have a penchant for stating the bleeding obvious. It concerns two related concepts underpinning so much of how we think (or how we communicate what we think). Those two concepts are ‘negative numbers’ and ‘opposites’. I deny that they exist. Let me elaborate…

I touched on my dismissal of negative numbers in passing some time ago. Here however I express my refusal to accept reality at full tilt. And I betray the fact that I have never entirely abandoned childish notions. One such notion is that zero represents nothing and my assertion is that you cannot have less than nothing! Others have moved on and understand that zero stands in for all sorts of things.

Sometimes zero is the useful yet arbitrary temperature at which water freezes. But we know that it gets a lot colder than that and that you cannot get colder than zero movement of all things. You cannot have less movement than none at all. Hence I reject negative temperature.

Sometimes zero is what you have if what you own and are owed is exactly the same as what you owe. But there is never a moment in which a person possesses less than nothing. Rather there is another person who wishes they had more so that they could then pass it onto them. Hence I reject negative monetary values.

Sometimes zero describes the neutrally-charged state of an atom with the same number of protons as electrons. But a negatively charged atom is still there and just behaves differently. And while in the atomic realm I may as well move onto opposites.

Matter is composed of atoms and in each the nucleus has a positive charge while the electrons have a negative charge. Anti-matter reverses this in that the nucleus is negatively charged while the positrons are what that name suggests. Things are kind of inside-out. Is that what constitutes ‘opposite’? If so then is an invertebrate with an exoskeleton the opposite of a vertebrate with an endoskeleton? Or are they simply different?

Life as a kid watching science-fiction derived cartoons can be confusing. My original encounter with the concept of anti-matter came from something in which anti-matter was the stuff of another mirror universe in which everything was in reverse and somehow sinister. The above description of anti-matter atoms however makes them mundane by comparison even if they are exotic. But we do tend to think of opposites in terms of opposing or rival forms constructed to be in eternal rivalry and with this in mind we use the term far too often.

A lot of the time all it takes to talk of opposites is to have two alternative variations of the same basic thing. Take my instance of vertebrates and invertebrates – we are just two major branches of Animalia and have far more in common than those things that distinguish us.

And what if we only think we have two variations of a particular thing because we are ignoring further variations? In my younger days I would assert that men and women were simply variations on a theme rather than ‘opposite genders’ but now I’m aware we have more than two such concepts. What use then is the word ‘opposite’ in this context? And if we abandon the word then do we also abandon the related notion of ‘opposition’? Whither then goes the 'battle of the sexes' amusingly explored in 60s romantic comedy films? The answer is that it was always bullshit (and sometimes bullshit can be fun).

Sometimes supposed opposites are the presence and absence of something – consider light and darkness. Sometimes they are phenomena that are as different as they can be (or as different as we can imagine them) – north and south are ‘opposite directions’ but then they are still both directions and on a sphere may still bring us to the same location. Sometimes they are just two things that act in particular ways – this takes us back to electrical charges and the attraction or repulsion behaviours they exhibit.

Now I’m sure you all understand everything I say here. I’m sure you recognize that these words have many definitions. And you may be wondering why I feel the need to labour the point. My hunch is that while we move into adulthood accepting the intellectual definitions of the many different kinds of negative and the many different kinds of opposite we nonetheless on some emotional level hold onto the simplistic notions that these words originally conveyed to us.

We then go onto classify all sorts of things as good or bad and other things as wins or losses. If we look at them another way we may find that they are just different things and that each and every time we have to make value judgements on those things. What is the opposite of this blog post I wonder. I reckon it will be less-than-nothing because this post sure is something.

Cross-posted here.

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30.7.15

The Seven Samurai

I watch lots of movies both good and bad. Every now-and-then I should review them and what better movie to discuss than the all-time classic the Seven Samurai (1954). The whole family watched it on SBS back in the 80s and I have to say I enjoyed it more now than I did then.

The Seven Samurai is a movie by famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and is frequently listed as one of the top five greatest films ever made. I'm hardly a critic but I can see why they keep on saying that. For me every moment of this movie has something to offer over the course of its 3 hours. It could be edited to a more convenient duration while maintaining the story. However it would lose something because every scene is variously charming, intriguing or gripping.

The film is set in the Sengoku Period of Japan (corresponding to the Age of Discovery) and focuses on a small village menaced by bandits. The villagers know the bandits will return following the harvest and the village elder (who lives in the local water mill) proposes that they go to the closest trading town to find some Ronin (freelance Samurai) and preferably hungry ones because all the village has to offer is food. Much of the movie focuses on the slow recruitment of six samurai and one try-hard samurai and then on the time they spend helping the villagers to fortify and prepare for attack. A lot of screen time is also spent on depicting the eventual attacks and counter-attacks. If this sounds like a familiar plot then maybe you have seen The Magnificent Seven (1960) or Battle Beyond The Stars (1980).

It is well-known that The Magnificent Seven was a western that ripped off the Seven Samurai but in some ways it was a case of cultural exchange since Kurosawa had himself been inspired by westerns in developing his movie. Seven Samurai is one of the older movies I've seen and so what I'm inclined to compare it with younger movies. I suppose both Japan and the 1950s are foreign lands for me. Much of the enjoyment I get from it comes from observing all the tiny bahaviours that seem unusual. In many ways I watch it as a kind of 'comedy of manners' examining the conduct of different classes in Shogunate Japan. The contrast between proud but desperate knights and scared yet secretly prosperous serfs is a key theme of the movie. However Seven Samurai is an action movie and the strategy and combat are also fun to watch.

And then there is a bit of romance. The youngest samurai and the prettiest young woman in the village are inexorably drawn to one another. This is despite the father of the girl anticipating the problem and getting her to pretend she is a boy. I tend to assume that traditional cultures are always very strict on matters of sex and so the controlling nature of the father is hardly surprising. But then it seems as if he is at odds with others. The village elder tells the concerned father that it is foolish to fear the loss of your beard if you are at risk of losing your head (an odd but memorable analogy). Once the one-night-stand occurs the other villagers and Samurai sort of look awkward and then try to joke the issue away. In this part of historical Japan it seems puritanism is mostly given lip-service. The try-hard samurai also jokes before battle that the men had all better love their women a lot that night and villagers of both genders cack themselves silly.

That try-hard samurai I keep referring to is ostensibly the central character (played by Toshiru Mifune who worked on many other Kurosawa films) but I had to look at an old movie poster to realize that. He is distinctive as a wild survivor of samurai excesses who has responded by emulating the very thing that destroyed his family. He is both villager and samurai and so I suppose it makes sense for him to be the central character. Kurosawa gave Mifune leeway to improvise a lot of his action and it produces some wonderful antics (which I suspect inspired some of the mannerisms depicted much later by Monkey in Monkey Magic). And yet in watching the film I felt as if the elder samurai who recruits and coordinates all the others (played by Takashi Shimura) was the central character. Possibly this is because I was most taken by his depiction and manner - the way he pats his shaven scalp indicates various moods with effective subtlety. One of the virtues of the Seven Samurai then is that it can allow viewers to make these decisions for themselves. And there are plenty of interesting characters to choose from.

An exception to this focus on character however comes with the bandits themselves. We never get any sense of who they are and they barely express much personality. They may as well be wolves or flood-waters - an external and destructive force that cannot be related to other than by resisting it. Newer movies would try and get you into the minds of the enemy but possibly we never need this. We are perceiving life as harassed villagers do and for them bandits are just a force of nature.

I cannot say Seven Samurai is a perfect film. There are things I feel are odd and things I would have done differently. The whole scene involving the bandit enclosure seems somehow inserted into the movie rather than a fundamental part of it. I wish they more blatantly signaled a change of scene from the village to the town. And I have qualms about exactly which characters live and die (which I may refer to in a comment to Lazy Luddite Log). Finally there is the matter of millet...

The villagers are giving all their rice to the samurai to eat and having to subsist on millet. Millet was just a word to me so I went to Wikipedia and discovered that millet is far more nutritious than rice. I can only assume that culture had given rice a status at odds with its utility as a foodstuff. Suddenly I was concerned that the samurai were lacking in the energy they needed to fight the bandits. But then I reconsidered this - most of the grunt work is done by the villagers in constructing defenses while the samurai instruct them. The lesson I took from this is that fighters need rice but labourers need millet.

This is a wonderful film. The black-and-white footage is charming. The costumes and sets are convincing. The music alternatives between sparse traditional percussion to swashbuckling orchestrations. Somehow it all just works to bring the viewer something that is at once thrilling and relaxing at the same time. If ever you get the chance then do see the Seven Samurai.

Cross-posted here.

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