Sunday, January 29, 2012

Judge Dee: Phantoms, Coffins, and New Year's Eve

It's 670 AD, and Dee is 40 years old and the magistrate of the desolate province of Lan-Fang. His assignment there was engineered by his enemies at court (possibly an indirect attempt at murder) but once again he conquered adversity and brought order to the town. All this was described in The Chinese Maze Murders, and here's some further adventures in that city.

In The Phantom of the Temple, Dee purchases an antique box as a birthday gift for his First Lady. However, inside it is an odd note that sounds as if someone was being held prisoner in a nearby deserted temple. Soon, we have three mysteries to solve again. A local girl is missing; could she be the source of the note in the box? What's going on with a local painter who's behaving oddly? And where are the fifty gold bars, stolen from an Imperial Treasury courier?

This is late van Gulik, published in 1966, but still good. As always, he gives us a good look at Chinese history and culture; in this case, the deserted temple was a haven of Tantric Buddhism, which apparently was not popular among Chinese officials. Also, we get the best glimpse ever of Dee's wives, and the Third Wife gets her moment in the sun, actually doing a bit of detecting work for her husband.

But it's still Dee's show, and he's definitely in charge. He's calm, resourceful, and observant as always, although we're not always given a look into his thought processes until the end of the story.

Two short stories were also set in Lan-Fang. In "The Coffins of the Emperor," Dee is visiting a neighboring district during a military crisis, as a Tartar army is getting ready to invade China. A respected general has accused a respected official of treason, and of hiding armaments in the coffin of a Crown Prince buried in a nearby tomb; can Dee figure out if it's true without actually opening the coffin and committing a high offense himself? Also, there's a case of a captain accused of murder; he claims to be innocent of strangling another officer's wife, but is he really? And who is the culprit? It's decent Dee, and remarkable in my memory for Dee's plea for clemency at the end for a gay murderer, stating that nature directed him one way, but his family forced him into another, and he couldn't cope with the results, and allowing him to commit suicide. Dee's humanity shines in that moment.

The other is a very humane story, "Murder on New Year's Eve," when Dee encounters a young boy wandering the streets, and when trying to return the boy to his family, finds that the parents have quarreled and there's signs of a possible murder. All ends happily, for a change; it's really almost a comedy rather than a mystery.

Van Gulik's map of Lan Fang.
As with all van Gulik, these are Required Reading. Coming up next, there's another assignment for Dee...and a major life change.

Monday, January 23, 2012

From the Video Shelf: Four Short Reviews

We had snow and ice this past weekend, so it was a prime time to be lazy and watch movies. Here's a few from the collection that deserve some mention.

Britain's famed Hammer studios have risen from the dead! Still famous for their gothic horror films that starred such luminaries as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed, Barbara Shelley, Andre Morrell, and others, the studio fell on hard times in the 70s as tastes went to explicit gore, and some poor business decisions (including a disastrous remake of The Lady Vanishes with Elliott Gould and Cybill Shephard) sidelined any production for a while. They made some TV projects during the late 70s and early 80s, but now, thanks to bold investors, are rising again as a theatrical production company.

So far it's been only horror, although the original Hammer ran the gamut from comedies to dramas to action to costumers...although it was really the horror films that got a lot of play overseas. The first of the new Hammers, Wake Wood, didn't get theatrical play in the US when it came out last year but is available on DVD.

In WW, a veterinarian and his pharmacist wife are reeling from a bitter blow; a vicious dog killed their young daughter. Their marriage under a strain, they move to a village named Wake Wood where they encounter odd locals, but eventually are given a macabre offer: the locals know a pagan ritual that will bring back the dead, but only under certain circumstances, and only for three days. The grieving parents jump at the opportunity...and in a memorably grisly ritual, their daughter is reborn and returned to them.

Naturally, Daddy didn't tell the truth about some things, and as a result, we go into a typical evil-kid-on-a-rampage story. It's most disappointing after such a promising beginning, but it does manage to pack a few jolts and does deliver a great macabre twist at the end.

It's imperfect, at one point descending into needless cliche, but it's got a solid cast (including Timothy Spall), and sometimes inventive imagery courtesy of director David Keating. Annoyingly, sometimes it got so dark it was hard to tell what was going on.

Hammer also co-produced Let Me In, the remake of the Swedish vampire hit Let the Right One In, and is making their grand theatrical return with The Woman in Black coming out in a few weeks, so hopefully there's more on the way.

An older Hammer film is 1963's Paranoiac, which was actually an uncredited adaptation of Josephine Tey's novel Brat Farrar, although given a gothic fillip. The Ashby family is shaken by the return of adult Tony Ashby, who was supposed to have drowned at 15, a suicide. Simon (a young and dishy Oliver Reed) is obviously unstable, and neurotic Eleanor (Janette Scott) isn't much better. But soon there's murder attempts, and Simon playing the chapel organ at night, and other strange things going on. Is Tony really Tony? What's the secret?

Paranoiac is one of Hammer's lesser-known suspensers, what they dubbed "mini-Hitchcocks." It's got great decadent, gothic atmosphere with the crazy family and their crumbling home, full of plot and counterplot with nobody really being what they seem to be. I find it vastly entertaining, a great gripping story for a chilly afternoon. It was one of Freddie Francis' best jobs as a director (honestly, he was a brilliant cinematographer, but he had weaknesses as a director). Here's a clip.

Going further back, I saw Paul Leni's 1924 flick Waxworks. This is often plugged as a horror film, but it's really not, completely.

A young writer (William Dieterle) comes to a wax museum at an amusement park to inquire about a job. He's asked to write stories to publicize some of the figures, and he sits down and makes up stories.

The first is really a comedy, set in Baghdad of the Arabian Nights, and featuring super-popular actor Emil Jannings as the caliph, Haroun al-Raschid. The second is a dark historical drama with another popular actor, Conrad Veidt, as Ivan the Terrible. Last up is a nightmare sequence with Werner Krauss (who was Caligari to Veidt's Somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) as Jack the Ripper.

While not all that horrific, it is good fun to watch; there's a ton of great imagery and inventive set designs. You're also seeing some of the biggest names of Weimar-era cinema here. It's a great chance to sit back and enjoy something by one of the silent cinema's great craftsmen.

It's available on Youtube; here's the first part.

Finally...I rented the Criterion edition of the long-unavailable The Phantom Carriage, a seminal film from Sweden of 1921. It's another that's given a push as a macabre classic, but it's really a morality tale with some trappings of the supernatural.

It's New Year's Eve. A Salvation Army sister, Edit, is lying in bed, dying from tuberculosis. She begs to see David Holm again. He's drinking in the cemetery with some friends, and they share the tale of the Phantom Carriage, which drives invisibly around fetching the souls of the dead. Whoever is the last to die before the New Year becomes the driver for the next year. David has a scuffle with his friends and dies just before the stroke of midnight...and finds his old friend George driving the carriage. The next part of the film is a prolonged lecture and flashback in which we see David's descent into alcoholism and his creation of a toxic home atmosphere for his family. His wife abandons him and he goes out in search of her, spending the previous New Year's Eve at a newly-opened shelter, where Edit had mended his coat...and as we find out later, falls in love with him at first sight. She makes him promise to come back a year later.

Finally we have David's visit as a shade to a dying Edit, and his eventual reformation, and a message laid on with a trowel (as was done so often in silent films) that all should pray that their souls aren't reaped before they become fully mature.

While it glorifies the Salvation Army (a group I personally abhor), I was willing to go along with it, and it's not completely bad. There's some good atmosphere and a scene with David at the end actually affected me. This flick was also a huge influence on Ingmar Bergman, who watched it at least once a year for a long time. It's just not all that grisly and gothic as folks may want you to think it is.

Here's some of the more eerie scenes, set to music and put together by Youtuber shivabel, whose work I admire.

Lots more coming...I'm working through my video collection as a prelude to a relocation coming in about a year. (Yup, I'll be leaving DC, thanks to my work moving, although I'll be just going a short way north, to Baltimore, so I'll be close to Poe and still close to DC, and I'll have to start apartment-hunting and all that come fall....oh my...) So stay tuned...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Night Double Feature

So it's a holiday weekend, and we're gathering at our usual dinner spot, sharing stories of our adventures and wanderings since last meeting. Tales of rare used books, interesting antiques, trips to museums and historic places, new projects, old friends, the whole gamut. And to our favorite movie theater!

Tonight, we're starting off with another early silent classic..."The Merry Frolics of Satan", a bit of Melies fun from 1906.

And in the spirit of an earlier review, here's Part One of the 1941 film version of "The Shanghai Gesture," with Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, and Ona Munson as "Mother Gin Sling." (You can easily look up the other chapters...)

At point someone had the whole movie loaded in one unit, but it wasn't there when I looked for it tonight. These YouTube videos come and go...

The evening ends as it usually does; we retire to our favorite cafe down the street for a drink or two before going our separate ways, happy for another evening spent together....

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Short Bits

A little this'n'that...

Over the holidays I saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Pretty much more a steampunk James Bond film rather than anything from Conan Doyle, but considering how Holmes was the subject of so many pastiches and ripoffs, and how the character was borrowed by Maurice Leblanc for some of the Arsene Lupin novels, it hardly seems the sacrilege some of the pearl-clutching purists out there would have you think. Go see it, if you haven't already. I saw it with my sister and her family; we saw the last one together, too, so this has become Our Thing.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Hugo, which I knew little about but went to see based on recommendations of friends. It's really not that much of a kiddie film as you might think; it involves an automaton and some real history, including George Melies and his work. It's also some of the best-integrated 3D I've seen in a flick. I'm to the point that I now refuse to see a movie if I know it was retroactively made 3D; I was disappointed in Alice in Wonderland and the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had some truly crappy 3D work.

I bought a Kindle Fire with part of a check my parents gave me (never worry, the rest went in the bank), and am truly delighted with how you can load PDFs on it. There's a lot you can get on PDF that's not available in other ebook format, like just about anything from Horrormasters. Also, long ago I bought CD-ROMs of all the Doc Savage pulp novels and all the Shadow pulp novels in PDF, so there's lots of downloading going on.

So far read a couple of things from Horrormasters: "The Abby of Clunedale," by Dr. Nathan Drake, a short early Gothic bit of looniness, possibly first published as a chapbook or blue book, and included in Drake's collection Literary Hours. It's one of those all-atmosphere, no-characterization Gothicks meant to be consumed in one sitting, probably by candlelight while the wind rattles the eaves. It's OK stuff, has a Scooby-Doo-ish ending, but palatable. (Dr. Nathan Drake [1766-1836] was a physician, essayist, and Shakespeare scholar.) Also up was "The Abduction," an excerpt from a novel by a Thomas Frost, that's full of atmosphere as an innocent maiden is kidnapped and held in a crumbling castle, but it ends abruptly and I guess one is to seek out the rest of the book to learn what happens. (I think it's the same Thomas Frost [1821-1908] who was a dedicated Chartist and radical, who admitted to writing a series of potboiler novels.)

And then there's the first-ever Shadow novel (of which there were literally hundreds...I'm gonna busy for a few years with this project!). The Living Shadow really has the Shadow taking a back-seat. It's really the story of Harry Vincent, who is recruited by The Shadow as he's about to commit suicide. T.S. gives him a reason to live and something to work for, and Vincent throws himself into it. The plot involved is rather mundane (a man is murdered, the search is on for his jewel collection, and eventually a fence is unmasked), but it serves as a primer for The Shadow's organization. The man himself shows up from time to time, usually to serve as a deus ex machina when Vincent gets in trouble, but he seems to be a forgiving boss and realizes the occasional slip-up is an occupational hazard.

This isn't the Shadow of radio; he's not Lamont Cranston (although that is brought up later in the series) and doesn't have psychic powers. He has a wide network of agents and doesn't rely on just one person. (And the radio character of Margot Lane wasn't added to the novels until much later, and met with fan resentment and protest.) The Shadow could probably be described as a sort of western ninja, always hiding in the shadows and using dark outfits (but without those tiresome samurai swords and throwing stars and all that impractical nonsense that doesn't exist outside martial arts movies), but he's also a master of disguise. There is mention of how he may be a master spy from WWI who was disfigured in action and later reported dead; I've heard that later in the series someone actually glimpses his real face and reacts with shock, saying that the man of a million faces has no face of his own.

It's good pulpy fun and actually rather good. Worth checking out, if you can get hold of it.

So that's it for now. I'm relaxing at home, on a cold Sunday afternoon, with a pot of Pouchong tea and a BBC miniseries on the tube ("The Chelsea Murders" from Armchair Thriller), and enjoying a lazy holiday weekend after all the craziness of last month....

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Mystery of Elizabeth Canning

I've written about her a bit before, but here goes again. Elizabeth Canning (1734-1773) was a British servant girl who on 1/1/1753, disappeared while on a visit to some relatives, and showed up at her mother's home several weeks later, claiming to have been held prisoner in a spare room in a house outside London.

Bet Canning, as she was known, was a plain yet charming and shy girl, popular in her neighborhood. She was of the servant class, and worked for a year and a half for a Mr. Wintlebury, who ran a local tavern, then going to work for a local elderly man. She was a retiring sort and also very defensive of her virtue and reputation. Her given reason for quitting Wintlebury's was fear of defending her chastity from his customers. She was also what we today would call a survivor of a Traumatic Brain Injury; when young, the garret ceiling had collapsed on her head, leaving her prone to fits when surprised, spoken sharply to, or when hit on the head.

The case became a nine days' wonder. Canning claimed that she had been abducted on the street, then taken to the house where they had offered her a chance to become a prostitute. She refused, so they threw her in a narrow spare room where she claimed to have subsisted on crusts of bread and water for three weeks, until one day they didn't give her bread, at which point she ate a mince pie kept in a pocket since New Year's Day, and then the next day she found a boarded-over window could be penetrated, so she tore off the board, climbed out, and made her way back to London, a walk of ten miles.

A sketch of the room where Canning had claimed to be held.
Canning arrived home in a deplorable condition. She was in rags, malnourished, constipated, blue with cold, and covered with bruises. A local midwife examined her and claimed she had never given birth to a child. Canning started making her explanations and accusations, and through her statements her prison was identified as that of a certain Mrs. Wells, out in the Enfield Wash area outside London, a known "disorderly house" or a sort of part-time brothel.

Canning was able to identify various objects around the house, but did not seem completely familiar with the room. There were no footprints found outside the window she had claimed to jump out of, but boards on the window showed to have been only recently nailed up. She claimed to recognize several people there, including a Gypsy woman named Mary Squires, a revoltingly ugly creature, who became a pivotal figure in the case, as it was she whom Canning claimed had stolen her clothing.

Mary Squires
 Squires, accused by Canning, was reportedly the ringleader of the scheme and the one responsible for the kidnapping and abuse. At the time, abductions were considered a civil matter rather than criminal, and Canning and her supporters took Squires and Wells to court.

The rest is history. Virtue Hall, an inhabitant of the house, claimed that Canning had indeed been brought by force to the house and corroborated Canning's statements. Based on hers and other testimony, Wells was found guilty, branded on the thumb, and was to spend 6 months in prison. Squires was sentenced to hang (for the theft of Canning's stays, of all things).


There was lots of doubt over Canning's story. This was the age of broadsides and pamphlets hawked on streetcorners, that had stuff that would be considered libelous today. (In the modern age, that role has been taken up by blogs and comment threads on the 'net.) Accusations rang out here and there, claims running from Canning running off with a lover to Canning sneaking off to have an abortion to Canning and her family cooking up the story in order to reap donations. A number of officials, including trial judge Sir Crisp Gascoyne, felt Canning's story was improbable and launched their own investigation, which resulted in damning evidence that Squires had been nowhere near the house at the time Canning claimed to have seen her. Wells and Squires were exonerated, and Canning was tried, and found guilty of perjury. She was transported to the American colonies, where she lived out her days in Wethersfield, CT, where she died. (Does anyone know where her grave is? I'd love to see a picture.)

What happened? Theories abound. According to the facts I've dug up from several places, it looks like Canning was indeed abducted. Several witnesses did back up her story of being dragged off by two men; they had seen her been half carried, half dragged up to Enfield Wash. Canning was again seen after her escape, by a man of whom she asked the way to London. She had cut her ear while climbing from the window, and blood was found on the window frame. Sure, there were no footprints on the ground underneath the window, but there had been heavy rain the night after Canning's escape, so naturally they were washed away. Her physical condition upon returning home was well-documented by reliable sources and completely in sync with someone held prisoner for nearly a month.

Canning in the dock.

But at the same time, there's so much of the story that doesn't click. Trying to torture a girl into prostitution? No way; a bawd of the age would simply have the girl raped and forced her to "work." Survive for three weeks on crusts of bread? How on earth did she have the strength to break out of her prison and walk to London? And with all the brothels in London, why carry a girl away to a bawdy house outside the city?

One overlooked aspect of the case was Bet's brain problems and fits. Andrew Lang, in an essay on her case, was completely sympathetic to her, but points out that her head injury could have messed with her perceptions of what happened. (He cites a case of a woman who slipped on ice, suffered a concussion and dragged herself to a shed where she later claimed to have been held prisoner, although she never was.) I finally got my hands on Lillian de la Torre's nonfiction overview of the case, Elizabeth is Missing, and she puts forward what seems to me to be the likeliest theory.

According to de la Torre, Canning wasn't telling the truth, but thought she was. What had happened clicks with the notion that Canning had actually been purposefully abducted and brought to that house on the behest of some man, likely Wintlebury, in the hopes that he could keep her there as his mistress. On the first night, he raped Canning. And what with Canning's phobia of sex and her obsession with her virginity, not to mention her fragile mental health, led to her going into a automaton-like fugue state. Her rapist quickly tired of her and turned her over to Wells, who found herself unable to get rid of the strange, bedeviled creature.

And then suddenly, one morning, Canning wakes in the spare room. She doesn't remember anything past New Year's Day, immediately assumes she's been kidnapped by white slavers, sees the sinister group through a hole in the floor, and immediately makes an escape. When asked her whereabouts, she quickly made up a story based on her assumptions (which I've heard happens with those with amnesia) and after time began to believe her story. Human memory is astonishingly malleable; if you read up on experiments by psychologists and neurologists, it is almost shockingly easy to create false memories in someone, even in yourself. And debate rages over the value of eyewitness testimony. A 1999 experiment had subjects watching a video of people playing basketball and counting the number of times people in white shirts successfully passed the ball; over half the subjects never noticed the man in the gorilla suit who walked onscreen, thumped his chest, and walked off. (I was at a live demonstration of it once; most of us knew about it, but several who weren't familiar with it did indeed miss the gorilla.) Once, as an experiment on myself, I changed a few details in a story I told and repeated often, and became alarmed in less than a month when I started to have trouble remembering what had really happened. It's scary.

A scurrilous cartoon lampooning the Canning affair.

Wells and Squire couldn't tell the truth; they had too much to lose, and either way they'd be prosecuted. By covering up for the rapist, they at least could keep his money, and potentially squeeze him for more. Virtue Hall probably tried to tell the true story, but was dismissed by Canningites, and later told what they wanted to hear...before finally recanting. It all clicks.

A sad part of her story is that Canning did commit perjury, although unwittingly. She didn't tell the true story. She couldn't. She couldn't remember what really happened.

Canning's story inspired a number of novels and stories, including The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey and The Price of Murder by Bruce Alexander. And the details of this messy case are something to be remembered today.

Don't ask me, I don't know.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


On a whim, I managed to track down John Colton's original play, The Shanghai Gesture, to read over the holidays. (My recent chatter about Josef von Sternberg brought it to mind.)

It was actually a rather controversial play back in 1918, with protests from the Chinese embassy and accusations of morbid racism. It criticizes Western imperialism in Asia, and tackles taboo subjects like prostitution, addiction, and racial mixing. A scene of a white girl being auctioned off as a sex slave to lascivious Chinese coolies is something out of a Sax Rohmer novel.

Mother God Damn is the madame of the biggest brothel in Shanghai, as well as the keeper of the secrets of the city's western aristocrats. Her secretary is a bankrupt Englishman, working off gambling debts. She's planning a lavish dinner party in celebration of the Chinese New Year, and invited the cream of Shanghai's western ambassadors and businessmen, none of whom dare to refuse. It's all part of a huge scheme of revenge against the arrogant Sir Guy Charteris, who struts in hoping to make Mother God Damn his mistress. Also showing up are Prince Oshima, a dissolute Japanese diplomat, and Poppy, his English girlfriend, a well-dressed hoyden who's a self-dubbed nymphomaniac as well as an alcoholic and drug addict.

In the decadent atmosphere of the brothel, all sorts of plots and counterplots unfold. It's ripe melodrama with touches of Greek tragedy, but it's so trashy by modern standards, like an overproduced and underthought Lifetime TV movie. The attitudes toward race and racial cross-breeding are horribly quaint and outdated, and it's also ruthlessly classist.

The play is rarely produced, with good reason; unless done as overheated camp melodrama, there's really no place for it today. (It was revived by the Mirror Repertory Company in 2009, to mixed reviews, but actually featured an Asian actress playing Mother God Damn for the first time. The picture at top is from that production.) Also, the stage directions call for huge and lavish sets, something most companies would balk at or just make do with minimalist substitutions. The Shanghai Gesture is regarded as something of a minor classic of the theater, but upon reading it I'd guess that its reputation is more about notoriety than actual quality.

And now for the von Sternberg connection....he made it into a movie in 1941. It was heavily bowdlerized, naturally. Mother God Damn became Mother Gin Sling. The brothel became a casino. Poppy, instead of being a drug-and-booze-addled nympho, became a compulsive gambler. It at least had Gene Tierney in luscious Oleg Cassini gowns as Poppy. I saw it years ago; it's not bad, kind of an early noir, but also with that trademark von Sternberg decadence and an odd scene were Walter Huston (as Charteris) seems to be flirting with a brawny coolie (played by Mike Mazurki). 1941 was also an odd year for making this; by then things had become too decorous and von Sternberg's earlier excesses were no longer welcome. Still, it's out there, and might be worth a watch for the sake of a chuckle.

If someone ever mounts a production of this, I'd enjoy seeing it (if I can get to it). The play can be a little hard to find; I borrowed a dusty copy from the Pratt library in Baltimore, and checking on Abebooks shows copies available from $50 to $99. Read it if you can find it, but don't expect much from it. It's an amusing relic, little more.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dust & Corruption Calendar: January 2012

Well, it's been a mild season so far, but hope spring eternal. At my parents' place over Christmas break, we reflected that it was more like March than December...until we drove up to the mountains to visit the Flight 93 Memorial and nearly froze. That was a loud-and-clear reminder that it was winter.

Now that the dust is settling from all the holiday season bustle, here's some new things to grab your attention...

1/4 - Gigi Holliday's Ladies' Night Out Presents: Ladies Night IN Pajama Party! Burlesque show hosted by my pal Gigi, and including some other pals like Cherrie Sweetbottom and Hot Todd Lincoln. Showtime is 8:30pm. Red Palace, 1212 H St NE, Washington, DC.

1/5-7 - Molotov Productions takes their acclaimed play "Fat Men in Skirts" to New York! Three nights only, at the Under St. Mark's Theater, 94 St. Marks Place, New York, NY. Showtime at 8:00 every night. Tickets available here.

1/6 - Gilded Lily Presents: Anything Goes! Burlesque show from Baltimore's Gilded Lily troupe. Showtime is 10pm, at the Red Palace.

1/6 - Witch's Brew: screening of new horror comedy at the Creative Alliance's Patterson Theater, 3134 Eastern Ave, Baltimore, MD. Doors at 7:30, tix $10, $5 for members. 

1/7 - Elvis' Birthday Fight Club. Comedy and burlesque, a new yearly tradition. Two shows at the Warehouse Theater (1021 7th St NW, Washington, DC), at 8 and 11. On the following Saturday (the 14th), there'll be one more show at the Patterson Theater (3134 Eastern Ave, Baltimore, MD). Tickets for DC shows here, tickets for Baltimore show here.

1/7 - Balti Mare, a wonderful gypsy/Balkan band, performs at the Patterson Theater in Baltimore. Showtime 8pm, tix $12, $7 for members.

1/7-22 - "Barber and Barberillo", a double feature of one-act operas produced by my friends at the IN Series. Samuel Barber's American one-act opera "A Hand of Bridge" is paired with the Spanish zarzuela "El Barberillo." At the Source Theater, 1835 14th St NW, Washington, DC. Tickets available here.

1/9 - "Vanitas Drawing" Class taught by Lado Pochkhua, and using a real human skeleton. I'm not sure about the exact location but it's definitely in Brooklyn. More information here. (And you all know I approve of drawing classes!)

1/19 - Edgar Allan Poe's Birthday. Alas, at last report the big birthday celebrations have been discontinued due to funding cuts, but you can still make time to honor Edgar's birthday by reading some of his work or watching one of the adaptations with Vincent Price.

1/27 - Flying Dog Brewery Presents "Where the Wildeman Are" with Sticky Buns Burlesque. Beer and burlesque as Flying Dog unveils their new brew and my pals at Sticky Buns do their thing. At the Patterson Theater in Baltimore. Showtime 8pm, tix $20, $15 (includes 2 drinks).

1/29 - "French Cancan", Jean Renoir's film chronicling the Moulin Rouge cabaret will be show at the National Gallery of Art, East Building, 4th & Constitutions Aves, Washington DC. Showtime is 5:00.

As always, if you know of anything, please feel free to let me know and I'll be happy to add it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Phantom Concert Hall: New Year's Day

We all slept late, after all the various things we did the night before. Our group meets, hangovers dispelled, for a light supper before taking advantage of a rare opportunity: a lavish concert in a ritzy concert hall! It's a wonderful evening of Strauss and Lehar and other lovely tunes. Of course, during the intermission, there's mysterious goings-on. Was that woman who fainted the victim of a murder attempt? What is responsible for that shadowy figure seen in the corners? What is the significance of the cryptic note dropped at our feet, that reads "Wellington at eight; Meyerbeer says to stay in the fort"?

But in the meantime, there's some festive music for the occasion...

Hans Christian Lumbye (1810-1874) was a Danish composer of light works. He did many waltzes, polkas, and galops (like this one) and from 1843 to 1872 was the music director and resident composer of the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and composed many works dedicated to the park and its patrons. He's often known as the "Strauss of the North" although in Denmark they tend to refer to Strauss as the "Lumbye of the South." I've been dipping into his works here and there (lots on YouTube, and there's a huge collection of his work on iTunes that I may or may not buy. Check him out if you enjoy light classical; he's quite a bit of fun, and maybe someday, if I ever achieve my pipe-dream of a New Year's Eve edition of the Phantom Ball (which would be a lavish affair drawing from Paris and Vienna of the Belle Epoque, with a live orchestra, cancan girls, arias from operettas, and champagne corks popping left and right...), his works will be featured prominently. (Based on some videos, one guesses his music is a national institution in Denmark.)

Hope everyone had a good New Year and here's to another fun and adventurous year!