Month: June 2011

Rough as a triplet from Belleville…

Finally got round to watching Sylvain Chomet’s Les Triplettes de Belleville/ The Triplets of Belleville last night. And I must say: if you’re in for an extraordinary car chase, then this is the movie to watch! >:D First, it has three of my favourite things in it: trains, wicked old ladies and nightmares. Then, it’s a (mostly) silent movie, making it a feat of extraordinary animation and expressive, carricature-style characters parading on-screen for your entertainment.

I noticed that people who talk about it on-line tend to say that the movie is incredibly good despite the lack of dialogue. Well, it probably won’t come as a surprise when I say that I belive it’s a fantastic film because of the lack of dialogue. It just goes to prove that emotional language (via gestures, facial expressions and, in animation, colours and shapes) is universal. If anything, dialogue would have destroyed the expressivity of carefully constructed animation. Belleville is a film that works strictly through character and in it character is constructed through well-defined particularities.

What’s most interesting is that the character I liked best is the fat dog, Bruno. Mad about trains (he just can’t abstain from barking at them), this lazy dog conceals a complicated and revealing psyche (his black and white nightmares are, really, uncanny projections of reality, once you shake off the grotesque first impression and start focusing on dream imagery as a symbol). He is also the most sympathetic character – to me, at least – since he is clearly the most used and abused (albeit lovingly). Throughout the film, I’ve often felt, in fact, that I was being pushed/discreetly guided into sharing Bruno’s point of view. (Which must be why I felt that he was the most humane character, whilst everyone else was a bittersweet parody of humanity. Or maybe not.)

In any case, the film was excellent: exquisite soundtrack, exciting array of characters and amazing mixture of carricature, film noir, sugar, spice, everything nice and everything nasty too! There are a lot of unexpected twists that’ll keep you swinging between ill-concealed sniggers and misty eyes. This is a definite must watch. (Don’t take my word for it, though; go and see it, then you can judge for yourselves. :3)

Okay, I’ll be off watching Chomet’s La Vieille Dame et les Pigeons/ The Old Lady and the Pigeons now. I may let myself be tricked into reviewing that later.


I don’t steal memories. I buy them 30p apiece.

My long-standing hobby of rescuing/collecting other people’s memories has resurfaced again. It would have resurfaced before, only, to my shame, I was unable to find the usual place in our local market selling vintage photos&postcards. It’s like the magic little shop that Terry Pratchett pokes so much fun at in his Discworld novels: it would seem to disappear for considerable stretches of time and then it hops back onto the map, just as dusty and forbidding as it ever was. So, then. Found it again. This time, I only purchased two photos and one postcard. I don’t precisely know what was so special in them that made me buy them. To be honest, the photo/postcard batch this time seemed quite mediocre. Nevertheless, I couldn’t leave empty-handed. It’s simply impossible for me to leave without having bought at least one. So here they are (and once more apologies for my inexpert rephotographing):

Number one. Front of photograph:

Black and white with white borders. On it is written a name, in blue ink: Nellie Lovatt (I think, I’m not all that sure about the surname). I guess the priceless expression on the mother’s face while she’s holding her newborn baby compelled me to buy the photo. I just felt it would be unfair to let a “first memory” of this kind get lost or be destroyed. I also like the details, so appropriate for a casual family photo: the pacifier, only half visible in the mother’s hand, the bottle on a shelf in the background (medicine? beverage? poison?) and the framed painting on the wall, so tantalising because it’s there, and yet you can’t make out what it shows (some sort of landscape, maybe?).

Back of photograph:

It is a photo postacrd, as it’s printed on postcard back, “divided” type. On the “correspondence” half it says, in black pencil:
Dear K & E (?)
Snapped this in the front bedroom the first time that Nell was dressed, with the camera I bought off you. Not bad is it? Hope that both of you are OK. Your ma is a bit anxious @ not receiving a letter from you for some time
Your S. Y. Percy
(?) & Nell

On the “address” half it says, in black ink, perhaps as a memento: Born 9th Sept. 1924

The fact that all three texts – the baby’s name, on the front of the photo postcard, the message and the birth date – are written in different colours, with different objects (pen, pencil) suggests that they have also been written at different times. Also, while the name on the front and message on the back seem to have been written in the same hand, the birth date is written in far more elegant handwriting, by somebody else. There’s no address and no stamp, so either it was never sent by post, or it was enclosed in an envelope, with a longer letter, maybe. Clearly it has passed through several hands; it makes me sad that whoever had this failed to keep it. But then again, I’m happy it’s mine now. 🙂

Number two.

Black and white with white borders. Photo postcard, unused/unsent. The only thing written on the back is 50p in black pencil, so it was probably sold and bought and sold before. I don’t have much to say about it, except that the photographer’s name and “address” are embossed on the lower right-hand corner of the photo: Joe Harman and REDDITCH underneath. I almost didn’t see them at first, they’re only visible if you hold the photo in a certain way in the light. I looked them up on-line, but I couldn’t find anything. I assume the photo’s been taken more or less in the same period as the other one, though I may be wrong, of course. As far as I’m concerned, I just loved the look on the baby’s face, and how it waits so patiently (almost aware of what’s happening) on the small sofa.

Number three. Front of postcard:

It shows a lady dressed in white, sitting on a bench in an idyllic park/garden and holding a book. Not too special in itself, though I have to admit I have a thing for vintage postcards showing girls with books. 😛 More interesting, though, is what’s on the back.

Back of postcard:

It was stamped and posted. There’s a green half penny postage stamp showing King George V. This has also been stamped with the place, time and date of dispatch (I believe it’s dispatch and not receipt): Birmingham, 11:30 PM, April 10, 1913. In the “address” half, the receiver is revealed to be a Miss E Smith living at 14 Cradock Rd Saltley. Google Maps shows Saltley to be in Birmingham. It also shows that Cradock Road still exists. In fact, you can even see how 14 Cradock Rd, Saltley, Birmingham looks like today, on Street View (marked by the red bubble):

Finding this makes me consider going there and trying to track down the original owner of this postcard. It’s probably much too much trouble. But it would be interesting, wouldn’t it? Especially since the message is quite intriguing. It goes like this:

Which, as far as I was able to decipher the handwriting, would be:
Dear Eliza,
Just a line hoping you are in the Pink/Bink/???
You would laugh if you could see me. Dont forget to ask ‘Tom’s intention’s for me as I am shy myself. see you on Saturday.
Yours Sincerely,
Fred xxxx

I don’t know what anyone else thinks about this, but by the way it’s written (hurriedly, I’d say) some exciting and secret affair must have been afoot. I wonder how it all ended. I sure hope ‘Tom’ proved to be a nice guy…

Well, then, this is it for now. Expect more eclectic stuff soon. 😉

“And her eyes shine like lamps”

Since I ended up deleting one of my initial posts, explaining my id, “amphisbaina”, I thought I might write a new and improved one, for anyone who might be interested. ^_^

Usually, when I confess to owning a blog and people ask for the URL, they get stuck at “amphisbaina”. They give me that “what” face and I have to spell it out. Well, it’s all my fault for having a penchant for the bizarre, even when it comes to website addresses and ids. Amphisbaina, a variant of “amphisbaena” (literally “going both ways” – for more linguistic insight, please see the small god of internet info, Wikipedia) would be something like this:

[images via BeastPedia, Worm Salad and Les Minimes]

The 1960’s “The Book of Beasts”, compiled by T.H. White, features the following regarding this double-headed monster: This is called an AMPHIVENA (Amphisbena) because it has two heads. One head is in the right place and the other is in its tail. With one head holding the other, it can bowl along in either direction like a hoop. This is the only snake which stands the cold well, and it is the first to come out of hibernation. Lucan writes of it: ‘Rising on twin-born heads comes dangerous Amphisbaena/ And her eyes shine like lamps.’ There is more in White’s footnotes on the amphisbaena, but I’m not about to go all encyclopedic on you (despite this blog’s title). And in any case, you can read all that stuff in your spare time directly from the source, here. There are several different descriptions of the beast, but it generally comes across as a two-headed reptilian creature, invariably deadly. Most interesting is that people like Pliny and Lucan who have taken the pains to add this little wonder to their catalogue might not have been all that far from the truth. A little-known, little-studied reptile, baptised amphisbaenia, after its conceptual ancestor of sorts, does indeed exist in parts of Africa and South America.

The reason why I picked an id taking on the name of this particular obscure mythological beast is my long-lasting fascination with all things and creatures going in doubles, as well as with serpents and snake-like beasts. So what better than the two-headed snake to base my online journal on? Granted, it is somewhat arbitrary, but it is, nevertheless, consistent with the nature of my blog: random oddities on display.

“Death is the only path that leads to birth”

I ended up purging quite a few of my older posts from 1-2 years ago. I guess this tends to happen when I’m about to leave a piece of my life behind: I prefer to erase all incriminating evidence. Well, the stuff I deleted was mostly debris anyway, so I don’t suppose the on-line multiverse’ll miss it.

Well, here I am then, finally able to update and – generally – take a break from all the complcations of dealing with life. I received my copy of The Weird Fiction Review – Number 1 in the post recently, and I’m over the moon about it (how come I didn’t find out about this little gem sooner? shame on me!). I’ve only flicked through it so far, but it appears to be more than fascinating, so expect a review of the Review sometime soon. 😉

More interestingly, though, I’ve been to see Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec/ The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a most delighful movie from director Luc Besson, based on the comic books of Jacques Tardi, which I have not, however, had the pleasure to read. Here’s my preferred trailer (French and no subtitles, I’m afraid):

Again, I can’t really compare the film to the original comics, since I haven’t read them, but then again, I doubt that would be fair play anyway. As far as my amateurish opinion goes, it was a gorgeous, baroque feast of doubles and doubleness – from twins to arch-enemies to the timeless life/death motif – all wrought together in a string of absurd and savoury adventures. The plot is set in pre-WWI Paris (mostly) and Egypt (or the stereotypically-spooky entrails of an Egyptian pyramid, to be more precise). The main character, Adèle Blanc-Sec (played by Louise Bourgoin) is a tomboyish (for lack of a better attribute) young journalist/novelist/adventurer looking for a three-millennia-old mummy whose knowledge would enable it to cure Adèle’s twin sister, Agathe (and I will not spoil for you what it is that Agathe needs to be cured of, but a word of caution for the faint of heart: it’s a gruesome little detail). As main characters go, Adèle is quite remarkable through her unbreacheable loyalty to gimendous hats and the cool indifference she exhibits towards sneezing mummies and pterodactyls with a taste for ostrich feather shawls. Her reactions are sometimes predictable perhaps, typical of the “reckless adventuress”, but in 97% of the cases, Adèle is simply charming (and I’m afraid I’ve also taken a dangerous liking to her “museum of curiosities” bedecked flat).

The plot I found well-balanced and tantaizing, combining a decent percentage of supernatural, absurd, humour and drama. From scientists with telekinetic abilities, to Jurassic birds in the middle of Paris, to mummies with a unique sense of aesthetics – “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec” has it all. But the best part about it is its “film noir” streak, in which no joke is left without a shady or tragic twist. For every life saved there is a life tragically lost or at least placed under severe threat. I would love to expand on this, but I don’t really want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet. I leave you with a lovely pic of sisters Adèle and Agathe in the foremath of a truly decisive tennis match: