Dracula Vs Penny Dreadful…

…The evolution of story telling or just plain laziness?

Be warned there will be spoilers for both shows below:

A couple of months ago I saw the first season of Dracula starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers after a friend recommended it.

The story had promise despite being yet another rehash of the book. Dracula was painted as a modern day (late 19th century) mogul (with a dual identity) who is trying to take over the world by way of this new-fangled magic called electricity. The story has all the usual characters of course: Mina, Jonathan, Lucy and even Renfield who takes the more lovable guise of the indispensable butler/legal genius as opposed to the mad, fly eating, straight jacket wearing asylum resident. There is even the ubiquitous secret association which has infiltrated the highest levels of society and part of its duties is to collude with vampire hunters and occultists in order to find the Father of all Vampyres (who they suspect is in London) and put an end to him. Passion, revenge and pseudo-science trail the plot and the show has all the hocus pocus goobly-goock we all love so much, including the relics, the incantations and magic mixed with just a pinch of steampunk to bring it all together and help it set in the fridge.

Though enjoyable enough to make me sit through the entire first series comfortably, after it ended I felt no inclination to watch the rest. For me this a bad sign, as any good series is immediately addictive and must be watched serially until all available episodes are exhausted. In fact, I didn’t even know whether there was a second season until I researched it for this post. Only then did I uncover that it was in fact cancelled by NBC (not much surprise there) though it might be coming back for a second season on Netflix later this year. Needless to say I will not rushing to my nearest couch.

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At the end of the day the plot was so “true” to the book in its fundamental principles that I didn’t see the point of continuing even if it did have a second season. In all it felt flat and dare I say unimaginative despite the Gothic tinge and vampiric essence which pull very much at my entertainment heartstrings.

The gap that Dracula left was more than filled by Penny Dreadful. Upon discovering this show on my streaming service I set about watching the first episode without much research. As with books, I sometimes dive into something head first and decide to continue if I am sufficiently drawn. Needless to say I was chuffed to bits to discover yet another Vampire focused programme, though not excited by the prospect that more Stoker lore was being put into play.

My WTF-o-meter rang off the hook however when we were introduced to Viktor Frankenstein and even Dorian Gray, yes that Dorian Gray, of aging picture and despicable character fame, though we’ve yet to see any of those character traits. Currently he is only a little “immoral” (by Victorian standards always) and thoroughly cute and cuddly.

At first the show appears perfectly light and entertaining, though like Dracula, which had more reason to do this, I did wonder at the need to rehash popular characters from classical literature in reinterpretation after reinterpretation. I wondered about that Monday morning Network pitch meeting where the creator and the writers got together to discuss the reasoning behind this moth eaten tapestry of classical literature.

Does it have to do with our modern day need to get through everything quickly? We know for example that Frankenstein created his nameless monster and that said monster came back to ruin everything he held dear, but are we told this so that we can perhaps expect it in the future or so that the show’s creators didn’t have to go to the trouble of creating characters for which they would have to write backstories? If not, does it mean that they’ll use the character as a frame and change the story as we know it? If not, then what’s the point of making the show? If yes, then the authors are turning in their graves. I know I’m contradicting myself, but I am a purist about certain things.

Speaking of backgrounds, there is none more varied than that of Vanessa Ives who has gone from child/teen seductress to lunatic asylum resident to Vassal of Lucifer to trainee witch only to end up as the Devil’s intended once again. I mean she’s already fucked the dude so what’s the big deal? Her background story couldn’t be more turbulent and confused if they tried, and sadly it does not give her any gravitas whatsoever. It’s like they don’t really know who or what she is and are adding or subtracting supernatural elements as the series progresses.

What about Dorian Gray? We know him as the essence of decadence and corruption so it should come as no surprise that he fucks everyone on the show, staying true to the popular culture perception of his character. Why though have him seduce Ethan Chandler, who up to that point was the voice of sobriety and sensibility and have it come to nothing? Perhaps it will be revealed later on but as it stands it seems simply as character contrivance without purpose.

And if the “plagiarising” of classical literature wasn’t enough, they’ve gone and made Frankenstein create the elusive bride to the beast, or John Clare as he prefers currently, only to fall for her himself. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Pygmalion (who was Cypriot might I add) who fell in love with the ivory statue of a woman he had carved. I won’t even go into the misogynistic undertones of grooming the whore into a lady after you have wiped the hard drive clean. I thought we were past the whole “My Fair Lady” vibe. That said, I reserve some judgement, the end is yet to come.

As the series is still ongoing and will presumably continue to do so for some years, I don’t know how to conclude but I am left with several questions. Have we become so flippant as a culture that we cannot be bothered to delve into the classics by ourselves and expect a tv show to chew and half digest them for us, or are we simply too lazy to immerse ourselves into new and original characters? The success of GOT would suggest otherwise (Historical similarities with real figures not withstanding).

I would love nothing more than to see some true original Steampunk story telling (Victorian setting or no) without having to stoop to appropriating the fictional characters of the past however well it is done. Perhaps it was an attempt to expand further on these beloved characters who do in fact have incredible potential for further exploitation. The original books were great, which is certainly why they became classics, but it feels a bit hubristic to revive them like this. I’m half expecting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to show up in future seasons. If they do you heard it here first.

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Having said all this, where Penny Dreadful wins over Dracula is in the philosophy. Victorian poetry, about which I admittedly know very little, permeates throughout the show and existential issues are always central, no doubt due to its supernatural theme. Death and rebirth are highly prevalent, as is faith, predestination and freedom of choice vs animal instinct. I’m also quite taken with the fact that Ethan Chandler frequently discusses the injustices perpetrated against the Native Americans, an issue rarely discussed on any programme be that fiction or factual as in the case of Finding your Roots for example.

Social issues such as feminism and homosexuality are also shamelessly put to the fore and not just in the style of Tru Blood where the gay sex is done purely as a lure with little social commentary. The sex scene between Dorian and Angelique was both sexy and loving and the ball he held in her honour speaks very much about modern day issues of equality and acceptance in a society, particularly in America, where in many places, the ethos has not evolved much since the days of the Victorians. For that Penny Dreadful deserves some applause.

On a closing note, I await to see if race will be highlighted beyond the token black guy servant…

Your thoughts, as always, are very welcome.

One step closer

So it is done! The umpteenth draft of Vampire Edifice is out of my hands and into those of my copy editor for a second plot opinion as well as proofing for typos and grammar.

This means that I am one step closer to the finish line. Hopefully I will be getting the draft back in a few weeks at most, at which point I will be doing the final corrections and then onto the dreaded formatting. Thankfully this time the plot is more straight forward and will not require funky tricks to separate the story within the story. The cover is ready to go, so now I must put some thought towards the blurb.

Hold the line please-

Teeny Tiny update

As I’m in the throws of editing before I send the final draft of ‘Vampire Edifice’ to the copy editor, I won’t be posting anything for a few days due to a very tight schedule.

Watch out for new posts after the 15th when it’ll be off my plate and I will be able to resume book 3 (currently no title) as well as foster loftier thoughts and discuss matters of entertainment.

Virtual hugs to you all.

What to Watch Vs What not to Watch May Edition.

I’ve decided to make “What to watch” a monthly feature of notable and not so notable movies, both English language and foreign, and not excluding series or documentaries as these may arise.

This month’s was mixed lot but in all it made for interesting viewing.

United States of Amnesia:
This movie deals with the life of Gore Vidal, a vocal American Author, playwright and thinker with roots in the civil rights movement but who went on to condemn everything that was wrong with modern day (American) society from his youth to his death. There’s not many of them left and this one in particular was worth his weight in ink, really expensive ink!
This modern day philosopher had a long and sterling career in the spotlight and was never afraid to voice his concerns with the establishment or talk back to those who disagreed with his choices or opinions. There isn’t much I can say plot wise as this is a biography, albeit of a fascinating man with a burning intellect as well as a human and frail side.
The narrative is inevitably in the form of a documentary, but because so much of Vidal’s life was spent on camera it doesn’t feel heavy or preachy, it just unfolds gradually through his own words or those that knew him. Food for thought even if you’re full.

Detachment:
Adrien Brody, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, Christina Hendriks and Bryan Cranston are a few of the actors in the all-star cast of Detachment. It was very refreshing to watch them all play real, vulnerable people in a believable setting and their on screen chemistry really worked. Adrien Brody, whom I’ve never been particularly fond of as an actor (but credit where credit is due) plays a substitute teacher in a New York school (if I remember correctly) while dealing with his senile and problematic granddad on his free time. The only word I have for the tone of the film is bleak.

The film presents a very dark side of life as teacher in a NY state school where budgets are crippled and the system is in turmoil, causing suffering both to the students and the staff who it seems are the real losers in this equation. I don’t know if it’s the nature of the job but all the people in this film appear to be living really shitty existences. I pity all American teachers if reality is even a little close to how this film portrayed it. As it progresses we see that out of all the washed out, morale depleted teachers in the film, Brody manages to reach out to the students and get some results via a nanny McPhee no-shit-taking attitude. He also manages to take an underage prostitute off the streets and change the course of her life without doing the dirty. It’s all in a day’s work for this super teach!

Worth watching if you’re in the mood for something serious and thought provoking. James Caan is brilliant even in his small role.

For more credits:

Citizen4
A documentary on the life of Edward Snowden while his exposé of NSA confidential documents was taking place. It’s interesting to see his personal take on events as well as how his life was affected as a result of the whistleblowing. Great, sobering watch but a little disjointed in places, leaving you slightly unsatisfied at the end. They could’ve wrapped it up a little better, but allowances are made due to the nature of the reporting.

On this note, this Ted Talk by Snowden is pretty groovy too.

Wild Card Viewing:

Ochos Apelidos Vascos
Apparently this was the biggest grossing Spanish film in 2014, and not surprisingly because it deals with Basque and Spanish stereotypes which have gripped, terrified and amused the country for decades from what I understand.
It was cute and funny but as a story it’s been done before: Girl meets boy, sleeps over at his house, boy falls in love. When the enamoured boy makes the trip to Basque country to return her forgotten bag she doesn’t want to know his Andalusian ass so she chases him off. When her estranged dad makes an appearance in town however, she decides to pass him off as the (former) fiancé who has broken off their engagement. Some predictable hilarity ensues.

Sorry I couldn’t find a trailer with English subs:

What Not to Watch:

Chapter 27
Focusing on the three last days of John Lennon’s life through the eyes of his murderer Mark David Chapman, this film was an attempt at a soul searching film via the medium of a mad man. Personally I prefer interpretive dance.

Though I suspect it was an attempt at Art House, down to the 80’s style shots and filter applications, it was-how shall I put this gently? –A total fail! It is my long held belief that Americans are unable to do art house cinema, despite how hard they try, and this was another nod to that.

Though sombre, morose and broody, Chapman was simply not an interesting enough character on which to base an entire hour and twenty minutes to. The movie did not look into his past or his reasoning, merely his obsession with Lennon and his dysfunctional relationships with people including those close to him as well as new acquaintances. At times it tried to paint him as a lonely, misunderstood soul trying to reach out to people who pulled away on account of his awkwardness, making you wonder whether perhaps he felt alienated enough to be driven to murder. As it is, we were shown nothing of Chapman’s motives, his past, or what led him to single out Lennon as his victim. We are not told his history or whether he was always disturbed (my guess is affirmative) but are merely shown bits about his life which seem totally irrelevant. His attachment to “Catcher in the Rye” which is probably what the title alludes to is another one of those blanks. Whatever the case, the film’s semi-exploration of a lunatic’s world was not interesting enough to make him the main character in a movie that bobbed along slower than a paper boat in a bath tub. It lost my interest repeatedly and dragged out so much it made me wonder when the shooting would take place so that the plot would move on, or better yet, end.

Having said all that however, Leto’s performance was impressive, though I wouldn’t go as far as to call it moving simply because of the character’s one dimensionality. I don’t know if the man himself truly was that way, or whether he was written thus, but I’m guessing Leto did the best that he could with how the character was written.

Zodiac (2005)
In one word: Meh….
In more words: Murderer kills people, police are clueless, main detective fucks up his family out of obsession to catch this guy, killer is still on the run. Overall feeling: ‘meh.’

In hindsight I should’ve watched the one with Jake Gyllenhaal, I think I’ll go do that now.

Cheerio kids!

Ro News!

Some of you might recall that I claimed “Vampire Edifice,” the second book in the Affliction series would be coming out in May. It is now May and I hear you ask: “Where is the book Romina?” The answer is: it’s on its way.

Sadly I only got the book back from my editor last week, a lot later than what I’d thought he’d be done by, so this has had a knock on effect on my own rewriting bits. And that’s not even making allowances for the proof reader that’s going to come after I’ve finished it and sent it to Steve again for one more quick read through.

Sooooo, by my (new and hopefully improved) calculations the book should with some luck be hitting the virtual shelves by July/August at the latest.

The cover is very nearly done too, so hang in there for that one.

I’ll update as appropriate and distract you with other things.

Cheerio!

Can History be edited?

I’m sure you’ve all heard or read about the Ben Affleck “Finding your Roots” debacle that has dominated showbiz news before Bruce Jenner took over a couple of days ago. In case you haven’t here’s the long and short of it, Ben Affleck, bona fide Hollywood Royalty was invited to take part in Finding your Roots, a US TV programme much like Who Do You Think You Are?, which I could watch on repeat 24/7 even when The Walking Dead is on. Social and Family history is as real as it gets for me, a tangible connection to the past as well as everyone and everything that makes us who we are. That’s the whole point of it after all, discovering who we descend from.

As part of Affleck’s episode it was revealed that one of his distant relatives, a certain Benjamin Cole was a slave owner, and if several other websites are to be believed so were many more. As this revelation left “a bad taste” in his mouth according to his own statement, Mr. Affleck chose to have show’s producers edit the episode and pretend the slave owning Mr. Cole never existed. According to various news articles online, the ancestor in question was said to have owned a total of 25 slaves, a significant number for any one person in the 19th century, implying that the family was very well off. Hold onto that thought we’re going to need it later.

Despite the fact that as Mr. Affleck made sure to point out, Mr. Cole lived six generations ago, a move designed to impart distance between himself and his mega-grandad, our ancestors play a big part of how our family history is shaped in one way or another. Case in point, the small detail of the name “Benjamin” which has been important enough through the generations to be passed down to him.

Denying our family history is as nonsensical as implying we could have done something to prevent the negative aspects of it, but his attempts to hide it were probably made in an effort to avoid even a hint of racist accusations being made against him. Perhaps there are people out there who would’ve thought that since Ben Affleck had a slave owner in his family, some sort of racist feeling might have been passed down through the generations. This would not have been a problem however, AND it would have made for a much more impressive episode if the slave owning past was put in contrast to his mother’s ardent support of the civil rights movement in her youth. It would have been a much more powerful statement if they’d highlighted the point that five generations after owning slaves, the same line in the family came full circle and fought to abolish inequality.

Family have an effect on what and who we grow to be. The good things influence as positively just as the bad things can do either. The effects might be subtle or even imperceptible but they are there. We might not have the same beliefs and opinions as our distant relatives, heck I don’t share half my dad’s opinions and he singlehandedly raised me, so I would certainly not share them with an ancestor who was around c. 150 years ago, but I accept that somewhere in me is some minuscule part of the past, because we are products of the past, we are products of everything that came before us and it has helped shape both our negative and positive aspects. We can’t just embrace and celebrate the good aspects of our past, ignoring or pretending the bad ones never happened. We can’t edit history. It’s the first thing any secondary school History teacher will tell you. We learn History so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Whether we do repeat them is a topic for a whole other blog post however.

In a country where white police men shoot and kill black unarmed men on a daily basis, a condition clearly stemming from the black-white divide created by the slave trade and its aftermath, it is hypocritical and demeaning to wish to hide an instance of history where this occurred simply because it was your great-great-great-great granddad and your Hollywood persona does not fit with that profile. And, if you have the privilege of having that “leave a bad taste” in your mouth, many others do not.

One of the earlier episodes in the first series of the show featured Condoleezza Rice, Samuel L. Jackson and Ruth Simmons all of which had ancestors who were slaves, being as they are all African American. You can’t be African American and not have slavery feature in your family history. Did they have the option of neglecting to mention their slave ancestors? And that’s in the cases where their names are known of course; what about those of their European ancestors who had children with their slaves, most often by rape, in order to increase their “livestock?” The knowledge that your great great grandmother was somebody’s slave I’m sure leaves a “bad taste” in their mouths too, but they don’t even have the option of pretending that never happened or censoring it in order to feature more “interesting” ancestors.
In an episode featuring Harry Connick Junior we are told that one of his forefathers was a soldier in the Confederacy for 3 years, a fact which is clearly not pleasant for him but one which he takes well as can be expected and accepts as a fact of the times AND as part of his family history.

The place I am trying to get to in a very roundabout way is in fact this: When I first read the story about Ben Affleck the first thing that came to mind was this article about wealth and privilege in the UK. Though it is clearly not the same country, parallels can still be raised. The unspoken truth about all this remains that a person of wealthy descent (remember that point I told you to remember in the beginning?) maintains the privileges of his ancestry. Grandaddy Cole-Affleck was a wealthy man. The wealth was made on the back of a certain number of slaves. That wealth, privilege and education was passed down through the generations be it via a better standard of living, better opportunities, connections and all the ways that class and wealth proliferates through the ages. Like it or not the advantages of Mr. Affleck’s ancestors did benefit the generations that came after. Though I have no direct knowledge of the family’s history, even after the abolition of slavery no reparations were made. Slaves were sent on their way and the former owners went on exploiting the workforce in other more “legal” ways. He’s every right to be embarrassed, it’s only natural. What he doesn’t have a right to do is edit History. History is what it is, and it happened as it did. Shame on us if we at least don’t respect it enough to honour those that were injured by it and shame on us if we don’t learn from it.

What are you Afraid of?

Fuck the Word! In the beginning there was fear. Fear of the dark, fear of the beasts beyond the campfire, fear of the other tribe, fear of starvation, fear of the thunder and the lightning, fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of abandonment, fear of difference, fear of love, fear of power, fear of the Church, fear of the Tribe leader, fear of the King, the Emperor, the Government, the Boss. Fear of loss, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection.

Our parents teach us fear even before we understand the meaning of the word. “Don’t wander too far, there’s monsters out there.” “Don’t go in the street, you’ll get run over.” This early fear mongering is forged in order to protect us and teach us to hopefully use judgement, but over time it forms the scaffold over which all our thoughts and decisions are built upon. Fear is coded into our DNA and beyond that, we cultivate it like a permanent crop which we sew into the ploughed soil of our ready psyche and water it with stories of “what if” and “I can’t” until it blooms into a wild stalk of coils and tendrils that invades every part of our foundation disturbing the house and threatening to bring it down with a fertilisation of doubt.

Then there are those that see fit to exploit this innate fear and keep it fed and watered by way of harvesting the fruit of what each fear means to you. Your mom will exploit your fear of dogs to keep you in the house. Your brother will threaten to tell he saw you smoking, and then dad will beat the living daylights out of you. Your boss will cultivate your fear of recession and keep you in the office until 8 p.m; “‘Cause you know, it’s hard out there these days…” The Party will tell you the immigrants are coming to take your jobs and you’ll be left poor and destitute while some person of colour will dance on your grave; the priest will ask you to think of heaven and whether your heart is indeed lighter than a feather.

When fear is exploited and nurtured it finds those with similar fears and your fears merge with theirs and together the fear gains ground and roots down all by itself until it has become a self-sustaining weed crop that spreads and spreads and spreads until it looks like it has always been there. This harvest of terror becomes the only produce which can nourish you and you accept no other fruit or vegetables because they threaten the crop that you’ve built, despite the fact that it might be tastier or more nourishing. Because you also fear losing this crop, and if this goes then what if you don’t like the other vegetables?

Fear is so insidious it disguises itself into principles and ideals, into age old institutions and establishments, the way it’s always been. Why are women not allowed to drive or work in some parts of the world? Probably because the establishment fears they’ll become too independent and threaten the male dominated status quo. Maybe they’ll even prove to be better than men at many things, what then? The paradox of misogyny asks, ‘Why are women good enough to marry and raise your kids but not good enough to hold office or run a company?’

Why are homosexuals not allowed to be free and marry everywhere in the world? Despite conservative fears, they don’t threaten the moral fabric or the foundation of society. They’re already here, they’re just being quiet about it in those places where they’re not allowed to speak up. Homosexuality is not something you can suppress any more than skin colour is. Not letting them live freely will not make them go away, neither will it keep your society “pure.” It’ll just make them angry and unhappy and why must someone be unhappy just because you’re afraid their lifestyle will make your kid ask uncomfortable questions?

Why are we afraid civilization will collapse if “loose morals” are allowed to flourish when it is already haphazardly hanging by the threads of centuries of bad choices and even worse actions? Society isn’t some fortress of moral impenetrability. Babylon is already here and now and the greatest lack of morals does not stem from the people on the ground, but the people in the tower; the people protecting the fat cats, the oil lobbies, the deforestation councils, the CEO’s. They have the greatest ability to change it, but they are most afraid of all, they’re afraid of losing everything they’ve built for themselves in their “pure” communities.

The people on the ground also fear losing what they’ve built for themselves but on a smaller scale. We fear losing our jobs, our homes, our cars, our loved ones, our standard of living and our values so we do what we’re told and we never question our orders. We fear getting old and sick, we fear illness, the big “C;” we fear dying alone or in pain. And when one day when all our worst fears are realised and that doctor confirms what we’ve been dreading to hear all our lives, a light goes off and we wake up; we think of what we’ve been missing, of all the misplaced fears that have blinded us all along and stopped us from being free. Facing our fears brings clarity; it’s the end of the hall and all the doors to the right and left are closed and behind each one hides a fear we’ve fostered and fed. Only it doesn’t matter anymore, all the doors are closed except for the big central one, the biggest fear of all, and it is what it is. You scream and you shout, you deny and yet it still is what it is, until you accept it.

Just before the peace comes…

All our lives we’re told what to do, what to think, what to say for fear of…whatever, but when the fear is faced, the curtain drops, the illusion is exposed.

What would life be like without fear I wonder?

My article on Vamped.org!

This week I’m very excited to announce the publication of an article I wrote in December for Vamped.org. The article is about the Countess’s public perception from the time of her arrest and trial to the present and closely examines the birth and evolution of the blood bathing myth with which she has become synonymous.

I loved writing this one as it was strictly historical and it involved revisiting some of my earlier work and fascination with the Witch-hunt hysteria which gripped the western world for over 200 hundred years. You’ll have to read it to see the correlation.

Enjoy and let me know your thoughts.

Elizabeth_Bathory_Portrait

Chuck made me do it, again!

I was going to post something else this week, but when I saw this short short challenge I knew I had just the piece for it! It’s 101 words long because I like to live on the edge! Let me know what you all think.

Hospital

I opened my eyes to the sight of a hospital room, the clock across my bed said 3pm but had no date.

How long have I been here? I tried to ask the attending nurse but nothing came out, my voice was not working, my limbs were not moving.

Approaching me, he hovered by the side of the bed looking into my eyes, observing me closely and uttering reassuring yet hollow words. I felt his cold hand on my shin, followed by my thigh and then my crotch. Cold sweat washed over me as he began to pull down my underwear.

Covers, covers, covers! Book #2 Affliction Series!

It’s finally time to share the title and potential covers with all y’all!

My title of choice is Vampire Edifice: The Awakening and the cover alludes to the old science and discovery themes that are prevalent throughout the work. I’m currently doing the final edits before it goes off to my editors. Hang in there for the blurb which will be coming soon.

With some luck and no editorial delays Vampire Edifice will be coming out in May.

Here’s the penultimate designs for the cover. They’re not finalized yet, but I’m close enough to reveal. I’ve sent my designer some comments but I think I’m more or less settled on the look.

Romina 3Covers