Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"i never woke up in handcuffs before"

A sample of Hans Zimmer's score from the movie "Sherlock Holmes."  The deep tuba mixed with the screechy violin notes and the playful beats on the snare(?) give this piece a circus-like feel, fitting the comedic situation Holmes finds himself in at the end of the song- naked and in handcuffs.

I'm almost certainly downloading this soundtrack off of iTunes now.  Edgy violin pieces are the only type of music I know of that is simultaneously classy and rebellious.

Monday, December 28, 2009

the "real" holmes

*Warning: Here Be Spoilers for "Sherlock Holmes." Don't read if you don't want the movie ruined for you.*
image source: Daemon's Movies
I saw "Sherlock Holmes" this evening with a friend, and all I have to say is: wow.

It completely blew away all of my expectations.  And I mean completely.  My expectations were no where close to where I thought the movie would rank in my mind.  I thought it would be, at best, a decent action film that ignored the characterizations of the characters in order to solve some ridiculous plot.

Sure, it was action packed, but it never took away from the characters or the plot.  The movie starts out with Holmes and Watson ending a case with a blown-out a martial arts/boxing/ass-kicking scene that literally leaves you breathless.  But there was immediately a demonstration of Holmes' powers of deduction right before that when, seconds before a guard comes upon him, he works out in his mind the best way to take his adversary out and get on with stopping a murder, with what he has worked out in his mind in apparently slow-motion suddenly shown in normal time.  The technique is used again to great effect not only in a boxing scene, but also when he is trying to figure out what a particular midget's experiments may have resulted in by picturing the midget at work.  Bloody brilliant, because it shows what Holmes observes that Watson cannot, even though Watson sees exactly the same things.

The characters were also amazing.  Except for Lord Blackwood.  I wasn't crazy about him, although he was not really given a chance to characterize at all. Villains rarely are.

Jude Law was a refreshing Watson, not only because he was more pleasant to look at than the chubby actors who are usually cast in this role, but because he was an integral part of the story.  In many, if not most film portrayals of the duo, Watson is just this bumbling hanger-on whose presence could easily be dispensed with, as he never solves any crimes or noticeably helps at all.   I assume Watson's presence is much like it seems to be in the short stories- as a middleman between the audience and the brilliant yet anti-social detective to explain his reasoning to in clear steps with appropriate questions asked of him.

Law's Watson was some of the same, but he also assisted a good deal in examining dead bodies when appropriate for clues and warning Holmes of various dangers. Downey's Holmes obviously appreciated the companionship.  They had a few "bro" moments which were pretty friggin' hilarious, and Holmes' attempts to sabotage Watson's engagement and prevent him from leaving the rooms at Baker Street show how much he cares for Watson in the only way he knows how.  And yet Watson gets understandably pissed at his slovenly rascal of a roommate.

Robert Downey Jr. plays an analytical yet human Holmes who loves to fight, "rebels against stagnation" after he fails to get an interesting case in three months, and resists carrying out his emotions for the only woman who has ever presented an interesting challenge for him, all in true Holmes style.  The messy, unshaven representation of Holmes was more fitting to me, surprisingly enough, than his cleaner counterparts.  Why?

Look at it this way. Holmes is known as a social outcast.  In Victorian times being so gross would have been revolving to good society, and fits the image of the experimenter, the cocaine and morphine addict, and the general nutjob that Holmes is.  Remember, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle depicts Holmes as an eccentric over and over again in his stories.  Who else would shoot a "patriotic V.R." (for Victoria Rex) into the wall out of boredom?  Or not know that there were nine planets in the soar system, and then say he would try to forget it as soon as possible?  Or know the location of all types of soil in London?  Downey's Holmes is just as eccentric in his own ways (although he got the V.R. and soil knowledge down pat).  The escape from the stereotypical tweed Inverness cape and deerstalker cap was also a welcome surprise.  I wonder if Doyle ever intended Holmes to look like Downey Jr. did in this movie, as the stereotypical outfit only ever appears in one of the original stories.

Rachel McAdams gave a good performance, but I have little to really say about it other than she was a convincing self-possessed woman who looks terrific in female Victorian clothes.
image source: Daemon's Movies
And the music.  Hans Zimmer's score was edgy and jarring with an Emilie Autumn violin feel to it, added along with a broken piano, banjo, and some other unusual choices.  I am currently contemplating purchasing the soundtrack.

The greatest fault with this movie was the lame storyline.  Secret societies and black magic just are too science fiction for true Sherlockians (Sherlock Holmes fans).  But the action and the characters, as well as the relative brilliant deduction Holmes used to explain the "magic" parts of the plot, were enough of a distraction that they did not take away from the film too much.

I strongly recommend this movie to even the most stalwart fan of the original stories.  You won't be disappointed by references to "A Scandal in Bohemia" or "The Sign of Four," and it's a unique look at the Master that doesn't really take away from his character.  It just makes him a little more human.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

o christmas tree

Just in time for the worldwide celebration of the Christ child's birth comes this post on that dead tree many people set up in their living rooms and hang lights and pretty colored bulbs from its boughs.

No, I am not going to talk about the tree's history as a pagan icon.  It's much simpler for me to talk about something more relevant to this blog- how the modern Christmas tree came to be, thanks to--


--the Victorians!

"What are you talking about?" I hear you ask.  "Hasn't this revered symbol of Christmas been around for, like, ever?"

Maybe in Germany, which is where the tradition has been prevalent in Europe longer than anywhere else.  According to Wikipedia, the tree didn't spread much further than the Rhineland until the early 18th century.  The various royal houses in Europe seemed to have picked up on the tradition a century later due to marriages to German royalty.  As this article on Victoriana says:

The Christmas tree was introduced into England in the early 19th century. In 1841 the German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, decorated a large Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, reminiscent of his childhood celebrations in Germany (the Christmas tree had been a deep-rooted German tradition since the 18th century). Soon after, it became very fashionable in Victorian England to set up a large tree at Christmas
and decorate it with lighted candles, candies, and fancy cakes hung from the branches by ribbon and by paper chains.
 The Christmas tree had been introduced in America since the 18th century, when German settlers brought the tradition over with them, but it did not gain widespread popularity in that country or in England until the mid-19th century, when a woodcut of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria, and their children around a Christmas tree showed up in several publications such as the Illustrated London News  (England, December 1848) and Godey's Lady's Book (America, 1850).  Godey's changed the image, removing Victoria's crown and Prince Albert's mustache to make it a more "American" scene (pictured below):

image source: Wikipedia

Like celebrities of today, the royal family were trendsetters, and the Christmas tree became "all the rage" of 19th century Christmases, I suppose.  Ornaments were hand-crafted for a while, with many edible goodies such as candies and cookies added (think gingerbread men and candy canes), but then glass balls and the like were eventually imported from places like Germany. 

So Merry Christmas, folks, whatever your religious beliefs are:
image source: Operation Letters to Santa

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

body piercing victorian style

I stumbled across a type of body piercing I have never seen before, and hope to never see with the naked eye--the corset piercing.  It's so named because it emulates the look of a corset:

image source: luuux.com
As you may be able to see, the piercing involves two rows of symmetrical ring piercings that are laced through with ribbon.  These piercings have been done on parts of the body such as the back, the side of the torso, the leg, and even on the arm.

Before anyone starts to wonder how anyone could possibly bear with so many piercings in one area for their life, keep in mind that the piercings are usually not permanent, as this article by Lori Wilkerson says:

The corset piercing is most popular for performance art and fetish events, and is almost always removed immediately afterward. They usually can’t heal properly because they are a surface piercing in an area prone to rejection and they use a type of jewelry that isn’t really suitable for permanent use in the area.
According to this site, leaving these temporary piercings in longer than a few days can cause infection or permanent scarring.  If you want to make the piercings themselves permanent, however, you're supposed to get them done with surface bars.

But why would you want to have these piercings permanently?  Look how red the skin is around these piercing:

image source: About.com
And how taut the skin has been pulled in this photo:

image source: Dissociated Press
Not for me.  It took me 18 years to seriously consider getting my earlobes pierced.  Getting ten, or even four piercings so I can loop ribbon though them like a corset, sounds more painful than beautiful.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Apparently this is what corsets do to your organs:

image source: The Corset Controversy
Can rearranging organs cause internal damage?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

riese: the steampunk series

It's funny what one finds on YouTube.  A steampunk action series called Riese, for one:

I have watched all four of the episodes posted online thus far, which you can find on the series' YouTube channel or official website.

So far the series has partially impressed me.  I think the costumes are great and the settings terrific.  I love the steampunk feel of the series.  But the story is, so far, about as ambiguous as the series.  It took me until I looked at the official website for the series and the official website for The Sect to get an inkling of the significance of anything I had watched in those four episodes.
image source: Pink Ray Gun
From the official website:

Riese is a world of moral ambiguity and political intrigue. A decimated land populated by characters from dreams and nightmares. Loyalties are ever in question, suspicion in the minds of all. The realm, however, was not always so cruel. Everything began with a peaceful nation called Eleysia.

The Kingdom of the Wolf, Eleysia was once prosperous due largely to the influence of Empress Kara and Emperor Ulric. This all changed when a coup d’etat, orchestrated from the shadows by a religious cult, brought about a total regime change.

Taking the throne was Amara, the Empress’s cousin. A power-hungry tyrant, Amara immediately utilized Eleysia’s wealth and power to begin colonizing the world, crushing nation after nation in order to unite the people under one banner. Even as she assaulted the world, an ominous, enigmatic group clearly wielded power over her. Called The Sect, they purported themselves to be the official religion of Eleysia, and began to spread alongside Eleysia’s borders.

Since the coup, the land has begun to die, resources are dwindling and compassion is fading. Humanity itself is seen as impure. People have grown restless, almost feral. Rituals and mythology have resurged, and the darker side of mankind has begun to reveal itself.

The true horror of the world is not in how it ends, but what will become of mankind as it fractures.And yet, despite the impending doom, a single beacon of light shines in Riese. A mysterious wanderer, she travels with her wolf Fenrir across this barren land. Branded as heretics by The Sect, Riese and Fenrir will pause to aid those in need as they travel, but they must evade capture at all costs. As she flees, she’ll piece together her past and her destiny, in a conflict that will hold the fate of this world in the balance - and the once peaceful kingdom of Eleysia will be the battlefield.

This is the world of Riese.
So far, though, simply watching the episodes gives you none of that information.  Of course that is hard to do when the series creators are only putting out seven minute episodes.  But that's why the episodes should be longer- I've watched about half an hour of the series so far and only managed to gather, before reading the companion websites, that Riese is pursued by some faceless villains who injured her, she has a wolf as a companion, her past is hazy, and the scary ankh/cross tattoo everyone belonging to The Sect wears is associated with something she does not like.  There is no solid explanation of who The Sect are.

Which is why looking at The Sect's website is vital to understanding the story.  Obviously they are a fundamentalist organization thrusting religion down people's throats.  The website's focus on indoctrination reminded me of the steampunkish attraction Rampage! this past Halloween at Pittsburgh's ScareHouse (which I discussed in this post), the Norsefire party from V for Vendetta (2006), and the Party (Ingsoc) from George Orwell's novel 1984.  The indoctrination is obvious in all of these examples, and in Riese, Rampage!, and V for Vendetta, the colors of the indoctrinating party are all red and black. 

So obviously the story of Riese takes place in a dystopian world where she must fight the indoctrinating power to free the people.  It seems to be a stab at organized religion, though.  While The Sect's website gives you the impression that they are not to be trusted and are blinded by faith, my question is... aren't most "religious" people?  Didn't I believe for years that I was going to go to hell for letting my mind wander in church, and try to "witness" to unbelieving friends so they wouldn't go to hell because they didn't believe what I believe?  So did many of my high school acquaintances.  I was taught that was what you were supposed to do, and when I began to question that five years ago, I was told that I had little faith and needed to pray to God for more faith, rather than gain knowledge (or a different interpretation) of the aspects of religion I was questioning.  The Sect appears to be no different.

I think the difference between The Sect and my religion, however, is that The Sect punishes heretics and forces everyone to think what they think.  I am always free to leave my religion with little social consequence.  The citizens of Eleysia are not.  And that is why Riese is on the run.

The series may not make a whole lot of sense in its current format, but it is a good seven-minute break from working on that school paper or paying the bills.  Watch the episodes here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

finals done!

I think someone should make it a policy that any class discussion cannot take place unless the participants are slightly intoxicated.  Considering that my one instructor forced us to come to class during finals week to participate in a class discussion that could have taken place last week, the wine one student brought made for a quite interesting time. There certainly was much more input on Dexter Filkin's The Forever War than there normally would have been.

You are now reading the blog of a college graduate.  w00t! I just turned in my final assignment at 6 p.m. this evening, a 14-page article on college students and depression.  Finally! I am about ready to crash as I am absolutely exhausted.  I've slept little this past week.

In celebration for finishing my final exam, and because I am not thinking coherently at the moment, I leave you with these words of wisdom:

image source: zabean's account at Zazzle

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

cane guns

The following item should have gone along with the previous post on the swordstick.  The cane gun was also another weapon included in the horrible 2002 movie "Sherlock," a rare weapon of the 19th century.  According to this page from the Remington Society's website, Remington produced a line of cane guns that were meant to be a last-ditch effort at defending oneself from a "predator," but their inaccuracy did not make them ideal weapons for any other use.  Only a few thousand were ever made, making this weapon a desired rarity among antique firearm collectors.

The following photos are taken from Antique Associates at West Townsend, Inc. of a Babcock cane gun:

The trigger and handle:

And the barrel:

So you're just walking down the street, see that  old chap who slept with your sweetheart, lift up your cane and BANG!  The unsuspecting blighter is now dead, and you can keep on walking like you had nothing to do with it.

No wonder cane guns are classified as concealed weapons and forbidden- California state law has specifically made it a felony to own a cane gun.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

pict does "jane eyre"

So I am taking a break from writing my blogging paper to... blog.  Which is probably not a good idea, considering that I've been sitting in front of this laptop on and off since about 9:30 this morning and even more typing will not help the painful carpal tunnel in my wrists.

I did take a long break from typing last night, though, to see the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater's performance of "Jane Eyre" at the Stephen Foster Memorial.  The tickets were extremely expensive- $17 for a ticket for "Youth" under 25 years of age, and can be up to $46 for an adult over that age. But I had several reasons for wishing to see this performance:
  • Jane Eyre has been my absolute favorite novel since I was 16.  I love this book so much I bought a pocket-sized copy, simply to carry around with me.  I sometimes reread favorite passages, which usually include the colorful dialogues between Jane and Mr. Rochester.
  • My dear friend Christine was performing as Helen Burns, Jane's sickly, God-loving Lowood schoolmate.
  • I wanted to write a review for this blog about the play, since it is a theatrical take on a Victorian novel being performed in my adopted city of residence.
image source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
I was a little wary about seeing this play due to a less than favorable review of the play in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but a bad review was not enough to stop me. Neither was my inability to convince my friends to purchase an expensive ticket to a Saturday night showing during finals week, so I sat by myself.  That was not bad at all, actually- I spent the time reading the program and a little of George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss before the lights dimmed and the show began.

One thing to keep in mind about this play are my personal biases towards the story and the play.  For one, my favorite film adaptation of the novel is the 1944 version, starring Joan Fontaine as Jane and Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester.  The best way to describe Welles' interpretation of Mr. Rochester is that of a gruff, abrupt, rude and yet brazenly honest and passionate man who has been used harshly by the world.  His affection is practically sadistic, and sometimes you wonder why the seemingly fragile Jane is so drawn to a man who so appears to be her complete opposite.  One eventually discovers, however, that the two are kindred spirits intellectually and, as one dramatic scene in a thunderstorm suggests, perhaps even spiritually.  Besides, Rochester's unrefined qualities make him so interesting as a character, one can never be sure where his temper or his dialogue will go next:

This movie was my first exposure to Charlotte Bronte's novel, so when I actually read the story myself, the image of Rochester looked almost exactly like Welles. As for Joan Fontaine, she's too pretty to make a convincing Jane.

Another bias is, of course, my friend Christine's presence in the production, but of the character she portrayed I have little to say.  Helen Burns helps to shape Jane's prevalent Christianity later on in the play, of course, but Helen herself only occupies five minutes of the play, so Christine's involvement did not significantly affect my thoughts on the production.

I was surprised, in a good way, about many aspects of the play.  One of them was the nearly loyal transfer of both dialogue and action in the play.  It was not some crazy artistic bastardization of the story, but a homage to Charlotte Bronte's literary genius.  Don't get me wrong; I am not overly picky when it comes to loose interpretations of many stories, and I can think of many ways that this particular play could have cut out a good portion of the story and not lost its overall effect (I myself never was fond of the St. John Rivers side story, even if it develops Jane's character even further), but I was pleased that most of the principle action and situations were maintained.  But this loyalty to the story may have confused audience members who are not familiar with the original novel, as a lot of the play is dialogue, and actions often occur off-stage.

Scene changes were probably also a headache for strangers to the story. I fully agree with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic Bob Hoover's complaints about the scenery:

The manor's furnishings troubled me. Designer Downs placed clumps of fake boulders around the stage and they double as the manor's furniture. Somebody might be tempted to ask, "I say, Rochester old chap, what's that big rock doing in the drawing room?"

Sure, I know Downs used them to indicate the English countryside, but most of the play is set indoors, so his choice seems out of synch.
The lack of indoor furniture also made scene changes confusing.  I was fortunate enough to have an idea of what dialogue was set to which scenes from having read passages of the book so many times, but others who are not obsessed with the novel as I am may not have known that.

The backdrops, however, were beautiful.  They were a rusty-stained metal gate design that looked like leafless trees, covered over with a torn, hand-written page from the book covering the gate.  The gate had doors and hinges to open it in different ways to indicate changes of scenery (it was opened more in outdoor scenes, and closed more in indoor ones, or in smaller houses or rooms.)  And the accompanying music- just a pianist and clarinet player/ bassoonist - was gorgeous and fitting.

The actors and actresses were very good for the most part.  The best by far was the adult Jane, played by Allison McLemore.  She was a perfect mix of a passionate, yet timid and humbled young woman torn by love for Mr. Rochester and Christian morality.  The funny thing is, I had never, ever pictured Jane to be as expressive as McLemore's Jane was.  I had always imagined her to be soft-spoken and pragmatic, even at the most trying moments of her interactions with Mr. Rochester and St. John Rivers.  But McLemore altered my perception of Jane so much that I spent a good amount of time after coming home from the play poring over some of Jane's dialogue in my copy of Jane Eyre, trying to determine if lines that I had previously thought were spoken calmly, without emotion, were actually written to be more passionate by Bronte.  I determined that most of those lines, in fact, deserved more emotion than I had previously imagined them to be spoken in my mind.

I was not so crazy about Mr. Rochester, played by David Whalen.  What was with that God-awful wig?  He did a decent job as Mr. Rochester, much better than I had even hoped for, but he could never compare to Orson Welles' performance.

Adele was terrible.  I could hardly hear her, and her French accent was pretty bad.  And Bertha Mason was... well, a wacko giant.  She looked like a mix between Hagrid from the Harry Potter series and Tia Dalma from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  Which made me wonder how Jane could have not seen her sneaking around Thornfield throughout the play.  She was kind of hard to miss.

Joel Ripka transferred well from his roles as Richard Mason and St. John Rivers, as did Anna Van Valen as first Blanche Ingram and later Diana Rivers.

Then there was poor Shelley Delaney, the only actress to be on stage throughout the entire play.  She served as the narrator, an "elder" Jane and did a terrific job of it.  It was quite interesting to see her sometimes actually share the narration with both the "young" Jane before she goes to Lowood (played by Jenna Lanz) and with the adult Jane.  Jane's own thoughts are often directed to the elder Jane as an of extension of her own psyche, which, yet again, may have been confusing to audience members who were unfamiliar with the original story.

Overall, it was an excellent, faithful production for fans of Charlotte Bronte's beloved novel, but don't take your non-literary friend if you want them to get into the story- they may very well get lost along the way.

Friday, December 11, 2009

steampunk exhibit in oxford

image source: tor
This is not timely news- I knew about this back in October, but I forgot to post about it!  Bad blogger!

There is a steampunk exhibit currently being featured in The University of Oxford's Museum of the History of Science.   It's curated by American artist Art Donovan, who has a small blog on the exhibit here.

Erika Heet manages to concisely describe the exhibit in few words for Dwell Magazine (a home design and decor publication):

With names like Dr. Grimm, Datamancer, and Mad Uncle Cliff working in media ranging from gas masks to brass goggles and hot-air engines, the artists of the Steampunk movement are bringing their mélange of past, future and fantasy to the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University for a group exhibition. Under the curatorial direction of Art Donovan—who describes his illuminated sculptures as “electro-futurist”—the group of 18 artists will be showing jewelry, computer accessories, costumes, watches, kinetic sculptures and all things that represent the Steampunk aesthetic, which Donovan describes as “the steam of antique locomotion combined with the punk outsider, the lone wolf artist, the do-it-yourself craftsperson not beholden to any contemporary style or ideology.” Of all the marriages of old and new offered at the exhibition, Jesse Newhouse’s iPod gramophone promises to be among the most fitting manifestations of the genre that has gained so much attention of late.
 Few could have put it better.

This exhibit has garnered a lot of attention, from mention on WIRED Magazine's blog to a few BBC interviews and images to a one-sentence mention of the exhibit in this great TIME article on the steampunk movement.

The exhibit runs now until February 21, 2010.  So if you're in Oxford, England any time before the end of February, it might be worth checking out.  If you can't quite make it across the pond, then just check out the images from the exhibit on the website. I'd post some images myself, but they are protected from the likes of bloggers like me. Except for this "EyePod" photo from this article on the exhibit on The Oxford Times' website:
Back to writing essays for finals week.  What. Fun.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

on my blogging experiences

As some of you may know, this blog was created for a blogging class.  Last night was our final class on that subject matter, and our instructor officially released us from the "obligation" of blogging for a grade.  Something that, at the start of the class, I thought I would eagerly look forward to.

I had not really wanted to get involved with blogging when I first started.  I had a blog in high school on MySpace, but subsequently got into trouble for offending some classmates by complaining about them online.  Their names were not mentioned, but they figured out who I was talking about rather quickly.  I had to send out a public apology to those offended and ended my blogging in embarrassment.  With the discovery of Facebook I deleted my MySpace account altogether, hoping to forget the stain the entire incident left on my public writing image.  I thought blogging was stupid, a forum for stupid girls like me to display their emotions in a most inappropriate way.  To me, blogging was good for absolutely nothing.  Sure, I had heard that some blogs were political in nature, others were about specific topics like being a mother and gardening and whatnot.  But I thought, without having actually looked at any of these subject blogs, that these were just whiny little soapboxes.

Joel, our instructor for their blogging class, was quick to alter this negative view of blogging.  He made us read kottke.org (a great collection of links to art and videos and interesting contraptions or articles) and Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish (an excellent political blog that is updated at least 40 times a day.)  Both were informative and, while the latter was recognizably a soapbox, it was a soapbox in which the opposition got nearly as much attention, even if they were just everyday readers of the blog.  Joel also encouraged us to create our own blogs based on one specific subject matter, rather than make a personal blog, on a topic which we could write about at least three times a week.

I agonized over the subject.  What on earth could I possibly write about?  "Music" was too general.  Even specific genres such as "Celtic Rock" and "industrial" seemed way too broad for a "specialized" blog.  What about Bushy Run Battlefield, the museum where I interned for two summers?  They certainly needed a soapbox while the PA state legislature was trying to shut them down.  But that seemed too specific- the state budget had not even been passed at that point, and everything was hanging in limbo.  Nothing was really going on at Bushy Run, at least not three times a week, that I could write about.

I did know that I loved the Victorian Era, and I knew of many aspects of that time period (1837-1901) in modern life.  So why not combine my love of history, specifically this time period, with something the average reader is more likely to get- modern, everyday life?  I settled on the topic moments before I presented it to Joel: a neo-Victorian blog.  He looked at me if I was insane, but I somehow managed to come up with a justification for such a blog in about 30 seconds.  He bought it, and I was left wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.  I knew I'd talk about corsets, the Lady of Shalott, and Lolita fashion, but that was about all I had in mind.  I had the nagging feeling I'd hate this blog.

The first two weeks were tough.  I was trying to be funny and interesting without being personable or revealing anything about myself.  Each blog post was a chore.  I relished being allowed to miss a blog post in order to write about my G20 experience here in Pittsburgh on Joel's class blog.  I struggled to find topics to write about, trying to space out the two ideas I had not used yet.

And then I realized that The Wild Wild West, a steampunk film starring Will Smith, had an obviously Victorian influence, so I watched the music video for that film and wrote about it.  I wrote about how much I hated this campy film and made fun of the music video.  I mocked the film without worrying what the other readers felt about it.  And you know what?  It was such a release-- it felt good to be so personable and yet knowledgeable about my opinion and why I was sharing it: for the purposes of documenting neo-Victorianism in modern culture to my readers, the good, the bad, and the ghastly.  I could write candidly without hurting anyone's feelings on someone else's work.  Writing a blog could be personal and informative at the same time without being an online diary, as my MySpace blog had been.

The blogging really took off after that.  Within one week I found myself eagerly looking forward to writing updates, with friends and family suggesting topics for me to cover and my own research revealing the wealth of material out there on the web.  Within two weeks I had spoken to Andrew Sullivan face-to-face, and he talked me into updating my blog every single day.  Encouraged by his words, I spent the next seven weeks trying it.  Nearly two months later, I am far from exhausting the information out there on neo-Victorian culture, steampunk, Lolita and the like.  The new Sherlock Holmes film will come out in a few weeks, and I haven't even begun to talk about the world's most renowned detective's influence on modern culture.  Dracula and vampires, the modern form of which is actually a Victorian creation, have not received any attention by me as of yet.  And, of course, Emilie Autumn's book The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls will need to be read and reviewed when it comes out next week.

There is just too much left undone with this blog to end it anytime soon.

So I will continue to update as regularly as possible- as least 2-3 times a week- while I look for a job and try to enter the real world, that dark and scary place ready to swallow up all recent college graduates like me in its jaws of instability and terror.  Within the next week and a half my updates will lessen due to finals, but after that I will continue to provide all the information I can to satisfy your need for a quick Victorian internet fix.

Thank you, readers and commentors, for giving me ideas and just being terrific with your feedback.

Monday, December 7, 2009

one deadly walking stick

Leigh alerted me to an interesting 18th and 19th century device we had previously thought was an invention of the horrible 2002 movie "Sherlock:" the cane sword, or sword stick.  It's a sword that is hidden in a stick:

image source: The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles

According to the Wikipedia article on the cane sword that she found:

While the weapon's origins are unknown, it is apparent that the cane-sword's popularity peaked when decorative swords were steadily being replaced by canes as a result of the rising popularity of firearms, and the lessening influence of swords and other small arms. Soon after their introduction, other "gadget canes" became popular, holding the tools of one's trade rather than a blade, compasses, and even flasks for keeping alcohol.
Nowadays cane swords are generally made as novelty items and collected rather than used as actual weapons.  Despite this, cane swords are illegal in some areas in the U.S., and all of the UK, because they are considered to be a concealed weapon. 

There are several different makers of modern sword canes, such as Swords Direct, Fashionable Canes and Walking Sticks, and Burger Knives.  And a poor-quality video review of one sword cane here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

ea concert pictures

I thought I'd post some pictures for your enjoyment on this lazy Saturday.  First, my costume.  I used the same corset from Halloween, but added a plum colored mini skirt, white stockings and brown heels.  I ripped some holes in the stockings, and threaded a large gold ribbon in the holes near my left thigh.  I also used a piece of spare material from the corset to make a glove of sorts for my right hand.  I put gold beads and roses on it for decoration:

For hair I just curled it with hot curlers, threw it up high on my head and held it in place with a claw, to make a messy updo.  I left a small section of hair down the back to hang there decoratively.  Then I put gold roses in my hair, to match my corset. To finish it off I hung a long piece of gold ribbon from the claw, to hang down decoratively:

Leigh's costume was a blue corset top from Charlotte Russe.  She put a lacy, see-through top, also from Charlotte Russe, beneath the corset top.  She also wore a blue jean mini skirt and brown riding boots.  She added white lace gloves and a wire headband decorated in crystals from Claire's, drop earrings and a choker she made out of a piece of lace and a sewn-on heart pendant:

The stage before the start of the show, decorated with the clock-like shadow screen and covered with crazy knickknacks, a teapot, biscuits, a mini piano, books, teddy bears given to Emilie by fans, and her keyboard (that red-covered thing on the left):

Emilie Autumn out on stage:

Captain Maggot, Lady Aprella and Naughty Veronica take tea:

Emilie Autumn (on a wheelchair) and her Bloody Crumpets:

Naughty Veronica seduces the crowd with a feather fan dance:

I just love this picture, EA looks so annoyed:

Captain Maggot on stilts pulling a red ribbon from Lady Aprella's mouth while she balances precariously on pointe shoes and canes:

EA looks like she's trying to get away from paparazzi here.  I love this costume:

EA was very possessive of that spoon, for some reason Leigh and I are still trying to figure out.  It's probably not worth figuring out- she is in an insane asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, after all:

Friday, December 4, 2009

about last night...

Good thing I was so busy yesterday before the concert, or else I would have been too excited to sit through my classes.  During one of my classes I stitched beads onto a sleeve I made for my outfit, went to the gym, a doctor's appointment, and did some stuff for the magazine I'm on.  After my last class I rushed back home, threw on my costume and makeup, and headed out to Sharpsburg to pick up my friend Scott... but not before Leigh and I got some strange looks from one of my roommates as we were getting ready to leave. Scott didn't go all out in a corset like we did (just a boring black band t-shirt- really Scott?).  With little time to spare, our odd trio headed to Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale.

We got there about half an hour before the doors were supposed to open.  We left our coats in the car so we wouldn't have to carry them, so we huddled together for warmth in the 40some degree weather.  Thank God it wasn't raining.  When we finally got in we managed to get a center stage spot, with only two rows of teenage fans in front of us from the VIP session.  We made friends with a high schooler named Kamy who was a huge Emilie Autumn fan.  She had been to an EA concert in Chicago a few weeks ago, so she was able to give us tips on what to watch out for during the show, as well as when to know the start of the concert.  So we chatted with her mostly for the next hour as the theater gradually filled up and the numbness melted away from our bodies.

(From left to right:  Me, Kamy, and Leigh)
At 8:09 Kamy and I were sort of freaking out.  The concert was supposed to start 9 minutes ago.  Where was Emilie?

The classical music playing over the speakers blared out some noise and stopped.  Then the intro music began, with the Bloody Crumpets coming out on stage: first Captain Maggot, then Lady Aprella, then Naughty Veronica, and finally the Blessed Contessa.  They contorted and flirted on stage for a little while.  Then something that looked like a bird popped up on the shadow screen:

And everything came to a stop.

The music changed to the steady, metallic beat of "4 O'Clock" as the silhouette moved behind the screen in sharp, abrupt gestures and positions.  Finally Emilie Autumn came out from behind the screen, a wild mask with a long beak on her face and rat-like tail sewn to her bloomers.

The show had begun.

It was terrific for a stage show.  The costumes were wild, all of the girls had a terrific stage presence (except for Contessa; she looked constipated most of the time, and when she's talk in her haute society speak, I could not understand a bloody thing she was saying) and the crazy Victorian girl thing was played out well in little skits.  They threw biscuits and tea at the audience during songs, girl-on-girl kissing was prominent, and most of the swearing was followed with the more proper: "Indeed."

As I expected (see this post), everyone seemed to know the words to "Shalott," which was performed beautifully.  Even some of Emilie's duller songs, such as "Liar" and "God Help Me" was full of antics from her and her crumpets.  In "Liar" she wheeled about on stage in a gold wheelchair, jumped up on it, flopped down on it in a move I was sure had broken her back, and kept it up with violin in hand most of the time.

There were a few downsides to the concert experience, though.  During "God Help Me," Maggot drank some "pee-laced tea" and spit it right into our faces.  It smelled like pineapple juice, but the fact that it had been in her mouth and we were directly standing in the third row, center stage, had me wishing that there had been a warning somewhere about the possibility of that happening.  When I got home I had to shower, and now I definitely have to hand-wash my corset top.

The other issue I had was with the skits.  Most of them were based on some sort of fake lesbianism attributed to the "Asylum inmates."  While this seemed to excite the guys in the audience (like Scott), band members' making out and such soon became rather old.  It was one thing for Veronica to play the sexy Rat Game with one excited teenage audience member, but it was another to have Maggot and Contessa pretend to "consummate" a marriage behind the shadow screen- by that point in the show, such actions had long ceased to be a shock factor. And the audience members kept shouting for more, with Emilie calling us all perverts.  Well, we are if this is what entertains us.  I don't mind lesbian-like PDA any more than other types of PDA, but I don't find it all that entertaining or creative when it's shoved down my throat like it was during that concert.

(Maggot, on stilts, and Emilie, on the violin, share a kiss)
Another thing about the skits: they seemed to take too much away from the concert aspect.  I think I enjoyed the first part of the concert more than the second part because there were more songs that weren't interrupted by long dialogues on who Veronica has made out with, for example.

Scott made an interesting observation about the performance lesbianism and skits- they had probably started out as funny little side things between songs, and soon turned into this full-fledged show comparable to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with everyone in the audience except perhaps for Scott, Leigh and I knowing what was going to happen next.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the show.  Maggot proved to be very flexible, body surfing, walking on stilts.  Aprella showed off her lovely long legs in ballet moves and pointe shoes, and some magic tricks with flaming tea bags, a scarf turning into a cane and an unbelievably long red ribbon being pulled out of Aprella's mouth at least impressed me.  I wish they had done more of that, though, and less of the excessive sexual innuendos and vulgarity.

The definite highlight was seeing Emilie rip it up on the violin.  I tried taking a video of one of her violin-only songs, but I had taken so many pictures at that point that I ran out of memory for video.

So instead I will add the video for "God Help Me."  You can see the pee being spit at us, Maggot body surfing, and Contessa being spanked by Veronica.  The video does go sideways for about 20 seconds in the middle, though, because I forgot that you have to hold the camera horizontally the entire time.  Emilie is not seen very well in this video either due to the stage lighting:

UPDATE 12/20/12- THIS VIDEO NO LONGER EXISTS (i.e. the blogmistress accidentally deleted all copies, on and off line.).

And here's another video, from someone with better filming skills than I, who filmed Emilie performing "Dead is the New Alive":

Thursday, December 3, 2009

emilie autumn concert tonight!

image source: Ad Mortem Festinamus
The tickets were purchased online weeks ago.  Over the past week I have put together my outfit: the corset, the skirt, the stockings, ribbons, planned out hair and makeup and accessories, gotten batteries for my camera, and laid all of this stuff out for me to throw on after I rush home from my late afternoon Ottoman Empire class.  I even printed out MapQuest directions to Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale, even though it's literally 2.7 miles from my house... seriously, we could probably just walk there. 

The day is here.  Leigh and I are prepped and ready to break out into the madness of Emilie Autumn's Asylum tonight.

(*jumps up and down screaming, waking an irate roommate/relative*)

We'll make sure to avoid any flying bras and rats, though.

Photos to come with tomorrow's post, especially of our burlesque Victorian garb.

As for my new blogging class readers, this post and this post should explain why Emilie Autumn is relevant to this blog.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

neo-victorian clothing

For AnnaNigma and the sake of the new bloggers looking at my site who have no idea what I am talking about when I refer to Victorian clothing styles.

Neo-Victorian clothes can be anything from ruffled blouses, puffed sleeves, bustle skirts, hanging pocketwatches, lockets, cameo necklaces and brooches, corsets, and a variety of fashion trends such as goth, steampunk and Lolita.  Lace is a commonly used material for women's clothing, while men's clothing tends to use more accessories such as bowler hats and canes and the like.

For ruffled and plain Victorian blouses, compare today's available fashions...
image source: Fashion Me Fabulous
image source: Fashionable Etsy
...to the fashions of Victorian women, as shown in "Portrait of a Victorian Woman in White" by William de Leftwich Dodge, 1891:
image source: Thread for Thought
Fashions were very strict, often somewhat form-fitting but also neat and not meant to show a lot of skin.

Corsets were Victorian undergarments...

image source: tumblr
image source: All Posters
...but have become sexy outergarments today, such as Rihanna's corset top...
image source: Fashionista
...or Emilie Autumn's stage outfits.
image source: The Accidental Blowjob
As for the goth scene, look how close this modern gothic outfit is to a 19th century woman's:
image source: GuitarSae666 Photobucket account
image source: Victoriana Lady
For men it's harder to pick out the styles in more everyday wear, but either look at the article by Mike Albo in December's GQ (which I talk about in this post) or check out these examples:

Robert Downey Jr., wearing a waistcoat with his suit on the cover of November's Esquire and in his new Sherlock Holmes movie:

image sources:  Unbiased Writer; Access Hollywood
image sources:  Unbiased Writer; Access Hollywood
Then there's the mustache, which GQ not only cites as a current men's fashion, but this website declares was a huge Victorian trend.  And this website claims is a huge Hollywood trend now, although the mustaches that seem to be popular now hearken more to the '70s.  But compare:
image source: Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century
image source: Jaunted

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

cameo attack

For someone who writes a blog about neo-Victorian stuff, including fashion, I believe I am actually out of the loop with the fashion world.  After giving this idea some thought, this is not that shocking. Last week I realized that the last time I had actually been to a mall, shopping for fun clothes, was back in August when I picked up some much-needed items for my fall school wardrobe (that one time in October running around Macy's and The Limited, looking for a business suit while cringing at a $200 price tag, does not count. Blowing $167 in one go on two pieces of clothing is not a poor college student's idea of a good time.)  I can even remember the last time I went shopping before that- during spring break, at Tanger Outlets with my mother and three sisters. That was back in March.

Why the long gaps between shopping trips?  Well, for most of the summer I conducted academic research on civil religion in Nazi Germany and modern Israel and wrote a research paper on it.  This research was funded by the Brackenridge Fellowship program through the University Honors College at Pitt, which paid enough to keep me from having to work over the summer.  Unfortunately, the scholarship funds were not given to myself and the other Brackenridge Fellows until July.  At that point it seemed pointless to buy clothes when my birthday and fall fashions would come out within weeks.

And of course, from August until now, I have been occupied with my 18-credit course load, applying for jobs, trying to have a social life and writing.  A lot of writing.

So last Wednesday, as Leigh and I were heading back home from Pittsburgh to spend Thanksgiving with the family, we stopped at Monroeville Mall to do some Christmas shopping.  For family members? Friends? Well, maybe, if I hadn't already bought most of that stuff.

For the past several years my parents have given me and my sisters a wad of cash to use towards buying my own Christmas outfits.  Why?  Because when I was younger, my idea of good fashion and my mom's idea of good fashion more often clashed than not, and I'd end up taking most of the stuff she bought me back.  That, and I have long legs for a relatively thin frame, so buying pants for me is best done when I am actually there to try them on.  Otherwise the seat of the pants are hanging off my butt, or the length is so short that I have to be physically helped out of the pants.  Sure, buying gifts for myself takes away the surprise of Christmas morning, but it also lessens the stress of my mom's own X-mas shopping and prevents me from having to run out the day after Christmas returning stuff that doesn't fit or stuff I just don't like.

The funny thing is, I've gotten more adventurous in my clothing tastes since high school, and my fashion sense is, ironically, on par with my mother's now.  But she has pretty much stopped picking out outfits for me by the time I can truly appreciate her ability to put a stylish outfit together.  I must have done a number on her as a teen.

The GQ article I cited yesterday made me think of the stunning reality I faced when actually shopping for myself for the first time in months: the Victorian world exploded in the fashion scene.

Let's just take a look at just one of the many items I saw: cameo jewelry.  Forever 21 had more cameo-inspired pieces than anyone could ever want.



And even a bracelet:

Macy's had a similar pearl bracelet with a cameo pendant on it for about $30+ more than Forever 21's, as well as some nice cameo necklaces. Macy's also had a pair of cameo clip-on earrings, but they didn't look very comfortable, and who wants clip-ons anyway? Rue 21 had these god-awful gaudy cameo earrings the size of a rock. I could not find pictures of any of these items online, unfortunately.

Although I didn't see this brand on my shopping excursion, I do know that 1928 sells a lot of cameo-style jewelry.  The downside is they're much more expensive than Forever 21.  The only cameo necklace I own comes from them, but that was only after it had been marked down about 5 times.  It had originally been $28, and I managed to snag it for $6.

Here's their search results for "cameo" in case you're interested in checking them out.  The earrings are nice and not too bad of a price.