Saturday, October 31, 2009

happy halloween


I missed an update yesterday! I do have a good reason- I spent most of the day preparing my Halloween costume. It was an attempt at a steampunk look, so I'll post pictures later.

For now I thought I'd leave you with a clip from Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005), a ghost story/love story of sorts set in the Victorian Era:

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

increasing awareness

I just came across this excellent article written by Ruth La Ferla of The New York Times on the subculture known as steampunk. I know my new readers may not necessarily understand what I am saying when I talk about steampunk. Since I mention it quite a lot, you can either go to my previous post about it or check out this article to perhaps get an inkling of what I am talking about.

This article pretty much covers a great deal of my understanding of steampunk. As La Ferle says:

Devotees of the culture read Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, as well as more recent speculative fiction by William Gibson, James P. Blaylock and Paul Di Filippo, the author of “The Steampunk Trilogy,” the historical science fiction novellas that lent the culture its name. They watch films like “The City of Lost Children” (with costumes designed by Jean Paul Gaultier), “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “Brazil,” Terry Gilliam’s dystopian fantasy satirizing the modern industrial age; and they listen to melodeons and Gypsy strings mixed with industrial goth.

They build lumbering contraptions like the steampunk treehouse, a rusted-out 40-foot sculpture assembled last year at the Burning Man festival in Nevada and unveiled last month at the Coachella music festival in Southern California. They trawl eBay for saw-tooth cogs and watch parts to dress up their Macs and headsets, then show off their inventions to kindred spirits on the Web.

The focus on the fashions is especially interesting to me, as someone who likes to experiment with clothing or just dream up what characters in 19th century settings may possibly wear:

And, in keeping with the make-it-yourself ethos of punk, they assemble their own fashions, an adventurous pastiche of neo-Victorian, Edwardian and military style accented with sometimes crudely mechanized accouterments like brass goggles and wings made from pulleys, harnesses and clockwork pendants, to say nothing of the odd ray gun dangling at the hip. Steampunk style is corseted, built on a scaffolding of bustles, crinolines and parasols and high-arced sleeves not unlike those favored by the movement’s designer idols: Nicolas Ghesquiere of Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and, yes, even Ralph Lauren.
Steampunk is growing. Wonder if I should invest in more than just a corset.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

alice in music videos

Continuing with yesterday's thread, I thought I'd post three music videos that have strong Alice in Wonderland influences.

The first is Aerosmith's "Sunshine." The lyrics mention Alice in Wonderland and going down a rabbit hole. Steve Tyler portrays the Mad Hatter, while "Alice" walks through a forest and encounters characters from the book such as the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts (although I have NO idea what that werewolf-looking thing is.) This is the best quality video I could find.

The next is the music video for Gwen Stefani's "What You Waiting For?" This music video shows Gwen struggling with writer's block on a song. She goes to a clinic that helps with writer's block, but unexpectedly ends back up at the studio. A little Japanese rabbit figurine hops at her while she's holding a pocketwatch and she is sent to Wonderland. She portrays several characters from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, rediscovering her inspiration to write songs. Note: the Harajuku girls mentioned in the video are well-known for their unique style, including Gothic Lolita and cyberpunk-type styles. I apologize for the Spanish subtitles; the English versions of the song would not let me embed the video.

The last video is German industrial metal band OOMPH's "Labyrinth." I'm almost afraid to touch this one due to the heavy pedophilic undertones. Alice is played by a young girl who makes her way through a confusing maze. On the way she encounters the Mad Hatter, played by lead singer Dero, many times. She attends a tea party in which all the adults are drinking blood-red wine and the feast before them is rotting and filled with maggots and the White Rabbit is pulled in a BDSM collar and chain. She also flees a possessed version of herself who paints white roses red and then cuts one of the roses with a pair of scissors, causing it to bleed red. The end of the video shows that the entire labyrinth is a figment of Dero's imagination while he's in an insane asylum. A much darker version of the Alice theme than the other two videos.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

the wonderland obsession

I will try to make this sound intelligent on the general lack of sleep and functioning that defines this point in the semester. No wonder I lock myself up in my room so much, trying to catch up on readings or writing papers. There's barely any time for a social life let alone time to just sit and take a breather.

Right now I just need a way to escape.

Then again, aren't we all escapists at some point? Why is it, time and time again we all find ourselves spiraling down a rabbit hole into a world of insanity, where the rules have switched themselves and what we know is twisted around to a point barely beyond recognition, where rationality has been chewed up and spat out, where even the safest corners of your mind are lost amidst the darkest, most menacing parts of the imagination?

As a spirited temperamental 16-year-old who felt trapped at home and constantly fought with parents, I ran away from home and what I perceived as intolerance. I was only gone for a few hours, but I packed as if I would be living on the streets for a week- warm clothes, food, water. Then, on impulse, I threw in a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. To this day I can't explain why it was this book that I chose to take with me. Sure, I was reading it at the time, but I had read it before and knew it was not my favorite book. And yet the bizarre wanderings of Alice through her fantasy world somehow seemed fitting to the adventurous, yet terrifying experience I knew running away would put me through.

Adventurous, it was not. Terrifying, it was.

Somehow that's what so many people seem to focus on- the adventure and yet the sheer terror of Wonderland. It's some sort of obsession with the psychological affects of the imagination run wild, one that is so prominent in various media from the late 19th century to the present.

To get a full idea of how many books/movies/computer games/art and other aspects of our modern life influenced by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, check out this extremely long Wikipedia entry. I will personally focus on a few of the media I am most familiar with.

image source: mouseandcat
Jim Henson's Labyrinth (1986) features melodramatic teenager Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) in her quest through the twisting Labyrinth to save her baby brother Toby (Toby Froud) from Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie). In the Labyrinth Sarah fights against the clock- she has 13 hours to save her brother before he is turned into a goblin. The maze is baffling- walls show up where they weren't before, and Jareth pops up every once in awhile to mess with her mind. On numerous occasions Sarah is put in danger, whether from the machination known as "the Cleaners" or nearly falling into the Bog of Eternal Stench. Many of the knickknacks shown in her bedroom at the beginning of the film are reflected in her travels through the Labyrinth, including a doll on a music box who wears a dress that she will later wear in a hallucination, a fox thing called Sir Didymus who rides a dog that looks exactly like her dog Merlin, and a figure of Jareth on her desk, which shows that the crazy, dangerous fantasy world she enters is actually an extension of her mind, even the dangerous parts. The party puppet scene at the end also demonstrates that too. Her defeat of Jareth is her victory over that dark part of her mind.

My father, as a huge Beatles fan, exposed me to all of their songs at a young age, including the trippy "I Am the Walrus." The walrus is a reference to the walrus in the poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter" from Through the Looking-Glass. The music video is bizarre enough to bring a sort of Wonderland to mind. I think the Eggmen and the Walrus are pretty creepy to say the least. I'm surprised they never gave me nightmares as a child.

image source: Waiting in Transit
Then there's American Mcgee's Alice (2000). I have never played this video game, but I became so intrigued by the backstory that I watched some playthroughs of a few of the levels on YouTube (yes, I am a dork). This is quite a backstory- after she participates in the adventures written in both the Alice books, Alice's parents die in a house fire while she escapes. She goes insane from survivor's guilt and is put in an asylum. Years later she receives a stuffed animal rabbit that talks to her and sends her back to Wonderland. But this Wonderland has been darkly altered by Alice's deteriorating mental state- all of the creatures she came across are either horribly deformed or horribly deformed and evil. Aided by the skeletally skinny Cheshire Cat and others, Alice must fight the evil creatures, including the mad scientist of a Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts, in order to save her own mind from destroying herself. Toys are used as weapons and characters bleed. It's a very violent and unnerving game in some ways due to the whole psychological aspect behind it, a setting that is so fitting to Wonderland. In fact, if you win in the game, the happily restored Wonderland somehow seems less sincere than the macabre one of Alice's making.

image source: NYC Department of Parks & Recreation
In NYC's Central Park there is a public art display of Alice and her imaginary characters. Bronze sculptures of Alice, her cat Dinah, and several of her Wonderland companions (the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat, and the White Rabbit) sit at a tea party on larger-than-life mushrooms. Children and adults alike can sit with these characters for a little while and pretend they're in Wonderland. No terror here; just pure childhood fun.

There is also a neurological disorder marked by patients' thinking that objects or their own body parts are larger or smaller than they actually are. The name of the disorder is (surprise, surprise): Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

Also keep in mind that Tim Burton is coming out with a movie adaptation of Lewis Carroll's stories called Alice in Wonderland. It looks to be a usual serving of Tim Burton's gothic, kooky imagination. It will probably be as scary as his adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) (which is more true to the original novel than the 1971 version.)

Why is this little Victorian girl the gateway to that release from reality and sanity? Why are we always escaping through her? Any thoughts?

Monday, October 26, 2009

steamed pumpkin pie?

Hans Scharler of Pittsburgh has designed and carved/built a steampunk pumpkin. Watch this technological work of art shoot steam and change color below:

Scharler's next pumpkin project makes little girls cry:
original acrylic painting by strangeling (Jasmine Becket-Griffith)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

what not to wear

Thanks to Kayla for the heads up on this "What Not to Wear" episode featuring Lexa, a real-life American Lolita. I haven't seen the episode but I saw the episode recap and read a review of the episode with a synopsis. Sounds like the woman was pretty bitchy. Her little girl clothes looked hideous on her. And she thought a certain pair of nice heels with one of her new outfits made her look like a skank or a streetwalker?!

Sorry, the Lolita clothes were more sexually driven in a strange pedophilic fetish way than anything Stacy or Clinton came up with.

Thank God those dresses filled with enough frills, ruffles and lace for 50 French maid outfits were tossed out.

Who can take this look seriously?

Saturday, October 24, 2009


image source: yelp
I just found out today that there is an event called Steamcon taking place this weekend at the Seattle Airport Marriott in Seattle.

There are vendors with Victorian and steampunk-styled clothes, jewelry, guns and other merchandise; artists; gamers; a steampunk tea party and a music concert tonight featuring steampunk band Abney Park.

According to the event's Livejournal they've sold out of passes for the main event as well as their additional events, which is impressive considering this is the first year Steamcon has taken place.

Friday, October 23, 2009

only the japanese...

Sometimes I have to wonder about the Japanese's sense of fashion, especially when I came across the Lolita look:

image source: daylife
These clothes makes young women look more like little Victorian schoolgirls, cute and innocent. According to the Lolita fashion entry in Wikipedia:
Adherents present themselves as Victorian children or baby dolls and prefer to look "cute" rather than "sexy." Many Lolitas claim that the term 'Lolita' doesn't necessarily have anything to do with sex at all... The irony of the name, Lolita, is that the actual fashion was created to fight the growing exposure of the body and skin in today's clothing, specifically in regards young women. Lolita fashion can be even considered a movement where girls ranging from pre-teens to late 20's fight the current fashion with modesty. It allows a girl to feel young, cute, beautiful or off- limits, depending on which type of Lolita a girl chooses to be.
Although the Lolita style claims to not be sexually driven, I have to wonder if there is some sort of fetish out there with the corruption of innocence which this style caters to. The look is named after Vladimir Nabokov's novel of the same name about the sexual obsession of a middle-aged man for a 12-year-old girl and his ensuing sexual relationship with her, for crying out loud.

Still, one has to wonder how this look is so Victorian, even though the novel Lolita takes place in the late 1940s-early 1950s. I suspect some sort of association with the sketches of Alice Liddel from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.

image source: 1st Art Gallery

If you want to dress the look it is recommended that you purchase the Gothic and Lolita Bible, a magazine that has set the standard for the look in recent years. There is also, apparently, a lifestyle associated with the look. Some things that go along with this lifestyle, suggested by the Lolita Handbook, include:
♥Tea Parties♥
Tea parties are one of the most common but elegant ways to get a group of lolitas together. Tea can be taken either English or Japanese style, or it can be less formal.
Like a tea party but a bit more informal. The perfect chance to bring out your country lolita clothing and your parasols for some hopefully ant-free lolita fun. Just get a nice wicker basket and pretty quilt and have everyone bring snacks. Sandwiches and cakes are good picnic foods while still being elegant, and even things like chips are good if set out in a nice bowl rather than a bag.

♥Enjoying the Arts♥
This can range from going to see Madame Butterfly to just seeing a movie. Get a group of lolitas together or just dress up by yuorself and go catch a symphony. Just don't wear you lolita finest to a rock concert - chances are it'll get ruined or stained.

♥Other Group Activities♥
♥Ballroom dancing
♥Little girl games - hopscotch, jump rope, hide-and-go-seek, and hoola-hooping
♥Playing cards
♥Going to an amusement park or circus

♥Lolita Sports♥
♥Horseback riding (side-saddle of course :P)
♥Old-fashioned bicycling
♥Bocce Ball

♥Activities That Can Be Done By One or More Lolitas♥
♥Music - violin and piano are epsecially lolita but any instrument works really
♥Gardening and flower arrangement
If the plethora hearts didn't sicken you, I think some of the pastimes will. Really? Hop-scotch and jump rope? And how the hell are the other pastimes purely "Lolita?" I can knit and sew and play croquet without thinking it as part of a fashion lifestyle.

I am so relieved this fashion hasn't gone mainstream in America yet. We don't need adult women running around in old-fashioned little girls clothes. Ladies, we got out of frilly dresses and Mary Janes for a reason- because we grew up.

For anyone more curious about this lifestyle, check out these 101 Lolita Lifestyle ideas. And don't ask me why Friday the 13th seems to be an "appropriate" date for a Lolita-themed party (#42).

And here's a song by Emilie Autumn called "Gothic Lolita." It's not about the fashion statement... or is it?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

steampunk nerf guns?

This photo has given me an idea that involves two cheap dart guns I own:

image source: Earthenwood Studio
What do I own dart guns for? A Sherlock Holmes play my sister and I wrote for our senior project in high school, of course. School policy dictated we couldn't bring in any guns that actually looked real, so we bought two neon Dollar Store dart guns. What would the greatest detective in all literature and his archenemy Moriarty do without guns after all?

What do I need the guns for? More on that later.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

she would be german

My roommate Candy also directed my attention to this German photographer, known for her gothic work. The goth scene appears to be much more popular in Germany than in many other places for reasons I can't fathom.

Annie Bertram's photos are very Victorian goth. The closest I could find to a steampunk-type look was this one:

The model is wearing a hoop skirt, and her skirt actually has cogs and gears attached to it. Reminds me a bit of Mother War from My Chemical Romance's music video for "Welcome to the Black Parade."

  image source:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

curse you andrew sullivan!

I had the opportunity last night to briefly speak with Andrew Sullivan, prominent journalist and political commentator renowned for his blog The Daily Dish, after a talk he gave at CMU. As an aside, he is an excellent, eloquent speaker, characteristics generally reflected on his blog.

One of my classmates in our blogging class had announced our entire class's presence, so I thought it was only fair to go up to Andrew and ask him a little about blogging. An enjoyable two-minute conversation followed. I told him I was addicted to blogging and was considering writing every day now. He told me it wasn't a blog unless I did write every single day and urged me to fix that error in my "website" immediately, so it could finally be a blog. A worthy goal, and one that I plan to implement this instant.

And why, you ask, do I curse him?

Because this week happens to be a very stressful week ahead- essentially the start of Round Two of assignments and exams in my classes. But that will not deter me, even if I have to have small updates until Friday.

At the behest of my roommate Candy, I thought I'd explain the name of this blog. Why "Unlacing the Victorians?"

Because "Unlaced" was already taken and "Unlacing" all by itself sounded as mentally challenged as my ability to do calculus or say simple sentences clearly. ("My air won't fully fill with lungs" was uttered by yours truly to my friend Andy last week shortly before we made it to the ScareHouse. He spent the next five minutes poking fun at my verbal dyslexia.)

The idea of unlacing, however, comes from an Emilie Autumn album of classical violin pieces on one CD and contemporary, metal-shredding compositions of her own invention on the other. The album's name? Laced/Unlaced. Ten points if you can guess which CD is Unlaced.

image source: The Official Site of Emilie Autumn

Lacing means constraint. The Victorians were way too tightly laced. They rarely enjoyed life- they thought a lot about repressing sex and pleasure and thought way too much about death and suicide. They placed so many restrictions on themselves, even I, as an enthusiast of the period, would never want to live in it. This blog is the way I Unlace.

Unlacing, to me, means the dropping of conventions, of preconceived notions about the Victorians and having fun with it. It's freedom of thought and expression, much like writing a blog, in of itself, is freedom for the writer too long restrained by editors and deadlines and "proper" modes of conduct or writing.

I want to convey a similar idea on this blog. I don't plan on really covering the normative aspect of Victorian life. You can read some of my old short stories for that. My goal is to capture the very essence of Victorian culture mixed with modern life, to produce a skewed, historically inaccurate, imaginative idea of Victorian life. It's very dark, romantic, and passionate. It's sometimes downright loony. But it's exciting, and it allows so many people to dream: 'What if?"

So Unlace, my readers. Even if it's only a handful of people in a college writing course.

And you heard it here, on Unlacing the Victorians, first: Andrew Sullivan informed me that he blogs in his boxers. And doesn't shower until midday.

What a true Unlacer.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"i am NOT a rat!"

I am going to indulge for a bit in one of my favorite childhood movies. This underrated movie started me on a path, at the tender age of five, that eventually led to a curiosity that developed into a full-blown obsession with the Victorian world.

I am talking about the Disney animated film The Great Mouse Detective (1986).

image source: Filmwerk

This is by far one of the best movies Disney has ever made. Based loosely on the children’s book series Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus, the movie follows the exploits of Basil as he tries to save Queen Moustoria and all Mousedom from the plots of the evil Professor Ratigan.

Why you should IMMEDIATELY rent it from a video store or order it on Netflix and watch this movie:
  1. Basil of Baker Street is the mouse world’s version of Sherlock Holmes. He lives beneath Holmes’ flat on Baker Street.
  2. Professor Ratigan is about 1,000 times better than Professor Moriarty, the Sherlock Holmes character who he was modeled after, simply due to more face time (Moriarty only got one measly little story in which he hardly appears at all) and more newsworthy crimes such as stealing the Crown Jewels and attempted regicide.
  3. The villain is a rat who denies he’s a rat throughout the film and owns a cat. He also has the best personality of any villain ever- a mix of suave dandy with insanity bubbling beneath the surface. The perfect charismatic villain.
  4. Professor Ratigan is voiced by Vincent Price, the most famous B-list horror movie actor of all time (think original House of Wax and House on Haunted Hill.)
  5. The score is composed by the famous Henry Mancini, composer of the immortal Pink Panther theme. He wrote the two songs Vincent Price sings for the film.
  6. VINCENT PRICE SINGS TWO SONGS IN THIS FILM. He was in his 70s at the time and he sounds terrific. See “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” and “Goodbye So Soon.”
  7. Every single song in this film is amazing. This isn’t some stupid children’s film with happy-go-lucky ditties of no substance. All the songs have a reason, either to introduce a character or forward the plot. The song “Let Me Be Good to You,” written and performed by pop singer Melissa Manchester, is in a scene in a bar with a sexy showgirl mouse. These aspects definitely make the musical scenes more interesting for the adult viewer to say the least.
  8. No sappy romance/love story. Straight up adventure, with an endearing story about a girl trying to find her kidnapped father.
  9. Violence, drinking and smoking are prominent, which completely adds to the 19th-century criminal underworld feel of this film. One character even gets drugged. This would drive the PC police of today nuts. I can see it now: “Smoking, in a DISNEY ANIMATED FILM? You’re corrupting our kids! Now they’ll start smoking!” Ahem, I first saw this film when I was five. I don't smoke, I drink little, and although I am a fan of very violent movies (300, V for Vendetta, Snatch, Fight Club, and The Boondock Saints to name a few) the only weapons I have are pepper spray and kitchen knives. Seriously, just enjoy the damn movie, let your kids enjoy it, and stop worrying what it's doing to their brains.
  10. From Wikipedia:
    The layouts were done on computers, and the use of video cameras made a digital version of pencil testing possible. The movie is also notable for its early use of computer generated imagery (CGI) for a chase scene that takes place in the interior of Big Ben. The movements of the clock's gears were produced as wire-frame graphics on a computer, printed out and traced onto animation cells where colors and the characters were added. The Great Mouse Detective is sometimes cited as the first animated film from Walt Disney Pictures to use CGI; in reality, 1985's The Black Cauldron has this distinction.
  11. I may be wrong on this one, but it’s the earliest film of which I know that features a showdown in Big Ben. The other ones I can think of immediately are Sherlock (2002) and Shanghai Knights (2003)
  12. The climax of the film gave me nightmares for years after I saw it. The only other Disney animated film to do that to me was the climactic battle between Prince Philip and Maleficent the Dragon in The Sleeping Beauty (1959), which I also saw when I was five. Why is that a plus? Because it still makes that scene exciting to watch, even 17 years later.
Other than that, this film actually has many steampunk elements in it, although I would hardly classify it within a steampunk genre. Mechanics and machines are used for devious ends. There’s a robot queen, a dirigible, and a showdown amidst the wheels and gears of the most famous landmark in London, built during the Victorian era. Basil’s use of the clock’s workings to his advantage is actually what defeats Ratigan in the end.

A short clip from the clock tower sequence:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

the mysterious explorations of jasper morello

My twin sister Leigh directed me to this strange 26-minute film by Anthony Lucas. According to the Gothia Gazette, the film's website:
Set in a world of iron dirigibles and steam powered computers, this gothic horror mystery tells the story of Jasper Morello, a disgraced aerial navigator who flees his Plague-ridden home on a desperate voyage to redeem himself. The chance discovery of an abandoned dirigible leads Jasper through unchartered waters to an island on which lives a terrifying creature that may be the cure for the Plague. The journey back to civilization is filled with horrors but in a shocking climax, Jasper discovers that the greatest horror of all lies within man himself.
Below is a trailer of the film. You can watch it in its entirety here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

things that go BANG in the night

Less than 24 hours after discovering the existence of Rampage!, I was in it.

After talking to my friend Andy about it he suggested we go check out The ScareHouse. So we headed over a little before 7 p.m. this evening. At the ticket booth in the huge brick building that held the attraction I reluctantly handed over $17 for a ticket. Then we followed a long, twisting roped line to the end of the line in a lobby of sorts- I'm not sure what the building used to be. I noticed everyone staring at me and laughing and, for a second, I wondered if there was snot hanging from my nose. But before my hand could cover the perceived embarrassment I heard a heavy breathing in my ear.

I turned around to find a decrepit face of rotting gray flesh right in my face. Laughter erupted from the others. I waved and said hi to the zombie. He continued to leer at me, so I shrugged and turned back to Andy. The bothersome man took the hint and left.

We waited in the lobby for over half an hour, which seemed ridiculous at the time because we barely moved at all. But they had a good idea behind the snail-paced line. Instead of sending, say, groups of 6 or 8 people in at a time just to keep the lines moving, each individual group of people who had come together went through together. So a group of four went in front of Andy and I, but we ourselves only made a group of two, and we were sent in alone. This system made for a long wait, but made it much scarier for my small group, obviously. The actors could concentrate on scaring each group and hardly miss anyone hiding in the middle, as commonly happens in scary attractions in which a larger group goes through.

During our long wait Andy enjoyed watching all the old horror movie trailers projected on a wall opposite the entrance to The Hall of Nightmares. I had five minutes of panic when I couldn't find my ticket, but I eventually found it.

We finally got to the front of the line. Andy and I were directed shut off all cell phones and cameras (sorry, no action shots for this blog) and told to stand in single file, with the last person holding onto the shoulders of the person in front.

Logically, I should have been in front. I'm 5'8", and Andy is about 6'1". I couldn't easily see over him if I was in the back. But I'm a wimp. So I made Andy stand in front. Then our group of two entered the first haunt.

This haunted house was about 1,000 times better than the haunted houses at Phantom Fright Nights at nearby Kennywood Park. Better props and scenes of ghouls, creaking coffins, and zombies. We got lost a few times and couldn't find our way. But still... not all that scary. I jumped at loud noises, but that was about it. Seriously, a loud BANG behind me is scarier than anything jumping out at me. I wasn't really all that scared, and by the time we donned the 3-D glasses issued by the loony girl at the entrance to the next haunt, Delirium 3-D, I almost told Andy to let me switch places with him and let me go in front.


Delirium was much more impressive than the Hall of Nightmares. The walls and costumes of the clowns (yes, there were clowns) were covered in a fluorescent paint on black walls that just popped out at you, making walking hazardous. This was especially problematic in the trippy spinning tunnel at the beginning. I had to hold onto the railing of the bridge that went through the tunnel to keep from tipping over. Actors wearing all black spotted with neon paint literally blended into the walls, which was quite a shock when the walls started to move and then lunged at you.

At one point we got completely lost in a maze and just couldn't find our way out for some time. We abandoned the buddy system for just a few moments and ended up losing each other. A comedic minute followed of yours truly pitifully calling for Andy while tentatively checking behind the curtains of the maze to make sure a mad clown didn't pop out first. He eventually came to my rescue, but I wonder if he tarried a bit just to raise my level of panic.

When we finally made it out we deposited our 3-D glasses into a bin and headed to the highlight of The ScareHouse and our main reason for coming: Rampage! Finally having gained some nerve, I boldly insisted that I go before Andy and guide us through the final haunt. But instead of applauding me for my fortitude... he laughed at me!

Inwardly grumbling about his lack of faith in me I ignobly moved in front of him. He placed his hands on my shoulder and we entered the winding maze of slatted wood walls and red flashing lights.

Well, it certainly was unique for a haunted attraction. Mutants roamed the walkways, jumping out and screaming at you. A mad doctor asked Andy for organs, while we pushed our way through a forest of hanging bodies in clear plastic bags. Two machine guns shot at us, another guy came after us in a chainsaw, and totalitarian propaganda poured forth from the mouths of some of the actors.

It wasn't at all what I expected, and I was a bit disappointed by the attraction. First of all, the back story to Rampage! that I gleaned in my internet researches yesterday can be best summed up in what Scott Simmons, The ScareHouse's creative director, said in an interview with SF Universe:
Our attraction has a definite story. The idea is that the workers and scholars within this facility have been oppressed and victimized by The DieRector and his well-armed security forces for years, but now they have finally risen up to fight for freedom.
That back story was not really obvious, from what I saw. Sure, we understood there was some sort of fight between the forces, as the actors who jumped out at you just screamed things like: "Are you with the Rebellion or The DieRector?" We'd just respond "We're with you guys," and they'd let us pass (in retrospect, we should have said "We're with the DieRector" when talking to a rebel or vice versa when talking to the DieRector's guys, just to see what the actor would have done.) But the oppression was not all that clear. Perhaps it couldn't have been, given the rapidity at which this information was spewed at us.

image source: ScareHouseScott's photostream on Flickr
What I perceived, especially from a skinned body with the limbs cut off and a very 1940s operation room in which experiments with bodies, body parts, and the like were on display, was a homage to the horrors committed by Nazi Germany. That dehumanizing medical scene especially reminded me of a concentration camp I had visited in France called Le Struthof, especially the "scientific research" rooms at that camp. And somehow, that part of the attraction seemed too real and lifelike to me. It felt like a cheap shot at using the ultimate 20th century definition of real evil, Hitler's Germany and the Final Solution, to make a few bucks.

My other beef concerns the steampunk aspect- it wasn't there! Sure, there were some machine guns, and those were pretty cool. But no mechanics, nothing decorated in brass, and nary a machine (other than the machine guns.) I expected to be in the middle of some sort of climactic battle that never happened, no one was really dressed in very steampunkish attire except a few individuals, and three of them were at the very end of the attraction. Everyone else looked like they were soldiers or WWII partisans.

The ScareHouse was the best haunted house attraction I have ever attended, don't get me wrong. But it wasn't worth $17 by a long shot, and this is coming from a girl who made her friend stand in front of her for two-thirds of the attraction because she was too scared to go in front. Sure, I jumped a few times, but that was about it. Andy admitted that he was disappointed I never screamed or cowered.

Scott Simmons and SF-Universe also need to be reprimanded for making the attraction sound more steampunkish than it actually was.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

how did i miss this?!

image source: ScareHouse

The ScareHouse, Pittsburgh's premiere haunted house attraction, is opening a new haunted house with a steampunk theme. It's called Rampage!

This has been on the web since August, and I completely missed it!

There doesn't appear to be an easy way to link the trailer for the new attraction on this blog, so I'll post a costumes feature that mostly focuses on the steampunk costumes for Rampage!:

The good news is that I have a car, and Etna is not far away- just a little north of the city. The bad news is that I don't want to pay $17 a pop- the admission price for all three haunted houses at the site. They should just let me into Rampage! for $6. I don't want to see the other ones, I want to see the totalitarian dictatorship mechanical shoot-out one!

I'm going to go crawl into my hole now and awash myself in shame for missing this important local steampunk development...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

sweetly lull me to sleep

Lazy Sunday. Woke up at 7:30 but wasn't out of bed until 10, then feasted with my roommates on a gloriously unhealthy meal of mostly donuts, with some bananas and milk. Then spent the afternoon working on schoolwork and filling out job applications online.

Job applications are some of the most boring things to fill out. With the advent of online applications I have to copy and paste the info on my resume line by line or type it in by hand. One application took nearly two hours due to this long and arduous process. Only one job site allowed me to directly upload my resume, but then demanded me to type in extra information.

To pass the time I began to listen to music on YouTube, clicking from one video to the next to the next for fun. I was surprised to discover a few delights, in the process, most of them by Abney Park. I'll admit, I hadn't really listened to Abney Park before last week- I knew they were Victorian Industrial or steampunk, but I had never really bothered to get into them. They're really starting to grow on me.

The following song, "Sleep Isabella," is so soothing. Not really an industrial sound in this song, but who cares? I'm certainly no music purist, and I really appreciate bands using different styles in their songs. Like punk-band MCR covering a Rihanna song (okay, not so much like that, but listening to Gerard Way go: "ella, ella, eh eh eh..." is hilarious.)

It sounds like something from an Arabian Nights-type dream or a gypsy dance:

Gotta love the video for the terrific effort in designing the instruments. Seriously, that violin, with the greenish-blue glowing tubes, is totally awesome. Like it's being powered by some sort of Tesla-like invention straight out of "The Prestige." I wonder how they made that intricate microphone. The guitar and the keyboard has a detailed paneling that makes it look like it's made out of brass.

That's real craftsmanship and dedication there. Steampunk enthusiasts are some of the most creative nuts out there. I salute you, Abney Park, for all your efforts- not only in the music, but also in your showmanship.

And for getting me through 3.5 hours of job applications. ;-)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

here comes the bride...

My ideas of the perfect marriage ceremony has changed drastically since I started thinking about it around the time I was... oh, let's say five or six. My idea of the perfect wedding was the stereotypical fairytale wedding (come on... I grew up in the Golden Age of Disney princess movies. Although The Little Mermaid was the only movie of that period that clearly ended with a wedding, I had pretty princess dresses, ballrooms and a handsome man in some sort of formal attire on the brain.)

After having been to a few real weddings, however, I am okay with a smaller wedding with few trappings. Those fairy tale weddings aren't worth it if you can't see past the big day. Some of these couples (i.e. the bride) puts way too much time into the colors ad decorations of the ceremony and party and not enough effort into the actual marriage. Besides, the guests are usually bored.

The best wedding I've been to was a relative's wedding a few years ago. The couple were older- perhaps their mid-40s or early 50s. The ceremony was in an undecorated banquet hall, and we all sat at the dining tables for the entire 15-minute ceremony. After the "I dos," the servers came out with our dinner. Fast and efficient.

That being said, I still have wedding ideas on the mind. My twin sister and I have recently become joint maids-of-honor for my dear friend Christine. She wants a simple, traditional wedding (no fairytale either.) How disappointing. I'd love to design someone else's wedding.

But if I could use her as a guinea pig, I'd suggest this cake for her (thanks Scott for calling this to my attention):

image source: We <3 It
You could top it off with the typical bride and groom figures:

image source: Etsy
Eric, I just found your cufflinks:

image source: Etsy
And for the lovely bride, a white wedding dress:

image source: Etsy
She won't accept any of these ideas, I know. Damnit.

Well, there's always the bridal shower and bacherolette party!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

melodic mechanics

Here's Kanon Wakeshima in her music video for "Still Doll." Ignoring the fact that the music video's setting and Kanon's clothes are, themselves, very Victorian (and the creepy peeping Tom of an old pedophilic geezer, who is just disturbing), the song itself is very mournful, mysterious, with a neoclassical and gothic feel. A heavy beat on the first beat of each measure makes the music abrasive for the following three beats as do the metallic echoes throughout, while the xylophonic music box and harpsichord sounds juxtapose the sharp cello notes with their more delicate tone.

Here's another video, just timed lyrics, to Emilie Autumn's "4 O'Clock." This one also has a metallic sound, emphasized with heavy percussion on the 1st and 3rd beats of each measure to mimic the ticking of a clock, making it more industrial sounding. A harpsichord also features in the middle of this composition, during the lines:

Why can we never go back to bed?
Whose is the voice ringing in my head?
Where is the sense in these desperate dreams?
Why should I wake when I'm half past dead?

Sure as the clock keeps its steady chime
Weak as I walk to its steady rhyme
Ticking away from the ones we love
So many girls, so little time

This one is an interesting song by Abney Park called "Herr Drosselmeyer's Doll" (Drosselmeyer being the godfather who made the mechanical dolls and the nutcracker prince in "The Nutcracker.") This song also has a heavy, steady beat, much like clockwork or mechanics, the downbeat percussion in the foreground in juxtaposition to the upbeat circus march playing in the background.

The first is not industrial in sound, although the heavy beat does give it a sort of mechanical feel. All three pay homage to some other form of music, though- the first and second in the classical sounds of the cello and harpsichord, and the third in the circus march, all of which were well-known in Victorian times. The prominence of the heavy beats, however, take their influence from more modern music, like industrial metal.

This does not happen exclusively in Victorian Industrial music, though. Hannah Fury is considered to be Victorian industrial, but most of her compositions actually feature piano or keyboard compositions.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

music for the wayward victorian

After two weeks of *promising* to write about it, I've finally found the time (and sanity!) to sit down and attempt to describe the musical genre known as Victorian industrial. This is difficult to do for several reasons:
  1. The term is not well known in the musical word because it's relatively new (apparently coined by Emilie Autumn in 2006, although I don't have any sources to verify that claim.)
  2. Because of #1, there is no clear-cut definition (although that can be said of most other musical genres.)
  3. Other bands who don't quite fit the genre can be counted among the artists in that genre (such as The Dresden Dolls or Voltaire, who are both more dark cabaret.)
  4. There is also a steampunk music genre, and it's hard for me to tell how much it overlaps with Victorian industrial, as I'm not as familiar with it.
  5. While we're piling on difficulties, I'll add that this genre includes aspects of dark cabaret, electric, punk, goth, industrial, alternative rock and classical music.
*deep breath*

Time for a simple, workable definition. I am not an expert in the field, but I've been following the genre enough in the past year or so that I have a vague idea of what this music is about.

Victorian industrial, as I see it, is a musical genre that often, but not always, includes musical elements or instruments of the Victorian Era, discussing topics important to the Victorians or make references to the Victorians in more than just a passing way. For example, while Iron Maiden's song "The Trooper" is about the Victorian battle of Balaclava in 1854, their musical style is too heavy metal and, therefore, could never fit into Victorian industrial.

Rasputina has many songs fitting this genre such as "Momma Was an Opium Smoker," "Rats," and "Leechwife."  Their cello playing is often abrasive and jarring like industrial music. Emilie Autumn's songs from her 2006 album Opheliac mostly fit this musical genre, with references to the Victorians' obsession with beautiful suicide, class, female insanity, sex, and other social issues that the Victorians commonly faced. Other artists include Hannah Fury, The Birthday Massacre, Abney Park and Vernian Process (the latter two are probably more steampunk.)

It can be dark and gothic, it can be punky and fun, it can be classical or mechanical... but it should evoke some sort of dark, messed-up Victorian image in your mind. Like pale girls in bloomers and too-red lipstick ripping their hair out, or the poor feasting on rats to survive, or antique dolls coming to life.

Artists often dress like some sort of freakish version of Victorian people, such as Rasputina:

image source: Starpulse

Or Hannah Fury:

image source: Always On the Run

But not all do. The Birthday Massacre is more goth than Victorian in appearance.

If anyone has a better description of Victorian industrial, please let me know.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

you're welcome

How much more awesome would Abe Lincoln have been with a firearm for an actual arm?

image source:
Yes, that awesome. :)

it's the steampunkyist

My friend suggested we rent Steamboy on Friday night for the purposes of this blog- apparently he's familiar with the steampunk genre. Who knew?

It took us two nights to watch, not because it's really long (just a little over two hours) or boring (on the contrary, it's pretty action-packed), but because yours truly was practically falling asleep 45 minutes into the thing due to lack of sleep the rest and the general workload and running around of the past week. Gotta love one midterm, two papers and a career fair and two networking events all in one week.

Steamboy is a 2005 Japanese animation film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (ask me whatever else he's directed and you're going to get a blank stare.) This alternate history science-fiction film, based in 1866 Victorian England, is literally about a family called Steam whose crazy, steam-powered machines and devices revolutionize science and endanger humanity. If you still don't get what I meant when I explained steampunk, this movie will give you an excellent idea of what I meant.

 image source: New Earth Online
The movie begins in 1863 with inventor Dr. Lloyd Steam and his son, Dr. Edward, who discover a pure mineral water that can be used as an apparently limitless power source for machines. Edward, however, is injured in a boiler incident at a research facility in Russian Alaska.

Fast forward three years. Edward's young son, Ray, who is an inventor like his father and grandfather. He receives a package from his grandfather that contains a steam ball, which holds the mineral water that generates an unlimited supply of powerful steam. The capitalistic O'Hara Foundation, the group who funded the steam-powered experiments of the Drs. Steam, soon come after Ray and the steam ball. Hilarity ensues in the form of high-speed chases on steam-powered war tractors, flying machines, dirigibles, armor-plated knights with guns and a huge steam rocket thing called the Steam Tower. Ray is increasingly pulled into a rivalry between his father and grandfather while demonstrating his genius to not only build amazing steam-powered jet packs but also to do what he thinks is right.

It's a good movie if you love action flicks. Buildings and machines are blown up and destroyed on a regular basis, several people are injured by boiling hot steam, and others are killed by a British/American war at the London Exhibition, to which Queen Victoria seems completely undeterred.

I like action flicks, especially in the form of warfare, which this movie was full of. But I also like a strong storyline to justify the action, as well as characters' motivations, and better explanations for the science and presence of other characters than this movie had to offer. The storyline was simple, which is fine, but left out some key explanations for why Dr. Edward changes his motivations at the point when you least expect him to.

Two characters at the beginning, Emma and Thomas, are introduced, but fail to contribute anything of worth to the actual story. The heir to the O'Hara Foundation, Scarlett (it took dumb blonde me too long to make the connection between her first and last name) is an annoying Paris Hilton prototype who constantly hits or hurts her little dog, but eventually demonstrates that she's smarter than you want to give her credit for. Her presence in the story was probably entirely unnecessary, however- I think the writers added her in to create a gentle nudge at a cutesy non-sexual, albeit stupid, adolescent love interest for Ray, when you think at first that Emma is going to serve that function. Scarlett is otherwise generally useless. She is one of the more interesting characters, if not the most interesting, because she can be a total selfish spoiled brat one minute and then be caring, but only caring for her own selfish purposes, which is a good combination.   Her motivations change throughout the movie too, although I'm not entirely sure how either.

The major downside to this movie was seeing the grandfather, Dr. Lloyd, shirtless.   Ew.

Here's the trailer:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

thank god he went seven pounds

I am so confused right now. It appears my classmates all did 3 blog posts on their sites last week. I did three as well: two on this blog, one on Mondays at the Cathedral. Does that still count?


Last week's post about steampunk got me thinking about the 1999 film The Wild Wild West, probably for the first time in years. I was twelve then, and my older sister had just recently discovered MTV. We used to watch TRL every single day, watching the Backstreet Boys belt out "I Want It That Way" or Christina Aguilera work her midriff in "Genie in a Bottle." Considering my musical genres of choice nowadays are generally Victorian Industrial, symphonic metal and heavy metal, it is embarrassing for me to admit that I adored pop music in its heyday.

I specifically remember seeing Will Smith's music video for his hip hop song "Wild Wild West," which was supposed to promote the film. I loved this video- probably because there was a pretty girl in an 1800s-type costume (and my parents can't figure out where this "history" thing came from when I declared a joint history/journalism major in college.) Either that or all the spiders freaked out my twin sister, who probably screamed and hid in the next room every time an eight-legs popped on screen.

I didn't remember the specifics of the video, so when I found it on YouTube I decided to watch it again. It was either that or actually rent the movie, which is like watching a boiler room explode and shoot scorching hot water all over you. At least, from what I saw of it one time on TV. Then I just changed the channel before I could put out my eyes.

What a confused music video- almost as mixed up as the comedic relief in the movie it was supposed to promote. First of all, who is the shirtless guy standing next to Will Smith- the one in the embroidered leather vest who keeps taking said vest off and baring his chest? I think it's Sisqó of "Thong Song" fame. His bod is way too shiny, like someone dumped olive oil over him. And there are, like, 10 celebrities just sort of thrown in there for cameo appearances, including Stevie Wonder and... is that Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? It is!

Will Smith gave in to the dancing craze that was the late '90s with a ridiculously long dance sequence in the middle with half-naked saloon girls and Alfonso Ribeiro.

The rescue sequence wasn't bad. But the spider table contraption doesn't seem like it could have hurt Salma Hayek very much if it had clamped shut on her.

Then, of course, another dance sequence at the end, with the rescued Rita nowhere in sight. The first dance sequence should have been canned, leaving only the one at the end.

The things I actually do like about the video are, actually, what I was not expecting. The homage to steampunk is entirely there, from the mechanical gears and shifting lenses/screens shown closer to the beginning, when Will Smith is singing with Sisqó, to the mechanical spider table and the machine gun (an 1860s technological advancement.)

And I actually don't mind the musical genre. It's a more pop-like rap, which is rather annoying, but I think the lyrics are actually quite good. Hey, he mentions a six gun! And... ah, well, that's it. But dare I call these lines poetic?

Swallow your pride, don't let your lip react,
You don't wanna see my hand where my hip be at
Will Smith, kudos to you for recovering from this embarrassment of a film and all its trappings and going on to better things, such as The Pursuit of Happyness; I am Legend; and Seven Pounds.

Update 10/4/09: Thanks to a friend of mine for alerting me to this:

And suddenly Stevie Wonder's presence in the Will Smith music video entirely makes sense.