Wednesday, November 30, 2011

57. Cinema Sewer Volume III by Robin Bougie

Just a little example of where Bougie's sick head is at
I already blogged about this book earlier in the month when I first received it.  I did so because I wanted to share some of the Robin Bougie goodness with the world and I didn't think I would "finish" it any time soon.  Cinema Sewer is a magazine and these collections are just that, a collection of past issues. So it has tons of short articles and I tend to read them jumping around (often when on the can) never really sure if I've read the entire thing or not.

However, for whatever reason, I started out doing that and then just ended up reading it straight through, skipping the few articles I had already read (and reading some twice in a few cases).  So I get to count it as a completed book for the year.

As always, if you enjoy the combination of degenerate smut, lost popular culture and general weirdness, then Robin Bougie is your man.  This guy is an expert in the history of pornography, women in prison movies, 80s action flicks, weird Japanese perversion movies and so on.  His writing is enjoyable for two major reasons: 1) he drops tons of knowledge which for the nerd and student of history is like a big bowl of ice cream and 2) he has so much enthusiasm for the subject.  His love of what the info he is sharing with you is just so contagious that almost every article makes you think "holy shit I need to go hunt [obscure bizarre crazily enjoyable sounding movie or series of movies X] down right away and dedicate the rest of my weekend to watching it!"

Actually, I should add that his writing style, technically and creatively is impressively skillful in and of itself.  He's raunchy but direct and punchy, so you want to keep reading.  And he has some hilarious turns of phrase, particularly when he is describing the sex act and element thereof and when aggressively pushing you to go watch the movie he is talking about.  Most nerd preachers can be very annoying (and you know that Robin can go down that road with the hilarious cartoons from the great Colin Upton—who is also Bougie's long-suffering neighbour—about being forced to watch some profoundly disturbing movie by Bougie).  But somehow, at least in print, Bougie is so positive and enthusiastic that he doesn't have to be pushy.  He has already convinced you that you want to watch the movie.

I have one minor problem with the text in these books and it is a typographical one.  Bougie hand writes all the text in all caps.  It's a strong, steady and actually quite readable lettering, except for the punctuation.  The first letter is the same size as the rest of the letters in the sentence and the period is easily overlooked so that I often found myself getting confused about a sentence only to realize that I was mixing two sentences together.  Just a minor quibble and probably nothing that can be done about it now, especially given the tremendous amount of physical labour that goes into these books (and the overall look is quite beautiful), but just thought I should share.

I also found this third volume a bit too consistent in content as compared to the first two.  It was almost entirely movie reviews and biographies of porn stars.  All were good and interesting, but it felt like the first two volumes had a greater variety: more guest writers and artists, articles about a wider range of topics and some rich and challenging opinion pieces as well.  On the other hand, the opening essay of this volume "HOLY SHIT!  PORNOGRAPHY!" was powerful, compelling food for thought, a strong argument that our current moral perception of art is something quite new in the history of civilization.  I would have liked to see a bit more of that kind of thing in the overall volume.

Generally, though, another excellent addition to the Cinema Sewer oeuvre.  Robin Bougie is doing western civilization a huge service by his hours of research, drawing and writing.  I would subscribe to the magazine, but I just can't keep things in that physical format around, so I will wait patiently for volume IV and maybe this time I'll get a raunchier dedication drawing!

You should get this and the first two.  Also great xmas present for the movie nerd in your life who may be ready to take the next step towards the dark side.  You can do all that here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

56. Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

I first discovered Mary Stewart thanks to my friend (sadly not blogging about his books and probably not reading much anymore due to a good case of the triplets) who is a huge fan of her Arthurian trilogy.  I read the first one and really enjoyed it (and have the second one from the same publisher on deck).  I did not realize, though, that Stewart was a succesful and well-established author of the genre people credit her with creating and mastering, the thriller-romance, long before she did the Arthurian trilogy.  I learned this by discovering Airs Above the Ground in a very full used bookstore in Moncton and then doing a bit of follow-up research on the web.

The book started off in a very promising way.  A young woman is bummed out because she and her husband had a big fight just before he left on a business trip.  They were supposed to meet up for a holiday after, but now it is all up in the air.  During a lunch with an older family aquaintance, she gets roped into chaperoning the older woman's son to Vienna where he is hoping to stay with his father.  At first, the heroine is really not interested, but what clinches the deal is when she sees a newsreel talking about a deadly fire that took place in a circus travelling through Austria.  She glimpses a man who looks just like her husband standing next to an attractive woman in the crowd outside the ruins of the fire.  It's an intriguing premise and definitely makes you turn the pages.

Even more fun, the boy, who is 17 and at first full of resentment at being chaperoned, turns out to be up to his own little game (he hasn't actually told his father he is coming) and quite capable (he speaks german, knows all about horses).  So both characters have their own little secrets (she doesn't tell him her suspicions about her husband) and as they travel, they start to reveal them and team up.  Of course, they do end up chasing after the circus and that's when the intrigue starts.

Unfortunately, the premise was much better than the payoff.  I found the first half to be really enjoyable and gripping, but when the reveals start happening, they are all pretty banal.  Her husband turns out to be a super spy and the boy just tags along for the ride.  All the potential tension is taken out of the relations between the characters and instead we get a super-safe, British old boys (but with a keen girl) crime-stopping caper.  There is some interesting sub-text about men and women and the role of the male protagonist in the genre, but Stewart plays it very safe.  It's not bad, but once I knew there were going to be no twists and that the good guys were truly good and decent, I wasn't so motivated to keep reading and it took me a while to finish it.  I had been hoping for something a bit more acerbic along the lines of Highsmith or Millar.  Maybe in her later books, she pushes things a bit, because she was certainly talented and intelligent.  And the Crystal Cave definitely had a darker side.