We Have Always Lived in Whose Castle?

Shirley Jackson's novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), a subtly gothic melodrama unreliably narrated by an 18 year old child-woman, appeals to slightly maladjusted teens (I knew a few who read and loved it at that age) but is also a brilliant comedy of manners about American small town life. 56 years after its publication a film version has been attempted, directed by Stacie Passon. It's worth a watch even though it torques up the melodrama at the expense of the subtlety.

The main change is to make the antagonist, Charles Blackwood, a nastier piece of work. In the movie he openly romances his first cousin Constance and physically grabs and pins down her sister Merricat, the 18 year old, in a moment of anger. In the book, the romance is buried to the point of invisibility and there is no grabbing. As with all Hollywood films today, there is the obligatory suggestion of parental violence or abuse. Jackson depicts John Blackwood, the dead father of Constance and Merricat, as a controller and a snob but not necessarily an abusive monster.

The motive for the book's central crime -- the unsolved poisoning of John and several family members -- isn't explicitly given in book or movie but the film's climactic staircase scene makes the suggestion that Charles' grappling with Merricat has awakened memories of similar behavior by John. it's implied in the reactions and facial expressions of the sisters during Charles' attack; Merricat even yells out "Father! Stop!" It makes the movie seem more powerful but it isn't Jackson's story; in the novel the reader has to decide who the monster is.

Shirley Jackson was a committed wife and stay-at-home mother of four whose feminism came out in her strong, complex writing. Passon's film version is also strong but leans to less complex, woke explanations for the characters' behavior. Possibly it's the only way to get a film made today.

Update: Notes on differences between book and film.

Stowaway, the agenda

In the recent streaming movie Stowaway, a faceless company called Hyperion is sending humans to Mars in small missions to study possible terraforming. For Hyperion read "Netflix," the entertainment juggernaut that funded the film. It's less a movie than a window into current "corporatethink."

The obligatory multi-race, multi-sex crew is transporting some plant life by rocket. On board are a captain and a doctor (Caucasian self-identified females); a scientist (Asian self-identified male); and a technician who accidentally stows away on the ship (black self-identified male). The Mission Control and corporate HQ people back on Earth are all white men wearing Nikes (just kidding -- they are all off camera and off mic in the movie so we don't really know).

There's not enough air for the stowaway and the ship can't return to Earth (for reasons not adequately explained) so the first decision the space team has to make is whether to kill the black dude. I'm not kidding about this; it's actually in the movie.

The most ethical choice is to eliminate the one air breather who "lacks the training" to crew a ship to Mars. Everyone acknowledges this in a meeting held with the black technician not present. The plot pivots on whether a team member or members should take a risky action that may mean they don't have to kill him (because he is a nice guy).

A sane solution might be to finding a way to turn the ship around and go home (the stowaway is discovered minutes after departure -- Earth is still visible out the porthole) or draw straws to see who goes out the airlock but no. The movie is designed to inure us to the kinds of decisions (military, Ayn Randian) that must be made in a universe run by Silicon Valley corporations. Someone has to go -- it's just a question of which expendable(s).

our man flint: libertarian


Left to right: Dr. Krupov, played by Rhys Williams, Dr. Wu, played by Peter Brocco, and Dr. Schneider, played by Benson Fong.

In the quasi-spy spoof Our Man Flint (1966) a cadre of globalist villains called "Galaxy" attempts to use climate catastrophes to unite the world. The DVD commentary takes a libertarian slant on this. Alex on Film writes:

But what is it these nerds in lab coats want? Money? Power? Women? None of the above. No, they want to make a better world for everyone. They want to “organize the potential of all mankind” for good, putting an end to war, hunger, and poverty.
Our man Flint, however, is having none of it. The commentary has something I found very interesting to say about this, seeing how Flint’s rejection of this altruistic mission expresses: “the underlying theme of the movie . . . the rugged individualist versus the scientific collective . . . and that was what Coburn was most proud of . . . the idea that he could play, that he could represent the American spirit, the idea that you could constantly learn and strive and be your own person, and that’s how you kept progressing rather than a group of scientists who decided that this is what’s good for you.”
Well, I’m sure it would be wise not to trust this bunch of scientists. After all, those who won’t submit to their Utopian schemes are either sent off for reconditioning or, if unreclaimable, to the electrofragmentizer. But there’s also an air of the populist rejection of elites and anti-intellectualism embodied in Flint as well, for all his own ostentatious culture and learning.

The modern-day Drs. Krupov, Wu, and Schneider might be Klaus Schwab and The World Economic Forum, with their trans-humanist dreams of a techno-mediated global society. Stripped of high-flown rhetoric, their schemes boil down to corporate exploitation of the GPS-tracked, facially-recognized masses, authoritarianism with a science fiction face. Populist rejection of this isn't anti-intellectual, it's smart. Yet to The New York Times and other center-right organs, the people who oppose the so-called Great Reset are the crazies, not the planners.

One could take it a step further and note that climate (and biological) crises are the planned (or exploited) catalysts for world unification under Davos Man's enlightened scientific (or corporate) rule, making Our Man Flint quite prescient (or presciently crackpot, again, if you believe the Times).

It's important to distinguish mere flat-earth-ism from legitimate political concerns. As Thomas Pynchon and others have pointed out, the original Luddites didn't just "hate technology," they hated the way it was being used by the elite to disenfranchise them. Today, there are reasons besides disliking progress for opposing 5G, the war on cash, and social credit schemes cooked up by the men in lab coats.

(Photo via )

mars attacks in the '60s and '90s

Tim Burton made two good movies, Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Ed Wood, before becoming a Hollywood hack and MOMA-celebrated artiste.
(The Nightmare Before Christmas somehow also makes its way into the Burton canon, despite being one of Henry Selick's best films.)
A web magazine, Collider, argues that Burton's 1996 film Mars Attacks "deserves more respect," since it's a "gleefully chaotic masterpiece." It's certainly chaotic.
"Mars Attacks," the 1960s trading cards, were mean-spirited and one could almost call them subversive, for the year they came out (1962). Burton's movie captured the bad vibes, but the humor in Mars Attacks, the movie, is self-consciously "hilarious" and "over the top" (and therefore not that funny).
In the trading cards the Martians weren't "just a bunch of dickheads," as Collider describes them in Burton's movie.
They were the conventional H.G. Wells baddies, cruel and callous in their treatment of humans. Eventually mankind (or at least the US Air Force) bands together and gives them some payback by blowing up Mars.


In Burton's film the usual small group of disadvantaged outsiders wins the day -- nothing subversive about that, it's the plot of every other Hollywood film. Subversive would be a group of US oligarchs in league with the Martians to provide a casus belli for "lockdowns" and other authoritarian interventions.
Even in 1962 the trading cards didn't lack precedent. Such shocking scenes of violence and mayhem abounded in the EC Comics of the 1950s, before the Comics Code clamped down.





There is actual pathos in these scenes, as well as dark humor, unlike Mars Attacks, the movie, where gruesome deaths play purely for yucks. As Collider says, "Burton’s movie feels like it was thrown together by cynical maniacs," and that wasn't intended as a criticism.

images from "the internet"

screenshots for a new cold war

The Cold War of 1945-1989 was a bad movie, with commies hiding under every bed and nukes of Damocles hanging over every head. A bad time to be alive and a great time to have behind us, at least until Hillary Clinton, pouting because she lost an election, singlehandedly revived it.

The second James Bond film, From Russia with Love (not to be confused with Trailer Park Boys' grease film From Russia with the Love Bone), is a First Cold War entertainment. The white hats are spy Bond (Sean Connery) and Russian agent Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), the black hats are, among others, SPECTRE operatives Donald Grant (Robert Shaw) and Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya).

Alex on Film says this about Grant and Bond:

The line where Grant talks about Bond having to crawl and kiss his (Grant’s) foot isn’t in the book. Was it improvised? Bond is, of course, a gentleman agent (what he’s called in the trailer) and a snobbish member of the upper class. He’s on to Grant as soon as he orders the wrong wine at dinner. In the book though Grant is a psychopathic serial killer triggered by phases of the moon, not someone with much of a class consciousness. He’s only working for the Russians because they let him kill people...

Watching the movie again after many years got me imagining things from the viewpoint of the women. My comment on Alex on Film's post (with added screenshots) follows.


Poor Rosa Klebb. She learned a valuable lesson here: Never send a “paranoid murderer” to do the work of a real spy. Instead of testing Grant’s muscle tone by sucker punching him,


she should have been asking him if Chianti was really the best thing to drink with grilled sole.


Then, after her plans were thwarted by Bond, a super agent whose superiority she failed to anticipate, she goes after him alone, relying on a maid costume and poison tipped dart to stop him.


Also, while admiring Grant’s physique at the beginning, she should have been asking him if he had any class anxieties that might impair his judgment in a contest of wills with a real English (well, Scottish) gentleman. In the final Bond/Grant confrontation, Grant becomes rattled by Bond's savoir faire and loses the advantage.
And what will be Tatiana’s story here? A zealot for Mother Russia, pimped out by the woman-admiring Klebb, she loses her heart to the English agent...


Promptly after the credits roll, the agent will dump her for his next paramour, and she'll end her days in a dreary MI5 decoding pool. Or will she use her extraordinary beauty to “land” another English gentleman? Or will she be exchanged back to Russia to be debriefed about SPECTRE, sadder but wiser, but unlike Klebb, still alive? We can only speculate.