From Plato, who believed that the dead walked around a cemetery, Pliny the younger who told of his friend’s in Greece encountering a ghost of an old man in a chain, and Arthur Conan Doyle, who himself manifested as a revenant looking for his lost diary in his former early abode, there is no distinction between the learned and the general in acknowledging the existence of spirits. There are more things on earth than are explained in theories. Poltergeist: Then and Now by Wayne Ridsdell revisits the places where the noisy spirits were/are reputedly manifesting themselves and lets the reader judge the veracity of the existence of the century-old poltergeist on his own.
The book reads like an anthology for the history of poltergeist 101. The author has gleaned several famous poltergeist cases from the Cock Lane Poltergeist to Borley Rectory Haunting, The Enfield Poltergeist, and the Rosenheim Poltergeist. They are all too familiar to stimulate the reader searching for a new case of the subject, even if it may not be as sensational as the aforesaid famous cases. But in all fairness, the instances’ enumeration latently serves as suggestive DYI touchstones for discriminating the genuinely supernatural from the others, including mental illness, fraud, or overt imagination. Take, for example, the Cock Lane Poltergeist and the Mayfair Ghost, aka Berkeley Square ghost. Despite the shocking incidents recorded in the annals, the circumstantial evidence surrounding the cases arises from a jilted lover’s malice, the rage of failed expectation, and rambunctiousness of avarice, manifested in one big hoax of an invented poltergeist. Although the authors do not directly debate the cases’ truthfulness, the detailed accounts of the stories behind the issues bespeak the possibilities of stratagem.
What lacks in the originality of strange poltergeist incidents makes up in the unveiling intelligence about historical and literary relations to the ghostly phenomena. For example, the haunted 50 Berkeley Square in London inspired Rudyard Kipling’s “Tomlinson,” a poetic version of the Book of Dead retold in his poetic vision is a gem to discover. From London, the reader travels to the ghastly Glamis Castle and finds himself in the secret chamber where the sinister force originates from, which no one but the first-born son at his twenty-one birthday can access to. The secret remains intact to this date in the Bowes-Lyons Family, the castle owner, who included Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and the unfortunate Nerissa and Katherine, who were locked up in an asylum for their prenatal imbecility till their death, eschewed by their loyal cousins. The reader’s thirst for the supernatural piquancy in the context of historical evidence is adequately quenched in such information.
The reader keen on supernatural (not paranormal, psychic, or psychological) stories based on real events might find this book mediocre in contents that are a well-organized summation of case studies. Still, the book is a good primer for the world of poltergeist and its historical record that links the past to the present, which the noisy spirit knows no boundary of time and space. What happened before happens now and will happen tomorrow. I think this is what the author wants to ascertain in this book.
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Invitation, Manifestation, and Escape are typical acts in horror movies from ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘The Changeling’ and to ‘The Others’, all of which are supreme ones of the genre, demonstrating the genuine scare is without a masked slasher on a killing spree that seems to revive forever like a Phoenix. But what about ‘The Boy’ (2016)? The movie is a lackluster flick, a smart apprentice of the masters mentioned above but without depth and breadth of knowledge of the essence of things, natural and supernatural.
It follows a young American woman with a past named Greta (very German or Grimm maybe?) hired by the overtly strange elderly couple as a nanny to their little son Brahms (possibly Bram Stoker?), a porcelain doll. As in Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Death, she shocks and denies, then accepts that she is a nanny to the doll. Of course, pretty Greta is not lonely because a young, good-looking grocer named Malcolm courts her as politely suavely as an English can be. Then Greta’s ex-lover Cole, who is the epitome of big, rough, and domineering man, suddenly manifesting from America in the English mansion, demanding she should leave for the states in the morning with him. And that’s not the end, for we are rudely introduced by a third character (or the same?), and the stupendousness of the story swivels in the flashes of screams, blood, tears, etc.
Watching this movie last night on Netflix made me think that the classic horrors of the 70s and 80s were indeed long gone and would not revive – at least for now. What begins as a classic supernatural story ends as a tepid escapade from one big mess. Greta’s coming to England is loosely explained, not to mention Cole’s sudden appearance in the English countryside manor is abruptly shoehorned into the story, breaking the thread of subplots, changing the atmosphere of the movie into a thriller that is not supernatural at all. Nevertheless, Lauren Cohan’s performance as Greta is commendable for her naturalness and arduousness in portraying her role that is the only gem of the movie that makes it watchable without turning it off.
Maybe I am either anachronistic or fastidious in selecting horror movies because of my propensity for subtle but incredible supernatural thematic elements without monsters, deformed humans, or amorous lovers. So be it. It’s all about how a story is intelligently and entertainingly told on the screen with minimum special effects, gore scenes, love scenes staging in either big swanky English country houses or big deserted mansions that are conveniently used as thematic elements. Reading the background information on this movie, I have noticed that there are quite a few production companies involved in making it. Would it be the reason for turning this otherwise excellent thematic element into a dull child’s play? Did all the companies know a thing about a movie not in monetary terms but art for art’s sake? I wonder.
A critic, according to Abraham Lincoln, has a right to criticize, but has a heart to help. Being a critic requires erudition drown upon a wealth of reading combined with a natural sagacity grown from enriched humanity wielded into an alchemy of words. A good critic with a poet’s heart guides the public with a lantern lighting the artist’s labyrinth in his world and helps us see the unseen in the far corner of a maze with a wealth of knowledge, sans arrogance of intelligence as Roger Ebert.
Unlike his other contemporary peers, Ebert was liberal in views, conservative in beliefs, and fair in judgments, the commendable attributes shared by Samuel Johnson, a 17 century English social/cultural critic, essayist, and dictionarian. He wrote a public in his mind and showed no peremptory atmosphere typically attributable to influential critics showing off their mastery of language not accessible to all due to their expensive private high education. Once Ebert trenchantly criticized a specific movie for its crude violence, abject dystopian portrayal of reality, and shuddering absence of humanity. The director of the film remonstrated with him in a public letter that Ebert’s criticism ignored the fact of life, which is akin to earthly circles of hell. Ebert replied to the director that if that was how he looked at the world, then it should not be forced upon the audience’s minds, exerting his raw and one-dimensional creation of reality upon the sentiments and judgments of the audience. Ebert believed that the world was worth living because there’s hope among the odds to sparkle before our eyes with joy flitting at our sides. This belief should be an essence of Arts that gives off beauty, pleasing to our senses that grows into reason. That is the purpose of arts, to which film belongs.
For this reason and my kindred perspectives on films in general, I miss Roger Ebert, although his writings are perennial. He didn’t grandstand with politically charged views on movies. He believed ‘Art is for Art’s Sake’ because films and books and paintings are not to be used as propagandas for a specific party ideology but to be appreciated for the minds’ food. W.H Auden said of his duty as a poet in society was to defend the use of language. I think Roger Ebert as a film critic in society was to defend the use of film as art to give life a shape.
The masts were solemnly lowered as the anchor was triumphantly docked in at a Hoboken harbor in New Jersey. Then there appeared a young woman with eyes of brilliance that glowed with joy and alacrity of departure from her race against the time. One hundred thirty-one years ago today was when one steely journalist named Nellie Bly broke the boundary of imagination and reality by completing her round-the-world race in 72 days at New Jersey. Bly’s phenomenal record was indeed transcendent of the realm of fictitious reality where Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s creation of gentleman adventurer, finished his globe-trotting in 80 days. The world record was not only a sensational media headline in her time but also a glowing manifestation of grit, resilience, and the power of the mind that Bly demonstrated on herself as a woman.
Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864 in a small Pennsylvania mill town, Nellie Bly was her catchy nom de plume for the literary world, where she became successful. She was something of a frontier pioneer woman in investigative journalism and adventuring into unpathed areas of news reporting of the Dickensian world of crime and health bureaucracy, notably of the asylum at Blackwell’s Island in New York where she infiltrated as an undercover. However, a panoply of her achievements backfired when her pent-up yearning for holidays on a different shore agreed to a spectacular proposal by Joseph Pulitzer, the New York World owner, of the ingenious race-round-the world against the time. Bly’s decision to embark on the one-of-kind adventure was an apropos admixture of personal yearning to get away from the weight of reality and the publisher’s entrepreneurial aim to proliferate circulations.
So there off, she embarked on the race with a trunk containing hygiene necessities, a few wardrobes, and some books to read, but without any weapon, not least because of her belief: “If you smile at the world, the world will smile at you.” She sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from New York, through Europe, the Arabian Sea, and the Far East, and then back across the Pacific to return to the homeland. During the voyage from Hong Kong to Japan, Bly heard that another contender emerged from the oceans’ edges: twenty-eight years old Elizabeth Bisland, the literary editor of Cosmopolitan, a rival publication of The New York World. Always achieving, always forwarding, Bly hastened to complete her race guarded by the goddess of fortune and blessed by Jules Verne, whom she met during the race in Europe and was able to trounce her rival journalist arriving five days earlier and Philias Fogg eight days.
Bly was a supreme one of a kind, not most because she was a woman reporter who was some rarity. Instead, she was a person of indomitable determination, commendable work ethic, and insatiable curiosity, which were coveted attributes even to men of high aspiration. Bly demonstrated the Nietzschean will to power in her achievement by the epiphany of the noble soul to create capabilities to make the idea into an incredible and remarkable reality in the chapter of humankind’s history. Herodotus would have loved to record it.
The Bard must have been punctual like me in doing his business as an actor, a writer, and an entrepreneur, not least because of his perspicuous witty aphorism that “Better three hours too soon than one minute too late.” Yes, the Bard and I are connected, among others, by the number three (3) because when I went to Little Tokyo for Toro’s follow-up appointment with a vet, it was thirty minutes earlier than the appointed time. It seems too pat that gave me a mental jolt, while Toro was trying to get out of a new pet carrying tote I had bought from Amazon. The popular tote failed to serve the purpose of being a portable carriage of the ever Curious Cat preferring his humanoid sister as a moving tall cat tree. In fact, Toro always likes to climb on my back and shoulders, which I wish to be wider and firmer so that he can securely sit on either side of them. My wish was father to the thought unless I saved a fairy who would grant me the wish as a quid pro quo in bona fide.
Since coffee is my morning elixir, I wended my direction toward a nearby Starbucks with the Curious Cat on my right shoulder, making me look curiouser and curiouser. Maybe I should not have gone to the Starbucks but instead to the Seven-Eleven, where they also sold excellent cheap coffee. Or is it just my innately high-strung sensibilities that detect the vibe? Notwithstanding the famous green mermaid’s angelic presence, it was the surprise unwelcome reception at the mermaid’s coffeehouse. My Curious Cat Toro was sitting on my shoulder while I was entering the store, and the two lady barristers looked at us as though they were looking at freaks from a defunct circus closed due to the pandemic. One of them at the register began with a slight grimace: “Miss, you can’t bring a cat here.” I was surprised to hear such an announcement because having seen dogs at other stores; it was more than a mind blow akin to heartbreak. So I remonstrated as softly as possible with my futilely pitiful reference to the dogs at Starbucks stores near my work. Then the other woman who appeared to be senior in staff hierarchy explained: “Dogs are allowed, but not cats. Our district manager is very strict about that. But I will serve you coffee because you seemed to not to know of it.” What a mercy. Yes, I got the coffee, I took Toro to the vet, and at least all was fine. Yet, the incident made me feel sorry about Toro, a de facto discrimination subject, per se.
Thankfully, Toro didn’t know of the episode performed in human language, but my heart sank when I looked at his large green eyes innocently looking into my eyes from a backpack I carried him into. So I showered him with new feather toys and cans of chicken pumpkin soup from a Petco in the afternoon. The district manager’s policy of not allowing cats to enter the premise makes my head swivel in 360 degrees of wonderment. Whether or not such policy is personally motivated under the particular feline nature’s pretext is a mystery, but cats’ exclusion is hard to swallow. Certainly, Toro and his feline kind will be welcome in the coffee houses of Teheran, where their wild ancestors were an integral part of arts and religions. Is that why cats were burned with alleged witches in Europe? No? It makes me couriouser and couriouser.