El Pantera – La Monja

May 27, 2008

I was flipping through cable TV the other night, and I hit on a Spanish language crime show. It features some lean, handsome young guy with spiky hair who rides a Harley chopper and hangs out with an old, hatted, portly detective. The show, The Panther, I have since learned is based on a comic strip, and it always takes place in Mexico City. I was intrigued because it had unusual editing, used split images, and the atmospherics were highly unusual for a TV crime series – very noir.

The video sequence above is a series of stills from the first crime in the show. Apologies for the quality – I couldn’t find a clean way to get this posted.

The woman enters a large, ancient church to steal antiquities. She is surprised by a priest, and she shoots him! She delivers the loot to her boss outside, and then makes her way…where? Is that a dance show? That 60s style decor?! Who are those women watching her as she strips her nun’s habit and does her sexy dance? Why is she there?

The feel of this sequence struck me as if Bunuel had been employed doing TV serials. And the theme of the sexy, murderous nun – such imagery is lacking to us denizens of protestant countries.  And she is murderous – later on in the episode she hacks a woman to death, and uses a paper cutter to decapitate a scholarly gentleman.

The episode is called “The Nun”, but it  makes me think of another bloodthirsty, gothic celibate, Matthew Gregory Lewis’s creation, The Monk!)

If there are any Spanish speaking viewers out there who are familiar with this episode (no.5) please explain!

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I Feel Justified!

February 14, 2008

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Psssst! Want to read a really weird book? Try Mr. James Hogg’s Scottish concoction, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Yeah, that title, that alone drew me in. What the heck..?

Turns out it was far more of a wild ride than I had anticipated. An early gothic novel with a vengence! It is the bizarre, supernatural story of a sociopath motivated by religion! Yes, he’s a Calvinist, and understanding that most are irrevocably damned from birth, he decides to do a little earthly clean up on his own. After all, the lost, the preterite, the un-elect, are not worthy of life and the justified can do no wrong – their destiny is sealed from all eternity.

I rejoiced in the commission, finding it more congenial to my nature to be cutting sinners off with the sword than to be haranguing them from the pulpit, striving to produce an effect which God, by his act of absolute predestination, had for ever rendered impracticable. I could not disbelieve the doctrine which the best of men had taught me, and towards which he made the whole of the Scriptures to bear, and yet it made the economy of the Christian world appear to me as an absolute contradiction. How much more wise would it be, thought I, to begin and cut sinners off with the sword! For till that is effected, the saints can never inherit the earth in peace. Should I be honoured as an instrument to begin this great work of purification, I should rejoice in it. But, then, where had I the means, or under what direction was I to begin? There was one thing clear, I was now the Lord’s and it behoved me to bestir myself in His service. Oh that I had an host at my command, then would I be as a devouring fire among the workers of iniquity!

The book does drag a bit near the end, but the Scottish local color, customs and dialect, add to its interest. The entire text is available online.


Metamorphosis

December 10, 2007

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In Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak Memory, there is a chapter in which he takes a break from his sometimes tedious nostalgia about the comings and goings of his aristocratic family and describes the origins of his “mania” for butterflies. Of course, he was a serious collector and respected lepidopterist all of his life.

The image of men with butterfly nets has often been used in movies and TV for comic effect, but apparently his experience was that it was regarded as simply bizarre. Here he describes the impact of his boyish hunts on the startled Russian country people:

“I would see in my wake the villagers frozen in the various attitudes my passage had caught them in, as if I were Sodom and they Lot’s wife.”

Marvelous simile there, a movable city of sin, the burning metropolis of Sodom, plowing through the countryside leaving a trail of salt/stone figures, transfixed by its passing. And here he addresses the frightening aspects of transformation as he comes across a caterpillar on the path:

“…a strange creature…in a frantic search for a place to pupate (the awful pressure of metamorphosis, the aura of a disgraceful fit in a public place).”

I think it was Joyce Carrol Oates who identified the “gothic” element in Dante’s Inferno, as those passages in which characters experience in helpless terror the changing of their bodies into something else. (The “disgraceful fit” reminds me of Dostoyevsky’s descriptions of his epileptic attacks, always ecstatic in the end). Transformations and horror, as with Actaeon, werewolves, American and otherwise, Jekyll-Hyde, vampires male and female, and even the Incredible Hulk.

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(The image at the top is by James Gillray, and shows a celebrated naturalist Joseph Banks.)