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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/06/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 49
Table of Contents
What a Carve-up (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
At home I had to do something recently that frankly I have very little experience for. I had to carve a chicken. (You usually think of carving a turkey, I suppose, but this was a chicken.) At home we tend to eat vegetarian. If we don't eat vegetarian we eat fish. It is easy to carve a cooked fish, particularly because it usually starts filleted the way we get it. If we don't eat vegetarian or fish, we get chicken breast. At least when you get a chicken breast you can tell yourself you are not getting a piece of a living animal, you are getting a produced substance. You know, something cultured like Chicken Little from Pohl and Kornbluth's SPACE MERCHANTS in which large tracts of chicken meat are produced in vats. Actually chicken meat production is not a whole lot different from that in the United States these days. The meat still comes in individual chicken units, but factory chicken production is not so different from growing it like a substance. These days "chicken in a basket" may have been that way all its life. (Sorry, I'd rather not think about it.)
The truth is I don't like to be reminded that I am carving an animal that walked around and had hopes and cares. That is true even if they were hopes and cares as generated from the half-volt chicken brain that could be hypnotized by drawing a line on the ground in front of its eyes. It still bothers me to be reminded that a chicken is an animal. This meal which I am eating and which will probably be forgotten in two days I am getting in exchange for a chicken giving up all that it had. When I have to carve I start asking myself questions in comparative anatomy like, "The ads talk about the rich meat juices in the chicken stock that give it that 'hearty chicken flavor.' What fluids do these correspond to in the human body? Would some other animal decide that there is such a thing as a hearty human flavor?" The more I think about such things, the more I consider becoming a vegetarian. These thoughts come flooding back to me when I carve an animal. But that is a digression. I promise to be good.
So I somehow have never gotten a lot of experience carving poultry. Nor wanted it. Part of the problem is you always are carving a bird freshly taken from the oven. That means it is hot. You burn your hands in addition to running the risk of stabbing yourself with that big knife or that vicious looking-looking meat fork. I think that fork is an atavistic throwback to the nasty forks that were used in the Middle Ages when they were frequently used as murder weapons. But you burn yourself in addition to everything else. I keep telling Evelyn that it makes more sense to carve first and cook after that, but she will have none of it. Some people are not ready for new ideas.
You should see me with a turkey. I do carve it, but when I am done it looks like the process was not so much one of carving as one of exploding. Guests at our house must think that it was cut up with military precision. "At D-hour minus four minutes, seventeen hours, fifty-six minutes, the turkey was detonated with explosives." The truth is that carving is much like a military attack, but even more like a fight to the death. It starts like a knife-fight with a mean fork fight added on. I go in slashing and stabbing, cutting and parrying. But this is a tough old bird and refuses to say it's licked. (That's a figure of speech. No, I don't lick it. I'm going to be serving it to guests. Pul-eeeze!) Soon I throw away my weapons and it becomes a hand-to-hand wrestling match. Using a process I inherited from my father I sheathe my hands in plastic bags to keep things sanitary. Then I start tearing meat off of bones and putting it onto the collection plate. People who eat a carved bird in my house rare see the flat straight cut of the carving knife showing in the result.
With grace and stamina I get the bird in a hammer lock. I grit my teeth and twist. For a moment I feel the leg coming off in my polyethylene-wrapped hand. Then when I look I realized the turkey double-crossed me. There in my hand is just a bone. The meat is still hanging onto the bird. That is why the bird looks detonated. Eventually there is a pile of little pieces of meat there, some with bones most just flinders of meat. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last year I read Jonathan Rigby's ENGLISH GOTHIC: A CENTURY OF HORROR CINEMA (Reynolds & Hearn, 2000, 272pp, L17.95). Then a couple of weeks ago, I read NIGHTWALKERS: GOTHIC HORROR MOVIES: THE MODERN ERA by Bruce Lanier Wright (Taylor, 1995, 171pp, $17.95). And when Mark saw me enjoying that, he said I should also read Jeremy Dyson's BRIGHT DARKNESS: THE LOST ART OF THE SUPERNATURAL FILM (Cassell, 1997, 282pp, price unknown).
The first point worth noting is that only one of these are British, which is surprising when one considers that when one talks about "Gothic horror films" or "supernatural horror films," often the studio name that first comes to mind is Hammer Films. Ironically, Dyson doesn't cover the Hammer era at all, but instead concentrates on the Universal/RKO era of the 1930s and 1940s. Wright, on the other hand, focuses on the Hammer period from 1957 to 1976 but covers American and Continental horror films as well as British, while Rigby takes an approach orthogonal to both and covers a century's worth of films, all English.
All three have one thing in common--they concentrate on the "horror film" rather than the "terror film." Their goal is not to write about slasher films, or stalker films, or psycho films, but about "supernatural" horror--horror that is based on something beyond the world we know. (Wright makes the distinction at the end between Gothic and Grand Guignol styles, saying the latter emphasizes our physical existence in this world, while the former postulates a structure of good and evil in which we move.)
On to specifics. Rigby's ENGLISH GOTHIC is a very thorough coverage of its topics, with particular value for the pre-Hammer era which tends to be ignored or skimmed over in works of this kind. Rigby does not cover every film in detail, but at least references and puts in context the films for which he doesn't give detailed plot synopses and analyses.
Wright's NIGHTWALKERS is much less thorough, even for the period it covers, though he spends a bit more time on the films he does cover in depth. And Dyson covers even fewer films, but each again in yet more depth, with entire chapters devoted to "King Kong" and "Cat People", for example.
The real problem with all of these, of course, is that after you have finished reading about a film, you'll want to pull out the DVD (or videotape) and watch it again. After reading about what Wright called "the Cornish horrors" ("The Reptile" and "Plague of the Zombies"), for example, I suggested to Mark that this would make a good Sunday afternoon double feature. Luckily, he agreed, and since it just happened to be Sunday afternoon, that was one problem solved. :-)
All three books are somewhat difficult to find in stores, though on-line booksellers have made it relatively easy on-line. If you are going to get only one of the three, ENGLISH GOTHIC is probably the best choice. BRIGHT DARKNESS is the most academic, with NIGHTWALKERS being the most "pop culture" of the three, though hardly a fluff coffee table book. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: As for me, I am rather often uneasy in my mind, because I think that my life has not been calm enough; all those bitter disappointments, adversities, changes keep me from developing fully and naturally in my artistic career. -- Vincent van Gogh
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