Monday, May 29, 2023

Favorite first-time watches thus far in 2023

Where Chimneys Are Seen
Synecdoche, New York

Through the first five months of the year, I haven't watched as many movies as I would have liked. There are a lot of reasons, including getting into a daily rut that involves winding down for bed around 8:30 p.m., the fact that Ashar and I have been primarily watching streaming series and, of course, taking care of the many cats 24/7.1

Last year I shared a list of my 20 favorite "first-time watches." I looked over what I've watched so far this year (written down in my cat-chewed Story Supply Co. notebook) and started mulling what might make the year-end list for 2023.

The best movie I've watched this year is 1953's Where Chimneys Are Seen, directed by Heinosuke Gosho and starring Kinuyo Tanaka and Hideko Takamine. It's an outstanding drama that revolves around a group of struggling Japanese citizens and how they deal with a baby that is suddenly thrust into their midst.

This is my short list of first-time watches that are most likely to be considered for the year-end list:
  • Dead of Night (1945)
  • Where Chimneys Are Seen (1953)
  • Marjoe (1972 documentary)
  • The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
  • Synecdoche, New York (2008)
  • Game Night (2018)

My most recent first-time watch was 1958's Black Cat Mansion, directed by Nobuo Nakagawa. It's part of the delightful Japanese subgenre of "ghost cat" films. It is also, decades before Ringu/The Ring, an early example of the Japanese horror trope of the slow-moving supernatural entity with long hair covering its face.

Now I want to track down some other films by Nakagawa. He's most famous for 1960's Jigoku, but I've read a lot about that one, and it sounds too grim/depressing/sadistic for my taste. One that I would like to watch is 1949's The Adventures of Tobisuke. With this poster, how can you go wrong?

1. That includes the growing population of outdoor feral cats. This morning I had multiple visits between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. from Creamy, Fjord, Mittens, Cirque, Big Boi and Mamacita and her still-unnamed but very hungry kitten (pictured at right). Also, I discovered yesterday that Cirque has at least four kittens of her own, which are about a month old. They're in the neighbor's yard and inaccessible because of a tall wall, which is a conundrum. Also, Mamacita is almost certainly pregnant again. We need to get the TNR into a higher gear.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Book cover: "The Witchfinder"

  • Title: The Witchfinder
  • Author and illustrator: Mary Rayner (1933-2023). Unknown to me before I started working on this post, Rayner died just two months ago, in late March, at age 89. There are obituaries for her in The Guardian and The Telegraph. She was best known for the children's books she wrote and illustrated about a family of pigs. Rayner also illustrated Dick King-Smith's 1983 children's book The Sheep-Pig, which was adapted in the delightful 1995 film Babe. In 2020, Rayner published her memoir, No More Tigers, which includes an introduction by her daughter, Sarah Rayner. It's described as "a beautifully written and deeply moving account of a family who for several generations lived in Colonial Burma, and of what happened to them when World War 2 shattered their lives." Sarah Rayner has also written a number of books.
  • Publication date of this edition: 1976. (The book was originally published in the United Kingdom in 1975, with the hyphenated title The Witch-Finder.)
  • Publisher: William Morrow and Company, New York
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Pages: 160
  • Dust jacket price: Not sure, because it's been clipped
  • Dust jacket excerpt: "From England comes a story of witchcraft and possession guaranteed to hold readers spellbound. The setting is a country village near an ancient circle of standing stones known as Wansbury Ring."
  • Dedication: "In memory of A.H.G. and for Sarah, whose idea it was." 
  • About this book: In Rayner's obituary, The Guardian wrote: "Although she began by writing a novel, The Witch-Finder (1975), a tautly written family story infused with a sinister creepiness very unlike her subsequent warm and benign picture books, she had always been as interested in illustration as writing." And The Telegraph similarly stated, "Her first book, The Witch-Finder (1975), featured a young girl whose mother has fallen under the spell of strange standing stones near their home. It conveyed an unsettling atmosphere very different from the comforting happy family theme of her pig books."
  • First two sentences: "Only a few yards to go. Louisa struggled through the water, her heart pumping, taking great gulps, now of air, now of water."
  • Last sentence: I'm going to skip that, as it's a possible spoiler.
  • Random excerpt from the middle #1: "Her mother's mocking words seemed suddenly to carry an air of menace."
  • Random excerpt from the middle #2: "The shelves behind the librarian's head blurred over suddenly in thick mist, and the line of books began to rock up and down."
  • Reviews: There's not much to be found online about this short novel, with its themes of UK folklore and folk horror aimed at juvenile readers. Kirkus published a short review at the time. I learned about the book through an article in issue No. 5 of the zine Weird Walk. The relevant passage: "If ancient customs were rich pickings for the burgeoning market in eerie children's tales, so too were ancient monuments. Avebury was famously used as the setting for the 1977 TV serial Children of the Stones, fictionalised as 'Milbury.' Two years earlier, Mary Rayner's The Witch-Finder had made Avebury 'Wansbury' and used the stones as a plot device to transform the central character's unfortunate mother into a witch." The Weird Walk article serves as a great jumping-off point for discovering similar books aimed at teenagers in the second half of the 20th century. 
Here's one of Rayner's interior illustrations...