Saturday, June 26, 2010

Playlist Altered!

Just a quick head's up to those who read this blog regularly. I've removed some songs from the playlist and replaced them. A cleansing of the auditory palate, as it were.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review: "Alejandro" by Lady Gaga

I make no secret of the fact that I like Lady Gaga. She seems to me a magnificent performance artist, and the very bizarre nature of so many of her shows seems designed to startle, upset, disturb.

Her latest music video, "Alejandro", is a case-in-point. Frankly I'm partly amused and partly disappointed at some of the response to it. Before actually seeing the video (on YouTube) I saw/listened to/read reviews to the effect that it made no sense, was about nothing, etc.

Then I saw the video.

It begins with this woman surrounded not only by social convention (a public parade, herself literally being in a window, a funeral) and clearly isolated via technology (she's almost a Borg in some ways). And then the music begins. She sings of being unable to be with Alejandro, nor with Fernando, amid images of intense sexuality and sensuality. Mind you, we're not talking porn or anything like it. Lots of an lots scantily clad young men, in and out of bed, embracing her and each other, dancing in a way that suggests intercourse/foreplay/afterglow, etc.

Much has been made of the religious imagery used, as if that were somehow unique or odd. C'mon folks--Madonna did "Like A Prayer" how many years ago? For that matter, is it really much of a surprise to discover the link between the sensual and the divine? Nun erotica is just as much a genre as lesbian vampires or women-in-prison. This is news? Really?

As for meaning, seems like a straightforward portrayal of someone struggling with sexual desires in a place (like here and now) where such are the inspiration for intense guilt. The narrator (Narratrix? Is that a word? Methinks it should be) is trying to suppress her feelings, which of course tends to make them stronger. She goes in public and finds her imagination turning a bunch of soldiers into her own male harem. As a nun, she exults in the feel of her costume and the submission of the calling. Surrounding herself with machines, the touch of those machines only make her more aware of her own body. Everything reminds, invokes, inspires her own complex feelings and urges that she doesn't understand and as yet cannot really handle. Rather than a storyline, the song functions like a poem (which in some sense is precisely what it is) -- not teaching a lesson but capturing a moment, a feeling, a paradox, or a situation.

The answers, if any, lie in ourselves. Lady Gaga is an example of an artist with strong opinions, but whose art does not in fact tell you the audience what to think.


I know that we are young
And I know that you may love me
But I just can't be with you like this anymore
She's got both hands In her pocket
And she won't look at you
(won't look at you)

She hides true love

En su bolsillo
She's got a halo around her finger
Around you
You know that I love you boy
Hot like Mexico
At this point I've gotta choose
Nothing to lose
Don't call my name
Don't call my name
I'm not your babe
I'm not your babe
Don't wanna kiss
Don't wanna touch
Just smoke my cigarette, hush
Don't call my name
Don't call my name
Stop Please, just let me go
Alejandro Just let me go
She's not broken

She's just a baby

But her boyfriend's like her dad

Just like a dad

And all those flames that

Burned before him

Now he's gotta firefight

Gotta cool the bad
You know that I love you boy

Hot like Mexico

At this point I've gotta choose
Nothing to lose
Don't call my name Don't call my name Alejandro

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Dracula!!!

This is exciting to me. I should explain--one of my projects this year is getting a new web series off the ground. One hero for me in this effort is the staff of The Guild, but another is a gentleman who goes by the name Theodore Trout. He is the star and evidently guiding force behind an amazing, original production of Bram Stoker's novel. Dracula, Lord of the Damned looks like it was done on a budget that would pay for maybe a nice car, but with a startling imagination behind it (as well as lots of elbow grease).

In essence, the conceit of this production is that Dracula truly is the Lord of the Damned--the literal anti-christ who feels himself a great benefactor. After all, does he not bring truth and eternal life?

Well, he believes he does.

This version fairly drips with atmosphere, a dream like quality in virtually every frame. The costumes and sets cannot help but be rudimentary (see comment about the budget above) but one hardly realizes this. For one thing the camera work almost defines simple but effective. When Harker first approaches Castle Dracula, for example, it is by boat and the interplay of Harker's POV approaching landfall (with a suitably erie, ancient staircase) as well as a shot from land showing the boat bringing him is so simple--yet works extremely well.

Kudos also to the retention of virtually every major character. Usually, Lucy's three suitors are reduced to one or two, often none. This, like Bram Stoker's Dracula and the BBC adaptation with Louis Jourdain, includes the whole trinity. As far as I know this is also the sole version that ever has had Renfield the object of Victorian-era brain surgery (as he is in the original novel).

Is it perfect? No. The biggest weakness is the cast. When compared to some of the fine performers who have taken on these roles in the past--Kate Nelligan, Gary Oldman, Christopher Plummer, etc.--the repertory company here suffers. It isn't that they do a poor or even mediocre job. Not at all! In fact, they manage to capture the style of the film with their performances very well. But honestly, this Van Helsing is no Anthony Hopkins nor this Dracula a Denholm Elliott. Yet, they are good if overwhelmed by the style of the production.

Below you will find a trailer. You can get a lot more information (including other teasing clips and a way of ordering a copy) at Mr. Trout's YouTube Channel.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Guest Blogger: Raven Corinn Carluk

Please welcome a guest blogger today, Raven Corinn Carluk.

I want to thank Zahir for having me here today. It's very awesome, and I hope I can entertain you all.

I'm a debut vampire author. Paranormal romance, truly. I've been writing for years, and have a whole bunch of stories up on my site, and an ongoing story on my blog. I'm a storyteller, through and through, and I'm glad I can actually reach people now.

So I'm here today because I want to share a story with all you fine readers today. I love vampires. Not the sparkly ones, not the ones who want to be human again, or the ones who've given up drinking human blood. I'm into romance, so they don't have to be heartless monsters. But they need to have some bite to them, a predatory spirit.

This is a story I wrote to be different in the world of soft vampires. A twist, but only compared to the doldrums and boring vampires flooding the market. I hope you enjoy, "Said the rattlesnake".

He growled low in his throat as flickering light filled the room. The creak of the iron hinges was responsible for breaking his slumber, but there was no denying the hot scent of a young woman would have been just as effective. He narrowed his eyes at the glare of light, trying to discern the bearer, not recognizing her scent.

She lowered the lamp, revealing creamy features, alluringly large eyes, and a cascade of dark hair. She was slender, willowy even, but held herself with grace and strength. His growl died as her presence overwhelmed him.

He'd hungered in the dark too long, and was desperate to feel her heat pressed hard against him. Silver-laced manacles bit into his flesh as he lunged closer, and he groaned in pain. He came fully awake as hunger ate through his body like acid. His jaws began to ache with the need to be in her veins, driving away all coherent thought.

She came closer, her footsteps muffled by thick skirts. He noted how clean she and her clothes were, and figured her for aristocracy. "So, it's true. Marda has a pet." Her voice was soft, but there was a fervent note to it. Letting his eyes close, he found himself imagining her voice raised in passionate cries, her body arching against his.

The young woman strode closer, setting the lamp on a rickety table near his imprisoning chair. Her aroma thickened in his nostrils, and he let his teeth grind against the bit in his mouth. He knew he risked breaking a fang against it, but he couldn't help himself. "Marda said your name was Wolfgang. Was she lying?"

Wolfgang opened his eyes. How had this slip of a girl pried secrets from his captor? Marda was a tough woman, from barbarian stock, and had bound him while he was in a moment of weakness. Her knowledge of his kind had allowed her to keep him captive, and for the last four decades Marda had fed herself on his strength, extending her life by taking his.

Now someone else stood before him, claiming Marda had shared this secret.

He wanted to keep the girl talking, simply to keep her torturously close. Marda had been neglecting him lately, hadn't fed him for months. He was starving, and fantasies played out about this girl's delicate throat. Wolfgang shook his head, holding her gaze.

She stood within arm's length, her skirts brushing his bare feet with a whisper of linen. Her heat beat against his skin, stoking his hunger, and he moaned low in his throat. She smiled at the sound, her eyes slowly pulling him in. "Which means she also told the truth about what she did with you." The woman's eyes flicked to the knife on the table, dusty with disuse.

Wolfgang's skin crawled with the remembered encounters. Marda, feeding him through a metal straw stuck past the bit. Marda, almost surgically precise when she opened the vein in his neck. Marda, sucking his life from him with a greedy mouth. He shuddered, tipping his head back, lost to the memories. Years of captivity had taught him to enjoy Marda's tortures, to stop looking for freedom.

His current object of desire settled onto his lap, and he cried out in surprise, his entire body reacting to her touch. She weighed practically nothing, yet Wolfgang felt her in every limb. He writhed against his bindings, the metal digging into his calloused flesh, and she giggled at his reaction.

Her mirth cut through his clouded mind, and he looked at her, boring into her amber eyes as her breath washed around his face. "Who are you?" he tried to ask around his bit. Her smile was dazzling, her teeth in perfect health, and he followed the movement of her lips. Then his eyes darted to her hands as she reached to the buckle at the back of his head. With swift motions, she undid the straps, releasing his mouth. "Who are you?" he repeated in an abused voice.

"My name is Aileen," she purred, stroking his cheeks. Wolfgang sighed longingly, turning to kiss her slender wrist, but the girl pulled her arms away. "Oh, no, little Wolf, nothing for you yet."

His voice rose in a deep growl. "Why must you torture me?" His body throbbed with his need, his every thought spinning around drinking her blood, his vision fading in and out.

"Because I want to bargain with you."

Aileen said it so sweetly, so matter-of-factly, he almost didn't believe it. "Where's Marda? She'd never make bargains."

"I know, silly," she said, brushing a thumb across his mouth. Aileen laughed as he bucked beneath her, shaking her long hair. Wolfgang gritted his teeth to keep from snapping at her slender fingers, wanting to hear her proposal. "That's why I killed her."

Wolfgang froze, staring open-mouthed at Aileen. "Killed? You killed Marda?"

"Yes I did. And it took me a month to find where she'd stashed you." She ran a hand through his long hair, and he kept himself from reacting. "And now that I'm here, we're going to make a deal."

"What is it you want?" The vampire's voice was thick in his throat. Aileen kept stroking his hair, touching his cheeks, and the scent of blood beneath her pale skin tangled around his heart. He felt conscious thought threatening to leave him, and would become a raging beast if he didn't feed soon.

"I want the same thing Marda had. I want strength from you."

Wolfgang laughed, loud and harsh. Aileen's delicate brows drew into a sharp frown, her hands coming to a halt. "You don't need to bargain for that. Simply keep me here, and you have it."

Aileen leaned closer, her pert nose brushing his. "But I want more. I want to become like you. I want you to teach me how to use the powers of the blood." She leaned closer still, almost kissing him. "I want you free and willing."

Wolfgang tasted her breath, wanting to taste her lips, and his thoughts spun. This little thing wanted his blood, and wanted to let him go. She wouldn't keep him in the basement, would give him freedom, and he need only take her on as a fledgling. After decades of confinement, of forgetting about moonlight and the wind in his hair, of not being able to hold a delectable woman in his arms, there was only one answer. "Yes," he whispered, trying to claim her mouth and his escape.

Aileen pulled away with a wicked smile. "That's what I thought you'd say." The woman reached for the knife. "Shall we start?"

The vampire's eyes rolled shut, and he tipped his head back from habit. As hungry as he was, part of him wanted to feel her mouth upon his flesh. "I can't give you much," he rasped. "I've been too long without blood."

"I know, you poor thing," she crooned. The knife came to his neck, and he tensed, waiting for the sting of the blade. He flinched when Aileen broke the skin, shivering as his blood seeped forth. "Once I've tasted you, I shall take you home."

Wolfgang sighed softly as she bent, arching his neck against her mouth. Aileen's lips seared his skin, her teeth resting lightly against his flesh, her hands trembling on his shoulders. He strained in his bonds, wanting to press her slight body against him, wanting to encourage her to drink harder.

She stopped all too soon, shuddering as his blood infiltrated her. "I never realized..." Aileen's voice trailed off, and she pushed herself back from him. He let his eyes open slowly, studying the changes in her face. Blood stained her rosebud mouth, her cheeks flushed, the rest of her skin growing paler, nearly pearlescent in the lamplight. Her eyes became luminous as she gazed at him, wonder gracing her features. "Is it always like this?"

"Marda said so." Wolfgang's hunger had grown beyond painful, becoming the entirety of his being. He felt lucky he hadn't snapped yet; he wouldn't maul Aileen when she set him free.

The pit of his stomach dropped. He'd been so desperate for freedom that he'd instantly believed her. There was no reason for her to actually let him go. Aileen could simply keep him as Marda had, and he couldn't stop her. Wolfgang had stopped trying to escape decades ago, and was sure Marda's wards would hold until time ended.

The girl moved dizzily, but proved she was true to her word, and began undoing his bindings. Marda hadn't opened the manacles in forty years, and the metal creaked as it parted. Wolfgang groaned with the sudden freedom, the air cold against his skin. He tried to rise from the chair, and fell to his knees, his body forgetting how to move at first.

"Oh, my Wolf, don't hurt yourself." Aileen went to her knees beside him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "What do you need?"

Heat lashed up his spine, strength returning to his limbs as hunger drove him. "You," he groaned, turning toward her. Aileen gave no resistance as he pulled her into his arms. She whimpered softly as his mouth found her neck, then cried out in pleasure as his teeth pierced her vein.

Blood filled his mouth in a hot gush, and he growled, holding her tighter. She crumpled in his grip, and he swallowed brokenly. Too long since he'd actually held someone while he fed, and somehow he managed not to fall into a blood frenzy.

He fed steadily, feeling her heart surge against his lips, sucking in rhythm with it. Aileen moaned and writhed in his arms, pressing herself against him, encouraging him to drink deeper. Wolfgang's fangs shifted, and she clawed at his shoulders, her voice throaty and passionate in his ear.

The vampire pressed her to the ground, grinding his hips against her. The young woman accommodated him, wrapping slender thighs around him. He snatched her hair, pulling her head aside, and began to drink harder.

Aileen cried out in surprise, feeling her heart stumble, her blood pressure dropping. Wolfgang continued to growl, drowning in her sweet elixir. Her body was weakening, the very flavor of her blood reflecting that, and the vampire sighed. This was what he had needed for so long.

The girl's whimpers grew softer, and he knew she was dying. Chuckling wickedly, Wolfgang pulled back from her neck, his entire body throbbing pleasurably, power returning to his long disused limbs. His fangs still ached; he was far from sated, and many more would die tonight.

"My Wolf, where are you going?" she asked breathlessly as he rose. Her eyes were liquid with tears, and glittering tracks sparkled along her temples. Her body shook with more than her sobs, and Wolfgang almost took pity on her. "Why aren't you...changing..."

The vampire laughed, running hands through his hair. "I'm not going to do it." He grinned broadly, fangs touching his lower lip, as he watched horror dawn on her face.

"But, our deal..." She coughed, blinking heavily. Wolfgang could hear her heart struggling, and knew she wouldn't last much longer.

He crouched beside her, using one fingertip to lift a tear to his lips. Aileen whimpered, trying to reach him. "Was no deal at all. You believed I would actually uphold that? That I would give my power to you simply because you undid my bonds?"

"You beast," she murmured, the light fading from her eyes.

"You knew what I was when you picked me up," he quoted. He bent to place a kiss on her already cooled lips. Then he rose and left his prison, ignoring the dead girl behind him.