The Iron Rose

A captivating fairy tale from Jean Rollin, probably the finest one of his mood-builders I’ve seen. The plot is barely there – a couple meet at a wedding, loiter around on a first date, get lost in a cemetery, and then the girl goes a bit mad.

That first date sometimes feels like an encapsulation of a life-long relationship – youthful lust, soul-baring confessions, bitter fights and reconciliations (and the suggestion of children, either dead or estranged). But the cemetery also provides a specific focus on a kind of existential crisis. The boy in particular finds it a refuge from the dirt and noise of the town. There is something very adolescent about the young lovers feeling like the only people who are really alive in their boring, provincial society. The idea is brought out rather literally in their lovemaking scenes amidst the buried skeletons. Their passion is the only quickening force in an otherwise meaningless rotting world.

But the girl takes this all a bit too literally, beginning to prefer the company of the dead to the living. There’s an interesting gender dynamic going on in the film, whereby the boy is associated with mechanical things like trains, bicycles and watches, while the girl is associated with the natural world – sea, mist, foliage. While the boy seeks to escape, thinks logically, and tries to move forward, the girl increasingly becomes a manifestation of nature, engulfing the boy in her earthly tomb. The iron rose, which is cradled by the girl a bit like Gollum with the one ring, is straightforwardly a metaphor for their relationship – bringing together the artificial and natural. It is also an emblem of their doom, a warning against the alluring but dangerous power of the sacred feminine.



Very glad I ate a big bowl of ramen before watching this film at the Prince Charles Cinema. It’s a comedy centred around people's obsession with food – whether it be feeling up every piece of fruit in the shop, to wanting a final meal cooked by your dying wife. The hook on which the film is hung is the idea of finding a purpose, and trying to achieve it – in this case, creating the perfect ramen shop. The rest is just sketches, some quite Pythonesque, my favourite being the newlywed crime boss who likes to bring food into the bedroom, and the group of tramps who turn out to have a taste for fine dining.


42 books for 2017

I feel like I've read fewer books than last year's mammoth readathon, probably because I've got a new, more exciting, but more exhausting, job, which has meant switching off with a good book has been harder. My commute is also shorter, and you'd be amazed how much that cuts down your daily reading time.

The interest in Japanese literature remains, but this year was dominated by a read through Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae – an outrageous but intriguing survey of western literature. That pushed me on to reading Wilde, Balzac and Baudelaire. Sady Doyle's first book (I'm a long-time fan of her writing) was a necessary dose of common sense after the sustained assault of Paglia's bold theories.

I wish I had read and written more about comics this year – have only managed three or so columns for the London Graphic Novel Network. I now live further away from the libraries that supply my comics obsession, so I'll need to work a bit harder. I also have to fight against the sense that I've read quite deeply into the medium now, and there's fewer things out there that feel fresh and new. Delving further beyond anglophone comics may be the solution to that.

I keep track of the things I read on Goodreads, and there are a few scattered links below where I've bothered to jot down a quote or write about a comic (several of the comic ones link to a great end of year roundup on the London Graphic Novel Network, which I contributed to).

Camille Paglia - Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson
Nick Clegg - Politics: Between the Extremes
Ed Balls - Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics
Edmund Dell - The Chancellors: A History of the Chancellors of the Exchequer, 1945-90 [link]
Ryan Avent - The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-first Century
Nick Srnicek / Alex Williams - Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work [link]
Jonathan Portes - Capitalism: 50 ideas you really need to know
Hattie Collins / Olivia Rose - This Is Grime [link]
Michael Azerrad - Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981–1991
Neil Kulkarni - Eastern Spring: A 2nd Gen Memoir
Sady Doyle - Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... and Why
Catherine Millet - The Sexual Life of Catherine M.
Valerie Solanas - SCUM Manifesto
John Gray - The Soul of the Marionette: A short enquiry into human freedom

Carl Neville - Resolution Way
John le Carré - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Haruki Murakami - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Yukio Mishima - Confessions of a Mask
Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray (uncensored version)
Honoré de Balzac - SarrasineThe Unknown MasterpieceThe Girl with the Golden Eyes
Charles Baudelaire - The Flowers of Evil
Yōko Ogawa - Hotel Iris
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki - Diary of a Mad Old Man
Jorge Luis Borges - Fictions
Kobo Abe - The Box Man
Ursula K. Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea

Kazuo Koike / Ryōichi Ikegami - Crying Freeman [link]
Tsutomu Nihei - Knights of Sidonia [link]
Akihisa Ikeda - Rosario + Vampire
Pierrick Colinet / Elsa Charretier - The Infinite Loop [link]
Marjorie M. Liu / Sana Takeda - Monstress vols. 1 & 2 [link]
Fumio Obata - Just So Happens [link]
Usamaru Furuya - Lychee Light Club
Ales Kot et al. - Zero, Vol. 1: An Emergency
Jason Shawn Alexander - Empty Zone vols. 1 & 2 [link]
Brian Wood - Channel Zero
Hubert / Kerascoët - Miss Don't Touch Me vols. 1 & 2
Enki Bilal - The Nikopol Trilogy
Daniel Clowes - David Boring
Joe Sacco - Palestine
Jonathan Hickman / Tomm Coker et al. - The Black Monday Murders, Vol. 1: All Hail, God Mammon [link]
Paul Auster / Paul Karasik / David Mazzucchelli - City of Glass: The Graphic Novel


Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I watched The Force Awakens again on Netflix before going to see the new one, and thought it was pretty awful, far worse than I remembered. Perhaps that's why The Last Jedi feels so great. It's like Rian Johnson got handed a shiny but badly-made new car by J.J. Abrams and managed to rewire it into something roadworthy. The new trilogy was never going to be brilliant (cough, neither was the original trilogy, and given the benchmark it set the prequels weren't that bad either). But I got the sense that Johnson finally made a Star Wars film that was worth re-watching.

It's still a bit of a mess, obviously. There are plenty of internal contradictions in the plot that have riled people up. Thankfully I don't give a hoot about such things, so long as the unlikely situations build to satisfying emotional or narrative payoffs. There were a couple of bait-and-switches in The Last Jedi that I was suckered into, and subsequently appreciated.

One was Poe Dameron’s arc, which is a rather straightforward one about the need for leaders to learn about humility and co-operation. The Admiral Holdo stuff was a bit forced, but in the age of Trump it was interesting to have not one but two heroic Hilary substitutes who earn the respect of impulsive hot-shots. The film could have been subtitled "the return of the centrist mums".

The other was Rey’s arc. Have to say I foolishly expected the revelation that there was some sort of family relationship between her and Kylo Ren, given their telepathic link. Turns out that was a ploy by Snoke, and that Rey has no distinguished parentage. The rather confusing sequence in the dark hole under the Jedi temple may have been an arty way to foreshadow this. Rey tries to see her parents in the mirror, but instead just ends up looking at her own reflection. Hoping your horrible parents were other people is no solution. At some point you have to grow up and rely on yourself.

There is a contrast here with Kylo Ren, who has a distinguished parentage, and like many a pampered prince becomes slightly unhinged when close to power. Being sent away to Jedi boarding school with your weird uncle would be enough to set anyone on edge, and then you have betrayals (by Luke) upon betrayals (by Snoke). Ren's way of coping is to lash out, and long to amass enough strength to prove his disappointed elders wrong. There's a touching moment with Rey when the loneliness of such a position is revealed. We owe a debt to Adam Driver for supplying a Star Wars villain who is actually interesting. Let's hope Episode IX in 2019 doesn't ruin all that good work.