For once, not a Nigerian Prince

A couple of days ago I received the following email:

Is this your professional or private email address ?

That was it. No salutation or signature. My mental alarms went off, but as there were no attachments or any dodgy bits (it got by my email’s spam filters) I wrote back asking why he wanted to know. Two days later, the following arrived. I’ll annotate it as it goes.

Thank you for responding back to my mail.​​​

​​My name is Mr.Mulholland and I am a staff of NatWest Bank, here in England attached to Investment Banking Services, I am contacting you concerning a customer and an investment placed under our banks management; as a matter of fact it was roughly 11 years ago. I would respectfully request that you keep the contents of this mail private and also to kindly respect the integrity of the information you come by as a result of this email. I contacted you independently and no one is informed of this communication; I would like to intimate you with certain facts that I believe would be of interest to you and benefit the both of us. All I want is an honest business transaction between us. First, I will start by introducing myself. My full name is John Paul Mulholland. I am a British citizen and I am currently working with NatWest Bank. I have been working here for 21 years now, and I have a good working record with my bank.​​​

Right off the bat, fishy smells emanate from this message. Who writes “My name is Mr. Mulholland” only to give their full name further down the same paragraph? And as to his being “a staff on NatWest Bank” I am extremely doubtful.

He’s going to be so disappointed I did not keep this a secret.

NatWest is a real institution: the National Westminster Bank, a major bank in the UK.​

​​I am also the personal accountant to late Engr.Paul Persing, a foreign contractor who has a financial portfolio of 8,782,500 (Eight million, seven hundred and eighty-two thousand, five hundred Great British Pounds.) with indefinite interest with my bank. My late client was a chemical consultant contractor with Royal Dutch until his death in a fatal car accident while in France on sabbatical with his entire family. The accident unfortunately took the lives of the family members comprising of himself, his wife and two kids in the summer of 2007 may their soul rest in perfect peace. He banked with us here at NatWest Bank and the money in his account has still not been claimed by anybody as there was no living will in place when he died.​​​

The prose has improved in this paragraph, but the credibility is still doubtful.

“A foreign contractor” is a bit vague, considering the specificity of other elements of Mulholland’s story. Our family name is from the Alsatian German dialect, but this Paul Persing is working for an unnamed company (or self-employed) working with Royal Dutch, by which I assume he means Royal Dutch Shell, the British-Dutch petrochemical company.

As of April 16, 2019, 8,782,500 pounds is equal to 11,473,512.11 dollars.

​​Since the death of my client; my bank and I have made several inquiries to his embassy to locate any of his extended family members or relatives but this has proven unsuccessful. I came to know about you in my search for a person who shares the same last name as my late client. I employed the services of adobe search solely for this purpose as I feel it would not have been the last wishes of my late client for his whole life work to be transferred to a government (Escheat) he had always complained of their unfavorable public monetary policies, taxes and so on while he was alive. My bank has issued me several notices to provide the next of kin or the account risk been es cheat within the next 10 official working days. The last notice for claim came to my desk last week. I am contacting you to assist me in repatriating the funds left behind before they are declared un-serviced by my bank. I am seeking your consent to present you as the next of kin of my late client since you share and bear the same last name. As such, the proceeds of the account can be paid to you as soon as you contact my bank and apply for the funds to be released to you as the next of kin. If we can be of one accord, I see no reason why we would not succeed. We both have to act swiftly on this matter in other to beat the deadline es cheat date.​​​

Escheat or es cheat? Why does that make me think of the Hall & Oates song, Adult Education? Anyway, the plot thickens in a familiar manner: ooh, a large sum of money going unclaimed, and maybe I could claim it? Let’s read on!

I am growing annoyed at this Mulholland for putting Hall & Oates in my head.

​​My proposal; I am prepared to place you in a position whereby an instruction is given to officially release the deposit to you as the closest surviving associate, and all etiquette shall be done in accordance with the rule of banking law, I certainly can guarantee you that, by the common law, the power of bequeathing is coeval with the first rudiments of the law, and this power has been extended to all. There is no ruling which prevents an inheritance from being so exhausted by legacies as to render it unworthy of the heir’s acceptance; basically all persons of sound mind are competent to bequeath and devise real and personal estate, excepting infants, with all this I would say we have the clear advantage to carry out a smooth and perfect operation whereby the paper work shall be coordinated in such a way that your status as a sole beneficiary is confirmed. Upon receipt of the deposit, I am prepared to share the money with you in half and no more; that is: I will simply nominate you as the next of kin and have them release the deposit to you; afterwards we share the proceeds in two equal parts.​​​

Ah, so he wants an accomplice, but only a 50/50 split? I admit I received a few of the classic Nigerian Prince scam emails in years past, but I never read them past the first few paragraphs. But this fellow doesn’t seem to want any advance fee, which was typical of the Nigerian Prince con. Not sure about the legal terminology here, as I’m neither a lawyer or a banker.

I would have gone ahead to ask the funds be released to me, but that would have drawn a straight line to me and my involvement in claiming the deposit, but on the other hand, you as a foreigner would easily pass as the beneficiary with the rights to claim, I assure you that I could have the deposit released to you in a few days. I will simply inform our bank of the final closing of the file relating to the customer, and instruct them to release the deposit to you; with these two things: all is done. I guarantee you that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you and me from breaching UK laws. I will attach my international Passport ID in my next mail for authenticity so we have equal ground to trust each other. If you are interested in my proposal I will send you more information directing, you on further procedure on how we can claim the money in the account successfully. I send you this mail not without a measure of fear as to what the consequences might be, but I know within me that nothing ventured is nothing gained and that success and riches never come easy or on a platter of gold, this is the one truth I have learned from my private banking clients; do not betray my confidence. If we can be of one accord I shall have the pleasure of meeting you, after this task has been completed. The content of this mail should be treated with utmost confidentiality and a quick response from you will be highly appreciated. However, if you are not interested in this proposal, please accept my apologies for sending you the message and kindly delete message, I promised that you will never hear from me.​​​

I anticipate your co-operation.​​​

Thanks for your time and do have a great day.​​​

​​Warm Regards,​​​
John Mulholland.

Now, as an occasional writer of fiction, I understand the need for consistent world-building; that is, the story must hold up all the way through. Mr. Mulholland has assembled a story that, unless his legal/banking arguments are bogus, holds together reasonably well. He wants me to aid him in committing a crime, and has done a careful job of describing it. If by some chance he is with law enforcement and is trying to lure me into a crime, this email would be pretty good evidence of entrapment.

He fails immediately by stumbling over some basic bits of English writing. A banker who cannot decide on the right spelling of “escheat” is a curious fellow. His sentence “If you are interested in my proposal I will send you more information directing, you on further procedure on how we can claim the money in the account successfully,” aside from the misplaced comma, could be setting up a more traditional advance fee scam. And what is there to prevent me, if I were of a larcenous nature, from applying to NatWest as heir and cutting Mr. Mulholland out of the picture? Is he essential to releasing this money?

I guess I won’t tell him I have older siblings who would better qualify as next of kin to this (likely fictitious) Paul Persing. No need to get his hopes up.

Of course I’m not so big a fool as to go into this proposition. My interest is as a storyteller, and watching as a fellow fiction writer spins a tale. If it was worth my time, I might create a form rejection letter, as though each scam was a story submitted for publication. Come to think of it, I’m publishing this one, so I guess, in a small way, he wins.

He’ll get no response from me, and you can bet 8,782,500 Great British Pounds on that.

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The Brexit of Museums

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The new LACMA, design by Atelier Peter Zumthor and Partner…oh, no, actually that’s the Black Hole.

Not even this damning article by Joseph Giovannini in the Los Angeles Review of Books could prevent the slow march of progress in the redesign of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I say redesign rather than expansion, as Giovannini makes it clear that the reimagined LACMA will be considerably smaller than the existing facility. Museum Director Michael Govan’s argument, entitled “LACMA’s new building is visionary – and big enough,” is not only unfortunately titled (“big enough” always sounds defensive) it also fails in the “visionary” department.

It appears certain that the new LACMA will end up smaller than the current museum by up to 53,000 square feet (Giovannini’s estimate), an inexplicable development that no one has been able to justify. $650 million is a lot of money for less museum.

LACMA has images and statements on the project here. The County Board of Supervisors has approved $117.5 million for the project, despite vocal reservations from the art world. Speaking in favor were people like LACMA Trustee Ryan Seacrest, and museum supporters Brad Pitt and Diane Keaton, all of whom could be dubbed official or unofficial “brand ambassadors,” were that not such a horrid term. Not quite like Fred Rogers testifying before Congress, but this is Los Angeles, and star power carries a lot of weight.

(And yes, “the Brexit of Museums” is a bit harsh; LACMA has made far more progress than the UK with less sturm und drang. I just liked the title.)

Govan notes “The primary galleries will be continuous, connected, without a clear front or back and with no barriers such as stairs or elevators,” but, as some works of art do require a certain amount of privacy, this layout could limit programming; and what museum visitor has ever said “What I want is no clear front or back”?  Govan again: “The museum’s artworks, from every culture and era, will be on the same level — no culture privileged above another” is a double-edged argument. Architecture can, but does not have to, create hierarchies. The differing needs of different collections should not be shoehorned into uniform spaces.

The single-level design imposes limits on, well, I’ll let Govan argue that: “Natural light and views will reduce “museum fatigue” and link the gallery space to the urban and park environment outside.” A view from the upper floor(s), such as you can see at the still fairly new Whitney Museum, can dull that museum fatigue as readily as a ground-level view.

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Michael Govan has a theory about running a museum… (cartoon from Punch)

There are a lot of doubts about Govan’s leadership, and, indeed, all LACMA leadership in recent years. Govan’s plan to amalgamate the American and European Art departments into a single entity has raised a lot of eyebrows. The plan to have no dedicated permanent collection galleries has also alarmed some; it could lead to the core of LACMA’s collection being sidelined at will. Is LACMA a museum, or a kunsthalle?

I don’t see any major roadblocks ahead for LACMA’s plans. They have raised a lot of private money, and now have money from the county. The museum’s reputation, not to mention Govan’s, stands or falls on how well the public responds to these changes. In my time in Connecticut, I saw the Wadsworth Atheneum go through two expansion proposals, one of which collapsed spectacularly, the other of which was more quietly abandoned, but neither reflected well on the museum. In the end, they focussed attention on the needs of the existing facility, and made major improvements in the galleries and behind the scenes. Los Angeles has many fine museums; it’s up in the air whether LACMA can maintain a place among them, or become a flashy building that’s not really worth visiting.

Two films by the Brothers Quay

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Still from the Brothers Quay’s film, The Street of Crocodiles (1986)

I have long been a fan of the puppet animation films of Stephen and Timothy Quay, often known collectively as the Brothers Quay. Their films are like no one else’s: dreamlike or hallucinatory, often difficult to describe. When I found that they had two films inspired by stories I liked the urge to blog rose within me. The challenges of doing this without lapsing into poetry, incomprehensible jargon, or spoiling the stories is daunting.

To begin with, one of the Brother Quay’s most admired films, The Street of Crocodiles, is not a direct adaptation of Bruno Schulz‘s writing, neither of the story of that name nor the book, which was originally entitled Cinnamon Shops, but retitled The Street of Crocodiles for its English translation. These stories could be reminiscences of a merchant family’s life in a Galician town, but the narrator is unreliable at best. Why does he think his father has turned into a cockroach? Why are the streets so unrecognizable, the customers in the family fabric shop so rowdy? Why does everyone think the world is coming to an end, and why doesn’t it, although there is a new constellation added to the sky and rather strange things are done to Uncle Edward by Father? 

Schulz’s prose is lush and evocative (I read the translation by Celina Wieniewska); I was moved to write a short story, inspired by three words in one of the early stories. There is darkness literal and figurative, but it is in the Street of Crocodiles itself that things turn darkest. Schulz imagines this street as a hellscape out of Otto Dix or James Ensor , but Schulz acknowledges that this is just an approximation of a truly horrible place: “The Street of Crocodiles was a concession of our city to modernity and metropolitan corruption. Obviously, we were unable to afford anything better than a paper imitation, a montage of illustrations cut out from last year’s moldering newspapers.

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Bruno Schulz, drawing from The Street of Crocodiles.

Schulz’s drawings are equally strange. While some of the more thoroughly worked ones suggest Goya, his sketches for Street of Crocodiles bring me back to Ensor, and forward to the Quays.

Sometimes, most likely by accident, Schulz’s surreally crumbling world reminds me of other, later worlds. This moment from late in the book, for example, as Father peers up a chimney: “…Through the coils of gray substance, through the minute granulations, Father saw the clearly visible contours of an embryo in a characteristic head-over-heels position, with fists next to its face, sleeping upside-down its blissful sleep in the light waters of amnion…” Does anyone else hear the stentorian boom of Thus Spake Zarathustra?

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Not quite the baby seen up the chimney, but close.

I’ve spent so much space on the book in part because describing the Brothers Quay’s film would be wasted effort. It includes dolls, screws that move by themselves, machines that seem to be alive. The sets seem in the midst of decay; glass is cloudy with dirt, shots seem fogged or grimed around the edges. There is no good upload of the video online, so I’ll link to this excerpt, announcing a Blu-Ray release from 2016.

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Still from The Mask (2010)

The Quays used The Street of Crocodiles as inspiration, but made no attempt to translate the story faithfully. Not so with the other film I want to mention, the Quay’s 2010 adaptation of Stanislaw Lem‘s story, The Mask (1976), from his book Mortal Engines. Here I have to tread carefully because the story has a mystery at its inception, and the Quay’s film (viewable here) is so faithful I could spoil both. The story opens with a woman at a party; she does not exactly know who she is or why she is there. The answers to those questions, as well as the consequences of the answers, drives the story to an inevitable conclusion both understated and heart-rending.

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Still from The Mask. Believe it or not, this is a crucial moment in the film.

As with The Street of Crocodiles, the Quays play with focus and light to render the settings unreal, with a fine use of color. Their unusual adherence to the original story, even to having narration fill out the plot, would be disappointing were it some lesser tale. At times the Quays build settings with light, color, and texture, using seemingly incongruous objects to enhance the atmosphere; in The Mask the sets are minimal, stage like, leaving the characters to create mood. So much science fiction cinema looks alike, thanks to shared cultural assumptions and prolific talent jumping from one project to another, it’s a joy to see something that is its own thing.

(Perhaps some day I’ll write about the Brothers Quay’s first feature-length film, Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1996), but it requires more research, as the film is derived from Robert Walser‘s 1909 novel Jakob von Gunten and, according to the Quays “other writings” by Walser. Here’s an excerpt, which shows that they treat live-action much the same as puppetry.)

The Quays are now in their 70s, and with the exigencies of making their kinds of film it’s likely we will only see a few more projects realized. I urge you to seek out their films, and don’t be surprised if you’re scratching your head for days to come.

“Art Matters” reviews “Art Matters.”

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Front cover

I knew I should have trademarked the name – or copyrighted, patented, or whatever.

Anyway, I have no objections to sharing a title with Art Matters, a fine little gift book, a set of short inspirational essays by Neil Gaiman, copiously illustrated by Chris Riddell.

I call it a gift book, because it would make an excellent gift to anyone in the arts, especially those dealing with uncertainty and doubt – basically all of us. Gaiman’s essays are affirmations of the importance of art and the artist, presented with humor, clarity, and in blessedly concise fashion. He writes things artists need to hear, things we already know but need to be reminded of now and then. We need to hear someone else say it, to know it’s true.

Riddell’s pencil sketches are loose yet not sloppy. His classic Grim Reaper (pg. 73, I think; the book is unpaginated except at the title page for each essay) is more the Death from Good Omens than Sandman, but I love the casual precision of the drawing. I only wish there was a digital image of it I could share with you.

This book plays to my assertion, which I think I have stated here before, that all books should be illustrated. Even a single drawing, a frontispiece, would do.

We live in a society that is fixated on wealth. Your goal (singular) in life is to leave it wealthier than you began; all other goals are secondary and expendable. College is not for learning, but for job training. The arts are seen as the wrong career choice. Artists who do make money are anomalous and strange, as though the dodo suddenly came back from extinction only to die again. Artists like Gaiman and Riddell, both successes in their fields, come to point out that life pre-existed money, and the original importance of creativity in culture and society is still vibrant and relevant. Amen to that, I say.

And, yes, I did review Amanda Palmer’s CD and book in my last post, and yes, she is married to Neil Gaiman; each has earned their own celebrity, and neither is dependent on the other for their fame. I also reviewed Amanda’s book The Art of Asking, which would make a nice complementary read to Art Matters. I suspect that’s it for my reviews for a while, as their son is not yet in grade school and has neither written or recorded anything.

 

There Will Be No Intermission by Amanda Palmer

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The album cover. Photo by Allan Amato

Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Roger Waters, Green Day# – all these (among others) have had works migrate from the concert stage to Broadway. There has long been an element of theater in popular music, and crossovers are not unusual. This brings me to the subject of Amanda Palmer‘s new album “There Will Be No Intermission.” If ever modern music not written for the theater can be called “theatrical” it is hers.

The album (and accompanying book, which I’ll cover later in this post) is redolent of the stage. You can hear dancers moving in the insistent rhythm of “Drowning in the Sound;” the bits of melody that are reshaped into brief instrumentals sound like music to allow the cast to get into position as the scenes start; the music swells richly, aided by lovely piano lines. (As a fellow ukulele player, I applaud Palmer’s occasional forays with the use, where she is less accomplished but more plainspoken.) Palmer’s frequent collaborator Jherek Bischoff provided arrangements that supplement and complement Palmer’s voice.

It’s only natural: Palmer has been working in theater, professional and street varieties, for much of her life. It permeates her creativity.

An Amanda Palmer musical would have its challenges. Her songs are aggressively autobiographical, and serve as catharsis and exorcism for her pain and her fan’s equally. There is death of several kinds, anxiety, tears, but there are relieving touches of humor: the chorus “At least the baby didn’t die” of the dog “A Mother’s Confession,” which is otherwise about her fears and mistakes as a parent; a jaunty song from British actress/singer/comedian Dillie Keane, “Look Mommy, No Hands” which brings a bit of music hall to the mix.

I keep coming back to the musical idea. “There Will Be No Intermission” is a hard record. In the book she speaks of wanting to record new songs: “Only the sad ones,” I said. “I want to make a record where every song makes you cry. I want to make the saddest record in the world.*” There are songs that do that, and some that come close. “Bigger on the Inside” teeters on the edge of collapse, nearly overwhelmed by the emotion in it, and saved at the very end, in the lines “Trying is the point of life / so don’t stop trying / promise me.” I suspect an Amanda Palmer musical could wind up in Eugene O’Neill territory – and I don’t mean “Ah, Wilderness!,” I mean “A Moon for the Misbegotten.” It would be grueling and long, because life comes at you in torrents, and torrents make for good theater. “But isn’t it nice when we all can scream at the same time,” she sings in “The Ride,” and yes, shared experience dilutes the bite of pain.

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An image from the book “There Will Be No Intermission.” Photo by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick

In lieu of liner notes, Palmer has produced a book, not for the first time, because words and sounds are incomplete without images – that’s how I see it. She provides lyrics, accounts of the creation of the record and the book, scenes from her life. Visually, the photos, primarily by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, with others by Allan Amato and Stephanie Zakas, cast Palmer and friends in dramatic, at times surreal, settings. I see echoes of Gregory Crewdson‘s careful use of light to change the emotional impact of a setting; of the surrealists (a piano on stilts, two blindfolded women with a table full of old telephones), Picasso, Maxfield Parrish… She was photographed in many places, from her own back yard, to Iceland, to Cape Cod, to the Salton Sea in California (where the album cover was taken). Thank goodness the shots of her in the water are from Cape Cod; the Salton Sea is horribly polluted.

The photos provide a counterpoint to the darkness of the songs. Both are starkly dramatic, but the photos burst with color and light – even the sunset shots at the Salton Sea. One photo shows Palmer lying among a collection of objects donated by fans, items to be shed in a mass purge, yet the sense of freedom is not merely from throwing away unwanted things. There are accidental stories strung between these disparate bits of other people’s lives. This deeply personal set of songs and stories manages to affect everyone who has suffered loss, and yet it does not abandon hope. I won’t go so far as to call anything on the record a happy ending, but perhaps it is an ending happier than might be expected. A Beckett-esque ending, but not so bleak.

#And Britney Spears. There’s a Britney Spears musical.

* It’s reassuring to know that these are just the sad songs, and that there are others, less sad, waiting their turn.

Your choice of Draculas

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You’ve heard of Christmas in July; how about Halloween in March?

Just by chance I have recently encountered two fascinating variants on Bram Stoker‘s 1897 classic, Dracula. First, one that might be from Stoker himself: Powers of Darkness, the English translation of the Icelandic translation of Dracula – or is it?

Therein lies the twofold mystery. Powers of Darkness is a sharply different story from Dracula as we know it. Much more of the book is set in Transylvania, as Thomas Harker (Jonathan in the English version) arrives at Castle Dracula and tries to understand the Count and his own predicament. A mysterious, possibly spectral woman appears repeatedly; Harker spies on a cult-like ceremony in which victims are sacrificed to a bestial mob. The term “vampire” hardly appears. The Count himself is much as Stoker depicts him, but here he has some new agenda involving world leaders and some ill-defined plot to gain power in Europe.

Only after more than half the book does the action move to England. And then the novel changes from the epistolary format familiar to readers of the English version, and becomes a perfunctory, almost outline-like, summation of the remainder of the story. Character development is almost nil in the second half, and no special emphasis is placed on any action.

So what is this? Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew, who contributes a Foreword, and Hans Corneel de Roos, who supervised the translation, present a compelling theory: that Bram Stoker sent an early draft of the book to Valdimar Asmundsson, who translated it into Icelandic and serialized it in his newspaper, Fjallkonan, in 1900. They point to the presence of incidents and characters that appear in Stoker’s preparatory notes for the book but did not make it into the final English version. The subplot about Dracula’s political ambitions was wisely abandoned; in Powers of Darkness (Makt Myrkranna, the title given to it in Icelandic) it is allegedly central to Dracula’s actions, but it is never spelled out sufficiently to enlighten the reader.

What we are left with is a fascinating dead-end, a Dracula that might have been, except that it was published (and reprinted a couple of times) and defined the Dracula story for Icelanders. Though it is inferior to Stoker’s final vision, it is worth reading. The accompanying website (linked above) gives detail about the book and the people who helped bring it to English-speaking audiences.

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Carlos Villarias in Dracula (1931).

Shortly before I started reading Makt Myrkranna, I watched Universal Pictures 1931 Dracula – not the Bela Lugosi classic, but the Spanish-language version shot on the same sets*. While Lugosi, director Tod Browning, et al., worked by day, director George Melford led a Spanish-speaking cast at night. Each director make different choices as to camera angles, performances, and script edits. Melford had the advantage of being able to watch Browning’s footage from the day shoot, and second-guess his colleague. The result is a pair of flawed, fascinating films.

Comparing the two makes me appreciate the Lugosi version even more. Carlos Villarias makes for a hammy vampire, popping his eyes and smiling in what I think is meant to be a creepy way, though laughter is more often the result. The drama is heightened by flashier camera work and broader reactions, especially from Dracula and Renfield (Pablo Alvarez Rubio). I never thought I’d consider Dwight Frye‘s Renfield understated, but I could make a case for that now. Melford’s direction is less stagy than Browning’s, but it calls attention to itself; the script is looser in the Spanish version, leaving some scenes running longer than they need to be. The oft-noted difference in the leading lady’s costumes is not that big a deal; Helen Chandler wears more, while Lupita Tovar’s are filmier, and in one instance, translucent. One could chalk that up to the stereotypes of the buttoned-up English to the fiery Latin, but it’s not a big deal. Nipples do not a story make.

From the two approaches, you could imagine a “perfect” Dracula, incorporating the best of Karl Freund‘s and George Robinson‘s cinematography, the best dialogue and so on. As someone who grew up loving Universal’s monster films, it’s a joy to get to see a “new” one, however flawed. These things we love are as often loved because of their flaws as despite them. Now I have two more Draculas, and I’m glad of them both.

*Something similar happened when Werner Herzog remade Nosferatu in 1979; producers asked him for an English-language version, beside the planned version in German. In this case, Herzog used the same cast, and the films resemble each other much more. The German version is considered slightly superior, in part due to some of the actors being more fluent in German than in English.

Enduring Love

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Front cover

Every love affair is a threesome

Let me clarify.

In any love affair, there are three perceived participants: the lover, the beloved, and love itself, which is often treated as a separate entity. We are at the mercy of love, manipulated by it, helpless in the face of it. (I refuse to say “love is a battlefield” unless Pat Benatar’s people offer me money.) Although it is a process, and a part of us, we nevertheless see it as its own organism. This can be a problem, as love often does not do what we wish of it. From that complexity many great works of art have been made. In most every facet, love is collaborative if it is to succeed.

My topic today is also a collaboration. A cartoonist called Naters reached out to philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins with a proposal: he offered to adapt some of Rollins’ parables into a book. The collection they created, entitled Enduring Love: Tales of Torturous Desire from the Lonely Forest, tells nine stories of love through an existentialist context. Funny cartoon animals and existentialism might not seem like a natural combination, but the pairing works well. Naters has a degree in animation, and his poses are lively and precise (the tree frogs in “There is Hope” are my favorites). He keeps the book on an even keel as the stories themselves move through the many characteristics of love.

I’ve read most of Rollins’ books, and it is in storytelling that he really shines. His books can be academic and a bit daunting if you’re not well read in philosophy or theology, but his stories are concise and often hilarious. I highly recommend his book of parables, The Unorthodox Heretic and other Impossible Tales, as an introduction to his work. Enduring Love continues in that vein of entertainment surrounding a core of enlightenment. After that, try his first book, How Not to Speak of God, and go from there.

Existentialism is no stranger to ideas of love. The lover might perceive their beloved as an Other, experience intersubjectivity (you can look these up yourself; I’m not going to clutter this post with definitions), angst, even despair. But even with such formidable components, love is possible in an existential context. Here’s a short piece on Existentialism and love from The Paris Review; start there.

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The first page of “Great Secret”. Art by Naters.

The stories in Enduring Love vary greatly in length and tone. Perhaps the word “existentialist” has some negative connotation, calling to mind some Frenchman expounding on the hard edges of life (I can hear Heidegger and Kierkegaard objecting at being called French) but there is much more to existentialism than that. Rollins deals with the “exquisite sufferings of love,” some of which manage to end happily. Lovers part and reunite; others part only to remain apart. My favorite story is “Great Secret” which (I hope this doesn’t spoil it) upends assumptions about divine love and the idea of salvation. Heavy stuff for a graphic novel? Not so.

A number of these stories have semantics at their core. “The Lake of Truth” asks “What is it to be in love?” In some aspects “Tiny House,” inspired by an Islamic parable, is about the questions “what does ‘tiny’ mean? Tiny in relation to what?” “There is Hope,” inspired by Philip K. Dick‘s story, “Expendable,” is about the need to ask questions. There is action and contemplation. Perhaps that is because the nature of love is the nature of a question, not just asked to be answered, but asked for the process that leads to the answer. The journey is as important as the destination – perhaps more so, if the destination is not a happy one. But, then, love is not entirely about happiness, either.

The first edition of Enduring Love as sold out, though copies are still available to Rollins’ supporters on Patreon. I won my copy through a contest on social media, so thanks to Peter Rollins for that opportunity. I’d love to see more thinkers and cartoonists work together; perhaps Enduring Love will start a trend.