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Blood Ties, K-Ville, Alice B. Toklas

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Really, I just wanted to make sure the "vampires" tag keeps pace with the "religion" tag.

Tanya Huff ( on LiveJournal) was guest of hono(u)r at V-Con, so, after liking her on panels, I bought a book of hers in the dealers’ room (Blood Bank) and read it. It was a collection of short stories about the characters who were the basis of the Lifetime series Blood Ties: a male cop, a female ex cop, and a male vampire, who are in kind of a love triangle thing and solved mystical crimes in Toronto. The short stories were mostly set after the female ex cop has become a vampire herself, which resolves the love triangle because Huff’s vampires are highly territorial and do not hang out together.

The book contains a teleplay that Huff wrote for the series, "Stone Cold," as well as a really entertaining essay about the teleplay-writing-process. So I got interested in seeing it, and downloaded it from iTunes and watched it on the Greyhound back to Seattle.

I liked the the lead, the female ex cop. The combination of actress and character was really engaging — she’s snappy, smart, tough, kind of spiky. I was less enthralled with the dudes. The cop seemed kind of stolid and dull, which might have worked as a contrast against the exciting-but-dangerous vampire (you know, kind of a Riley vs Spike thing) except the vampire managed to have even less personality than the regular dude. So if I’d been a big fan of the books first, I could see being really happy with the casting of the lead female, but really disappointed with the casting of the vampire.

The weird thing in the episode — and maybe if I’d been a regular watcher this wouldn’t have struck me as so weird — was the way the dialogue of the other characters sometimes implied that the character was "older" and not particularly beautiful (yeah, right.) It was also odd the way other people kept mentioning that she wears glasses. The glasses are a plot point, she’s an ex cop because of a degenerative eye problem, but I only know that from reading the book. Watching the show, it just seemed so weird that people would say, "Did a woman with glasses come in here?" as if the sight of a woman with glasses is so unusual that it’s a really distinguishing feature, like "Did a woman with a parrot on her head come in here?" And I guess, in TV-land, maybe it really is that unusual. But it still seemed odd.

Another thing I watched was the pilot for K-Ville, a short-lived 2007 series about cops in New Orleans. (iTunes offered it as one of their weekly freebies. I also have an episode of Bones, which I watched on the way up to Bellingham) I did not end up liking it at all. It struck an awkward tone where on the one hand, it was obviously trying to be so gritty and "real," yet its view of the city ended up feeling as fake and stereotypical as the deliberate parody in The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase.

It had all sorts of interesting-on-paper concepts that somehow didn’t add up to anything, mixed in with a few things that were outright ludicrous. (Example: there’s a scene where a blues singer gets shot right in the middle of a performance. In a small, crowded club. And the shooter is apparently invisible, because nobody sees him, and he gets away by literally vanishing, but that’s not actually a plot point, it’s just lazy writing and poorly thought-out scene staging.)

The worst aspect of it, to me, was world building. I recently had the idea that all fiction actually has world-building, not just SF. This occurred to me as I was reading the wonderful novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is a fantasy set in an alternate English history. And I think Susanna Clarke recognized that modern readers need just as much (if not more) world-building to understand the ordinary everyday aspects of early 19th century England as they do to understand the fantasy concepts.

So anyway, K-Ville has world-building problems of the overt and clunky kind: people are always saying things that people would never say, in order to establish the premise. It does not seem like the people there take their own world for granted, the way people do. So people talking to each other about rebuilding efforts in the ninth ward come across like people explaining the warp drive to each other for no readily apparent reason.

Last night I saw the first 20 or 30 minutes of a 1968 Peter Sellers film, I Love You Alice B. Toklas. (Alice B. Toklas is apparently an outdated slang term for pot brownies.) I fell asleep, but I wasn’t enjoying the early scenes enough to go back and rewatch the whole thing. It was a comedy, I suppose, but the dialogue was slow and low-energy and unfunny and kind of sloppy, as if the actors were making it up, or stoned, or something. Who knows, it was 1968.

Based on the reviews I checked out this morning, if I had kept watching, I would have seen Sellers’ character leave his stereotypically aging, clingy and slightly desperate fiancee for a young, gorgeous hippie chick. So I fell asleep before getting to the part that would have really made me want to punch the movie in the face.

Naturally, he’s the star, so he doesn’t deserve the ordinary woman his own age and attractiveness level, oh no. He deserves the woman who is much younger and hotter and more interesting than he is. Talk about pathetic male fantasies.

What is it with late 60s movies and disgusting sexual politics anyway? Even my beloved Star Trek was often tainted by this kind of stupidity. It sometimes feels like feminist ideas, which had been advancing since the start of the 60s, suddenly took a great leap backward before leaping forward dramatically in the 1970s.

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7 Comments

  1. I remember watching I Love You, Alice B Toklas when I was younger. I seem to remember the plot consisted of “Pot brownies turn Peter Sellers into a hippie in funny hippie clothes on the beach.” I think I fell asleep, too.

    • “Peter Sellers in funny hippie clothes on the beach” was certainly what the promo materials promised me. But I fell asleep before that bit.

      The movie is really….
      ….slow….
      ….moving….

  2. Alice B Toklas was a real person; a poet and the ‘life partner’ of writer Gertrude Stein nearly a hundred years ago. (Same-sex partnership issues go way back.) The pot brownies reference comes from a recipe Toklas published. (Marijuana brownies go way back too.)

    I have a connection to Toklas: my maternal grandmother was a friend (knew Toklas in school) and was herself part of the Lost Generation of American ex-patriates in Europe before moving back to the U.S. and marrying my grandfather (rather late in life, but not too late to have two children by him). Somewhere or other among my grandmother’s papers are letters from Toklas and books signed by Toklas and Stein.

    I’ve often wondered what the parties at Toklas and Stein’s place were like…

    • One note: I do not believe my grandmother went to school with Toklas; she was considerably younger. But the family story is that they met while my grandmother was in college.

    • Sorry if that wasn’t clear, of course I know Toklas was a real person. I was specifically addressing why the movie is called that. Because it doesn’t have anything to do with Alice B. Toklas the person, although the very bad theme song features the words “I love you Alice B. Toklas and so did Gertrude Stein.” Which could be funny in a better song. This is not that song.

      Incidentally, I recently was reminded that Stein is the author of “there is no there there.”

      Did your grandma like Toklas and Stein?

      • I guess she liked them. Liked Toklas anyway, as they carried on a correspondence for some years. I was told my grandmother went to parties at Stein’s and met some famous people and that she stayed with them on trips to Paris.

        My grandmother edited a gardening magazine in England during that period, so she would have been only an occasional visitor as the trip would have been a day or two each way. Sadly, family history lacks much details on this. After all, to what extent did the family want to speak of my grandmother hanging out with libertines and lesbians in the postwar USA?

        My grandmother certainly told me nothing about any of this herself, that I can remember. Closest I can come to is a half-remembered conversation about Agatha Christie’s novels where she mentioned meeting Christie.

  3. Oh, Stein-related trivia: according to Peter Straub at World Fantasy Convention, the volumes of Stein’s work are some of the Library of America’s worst sellers, Lovecraft and PK Dick some of their best.

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