Seen and Not Heard

One of my little quirks is that I notice little things, things that most people would not. Ever since I started listening to film commentaries, I became more aware of the process of filmmaking. When standard practices are pushed to the extreme or not observed at all, I tend to notice it.

A case in point are a pair of consecutive episodes of Northern Exposure in 1993. Many shows use background extras to create a believable environment for the story. They don’t get paid much and if someone is asked to speak lines, he goes from extra to actor and jumps to a different pay scale. As a matter of economics, if a guest actor has a speaking part, you can be sure it is integral to the plot. In ‘The Mystery of Old Curio Shop’, Maggie (Janine Turner) is trying to solve a mystery and to get her imagination going, a girl (Wren Walker) in the doctor’s office happens to be reading a Nancy Drew book. It would have been awkward for a bunch of adult women to talk about Nancy Drew out of context, so the girl was necessary to introduce the subject.

Joshua Brand, John Falsey and Rogers Turrentine - Northern Exposure: The Mystery of the Old Curio Shop (1993)

Joshua Brand, John Falsey and Rogers Turrentine – Northern Exposure: The Mystery of the Old Curio Shop (1993)

However, in the beginning of the very next episode, Shelly (Cynthia Geary) is walking by some girls playing. She comments on Danette’s (Jill Baskin) hairdo and Danette responds that her mother did it—a speaking part. The short scene is not relevant to the plot, the girl does not appear again in this episode, nor is she a recurring character. From a budgetary standpoint, this expense is not justified. I could only conclude that the girl won the part in some kind of contest or she is a relative of one of the crew. There were no hints online.

Joshua Brand, John Falsey et al - Northern Exposure: Jaws of Life (1993)

Joshua Brand, John Falsey et al – Northern Exposure: Jaws of Life (1993)

So you see, this is the kind of thing that keeps me up nights and I sure would love someone connected with the show to clear up this mystery.

Sweet Deal!

As I have mentioned before, I watch a lot of documentaries and it often strikes me when a little girl has played some prominent role in the story. In some cases, that means some real life little girl has played a pivotal role in history like Sainte Foy. One of my favorite series is Connections written and hosted by James Burke. His approach is interesting because he looks at history as a tangle of interconnecting threads that shaped our modern world. This requires an interdisciplinary approach which few people can achieve convincingly—much to the detriment of science and education in general in my opinion. One story touched upon in an episode of Connections 2 was about a scholar who made friends with an aristocratic family and especially the daughter, who was in a position later to offer him an important post. All I could think of when I saw that was, “sweet deal!”

Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870) was a French dramatist, historian, archaeologist, and short story writer. Having studied law, Greek, Spanish, English and Russian, he was the first to translate much Russian literature into French. He loved mysticism, history and the unusual and that was reflected in his various mystery stories set in foreign places, especially Spain and Russia.

(Artist Unknown) - etching of Mérimée (1888)

(Artist Unknown) – etching of Mérimée (1888)

During his travels, Mérimée met and befriended the Countess of Montijo in Spain in 1830 and he credited this encounter as the inspiration for his Carmen story for which he is probably best known and the basis of Bizet’s opera of the same name. Here a reenactment was shot for the program.

James Burke - Connections 2: Hit the Water (1994) (1)

James Burke – Connections 2: Hit the Water (1994) (1)

Mérimée tutored the countess’ daughter, Eugénie, during her courtship with Napoleon III. Considering how this friendship ultimately benefited him, it is surprising to learn that his correspondence indicated that he opposed the marriage.

James Burke - Connections 2: Hit the Water (1994) (2)

James Burke – Connections 2: Hit the Water (1994) (2)

Through Eugénie’s influence, Mérimée was appointed to the post of inspector-general of historical monuments of France in 1834. His efforts over the years led to important archaeological discoveries and the preservation and restoration of about 4,000 French monuments including parts Notre Dame in Chartres. When Eugénie became Empress of France in 1853, he was made a senator. Because of his substantial contribution to French culture, the French national list of heritage monuments is called Base Mérimée.

The Connections series is noteworthy. Burke’s approach can be very insightful even though he sometimes seems to have a superficial understanding of certain details and tends to minimize the impact of the humanities on the course of human events. Nevertheless, I found viewing the various incarnations of his work (Connections, The Day the Universe Changed, Connections 2 and Connections 3) an excellent exercise in understanding the subtle interplay of historical forces.

James Burke - Connections 2: Hit the Water (1994) (3)

James Burke – Connections 2: Hit the Water (1994) (3)

Mérimée biography (here)

Connections series (here)

Base Mérimée (here)

Girl Fight! Maisie Williams

Greetings again!  Now, before I get into this post, I have an update.  I was able to get a compressed copy of the original Pigtails from a fan of the site, and so now I have everything I need to get back into the swing of things.  And now I will begin reposting much of the old stuff starting tomorrow night, since I don’t have to go through and reformat and touch up the images.  I will say that, although I would like to eventually get everything from the old site back up, since I made an executive decision to discontinue the Random Image of the Day series most of those posts are likely going to be submitted in larger artist-specific or theme-specific posts somewhere down the line.  The plan is to get the bigger articles up first, and then focus on sorting and reposting the single-image posts, most of which fell under the RIotD on the old site.  Okay, now on to the post . . .


As you may or may not know, the last overarching series I started before Pigtails was taken down dealt with girls and guns.  The purpose there was to address how images of girls with guns fit into the larger theme of this blog: covering artistic representations of girls in all of their well-rounded glory, including those who subvert the dominant cultural paradigm.  I had intended to return to that theme immediately after the blog was relaunched, but, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, I felt it was inappropriate to launch into that territory at the time.

Nevertheless, I was thinking about it quite a bit last night, as I had recently watched again my copy of the film The Professional, in which one of the main characters, played by a 12-year-old Natalie Portman in her film debut, trains to be a “cleaner,” meaning a hit man (or rather, a hit woman), after the murder of her little brother.  And then, today I discovered an excellent article called We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative by sci-fi and fantasy fiction blogger Aidan Moher.  It’s a must-read for anyone interested in history, women’s issues and sociology.  Ostensibly the article covers the issue of women warriors throughout history, but at the heart of it is the larger issue of how human beings fall into the trap of cognitive distortions (cognitive dissonance, et al) in order to conform to the dominant cultural paradigm.  Moher presents this argument in the context of the long-standing patriarchal tradition of minimizing the contributions of women as soldiers, fighters and so on, so that society may continue to see females as weak and in need of (particularly male) protection.

And that, of course, ties in to the issue of girls posing nude for artists.  I have long been astounded by the postmodern feminist argument that women and children should be prevented from participating in such art–and, in the case of women, from participating in pornography–because these things are exploitative by design.  To me this is simply a rather obvious extension of the old patriarchal argument that females need special protection from males and therefore their behaviors must be tightly managed and controlled, by law if necessary.  Point blank, it is the same old patriarchal bullshit masquerading as female empowerment and quite contradictory to the goals of much the first wave of feminism.  I call these “feminists” FINOs–Feminists In Name Only.

In a broader sense, the most insidious aspect of this with regard to young children is that, by raising them as legally, ethically and intellectually of a lesser class (by maintaining their minority status as a given), we simply reinforce the cultural paradigm of their submission to patriarchal control, raising them to accept it as normal, and most of them do.  This is particularly problematic for girls, since they are up against a vast multidimensional paradigm of female oppression.  So, yes, as Moher suggests, females have always participated in the realms traditionally reserved for males, bucking not only traditions but sometimes even the laws of their land, and doing it well.  Men may allow this as long as it serves their ends, but if it becomes an inconvenience for them, they tend to crack down on such females . . . hard.  So, women who have fought as soldiers have often done so disguised as men.

The HBO series Game of Thrones presents one such girl: Arya Stark.  When we first meet Arya, she is being forced to learn how to sew and other “women’s work,” which she hates.  Later, the tomboyish Arya shows up her brothers by besting them at archery, much to their chagrin.  Later, when the House Stark falls and Arya’s father Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark is executed by the new king, the Stark children, who are now fugitives being hunted by the king’s forces, scatter and go into hiding.  Young Arya is left on her own, but she manages to take care of herself through her warrior training, her short sword Needle, and her sheer resourcefulness.  She disguises herself as a boy and travels with a band of rough-and-tumble Night’s Watch recruits.  In short, Arya kicks ass.

Photographer Unknown - Game of Thrones - Arya Stark (Maisie Williams)

Photographer Unknown – Game of Thrones – Arya Stark (Maisie Williams)


‘Copper’ Renewed for Another Season

Last year the series Copper premiered on BBCAmerica.  I watched the entire original airing of the first season of the series and was quite impressed with it.  It takes place in Civil War-era New York City and centers on a young Irish-American homicide detective, Kevin Corcoran, nicknamed Corky.  We find out very early in the series that Corky has a dark history: his little daughter was apparently murdered, and his wife has disappeared.  Thus, while most episodes feature a different murder being investigated, the overarching storyline revolves around Corky’s search for his wife and the murderer of his daughter, as well as his interactions with a colorful group of mostly lower class folk who are his friends, colleagues and lovers.

The series paints NYC circa 1860s as a place rampant with crime, corruption, racial tensions, and political intrigue, all of which are quite accurate.  It also features excellent acting, writing and directing all around.  I am generally not a fan of police procedurals, especially anything with an abbreviated title like NCIS or any of the Law and Order series.  For one thing, I can’t keep them all straight; they’re all clones of each other. For another, on top of their constant and infuriating scientific inaccuracies and exaggerations, they are also pretty blatantly emotionally manipulative.  But Copper caught my attention right away and kept it throughout, and I’m quite happy the series has been renewed for a second season. Not that the show is perfect—it occasionally falls pray to PC-ness and emotional manipulativeness too, but all in all it balances its drama with realism pretty well.

If you haven’t seen it, you may be wondering why I am discussing it here.  Well, because a major supporting character in the show is a little girl named Annie Reilly (played by the amazing Kiara Glasco) who also happens to be a 10-year-old child prostitute at the beginning of the series and a supposedly reformed one later, but we see throughout the series that she keeps slipping back into her old behavior, including spending most of the first season attempting to seduce Kevin, who continually rebuffs her advances.  In fact, in the meeting of Corky and Annie in the first episode, she tries to ply her trade with the copper right off the bat.  The first murder Corky investigates is also closely tied to her, which is how Annie comes into the detective’s long-term orbit.  Detective Corcoran takes her off the streets and puts her in the care of Elizabeth, a wealthy woman he has befriended through this case, and he checks on her frequently. Corcoran eventually starts to fall for Elizabeth, much to Annie’s chagrin.

What is most fascinating about Annie is that, unlike sexual abuse victims in most cop shows, Annie is far from a one-dimensional, whimpering, easily manipulable innocent.  Not that she is exactly a bedrock of strength either; she has her moments, but on the whole she’s tough and smart and even downright devious at times, playing head games with Elizabeth at one point to try to get her out of the picture so she can have Corky all to herself.  She also perpetrates a pretty brutal act of violence in the first episode; a justifiable one certainly, but still . . .  And she attempts to entice other men who come into her presence besides just Corky, though I believe these were an attempt to make Corky jealous.  More than once Annie also expresses her frustration and embarrassment with being treated as a child by these new adults in her life, not just in terms of their rebuffing her sexual advances but also in rebelling against Elizabeth’s attempts to reform her morally and socially, and she eventually expresses a desire to go back to her old life, even as it is clear she loves Kevin Corcoran—perhaps deep down more as a father figure than a potential lover, but initially she hardly knows the difference—and doesn’t want to leave him, and knows that her old life wasn’t exactly ideal for her.  So she’s very conflicted. In short, Annie behaves very much like a real child prostitute in her position probably would, not to mention being involved in a longer and very abusive relationship with a man for awhile that I won’t go into detail about here, as it is an important plot point of one of the episodes and the series as a whole.

Actually, I would like to touch on that relationship for just a moment, because it sheds light on an important fact that you rarely see in these types of shows: the writers created a well-rounded character in Annie, and they go out of their way to show that sex in general, at least conceptually, does not bother Annie; however, she is clearly terrified of the man she was involved with because of his brutality, as well as some of the customers she encountered at her first place of business.  Even though she is ambivalent about it overall, she clearly knows that sex can be a good thing. While it’s obvious that Annie has some psychological distortions and damage resulting from her history, which includes a several major traumatic events, including one that occurs in the first episode of the show, beyond just being reduced to selling herself for money (only being able to express love towards men in sexual terms probably chief among them), I would say that she is hardly a completely dysfunctional mess despite all she’s been through.  And that is pretty daring for a television series these days, especially a cop show. The notion that a child might attempt to seduce an adult for any reason seems utterly alien to most people. But it does happen.

The series is also realistic in depicting members of the police force, including Corky, as less than perfect, sometimes brutal in their methods, and occasionally prone to breaking laws themselves (such as Corky’s frequenting of prostitutes early on in the series and his sporadic violent outbursts against certain people he’s investigating, including, on one occasion, a high-ranking Episcopalian minister.)

Season 2 begins this summer.  I recommend finding the first season somewhere if you can and watching it all.  If you haven’t seen this series, you are missing out on a pretty solidly made period police drama.  I wanted to put in some clips of the show I found on YouTube here, but all of them contained major spoilers for the series, so I will simply offer you this promo that came out right when the show started:

Photographer Unknown – Promo for ‘Copper’ featuring Kevin (Tom Weston-Jones) and Annie (Kiara Glasco) (2012)

BBCAmerica: Copper (official site)

BBCAmerica: Annie Reilly (short profile of the character)