Category Archives: Halloween

10 Years Later: Revisiting the Village

It’s always around this time of year that I break out my Halloween movies. Nightmare Before Christmas. Trick r’ Treat. Sleepy Hollow. And, of course, The Village, which has in past years grown to be one of my fall staples. And it was in watching it just tonight that I wanted to type up a blog defending this movie, and encouraging any readers to revisit it if it’s been a while now.

the-village-original

The Twist

Now, first off, I want to dive into this blog by talking about why so many people didn’t or don’t like this movie. What it seems to repeatedly return to is, well, it’s a Shyamalan movie, and his time was coming to a wane. Shyamalan, after breaking out with the Sixth Sense, and following with Unbreakable, Signs, and later the Village, he quickly established himself to be a really talented director with a knack for twist endings… twist endings that start to weigh on people. And it’s the Shyamalan gimmicky twist that seems to be what bothered many reviewers, especially after quickly perusing Rotten Tomatoes.

Why do people hate twists? Well, they’re gimmicky, and they’re an easy way to startle audiences. Want an emotional reaction in a thriller movie? Pull the rug out from under them at the end. The problem with this is fairly obvious. The twist often is easy (IT WAS ALL A DREAM!), but it worse, it undermines the work the movie had done leading up to it. If the whole movie was a dream, all the conflict and drama and themes are often left discarded completely.

By the fourth twist-ending movie from a director whose name actually started to mean something with his breakout first movie, the meaninglessness was quickly attached to his name. And it didn’t help that after the Village, starting with Lady In The Water, Shyamalan’s talent seemed to utterly dissolve. This only fueled the belief that if there was a twist, it was simply a gimmick: that Shyamalan had been fooling us all along.

But, here, I want to look at the twist itself, and try to get away from writing the movie off because it had a twist, and because Shyamalan has quickly become a gimmicky household name associated with no skill and cheap tricks. Because he certainly didn’t start out that way. And here, with the Village, he actually had something good going.

The twist of the Village is that the quaint, sleepy, early 19th century town that the movie focused on was not actually located in that period of time, but was actually hidden away in a nature reserve of modern time, unbeknownst to the residents. And the scary monsters stalking the woods? A farce put on by the town elders to maintain their secrets and maintain their town’s innocence and ignorance about the darker ways of the world.

A bit ridiculous? Sure. Could something like that ever happen? Sure, probably not. But we’re in thriller genre. Movies are often about the unrealistic. But that’s not a bad thing. No, a big part of the ridiculous conclusion here is because it was presented as a twist, and people rolled their eyes at the gag, at the man behind the curtain, and left disappointed, failing to consider it as much beyond a twist.

But this is where I encourage viewers to watch the movie a second time. Because the pitfall of the twist movie is that it makes the movie worthless. But with the Village, the twist added a new layer to the story, and it was a layer that had been there all along. Shymalan wasn’t fucking with us for a gimmick, he was telling a story that changed levels throughout. Indeed, the very first lines spoken on-screen were about whether the elders had made the right decision to settle there. Though you don’t know it, the dialogue that had been happening the entire movie was always about the twist. You just didn’t know. Each time the elders discussed the “Ones We Don’t Speak Of”, it’s loaded. It’s ambiguous and layered with a deeper meaning. This is a facet of the good twist movie: it adds new value and multiple layers to a story already told. And a great twist movie doesn’t stop with the two layers of meaning, but it makes you think further about the very premise.

On the first layer: Monsters are attacking the town, what do we do?

On the second layer: We’re pretending to attack the town, what do we do next?

On the third layer: How far do we take this farce and is it even moral and right to do so?

But to write the movie off as bullshit because of the twist is to miss those deeper conversations that were actually happening the whole time.

Did I once think the movie was better when I liked only half the movie: the half when it treated the monsters as real? Yes. But to leave it at that: a movie about a town dealing with a monster problem… it’s simple. It has potential. But it’s simple. How many times has the good little town/group of friends/strangers battle the evil invading force, though? How many times does that plot turn into most of the people dying, with Evil being defeated (or at least, leaving just enough left over to come back for a sequel)?

Here, Shyamalan took the story to a new level, examining the nature of innocence, of lies for a greater good, of the way those lies, which were in good faith, can turn right back to the very evil they were attempting to avoid. In a very post-9/11 movie, this was an examination of governmental lies, order, intention, backfired intention, conspiracy, innocence, and endurance. Especially reflecting on the Village as a post-9/11 movie, there’s something that really comes alive here.

The alternative though, the one without the twist… it’s probably just another random, meaningless thriller with some monsters.

The Frights

The other problem the Village quickly runs into, on the heels of it being a Shyamalan film, is that it’s a thriller. It deals with scary elements. And, as I’ve discussed in many a review before, scares are hard on critics. People go to scary movies to get scared. Everyone is scared by something different. And so, movies or television shows judged on their scare merit alone are apt to have a very divided audience.

I, personally, thought these monsters were very effective. Shyamalan’s monster imagery was great. Hooded, red-cloaked beasts with strange quills coming from their backs, slowly stalking a sleepy town, lit by torch-light amongst the spindly tree branches? I’m in. And, to boot, Shyamalan shot it very effectively, showing just enough to make the monsters frightening, but not so much that we saw too much and lost our suspension of disbelief.

Now, that effect was lost toward the end, when Adrian Brody Monster did his sprint toward Bryce Dallas Howard. A little too tribal-looking. A little too much shown. But first, that thing was fucking creepy before the sprint, when it stood, hunched, while we waited to see what it would do. When too much was shown, we were only moments from learning that it wasn’t as it seemed anyway.

And certainly, while looking at the scares, I have to consider my earlier viewpoints, yes, maybe having a second twist was bothersome — how many times does Shyamalan have to twist it for us? It seems more gimmicky when it’s real — nope, not real — real — just kidding, not. And look, now it’s the modern day!

But when you’ve moved past the first screening, and you go along with the story rather than watching for twists, it actually works.

It works because Shyamalan is actually a really good writer (or used to be). Here, he wrote a movie that took its time, with each scene and shot being both gorgeous and deliberate. His use of parallelism was what tied this movie together so nicely.

The Filming

Examples: The scene in which Ivy and Noah had a footrace: simple, fun, you got to know these two’s relationship. It was paralleled at the end as Noah-Monster, mentally challenged and playing a prank, tried to lure Ivy into another footrace.

The elegant, creepy, torch-lit scene in which Jesse Eisenberg stood with his back to the forest to test his bravery against his imagination? Paralleled by Ivy later standing with her back to the monster, testing her own bravery as to when to move, finally killing Noah-Monster. Indeed, Ivy and Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) even discussed how Lucius held the record, and how Ivy longed to be like a boy, to be able to test it herself. Well she got her chance.

And how powerful, the way Shyamalan framed this little town against the eerie woods. His return to very specific and intentional use of color. Was Red being the “bad color” ridiculous? Perhaps, but, like the Sixth Sense (and, I’d say, not so much like the Sixth Sense that it was discredited), there was symbolism there. The symbolism of blood. The way the community tried so hard to avoid it. The use of yellows to balance out the red, creating such a lovely autumnal feel. The way he filmed Ivy, often out of focus and close up, to put the viewer in her experience of her blindness, especially in the suspense scenes when it mattered as much for her as it did us.

These are very intentional decisions that work for movies. They’re designed to keep a movie tight, effective, meaningful, and deliberate, and they’re sadly too often left out of most Hollywood releases today.

But it’s not just the film-work, but the writing and acting combined with that. Lucius, the shy, awkward, but somehow bold and fearless faux-main character. Perfectly played by the awkward-but-noble Joaquin Phoenix, and in a way that was different enough from Signs that both roles worked, despite their similarities. But how much more moving were those two moments in which he took Ivy by the hand in times of danger? I’ll admit it, they were powerful enough to make me shed some fluid from my eye holes. Maybe it’s a taste thing, but I found it spot on. That’s good directing. When an actor can come out of nowhere, grab his costar’s hand, and at least one audience member cries? That’s successful filmmaking.

But how smart as well, ten years before the feminist dialogue has really taken off online, we see Shyamalan twist his story to strip down his shy-but-fearless male hero, substituting a blind woman to brave the woods. While she might’ve had insider info, she was still terrified (Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance was fantastic). Did the two young men keep up? Sure didn’t.

In a time when movies feel the need to spoonfeed us old cliche’s in the first ten minutes so that we can get to know characters with the least possible amount of engagement in order to get to the action, here we have Shyamalan both taking his time to illustrate these characters, this town, this place of innocence, and following the well-shared advice to show and not tell.

Look at the way Ivy tells Lucius how she knew he liked her because he wouldn’t touch her? His confirmation was silence. Shyamalan’s confirmation was when Lucius shared the same information with his mother a scene or two later, confirming to us that Ivy had shared a truth about him, in that he’s now sharing it to his mother. There are no tired tropes here to establish the relationship. This was one that took its time and hit its beats in a subtle way. Maybe too subtle for some reviewers, who found character depth to be fairly flat.

And last, but not least, the score. James Newton Howard knocks it out of the park. One of the most gorgeous film scores I’ve ever heard. It carries through the movie like a breeze in a creepy forest.

Conclusion

So what do we have here? Ignoring the Shyamalan legacy, and treating this movie on its own, ten years later, through my eyes, we have a gorgeously filmed movie. It’s eerie. It’s autumnal. It’s smart and takes its time. The scares are subtle and goooood (my substitute for “frightening”, since I know this movie too well to recognize if its scary anymore). The twist has a good reason. And the themes are intriguing enough to chew on.

That’s a damn good movie, in my opinion.

Maybe there are parts of this you would like to nitpick, or feel differently about, and that’s fine. Each has their own tastes. But, knowing the twist, I encourage you to watch the film as what it is: a movie about a town that’s faking a monster problem to ensure the innocence of its citizens. That’s an interesting premise. And it’s one that holds up, especially on the second, third, or fourth viewing.

Move beyond the gimmick, and watch it enough to let it all settle over you at once, and I hope you’ll find the depth and value in it. Then we can all go back to wondering just what the hell happened that every movie after The Village sucked so much.

Karl Pfeiffer is the author of the books Hallowtide and Into a Sky Below, Forever. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and  worked briefly with the Ghost Hunters International team. He now lectures about approaches to ghost hunting across the nation, leads the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, and works as a portrait photographer. You can find more at http://www.KarlPfeiffer.com

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Future Seasons of American Horror Story

I wrote a post very similar to this one after the end of Season Two and, while I kept that post updated, it’s beginning to fall a bit out of date, and so I wanted to revisit the post with some new ideas and sexier photoshop work.

So, a bit of a recap, shall we? American Horror Story is a show defined by iconic marketing imagery, a frantic-yet-elegant cinematic style, an ensemble cast that’s always excellent, pitch perfect thematic studies, and interwoven anthology plots.

* * *

In season one, we visited the Murder House. The setting was a haunted house in California, and it allowed the writers and directors to study such American Horrors that the supernatural horrors are only caught up within: the real horrors — the way people react to and perpetuate social issues. Adultery. Abortion. Gay rights. The 21st Century family. School shootings. Depression. Teenage romance. Bullying. The themes that circle the home.

AHS S1

* * *

With second season, we had a big switch, moving into the Asylum. Though first season was dark, it was so in a sexy, elegant, nature. The scares crawled around inside your head a bit. But with season two, Murphy and Co. turned it up to eleven. The sexiness was out the window. The show was a period piece for the 60’s, a time that’s beginning to seem almost pre-historic to us. The setting and time period allowed the writers to explore the big issues of the time (many that are unfortunately still very prevalent), and what made the season brilliant by the final episodes was the way the writers spring-boarded from social issues to philosophical issues. Women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, the role of the Church in the world and within institutions, the treatment of the mentally ill, the ways science can twist and corrupt, and the ways science can redeem. We got some supernatural scares, but not so much of the ghostly, super-powered variety. We saw aliens as a brilliant stand-in for God, we saw possession unrecognized in a place of god, and of course we saw our seasonal historical murderer.

AHS S2

* * *

And then season three happened. Drawing mixed reviews from critics, season three moved us down south, with Coven. Coven aimed to iron out some of the kinks with Asylum: to give the audience a breath of fresh air from the deep darkness of the Asylum, to shave off some of the abundant themes and plotlines that slowed the second season in the middle of its run. They went after feminism and racism in the south, tracking the split of two witch clans and the battle between them as it was reignited. The first episode was a powerhouse, but the show stumbled along after that, missing the opportunities to sneak in genuine frights, and, sadly, instead of deconstructing many of these themes, wound up reinforcing them by season’s end.

AHS S3

* * *

And now, in the late summer of 2014, we move into the fourth season, where we’ll step right up to the Freak Show. I’m utterly pumped for this season (and utterly disappointed in myself that I never thought of the carnival/freakshow idea in my earlier blog post: thanks commenters!) Where Murphy first confessed he was going for a lighter tone and a funny feel the way of Coven, he realized as he got into the plot that this season was, in fact, darker than Asylum. And, I hope, more on track with its thematic study of the nitty gritty. The promos are already exceptional. The clown is going to be scary as shit. And for the first time in more than half a century, we’re really going to get a piece of film/television that digs around in a very much overlooked piece of American history: the sideshow carnival. Looks for more civil rights type issues, post-WWII racial scares, and another season where the monsters are never the monsters.

AHS S4

(And of course, the alternate title card used with the actual-footage teasers)

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 11.21.55 AM

* * *

So where do we go from here?

Ryan Murphy has on multiple occasions mentioned that the season following Freak Show was going to be followed by something very much out of left field. While I’ve got a few good ideas, I don’t think any of them are quite as out-of-left-field worthy for the fifth season as Empty Space. Space has a myriad of setting-style titles, so it could be tough for fans to guess this subtitle. But space is a rich American horror soil, and very much do-able for Murphy and Co. I have regular debates with my good buddy CJ about the possibilities of such a season. He argues that aliens shouldn’t make an appearance to throw viewers, whereas I think they can. Granted, AHS has already done aliens in Season Two, but they were brief and very much an image-centric stand-in. They could easily do some creatures heretofore unseen. But with the potential for deep space survival, fear of unknown planets, rebellious robots, rebellious other ships, and with a wealth of horror-movies to nod to and reference, I think we can count on seeing Empty Space in the near future for AHS, hopefully as near as Season Five.

AHS-S5

* * *

Almost equally as obvious and overdue as space in the AHS franchise as my vote for Season Six? I’ve subtitled it the Woodlands. (Part of me fought with debate over calling it “Sticks” — a play on the folk phrase for the backwoods mixed with the River Styx from Greek mythology, a thematic allusion very much up Murphy’s alley). The Woodlands locale is rich for AHS. It’s the setting of many in the classic staple of American Horror: the Slasher film. We set this at a cabin or lakeside retreat, and let havoc play out. We’d get the classic slasher killer (likely somebody historical), but there’s room here to play with more modern manifestations from the woods, like Slenderman or cryptid beasties. Murphy has spoken in recent interviews about the nature of death on television, and how it’s different than in movies. Because of the way a 13-episode television run connects you with characters for six times longer than the average movie, you become far more attached, and so those deaths are more meaningful. While in many ways this can be a deterrent for a slasher season, I think it’s territory to play with those losses as the horror that they are.

Thematically we’ve got play by looking no further than Lars von Trier’s disturbing film, Antichrist. Von Trier, in interviews, pointed out that one of his main thematic goals with the film was to explore the dichotomy between the woods currently illustrated in Romantic tones, as a place of peace and finding one’s self, as a Walden, but whereas historically, the woods are a terrible, terrible place of darkness. That’s where you go to fight for your life, where the food chain spins endlessly, and human wit is tested against animal ability.

So I say, let’s do that. Let’s pit the humans against the wild. (And don’t even get me started on what a gorgeous season that would be to watch, cinematically).

AHS-S7-3

* * *

THE season I’ve been waiting to see from Murphy. This show had better not run dry by the time we make our detour into Lovecraft Country (perhaps a better subtitle, but it’s clunky). Innsmouth of course is the setting of HP Lovecraft’s classic tale, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, about a small community of inbred and hybrid creatures living on the coastal shores of Massachusetts. Lovecraft has been one of the most defining characters in modern horror, introducing us to Cosmic Horror and a strange philosophical place of Nihilism and mysticism. This topic is hot right now after being constantly hinted at in HBO’s first season of True Detective, so I think it’s time for something more overt to hit the airwaves. Certainly themes are easy enough to play out. Let’s look at science and religion, cults and isolation, the power of nature, sprinkle in some Storm of the Century and tales of epic sea monsters for flashbacks, and we’ve got one of the tightest, darkest, rainiest, and creepiest American Horror Stories yet. Perhaps the topic will dry up by Season Seven, but I doubt it. Lovecraft never leaves us.

AHS-S6-2

* * *

Okay, fine, Maize isn’t a setting, but it was the best I had, and I loved the play on Maize meaning corn, as well as the wordplay of Maze. Look no farther than the Shining for the maze/minotaur trope in classic horror. Mash it up with Children of the Corn and we’ve got something special. Now, though Murphy says he has as many as 13 different settings in mind, I’m worried themes come less varied than settings, especially if he continues to pack them in the way he did in season 2. Eight seasons is already a bit long, but I think these are the quintessential settings that absolutely have to be covered, and the Maize season would be the quintessential finale, wrapping us up for season Nine. The Native American connection brings the end back to America’s beginning. Dig around in America’s roots, explore the monsters in the soil,  Native American legends, the horror stories from before the genocide, then toss in some Dark Romanticism and Sleepy Hollow, maybe pepper in some Celtic Halloween roots to stir the melting pot, and we’ve got an incredible finale to an incredible show.

AHS-S8

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Goodbye to Fall

Hallows-Eve-For-WebAn old one from Halloween I only instagrammed but hadn’t edited up yet. Here’s my final version, with color corrections and the like. It’s Thanksgiving today. As with every year, there’s much to be thankful for. I’m not particularly happy to watch fall go again, but I’m pretty excited for Winter.

 

Tagged , , ,

Blasted Places

Blasted-Church-1-For-Web

Halloween, blasted by winds that seem to sting your cheeks, the same sting that burns children’s faces red. Hallow’s Evening.

Hallowed, hollowed, hollows, holy. Empty, but full.

The St. Malo Retreat Center, the Chapel on the Rock, in Allensparek CO, Halloween 2013. After the Retreat Center was destroyed by fire in 2011, the area surrounding the chapel was damaged in September 2013 after mudslides wrecked the area. The chapel survived both disasters. Where once a small pond settled in front of the chapel, the grounds are now a wasteland of broken tree branches and small stillwater puddles.

St. Malo's before the fire and mudslides, spring 2009. Photo by Steve Johnson.

St. Malo’s before the fire and mudslides, spring 2009. Photo by Steve Johnson.

Blasted-Church-2-For-Web

Blasted-Christ-For-Web

Blasted-Church-3-For-Web

Tagged , , ,

Hallowtide Facebook Banners

It’s a Wednesday and it’s October so what do you say to snagging some Hallowtide Facebook banners to promote the book and freak out your friends?

Let’s Light This Candle

Blogosphere! Twitterverse! Clever internet word for group of people I’m talking to!

Had a question on Facebook earlier today I wanted to answer in case any of you were wondering the same. But first, updates: I’ll be going to California later this week for a good buddy’s wedding. His name is Chris Mccune. You might remember him from Academy. He’s a badass and I wish he had a fanpage for you all to wish him well. But if you want to leave a comment to let him know, I’ll be happy to pass them along.

We only take serious photos together. Pictures are not a time for goofing off. That’s how kittehs die.

 

Then travel will take me to Lexington, Kentucky for SCAREFEST at the end of the month, where I’ll launch my book early for those attending, and stage the official launch for the rest of the world over the internet on the following Monday, October 1st. If you’re interested in going to SCAREFEST, you can find more at www.thescarefest.com. Then in October, I’ll be attending a special Halloween event at the University of Wyoming, where I’ll also be selling and signing copies of the book. More information on that event will be out as it becomes available. Other possible events are lining up throughout the next few months as well.

The question was posed though as to how to get me out to YOUR state for a signing or event. The thing is that it always comes down to money, which sucks, but that’s how it is. I’m a starving artist hoping this book will blow up enough to let me get an apartment again (preferably in a rainy, foggy section of country). And so, to go to an event, I need to get my travel paid for. But I can’t do it myself. If I did do it myself, my return would have to cover the costs, if just to break even. But that  would mean selling a couple hundred copies of my book or photos or whatever at the event. Or, if the event itself brought me out, they would have to bank that my name will bring enough ticket sales to cover my costs. At this point, I’m not really there yet. My fifteen minutes was up two years ago.

So how then, do we fix this? We make me explode. Not Doc Manhattan style (though that would solve the whole trouble with plane ticket cost), but in terms of my status. Which means this book needs to explode. So, if you want me to be able to tour or hit up these events across the country, spread the word. When the book comes out, if it sounds good, pick up a copy, write a review on amazon (even if you hated it, honest feedback is good feedback), tell your friends about it, start the conversation, pirate it (I don’t care, I’d rather it spread right now), show them pictures of Ryan Gosling and tell them that it’s actually me, paraphrase most interesting man in the world commercials when speaking of my experience. Stir the pot.

That’s how we do this thing. I’m working my end for you, trying to make this novel absolutely as good as it can be, so that it can rock your world when it’s finally out. The rest is you guys.

HALLOWTIDE

The Beta readers have returned and the results are in.

It’s official! My seven-year-coming novel project Hallowtide has the greenlight to be released this fall!

Hallowtide is the story of a young man who begins having nightmares of a journey he made into Hell itself. And seemingly, these nightmares hold their roots in a school shooting he was the victim of while in high school five years before. Why and how though are for him to discover, and in so discovering, could break his mind, his relationship, and his life itself.

The website is now live (though probably doesn’t work right now on iPhones and iPads because it’s flash).

 

Throughout the month of September, I’ll be posting updates, releasing covers, plot teasers, the official drop date, releasing excerpts, and posting downloads! In the following few days I’ll post the “Manifesto,” my argument for why I’m releasing it the way that I am in a non-traditional format. Over time, the book website will be fleshed out further and further until the final release of the book, so be sure to check back frequently, like, share, spread the word!

It’s going to be a fun couple months as the book goes into final stages of creation! And I hope you guys are as excited as I am!

If I might reflect. There’s a necessity to this cycle. The longing and the desire for the gentle motion of the leaves in the fall, the cool breeze and the crisp flavors of the fall is only amplified by a summer so sweltering that the sweat falls down your spine and presses your shirt against your skin.

In the same way that the fall begs for the comfort of the slow-falling snow and the peace that family close and a fire burning brings on the winter night, the way that late ice storms bring a longing for the fresh taste of budding plants and a cool morning that promises glimmers of summer past, when the shadows stretch long into the night that carry over ideas of autumn…

There’s a cycle to these seasons. A necessity. And the deeper the summer digs, the hotter the days, the richer the fall. And my longing for it. The glow between the teeth on the pumpkin is brighter after days over ninety.

You can draw connection all you like to death and rebirth, the necessity of the cycle, the way that one half of the whole creates the desire of the other, the need for the evil along with the good, the way that the lamp amplifies the shadows that slink around it. Your wonder at your dead relative in their coffin, and your vision of them in the night,

But right now I just wait for October.

Necessity of the Summer

Photo Blog: High Park Fire

The High Park fire in the mountains west of Colorado has grown to some 40,000 acres when I’m posting this, with zero percent containment. Low humidity, high winds and temperatures have created the perfect situation for this fire to consume anything it would like. The Sheriff at this time still believes the fire started due to lightning. This is mother nature’s doing.

I couldn’t stay at home last night reading or watching a movie–Knowing the fire was spreading, I was restless.

Two stills from time lapse photos I shot two days back. This was when the fire was only at a few thousand acres. (Apologies for not having the time lapses. My computer is shot and I don’t have the programs I need/prefer to edit them. Same goes for color correction in these, but I did my best).

When I got to Fort Collins, the campfire smell hit me almost immediately, and a light fog covered the streetlamps and headlights of passing cars. I drove west toward Horsetooth reservoir.

View of Fort Collins from Horsetooth Reservoir. Covered in a smoky haze. The lights of the city look like small spots of fire themselves. The fire consumes/us/even as we sleep or think or worry of it.

Though I missed the sunset rush, when apparently deputies and police were running onlookers thick as ants from the sides of the road, at eleven, the parking lots were still packed. Irony seemed as thick as the smoke that later clouded the hills and drove off the spectators. Teenagers smoked cigarettes. I realized how many songs were on my driving CDs about fire.

AWOLNATION belts burn it down baby, burn it–burn it down. Tragedy Machine hums so come on tonight let’s burn the city down. Let the streets ignite into a battleground. The rhythm and violence, pleasure and sound, come on come on, lets burn the city down. 

I suppose if God wants to destroy things, we want to watch.

There was a strange feel to it. The fire coming weeks after graduation, after I moved out of my apartment and into my car. When the smoke is as thick as fog it feels almost as if it is erasing the world, in a gentler, dirtier way than a snowstorm.

I realized, watching the fire lapping at the trees from across the water, that the park bench I was sitting on was the same one I’d sat on the summer before with the girl I was breaking up with, this being the spot where she realized that it really was over. The sun was setting on the water back then as the area fell into night. Now it was night and any hint of the water was obscured by the smoke.

There was a reckless feel to the place. Reminiscent of a short story I wrote about a group of college kids watching the world end in a blast of fire. The same way the smell was reminiscent of late summer camping, of the burning smell on the air during Halloween. Cars lined the the road. Young people laughed and waited and shot back and forth along the county road to find a better shot of the destruction.

And if there was laughter. It was nervous.

“The hope for containment is tenuous,” they say on the news.

When I crawl into bed, my lungs itch and when I talk it’s hard to get vowels to sound right. When I wake up I learn the fire has almost doubled in the night. Theres bits of ash on my ipad screen. But the air down south is clear.

The Red in Your Cheeks

For that time when the family has trickled off to their bedrooms, the Christmas tree is still lit, the open space on the carpet where presents rested only this morning feels like nudity:

Though it’s two in the morning, it seems wrong to call this Christmas Day yet. It’s still Christmas Eve, and the night is at its darkest time. In four hours, the sun will light the horizon, turn the mountains a rosy pink and send the foot of snow around the house into glitter. Though I prefer it in the moonlight, sparkling snow is a sight as close to magic as I expect I’ll ever see.

Yesterday, I briefly entered into a discussion with my filmmaker buddy AJ about whether or not Christmas and Halloween are at all similar, as they are in my opinion, the two most magical days of the year.

“Christmas and Halloween are the exact opposite, I’d say,” he said.

I’ve always held to a fascination about the darker side of Christmas — a necessary darkness in my no doubt skewed and quite biased, romantically twisted vision of the holiday. Halloween, I feel it’s agreed, carries a sexy thrill in the warmth of the candlelight, the streetlamps, and the two-sided grin of the Jack O’lantern. Imagine the Jack O’lantern on the darkened porch. Blackness has wrapped the pumpkin so that even the outer orange of the pumpkin is shrouded, leaving the glow alone as the night falls, a bright grin against the dark that breathes defiance. It’s in this defiance of the dark, the work of the lantern to ward off evil spirits, that even the most jagged grin, the most snaggle-toothed grotesque acts on behalf of the good, warning away the mischievous, the invasive. It’s this nature of Halloween, that as the night necessarily falls, the caricatures fall away, the cute smiling pumpkins like the hand-drawn hand-turkeys of November are replaced by the truest, darkest, but most magical work of the holiday.

It’s this magic that’s felt in the solitary defiant glow of the candlelight on the front porch, and the momentary safety children feel as they jump from streetlamp to streetlamp like puddle to puddle on a rainy may. They are disguised as that from the other side of the veil, they run with the darkness, in and out of what they both fear and stand against in the same way as they run in and out of the light. They blend into the darkness in order to avoid it. They hide their faces in order to pass amongst the dead anonymously. The darkness is for once romanticized, a necessary evil, and one that touches another side that we only imagine from the darker shadows the rest of the year.

Except for Christmas.

Perhaps my friend AJ is right in that Christmas is the antithesis of Halloween, but not in its exclusion of the dark.

Christmas doesn’t make the darkness its focus, but it does make it necessary. There’s an inherent darkness of Christmas. In the dreams of white Christmases are dreams of isolation, of snow pack and the warmth of home and family. It’s in the way the panels of light from windows of cabins are cast on the snow outside. It’s in the mystery of Santa Claus, where thoughts of magic reside in the realm of impossibility manifested on one single night, where adults even remember what it was like to be a child and to look to the glow of the tree, and wonder.

Maybe it’s a case for the necessary balance of good and evil, but with the warmth of the lights on the Christmas Tree in the corner is the darkness that wraps about that light. Tell me there’s not more magic in the tree at night, when all the lights have been turned out except for your Christmas tree and perhaps a few flickering candles.

I’ve never known a greater magic than in the glow of a Christmas tree.

Tell me that when you unplug the lights from the tree before going to bed, that you’ve ever seen sadness manifested in such an image as that of the dark Christmas tree. Dark Christmas trees are second only to gas masks on the shit-that-scares-Karl list. (It’s a short list. Cauterizing my tear ducts shut when I was eight ensured that). There’s a reason Christmas in the cheery tropics just isn’t the same; it neglects the darkness of a long winter night, the cold outside the windows, and the fear that the longest night of the year instills.

Where Halloween is about joining in the darkness in an act of defiance as the darkness first falls to start the winter season, Christmas is a cold realization of the omnipresence and necessity of that darkness. In both we take solace in the light, but it’s with Christmas that we so actively seek and revel in such joy to balance this solstice.

And the result is magic; bliss; the way a child’s eyes light up when he peeks about the banister, the laugh between family members, the way cheeks turn red when you come in from the cold.

So eat up. Drink fully. Love deeply. Dance. Indulge in wonders. Merry Christmas my friends.