Seen: Only Lovers Left Alive, by Jim Jarmusch

This film could had been either a tacky camp over-sweet pastry stuffed with purple prose… or it could be what it really is – a dark beautiful tapestry with pieces of wry humour hidden between the threads.

Eve and Adam has known each other for a long, long, time. One white, celebrating life and its expressions. One black, deeply romantic but also despairing of life and of where humanity has gotten itself. One in a melting pot city, a city of the in-between and of both. One in the ruins of crashed expectations. And both, intertwined.

Sounds pretty pretentious, doesn’t it? And still – it isn’t.

Tilda Swinton‘s character, Eve, lives in the old parts of Tangier, in an old house filled with books. She’s best friends and neighbour with Christopher Marlowe, portrayed by John Hurt.

Eve’s husband, Adam (Tom Hiddleston), lives a reclusive life on the outskirts of Detroit, collecting vintage guitars and making music using as analogue equipment as possible. He’s a romantic but also an engineer and scientist at heart, and he’s also bitter and dissatisfied with humankind.

During a Skype call Eve realises that Adam is depressed and she instantly gets on a (night) flight for the States, carrying the essentials only – two suitcases of books…

There’s absolutely not an ounce of action: only the quiet angst and passions of the aged and eternal youth – they are vampires, after all – and a silent discussion of what makes life worth living; yet the film keeps the audience focused on the screen.

And I loved it.

I loved it for its play with archetypes; for its use of, references to, and off-handed comments in areas such as music, literature and science; for the photography, for the way the camera makes love with the spaces these creatures are passing through; for the dual feeling of being very grounded yet transient; for the debauchery and the despair; for the raw animalism and the intellectual flippancy; for the hope and love and beauty; for the way it managed to capture the duality and challenge of being, and of being honest with oneself and one’s ideals. And of course I loved it for its humour.

Jim Jarmusch has pulled of one mean feat – a vampire film that brings back the vampire were it belongs: to the outsiders, the poets, the rebels.

Go see it.

Now, if you excuse me, I’m off watching the fire flicker in the grate while swaying solemnly to the slow beat of Pink Floyd‘s Wish you were here.

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Read: The Exiled Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

The Exiled Blade, the last book in Jon Courtenay Grimwood‘s Assassini trilogy, was published about a year ago, in April 2013. I had it on pre-order, like all of Grimwood’s books, but for reasons previously mentioned didn’t get around to read it until now.

The trilogy is set up to tell the tale of how classical vampires came to be, and how they came to the particular corner of Europe they are associated with in particular, and start when, as told in The Fallen Blade, a nameless boy-creature arrives in Venice. The boy is soon given the name Tycho and is recruited into the Assassini – the secret police, if you so will, of post-Marco Polo Venice – and is soon embroiled in court politics. The story continues in The Outcast Blade.

I was sceptic on the outset. Vampires and the supernatural and fantastical is not high on my list – rather it is an exception when I enjoy such tales.

The two first instalments surprised me – I really did enjoy reading them, and also I felt Grimwood had matured somewhat as an author: I love much of his work but many of the books are a bit to speculative, I feel, and he has had a tendency to repeat imagery and scenes. With the Assassini trilogy he has continued working with an alternate history setting but this time working with the far past rather than with alternate endings of the latest world war, and with good result. At least in the two first instalments.

Sadly I don’t feel it kept up in the last part. Up until The Exiled Blade interest and emotional investment in the main characters drove the story but with this last part he needed to tell a story, not develop characters. The result is a tale that in parts dragged, in parts were so festooned with fantastical deux ex machina turning points that I soon lost belief in the credibility of the story. The main event, in many ways, is when the half-realised vampire-creature that Tycho is are more or less pressed into making a pact with the actual devil, albeit a pre-Christian one – a pact that essentially makes him into a Dracula creature, and placing him in a castle/fortress high up in the Balkan mountains. The price he pays to keep the heir to the Venetian throne, and the heir’s mother, the love of Tyhco’s life, alive is to live forever, but without her.

The trilogy is not badly written. If you enjoy vampire stories and stories of the supernatural and fantastical, and of 15th century Venice and court plot, all in one package – then this is definitely a trilogy I’d recommend. For me, though, it didn’t entirely cut it.

On to other books!

Review: The Outcast Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Gritty, stinking, decaying, romantic 16th century almost-Venice – a violent place, brimming over with inbred scheming nobility. Add magic, vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings and voilà – The Outcast Blade, the second act in Jon Courtenay Grimwood‘s Assassini trilogy.

Meet Tycho, misunderstood by everyone including himself, who finds himself involved in a high-stakes game for the power over Venice. Just because he fell in love with the “wrong” girl. Also meet the girl’s scheming aunt and uncle – the dowager Duchess of Venice and her brother-in-law Prince Alonzo, Regent of Venice – and the game is on.

In so many ways this is standard fantasy fare but the way it is told make it something more – a pre-history to Dracula, it seems, and perhaps a writing exercise for the author; a way to show how vampire teenage angst can be written as literature rather than as fast-food fluff. In this the Assassini books reminds me of Guy G Kay‘s Fionavar trilogy, which in so many ways tried to show how a proper high fantasy trilogy should be done – a polemic work, in all its splendour, and thus with it’s downside; a hectoring tone follows the reader throughout.

Not so, in my opinion, with the two Assassini books.

Grimwood’s prose and his devotion to the texture and smell of the places he describe lift The Outcast Blade above the rhetoric level, making the city and its inhabitants show as on the silver screen before the inner eye, in both affected grandeur and desperate decay, gilded velveteen and utmost poverty.

I definitely liked it and I look forward to act three, which should be out in a year or so.

Review: The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

What do you do when a favourite author suddenly challenges you by writing in the exact genre you detest? When I belatedly found out Jon Courtenay Grimwood had The Fallen Blade, an alternate history vampire story, out my choice was easy – to read first and judge later. My aversion to certain genres or sub-genres rests largely on empiric evidence, after all, and every thesis need to be challenged every now and then ;-)

First perhaps some words on why the “belatedly” in above paragraph. The book was published in January last year. Normally I am holding an eye to the “upcoming” list at my local dealer (SF Bokhandeln) but this list is partitioned into SF, Fantasy and Horror. Of these I only ever check the SF one on something approaching regular basis but by chance I glanced over the Fantasy list recently and found JCG was to publish a new novel in early 2012. I followed the link and realised the 2012 release was a “part 2 of 3”. I was aghast at having missed a release from a fave author and hurried to the physical bookshop the very next day, to get part 1, which is The Fallen Blade.

To me the book was a pleasant surprise. We follow the nameless boy who doesn’t really know who he is or where he’s from. His voyage takes him through Venice’s upper and lower levels – some of which is closer to each other than one would think…

While still relying on classic JCG archetypes – the outcast who doesn’t understand who or what he is, a real place but an alternate history, upper crust politicking, and a dedication to describing texture, look and smell that makes most scenes an inner eye visual explosion – the writing feels more mature, as he is in his natural element, for once. And then I’d never call his other books immature. It’s just that he seems to have, step by step, distanced himself from his cyberpunk and very Gibsonian background far enough to finally do something that is more wholly his own. And this despite this latest book being in a genre that I would not hesitate to call over-exploited and tired.

A definite recommendation for anyone who enjoys the voice of Jon Courtenay Grimwood. It would seem the trilogy format suits him so much better than the standalone novel. Definitely looking forward to the next instalment.