Sunday, May 14, 2006

It is regrettable that ...

... I have come, only ten or twelve years late, to the blogging party. (According to Wikipedia, the first "online diary", as apparently these objects were originally known -- before the nomenclature ascended to the incontrovertible bliss of the word 'blog' -- was started in 1994; although, tantalisingly, this information comes without any mention of what the site was, by whom it was run, and whether it still exists today.) Also regrettable is that the slightly more memorable address is already taken.

I'm not sure yet what the content of this blog will be (I haven't taken the intelligent step I've seen others take, of preparing content first and only starting a blog once enough has accumulated that they are sure their pages won't be a lonely 'Here I am' post for six to seven years; no, rather, in reading someone else's blog I was suddenly seized by the thought that I would have my own, and, deliberation not being for me, here it is), but I have a vague idea that it'll be a place where -- wallow, O reader, in the originality -- I will comment on the books and movies (and, to a lesser degree, music) of the moment.

After much eager waiting on my part, I have just finished watching Riget II, the sadistic exercise with which Lars von Trier walloped his dedicated fans not too long after they recovered from the sadistic exercise of Riget I. (Well, Riget I was no more Riget I than World War I was World War I -- as it were -- but in retrospect the title is natural.) I can't remember how I discovered the original -- I think I saw a preview for it while watching a ghost movie which tried, with almost touching desperation, to be artsy, but could manage only to muster a bit of nudity -- but I got my hands on it as soon as I could (a slightly difficult prospect, given that had not yet made the rare and out of print as easily accessible as it is today; again I can't remember exactly where I got it, but it took a bit of a search to do so). I sat down to watch it, and was captivated and enthralled. It is four episodes of a TV miniseries, and I had planned only to watch the first one in my first sitting, but I couldn't stop and ended up watching them all at once. The plot is a mixture of horror and humour (I can't resist the slight alliteration) which could easily have gone wrong in other hands -- I seem to remember that From Dusk to Dawn tried it, and I certainly remember that that movie was a dismal failure, whatever the genre was to which it was supposed to belong -- but which, in von Trier's, was manipulated so deftly that the contradictory moods expertly played off and enhanced, instead of weakening, one another. The climax of the movie mixes the two so brilliantly that (at least on first viewing, when one doesn't know what to expect) one is simultaneously weak with the tension of wondering what will happen, and laughing at the absurdity of the way events unfold. The movie impressed me so much with its director that, over the next few years, I snapped up whatever of his I could get and watched it, but nothing else worked such magic on me; indeed, nothing else even seemed particularly accomplished. (Some of his movies -- like The Element of Crime -- were strange and unrewarding exercises in surreality; some of them -- like the famous Breaking the Waves -- were just cruel, a quality of his which seems only to have become more pronounced with his later films. I haven't yet seen Five Obstructions.) Anyway, after these disappointments, I was stunned to discover that there was a sequel (actually, the original ends in a way that cries out for a sequel, but, as I mentioned, I thought this was just von Trier's way of catching our attention and frustrating our expectations), and immediately set about trying to get hold of it. By this time, I had become familiar with the wonder that was, but Riget II was never released in North America, and even the Marketplace had no copies of it to offer me.

I resigned myself to being perpetually unable to see Riget II -- because, you see, though I now knew of I was not yet familiar with It would be more years yet before I would become sufficiently comfortable with even to use it, and then a while longer still before it occurred to me that surely in this venue I could satisfy my (by now) ages-old search. Sure enough, I found a seller in London who had a copy, and, though the shipping to the US was immense, it was worth it to me, so I began bidding. There was someone else who wanted it, and we engaged in a fierce bidding war -- in which I, as I think so many first-time e-Bayers, found somewhat to my surprise that the amount I had set as my final and absolute spending limit for the DVD was in fact actually far less than I was willing to bid once the fight was underway. The auction was to end in four days, and I was checking literally almost every waking hour, indeed at times dreaming about this movie, in my anxiety to get my hands on it. (Around this time I convinced my wife -- who is not at all a fan of horror movies -- to watch the movie, thinking that, when she gasped in frustration at the movie's tantalisingly open-ended ending, I could spring on her the welcome news that she had only a little while to wait before seeing how all was resolved.) As we came into the final minutes I was checking every five minutes, which turned out to be a good idea (or so I thought then), as the other bidder, after about a day's silence, sniped (if that is the proper use of the verb) literally a last-minute bid. I put in my higher bid, which brought the total to $95, including shipping.

Aha! I had won! My satisfaction was dampened only slightly by the fact that, when I checked my e-mail shortly thereafter, I found that the seller had sent me a mail about an hour before the auction ended saying that I didn't have to bid so high, as he had another copy of the DVD which he would be putting up for auction after this one ended. I wrote to him thanking him for the sentiment, but opining that it was a bit late now; and he graciously gave me a small credit, something like $15, which brought the total cost down in the neighbourhood of $80. (Some masochistic impulse within me caused me to search for not longer after I had concluded the auction, only to notice that there was a US seller selling it for about three quarters of the price. Over this I gritted my teeth a bit.) This I paid -- and then I waited.

I will save you, dear reader, the agony of waiting with me, as months go by, and the seller responds to mails no longer on a daily basis but every few weeks, always with plausible reasons why he hasn't been able to respond, and always with a plausible excuse for why the DVD mightn't have arrived. When it becomes clear that the delay is ridiculous, and I threaten to leave negative feedback, the seller agrees to send me another copy; when it becomes further clear that this second copy will never arrive, and I further threaten negative feedback, the seller says (after a sufficiently long delay that the three-month deadline has expired both for feedback and for a refund through that he will send me yet another copy. To this I agree, and, eventually, this (hypothetically) third mailing does arrive -- but it is four (two for the original, two for the sequel) DVDs-R. On consulting the seller's most recent mail to me, I see that the sentence "I will have to send you a copy if you want", which I took to be a lamentation of the need to mail me a third copy of the DVD, actually meant that he would be sending me just that -- a copy, not an original. (I still don't know whether this guy intended all the time to send me only a copy -- I guess that's most likely -- or actually had the misfortune of losing two copies in the mail.) Oh well. My goal is to see the content of the DVD, not the DVD itself, so, though this is a disappointment, after all this time -- six years since I started looking! -- I am willing to settle for this, and I take the DVD home, where my wife, just as eager as I am by now to find how the saga continues, sits down with me to watch it.

All is happiness now, and all is joy, as we sit down to watch it. For about an hour our joy (fettered only by the abysmally poor subtitles) frolics, until suddenly the DVD player chokes and stops. There is a bad sector, perhaps, or a scratch, or something which is keeping the finicky DVD player from being happy enough to proceed. (It is possible to fast-forward past the bad patch, once one knows where it is, at the expense of missing about thirty seconds of the movie, but then there is another one just a little farther on past which one cannot fast-forward.) Not one to be so easily kept from my prize, I take the DVD to my computer and rip the VOBs, determined at least to watch the movie on the computer -- which seems like a reasonable, if again disappointing, plan, until I come to the later bad patch mentioned above, and discover that, though the movie does resume again, it does so only after about ten minutes' worth of unwatchable 'test screen'-type colour blocks. Despite my wife's urgings that ten minutes out of four hours' worth of movie is not really that much, I am bitterly disappointed, and shelve the DVD (comforting myself only with the sour-grapes justification that it probably wouldn't have lived up to the original anyway). My mail to the seller, suggesting that if, after four months' wait, all I have to show for my trouble is a copied DVD which is not even playable, then at least he could refund a small percentage of the charge, goes (surprise!) unanswered. If anyone out there wants -- say, for a 'Fraudsters of e-Bay' collection -- a bad print of Riget II, it can be had for only a nominal fee.

About two weeks ago (nearly a year after the debacle mentioned above), the masochistic impulse I mentioned seized me again, and I searched on e-Bay. A US seller was selling Riget II, available to Buy Now, for $16.95! This deal could not be resisted (though I tried) and I snapped it up. The seller sent no confirmation e-mail, despite my mailing him asking him to do so, and about a week went by with no sign of the DVD, so dire thoughts were filling my head; but, at the close of the week, the DVD arrived. This was the DVD itself, not a copy, and shrink-wrapped to boot. My spirits were high, though I tried to temper them, and once more I sat down with my wife to watch Riget. I hit play, sat down to watch -- and, after about an hour, the movie stopped playing, and returned us to the menu screen.

This, one following the adventures of our hero must say, is enough, indeed is too much. I was contemplating whether some such masculine remedy as punching a hole through a wall might not be the appropriate response to the problem, and mumbling various demented things to myself, when my wife (to whom all praise) pointed out that, in my hurry to navigate the architecture of the DVD (whose menus are all in Chinese), I had chosen only to play an individual scene, not the entire movie. We found the 'Play All' menu selection, pressed it, and sat back to watch -- and, despite one or two small burps in the sound and (as I mentioned above) the terrible subtitling, all went smoothly. The movie played. After the negligible outlay of $100, I had finally acquired a (working!) copy of Riget II!

My seven-year quest has reached its end. Trumpets sound, angels chorus, and everyone, without knowing quite why, sleeps now a little bit easier. After four hours, I finally know how the tale of the denizens of the Rigshospitalet continue -- and what to say? It's not a very good sequel. Oh, well. (Lars von Trier planned, and indeed wrote, a third installment -- the second ends on just as much of a cliffhanger as the first, although it feels less earned -- but three of the principals died, so I think everyone has essentially given up hope of its ever being filmed. Apparently Stephen King had access, while remaking the series, to the scripts for the third season, but, again according to Wikipedia, it's not clear whether or not he actually made any use of them.)


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