Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Year in Revue

It’s time for my annual New Year’s Eve arts review. Music was (for me) a little thin this year, except that Florence + the Machine released High as Hope, from which the singles ‘Big God’ and especially ‘Hunger’ were remarkable. The imagery of the music video for ‘Hunger’ is intensely eucharistic—a statue that seems to provoke religious rapture in multiple people, with holes in its hand and its chest (one person puts his finger into the latter, like St Thomas), from which plants are shown growing; a man whispering into another man’s ear in a wide, church-like building, irresistibly evocative of both confession and the intimacy of lovers; the use of arches, stained glass, and light falling from above; a kneeling man surrounded by men who have laid their hands on his shoulders, as if consecrating him; the very title of the song (originally rooted in her confession of an eating disorder, and then reworked as a reference to desire in general); and the overpowering line You make a fool of death with your beauty. Every time I watch it I am reduced to tears.

Van Hansis and Kit Williamson as Thom and Cal in EastSiders

Film and television were stronger. I actually went to theaters to see two different movies this year: Love, Simon and A Quiet Place, both of which I reviewed; Netflix’s Alex Strangelove was a fun, forgettable knockoff of the former. There were a number of excellent TV shows I discovered, though I was often late to the game. Kit Williamson’s EastSiders, a dark gay comedy set in LA which I think wrapped up its final season this year, has some of the best acting I’ve ever seen and a very biting humor; Ken Arpino’s The Queens Project on YouTube (a show I admit I only started watching for B. J. Gruber’s pecs), a light gay comedy set in New York, is a witty, endearing, ludicrous delight, and they had better make a fourth seasons or I will be extremely angry. Big Mouth is an animated surrealist comedy about adolescence, the brainchild of Nick Kroll and featuring John Mulaney among others: it released a mostly-disappointing and frequently disgusting (but not in a funny way) second season this year, but the first season was golden and I retain the hope that the third season will be a return to form.

Finally, the second and fifth seasons of American Horror Story (Asylum and Hotel) were quite engaging, and the seventh, Cult, was an outright masterpiece that proves that Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson between them should have all of the academy awards forever. Asylum, set principally in a Catholic institute for the insane in the 1960s, got rather squirrely and didn’t really seem clear on what arc it wanted for the monsignor’s character; on the other hand, Frances Conroy’s performance as the Angel of Death was beautiful, and Jessica Lange as Sister Jude was by turns infuriating, tragic, and winsome, a masterful execution of an exceptionally complex character. Hotel, which famously featured Lady Gaga in a leading role, was more cohesive, and showcased the wider talent of Peters and Paulson, as well as Mare Winningham and Kathy Bates; it combines vampires on the one hand with serial killers and ghosts on the other, with the rewarding effect of keeping both properly horrifying, striking the balance that Anne Rice successfully did (and that her successors have cheapened) between humanity and monstrosity which makes such creatures artistically interesting in the first place.

But Cult is head and shoulders above its predecessors. I can think of one plot problem; that is the sole charge I have to lay against it. Set during and after the 2016 election, it follows both a quasi-political cult centered on the charismatic but unbalanced Kai Anderson (played by Peters), and the terrorizing of Ally Mayfair-Richards (Paulson) by possibly hallucinatory clowns: partly as a nod to the unbelievably creepy real life clown sightings of 2016, and partly because come on, clowns are that disturbing. I won’t spoil it—unless you are a Patreon sponsor, in which case I’ve posted a spoileriffic review of the thematic links between AHS: Cult and the fairy-tale The Snow Queen, many of them revolving around the often-forgotten plot element of the evil mirror that lies behind the latter story: the mirror shows only the ugliness of the world, and has been broken into countless shards that are scattered through the world. The acting, writing, pace, and costumes in Cult are all extraordinary, which, given the complexity of the plot (much of which is rooted in 60s and 70s despite the contemporary setting) and of some of the principal roles (especially Peters’ and Paulson’s), is a laudable accomplishment. I recommend it to anyone who has any taste for horror.

The Snow Queen by Elena Ringo, 1998

And last of all, to my ten chief readerships the world over:

Happy New Year
С Новым Годом
Bonne Année
Щасливого Нового Року
Frohes Neues Jar
Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku
Bhliain Nua Sásta
سنه جديده سعيده
শুভ ণববষ
Feliz Ano Novo

See you all in 2019!

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