QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded


Stalker

A little over ten years ago I watched Tarkovsky's Solaris, I rated it "three mysteriously reappeared wives out of five", but after all this time my memory of it is more two of five.

Anyway, I saw HBO recommending Stalker to me. Made seven years after Solaris, this film was Tarkovsky's last Soviet film, and it probably was the death of him. A couple of the actors and Tarkovsky all died of cancer and some people suspect chemical exposure from the filming locations used in Stalker. I started this film without realizing it was the same director as Solaris, which is good because I probably wouldn't have watched it at all if I had remembered.

The slow pace, and lingering shots are more of a match for Stalker than that other film. One can see thematic similarities, but this is much more about a journey and the psychological toll the trip takes on people than mysterious thing at the end of that journey. The alien intelligence in Solaris grants wishes, of a sort, apparently as a method of attempting communcation with humans. Here there's an unseen thing, possibly alien, in a "Room" at the heart of "The Zone" filling a similar grant wishes role.

Entering the Room at the heart of The Zone gets those wishes, which is why people try to get there. Armed guards protect the borders, and unseen threats apparently lurk within. This movie focuses on a guide (the "Stalker") who knows how to find a safe path to the Room and his two customers, Professor and Writer, who have reasons to visit the Room. Getting to the threshold is 95% of this 160 minute film.

If you're a fan of urbex photography, or Chernobyl Exclusion Zone nature taking over mankind's work, then the slow shots of beautiful decay and nature's reclaimation of industrial sites in Stalker are quite pretty and help alleviate the plodding plot. I watched it in two viewing sessions. There's a on-screen title indicating that an intermission was probably part of the original plan.

You can read a lot of allegory in this story, but ultimately it's hard to say what it really means. Nevertheless I think it is a lot better than reappearing wives above a roiling planet wide ocean. Call this four improvised trap detecting projectiles out of five.

Stalker at imdb
Stalker at wikipedia

Wikipedia has a link to it on youtube, but it is "unavailable" when I check there. I don't know if that's a region block thing or something else. I am not really well versed in youtube errors and restrictions. Also wikipedia: "an average shot length of more than one minute" while typical Hollywood films average a tenth of that.

Clothing that kills


Sometime in the last year I watched Slaxx. I thought I wrote about it at the time somewhere, but I don't find it in my blog here, archives of Usenet posts, or archives of forum posts. More recently I watched In Fabric. Both movies feature an article of clothing that is cursed and kills the people who wear it. That's probably about where the similarities end, but I couldn't stop making mental comparisons to Slaxx while watching In Fabric.

Slaxx at imdb (2020 Canadian comedy horror)
In Fabric at imdb (2018 British horror comedy)

Slaxx is an obvious low budget production for younger audiences that like horror. There's a nightmarish retail store and the staff in it are the first victims of a pair of unisex trousers that look good but also thirst for blood. In this movie you can see a puppet pair of jeans dance to a Bollywood music tune.

In Fabric is an arty piece where a shop with low budget 1980s comercials lures people in to sell a very red size 36 dress that seems to fit anyone who tries it on, but they all end up dead shortly thereafter. In this movie you will see a mannequin with pubic hair and a bleeding gash.

There's probably no cast in Slaxx that you've heard of, while In Fabric has a number of people who have done things, even if they aren't huge stars. Gwendoline "Brienne of Tarth" Christie makes an appearance, does not wear the dress, but is near it and survives an attack.

The source of the curse is very clearly explained in Slaxx and it follows typical horror curse logic right at home in, say, Chucky (Child's Play). Slaxx also has as much psychological horror from the retail working conditions as it has threats to humans by the bloodthirsty pants. This aspect gives me a good idea of the target audience.

The source of the curse In Fabric is not clearly explained, and follows the hinted at horrors I associate with A24 Films, like say Heriditary. (I don't think A24 had anything to do with this, and this is further towards the "art house" end of the film spectrum than their works.) Everyone working at the store that sells the dress is supremely odd and you get the impression that the killer dress serves them in some sort of black magic sex way.

Slaxx overall rating of one Instagram influencer out of four. (Or two out of four if cheesey horror is your cheese.)

In Fabric: four hellish sewing machines out of eight. (Five or more if mannequins are your fetish. In that case, see also The Duke of Burgundy by the same director, which is much more erotic but the mannequins are more minor characters.)

Note to Self


In the communication tool Slack (app and web versions of a modern IRC type system), one can send direct messages to people or bot accounts, and also send direct messages to oneself.

Slack bills the direct messages to self as "Jot something down" and it has a little bit of use as a notepad for remembering something. Originally I mostly used it for testing formatting of messages, after which I could cut and paste a proof-read and correctly formatted message to another place.

But recently I have found that the most useful thing I get out of direct messages to myself is very fast transmission of short messages to other devices. In particular it is a great way to send a link privately from one computer to another when both sit on the same desk but on different VPNs. It's faster than email by a long shot, and faster (but perhaps because I am already logged in on both systems) than many other web storage methods, like Github Gist or similar.

For space reasons, I've found that some links are best "code" quoted using backticks like one would for inline preformatted text in markdown. Those links are clickable but do not expand with a preview pane.

Speaking of "clickable links", there's a new Unicode Toy now, the Interleave Whitespace tool. My initial use case was "easily adding zero width spaces (zws) to things to break automatic linkage. After some thought, I decided to generalize it to adding and removing whitespace. Stripping zero width characters from text is hard to do manually, and normalizing whitespace that can include non-breaking spaces, zero width spaces, special sized spaces like hair space or em quad, is marginally difficult and very tricky if you are working with just a few words for a Slack message or Tweet.