World Wide Words Issue 931 – WIF Style

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World Wide Words

Issue 931

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Not my pigeon

Q From Helen Mosback: I have just read a serialised version of John Rowland’s Calamity in Kent. It includes this: “In fact, it’s your pigeon, as they say in the civil service.” I was wondering if you could shed any light on the expression it’s your pigeon? I have to admit to being quite taken by the Polish expression not my circus, not my monkeys to indicate that something is not one’s problem, and would be very happy should I have found an equally enchanting English expression!pigeon_png_clipart-671

A Readers may not be familiar with John Rowland, a little-known and neglected British detective-story writer who published Calamity in Kent in 1950. The British Library has republished it this year in its Crime Classics series.

The date of his book is significant, since at that time the expression was more familiar to people in the countries of what is now the Commonwealth than it is now. It had come into the language around the end of the nineteenth century.

The idiom suggests something is the speaker’s interest, concern, area of expertise or responsibility. This is a recent British example:

If posh people aren’t your pigeon, the correspondence on display in this book will be a massive bore and irritation.
The Times, 8 Oct. 2016.

It also turns up in the negative in phrases such as “that’s not my pigeon”, denying involvement or responsibility in some matter.

Despite your analogy with the Polish expression, the pigeon here isn’t the animal. It’s a variant form of pidgin. The name is said to derive from a Chinese attempt to say the word business; the original pidgin, Pidgin English, was a trade jargon that arose from the seventeenth century onwards between British and Chinese merchants in ports such as Canton. The word pidgin is recorded from the 1840s and has become the usual linguistic term for any simplified contact language that allows groups that don’t have a language in common to communicate.

This is an early example of pidgin being used in the figurative sense:

We agreed that if anything went wrong with the pony after, it was not to be my “pidgin.”
The North-China Herald (Shanghai), 1 Aug. 1890.

Most early examples in English writing were spelled that way, though by the 1920s the pigeon form was being used by people who didn’t make the connection with the trade language.

Subnivean

Classical scholars will spot the wintry associations of this word; it derives from Latin nix for snow, which becomes niv- in compounds such as nivālis, snowy or snow-covered. Etymologists point out that the English snow and the Latin nix both ultimately derive from the same ancient Indo-European root. But then humans in Europe have long had plenty of experience of the white stuff.

About four centuries ago, English scholars borrowed nivālis to make the adjective nival to add to our snowy (though French got there first, at least a century earlier). We also have the more recent technical term nivation, not — as you might guess — meaning snowfall but the erosion of ground around and beneath a snow bank that is seasonally melting.

Subnivean is another member of the group, nearly two centuries old. This refers to something that happens underneath snow such as the activities of animals that survive winter beneath it.

Very recently that word has been joined by the linked noun subnivium for the area between soil surface and snowpack. It was coined by a group led by Jonathan Pauli of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They wrote in a paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment in June 2013: “For many terrestrial organisms in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is a period of resource scarcity and energy deficits, survivable only because a seasonal refugium — the ‘subnivium’ — exists beneath the snow.”

Black as Newgate knocker

Q From Jim Mitchell: As a child in South London, when I came in from playing and was a bit grubby my mother would say I looked as black as nookers nocker. My mother was born in 1917. I wonder if she might have heard this expression from her mother?

A It’s very probable. But not perhaps in that form. Your mother’s version is a mishearing of a Londoners’ expression that dates back in written records to 1881: black as Newgate knocker. It has also turned up in the forms black as Newker’s knocker, black as Nook’s knocker and black as Nugent’s knocker.

Curiously, though it has been in existence for more than a century and is currently not widely known, in writing it is now more often found than it has ever been, perhaps because it’s such an evocative item of historical Cockney slang. These days it almost always has an added apostrophe-s:

Her eyes really are black as Newgate’s knocker.
Sunday Times, 19 Jun. 1994.

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Newgate Exercise yard, 1872 by Gustave Doré

Newgate here refers to the notorious prison, originally created in medieval times in one of the turrets of Newgate, a main entrance through the walls into the City of London. Down the centuries the prison was rebuilt five times; it closed in 1902 and was demolished in 1904. The Central Criminal Court, better known as the Old Bailey, now stands on the site.

Newgate was a place of fear and loathing to many Londoners, not only criminals but also debtors, who were imprisoned there until they found a way to repay what they owed. After 1783, it was also the place where executions took place, initially on a public platform in front of the building, later inside. For most of its existence it was a noisome, dank, dark and unhealthy place to be incarcerated.

It’s not surprising that it should have been commemorated in expressions. But why not just black as Newgate? Why should its door knocker be selected as the source of the simile?

The phrase Newgate knocker itself is older. It was applied to a hairstyle fashionable among lower-class male Londoners such as costermongers. Though it became widely known from the 1840s, I’ve found a reference to it in the Kentish Gazette in 1781. It referred to a lock of hair twisted from the temple on each side of the head back towards the ear in the shape of a figure 6.

In 1851, Henry Mayhew wrote in his London Labour and the London Poor that a lad of about fourteen had told him that to be “flash” (stylish) hair “ought to be long in front, and done in ‘figure-six’ curls, or twisted back to the ear ‘Newgate knocker style’.” Eight years later, John Camden Hotten explained in his Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words that “The shape is supposed to resemble the knocker on the prisoners’ door at Newgate — a resemblance that carries a rather unpleasant suggestion to the wearer.” Another description came a couple of years later from another investigative social journalist, James Greenwood:

knockerAll, or nearly all, [were] bull-necked, heavy-jawed, and with the hair dressed after a fashion known among its patrons as the “Newgate knocker” style — that is, parted in masses on each side of the head and turned under unnaturally.
Illustrated Times (London), 16 Feb. 1861.

There’s no obvious connection with the colour black. We may guess, however, that Londoners would have imagined the prison’s knocker to be large and made of black iron as well as figuratively black because of its evil associations. We may also guess from the dates at which the two expressions were first current that Londoners took over the hairstyle phrase as a new way to describe the colour, as people have done for centuries with similes such as black as your hat, black as death, black as the ace of spades, black as thunder, and black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat.

As a postscript, I also found this, in a story from 60-odd years ago about the search by a journalist named Bernard O’Donnell for the original Newgate knocker:

His spasmodic search came to an end recently when he was in the office of the Keeper of the Old Bailey, Mr A W Burt. “Where is Newgate’s knocker?” he asked Mr Burt. Promptly it was shown to him. It was on the keeper’s desk. After years spent as a symbol which came to inspire dread among the poor of London, it had found a more useful rôle. It now makes an ideal paper weight.
The Scotsman, 24 April 1950.

Make of that what you will. I wonder if it still exists?

In the news

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Oxford Dictionaries announced its Word of the Year 2016 on 16 November: post-truth. Its editors defined this as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” One example came in a report in The Times on 31 October of comments by the president of the European Council on the signing of a trade deal with Canada:

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“Mr Tusk also denounced the ‘post-truth politics … on both sides of the Atlantic’ which nearly scuppered the deal because ‘facts and figures won’t stand up for themselves’ against an emotional opposition campaign.” Though it has been very much a word of this year, connected both with the Brexit referendum in the UK and the US presidential election, Oxford Dictionaries noted that “post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine.”

Last time I mentioned the Danish word hygge, a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. This has become widely popular in Britain this year, and was one of Oxford Dictionaries’ runners-up as Word of the Year. For the background and the story of its rise in British English, I can’t do better than point you to an article by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian on 22 November.Image result for post-truth

The newest British buzzword is jam. Not as in the “jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today” meaning of the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass — though the quip has been made several times by pundits — but as an acronym for “Just About Managing”. This refers to the estimated six million working-age British households on low to middle incomes who are struggling to stave off poverty from day to day. The term derives from a speech given by the new prime minister, Theresa May, just after she was chosen by MPs in July. She said of the members of this group, “You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.” Her words became a catchphrase among commentators which has now been shortened.

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Lots of letters

Lots of letters

Boxing Day

Q From Burt Rubin; a related question came from Keith Denham: As an American, I’ve always wondered about the origin of the term Boxing Day.

A Boxing Day is a public holiday in Britain and most Commonwealth countries. There’s some minor confusion these days, in Britain at least, over which day it actually is. The reference books a century ago were adamant that it was the first working day after Christmas Day. However, the name is now frequently attached specifically to 26 December, even if it falls at the weekend, which makes it equivalent to the Christian saint’s day of St Stephen.

Image result for boxing dayWe have to go back to the early seventeenth century to find the basis for the name. The term Christmas box appeared about then for an earthenware box, something like a piggy bank, which apprentices and other workers took around immediately after Christmas to collect money. When the round was complete, the box was broken and the money distributed among the company. The first known example:

Tirelire, a Christmas box; a box having a cleft on the lid, or in the side, for money to enter it; used in Related imageFrance by begging Fryers, and here by Butlers, and Prentices, etc.
A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, by Randle Cotgrave, 1611.

By the eighteenth century, Christmas box had become a figurative term for any seasonal gratuity. By the nineteenth century their collection seems to have become a scourge in our big cities. When James Murray compiled an entry for Christmas box in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1889, his splendidly acerbic description suggests that the practice had become a personal bugbear:

A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.

Though the term Boxing Day for the day on which such Christmas boxes were requested didn’t become widespread until early in the nineteenth century, a few examples are recorded from the previous century. The earliest I know of is this:

Related imageTuesday in Christmas Week, about Eight in the Evening, I was coming over this broad Place, and saw a Man come up to this lame Man, and knock him down — It was the Day after Boxing Day.
Transcript of a trial at the Old Bailey (London), 14 Jan. 1743.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the term seems to have become as closely associated with importuning individuals as Christmas Box itself:

“Boxing Day,” — the day consecrated to baksheesh, when nobody, it would almost seem, is too proud to beg, and when everybody who does not beg is expected to play the almoner. “Tie up the knocker — say you’re sick, you are dead,” is the best advice perhaps that could be given in such cases to any man who has a street-door and a knocker upon it.
Curiosities of London Life, by Charles Manby Smith, 1853.

The custom has died out, seasonal visitors to Britain may be assured, though small gifts are still sometimes given to tradesmen and suppliers of services. The favourite occupation of the day is attending football matches or rushing to the post-Christmas sales.

World Wide Words is written, edited and published in the UK by Michael Quinion. ISSN 1470-1448


World Wide Words Issue 931

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– WIF Style

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 32

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 32

…Four armed guards charge out of the left-hinged gate, the one in the lead asking, “Are you Aldona Afridi?”…

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All in all, Afridi has time to loosen the noose around his neck, having left the hardest roads behind. That he lives to tell the tale is testimony to his firm resolve and evidence of his good fortune.

The homemade taxi pulls up to the gates of the Ahmet Mosque, tall and unwelcoming. Four armed guards are-you-001charge out of the left-hinged gate, the one in the lead asking, “Are you Aldona Afridi?”

“I didn’t know what he was up to, I swear,” pleads the spineless driver, once an ally.

“Not you Cabbie! We are from the American Consulate, called here by your wife, she told us you would be coming.” Those are Marine uniformed men. “Pulls that hunk of junk into that garage and leave the keys with the Sergeant.”

Naturally they comply, while being led inside, then left alone. The young Turk comments, “Whoever you are or whatever you know, I am impressed Saied.”

“Fatima, my dear Fatima,” Afridi prays aloud.

“Your fat mother?”

He needs to fill in the gaping blanks, “My name is Aldona Afridi and my wife Fatima and my two daughters are probably inside somewhere.”

“And mine is Mehmet Ali Erim,” they embrace like old friends. “I own a taxi, what do you do?”

“I am a scientist not a criminal, and there evil men chasing me!”

“I am intrigued, but not surprised Saied Al. You act like a man with a scorpion in your pants.”

“Do not tell Mr. Erim anything else,” the embassy guards warn.

“They know my name!”Image result for spy

“They may have been listening when you introduced yourself,” Afridi remarks, being the “seasoned spy” that he has become.

 

They are escorted into the catacombs of the 3rd Century structure and shown separate rooms. The two shake hands, not knowing what the future holds.

Mehmet Ali Erim is briefly debriefed as a precaution and released to the streets and his next fare.

Aldona Afridi is grilled on a number of subjects, none of which mention his defection, so it is he who asks, “May I see my family and when can I speak to someone about the Space Colony?”space-colony-banner-001

The team of inquisitors is headed by Elliot Deming, Consulate General of the Turkish delegation based in Ankara. The very tall middle-aged American political appointee paces in front of Aldona, knowing that he has not heard the whole story. “The Ambassador to Turkey is scheduled to arrive in another hour. We cannot move on your wife’s suspicious information until the Ambassador personally speaks with the Secretary of State.”

“What I have to say cannot wait…I would not have risked my family’s lives for anything less!”

“We have to fully vet your story, I hope you understand?”

“No.” This is no time for governmental red tape. He hangs his weary and exasperated head.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 32


 

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Contents TRT

Lost Film Library – WIF @ The Movies

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Lost Films

They Should Find

With our world of ubiquitous digital storage and our ability to have, like, 150 Skyrim saves, it’s hard to believe it’s possible to lose something like a film. Alas, thanks to a multitude of factors (such as inadequate record keeping and people plain old not giving a crap), hundreds – if not thousands – of films from the halcyon days of cinema have been lost. Here are 10 that we think they should focus on trying to find first.

  Note: Given that many of these films quite literally no longer exist, plot details for some are sparse, but we’ve included as much information as we can.

10. The Unlicensed Batman Movie, Where he Fights Dracula: Batman Fights Dracula

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Over the years, hundreds of unlicensed of Batman products have been made without the permission of DC. Including, if you’re so inclined, the worst porno movie ever made, which is also, funnily enough, a lost film.

Since we like to keep things PG though, we’re instead going to talk about Batman Fights Dracula,an unlicensed Batman film in which the Dark Knight fights the Prince of Darkness, in the Philippines. Little is known about the film’s plot, but come on – do you really need to know anything to want to see a Filipino stuntman, dressed as Batman, punch a guy in Dracula cape?

All we have left from the film is a poster, which is frankly amazing. It shows Batman in a kung fu pose, squaring off against Dracula, who is apparently in the middle of kidnapping someone. From the poster it’s also clear that the film starred Batman’s kid sidekick, Robin, in some capacity – something we can tell from the large R on his costume. For some reason Batman, instead of having a large bat on his chest, has a silhouette of a man dunking a basketball. Something we assume was probably explained during the film, hopefully in a choreographed dance number.

9. The First Ever Voiced Anime: Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka

anime

Anime is a lot like vaping, in that it’s incredibly popular among a diverse group of people, but diehard fans who take it too seriously insist that it’s a niche interest. Even if you’re not a big fan of anime, something cool from your childhood – whether it’s the Power Rangers or Tekken 2 – owes some part of its existence to this genre of media.

Which is why it’s odd that what many consider to be the first example of anime featuring voiceover work is said to no longer exist, in any known form. Created in 1933, Chikare to Onna no Yo no Naka, or The World of Power and Women, follows the story of a man who cheats on his wife with his secretary. We’d say more about the story, but that’s literally all the information about it we have. Also it’s giving us flashbacks to our childhoods so we think it’s best to move on and talk about something less depressing. Like giant monster movies…

8. The Japanese Period Drama Starring King Kong: King Kong Appears in Edo

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Godzilla is considered a seminal work of Japanese cinema and is credited with being the genesis of the kaiju (giant monster) genre. Think the kind of movies Pacific Rim was an homage to. Weirdly though, there was a Japanese film starring a giant monster released nearly two decades before Godzilla starring the other OG of the giant monster world, King Kong, that has since been lost.

Released in 1938 and supposedly inspired by the success of the 1933’s King Kong, King Kong Appears in Edo is an unusual movie in that nobody is quite sure if the ape in the film is actually a giant or not (it appears giant in posters, but people who watched the movie don’t remember it being that big). What we do know is that, unlike Godzilla, which was a horror movie espousing the horrors and destructive power of nuclear weapons, this film was a period drama, that also just so happened to feature a giant rampaging gorilla as the title character. If you’re not saddened by the fact you will never see this movie, we think they sell senses of childlike wonder on eBay.

7. One of the Best Spy Dramas Ever Made: Squadron Leader X

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Recently there’s been a backlash of sorts against the glut of CGI-filled movies dominating the box office every summer. There has been a renewed appreciation for good old fashioned practical effects. Few people realize, though, just how old fashioned practical effects are. For example, consider the film Squadron Leader X, a 1943 spy thriller that features actual stunts and aerial dog-fights performed by actual members of the British Air Force during war time.Meaning the planes featured in this movie were real Allied planes, that had taken part in actualdog fights with the Axis, that the director somehow convinced to take part in pretend dog fights, for fun.

Contemporary reviews from the time called the film’s action scenes “among the most actionful and breath-taking ever screened” and we guess we’ll have to take their word for it, because no footage of them has survived.

6. The Gay Porno Starring Jesus: HIM

him

Okay so we kind of lied about wanting to keep things PG. But this one is too weird to not mention. Weird because the film was deemed so offensively unerotic that people genuinely don’t believe it ever existed. What little we know about the plot says that it focuses on a young man who becomes sexually fixated with Jesus. Which is, well…really weird. But hey, who are we to judge the kind of things people find sexy?

However, some people do feel like they have the right to judge, and there has been a genuine effort made to find this movie to prove it doesn’t exist, which seems kind of backwards to us. But everyone needs a hobby, we guess. So if you feel like you’re wasting time reading this article, remember there are people out there searching for a movie from the ’70s where Jesus does the horizontal hug with his fellow man.

5. Another Film About a Man in a Gorilla Costume Terrorizing Japan:Wasei Kingu Kongu

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We know what you’re thinking: we already did this entry, right? Well as it turns out, Japan was way more into King Kong than we ever realized. Released in 1933 (the same year as King Kong), Wasei Kingu Kongu (that’s the actual title) follows the adventures of a young man called Santa (that’s his actual name) who, inspired by the film King Kong, dons a gorilla costume and takes part in a stage show to earn money to impress a girl he likes.

However, while performing in the show Santa sees the girl he likes sitting in the audience with a boyfriend and, overcome with rage, begins rampaging around Tokyo while still wearing the gorilla costume. Tokyo police, thinking Santa is a real gorilla (he’s apparently a very good actor), give chase. Showing remarkable mental aptitude for a guy who thought “gorilla costume” was the way to woo a girl, Santa gorilla slaps his paramour’s new boyfriend, steals his wallet, and then puts the gorilla costume on him so he gets arrested instead.

Santa then uses the boyfriend’s own money to marry the girl of his dreams in what we suspect is the most baller move ever committed to film. While there’s no confirmation about what happened to the film, our working theory is that it’s still frozen solid somewhere because of how cool that ending is.

4. The Disney Movie, Before Disney: Le avventure di Pinocchio

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It says a lot about Disney as a company that they’re so powerful, folk stories that have existed for centuries – and in some cases, millennia – belong to them, because nobody would be willing to face down their legal department to make a Snow White or Pinocchio movie. Curiously, Disney as we know it today may never have existed if not for one Italian company abandoning – ironically – a Pinocchio movie.

That company was Cartoni Animati Italiani Roma (a company so dead it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page), who in 1936 were this close to releasing the first animated film ever made. The film would have basically been a retelling of the 1882 children’s story, The Adventures of Pinocchio, and would have beaten Disney to the punch of making the first animated film by an entire year. Budget concerns saw the entire film being canned before release, leaving behind over a hundred thousand drawings, and thousands of feet of film that has since disappeared like a fart in a wind tunnel.

Given that Snow White has grossed nearly half a billion dollars individually, and helped turn Disney into the corporate behemoth it is today, it’s easy to imagine what this film could have done for CAIR’s fortunes. Instead, the company imploded. Everyone involved lost their jobs, and Walt Disney went right ahead and bought the rights to the book and released his own version of the film a few years later just to rub it in.

3. The Bruce Lee Movie Where He Straight Up Murders People: The Big Boss, Original Mandarin Cut

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It’s no secret that we love us some Bruce Lee here at TopTenz. Which is why we’re all kinds of annoyed that there is a film starring our main man that we’ll never get to see. The Big Boss was the film that first catapulted Bruce Lee to fame, but as we’ve mentioned before, there’s a bunch of stuff cut from that movie including scenes of Bruce Lee killing people with gardening implements, and having sex with prostitutes.

As far as film buffs can tell, the only version of the movie with all that good stuff left in was the original 1971 Mandarin cut that has since disappeared. The content was apparently so shocking that the film was heavily edited soon after the first showing, and was edited further in compliance with the various censorship boards of the numerous countries it was shipped to overseas. As a result, the original, true version of this movie – the version the director and Bruce Lee wanted us to see, the version with all the ’70s era violence and sex left in – doesn’t exist anymore, and we hate that.

2. The Colorized Version of the Best Movie Ever Made: Citizen Kane

kane-colorized

We’re not going to waste valuable digital ink fawning over Citizen Kane, because there are like 8,000 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes already doing that. The film is rightfully considered a cinematic masterpiece, though at the time it was crapped on because the guy it was parodying threw a big temper tantrum. Figures.

Sometime in ’80s there were plans afoot to have the film colorized for a modern audience. That was something director, writer and magnificent beard owner Orson Welles vehemently opposed, allegedly quipping “don’t let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons” shortly before his death. Welles was so aversed to the idea of colorizing the film that he even included stipulations in his will that the film never be shown in anything other than black and white. Which didn’t stop Ted Turner and his crayons from doing it anyway.

*Note to everyone reading: if there’s one ghost you don’t want to annoy, it’s Orson Welles’

Supposedly, only the film’s final reel was colorized. To date only a single minute of this footage has ever surfaced, in an obscure ’90s documentary aired by the BBC. Of course thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can watch that minute right here and see how awful it is for yourself. Hey, speaking of fetid turds…

1. The Original (Better) Copy of One of the Worst Films Ever: Foodfight!

food-fight

The title of “worst film ever made” is paradoxically one that is more contested than the title of best, with dozens of films vying for the place beneath the scum at the bottom of the barrel. IfFoodfight! isn’t the worst film ever made, it is certainly a worthy contender.

In a nutshell, Foodfight! is an animated film detailing the adventures of various brand mascots in a fictitious supermarket. If you’re having trouble picturing it, just imagine what that new Seth Rogen animated movie would look like if he sold out harder than a special edition iPhone. The film is considered one of the most pandering, blatant, and offensive examples of product placement ever seen and featured animation so poor it wouldn’t look out of place in a Sonic game. It also stars Charlie Sheen, Christopher Lloyd, and Hillary Duff, and cost $45 million dollars to make.

The film’s producers maintain that the version we got looks like it was slapped together at the last second because it was, and that there exists a better, earlier version of the movie, as evidenced by trailers that somehow have significantly better animation quality. Supposedly this god-tier version of the film was stolen in – get this – an act of “industrial espionage” and they were forced to remake the entire movie using old assets and no money.

Sadly, the ninja who stole the film has never released it or uploaded it to a filesharing website, presumably to save us from having our eyes and heads melt like those Nazis who looked directly into the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.


 Lost Film Library

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– WIF @ The Movies

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 31

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 31

Was one of your fares a beautiful woman and two little girls perhaps?…

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Aldona Afridi continues his defection to save Space Colony 1

“We must cross the Golden Horn to get reach Galata.”

The Golden Horn is an inlet of the Bosporus, the narrow band of water separating them from the mosque. The main bridge that connects Galata to Stamboul is choked with evening traffic and in the waters below is Image result for the bosporus waterwaynearly as busy, with floating forms of alternative transportation. Boatmen take their fares in the same dinghies driven by a hundred generations, bobbing side-by-side with a number of larger commuter boats.

A certain ferry commands Aldona’s attention. He scans each bow for the name Mother of the Black Sea, the ship of escape for (his wife) Fatima and the girls. It may be either under-sail or moored, are they aboard or are they ashore, in the safe confines of the mosque?

“There are many a ferry tonight, Saied,” the driver notices his passenger’s keen interest.

“Is the Mother of the Black Sea one of them?”

“Oh yes Saied, the largest of them, with the many lights no doubt. It is docked for the night.” He smiles fondly at the thought; the daily visits by the Black Sea ferryboat are a boon to the taxis.

“Docked this afternoon you say? Did you have any fares from that boat?”

“Oh my yes Saied, every docking brings many fares.”

“Was one of your fares a beautiful woman and two little girls perhaps?”

“No, but I may have seen such a group coming down the ramp, more baggage than my humble cab can carry. I think poor Muhammad XXVII may have gotten them, not good for his bad back.

Related image

Turkish traffic

“Can we go faster; I need to get to the mosque yesterday?”

“We will kill more than pecking chickens…The world has gone mad for haste….”

“I don’t care; get us out of this stagnant mess.”

Never let it be said that a good taxi driver does not enjoy a challenge, especially if it involves driving obnoxiously; foot to pedal, hand on horn.

And the race is on!! The resourceful combination of a jet ski and a golf cart squirts through gaps barely wider than a bicycle, prompting Afridi to scrunch his shoulders and close his eyes. But as in old movie sight-gag, they magically appear on the other side, clear of the bottleneck.

So with the trail of tangled auto, with their fist-shaking drivers behind, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque is mere minutes away in Galata, the commercial hub of Old Constantinople.

All in all, Afridi has time to loosen the noose around his neck, having left the hardest roads behind. That he
lives to tell the tale is testimony to his firm resolve and evidence of his good fortune. When he was back in that cold river, bullets splashing like rain around him, his long term welfare was undecided at best. Hopefully there will be sympathetic ears to hear his story, at the end of his cross-continental campaign, ending here in the land of the Great Crusades.

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THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 31


 

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 30

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 30

…“One thousand perfect virgins in Heaven!” The taxi-man looks Afridi up and down…

ok-now-what

A scientist is accustomed to having the answers to most everything; killers at trivial pursuits, that leave mere mortals with that dirty, uneducated feeling. Yet few of his fringe information will be helping him out here and now. This bustling Arab city will confound the most worldly of traveler, especially virgin travelers, who lack logistical confidence.

Image result for vistaprintBut he does have a rudimentary travel visa, Abdullah Ashtaar’s 2×3 VistaPrint passport, none more useful in a cosmopolitan area that includes the merging of four to five ancient metropolises. He reflects on the actions he will take from here on in and those vexatious global ramifications.

Topping any agenda is to locate his family in this muslin clothed morass. His newly acquired impulsive streak has placed both him and them in danger. He is driven by his good conscience, hoping for good results.

His destination is the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, somewhere in this undiplomatic state, but where? He had had a plan when he concocted it about 36 hours ago, but now for the life of him, he cannot recall that reasoning.

Possible rejoinders and other anonymities lay before his very eyes. Where else in the world can you lose Related imageyourself, like a carelessly pitched-penny disappearing thru a crack in the cobblestones? Oriental or Jew, black, white, red or brown, you name it and who is there that cares? Only a Martian or the Man in the Moon would stand out in this city.

Certainly Aldona Afridi can locate his family in order to secure the future for them…..along with nine and ninety billion others and their descendants.

Never let it be said that Istanbul does not care for her guests. Afridi was lost, obvious to even the most casual observer. One such well-meaning native drives a souped-up rickshaw-taxi and nearly runs over two other pedestrians to get to a good fare. That stray bandy-rooster in his way is not so lucky, a left behind meal for the people of the street.

abdullah-ashtaar-001“Hey man, where can I take you,” asked without asking, Image result for the golden horn istanbuldriving on without direction?

“The Sultan Ahmet Mosque,” Afridi flashes the conductor’s gift keycard to Constantinople.

“One thousand perfect virgins in Heaven!” The taxi-man looks Afridi up and down, trying to guess the nature of his business, why he is possession of a key to the Turkish underground. “We must cross the Golden Horn to reach Galata.”


 THE RETURN TRIP

Sultan Ahmet Mosque - Istanbul by shhhhh-art deviantart.com

Sultan Ahmet Mosque – Istanbul
by shhhhh-art deviantart.com

Episode 30


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 29

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 29

…You can disembark any time you like, but you can never leave.” On a dark desert byway, dusty breeze in my hair, the warm smell of opiates rising up in the air…

constantinople-001

Afridi must have drifted off, despite an effort to keep one of them peeled. The sun is giving back the day, silhouetting the domes of Constantinople’s many mosques, and others who have chosen this old city as a destination, begin to stir noisily. This entire foreign hubbub trims the much welcomed mental respite for a psychologically fatigued traitor/defector/fugitive/ husband/father.

The conductor/funnyman goes out of his way to sweep Aldona’s berth, perhaps feeling personally responsible for the success of whatever the man is up to. Surely he has done the same for an untold number of equally fascinating patrons.

“I was awake, sir,” responds Afridi to the bonus care. “Say, please take these as a token.

afghan-noteHe takes possession of several rumpled Afghani notes given him and is truly impressed, so much so that he reaches into his own pocket to fetch a business card, which is printed with magnetic resonance. “Use this in Istanbul, a value that trumps

money; it contains my name, the password is “ByZantium”. Please know that it is abdullah-ashtaar-001electronically case sensitive.

He hands him his card.

Double A meets double AA. “Your kindness will rewarded by the Creator of us all. Perhaps we will meet again.”

You can disembark any time you like, but you can never leave.” On a dark desert byway, dusty breeze in my hair, the warm smell of opiates rising up in the air…

Aldona Afridi extracts what he can from the cryptic statement, while holding a key to a most ancient of world capitals in his hand. Within moments the bullet train swooshes to an abrupt stop, compelling people and objects to spill to the front of each car; standers go down, sitters double over, and sleepers tumble in their blankets. Those new brakes really work.

But they have arrived at Marmaray Station as promised, safely and on time.

ok-now-what


THE RETURN TRIP

Constantinople by Gianomo Franco

Map of the island of Constantinople, created in 1597 by the Venetian Giacomo Franco

Episode 29


 

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 28

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 28

“…this must be your 1st trip on the New Orient Expressmy lonely friend.”…

meanwhile-caption-001

In 2030, again/after a famed and fabled past, the New Orient Express,that had halted the contiguous run in 2009, from Paris all the way through to Istanbul, a train-traveler can still take a bullet (oops) train from one end to the other; 2000 luxurious European kilometers.

Orient Express route

Route of the old Orient Express

Writers have forever taken advantage of its romantic whistle-stops and melting pot passenger list. Taken at face value, the spin of those yarns will have the seats of this long-train runnin’ occupied, in large part, by spies, opiate dealers, murderers, and the like.

In the second to last car is the restaurant coach and seated in the rear, trying his hardest to look inconspicuous {innocent}, is Aldona Afridi. Now you can add a Talibanistani defector to the list of unusually unusual passengers; fitting right in with the stereotypical fictional ne’er-do-wells. Just don’t stare at them.

Related imageIn an attempt to make a goose-chase out of his flight to freedom thereby covering his tracks, Afridi had flown to Paris, instead of the logical land-way across the Persian Plain and Euphrates Valley, where Nutkani and his tribesmen were previously nipping at his heels.

The most gregarious of the conductor corps strolls down the aisle, stopping to chat with folks of all derivations, some of which would rather not, acting as if they were all long-lost friends. Afridi chooses Conductor“mute” as his origin, but is compelled to mouth, “What time Istanbul?”

“Last stop Bucharest…” he shares his answer, then pointedly asking, “…this must be your 1st trip on the New Orient Express, my lonely friend.” After 20 hours on the rapid rail, passengers should be more aware of the schedule.

“Will we get there before dusk?” he rephrases, hoping to elicit a more precise response from the mustachioed kibitzer.

“Romanian officials are asking questions, searching the whole train…for a defector my instinct tells me.”

Just what Afridi wanted to hear; like a priest preaching a sermon on hell in front of pews packed with hardcore sinners? Had he known that the rascally conductor was pulling his strange-unusualleg, using his uncanny ability to guess why passengers have chosen to ride this disreputable rail, Aldona would have been spared the mounting anxiety that threaten to make a wreck of him.

Chuckling on his way, the conductor whispers cryptically, “You will arrive at railhead before dark, my itchy friend. People who choose the New Orient Express are immune from border inspections…just be aware of the  people around you!”

The jovial ticket taker’s laugh echoes loudly, yet the cause of his amusement seems of little consequence to the other diners. Anonymity is the unspoken creed of this illustrious train.


THE RETURN TRIP

new-orient-express-001

Episode 28


 

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