Thursday, July 29, 2010

Anne Rice and Christ(ianity)

There was a time in my life when Anne Rice was my absolute favorite author. I was a huge fan of her vampire books, although I preferred brooding moralist Louis over renegade extremist Lestat. Rice is arguably responsible for the cultural resurgence of vampire fiction from the 1980s on. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian of course reach back to Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), but both owe their popularity in our society to Rice's work as well. Rice also wrote about the Mayfair witches, another series that was fascinating in its genealogical construct and magical lore. She also wrote erotica and S&M fiction, but few people realize that she wrote historical fiction too. Her book Cry to Heaven, for example, was about 18th-century Italian castrati and was written with such lush language that it read like an Italian Rococo painting. I was privileged at one point to meet her at a book signing and asked for an interview about that book because I was presenting a conference paper on it. She agreed, and I had the unique opportunity to talk to her for 30 minutes on the telephone. She truly brought New Orleans to life in much of her writing, and people (me included) flocked from all over to find her house in the Garden District.

Then came the death of her husband and her diabetic coma. It's too easy to attribute these things alone to her conversion, but thereafter Rice became what one might suggest was a born-again Christian. She wrote two novels about the life of Christ, and a confessional of sorts about why she was leaving the supernatural behind her and rededicating herself to Christ. Her fans were devastated, including the numerous gay fans among her following. I won't say I was as distraught as others, because by this time my literary taste had begun to move in other directions (although I do still collect her work and read it at times). What always struck me about her Christian conversion was how this related to her relationship with her son, novelist Christopher Rice, who is openly gay.

Things, however, are ever evolving. Yesterday, news broke on some gay blogs that Rice had posted on her Facebook page that she was leaving Christianity behind. This is what she wrote: "In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen." Of course there has been a flurry of activity on her page with hundreds of comments (which I'm ignoring), but her latest post, from about 5 hours ago, clarifies where she stands on her faith at this time: "My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become."

I have to admit, I'm fascinated by this. It's not that I'm happy she's denigrating Christianity, because that isn't it at all. But I do like that she is nuancing the very specific idea of Christ and his teachings from the religious doctrine that has spawned from his words for over 2000 years, interpreted and reinterpreted by humans--like you and me--who simply saw things in their own way and then convinced others of the righteousness of their way, to the exclusion of all other possibilities, and in the process the obfuscation of Christ's simple teachings. All you have to do is read the Gospels of the New Testament to see very clearly that Christ was, above all things, about love. Not judgment, punishment, or anything that signifies hate or pain. Just love. So kudos to Anne for recognizing this and reminding all of us not to judge but to love. Hm, maybe I will read Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt now.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review: Lesbians, Sorcerers, and Toys, Oh My!

Going to see a movie in NYC now runs you $12.50, assuming you're not a child or senior, and you're going to the now rather comfortable megaplex-like theater. Needless to say, I don't go to the movies as much anymore, not unless it's to see something I'm very interested in. This month was an exception, as I went to see 3 movies: The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Toy Story 3, and The Kids Are All Right.

Of the three, Sorcerer's Apprentice was the disappointment. It had the potential for being a great fantasy action film, and while the special effects were fine and it had a few intense moments, it became more like a Disney Channel special than an action film. We could have done without the sappy love story, in other words. Drawing on the historical legacy of Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice in the animated short first seen in Fantasia (1940), this live-action version tells the story of Dave (Jay Baruchel), a nerdy science geek and NYU student, who becomes an apprentice to the sorcerer Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), himself a former apprentice of Merlin. New Yorkers will be exasperated by the manipulation of the City's urban landscape: the West 4th subway stop, for instance, is not an above-ground station, and there is no way anyone would follow another person on foot from NYU's campus in the Village all the way to the Chrysler Building on 42nd & Lexington and not have caught up to them along the way. If you see the movie, make sure you get there for the opening though, because the backstory in the first five minutes is a bit complex. As for me, I think I'll go back and enjoy the Mickey Mouse version, or Paul Dukas's 1897 symphonic poem, or Goethe's 1797 poem.

I went to see Toy Story 3 on the 4th of July. This is easily a must-see film of the year, even if you've never seen the previous two films. Although targeted to children and followers of Disney's cowboy Woody and spaceman Buzz Lightyear franchise, the movie appeals to everyone (although I'm not sure children under the age of 7 should see it). It taps into every human emotion about growing up, memories of our past, and the ongoing legacy we leave behind for others. If you don't get teary-eyed by the end of the movie, there's something wrong with you. Aside from that, however, it is simply hilarious, with the appropriate amount of double-entendre humor that appeals to adults on a different level. Case in point: metrosexual Ken Doll steals every scene he's in. But like all good fairy tales, there has to be frightening moments and a villain too, and this movie has its share, demonstrating how as lovable and cuddly as some toys are, there are others that are just freaky. The recent craze for 3D movies is getting ridiculous, but in this instance it works because the cinematic experience surrounds you and it doesn't insult you by having things flying into your face. Go see this movie. You'll love it.

Finally, for some witty realistic bantering, superb acting, and a broadening of one's understanding about what defines sexual orientations like straight and gay, go see The Kids Are All Right (image, above, from the movie's official website). This film is about a lesbian couple, Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) who have two children from the same sperm donor. In California, the identity of the sperm donor can be revealed if all parties involved are willing. Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) decide they want to meet their biological father. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a seemingly leftover hippie, who meets his children and gradually becomes closer to the entire family. Well, almost everyone in the family. The movie has warm humor, thanks to director/writer Lisa Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg. These are real people facing real-life relationship issues, and the awkwardness and sexual tension that prevails throughout the movie just makes it all the more true to life. It's rare for American actresses to be willing to reveal all of themselves, without cosmetics, in all their glory, and it's so refreshing to see Moore take this risk throughout the film. It makes her even more beautiful than she already is. Ruffalo repulsed me early on, but as the movie progressed his charm seriously started to turn me on. Bening, however, is superb. It's almost impossible to describe the subtle energy she brings to this role, but it is through Bening's character that the movie takes its very serious turn of events and comes full circle in a way that makes you realize how real these characters are. This movie isn't for everyone (homophobes, closed-minded intolerables, fundamentalist Christian freaks), but for the rest of us who are open to the sheer experience of living, don't miss this film.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Remembering Momma

My mother, Kathleen Pape Ferrari, died four years ago today. Sometimes I find myself shocked at how fast the time has gone by, but other times it seems like ages ago. I gave a eulogy that focused on funny parts of her life, because to be honest my mother was a little nuts. The essay below was something I wrote shortly afterwards, expanding my thoughts from the funeral, hoping one day to share these memories with others. Today seemed like a good day. The essay is a little long, but I think you'll enjoy it and appreciate the message it conveys.

Roberto C. Ferrari

Four years ago, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to speak at my mother’s funeral service. This may seem like an odd memory to cherish, but for me it was special because it gave me an opportunity to share with family and friends my thoughts and memories about her. My family had been so focused, consciously or unconsciously, on her impending death that it seemed appropriate at this time to focus on her life. Emotionally, we had been squeezed dry, and yet even then at her death we were all still shocked to discover how many more emotions could come forth. On that day, though, I had had enough of death. It was time to talk about her life. And as I noted to those gathered in the room, she lived a life most wacky.

Momma was the combined incarnation of three of the most outrageous television wives and mothers ever to exist: Lucy Ricardo, Hyacinth Bucket, and Peg Bundy. It probably seems impossible to imagine any one person playing these three incongruous roles at once, but somehow Momma did it. Like I Love Lucy, she was a crazy red-head married to an immigrant she would drive insane with her harebrained schemes, usually involving the purchase of something acquired at a bargain. Like Keeping Up Appearance’s Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “bouquet”), Momma lived beyond her means and enjoyed showing off prized possessions, which were even more valuable when purchased at a bargain. Married with Children, she whined like Peg to Al about very important things, like shopping with money she never had.

Ask Momma what her hobbies were, she’d say “Shopping.” Ask her what else, she’s shrug and say, “Shopping.” The only thing she read on a regular basis was the Classified section of the newspaper. Never the Help Wanted ads, like my father would have preferred, unless of course she was looking for a job for someone else. Her favorite part of the Classifieds were undoubtedly the garage sales. She is the only person I’ve ever known who went to a garage sale and wound up buying the owner’s house, which wasn’t even for sale.

Her shopping, of course, took on different meanings depending on what she bought. For instance, she liked to go shopping for new fur coats. My father loved to give in to her whims, so through the years we watched her evolve from owning a beautiful silvery-white rabbit jacket, then a monstrously warm furry raccoon coat that weighed 50 pounds, to the ultimate…a gorgeous, soft, black mink coat with her name embroidered in gold calligraphy on the inside silk lining. It was exquisite. She received compliments from everyone. She loved it. Until the day she realized that all her furs had come from animals. I distinctly recalling her screaming aloud in horror at this realization. I have no idea where she thought they had come from beforehand, but thereafter she felt so guilty that she sold all of her coats and became a vegetarian.

For Momma, the art of shopping was like seeking out the great mystical white tiger in the African savanna. She could shop non-stop for twelve hours, moving from sale rack to sale rack, breaking only for cups of tea and cookies as little pick-me-ups, like a Victorian grande dame on the Great Hunt. (Note that tea and cookies were consumed in my house at least four times a day, while breakfast, lunch, and dinner were our in-between snacks.) It was all about the bargain. It made no difference whether she needed a new blouse, a chair for the living room, or even a new car. If there was a way for her to get something at a sale price or for a bargain, then it was worth buying.

She had no hesitation buying dresses from Macy’s for parties or important functions, wear them with the tags hidden in her arm pits, and then return the dresses the next day. Other days she would drag my father to furniture stores like Levitz for its clearance center, not because they needed furniture, but because she was looking for merchandise with broken parts so that she could demand percentages be taken off and buy them at even cheaper prices. She even once returned a chair to a department store without a receipt and got a full refund for it, even though she had owned the chair for over a year and actually had bought it at a yard sale for $5. She did try to be entrepreneurial as well. Once she came up with a plan to sell painted plaster statues at flea markets, getting stock wholesale from a dealer in the Bronx. That, however, was a losing venture because most of these painted plaster statues—from Sacred Heart of Jesus statues, to plaster dogs, giraffes, and owls—wound up in our family room and as Christmas gifts to a lot of people that year.

Undoubtedly, however, the best bargains Momma ever came upon were those she discovered in other people’s garbage. These garbage-shopping adventures usually took place in the evening hours following the owner’s garage sale. She would find some treasure (like bar stools), return home, wait until it was dark, then drive my brother and me back to the site in question. She would park the car about a block away, point us in the direction of the garbage, and make us get out and retrieve the garbage. Needless to say, my brother and I used to resent these shopping trips greatly, and often begged her not to have us be humiliated in this way. One time we were caught by the owners and chased away in defeat and embarrassment, to which Momma expressed great disappointment that we hadn’t run off with the items in question as we were chased away. We hated these trips, but her powers of persuasion were uncanny. She always used a magical phrase that forced us to her will: “Because I’m your mother and I said so!” Spoken with her Bronx accent, she could force us to succumb to every crazy scheme she could imagine.

I discovered over time that there was a point to all this bargain hunting. She usually resold all of these great buys (and garbage) at her own garage sales. And it was shocking to see how much money she could make off of other people’s items. I distinctly recall one of our neighbors commenting once that she thought she used to own the same lamp. My mother feigned shock at the coincidence of having owned the same thing, then generously sold it to her at a discount.

Undoubtedly one probably thinks that by revealing these memories, I would be completely embarrassing her. And one would be correct. In fact, I can hear her over my shoulder saying, “Oh my God, don’t tell them about that!”, or even better “You can’t think of something nice to say? I’m your mother, for Christ’s sake!” So admittedly it seems only right that I mention a few other things that I will always remember.

I will always remember how her hair color and styles changed so much through the years that we can date our family photos by what look she had. She first dyed her hair red at the age of thirteen. During the 1960s she adopted a most fabulous red beehive that was like a cylindrical crown on her queen-like head. When I was young, she wore her shimmering red hair long like a Pre-Raphaelite stunner. Then, at the age of six, I was catatonically horrified when she cut all of it off in emulation of Sandy Duncan as Peter Pan. As the years passed, she rotated from red to brunette to frosted to blond and back to red again. In her early 50s, she began swimming, lost weight, and dyed her hair a polychrome blond that she wore short. She looked amazing. And then, shortly afterwards, she started to get sick, but she always maintained her appearance.

I will always remember Momma’s abundant love and concern for animals, even the ones that were as wacky as she. She would take in stray dogs when I was a child, like the crazy gray-and-white mutt named Kuby or the beautiful Lhasa Apso she named Champagne. She once had a suicidal goldfish who used to jump out of its bowl, but somehow always survived when Momma would rush over and save him by throwing him back in his bowl. She also had a cockatiel named Gino who used to stand on her head and shit in her hair, which oddly she never seemed to mind. She desperately tried to teach Gino to speak, but after repeatedly playing a audio tape with thirty minutes of a non-stop greeting of “Hello, Gino!”, I’m convinced the bird actually had learned to speak but refused because he was so annoyed that she kept playing the damn tape over and over. Her last pet was the ever adorable Bichon Frise named Precious, her “Baby Girl” who was literally her shadow and followed her everywhere. Momma walked Precious throughout the neighborhood on her own, then with my father or uncle, until she could no longer walk on her own at all.

I will always remember her reaction to my coming out. I was engaged to be married, and Momma absolutely adored my fiance. I was going to marry, give her the grandchildren she always wanted, and live the idyllic life she always wanted for me. And then the day came when I yanked the carpet out from underneath her, and she stumbled, uncertain where to turn, unsure how to react. I never had reason to doubt that she didn’t love me, for she reassured me that she always would. But for years afterwards, even when I had a boyfriend, she would always casually mention to me about “trying women again.” These comments usually ended in arguments. She eventually backed down with my father’s intervention, but after one of those fights, I will always remember what she told me about why she had resisted my homosexuality. She was terrified for me. It preyed on her mind that people could hate me for no other reason than because I was gay. She was desperate to protect me from bigots who knew no better than to hate because I was somehow different. She was, in essence, being a mother, and it was with this realization that I look back on my coming out experience with her as being very challenging, but surrounded with unbelievable love, acceptance, and protection.

I will always remember how much she loved to dance. Her favorite song was “Shout!” by the Isley Brothers, during which she would always get a little bit softer and then a little bit louder. She always danced with my father, but also danced with anyone who wanted to dance with her. She taught me how to lindy and cha-cha. I went through my foolish phase when I was embarrassed to hang out with my mother, let alone dance with her, but as the years passed and she became sicker, dancing with her was one of the most memorable experiences I shared with her. We last danced a lindy together at her 60th birthday party, and though it was difficult she could still twirl under my arm.

Momma died on July 13, 2006 at the age of 63 after battling for more than seven years with the effects of what can be best described as early onset Alzheimer’s disease, since there is no test to diagnose for certain what form of dementia she actually developed. Dementia has become so pandemic among the elderly that our society can only cope with it by joking about their forgetfulness, and then shrug our shoulders that at least the elderly lived a long life. Momma remembered many of us for a very long time. She knew me until September 2004. After that, I slipped from her memory like others had and others soon would. The disease is evil, now only because it robs the person of their physical abilities, but it also strips away the experiences and events that gave the person their vitality and sense of purpose. It’s a disease that robbed my mother of presence, identity, and being.

So when a woman at the age of 55 tells you that she was driving home from shopping and she completely forgot how to go home, know that something isn’t right. And when at the age of 57 she starts to tell you that there’s something wrong with her muscles and she is having difficulty holding things, listen to her and exercise her limbs. At the age of 59 when she can no longer write her name or read the Classifieds, hold her hand, write with her, and read to her. And when at the age of 60 she repeats herself incessantly because she doesn’t remember that she has asked you the same question twenty times in the past hour, breathe and count to ten, then answer as if it was the first time you had heard the question. Don’t take your anger at the disease out on her, because it’s not her fault. And when at the age of 61 she can only eat finger foods, don’t scold her for spilling things, and when you realize you must feed her, just make sure she’s getting enough nutrition. And when every single time she’s aware of the horror of what is happening to her, and when she cries and says she wants to die, knowing eventually she will, fight your sense of helplessness and anger. Squeeze her hand, hug her, kiss her, cry with her, and say, “I love you, Momma,” because it’s the only thing you can do, both for her and for yourself. And when she’s in the last stages of her illness, lying in a vegetative state in a hospital bed, think about her amazingly wacky life, think about how privileged you were to know her, and then prepare yourself, for it’s time to let her go. But never ever forget.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wave Hill

NYC has every urban need you possibly could want, from a complex mass transit system to 24-hour delivery of food and drink. There is energy and chaos, as well as multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. And yet with all this urban excitement, sometimes it's an absolute pleasure to take a day to leave the City for a little bit of nature. Today I went for the first time to Wave Hill, a public park and garden in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, with magnificent views overlooking the Hudson River and beds of picturesque flowers and shrubs arranged like English cottage gardens.

The day started with me making the trek to Inwood, the northernmost tip of Manhattan, where I met up with DC and walked around his neighborhood. This area is largely Dominican in population, and in many ways still retains the urban grit of old, working class New York with its noise, graffiti, and local bodegas. It calls to mind my childhood memories of the Bronx when I lived there and when we always returned in later years to visit family after we had moved to New Jersey. We ate a great brunch at the Indian Road Cafe, then took the Bx7 bus north to the Bronx. Despite most people's expectations about that borough, the Riverdale area is quite lovely. It has retained much of the Hudson River Valley feel, with flagstone churches and overhanging maple trees adorning quiet sidewalks.

Wave Hill is nestled in a community of private homes. It is governed by a Board of Trustees who, since the 1960s, have taken care of the gardens originally laid out in the early 1900s by George W. Perkins, an associate of J. Pierpont Morgan. The gardens themselves conjure the feel of Gilded Age New York. You can envision women in parasols and leg-of-mutton sleeves promenading with gentleman suitors or sitting in wooden pergolas smelling the honeysuckle flowers. It was an absolute joy not only to spend time just absorbing nature, but to watch so many people just leisurely reading in deck chairs under the limbs of trees. The website for Wave Hill has numerous pictures worth checking out.

But we also went here because there was an art exhibition in the Glyndoor Gallery called Propagating Eden: Techniques of Nature Printing in Botany and Art. I admit I wasn't expecting much from it, but I turned out to thoroughly enjoy the show, not only because of the array of works on display but also because of the discovery of how nature has always been used as a means in which to experiment with new techniques of artistic production. The exhibition focused on printmaking and photography from the 1700s to the present and included examples of work by everyone from the early 19th-century cyanotype photographer Anna Atkins to the conceptual and sculptural artist Kiki Smith. There was early colonial money with botanical themes printed by Benjamin Franklin, and an beautiful low-relief print of wheat stalks by Ed Ruscha that used a modern industrial technique that transforms paper pulp into sculpture. We were able to leave with free catalogs of the exhibition, which can be viewed online as well, so check it out just to see the great works on display.

We wrapped up our day with a long walk through Riverdale (okay, we got lost looking for the subway), got a bit drenched in a thunderstorm, drank coffee and doughnuts at a dive, and wound up at Scavengers, an antique shop, where I was thrilled to discover and purchase for only $40 a framed 19th-century engraving of the Duke of Wellington...but I'll blog about all that another time.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Male Enhancement

Daily Jocks is a blog that…well, basically it’s a website with pictures of hot guys modeling underwear, but it’s also a place for advertising current trends and styles in men’s briefs, jockstraps, tanks, etc. This recent post from them about male enhancement clothing is supposedly the new big (pun intended) trend in men’s underwear. Yes, Gentlemen, apparently it is now essential that we show off our masculinity by wearing underwear that not only cradles the goods in a cup, but also projects them outward to create what looks like a pear in one’s pants (because if it looked like a banana it would be illegal). It’s a lot like a Victoria’s Secret push-up bra, and we all know the effect that has on the viewer no matter what your sexual taste or orientation.

Admiration for male genitalia dates back millennia. The phallus became a symbol in art and religion because of its erective and procreative nature: it is a tool for male seed to generate life. Thus, in early cultures where male virility was critical to the survival of the people, the phallus became an object of worship. The ancient Vedic people of India worshipped a large cylindrical object called the lingham, which represented the power of the god Shiva as creator and destroyer of the world. The ancient Romans crafted bronze phalloi as chimes and not infrequently hung them over doorways to ward off evil spirits. All those who entered were supposed to touch the object too as an expression of good luck. We may think the power of the phallus in these contexts is now lost to us, but it simply has been modified in its representation. Look around the neck of any Guido: that gold bull horn charm he’s wearing is a sanitized descendant of the ancient Roman phallus.

And what about size? Does it really matter? In ancient Greece, a smaller (probably average sized) penis was preferred because it was a mark of being civilized and cultured. Only satyrs (half-man, half-goat creatures) were depicted in vase paintings with engorged members, like in the underside of this kylix from the British Museum, suggesting this male feature was a mark of animalism. This idea carried through into Christian art, where demons are the only creatures ever shown abnormally oversized. Of course throughout time men always have obsessed over their size when compared to other men. Sometime in our century, however, it seems like the obsession became a tool for marketing, with everything from surgical procedures to infomercials that promise to make a man bigger. What’s key, however, is the lack of evidence that size has anything to do with power. According to medical experts Dr. David Delvin and psychotherapist Christine Webber, “[I]t's true that some men have big penises and some have smaller ones, just as some men have small feet and some have big feet, but the measurement is not - repeat not - an index of virility.” Even more fascinating is the visual perception one has of penis size. Indeed, the reason why most men think they are smaller than other men is because of foreshortening. The angle at which they see themselves creates a visual effect that stunts the overall effect, whereas when looking at other men, they see their member at a natural angle.

None of this changes the obsession society now has with male enhancement. But it isn’t the first time this has happened. When you think about it, this new trend in underwear is nothing more than a modern-day codpiece to show off one’s goods. Once late medieval Europeans began wearing hose (early trousers), which originally were just two legs of cloth, long doublets (early jackets) draped the hips and thighs and thus the man was covered but roamed free. By the 15th and 16th centuries, the hemline for doublets had risen, so it became necessary to cover up what was now exposed. Enter the codpiece! (Note that cod comes from the Middle English word for scrotum.) This new fashion accessory also came to be used for protection in warfare and sportsmanship (hence the current day jockstrap and sports cup used by athletes), but by the early 1500s the codpiece was a fashion statement. Men from Henry VIII down to the mercantile classes took pride in showing off the size and design of their codpiece, as is evident in this 1565 portrait of Antonio Navagero by Giovanni Battista Moroni (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milano). Late 18th- and early 19th-century men’s fashion also had a phallic emphasis due to the front flap in their trousers that folded down. It was not by chance that the artist Anne-Louis Girodet crafted this 1797 painting of the former slave and politician Jean-Baptiste Belley with a pronounced emphasis on his crotch (Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles; image: Metropolitan Museum of Art). While admittedly intimating the then-believed inate association of his race with animalism, the painter also was suggesting the strength and power he wielded in his political fight against issues like slavery, as he is posed with a bust of the philosopher and abolitionist Guillaume-Thomas Reynal.

So, in brief (no pun intended), male enhancement clothing has come full circle. Buy it! Admire it! Enjoy it! Just remember that it's a fashion statement and may be a nothing more than an empty codpiece.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

DW meets VVG - Part 2

You'll recall that on June 19 I posted about an upcoming episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor and Amy meet Vincent van Gogh. I finally watched the episode in the wee early morning hours, courtesy of BBC America On Demand. It was actually one of the better episodes of the entire season, in part because they did strive for some sense of historical accuracy (despite the alien monster bit), even going so far as to pronounce his name throughout the episode in its Dutch-inflected guttural "Gogh," not "Go" as has become the custom around the English-speaking world. They even filmed segments of the episode in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, showing an imaginary special exhibition based around their wonderful holding of paintings by the artist. The pivotal picture in the episode, however, turned not to be Starry Night from 1889, but a less instantaneously recognized work which you see here, L'église d'Auvers-sur-Oise, vue du chevet (The Church of Auvers-sur-Oise, View of the Apse) from 1890, a picture that was one of my all-time favorites by Gogh when I visited the Orsay in 2006. I love the sinewy effect of the bifurcated road surrounding the gelatinous church, the shimmering effects of which make the building seem alive and thus a spiritual experience for the artist and viewer. In the episode, the Doctor and Amy discover in the painting a monster in the window of the church and realize something is wrong, so they hurry back to 1890 Provence where they are responsible for convincing a frustrated and melancholic Gogh to paint the church. Indeed, as the Doctor helps Gogh with his depression and encourages him to paint, he takes on the role played in historical fact by Doctor Gachet, who treated and befriended Gogh in the last year of his life. There are parts of the episode that are funny, like when Vincent proposes marriage and 12 children to Amy, and she ponders how all their children would have very red hair, but by and large it is a typical DW alien adventure story that, unfortunately, has a sad ending. After all, despite his artistic accomplishments, Gogh was troubled emotionally and did commit suicide, dying after a few days of intense suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1890. But according to DW, this happened only after the Doctor and Amy give Vincent a rare opportunity to realize the full potential of his art in a scene that is rather touching. There are some wonderful advantages to time travel after all.