Learn from the Scarlet Spider — Think Uveitis


Ben Reilly — The Scarlet Spider. Well-intentioned but flawed.

Marvel’s Scarlet Spider is an interesting narrative experiment on the nature of soul. Ben Reilly is a clone of the original Peter Parker who shares the physical traits of the famous webslinger. Through vaguely-described “arcane magic”, he even gets an imprint of Parker’s memories.

Clone Wars: The Scarlet Spider fighting with Spider-Man. Source: Marvel Comics

However, as he does not share the many responsibilities of his more famous clone, Ben Reilly struggles with true purpose in life. Possessing the same intelligence and inquisitive mind as Peter Parker, his desire to discover and experiment leads him to make some bad choices, which have led him to die and be resurrected more times than is habitual for a Marvel Comics character.

As a result, Ben has flirted the line between heroism and villainy, seemingly resolved to entropy as an antihero. Even when he wants to do the right thing, his virtuous intentions backfire. In a recent storyline (written by Peter David, pencilled by Will Sliney and coloured by Rachelle Rosenberg) during which demons take over Las Vegas, Ben makes an assumption we can all be guilty of when seeing red eyes:

“Is this creature possessed by some sort of satanic entity?”

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider. Issue 16 (David, Sliney, Rosenberg)

Ben has been very presumptuous here. In a Las Vegas which is arguably more satanically inclined that usual, he has naturally assumed that anyone with red eyes is a demon.

He hits this man with the force of his radioactively enhanced jab, and wasn’t prepared for what came next…

Jimmy’s family are angry and upset with the Scarlet Spider

“But… he has red eyes”. Ben struggles when explaining his actions to Jimmy’s wife and daughter. It dawns on him that he has jumped to conclusions.

Jimmy’s wife explains that he has Uveitis, and has clearly read the patient information leaflet “It’s an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye!” The episode finishes with Ben receiving a well-deserved kick in the shin from Jimmy’s young daughter.

Learn from the Scarlet Spider. Think Uveitis

Whether you are the well-intentioned but haphazard clone of a popular superhero or not, it’s always worth thinking about Uveitis as a cause of red eye. Uveitis literally means inflammation of the uvea — the middle layers of the eye and can have a huge number of causes including trauma, various infections and autoimmune diseases (where the body attacks itself). In many cases, no cause is ever found.

Uveitis can have different patterns — it can come and go with no problems in between, or can flare up many times and cause a lot of discomfort and anxiety for the sufferer. Jimmy may well have had a number of flares before, and his current treatment could be anything from steroid eyedrops to tablets or injections, all with the aim of reducing the inflammation in the eye.

Jimmy lives in the United States of America, where an estimated 300,000 people are affected by Uveitis each year. In many cases, anterior uveitis may be misdiagnosed as a bacterial conjunctivitis, which has a different treatment of antibiotic drops or ointment.

Jimmy has both red eyes

In this panel, Jimmy appears to have acute anterior uveitis — the form which affects the front of the eye, either the iris (iritis) or the ciliary body (iridocyclitis). Together with a red eye, he may well be suffering from symptoms such as blurred vision and light sensitivity(photophobia). The latter can be very hard for Uveitis sufferers to deal with, and even more so considering the fluorescent lighting which adorns the City of Lights. Jimmy is wearing polarized sunglasses to help him manage as he navigates the Vegas strip:

Given that his eyes are so red, Jimmy is likely to have only recently had a flare of his disease, and may have only just started treatment. Both eyes are red rather than just one, which makes it more likely that he has an underlying “systemic disease” disease. In addition, the whole of his eyes are red, which isn’t a typical pattern seen in anterior uveitis where the classic appearance of redness is immediately surrounding the iris:

Classic “Ciliary Flush” image of Iritis with redness surrounding the iris where the cornea and sclera meet, an area called the “limbus”.

However, there are other causes why his eye might be red whilst he is being treated for Uveitis, which might include:

  1. Episcleritis/Anterior Scleritis — He may have these conditions as a co-diagnosis (alongside his Uveitis). These diseases reflect inflammation of blood vessels in different layers of the white of the eye, and can be associated with an underlying disease. Jimmy might have Lupus, Inflammatory Bowel Disease or a number of other full-body disease which can be linked to different problems in the eye.
  2. Glaucoma — Jimmy may have uveitic glaucoma , raised pressure in the eye caused by inflammation (from uveitis) obstructing and damaging the structures in the eye which allow for outflow of the aqueous humour. the sudden eye pressure rise would cause red However, Jimmy would likely feel very sick and in too much pain to verbally joust with our friendly neighbourhood spider clone.
  3. Allergy — If Jimmy has been taking eye drops for his Uveitis, they may contain a preservative which he is allergic to. I hope that his Ophthalmologist switches him to a preservative-free formula.

One can only hope that Ben Reilly, our Scarlet Spider, learns from this lesson and doesn’t make presumptions about peoples’ eyes, even in the context of a satanic takeover of Sin City.

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A Psalm for Albion

An Albion of yore in The Hay Wain — John Constable (1821)

“We should be realistic, this is our politics now”


This was the take-home message at the end of Newsnight, the flagship late-night current affairs show of the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was sobering.

The subject of conversation was the increasingly fragmented political discourse in the United Kingdom and, in particular, a series of chants which took place outside Parliament which were aimed at Conservative MP Anna Soubry (who, contrary to most of her party, has campaigned against Brexit).

UK Houses of Parliament

As I work in a hospital on the opposite side of the River Thames, I witnessed some of these chants yesterday.


Anyone who is not very worried about what is going on in our country now is burying their heads in the sand more deeply than a psammophile ostrich. This is very frightening indeed.

Just as much of our media have consistently mimicked Völkischer Beobachter and Der Stürmer of 20s Germany, some of the most vicious and thuggish portions of our society are now more empowered than ever, and police and reporters stand by idly whilst the societal, geopolitical and economic futures of this country is their bully’s playground.

https://twitter.com/MikeStuchbery_/status/1082304571580534786
The Daily Mail’s article “Enemies of the People” evokes similarities to naming and shaming of “traitors of the people” in 1933 Nazi newspaper Illustrierter Beobachter, and their own support for fascism and fearmongering against “the other” during that period.

This is your future, your childrens’ future. The kind of country we are about to become unless something alters our path drastrically…


Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!
I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine.
Fibres of love from man to man thro Albions pleasant land.
In all the dark Atlantic vale down from the hills of Surrey
A black water accumulates, return Albion! return!


Except from Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant — Blake
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Suspiria (1977) and Suspiria (2018)

Back-to-back reviews

Dakota Johnson (centre) and colleagues contort themselves in Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake of Suspiria

I had been saving Dario Argento’s Suspiria for a special occasion, and that turned out to be the release of Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake. I watched the two films back-to-back: the 4K restored original at home and the remake at a packed CinemaCity Picturehouse preview screening. The film is officially released in UK cinemas today.

Jessica Harper in one of the many vibrant uses of lighting in Dario Argentino’s 1977 movie

Suspiria (1977)

The 1977 film was exactly what I expected, and I loved it. The vivid colour palette, especially the reds, and the striking use of lighting blew me away. The film’s score was a bonkers combination of synthesizers, greek and indian drums which will etch itself in my memory in exactly the same way that Cannibal Holocaust’s did. Some of it was ludicrously over-the-top, but it is a 70s Italian horror film after all.

The three irises: Delicate and dream-like paintings make some of the backdrops to the 1977 film

Jessica Harper was utterly convincing as Suzy Bannion — an American dancer going to study ballet in a German school where some gruesome murders have just been carried out. The film starts at a breakneck pace and does not relent all the way to the final reveal. The dialogue and special effects aren’t perfect, but the atmosphere and the scene-setting is as close as could be. I was left panting by the end.

Geometric shapes and pastel colours to create a convincingly surreal dance academy in Suspiria (1977)

The film’s twin stars of sound and colour complement each other perfectly, bringing a simple but highly effective hallucinatory quality to much of the film. The intensity always flirts with your limits, without ever crossing them. The result is a film which I enjoyed both casually and from a more artistic perspective, and one which I’m already itching to watch again.

Those Primary Colours

Suspiria (2018)

I thought the remake was just a bit bland, aside from Tilda Swinton’s great performances (her main one, the secret one, and the even-more-secret one) and some fantastic synchronous contortions in the numerous dance scenes. The director, Luca Guadagnino states that rather than a remake, it is a homage to a film he first watched as a boy. He wanted to pay tribute:

“To the incredible, powerful emotion I felt when I saw it”

Whilst impressive that he has sculpted his own original take on the 1977 screenplay, and it is a very different film, I didn’t feel the movie really was a simulacrum of the sentiments he describes. Suspiria (2018) just didn’t convince me in the same way that the original did, despite a morereal-world aesthetic.

The ballet scenes in Suspiria are finely choreographed

Everything is dulled down — the pace of the film, the colour palette, the soundtrack and the suspense. There were some dream sequences which were laboured and unconvincing. And for a film made in 2018, some of the CGI was worse than some of the cheesy grotesqueries of the original. This made a potentially nauseating early flourish of disfigurement not as realistic as it could have been, although a later fracture did get the cinema audience wincing.

Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion in the 2018 remake of Suspiria

There are hints of some interesting themes, though. In particular, post-war guilt is treated in an interesting way which drew my attention throughout the film. There were also some nice metaphors about aspects of the human psyche. Maybe they were intended to be subtle, but I was just wishing for more of them.

The plot of the original is changed quite drastically, which isn’t a negative point per se. It was just frustrating that the original’s reveal was given away early in the first few minutes of the remake, and I felt this impacted on the movie’s suspense factor. Still, there were a couple of odd mysteries and surprises which almost made up for this…

“Lutz Ebersdorf” plays Dr Klemperer

It’s not a bad film, the dance choreography is bewitching at times, it just isn’t memorable enough compared to the original.

Final Rating:

Suspiria (1977): ****½

Suspiria (2018): **½

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Comics and Caius

Iron Man and Dr Doom reminisce in Tree Court, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Victor Von Doom bantering with Tony Stark in Tree Court, Gonville and Caius, Cambridge England. From Invincible Iron Man 13 (Marvel, 2016)

In fiction, Billionaire playboy industrialists are wont to lose sight of both their past and their future, with potentially devastating consequences. When Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, is teleported (against his will) by reformed marvel villain Victor Von Doom, he finds himself standing in the Tree Court of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge.

Tree Court. CREDIT: Gonville and Caius College website

The former Caian then engages on a voyage of discovery from a past forgotten, dressed very casually as the sharply-attired Victor Von Doom (experimenting in heroism as the Infamous Iron Man) prompts a realignment of Tony’s moral compass.

Von Doom, himself expelled from State University in New York for performing unethical experiments, gives Stark a comprehensive tour around Cambridge. The industrialist returns to the MRC Laboratory where he had his first taste of research and academia prior to inheriting his father’s weapons-manufacturing business. He is in a contemplative mood throughout.

Stark is not alone. We all go through moments in life when we have to find ourselves again. Perhaps, whilst breathing in the pungent Wisteria flowers adorning the Tutorial Office of Caius, Tony reminisced about an age of innocence, before he had to make difficult decisions with world-changing implications.

The Tutorial Office covered in Wisteria

What is it about this quaint section of Gonville and Caius’ Tree Court which lends itself to a representation in the comics medium? It lacks the iconic postcard-selling grandeur King’s College Chapel or Trinity College’s Grand Court. This is a unique, Cinderella tower-like corner which can easily be missed when visiting Tree Court, famed primarily for the succession of unique hornbeams lining its avenue.

Hornbeams in Tree Court. CREDIT: Gonville and Caius College website

Perhaps, this specific corner of Tree Court simply evokes mystical connotations which are suitable for the illustrated word, and are a fitting place for Von Doom and Stark to do a tête-à-tête, and remember bygone times.

Whilst attending Caius, one wonders if Tony Stark spent any time talking to Professor Sir Stephen Hawking, who was based in Gonville and Caius for many decades and sadly passed away recently. Certainly, Professor Hawking’s advice about the nature of wormholes might have helped Stark in the first Avengers movie, which does not elaborate on how he managed to survive his experience.

A portrait of Professor Sir Stephen Hawking in the Dining Hall of Gonville and Caius College. CREDIT: University of Cambridge website

It is not only Marvel Comics which has set scenes in the Tree Court. The genre-breaking japanese manga “Pluto” also appears to use this corner in its story.

Tree Court, sans Wisteria. CREDIT: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka

Despite being a story about androids, Pluto is arguably the most human of Japanese master storyteller Naoki Urasawa’s manga masterpieces, as he simultaneously builds upon and subverts Osamu Tezuka’s classic Astro Boy. Does this scene pay homage to famous Caians such as nuclear physicist and discoverer of the neutron Sir James Chadwick, Professor Sir Stephen Hawking or John Venn. Who knows?

Tree Court, circa 1870, CREDIT: Kimberly Blaker, New Boston Fine and Rare Books

Long may comics continue to include this mysterious corner in their illustrations.

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Tehran Taboo – Film Review

Tehran Taboo is released 5/10/2018 in UK Cinemas

Tehran Taboo, the debut film from Iranian writer-director Ali Soozandeh, is released today (5th October) in UK cinemas.  This rotoscope-animated film presents a hyper-stylised portrayal of Tehran with an emotional poignance that this technique of animation, when combined with an atmospheric and sometimes chilling soundtrack, can deliver in spades. Films like Waltz with Bashir, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly have already experimented successfully with this method of drawing and colouring over material.  Indeed, it appears to be tailor-made for this film which could of course not be made, nor released, in the country in which it is set.

Before watching the film, I was very interested in the director’s quote:

“I get a lot of positive feedback from Iranians living in Iran. The feedback from Iranians living outside Iran is rather negative. They are usually angry with the film. Because the film damages the image we present of ourselves to the West.”

Pari

Perhaps this reflects the fact that life for many in Iran is riddled by contradictions and hypocrisies, and the hyper-real portrayal in this film packs a visceral punch for those who live in the country, whereas those who have left Iran may choose to default to a more rosy-tinted nostalgic view.

Tehran Taboo starts with a bang. Immediately, you can tell why this film could not be made in Iran, as a taxi driver who claims he is “not Bill Gates” haggles with prostitute Pari whilst her mute son Elias is chewing bubble gum in back seat of a taxi. This sets the stall for a murky, often shocking, noir exploration of the idiosyncrasies in contemporary Tehran through multiple strands. One of these is a  young musician’s quest to “fix the virginity” of a girl he had a one-night-stand with at one of Tehran’s notorious underground raves, a week before the woman is supposedly due to get married to a faceless thug.

There are moments of dark humour, such as the protagonists’ search for an artificial hymen:

“This is the original model, 100% Chinese.  You know it’s good because the Westerners copied it”

Elias

Later Elias provides a funny moment when asked if he knew sign language and proceeds to mimic a highly offensive gesture he had just seen some children do.   The mute boy is the only totally innocent character in film drowning in various shades of grey, quietly observing the Machiavellianism and the tragedy around him.  Conversely, one of the film’s antagonists is an adipose cleric who sets up an arrangement for Pari to provide him intimate favours in exchange for allowing her to divorce her drug-addicted husband.  Themes of patriarchy and societal misogyny permeate throughout a film in which every man and woman has to look out for themselves, and everything and anyone can be bargained for. The separate narrative threads become progressively entwined during the course of the film, and the tight structure calls to mind films such as Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros.

Rotoscoping seems to accentuate emotional moments, and facial expressions are highly framed, such that even the most nuanced of eyebrow raises become much more obvious.  One of the lead characters is portrayed by Arash Marandi, the go-to guy for genre-hopping films set in Iran but filmed abroad such as Iranian Vampire-Western “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and socio-political supernatural horror “Under the Shadow”.  In this film, his distinctive large and innocent eyes are emphasised to an aptly cartoonish intensity.

Pari speaking to her neighbour Sara

The background art is detailed and atmospheric, from the vistas of the never-ending sprawl of Tehran, to the vehicles and alleyways which are explored through the multi-layered narrative.  They are also very authentic, impressive given that the film has been made abroad.  Even if the bleak narrative itself does not necessarily beg for repeat viewing, the detailed and intricate backgrounds which are a very realistic portrayal of today’s Tehran, do.

Overall, the film is a stark and pessimistic portrayal of Tehran itself, which provides fascinating viewing for even those who have never even heard of Jafar Panahi or Abbas Kiarostami, let alone seen their films. Certain aspects of the film are slightly outdated, such as the morality police, less prominent now than is portrayed in the movie.  At times, the pace of the film’s consecutive punches renders the viewer overwhelmed, and I was begging for a little respite towards the end.  

Nevertheless, it remains an apposite metaphor for the ongoing psychological corrosion in the city’s collective psyche.  The film may not quite get the traction required to deliver the social change which is the aim of the film’s creator, but it is another seed on top of a mountain waiting to be sown. We can only wonder what Ali Soozandeh will do next.

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The restorative power of hospital gardens

Florence Nightingale asserted in her landmark “Notes on Nursing” that the most challenging ordeal for a feverish patient is:

“not being able to see out of window, and the knots in the wood being the only view.  I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of bright-coloured flowers”.

In 1859, she was emphasizing the value of plants and space in the healing of patients:

“People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body too”.

Nightingale was not alone in her appraisal of gardens and green spaces as therapeutic tools which were indispensable in the recovery process. Throughout Victorian and Edwardian periods, green spaces in hospitals were championed as havens for healing.  In the succeeding decades, this notion appears to have been forgotten as priorities in hospital construction were directed elsewhere, with little attention given to green spaces, and the replacement of park areas by car park areas.

Perhaps a renaissance was provoked following a 1984 study by American psychologist Roger Ulrich, who demonstrated that patients with views of trees and animals from their wards recovered faster after gallbladder surgery, and spent less time in hospital than those who had no such views.  In the UK, we are in the midst of re-appraising the role of gardens and green spaces, not just for patients but for staff and visitors as well.  The British Medical Association stressed in 2011 that hospital design should always make allowances for the important therapeutic role of gardens.

The Ninewells Community Garden isn’t just a space for rest and relaxation, but also provides a source of community spirit amongst volunteers, be they patients, staff or visitors. Credit: Ninewells Hospital Dundee

Remembering the history of these beautiful spaces, including the unique roles of specific colours and scents in therapy, helps guide the design of future hospital green spaces. In her book “Therapeutic Landscapes”, medical historian Dr Clare Hickman summarises how importantly hospital gardens were regarded, and the plans for new well-designed green spaces in the future, for example the upcoming Horatio’s Garden at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury.  

Painting classes at Horatio’s Garden with artist-in-residence Miranda Creswell. Credit: Horatio’s Garden, Salisbury

Whether they deliver a natural and calming scene from a patient’s bed, an accessible treat for the senses of a waiting visitor, or some relaxation, freedom and privacy for a staff nurse away from the wards, these spaces are once again being seen as crucial for health and wellbeing.   It is no surprise that a reclaimed boiler-house roof, now showpiece garden at Great Ormond Street Hospital designed by Chris Beardshaw, won a Gold Medal at last year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Hospital gardens need not be highly conceptualized spaces occupied by incongruous abstract sculptures and with little space to walk.  They can be triumphs if they are peaceful, interesting, accessible, well-maintained and engage the senses (though not too strongly).  Here are some beautiful, functional and peaceful hospital gardens across the UK.

                      Ten Hospital Gardens around the United Kingdom

The Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital

The Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital. Credit: JOHN CAMPBELL

Constructed by renowned garden designer Chris Beardshaw, this woodland-themed garden was transplanted from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (where it won a Gold medal) to a disused roof space, surrounded by tall hospital buildings that look onto it.  The garden provides a quiet and peaceful space for childern and families, with a roof designed such that summer mornings will light up the sculpture of a child which is the centrepiece of the garden.

Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury District Hospital

A path for the senses at Horatio’s Garden, Salisbury. Credit: HORATIO’S GARDEN

Horatio’s Garden is a charity which makes gardens of sanctuary in centres for spinal injury. The gardens are named after Horatio Chapple, who came up with the idea alongside his father whilst volunteering in Salisbury. Horatio was tragically killed aged only 17, but his legacy endures in these beautiful gardens which combine a sensory and aesthetic feast with events and activities. For example, painting the scenic garden with artist-in-residence Miranda Creswell at Salisbury Hospital adds the extra element of creative and expressive arts therapy for patients suffering from spinal injuries.

Ninewells Community Garden, Dundee

A community spirit in action. Credit: NINEWELLS HOSPITAL

This huge community garden is overlooked by the Ninewells Hospital, and emphasizes a spirit of volunteer gardening for patients, staff and the local community.  The garden’s vegetable and sensory gardens, orchard, wildlife habitat and play areas offer a multitude of options for people to de-stress, recuperate and exercise. 

John Radcliffe Hospital Women’s Centre Garden, Oxford

Credit: John Radcliffe Hospital Women’s Centre Garden, Oxford

This discarded area adjacent to the Women’s Centre was transformed into an open space with a compact walking area and two subtle sculptures in the centre. Instead of the previous drab view in front of the building, the colourful array of flowers and scents of thyme and lavender provide a welcome area for female patients and staff to relax during the course of the day.

Horatio’s Garden at the Scottish National Spinal Injuries Unit, Glasgow

Credit: Horatio’s Garden, Glasgow

The second Horatio’s Garden on this list was inaugurated in August 2016, with views of the stunning woodland garden (above) from the hospital wards.  The garden has six distinct spaces, all of which serve to stimulate different senses, and a greenhouse which is surrounded by areas used for horticultural therapy activities.

Chase Farm Hospital Rehabilitation Gardens, Enfield

Credit: Chase Farm Hospital

Chase Farm Hospital has just renovated two of its areas into specialist therapeutic gardens aimed for the specific needs of patients, but open to staff and visitors. One of the gardens supports dementia patients, whilst the other (above) support stroke and rehabilitation patients. Based on a Japanese design, it provides a very compact but tranquil sanctuary within the hospital.

Guy’s Hospital Courtyard Garden, London

Credit: Guy’s Hospital, London

The contemporary feel of the courtyard garden at Guy’s Hospital in London is accentuated by the number of sitting areas amidst the shrubs and hedges, with the vindicated expectation that the garden was designed that the garden would become a preferred spot for having lunch or sitting with family outside the wards.

Bournemouth Hospital Orchard Garden, Bournemouth

A desolate tarmac courtyard in the hospital has only recently been revamped into a three-segmented garden: a therapeutic courtyard garden outside the chemotherapy suite (above), a sensory garden linking the courtyard to a lakeside garden, giving patients and visitors not only options for their retreat of choice, but also a large area to walk around and exercise in.

Chapel Garden, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich

A bland lightwell was transformed into this chapel garden, featuring a central “wish tree” and a number of water features such as a vertical water fountain and a water rill giving the impression of water moving continually throughout the garden.  The calming flow of water and illusion of space allow for, once again, a small and previously unused area becoming a peaceful reservation amidst the hospital.

Dick Vet Hospital Gardens, University of Edinburgh

Credit: University of Edinburgh

Animals, animal-owners and animal-lovers should not be excluded from the healing power of gardens.  This luscious retreat at the University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush Campus provides ample space and quiet, together with several benches. It is capped off by the Path of Memories, a path lined by granite stones which can be engraved with an animal’s name.

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