Profit was an ill-fated late ’90s television show co-created by David Greenwalt who went on to join Joss Whedon in running Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Reading Whedon’s biography led me to realize I haven’t devoted enough attention to Greenwalt’s career, and Profit has been hailed as the darkest, most adventurous commercial television show of its era. So I sought its three DVD single season on NetFlix and found it fairly enjoyable despite the fact that the past 18 years have seen shows that completely eclipsed its reputation for psychopathological antiheroics and groundbreaking adventures into dark characters/ideas. But the notion that a backstabbing, amoral corporate executive was raised on neglect in an oversize moving box with no companion other than a television and someone tossing him table scraps still rocks. How do you not love a 90’s television show that sets about proving television’s bad for you — “and what about the children?”?
Murrow was right about “the box”. B.F. Skinner? Citizens United (money talks ’cause its A.I. smart, so Mirandize money).
I also caught Dredd a couple of weeks ago, a visually-fascinating low-budget film written by Alex Garland, which led me directly to his most current work, Ex Machina fairly inevitably.
The most thrilling thing I found in Ex Machina takes place during the film’s introduction of Ava, the artificially intelligent android member of the central romantic/vengeance/existential triangle/quartet at the heart of the film. Although the music that accompanies Ava entrance isn’t quite identical to the 5tone signature tune that dominates Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it’s remarkably similar, and serves to open the viewer’s mind/heartstrings to the nostalgic presentiment of an alien intelligence visiting the womb of Mater Firma — at least subliminally; performed on what sounds like a kindergarten xylophone — conjuring adventures in innocence. And that womb is an enormous box of clear, shatterproof plastic packed with several closed-circuit television cameras.
It’s a chatty film (like Profit), packed with fascinating visual events (like Profit) and like Profit it’s brimming with things that insist on being thought about, although the least of these is the Turing test that turns out to be the cognitive flobotnam chased by wild geese in this movie that’s about everything else. And the everything else centers on the audience’ desire to preserve the protagonist — the identity of which/whom shifts as the film progresses from person to person to machine to person to person to machine. I found myself identifying and becoming most attracted, then exclusively attracted to Kyoko (an uncloseted, lobotomized early version of Ava) — worse luck. It’s an interesting film that speaks volumes loudly to misanthropes, misogynists and every form of human miscreationist, like Profit. My unfair Pygmalion.
Amy Matthews and Cartoon Pink have a revered place in the title bar of this post because her work is, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant — exquisite, sweet pornography is the kind of contradiction most desperately needed here and now and forever: Big Eyes with tingles and another dimension of fascinating contradiction.
She googles. Do yourself a favor.
The downside of this double-decker revenge tale is the crystal-clear manipulation of a purposefully underinformed audience.
The upside is the overwhelming torrent of conspicuous intelligence (and skewy emotional [Disnoid] propaganda) that totally tips the balance in favor of a fascinating adventure in the future of storytelling.
And I, for one, have absolutely NO defense against a tale set in my home town, minutely and EXQUISITELY reinvented as San Fransokyo.
Bite a dirty, hairy bullitt and woman the fuck UP!
In the course of a permanent head-to-head competition between Good and Evil, I expect to see some indication of crucial difference in thought, word and action between the two opposing forces. The fundamental ethical differences between demons and gargoyles is, in this film, fairly muddled. That muddled opposition leaves no clearly-recognizable razor’s edge for the title character to tread heroically upon.
Bill Nighy plays an eminently-evil prince of darkness quite brilliantly. Miranda Otto performs her part with equal skill, despite having a lot less screen time, and the burden of delivering preposterous lines of exposition with such persuasive aplomb that the junk she’s stuck with explaining seems remarkably plausible.
The film doesn’t work in spite of the excellent acting talent, the impresive practical make up for the demons and the surprisingly-believable digital effects that let gargoyles fly. The film doesn’t work because the story is fundamentally flawed in ways that prevent “Adam” Frankenstein from showing us the evolution of an outcast, downtrodden, feral monster into an heroic creature with oversized soul. And the success of the film depends upon that demonstration.
It’s an ambitious undertaking that Van Helsing, in my opinion, negotiated extremely well. I, Frankenstein, on the other hand missed, whiffed and fucked up an exquisite opportunity to transform a bunch of really-great ideas into a transnarrative masterpiece. It’s not about the people portrayed in the film, no matter how hard the actors worked to strike the appropriate tones. I, Frankenstein panders to an audience that recognizes nonsense and avoids it like plague.
Adam and Viktor are like Isaac and Abraham in reversed roles, with no divine reprieve for the Creator — but that’s only the first of a vast number of interesting places that film might have gone instead of the complicated muddle that follows the previously-on voice-over narration from the team that brought us the Underworld franchise I’ve studiously avoided (like plague).
I don’t know, maybe this era is the twilight of cinema. Outlander is compelling television, and Words and Pictures kicked my butt. They have in common liberal sprinklings of adult repartee, adult sex and adult humor, attributes completely missing from I, Frankenstein and everything I’ve seen that relates however remotely to Christopher Nolan.
It’s probably a glaring inevitability that this film would remind me of The Last Temptation of ______ Galadriel, but I wasn’t expecting the wealth of realworld and cultural gracenotes that abound within the pragmatic straightjacket of its 97 minute running time. The few deleted scenes included in the BD special features provide a bit of the connective tissue that imply the need for a much longer film or a miniseries that would thoroughly embrace thematic references to The Lion in Winter, Macbeth, Downton Babby, Little Big Man, Avatar, Prometheus, Robin Hood, Gandhi, Frozen, and the Fellowship of the Hobbit along with proliferating references to contemporary and eternal conflicts that absolutely belong in a robust, socially-activating transnarrative environment that Hollywood probably isn’t yet ready for. Wuthering.
Although I don’t much care for dear little muppet-like sylvan creatures nor jarring little turns of narration that probably serve expediently to mate this dynamic retelling to the Disney animated classic film, I still found Maleficent to be a phenomenal adventure in next-level narrative, a genuine advance in the evolution of tale-making. With more time and money there’d be less tale telling and more tale showing; like the unspoken evolution of the title character’s headgear from faun to dragon to black crepe and back.
Two kingdoms (only one of which had a monarch and the other one had a name): Henry, the king of the unnamed realm proclaimed his mandate to be the conquest of the envied other place. An orphan boy named Stefan grandly proclaims his own manifest destiny to be to live in the palace of the king, although he probably wasn’t aspiring to live there in servility, nor to betray his only friend in an act of uncommonly-abominable treachery. Maelström may not be the radical basis of Maeleficent, but the powerful, swirling remix of familiar icons, associations and metaphors seems like an entirely-appropriate elaboration.
Cool film with fascinating glitches like Henry’s daughter is Stefan’s princess-bride and Aurora’s mother, but nobody spoke her name and her part in this film (in which choices and consequences matter tremendously), though pivotal, was completely inconsequential.
The first half of this film has a non-negotiable obligation to justify the protagonist’s bizarre decision to damn a newborn infant. Despite coming remarkably close, it failed in that regard. This crucial, defining moment in this tale of Sleeping Beauty goes down unearned, like a balk with bases loaded. It’s practically anticlimactic because it’s true to tradition and false in the context of the preceding 30 minutes. I think the only way the curse makes emotional sense to the viewer is if the child is the product of Stefan’s lust and power-starved rape of Maleficent, which isn’t even close to what happened. Her envious wistfulness for a discarded storyline in which Stefan chose love/lust for her over his life in the castle isn’t, I think, enough malice, and directing it at the kid still just stinks. Envy/dominion are explicitly defined as human failings to which Maleficent’s homeland succumbs in consequence of one too many contaminating visits from mankind. Aurora’s nameless mother feels like an important (corrupting) compromise, a functionless appendix or a plea bargain down from premeditated murder to temporary insanity resulting in drugged mutilation, wing-jacking and recurring abandonment.
Rape and Disney?
Somewhere down the road there’s a vastly darker and far more satisfying version of this revised manifestly-unfairytale. In the interim, this one’s pretty brilliant as a transitional stepping-stone to an unwritten masterpiece of mature, fully-empowered fablemaking.
If the mission of Maleficent was to take a big artful step in a lot of the right directions while making a buck, mission accomplished.
The Recent Posts column is a nifty feature, but it has an upper limit of 50 posts, so here are the 110 earlier blitherings. This is my third attempt at someting useful and legible:
I remember the moment I realized, midway through reading the book about five years ago, that nobody would ever be able to adapt it into a film. I smote my forehead with the palm of my right hand in darkly self-deprecating humor for getting hooked on (and greatly enjoying) a transmedia dead-end, cul de sac. The principal characters were all too young to buy beer, and the moral/psychological gradients ranging through the book would tax the talents of deeply-contemplative middle-aged actors to do justice to the thematic material — not kids — or the nauseating compromises would result in an exploitative abomination, a typical Hollywouldn’t. No fucking way.
And in the five-or-so years in which I wasn’t looking it got made. Brilliantly! In spite of the employment of young actors, whose work-hours are proscribed and carefully monitored, and numerous layers of dark implications involving genocide, totalitarianism, authoritative disinformation, and increasingly-accurate predictions regarding the soul-destroying cost of the conduct of warfare by increasingly-youthful soldiery, it got made more carefully, intelligently and far more precisely than I would have guessed was possible. I credit Gigi Pritzker and Gavin Hood for realizing an absolute impossibility — and if I heard their commentaries correctly, they credit everybody involved in making this obviously-unmakeable film.
Ironically, the reason I stumbled onto the book was its author’s, Orson Scott Card’s, profoundly-supportive appearance in Done the Impossible; the fan’s tale of Firefly & Serenity.
And just for the record, I think the red carpet/cobra(dragon) was the key metaphor for fame, blame and shame. Even more than the book, the film facilitates passonate, civil conversation on matters that need voices.
…for Jor-El was so indifferent to Life that he surrendered his only begotten son, the first naturalborn child in millenia, to a planetful of retarded barbarians who would immediately destroy him (if they knew of his alien origin and if they could)…and died shortly before his wife, his race and his entire world. Jor-El is a darker, more absurd figure than God, Darth and Satan.
Apart from the convoluted storyline, innumerable deaths, and the gratuitous destruction, this movie borrows stylish schtick from every competing franchise under the sun. BUT its biggest sin resides in not borrowing the merest iota of a sense of humor (about anything) from enterprises of greater pith, moment or sexual/romantic sensibility.
I think this reboot is even worse than the original SUPERMAN film, which turned, after the first hour, from pomposity to pathetic slapstick.
The “found footage” metaphor is a handy conceit for an entertainment industry that’s rarely held accountable for all manner of groundlessnesses. In this film, the subjective camera perspective makes admirable sense right up to the last act. An abused kid intends to document (and maybe even pre-empt) assaults on his person by his violent father and several contemptuous peers by means of the video-camcorder he acquires (somehow).
What might have been a moderately-interesting treatise on the power of inexpensive video to provide public evidence of privately covert abusive behavior becomes a different film when the three central characters, fast friends, encounter an anomalous and enigmatic piece of flobotnam that transforms this potentially-controversial Constitutional rights video chronicle into a salable superhero origins movie.
Power conferred by the enigmatic anomaly goes directly to the head of the largely-sympathetic camera operator, one of three suddenly-telekinetic prodigies, who becomes the film’s sole antagonist. It’s the fat middle of the film that permits deliciously-interesting relationships to develop (in lieu of tedious exposition about pseudo-scientific stuff that doesn’t particularly matter). That fat middle opens a fascinating window on the rapidly-developing drama, humor and pathos that bind and divide the central characters, with the aid of a ubiquitous video camera.
The telekinetic conceit greatly reduces the shaky handheld-camera distraction common to similar films. It’s also the engaging fat middle of this film that distracts the viewer from the violation of the “found footage” metaphor, when nobody bothers running the video camera during the pyrotechnic climaxes in the last act of the film. (When we viewers care about the people portrayed, we don’t care at all about the fabricated metaphors.)
Chronicle is a chameleon in that it seemed to be one kind of film until it clearly wasn’t quite what it seemed, at any given point in its running time. The only thing it continued to be was surprisingly fascinating, despite my expectations.
The most surprising thing about this film is something I realized in retrospect. It’s that the number and variety of sophisticated storytelling devices only became evident to me on the third and fourth passes through the film, which opens and closes on a dovetailed narrative as the familiar voice of Tony Stark confidentially discloses to his psychotherapist the subtle indications of ruinous choices he’s made in spite of Iron Man’s mortality, a surrender to the heroic self-sacrifice he made very near the end of The Avengers movie.
Iron Man’s recovery from those traumatic events flow beautifully in feints, gambits and callbacks throughout Iron Man III in the form of Stark’s panic attacks and moments of impetuous bravado.
While it moves with all of the visual and explosive alacrity expected of a BigDumbMovie, there’s far more there there than qualifies for stupid — in rivers of throwaway lines that excede the rib-tickling hilarity of referring to Ben Kingsley’s character as Laurence Oblivier.
Paltrow, at long last, has far more to do with the surprisingly-relevant guts of this series than teeter in very-tall shoes, as does Cheedle in deftly and respectably managing the War Admiral role like a heavyweight actor in a costume designed for lightweights. And there’s yet another child prodigy (whose best shit gets borrowed like studios pre-appropriate brainchilds). The careful management of purposefully-disinformed public perception versus uncompromising reality/fatality.
The dovetailing narrative bookends a frisky detective tale packed with overlapping revelations injected in realtime (and retrospect) by all participants in the storyline, especially audience, and the worst psychotherapeutic confidant Tony might pick is revealed at the end of credits in stride with a pair of evolving characters. I think the unqualified success of Marvel Studios, Pixar films, and the Freed Unit was/is predicated, just like the entire American Experiment, on the wide public perception of principles of, by, for and about People rather than money, machines, Gods, toys, fish, rats or principles.
Contrary to expectation, I think all of this stuff is in very good hands.
Supremely ambitious and UNfuckingBELIEVABLY satisfying!
When I stumbled into this film this morning, I’d no expectation that it would turn out to be a masterpiece of heuristic storytelling in which the fragments of three cornerstones of gothic horror would be fused into a fascinatingly singular adventure. Rooted in humor, homage and critique, Van Helsing swept me off my feet again this evening. Stephen Sommers!
12JUL2013, while watching the DVD with commentary, Sommers recites the keenly human question that opened the crypt of the narrative: “What would you do with three gorgeous women for four hundred years?” The film coalesced the instant that question was asked in the mind of its author — obviously, one would fuck like crazy, and the issue of that answer would require the unholy talents of the one-and-only Herr Doktor Viktor von Frankenstein to awaken the undead army of Dracula’s unborn monstrosities to create the way of the future — which doesn’t account for Dracula’s history, but Sommers does so with unqualified genius. In my estimation, ladies and gentlemen, this here Van Helsing is one hell of a brilliant, visual-adrenaline movie and (just like Casablanca) an endlessly-rewatchable film. “Three cornerstones of gothic horror”, was a shameful underestimate.
I set off from Foster City, California at 7:30PM on the evening of Tuesday, June 12, 2013 for New York — because the week I spent with my aging mother in her Bronx co-op apartment in May convinced me that leaving her alone was the precisely wrong thing to do. Giving myself one month to set my affairs in order, a foolhardy road trip of 3000 miles suddenly lay before me like the rash promise I’d made to begin my relocation by June 13.
The sixteen year old car I drive, a 1997 Toyota Corolla CE, was overburdened with about a half ton of my most indispensible stuff. The remaining 2/3 of my property I’d crammed into boxes and stored semi-securely on the shelves of my employer’s warehouse. If there is a hero in this recitation, it’s the long-neglected car that never failed me in the course of my journey east.
This is the point at which I launch into the major rant that justifies the title of his post, while diverging from the actual, physical trip I took earlier this month. The tirade begins by highlighting user-unfriendly aspects of road travel on an interstate thoroughfare, and proceeds to key on similar inconveniences that riddle the information superhighway. It hinges on the premise I’ve long held, that the people who design and execute the ubiquitous, proprietary systems “we” all use don’t, themselves, actually ever use the systems they’ve created — or the systems wouldn’t stink like hell. I’d cite examples with which I’m familiar; the FedEx Online shipping system, the Mitel Online Store, DeviantART’s comments system…and bore the pants off anybody who happens to read these paragraphs and isn’t familiar with the organizations I cite. So fill in your own blanks.
The point being that broadcast-style (newsprint/radio/television) information systems have readied us to shut-the-fuck-up and get over our niggling dissatisfactions with official procedures and authorized systems that don’t work as well as they might if effective feedback loops (for customers) were built into them and intelligent modification (custom[er]iztion) were not reflexively-dismissed as cost-prohibitive. But the days of the age of broadcast-style information systems are numbered, aren’t they? Don’t the rise of the internet and interactive social media mark the tomb of the Mushroom Generation (kept in the dark to eat shit) with the deathless words; “I’m mad as hell and I’m not a consumer anymore!” No.
So, in the course of 62 years of living in California, I’d never dined at the Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Dixon, CA, until the evening of June 12, 2013. It was well worth the stop my parents never deemed necessary in all the years I traveled with them from San Francisco to Sacramento, and all the years in which I traveled solo, more fixedly intent on destination than journey, habitually. Forty-five minutes to dine and I was gratified, satisfied, and back on I-80 by 9PM, figuring to sleep for a few hours in the vicinity of Stateline. At a rest stop outside of Truckee, I pulled over to catch a few hours of sleep and realized that I had no intention of doing so — so I got back on the path to the Bronx, and never try to sleep again until Bloomberg, Pennsylvania.
Here’s where I complain about the modern inability to indent the first sentence of a paragraph.
I have very little to say (that interests me) about driving across California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska, except that the maximum speed limit was a merciful 75 miles/hour, mostly. I got the impression that Nebraska’s in the process of turnpiking, so infrastructural-improvement-construction-work zones crop up pretty frequently, dropping the maximum speed limit to 55, threatening doubled fines in work zones and narrowing two eastbound lanes to one. Fuck Nebraska, but double-fuck Omaha, where I-80 is marked sketchily through a 10 mile maze of aging freeway cloverleaf nonsense that culminated in a major pothole seemingly designed to destroy my rear axle.
It happens that the date I’d arbitrarily decided upon for the start of this trip fell in the dark of the moon, when the only lights on the road that prevented me from driving off the freeway were my own headlights, the taillights and headlights of other vehicles and reflective signs that seemed mostly to terrorize me with visions of colliding with deer in the darkness. You can also keep Des Moines, and the rest of Iowa where the moon don’t shine.
I stumbled into Chicago shortly after dawn, Thursday morning, expecting to get lost. I reasoned that if Omaha and Des Moines had barely failed to confuse my forward progress, Chicago must succeed. And my nerves had begun to fray into the complex delusion that long haul truck drivers have taken up the slack created by a sluggardly economy that’s cleansed the roads of state troopers and highway patrolmen; victims of thwarted collective bargaining agreements and sequestration. Although I got swept up into the truckers’ vigilante behavior of shutting down the fast lane to flagrant speeders, I found my situational awareness suffering from fixation on the speedometer needle. By Pennsylvania, I’d quit caring what the grassroots vigilantes were up to. Indiana and Ohio had greatly weakened my grip on reason with construction zones, accommodation/convenience exits and various forms of restraint of trade visited on commercial organizations that don’t have nationally-recognized logos emblazoned on the turnpike signs that funnel travelling dollars into deep, familiar pockets (McDonald’s, Shell, EconoLodge…).
Ah, but, Pennsylvania! — Rolling, sweeping, lovely turns, manicured roads and beautiful green scenery — an Eden-like roller coaster addicted to cosmic steroids for a couple of serpentine centuries. About 2/3 of the way through the state I asked a state trooper (or park ranger — one stupid hat looks much like another) how in the name of all that’s holy does a desperate driver get the hell off this amusement park ride they call the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He didn’t bat an eye, so this probably wasn’t the first time the question had been put to him. He indicated clearly that there is no other/better way to get from Youngstown to Patterson than this very interstate. That’s when I apologized for asking a silly question, adding that I’d been awake for about 96 hours and 2300 miles. He suggested a nap at the next rest stop (mile marker 221). I said something polite, yet incoherent, and drove on to Bloomberg, PA where I spent $91 on a motel shower, and 12 hours of deathlike sleep.
The toll on each of the major bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area is $5.00. Shortly before noon, Saturday, I crossed the Hudson River at the George Washington Bridge for $13.50. Welcome to New York, Sucker. My destination was the southwest corner of the Bronx, and the intersection of the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. In the ensuing 2.5 hours, I would cross the Harlem River four times, intermittently poring over my Hagstrom’s 5 Borough Atlas of the City of New York and driving in perplexed, dead-ending circles. I’m no too proud to ask, but previous experience has taught me that the vast majority of New Yorkers can’t give coherent directions. Habit, intuition and experience don’t easily translate into words like left and right here in Spuyten Duyvil where the grid is a nice idea that doesn’t really apply all that well on the Manhattan side of the river, either.
I think the east is different from the west in one important way. The east has long been organized around ass-by-jawbone money grubbing, while the west is rooted in private, antisocial comfort. Money segregates in the east. Money congregates in the west. In 1876, Custer died on this date. In 1776, monarchy was in trouble. Fill in your own blanks, but be sure to level a few rounds at George Custer, George III and whoever else annoys you.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.
I used a little trick to get through repeated viewings of this interesting, enigmatic film that lacks a single sympathetic character.
I decided that mankind is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction (the thing that the Weyland-Yutani Corporation [the funding source in previous films] will eventually settle for). The highminded quests of the various factions in Prometheus;
- the resolution of permanent philosophical questions,
- answering an ancient alien astronaut R.S.V.P.,
- The Fountain of Youth,
- a paycheck…
all come to nothing as various species of predatory abominations take the human cast apart. What remains of them, at the end of the film, is the unforeseen task of preserving humanity or of dangling a few really-cool threads for at least one additional sequel (or 8).
My reading of the intent of this film is as darkly abhorrent as the hidden malevolence in Lilo & Stitch, cheapening life, concluding that mankind is genetically engineered to degrade and terror-form every mudball it infests, because that’s what we do. Perhaps my read is perturbed by the apocalyptic Mayan prediction that coincided with the week of my NetFlix rental, or media reports of manmade climate change resulting in the current crop of “SuperStorms” or guys going postal on schoolkids with assault rifles or something else that’s equally unthinkably disspiriting.
The real trick is not minding.
How Prometheus resonates with films that were made in the era between it and Alien interests me. The Matrix and Terminator machineries (among others) take parallel toxic threads of despair-with-mankind and weave them into a reasonably-coherent tapestry that mirrors the dark and self-alienating visions embedded in Prometheus and in the evening news.
Paraphrasing Lean’s T.E. Lawrence;
Where is it written we’re assholes!? and made in the image of assholes?
Just shut up and look around, stupid.
But then, I think every film Ridley’s ever made has something of vital interest to say about xenophobia — because we so eagerly do unto others whatever we abominate whenever it’s done unto us.
I very much enjoyed the peculiar mix of heart-racing terror intersperced with loads of cerebral gut-wrenching humor that alternates with splatterings of sexual abandon as the slender thread of a very-big picture supports the frame of reference that gradually becomes the gallows rope that justifies and earns the clarity with which I viewed watchers watching watchers watching ever larger frames of reference implode in patented Mutant Enemy staples (blood, conscience, innocence, carelessness, sacrifice, irreverance, responsibility and worth) whose complex interactions result in unlimited cascades of mayhem. Amy Acker, Tom Lenk, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Whatheff Uck?
This film is tremendous fun. Parody, schmarody.
Second pass; 20SEP2012 — On the other hand, WarGames is still a lot more satisfyingly enjoyable, with stronger parallels to defective automated schemes.
The only way to win is not to play.”
This is an excellent film that’s designed to engage the viewer in the complete disorientation of the protagonist. It presents the audience with a completely disorienting sequence of detailed events for a nominal 8 minutes, while the hero (and the viewer) struggle to make sense of what the hell is happening. Then the 8 minute interval ends in a wildly-disorienting round of orders, desperate requests for grounding information, and disorienting explanations that circumvent and sidestep the protagonist’s getting a fucking grip, and the original 8 minute sequence recommences. And it goes on like that, with the hero (and viewer) ferreting sense out of the welter of circular and linear junk that transpires in the gradual revelation of an enormously-important mission in which the life or death of the central characters is secondary.
In spite of, or because of, the massive barrage of confusion, this film is wonderfully riveting as it progresses; not unlike a movie company shooting and re-performing and reshoting an 8 minute set piece, with choices and discoveries and improvizations and errors and consultations and no fourth wall. And it moves like an anvil dropped from a speeding helicopter; but it’s less predictable.
Frost, Denoff, and Rutledge lust after the same pathetic objective, internet celebrity; quantum geocentric catholicism: Galileo’s Epistle to the Corinthians (And one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it…) or They get paid, We get paid because We’re all in this together. Yahoos, heelots, and most billionaires are on the same incorrect and unheroic page in the universal playbook; Number One.
Spectacular speculative fiction created expressly for film.
This film and Singin’ in the Rain are the two best, most loving and reverential/subversive versions of A Star is Born that anyone’s ever made. This one’s smarter, while the other is slightly more entertaining.
comes very very close to being insanely great, but then, I became a Burroughs freak at something like 12 years of age, 50 years ago. It lasts. Dipping into this film was inevitable for me, so I paid very little attention to who stepped up to make it.
Kitsch, Collins, Dafoe, Church, Hinds, West, Cranston, Schwimmer?, Favreau, and Malik. I knew Tim Riggins had enormous chops, and Lynn Collins’ delivered a Quality of Mercy soliloquy as Portia that absolutely blew me away, and I have tremendous, amply-justified faith in Andrew Stanton — but I wasn’t expecting tons of celebrated talent submerged in tiny, even miniscule, roles. The credits are littered with easter eggs, marking trails that lead in two dozen directions, trails I fully intend to follow. Jewels from many crowns converged to make this one deceptively deep.
The Wire reminded us all to “follow the money”. I’m glad I’ve learned, since Firefly, to follow the people.
Don’t get me wrong. The plot of this film isn’t just bizarre, it’s Burroughs-bizarre. That’s like Africa-hot. Stuff happens because of speeches I failed to understand, action abounds for reasons that remain unclear, and I’ll have WAY too much time (to pore over subtitles and commentary, reread the novels, and pick over the bones of this remarkable film) while waiting for the next one in the series. (It is fervently hoped!)
Cheese? You bet! Must have more!
27JUL2012 — Third pass. I bought a 720p copy from iTunes because the full-boat refused to download to my Windows machine, and it’s $5 cheaper. So here’s why I’m glad I made the purchase:
“Beans. The first item is beans!” It’s an oversized, emphatic delivery that didn’t make much sense on the first couple of passes, but what if the journey to Mars is a beanstalk and Captain Jack Carter is Jack! That would be an interesting transnarrative bridge into the realm of allusion that just sets my imagination tingling. Hey! Maybe there’s more going on in this story than a shitload of humor, action, plot twists, character development, scenic splendor, poetry, mythos, worldbuilding and buttkicking special effects. Maybe there’s also a bottomless well of story-wonder into which one can endlessly dip.
Also, it’s clear that Carter’s fruitless search for the fabulous Spider Mine of Gold isn’t just common knowedge in them thar parts, it’s a source of infinite mirth for the local dickheads…but The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Deadwood led me to believe that a down-on-his-luck prospector’s very last idiotic choice would be to flap his jaws with regard to the location and value of his objective of quixotic quest, so how do the dickheads know so much? Chatty therns?! or perhaps this first first film is an emergent kind of hybrid longform-blockbuster that invites the viewer to view it repeatedly, raising more questions than one film can answer — so it really ought not to be approached as though it were bristling with self-contained answers and explanations, but far more like an immensely-enjoyable pilot episode than a season’s-worth of deconstructible puzzle-fragments in a single box. And Carter ends the grocery transaction by tossing a tinyl brick of refined gold (with an engraved spiderlike emblem) onto the shopkeeper’s counter; not ore or a nugget — but there’s really no time for anybody to think, “What the Fuck!” because the humor, action, plot twists, character devolopment, exposition, and all that other stuff I mentioned a moment ago) just keeps right on happening at a wonderfully-satisfying pace. So therns are powerful, manipulative parasites, but are they lawyers, priests or derivatives traders?
“Populations rise, societies divide, wars spread, and all the while a neglected planet slowly fades.” Why doesn’t that sound like “big, dumb fun”? Dejah Q.
Colonel Powell of the 7th Cavalry in 1867 isn’t Captain Powell of the CSA, and he clearly isn’t Carter’s friend&fellow prospector, but I don’t mind. The liberties this film takes with the details of the novel(s) aren’t cheap, exploitative nor careless. I’m confident they matter. Paraphrasing Powell, who’s attempting to recruit Carter into the 7th, “Folks are being attacked in their homes by Apaches!”. It’s an interesting irony that Sherman invented Total War (waged against entire, noncombatant populations [and Virginia Carter’s family]) on his way through Georgia before Custer brought that terrorist stratagem agains the red people of Earth. Carter, the war-weary cavalry officer responds by saying (in paraphrase), “Fuck you all.” On the other hand, new departures from the literary identity of Carter simply enrich and deepen the novel’s central character, who says:
“I do not believe that I am made of the stuff which constitutes heroes, because, in all of the hundreds of instances that my voluntary acts have placed me face to face with death, I cannot recall a single one where any alternative step to that I took occured to me until many hours later. My mind is evidently so constitued that I am subconsciously forced into the path of duty without the recourse to tiresome mental processes. However that may be, I have never regretted that cowardice is not optional with me.”
The darker, torn, more-contemplative, even Hamlet-like Carter who appears in the film has fought his way (and lost his family) to a wonderfully-bitter, adult realization of grudgingly-obstinate pacifism, in spite of his reflexive impulses to answer heroically the immediate call of duty. He’s more interesting and four-dimensional than Burroughs’ original character, and far more likely to say something cynical, like, “Stupid are the brave”, before bounding off reflexively to do the right thing without regard to tiresome mental processes. Same guy, better darknesses, deeper pain. And just when you expect the reversals to end in a cavalcade of trumpet fanfares, ticker tape and fluff; they don’t. Stuff dovetails, gathers and ramps the resonance UP!
There are also historical allusions to The Battle of Five Forks and Carter’s nearly turning the tide of battle that resulted in the award of The Southern Cross for conspicuous gallantry…and stuff like that. And Jack kills a nine foot Thark with a single blow. And althugh Carter’s inert physical body is revealed to be back in a cave on Earth, the Ninth Ray medallion telegraphed a copy of him? to Barsoom in form of an emale. Obviously, I don’t object to (my own) ridiculously-tortured interpretations, so long as they result in MORE of this exceptionally-delicious cheese. And don’t forget, there’s dip.
Subtitles help with grasping exposition in the relatively-rare instances when knowing exactly why what-the-hell’s-happening actually matters, unlike one hell of a lot of movies (in which sound effects and score are ruinously-louder than dialogue). Here, most of the humor and pith is VISUAL!
I no longer like this film (which, much like Casablanca, isn’t getting any older/staler with each successive pass, just richer and more flavorful, and more intriguing). I love it!
It’s a well-told tale of an enormous blank, white sheet on which several very-dark souls try to say their piece.
The cosmoloogy of this film is explained by the narrator at the very beginning as he writes and reads a letter he’s writing to a loved one who’ll never receive it. It’s a tale of a handful of evil (lone wolf) men exiled to the frozen north; a tale told by their defective protector, who’s only sure of one thing, that he belongs in the company of discards, omegas and rejects. His narration is like a suicide note, written in blood, on a rest-stop bathroom mirror by a soulsick guy in transit, who truly belongs exactly nowhere.
And the airplane that’s meant to transport John Ottway (and his similarly-impaired companions) “home”, crashes in the middle of an enormous page of absolute tabula rasa, where the crash, the storm, the cold and the pack of pretty-darned-plausible CGI wolves reduce the size of his company until the film concludes in the final confrontation of Ottway and the alpha wolf in a gentlemanly contest of champions — to which Ottway brings a fistfull of tiny broken bottles, electrical tape, and a woefully-inadequate hunting knife.
This is a story that’s mostly-told. It’s told very well, within the confines of the mythology it fabricates, leaving Ottway plenty of time to repeatedly consult the suicide letter that reminds the viewer of the warm&loving side of the mirror from which Ottway’s personal choices (and pathological predispositions) divorce him.
But it’s a told tale (and possibly also a tall tale) that felt the usual Hollywood-conventional need of multiple camera angles, inserted music, and a wealth of spoken words to tie the viewer into the precariously-suspended lives and deaths of several men whose almost-constant companions are a pack of enormous wolves who make Ottway & Co. seem profoundly-insignificant snacks in their BigBad (hu)manly badass bravado, by comparison.
I think it would have been a more effective film if it were shot through the eyes of the hometown team, from the points of view of the natural (CGI) predators. STILL, it is, nonetheless, an effective, engaging, suspenseful adventure that I’m glad Sam turned me on to.
As a NetFlix rental disc, all the special features are completely unavailable, because it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and a movie executive’s got to make a buck somehow (ScottFree and Inferno); disappointing. When the wolves aren’t at the door, I might actually buy myself a copy of this one. Easily 80% of the film incorporates effective elements that worked very well in Jaws, The Flight of the Phoenix, ConAir…it’s only in the very last reel that the relentless, ubiquitous menace of The Pack abates for several minutes while the unrepentant “lone wolf” humans focus the viewer’s attention on more important things than their sociopathic survival; like family, relationships, theology and various bits of wholly-unrelated bullshit.
This film reminds me of Joss Whedon’s assessment of Air Force One because I spent 117 minutes watching a character study in which there is no recognizable change in any of the characters.
What do I have to do today to make it a good day to die? It was an excellent question when it was posed in Little Big Man 42 years ago. Still is.
Second pass, 09JUL2012: In 1908, Jack London published To Build A Fire, a short story that built Yukon cold, and newbie hubris into a classic tale of human stupidity witnessed by a dog. There was no pressing need for wolves. The Grey probably needed them.
The film doesn’t quite work as a realistic portrait of seven survivors of an Alaskan plane crash because significant details get in the way of a literal reading; Ottway is attacked early, but arterial blood spurting in heart-pulses from his right lower thigh requires only a wrapping bandage to permit instantaneous healing that lets him take the lead in a desperate march from the wreck through the snow to the relative safety of the trees the very next morning. Later, there will be desperate floundering in a river from which Ottway emerges in dry clothes. A desperate 30foot leap off a cliff into a treetop with the aid of a tether made of knotted rags, rope and clothes while The Pack waits at the base of the tree for Talget, and not at the edge of the cliff. Diaz spits blood, as though he might have been more seriously damaged, during his attack, than he let on. Maybe that’s meant to make his decision to resign from the trek and life more plausible. I don’t think it did. Burke just quits breathing. Henrick drowns. Hernandez and Flannery pissed them off and straggled. Wolves just raised the stakes, most of the guys died of their own ignorance. As would I; not to throw stones.
It doesn’t really work as a fable, either. The alpha’s eyes are lime-colored. The charcoal gray of his coat makes an awkward comparison with the deep steely blue of Ottway’s eyes — unless the title of the film pertains to the uncertainty of the survors’ survival; the life&death struggle in a gray area involving Ottway’s belated exhortation for God to prove His existence by intervening in behalf of a suicidal widower whose father once proclaimed the virtue of NOT going gentle into that good night. No. That also stinks. There’s zero uncertainty in my mind concerning Ottway’s survival of the final confrontation with the alpha. Seven pairs of outraged, shining eyes glared back at the five remaining crash survivors on the second night. That Ottway stole all the way home is an ironic tribute to Hollywood bullshit. That it was the wrong home is actually pretty damned interesting.
Okay, so a single Borg ship kicked Starfleet’s butt (39 ships) at the Battle of Wolf 359, and advanced to Earth with the clear intent of assimilating the Federation homeworld.
Unfortunately for them/IT, the cybernetic equivalent of a Vulcan mindmeld permitted Lt. Commander Data to effect direct interface with the abducted Locutus, whereupon the re-emergent Picard-identity assisted Data in putting the entire Borg complement to sleep, so the cube blew up, turning the irresistible Borg invasion-threat into a resounding defeat. Ho hum. Agincourt, it ain’t.
It seems worthy of note that the abduction of Locutus was accomplished by the plucky crew of Enterprise with Borglike, split-second efficiency and explicitly unPicardian, Riker-formulated unorthodoxy, or so we’re unsubtly told.
I’m glad it wasn’t necessary to wait several months for the anticlimax this time.
The point I wanted to resolve in this second post revolves around the corporate continuum from Serenity through Enterprise to the apparently-nameless and undifferentiated vessels of the Borg. It’s about conscience. Individual Borg combat units have none, and best way to make the corporate minions of Enterprise look like paragons of soul is to force them into combat with Borg ultra-corporate drones. “Death to The Cubicle! Yay Starfleet!”
Corporations were invented to do big things while reducing personal liability to zero: Borg Citizens United.
Ultimately, the Federation’s objectives greatly resemble the Borg’s; the incorporation and assimilation of the diverse Culture(s) into a viable galactic union bound by ties that nobody finds objectionable. (That just means nobody’s Liberal. [That’s a handy Sorkinism])
I guess I just prefer Independents, Starfleet rejects, and unregenerate rogues living wittily on the razor’s edge at the fabled intersection of No and Where. And I prefer them a lot! YoSaffBridge needs her own show!
The Borg are a unified extrapolation of the comparatively-disunified Starfleet entity. They mark the opposite pole in continuum from the Independents of Firefly through the military/industrial, uniformed group-personality of Starfleet to the embedded (conflict-free) insectlike protocols of Borg reality; collective impersonality.
But wait, there’s more. It’ll probably seep into print when I’ve seen the other episode, on the other side of the third-season-ending cliffhanger.
Episode 68 in the Star Trek: The Next Generation series guest-stars Harry Groener as a mutant Betazoid, Tam Elbrun, whose empathic/telepathic powers are unusually acute. Harry also played the Mayor of Sunnydale, Richard Wilkins, in another universe, a largely-unrelated star system.
Unlike the vast majority of empathic Betazoids, Tam Elbrun’s sensitivity to the thoughts of other people appeared at his birth, rather than in adolescence; a crippling, terrifying power that predisposed him to reclusive avoidance of others — until his introduction to a massive, living, alien vessle known as Tin Man. Tam’s emotional discomfort with people is mirrored in Earshot, a third season episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (the one that proximally paralleled the Columbine High School disaster).
The purpose of this post is to suggest value in the pursuit of transnarrative media reading; to suggest that the relatively-standalone format of Star Trek: The Next Generation links surprisingly-interestingly with the serial-narrative of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (for instance) like stardates and hellmouths and character-arcs align across the seemingly-vast, insurmountable distances/barriers of differing broadcast networks and series/franchises; constellations. The links show up in the people who write, perform and produce these tales.
Joss Whedon has spoken of his Firefly series as a kind of loving-yet-acerbic critique of the Star Trek franchise(s) in which the spirit of enterprise is expressed differently; not-so-much as the conquest or exploration of The Final Frontier as a chronicle of a voluntary family of misfits bound together on a homey freighter (rust-bucket) that the sleek, sterile, military uniforms in Starfleet would customarily ignore/interfere with scornfully, while pursuing some Greater Good, per orders.
The Tin Man episode states explicitly that (at least one of) the purpose of life is to care for others; a purpose that creeps out of subtext on the U.S.S. Enterprise, and waves like a radiating banner on Serenity.
I’d like to believe that my current pursuit of marathoning select old television shows is providing me with the means to see moments that inspired the U.S.S Mutant Enemy (for example) to create the alternative cosmologies to which I’ve lately become addicted, to assemble the writers, actors and crews that mean far more to me than the expensive logo-banners flown by competing studios, broadcast networks and distribution channels. And the quickest, most-satisfying, and fruitful means to find relevant, resonant, meaningful bridges between moments-that-matter is by concentrating attention on the PEOPLE who make this stuff, rather than moves of the monied interests that fund it. That’s all, now I’m on to Hollow Pursuits, the ironic title of episode 69, but not without noting that Tam Elbrun’s name put me in mind of Gabriel Tam’s appearance in Safe, a key episode of Firefly that led me to see (possibly-ridiculous) links between Gabriel’s tie bar, the interrupted boardroom meeting, BlueSun and Christopher Buchanan, Bill Moyers, David Simon, David Milch…
Even if these pursuits are hollow, they’re fun.
Apologies for nearly-identical triple post. I’m looking for the means to delete the two previous entries, and training myself to proof this stuff before endeavoring to publish it so goddamned repeatedly.
I had low expectations, based on previous disappointments in this franchise.
This one turned out to be a good deal more than a reasonably-plausible, remarkably coherent, intelligent origin story.
It’s also wondefully satisfying as a dovetailing, standalone emotional rollercoaster that peaks in an ecstatic declaration of independence;
the single word, “NO!“, spoken by a chimp (played passionately and believably by the incredible Andy Serkis).
On the second pass, this film’s cleverer turns (quotes, overt and implicit references) do stand up to closer scrutiny. There are also goofy elements that absolutely don’t stand up.
When the viewer has already experienced the emotional tempest that makes this film go, the second viewing reveals unfortunate (wishful thinking) peculiarities:
- Star research scientists don’t get to fixate for 5-6 years on failed projects. They get terminated.
- All apes don’t brachiate.
- References to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and to astronauts lost on a failed Icarus mission to Mars may set up still more sequels, but they ring pretty false and pointless in the close confines of this one.
There’s another level of peculiarity on which this film operates. The human lead, played by James Franco, isn’t the protagonist. About 24 minutes into the film, he’s shown to be a turncoat whose inability to experience the narrative from the real hero’s perspective makes him completely unreliable. In fact, all of the humans in this piece exhibit disturbing flaws, ineptitudes and vices based in self-serving attitudes, myopias and blindnesses; greed, carelessness, cruelty, stupidity, drunkenness, lust, rage, sloth, general dickishness and complacency. Non-human primates are presented as shockingly cooperative, self-sacrificing for the greater good and dedicated to the proposition that all of us are created equal, except for the really, really stupid ones; humans. That’s an intriguing proposition made more fascinating by virtue of the fact that much pivotal information is delived in this movie verbally by people whose interest in elocution is obviously negligible.
On your second pass, try turning on the necessary evil of subtitles. They’re no ALZ113, but they help shortcircuit wishful thinking.
I just spent the last six weeks stranded in the Delta Quadrant, watching all 171 episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, courtesy of NetFlix. In my estimation, the very best of these remarkably-inventive stories, The 37’s, opened the second season and ended the entire seven season series with the ringing resonance of Endgame, an episode so rich in internal quirks, twists, character and irony that the shock of mythic satisfaction I’m presently experiencing impels me toward the other sagas in this franchise (except Enterprise) with unparalleled enthusiasm.
There’s probably no better way to overcome the helpless futility of cliffhangers, commercial interruptions and appointment television than marathoning juicy, chewy, moralizing, spiritually-elevating junk like this.
Tastes great, less filling; highly recommended!
Since nobody’s asked what’s meant by my occasional abuse of the term, POMOGRAPHY; it is, in my mind, very-directly related to the semi-popular corruption of the term, “POMO” (“post-modern”), to mean damned-near anything.
I like the fact that the lower case of most typed fonts make POMOGRAPHY practically-indistinguishable from PORNOGRAPHY. And that a Google search turns up, among other things, photographs of Pomeranian puppies, Indians of Northern California, apples, and remarkable knots of confusion pretty-much wherever it’s dropped in a sentence. And that temporarily skipping over it (and jamming it, eventually, into some kind recognizable context) requires an incredible act of interpersonal faith.
I’m also really fond of the idea that “pomography”, particularly in graphic and photographic art, endlessly crawls the razor’s edge between sexual eccentricity and creations that engage the viewer/creator in fanciful flights of conflict over unconscionable subject matter and uncomfortable self-awareness. Once upon a time, the key to recognizing PORNOGRAPHY was explicit evidence of a publisher’s commerical interest in the undivided attention of the sweating, addicted (and usually-deeply-hypocritical) viewer. I think that’s far less true, anymore.
Blindly and typically; “I get off on sophisticated erotica, you’re just a PORNO-FREAK!”
The Apple-connection, it seems to me, is extra-especially fruitful as a means to immerse the user (I think PORNOGRAPHY is primarily a utilitarian trigger to sexual abandon [involving stimulus mechanisms that vary tremendously and unpredictably from user to user]) in unrequited thought. It’s the customer-oriented, ease-of-use aspect, and the sleek&tempting packaging of an ultra-attractive manifestation of whatever’s expressly forbidden, specifically because, by its very nature, the lure of that thing inspires doubt, logistical juggling, self-examination, and careful evalutation of fundamental, agenda-driven conflicts between intimate desires and arbitrary rules. To totally estrange yourself from your prefered platform and operating system, in mid-sentence, try it today.
I think it’s a great word for puncturing pomoposity and thinkering with gravity.
I’m confident that clarifies absolutely dick.
I cried like a baby and laughed like a fool. Simultaneously.
There’s a powerful, vibrant celebration of humanity in the films of Chris Eyre I need.
Smoke Signals, Skins, Edge of America knocked me out more than enough to look forward with great enthusiasm to
The Doe Boy, Skinwalkers, A Thief of Time, A Thousand Roads, Imprint, After the Mayflower…and all my relatives.
Despite my misgivings (expressed in summarily reviewing Graphic Novel Movies) the strengths of the legendary writer/director carried the day out of the stadium and off the battlefield with fanfares, banners and there might have been some bunting, beating the pants off Hollywood chic, money and the tradition of big-dumb tentpole blockbuster junk. It’s a fine film that’s packed with clever dialogue delivered with consummate grace by a very-deep bench of seasoned, professional actors portraying characters whose depth telescopes a bit from film to film, but dramatically and dimensionally in this film.
It’s weaknesses derive from Hollywood’s embrace of a medium that Hollywood doesn’t understand. Perhaps Hollywood never will.
3D produces a perceptual effect in an audience that jittering multiple-camera operation defuses and MTV editing obliterates. These fashionable devices grate against the 3D viewing experience by jerking the audience around the mise en scene arbitrarily in ways that resemble a psychotic episode that culminates in nausea and neuralgia.
My concern for Whedon’s shortcomings in visual storytelling persist even after my thorough enjoyment of this kickoff blockbuster that relies on the current licentious abuse of point-of-view (of a nonentity) to tell a tale that’s far more than merely big&dumb, it’s enormously-spectacular and profoundly hearty. The 3D experience is an ideal platform for pomography (post-modern; self-aware, relativistic graphic storytelling) and pornography, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant.
I fiercely object to the way The Avengers was shot and edited, but in spite of those counterproductive hurdles, it’s about stuff that’s eminently worthy of concentrated contemplation, and nobody I know who’s writing and directing films is better qualified than Joss Whedon to provide clever, pithy, insightful, joyous entertainment that knocked my socks off while stimulating my brain beyond its accustomed limitations, and will continue to do so when I own a copy that complements the growing list of narratively-complex shortform blockbusters that tie the bow on this fascinatingly-continuous tale of the Cosmic Cube.
Talkytalk is cheap, but an action movie that repeatedly differentiates sentiment from faith from conscience from confidence from hubris is worthy of very close scrutiny. Talk persuades, action inspires faith (which is neither sentiment nor sentimental). This action-movie is, at its root, a religious experience for devout agnostics.
“Moments not moves!” I always wondered whether that Mutant Enemy axiom was about camera moves. The action-moments are deeply satisfying, but they set up moments of buttery serenity so rich and smooth I hoped they’d never end. The camera moves and the varieties of flobotnam are a fundamental problem that belong to/on this kind of turf. They’re counterpointed and greatly mitigated by the heroic strengths (creative, rhetorical, personal and interpersonal) of a filmmaker I greatly admire, but they’re flaws in the fabric of two industries that demand a whole lot of love. Whedon does. More like this (but even better) would be great! and sooner would be best.
Conversely, Haywire shows all the flaws in the absence of love. There are worse ways to spend 92 minutes, but most of them involve waiting in line at the department of motor vehicles. Gina Carano needs her some Whedon. But then, who the hell doesn’t?
Speaking as someone who’s over the hill in a line-of-sight broadcast environment, Digital Television Sucks!
The 19″CRT I bought in late 2001 still works with my newish set-top digital tuner and my ineffectual 12-position RadioShack antenna (that looks a lot like a radar-recon aircraft, for no discernible reason). Unfortunately, they all work together to deliver a greater number of crisp, pristine commercials that are frequently interrupted by the shows I actually want to watch — and those shows (no matter what I do to capture clear signal) reach my receiver with infuritating gaps in video and audio that I don’t want to get used to.
It bears repeating that the commercials come in loud-and-clear, while the programs I’ve tuned in to watch simply don’t.
Between my receiver and the two transmitters (at 12 and 20 miles from me) upon which I depend are:
- the 2-story building next door
- a 2-story waste-water treatment tank, 400 yards away
- lots of tall trees, the ususal vagaries of Bay Area weather and more-or-less constant wind
- San Francisco International Airport
- and an industry designed to deliver compelling propaganda that’s intersperced with content I value (and the broadcast industry regards as worthless in comparison with costly political slander and the gold mine of shameless, self-promoting Brand-Stroking).
BREAKING NEWS: Direct to you from the Oval Off___. “My Fellow A__________. Due to ______s beyond __________and___ hostilities have ____________-_________ between the United State_of__________and________ coupled with _________ asteroid bombardment, sunspot ac___________and global thermo______._________ ____tsunami__ _is ____ly no alternative to war!” ________________”Tastes Great, Less Filling”…(a series of loud, clear, uninterrupted, obnoxious, repetitive commercials)…What’s in your wallet?”
Broadcast digital television sucks because It’s toasted. So too is the broadcast television industry.
Infinity starred its first-time director, whose mother wrote the screenplay. The film is composed of a number of engaging anecdotes concerning the early life and first marriage of Richard Feynman, the celebrated physicist, teacher and mensch. It’s an intelligent, sensitive and heavily-edited film that feels like a string of elaborate in-jokes that meander around immensely-important subjects concerning life, learning and (nuclear) death — but it doesn’t provide a valuable sense of the quirky, hyper-intelligent, conflicted and paradoxical protagonist, Richard Feynman, a paragon of curiosity and a beacon of lifelong education with an aptitude for lethal humor. Evidence suggests that one has to look elsewhere for that unique sensibility by doing a lot of additional homework before finding the personal satisfactions that seem to be locked in this film; satisfactions shared by the Brodericks.
This is my first encounter with a commentary delivered by mother and son; frequently-overlapping conversations with constant deference by only one of them to the other — it’s like watching Charlie Rose interview practically anybody; frustrating as a mother.
Anonymous is a significant setback to the Oxfordian cause of persuading anybody that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote exactly everything we’ve been stupidly misled to attribute to William Shakespeare. It does this simply by being an amazingly confusing movie in which adjacent cinematic events take place at both ends of a 40year period early and late in the reign of Elizabeth I, involving young and old actors (who are meant to resemble one another), their significant others, and enemies in an ingeniously-woven conspiracy narrative that lost my attention a few minutes before the expository disclosures that make 90 minutes of interminable and bewildering tedium entirely worth my while — well, almost worth my while. What if William Cecil had told Edward de Vere (rather than Robert Cecil) what he’d had in mind all along? How does an anonymous playwright coax properly-nuanced line readings from his untalented front’s tin-eared, illiterate actors?
While I was still interested in the convoluted story line, it occured to me that the Oxfordian premise smells like it’s driven by an elitist agenda; that a lowly, uneducated, plebian actor shouldn’t have written the most important body of work in the Engllsh language. That stuff must have been written by a brilliant, forgotten aristocrat. And that’s the arrogant notion that yanked me out of a movie that’s primarily dedicated to an incredibly trivial pursuit; ornery academics putting an uppity Shakespeare back in his proper place, academic obscurity.
Wikipedia, I’ve since learned, lists a few dozen discrepencies that make the license Anonymous takes with fact smell significantly worse than I thought it smelled while I was watching the movie.
On the other hand, Contagion is the terrifying story of havoc wrought on the global population by a new, profoundly-lethal viral disease. Every bit as potentially-confusing as Anonymous, this film whips the viewer’s attention (and an excellent ensemble cast) from Minneapolis to China, Atlanta, London, San Francisco…freely, wantonly and ruthlessly tracking initially-boggling threads of several disturbing tales that may/may-not justify the investment of engaged interest in a remarkably-bumpy ride on a hyperlinked magic carpet. I think it works well enough to justify repeated flights to re-explore a dozen suspenseful threads, not the least-memorable of which involves Elliott Gould’s delivery of a fairly brilliant line, “Blogging isn’t writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.” And “Great stories are rarely true.”
Both films would benefit greatly from a commentary track (or 6) providing the kind of insider-insight that permits the audience to evaluate and discriminate the efficacy of filmmaker intent versus execution. Neither of the NetFlix rental discs I’ve got include “special features”, which raises an interesting irony regarding MRC-style (Media Rights Capital) restrictions and the unavoidable disclaimer that precedes the delivery of content in this medium;
“Whatever the idiots who made this junk may say in their stupid interviews and their masturbatory commentaries, you can’t hold responsible us faceless corporations that own this valuable intellectual property. Because we say so!”
Yet in order to gain access to that worthlessly-creative infra-junk, I’ll have to pay the IP’s owners for my very own personal copy (of the BLUE-RAY disc and the appropriate unnecessary and obsoleting hardware they seem also to be hawking) in order to listen to the idiots’ valueless blithering. I believe that kind of penurious, mercenary, unscrupulous thinking is at least the square of irony, and ought to have a special name (that’s briefer and more precisely specific than FUCK. YOU!) highlighting irresponsible, money-grubbing, misanthropic, misattributing corporate anonymity.
After the second pass through Contagion:
- Deadwood was about second-chance strangers coming together to initiate the natural coalescence/formation of a rudimentary and rapidly-evolving community/culture, out west.
- John Adams was about imperfect people breaking away, en masse and cohesively, from England to try forming a more-perfect union back east, where second-chance strangers are made.
- Dancing with Wolves was about an alienated individual finding belonging in a doomed community, in spite of his practical comfort with the habitual isolation he found indistinguishable from solitude.
- Contagion is about the natural process governing the Articles of Disintegration into chaos with the aid of a panic-accelerant called virtual social media and a viral catalyst that requires physical contact.
Just a bit of tasty junk I plan to think about; related, cyclic, self-destructive, and prone to endless repetition.
From the middle of the second pass through Anonymous:
Although this movie’s less confusing the second time around, it has a pair of dual, opposed resonant kinks. The one I’d like to applaud involves the belief that entertainments can teach, inspire, foment all manner of cohesion and action in an audience. The other one still stinks of flattering aristocratic unreason.
The pace of this magnetic, beautiful, resonant film is so agonizingly slow that everything that happens seems completely predictable.
It also seems criminally naive to blame Melies disheartened retirement on disinterested postwar audiences rather than on his being repeatedly raped into bankruptcy by the thieving Thomas Alva Edison and defective international copyright law designed to canonize plagiarists and obliterate originators.
Notes from a letter to a friend:
The trouble with graphic novels and comics that get to the BIG SCREEN is the universe of information we’ve missed out on. After the first Iron Man film, I was inspired to hit my friendly, neighborhood Marvel vendor for access to the papertrail containing all the stuff that didn’t get into the movie. I bought three thick, juicy Iron Man graphic novels that barely scratched the surface of Iron Man lore. It turns out the same is true of the X-Men, Daredevil, Spider-Man papertrails…and that just means that comics are very like soap operas – there are character-complexities, esoteric references and oblique subtleties that regular folks (who haven’t been addicted to monthly installments of stories that have been churned out since 1966) will simply miss, unlike the junkies whose lives have (for decades) been built around that addictive stuff. Frank Miller’s Sin City is probably a little bit less like the bottomless content icebergs involving characters (like Superman) that go all the way back to the 30s.
I checked out of Marvel-land in high school, but whole armies of writers and artists have woven wonderful, complicated narratives while I wasn’t looking, and tracing the work of Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller or Brian K. Vaughan…, for insight into Coraline, Sin City, 300…is one hell of a daunting task – because those motherfuckers have been astonishingly prolific. Thor, The Avengers and Captain America? Forgetaboutit!
Then, there’s the other thing you mentioned – that the stories that make the screen are going to be jam-packed with CGI, crowd-pleasing, gratuitous violence, and they’re totally based in narratives that were castrated by The Comics Code that strenuously attempted to eliminate truth in sex, truth in violence, truth in crime and truth in humanity in publications aimed at the theoretical “sensibilities” of 12-year-old boys.
Now the kicker.
DisneyPixarMarvel-ESPN-ABC is now one company. I can’t suggest you take a look at the first Iron Man movie without ignoring your resolve to-never-line-the-pockets-of-Disney-executives-with-your-hard-earned-cash. The thing is that that first Iron Man film was built by its director, Jon Favreau, on a slightly different model than all the superhero/comics movies that preceded it. Favreau’s explicit intention was to build the incredibly-costly CGI bullshit around the performance of the actors, afterward, rather than moulding the actors’ performances to suit and fit the computer graphics. It’s an interesting, subtle difference, which (I think) made that film eminenty worth watching for the creative contrast; lead with the cart or the horse. But the second Iron Man movie is significantly less focused on the moral dilemmas intrinsic in the character expressed by the fascinatingly-quirky actor (Robert Downey, Jr.) than the first one was. Go figure. Gwyneth Paltrow has very little to do in either film. Mickey Rourke (in Iron Man 2) is also underserved.
Graphic novels and comics that become movies aren’t necessarily exploitative bullshit, but most of them were far better/richer and more completely interesting in the original medium which Hollywood has optioned, bought and stolen (solely to make huge piles of money).
Brian Kellar Vaughan (in my experience) is the only graphic novel author whose creations (in the paper form) are invariably golden. Hollywood keeps releasing rumors that Vaugahn’s stuff will be SOON APPEARING AT A THEATER NEAR YOU, but none of them have made the leap – even though Vaughan spent a few years recently in the writers’ room for LOST. Vaughan’s bigger stories (Runaways/Y, The Last Man/Ex Machina) run to multiple volumes, but Pride of Bagdad and The Hood: Blood from Stones are brief and inexpensive examples of superior storytelling. Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore get press and movies, but I’ve generally been disappointed in the ultimate on-screen result.
As you know, I’m a sucker for the stuff Joss Whedon wrote. If I see his name on a product, I’m more likely than not to want a look. I’m branded. Well, here’s an interesting thing I learned. After I’d gone nuts (in 2006) for his long-cancelled 2002-3 television series, Firefly, I picked up the DVDs for Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Angel, got immersed in Dollhouse and Dr. Horrible, and flung small chunks of money at the X-Men graphic novels Whedon wrote. I found constant, bewildering gaps in the continuity of his graphic novel stories, as though Whedon really requires talented, human actors to round-out his scripts and narratives. The X-Men graphic novels and Buffy/Angel comics lacked something vitally important that was always present-in-abundance in his television shows. This discovery leads me to suspect that Joss Whedon’s talents aren’t best expressed in comic books and graphic novels (translated through graphic artists), but his wild-ass, intricate, off-the-wall ideas need gifted actors and technicians to whom he can explain them after assembling the right people into a cast&crew he can charm and persuade to realize his work – which doesn’t speak well for The Avengers movie (due in theaters next May), because the cast of expensive “stars” (like Downey, Jackson…) was assembled by other (more mercenary) people long before he got the job to write and direct this potential fiasco.
Conversely, Brian K. Vaughan writes stories (particularly the Ex Machina series of comic books) that work amazing magic in exactly the opposite way. The narrative and static panels of art feel (after I’ve read them) at least as real and plausible and fluidly-continuous as though I’d seen its moments in a beautifully-executed movie, if not in real life. Unlike Whedon, Vaughan’s stories pulse with a dramatic vitality he imparts to them
- without being present on-set,
- without the creative control of an executive producer, and
- without a significant cult-following that hangs on his every word.
Big money butchers Philip K. Dick, hammers Richard Matheson, runs from Harlan Ellison. Movies made from their science fiction and comics work only-vaguely resemble the originals, but even with the handicaps Hollywood inflicts, the movies that flow from the pens they used still generally kick the crap out of vehicles rewritten for ridiculously-expensive talent (Will Smith, Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis, Matt Damon…) by less-legendary individuals.
My first iTunes purchase was transacted 26JUL2006. In the past 5½ years, I’ve had three hard discs crash, rendering several of my downloads inaccessible, forever.
Today, cruising the iTunes store, I noticed something new. The PURCHASED button on the main page led me to the discovery that everything I’ve lost can be downloaded again, from the cloud — at no cost, so that’s precisely what I’m presently doing; stalking stuff I’ve already bought, and plucking it out of thin air — so too should you.
It’s a wonderful film!
It’s about a second-tier-underdog General Manager’s impossible task of fielding a competitive, professional baseball team without the ability to bid competitively for the best talent.
It’s about a remarkable wealth of acting talent springing brilliantly off a surprisingly-deep bench to insert a nonstop mosaic of flavorful bursts of uniquely-personal characterizations throughout a film that’s perfectly-paced and discouragingly faced with the ridiculous challenge of draughting an entertaining and enlightening film from a textbook devoted to the inspired study of inferential statistics. Pitch that.
It’s about RISK! so it took the better part of a decade to get made.
It’s also about the levelling of a cockeyed playing field that’s been cockeyed for decades because of the unfair advantage vast sums of money give certain participants. It’s about dozens of fascinating things, only one of which is baseball…or history…or record-setting, or whatever rocks your boat. There’s something insanely-delicious in this one for everybody. “And if it just doesn’t work, it’s all your fault — Just kidding.”
So Moneyball is an amazingly entertaining, two-fisted, manly film that happens, also, to instruct activists in the discovery and application of overlooked means (in the details, stupid) to overcome the unfair advantage the Citizens United decision provided corporate wealth to skew elections, everafter. And like it or not, (and it happens I don’t) the only second-tier, minor-market, underdog, can’t-win Cinderella nosing around this year’s Presidential Ball appears to be Ron Paul.
The A’s didn’t even get deep into the 2002 post-season, but they changed the game…
As a Firefly freak, I absolutely don’t have a problem with intelligent remixing of the western and science fiction idiom. The first thirty minutes of this one show no sighs of anything idiotic…then the aliens arrive, and the western takes a dive through the event horizon of a space-spitoon that even the deepest bench of veteran actors can’t escape.
“Fighting Terrorists Since 1492”, is a lovely throwaway bumpersticker rimshot I noticed in an early episode of Breaking Bad, a while back. It’s the property of an Indian (Navaho?) deputy sheriff, and it belongs in an honored place as the mission statement of Cowboys & Aliens, which it, of couse, isn’t.
Never mind the tactical imbecilities that dot the storyline. This movie eventually facilitates the unceremonial burial of old tomahawks as Chiricahuas, outlaws, townsfolk and the romantic leads join together into an improbable fighting force to defend Earth against an exploitative scouting party for extraterrestrial conquistadores. Jack Kirby told this story brilliantly, very long ago, without the, you know, western stereotypes. Loogey-honking. P’ding!
It’s entertaining, once, but Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Clancy Brown, Adam Beach, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine and Walton Goggins can’t stand up against the tower of pointless hooey, which is, in the final analysis, Cowboys & Aliens: A movie that needn’t have been quite this vapid, raggedly paced, pseudosuspenseful and politically insignificant as this one was. It coulda and shoulda shone a little insightful light on American history. And didn’t bother.
Any extenuating cirumstances that might mitigate the harshness of my evaluation of this attempt-at-a-film were unavailable (as were the commentary and all of the other Special Features) on the “rental disk” I got from NetFlix, because that’s how the studio executives in charge of schlock want to play. As if I’d pay-to-own a copy of a movie I didn’t particularly enjoy watching — because the commentary and behind-the-scenes content are its saving grace.
In all fairness, I was irate at the conclusion The Final Cut until I simmered down enough to catch its director’s commentary in the course of a reluctant second pass through the film, but I wouldn’t have bought the DVD based on the unexplained execution of the intent that only becomes explicit with commentary. The Final Cut has become one of my favorite films, because of the intent that drove its execution. My copy of The Final Cut DVD came very close to being destroyed. I’m saying that filmmaker intent can be the saving grace, unless the special features are made, as a matter of moronic studio policy, strictly unavailable. With regard to Cowboys & Aliens, who the fuck gives a shit?
The Caine Mutiny is a splendid film unless it’s compared to Tunes of Glory. All of the ethical and interpersonal goods are delivered in the latter without the tedious building of a case against Captain Queeg, and the spectacularly complex, subtle performances of Guinnes and Mills are complemented by the skills and grace of a subtle director whose interest in the infinite shades of character-gray between black and white is admirably adult and invisibly breathtaking. In the course of Ronald Neame’s 2003 interview, his distaste for the current fashion of frenetic manipulation in camera operation is made explict and sharply-but-gently contrasted with the frame of mind in which he arose:
- The camera should be written, managed and handled as though it didn’t exist.
- Fastidiously smooth pans that stop before the editor cuts.
- Long, unbroken takes of events that unfold in a given scene from the least-possible number of points of view.
- Dialogue delivered clearly over spare music that never intrudes upon, muddles or confuses the audience’ apprehension of every single word spoken by performers whose obligation and gift and duty is to enthrall the attention of the viewer in stories that are too deeply layered and too complex for words alone.
Neame expressed his belief that the current trends in camera operation, editing and sound mixing will eventually be reversed in the elevation of cinematic technique to create great work in a cohesive and collaborative manner that works to the perceptual and comprehensive advantage of the audience, unlike the priorities of the current fashion. He also said that the current trend toward freneticism in visual storytelling began with television’s insistence that the viewer IS the camera. With that last parallel I’m forced to disagree because the camera has always represented an epistemoligical nonentity. I think the current trend favors the absurd, confusing nonentity. I hope he’s right, that fashions change, and that the light at the end of this long tunnel isn’t a camera aimed in the wrong direction, vainly attempting to find the action behind the scense, offstage; reality tv as the ultimate blunder in the struggle between art and commerce. Ignore the skilled, professional actors — watch the producers/distributors pick the pockets of the numbskulls in the theater/studio audience. Neame also produced Lean’s Oliver Twist. A tiny joke.
In 1964, Warner Brothers released John Ford’s last epic western, which cost four million dollars to make. It was a crappy movie that didn’t break even. It ran two and a half hours in the final theatrical cut, and improved when a comedic island of nonsense was removed from the middle. ARCH is a little too understated a description of performances that drive socially-relevant points home with heavy expository hammers as ethnic caricatures trudge stoically through Ford’s emblematic mid-space of human history and his stars articulate plotpoints in the foreground, and geologic time looks on these mortal eccentricities from far beyond our focus and nearly every frame.
A movie about the 1500 mile return journey in 1878 of fewer than 300 Northern Cheyenne Indians to their ancestral homeland in Montana from their year-long internment in Oklahoma starred Sal Mineo, Dolores Del Rio, Victory Jory, Ricardo Montalban and Gilbert Roland, as the primary Indian representatives. Monument Valley, on the border of Utah and Arizona, stands in for Oklahoma. Richard Widmark and Caroll Baker head a cast of compassionate, ineffectual white people whose indecisive ambivalences result in the gradual near-extermination (by cavalry, inclement weather and illness) of a whole lot of pseudoCheyenne in the forms of Navahos, Mexicans, Italians and Whatnots. No Cheyenne, and none of the Navaho extras speak. They’re scenery, but what kinds of subversive, postmodern things might Ford-subsidized Navaho have to say if they were allowed to speak?
When Dull Knife and Little Wolf speak to one another in their native tongue, Montalban’s and Roland’s words aren’t subtitled in English, because the filmmaker didn’t give a screaming shit what those characters actually thought. And sometimes the speak English to one another, for reasons that don’t make much sense unless those central characters are simply shallow plot devices that nudge the story along, kinda like scenery.
Cheyenne Autumn is a very odd kind of apology for Ford to have made approaching the end of a long career laden with extremely-familiar, creaking stereotypes forged in 4.5 dozen successful, self-serving American films about cavalry, cowboys and Indians. It’s a movie about the destruction of people beneath the wheel of an oblivious political machine controlled by people so remote that the stifled anguish in our foreground is inaudible to anyone who isn’t present, yet the pseudoCheyenne representatives remaing largely impenetrable masks of stoic resignation, even to the attentive audience that paid to see this story unfold. It might as well be a tale of Irish Nazis following crazy-lethal orders as a revisionist western set in OklaUtah.
John Ford made history. John Ford also made history stupid.
Our modern tendency to repeat mistakes previously made whenever The People square off against The Wealth would be more predictable and less disaster-prone without the screen of self-congratulating obfuscation John Ford dropped between us and the American Indian.
The inevitability of Manifest Destiny and the inevitable offshoring of American jobs are not separate processes. People unite to protect Life and Liberty, but the protection of Property requires a draft that’s organized by people with jeopardized property.
An odd little wrinkle:
In the twentieth episode of the fifth season of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (May 2001), the Sunnydale crew holds hostage a general of holy knights who spills a bunch of backstory about Glory, the season’s BigBad. It seems Glory is The Beast, a powerful god who was overthrown in an unspeakable hell dimension ruled by a triumverate of jealous and capricious gods before she was imprisoned in the body of a newborn male whose identity was (and remains) unknown to the knights who mean to topple Glory once and for all.
If that wasn’t sufficiently complicated, two years later (in February, 2003), Angel faces The Beast, who covertly serves the scheming Cordelia Chase, who will bear and give birth to Jasmine, the incredibly powerful god-in-transit from at least one unspeakable hell dimension. Oz? My head’s starting to hurt. But hey! The Beast awakened from rocky inprisonment deep in the bowels of the Earth to emerge from the ground in Los Angeles in the very same alley where Darla gave birth to Connor. What?!
And let’s not forget Illyria, whose (A Hole in the World) backstory sounds remarkably similar to that of the other two gods whose ultimate objectives involved the apocalyptic dissolution of natural barriers between familiar definitions of chaos, paradise, heaven/hell and unspeakable hell dimensions in which people are no longer discrete packets of private, unique identity…kinda like The Master’s plan to be the mass-production Henry Ford of Sunnydale/BtVS in the first season, with an irresistible vision of billions of beastly HappyMeals in denim served piping-hot to all the vampire beasts and hellishly-beastly demons drawn toward the Hellmouth. Wasn’t there a Beast among the X-Men? Maybe The Beast took some kind of part in building the hole in the world: Idle speculation. Slime and antlers.
I think looking for stinking plot holes in Mutant Enemy products is an absolute waste of time. It’s far more interesting and exciting to attempt to connect deliciously-harmonious points of reference across arbitrary divisions (like those erected by competing broadcast networks; nonsequential presentation, content [standalones vs seriality] meddling, budget curtailment and eventual cancellation).
This post is only a remark, a gracenote for somebody’s preliminary investigation of probable interseries resonance between a couple of complex, compact and fascinating supernarratives and Yeats’ gyre, and realwold information/privacy controversy, and the seeming-inevitability that The Beast would eventually have made itself evident in Firefly. Reavers?
Grushow/Groosalugg? Of just how much invaluable realworld/fictional woven resonance is one small underfunded production company capable? Whither Mutant Enemy? Check that question out! They’ve infiltrated most everything interesting in recent American television. And why aren’t those amazing motherfuckers federally subsidized? That‘s a band I’d love to see reunited.
Also, whither Beauty?
This is the film that pardons real vampires. Skip it.
Hymie Simon died five days ago. Jacob Kurtzberg kicked in ’94. Better known as Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, they together, late in 1940, created a hugely-successful, iconic goyische asskicking character named Captain America in an inital comic printing run that went to 800,000 copies.
In a better United States, Captain America, appearing before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, could freely state that his real name was Shlomo (not Steve) Rogers, or Chaim, or Aaron, without creating a ruinous sensation in the press.
Imagine, if you will, Hayward, Wisconsin in 1915; and a lone, exhausted, Ojibwe woman giving difficult birth to her terribly premature son, in the snowy field behind the outbuilding of a redneck bar. Perhaps it’s a daughter. Chinatown. The alley behind a mosque. The back porch of a juke joint, cantina, Armenian restaurant…pretty much anywhere that pits the principles articulated by the Declaration of Independence to the ultimate test of commercial success in the actual Land of the Free.
I’m prejudiced. Kind of partial to the tale that thoroughly expresses the indomitable spirit in a scrawny, little, victimized Indian kid who becomes the personified emblem of a global struggle to resist total war (an American invention first practiced on Confederate sympathizers and Plains Indians) and all “permissible” variations on the theme of human extermination. How would Hiawatha do it? Taking coups from Hitler.
I’d like to live in that other America. Maybe it’s the native america. The question that persists is how to go about making that relatively ideal America synonymous with this crappier one.
The second episode of the second season of Angel may not be entirely perfect, but it’s reallyreally beautiful; visually, musically, thematically. As if there weren’t enough backstory dragging behind a 240 year-old vampire, this episode loops a single thread of his shameful past from the present through a lyrically assembled series of events that localize crucial choices, filmic allusions and shame-based behaviours to a personal emotional disaster frozen fifty years in his past. It does this without the jarring, unpredictable, blinding flashes and ear-splitting noises that make most of the episodes in this series remarkably difficult to watch — even though I know that these interstitial transition story-devices mark the inevitable approach of Jasmine, two seasons down the vampire’s steeply-uphill path to redemption.
I suspect the 8 minutes trimmed for time, and moments removed to appease Standards & Practices might make this episode still more sublimely satisfying than the produced version already is, but putting them back wouldn’t alter the look that comes over Angel’s face at the very end of the episode as he gazes kinda-lovingly around the lobby of the haunted, insecurity-riddled hell of an old hotel he’s just liberated from the fascinating/abhorrent paranoia demon. It’s a legible look of homecoming that foreshadows Malcolm Reynolds’ first, enraptured visual study of Serenity, at the end of Out Of Gas, my favorite episode of Firefly (also written by the same remarkable guy).
Tim Minear’s fine-toothed commentary doesn’t go much out of its way to itemize each of the chewy allusions he wrote into this episode, beyond the mention of Chinatown. I noticed/imagined quotes from a host of hotel-based horror/noirs; The Shining, Barton Fink, Psycho with fond nods to Rebel Without A Cause, The Defiant Ones, Ox-Bow Incident, Pinky, Advise and Consent, and possibly The Manchurian Candidate, with strong tonal resonance with Bad Day at Black Rock and Shock Corridor — but then, the content and the context of this episode is steeped in still-topical issues that bleed from most episodes of The Twilight Zone; prejudice, self-interest served at cost to others, alienation, mob violence, lethal secrets, insupportable shame and manipulated insecurity — it’s as though Tim Minear were Serling’s unsung son. Temporal variations in our collective sociocultural attitudes toward racism, homosexuality, miscegenation, communism, lynching, scapegoating, crowdsourcing, and bullet-headed stupidity play tacitly, deep in the viewer’s imagination without crowning The Present Day with bullshit awards for enlightened, progressive platitudes (except for one unfortunate line that Minear explicitly regrets). It’s an amazingly tidy, nonlinear, meandering, complex and contradictory, yet beautifully-managed, profoundly-disturbing episode. HUACpaTooie!
In the interest of candor, I might as well report that I find Angel (one of my favorite television series) a real chore to watch because of the
- aforementioned, blinding and deafening interstitial transition thing,
- mumbled/whispered dialogue alongside BIG musical score and (industry-standard bogus) violent sound effects,
- the increasing prominence of the Cordelia Chase character,
- 80% of the Pylea excursion,
- most things involving Connor,
- and the mercifully-rare instances of crossover in which the hit&miss chemistry of Geller/Boreanaz usually leads me to gag on the smarm.
But it’s worth it because these shows are almost always about something real and pending that deserves to be re-evaluated regularly. And Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been? is certainly one of the best of them, right up there with The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. And there’s Billy, Skip and the indescribably delicious Alexa Davalos.
Jasmine’s the personification of the internet, the singular server of an ever-widening social network, the adversary of oldschool privacy, free will, and both the highest ideal and the ugliest dreads of humanity. The interstital transitions persist more intermittently after Jasmine’s vanquished (in the Whedonverse, where death isn’t necessarily terminal). Jasmine’s termination may have been instrumental in the liberation of Illyria, lest two monumentally-powerful higher largely-female powers converge on Earth kinda simultaneously to vastly overshadow the vampire from whose name the show derived its title.
Given the vicissitudes of unexpected preganacy (in season four), network anti-seriality notes and series cancellation, Mutant Enemy ground the standalone form of season five to an incredibly satisfying halt. Perhaps its a little more accurate to say they modified the course of a streaking killer-asteroid into a stable orbit.
The striking similarities between these two movies begin with their settings in or nearly in 1348CE, and introduce stalwart holy knights who are charged by The Curch to root out The Evil cause of The Black Plague that is presently reducing the populations of Europe by something like 50%. The Season of the Witch is a vastly superior movie starring Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman. (A movie is a film that I’ll probably never revisit.) It goes in search of conventional heroes who encounter problems and furnish solutions; and once I’ve seen the patented Hollywood packaging of the usual Hollywood product, there’s very little reason to go there ever again. The Season of the Witch is just like that; boxed entertainment. The End.
The Black Death is difficult to watch because of all the fashionable camera movement (even in extended dialogue scenes). Action scenes apparently give filmmakers unlimited license to disorient and nauseate a manipulated audience, but this film takes those liberties whenever talking heads are babbling or silent or severed. I also hated the fashionable editing practices that go hand-in-hand with wobbly camerawork.
The Black Death, however, has a significant advantage over The Season of the Witch; it’s about something I find far more interesting than neutralizing the diabolical machinations of the malicious imps of Satan. The Black Death is about the rightness of righteous intolerance. It comes right out and describes The Church as Power unjustly dedicated, for thirteen unbroken centuries, to pervasive sociopolitical dominance, the subjugation of women, and of the faithful, and the merciless extermination of disbelievers/heretics and unChristian infidels. That’s a littly ballsy for exploitainment. It also installs Sean Bean as the leader of a tiny band of sociopathic felons tasked by The Church to determine exactly what ungodly, necromantic force prevents an isolated village from falling prey to the catastrophic plague that’s ravaging everybody else. It’s a film about the plural shadow of devout belief (rather than doubt) hidden in a bloody, exploitation movie that really coulda/shoulda been better made.
Inevitably, our “heroes” find the plague-free village peopled by ________________ (that would be prejudicial spoilery). It’s probably sufficient to say there are zero signs of Satan-worship, aliens, nor people from the future. The unChristian inhabitants make cogent and interesting talking points regarding faith in the invisible, implaccable, vengeful Lord of Christian creation and orthodoxy — which sets the heavily-armed, sociopathic killer-Christians, in their midst, on edge. It’s probably enough to say that an isolated village of pissed-off infidels in the plague-ravaged bowels of Papist England in 1348 aren’t a single hair more pleasant company than psychotic fighting men hellbent on roasting bleeding heretics at the bidding of The Cardinal.
Don’t read this: (The [global] village is inhabited by lying, two-faced, manipulative, sophisiticated, self-serving, murderous agnostics: very much like Us!)
Were it not for the intrusive and excessive camera-movement/editing quirks of this film, The Black Death would deserve the kind of careful attention it clearly attempted to provoke. Unfortunately, the film also wobbles to its bloody and irresolute conclusion with a ludicrous voice-over epilogue designed to inflect the thrusts of serious conversations of patrons leaving the theater away from universal parallel witch-hunts, toward the isolated personal issues of a vengeful monk…Hollywood schlock. Expecting to be nauseted, I might revisit this one.
Yeah. That worked about as well as anything I was expecting possibly could. He’s never been Jewish. That’s just me thinking wishfully.
First pass; intense satisfaction, patience fabricated from pure Wakandan vibranium, and ridiculously keen anticipation.
Tutonic legend freak, The Red Skull, gets Cosmic Cubed (perhaps) to Asgard, meets Loki, Tutonic legend, and a pair of fascinatingly-complex villains devise new junk that merits endless speculation. Good Golly this stuff is fun, but it needs lots more Agent Coulson.
Third pass 30OCT2011: The Red Skull is an antiquarian. He’s Indiana Jones, J.R.R. Tolkien, Joseph Campbell — dusting off the cobwebs to reveal long-forgotten practical power. During their climactic fight, he accuses Captain America of pigheaded, myopic, nationalistic imaging of their common Destiny; a future in which there are no flags. He may well be a ruthless egomaniac, but the Skull is, nonetheless, interesting, visionary.
Steve Rogers (the sickly, undersized, constant victim of other people’s abuse of superior power) suddenly beomes The First Avenger because all the other Avengers were born later (with the probable exception of THOR), but the suddenly-mighty Captain America isn’t remotely interested in wreaking vengeance on the many individuals who victimized weak Steve Rogers (most of whom probably died during his 70year nap). Captain America’s mission is (chivalrously) saving the planet from the abuses of superior power, he’s the prototype, the foundation upon which S.H.I.E.L.D. was built from the Strategic Scientific Reserve, the primary narrative representative of which is Peggy Carter:
Courtesy of Wikipedia, actress, Hayley Atwell;
An officer with the Strategic Scientific Reserve and the love interest of Captain America. Regarding her preparation for the role, she said,
“I’m training at the moment six days a week to make her a bit more military and make it convincing that I could kick butt.”
About the character Atwell stated,
“I likened her character to that famous Ginger Rogers quote. She can do everything Captain America can do, but backwards and in high heels. She’s an English soldier through and through, although she always looks fabulous. She might stand there with a machine-gun shooting Nazis, but she’s obviously gone to the loo beforehand and applied a bit of lipstick. She doesn’t need to be rescued. That’s exciting to me – her strength”. “I think she’s quite stubborn, a slightly frustrated woman who struggles with being a woman in that time. But more importantly she’s a modern woman and she sees something in Captain America that she relates to, and becomes kindred spirits. He treats her very differently to how she’s been treated by lots of men, in this kind of dominated world she lives in. So she’s very much a fighter.”
The transition from one secret government institiution, S.S.R., into another, S.H.I.E.L.D., is an intriguing thread of continuity (across fascinating decades of recent [male-dominated?] adversarial history) made manifest in the point of view of Peggy Carter, who appears in 2011 at the end of this film looking almost exactly as she did in 1942. I wonder why. If Peggy Carter lost Steve Rogers to his noble decision to sacrifice himself (or New York), that choice had deeply-tragic consequences, for her. If, in 2011, Steve Rogers awakens in a simulated 1942 hospital bed, greeted by the (identical) granddaughter of Peggy Carter, true love gets fucked. If it’s The Original Peggy, fresh out of preserves in 2011, there‘s a shitload of valuable personal (gender-polarized) history sacrificed in the name of the Carter/Rogers romance. Ginger wasn’t Fred’s automatic, natural doppelgänger, maybe that was Hermes. They worked (choreographed, tried, failed, revised, rehearsed beyond exhaustion) until they worked like nobody else.
There’s an enormous body of unproduced (perhaps unwritten) masterwork detailing The Potts Perspective on Stark, Carter on Rogers, Watson on Parker…It’s written from the shadowed, ordinary side of unqualified, superheroic celebrity, and it hands the bullhorn to people who REALLY know how to communicate something all of us will eventually come to regard as invaluable. How to thrive while being eclipsed.
(Never mind that suspended animation wasn’t widely known to be an available option in 1942. Steve hops into a few utterly-unfamiliar, foreign cockpits and flies expertly, too. This film is richly-inlaid with the usual bullshit, but the stink is offset by the ennobling charm of noticing at The Red Skull’s Flying Wing [the MacGuffin that opens the film] is buried in snow and ice, very like the saucer in The Thing, and that David Niven’s introduction into Powell & Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death resonates beautifully with Steve’s and Peggy’s radio conversation as both guys plummet fearlessly to their respective deaths in their respective films.
And champions of the myopic view of culture pigheadedly wave copyright pennants as an impediment to Progre$$, while the biggest A-List creators in Hollywood are also the biggest fans/tributers/borrowers [“pirates”] who ever studied pedicure at the feet of recognized masters.)
The point I’d like to make here is that Captain America: The First Avenger isn’t just mindless, escapist entertainment. Its excellences, failings, quirks and logical inconsistencies point directly at stuff that’s worth thinking about and fixing in real life while waiting for the next Marvel spectacular to hunker down on our faces and bathe us in its investors’ ecstatic delight (on its way to the bank). It’s also a crucial installment in an ongoing cultural event that may provide significant and valuable information to Schmidts and Jonses and Tolkiens and Rogers (both Steves and Gingers) in centuries to come.
Something about this particular time in American history smells like it was accurately predicted from between the dusty covers of quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore. To misquote Livia Soprano, “Poe us”.
Fourth Pass 07APR2012: So! Steve Rogers wakes up almost 70 years into his future and isn’t greeted by Peggy Carter, but a very attractive young woman who resembles her a lot — and I totally missed that obvious fact. Never mind.
Fifth Pass 06MAY2012: After seeing The Avengers in a local theater on the evening after its domestic release. I noticed that Loki elaborates on the Red Skull’s vision of OneWorldOrder in which there are no flags of nationalism/division by positing his curious and interesting belief that humankind naturally belongs on its knees devoting unqualified, obsequious homage to one superior individual, naturally, that’s him. Say now, that’s a fun idea for tying together the underserved notions of Captain America as the amplified version of the iconically-naive anti-bully, Steve Rogers, and for providing insight into the Red Skull’s character, and The Hulk’s and Thor’s and…y’know, I wish I’d spent less time dawdling over homework, so I’d know lots more about the characters played by Scarlett Johanssen and Jeremy Renner.
Hanging around in my theater seat, clear to the end of credits for The Avengers isn’t optional. It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings or Thor chews, whichever comes last. Hanging, I noticed the names of Jenny Agutter and The-one-and-only, J. Michael Straczynski (in a construct-authorial-homage cameo), whose faces I didn’t recognize, unlike Stan Lee, Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton, Paul Bettany and Lou Ferrigno (these last two were employed as voice talent), and cruising IMDb today, I see Alexis Denisof as The Other, whoever the fuck that may have been. I never knew how much I loved falafel until it was time to get up from my theater seat, steal the 3D glasses (for the hell of it) and go home to re-refresh my memory of the elements I already own of this kinda-wonderful-deeper-than-expected saga. It’s fuckin’ aht! or an incredibly-reasonable facsimile thereof.
Here’s a rich, angular, suspenseful film that’s packed with actors I admire turning in spectacular performances; Michael Parks, John Goodman, Stephen Root and Melissa Leo, with engaging cameos by Kevin Pollak, Anna Gunn and Matt L. Jones (Brandon “Badger” Mayhew from Breaking Bad). The film is significantly more visual and prettier than anything I’ve come to expect from the nimble, verbal pen and direction of Kevin Smith. It’s also a good deal darker, dead-serious and unrelenting than whatever I was expecting, but it’s also remarkably rich in language woven to drape Michael Parks in luscious opportunities to inhabit the part of an iconic, plausible, realistic, believable, spellbinding, damn-near-persuasive, righteous maniac. Move over, Robert Duvall.
It’s a film about ass-coverage, fanaticism and ubiquitous, fanatical ass-coverage — inronically, buttfucking is the central bone of contention in a tale that reaches around several unexpected corners to expose whole herds of sacred cows unflatteringly on the horns of legitimate, current dilemmas; realworld problems, skanky heroes, and precious little conventional, Hollywood bullshit.
While there were moments of prolonged yammering that rang ever-so-slightly false, they were generally screamed over the sound of semi-automatic riflefire, which makes up for an awful lot. I didn’t know bigtime lethal pandemonium came so easily to Kevin Smith. Now I do. Red State is a chewy, thoughtful kickass film that wipes feces and sputum off it’s testicles with wit, elan and an inimitable appetite for violent, colloqual charm.
I’ve always found it interesting that the 11SEP2001 attack on Manhattan wasn’t aimed at Liberty.
It targeted Wall Street, like a wake-up call for 99% of Americans who came to lust for revenge against the alarm clock,
while the captains of our financial institutions effected our economic collapse.
Who Are the ’99 Percent’?
Anti-Wall Street protesters have differing motivations
We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.
We wondered who were the “99 percent” protesting on the streets on Thursday and why they were demonstrating. Here’s a random sampling.
Charlene Woodcock, 71, retired book editor
QK: Why are you out here?
CW: I’ve seen the wealth of this country – and especially California – go from the middle class to the very rich. It’s destroying California, it’s destroying our schools. The Republicans are doing their best to privatize everything they can and it’s destroying the country.
QK: What do you want these protests to accomplish?
CW: A state bank. North Dakota has a state bank that isn’t doing it for profit.
QK: What do you have against Wall Street?
CW: They broke laws, they made a mockery of process of granting loans to enrich themselves in the short term and they didn’t give a damn about the long term.
Mary Ann Meany, 60, lawyer
QK: Why are you out here?
MAM: I’m out here because the program I work for has been cut, my court has been cut, every social service in California is being cut and I think it’s time that we all recognize that there’s a social contract that we have to support. I work in juevenile court – employees, commissioners, court reporters have been cut.
QK: Do you blame Wall Street for those cuts?
MAM: We use Wall Street as a symbol and a signal of whether the economy is good or not. I don’t think it’s the right indicator. We think the economy is doing well because Wall Street is doing well but we still have high unemployment and people aren’t willing to pay taxes and things seem to be breaking down.
Larry Yee, over 50, service technician
QK: Why are you out here?
LY: I’m a member of CWA 9410. I’m here in support of our brothers and sisters asking for fair jobs and making sure the banks don’t just walk away after the disaster they caused in the financial market. We all need to speak up and make sure our voices are heard.
Evelyn Sanchez, 35, community organizer
QK: Why are you marching out here?
ES: I’m very much in touch with families that have been affected by this crises. Both immigrants who have been cut off from services as well as families who are facing budget cuts in their school system.
QK: What does Wall Steet have to do with those cuts?
ES: A lot of our laws and policies are designed to favor them – their health and their well-being and not enough is being done for us, the people, who are on the street. I’m happy to see there are so many people here who are sick and tired of the agenda of our politicians and that’s doing what’s best for corporations and the financial sector. It’s about time they pay attention to the needs of the people.
Karen Henry, 50, runs clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies
QK: Why are you out demonstrating?
KH: I came out here because I am fed up with supporting corporate America. There’s a much bigger gap between the rich and the poor. And we gave all our money to the banks and we don’t have anything left. This morning I was going to work and I heard Bank of America is going to charge $5 for debit transactions – that’s friggin’ ridiculous! It goes into some stockholders pocket while it gets eaten out of ours. I heard about the demonstration today and decided to come. I left work early and decided to come.
Chris Tully, 36, unemployed
QK: Why are you out here?
CT: To support the 99%. To support Occupy Wall Street. They’re out there for us. I’m against corprorate greed and I want to see a higher employment rate and banks should pay.
QK: Why should the banks pay?
CT: They’re the ones that benefited the most from all of us in the bailouts and their still making massive profits. They continue to do so.
QK: What do you hope will come out of these protests?
CT: I’m hoping to see a stronger sense of community and be more organized. Everyone tends to walk around thinking they can’t make a difference and we’re out here to show them we can.
Ulises Olvera, 19, student at San Francisco State University
QK: Why are you out here?
UO: To stand in solidarity with all the workers and see if we can make some change.
QK: What kind of change do you want these protests to make?
UO: Drastic change
QK: Like what?
UO: Like the way the tax dollars are collected. Who gets taxed and the amount of taxes we impose on people who have money and people who don’t have money. I come from a working class family and in the last five years, they have been struggling just to make rent and it’s been really tough. I’m from San Deigo and a lot of my friends, their parents are agricultural workers, and it’s been hard on them too. They’ve lost jobs in the last couple of years.
QK: How is Wall Street responsible for that?
UO: They hold all the wealth and they get preference on how money is dispursed and they’re pretty much in control of everybody else. So whoever has the money has the power and that’s how they control.
Darnell Boyd, 50, tenant organizer for SRO Hotels
Boyd lives at the Mission Hotel and he helps organize tenants.
QK: Why are you out here?
DO: We need the rich to pay more taxes. And we need them to not cut aid and medicare.
QK: What does Wall Street have to do with that?
DO: I think they’re [rich] Wall Street. They need to pay their fair share.
The second season of this series is a prequel for the first season. It’s another masterpiece of complex character embroidery that serves to provide contextual backstory. Every central character relates to every other along multistranded threads of interaction that are riddled with bizarre combinations of loyalty, devotion, conspiracy and betrayal. I’d like very much to cruise this series again; marathoning the second season again before plunging directly into the first. This show is brilliant! but I have a couple of problems with it:
Just as the relationships between principle (and secondary and tertiary…) characters are multilayered and complex, so too the relationship between spoken language and visual information is fascinating:
- Every physical conflict is photographed from multiple-angles, and edited into a bewildering hodgepodge of milisecond glimpses that are (apparently) intended to goose-up the viewer’s excited appreciation of innovative, amplified and hyper-real ACTION, which, after all, is the primary draw/appeal of this show — just as Fred&Ginger dance routines were signature tentposts that masterfully integrated and magnetized audience attention to the narratives in their films. I find the postproduction manipulation of action scenes in this Spartacus deal profoundly intrusive and a counterproductive, destructive distraction from the seamless integration of months of conditioning, hours of rehearsal, and admirable dedication of skilled performers to realize each choreographed illusion of hyper-violence. From the beginning, Fred said, If the camera moves, I won’t! I like his decision that effectively countered the then-revolutionary Busby Berkeley approach to camera operation by insisting on long takes shot from a stationary position, no dramatic/spectacular overheads, and realistic transitions in profoundly-integrated narrative context that drives theatrical audience attention purely in the service of story. Leni, Busby, Dektor and MTV have kinda-sorta taken a crap on all that.
- The exception to Point 1 appears in the final episode of Season 2, when in Bitter Ends, the characteristic editing style leans toward significantly longer snippets of action that permit the viewer a much better idea of what the fuck’s going on, who’s doing what to whom for what foreshadowed reason, and reaction-shots from outside the ring of violence are regarded (at long last) as far less important to storytelling cohesion than the coherent images of photographed violence. Why?
- Subtitles distract, but I find them a necessary evil. Actors with a wide variety of British accents swiftly delivering elevated dialogue (that often lacks personal pronouns, drops objects and subjects from sentences and dwells in a realm of peculiar syntax) make the use of subtitles indispensibly mandatory, for me. I think big American money must insists that aristocratic Nazis and Romans be played with classy British accents, social dregs are Cockney, heroes kinda Nebraska-ish…always. Check it out. Diona sounds like Oakland, Lecretia’s meso-sophisticated Sydney, Gaia’s upperclass Swinging London from the 60s — to my ear. I think it’s a subtle Hollywood manipulation that’s been operating so effectively for decades that we barely notice it.
- The larger vision of the Roman Republic revealed in this series presents the viewer with an elaborated awareness of the lower strata of a vast social pyramid (slaves, gladiators, lanistas, minor officials, and gangsters) and glimpses of absolute assholes who dwell in slightly higher castes in the social order, without ever showing us the major assholes (for contrast) in the seats of power in the city of Rome, itself. We constantly sense their pervasive influence, but are not permitted a bird’s-eye view of the structure of the Republic, except through the myopic, rhetorical fantasies, convoluted conspiracies, and vague aspirations of their (contemptible) tools, the very characters we come to know and/or hate as the episodes unfold. And the percieved differences between heroic and villainous characters (and their actions) are so microscopically minute that they’re practically immeasurable. Forget your moral compass? No sweat, you probably won’t need it.
- Perhaps the most uncomplicated relationship in all of this wonderful mess is that between Lucretia and her husband; an almost-unflagging devotion that makes them totally cool with rape, murder, dismemberment and all manner of mayhem visited on anybody other than the two of them. But how/why that singular bond became remarkably exceptional isn’t remotely clear.
In spite of these objections to presentation and big-picture context, I continue to find this show entertaining and instructive as all-get-out.
Well, that was just ENORMOUSLY enjoyable!
Mark Romanek holds Harry Truman accountable for photofinishing Japan, as though World War Two were a race/war. It’s an uncommonly visual film that opens as disconcertingly as did All The President’s Men.
The heavenly order of SlaveMart is maintained by specialized angels in cerulean vests, whose mission is to serve our better natures, while being judgmentally-scrutinized from above by Bill, the multiple-monitored, big-pictured SlaveMart manager, whose inescapeable omniscience is almost entirely powerless before the unexpectable threat posed by Sigh Perish to Bill’s only begotten daughter, on whom Sigh zooms in. Psych! Feint! Gambit!
By invoking Evangelion (the 60foot-tall, darkly-winged Angel/agent of Retribution against bad guys); and by transforming Robin Williams’ look to resemble Truman, at whiles; and by framing the Yorkin family as a pillar of apparent nuclear-familial piety riddled with broken promises on the eve of their semi-private, emotional implosion; and by depositing bad Will (Hunting) Yorkin in the hotel room of Maya Burson; and by carefully or serendipitously orchestrating dozens of similar, powerfully-disturbing snapshots, Romanek makes OneHour Photo a deeply compassionate exercise in modernAmerican (and global and universal) regret. He even provides Truman, by means of Sigh’s expository allusion to a deeply-nightmarish backstory, an excuse for the unforgivable decision to execute an unthinkable plan to destroy the nuclear family as only he can (and Truman did).
Most of the action in this exceptionally-interesting film takes place after the final act, as people who’ve been exposed to it think and talk (some may even radiate) about it; Shanley-style Doubt.
This is a propaganda film that manages in 103 minutes to convey tremendous amounts of fast-paced, coherent, stirring information about comradeship, the joys of insubordination, the lethally-lonely duplicity of command, vengence, despair and sacrifice. Those are themes one would cynically expect of a 1938 American film designed to support Allied spiritual preparation for the Second World War by celebrating the exploits of gallant, flying heroes of The War To End All Wars…but somehow this film also manages to weave a powerful, cogent, fundamental, explicit and universally-appropriate antiwar statement from all of the cliches its primary themes employ. Go figure. No, really. Don’t miss this one.
Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, David Niven, Donald Crisp, Melville Cooper and Barry Fitzgerald lead an ensemble cast of players in this remake (of a 1930 adaptation of a Saunders short story, The Flight Commander) that successfully spins its themes with remarkable efficiency in the first several acts, and culminates in utterly wordless action in an illustrative masterpiece of unequivocal, purely-visual “narrative” exposition.
Beyond the title of this post, I really haven’t much to say. Plot devices in Random Harvest are much klunkier and very different from those used in The Adjustment Bureau (also klunky), but the numerous points of emotional engagement are almost identical. I don’t mean to say that the more recent film intentionally mirrors the earlier, it’s simply that they share a lyric momentum and pace that drives toward a final, monumental chord that rings brilliantly with optimism in the Garson/Colman romance, and kicks the ass of order-following middle management in the Blunt/Damon assay (significantly easier).
I agree with Lisa Hayes (creator of UltraFem) that Philip K. Dick wrote tiny, jewel-like ideas into stories that Hollywood inflates, bathes with steroids and hammers almost beyond all recognition/affection into major motion pictures (that don’t work particularly well).
The NetFlix rental of The Adjustment Bureau marks my first experience of a clearly-marked “rental” DVD that shows me all of the special features, but won’t give me access to them. George Nolfi’s intentions in writing and directing this film will remain unknown to me until I cough up the purchase price — or NetFlix registers and acts on the outrage of customers like me (who declare the disc defective and ask for a replacement — there has to be a less ridiculous strategy). Media Rights Capital may well be responsible for this new wrinkle in the value-subtracted method of data distribution:
I believe I’ve just discovered a brand of content to avoid like the plague (that transforms loyal customers into zombie-like consumers). I don’t actually fault NetFlix.
I’m midway through an early-Garson marathon. The films are superb, but they just seem to improve as that radiant personality receives more ’40s screentime:
Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Pride and Prejudice; Random Harvest; Mrs. Miniver; Madame Curie.
Update 29Aug2011 — My second NetFlix rental MRC DVD (Devil) confirms the earlier expectation that the Media Rights Capital logo signifies no special/bonus features will be available to customers playing rental disks. It’s a reasonably effective means for studios (Universal, this time) and entertainment distributors to discredit and devalue NetFlix in the minds of NetFlix’ clientele. I sense the birth and spread of stupid industry-wide practices intended to subtract worth from viewer experience in favor of the illusion of capital gain (upholding shareholder value by crapping on product/audience).
So long as NetFlix fails to identify castrated titles in its catalogue, customers won’t bother to avoid them, won’t boycott MRC-style manipulative practices, and the bean-counting mercenaries win yet another minor, short-term victory enroute to the absolute-complete disenchantment of audiences for studio product — not (only) because these two particular intellectual properties are fairly-blatant Christian propaganda shit, but because the fundamental intentions of its owners really stink of spite and avarice.
If this film weren’t tweaked ever so slightly, I think Warner Brothers could have found it eminently actionable. That’s how much it reminds me of Casablanca.
There is, of course, the romantic commonality of Paris. The brash, iconoclastic hero’s permanent sidekick is a first-rate piano player, and a bit of a slacker. The love-target was a continental waif who owed so much to her admirable protector that their marriage (of gratitude and cradle-robbing convenience) seemed inevitable. And the hero is so entirely at-home in his expatriated ex-patriot adventure that he radiates a uniquely winning American (and disaffected [almost unAmerican]) confidence that natives and tourists recognize and bow before. This citizen of the world reflects the maturation of the formerly-insular American character — as the stormclouds of global war gathered, AND in the chillier, atomic aftermath of that more violent conflict.
Rick, the drunkard, and Jerry, the painter, are practically the same guy. Ilse and Lise, Sam and Adam, Victor and Henri…in fact the closer I look at both films, the more alike in wit, structure, engine, tone and personalities the seem. It’s really only the similarly-polished crisp finishes of their respective skins that makes them seem markedly different (dancing&singing versus labyrinthine plot twists) — and the fact that the couple walking toward Destiny at the end of the movie is two dark guys in the earlier film. Go figure. Between Wilson, Raines and Levant, I wonder which one is and was the most invisible man. Even if these comparisons aren’t breathtakingly original, I think they serve to highlight variations in zeitgeist and backlight the silhouette of the mysterious specter of national will, especially in context of international crises. Call it Mentertainment, because Gentertainment was the exclusive province of Fred Astaire (or maybe Hugh Heffner).
Neither cinematic masterpiece gets any older with frequent re-exposure, unlike most things. All hail The Freed Unit!
- The Wizard of Oz (1939) (associate producer) Babes in Arms (1939) Strike Up the Band (1940) Little Nellie Kelly (1940) Lady Be Good (1941)
- Babes on Broadway (1941) Panama Hattie (1942) For Me and My Gal (1942) Cabin in the Sky (1943) Best Foot Forward (1943)
- Du Barry Was a Lady (1943) Girl Crazy (1943) Meet the People (1944) (executive producer) Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) The Clock (1945)
- Yolanda and the Thief (1945) The Harvey Girls (1946) Ziegfeld Follies (1946) Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) Good News (1947) Summer Holiday (1948)
- The Pirate (1948) Easter Parade (1948) Words and Music (1948) Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
- Any Number Can Play (1949) On the Town (1949) Annie Get Your Gun (1950) Crisis (1950) Pagan Love Song (1950) Royal Wedding (1951)
- Show Boat (1951) An American in Paris (1951) The Belle of New York (1952) Singin’ in the Rain (1952) The Band Wagon (1953) Brigadoon (1954)
- It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) Kismet (1955) Invitation to the Dance (1956) Silk Stockings (1957) Gigi (1958) Bells Are Ringing (1960) The Subterraneans (1960)
This film is a premake of The Magnificent Ambersons, without that pesky loss of wealth. Bette Davis plays a fabulously wealthy, arrogant spoiled brat who is fawned over and adored by just about everybody, including Humphrey Bogart, as her lowly, insubordinate, Irish, horse trainer and George Brent, the manly, heroic, saintly, lying, crusading brain surgeon who diagnoses her inoperable brain tumor. The brat’s comeuppance impends from the very opening moments, and drags its heels maddeningly-slowly through this 104 minute star-vehicle.
Miss Judith’s sad predicament would probably have been far more interesting (to me) if Bogart’s moment of egalitarian honesty with her, late in the plod of the plot, had led to the human revelation of reciprocated carnal tension — and Brent were a bit of a charlatan, whose matrimonial intentions really revolved around Judy’s enormous financial inheritance &/or her surprising ample rack — and Ronald Reagan’s affable, uppercrust sot had been mercilessly brutalized by everyone capable of inflicting pain on his ass with spurs, blunt force and cramming innumerable riding crops up his dark victory.
I guess I despise this tale’s conspicuously mythic principles:
- The lives of ordinary people are terribly insignificant; in keeping with the indefatigable conceit that inherited wealth makes anybody beautiful, adorable and important.
- Never tell the whole truth to a person with a limited lifespan. (Pssst…that’s everyone, so always bullshit your ass off).
- Happiness and virtue reside in prolonged denial.
- Irish actors (Brent and Fitzgerald) feign haughty Anglo-American accents, while Bogart needs a plebian brogue for no discernible reason.
- Always photograph 31-year-old Davis (playing 23) through focus-softening gauze unless you can pull the camera back to Cleveland. (Tootsie humor)
- The best people die alone, finely and with dignity.
Irrational segue into a brighter vane: After Top Hat and (even more-particularly) Swingtime, Carefree is an enormously disappointing experimental let-down.
Segue 2: I read somewhere recently that David Suskind cited The Golden Age of Television as having begun in late 1938. Most everybody else thinks it started ten to fifteen years later. I think he meant that Orson, Winston and Adolph demonstrated the unlimited and barely-imagined power of broadcast media to rock the planet with panic, confidence and aspiration. If I’ve caught his drift correctly, it’s an extremely insightful statement about the crass, commercialization of quality entertainment bent to the proprietary ends of the special interests that own it — who aren’t necessarilly vapid assholes, that’s just the role they’ve actually played in the corruption of TV from the transcendentally teletheatricality of Marty, 12 Angry Men and Patterns to Fox News (which might well be Murrow’s worst nightmare).
I’ve set aside time for four supporters like you to join me for dinner.
Most campaigns fill their dinner guest lists primarily with Washington lobbyists and special interests.
We didn’t get here doing that, and we’re not going to start now. We’re running a different kind of campaign. We don’t take money from Washington lobbyists or special-interest PACs — we never have, and we never will.
We rely on everyday Americans giving whatever they can afford — and I want to spend time with a few of you.
So if you make a donation today, you’ll be automatically entered for a chance to be one of the four supporters to sit down with me for dinner. Please donate $75 or more today:
We’ll pay for your flight and the dinner — all you need to bring is your story and your ideas about how we can continue to make this a better country for all Americans.
This won’t be a formal affair. It’s the kind of casual meal among friends that I don’t get to have as often as I’d like anymore, so I hope you’ll consider joining me.
But I’m not asking you to donate today just so you’ll be entered for a chance to meet me. I’m asking you to say you believe in the kind of politics that gives people like you a seat at the table — whether it’s the dinner table with me or the table where decisions are made about what kind of country we want to be.
It starts with a gift of whatever you can afford. Please make a donation of $75 today, and we’ll throw your name in the hat for the upcoming dinner:
I’ve said before that I want people like you to shape this campaign from the very beginning — and this is a chance for four people to share their ideas directly with me.
Hope to see you soon,
No purchase, payment, or contribution necessary to enter or win. Contributing will not improve chances of winning. Void where prohibited. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. on 6/30/11. You may enter by contributing to Sponsor through https://donate.barackobama.com/Dinner-With-Barack. Alternatively, visit http://my.barackobama.com/Dinner-With-Barack-Alt to enter without contributing. Four winners will each receive the following prize package: one round-trip
ticket within the continental U.S. to a destination to be determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion; hotel accommodations for one; and dinner with President Obama on a date to be determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion (approximate combined retail value of all prizes $1,075). Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Promotion open only to U.S. citizens, or lawful permanent U.S. residents who are legal residents of 50 United States and District of Columbia and 18 or older (or of majority under applicable law). Promotion subject to Official Rules and additional restrictions on eligibility. Visit http://my.barackobama.com/Dinner-Rules for full details, restrictions, and Official Rules. Sponsor: Obama for America, 130 E. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60601.
ONE DAY LATER 16JUN2011:
I’ve worked for President Obama for almost five years — but I’ve never actually sat down for dinner with him.
That’s why I’m excited about (and maybe a little jealous of) the opportunity you have to join the President for dinner. He’s going to sit down and swap stories over a meal with four supporters, and you could be one of them.
You should really give this a shot. Donate $75 or more today to be automatically entered for the chance to sit down for dinner with the President:
This isn’t going to be a formal affair or a banquet for hundreds of guests.
It’s just you, three other supporters, and President Obama, sitting down together for an evening among friends.
It’s not often you get to talk to the President one on one about your hopes for the country and your ideas for this campaign. So I hope you’ll put your name in the running.
Donate $75 today, and you’ll be automatically entered for the chance to claim your seat the table:
Deputy Campaign Manager Obama for America
Since we launched our “Dinner with Barack” contest on Wednesday, we’ve been getting asked a lot: “Is this for real?”
Yes, it is.
President Obama is really going to sit down with four supporters for dinner. And if you donate to support this campaign before 11:59 p.m. on June 30th, you’ll be automatically entered for the chance to be one of those guests.
Make a $75 donation today:
We’re able to put on a contest like this because this campaign isn’t like other campaigns.
The organization we’re building across the country is for supporters like you to help shape. And unlike ones that count on special-interest PACs and Washington lobbyists to foot their bills, we rely on support from grassroots donors like you. So I’m asking you to own a piece of the campaign — and when you do, you’ll get a shot at a once-in-lifetime opportunity to have dinner with the President:
National Finance Director
Obama for America
21JUN2011 6:52 AM
The President and I have a routine — we get lunch together almost every Friday. But all I get is lunch. You could be one of four supporters to have dinner with him soon.
Donate $75 or more today to have your name automatically thrown in the hat here:
I’m reminded every week that sitting down for a meal with the President of the United States — without TV cameras or a big crowd — is something only a few people will ever get to do.
You’re not going to want to miss this chance.
I wish you luck,
No purchase, payment, or contribution necessary to enter or win. Contributing will not improve chances of winning. Void where prohibited. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. on 6/30/11. You may enter by contributing to Sponsor here. Alternatively, click here to enter without contributing. Four winners will each receive the following prize package: one round-trip ticket within the continental U.S. to a destination to be determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion; hotel accommodations for one; and dinner with President Obama on a date to be determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion (approximate combined retail value of all prizes $1,075). Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Promotion open only to U.S. citizens, or lawful permanent U.S. residents who are legal residents of 50 United States and District of Columbia and 18 or older (or of majority under applicable law). Promotion subject to Official Rules and additional restrictions on eligibility. Click here for full details, restrictions, and Official Rules. Sponsor: Obama for America, 130 E. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60601.
Given the eccentricity of my crackpot ideas, they’d probably send me to dinner at Gitmo.
If you’re planning on donating to this campaign at any point in the next 16 months, you should do it now.
Tonight at midnight is not just your last chance to enter the “Dinner with Barack and Joe” contest, it’s also a hugely important fundraising deadline for this campaign — the first time we’ll report on our progress to the public and the press.
The next few hours are critical for us. Please donate $75 or more today:
Come next fall, people might not remember this date — or make the connection between the strength of our campaign then and the steps we took in these early months.
But anyone worth their salt in politics knows tonight is one of the most important tests we’ll face as a campaign this year. Let’s hit it out of the park.
Campaign Manager Obama for America
No purchase, payment, or contribution necessary to enter or win. Contributing will not improve chances of winning. Void where prohibited. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. on 6/30/11. You may enter by contributing to Sponsor here. Alternatively, click here to enter without contributing. Four winners will each receive the following prize package: one round-trip ticket within the continental U.S. to a destination to be determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion; hotel accommodations for one; and dinner with President Obama on a date to be determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion (approximate combined retail value of all prizes $1,075). Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Promotion open only to U.S. citizens, or lawful permanent U.S. residents who are legal residents of 50 United States and District of Columbia and 18 or older (or of majority under applicable law). Promotion subject to Official Rules and additional restrictions on eligibility. Click here for full details, restrictions, and Official Rules. Sponsor: Obama for America, 130 E. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60601
and at 15:30
I wanted to say thank you before the midnight deadline passes. And I’m looking forward to thanking four of you in person over dinner sometime soon. If you haven’t thrown your name in the hat yet, make a donation of $75 or more before midnight tonight — you’ll be automatically entered for a chance to be one of our guests.
No purchase, payment, or contribution necessary to enter or win. Contributing will not improve chances of winning. Void where prohibited. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. on 6/30/11. You may enter by contributing to Sponsor here. Alternatively, click here to enter without contributing. Four winners will each receive the following prize package: one round-trip ticket within the continental U.S. to a destination to be determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion; hotel accommodations for one; and dinner with President Obama on a date to be determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion (approximate combined retail value of all prizes $1,075). Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Promotion open only to U.S. citizens, or lawful permanent U.S. residents who are legal residents of 50 United States and District of Columbia and 18 or older (or of majority under applicable law). Promotion subject to Official Rules and additional estrictions on eligibility. Click here for full details, restrictions, and Official Rules. Sponsor: Obama for America, 130 E. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60601.
I know we’ve been asking a lot of you. In the first major test of this campaign, you delivered.
More than 475,000 people decided to own a piece of this campaign in just our first quarter — a promising sign of what’s to come if we all stay focused and work together.
We’ll be in touch with more information as we continue to crunch the numbers. But for now, I wanted to pass along a quick video I think you’ll like.
If you missed it, the President held a press conference earlier this week. The last few minutes were really something special. It’s a good reminder of why we’re fighting so hard to get him re-elected:
Thanks again. Hope you have a great holiday weekend.
Obama for America
Here’s something you don’t have in common with 140 other supporters of this movement who tell us they live in Foster City, CA.
That many of your neighbors have decided to own a piece of this campaign by making a donation of whatever they could afford. For some, that meant just $5. For others, it meant $100 or more. But each had their own personal reason for giving.
Our records show that you aren’t one of the 140 people where you’re from who have stepped up for 2012. Now’s your chance to change that.
Make a donation of $25 or more today to support the campaign before the critical September 30th deadline.
Here’s why you should join your neighbors in supporting this campaign: We’ve been running the numbers, and with hundreds of thousands of individual donors across the country — we are now well on our way to a million people.
In the 2008 campaign, it took us more than a year to reach that milestone. This time around, we could cross it as soon as October — just six months after the launch of the campaign.
Between now and then, we have an important fundraising deadline.
Our opponents have significant operations on the ground in key battleground states, full-time candidates without day jobs, and a lot of media attention to fuel their campaigns.
President Obama has you. And when you’re building a grassroots organization from the bottom up, the first person gets the next one involved. And the first 140 provide the foundation and inspiration for the next 140.
Support the campaign before the deadline, and bring us closer to one million donors — give $25 today:
Obama for America
The Velvet Alley DVD includes commercials and an end bit promoting viewership of next week’s episode of Playhouse 90, A Quiet Game of Cards. In this trailer, the contemplative faces of William Bendix, E.G. Marshall, Gary Merrill, Barry Sullivan and Franchot Tone are seen filling the screen, one-by-one, individually as no one speaks, but each man’s thoughts are spoken as they sit quietly around the card table, utterly immersed in thought. Untalking heads? Visual media isn’t supposed to be any damned good at that, I was, nonetheless, absolutely riveted. Curious about an engaging show I may never get to see, I found these two unrelated articles in a pdf of a newspaper page this morning:
By Steven H. Scheuer for the Herald Statesman (Yonkers, N.Y.) 12May1959
While writer Reginald Rose’ A Marriage of Strangers, starring Red Buttons and Diana Lynn on Playhouse 90, Thursday may not stir up fans as much as his previous effort on 90, A Quiet Game of Cards, Rose thinks it will shake them up a bit. As mentioned before in this column, A Marriage of Strangers is an expanded version of Studio One’s Three Empty Rooms done several years ago. Rose then wrote a full-length screenplay of it for RKO, only to have the studio go out of business. So the screenplay, with new acts, becomes TV fare again. A Marriage of Strangers concerns two lonely people in New York who meet through a friendship club and marry, and together try to overcome their loneliness. In the original Three Empty Rooms, the story took place as the couple, just married move into an empty apartment. In this script the couple meet, get to know a little about each other, marry, and then face the problems in joint housekeeping. Actors Enthusiastic Actors in Rose plays are enthusiastic over their parts – they have meat to work with for a change – and Red Buttons is following the pattern. “Red and I flew out together,” said Reginald, speaking softly in a dark, dark Hollywood restaurant which had a fake gas log flickering away in the fireplace. “I showed him the cuts and revisions on the script and, by the time we landed, Red said he had the first act in hand. He’s quite enthusiastic about the part.”
Same holds true for Barry Sullivan and Franchot Tone, who are still talking about their roles in A Quiet Game of Cards two months ago. “Sullivan even wants to do it on Broadway,” added Rose. Rose received bundles of mail on A quiet Game of Cards, a tale of a group of successful businessmen who decide to murder for the thrill and benefit of the community, and pick out a good man as their target. “We got a reaction all right,” said Rose. “Some people thought it was one of the best TV plays they’d seen, others vehemently complained that it was immoral.” Rose plays like Thunder at Sycamore Corner and 12 Angry Men bring fans out of their lethargy and to their writing desks. “I think fans like to be aroused,” said Rose mildly. He likes to jab at them, but writes to please himself first of all.
He then told about a controversial series he and writer Rod Serling, together with producer Worthington Miner, participated in. “We came out to the Bel Air Hotel and sat in our rooms for four days dreaming up outlines for the proposed series. We ended up with 39 subjects and many script outlines where we presented two sides of an issue. We had one on loyalty oaths in which a school bus driver refused to sign, figuring that if he were honest, he should be proved dishonest. He is fired, and then the kids strike on his side.
“We had one on divorce and another on free speech. I’d come across a fact about Benjamin Franklin, of all people, banning the press while representatives of the 13 colonies in 1789 were drafing the Constitution, thus avoiding the power and forces of each colony’s special interest.” Needless to say the series never saw the light again. Brave sponsors are not to be found. Meanwhile Rose spends six mornings a week at his desk writing. His 12 Angry Men will appear on Broadway in the fall and he also has another play in the works.
Hoover Asks Publicity About Young Hoodlums
WASHINGTON D.C. — FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover says it’s time to start getting tougher with young hoodlums. “We can no longer afford to let ‘tender age’ make, plunder into a trifling prank, reduce mayhem to a mischievous
act and pass off murder as a boyish misdemeanor.” Hoover told Congress. Hoover, who was named chief of the G-men just 35 years ago Sunday, recently gave his views on juvenile delinquency and other matters to the House Appropriations Committee. The testimony was made public Sunday.
In other subjects, Hoover said: 1. There have been 108 bombings or attempted bombings having a racial or religious aspect since the start of 1957. Twelve have involved schools, 16 had churches as targets and the other 80 involved private homes, amusement places, business establishments and other places. 2. The railroad industry in recent months has been singled out as one of the primary targets for Communist penetration. Other recent Communist party activities, he added, include efforts to infiltrate Negro and labor groups to create agitation, and confusion. In his testimony on juveniles, Hoover said figures for 1957 show that only 3.3 per cent of youths under eighteen were arrested. This indicates, he said, “that about 97 per cent are growing up to be decent Americans and who resent, I think, very strongly, the unfavorable publicity that comes to them as juveniles due to the conduct of a small segment of their age group.” Hoover told the House group “in recent years, reports on youth crimes have, indicated a mounting savagery,’ a senseless brutality which leaves little doubt that in the interest of self- preservation, now time for sterner measures to be taken by the congress and the courts. “I see no reason for secrecy. I feel when a felony is committed in a community, there Is no reason for withholding the name of the youthful offender and he ought to be treated in the same manner of an adult.”
“Youth should not be treated cruelly, but when they do not measure up to their responsibility of obeying the law, they must be made to accept the responsibility for their acts.” He recommended more publicity for the many youth organizations which are doing a valuable job for the nation’s young people.
Kindly restore your flying car back-rests to their fully-upright position as you return with us now to Officer Krupke’s utopian future to enjoy this newfound and interesting Serling reference: http://www.rodserling.com/Commentary1957Patterns.htm
Well, the first season almost-completely SUCKED!
Amazon will notify me if/when the second season (of this mid80s television show created by Steven Spielberg) becomes available on DVD. Twenty-two of the twenty-four amazing tales of fantasy and imagination play like premise pitches or flat jokes told by Spielberg to a writers’ room that faithfully recreated twenty piles of shapeless goo lacking satisfying endings; exactly like the worst SNL sketches that simply peter-out and conclude. Rumor has it that the second season was more Amazing than the first, but plenty of season-one critiques at Amazon and elsewhere praise its vapid stereotypes and meaninglessnesses to the skies, presumably because Steve was the executive producer.
None of this bodes well for the entertainment value of the second season (if/when), and the only saving graces involved the season one contributions of illustrious/celebrity directors (Spielberg, Balaban, Eastwood, Scorsese, Glatter) and the fact that episodes 22 and 24 were based on stories and written by Richard Matheson. The Doll and One for the Books didn’t totally suck, and The Amazing Falsworth and Guilt Trip came within spitting distance of story ideas that might have been interesting (in other hands). In (wait for the chortle) The Black Shield of Falsworth, Gregory Hines and Richard Masur turned in very effective performances because they were excellent actors, and probably overjoyed to be working their magic for Spielberg — but in the closing moments of the episode, Hines locks himself in a closet. There’s even an insert of the in-knob thumbturn in the vertical position (like you’d find on the inside of a bathroom door). Who would install a bathroom doorknob backward on a bedroom closet door? Probably a versatile handyman like Steven fucking Spielberg. That’s a minor example of the salient details that clearly got neglected along with minor issues like; if Harvey Keitel can paint his way into a joyous future with his dead wife, can he sell any of his paintings of her? or does he have to choose between creating wealth and painting marital bliss with the dead chick? THAT kind of question, had it been posed, might have been worthy of obedient compliance with the ridiculous dictates of appointment television.
Since I don’t have to wait a week between episodes, I’m probably a good deal less forgiving than I would have been 26 years ago during my/our patient-obedient phase, when sitcoms and pseudo-dramatic nonsense (Dallas?) ruled the trackless waves between treasured, tiny islands of provocative science fiction, or near-miss slop like this that passed for same. Back in ’85-87, I regretted my failure to chain myself in front of a screen to watch this stuff I actually longed to see. Silly me. Silly us. Silly television. What do you want to do tonight, Marty? It seems as though somewhere between The Richard Boone Show and NYPD Blue we settled for less and less pith and wound up watching reruns of the infantilzingly sappy Isles of Gilligan. Adventures in Paradise seemed pretty adult, hard-hitting and gritty when I was 12. I’d like another look now that I’m 60. But…NO! Why is that? Route 66 seems markedly overwrought now, but it still puts me to sleep.
Conversely, The Velvet Alley absolutely kicked my ass by presenting the predicament of an serious New York screenwriter confronted with the intoxicating, corrupting power of his first Hollywood success. The printed remnant of the film looks and sounds like an unreconstitued kinescope, but the speeches, relationships, pace, varying tones and powerful performances make up for every shortcomming. This was amazing television, courtesy of Rod Serling, whose osterized feelings about fame, wealth, reputation and success are beautifully portrayed in less than 90 minutes — and remain at least as vitally relevent to a hungry audience as they were in early 1959, probably more.
Now I’m anxious to get a load of whatever remains of Reginald Rose’ work, excluding 132 hour-long episodes of The Defenders. He must have stuck something explosive up the butt of a really important and immortal asshole.
(Thanks to NetFlix, the six disks of the Studio One Anthology will rotate past me next week. I kinda figured $40 for The Criterion Collection: The Golden Age of Television and The Velvet Alley would crash and burn my monthly budget — [but I still say what the fuck!]) This medium can teach.
This is a remarkably good film! It’s very-faithfully adapted (if Richard Matheson is credible) from a Richard Matheson novel by David Koepp, who also directed it. The special effects are almost-entirely not digital, but practical, and the commentary is phenomenally transparent. Keopp explains, lucidly, insightfully, humorously and with considerable eloquence, almost everything I wanted to know about everything I wanted to know about lenses, shutterspeeds, sounds, intents, contexts and sensibilities — often going out of his way to be uncommonly clear about tricks, failures, prostheses and gimmicks. Like Tony Gilroy, he seems to think the old line separating filmmakers from audiences is imaginary, stale, and counterproductive of better audiences and filmmakers.
The most interesting aspect of the film, for me, is the way it opens. A 5year-old boy named Jake is taking a bath while his father sits fixedly noodling on a guitar several feet away. The kid is talking directly to the camera as titles roll and the father ignores the child’s blather, BUT I CAN’T because the kid seems to be talking directly at the completely bewildered ME who isn’t particularly comfortable with this strangely-intimate, 3dimensional approach to the start of a horror movie. The father’s more mundane reality intrudes for several seconds as he asserts the bath is done, so father and son negotiate which pajamas are to be worn, but the moment the father (Kevin Bacon) leaves the room, the kid’s talking to me again, asking me if it hurts to be dead.
Jake’s actually not talking to me but to an inaudible Samantha, an adolescent who disappeard six months earlier — and Koepp maintains a respectable pace of continual contextual bewilderment throughout the course of the film that moves briskly between significant moments that very clearly explain all of the disquieting stuff that made bizarro-negative sense from the moment the film began. Koepp’s commentary, however, doesn’t even allude to the tremendously-impressive violation of the fourth wall with which the story starts. He mentions that (the almost-uncredited) Brian De Palma was a wonderful consultant, offering a torrent of excellent ideas. So it looks like I’d do well to leap headfirst into a pile of De Palma, while poring over the hugely-successful writing and directorial work of David Koepp. It’s an interesting way (not unlike The Social Network) to jack up the viewer’s head and overcrank it into your movie: “What the fuck just happened?!”
I don’t know that the subjective-camera effect could have been advantageously employed beyond that first scene, but I think it worked brilliantly to announce the presence of an unusually-organized movie that just might be a great film. As I cruise through the commentary, I’ll be looking for opportunities to envision the camera’s point of view as belonging to Samantha — with no real expectation that Koepp intended the disembodied observer to be instrumental to the tale beyond the initial moments of the film — still, that’s the approach I really wanted to discover in Rope, in which the (generally-invisible) dead person’s perspective adds several invaluable layers of meaningful interaction to the presentation of events that unfold before the viewer (who is [just like a dead person] intimately disconnected to those events). Samantha’s POV is used as a plot device to move the story forward, but an ice-blue gel (for example) might have been used to differentiate it from every other camera angle in the film, providing an immensly powerful accelerant/detonator/visual-shorcut. The counter-revolution (of “the lost art of the master-shot”) against the disorienting jiggle-cam and MTV-style rapid cutting might have begun in 1999, when this film was released. What the Neil character (the black cop in the cemetary) adds to the story is a verbal explanation of Samantha’s agenda and an impression of its urgency (which would have been [according to Koepp] communicated far more memorably and efficienty visually). Neil’s second appearance contributes an impression that the psychic community in Chicago like a kind of gay underworld in which everybody’s closeted, paranoid, cranky and warped.
Koepp surprised me with Ghost Town by bringing an unexpected depth of humanity to the incisively-comic, witty tale of a shockingly-sympathetic lifelong misanthrope. He brought Kevin Bacon’s character into the real world the moment the father confesses that he never expected his life to be so…ordinary. That line is delivered in the second scene. And it only gets better.
Yesterday was my inadvertant Richard Matheson Day. I cruised through the Twilight Zone movie, hit What Dreams May Come and went to sleep during the Stir of Echoes commentary. Some days you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting something written, ghosted or influenced by that guy; most days, actually.
It was largely over by the time I was old enough to watch any of it, but Delmer Daves’ commentary for Marty (The Golden Age of Television: The Criterion Collection  — Amazon-sale-priced presently at just $25) reminded me that the ragged edge of panic characterized live broadcast performance in realtime continuity — making movie versions necessarily quite/profoundly different from the TV versions. Gotta love NetFlix.
Patterns is the most intriguing offering I’ve seen thusfar. In that I own a copy of the Heflin-based film, I look forward to viewing both simultaneously for variances — and bearing in mind that Serling’s pre-Cook original construct had Staples crush Everett Sloane’s incandescent performance, by flatly leaving New York (and the exquisite challenge of life at the tippy-top of his chosen career) in a righteously-indignant huff. Fuckit! I just placed my order, adding $10 for The Velvet Alley. It’s Ramsie’s industrialist’s rant that I wanted from PureFold, to bring the voice of the Chief (Brand-)Culture Officer out of the inferrential opacity of the conference room and into the unblinding transparency of sunlight for natural disinfection. I think that’s a major chunk of what Rod wanted too.
Now let’s see where I can download ancient screenplays. Long time, no feeding frenzy. This intoxicated rush is sorely missed.
Also on the devout media-freak front, there’s this:
This film is a very entertaining thriller. It simplifies the reasons for the second American invasion of Iraq so that even I can understand them. It fastens a jittery window of heroic clarity on Matt Damon as the leader of a squad of soldiers explicitly charged with the search for weapons of mass destruction.
They don’t find them.
What I found in looking through this window was a ridiculously-complicated vision of two corrupt regimes in conflict. That conflict would have been neatly resolved if (as a last resort) caches of WMD had been planted and detonated by the Bush administration appointees, who evidently were not True (enough) Believers fanatically-dedicated to preserving the illusion that the administration wasn’t pathetically incompetent. If the immediate objective was to justify war and to inspire allied confidence in W, then releasing weaponized “Iraqi” biotoxins was THE means. How’d they miss that? The perspective from this window doesn’t shed new light on the intelligence failures leading up to the terrorist attacks on 911, but it contextualizes them a little more distressingly. (I’d also have liked seeing Osama bin Laden captured alive and remanded to Saudi custody for criminal prosecution under international law, along with the entire B’ushist network. I’ll strike that notion off my wishlist and toss it into my Hurt Locker. “War is a drug.” Fuck you!)
Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke details the Bush administration’s failure to manage the New Orleans emergency catalyzed by Hurricane Katrina. The documentary goes instructively out of its way to indicate that several corrupt political administrations (since 1965 &/or 1927) have been responsible for catastrophic conservation/meteorology-based disasters visited on that city/region/nation. It also casts multiple shadows of primal doubt on the practical efficacy of the experiment of American democracy, and shamefully-hypocritical national will. It’s a film that tastes like scathing honesty.
Green Zone plops a popular actor into the role of crusading protagonist at the head of a body of Americans cast specifically for the legitimate, authoritative authenticity of their real-life combat experience. In the commentary, Damon frequently remarks on the intimidating challenge of fitting himself into the part as leader a group of guys who actually are the real deal. Other people compliment Damon for rising to that challenge. I can’t help noticing that the Hollywood treatment of the Sgt. Roy Miller profile is reminiscent of the cockeyed theatrical conceits that made W president. Mission Accomplished! — not exactly. And not unlike the movie, the target of the mission kept moving through subtle redefinitions: Osama/vengeance-for-theoretical-complicity/WMD/victory!/democracy/stability/exit. The movie simplifies all of that stuff to WMD/book/al Rawi/Truth/wtf!/curtain. The more often I sit through this film, the more it seems movie-like, which means it doesn’t stand up to repeated visits, unlike Casablanca, which never gets old or less complicated, no matter how often I watch it (and which, I think, was a story retold [with a happier ending] as Sabrina, and could easily have been a remake of The Philadelphia Story, had Grant [swapping Hepburns] not been replaced by Bogart shortly, before commencement of principle photography).
I think this movie really should have been shot from the point of view of Freddy the translator, who, throughout the film, is one step behind Damon, intimately involved in every conversation, and pivotal in the ultimate resolution of a thrilling, suspenseful potboiler conventionally shot in Greengrass-style, which looks an awful lot like the so-called “innovative” (find-the-action) dynamic manner attributed to Friday Night Lights, NYPD Blue and good old Leslie Dektor. The actor who portrays the crucial role of high-ranking Ba’athist General Muhamed al Rawi is said to have made the interesting point that Power can’t be convincingly acted, it has to be implied by the deference shown it by the actors surrounding Power. Camera technology has come a very long way since 1947 and the failed experiment of The Lady in the Lake. Some films seem to me to demand that the camera be cast as an emotionally-reactive, rational, realtime, participating member of the performing company, an actor; not exclusively as a jittering, magical, semi-omniscient, invisible non-presence. Let the camera act! Enough already with this jiggle, jitter, zoom-in, zoom-out, wobble, short cameraman, tall cameraman, editeditedit moron-convention bullshit! These conceits perpetuate storytelling cheats. Show me…the story.
The identity of the camera-as-Freddy would have been infinitely more informative (for the audience) if cast-subordinate, unAmerican Freddy were ideologically-incapable of gazing boldly into the commanding eye of al Rawi’s obvious Power, when, eventually, they meet, both times. The POV thing I harp upon would have made loads of “necessary” scenes simply impossible, like the first 24 minutes of the film, Kinnear and Gleason’s policy spat, al Rawi’s early (expository, badly-subtitled) meetings with his staff, where Freddy (Farid Youssef Abdul Rahman) wasn’t present, and Miller’s acceptance of the redefined mission proposed in a confidential meeting with CIA… but the situational complexity of Freddy’s point of view, I think, would have been significantly beneficial to the viewer’s understanding of events as they unfolded before a one-legged, bilingual, Iraqi national “on the ground”, surrounded by dangerous American innocents and criminal incompetents versus his Iraqi “peers” and the real, traditional, culturally-contextual personal Power of al Rawi. Maybe that’ll happen in the sequel or the remake. And maybe war movies are the sincerest form of sarcasm.
“Calm down.” “Get your fuckin’ game face on.” “Don’t be naive.” Hamza’s dying word was, “Jordan.” Michael? Thrillers play fast&loose with key bits of information. Movies and (corrupt) governments do the same thing with truth.
–A note from 11JUN2011– In a special feature of The Studio One Anthology, E.G. Marshall makes an interesting comparison, that Worthington Miner, producer of Studio One on CBS and Fred Coe (Playhouse 90) on NBC had differing perceptions of the proper role of the television camera. Coe’s preference was for a static POV in which scenes were blocked to move action and speech toward an objective, immobile spectator. Miner’s cameramen, conversely, were instructed to “find the action” by moving their cameras like subjective enquirers noticing things on the set (like a mysterious letter placed beside an entry door in The Storm) as the actors discover them, for example. Miner (more than Coe) wanted the camera operator to be an independant, silent participant in the telling of the story. Marshall used the same literal expression, “find the action”, about teleplay presentations broadcast in 1949 that was re-coined and re-invented by the producers of Friday Night Lights sixty years later. I think the best place to stand when re-inventing the wheel is on the shoulders of giants, and that the lessons taught in The Golden Age of Televison desperately need revisiting by audiences criminally deprived of access to valuable pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of media literacy: Crimes against culture in the interests of commerce, ignorance and bliss aren’t victimless.
Ask the Amazon search engine about “Rod Serling”. You’ll get more than 30 pages of Twilight Zone references and almost nothing about the three Emmy-winning teleplays he wrote (Patterns, Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Comedian) before resorting, exhausted, to science-fiction/fantasy in 1959 to successfully slip 95 of 156 of his own incisve, socially-relevant, morally-challenging efforts at storytelling past the censors, sponsors, advertising agency representatives, networks and rednecks. Nobody in 1965 anticipated the kind of popularity, syndication and marathons The Twilight Zone has enjoyed for a half-century, least of all, Rod Serling, or he’d have died one hell of a lot wealthier. And the teleplays written or refined by Reginald Rose include 132 unavailable episodes of The Defenders from the early/middle 60s, along with long-forgotten Studio One presentations of The Remarkable Incident at Carson Corners, The Death and Life of Larry Benson, An Almanac of Liberty and Dino. This stuff ain’t just television. It ain’t just HBO. It’s primitive, powerful, moving, inspiring, sorely-missed and probably necessary. Next stop, The Paley Center, one station after Willoughby. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Stop_at_Willoughby
It isn’t every television series that’s afforded the opportunity to ripen, mature and end gracefully in an honorable act of thematic and theatrical sepuku. Most aren’t produced, and many are abortively cancelled. Friday Night Lights managed its termination nicely. It’s interesting that both commentaries on the final DVD disk for the fifth and final season are delivered by producers who happen to be relentless stammerers; “uh. uh. y’know…the uh, uh reason for this — y’know thing is almost self-evident. It’s that y’know uh uh uh…” and listening to them yammer is unbelievably annoying. On the other hand, several interesting points about the show were made, generally anecdotally.
Lead actor Kyle Chandler’s part (as Coach Taylor) in a given scene (according to the commentator) was beautifully written to provide the actor with wonderfully poetic and philosophical talking points that were intended to be delivered verbatim at an extended crucial moment. And the actor spoke privately with the writer/producer asking for permission to slough the words in order to ddliver the information nonverbally. They tried the actor’s approach, and printed it because the nonverbal approach was significantly better than the scripted, wordy alternative version.
The point I’d like to make here is that the television medium is loaded with powerful, influential verbal-communicators. It’s the platform that celebrates writers (whose scripts are customarily regarded as inviolable) because showrunners, producers and writers are the creative power in television — unlike cinema, in which money and directors generally rule supreme, and writers are valued like toilet paper.
I have a number of qualms and misgivings about the 3cameras-constantly-shooting scheme of Friday Night Lights. This “performance-based” storytelling design requires camera operators to work handheld, and insists that operators “find the action” in the scene. Despite my skepticism, every season of this show has delivered moments of intense emotional tension and release that make it difficult to argue against an innovative design that has worked admirably. Nonetheless, I’ve never enjoyed looking at the unfocused backs of actors’ heads, the jiggle, the interminable seconds that pass as the camera moves past posts, lampshades and irrelevant objects before “finding” the face of the person who’s been speaking all along. After four years, I ought to have known that this show was never really about football, and the ways they photograph/edit games illustrates constantly how little the sport matters in this context.
Perhaps someday somebody else will noticed that every important problem in every season invariably revolved around the choices and eccentricities of female characters in a layered, overlapping subtly-misogynist show ostensibly devoted to the primarily-male enterprise of Texas high school football.
I think television writers have a tendency to hammer home their points in words, rather than trusting actors and directors to stress necessary connections for their not-particularly-perceptive audience. It’s a point that’s made in the commentaries for season one of Treme, that standard network approach to televised storytelling is significantly more didactic and on-the-nose than the ways Simon says it, and the cast of Treme appreciates the respect both they and the audience are accorded.
One last point gleaned while watching Robin Hood; the prince of thieves last night. It’s that the physical action and stunts are recognizably, ridiculously improbable/impossible…and despite the obvious intention to make Kevin Costner appear to be wonderfully deft, they can’t give him a fraction of the charismatic virulence of Errol Flynn, who generally lacked the gravitas of Russel Crowe. The most (perhaps only) delicious line in the Costner version was that nobility isn’t a birthright, it’s what you do with what you’re given. And television’s artistic nobility depends on a small minority of gifted writers who trust their audiences and the actors who play to them more than they trust blather, network executive notes and the forces that counsel scaled-back ambition.
Actors are louder than verbs. Arrested Development‘s narrator is measurably louder than its dialogue. Maybe that’s a meaningful observation, Maeby not — but the place where experienced and admirable practitioners of the various and sundry skills necessary to successful crossmedia production of radio, cinema, gaming, comics, literature and televison entertainment talk to one another is damned hard to find. If it ever does appear, I’ll happily shut up and listen as they debate the theoretical and practical parameters of telling/showing stories across platforms. I suspect those platforms aren’t as fluidly interoperable as transmedia evangelists theorize. And that the obvious proprietary barriers that prevent Wonder Woman from joining the Avengers (transnarrative collaboration) also throw phantom blocks at transmedia narrative — as though corporations that own IP simply can’t own cultural archetypes, and that actors who move from role to role are the realest adversaries of transnational media conglomerates.
I think Star Wars is an excellent model of oldschool transmedia (merchandising) narrative, perhaps Arab Spring is a better model of the new one in which an unexpected audience rises to participate in the production as though the membranes separating news from fiction from means from will from commodities from people were old habits in need of change. What if unsubstantiated rumors of revolution fomented hopes that resulted in a North African snowball? What if the most powerful human force on Earth were inadvertantly unleashed by evolving technology’s crossing an unanticipated threshold of instantaneous global communication? What if that force were the normally-adversarial/contradictory will of The People for whom cohesive, coherent action becomes possible through interactive communication? What if FDR and Churchill broadcast better shows than Hitler — remember to consult Nielsen — no don’t.
A few nuggets of coincidence from Vince Gilligan; dated one day later than the junk I wrote above:
Were there particular things that Carter taught you?
Well, I became a better writer, and things that he taught all of us that I still carry with me are: Show your story, don’t tell it. Try not to depend too much on dialogue. Try to remember that it’s very much a visual medium and that sometimes more can be said with a look between characters than a whole spate of words. I also learned how to tell a story economically. If they’d shot the first draft of my first script for The X-Files, it would have cost 20 or 30 million dollars! So, all the tools that I have in my toolbox now, I got them on The X-Files.
What show do you wish you had created?
The Twilight Zone, and I wish Rod Serling hadn’t died so young. That’s a man I truly would love to have met. He was the first showrunner whose name the country at large actually knew.
How much do you care about what fans think?
I care greatly. We wouldn’t have a show if not for the viewers. But having said that, I don’t think that equates with a need on my part to constantly check in with what the fans are saying. I hear about it anecdotally at best. Because on the Internet, you get what are often, I think, unrealistic responses — you get the highs and the lows; the people who love something enough to type something into their computer about it, and you get the people that hate it, but you don’t get the great vast middle. So, it’s an interesting gauge, but not necessarily an accurate one.
Can fans ruin shows?
I don’t think fans are capable of ruining anything. I think only the showrunner and their writers and actors are capable of that. If a showrunner logs on to the Internet and a fan’s telling them to add a lovable robot to his or her ensemble, they’ve only got themselves to blame if they take that kind of advice.
…and in the same series of New York Magazine interviews with showrunners:
ONE THING I’D CHANGE ABOUT NETWORK TV
Episodes would vary in length from week to week.
I’m not sad that there are commercials, but every episode of our show has to be exactly 21 minutes and 17 seconds long. It’s unlikely that the optimal length of every episode of our show is exactly 21 minutes and 17 seconds.
No more notes from the networks.
Oh God, please don’t let me be the only one who says “No more notes.” If that’s the case … ha ha, just kidding, guys. I’m not Spartacus. I’m just some gladiator. Hail, Caesar!
Take more risks and assume the audience will go along.
In a world where everyone can watch anything all the time, and where we spend all this money making lots of shitty pilots, why don’t we have special website events where all the pilots are aired and people vote for their favorites? Make this populist medium genuinely populist.
The wonderful Mad Men, in its first four seasons, has made as many episodes as we made in seasons one and two of Grey’s Anatomy. After twelve episodes, I’m tired, the crew is tired, everyone is tired. The break of a few months that cable shows get would be amazing.
Thirteen-episode cycles twice a year would also allow the writers to write all their scripts before shooting starts. It would raise the level of storytelling, you’d have more time to prep, and that would make the show less expensive to produce. And you should be allowed to say “Jesus” and “goddamn.” How offensive is it? I guess it is. I guess I don’t understand it all.
Don’t be so quick to cancel shows.
Stop making decisions based on research data, and hire development executives with degrees in art, literature, and theater instead of marketing, business, and law. If people followed those two rules, TV would be a fuckload better.
Here’s a little Roseanne Barr-based razor-edged (holy crap, this is almost exactly what I was asking for!) bonus:
The President of the United States is here in the San Francisco Bay Area today to raise millions of dollars for the thriving industry of broadcast network television (at the kickoff for his West Coast campaign-solicitation [champagne] campaign) by holding a closed, T-ball (peptalk), townhall meeting at Facebook, streamed by Facebook at 13:45 PDT. I might not have noticed this
historic ironic event were it not for the ABC “headline” news coverage of Mrs. Obama’s near-trivial brush with inconvenience involving a shift-changing airtraffic controller’s failure to keep a 5mile buffer between her 737 and the military aircraft in front of it, upon her departure from Andrews AFB. The suddenly-imperative NTSB investigation may (and probably won’t) eventually finger Ronald Reagan’s pulsing legacy of uncommon disdain for the rank&file, at least 30 years late. grassroots. greenmail. “ordinary Americans”. 26year-old billionaire interviews President O’Dollar, who forgot to force the bailed-out financial industry to share the wealth, so the million micropumps (small business) of a sluggish national economy don’t pump, and the Supremely-disloyal opposition wins seats in Congress, stymies progress, Blue Fairys corporations, and fabricates budget crises that crush all hope of positive change by threatening every minutely-incremental advance made in American commonwealth (CPH, PBS, NPR, NEA, PP, Ed, Med…) since Machiavellian LBJ. WTF!
NCMR podcasts became available for download yesterday. The supremely-informative Saving the Bay documentary will begin rebroadcast, nationally, this evening with the first of four hour-long chapters at 22:00 PDT. It’s the brand of semi-scrupulous propaganda I dearly favor. And The Royal Wedding furor is ramping up on every channel I can choose to ignore. Can’t hardly see the lethal paradoxes for all of the intervening oxymorons.
It’s a glorious time to be able to choose where one directs one’s attention…so it can’t last much longer.
“There is no progress so long as private funds drive public elections.” — Lessig
Leni Riefenstahl’s towering reputation as a visual storyteller is significantly tarnished for me as sit, presently, watching her crowning achievement. Reports of revolutionary breakthroughs in camera location, meticulous planning and tireless editing leave me wondering about the crappiness of all that came before her. Perhaps I’m disappointed in Riefenstahl’s direction and editing because I’ve been spoiled by several decades of sports broadcasting performed by people who studied her work (and improved upon it tremendously).
I think Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 pushed almost all manner of cinematic talent absolutely out of Germany, which left a limited number of people (who were mostly famous for being famous) like Riefenstahl to photograph the 1934 Nazi Pary Congress in Nuremburg, embellish the static documentary style, then prevalent, with fascinating bits of moviemaking magic and spend two years editing her so-called propaganda masterpiece, Triumph of the Will. So they called on her again in 1936 for the XI Olympiad in Berlin. But (for example) Olympia stations the primary camera for four heats and the final of the 100m dash high above the track in the stadium stands at midfield. Which puts that stationary camera in one of an infinite number of wrong places to clearly and dramatically document the crossing of the finish line every time that race is run. There was no recognizable learning process evident as each race ends with the camera locked on the backs of the runners rather than looking straight down at the tape. All of the track and field events are made less coherent, substantive and meaningful by theoretically-appropriate camera angles, editorial interruptions for snippets of crowd reaction, Hitler footage, flag waving, awards ceremonies, and irrelevant bits of bullshit. Jesse Owens starts his approach for his very last attempt at the long jump victory (he will win). We cut away to anxious faces in the crowd whle he’s tearing along the runway. We jumpcut back from the crowd as Owens leaves the ground at the foul line, hangs in the air (in realtime) and lands, characteristically springing out of the pit because his forward momentum always carries him forward. The narrator explains that Owens has won the event. We cut back to the jubilation erupting from the stadium’s American contingent. It might as well have been radio, for all the value added by cinematic file footage edited by Leni Riefenstahl to dramatize an event that required no music, no punching-up and no crowd footage, and (properly shot) zero narration.
She did the best she could do with unlimited funds, license to dig pits in the field, float baloons, and submerge cameramen in the diving pool for optimal camera placements, 40 camera operators, two years to edit 400 miles of film, and Hitler’s unconditional blessing.
It’s like George W. Bush, in late 1999, appointing Angelina Jolie to create a stirring cinematic propaganda record of his first presidential inauguration, then appointing her again to cover Superbowl XXXVII without permitting her to consult exhiled or assassinated acknowleged football experts, hire experienced staff, nor listen to anything better-informed than her famous celebrity gut.
I think Leni Riefenstahl performed two monumentally difficult tasks (that were jammed down her throat) quite admirably. Neither of those productions deserves the mountains of praise that have been heaped upon them nor the ruinous condemnation, nor did she. Her careers as dancer-then-actress (as presented in The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl) don’t look particularly interesting, but Hitler’s ascendancy pulled her unfairly way out of her league/depth, just as his fall buried her unjustly for several decades. No doubt, I’ll eventually stumble over Billy Wilder’s and Fritz Lang’s… remarks about her, but now that I’ve seen the two masterpieces that created the fuss that made her a figure of controversy, the unkind remarks of the genuine talent (whose conspicuous absence from Germany) made her a star will wait while I stumble along elsewhere.
My first pass through this series this weekend moves the first season of Treme toward the top of my list of favorite entertainments, for all of the reasons enumerated elsewhere:
- Powerful, ringing, ferocious performances by a brilliant ensemble cast;
- Vibrant, engaging music created and performed with an authenticity that comes directly from and goes directly to the heart;
- An intimate immersion in the soul of a profoundly alien culture;
- Interlocking stories about interlocking, deeply-engaging people, woven from miniature realities that encapsularize and vivify enormous, abidingly-human, irresolute real problems…
My first pass through the first season of Treme has generated an insatiable, immediate hankering for one hell of a whole lot more! I recognize in myself a degree of need I haven’t felt since discovering-and-losing Firefly — which, upon reflection, I realize was ABOUT things, like;
- the intimate presentation of the personal lives of people caught in the negligent and incompetent machineries of a corrupt and interfering complex of bureaucracies;
- the literal preservation/restoration/creation of Traditional American Values in absolute spite of the obscene abuses that subverted phrase has been used to justify;
- and We, The fuckin’ People, Jack.
I’ve always suspected that the continuing mission of the tramp freighter, Serenity, a vessel desperately dedicated to enterprise, was to boldly go (with fathomless stores of humor and character) to explore the future of inequality in sex, finance, influence and race; projecting present-day pathologies forward through centuries of morally-degenerate tomorrows. And I truly believe that in Treme, I’ve found the logical/emotional/spiritual successor to Firefly. It’s primary interest is in (its and us) people; leaving ratings, political correctness, sociopolitical issues and universal popularity to sort themselves out in the fullness of time. Or not. I love these show. They nourish conscience (by example).
Three years before President Kennedy officially declared America’s participation in The Moon Race, with the safe return to Earth as/at the finish line, and a moon landing ( before the Soviets) as the prize, Rod Serling wrote an episode of The Twilight Zone in which three early astronauts (who were, in the course of their voyage, offline for 24 hours) return to Earth, are hospitalized for observation, and one-by-one wink out of existence along with any single shred of evidence that any of them ever existed.
It’s a very strange little tale I’ve revisted several times this morning because each of the special features replays the story with voiceover by Serling — then leading actor, Rod Taylor — then director, Douglas Heyes — then Leonard Rosenman’s score. It’s a strange little tale that stands up to revisting, with wonderful bits of individual personality packed into every scene, deft directorial flourishes, intelligent camera magic, and counterintuitive headfakes that provoke the viewer to think about what the episode “really means”. Four days of principle photography, no time for rehearsal and preparation; just remarkably engaging performances in a classic production that plays quite brilliantly (for me) 52 years later, despite the disruptive oversight of Rod Taylor’s elbow in the mirror in Jim Hutton’s hospital bedroom, an incredibly insignificant execution error.
To be, or not to be; is that a rhetorical question? What might it be like to be one of three intrepid Musketeers, three pals who have returned from a fateful, harrowing journey (like Apollo 13) to find that one of your number has been completely erased from demonstrable existence? (and you’re the only person on Earth who remembers [including his parents] that he ever existed ) and know with a sudden (terrifying and strangely euphoric) certainty that you’re next? Shades of It’s a Wonderful Life, with innovative deepfocus effects, reminiscent of Citizen Kane, and a tale told from the middle to the beginning that culminates in no explanation, whatsoever.
Along the way, from beginning to end, there are tasty little references to the ambivalence of taxpayers to The Space Race, the emblematic inutility of pioneering (celebrity) astronauts, and the myopic/pragmatic view of progressive space exploration as a monumental media ripoff…all of which contrast sharply with the retrospective significance of innumerable threads of incalculable importance that made the 20th Century bizarre and indispensible. I’d like to take a look at Richard Matheson’s short story on which Serling’s screenplay was based, and the script from which the director deviated, and the actors must have contributed mightily.
I really really like this one.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.”
Speech at Rice University, Houston, 12 September 1962
It begins in midsentence purposefully to place the audience at a distinct and instantly-recognizable disadvantage. Two young people are conversing in a bar, talking to cross-purposes, rapidly, and almost inaudibly because the background music and ambient noise drowns out the viewer’s perception of the content of their conversation. Lipreading in this context is a far superior skill to subtitlereading, because much of this conversation is nonverbal/unpredictable, and the viewer’s eyes need to be locked on the faces of Mark Zuckerberg and Erika Albright as their relationship disintegrates in the perilous course of this white-water conversation.
The midsentence, crash of a midrelationship constitutes a wonderful device created/employed by Aaron Sorkin to force the audience to pay attention. The smothering of voices in background sound extends the device to the point of exasperation with (and at) the very start of the film – but not to the extent that I wanted to stop the DVD and turn to something/anything else. In fact, I played the first three minutes four times; straight, with subtitles, fiddling with a couple of sound control panels…and eventually I quit trying to defeat the sound design. I simply paid more attention, and found the investment sufficiently rewarding to keep on keeping on.
Ultimately, I found it to be a wonderfully engaging film packed to bursting with very smart, attractive people saying and doing smart, interesting things from the moment it starts to the moment it ends. And fuck them, each and every one, including the chicken.
Next morning: This film is subtly and strikingly reminiscient of Flowers for Algernon and Amadeus in revealing the sharply contrasting (de)valuation of people; turds/nuggets, celebrity/negligence — strongly implying a desperate cultural need for universal forgiveness and boundless, groundless loyalty within and beyond the permeable boundaries of species; refresh…refresh…refresh.
Three days later: Fincher’s commentary approaches conclusion with the story of a French journalist who passionately objected to the failure of the principle participants in the film to actively collaborate with Zuckerberg, the living human on whose life the story is based.
Fincher responded by asking the critic WHAT that kind of consultation would have bought the project, in that the humaneness clearly lacking/muted in Mark at the start of the film is also clearly evidenced as present, robust and growing at the conclusion of the film. It’s an interesting response that strikes me as evasive. I also think that Zuckerberg has been treated by The Social Network enterprise very much as Eduardo Saverin was treated by the Facebook enterprise, according to the film; the value of his stake was enormously diluted in the course of an incidental/accidental betrayal and exclusion.
Ironically, a brilliant but asocial computer artist invents an amazingly powerful social network tool and grows a recognizable conscience in the course of its prosecution. I think collaboration with Mark Zuckerberg might have made The Social Network a far more important film tha it is, but the one we got is brilliant.
On Feb 20, 2011, at 10:27 AM, Scott Ellington wrote:
No. It’s a photograph of my eye. I’m telling you there are absolutely NO other body parts nor other people involved in the icon that creeps you out, and any associations you make with defective schools of art are purely your projection. On the other hand, it’s a polarizing image to which some people react as you do (probably without informing me of their ennui/disgust/whatever) and other people say they like:
Caption: If the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers had a kid, it would probably come into the world with an attitude like this.
Scatalogical allusions are unavoidable, hence the content warning.Comments:OH MAN IS THIS COOL LOOKING!!!!!!
INSTANT FAVE HERE!
Maybe to make this a screen saver on my computer. Strangely enough,… scatology is not the first thing I allude to or is on my mind with this image.
More like… “Even with sex were “fucked over” by being watched/ controlled by THEM…-from our own insides.”
Ponder that, My Peoples.
Apart from the assertion that this image was objectionable because of its urogenital associations, no elaboration was provided, and I complied with their request, motivated by my respect for very smart and very creative people.
If you don’t see a scatalogic allusion, perhaps it isn’t there.
The Brazilian singer Tom Ze has an album cover where he uses a marble in a scatalogical manner to evoke an eye…
It’s just the eye of the beholder on which and with which the viewer projects associations. Those associations are as valid as the artist’s original intent — which was to see what a photograph of my eye would look like mirrored. It actually was slightly more interesting than the original photograph (and that’s not saying much), but the response to the image is fairly fascinating. The instant it’s shared, the image also becomes yours to like/dislike for reasons beyond my control — but it’s still just an origami eye/lid/socket, folded in half and mirrored in Photoshop — and mirroring the culture that interprets it’s significance as they see it collectively and individually. I don’t own the associations people make any more than I have control of the way people see me. To be known as the PudendaEye guy is not a shameful thing, regardless of the derivation of the word, “pudenda”. Trite, shocking, old-hat..? Wow! It’s a cheap, digital photograph of my eye that I manipulated in the simplest possible way. The persistence and vehemence of your (and other people’s) response to it is disproportionately interesting to the effort invested in creating it, so my response to those responses probably seems quite ornery. Sobeit. The truth is — it’s a slightly manipulated photograph of my eye. Handle it. Or don’t, but asking me to stop using it as my avatar is a vastly inferior alternative to our having a conversation about it’s putative significance as an indicator of the health of our common culture. (Which isn’t post-racist, post-pornographic, making-much-progress…) So, thanks for this opportunity.
On Feb 19, 2011, at 09:58 PM, Scott Ellington wrote:
Bill Moyers spoke at length last month to broadcasters in NYC. One of the jewels among his remarks was this one:
The late scholar Cleanth Brooks of Yale thought there were three great enemies of democracy.
From: Siobhan O’Flynn
To: Scott Ellington
Sent: Sun, February 20, 2011 6:13:57 AM
Subject: Re: Avatar
He called them “The Bastard Muses“:
Propaganda, which pleads sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause at the expense of the total truth;
Sentimentality, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by, and in excess of, the occasion; and
Pornography, which focuses upon one powerful human drive at the expense of the total human personality.
The poet Czeslaw Milosz identified another enemy of democracy when, upon accepting the Noble Prize for Literature, he said
“Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic pr
oliferation of mass media,
is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember.”
Memory is crucial to democracy; historical amnesia, its nemesis.http://www.alternet.org/world/149925/bill_moyers%3A_america_can%27t_deal_with_reality_–_we_must_be_exposed_to_the_truth%2C_even_if_it_hurts/?page=entire
Avatar, schmavatar, really. It’s a photograph of half of my eye — very simply, but suggestively mirrored symmetrically — and in-and-of-itself, absolutely no big deal, from my pov.It’s importance to you is, on the other hand, absolutely fascinating.Before the writers’ strike ended, I was honored to receive an email from Jeffrey Berman, one of the founders of United Hollywood asking in behalf of an even more heroic bigshot(quite possibly Laeta Kalogridis) that I pick another avatar, because the same one that bothers you also disturbed her, ostensibly for the same reasons which were not itemized then either.I complied. The strike ended, and the sentiment proclaimed on November 6, 2007:“They get paid, we get paid” and “We’re all in this together.”fell by the wayside in the stampede to get back to business as usualand beneath the weight of a 150 page Minimum Basic Agreement formulated by the army of lawyers called the AMPTP.So I’m anything but anxious to exercise unquestioning compliance with the semi-rational, inexplicit qualms of people I respectwho have a problem with my means of expressing myself.It should be noted here that most of the things I said at United Hollywood involved the inflamaory suggestion that the WGA should initatea 3-year education program to educate global audiences to the realities of rank&file screenwriters’ situation…preparatory to calling fora global boycott of studio product.Throughout the duration of the strike, I stopped buying DVDs, suspended my iTunes and Netflix accounts, and wrote directly to Patric Veroneasking how a private citizen might support the strike (given that [my] presidential campaign donations would be funneled directly into the very deep pockets ofintegrated transnational minstream media conglomerates for incredibly wasteful and counterproductive adbuys) anyway.He actually wrote back! telling me to send money in support of the striking writers to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, which I did, supporting an organizationthat has fallen deeply into disrepute since then.So much for blind obedience.When I invent or discover a “better” avatar, I’ll probably start using it ubiquitously, religiously, and far more diplomatically,but not meaninglessly, nor blindly-obediently.My avatar, in my opinion, propaganda, sentimental nor pornographic. It’s fairly angry, skeptical and vigilant.Sidebar. The same guy who turned me on to his copy of the Serenity DVD four years ago, that put me on the path to Joss Whedon, Ken Burns, David Milch, David Thorburn, Henry Jenkins and to yousuggested yesterday that Kyle XY was really cool. So I’ve been streaming it for the past 10 hours, and Kyle XY absolutely sucks. Bob’s taste is clearly deplorable and his tip to SereniFly was a total fluke.I guess I don’t understand, with civil wars erupting, foreign and domestic, why anybody’s talking about anything else.Scott
is a tale told to an audience of idiots; full of sound, culminating in fury, and scrupulously careful to avoid the confoundingly intricate, fascinating historical context (the English Civil War to the English Bill of Rights) that would vastly complicate the tale of the ultimate prevalence of Progressive Democratic Justice over Papist Absolutism.
It’s also a remarkably clever propaganda piece espousing the virtue of disobediance, impertinance and insubordination — told by a wonderful army of unknown up-Star(t)s, contract players, character actors, Curtiz, Korngold and the Warner’s studio system at a time (late 1935) when unqualified financial success and gripping hymns to civil disobediance were desperately needed. And it’s a pulse-poundingly moving encyclopedia of inspiring Hollywood cheats that blessed careers and greatly influenced all that came afterward.
Good stories, well told; but the ninth episode in the series of fifteen is absolutely golden in that familiar and novel characters weave through fifty-two minutes of unpredictable attitudes, choices, actions and consequences while fabricating and embroidering upon an embedded treatise on the stratified quality of lives in early 20th Century London. In one way or another, this episode’s central conflict revolves around concise definitions of the contrasts between the amateur and the professional — which generalizes quite meaningfully to explicit differences in class, talent, gender and avocation, and narrows brilliantly to focus precisely on profoundly moving matters of life and death, generativity and exploitation.
Whether one lives in order to work or works in order to live is beautifully illustrated in a deceptively simple tale of an inappropriate lodger in a posh hotel whose reason for being in the wrong place at this particular time opens the heart and enriches the mind like a forgotten key in the locked and callous disused imagination.
The Outsiders blew me away by restating (in an Edwardian context) a few of the most important problems confronting artists, audiences and presenters in the Age of Information. Candor, magnanimity and an awareness of vital urgency are the signal virtues I plan to extract from this episode, and exercise in the remainder of my tomorrows. (NetFlix, streamed.)
When I’d already invested ten or so years attempting (largely unsuccessfully) to teach myself to draw, I happened into a neighborhood bookstore, buying reference materials and how-to anatomy guides. I fell into happy and casual conversation with a young female store employee who concisely explained that if I hadn’t sold any of my work I simply wasn’t an artist. I spent yet another five years of my life rising at 04:30, crashing after midnight, and squeezing the pursuit of my chosen art into moments not spent earning a living.
The difference between the professional and the amateur is a nose for arrogant mediocrity. It’s an acquired distaste.
25DEC2010 — The second season of The Duchess of Duke Street is more engaging than the first, despite the fact that the first two episodes emphatically define the titular character’s tendency toward the imperious arrogance of a martinet. It’s Louisa Trotter’s innovative responses to the personal and historical topography of early-middle Twentieth Century that elevate the tale far above the standard bio-pic devoted to cultish personality, raising it to the level of a classic media document concerned with the lives and aspirations of humble people mortally imperiled by timeless global and universally-human torments.
On the other hand, the second season highlights a problem for sound designers miking accomplished stage actors whose dynamic range is absolutely confounding. You’ll want to keep a finger on the volume button of your remote — which reminds me to whine about the design of remote controls (which really should be as well-balanced and ergonomically sensible as a .45 automatic, or a handcrafted Navy Colt).
kicks ass eight ways from Sunday, including that of the theatrical version I saw last May, and every prior version.
is a radio show that ran for seven seasons on television. I know that because I’m listening to it again while playing computer solitaire, and noticing that I’m being bombarded by torrents of information that are delivered by a battery of distinctive voices that flow from a wide variety of rapidly-talking heads.
The first season of this masterpiece of exposition (because that’s all I’ve “seen” again thusfar at this writing) requires that I look at the screen approximately 5% of the time for mandatory visual cues that complement, extend and accentuate the raging rivers of information pouring in through my ears.
The signature walk&talks, the long takes, and sundry stylistic visual eccentricities associated with this series are comparatively insignificant aspects of the driving sound-based narrative that continues to be excellent without (and entirely in spite of) them. This realization leads me to the provisional conclusion that the promise of cinema as a purely visual medium is not only emphatically not-realized in The West Wing, it’s actually utterly contravened by an extremely successful show that went exactly the opposite way, telling (rather than showing) the story in a manner that strongly resembles the struggle between Democrats and Republicans to wield the pen of history. For now, that’s a minor irony (that probably figures prominently in the gradual, subliminal transition from a currency-based to the coming attention economy).
Try it. Watch it. Enjoy the show, but when (for example) Jed and Leo engage in a moving, confidential conversation in the Oval Office, ask yourself who you are to have this absurd window of opportunity to view that private, pivotal conversation. And how else might these seven seasons of captivating, enthralling, inspiring entertainment be created if the point of view of the audience were not impossible, disembodied, discontinuous and absurd; the point of view of an angel. Then make it. I’ll watch.
I’m confident this series isn’t worth the investment of time and attention it demands.
Having adjusted my audio volume level for
(the tons of rapid, mumbled fragments of frontloaded) exposition, I was totally unprepared for the unexpected
moment that comes 25½ minutes into the pilot episode:
Ed Bancroft calls “dead” David Haddas’ office phone to continue their longstanding chess competition and
who is standing in David’s office
(in order to be) startled by a LOUD incoming call to a dead man. Will is understandably slow to answer David’s phone,
(which) lets its deafening ring assault my ears three times before he picks up the Mitel/Inter-Tel Endpoint Executive deskphone handset. That’s when I realized this showrunner has absolutely no problem annoyng the hell out of his audience — who will probably be kept confused and disoriented for as long as we persist in watching a successful series that absolutely depends upon misdirected self-contempt for the audience.
Apparently, I don’t spell success like a television executive…so I’m prone to disappointment.
Other notable objections:
- Rubicon’s pilot episode begins on Will’s birthday. April 8, and David Haddas dies the next morning, but it’s snowing lightly at David’s funeral in New York in the middle of April — which seems unlikely.
- A phenomenal number of first names are flung at the viewer who is obligated to remember who’s who in order to make adequate sense of a story in which individuated, personal threads of narrative won’t come together (maybe ever) in the pattern of the first thirteen episodes unless the viewer studies the story repeatedly. And repeated viewings greatly assist the viewer in grasping the foreshadowing and ironic implications latent in the significance of who’s talking about what, where to look in the frame for previously overlooked information that may help the viewer to piece together a puzzle-solution that can’t possibly justify the effort expended from my moment of choosing to watch the pilot through several seasons WAY down the road to a mythic, pie-in-the-sky narrative-payday for my attention’s ROI; and leading to the viewer conclusion that If I don’t get it, it’s my fault. While I can’t pick up the obnoxiously loudly ringing telephone, I can choose to hang up on this television show while turning to the Bourne (Maslowian) pyramid or Three Days of the Condor for a far greater sense guarantee of satisfactory closure.
- The David Haddas character’s violent death is telegraphed to the viewer without actually showing the face of the actor who takes his seat in the best possible location for the camera to connect mayhem with an overcoat that only belongs to David Haddas in the mind of the viewer due to the dis/misinformative intent of the folks in charge of this show.
I don’t think I’ll play along with this sucker’s game, either. This show pushes the river.
Although a number of entertainments produced in the past few years have adopted that title, this post is about none of them. It’s intended as an observation in the run-up to next month’s midterm election. My team, the progressive/liberal/transparent faction is sending me daily emails that read a lot like this:
The extreme candidates on the other side aren’t just intent on bringing our progress to a halt, they want to take us backward, well beyond the failed policies of the last administration.
They envision an America where Social Security is privatized and left to the whims of the market. They picture an America where education programs get cut to pay for tax cuts for billionaires and corporations. And they look forward to an America where the insurance companies once again have the right to deny coverage to anyone they want.
This election is about choosing the direction this country takes.
On one side is the millions from undisclosed donors attacking our candidates. On the other is us. And each and every one of us who is committed to this struggle for change has a role to play.
That’s why we all need to be knocking on doors, making phone calls, and spreading the word from here through Election Day. The President is doing all he can, and he’s counting on all of us to take that next step today.
We’re flying three winners to Las Vegas to meet the President backstage just before he speaks at one of the most important rallies before Election Day.
And your donation will help us fund the most ambitious grassroots program ever run in an election like this — from putting targeted ads on the air to paying the operations expenses in our field offices to providing food for volunteers.
My donation (the least-participatory aspect of my support of this anti-authoritarian movement) will help them put targeted ads on the air — which is another way of saying some of my gift will be given to mainstream media conglomerates represented by the Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers. Oops. I figured out three years ago that those guys are the enemy of innovation in broadcast media, egalitarian cooperation and information freedom. My paying them to air attack-ads seems like a bad idea.
There’s something in this invocation of the liberal/progressive faithful that reminds me that the enemies of my freedom are faceless, radical extremists…who I should fear…because they have weapons of mass electoral persuasion, and corporate money running out their ears.
It seems to me that my team (exactly like the other guys) is resorting to the irrational, magical and superstitious marketing of fear itself.
The discouragingly-ineffective forces opposed to the resugent conservative insurgency deserve my support in the form of my vote. Period.
Michael Mann’s commentary for this film is the definitive example of authorial intent exceeding the elastic limitations of the cinematic medium. Public Enemies is an excellent film, but the commentary tenders layers of context that did not (probably could not) be brought to the viewer’s attention within the 2hour limitation and the cost constraints of the film. Delivered by an expert filmmaker whose phenomenal familiarity with the material presented is nearly unsurpassed makes for magical depths of association and knocked me on my ass. It didn’t hurt to find that Mann’s encyclopedic creative sensibilities pulled meaningful parallel speculations out of plausible places.
A drunk midwestern, middleclass kid robs a grocery store for $50 in 1923. He’s sent to prison for 10 years, leaving it with a graduate degree in bank robbery courtesy of a mentor named Walter Pierpont who imbues the kid with a kind of sophisticated, methodical, rigorously military discipline that will elevate the student to the exalted national status of Public Enemy Number One for the 13 months of freedom on which the movie concentrates. And yet the day of the independent career bank robber (just like Butch and Sundance) is absolutely done, not only because J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau of Investigation says so, but because the end of prohibition means that the smartest elements of organized crime have moved beyond their ususal suspect activities (like harboring the high-profile gangs of independent bank robbers) to various forms of low-profile legitimate corporate criminality. So the extra-ordinary audacity and public relations acumen embodied in the Dillinger organization is threated in its prime from both sides, leading directly to an historic outcome that’s related in a film about it 70 years after the fact and lovingly mirrored in the gangster movies Dillinger loves to watch…one of which makes it into Mann’s movie.
It crossed my mind as Mann described Hoover’s appointed Dillinger-ender, Melvin Purvis, that that very Southern gentleman’s Gman career and cultural tradition were profoundly mismatched, especially in context of Hoover’s mandate to get Dillinger by any means necessary. While the film and commentary go so far as to strongly suggest that Purvis’ misgivings about the job and its executive director (later in the film) prevent him from doing the job to the fullest extent of his native ability, I’d like to go a step farther.
The threat Dillinger posed to national security justified Hoover’s strategies; arrest the target’s relatives for indeterminate periods of unlawful detention while subjecting those persons of interest to cruel and unusual forms of interrogation and exercise whatever forms of information gathering and monitoring of American citizens may be deemed necessary to achieve the agency’s goals. So the movie was an interesting biopic about the end of Public Enemy Dillinger, but the realer public enemies were Hoover and Purvis. And, thinking back, it seems that a remarkable variety of threats to national security are cited fairly continuously as ample justifications for extra-legal activity by heroic SuperPatriots who turn out increasingly swiftly to be incredibly slimy scoundrels.
I’d like to see Purvis and Dillinger team up to rid the world of Hoover, McCarthy, Nixon, Reagan, Rumsfeld, Bush, the FOX News Team and Bush…Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and whoa.
Maybe that’ll be Luck.
And nobody contextualizes network neutrality (and cocksuckers) as clearly as Tim Wu, in my experience:
Crudely paraphrased: Google’s approach to wireless internet is like America’s approach to the imposition of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq; noble-sounding motives devolve into unlawful detention and torture.
Having now completed my second pass through the inital season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I know that there are two commentary tracks (kinda hidden on disks 2 & 4) for episodes 5, Shadow Games, and 13, Kill Them All . These tracks contain quantities of information that provide fragments of exactly what I was looking for, helpful indications of the intents of the storytellers.
I’d like to thank Sam W for posing questions of my last post that led me to look for more interesting answers to the uncertainties we share regarding this television show. Some of those answers emerge from the commentaries, and lead to more interesting questions.
I think Sam’s primary objection to this television history was the frequency of incidental carnage visited on people whose casual placement in the narrative is uniformly insignificant. Perhaps I overstate Sam’s case by saying the show’s wanton and computer-enhanced exhibition of contempt for human life is a very reasonable objection that earmarks an entertainment aimed at vicious morons. Maybe that’s an understatement.
I had faith in Steve DeKnight that greater value was embedded in this tale than that. I still think so.
In Gossford Park, the hierarchical order of relationships between masters and servants is central to the revealed development of characters. In this television show, the hierarchical inequality of all mankind is gradually revealed to be in bitter conflict with values expressed in the narrative, composition, lighting, score and with the ever-expanding, labyrinthine personal agendas of each of the major and minor characters. And the deeper I venture into the complexities of this version of Spartacus, the greater and more interesting are, to me, the embedded references within the tale to trials of conscience, the development of consequences, interpersonal agendas in conflict; and exterior references/riffs/homages to putatively-objective versions of history, previous versions of this story, I, Claudius, Paradise Lost, The Sopranos and Angel: Not LOST, which I find more than merely interesting.
Let’s Get To Work and Kill Them All before the next round of informal negotiations with the AMPTP. Perhaps I’m overreaching, slightly.
“On steroids!” “Industrial Strength!” That’s two ways of indicating that Spartacus: Blood and Sand contains more graphic violence, sexuality and profanity than your average television show.Ever! Three really. The title of this post plays on the profanity scripted into the language of the show to highlight the sanitized lamenesses that shocks and awes the modern television audience into watching televison.
Just behind the spectacular visual delights (for every taste in every segment of the cult and casual audience) tendered in the frequent display of boobs, copulation, violence and male nudity and slowmotion bloodsplatter-by-the-pint, there are abundant verbal pleasures to be derived from the high level (but accessibly sub-Elizabethan) of elevated speech, by Juptier’s cock, and nuggets of arcane and timeless profanity welled up from far too many decades of Standards&Practices beating the freaking heck out of broadcast versions of adult reality.
And under the XXXpletive level of engagement are fascinating instances of artistic license that intentionally join the graphic novel to moving visual storytelling with classy restraint and hightech abandon — to sublime effect, from time to time.
And under those strata of evolving visual and narrative sophistication is a layer of reasonably-subtle moral ambiguity in which Power flip-flops constantly while rolling downhill in consequences that reverberate in all directions, something like this:
Crixus’ secret love for Naevia (while he’s recovering from his encounter with his legendary destructive, very-nearly-lethal nemesis, unretired Theokales) has significantly damped the pleasure Lucretia’s always taken in Crixus’ fucking enthusiasm — so Lucretia’s is less-resistant-than-ever-before to Batiatus’ reluctant contemplation of dumping an over-the-hill Crixus (former champion of Capua) on the even-more-minor-league market, somewhere else in the Roman world. Naevia, overhearing management’s disturbing ruminations, and putting two and two together, and dreading separation from Crixus, persuades her secret lover to redouble his customary efforts in the satisfaction-guaranteed bouts of fucking of Lucretia, despite Naevia’s profound distaste for Crixus’ sexual and romantic duplicity. Chicks!?! The thing here is that each and every character has a reliable moral compass that points constantly in whatever direction happens at the moment to seem reasonably warranted.
There are no moral absolutes nor completely-inflexible codes in a brutal universe of Power, domination, appeasement and betrayal — which makes for fascinating character development, situations and complex, multifaceted, provisional resolutions, alliances and fusible bonds that burn at a variety of rates. This is the soap opera layer of Spartacus: Blood and Sand; a layercake composed of beefcake, cheesecake, graycake (homoerotic), angel&devil’sfood, poundcake(as in thump), techcake, cusscake, naughtycake and miscellaneous forms of fetishcake…it’s adrenaline&thought-provoking pornographic entertainment for the entire family, designed to stimulate every taste and every demographic. Pornography (to my mind) is utilitarian entertainment. It’s primary objective is to addict those who partake in it, so a pornographic motivation exists everywhere in entertainment, education, religious worship, political engagement…and political expediency leads to confrontation with moral order which is only beginning to emerge at the end of season one as a counter to the numerous and contradictory exigencies that have dominated the beginning of the story of a legend in the making. Until I learn otherwise, I’m predisposed to call that legend Steve DeKnight.
If Mad Men mirrors contemporary American culture from the distant, politically incorrect remove of 50 years, Spartacus: Blood and Sand does something very similar, but it mirrors “our” modern liberation from the oppressive, arbitrary lowest-common-moral-denominator confinements of broadcast television. Whether the soul and conscience of the era depicted (about 100BCE) will be Julius Fucking Caesar of Jesus Fucking Christ, has yet to be specified, but this show is clearly designed to give every possible segment of the viewing audience massive chunks of delight, family-style. Jumbo! Full-on! Balls-out…! To the max? Not yet, but I’ll bet DeKnight is working on it. Hence, my emphasis on “our” liberation; content creators and audience, paying intense attention together on the same very same page, because we’re all in this together.
The 4-DVD set became available from NetFlix last Tuesday. Having streamed the season weekly last spring, I wanted to experience the series again more continuously and immersively. And I’d hoped to explore the horse’s mouth for clues to the show’s intentionality — Special Features reserved to Disc 4 — no commentaries, but several interesting features. Clearly, the first job of a showrunner is to keep flying. You can’t teach much with a show that can’t stay on the air. I think that misson was accomplished, but now I need to look into old rumors of the unavailability of Andy Whitfield for health reasons.
Datelessly, per IMDb:
- “Production has been halted on the Sam Raimi-produced show while heading into its second season, due to star Andy Whitfield being diagnosed with cancer. Whitfield has been diagnosed with early-stage Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and will begin undergoing treatment immediately. With the first season of Spartacus completed, production will be delayed on the second season.”
Alfred Hitchcock’s first film as an independent producer in 1948 was based on a play that was based on a book that was based on the infamous crime of Leopold and Loeb. It’s a remarkable film for several reasons, and frequently cited for the unusual experiment it undertook; to photograph the action without the use of conventional edits.
There’s also no insinuating musical score and (except for the early and later intervals, surrounding titles and credits) all of the music that appears in the film is explicitly made by an actor at the piano or the turn of a nob on a radio.
Less explict is the very-similar tonal pitch of all the actors’ voices. Even the three women in the film are resonably-deep contraltos, and their voices interact and blend with those of the men (including the upper register of the booming Cedric Hardwick) in an almost-continuous patchwork (foreground/background/multichannel) of dialogue that very rarely ceases (except conspicuously) and culminates at the end of the film in some electrifying crescendos; vocal, philosophical, kinetic and emotional.
Rope, Smith and Mad Men are three very different entertainments that happen to have in common absolutely zero characters that appeal to me, no characters with whom I sympathize/identify and automatically like. And yet, despite that formulaic “oversight”, in sticking with those stories I was led to appreciate the use of other elements/devices that justified the investment of my attention.
Rope‘s nine characters range (in my opinion) from the purely-loathesome to the merely-avoidable kinds of people I might meet at a party; elitist, classist, privileged, and fundamentally contemptible…but by the middle of the second act, the vapid conversations and self-important posturing began to peel away — revealing fascinating, human complications that are tucked inside of all of us.
The most-notable thing about Rope is the considerable number of conventional cinematic devices and cheats (filmmaker priviliges) it doesn’t utilize in telling a story about bullshitting. (Hitchcock also cheats.) On the other hand, the 1948 Technicolor camera was an enormous machine that could not move without drawing attention to itself in wobbles and bobbles and various conceits that the viewer isn’t meant to notice. And the camera’s point of view in Rope (as usual) belongs to nobody. I tried pretending (on my third pass through the film) that it belonged to David, the guy Brandon and Phillip killed, but that very clearly wasn’t the (pure cinema) story Alfred meant to tell.
Rope is a fascinating film on many levels, and riveting for many reasons that culminate in a ripping of scabs off the fundamental socio-philosophical question that emerges quite pointedly through the telling — How should superior wealth and privilege get along with the rest of us? I think Hitchcock’s hero in this tale is Mrs. Wilson, and his answer is that the elite had best behave with redoubled efforts at compassion and civility.
I think think superior wealth and privilege purchased mainstream media along about 1945 and have beaten us senseless with it, ever since, complicitly.
The film ends with an interesting, implict comparison between Old Testament capital punishment and Nazi euthanasia, mediated by civilized government’s willingness, readiness and aptitude to kill. That’s a bone of contention that doesn’t quite fit in the film.
Hollywood’s late-40s experiments in visual storytelling (Rope, The Lady in the Lake, Dark Passage…) might have been provoked by studio-anxiety over the embryonic giant of television. I think that notion gives undue credit to the presience of studio executives — whose eventual solution would be to buy (or be bought by) broadcast networks; they joined what they couldn’t beat. I think it’s high time I studied Hitchcock as a means to understanding the history (and future) of mainstream media as Alfred Hitchcock Presents…it.
The primary byproduct of all systems is irony.
(SIDEBAR: Generation Kill is a fascinating miniseries without insinuated score. All the music is made by characters onscreen, with layers of vocal communication set behind the brilliant foreground conversations, rants and diatribes in an alpha-male environment dedicated to constant contention which is reminiscent of some notable functions of communication exhibited in Deadwood and Stage Door, the 1937 chickflick with the deepest all-star bench and the wittiest conversations since Eve slew Lilith with (and Edna Ferber spurned) false immodesty. I love Generation Kill, partly because it elaborates on American lore/myth broached in The Killer Angels about heroism, patriotism, sacrifice, blood and privilege. And I’m steeply and steadily warming to Nathan Fick’s One Bullet Away, for very similar reasons.)
David Milch sometimes refers to the source of creative inspiration as God.
I think that kind of talk is presently just a little bit inflamatory, so I just call it Culture.
But I call it by that euphemism simply to shift the focus of authorship away from authors, authorities and the armies of people who are motivated by money and who aren’t creatively inspired while they’re busy dickering, suing, enjoining, litigating, negotiating and accounting for every last brass farthing they feel is due somebody and them.
Lawyers, agents and accountants aren’t creating content while they’re busy dickering, but then neither are authors. And that’s the point at which my perception of authorship diverges from the normal. Maybe love is all you need and amateurs (amatory participants in the process of making art) drive the evolution/efflorescence of art while professionals impede those good things by professing a stake in the ownership of art’s artifacts.
The care and feeding of Culture, I think, requires the sacrifice of professional authorship to facilitate innovative collaboration (authorized and otherwise) as people who create art and people who appreciate it reach for more humane and productive means (than copyright protections) to compensate one another for engaging with and making culture Culture.
Mimi and Eunice cartoon courtesy of Nina Paley:
The titles sequence for Deadwood runs over the desultory perambulations of a magnificent, wild, sorrel horse, intersperced with fragmentary moments refined from crude life in a working gold mining camp. The thematic score and visuals combine to set the tone for deep immersion in a very specific universe of rough pleasures, raw toil, rampant corruption and the fervent search for gold. The horse will eventually become the agent of destruction of the innocent son of Seth Bullock, the primary representative of law or order throughout the series.
The pilot episode of Brooklyn South erupts in cataclysmic urban violence with breathtaking suddenness as a sorrel-colored ungentleman (named Hopkins [as in Lightning]) begins his unbridled paroxysm of gunthug murder with a devastating punch to the face of guy who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Late in the third season of NYPD Blue, Andrew Sipowicz, Jr. is murdered while responsibly intervening in the violent celebration of two guys (wildcat capitalists) who are busily rejoicing in making good their escape from the scene of another recent crime scene. This story of Andy J’s murder is told entirely confessionally, in retrospect by victims and cowardly observers, all of whom chose not to take a stand against the sudden intrusion of dedicated, random violence erupting in their presence. It’s like, you know, stylistic variations of the same violent incident; transnarrative storytelling with virtuoso flourishes that fanthropologists and graduate students will probably be thinking about until hell freezes over (if anybody gets around to it).
Having a fairly literal mind, I’ve always read the horse metaphor as a beautifully fleshy manifestation of Unbridled Capitalism running amok in its pristine, natural, native environment, into which relatively-civilized Easterners intrude, bringing with them inappropriate attitudes and customs which the horse will summarily reorganize, and, in telling instances, crush, destroy, maim and render barely-recognizable (like William Bullock, as it eventually turned out). But David Milch, in his commentary, thwarted my literalist read by indicating his consternation at the inclusion of a wild horse cavorting in the countryside…which kept me thinking despite my tendency to figure I’d read the symbolic significance of the horse well enough. As it turns out, the horse probably didn’t die, but it’s worthwhile beating it, anyway, retrospectively and repeatedly, possibly forever. And there is no such thing as well enough because 9/11/2001 marks a date of violent action like a pebble striking the surface of a pond, making ripples that flow from the moment of impact AND ripples that lead up to it.
In his commentary for the pilot episode of Brooklyn South, David Milch remarks on Bill Clark’s frequent remarks about the manner in which violent behavior erupts, in Clark’s experience; suddenly, unexpectedly and often with breathtakingly disastrous results and unforeseeable consequences…kinda like 9/11.
So, I’m blithely cruising one of my favorite television shows with a couple of guys named Sipowicz and listening quite casually as one of them pointedly tells the other that policing starts and ends with paying attention to, and getting intimately familiar with
- The Things they do, and
- The Times they do them
…and I’m reminded of the horse, the Hopkins massacre, and the murder of Andy Sipowicz, Jr…as a violent realization overcomes me…that David Milch and Bill Clark have been explaining sudden, cataclysmic outbreaks of fictitious violence based on real events for a couple of decades…and I’ve only paid attention to the action, when the requirement is to read the ongoing interactions of people, places, things and times.
I see the internet as one small step toward telepathy and one giant leap toward global Culture. While certain sources of information feed my need for infomation, and other sources don’t, the internet is very like a gold mining camp in the wilderness, or a policeman’s beat in a community, or a medium in which violent action (that draws attention) erupts from persistent inattention to stuff that’s happening all the time. Likewise, Milch sloughs praise and awards for being The Creator of television shows that grab attention away from real life in which Culture grows a-David Milch-a-minute. I think he’s telling us to police our own areas with greater care, to invest redoubled attention in our lives, and to act with heroic-yet-conscientious decency. The alternative is to remain fixated on politicians celebrities and media heroes — whose successes (which ironically bring celebrity and hero-worship) derive solely from their immersion in policing their respective areas. I think he’s advising us to invest in our lives and not in our stars. Dave’s Epistle to the Skells.
Sorry about the anticlimax.
I almost forgot to mention that Yvonne leaves a gaping, ulcerated wound in Brooklyn South. Her mercenary duplicity and bottomless bitchiness match the trials of Andrew Sipowics, Senior, and she presents an excellent (though rarer) example of Milch-made antiheroine monsters written to spar at par with the demon-ridden guys (who absolutely do get more facetime, Wally).
My amazon pre-order of the 1987 14-episode series arrived yesterday afternoon. I’m four episodes in, and loving it all over again, partly because of its distinctive voice and partly because of its incisive humor, but mostly because of the world in which its set — a world in which omnipotent corporations and massively corrupt media networks rule a hellish planet peopled by somnambulists, while pointless puppet governments posture constantly and all cops are incompetent goons.
Max Headroom represents a kind of cyberpunk vacation from or antidote for the Milch-mania (which I actually prefer) that leads me to sound, even to myself, like some kind of sycophantic, pro-cop, law and order freak.
It’s nice to shift temporarily away from my steady diet of crusading detectives and visionary police officers (besieged by slime-covered news reporters and hamstrung by counterintuitive bureacracies) to one heroic, hardhitting newsman (mired in zombie-cops and soulless corporate nazis).
The series is just as low-budget, sometimes-tedious, and primitive as I remember, but it’s especially gratifying (after 23 years of waiting) to actually follow a reasonably-continuous storyline (no commercials, no week-long waits, no censored profanities…) and character arcs I hankered-after so long ago. (And the techno-mumbo-jumbo is probably lots easier now to translate into obsolete computer-speak.)
I’m finding, as well, that this show made remarkably cogent and prescient observations about Twenty Minutes Into The Future of television, media and society from 23 years in the past. And It’s FUN!
Important Update: Conversely, by episode 8, the drawbacks of crappy acting, deplorable dialogue, an unrelentingly cynical and whining view of the future, and the gimmick-ridden speech impediment of Max, himself, make this show increasingy difficult to watch and enjoy. It’s as though inert material is accumulating in my imagination, and the longer I pay attention to Max Headroom, the more difficult it is to pay attention to Max Headroom, a titular character whose charm and utility as comic relief cease to entertain as his appearances come to annoy, and I’ve begun to dread them.
What began as an almost-glowing pseudo-critique has become a serious CUSTOMER WARNING.
Good story. The 3D effect contributed a measure of irrelevant novelty that didn’t ruinously intrude on the narrative experience. I look forward to buying the DVD to complete the set of three engrossing, animated films, and to prospect for nuggets of curiosity and personal interest — BUT I won’t be looking for an archival copy on iTunes and I won’t seek the deluxe BlueRay edition, nor the 3DTV version, because I think that’s the SUV of storytelling.
One pass through the film in a theater last Sunday doesn’t give me the right to wax all philosophic upside it’s head, but I noticed that the 3D stuff that came before the 3D film began (trailers and logos and promotional crap) moved me. The involuntary acts of flinching were due to owls and bowling pins flying out of the screen and right through the fourth wall of the theater experience, into my sacred domain. Well…I thought it was mine and sacred, because for sixty years the movie industry has largely avoided acknowledging the fourth wall and my place on this side of the screen. Robert Mongomery’s 1947 The Lady in the Lake, near as I can figure, returned the investment of capital so poorly that the sustained use of subjective-camera in movies is like the third rail in subway hitchhiking; movies (and studios) that want to live long and prosper have avoided that technique asiduously.
I say that realizing that exceptions count for something, and from time to time, Hope and Crosby, Bugs, Lou Costello, for example, address the audience directly, and 3D experiments since ’47 (generally centered on horror-movie special effects) dot the recent history of cinema. The kicker here is that 3D and subjective-camera technique are extremely compatible with one another…you can watch the pitcher brush back a slugger from your seat off the 3rd base line or you can see that event from the point of view of the batter…3D and subjective camera optimize visceral and involuntary responses in an audience (until the audience habituates to the phenomenon). They’re also entirely compatible with the fashionable idea that audiences communicate virally, automatically massing in staggering numbers to have their strings pulled by special effects that can take the place of a stimulating and provocative story. No, they can’t.
There’s a 3D fork in the road of cinema up yonder. It marks the point in the marriage of commerce and art where a lousy relationship gets worse. Compelling content and the profit motive separate when money invests in sure things (like the autonomic nervous system that always makes you flinch when a beanball’s coming — even if it’s virtual). Artists may be able to incorporate fresh technology (like a wireless HD clip-on camera [or an absolutely insubstantial PIXAR camera]) into storytelling, but cretive artists are definitely not the kind of sure thing money prefers to depend upon. Some studio coercion is probably inevitable.
It remains to be seen whether people want 3DTVs enough to invest in the hardware necessary to play the software that’s coming in the wake of the stream of first-run 3D features. It also remains to be seen whether people will want 3D software archives that may help them replicate the autonomic, visceral responses that Hollywood and pornographers will insert in place of compelling stories from now on.
There are probably a number of intriguing parallels in Toy Story 3 that mirror the careers of outgrown toys bound for the attic, day care center or land fill; but I’ll probably have to get a DVD copy to fully appreciate them. I think the natural compatibilty of hot 3D and long-disfavored subjective-camera technique forces film schools to teach subjective camera use from the library of existing experiments like The Lady in the Lake, Dark Passage and With the Angels. And eventually the studios will realize that content is king, while gimmick is only temporarily novel; so, in time, audiences and greenlights will demand meaningful, provocative stories (again).
The aim ‘is to be the only horror movie coming out that is not in 3-D.’
The producer of the coming film The Cabin in the Woods.
‘When you put the glasses on, everything gets dim.’
J. J. ABRAMS
The director of Star Trek, which was a 2-D hit last year.
Four score and seven versions ago, our content creators brought forth upon this continuum an old notion, conceived in equity and dedicated to the proposition that all media is Cultural currency.
Now we are engaged in a great war of civil definition, testing whether that original notion or any ulterior promotion of private, corporate or global ownership can long endure.
We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of our fortunes, our individual and collective attention, to the restoration of an old frontier. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannon dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground without inspiring others to engage, add or detract from our poor power to be dedicated here to the unfinishable work which they who endlessly fight here have, thusfar, so nobly advanced.
It is, rather, for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from postings, comments and critique we take increased devotion to that cause for which the minimum basic agreement acts as an open door (to the street); that we here highly resolve that this site shall not exist in vain; that this notion, to resist complicity with Power, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that entertainment of the people, by the people, for and about the people shall not perish beneath an avalanche of counterproductive corporate notes, but strive to find intrinsic values in the plural form of “is”.
In the pilot episode’s commentary, David Milch mocks himself for the hubris that led to creating a better version of Hill Street Blues (my emphasis) in the midst of perpetuating NYPD Blue. It’s a powerful, deadly-serious, self-inflicted attack on his character. The remark stems very specifically from his contempt for the roll-call parody set piece, that characterized the earlier show (created by other people before he came aboard in season 3), but it ends with an underexpressed apology to the actors whose careers were not favorably impacted by a cancelled show that the actors loved. He indicts himself for failing the creative enterprise of Brooklyn South by underestimating the demands of his very own process; Licalsi confessed to a crime ascribed to Giardella. The series is eminently worthy of study for that reason alone — to provide insight into David Milch-overextended, heroically trying to provide just-in-time, custom-tailored inventory to two, unimaginably-demanding creative enterprises, simultaneously: Inserting newly-minted, custom content too late for the meddling of bosses.
Having just revisited the three seasons of Deadwood, it crossed my mind again that it’s difficult to determine which of many, many arbitrary certainties is A Lie Agreed Upon. I’ve concluded that the first of these is the value of gold because rumors of the discovery of that rare and precious metal motivate dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people to leave wherever in the world they were, reorganing their life-priorities, to convene in an inhospitable place on the planet where all of the civil safeties and conveniences available to people in 1876 are profoundly undeveloped or simply don’t exist.
Gold is a heavy metal. It’s chemically inert. It’s yellow and maleable. It’s so rare (according to Wikipedia) that all of the gold that’s ever been taken from the Earth would make a cube 60.4m tall. Picture the length of a football field, squared. Then cover that field with a pyramid of pure gold that sinks directly into the earth because of its tremendous weight, like a volcano in reverse. Now picture the ring of a few billion people surrounding the square crater (where all the gold in the world went) — each one gnashing, rending, ranting and lamenting the individual loss. Then what happens? Lemminging?
The intrinsic properties of gold don’t just naturally make my mouth water, but I certainly see that it’s possible to find significant utility in a material that can be worked into an infinity of shapes, is very chemically stable (even when mixed with other materials) tends to remain shiny, yellow and heavy despite environmental variability over time: Coin, currency, physical symbol of wealth, guarantee; a fundamental lie agreed upon. Hey, it could have been Bay leaves.
Gold, more than most other physical materials, remains constant.
It’s psychological counterpart?…seems like that would have to be…fixation…gold fever…a hunger for the color YELLOW. Odd that that word applies, especially in the old west, to precious metal and worthless men.
“String her up! She’s the coward Custer trusted.” and other sentences that don’t reverberate through the well-worn pages of history, except with their absurdity.
Although I think there’s value in this line of reasoning, I’ve got several hundred pounds of obsolete telephone equipment to sell today. More-or-less unfortunately, that too is a constant.
I stumbled, last week at DeviantART, across several striking visual images (from a closed account) authored by a woman from Kiev:
and found her posted videos here:
While I still have web access, I think the right thing to do is share these discoveries, rather than regret (for an indeterminate period) not having done so.
…I’ve lost the use of three hard disks, one internal, two external. These losses in storage capability probably aren’t to dust, shock, abuse or my carelessness. They’re probably the logical consequence of authorized, official updates to my operating system; MS Vista 64bit.
I have to say “probably” because dialogues and alerts provided by my operating system are remarkably misleading, and every potential remedy I’ve tried, instruction I’ve dutifully followed (where intelligibility and reason permit) since these problems began to arise has resulted only in a noteworty waste of time.
So, I’m soldiering on with work-around solutions, deprived of about half of my library, and contemplating ways to migrate my stuff to a new (and unaffordable) platform that might perform its fundamental functions up to and beyond the expiration of its goddamned warranty.
In brief, the cinematic highlight of the past five weeks has been Budd Boetticher, a name I learned a couple of years ago from Martin Scorsese’s The Century of Cinema. Back then, I found The Tall T on VHS at Amazon, enjoyed it and planned to investigate the remainder of the Ranown cycle. But life got in the way. A random Henry Jenkins tweet reminded me last month of my Boetticher resolve, so I caught the remaining films via NetFlix, which also gave me access to a peek at Burt Kennedy’s films and some standard Randolph Scott, Peckinpah, Leone…for contrast.
I like Boetticher’s themes, his attitude toward Hollywood (Fuck ’em) and I really like watching his influence spread far beyond the Western, the 60s, and Hollywood to exemplify clean, incredibly-efficient filmmaking rooted in character development in conjunction with a straight-forward plot. I think most of the value I found in the Boetticher approach is reflected in Jeremiah Johnson, and the primary modern practioner of his filmmaking style appears in products made by Malpaso.
Justified didn’t intrigue me much, despite the praise Sam Ford (a reliable source of excellent information) sprinkled on it librally regarding its Eastern Kentucky setting. (Sam’s a Western Kentuckian.) The pilot episode turned me entirely around with sharp, intelligent dialogue, blistering pace, and a full-on creative environment that made Timothy Olyphant (who [I think] did not understand what Milch was getting at — at all) almost totally palatable. It didn’t hurt to discover that Graham Yost (Speed [catch the commentary], Band of Brothers, Boomtown, From the Earth to the Moon, Raines) is the showrunner, with Keith Henderson (the son of a good friend who turned me on to Boomtown) working as editor on four (?) non-consecutive episodes, and Nick Searcy (From the Earth to the Moon, among other excellent things), Matt Craven (everything!), Earl Brown (great underplayed comedic/dramatic work on Deadwood). But the major revelation for me in the first season of Justified is the complex and fascinating contribution of Walton Goggins.
John Christian Plummer (a name with which to reckon in future, mark my words) turned me on to the fact that David Milch’s pre-Deadwood series, Big Apple can be streamed (and downloaded) from YouTube. And it’s far more than eminently worthy of that insignificant effort.
Like I said, brief.
None of the computer problems I’ve been having these past few weeks have prevented me from blithering in this blog, but “New&Improved technology” (that doesn’t fucking work anything like properly) provides powerful disincentives to use it as a means to a thought archive.
Let’s start with this:
I noticed that among the dissenting opinions in Comments, some people’s objections to the g-speak interface centered on the strenuousness and stamina needed for keeping one’s arms aloft, which led me to the notion of SeeSpeak — that the gestural language of John Underkoffler might be adapted and significantly refined by building a variation of it on the gestural (and facial) communications of a symphony orchestra conductor. Which led me to think of the rapid evolution of motion-capture technology that made significant strides at Weta during the translation of Gollum’s character from page to screen.
And if a hundred-or-so musicians can read complex, nuanced direction in the contextually-meaningful gestures of their designated conductor, why couldn’t an operating system manage something similar; contributing visual information to facilitate apprehension by the collective audience? That visual(/olfactory/kinesthetic/climatic…) information could be provided specifically by artists adept in those alternative media, working in collaboration with any/all agents of the production to create/recreate an augmented human experience as varied and wonderful as the human imagination is capable of concieving.
Well, there are copyright concerns that prevent the visual artists from freely incorporating cinematic elements of John Ford films into a production of Aaron Copland masterpieces, for example. And who, exactly, would pay for all of this innovative and inconcievably expensive creative collaboration? I have not a clue. Maybe he does:
but I’m inclined to doubt it. So I started thinking about stuff I read here:
And I continue to ruminate on the idea that any generic renaissance faire is the nucleus of an EraFair in which various temporal points in our collective cultural history draw musicians, painters, poets and dancers together to recreate that particular creative period — at various, proximal locations in a city park — where passersby can become interested, initially, in the reach of the music, then the atmosphere of creation and the invitation to engage and, ultimately, study/play with practitioners of arts formerly-defined by whichever eras interest them. A physical manifestation of creative peaks in human cultural history, open to every art-creator, student and fantasy-seeker (past/present/fictional…) just makes my mouth water.
Mostly, I’m thinking that g-speak, a newly-invented gestural language that controls a user-interface (and replaces a mouse, trackball or a pen-tablet) probably doesn’t have to be all that brand-spanking new; that conducting a band or orchestra is itself such an ecstatic pleasure that people do it anyway with mock-control over recorded music — so SeeSpeak is my way of theorizing about the interface of new technology with traditional, old, human quirkiness as a step in a more interesting direction than teaching people g-speak (which won’t necessarily make us better acoustic bandleaders when the power cuts out, computers crash and all we’re left with is one another). I kinda like stuff that’s of, by, for and about people — so long as they’re hypothetical.
I revisited the film this evening. It’s still disturbingly tame. The review I wrote last July reaches most of the objections I’m going to raise presently:
A guy spends about 80 years on Earth without knowing why
- he can fly,
- isn’t vulnerable to bullets, knives, speeding trains…
- doesn’t age,
- moves with incredible speed,
- and is about as strong as Godzilla.
But he’s also an antisocial asshole that nobody wants to know. So he drinks a lot and leads a remarkably reckless and haphazzard, superpowerful existence. He’s opposed to crime and evil, for no discernible reason…and to the best of his knowledge, he’s the only person on Earth who’s cursed or blessed with these attributes that make him a definitive outsider — with the unenviable tendency to punch gaping holes through his sexpartners courtesy of his superpowered orgasms: Control issues. Zeus, Christ, Lucifer…superhuman stereotypes to avoid.
With a wealth of comic opportunities to exploit, the film didn’t linger on the miscegenation topic of white Charlize Theron and black Will Smith as lovers who were made for each another (One man, One woman). Nor did it struggle to evaluate the implicit value of lives saved against replacement costs of private and public property damaged by the recklessness of an inexpressibly lonely, brokenhearted, derelict superhero. An asshole is anywhere your stuff becomes shit. The step-mother loophole still bothers me, as does the choice to end the film by dropping an enormous corporate logo on the moon saying, I HEART YOU. It feels like an unbelievably tedious patchwork of appeasements to keep mercantile feathers unruffled. I loathe the taste of horsefeathers!
Pitching Hancock to Jackman would obviate that ticklish race-thing, but Jackman’s Woverine already has that amnesia thing going, and…fuckit, Smith! and write around the implications. Theron chooses Bateman over Smith for his more-sustainable values, and to willfully override the obsolete dictates of providence (by sticking with the dictates of prejudice).
Perhaps the most unexplored of several underplayed themes involves the central premise that Mary Embrey (Charlize Theron) chose to abandon her destined, natural (black) partner after thousands of years of ambivalence about his proximity and the normal lives they’d lead in a humanly-brief and permanent mortal bond. How would that play in Tupelo, Provo, Cairo, or in theaters frequented by humans? The backstory of their relationship is wholly delivered by Mary in fits and starts and half-truths that make exposition entertaining, but leave an intrigued audience a great deal less than satisfied.
If proximity is the Achiles Heel that dooms these two to intimate mortality (and happiness) — is normal, human life so repellant? And how is Mary’s choice to deny her predestined (and frequently conincidental) entanglement with John a good choice? If John is forever condemned to life without his definitive true love, where’s the happy ending for, you know, the title character? Handjobs?
The other thing about Hancock that really, deeply bothers me, (apart from the far more meaningful stuff this entertainment carefully avoided confronting) is that fact that Vince Gilligan (the showrunner of Breaking Bad) is credited for co-writing it, along with Vincent Ngo — 12 years in development hell.
This new discovery of Gilligan’s involvement bodes ill for the satisfactory resolution of Walter White’s tale. Will monumentally interesting, contemporary real-life issues of good/evil, strength/vulnerability, power/compassion, partnership/estrangement/betrayal/family/ruin/legal system/property/addiction/life be treated with comic and xfx reckless abandon as in Hancock? or will Walter’s many problems resolve more interestingly than John’s did? Tune in until the end of time…or series cancellation…suckers.
A white rabbit is flung into this film (for no obvious reason) early. It led me down a rabbit hole (on the second pass), and continued to show me an alarming frequency of looking glasses, rearview mirrors and reflective, funhouse angles on events and people whose surfaces/reputations/manners are markedly different from one interaction to the next. The rabbit put me on track for an Alice lurking somewhere inside an enigmatic smile, which made itself known on all of the faces of each of the several daughters who show up eventually to torment, elude and beguile the central character (played by a constantly-peripatetic [white rabbit-like] Bob Hoskins) ever-deeper into a native London he’s never known.
It’s a filmic attempt to explore the sexual adventures of exploited young women not through the eyes of a male, chauvenist, racist, Cockney pig (who’s spent the past seven years deprived of the company of women) but through his lively, pink face as his innocence, self-image and crusty exterior evaporate in the ominous presence of his awakening to a reluctant self-awareness that marks both his outward, physical appearance and extends deep into this particular man’s ability to percieve the people around him…as the increasingly-complicated, interesting and potentially-anihilating projections/familiars of the person he formerly thought himself to be.
Along with the debatable references to Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, there are interesting parallels to Carroll’s realworld sexual eccentricities, involving puns, figures of speech, and presumed sexual adventures with very-young females…presented in a cinematically surreal manner that makes adolescent prostitution appear to be an institutional artifact of contemporary society; a hellish jungle of our own creation through which the camera moves, following people it brings us close enough to care about as they move through the seamy, unattractive underside of our abandoned, urban dreams.
The familiar, Official London peeks at us remotely, through negligent cracks in the drab and tawdry midground scenery, as our intimate associates in the foreground fling mercurial facets of their personalies directly at us; Bob Hoskins and Robbie Coltrane alternate as TweedleDum&Dee, while Clarke Peters grins perversely slashing boldly with a straight-razor, and Michael Caine conspires, fumes and commands with lethal intensity in every scene in which his subtle, almost-reptilian simplicities convene.
There’s also lots of tea, a little proctology (seen darkly through a looking glass), and a final resolution in which liars, storytellers and masterpieces of fantasy leave Promethean doubt with regard to what the hell one’s actually supposed to do with all this complex, layered and fascinating information about sexually-oriented projection, self-perception, class distinction, stereotypical profiling and personal survival in this world of ours as Neil Jordan kindly permits us to see it…by looking at the mug of a mug who gazes into the looking glass at the infinite promise of Life and finds a more-or-less limited human being (who dreamt he was a …). Or did he? Which goes to the heart of Shanley’s remark about Doubt, that the final and most challenging act of the play should be performed after the final curtain as members of the audience passionately discuss over unbirthday pie alamode and tea the details that led to the wide variations of their respective interpetations of the event they just witnessed together.
Miss these twelve utterly killing episodes at your juicy peril:
There are also crib notes:
Just a couple of additional notes following a commentary pass through the film with Richard Schickel. I’ll certainly never read DuMaurier’s book, so Schickel’s comparisons are helpful in consideration of the first hour of the film in which slavish devotion to text builds atmosphere and governs the devolpment of elements. It’s the second beach house scene that initiates reasonably radical departures from the book, largely to appease the Hayes Office by blunting objectionable implications about Rebecca’s and Danvers’ lesbian overtones and Maxim’s intemperate murder of his wildly misperceived wife, Rebecca.
That second beach house setting is a kind of mysery spot in which relationships established in the first hour of the film suddenly go to pot in the midst of bizarre reversals and revelations while Maxim and what’s-her-name invest several minutes in overdue exposition — which Hitchcock (according to Schickel) would have communicated more skillfully were it not for Selznick’s fascination for characters who endlessly talk.
The propulsive power of verbal revelation justifies itself by unravelling several mysteries that would not reveal themselves efficiently. The beach house scene opens the floodgates for spoken explanations that end the largely-gloomy film on a happy, hopeful note that culminates in the rapid, bouncing pace (and dramatic conflagrations) I have to attribute to George Sanders energetic presence and Favell’s electrifying character. His consummate thorough-scoundrel perfectly counterpoints Danvers’ mesmerizing Svengali character, both of whom enliven the illusion of the never-seen titular character with their own very singular devotions to Rebecca. It’s a very good film that deserves the kind of talented thought that might remake it better.
Rebecca and Mrs. Paradine were presented as exceptionally beautiful women everyone loved, and both of them lost control of that incredibly intimidating power. It’s a theme Whedon’s dealt with comically in a couple of separate Buffy episodes, but it’s also a vital component in the still-unmade superhero chickflick that might just shatter box office records and revolutionize the art…simultaneously.
Several years after the release of this 1947 film Alfred Hitchcock was interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich. Their discussion touches on several valuable points of reference I’ve been curious about for a long while. Hitchcock speaks of Robert Montgomery’s (sad) attempt to shoot The Lady in the Lake consistently from a singular point of view (with ridiculously taciturn Philip Marlowe, compared to his nonstop internal voice in the novella). Hitchcock had clearly concluded that only incompetent (new) directors try this confounding technique, which inevitably results in dreadfully-muddled storytelling that continually violates the rules of “pure cinema”…which he seemed to believe necessarily involves manipulating the audience’ attention with ideas and emotions elicited by carefully-edited, deliberately-orchestrated confusion of the viewer’s point of view. Which sounds to me exactly like modern-media politics, absolutely.
This interview is one of the special features included on the DVD presentation of The Paradine Case. It opens with mention of his dislike for the numerous compromises that film represents because The Paradine Case was specifically and entirely a David O. Selznick project (an 18″-high stack of alternate treatments and scripts) wrecked by the casting of a regular guy, Gregory Peck, and clean-cut pretty-boy, Louis Jourdan in roles that really should have gone to a classy/articulate Ronald Coleman or haughty Laurence Olivier (iconic representatives of the nuanced Existing Order) in contrast to Jourdan Robert Newton (a lowlife, manure-smelling stable hand who somehow became the valet to an honorable gentleman [and remained a permanent servant of Chaos and Disorder]).
So Hitchcock was saddled with a counterintuitive, miscast mess to unscramble, and handed Selznick an objectionable “jigsaw puzzle” to cut that wasn’t what Selznick expected…and it shows in the final cut.
Having not yet turned to the expert commentary for supporting evidence, I see in The Paradine Case a scathing denunciation of 20th Century British hypocrisy, in that a simple case of murder results in 114 minutes of yammering heads constantly dancing around simple truths; a very beautiful, young European woman with “an unattractive past” marries a very-rich, older, blind gentleman, whose long-time valet lusts after her, and the feeling’s mutual. When the old man dies, Mrs. Paradine is arrested and defended by a wily-but-otherwise-irreproachable barrister with an unblemished record of legal victories and an entirely class-appropriate wife…and he lusts after his client, also, because she’s really hot.
Hitchcock seems to denounce the lofty (and superficial) appearance of ideal living that floats (like delusional bullshit) on a sea of repressed biological imperatives, unmentionable passions, and real, vital impulses denied in favor of the conformist’s facade of civilized and rational decisions/actions/lies; arguably-necessary, institutionalized hypocrisy. But that’s not how this story unfolds.
The dance of partial truths, slowly revealed in and out of courtroom scenes, consumes 105 minutes of the film’s running time, as respectable outward appearances of each of the principle characters gradually dissove into degraded blinds of intentional misrepresentations of who these people really are.
Mrs. Paradine, almost to the end of the film, continues to stonewall the prosecutor (and everybody else) by maintaining that the valet’s untoward and unthinkable attentions to her always turned her stomach, obviously, because he was a servant, reciprocity was absolutely unthinkable (an absolutely hypocritical circular argument). A few minutes later, due to unforeseen offscreen events, she’s hopelessly confessing to stuff that would have shortened the film by about 104 tedious minutes.
This film is beautifully lighted, and packed with interesting actors who play interesting parts (none of which, unfortunately, is a dilligent, intuitve cop or infallible amateur detective), but every moderately-interesting aspect of the film resolves in Mrs. Paradine’s ultimate confession which I find remarkably suspect. She’s told partial truths throughout this tale of divided loyalties and tight-lipped betrayals that lead to a final, convenient confession that everyone somehow believes. This sudden, miraculous confession frees the shaken, lovesick, fallen barrister to implore his stalwart wife’s forgiveness, which she gives by asking that he soldier on without giving another moment’s thought to the dark temptation of discrete retirement from a public life (that floats serenely on a massive shelf of really stinky classist bullshit). The (plucky and vaguely uplifting) End. A few early minutes alone with Kelly, Sipowicz or Simone could have worked visual wonders with Mrs. Paradine’s faulty confessional narrative.
I think Hitchcock’s belief in “pure cinema” is valid, although I’m not entirely sure what he’s really talking about. He also condemns the use of the handheld camera (increasingly frequently employed [along with camer operators who have neurological disorders] since the date of his death) as another crutch of the novice director, proclaiming that the magic of storytelling takes place primarily in the process of editing to illustrate the cause of the viewer’s idea or emotion (photographed subjectively), then the effect of the actor’s physical, vocal and facial response (photographed from the outside of the actor), what follows is the selective intercutting of causes and effects from numerous points of view that lead the scene onward through to a capsular, empirical summary of the physical, mental and emotional content of the photographed and verbal event.
Maybe I’m overreacting to 90+ years of cinematic storytelling from multiple points of view (with literal intertitles) and 80+ years of characters telling the audience what they’re experiencing. It seems to me that “pure cinema” is more difficult to execute than the stuff we’ve been watching. That it’s vastly more difficult to show a story than to tell it, and harder still to show events from a singular, consistent point of view. Maybe I’m agruing ruinously to reduce filmmaking to a kind of theatrical presentation of mime in which events unfold in realtime before a sedentary audience. Maybe I simply don’t recognize the cinematic validity of yammering actors, cameras that flit about like omniscient fairies and the failsafe standby of omnipotent, manipulative editing. So maybe I’ll have to stop my own yammering and get on with the process of doing the things I’ve been yammering about; make an illustrative example.
The camera’s point of view doesn’t have to be that of the protagonist. It might belong to a fly on the wall, the protagonist’s dog, a surveilance bug in a cufflink, a rosebud…or a magical fairy that flits about through space and time that nobody whose photographed notices, except Bing and Bob who sometimes played comic asides directly at it.
It’s nice to find The Lady in the Lake (a massive disappointment) discussed by an incontestible authority, although I think Hitchcock trashed the film for wrong and illogical reasons. No mention of Dark Passage yet, and With the Angels was shot long after his death. I wonder what he’d make of them. A year after starting this blog, examples of subjective POV continue to be few-and-far-between, but I’m still looking and still thinking.
A COUPLE OF HOURS LATER — Bill Krohn and Stephen Rebello provided an unusually rich and informative commentary that underscores the working incompatibility of Selznick’s and Hitchcock’s last collaborative effort together, citing Selznick’s overzealous elimination of 16 minutes of the film that might (paradoxically) have made it a significantly less tedious and talkative cinematic experience. They also point out the long takes with which Hitchcock had begun to experiment, immediately preparatory to making Rope, and the ubiquity of lighting fixtures and practical lighting signatures that point to Welles’ influence in the use of unusual camera angles to incorporate ceilings and the elaborate set decorations Selznick loved to “enamel” into ornate set pieces for The Selznick Studio Signature. Cost overruns and contextual considerations place this film (in my mind, at least) in contention with The Magnificent Ambersons as the most butchered offspring of a catastrophic divorce; Dave’s and Al’s, certainly, but also Mr. and Mrs. Selznick’s. (Cross reference Jennifer Jones with David Ø’s infidelity.)
What might have been Hitchcock’s intelligent indictment of the closed and patriarchal English justice system has survived Selznick’s ultimate final cut as something resembling a public apology to his estranged wife for betraying her. Krohn and Rebello also give credence to the suspicion that Welles and Citizen Kane influenced Hitchcock in the near-final scene in which Laughton and Barrymore dine alone at opposite ends of a very long table illustrative of late-stage marital pathology between coupled and uncommunicating partners in a formerly-plucky relationship devastated by the husband’s class, occupation, sexual eccenricities and wanton abuse of power; business-as-usual. Conversely, picture AH and OW sitting together for a late-in-career conversation; two boy-geniuses went to Hollywood, one of them didn’t survive the opportunity, but they eventually arrived at identical, rotund profiles, as though from mutual respect. That’s a half-way decent premise for a thesis or a play.
One of the long-lost scenes Selznick scrapped got Ethel nominated for a supporting oscar. On to Rebeccett.
Yup! Rebecca is one insanely excellent chunk of immortal entertainment! Now picture it from Jasper’s point of view, and Ben’s and that DeWinter ancestor’s portrait’s…and Danvers’. Happily, I was never in danger of marrying Rebecca, we were only the best of friends. I guess that makes me George Sanders.
Legacy. There’s significantly richer/deeper/farther-back backstory in this second film in which the ever-enriching John Slattery plays Howard Stark, long-dead father of the morally-defective Tony (Iron Man) Stark. The Iron Man universe expands in several interesting waves, as the 1939 World’s Fair hyperlinks the 1974 fission of the temporary StarkVanko collaboration that eventually pits Downey against Rourke in a StarkVanko reunion that neatly illustrates the downside of unparalleled, generative genius; unparalelled, self-destructive, avenging narcisism.
I’d like to take a moment to recognize four of the most interesting material-interpreters (actors) presently working in mainstream media; Downey, Rourke, Cheadle and Rockwell — whose performances in this film do not disappoint. While both Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johanssen are featured more prominently than all of womankind was in the first film, their talents are still profoundly limited to sauntering about in extremely tall shoes and wearing stylish clothes while looking great and bantering in layered, simultaneous, comic conversations with RtD2 (Robert Downey, Jr.). Of course, somebody’s got to flesh-out the background scenery while Gary Shandling, Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg mix metaphors with other cast members in the foreground.
I’m saying this Iron Man movie has an extremely deep bench of fascinating franchise-carriers, which short-changed women players a bit less than the first film did, but that’s still several dozen testicles short a full-on SuperChickFlick…which is something to scrutinize exactingly, as The Marvel Universe expands, evolves, grows facial hair and its voice deepens; shallow, short-changed, minor roles for serious, powerful, accomplished women actors. The primary conflicts and resolutions in Iron Man 2 are rooted in decidedly male themes: father/son legacies, filial betrayal, pissing contests and blowed-up shit. Mrs. Stark and Mrs. Vanko probably had first names, but I don’t remember hearing them…which is just a simpleminded way of saying that Iron Man 2 isn’t Gone With the Wind, and it hasn’t much to say about successful romantic relationships, personal sacrifice, joyous resignation, intimacy, isolation, despair…and Daredevil did and The Brave One did…not do very well at the box office. So it’s something to watch. And something to build another universe upon.
I loved Iron Man 2 ! It didn’t have to be perfect. It only had to be as electrifying as its predecessor. That definitely happened, and then some.
This afternoon I also saw How to Train Your Dragon and Robin Hood.
But first, a few words about title design: http://www.bigspaceship.com/blog/labs/by-hand-tacticility-in-title-design/
We’re closing on 100 years of cinema, which is stories told to us with moving pictures. And yet title design has fallen so far behind the evolution of storytelling with pictures (and sound) that movies are still introduced with written WORDS. And the discussion of major innovation on this front is limited to comparison of machine-made or handlettered fonts?
Stanley Kubrick favored a very l.o.n.g. musical overture in the 1960 introduction of Spartacus. The theatrical advantage of a long musical overture (over the various other things most movies do) is that the theatrical audience is collectively conducted onto a single, coherent, cohesive page in the minutes before the movie begins. And whether they struggled to get to the theater on time, fought with traffic for a parking place, bickered all the way to the show on the subway, or just awoke from having slept through the preceding feature (because people in adjacent seats left and the music just got a whole lot louder)…the billion variations on walks-of-life that bring a billion people to sit before a screen for a couple-three hours are all of them converged into a singular state of anticipation in the minutes before the movie begins.
Now, a long musical overture is one of many fashionable ways to introduce a film like Spartacus or Cleopatra or West Side Story, but title design hasn’t changed much at all since 1910…for reasons that elude me. I mention this because I read titles fairly carefully in order to remember the names of the above-the-line contributors who made films I enjoyed. I brand myself by bonding with cinematographers like Roger Deakins, editors like Lisa Lassek, writers/directors/producers like Ben Hecht, Joss Whedon, David Milch, Neil Jordan…and I seek/buy other work they’ve done based on the covenant they create with me forged in the course of the film of which I’m presently reading the titles.
I’d like to see my brand names introduce the film. I’d like to see my brands speak their own names aloud and introduce one another, maybe even contextually. In a storytelling medium that’s composed of sound and moving pictures, it strikes me as profoundly odd that titles and credits are and always have been limited to written words that bear only the most abstract association with the people who made the product I’m watching — while the elaborate logos of distributors, studios and financial backers lead the procession of onscreen written words — as though those were the brands that mattered. And DVDs involve opening an anti-theft, anti-piracy-device-laden package of wrappings and tapes and magnetic strips that generally take as long to break through as the titles take to run, once the DVD is at long last inserted in the appropriate hardware and the leagalistic, multi-lingual terrorizing warning mumbojumo gives way to preview trailers and the inevitable disclaimer that commentaries (by anyone responsible for the actual creation of the content) are unrelated to the sentiments of the (not legally liable) people who irresponsibly own the content. THEN titles. Then content. Then credits that flash by like fine print in a deal with the devil you can’t refuse. Then the dicks who put the film on DVD (usually badly) get to wave their logos at us too. Something (almost everything) about the state of cinema business-as-usual stinks of bogus priorites, confidential agreements, and ulterior agendas that come very close to queering the fundamental storytelling covenant between the content creators and their audience.
I liked them. How to Train Your Dragon and Robin Hood entertained me. Also father/son legacy-stuff. I like the peculiar ways Chris Sanders tells stories, although there are recognizable eccentricities in continuity that want more careful editing. Hickup’s drawing of Toothless’ tail is and isn’t and is asymmetrical. Similar flaws in Bolt are clearly attributable to the violent intervention of other people hired to replace the director, but Toothless’ tail is a stupid oversight in an otherwise strangely-paced but riveting tale. I asked him to speak in his journal at DeviantArt about (what I figured would be) the release from creative captivity at Disney in the regime change that introduced Pixar to the top of the food chain. He never answered, and I soon realized the question was a major faux pas — so I feel like I owe him.
Robin Hood, Ridley Scott, Russel Crowe and Cate Blanchett is a combination I wouldn’t care to miss. Max and Bill get to flex a bit, as well, but the reel revelation is the longed-for continuity that links Henry II to Magna Carta via Becket, The Lion in Winter and this Robin Hood that lends backstory to all the previous cinematic Robin Hood iterations I’ve seen. It also goes a long way toward a gripping, heuristic demonstration of the evolution of gritty philosophizing about domion’s transition from the divine right of kings to representative democracy: A first class lesson in How to make political philosophy not-tedious, not-boring.
Interestingly, Chris Sanders has much more to say about the institution of xenophobia than Ridley’s treatment of Robin’s legend, which is odd to the extent that Ridley Scott always subverts the us/them paradigm. In this film, unlike Costner’s shot, Angles and Saxons are okay with Normans, but the goddamned French really NEEDED a 13th Century foretaste of Agincourt with John the First-runt-king of England bringing shavetail comic relief to a fascinating inversion of the landing at Omaha Beach presented in Saving Private Ryan.
I really get off on transnarrative media, especially stories that run meaningful threads of context across proprietary boundaries, so Firefly intimated that the institution of slavery and indentured servitude lay under the surface of a universe set 500 years in our interstellar future, which led me to Ken Burns’ The Civil War and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels because that book (about the Battle of Gettysburg) self-reportedly inspired both Burns and Whedon, and I learned also from Jezebel that the South’s definition of liberty was far less complicated and contradictory that the North’s (but equally goofy). Likewise our bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led me to Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen because I didn’t and still don’t understand how the Japanese forgave America’s final solution and bent to MacArthur’s post-war will. Also I don’t have to wait for storyarchitects to get their semantic shit together (with lawyers) prior to money changing hands that may eventually lead to the fashioning of transmedia narratives, when transnarrative media has been helping me stuggle toward the answers I seek reasonably, tolerably well. And nobody’s making any effort to dissolve the proprietary boundaries that provide nothing useful to storytelling other than short-portions of money. (That was just a dream some of us had.)
I greatly enjoyed the three feature films I saw today in a multiplex, although none of these three theatrical presentations layed a glove on the greater control I experience in viewing content in the DVD format. Pause and replay beat the pants off theatrical virtues like:
- the inability to smoke
- jughead administrators who don’t pay attention to auditorium thermostats (I got real cold during Dragon) and
- volume control;
although lots of movies seem to favor actors who frequently mumble and whisper while music and sound effects drone on too loud for dialogue intelligibility, which also leads me to appreciate the favor done me by DVDs in english that provide the option of subtitles. Old people like to understand words in new movies and in old ones. I’m old.
Now I’ll close with the mention of Longitude, a superb film about talent, persistence, and curiosity versus the invalid prestige of reputed scientists — and a second, long round of sincere applause for the emotional and performative excellence/maturity of The Brave One, both of which lean deeply into unique revelations of profoundly faulty institutions that destroy people to preserve utterly irrelevant reputations.
Tonight, it’s Rebecca, The Paradine Case and Bela Fleck: Live at the Quick, via NetFlix.
It’s the story of a guy who thinks shit up. That alone is a fabulous talent.
Even more remarkable is his gift for finding ways to execute/realize the shit he thinks up. The ability to think it then translate it into a thing that actually works — that combination qualifies as a genuine superpower. We venerate Edison, Tesla, Marconi and dozens of technological giants for their personification of those admirable abilities. Then we make glorious biopics that retrospeculate about their private tribulations and holy victories that benefitted Mankind!
But wait, there’s more. The first film is also the story of a guy who actually builds his ideas, mass-produces, and sells them, profitting fabulously from imaginary sweat transformed into socially-useful instruments, which happen to be mostly morally-bankrupt weapons of mass destruction. And he’s the second generation manifestation of that superpower. Now that’s downright Olympian-mythic!
Hold on, that ain’t all.
There’s nothing Tony Stark builds in the original movie that isn’t (eventually or immediately) used against him. His WMDs get him kidnapped, severely wounded and enslaved to the agendas of total assholes. I put it that way because I think it’s true of
- the weapons he manufactures,
- the commerical organization his genius preserves,
- a handy-dandy paralyzer on which the story turns,
- the profoundly-important complex, heartlike device that safeguards his life and liberates him from his oppressors, and
- his playboy persona as a pampered moral defective who poisons all of his relationships by simply being his ill-reputed self.
In my initial review (in a blog I kept at the now-abandoned United Hollywood v2.0) I called the film Irony Man, because anything Tony Stark builds
can and will be used against him in the court of public opinion.
It’s an odd kind of Miranda Warning that’s actually articulated in the film by his nemesis and partner, Obadiah Stane,
“Do you really think that just because you have an idea…it belongs to you”. (No paraphrase.)
That single line impressed me with its applicability to the ongoing struggle between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the Writers’ Guild of America because writers think shit up for their employers who execute and market it (arguably) to the eventual detriment of writers. But now I’m just overloading my version of the story with debatable social significance. I’ll get back to that a little later.
The single most remarkable aspect of the first Iron Man movie (and in my mind there are plenty) was the director’s explicit intention to reverse an industry practice that confined and limited the license of actors to enrich their superheroic characters with explicit personality (because computer graphics imaging is incredibly/prohibitively expensive). So Favreau blew off the established wisdom and licensed Downey to embellish/invest his Tony Stark/Iron Man character with all of the considerable, eccentric, improvizational wit and whimsy the actor had at his command, while charging the army of CGI technicians to follow the lead of the actor. That’s the opposite priority of every film that preceded it (and some released subsequently) Story>Actor>Special Effects & CGI Technicians. I think The Favreau Priority worked like gangbusters to tell an excellent personal story that incorporated the current state-of-the-art of constantly-evolving motion-capture technology and push technicians (actors, crew and staff) to the fullest extent of their creative limits — like it’s s’pozed to. Check the second commentary track for The Incredibles to hear the deeply inspiring and contagiously creative storytelling vitality that radiates explosively from technical coordinators.
Writers, actors, staff, crew and technicians aren’t interchangable parts of the Hollywood fantasy machine. They’re uniquely gifted people, who collaborate more effectively in some schemes than in others, and the material-interpretive faculties of a gifted actor can and should be of paramount importance even/especially in spectacular blockbuster, mechanized, technical extravaganzas that are always exactly stories of/by/for…people. The actor is primarily an audience for the scripted material, and his/her performance in the film is user-generated content. Culture animates people animate systems, not the other way around.
Now I’m reading criticism, in the first few days of its domestic release, that the second film isn’t as remarkable as the first one was. Which sounds as though anything Jon Favreau built
can and will be used against him in the court of public opinion.
And that’s just downright ironic.
One last thing, but it’s a big one.
David Milch spoke to (screen)writers in more than one series of lectures I liked a lot. Much of the stuff he said sounds profoundly mysterious and cryptic, but I got from him a sense that writers are simply instruments through which Culture speaks — and ultimately writes our history. So I tend to look right past writers (as the ultimate arbiters of authorial intent) to Culture as the force that invents shit for which writers get paid and about which the get very very crabby, when asked to specify what exactly they meant by this or that.
Joss Whedon named a planet Miranda in Serenity and spoke of it (subsequently in interviews) as a Shakespearean reference to The Tempest. I prefer to interpret it as warning about the point at which good intentions lead to a forced choice between suicidal apathy and ultra-violence.
You have the right to remain silent, and I have the right to be wrong.
Whedon also said (for Creative Screenwriting DVD043) that the writer’s job involves a lot of isolation, imaginary sweat and technical skill, which ultimately leads
(with a lot of luck and undeterred determination)
to a script that says something useful ABOUT something important. (So maybe Dollhouse referenced All About Eve [Addison/Adelle DeWitt] to gradually introduce and articulate the aims of Equality Now [against slavery, human trafficking, abduction, sexual infantilization] — thematic strains that lay barely-subliminally beneath the fascinating surfaces of the Firefly universe.)
The resistance I encountered in the virtual presence of amateur and professional photographers to (my off-the-wall) articulation of meaningful statements I’d discovered in the photographs they’d created surprised me for the six years I spent writing critiques of their work. I concluded that the endeavor to tell them what I found in their work wasn’t worth the effort I invested, so I stopped doing it. Those experiences shaped a defensive attitude I adopt when addressing “creatives” who aren’t creating while I’m talking at them (they’re usually responding like proprietors).
David Milch spoke words of encouragement to writers in his talks, but far more importantly, he spoke to the interpretive faculties of global audiences (people) to extract meaning from works of art quite in spite of the people (and the propietory interests) who made them or own them or market them.
Once you’ve shown your creation to other people it’s a little or a lot less yours than it was before. Though copyright may protect the creators’ expression of an idea, it doesn’t bear at all on alternative interpretations of the work. And everyone who receives a story rewrites it to make it more personally useful. That’s what stories are, and that’s what people do with them.
SmartMoney builds theaters, museums, stadiums and galleries to capitalize on the interface (the work) where creative and interpretive intent meet. That way, the housing of the work always makes money (and the house always wins) until artists and audiences exchange information more directly (outside the house) and the house abreacts against evaporating revenues and the greedy dreams of avarice. And that’s why social media is antithetical to money-as-a-medium-of-exchange when the gold standard suddenly becomes attention. Cheap low-resolution copies communicate creative and interpretive intent, so the house insists on 3D, HD, IMAX, 7.1 SurroundSound in THX to sway the court of public opinion toward the great value of copies controled by the house, and away from the underplayed value of meaningful stories. So I’m glad I waited for Avatar to become available on VHS. (A small joke.) I’d probably have missed the story I thoroughly enjoyed if I’d seen it first in IMAX.
Now I’ll exercise my right to suicidal apathy and contemplate my right to be wrong.
Then I’ll cruise the first film again before I go to see Iron Man II.
I’ve just spent an hour or two with Herbie Hancock: Possibilities. I selected the film from a load of badly-suggested movies that NetFlix figured I’d love (based on my enjoyment of Ken Burns’ Jazz, Ninja Scroll and No Direction Home — a really odd extrapolation). I did love it, in spite of my expectations. (Have I even seen Ninja Scroll? I sure don’t remember liking it.)
I loved the beginning because a famous jazz musician confessed to himself that he was tired of making recordings for the familiar expectations of people who buy them; that making the same creative decisions he’d made countless times before was getting profoundly dull. I think it wasn’t Yoko who killed The Beatles (’twas expectations of their fans).
So Herbie Hancock set out to bridge a lot of gaps in the usual scheme of expectable collaborations by playing individually with Christina Aguilera, Sting, Paul Simon, Annie Lenox, Brian Eno, John Mayer, Wayne Shorter, Joss Stone…because nothing much (apart from inertia) prevented him from doing so.
I loved the middle because stuff I never knew about Herbie Hancock’s interaction with Miles Davis got talked about; that Miles paid his collaborators to practice on stage, exploring unknown aspects of their personal and collective musicianship to see what together might be made of moments when remarkably competent players exceed their competencies in an environment of suspended judgmental resourcefulness, focused on the primacy of radical innovation.
And I loved the end that brought me back to something I read through earlier today:
which leads me to see a single narrative throughline crisscrossing the qualitative/categorical gaps that separate technology startups from feature films from musical collaborations from blogs, fiction and autobiographies:
Media are environmental gaps between A and B. Whether hostile to or facilitative of communication (between A and B) is only a matter of degree, but the ability/inability to connect competent practitioners of one discipline with another can be determined only by building bridges, recognizing story-commonalities on both sides of the gap and overcoming inertia.
I really like the comments that reply to the AndreessenHorowitz post because they emphasise the difference between hired-gun-CEOs and people whose self-assigned mission is to realize possibilities. And I find it amazing how similar are the post’s itemized characteristics of exemplary founders and admirable artists:
- Comprehensive knowledge
- Moral authority
- Total commitment to the long-term
I also got off on the music. Check it out. Stories are people too.
Eleven months later:
I just realized that I forgot to specify any meaning to the term Transnarrative Media. It’s threads of meaningful and valuable sense that run through stories owned by competing entities, and reveal themselves clearly to those of us who regard storytellers as brands, even if some of us are clearly delusional.
Mr. Flynn had just asked his class of nine and ten year old Low Sixth-graders to define a point. He was, in fact, reviewing class material recently imparted to us in his personal pilot project of a local 1961 experiment in epistemological optimism. You see, Leonard Flynn sincerely believed that even little kids could benefit enormously from the careful introduction of advanced course material normally reserved for the vastly more mature intelligence of little kids in high school. His superiors would require persuasion.
I really wanted to help my teacher prove to his educational hierarchy that our minds were NOT too immature to engage in the wonders he himself had lately found in the expansive mysteries of Euclidean geometry.
Yet, like every other kid in the room, I didn’t raise my hand, knowing with some certainty that he wouldn’t like the answer I’d spent the past few days carefully considering. So affably, encouragingly, smilingly, like a young Spencer Tracy with wavy red hair and wrinkly forehead, he simply asked us once again to define a point. No answer.
The third attempt contained a subtle note of exasperated resignation, as though Leonard Flynn’s confidence in his rosy, private vision of education had been fundamentally shaken, drawing him slightly nearer to the darker view of brick-like students widely held by more senior officials in the educational establishment.
I raised my hand. He nodded sharply at me with the very-faint implication of exasperated relief.
“A point is an indeterminate location at which no line exists.”
I was absolutely right! He absolutely hated my answer, specifically because it helped none of the other kids in class remember the answer he’d given us a couple of days earlier.
Except for the fact that it did.
His next request of the class, “Define a line.”, sent little hands aloft like at Berchtesgaden. From that moment on through the end of the school year (which culminated in the combined grammar school assembly/Parent Teachers Association meeting in which we presented to excited younger kids and doting parents alike all the keen stuff we’d learned with nifty visual aids and memorized geometric axioms, that) our Sixth grade class amply justified Mr. Flynn’s faith in us kids and validated the glorious future for less-condescending education. Except that somebody left it to Beaver.
I’ve celebrated Define A Point Day every year since 1961, quietly preferring my own joy to missionary work; a lesson from another, later, more-reluctant teacher. It was probably my super first day.
The first season opens on the release of the central character, an LA detective whose been brutalized in a maximum-security prison for twelve years. Define anticlimax. The quirky Rumplestiltskin thing that Damian Lewis achieves for all eleven episodes of this initial season works to varying degrees because of the presence of Damian Lewis and a remarkably interesting cast of collaborators surrounding the character he portrays. Robin Wiegert, Adam Arkin, Michael Cudlitz, Garrett Dillahunt, Christina Hendricks and Titus Welliver (Deadwood, Band of Brothers, Firefly, NYPD Blue, and Adam fucking Arkin!).
The episodic (standalone) felony investigations gradually include fragments of information about the ancient homicide case that kept him locked away in prison until his persistent defense attorney, a very attractive woman, eventually secured and brought forward excuplatory DNA evidence that resulted in
- his release from prison,
- his acceptance of an undisclosed and enviable cash award for wrongful imprisonment, and
- the restoration of his job as a metropolitan detective.
It didn’t guarantee that his senior partner, Sarah Shahi (as Det. Dani Reese), would be one of the most beautiful women presently working in television. That’s just a riveting and marketable coincidence. It’s also a deeply contrived assortment of circumstances that kept my teeth on edge.
And there are peculiar technical stupidities that crop up from time to time, like; at one point in an early episode the prime suspect and lone survivor of a car wreck is seated in an interrogation room wearing a butterfly bandage over his right eye, except when it’s over his left eye, as though somebody flipped the negative in coverage and nobody respected the audience enough to think it really mattered. Ultimately, it doesn’t.
The premise and synopsis of this show depend upon the semi-plausible idea that Charlie Crews, the central character, has undergone a radical transformation within the walls of his imprisonment that lead him now to caper with the rigid corners of duly-authorized police procedure in ways that reflect dry humor and perfect knowledge of the wily criminal mentality, making him a kind of supercop with a really-interesting mind.
The thing is that relatively few members of the audience are expected to be sufficiently steeped in genuine police procedure to spontaneously recognize Charlie’s deviations from SOP, so one or more of his onscreen compatriots is obliged to raise an eyebrow or otherwise object to the zany antics of a knife-slinging, Bentley-driving, zen-platitude spouting oddball LA homicide detective who lives in an unfurnished stately mansion on several acres of orange groves with hot’n hotter California babes constantly on tap. Return with us now the the thrilling days yesteryear, as The Lone Ranger, and Magnum, P.I. ride again. Because who the hell remembers?
Getting to know, really-really like, and root for Charlie Cruz and Dani Ruiz in the course of nine standalone episodes is probably supposed to prepare the viewer for the wealth of juicy revelations about the case that originally imprisoned him, arc-tic revelations that gradually begin to intrude on the graceful pace of his weekly felony solutions. It doesn’t quite work because the unfolding of this involuted, damaged character takes too long to unfurl with drizzled-in elements of old evidence from twelve years earlier, while the hidden personality of the central character very rarely appears beneath the various layers of pseudo-comic subterfuge: “I’m a good cop, a master-criminal, a man on a mission to solve an old crime and I’m also quite enlightened, except with regard to technical advancements like cellphones with cameras and the mysteries of Instant Messaging — stuff that happened while I was in stir..”. Welcome to dis-appointment television, and farewell.
Note to folks who produce DVDs: Five egos in a tiny viewing room is not a good idea.
Christy Dena and Jeff Gomez have long been powerful and effective advocates for innovation in the structure of entertainment. Following her Tweets, I found reference to people like me, here:
“For all the newcomers to the area who are excitedly exploring #transmedia – a big welcome! Go for it! I hope you create great projects!” (about 9 hours ago via web)
“It is just the people who have suddenly entered the area or have been quiet all these years and are suddenly public experts that irk me.” (about 9 hours ago via web)
While I don’t mean to imply that Christy is chastising my latecomer’s remarks disparaging the recent success of transmedia advocates in gaining a measure of recognition from mainstream media , the shoe fits perfectly well. I might as well wear it proudly.
I’ve been dropping my goofy opinions around the internet for years, frequenting places like Henry Jenkins’ aca/fan blog, Lessig space, and six years of critiquing photgraphs over at photosig.com. Most of the stuff I’ve contributed, logical and coherent or otherwise, persistently questions definitions and assumptions that signify the current tide of expert and popular opinion.
I’ve confused and irritated a lot of professional and amateur photographers by asking (for example) why so many of them repeal the law of gravity by cocking their cameras at peculiar angles in order to take “visually dynamic” pictures. How can fetish photography be deeply personal when most of it dwells on fashion statements about mass-produced materials; latex, piercings, wigs…? And a thousand other questions bent on connecting authorial intent to uncommunicative execution. In six years, I spoke with lots of gearheads whose rationale for making photographs had surprisingly little to do with the people they photographed, the people who viewed their pictures, and nothing in particular to do with communication. It was about costly hardware, advancing technology and gadgety stuff…leaving the heavy lifting of making sense of the image to the viewer because the photographer generally didn’t know or care how a given image was interpreted. I cared.
A similar set of questions arise for me in cinema. Early in the course of writing this blog I tried to express my confusion concerning the very long cinematic tradition of photographing and editing human interaction from multiple visual angles. Robert Montgomery’s 1946 film, The Lady in the Lake is an fascinating, disciplined and failed attempt at bringing Raymond Chandler to the screen through the eyes of Philip Marlowe. An enormous 1946 movie camera is only one technical part of the problem, the filmmaker chose to completely eliminate the streaming voice of Marlowe’s thought, which is Chandler’s cardinal virtue.
If the holy grail of modern entertainment is “audience engagement”, maybe the traditional practices of multiple-camera/quick-cuts and counterintuitive point of view is an enormous impediment industry leaders need to dispense with. The most effective means to communicate the difference (that these words don’t really convey) between a camera’s coherent point of view and what Hollywood’s been doing for 90 years is neatly expemplifed in With the Angels, webseries I found at strike.tv:
At Lawrence Lessig’s blog, in mid-2008, I asked why the Highlander ethos (“there can be only one”) applies to the American presidency. There and at Huffington Post (somewhere) and at Bill Moyers’ blog I asked if anyone know how large a percentage of my contribution to the Obama campaign was instantly consigned to the very deep pocket of the magnates of mainstream media — the same names that turned out empty pockets when the writers’ strike highlighted their conviction that the internet was strictly a promotional medium possessed of indeterminate commercial potential.
About 90% of the questions I ask go unanswered. No matter. Irking Christy Dean is not one of my objectives. Much higher on my to-do list is the task of simply understanding what the hell she and an easy dozen of highly-qualified experts have to say about transmedia.
A few hours after Christy mentioned being irked, Nina Paley Tweeted a link to this:
Mike Masnick’s article suggests, perhaps only to me, that the marriage of art and commerce, copywrite and professional recognition…is based in our collective (suspect) faith in avarice as the driving social force that fosters culture. Hellboy 2, I learned from the commentary last night, was budgeted at $85million. The superhero films with which it was slated to compete for the attention of audiences averaged $175million, each. Maybe money matters. Maybe insanely generous compensation packages for executives in failing industries and institutions makes some kind of sense. And maybe nobody’s questioning nutty perceptions of business-as-usual. I care…not about health insurance, my reputation as a media analyst (I spitshine other people’s desktop telephones for a living), and not about lots of adult concerns that bother other people. For some unaccountable reason, I care about transmedia, creative freedom and the apprehension authorial intent, among other things. And I’ll probably go on questioning authorities (who very rarely respond/participate/interact) anyway.
Christy Dena is certainly not specifically irked at me. This blog is slightly less influential than a germ in a flea on the tail of a dog that wags for other reasons, but to anybody who happens to be listening, I think it’s time to dissolve the bonds in our thinking that elevate professionalism in art over artists’ more-amateur pursuits; choices not guided by money. Something’s going to wag this dog differently.
Let’s go to irk, if necessary.
I’ve just reached the end of Episode 13, Kill Them All. It isn’t called that coincidentally. Episode 12 concludes with those fateful words, and the season of WAY over-the-top violence (with more than a little sex in it) and frequent paroxysms of difficult, sidelong, elevated speeches comes to an abrupt stop. One pants in anticipation of the second season.
On the other hand, Andy Whitfield’s summation oration lights his face oddly from below. The camera, which is also low, finds Berchtesgaden darknesses on Whitfield’s upper lip. His rousing Bravheart oratory kinda stinks of Roman corpses that litter the central square of the villa and foul the bold and hopeful words with rivers of elite Roman blood. St. Crispin’s Day, it ain’t. Also, I don’t imagine Andy Whitfield was hired for his uncanny resemblance to Laurence Olivier’s acumen with the written word:
“Dude doesn’t look totally ridiculous in a loincloth, so yeah. Lex Barker, Jr. Yeah, that’ll work.”
It worked fine! Unfortunately, most of the BigBads that drove this season probably died. Chief among these was the almost-credible John Hannah, as Batiatus (formerly Peter Ustinov as Bat Eye At Us), the ambitious, plotting, conscienceless weasle almost-absolutely-positively-certainly died. Lucy Lawless as Lucretia definitely took Crixus’ blade in the foetus, but she was still twitching when credits rolled…so…? And there absolutely was no shortage of deeply nasty people this season to get in the way of the run-up to the (to be continued) inevitable slave revolt, next season (and maybe a couple of seasons after that). See, Spartacus (1960) wound up weaving his army up and down the length of the Italian peninsula as though they were lunch-hour customers at a preChristian Taco Bell.
However it gets where it’s surely going it’s going to be fascinating television.
I came to the series solely because of Steve DeKnight, the creator, and nobody who spent years writing at Mutant Enemy takes bloodshedding lightly, so WAY over-the-top violence (the cardinal signature of this rendering of the story) won’t go gently into that good DeKnight. Even utterly-righteous violence leads to dire consequences for heroes, or I’ve been misreading a lot of amazing writers for a long, long time. (Entirely possible.)
And on yet another hand. Henry Jenkins, today, called Twitter-attention to an interview here:
The discussion of his evolving perception of the myth of media violence is pretty cool. I’d just like to add the notion that most media violence is packed with amplified bullshit, and that systemic violence tends to go largely unnoticed. Systems that fail to meet the needs of the people (who subscribe to and support those systems) exhibit deeply embedded flaws in particularly interesting television shows like Breaking Bad, Deadwood (where we watch those infrastructural systems grow from nothing to institutions in the course of several months) and pretty much every show that David Simon’s ever touched.
It’s bound to be months before I tie into Treme, but the stuff I’ve read suggests that Hurricane Katrina wasn’t the problem that devastated New Orleans. Criminal systemic failures did kill, displace, and brutalize people. And the acts of violence visited on the inhabitants of that city will (if I’ve read the intent of the creative force behind the production correctly) show through even to the dimmest of us; acculturated to see criminal behavior as confined to certain strata of our society. Guns and anonymous decisions made deep in the safety of corrupt institutionalized infrastructures don’t kill people, people do. Actually, bullshit kills people.
Systemic violence and technological innovations that reduce personal options are aspects of the same thing. It’s not a popular subject, but needs considerable attention. That’s why I wish Professor Jenkins had elaborated on his description of things that suck (the life out of people/culture) because many of them are directly attributable to systemic, bureaucratic, ideational quagmires; beta slop that needs field testing. And there’s no better time to be a corrupt politican (or firmware developer) than the moment when the press provides less-credible criticism of our institutional systems than fictional drama.
Interesting that I’ve been watching television for 50 years and yet I’d never seen a castrated man crucified until Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Sure, that’s an awful thing, but what’s even worse is the institutional repression that blunts the shock of violence people do to people. In that context, media violence is far from mythic. It amplifies the bonebreaking sound of a slayer’s punch (that never lands) and refuses to show the stump of a severed dick. That’s downright bizarre.
“But what about the children?!”
Just when a kid needs and deserves an honest clue in order to make informed choices about (you name it), some asshole farts that moronic question as a justification for bullshitting. No wonder people who risk their lives to preserve our ways of life believe we can’t handle the truth.
I really liked John Hannah’s work in Rebus, and yet Ustinov played BatEyeAtUs more interestingly than Hannah’s BattyAtus. The differences between these two recitations of the Spartacus story are numerous, but I think the essential differences are localized in Batiatus. John plays him like a grasping, malicious, tolerated, minor Wall Street criminal. Peter’s portrait (of Judas) bats-his-eyes-at and flatters Real Power. Both portrayals present a man who goes-along-to-get-along. John plays a tragic, rigid paranoid, Peter plays a flexible coward.
Given that historians and storytellers lie, each of us is obligated to play the role of Batiatus. More decently. What redeming quality resides in your Batiatus that punches through the web of lies and 41st Century agendas fashioned by future historians? I wrote goofy sentences. I’m obligated to do better.