Tuesday, September 22, 2009

au revoir

"so goodbye, hallelujah
if I don't cry, don't let it fool ya"

summer is over in approximately 14 and a half hours or so. I always seem to take stock at this time more so than New Year's Eve, since I'm just about settling into my Seasonal Affective Disorder depression around then, and that is a pretty horrible time to take stock of yourself. I haven't written nearly as much as I would have liked to. In fact I've done a whole more of fuck-all than I would have liked to. I have damn near nothing to show for this summer. Didn't leave the state, let alone hardly leave town. I could blame it on lack of funds, but perhaps the truth is I've gone soft. 10 years ago I was broke and managed to have one hell of an adventure in the summer of 1999. Saw both oceans and a lot of other shit in between, got turned on to some amazing music and met some amazing people with nothing but a backpack and a few dollars. Truth be told, the 21 year old me would be pretty disappointed with the 31 year old me. I refuse to blame it on "being old", because I'm not. Saying you're too old to be doing something is essentially resigning yourself to an early death. If you're too old for adventures you might as well sit down on the couch and turn on the TV and wait to die. There's a lot more I want to write but I have to go study for an exam that I put off all weekend doing (you guessed it), nothing. Well, at least nothing of note. I read something somewhere along the lines of "at some point, winter will ask what you did all summer". I can't even look that question in the eye without feeling guilty so I hope its not asked of me this year. Anyway I hate to end anything on a bummer note so I'm posting something I found in a journal I haven't looked at in almost 2 years. This was from an entry dated October 3rd, 2007 (before Biden was VP of course, maybe even before he was in the running for VP??) and is basically just a re-telling of a weird dream I had.

From what I could tell, there was some sort of conflict. It was most likely some sort of subconscious amalgamation of all the zombie flicks I've seen where a small group of survivors hole up together in a "safe" location, only the other side was definitely human and not zombies. My brother was there somehow, but Susan wasn't, and I had some girl with me who I didn't know and while she wasn't my girlfriend there was that weird sexual tension there that I guess would be going on when you're two reasonably attractive people who have undergone some sort of extraordinary, potentially life ending trial. We were holed up in a suburb, but it had a creepy, pre-fab feeling like the Others compound on Lost. The armed contingent there were assholes, much like the security guards in the Dawn Of The Dead remake. They didn't let any of the "survivors" carry weapons and took away the guns my brother and I had upon entering. Like I said I have no idea what brought on the armed conflict, but it was spectacular. There were all sorts of terrific explosions, and secret super-fortified underground platforms being raised up to engage the enemy, who was launching over the fenced-in compound with some sort of propulsion device, silhouetted in mid-air by the flames behind them. All this was viewed over my shoulder while running in the dark between houses, searching for shelter from the fighting. I finally got through to my Mom's house on a cell phone and the outgoing message on her answering machine was really bizarre. It was a message to Senator Joe Biden saying she had left the state for somewhere safer (we live in Michigan, whats Joe Biden got to do with us??) and that Joe Biden had better take good care of her sons or else he would have hell to pay. My pseudo-girlfriend and I found a deserted house and there was a victrola and a huge stack of pre-war blues 78s. I remember playing the St. Louis Blues by Bessie Smith while she asked me if I could find her a toaster, but I didn't think it was a good idea because we shouldn't use any electricity. Then there was some unpleasantness when the armed security forces came in and found us in the house. They took my pistol, even though I had no ammo and one of them was trying to put the moves on the girl and I was getting super pissed, and then I woke up and now it's 5 am and I most likely wont get back to sleep.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Something happens that I'm head over heels

I've fallen pretty hard for Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love. That film is so gorgeous and subtle in its desperation and longing and basically achieves perfection in use of both musical score and pop music and its really gotten under skin in the past couple days. In my sleep deprived state I cranked out a mediocre essay on it for class that I want to polish up a bit and post here eventually. I'll also be posting my top 10 film characters in a week or so, if I make it through this next week intact. For now its back to the pit of despair to soldier on through the long, dark night, aided only with a French coffee press, a half packet of stale cigarettes, and my fraying wits. Pray for me, friends.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Feed yr head

I had a piece published in Detour, an online Detroit mag about a performance called Wonderland, a retelling of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I swung my fiery sword, I vent my spleen at the lord

Just a quick entry to vent the general malaise I've been feeling all day. As per usual, the proverbial back breaking straw is musically related. But anyway, upon opening a stack of mail from various record labels at my desk this afternoon (I'm the music director at a little radio station for those who are just joining) I got a CD compilation of Michigan artists from a label that had the letters DIY prominently figuring in its name. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, only that the label is based in California. Having someone else print up artwork and distribute your music sort of seems to be contrary to the DIY spirit, dont'cha think? Not to be some kind of pedantic Ian MacKaye type prick about it, but is nothing sacred? It's just a bit disconcerning to see a concept as anti-corporate as DIY just turned into another marketing buzzword attempting to capitalize on the "underground", but that's not really a new thing either. It happened when Nirvana got huge and look at the current state of rap/hip-hop which has devolved from visceral DIY form of art to a commercial for athletic gear and expensive vodka. Maybe I've just been reading too much Naomi Klein lately.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mother & Son

Aleksander Sokurov's Mother & Son (1997) seems to take place in a space that falls somewhere between the conscious and unconscious. It is the story of an ailing mother tended to by her son that takes place in a small house in a very rural area of Russia. The mother seems to be on her death bed and even when she is awake it seems that she is never far from slipping back into sleep. The film begins with the mother recounting a dream she just had, which we find out was the same dream that her son had. This establishes a subconscious or metaphysical link between the mother and son, suggesting they inhabit not only the same physical space, but also the same space beyond conscious perception, which is extraordinary for something as personal as a dream. The landscape itself is also very dream-like. Much of it is filmed in soft focus with clouds and mist in the mise-en-scène, giving the film a hazy, ethereal quality. I think perhaps the most important subliminal aspect of the film is the sound. Most of what is heard on the soundtrack is not seen on the screen, so it is ambiguous as to whether the sounds are being created in the offscreen diegetic space of the film or if it is coming from an extra-diegetic source like the characters' imaginations. The film begins with a black screen and the faint sounds of waves breaking on a shore. One would expect then, that the first images on screen would be of the sea. Instead we see the mother laying in bed with her son behind her, gazing into a space off screen. Perhaps the sea is just outside the house and the son is looking at the waves through the window, but we have no idea, since the first few minutes are essentially a tableau, a static shot of the mother and son laying down. The only visual connection we have to the sounds of the waves is the rhythmic rising and falling of the mother's chest as she breathes. In later scenes we learn that the house is not adjacent to the sea, but is surrounded by rolling hills. The house itself is filled with sounds whose immediate source is not apparent. The sounds of a crackling fire are foregrounded in the soundtrack but we don't see the fire, except in a later shot. Even then the fire is relegated to an insignificant corner of the frame, almost inversely proportionate to the importance placed on its sound in the earlier scene. There is also a scene within the house where the buzzing of a fly is extremely loud and prominent within the soundtrack, yet the fly is nowhere to be seen. Outside of the house, the unseen sounds are also the dominant aspect of the soundtrack. There are natural unseen phenomena like wind, which while heard can not itself be seen, but is visually manifested in the images of bent trees and the undulating ripples in the wheat fields. There is also the sound of thunder accompanying the images of low hanging grey clouds. Man made sounds factor in as well. In one scene we hear the whistle of a train and see a plume of white smoke, but the train itself is obscured by a ridge in the landscape. There is also the faint barking of dogs, and the only other sonic evidence of humans is very faint and comes in the form of laughter and song. Since there appear to be no other dwellings nearby, it is unclear whether these sounds are sourced from within the film or within the psyches of the characters.
Mother & Son seems to almost be an antithesis to the early work of Sokorov's countrymen like Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Vertov. Where these directors worked in opposing dialectical images in fast paced rhythmic cuts in the Soviet montage style, Sokorov uses almost exclusively long take photography. That's not to say there is no dialectic tension between the images. Here they are presented within one image on the screen, instead of a series of images like the montage directors. This is a style not unlike Jean-Luc Godard employed in films like Le Week-end and One Plus One which Brian Henderson wrote about in his essay "Towards A Non-Bourgeois Camera Style". He writes that the long takes still require the active participation of the viewer, but not in the way that André Bazin suggests the viewer selects what is important within the space of the frame during the long take. Instead Henderson suggests that "the viewer is not drawn into the image, nor does he make choices within it; he stands outside the image and judges it as a whole". I believe this theory can be applied to the scene in which the train finally makes an appearance in the frame while the son is out walking. He is by himself for once, not having to care for his mother, and the train enters the frame from the right and exits the left side while we watch him from behind as he watches the train. The train is a symbol of modernity, a contrast to the primitive dwelling that the son shares with his mother that lacks running water or electricity. Since the train also requires other people to operate it and would either be full of passengers or goods that would need to be unloaded by other people when it reaches its destination, the train can also be seen as a symbol of life. The son almost seems to be yearning to be on the train, to have it bear him away from his present surroundings. This is also the case in the scene where the mother is carried outside and is laid down on a bench by her son. She is surrounded by verdant plants with a vibrant, saturated green color, the very picture of life, that provide a contrast to her deathly pallor. The shot leading up to this scene also suggests a non-bourgeois camera style, when we see the son carrying his mother from the house to the bench in a long, deep space shot that tracks very slowly to the left. The camera doesn't expressly follow the son, and seems to be almost an impartial observer and if the son happens to walk into the frame, then so be it. The narrative (or what narrative structure there is) also unfolds at an extremely languid pace, almost as if it is taking place through the eyes of a dying person trying to observe every minute detail of this world before moving on to the next.
Another visual aspect of the film that I believe is worth noting that it is quintessentially Russian (rolling green hills, birch trees, rippling fields of wheat) but seems to be in contrast with the Soviet-era communist films with the subject of the mother and son. This pairing seems to be representational of the iconic Madonna and child paintings that were a trademark of the Russian Orthodox churches dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. In this case however, the context is inverted and shows the son grown up and taking care of the mother, who is rendered as helpless as a baby by whatever disease is afflicting her. This is evidenced in the scene where the son actually gives the mother a bottle to suck from, suggesting she is too feeble to even drink from a glass and has reverted to a state of infancy.


Henderson, Brian. "Towards a Non-Bourgeois Camera Style". Film
Theory & Criticism. ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. 6th
edition. Oxford University Press. New York & Oxford, 2006. p. 56.

film journals - My Take On Cassavetes

I'm just posting a few of my better essays from my Film History 1960 - present class.

This was my first time seeing The Killing of a Chinese Bookie(John Cassavetes, 1976), and the first thought that popped into my head after seeing the opening shot of Ben Gazzara as Cosmo Vitelli was that he looked exactly like another character I've seen him play. In his white leisure suit with the top few buttons of his shirt undone, he was the spitting image of Jackie Treehorn, the porn movie producer he played in the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski. As the film progressed, it was clear that the Coen brothers appropriated his character traits as well. In The Big Lebowski when The Dude asks Jackie how the smut business is going, he replies, "I wouldn't know, I'm in the entertainment industry." Likewise, Cosmo essentially lives either a life of make believe or self-deception, however you'd like to look at it. He runs a club that he fancies as a cabaret act, but which in reality is little more than a tawdry strip club masquerading as a cabaret. He takes great care in putting on a show with singing and dancing, and even has one of his dancers open the night's entertainment by reciting poetry (Edward Lear's "The Owl & The Pussycat") with the words changed to include the club's name.. However, the patrons of the club seem to be interesting in the entertainer's other assets. Frequent shouts of "Take it off!" are heard from the crowd, and the occasional bared breast or ass elicits cheers far louder than the song or dance routines.
The club has a Master of Ceremonies called Mr. Sophistication (played by Meade Roberts) who is anything but sophisticated. It seems he is the butt of a joke but is completely clueless to that fact. He has also constructed an alternate reality in his mind that he fully buys into, since he is of the opinion that he is more of a draw for the club than the girls are, but as I've already mentioned the biggest crowd response are from bared flesh. He also attempts to add a sheen of glamour to the surroundings. "Let's transform ourselves into Paris" he implores of the patrons at the club, attempting to recreate the ambience of a cabaret show in "la ville lumière" during la belle epoque. However, the mundane reality of a late 1970s Los Angeles strip club is never quite transformed to turn of the century Parisian fantasy. It's hard to be coaxed into a flight of fancy by someone whose mustache is comically penciled in. Despite all this, Mr. Sophistication still has an undeniable underdog's charm that only someone so fully and sincerely committed to a cause against daunting odds can affect. Mr. Sophistication also seems to function as a Greek chorus somewhat, since his song towards the end of the film comments on the unifying theme of escapism and pretenses with its lyrics " imagination is funny / makes the cloudy days sunny / imagination is crazy / your perspective gets hazy".
The aforementioned Cosmo is also a dreamer, desperately trying to rise above his current station in life with no success. Towards the beginning of the film he is shown paying off a debt to a gangster type who he discredits as a lowlife with no class. Cosmo is hardly the picture of class himself though, driving around in beat up cars, drinking in dive bars, and running a strip club. He attempts to portray himself as a dapper playboy type of character in the vein of Bob le Flambeur. We see him riding around in a chaffeur driven Cadillac picking up girls who work at his club to accompany him at an all-night gambling party, to give him the air of a sophisticated gambler. However, he can not even manage to pin the corsage on his "dates" and has to enlist the help of his chauffeur pin the flowers on the ladies' gowns. There is a harsh juxtaposition between his fantasy world and reality the next morning when his Cadillac drops the girls off at their homes. His tuxedo and the ladies evening gowns, more suited to the milieu of a downtown nightclub, look somewhat ridiculous in the harsh light of morning on the manicured postage stamp lawns of the suburbs.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I feel like I should write about something.

Quick recap of what I've been consuming as of late:

Let The Right One In - Strikes a balance between the first stirrings of romantic love and expressing the sentiments expressed by Moz so many years ago ("I want the one I can't have / and it's driving me mad") along with some top-notch gore to satisfy your sweet tooth, if your sweet tooth craves human blood. Also a great snapshot of the alienation that a sensitive "outsider" type (Oskar) feels in a small town inhabited by small minds who drink the winter away.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad - A powerful story that you can enjoy even if you hate heavy metal. Follows Acrassicauda (the Latin term for a black scorpion) as they literally have to cross a warzone to get to their practice space (which was later obliterated in a missile attack) in a town where wearing a Slayer shirt and having long hair is akin to painting a bullseye on your chest. As much as I love Norwegian black metal, Acrassicauda really amplifies their camp/theatricality since those guys are actually LIVED in a war zone and had to carry guns while those Scandinavians just paint their faces and wear fake blood. Sorta makes every other metal band look pretty lame by comparison. It also puts a human face on the war unlike any other media outlet has been able to. You can hear about suicide bombs killing 10 people in a market place from some anchor, but when you actually see the aftermath it's an entirely different ballgame. When you see these guys in tears after watching the footage shot in Baghdad after they had relocated to Syria, it really made me appreciate the freedom I enjoy and take for granted on a daily basis. I bitch about being broke and living in a shitty apartment and all, but my life is fucking cake compared to what they've gone through, largely due to my tax dollars.

Laura Gibson "Beast of Seasons" - Gorgeous folky tunes in the vein of Joanna Newsom and White Magic, sounds like a daydream under the golden boughs of Lothlorien.

Animal Collective "Merriweather Post Pavilion" - I don't want to verbally fellate these guys like every other nerd with a blog because that gets pretty embarrassing after awhile but I will say that this played for about 4 days straight because I can't get enough of what I imagine the music that the Druids would've made if they had electricity and laptops.

I went to see the movies up for Best Picture the other day and this year's crop isn't as strong as last year's I don't think but it was a good day regardless.
Slumdog Millionaire - Can't really objectively critique this since I'm kind of a Danny Boyle fanboy. Nowhere near his best offering (that belongs to Sunshine in my opinion, easily his most interesting film) but nonetheless an interesting concept that was well executed.
The Reader - Had the potential for greatness but there was far too much exposition and I didn't really give a damn about the characters until about halfway through the film, and while the story was compelling at that point, it felt like too little too late.
Frost/Nixon - Probably my favorite of the bunch, interesting study on the media and its relation to politics, and how our adversaries are more often than not more similar to ourselves than we think.
Milk - Came in a close second to Frost/Nixon. Sean Penn puts in a killer performance as the first openly gay man to be an elected official in a major U.S. city. As much as it kind of irks me to give credit to Q.T., it's nice to see Josh Brolin be pulled from relative obscurity to play roles in the last 2 year's Best Picture noms.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Didn't actually stay for Benny Buttons. Was feeling ill and had enough theater popcorn to last me a month so I went home. The general consensus from my pals the next day was that while it was O.K. for what it was, it didn't deserve a Best Pic or Best Actor nod. C'est la vie.

More later I guess but who know when?