Monday, April 20, 2009

I am done, and also Joss Whedon

The papers are in, the classes are over. Admittedly I've got that pesky Hellman exam on Friday, but that's pretty much a joke. I'm going to start reading and writing and living like myself again, starting right now. That doesn't entail a long, rambling post here (not yet at least), but rather a nice bike ride up the mountain to read.

For the moment, however, I am posting this fantastic video here, because it's fantastic. Like Whedon says, the whole reason for distinction is the fact that it still is a distinction, and that's inherently the problem. Gotta love feminism.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Williams's 'rose poem'

Below is today's post on Silliman's blog. I don't know the title of the poem, but it's about roses, and I really like it. It vaguely reminds me of what I once tried to say with "Glass Rose," in all my misguided pretension. Admittedly I don't know Williams at all, but I have the first half of his complete works, ready to be read this summer, and through Silliman's introduction to him I'm really starting to like his style and ideas.

Jo and I briefly discussed his idea that "the first impulse behind any traditional writing is plagiarism" last night during a talk about lyrics and poetry, and the more I think about it the more I side with Silliman, that the position is unassailable. At the same time, I'm also coming more and more to think that it's not necessarily as cynical as I first read it, and that the impulse of plagiarism isn't necessarily the horrible thing that education has led me to instinctively see it as.

As long as there's honesty and passionate sentiment behind the plagiarizing action/creation then what's the problem if it isn't intrinsically unique/revolutionary? Everything has the influence of everything that's come before it within it, whether in content or form, and I don't believe that recognizing that is a bad thing. Also I'm too in love with traditional forms to completely abandon them, so this melding of Williams's doctrine and the contemporary writing of traditionally influenced works really jives with me. If it's a sonnet, let it be a sonnet, just don't force it to be, let it be.

Haha, slightly juvenile rant today, just an interesting drunk discussion Jo and I had. Good times had by all.

"Friday, April 17, 2009

And, then, of course, there is this, what I’ve already noted once in the past month just may be the finest poem William Carlos Williams ever wrote:

The rose is obsolete
but each petal ends in
an edge, the double facet
cementing the grooved
columns of air – The edge
cuts without cutting

meets – nothing – renews
itself in metal or porcelain –

whither? It ends –

But if it ends
the start is begun
so that to engage roses
becomes a geometry –

Sharper, neater, more cutting
figured in majolica –
the broken plate
glazed with a rose

Somewhere the sense
makes copper roses
steel roses –

The rose carried weight of love
but love is at an end – of roses

It is at the edge of the
petal that love waits

Crisp, worked to defeat
laboredness – fragile
plucked, moist, half-raised
cold, precise, touching


The place between the petal's
edge and the

From the petal's edge a line starts
that being of steel
infinitely fine, infinitely
rigid penetrates
the Milky Way
without contact – lifting
from it – neither hanging
nor pushing –

The fragility of the flower
penetrates space"

Bon Iver - Skinny Love

This song is amazing. I just wanted to say that. Been listening to it on heavy rotation of late.

"Come on skinny love just last the year
Pour a little salt we were never here
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer

I tell my love to wreck it all
Cut out all the ropes and let me fall
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Right in the moment this order's tall

I told you to be patient
I told you to be fine
I told you to be balanced
I told you to be kind
In the morning I'll be with you
But it will be a different "kind"
I'll be holding all the tickets
And you'll be owning all the fines

Come on skinny love what happened here
Suckle on the hope in lite brassiere
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Sullen load is full; so slow on the split

I told you to be patient
I told you to be fine
I told you to be balanced
I told you to be kind
Now all your love is wasted?
Then who the hell was I?
Now I'm breaking at the britches
And at the end of all your lines

Who will love you?
Who will fight?
Who will fall far behind?"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Further evidence proving the inadequecy of Darwinism in modern society

I don't want to bother wasting space here by including the actual text of the article that's inspired me to write this post, so I'll just link to it:

The fact that this Lisa Kennedy person is able to both find work and get published in today's economy fills me with hope for my future, and despair for the field of journalism. Clearly I have what it takes to succeed, being a fairly intelligent, critically minded human being with a University education, because Kennedy seems to be doing jut fine without any of those qualities. I mean really, come one, she actually takes issue with Wall-E's vision of the future and how it will influence developing minds? The whole point behind it is to give them hope that we can turn things around in the bleak reality they're faced with! Did she even finish the movie? She quotes Patty Greer at the end, saying that "We need to believe in our ability as a race that we can turn things around," and so I find it highly dubious whether or not she managed to focus her attention and sit still for the entire duration of Pixar's modern classic. Not finish the movie is a rookie mistake that has already been apologized for by the likes of Robert Ebert, so Kennedy doesn't have much wiggle room between being an idiot and a hack, if not a comfortable mix of the two.

Basically the entire piece is a thoughtless conservative puff piece about how movies are too dark, and actually spends a significant portion of the article attacking the thematic similarities of Roland Emmerich's
body of work, as though he's in any way relevant on an intellectual level. That's like calling Michael Bay highbrow, and frankly I wouldn't be surprised if Kennedy took issue with The Rock for providing terrorists with good ideas and motivations for attacking the American people. If this article were merely an anti-"2012" rant I would be fine with it, it wouldn't be any less stupid but at least it would have some sort of validity, if only a subjective one. As it is, though, the piece attacks all modern film making, actually referring to its own points as "pleas for the sanctity of the imagination" without the slightest hint of irony, completely misunderstanding many of the films it takes issue with that actually reflect her desires, and essentially calling for a classically insidious form of censorship under the banner of "good taste." It disgusts me.

Really though, I didn't need to write this rant to demonstrate the profound idiocy of this journalist, she did so herself many times throughout her own article. In closing I just want to call attention to the film she extols in her conclusion, Greer's "2012: We're Already in It," which won the the award for Best Feature Film — UFO or Related at the International UFO Congress Convention in Nevada. Admittedly I haven't seen this documentary, but since that apparently isn't a necessary requirement for making sweeping and possibly outright invalid claims about a film, I'm going to assume that it's probably as much of a crackpot as it sounds, and take this alone as sufficient evidence for Kennedy's fundamental inability to reflect critically. Even if the movie's good, the fact that Kennedy presents it the way she does serves to prove my point anyways.

I don't know why I bothered wasting twenty minutes writing about this stupid article, I guess I just needed to get a good rant out of my system, it's been a while. Who knows, maybe I'll use pieces like this to get myself hired one day by demonstrating my ability to, you know, think. Clearly there's a need for that in modern film criticism.

I need to get more sleep at night, clearly two hours isn't enough...

Great Lake Swimmers - Your Rocky Spine

So Kat played me this song by Great Lake Swimmers, and I just cannot get enough of it. I'm including the lyrics here because I'm so profoundly struck by this love song to the wilderness (in my mind the Canadian one, specifically Ontario since Great Lake Swimmers are from there, I think).

It just reminds me of everything I love about the natural world, especially the humbling sense it instills that we're nothing more than the animals, mere inhabitants of this ecological accident that is existence. That, I feel, is the meaning of the first half of the second to last stanza, which "reduces" the singer to animal through the reference to his "claws." Admittedly the next half makes it a bit religious, but I'm selectively ignoring that.

Beyond that, though, it manages to hit all the affecting love-song tropes (body imagery, possession, embrace, passion, etc.), while simultaneously effecting the sense of a journey. The whole thing ends up being extremely Romantic, in both the Hallmark and Wordsworthian senses of the word, and I really like that about it.

I really need to give Great Lake Swimmers some more attention. Despite some of the negative reviews I initially heard about them they are constantly impressing me. Between this song and "Various Stages," I feel myself inclined to agree with that CBC Radio 3 podcast announcer I heard: the singer-songwriter at the core of Great Lake Swimmers might be the best Canadian poet currently making music. That's big praise, in my books.

I was lost in the lakes
And the shapes that your body makes
That your body makes, that your body makes
That your body makes

The mountains said I could find you here
They whispered the snow and the leaves in my ear
I traced my finger along your trails
Your body was the map, I was lost in it

Floating over your rocky spine
The glaciers made you, and now you're mine
Floating over your rocky spine
The glaciers made you, and now you're mine

I was moving across your frozen veneer
The sky was dark but you were clear
Could you feel my footsteps
And would you shatter, would you shatter, would you

And with your soft fingers between my claws
Like purity against resolve
I could tell, then and there, that we were formed from the clay
And came from the rocks for the earth to display

They told me to be careful up there
Where the wind blows a venomous rage through your hair
They told me to be careful up there
Where the wind rages through your hair

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Below is the trailer for Lars von Trier's new movie, Anti-Christ. I still haven't seen anything by him, but on Julie's recommendation I REALLY want to see The Kingdom soon, hopefully while still living with Jo. There are so many movies her and I need to watch together before I move out, Rec, Transformers, Inside, most of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc... Hard to believe it's so close to being over...

Don't have time to write much, again, but I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel... Not much more...

Lars von Trier's Antichrist - Official Trailer from Zentropa on Vimeo

Friday, April 10, 2009

A John Ashbery poem in film

Evidently April is National Poetry Month, and the Poetry Foundation is sponsoring a huge number o events, including readings, contests, etc. One particularly interesting initiative they're taking meshes film and poetry. Via Silliman, here is an article on the program:

They link to this video in the article itself, but I want to include an isolated link to it here. It's a video accompanying a John Ashbery poem, and it's pretty interesting. Now lets see if I can embed this sucker... I can!

I like the way this poem plays upon the fleeting and always removed qualities of language, how in its very essence it is a failure to be what it describes, merely signifying instead of being. I think the video captures this nicely through its surreal and ephemeral graphics that are constantly disappearing and flowing into themselves. The way the words become other words, like the "I" that becomes "deeper," works with the water effects and imagery to effect the fluidity of the whole experience of language, albeit in a cliché way.

But then I'm a sucker for clichés. It's the same reason I like the part of the poem when the girl is introduced, both in terms of the video and the words. That's something I can grasp tangibly, both through cliché and experience, which itself is highlighted by clichés. I'm going to stop using that word now.

The water effect that reminds me of rain on a window pane creates a nice atmosphere of nostalgia (that of rainy days spent indoors, both lived and imagined) that is accentuated by the invocation of "you," which in this case becomes a beautiful one-eyed girl. The whole thing ties nicely into the theme of language, which itself is a bit of a nostalgic enterprise through the expressed and focused removed quality of the concept.

It's a beautiful poem, and the video accentuates the verse elegantly.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ron Silliman's BSG Rant, because he's got more geek/academic/general cred than I do

I have yet to touch upon the BSG debacle, but I may yet do so despite my statements to the contrary. In any case, Ron Silliman addressed in on his blog, and if ever I needed geek vindication this is it: in-depth discussion on a famous blog dedicated to "contemporary poetry and poetic."

That being said, the discussion itself is almost patronizing in tone, making allowances and apologies based on the medium. This post is, if nothing else, inspiring me to make my own little rant about the BSG that was, could have been, and was forced to be. I should be fair, though, that it's hard to write anything like what I'm leaning towards without acknowledging my own ignorance of the powers that be behind the scenes, as hinted at in the fourth paragraph of Silliman's essay. But I'll save all that for my own rant at some point, whenever I actually feel like writing it.

I wonder if Heise (the prof who turned me onto Silliman's blog) watched BSG?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

As my links list noted a week ago Monday, there were some sharply divided opinions as to the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica. I anticipate that what will follow may have spoilers galore, so if you haven’t seen the show yet, I’d advise you to stop reading here.

The reactions were divided even on Orchard Road. I really enjoyed the final episode, but my one son who’s watched the entire series with me (and sucked me into it in the first place) hollered “What the frak!” in exasperation.

Battlestar was a show that, as a rule, took no prisoners. Whereas virtually every other television series with an overarching narrative structure has been forced into episodic structures of self-contained plots that enabled the show to build its audience from scratch regardless of where in the overall story line one came in – something that had a disastrous effect on West Wing post Aaron SorkinBSG took the opposite route, choosing to come to a conclusion after four seasons, more or less. This permitted the show’s creators, led by Ronald Moore, to follow their original vision to its conclusion. Or at least a conclusion. And therein lies the tale.

Because shows with overarching narratives become increasingly difficult to newbies to follow, television discourages them. A series whose audience can only grow smaller is antithetical to the entire idea of television, even in its cable & web-augmented days. Yet this adherence to an encompassing vision was a large part of what made BSG unique. It enabled genuinely complex characters to develop & generated some of the best writing in television history. In one episode, the Chief, in charge of the maintenance of the Battlestar’s fleet of viper attack fighters, organizes a work action using the same words Mario Savio once used during the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley. In another, on the planet New Caprica, imprisoned by the invading army of Cylons – cyborgs to you civilians – and their human compradors, the resistance, led by Battlestar’s executive officer, Saul Tigh, set up a series of suicide bombings – right at the same moment when the U.S. military was responding to a wave of such in Iraq. One season ended with a handful of “humans” discovering that they had been Cylons all along – the switch that toggled them on to their android other selves being a version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which Dylan himself adapted from the Book of Isaiah. That song becomes a recurring theme – one might even say major plotline – in the show’s final episodes. The final words in the series’ last episode belong to Dylan, albeit sung by Jimi Hendrix.

If the project of bringing a major narrative that was, like all television series, open-ended to a close were not enough of a challenge as it is, BSG was bedeviled by its own inclination to throw a major plot turn roughly every ten to fifteen minutes in each show – miss one episode and you are at least four major developments behind. Plus, BSG was not virgin territory, even as a re-imagined telling of an already-existing TV series that ran for one season in 1978-79 & which was then picked again for another under the name Galactica. There were multiple movies pastiched together from footage of these shows and it became a cult phenomenon, a campy space opera opposed to the earnestness of Star Trek. At one point, there were multiple attempts ongoing, more or less at the same time, to resurrect the series. Richard Hatch, the original Lee Adama, who plays the ill-fated Tom Zarek in the present version, was behind one of these; the 1978 show’s original producer, Gary Larson, behind another. As recently as last month, Larson was said to be shopping around a motion picture based on the earlier version of the show. Hatch has also written several novels & comic books based on the original series, and has hosted Galacticon conventions.

When the Sci-Fi channel bypassed all of the earlier revival attempts in favor of Moore’s projected three-hour miniseries, it had a hot property around which there were a lot of competing allegiances, but no definitive master narrative. When people realized that it was a re-imaging altogether of the series and its premise, there were a lot of unhappy cultists shouting “Frak!” – the series’ all-purpose expletive. But when people saw it, something else happened altogether. Somehow the creators had stumbled across a diamond-field: Battlestar Galactica was not only the best sci-fi program ever on television, one could argue that it was the most well-conceived, written & acted series in U.S. tv history. Using the hokey old premise of robots-turn-on-man & the idea of a displaced civilization in search of a home, they’d produced the TV equivalent of King Lear. Or Moby Dick. The new version quickly picked up its own adherents. Some of whom are very unhappy at the light, ironic twists at the end, of which there are least 3 if not 13 in the final show.

But while there was a lot of howling about the show’s ending and its relationship to our own present, it may be worth noting that it dovetails with the opening narration of each episode of the 1978 version as intoned by British actor Patrick Macnee. Indeed, the ending scene of Gaius Baltar and Six strolling into the city throng strongly echoes the end of each episode of Macnee’s own signature series, The Avengers, in which John Steed and his female partner (in the US, principally Diana Rigg as Emma Peel) trade some witty repartee that wraps the plot. It would not shock me to discover that Baltar’s final line, “Silly, silly me,” was verbatim from an episode of The Avengers.

I wasn’t bothered by the curlicue ending(s), in part because – hey – this is television. And because I’d felt that the entire fourth season had been weighed down by the need to Reach A Conclusion. There was the arrival on earth, then once that smoldering orb was abandoned a multiple-episode mutiny that seemed mostly to buy time before the final jump (a verb with special connotations in the vocabulary of the show) to a new planet, also called Earth, where the space travelers abandon their technology and look forward to mating with the pre-verbal homo sapiens they see wandering their new home’s verdant fields. The Centurions - your basic space toaster robot warrior – are given their freedom to wander off toward new galaxies while the dying hulk of the Battlestar is sent literally falling into the sun. 150,000 years later Gaius Baltar & Six are reading a magazine article on the busy streets of a major city and we realize that this was a series not about our future, but our past.

I’d often wished that Edward Said had looked instead not at Beginnings, but rather at how works of narrative conclude. More films & novels stumble at this very moment, regardless of how well conceived they may have been right up to the final page. It’s no wonder that Joyce tried to evade the question altogether, throwing one of his two major novels into the hands of a different character altogether (Yes!) for the end of Ulysses & coming back round all Ourobourous-like in Finnegans Wake, the last sentence flowing right into the first.

One serious alternative in recent television history to BSG’s decidedly ironic bow, of course, was the cut-to-black of The Sopranos. This had multiple advantages – it could be read as “more lifelike,” with any number of possible implicit endings – Tony gets whacked, Tony has a stroke, and of course the most important, Tony has a sequel. Two years later, though, so far no Tony & a quick check of James Gandolfini’s page at IMDB reveals nothing Soprano-like in pre-production.

One of the problems that viewers overinvested in the believability factor of the ending – or not – have to confront are the curious origins of this entire tale, parts of which may have been modeled after the Book of Mormon. Thus complaining suddenly about the presence of angels when Baltar has been seeing versions of Six visible only to himself for the entire series seems just a little, well, odd.

More than anything, this kerfuffle feels more like the tempest over the third Godfather film, another theatrical classic with decidedly pulpy origins. Frances Ford Coppola took a lot of grief in 1990 because the conclusion of that trilogy really was a different kind of film than the first pair of features – it was far more interested in surfaces, from the use of Cavalleria Rusticana to Sofia Coppola’s valley girl presentation as the ill-fated Mary Corleone. Rather than seeing the film on its own terms, many of the critics simply tore into it for the ways in which it was not Godfather I or II. I’ve always thought that the shift in G III was as brave – and very nearly as successful – as the decision to tell Michael Corleone’s backstory entirely in Italian in G II.

But closure is the hardest move to make in any major aesthetic project. One might fault Coppola for having been drawn back into the vortex of the Godfather just as one might fault Ronald Moore and his collaborators for never fully escaping that of the original Battlestar Galactica. For myself, I’m just thankful that I was able as a viewer to come along for the ride.

Examined Life

The other night I went and saw a movie at Cinema du Parc with a friend, a documentary called Examined Life. The film interspersed a number of interviews with philosophers/theorists like Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler, and Cornel West. Zizek was incredible and totally punk rock, describing the conservative impulse behind ecologist ideology and decrying it, arguing what seemed to be a conception of nature as including humanity and our products. It was a confusing rant that neither I nor my companion completely understood, but it was interesting to watch and intriguing to hear conservative and liberal doctrines reversed with regards to the environment. Judith Butler was in fine form as well, describing frustrating attitudes about human morphology and “correctness” in a conversation with the director’s sister, who suffers from a disease that fuses her joints. It was an interesting discussion of “natural” humanness, and an interesting look at San Francisco, which is evidently very open to disabled people, for lack of a better descriptor immediately on hand.

The real star of the show, though, was West, with his comparisons between jazz and poetry and life and philosophy. The film cleverly used his at the beginning, middle, and end of the film, and he provided not only some of the most poignant moments of empathy but also the best jokes from any of the philosophers. You couldn’t help but laugh with him and take as much pleasure in his ideas as he clearly takes in life. He espoused a day-by-day type approach that really resonated with me, but that I’m having a hard time explaining here. I’m going to link a few videos here to try and give a sense of what he’s talking about, but honestly the movie itself should just be seen, end of story. Maybe I’ll watch it again and take another crack at ths in a more refined form. Cornel's ideas certainly deserve the time and thought. I absolutely loved his citations of everything from Ruskin to Wordsworth to Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, it was a treat to hear him blend in so many different sources into his incredible ideology. What an incredible speaker...

There's an article on the movie in The McGill Tribune that decently summarizes a few of the speakers, and so I'm posting it here:

FILM: Discussing ethics on Fifth Avenue

Walking and talking with contemporary philosophers in Examined Life

Carolyn Gregoire

Issue date: 4/7/09 Section: A & E
Outside of luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, philosopher Peter Singer-author of the well-known essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality"-explains his theories of distributive justice and the ethical implications of wealth and poverty. Singer is one of eight contemporary thinkers featured in Examined Life, a documentary that explores unquestioned assumptions engrained in the Western psyche, and reminds us that great ideas can emerge from everyday life.

Directed by Astra Taylor, the film is structured around 10-minute-long "walks" with philosophers through places that are particularly meaningful to them, ranging from an airport terminal to Central Park. While on a walk through a sunny city park, one of the philosophers, Avital Ronell, introduces the Heideggerian notion of paths that lead nowhere to explain that it's the journey that matters.

Gliding along a moving sidewalk in a major international airport
[Toronto's Pearson - Max], suitcase in hand, Anthony Appiah discusses his theory of "cosmopolitanism"-being a citizen of the cosmos in the Greek sense, or the world as a whole-in the context of globalization and modernity. He explains how in one trip to an airport we confront more people than a member of a primitive civilization would have in a lifetime. University of Chicago professor of political philosophy and ethics Martha Nussbaum walks along the shores of Lake Ontario discussing Aristotle's theory of justice and the social contract, while Michael Hardt talks revolution from a rowboat in the Central Park pond.

Slavoj Zizek, the subject of Taylor's documentary Zizek! which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005, also makes an appearance. Zizek discusses his theory of the "ideology of ecology" at a garbage dump. Surrounded by waste, he explains that just as true love is not idealistic but sees perfection in someone even with all of their flaws, we must love the world and see perfection in all of its imperfection.

From the backseat of a car, American philosopher and civil rights activist Cornel West emphasizes philosophy as a way of dealing with our finite situation as human beings. West's humour livens up the film, particularly in his discussion of aesthetic pleasure-he explains that sometimes he'll be reading Ruskin or Melville and will just need to throw the book against the wall because he feels so alive. He compares philosophy to Romantic poetry, Beethoven's sonatas, and the blues to emphasize how invigorating philosophical inquiry can be.

Examined Life promises to be a highly enjoyable and intellectually stimulating experience for philosophy buffs or the naturally inquisitive. However, an hour and a half of continuous philosophical discourse clearly doesn't comprise the ideal movie night for everyone. While the film succeeds in its concept-bringing philosophical theories from academic ivory towers to the real world-it's not particularly well-made and loses momentum towards the end. The music is ill-chosen and at times distracting, while the flat cinematographic style certainly doesn't enhance the overall experience. Those without a strong interest in philosophical inquiry may be hard-pressed to sit through this film without dozing off.

Examined Life succeeds in its endeavor to disprove the common misgiving that philosophy is so tied up in abstractions, circular reasoning, and lofty theorems that it is essentially inapplicable to the real world. Taking a cinematic walk with these contemporary philosophers substantiates Plato's famous dictum "the unexamined life is not worth living," emphasizing that self-examination and the search for meaning extends far beyond the domain of academic philosophy.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bear McCreary

I finally broke down and decided to download the musical track that opened the second last episode of Battlestar Galactica season 2, by composer Bear McCreary. A quick sampling of th original soundtracks on Amazon showed me that it was called, appropriately, "Something Dark Is Coming," and in order to get the track I just downloaded a torrent containing all of the music for the first three seasons of the show. I must say, I'm glad I did.

Bear McCreary is an incredibly talented and diverse musician. I've been listening to the others songs that I recognized by their names, such as "The Shape of Things to Come," and I keep finding myself blown away by the music. Completely independent of the show, the composition conveys a range of emotions and influences that simply baffles me. I haven't gotten much out of the battle music as of yet, it's usually tribal influenced and military sounding drums, appropriately, and it does a great job of conveying the excitement when used in the show; on its own, though, the more energetic pieces don't do much for me. When he's left to more contemplative, slow, experimental and classically inspired compositions, though, it reminds me of Bach's Orchestral Suites, which is simply the best compliment I can think of right now. The tracks perfectly acentuate the show, but more than that they stand as unique and awe-inspiring orchestrations of a wide variety of cultural and historical styles.

It's great music to have in the background, while working, which helps since I'm trying to finish up The Aeneid and The Metamorphoses today, but also great music to just listen to and let wash over you. I recalls why I first started to like Broken Social Scene, in whom the layering and building of different instruments reminded me more of an orchestra than an indie band. It's a totally different way of interacting with sound than I typically find from bands, which isn't to speak ill of "bands" or "indie music," or anything of the sort. It's a totally different type of experience.

One of the most unique things about it, for me, if the amount of emotional investment that the music achieves without lyrics. It reminds me of the bands I listen to for the sound of the words as opposed to the meaning, which is even then an unusual thing for me. I'm so wrapped up in lyricism that I often find it hard to simply let the music hit me independent of the lyrical meaning(s), usually they work together to mutual benefit. Here, though, the music is better off without words.

Anyways, I didn't have a point to this rant, I just wanted to extol McCreary a little bit. Anyone reading this (if anyone does) should find a way to listen to these tracks and just feel the sound. Haha, wow that sounds pretentious and emo. Whatever.

Something Dark is coming
The Shape of Things to Come
Kobol's Last Gleaming
Roslin and Adama
All Along the Watchtower (amazing reenvisioning)

UPDATE: Open this link (I'd recommend in a new window or tab) to hear a sample from Something Dark is Coming. It comes late in the track, missing the brooding intro, but it's worth hearing nevertheless. Also I'm including a link to McCreary's website, since I should have done that in the first place.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Some random thoughts here and there...

The other day I finally ended up watching Dark City, and I gotta say that it's pretty fucking stellar. It was a visual feast and a more poetic, less kung-fu oriented version of The Matrix, which ripped it off to an unbelievable degree. Even the musical tracks and cues were the same. Anyways, I was glad I watched it, and was able to see the influence of Blade Runner, Hellraiser, Terry Pratchet novels, The Truman Show, and Brazil, all at the same time, and that alone is saying something genuinely positive about the movie.

I also watched Troll 2 with Jo, and, well, lets just say that I wanted to watch it after reading Eric Snider's post about it on Cinematical, at Between the review and the hilarious story of the screenwriter's response and the misunderstanding surrounding it, I was hooked. This excerpt from Snider's review helped too: "And Troll 2 is 90 minutes of almost non-stop laughable ineptitude. Making fun of it is redundant. All you can do is watch it and let its hilarity roll over you."

In the end I found myself recalling Johnny Rotten saying "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" The movie was so horrendously bad that at times, yes, it was fall off the couch laughable. It did not require irony to enjoy it. The problem was that the lengths between these moments were long and horrendous and poorly paced, such that the 90 minutes felt increasingly and excruciatingly long. By the end of the movie Jo and I said fuck it and fast forwarded through the last 10 minutes to see clips to get a general sense of how the story ended, we just couldn't bear to actually sit through any more of it.

I don't think I'm going to write about Battlestar Galactica, at least not in any direct fashion. The series is too big to be handled by anything less than a thesis sized essay, and I frankly don't have the energy or desire to put my thoughts together at that length without gaining something tangible from it. My feelings are scattered ad mixed as it is, and I can't address the finale without discussing the fourth season as a whole. Some random points though:

- Callum Keith Rennie, where the FUCK were you for almost the entire second half of season four?! (interrobang) You think that maybe your character would have been, you know, affected by Starbuck's actions in the fate of the human race, or the fact that she was a tangible fucking deus ex machina?! Come on R. D. Moore, it's not like the actor is doing much else, I can't believe that you couldn't get him for the endind of the damn series. Serious bal droppage.

- I seriously uneasy with the Rousseauian (dare I say, Mormonistic?) allegory that the show ended up becoming by having it conclude in our universe, our reality. Laying aside the very serious problems raised by having an entire civilization's fate decided by the primary cast (a consistent issue in much of the show, though admittedly a self-reflexively recognized one), this seemed like another one of the many instances in season four where things "fit" but didn't feel right, felt forced (ie: Ellen and Tory as Cylons, less so Ellen, but Tory?! Fucking Tory?! What about BILLY. That would have been incredibly powerful and affecting and made more sense, and ironically would have made Tory's character more interesting by extension).

Ok, I'm stopping the BSG ranting, this is starting to become what I'm trying to avoid...

I read an essay online about our physical interactions with film, and how it's changing, and I'm trying to work thorugh my thoughts about it. I feel like it relates to my piece on Coraline a bit, and so I'm going to post it here after this paragraph so that I don't lose it when it gets taken offline (it's on a subscription based magazine site). The way the article talks about the changing nature of interaction with media reminds me of Adorno and Horkheimer, and also the theorist (who I can't for the life of me remember the name of) who discussed our interactions with television and other more contemporary medias, and how they worked upon us in a state of distraction. Come to think of it, that might have been Adorno and Horkheimer, or at least they might have touched upon it, though I feel there was another theorist I've read who dealt with it in a more direct way.

In any case, the essay explicitly states its desire to separate itself from mere nostalgia, but I don't think it does. It's not the greatest piece of writing is the real issue, but then who am I to judge? Well I'm going to anyways, and the author spends to much time lamenting how things were "back in my day" to convince me that he's not being nostalgic and damning of new era of physical interaction with cinema. He completely disregards this new form of interaction, not detailing it in any sufficient form, so I can't help but sense his disconnect from it.

Anyways, I think he would be curious to hear my rant about 3D films, it's not exactly what he's talking about, but it is a form of physical interaction with the medium. Maybe if I had missed Coraline in theatres, or spent the next ten years trying to find a 3D print of it to watch on a big screen, then I would be able to write a more appropriate and correlative response to this essay. anyways, without further ado:


Black-Market Videotape, The Despised Anglo-American Market, Terrence Malick’s Bedroom, Dank Basement Cinemas, The Cinema Village, The Carnegie Hall Cinema, The Notting Hill, The Accatone in Paris, The Old Cinémathèque Française in Paris, Steenbecks, Le Havre

La Chinoise (France, 1967)" height="230" width="300">

“I am looking at the eyes that looked at the Emperor.”
—Roland Barthes, La Chambre claire


For a particular type of cinephile from my generation—those of us born in the early ’60s and raised on a strict diet of left-leaning, somewhat Eurocentric art and culture—the physical act of seeking out and consuming great or hallowed or mythical films was as obsessive as our need to experience these films, when and if we found them.

When I say physical, I’m talking about the rumors traded among cinephiles, the stories and the clues. We wrote letters to long-forgotten crew members of neglected masterpieces and arranged meetings in difficult-to-pronounce European cities still shrouded behind the Iron Curtain. We sent money orders or contraband to shady PO boxes in hopes of hitting the mother lode. (That’s how I got my hands on Bergman’s Merry Widow script, crafted as a showcase for Barbra Streisand and set aside when it could not be financed.) Did Jacques Rivette’s twelve-hour-and-forty-minute version of Out 1, noli me tangere, supposedly screened at Le Havre in 1971, really exist? Could sequences from the abandoned version of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, the one starring Jason Robards and Mick Jagger (before Robards had a massive heart attack and Klaus Kinski replaced him), be bought on black-market videotape? Where could we find films of the Marxist couple Straub-Huillet with English subtitles when the filmmakers themselves had sought to keep their work free of the textual residue of the despised Anglo-American market? And where was Terrence Malick sleeping?

I’m also talking about dark and damp basement cinemas in New York, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Berlin, and London, places like the Carnegie Hall Cinema, the Cinema Village, and the Notting Hill, where double features were the order of the day. They were cheap and they were brilliantly programmed and we flocked to them in droves. Sometimes you walked up three flights to get to these theaters but they still felt subterranean. You could buy candy and drinks and there was always a smoking section. It was a fetid, human experience.

You could also have a very different relationship with a film depending on where and with whom you watched it. An audience at a university cinema in L.A. had a solemn, nearly funereal reaction to Pasolini’s Salò, based on Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom (they seemed uncertain whether they had just witnessed a film or a crime); later, I watched the same film at the Accattone in Paris with an audience that couldn’t stop laughing.

I watched my first Philippe Garrel film, Les Hautes solitudes, starring Jean Seberg and largely based on her turbulent life story, at the old Cinémathèque Française near Trocadéro. It’s a silent film with an amazing lexicon of bohemian costars, including Nico, Tina Aumont, and Laurent Terzieff, in its cast. What I remember most clearly is the look of sheer terror washing over Seberg’s face in one of those endless black-and-white close-ups on which Garrel built his reputation, and, equally, the mildewy smell of the underground cinema. It had yet to decay to the point where it would become uninhabitable, even for the faithful. When I watched the film there again in 2004 it was pretty much raining inside.

I traveled to Belgium and Holland to watch Garrel’s films on Steenbecks, the now-antiquated editing tables used to cut pretty much every film of the later part of the twentieth century, in the archives of museums so cold I could see my breath. I worried that the prints would be damaged, and once or twice they were. I also remember that the films had their own specific tactility. Touching them was like running my hands along the surface of shattered glass.

But I don’t much value nostalgia. What I am interested in is the possibility that we are passing through a period that portends a death of cinema. I say “a death” and not “the death” because movies will still exist. It’s the way we’re physically interacting with them that may become extinct. The chasing and the yearning and the never-knowing and the suffering in a broken, smelly, damp-cushioned seat. As cinema becomes more portable, more easily created, and less difficult to acquire, it also runs the risk of forfeiting one of its greatest attributes—its physicality. Its necessary exertions.


But the “physical aspect” of cinema, the death of which I’m mourning slightly (only slightly) in advance, doesn’t only refer to the physical act of seeking and watching. This death will necessarily impact the kind of films we make and how we make them.

One can physically crave what the director leaves out or denies his audience. Pedro Costa’s refusal to move a camera for twenty minutes at a time, or to place his speaking subjects anywhere near the center of the frame, creates an intense frisson between the screen and the viewer. Nothing that happens (and very little does happen) in his 2006 film Colossal Youth can account for the visceral response it provokes from audiences. Several lengthy sequences feature the main character sitting on what might be a bed or sofa, talking to an unseen person or persons offscreen about things that are never explained. What we do somehow “get,” almost by osmosis, is the oppressive location of the “action,” the housing projects of Lisbon’s poorest neighborhoods without the use of any classical establishing shots. Costa shows us nearly nothing and tell us less. And yet the result isn’t that we’re bored or disinterested; rather than having all our curiosities passively satisfied, we’re forced to physically desire what we don’t (or can’t) know.

The same can be said of James Benning’s recent films Ten Skies and 13 Lakes. In 13 Lakes, Benning places a camera in front of thirteen different lakes and records each lake for ten minutes. His films deliver a scrim of unmediated authenticity, intensified by the discomforting sense that nothing is accidental—and nothing is. The placement of the camera, the frame, and the duration of the shot are perfectly calibrated by Benning. The physical experience of watching 13 Lakes is in fact nothing like sitting in front of any of those lakes. It is more like watching Benning watching the lakes; the “content”—the plot, if you will—is provided by the oxymoronic presence of this absent figure.

Derek Jarman’s final feature film, Blue, explores the physicality of consciousness. Jarman made Blue when he’d lost his sight, a side-effect of drugs he was taking to combat AIDS. The film uses a pervasive monochromatic blue screen as the “backdrop” over which a sound track of impressions, events, ideas, and reactions to Jarman’s situation is narrated by different “characters” in the film—Jarman, members of his cinematic family, friends. Experiencing the film, the spectator feels he is firmly standing in the geography of Jarman’s mind; the physical sense of being enclosed is both claustrophobic and intimate.


In recent years there has been a tendency by both critics and audiences to dismiss the kind of psychological films (i.e., those that tackle what auterist film critic Robin Wood calls the “Big Issues”) I grew up on, like Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. (Lars von Trier is the exception that proves the rule.) A film like Bergman’s last, Saraband, which reprised his warring couple from 1973’s Scenes from a Marriage some thirty years later, was largely ignored. A young woman who watched the film with me told me she thought those people who talked about their feelings and inner turmoil endlessly were “losers.”

Bernardo Bertolucci calls what some directors are making today post-cinematic cinema, and cites Harmony Korine as a major exemplar of this tendency. Bertolucci stresses the importance for filmmakers of freeing themselves from the pressures of the great cinematic canon; rather than grappling with the anxiety of influence ad infinitum, he believes that practitioners of post-cinematic cinema should avoid it altogether. Korine—who still lists among his heroes Godard and Antonioni—expresses his ideas in a way that probably owes more to music video than to cinema.

Post-cinematic cinema, in other words, more or less takes its cues from reactions to and defenses against distraction and boredom. I’m thinking about the films of Michel Gondry, Paul Thomas Anderson, Charlie Kaufman, and, to a lesser extent, Sofia Coppola. They deal with the notion of offhandedness in a cool but structured way. Viewed through the prism of YouTube, it’s a cinema told from the left and right of the page and via footnotes, as if the essential documents telling the story have been lost, and someone is trying to re-create it. These directors make films you can watch while doing the many other things we do while watching movies now, but that still command our attention.

This may well be the cinema of the future, and it will create a new brand of cinephile, of the sort depicted in Atom Egoyan’s 2007 short called Artaud Double Bill. In it, a woman sits inside a cinema and, using her cell-phone camera, photographs images of Antonin Artaud in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc as it is projected on the screen. She then texts them to a friend, adding the message “He is hot.” Her friend sends a text back saying that she agrees. Artaud’s “hotness” is made all the more resonant by a cut to Joan burning at the stake, a clever footnote on montage that recalls Bazin’s thesis on the essential dishonesty of editing and the ease with which one can manipulate the “idealistic phenomenon” that is cinema.

In his way, Egoyan is saying that there will be a future for cinema love and it will be propagated, if not in the same ways we came to love it. It’s an optimistic missive from the old-school cinephile to the new.

C.S. Leigh is a writer and filmmaker.