Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Advice For The Day (Flaubert to Maupassant Edition)

You complain about fucking being ‘monotonous’. There’s a simple remedy: cut it out for a bit. ‘The news in the papers is always the same’? That’s the complaint of a realist – and besides, what do you know about it? You should look at things more carefully … ‘The vices are trivial’? – but everything is trivial. ‘There aren’t enough different ways to compose a sentence’? – seek and ye shall find … You must – do you hear me, my young friend? – you must work harder than you do. I suspect you of being a bit of a loafer. Too many whores! Too much rowing! Too much exercise! A civilised person needs much less locomotion than the doctors claim. You were born to be a poet: be one. Everything else is pointless – starting with your pleasures and your health: get that much into your thick skull. Besides, your health will be all the better if you follow your calling … What you lack are ‘principles’. There’s no getting over it – that’s what you have to have; it’s just a matter of finding out which ones. For an artist there is only one: everything must be sacrificed to Art … To sum up, my dear Guy, you must beware of melancholy: it’s a vice.

From this, which is well worth a read.

The Sublime (1983 Edition)

I don't know what Stipe is singing about. I've read the lyrics. "Yellow like a geisha gown"? Who knows.

But the mumbling / soaring glory / yearning / mystery of this thing will not be denied.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Recently Seen / Briefly Noted (non-Chris Marker edition)

Whatever Works (Allen, 2009)

Coasting. Laziness. Echoes of echoes. And yet, one of his better films of the last decade. Credit this to Larry David, who spins a wonderfully vitriolic variation on the familiar Allen gripes. But let's not dwell on the film's third-act contrivances. There's playing loose with plot, and then there's outright insult to your viewer's intelligence.

A Nos Amours (Pialat, 1983)

"Devastating", as the cliche runs, but it's earned. And what's more, the film lingers and nibbles at you. As debuts in modern cinema goes, Bonnaire's is one of the greats. Also, it's one of the best films I've ever seen about the listlessness at the heart of so much "desire" - think of it as a warm-blooded, non-didactic version of Bresson's The Devil, Probably. Susan and I have more Pialat planned - um, "stay tuned"?

Silence of The Lambs (Demme, 1991)

Hadn't seen it since I was 18, in an edited TV format, and became curious again after reading some of the Harris source material. Was surprised at its strengths - Foster's exceptional performance, and Demme's wonderfully subjective camera strategies in the film's first half. Once it turns into an outright thriller things grow quickly wearisome, but nonetheless, so much stronger than I'd remembered / comprehended as a dumbass kid.

Aliens (Cameron, 1986) / The Abyss (Cameron, 1989)

Blame it on Avatar excitement, which had me scuttling for yet more revisiting of teenage memories. These are even stronger - I've probably seen Aliens three or four times, yet even my as-established junior self couldn't have comprehended what a masterpiece this film is. It's a machine, slow-burning, with a credibly (spatially, psychologically) established first act leading up to one of the most brilliantly sustained last hour's in "action" cinema. Though, as you can tell by the quotes, that dimwit genre doesn't deserve it (nor is sci-fi a neat fit here). Still, the film has the momentum of a boulder descending a mountain. Astonishing. As for The Abyss, it's my Cameron fear writ-large - sentimentality killing off awesomely impersonal technological gifts. This is the first film he got truly goopy on us, leading to the dead-end of Titanic. The underwater footage and sustained compressed atmosphere is all brilliantly done, and has not dated in the slightest. Everything else leaves me very cold two decades later. File Under: The Perils and Payoffs of Nostalgia.

Moon (Jones, 2009)

A couple of weeks later, all that lasts beyond the borrowed Kubrickisms and weak third act is Sam Rockwell's performance. He's wonderful, and needs to be - this thing's a chamber piece, and I found the scenario around Rockwell fairly tired and familiar. But he's good - it's the sort of performance would should a bunch of awards, for what it's worth.

Shock Corridor (Fuller, 1963)

Possibly Fuller's best - his crassness and hectoring having found the perfect subject matter, he proceeds to ratchet up the personal melodrama and treat Stanley Kramer social issues with the tact of a drunken uncle. Your reactions to it veer from laughter to shock from scene to scene, never certain if it's a patronising laugh or a laugh of sympathy. And Cortez's cinematography turns the whole starker and more lurid still. Wonderful.

White Dog (Fuller, 1982)

The whole thing should collapse under its clumsiness and heavy-handedness, yet nonetheless there's a curiously poignant quality to the film that sails right by anything as stock as "ideas". Once that dog goes wild and Fuller responds by rhapsodising in slow motion, whatever message you care to chew over later in the lobby becomes a solely physical, irrational force, way beyond speechifying. And a great closing shot too.

Hypothesis of A Stolen Painting (Ruiz, 1979)

I was tired, and should have called it quits there. But instead I've now got this cinematic puzzle (far too easy to call it a filmed Borges short, but what else can you honestly come up with foolish brain!) making me feel exceptionally slow off the mark. Often referred to as a good entry point to Ruiz's daunting (in so many ways) body of work, I wouldn't recommend it personally - it's archness without laughter, play without joy. Other Ruiz films as an undergraduate charmed me greatly, though they exist for me now as mere fragments. File Under: My Head Hurts.

The Smiling Lieutenant (Lubitsch, 1931)

Wonderful piffle, in a way which seems so beyond our current filmmakers abilities and so removed from our own sensibilities as viewers as to qualify as some kind of semi-masterpiece. I mean really, it's the art of no-art, the illusion of ease. The view of marriage is puzzling at best. I found Maurice Chevalier to be quite charming after some initial hesitations. There's a great song about lingerie near the end. Duck Soup makes more sense now. Bring on Monte Carlo!

Paris Nous Appartient (Rivette, 1960)

My first Rivette - a sprawling, dense, piece-together pit of cinephile paranoia that seems to demand a replay the second you're done with it. After all the hype and expectation, it didn't disappoint. However, I have no idea how to approach it just now, and need more time wandering through Jacques' lengthy cine-world. I have Celine and Julie Go Boating ready to go. File Under: Continuing Research.

Tetsuo (Tsukamoto, 1989)

I actually recommended this to a guy I work with - that'll be the last time he turns to me for film suggestions. However, if you for some reason take my word as cine-bible, can I recommend you track down this demented piece of possibly-subtext laden insanity and enjoy it solely on a visual level (oh the naivety!), paying special attention to the disruptive editing and mixed-media thrills and spills. A drink or three beforehand will not hurt your enjoyment.

New York Ripper (Fulci, 1982)

I don't trust you Lucio Fulci. Your cult status is, well, undeserved. Sure, you deliver some graphic kills (ah those fanboy favourites), and that fight with the shark and the zombie underwater in Zombie 2/Zombie Holocaust never fails to amuse, but is that really enough to hang your reputation on? I've never found your highly regarded The Beyond scary - silly and overblown yes, but never disquieting or crassly effective as it should be. As for this film, your most "notorious" effort, well, it can go right back to amusing dipshit teenage nihilists and AICN readers as far as I'm concerned. It's dreck, and maybe the old me would give you some leeway, but now it plays worse than ever. Then again, I hear your earlier efforts like A Lizard In A Woman's Skin and Don't Torture A Duckling are quite special, and less beholden to tired giallo tropes. So maybe later.

Julie and Julia (Ephron, 2009)

A Nora Ephron movie? I'm there. I'm there in the same way that that I'm there for any slop Woody Allen wants to serve up. But when I hand over my $16.50 to see Whatever Works what I'm really doing is paying off a debt I owe on Annie Hall and at least a dozen other films that give me joy until this day, and that's ok. With Ephron, though, it's different. She's written (not directed) only one great Rom Com - When Harry Met Sally... (Reiner, 1989), but her parents wrote Desk Set (Lang, 1957) so all is forgiven. Women's porn, basically: food, frocks, French scenery, women friends with the wit of Dorothy Parker, men friends who understand beyond all understanding - and that feeling of having been cheated somehow. It made me want to cook, but it made me want to own Julia Child's cookbook more. In other words, it made a 1950s housewife out of me. Can't be good.

Monday, November 2, 2009

This Guy Lives In My City

I've never heard someone with absolutely no skills at all. When people say this or that rapper is boring/crap/the worst evah, they usually mean he's substandard compared to Ghostface or Q-Tip. At a local battle or spitting over a borrowed beat, he'd probably do just fine. This guy, however, has a flow like none I've ever heard before. He doesn't really observe the traditional rules of rhyme or even rhythm - that's how far past your petty notions of good taste and convention he is. He's out there. He doesn't even have to make sense. He's walking into a crowd and firing a gun. Or posting a video of the same act on youtube, which is much the same thing in our age of remove.

In fact, I'm going to come right out and say I've never seen anything like this before. Ever. I've seen hip-hop clips bogged down by too much inadvertent self-parody to stand up straight. I've seen some truly odious local hip-hop. I've seen youtube would-be fame before. But nothing even close to this. It's like a fever dream of power and talent, stripped of pretense and drowning in a sea of rock bottom production values and delusion. I can't stop watching. I think it's a work of genius.

Rae To The Motherfucken D Y'all...

P.S. If you fail to find this is rib-tickling as I do, I sincerely apologize for wasting just under seven minutes of your time.

For The Noo Yawk Hipster Power Couple

The White Album, Single Serve

Yes, it does possess a kind of rambling perfection as two discs / records, but after listening to the entire remastered lot of it the other night in a single sitting, I’ve gone all George Martin and cut the thing down to an album of knockout tracks. You lose the sprawl and the stories, the sound of a band tearing itself apart and being pieced back together in an epic programming session, but for the kids who don’t need the story, and the folks who only ever wanted the songs to begin with, well, here you go. I know this is a familiar game to play not only with this very record, but with others. I nod discreetly to my predecessors.

I’ve kept the original album opener, which fits nowhere else and which is still, in this blogger’s opinion, still one of the album’s highlights. Otherwise there have been some drastic overhauls, starting with the loss of “Revolution 9”, both the album’s spirit of ’68 centerpiece and its most disposable track. Ringo loses his single tune. I’ve ditched the traditional album closer “Good Night”, but I’ve replaced it with a sufficiently epic track to fade away with. And I’ve played a great deal with the traditional running order, meaning some of the old segues are ditched. But, in my head, connections and transitions still run smoothly. Or smoothly enough. Ian McDonald in the essential Revolution In The Head opines that without its brilliant sequencing, The Beatles would be an even bigger mess than it finally stands. Well, he did warn me.

Retaining vinyl “sides”, the new albums runs as follows:

Side One

Back In The U.S.S.R.
Glass Onion
Savoy Truffle
Sexy Sadie
Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
I’m So Tired
Mother Nature’s Son
Long Long Long

Side Two

Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey
Dear Prudence
Martha My Dear
Happiness Is A Warm Gun
Cry Baby Cry
Revolution 1
While My Guitar Gently Weeps

As you can see, it’s evenly split along Lennon and McCartney songs, though outside of personal favorite “Long Long Long” (possibly Harrison’s greatest Beatles composition – no, I’m not forgetting “Something”) John nicks off with the album. My Side Two features three of the album’s best songs – “Monkey”, “Cry Baby Cry” and the still astonishing “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”.

Complaints? Outrage? Bemusement at my hubris? Alternate running orders? Ladies and gentlemen, the floor is yours.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

You'll Like It If You've Never Seen Another TV Show Before

Seriously, I know I'm super late on some pop-cultural phenomenons, but is Underbelly not kinda the worst thing, like, ever? That is, for something that isn't widely considered the worst thing ever. I mean, we can all agree on 20 to 1. But this...

I tried, I really did.

My initial impressions of the show were dismal. My sister loaned me the whole set, and I lasted about fifteen minutes into the first episode. What exactly was the appeal of this frenetically cut and clumsily scripted mess? I stopped it right there. Only later, after my sister had given me a stern talking to (she's to-the-point and somewhat scary) did I promise to give it a fair shot. And hey, I'd just moved to Melbourne - I'd be learning something about my new home, right?

And now, for some reason, I've seen all thirteen episodes of the thing, though at no point did I feel compelled to keep going. At no point was I hooked on the narrative. At no point did I get that wonderful "I need to go bed, but just one more episode" feeling. I kept plodding on, until I'd reached a point where I sadly realised I was going to watch the whole sodding thing. You know, to see what happens. Though I didn't care. Though I could see the bullet coming.

Where to start? The voiceover which tells you what you already know? The complete lack of insight the show offers into either police surveillance or the modern drug trade (don't think about The Wire, it'll only increase the pain, I assure you). The Benny Hill style of coitus everyone in the show partakes of, made doubly unwatchable by a reliance on zooms the likes of which haven't been seen since late 70s chopsocky? The inconsistent character psychology? The preposterous overuse of slow motion? The preposterous overuse of opera-laden montage?

You walk away from the show dazzled that someone as dim-witted as Carl Williams lasted five minutes on the streets of Carlton. The Victorian Police, famously "somewhat corrupt", are both white-washed and poorly treated. You get no sense of their investigation, or why they couldn't crack these losers sooner. This would be fine if the show suggested it was aware of the fundamental ridiculousness of the situation, but Underbelly is no friend of dramatic irony or comic understatement. For example: only in the last episode do they lean on a known associate of Williams for case-breaking information - someone, incidentally, who was arrested five episodes ago. Did they forget he was in prison?

What's curious to me is the level of hype that attached itself to the show's caboose, and the popularity of the DVD release. I can understand lazily watching this thing on TV, but I remember the first day it was released on DVD. I was working at Canberra Borders at the time, in the "prestigious" Multimedia Director position (aka "the guy who stocks the CDs and DVDs") and we couldn't keep it in the store. From memory our original shipment of 500 copies was sold out by the first afternoon. Dear God, why? Is it plain cynicism to put this down to the Australian public's on-going fascination with crims and other various morons. What's harder to explain is the media's love affair with the show - after all, it got excellent notices from otherwise sane scribes. Too much TV watching just might convince you this stuff was anything other than time-passing fluff. Perhaps everyone was coming off a Two And A Half Men marathon...

On the plus side, Kat Stewart (as Roberta Williams) is great in an underwritten role, and Damian Walshe-Howling as Benji completely steals the show.

Fans of the first series say the second series is terrible. I shudder at the implications.