Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Cinema of Responsibilities

Oh what immaculate, complicated, not-quite-clean-fun Inglourious Basterds is. Whatever issues you might have with Tarantino's ego or his purported film-geek immaturity (more on that in a second), this thing fucking sings. Playing with material that's both enormously complicated and already wrung-dry-for-Oscars, Tarantino turns the movie into nothing but a show of what movies can do: plotting roundabouts, violence, monologues, title cards. The film is about nothing but movies, really, about how fucking lovely characters entering a frame are, about the delight of tension, about an audience's need for tension, about montage, about slow fades to re-establish the same figure from a slightly different angle; about bullets to the face, about preposterous not-in-real-life borrowing from history; about digressions for the sake of introducing characters, about super-imposition, about voiceover, about in-jokes, about misguided love; about slow-motion, about action that's cut too quick for the eye. To paraphrase Scorsese on Sam Fuller, if you don't like this, you probably don't, in some fundamental way, like cinema.

There's two dozen things I love about this film, and about about half a dozen that don't sit well at all with me. Yep, some of the violence is tough-going, brutal and unnecessary. I'm tempted to say "that's the point", but that's glib and obvious. But it's kinda the point anyway. Plus Eli Roth isn't improving as actor. I'll think of the other four later.

But back to the pros, from which let me select one thing to praise: Quentin knows how to write long multi-character dialogue scenes. The scene in the underground tavern should be shown in film classes from tomorrow to eternity - its slow-build premise, its secondary support/relief characters, its promise of release, its withheld knowledge. I wanted to applaud by the end of it. Oh, and by the way, next time you hear some hack talk about Tarantino's admittedly violent films as raw meat for the baying idiot filmgoing hounds, show them this scene, then make them sit through the entire film. Twice. If Quentin really wanted to sell out and make uberviolence for the multiplex, would the film really be loaded up with such endless talk? At points in the film, the would-be showdown and resolve is ruthlessly sidetracked for yet more digression. It's cruel, but brilliantly done. And it's not easy-going either. This is "sell-out" the way that Miles going electric was supposedly selling-out. It's an easy talking point to spout until you're faced with something as unyielding as Live-Evil or as vapourous as "He Loved Him Madly". At that point, silence reigns.

One more point: I'm now officially sick to death of critics (and myself, for I've done it too, and recently as well) using "the film is only about film" line of criticism. These critics apparently quake and thirst and practically fucking shake and shudder for "real life", which is why, of course, their love involves being alone in the dark. Film critics (and I'd know people) practically gave up real life long ago, and carry a guilty conscience on this one. It's guilt which makes them moralise about other people's (other artists) duty to serve some utterly dubious notion of "the real" instead of paying homage to Tarantino's mirror-show as they should be. On your knees! Praise art, or damn art, but loudly!

They want real life? Plenty out there guys. And plenty of other films too. Not all work serves a purpose beyond its own existence and assertion, and if it's art for art's sake we're coming to, so fucking be it. The film geeks and critics alone know how powerful work like this is, about its absence of morality, its power of influence. "Real life" is the watering down of sensibility. And people who get paid to sit in the dark shouldn't be telling honest working people ("real life", tee-hee) how to appraise works of semi-genius like Inglourious Basterds. Write it up honestly, or feed the homeless. Or make your own work, you fuckers.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Brief Note Before The Big Game

Dear Adelaide, Brisbane, Collingwood and Western Bulldogs,

To all 88 of you brave and goodly soldiers playing semi-finals this weekend on the hallowed turf of the MCG, please remember to acquit yourselves with grace and suitable conduct. Conduct your sporting affairs like demented warlords, yet remain gentlemen the entire time. Be firm yet fair, passionate yet self-aware. And most importantly, please don't be completely egotistical fuckwits and follow the above example of Alan "Crime Lord" Didak when you luck one through the big sticks. The opposition supporters on the receiving end of your hubris will not forget it, and most of your fans will simply be embarrassed for you. It really is the most conceited, asinine, American act imaginable.

Best Wishes,

Susan and David.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Larry David Reviews The New Wilco Record‏

Pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty boring, he thinks.

I couldn't help but agree with him. We were both fans of the much-derided Sky Blue Sky, which Larry in particular felt was unfairly labelled a middle of the road record. That was all bullshit, he figured. It was OK that Tweedy and co. were cooling down a little, and it was better than a feigned attempt at regaining summerteeth's ebullience, or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's anguish and noise. You've gotta be honest to yourself, he said. But then Larry always said that. He told me this was what had gotten him into trouble so often, and with so many people. Still, he said, I never compromised, not once. But now that I'm hearing this rather-too-cutely-titled Wilco (The Album), he says, I'm thinking there is such a thing as a middle of the road, and I don't doubt Jeff is plonked right down in the middle of it. If this is them being honest, do they mind if I go and buy that new Dirty Projectors record I've been hearing so much about? Once more I concured, and not just because Larry had repped for me when it came time for my panel interview at the Ocean Way Golf Club, whose back nine we currently found ourselves negotiating. I concured because I too never compromised and I too thought the new one sucked a little. How weak and polite, I thought. How unexuberant and dull. A Feist collaboration? Sure, the opener "Wilco (The Song)" was catchy in its own way, but in that jingly-jangly inane way the Macarena and Agadoo were. We sure as hell weren't talking about the stirring melodicism of "Pot Kettle Black" or "Misunderstood". I pitched that idea at Larry after he'd skied a Titleist deep into the rough. Damn Fucking Straight, he cursed. This new one's vanilla through and fucking through, he said. I frankly can't even bring myself to play it again, and you know what a fan of those bastards I was in my younger years. And having said that, off he marched down the fairway in search of his Titleist.

(something from the very recent vaults - apologies to the friend who's already suffered through it once...the review, that is, not the record...)

Suicide Is Painless

The initital idea behind Stuff White People Like is pretty clever, if you enjoy the sort of snark and knowingness that ultimately renders you unable to enjoy your own life. But we're all very clever nowadays, so there you go; we love knowledge=power, even if it results in the kind of self-awareness that has us knowingly consuming steaming piles of cultural shit, whittling away post-show blues with caustic cliche-spotting superiority. Hard is hard, but everything else will either pass the time or take our punches. We're lazy, really.

But anyway...

David has indeed dipped into this well from time, and had others guide him there on others. I'm right up the alley readerwise of SWPL. Apparently my tastes and predilictions are both rare in my particular environment and crushingly obvious and generic in the wider world. And honestly, some of the shit SWPL rips into deserves it, but after a dozen or so rounds of you're-not-specialness, this idea plays out with deadly force. Read through the entire site/book and you'll soon enough come up against harder, fiercer, sadder truth: everything's been cordoned off as generic, as obvious. A lot of this boils down to supposed notions of "hipsterdom", a truly noxious notion that's been picked up and used as a weapon by everyone from Armond White to, gee, every second poster on Metafilter / The A.V. Club et al. The knowingness (that again) with which it's deployed doesn't make it any more palatable.

Hipsterdom is the web's there's-too-much-out-there fear (inevitable, considering the nature of the beast) experienced as constant ear-shredding feedback, the idea that somebody else's niche interest is a secret joke on you. That the niche's are smaller and harder to find these days is beside the point - all you need is attitude and a chip on your shoulder, and soon enough everything from Merzbow to Spike Jonze to literally-anything-that's-in-the-entire-world is made solely to make you feel out of it.

SWPL, now cited and used as an example by various idiot journalists, is the endgame of this affair. Both the in and the out, the hipster and his mark, melt like Roger Rabbit in dip (allusion not too obscure, not to hipsterish, I hope). Everything is a big fucking laff.

It's love that won't speak its name in public. It's cowardice. It's very self-conscious fun. It's waiting to make you the crowd. It's there to flatter you. It doesn't really believe in quality, or evne in the idea of belief. It believes, then, in the reflection of popularity, cultural guesswork, and back-row spitballs. Christ, it's really saddening and infuriating and not worth all these words.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Good Intentions, Quickly Scuppered

Oh how the would-be mighty have invisibly fallen - a couple of days and no new posts, and after such an initial burst of activity! Excuses? Well, the introduction to Arthur Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamophoses isn't going to read itself, is it? Still, there's raw copy waiting for discreet editing before it reaches you, rest assured. The world needs my thoughts on Generation Kill and John Cheever's short story "Goodbye, My Brother", and have them it will! Soon. For now, however, I need* to watch a shitload of Jacques Rivette films, polish off some short stories and work up some "hilarious"** rants about things that annoy me***. Back soon.


P.S. Susan has her thoughts too, but last I heard she was vanishing from the face of the earth for the next five weeks. She wishes you well.

* "Want" might be a better or more exact word, but when you truly lust for art and quake at the thought of finally, after years of waiting, tackling a master's oeuvre, the nature of the desire needs to be explained passionately. I need to see his films. It will save me / redeem me / inspire me, etc. And you too, obviously, should you sit down with him, in your own good time.

** I hope so, at least.

*** Short list: Stuff White People Like, online cinephilia, political correctness in book reviewing, football players who "shush" the crowd when they kick a goal, etc.

**** Yep, for real.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In Honour of The People Who Recently Gave Me Full-Time Work

At the plant, there are only two positions available, and three applicants, Homer and two other men. Smithers recognizes the other two as frat brothers at Alpha Tau. They do the frat handshake, then sing a college song. Homer tries to join their singing, but fails miserably.

Smithers: What would each of you say is your worst quality?
Man 1: Well, I am a workaholic.

Man 2: I push myself too hard.

Homer: Well, it takes me a long time to learn anything, I'm kind of a goof-off...

Smithers: Okay, that'll do.

Homer: ...a little stuff starts disappearing from the workplace...

Smithers: That's enough! There's a problem with the reactor. What do you do?

Homer: There's a problem with the reactor!? We're all going to die! Aaaaaaaugh!

Melbourne's Coffee Culture?

We moved here, led to believe Melbourne had a great coffee culture. Sure, the city has lots of cool cafes, but we've got to say, we've been very disappointed by the quality of the actual joe. Even our very favourite local haunt, North (left) doesn't always get it right - though we heart its poached eggs and its smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese and capers. Really, even Canberra had better coffee. (Belated thanks to the guys at Tonic for getting us through those 2 years of purgatory.) Now, we don't want to buy into the whole Sydney/Melbourne thing, but we can think of plenty of places in the harbour city where coffee means a velvety, caramelly brew, not bitter, thin dishwater.
Well, Susan and David were pleased to see John Bailey bursting the bubble on Melbourne's coffee pretensions in last week's The Age:

Melbourne: you don't know coffee. I know it comes as tough news. Earlier this year Lord Mayor Robert Doyle made the outrageous claim that our bean culture was overrated. The city's acclaimed cafes went into defence mode, but those at the frontline still admit that there's a gap between our notion of the city as a macchiato mecca and the reality you're faced with when the brown stuff in a cup arrives at your table.
At the mo, we can really only rely on 2 joints for our daily caffeine fix: Seven Seeds and Auction Rooms, both in North Melbourne (also out of the finals series). But we hope to be proved wrong on this - put us on to your good brown liquidy thing now...

Recently Viddied / Briefly Noted

Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi (2009)

After the earnestly enjoyable Spiderman series (ignoring the frenzied and unsatisfying third installment, the first two are all sunshine and clean lines - narrative, architectural - and pure heroism with nary a borrowed nihilistic streak in sight), some pure Raimi. He's such a joyous horror filmmaker, if that doesn't sound overly contradictory. Here is a moralistic tale buried in mud and bodily deposits, E.C. terror filtered through human sympathy. And it's wickedly good fun in a cinema, as the full row of Japanese schoolgirls who sat behind me during the film will attest. Easily Raimi's best film since Army of Darkness.

Public Enemies, Michael Mann (2009)

The Scorsese Syndrome - for anyone else a masterpiece, for Mann, merely decent. The problem here is his inability to make the Depp/Cottilard relationship resonate, which means the film's final third, played for tragic love, just...sits there. And the DV cinematography, which was so lustrous and sudden and swoonworthy on Miami Vice (and Collateral to a lesser extent), here is jerky and simply an aesthetic misstep. Still, when the gunfights kick up, always Mann's speciality, you understand his decision. The man captures the fleeting moment better than almost anyone else working in cinema.

The Magick Lantern Cycle, Kenneth Anger (1948-80)

A massive jumble, obviously, going from Anger's early Genetesque Fireworks to his ridiculous Lucifer Rising, all Egyptian codswallop and mystic portentousness. But what a creamy middle - the blissed out texture of the unfinished Puce Moment, the hallucinatory Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome, and the rightly famous Scorpio Rising. Though the last is a little longer than it needs to be. Still, across its varied moods and ideas, from non-narrative sexual worship to borrowed Crowleyisms, some kind of "history of the 20th century". Dirty secret: all of the good stuff was at the beginning. Sucks to be young, eh?

Art School Confidential, Terry Zwigoff (2006)

Outsider schtick with little charm, and a stacked deck that's positively no fun to deal. Needs to be harder and meaner with the delusions and phoniness of art schools, and not merely self-pitying and sour. Plus Zwigoff stills knows fuck-all about narrative and tempo and basic filmic "feel". Bad Santa has its charms, but Ghost World is one of the decade's most overrated films, mockery of white blues bands notwithstanding. Still, there's always Crumb. Sometimes subjects really do all the work. Oh, and Sophia Myles is pretty gorgeous too.

Mr and Mrs Smith, Alfred Hitchcock (1941)

God, what oddness. Not necessarily Hitch's worst film, but his least distinctive, almost completely devoid of his usual visual/verbal wit and narrative force. When he unleashes an occasionally magnificent moving camera shot, it's almost totally unjustified. And for a screwball, this one plays out at about half the pace required. Still, there's Lombard, and a nicely insouciant opening ten minutes of silliness. But that's about it.

Exiled, Johnnie To (2006)

Only lasted half an hour on this one before our DVD trigger got itchy. He's close to worshipped on certain film blogs we've been known to frequent, but this one is recycled Woo with an extra dash of poseurishness and self-consciousness. Which, I think you'll agree, is already enough unbelievability for one night. Just rent Hard-Boiled if you haven't already seen it, and The Killer for the really transporting emotional moments (i.e. flat-out maniacal melodrama). Still, I won't judge To until I've seen his supposedly wonderful Sparrow.