Thursday, January 31, 2008
Took me and poised me on my centre,
Made me grimace, and foot, and prance,
As cats on hot bricks have to dance
Strange jigs to keep them from the floor,
Till they sink down and feel no more.
-- Thomas Hardy, "A Necessitarian's Epitaph"
U2 3D lacks the techno apotheosis you can imagine—the kind that might come from seeing a greater band in concert, as when dance-club imagery climaxes New Order’s "True Faith" music video. That wasn’t digital 3-D but ecstasy in analog.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
No, you are wrong. Secularism is not a religion, any more than freedom of association is an association. Secularism is a political condition that permits a variety of religions and beliefs about religion to coexist peacefully. And the existence of God (or the divinity of Jesus) is not a fact to be acknowledged, it’s a belief to be protected, along with contrary beliefs or nonbeliefs.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Also, I'm beginning to resent Anderson's politics of embarrassment. He can't resist filming a scene in which one or more characters perform an act of such abject mortification that it forces the audience to squirm for the actor, not with the character. Think of Philip Seymour Hoffman slapping his own head for making a pass at Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights; or all of William H. Macy's scenes, for that matter. Or Adam Sandler fighting with Hoffman (him again) in Punch-Drunk Love. In a scene which may or may not be in the novel, Plainview and Paul Dano's preacher Eli confront one another for the last time. Since I don't get some of the bad press Dano's gotten -- his impassioned squeal and lack of girth work for the character -- I saw the possibilities latent in watching two such grossly mismatched opponents glower at each other (it helps that Day-Lewis has never looked so attractive, even when Plainview is disintegrating before us). I'm not sure what tone Anderson sought, but the scene has the intended effect: the audience, looking for a laugh, any laugh, guffaws at exactly the right moment after an act of rapid, predictable gruesomeness. Nothing is delivered, as Dylan once said. The scene floats, unmoored, with no relation to what we've learned; it's played and written as a sop to the audience. That's how it feels anyway.
It's weird reading these lazy reviews calling TWBB "epic" -- because it spans lots of years? it's shot in the desert? Anderson chose an "epic"-style font for his titles? This is a Noh drama, stylized yet minimalist. The audience can congratulate itself on having seen a "show," its prejudices about American history and the relationship between plutocracy and religious fundamentalism unchallenged; at least Richard Brooks' adaptation of Elmer Gantry tried. If ultimately it's not a very good movie, it's still a movie with a lot of very good things in it, helmed by a sensibility whose tics and obsessions are not getting more familiar as his resume lengthens.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
I like this bit of Stevens about Ledger's role in 2005's Lords of Dogtown, in which he plays a funny, grittier variant on the Patrick Swayze part in the awesome Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow's 1991 absurdity about surfer-bank robbers.
This scruffy, inspirational sports picture, a fictionalized remake of the skateboarding documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, can barely contain Ledger's gonzo performance. He's fresh from Val Kilmer College, comically unhinged and unprecedentedly ugly. Late in the movie, after the Z-Boys skate their way to juicy endorsement deals and desert Skip one by one, he hurls surfboards off the roof of his store in a self-destructive rage, then sprawls on the roof's edge, guzzling from a bottle of whiskey while the crowd below gasps for fear he'll throw himself off.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
If there is a laboratory demonstration of the antagonism between economic and cultural capital, it is Las Vegas, a city of such pure commercialism that money is its entertainment, interrupted occasionally by a show...In this non-stop carnival of social inversion, only money is purely beautiful, in Kant's sense of being an end in itself. Vegas's fabled love of the ersatz, like its mini Eiffel Tower, is money giddily blaspheming culture's sacred icons. All of which, in the abstract, seems kind of healthy. But in the flesh it depressed the hell out of me.Well, yeah, it would, if you've never been to Walt Disney World, which, in addition to that Kantian sense in which the money-entertainment complex will consume itself after you've overdrawn your checking account buying a pair of Mouse ears, specficially targets the one segment of the population more uninhibited than the adult heterosexual male: the child. I wasn't very depressed: celebrating a bachelor party means you get the ride you pay for. But I must say, walking those labyrinthine subterranean corridors connecting mega-resort and casino four times a day, I never saw so many mirror-image representations of our group.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I'll provide the full top twenty. Happy reading:
1. Robert Wyatt - Comicopera
2. Miranda Lambert - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
3. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
4. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
5. Jay-Z - American Gangster
6. M.I.A. - Kala
7. Lil Wayne - Da Drought 3
8. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare
9. Roisin Murphy - Overpowered
10. Amerie - Because I Love It
11. Kanye West - Graduation
12. Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight
13. Ciara - Promise
14. Robert Plant-Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
15. White Stripes - Icky Thump
16. Against Me! - New Wave
17. Ghostface - The Big Doe Rehab
18. Britney Spears - Blackout
19. Dizzee Rascal - Maths + English
20. Electric Six - I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being The Master
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Since Denby avers that Preminger was "an inquisitive and urbane fellow who respected the audience’s intelligence," in his usual sneaky way of asking a rhetorical question for which he damn well knows the answer, I'll let his own appraisals of Anatomy of a Murder and Laura -- two of my favorite films -- stand as the best defenses of Preminger's artistry. But consider: "urbane fellows" aren't inquisitive, not really. Rather than allowing action to unspool for the benefit of an indifferent camera (a la George Cukor) or recording his characters' behaviour as if they were arachnids (Howard Hawks), Preminger allowed them to hang themselves with their own words, with nary a cocked eyebrow. His interest in social mores and decor reminds me of Douglas Sirk without the partially hydrogenated corn syrup. He establishes a milieu so fully that his characters can't help but play by its rules -- and pay for it. With the exception of Clifton Webb's proto-fag Walter Lydecker, his "inquisitive and urbane fellows" come off rather better than the ones who try to change the system -- think David Niven in Bonjour Tristesse, Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder, Eva Marie Saint in Exodus, and Charles Laughton in Advise & Consent. Yet so fair is Preminger's approach that these characters never seem rancid or self-congratulatory, as they would in a Billy Wilder film; their reasons for keeping their distance are defined without fuss.
So rent Laura, Angel Face, Where the Sidewalk Ends (each one starring Preminger's greatest proxy, that underrated actor Dana Andrews), Bonjour Tristesse, Anatomy of a Murder, and Advise & Consent. There's a lot I haven't seen, and like all studio directors he made a fair amount of crap. I'm not taken with The Man with the Golden Arm: it's hammy despite a strong Frank Sinatra performance. Exodus is a weird beast, an epic with chamber-drama ambitions, least convincing when it's an action film. This is Preminger's Lawrence of Arabia, with several enigmas at its center.
The most compelling oddity is 1958's Bonjour Tristesse. Besides being one of the most beautiful looking color films ever made, Bonjour Tristesse works as a clinical update of Henry James works like "The Pupil" or The Turn of the Screw, in which children plot mischief for reasons they don't fully understand. Casting the attractive, blank, future Breathless star Jean Seberg as the little schemer shows Preminger's shrewdness; her ineptness in scenes designed to show her sophistication puts the audience on guard. More conventional Preminger touches include extended scenes between Seberg and stepmom-to-be Deborah Kerr. The camera keeps itself in the middle distance until subtle glides and pans underscore the audience's realization that Kerr's primness has a sinister element (it's one of her best performances, until The Innocents unleashes the hysteria beneath the primness). It foreshadows what he would accomplish in Anatomy of a Murder's courtroom scenes and the cross-examination of Sal Mineo's shifty terrorist in Exodus.
So he's a great director of a handful of films. Why does Denby raise such a fuss?
Friday, January 11, 2008
Thank you, Rich, for putting it so succinctly: "The more uniform we are, the easier we are to dehumanize, the easier we are to hate."
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Monday, January 7, 2008
Here's an example of the good prose, by the reliably wonderful Marcello Carlin, who rightly hears the minor-key synthy Springsteen in the ugly crawl of "All I Need" (which he, also rightly, singles out as the album's best track), even though I think it's more "I'm On Fire" than "Streets of Philadelphia." I admire the sense in which Marcello's sentences aim for Radiohead's rhetorical overreach without curdling into the purploid -- "it's alright because you were patient and open-minded enough to continue trying to penetrate the Rochester core" is pretty good, but a writer with less savoir-faire wouldn't survive the Mephistopholes allusion in the last graf. However, this analogy raised my eyebrows:
I can't reconcile the sensibilities of an
“Bodysnatchers” aren’t that far removed from Broken Social Scene, and I cannot imagine “All I Need” without the precedent of Arcade Fire, the Barack Obamas of 21st century rock whose subtle generosity is now seeping through all necessary musical quarters – how much more satisfying than the standard pseudo-trick of stamping one’s feet and yelling.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Jeff, who asked that he not be fully identified, has had one hip replacement because of a condition called avascular necrosis, the death of cells from inadequate blood supply, and needs another to avoid a wheelchair. Many experts think that avascular necrosis is caused by the steroids many early AIDS sufferers took for pneumonia.
“The virus is under control, and I should be in a state of ecstasy,” he said, “but I can’t even tie my own shoe laces and get up and down the subway stairs. ”
Friday, January 4, 2008
...Who managed a wan smile but for seconds on end stood motionless, as if traumatized or stuffed. Better than anyone else in the country he must understand the situation. The young candidate with the sex appeal and the fun and the magic and the sense of the future and the opportunity to shed the old – Clinton knows the advantages that candidate has. And he knows full well how feeble the appeals to "experience" and "ready from day one" and "competence and responsibility" were when they were issued sixteen years ago by a candidate who really was superbly prepared and experienced: the incumbent president, eight-year vice president, victorious war commander, former ambassador and CIA director George H. W. Bush.As for Huckabee and Obama's appeal to the Iowa electorate, credit the candidates' oratory. Sullivan:
One aspect of this race that has not been given enough notice so far: Obama and Huckabee and Edwards are easily the best public speakers in this race. They won last night in part because of their ability to connect with people in large settings. You hear in Obama and Huckabee the cadences of the churches they come from - "the holy places where the races meet" - but you also hear men who have honed their rhetorical skills over the years, and actually connect their own thoughts into words. Contrast these skills with Romney and Clinton, who are competent but programmed like a salesman and a focus group respectively.Both can implode. I have no use for an evolution denier and homo hater like Huckabee, and Obama must lay steel beneath the soaring buttresses of his rhetoric. But we'll see.
In the television and internet age, old-style rhetoric is sometimes regarded as an anachronism. It isn't. Huckabee's brilliance in the debates gave him this opportunity. Obama's public speeches have been the best in a candidate since Reagan and Kennedy.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
As for Heigl, she was right the first time:
“I think that what she realizes pretty early on, when they kind of start dating to see if it's going to go anywhere and if they can make it work, is that he's a really nice guy with a big heart. He means well. He's a bit of a doof and he makes some sort of silly and stupid choices, but ultimately he means well. I think she starts to get his sense of humor. I think in the beginning they're kind of off, they don't get each other and she doesn't get his jokes and thinks he's serious and is offensive and whatever. Then she starts to realize, 'Oh he's actually really funny and charming in his own way and a very kind, good person.'”Isn't Heigl's empathy enough?