Saturday, January 19, 2013

Throwing Violent J A Bone

I'm about a quarter of the way through the fascinating Jon Ronson collection "Lost At Sea" but the work couldn't have started on a better note, as laughing at the ICP "Miracles" video over and over again on repeat until my face hurt and tears streamed down my cheeks was one of the highlight meme moments of early 2010 for me. I still have very fond memories of it. You know, long neck giraffes, magnets, "effing ____ how do THEY work?!" endlessly. In fact, I began following Violent J on Twitter after that because the inevitable ham-handed quotes would cause me to burst into laughter. Needless to say, if you have not seen "Miracles" by ICP, proceed forthwith to YouTube - it is a mandatory internet experience.

I had a wonderful revelation halfway through the first piece after feeling at least a slight impulse to defend Violent J and Shaggy from the merciless sarcastic pounding and after the poignant moment where Ron asks why he hates science so much if he and his son enjoyed an important experience as he explained fog to his son (fog is on the Miracles list and Ronson thought it be a rather low threshold for miracles, having grown up around it in Britain).

It's really a recurring epiphany of mine that surfaces now and then and in this context it's just: How limiting it is to view the world through only one of either filter of wonder and childlike innocence on the one hand versus knowledge and scientific understanding on the other. The ability to view through either filter at will is something I take for granted but I realize now and then that a lot of times people tend to only have one mode or the other, feeling they must choose between them in the way people choose a political party and then act out that role and live out the talking points. Both is better! I like salty fried foods but I also like sweet desserts like PIE. I like both! Both is better than only one or only the other!

Still, to play court-appointed literary attorney for Violent J and Shaggy, at this time I'll offer a poem from the ultimate hipster and one of my favorite American poets, Walt Whitman, to balance out the field a bit in that first essay. Note how even the meter and flow transition from more structured and complex to less structured and more free-form when the transition between the two ways of looking at the world occurs :

When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer  

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer; 
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me; 
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them; When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, 
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; 
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself, 
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, 
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. 

-Walt Whitman from "Leaves of Grass" (First published in “Drum-Taps,” 1865)

Oh, but, just for fun, a Juggalo-Mom response to the SNL parody video mentioned in the Ronson piece:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Holy Motors!! It's Our Top Five Picks of 2012 for PBR Film Club!

These aren't necessarily my personal favorites of the year, but due to various reasons ("difficulty," inscrutability, literary qualities, etc) they are prime candidates for future viewings by the PBR Film Club crew.

1)  Holy Motors

Remember the classic scene in The Simpsons where Homer catches a bit of Twin Peaks on TV--Agent Cooper dancing with a unicorn--and exclaims, "Brilliant!"  You'll feel like that quite often in Carax's Holy Motors, which you can pompously proclaim is a meditation on performance, or the nature of cinema, or humanity and technology, etc etc. Or you can just kick back and soak up a film that features a scene of Denis Lavant dressed like a nasty little leprechaun, prancing around nude with a boner (this is a French film, meaning you can show a full boner on screen) while chewing on flowers and money and Eva Mendes' hair, not to mention a scene where Kylie Minogue pops up for an unexpected musical number.  Oh, and the accordion flash-mob scene!  And the very Lynch-y opening scenes with secret doors to other worlds and Carax himself hanging out in a theater. 


My pick for the best merger of source material and director.   Cronenberg nails DeLillo's atmosphere of chilly disconnection as we watch emotionless millionaire Robert Pattinson gliding through a day in New York in his limousine, wishing he could "feel" something.   The "talkiest" movie of the year?  Probably.  And everyone talks in DeLillo-ese:  hyper-articulate, stylized conversations that feel deliberately artificial and disjointed.  Kudos to Pattinson, who's about as far from the cinematic world of Twilight as it's possible to get.  Oddly enough, this would make a perfect companion piece for Holy Motors, as both are set largely in limos and Holy Motors seems to provide the answer to a question posed by Cosmopolis:  where do all the limos go at night?

Cloud Atlas:

The year's most ambitious movie was surely destined to be a box-office flop, but it's probably about the best film version one could hope of David Mitchell's "unfilmable" novel.   While much of the novel's darkness gets smoothed over in favor of the Wachowskis' warmer, fuzzier take on reincarnation, I think a lot of the film is still a masterful, operatic, simultaneous orchestration of a whole lot of narrative threads that, in the novel, remain separate.  Somebody did some VERY good close-reading in putting this thing together.  I suspect its reputation will grow over the years (though it's no Brazil or Blade Runner and some of its make-up work will look forever hokey!

The Master:

Yes, yes, the characters don't grow and learn.   The motivations are ambiguous.   The meaning is unclear.  But Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dowd still feel as deep and rich as the characters in any novel I read last year. Like many great novels, PTA's film will be endlessly studied and interpreted.   And widely hated by far more people than ones who like it.   While we all know that Daniel Day Lewis is a lock for Best Actor with Lincoln, Phoenix's Freddie Quell is the performance that will rattle you.

Killing Them Softly:

Speaking of widely hated, Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly died a quick death at the box office and received outrageously low audience scores from many who surely didn't enjoy the fact that a Brad Pitt hitman flick consisted mostly of long conversations in cars and under highway overpasses (in fact, it's one of only 8 films to receive an "F" from Cinemascore post-screening surveys; another is Bug, a film I also love to defend).  In other ways, too, Softly consistently violates expectations in audience-infuriating ways.   Many scenes dispense with a soundtrack in favor of political speeches about the financial crisis, a technique dismissed as heavy-handed by many critics in its attempts to link the world of crime to the world of government.  And it IS heavy-handed, but so much so that it takes on an almost Brechtian "alienation effect."  I didn't like the film, which is also unremittingly cruel and nasty, but I ultimately had to admire it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Faulkner for February

February is for Faulkner. He is the reason why February is called what it is called; ergo we will be exposing ourselves to toxic amounts of Faulkner in February. There is so much Faulkner to choose from that it would be foolish to pick only one; ergo Choose-Your-Own-Faulkner it is! Faulkner, Faulkner, Faulkner. If you say his name three times in the dark with a mirror Beetlejuice will appear… or maybe Son of Sam… or Jerry’s van? Something will happen; maybe you will get stuck in a three page sentence. I’ll find out after I post this on the interwebs.

The format for this free-for-all is simple. There are five notable works by Faulkner:

Absalom, Absalom! (Seven page sentences make Chabon look like a illiterate hobo)
Light in August (Probably the most straightforward of the bunch)
Sanctuary (The trashy one) 
As I Lay Dying (My mother is a fish.)
The Sound and the Fury (Four different narrators)

these also double as the five greatest pieces of art from the last five million years (anything before that gets confusing because of the lack of coherent recordkeeping by the dinosaurs; they didn’t realize just how much influence they would have on future generations)

Choose one from the list and find a Vintage International copy of it, the older editions have typos and errors and other things that occur when an author is too far ahead of their time to be read completely, also as a result of lazy editors and typewriters with hanging chads.

I would love it if a couple people could read each, or some people could read multiple and then we can talk about our individual novels and then talk about the style and digress into talking about Cloud Atlas. Come prepared with a sentence to read out loud, and make sure it is a good one, otherwise I’ll go A Rose for Emily on you:

Also of note: Faulkner took Joyce’s Ulysses on his honeymoon: “I was married at such a young age that I was not able to fully understand the scope and breadth of what I was getting myself into and thus was relegated to literary boners, among the pieces that forced my blood to pump was James Joyce’s bearcat Ulysses, which kept me warm on those hot Mississippi nights after fishing in the stream of consciousness.” 

Also come with your best attempt at pronouncing Yoknapatawpha County