Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Fallen Angel/The Hole

Overwhelming feelings of confusion and cold caused me to spend most of my time recently taking showers, listening to the Beach Boys, and going to Forever 21. I have seen a few notable movies, though.

Fallen Angel d. Gandulf Hennig

You watch this movie, you hear a lot of dull people (and Keith Richards) talking about Gram Parsons, how he changed and--for instance--how when he started hanging out with the Rolling Stones he started dressing really weirdly to oft-hilarious effect and doing the same drugs they did, how he liked to drink and fuck around and not to practice, how he cheated on his wife with a friend from back home, and you realize: this person died when he was TWENTY SIX. Why, you wonder, am I watching a documentary about a KID, albeit a talented kid? Well, whatever. Some neat and goofy footage makes its way in, and the interviews with a thoughtful but still resentful Chris Hillman (and NOT the ones with various squabbling Parsonses) make it ok. Seriously, though, if you need to know anything about GP, ask me instead of watching this.

Ranging from hilariously weird to near-unwatchably intense, Tsai's The Hole merits comparison to both Antonioni and to Miike's The Happiness of the Katakuris. I guess he made it on sort of a commission from a French TV station as part of a series called "2000 as seen by..." and Tsai, apparently, saw little hope in the new millenium. It's pretty easy to summarize: we learn from an introductory fake newscast voiceover that in Taiwan, an epidemic that makes people adapt cockroach-like behavior rages in the week before New Year's 2000. A few people refuse to leave their quarantined apartment buildings, nonetheless. The movie (which probably has about 20 lines of dialogue) then devotes the rest of its time to the dull lives of an alcoholic man and the woman who lives below him, and the hole a plumber drills in his floor/her ceiling and then abandons. So, relentlessly bleak depiction of alienation and doom, impossibility of true human relationships, bla bla. But then, uh, there are musical numbers, all songs by Grace Chang, performed by the woman downstairs whose apartment becomes more and more flooded--did I mention that rain pours for the entire duration of the movie?--and grows increasingly overwrought. Suddenly, though, she'll break into some ridiculous '50s HK jam, with backup dancers and everything. At the end of the movie there is a message from Tsai, saying something like "Grace Chang is what gives me hope for the future." Generally, a pretty amazing achievement.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Angels in the architecture

Just as it took a head-scratching minute or two sometime in the middle of the Film Forum Woody Allen retro for me to realize, well, I have definitely seen more movie by Woody Allen than I have by anyone else, does this mean he's my favorite director, could be, it took me until I was smushed againt the subway door yesterday and inexplicably got "You Can Call Me Al" stuck in my head to realize:

Graceland may be my all time favorite album.

Without a doubt, it is the first album I can remember hearing all the way through (I think it is also the last non-classical LP my dad bought, save maybe 2 California Raisins records I think my brother demanded). For my entire life, I have gone through phases of completely loving it and then not listening to it for years and years. We used to listen to my brother's tape of this and my parents, uh, Ladysmith cd, in the car every time we took a family roadtrip, so I can't hear the record (which, I guess, is kind of in vogue now?) without thinking of the southern Indiana landscape and eating cheese snacks from a lunchbox and humming along. At some point in middle or high school, I rediscovered it and tried to teach myself to adapt the tinkly upper-register guitar parts for my nylon-string guitar, with little success.

What I do not know is: is this album good? There is only one way to find out.

1. The Boy in the Bubble
The album begins convincingly (the decisive drum thump a few seconds in really helps). Although, as far as I can tell, this song is about NOTHING, it works really well; the accordion proves a surprisingly fitting addition to the pop music ensemble and sounds here kind of like a shakier version of an organ. The absence of solos/breaks also helps this song keep on chooglin'.

2. Graceland
Although probably it is for the best that Paul Simon did not try to tackle other continents lyrically as well as musically, why is there a song about driving across America on an album meant to bring African music to Americans' attention? The mooing bass sound sort of bugs me on this song, but the sad, conversational chorus works. As far as the words go: again, the choruses are all really effective, but the bridge is a little wince-worthy and the verse about the "human trampoline" is one of the most embarrassing sex lyrics EVER. Last thought--in general, I really like the placement of an album's title track as the second song.

3. I Know What I Know
I sort of shuffled around in a way approximating "dance" earlier when I listened to this song while frying some tofu, so I must find this song pretty catchy. One of this record's key selling points is the stellar guitar work; the best songs all have these two really clean-sounding guitars ("African"?) that play off each other, and this is one of them. They prove so appealling that you almost forget that, on this song, there are backup vox going "whoop whoop." I bet Paul Simon, at some point in about 1978, really did pick up a woman by saying "don't I know you from the cinematographer's party?"

4. Gumboots
"Hey senorita, that's astute, why don't we get together and call ourselves an institute?"

5. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
Ok, here we get into the shit, a full-on Ladysmith Black Mambazo intro. Does it work? Unclear. The melody's real pretty and I like the words ("he's a poor boy, empty as a pocket, empty as a pocket with nothing to lose") and you can def. imagine Paul Simon singing it sans a chorus. So I guess not? As far as the rest of the song goes, "I could say woooo and everyone would know exactly what I was talking about" is kind of a cop-out for a chorus, and despite more nice guitar stuff, this song isn't my favorite.

6. You Can Call Me Al
The main riff (theme? what do you call it?), I decided, clicks and gets instantly stuck in your head because of the way the bass plays a sort of upwards melody underneath the main horns/synth/whatever business. Paul Simon delivers this song really well. Chevy Chase is in the video.

7. Under African Skies
What this song has to do with Africa escapes me but again, a lovely melody and Linda Rondstadt's backup vox (!) are nice. Actually, the lyrics are mind-bogglingly dumb.

8. Homeless
I appreciate that Paul Simon wanted to introduce South African music to the masses, which at the time was "political," too, but really, if I wanted to listen to South African music, why would I do it on a Paul Simon album?

9. Crazy Love Vol. II
For me, this song epitomizes this album's problems: it has both my favorite and least favorite moments of the record. The bad: a needlessly bombastic chorus that goes "I don't want no part of this crazy love," a tenor sax. The good: this is probably the nicest guitar work on the album, with a melancholy downward harmonized line underneath the verse. The lyrics sort of trade off greatness with sheer dreadfulness: saying a fat person "slopes into the room" is pretty ingenious, the line about "evening news" blows. What to do?

10. That Was Your Mother
If I wanted to listen to zydeco, why would I do it on a South African-flavored Paul Simon album? That said, I always get a line in this song stuck in my head where he sings "you are the bur-den of my genera-tion" really catchily.

11. All Around the World, or, the Myth of Fingerprints
Omit all the times he says "watermelon" in this song and you're set: the harmony vox that come in on the last verse are the highlight of this song for me, finally having a song that vaguely hints at colonialism is a nice touch, and I just realized this album ends with the line "that's why we must learn to live alone."

In sum: unclear. I'm going to go watch the videos on the enhanced cd.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Winter Soldier, the State of the Union Address

Sorry if this gets serious, ignorant-style.

Ned and I watched Winter Soldier a few days ago.

This is the second-most effective war documentary I've seen, the best being Eyal Sivan's The Specialist, an unnarrated stitching-together of footage shot at Eichmann's trial. A collective of documentarians made this movie over the course of a few days in 1971 when a number of Vietnam Veterans for Truth "testified" in the lobby of a Detroit Howard Johnson's about what they did and saw in Vietnam. Apparently it was shot really on the cheap, with equipment and film stock left over from porno shoots, and save a few still photos of individual soldiers, remains inside the walls of the HoJo and all you see is men talking. Nonetheless, the movie plunges you right into the shit, with a man describing the gruesome disembowelling of a female civilian about 7 minutes in. It proceeds with a catalog of almost any imaginable atrocity.

Most striking, perhaps, is the testimony of Scott Camill, a beautiful guy with big brown eyes (bottom left in that photo) who attained a pretty high rank and earned all kinds of stars while committing and watching some unbelievably awful things. He's charismatic and, with the part-smile he has a lot of the time, appears to have just woken up from a nap. Given his warmth and the conversational tone of his delivery of even the grimmest things, you can't imagine that you would have acted any differently than he--that if you'd seen your best pal shot, yeah, you might've knifed the next Vietnamese person you saw--or, at least, that this person could not have possibly acted differently.

The "testimony" has a very Christian feeling, as though by getting this stuff off their chests and begging the government to end the war, these men can somehow repent their sins. The forgiveness they seem to beg, indeed, has the abstract quality of religious repentence: they speak to a room of American reporters, continents away from families whose children they stoned to death as a joke. The men's appearance, much commented-on within the film, also gives them a degree of removal from their actions. You see a few photos of them as clean-shaven, uniformed soldiers, but they now come before the camera with shaggy hair, beards, and bandanas, weird counter-culture mirror-images of their old selves. You sort of want to grant them catharsis, since they seem like such ok guys now, but wait a second.

Another problematic/interesting aspect of the movie lies in its synchronicity. A few men describe, sort of, how they realized what they'd done was wrong (one read history, one ran down a hippie on the street in Cambridge who said something like "How can I ever know you if you treat me like that"). It gives a series of small, terrifying shards of the war, and little of a sense of the history that could've created people like this. That was Vincent Canby's (thx. ProQuest) issue with the film--that it skirts the key question of how "we" could've borne generations of people capable of this behavior. One exception, probably the most amazing moment in the film, occurs during the testimony of a Native soldier, who completely breaks down while pondering the government and its lies and tricks, baffled that he, of all people, ended up killing for it, and recalls the old promise made to Indians that treaties would last "as long as rivers run, as long as the grass grows green." Someday, he says, the grass won't grow anymore, and you think about napalm and the unrepentent burning of Vietnamese villages described earlier and thanks Mr. Canby, your issue's answered.

That particular Jacksonian language has always gotten me--the baldness of the lie, but, the twisting of the knife, its telling in poetic fake-Indian-speak. Like calling the most abusive part of PFC Camill's training "motivation." Or calling our current entanglement a war on "terror," as though you can battle a sensation, and somehow make it stop.

After the movie, Ned and I talked for a while about Iraq and Vietnam and remembered the disbelief we both felt at the beginning of the war that the government could actually not know what they were doing--like, they knew Vietnam didn't work as well as we know (reading about the upper echelons of the military during the late '70s and '80s is pretty eye-opening; dudes went batty from the trauma of losing so badly, of discovering that "we" could lose), so presumably they couldn't fuck it up that terribly again. But, although it's dangerously misleading to say Iraq is just like Vietnam, these testimonies frequently seem redundant to we who've seen Abu Ghraib photos and whatever else, and that is the most deeply terrifying effect of watching Winter Soldier in 2007. People in the movie keep saying, if I saw this, that meant it happened elsewhere, too. In the wake of what we know happened in Iraq, it is really sickening to think that somehow, despite these things we're aware of and realizing that we probably know what we don't actually know, this war goes on.

In the State of the Union Address, the president commended a man awarded the Silver Star for using his body to shield his men during an attack, and while filled with shrapnel, turning things around and defeating a bunch of baddies. Scott Camill, juvenile delinquent turned war criminal and hero, had a Silver Star, too. It's bullshit, he says, these medals are all bullshit, I got ones when I didn't deserve them and didn't when I did. I just didn't want to die.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Coal Miner's Daughter

A word of explanation for the ferocious rate of recent LGI postings--school vacation + the extended vacation of a co-worker at have left me with a lot of dead time at my jobs (read: 8 hour me+computer time). Things should chill out soon.

Coal Miner's Daughter belongs to the elite and nonsensical class of "movies I own." Re-watching it for the first time in a while, though, I realize what no one else in various reviews I have read seems to have cottoned on to: this movie is not a Loretta Lynn biopic at all. It is a complex depiction of her husband, Doolittle, or at most, about their bizarre relationship. We have little concept of what Loretta thinks or feels or decides or aspires to; we understand, fully, how Doo feels about her--like a sort of pervy dad (she was 13 when they married, and the scene of their wedding night will make you cringe), exploitative while also being motivated by genuine pride and love for her and what she can do. A good example of this occurs when she's giving her first radio interview and suddenly talking more, and more excitedly, than she has in the entire movie to this point. Instead of staying with her in this really triumphant moment, the film cuts to Doo (this is Tommy Lee Jones with an awful blond dye job), sitting in the car, listening to the radio broadcast, and smiling, sort of enchantedly embarrassed for his hillbilly wife. The movie does this ALL THE TIME--no sooner do you start to get a sense of Loretta (Sissy Spacek, of course) then Doo pops into the shot, or we get a quick cut to Doo at home with the kids or working on his car or whatever. He's interesting, "conflicted," we might say, whereas Loretta's change from eager-to-please child to aspiring star to weary pill-popper seems abrupt and unconvincing. Did the people who made this movie (director Michael Apted, you may recall, is the man behind the Up series, and the real Mrs. Lynn had some involvement in the project as well) realize this?

Monday, January 22, 2007

the greatest compliment I have ever received

At the end of a brief conversation with an old Romanian man in which the meaning of my name ("lamb") came up: "I would not sacrifice you. You are too beautiful to be sacrificed."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

let's get cheerful, team

Ok, I almost never watch youtubes on other people's blogs, but the onset of cold weather is having really deleterious effects on my friends, and the least I can do is provide a slew of our favorite singing and dancing movie-Frenchies, inspired by the #2 scene, from the movie I saw yesterday, Les amants regulieres. Please cheer up, honeys.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ghost Dog, or, No regrets for our youth

One of my college applications had a blank for "favorite movies;" I picked a few, and the only two I remember now are The 400 Blows and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai. One of my dearest friends, in whose company I revisited Ghost Dog at Walter Reade last night, finds this a charming example of the foibles of youth. "You forget stuff like that," he said, that only a kid's top two movies could be something so unquestionably great alongside something indisputably slight.

Ben is 100% right in picking out this movie's falsest move: a tawdry Jerseyed-up blonde leaves the motor of her Jaguar running while she dashes inside a liquor store; Ghost Dog steals the car; the camera watches the car go down the street and turn a corner; and cuts back, unnecessarily, to the woman, who stamps her heels in rage, shouts "My FUCKING Jaguar!" and darts back into the store crying "you gotta phone in here?" It's gratuitous and unfunny, and reduces some of the film's pretty bizarre and interesting depictions of race to a boring "trashy white people suck" moment.

That aside, though, I stand by this movie and its peculiar Jarmuschian confusion of moods and tones. Is it reverant of its main character, Forest Whitaker's misplaced mafia hitman-as-samurai? Does it allow for some ridiculing of Whitaker's behavior? How sincere is Jarmusch, despite all the intoning of Eastern-mystical quotes: are the scenes with the little girl, or the stylized moments when, for instance, a fullscreen shot of Whitaker's head is super-imposed over the twilight skyline, a move obv. lifted from kung-fu/yakuza movies which this film parodies and admires? It mixes this unreadability with the most obvious, whack-you-on-the-head symbols and references leaving you with this weird combination of inscrutability and a total absence of subtletly that particularly appeals to me (see: Walkabout, Fulltime Killer).

But maybe I don't stand by it; maybe I just remember when the most important thing to me about a movie was knowing that I was the only kid at school who'd seen it, that you wouldn't know it to look at me hiding at the corner desk in too-big pants and a too-small shirt but I was a GIRL who watched movies about SAMURAI HIT-MEN that didn't even have a hint of orchestral soundtrack, just weird crackly nostalgic-sounding hip hop and was as interested in how people read things and then read the things they read back into their lives as it was in showing Forest Whitaker laying waste to a houseful of broken-down mafiosi with his coatfull of enormous silent guns

The 400 Blows is also about a loner whose own misbehavior serves to rail against an uncomprehending and nonsensical order, but let's not push things. I like the part when the dying gangster says, "at least we get to go out like real gangsters," and Isaach de Bankole.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Today, in honor of my sulky mood, I present a few bad-tempered or old-person-y things that I have run across in my many hours of internet-time lately thanks to the brokenness of the only computer at the library on which I can actually work:

This article from the London Times about how middlebrow literature sucks.

The IFC points out that some "cult movies" pretty much suck.

Theodore Dreiser's library of what he considered essential American realist works.

This has been making its way around the internet a lot but just in case: Art Garfunkel, star of the twisted psychosexual drama Bad Timing has kept a list of every book he's read since 1968.

One of my favorite digital archives, which happens to belong to my sort-of-soon-to-be-former employer, is YIVO's People of a Thousand Towns website, which is collection of a few thousand photos of prewar Eastern Europe and its gnarled-looking Jews.

Another good one is Corsair, the Morgan Library's catalog and digital archive of illuminated manuscripts.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Totally important poll

So, it may seem like all I want to do is watch movies, but really, all I like to do is eat falafel. Feel free to think of Party Girl references and then keep them to yourself.

Here are some places I have eaten falafel in New York, in no particular order:
Tamarind Seed (surprisingly ok for premade/microwaved)
Amir's (whywhywhy)
Jerusalem (nicest dudes)
Oasis (don't remember)
Rainbow (awesome)
some really gross Greek restaurant
Mamoun's (totally excellent)
Ali Baba (also yes)
Chickpea (embarrassing but good green color)
Ta'im (didn't live up to hype but a+ fries and pita)
Bereket (worst stomachache)
the dude on the street near the MoMA (hit the spot whenever it was I got it)
that place on Bedford that closed (put olives in)
Sam's (also: ew)
Cinderella (can't remember)

That's all I remember for now although I bet there are a lot more I forget. These days, I am really into Rainbow, which is near my soon-to-be-former job and rules. But really what I'm asking is, where else is essential? I hear Kalustyan's is great, but their mujaddara is so amazing that I can't NOT get it if I'm eating food there. I would also like to try the dude with the light-festooned truck in front of ex-Tower Records who's supposedly the "best falafel vendor in New York."

The question here is: where should I eat my next falafel sandwich? Take into account:
-falafel--well-spiced, not too crispy or squishy, microwaved or deep-fried just for you?
-pita--fresh? tasty? Damascus brand from a bag?
-salad--edible or greyish?
-hummus/tehina--creamy or chunkyish? would you eat them on their own? Too heavy or just right?
-location--convenience to movie theaters, jobs I hold or schools I attend, or record stores I frequent definitely a plus

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ignorant review corner, pt. 1

In which we talk about things that aren't movies.

1-News Sources
I think I will try to stop reading the New York Times and switch to the Guardian-Observer full-time. I will not even miss important lifestyle issues; these wacky Brits had 2 articles on dating in NYC just today! In addition, they just seem greatly on top of things. Recent favorites include the pithy q&a at the end of what seems to my uninformed eyes a good analysis of the Iraq sitch and this manic review of Apocalypto.

I just finished two books in quick succession, which have provided me with much food for thought.

The first, a bona fide classic, is George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, wonderfully written, wrenchingly sad, and oddly both pertinent and irrelevant to the world today (what would've ensued on the streets of Barcelona if the CNT and Communists had been going at each other with AK47s instead of busted 19th century rifles?). Idealized or no, what particularly struck me about Orwell's loving description of anarchist Barcelona (ojala) was the politicized disuse of formal terms of address (usted/senor). I think a lot about the sort of flattening of class/rank distinction that takes place at work, at restaurants, in life, whatever by the sort of general absence of these terms of address. I mean, do any of you call your boss Mr. anything? Or use polite name-prefixes to anyone besides randoms ['sir, you dropped your hat'] or, for those of us in the service industries, the people we're serving ['Ma'am, no bags in the library']? Rather than equalizing everyone, I find that first-nameifying just veils class distinctions. I would almost rather have to call my supervisors Mr/Ms/Dr than ignore the actual differences (of age, class, whatever) between us and maintain this false buddy-buddy pretense, which foments fundamental misunderstandings. Sorry, that's a little too heavy. But that book=essential.

So, as a devoted fan of classy or at least pseudo-classy (Balzac) lit, I was a bit embarrassed by the next book I read, also pulled out of one of my boxes I found in my basement: Ann Beattie's 1979 Chilly Scenes of Winter (aka Head Over Heels for the movie tie-in ed. I have). Look how middlebrow!

But, although I wouldn't recommend it to everyone and carried around another book for the 2 days it took me to read it in case I ran into anyone I knew and had to whip out a book, I liked this book a good deal. In an interview with Ms. Beattie for the New York Times, Joyce Maynard said this:

"I can imagine a facile kind of writer doing a superficially serviceable imitation of an Ann Beattie story, including an ashtray and a certain sort of very spaced-out remark and a lovable dog and some wonderfully good meal or some fascinatingly terrible meal--and not succeeding at all."

Usually, when I read in a book review that something is "sharply observed," I think it means "includes correct cultural referents and defines a cliche with slightly better-than-average language." But no, this book is "sharply observed," and its plainspoken, rambly style really approximates the way people seamlessly incorporate thoughts about their loved ones with song lyrics with wondering how much cash they have in their wallets and if it's enough to buy dinner at the supermarket. Like that book The Ice Storm, [which I liked more than I thought I would when I read it (probably in about 2000, but hey)], this book talks about the "end of the '60s" explicitly, as a sort of dull switch from one set of objects (possessions, records, ideas) to another, less devastating but more boring one, and how utterly unsuccessful people were at making the necessary transition. It had problems--I realized that it's the first book I've read in a while by a female writer writing from a man's point of view, and most of the female characters are pretty one-dimensional--but many witty and sharp or just well-done bits. There is also something essentially wintry about this book, which put me in the proper frame of mind for the season, weather notwithstanding.


I am tired of Chinese/veganasian food with sweet sauce, which seemingly appears on my plate no matter what I order. All I want is a menu notation like the little chili pepper for "spicy" that is a little crumbling tooth for "sugary" to prevent these debacles. whine whine whine.

So I've recently seen the Kiki Smith exhibit at the Whitney and the Walton Ford and Ron Mueck exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum. Now, I know nothing about art, but I liked all of them pretty well.

Usually--and I realize this is a sort of runofthemill bouge opinion but whatever--I find "feminist art" sort of hit-you-on-the-head and lacking in nuance, but I thought K.S. worked in pretty regular themes more interestingly than others, in part because her art is sort of persistently creepy rather than relying on shock value. She and R.M. actually make a pretty good pairing because both have painstaking concern for the realities of human anatomy, and if you've ever thought about the uncanny valley, you should probably check them out.

RM is all about shock value; not jump-at-sudden-noise shock, but like, staring fixedly at a familiar face and realizing you don't understand how the features fit together to fit the face you know.

Walton Ford's art hits the same note repeatedly. He paints these enormous watercolors in the style of J.J. Audobon, packed with clues and allusions and stories and text re:globalization, colonialism, capitalism, etc. Seeing this many of his paintings was incredibly exhausting because each one of them has so many tiny details and bits of text and allusions and stories; in part, it's gimmicky, but the pictures are all so striking that it kind of works. This was a few too many to digest, though, and I was too sleepy and in need of salty Chinese food to concentrate on the "Magic in Ancient Egypt" exhibit.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

When we say ignorant we mean

Fulltime Killer d. Johnnie To and Ka-Fai Wai.

There is ignorant and there is ignorant, and there are movies that involve needless terrorizing of library patrons and characters motivated to their questionable actions by the Olympic Games. In this kind of movie, a typewriter that taps out the title in the opening scene reappears 20 minutes prior to the movie's end and no sooner do you think "ah, frame narrative," do you recall that at least three other people have at some point provided voice-overs, indicating confusion, incredible brains, or massive, delighted indifference on directors' part. Oh, Fulltime Killer, you redefine "gratuitous" with your sequences of electronic signals dashing across wires and circuits to indicate "someone sent an e-mail" and your ceaseless stream of references to other movies, made explicit by characters who have seen as many movies as we have, so that when the 2nd best assassin in Asia tries to teach his video-store clerk girlfriend to shoot a rifle she says "YES, I've seen Leon."
So, it is about 2 rival assassins, who, over the course of the movie, assassinate people all over Asia for inexplicable reasons--ok, save "excuse for sick action sequence"--on behalf of we don't actually know who. This sounds like a video game, you think: there's the woman you need to kill in a Singapore train station, a car-ful of henchmen you must shoot in a town square in Macao. THEN THE MOVIE goes there and TURNS ITSELF INTO A VIDEO GAME.

Based on a bunch of reviews I have read, this movie, which I couldn't have enjoyed more, is in fact kind of run-of-the-mill for HK action cinema, in which case I have a lot of research to do. If anyone has recommendations for further excursions into the genre (I've seen a lot of the big hits--John Woo, Tsui Hark, a bunch of J. Chan and M. Cheung vehicles) or wants to watch a bajillion uber-slick, over the top, stupid, stunningly choreographed shoot'emups with me, I'm down down down.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Half-Cocked (coming soon)

Today's crucial life question: What is it that compels people to tell other people about the fluids involved in their ailments? Surrounded by old folks at the library here, I feel besieged by mucus oneupsmanship.

But on to other matter. Although I've seen a heap of movies since last time (M*A*S*H*, no less caustic or funny than on any previous viewings; Polonsky's Force of Evil, with slightly off stylized dialogue and a stunning distance shot of John Garfield dashing down stairs under the GW Bridge, etc.), I'm going to write about a movie that is showing in about a month, on Feb 13, at Anthology Film Archives, Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky's Half-Cocked. The program says this about it:
"A fictionalized document of a certain time and place that manages to fuse an idealized, impressionistic snapshot of the era with the smelly, hungry, and desperate reality of the whole enterprise"

The "era" and in question are the mid-1990s in the midwest; the "enterprise" is an attempt by a bunch of youth with about $20 in their collective pocket to cure the malaise of the mid-1990s midwest by stealing a van full of band equipment and driving it around, forming a band called Truckstop and jumping on shows and trying not to just go home or grow up or get anywhere. The kids are played by members of the band Rodan, with Tara Jane O'Neil taking the "starring" role; other mid-'90s indie rock types, like Cynthia Nelson (Ruby Falls), Catherine Irwin (Freakwater), the Grifters, and--most spectacularly--Ian Svenonius, make appearances.

About the closest comparison I can make for you folks is to Old Joy, which is basically about the type of people featured in this movie ten years down the road, when they've decided either to settle down (but remain kinda 'edgy') or just sort of meander off, turning into self-defined 'freaks' or what the world would term "losers." The movies make a nice pairing stylistically, too; Half-Cocked, shot in b&w 16mm film, has some really nice shots that express the "hey, look, we're NOWHERE" vibe essential to the movie, but I remember it being edited kind of choppily, having sort of amateury bursts of pretension with genuine if heartfelt sloppiness(visually as well as in the dialogue). On the other hand, Old Joy's cinematography is consistently stunning (those through-the-windshield shots, wow), while still giving the impression of being totally d.i.y.

But this haphazardness makes Half-Cocked what it is: a near-perfect depiction of a specific place and attendant state of mind. One aspect of the movie I particularly enjoy that points to its aptness is Truckstop/Rodan's incredible excitement at the possibility of meeting or playing with the Grifters. I think I have heard about 1 Grifters e.p.; I have maybe met 1 person who cares about them. I remember, though, when I was a kid and just getting into "indie rock" via zines or this one e-zine (I was already at the end of this era) I used to read that reviewed EVERYTHING that people sent it, or whatever, that you'd get really excited about the most random shit, and I'd try and get my friends amped on it and it'd be a big thing for about three people. Whether or not the Grifters really were mid-90s indie rock stars (which they may have been; this whole scene has really receded into near-oblivion), I feel like that kind of very local excitement no longer exists in whatever "indie rock" is nowadays. There's no abstract, internet-dictated "cool" in the world of Half-Cocked, and in fact, the movie thinks cool is lame, as seen in the buffoonish character played by Mister Sassy Svenonious. What your friends think, play, or wear (check out how everyone in this movie has the WORST post-grunge fashion, as seen above) is what goes. I guess that's the "idealization" the caption author quoted above had in mind.

[Another thing about this movie: music like this, and the stuff on the standout soundtrack (which, as far as I know, is beloved primarily by my excellent roomie Ned, myself, and this girl Sam who used to dj on WBAR) does not exist anymore. Loud, discordant, crunchy but musically interesting, sort of post-Sonic Youth but entirely rocking shit--people don't do this, they just want to be "infectiously poppy" or play "sick heavy riffs" that are none of the above thx. The only band I've heard that captures the sound I mean from recent years is this band Reactionary 3 from Gainesville who play like Unwound meets the Minutemen meets a hint of uh, "hardcore" (iykwis).]

So, the vibe is wistful, both within the movie's world and on viewing it over a decade after its time as a document of a way of making music, being friends, and being a kid that doesn't really exist anymore. And the jams are great. I have the VHS (and soundtrack 2xlp, featuring the best Slant 6 song, "Time Expired") if you wanna pregame.

Postscript: It occurs to me that another movie captures the sort of troubled-yet-joyful aimlessness indie rock and documents thereof should, ideally, have: Friends Forever, a documentary about the eponymous band that played shows inside a van parked outside venues, as incredibly stoked as they are catastrophically awful.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I wanna know what love is

Today, I have two notes on consumer goods (it's been a while, right?).

Note 1: a paen to a certain drink

I grew up in a home that mail-orders premium tea; I vaguely remember trekking across a muddy field in free period of senior year of high school to the Dunkin' Donuts on Northfield Rd. in West Orange, NJ to drink some milky sweet styrofoam-contained business and feeling a little guilty about it. Then, sometime last year on my way home from the 146th St. post office at an unfortunate hour of the morning, I passed a Dunkin's, and said to myself, wait a sec. Since then, every month or two months--usually when I wake up woozy after a long night out or insufficient sleep and typically on my way to the 1 stop at Dyckman or JMZ at Myrtle--I do it up and get a MEDIUM SIZED HAZELNUT COFFEE BLACK WITH 2 SUGARS. Ideally, I would involve soymilk in this, but Dunkin' Donuts is for the working American, not the bouge, so forget that. This heavenly thing--categorizable more as consumable goods-food-cake than the drink I guzzle regularly that I call "coffee"--goes down in three stages. First: since it is boiled to a faretheewell, the initial third tastes only like hot while smelling like hazelnut flavoring. Then comes the warm phase, by which time you note the hazelnut chemicals taste kind of like sock, but we're cool, in anticipation of the glorious final stage, when you reach the sickeningly sweet, luke-ish bottom portion that hurts your teeth and warms your heart. There is really nothing like it for bringing yourself to some kind of clarity while people rattle open the security gates of their stores.

Part II: Or, can everyone do this with their things?

I thought about this the other day while talking to someone and then again while trying to remember what records I liked that came out this year (Dead Moon 2xcd best of, what!).

1) I remember all things (conversations, events, get-togethers, sightings, etc.) by recalling where they took place in precise detail (weather, building lobbies, nearby storefronts, pictures on walls of restaurants), almost to the point where I forget the action in favor of the uh, mise-en-scene.

2) In reading about animism in Totem and Taboo, I remembered how, when I was a kid, I believed firmly that everything possessed a spirit, or feeling, or something--not just dolls or stuffed animals or what have you; I sharpened my pencils evenly so one of them wouldn't feel hurt at being used less than the others. This vague, inexplicable, actually-crazy sense lasted for ages longer than it should have, probably encouraged by constantly being reminded to kiss my prayerbook and Bible when I dropped them, or else.

3)As, perhaps, some combination of these two things, I can tell you where I acquired everything I own. I thought at first this was unique to my records--I know which I got at Academy, which at Gimme Gimme, which at shows or from eBay stores in Maryland or from a message board kid who lives on the main road near where my best friend from elementary school lived in Finneytown in Cincinnati--but then I looked around me in my room, noting which eye doctor gave me my blue plastic glasses case, that it was winter when I got my polka-dot underwear, and that the cashier at Rite-Aid on the corner of 14th and 7th had mumbled something like "I need some of this" when I bought that bottle of nail polish remover there. What was it about things standing on their heads and evolving grotesque ideas from their wooden brains? The point is, I could not explain post-structuralism or FRBR or microfinancing or whatever to you, but I can recite a detailed history of the hoodie I'm wearing.

4) Corollary: if you ever say "where did you get THIS?" and I reply "oh, uh, I dunno...," I'm telling you a lie.

5) Can--or does--everyone do this with their possessions? Am I completely bananas? I guess this is why I "blog" about ignorant shit and not, like, what love is or is not, which is something I would in fact like to know.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Total movie overload, Holidays 06

I have watched so many movies, drunk so much coffee, and spent so much time with so many and varied people--really, just about everyone I know in the world, how nice and strange!--that absolutely everything has taken on this weird but readable profundity, no more so than when I was standing on the escalator of the Lincoln Square movie theater clad in this weird earthtones hippie ensemble wondering, in a fundamental sort of way "WHAT am i DOING?" so my thoughts on these movies are all ecstatic and confusing and such. I think I'll talk about all the Woody Allen movies I've seen once I've finished seeing them, but for now, here's some stuff I saw, backwards chronological order:

And Then There Were None(d. Rene Clair)--Somewhere in the category of "inexplicably wonderful things that should be terribly embarrassing," alongside "bands with theme songs or at least songs in which they say their own name" falls the subcategory of "movies in which characters directly address the camera while pretending to speak to other characters." This movie instantly wins points for using that tactic in an attempt to create suspense for its "hyperlegible"(-Ben) plot (Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians"). A droll, typecast bunch of Brit misfits compose the unlucky ten, chewing scenery and speaking in goofy accents in ways that will instantly win over anyone raised on, uh, Masterpiece Theater.

7 Men From Now (d. Budd Boetticher)--More than decent B-Western involves the perpetually widowed Randolph Scott once again hot on the trail of his wife's killers. Boetticher's "psychological" inclinations come in a few well-done if over-the-top scenes of sexual tension, one in which Lee Marvin attempts to seduce someone's wife in front of about 5 other people inside a covered wagon. Nice to finally see a Boetticher movie on a legit DVD!

Pan's Labyrinth (d. Guillermo del Toro)
Between an Agatha Christie movie, this dark fantasy about a little girl who may be the princess of a magic kingdom and her evil step-parent, the treasure-trove of books I found in my basement, and the amount of french fries and Indian food I ate, this past week basically represented the fulfillment of every wish of 10-year-old Talya. Side-notes aside, I did not expect great things from this movie (ala Children of Men, to be discussed below), but it delivered in truckloads. As Ethan and I discussed afterwards, most kids/fantasy-worlds affairs end up plunging entirely into the other world, abandoning real-world troubles entirely; if I recall correctly, even Dorothy's aunt and uncle end up moving to Oz lock stock & barrel by book 5 or so. Pan's Labyrinth entirely resists this tendency, keeping the miraculously terrifying fantasy business to an effective minimum. Moreover, as soon as you see little Ofelia's stepdad pistol-whip an innocent man to death, you realize that unlike, say, every Harry Potter movie til now, this movie has the potential to end up not-ok, keeping you rapt throughout.

Walkabout(d. Nicolas Roeg)
Having heard the plot of this movie summarized a million times before, despite knowing that it's a Nic Roeg movie, I had NO CONCEPT of how WEIRD it would be, like barely narrative, and like all the other humans seem to have spilled out of a David Lynch or uh, Ken Russell movie. Ana and I concur that if you want to teach a bunch of teenagers how to analyze film, this might be the best tool to use--every instant serves some obvious but not uninteresting symbolic purpose, it's about sex. It definitely took us both a second to come back from it after we left the theater.

Children of Men (d. Alfonso Cuaron)
Speaking of movies that demand a minute of recovery, I had to hug Hannah after I saw Children of Men to remind myself that we were back now and it was ok. Normally, letsgetignorant's taste in mainstream cinema runs more to Invincible than to arty type efforts. But holy shit. With only a few false notes (the gratuitous scene involving "Guernica," for one), several instants of crap dialogue, and some hit-you-on-the-head symbolism, this was generally an amazing, stomach-turning movie. My favorite part came near the end, when you notice a few drops of red at the top corner of the screen, as though blood had been spilled on the camera, and you realize the movie has shifted seamlessly into the vernacular of Iraqumentaries or BBC News footage and you believe it completely, and know that if the world did end, this is how it would look. Everything from the future-cars to the way the camera finds moments of beauty in the midst of the worst of times seems convincing. Also, I'll grant the heavy-handedness of the Christ symbolism, but the movie is so persuasive in depicting the futility of belief in such things that it almost undermines itself, no matter its own intentions.

The Shooting (d. Monte Hellman)
Who are we and where are we going? Does it matter?