Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Geoffrey Is The New Geoffrey

i. Some notes written after a trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on November 10, exactly three months after my move back to the city. [With commentary.]

I don’t know where my manic scribblings of every thought and sensation end and where my blog posts begin, but here’s some stuff.

I had a moment at the MIA when every piece of art suddenly seemed the same (in a good way), all of them become the same expression. [Which is what? Let us keep the void at bay… Let us celebrate the world when it is pretty and decorate it when it is ugly… We cannot help ourselves, we must do, do, do, and we love you… ???]

Too inspiring. Sometimes I’m bored at museums, but sometimes I’m overwhelmed and have to leave, to get away from beauty. [That last part is boringly similar to a monologue by Wes Bentley in American Beauty, and I should clarify now it wasn’t beauty I had to get away from, but the creative impulses of countless dead people, made equal by time!]

I liked:
-Clementine Hunter, again
-African masks, posts (these really make me want to do something!) – [Not to mention the figures, doors, etc.][And here I wanted to make some correlation between these things and the cover art for the new Kanye West album and its accompanying singles, but I’ll get into that later.*]

I’d call it [all the preceding observations] an epiphany, but I’m always eager to ascribe grand narratives to my life that I don’t have the patience to make real.

[Here’s where it gets really precious:]

This year is finally taking on some kind of shape. They always do in the end.

[Update: 11/12 – You have to go home again, to bookend an era when life was shapeless.]

Let me tell you about my neighborhood. (It takes at least 3 mos. to start to get a grip on these things, which is why I never quite understood my existence on Summit.)
-I’m wild about the stretch of 1st Ave bet. Lake and 24th. [Desolation row, Halloween-y.]
-N: Treehouse, NW: Cheapo, NE: Fetus, S: Roadrunner. Is this possible in the year 2010?! [I was referring here to the existence of four great record stores that can be walked to in under 30 minutes from my home. I remember when good record stores used to mean long journeys out of town.]

[Oh me.]

ii. Band names

I’ve always meant to keep a comprehensive list of my best ideas, but never have, so maybe I’ll make this a regular feature. Here are the first six:

Ambient Mauve
(From Frank O’Hara.)

Italic Fog
(From the amazing liner notes for
Deerhunter’s Cryptograms.
Who wrote those? Such great
poetry for an album that
deemphasizes lyrics.)

High Speed Dubbing
Tracing Paper
Plastic Sheets
(These four from my
childhood, the last only
symbolically. I once intended these
as titles for a short story cycle
chronicling my adolescence.)

iii. Music (all filler no killer edition)

Read what I wrote about new albums by Glasser, Belle & Sebastian and A Sunny Day In Glasgow, live performances by Teenage Fanclub, Deerhunter and Retribution Gospel Choir, and some other things I’ve liked in 2010.

It might also be worth noting (retrospectively) that Zoo Animal are perhaps the only galvanizing local band I’ve seen during my time in the Twin Cities, and (preliminarily) (full review soon) that Mavis Staples and her band put on the best live show I’ve seen all year.

I feel it would be a proper expression of my love for Atlas Sound to do a track-by-track review of the four-volume, 49-track Bedroom Databank. It’s a daunting task, but nothing compared to the feat of actually writing and recording the thing in a single autumn! I'll get to work.

*Well, not really. I’ll just say that I quite enjoy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as a pop album, and that’s the only way I really care to approach it, because (1) as far as great rap albums go it doesn’t seem to contain a whole lot of great rapping, and (2) I don’t find Kanye West’s foibles nearly as charming as those of other male artists who don’t understand women. So the best bits are the horns on “All of the Lights” and the screechy thing on “So Appalled” (a rouser and a downer, respectively), plus I really like the interlude to the former, as it sounds like a grasp in the dark for creative illumination, followed by the brilliant flash.

iv. Komix Roll-Kall (plus prose)

Awkward and Definition, the so-called high school chronicles of Ariel Schrag, written during the summers following her freshman and sophomore years, respectively, have got me wondering why I don’t often read the work of America’s youth. Answer: these are the rare books good enough to be published. They are an amazingly coherent vision of the world (as they can’t help but be, I suppose, being diaries), and one I understand: the world of cultural obsession (L7 and Juliette Lewis, primarily), gift-giving, smiling ugly people, sexual confusion, general confusion. Especially great is the way elements in the background “react” to the characters (e.g. Mom gives Ariel a bass guitar for her 16th birthday and is shown wearing a button with a musical note on it, all of her squandered dreams represented in that extra little splash of ink!), more and more as Schrag gains in confidence as an author, and one of many things that tells me she is a natural-born comics artist whose artfulness preceded her artistry.

The glorious color of Charles Burns’ X’ed Out ought to be advertised with the same pomposity as the early Technicolor triumphs. The style is partly borrowed from Herge, and at times the story seems like a response to the challenge of finding a convincing way to bring together the world of Tin Tin and the teenage psychodrama of Burns’ own Black Hole.

Joe Matt’s Fair Weather takes a character flaw (brattiness, greed, buttressed with fear) and magnifies it until every panel is subordinate to it, but the book isn’t full-tilt old-fashioned, because it maintains its skepticism of pat resolutions and lessons learned, in favor of delicious irony and the pleasures of slackerdom.

I’m also reading The Age of Innocence and wondering if May is being fairly portrayed, but I think I paid enough attention during my critical readings in Scorsese to know that she’s not, quite, and the author knows it.

v. I watch movies

Whit Stillman was sort of the Edith Wharton of the 1980s and 90s, and The Last Days of Disco is for now his final statement about the necessity of focusing on a power elite when attempting a sociological overview of a city and an era. You never get the feeling that Stillman is ignorant or na├»ve or narrow-minded, despite his subject matter, but then his elites are self-appointed, and neither rich nor powerful, so…

Hereafter takes place (unspectacularly) in the unspectacular spaces where most of us live: an adult cooking class where the middle-aged try to fill up their desperate evening hours, a book fair where Derek Jacobi (as himself!) gives a reading of Dickens. No place is off limits, and the movie’s inherent lack of drama is sort of touching.

I left Ousmane Sembene’s Guelwaar convinced only that it is a sin to waste food. The applause from the crowd at the Walker Art Center freaked me out, as if it was naively saying, Yes, your pursuit of self-sufficiency and denial of charity is noble, just look how well off we are! I know I was overreacting, but I had to get out of there, so I left before the Q&A session.

I don’t pretend that Danny Boyle shows the greatest tact in the way he presents all of the events in 127 Hours, but some critics, in their gross overreaction to his directing style, seem to be calling for a cold, deliberate staging of the action in a static frame. The premise is that we would then have a full sense of the man’s entrapment and the clicking down of the minutes, but I can think of no approach more foreign to the way the world is actually experienced by real people. Don’t you know how much our eyeballs move around in their sockets? How unmoored in time we truly are when we have access to memories and plans for the future? I sometimes get dizzy just sitting in this chair.

The Wrong Man, a.k.a. Guilty Of Being Poor, ponders the sanity of a world where our faces are synonymous with our identities. There’s a great dissolve from the wrong man to the guilty man late in the film, and shortly after they meet face to face: even while the wrong man shouts, “You ruined my wife’s life!” deep down he’s thinking, I’ve lived your life, your guilt is my own.

Speaking of poor people, the pathos of the Little Tramp, as played by a wealthy celebrity of the 20s and 30s, still astonishes me. Esp. the ending of City Lights, which is the “Don’t Worry Baby” of cinema (in a different key). I’d never noticed before that a big part of the ending’s greatness lies in the fact that, at first, an invisible shop window separates the two lovers, so that the flower girl’s words are as inaudible to the tramp as they are to us. This moment (total genius) transfers all of our emotional capacity to our eyes; when the truth is revealed to the girl’s seeing eyes, we are right there with her.

The best sequence in the otherwise baffling Kikujiro

reminded me of this…

I like this kind of frontal framing, usually best suited for four people.

vi. Final thoughts

If you’re embarrassed by what you’re buying, you can arrange the items on a grocery store conveyer belt to tell any story you like (the masters of this form have yet to emerge). Place that bar of soap on top of the 32 oz. bag of generic Frosted Flakes. (Very disorienting for the cashier.)

I wish I felt a great pressure to make beautiful things as gifts for the holidays. But I don’t, because I’m not known for that.

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