Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Red & The Brown

The most misleading picture I’ve ever taken.

As you continue to read this blog, please recognize what a simpleton I am, maybe more so now than ever before. Reading (b)log is not an evolution of thought, but a convoluted word game. And lately, like Algernonian Charlie in decline, I mostly respond to shapes and colors.

You know who else seems to be fascinated by shapes and colors? Michael Stipe. He’s so wowed by them that for every great R.E.M. album cover, there’s a bad one (Around The Sun…). Sometimes the cover art, even sub-par, resembles the music, or lays a film of line and color upon it. “Walk It Back,” which I used to think was the worst song on Collapse Into Now (filler in a way that even the “And Your Bird Can Sing”-style intentionally throwaway genius of “That Someone Is You” isn’t) and which I now recognize as probably the best, is that rare thing, a real sonic cathedral (not the kind often meant in rock writing, a combination of loudness and layering), full of bold, clean lines and warm colors.

Speaking of R.E.M., this is nice. The thesis is correct, so that my own, or anyone else’s, personal details would prove it equally correct.

I had a dream in which I came very close to line dancing with Michael Stipe to the song “Damaged Goods” at some kind of gay social event. I don’t know if that’s the method in which I’d prefer for it to happen, but any personal connection with Stipe would be the validation of my entire life.

A classic panel from The Far Side: A woman screaming in the shower as a tank crashes through the bathroom door. The caption: Psycho III. There are certainly movies as obvious as that in circulation right now, but they’re not these:

Healthy attitudes toward death: In Restless, deny it by getting as close to it as you possibly can; in Chris & Don: A Love Story, paint it, simply paint it.

Che, like Carlos, is that rare biopic that knows the ending doesn’t need to validate the entire film. These people are already dead, they don’t need to be resolved by narrative closure. Isn’t that what biopic means, to show life?

The violence of naming: My mind first started down that road while reading Another Country (something in the way Leona is named and introduced) and has been on it since, through Todd Haynes’ Poison to the perfectly titled Martha Marcy May Marlene (a movie that strips the glamour from the Manson family by bringing them to the present day and showing how vacuous and lifeless cult people are). A movie that takes the lead character’s first name for the title will generally be about how that person created himself or herself, especially if it’s a biopic. But a movie that triples the naming in its title will be about the various ways that person is controlled. Our overdetermined protagonist is very much without freedom, indeed.

With all of this in mind, what about J. Edgar? A title that denotes a self-made man? Sort of. A biopic that ends with validation, resolution, closure? Sort of. It’s a really great script by Dustin Lance Black, and ends up as much gay love story (Edgar & Clyde: A Love Story) as biopic, despite what the critics are saying about the movie not really touching Hoover’s homosexuality. The whole point of the ending, one of my favorites of the year, is the way Hoover’s professional and personal lives finally reach a sort of truce, after death, in a final act of supreme generosity. So there’s your validation of the life of Hoover, though the movie’s too smart for forgiveness, or any other biopic trapping.

Something in the mad, violent rush of Point Blank and its “many years later” resolution (the long awaited sigh of relief) made me consider the enticing possibility of a thriller that begins after the action, and serves as a commentary on the audience’s experience of a thriller. The characters would fill the role of the audience, as they try to account for the storyline (told only in their dialogue), make sense of all the frantic action that so lately swirled around them, let their bruises and cuts heal, etc. Basically, a “what the hell just happened?” movie, with the hell left out of it. Also noted: the inevitable American remake will inevitably get the bizarro police station all wrong, somehow make it too plausible or too implausible; Point Blank is another movie that actively destroys the medium shot, so prevalent are close-ups that any non-close-up has a weird unintended feeling of Coenesque irony or misanthropy to it.

Ebert says the remake of Footloose is “a movie without wit, soul or purpose.” I was able to divine its purpose pretty easily, though maybe it’s the same as that of the original and therefore irrelevant: presenting Southerners to a general American audience as a fairly enlightened bunch, retaining their weird ways and love of school bus racing even as they’re slowly changing their lexicon to include “vegan” and lose “fag” and beginning to recognize the need to separate church and state, but dad gum it (real dialogue), that’s easier said than done. When Ren McCormack finds out dancing is outlawed because certain townspeople consider it a sin, he says, “We’re talking about the law here, not heaven and hell!” But then he talks about heaven and hell in his rousing final speech, because, heck, it’s what they understand, let ‘em have it. This makes it sound like I hated the movie, but I didn’t, and found it to have a small amount of wit and a fair amount of soul.

Normally the interest of a movie like Summer Pasture, which records the daily lives of ordinary people, would be limited to audiences composed of ordinary people who aren’t the ordinary people of the film. But since the movie shows people who have never seen a movie, I guess that makes this a movie for all movie lovers.

I know In Time is great sci-fi, given how long I spent pondering all the unanswered questions about the world it creates. What would this world’s art be like? Would there be any art at all?

The Skin I Live In is sort of like a surgical conjoining of the two sides of Almodovar’s cinematic passion, i.e. man and woman. Some say it lacks passion, but it’s got the invisible passion of a man beholding art, beholding the plasticky paintings that will serve as inspiration for the poreless skin of Vera.

Take Shelter explores big themes (America! Man & Woman! Apocalypse! Paranoid Schizophrenia!) in a modest fashion (scratch those exclamation points, though maybe “apocalypse” deserves one). It’s so perfect, so simple, the way our protagonist’s symptoms are such a complete metaphor for his illness. And the wife comes to know it! (vague spoilers) The movie starts off in the Breaking Bad / Mad Men mode of much of today’s great American drama (a man who won’t confess to the logic behind his strange behavior, and yet we’re meant to forgive his concealment but not his wife’s attendant worry and questioning) but ends in a place where she knows him better than he knows himself, holds the key to his recovery (I’d say literally, but not quite), and retrieves him into a feeling, however fleeting, that his American life might endure. The final sequence is another dream, of course, but its placement forces us to take his apocalyptic visions more seriously than we otherwise would. And it also suggests something has changed, or shifted: he looks to his wife for a nod of acknowledgment (she’s on his side) and then he’s the one who calls her inside (he’s back in control).

I watched the entire Nightmare On Elm Street series and have quite a bit of admiration for it as a whole. The most interesting patterns I noticed: the way the movies avoid the routine of sex plus slashing by maintaining an awareness of their own fascination with teen sexuality, even allowing for an explicitly gay entry (“[Krueger] lives on your fear,” “what’s wrong with Jesse?” and other telling lines in part two); the beyond hideous finales (especially parts four and five), grotesque successions of bile and brown latex tableaus, to Christian iconography what the cover of Born This Way is to shock art.

Gay short film compilations are an emergent Netflix priority. Last time I shared Tumbleweed Town, and this time I’d love to share the romance-via-backwash, peeing-in-nature greatness of a short called Soda Pop, if I could. There’s great untapped narrative potential in soda, no doubt unrealized because writers and artists are under the mass delusion that cigarettes and coffee give pleasure.

Agenda: Did you know Altman made a gay-themed movie? And Dreyer? My full report next time, I hope.

Commencing the year-end list making.

Cream of the Crop*
(*pop crap)

1. Lady Gaga, “Marry The Night”
2. Britney Spears, “How I Roll”
3. Katy Perry, “Last Friday Night”
4. Jennifer Lopez, “On The Floor”
5. Ke$ha, “We R Who We R”

Slumberland’s Banner Year
(of Banner Years)

1. Devon Williams, Euphoria
2. Big Troubles, Romantic Comedy – released, I believe, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of GBV’s Isolation Drills and Pernice Brothers’ The World Won’t End, it’s nearly as melodically memorable as those, and as Days (by current tourmates Real Estate), which is an album about the idea of an album like this one.
3. Veronica Falls, s/t
4. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Belong
5. Crystal Stilts, In Love With Oblivion
6. Weekend, Red EP
7. Girls Names, Dead To Me
8. Brilliant Colors, Again And Again

Parallax, continued (from)

I first heard the album during a moment of mid-morning silent comedy, as my loved one made amusing soundless gestures (thus reigniting my childhood ponderings about how to tell when music is “comedy” and when it’s “drama,” intentionally humorous music being of course relegated to an altogether different category, “novelty”), and a certain lightness in the music made me believe it was created at a similar moment in the author’s life. I started to consider the possibility that Cox and Patrick Wolf had created their own versions of the same album this year, Wolf’s Lupercalia being a seemingly irrevocable concession to true love. Then Cox described Parallax as the loneliest album he’s ever made, and I discovered the evidence upon further listens. But true love can be lonely, so maybe I wasn’t entirely wrong.

Also noted: Cox’s esses have a very distinctive sibilance.

He’s been killing it in these interviews, indeed. My favorite parts from the Pitchfork one:

On his connection to Jay Reatard: We share that anger. Punk. It manifests itself in many ways, and for him it was just there like a neon strobe light. And now it’s not there anymore … I need punk rock. It’s the medicine for me, but it’s bitter and sickening. I feel like if you don’t need it—if you’re happy and healthy—run toward that.

[Not-so-radical honesty: It’s true, but I’ve never wanted to admit it. I don’t need punk rock anymore, except as it helps me maintain a connection to my youth. I’m happy if not entirely healthy, but for my criminally vulgar shyness, any kind of music is as good a balm as any other, so long as it provides the deficient, in real life, human connection. Anyway, I have to sometimes remind myself all of that when in the presence of great music like what’s found on Parallax, otherwise I continue with my miserable, mean aspiration to the art of unhappy, unhealthy people.]

I’m not independent. I’m co-dependent. “Codie rock”—co-dependent rock.

I walk around the neighborhoods and the record stores here in Atlanta, and I just don’t feel like a hotshot—like, “Hey man, I just got back from Japan, high five.” I feel like a nobody, and that’s cool. That’s why I live here and not in New York. I tried that, and it’s just not me.

[Yeah, what’s the deal with people living in New York?]

When money and fame happen too late, it’s like pouring kerosene over a fire of self-loathing.

I have really low self-esteem, and it’s not easy for me to put myself on an album cover like that. My friends give me a hard time about it, but they don’t get it, and I don’t give a flying fuck what they think of it. Nobody else I know is willing to put themselves out there like that right now.

[I suspected as much about the recent album covers. I always come back to the idea that the best music is made by people who need music to live, and then I feel ashamed for listening to and enjoying fashion music.]

When young groups put out albums, they’re always forced to go through this cycle of touring and talking and flaunting and posturing and peacocking. Nobody makes me do that anymore. They’re just like, “Oh, it’s fucking weird-ass Bradford, let him lay in bed reading H.P. Lovecraft for two months and he’ll have a new album.”

I’d call him Dylan, today’s great rock personality, our mythic man of art, if he wasn’t so relatable: his public persona doesn’t seem like a willful creation or a defensive reaction to fame. Here’s one musical figure, if figure is even the word, I don’t need Todd Haynes to help me understand.

p.s. Sorry I never did my Bedroom Databank track-by-track review, I’d still kind of like to.

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