Rewind, Passaic

August 19, 2007

Jack Black as Robocop in Be Kind, Rewind

from Worst Preview’s Be Kind, Rewind image gallery

Michel Gondry is fast at work on editing his next rêverie-opus, Be Kind, Rewind. The principal filming is done & the trailer is out, and I am currently eager:with reservations for this one. Eternal Sunshine absolutely captivated me, perhaps the only mainstream film worthy of multiple trips to the big screen in the past four years. (Bong Joon-ho’s indie enviro-monster movie Gwoemul, or The Host, also got me out of the house more than once) I for one felt sucker-punched by the hypnagogic portal into Joel and Clementine’s relationship, buffeted roughly by the raw emotion and kernels of truth in Joel’s awakening. That film (and Gondry’s Director Series DVD) earned him a few trips to the theater on faith alone.

Be Kind, Rewind has something to do with recreating scenes from successful films of the past (In the trailer you see Robocop, Back to the Future, Driving Miss Daisy and Ghostbusters & others) after a freak accident erases a rental store’s VHS tapes. Could be purely indulgent, like listening to Huey Lewis’ Sports album on vinyl; or perhaps indulgent (as the trailer suggests) as piss-take on copyright and bloated budgets; or, due to an extra-national pandemic delusion, it could inspire cultural catharsis, jump-starting our unchecked descent into knee-jerk retro-fetishism of the third kind. We could certainly use a social catalyst, but more than likely, with Jack Black, Mos Def and Danny Glover on board it’ll probably be enchanting & frustrating on mindless, sub-Science of Sleep level.

The kicker for me is that he filmed it in Passaic, New Jersey, hardly a stone’s throw from my home town! Is it possible that Gondry married the poetic documentary moments of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party with his dream fiction? I heard about it after my last visit to Jersey, and by the time I made it back the set had closed shop. Damn, I want to meet Gondry. I am certain that my visual sense and playful, unhinged nature would thoroughly complement whatever task he needed help with… I keep meaning to send him a print of one of my collages but my daily bubble of habits always get in the way. Or perhaps our kinship is a classical gnostic syzygy, potentially doomed by a non-synchronous flux over aeons.

Syzygy No. 32

Somebody already did all the work for me and compiled a fairly large collection of interviews with Michel Gondry. Thank you SiouxWIRE! After reading four interview for possible inclusion in this post, trying to choose one seemed utterly daft. Gondry always appears to summon a modicum of verbal anarchy wherever he goes, which if you’ve seen his music videos or especially the autobiographical I’ve Been 12 Forever film, you know what I mean. If you have a choice, audio/video is the way to go.

If Be Kind, Rewind is a bit daft, at least there are numerous other upcoming films to get excited about. the art of memory’s 26 July 2007 blog post about No Country For Old Men lists more than a few that I agree with. But for pure popcorn and Internet-savvy, the trailer and viral marketing for 1-18-08 has certainly piqued my interest. I’ve never even seen an episode of Lost or MI:III or other Abrams project, but at least until more of substance is released I’ll be paying attention. If you missed the trailer, here it is:

p.s. Only three more days until Summer session 2 is over!

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Authors at the Anvil

July 19, 2007

As printing continues its lateral swing into a parallel digital existence, a number of high profile writers are worriedly tracing the demise of traditional book reviews. I’m talking about either the reduction of book review sections in newspapers and magazines or the section’s wholesale removal. Haven’t heard about it? You can check out Motoko Rich’s article Are Book Reviewers Out of Print? from the New York Times, David Kipen’s Last exit to book land for Salon, or Josh Getlin’s Battle of the Book Reviews for the Los Angeles Times. These are the most talked and blogged about pieces but hardly the only ones lamenting the continued prominence of online book discussion and commentary.

There are a fair number of influencing factors, though personally I wonder how much corporate media homogenization is to blame, for both promoting a watered-down focus on potential best sellers coupled with the loss of newspaper jobs for community level writers with a feel for what’s of local interest. By and large, book review blogs have no investment in the traditional publishing mainstream (Harry Potter aside), which only aggravates ingrained publishing models. Those in online communities who are discovering a home for their particular interests are people who are peeling off heavy layers of clothing after a long, cold winter of lowest-common denominator hit-making; their enthusiasm is blossoming anew in direct sunlight, and in England at least people are actually reading more.

Perhaps the shift to book review blogging reflects a freedom to express one’s opinion, immediately and publicly, a potent and liberating phenomenon available to more people than ever before. All things in balance, as it were. The passive nature of consumption encouraged by contemporary corporate and marketing interests could not last. I think the fear over a loss of concentrated outlets for book reviews is misplaced. To me it is akin to the shift from sumptuous full page comic illustrative art in turn-of-the-century newspapers to the maniacally diminutive spaces allotted comic artists from the sixties onward. (Just read the introductory essays by Bill Watterson, of Calvin and Hobbes fame, to his collected works, especially the ones from his Tenth Anniversary Book, for a detailed insider’s view)

Comic art subsequently bought a new home, and morphed into an enormous canon of illustrated novels, graphic novels, zines, poster art and comic book collections. In fact, the web has made the daily publication of comics as accessible as it ever was in the golden age of newspapers, with no need to alter format or inspiration to accommodate for limited space.

Recently I have come across several wonderful resources, blogs and links for web authors & book reviewers which demonstrate some of the beauty of just one small flowering digital community. Certainly there are the high-profile sites such as Syntax of Things, Bookslut, Book Lust, SmallPress Blog, et al, but I want to encourage you to look at some of the smaller contenders.

One of the best things about blogs is the ever-present blogroll, often found on either side of the main body of content. Often I can spend hours just trolling the links, finding spectacular diamonds buried deep, outside of my normal but limited online feeds & habits. I can remember, back in the days of FTP and BBSs, the difficulty of searching for content without prior knowledge. Much more insular, and in its own way much more fringe and exciting, since effectively knowledge meant membership in a subterranean society, but limited for those very same reasons. Damn, I loved being part of it back in the day. Yet what we have today is so much more lastingly rewarding, since with more participation and content naturally emerges an explosion of diversity and representation, meaning more likelihood of discovering something of direct interest no matter how focused or specialized the interest is. What I’m trying to say the long way round is: embrace & respect the blogroll.

Alright, here are some review sites —

LotusReads is my favorite recent find, a serendipitous click from an unrelated search. She is a Canadian book-fiend who is, since May 2005, writing passionate and personal reviews of contemporary literature and who has an extensive & very useful blogroll. Among the personal review blogs she has a nice section on literary havens that links to useful networks for writers of every stripe.

Lost in Translation is the blog of a South African reader living in England, who, since February 2006, has been writing about older and contemporary African literature. The post from Monday, November 20 2006 is a mini education for me; out of 14 African authors I only recognize 2, and that’s after being a voracious book-selling reader, with a penchant for reading publisher catalogs, for about 10 years.

Books For Breakfast Books For Dinner might be your poison if you want to read ” A blog about books. And cocktails. Because nothing is more literary than alcoholism.” Kristin Dodge read 150 books last year, and this year aims to “tackle Time’s Top 100, ALA’s Top 100, the top 10 books that are banned in 2006/2007, and 5 books about different religions.” Avoid her blog only if you don’t want to be an enabler. (Incidentally her blog is also rated G, as mine was a few weeks ago, even with a reference to marijuana milkshakes. Go figure.)

And then there’s Giornale Nuovo… mr. h’s exploration of arcane and decadently illustrated nooks in the bibliophiles’ world is dizzying, with a blogroll that is teetering on the razor’s edge of gnostic revelation.

Desarrollo de Yi Ching by Xul Solar; tempera on paper, 1953 (borrowed from Giornale Nuovo, April 30 2007)

So hopefully this is a good starting point for exploration, and I guarantee that each site could whittle away hours of time that you thought you couldn’t spare.

A counterpart to all of these artful miniatures in blog form is the desire to create and participate. So I will end by letting you in on a little secret of mine, Matt Huggin’s 55 Essential Articles Every Serious Blogger Should Read. With articles grouped under categories such as Building Meaningful Content, Increasing Traffic & Retaining Readers, and Building a Community there is certainly something for everyone, from the anxious neophyte to the seasoned know-it-all. (His links focus a little too often on the economic benefits of blogging for my tastes, but I provide the link anyhow, out of recognition that pairing with advertisers and businesses is a concern of many bloggers out there) I don’t know about you, but I definitely have come across too many blogs that haven’t read John Chow’s 10 Blogging Mistakes to Avoid, who, with a little dedication and consideration, could Bring [Their] A-game to Write for Blogs.

Please, mourners of the book review, it isn’t quite time to build an ossuary of manuscripts. An historical genealogy of media have demonstrated a wily tenacity and capacity for transformation of form without losing even a gram of soul in translation. So my advice is either back off, or throw your hat in the ring.

p.s.

Please don’t try to reach me at home tomorrow night, I’ll be reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


Luxury to Read

July 14, 2007

Flying can be nerve-wracking for someone like me who doesn’t really like to fly. I think it’s being so far from the ground, rather than any nausea or fear of aeroplane safety, that rubs grit into the animal fear center of my brain as assiduously as a penitent with a worry stone. There are more geometries to be worried about in a plane, as opposed to an earth-bound accident. Irrational, I know, but persuasive.

A great pleasure of flying for me though is reading. Being forced to inhabit isolated pockets of time like that, where my normal penumbral distractions and responsibilities have no power, can be such a godsend. There is a wonderful little story by Isaac Asimov that I read when I was 16 or so which explains a bit of the pleasure of such isolated pockets of time. It’s part of his short story collection Azazel.

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Azazel is a loosely connected cycle of stories based around the eponymous Biblical Demon, a mischievous little imp who grants the spoken and unspoken wishes of a gentleman named George. All of these wishes are taken quite literally, and predictably all of George’s best laid plans go awry. Unfortunately I cannot remember the title of the story I am reminded of, but the gist is this:

George’s writer friend complains to him that he is sick of waiting everywhere he goes, sick of the grocery store lines, sick of waiting for a table at restaurants, sick of waiting for taxi cabs, just altogether sick of the modest inefficiencies in his daily life. Azazel hears this complaint, and without George’s explicit request to do so, Azazel corrects the writer friend’s problem without delay.

George doesn’t run into his friend for a little while, but when he finally does the writer seems haggard, aggrieved and generally depressed. Unbeknownst to the writer, he needed those isolated pockets of time to daydream, create and process his ideas for which he has no time anymore to conceive of or hash out. He is miserable because of his lack of self-awareness; he is consumed by a pernicious bout of writer’s block since he did not comprehend the precise value of his time.

The perfect little story to read when you’re 16 and full of beans, asea in the chemical wash that besets us all after puberty. Something stuck with me, and made me a little more patient and sensitive to bubbles of frustration that might afflict me from time to time. The older I get this is easier to forget, especially now that I am in graduate school and drink espresso most every day. I do not want to be like an old boss of mine from the now-defunct Child World (or, Children’s Palace) chain, whom a fellow manager once described memorably as a “guy who takes red lights as a personal offense.”

I mentioned in an earlier post about Haruki Murakami that I hadn’t yet read his new novel, After Dark, and on my flight over to Seattle I finally had the time to invest; I finished it while still in the air, actually. It’s a modest little thing, more like a novella than anything else, but unfortunately I think it would’ve worked better as a short story…

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After Dark (Afutādāku), Haruki Murakami transated by Jay Rubin ©2007 (originally 2004) Alfred A. Knopf

Many of the best artists seem so original because they have a peculiar world-view that seems so alien but in which we can recognize ourselves, or the contours of our world. Murakami very often mines this terrain by kneading our recognition into a pulsing silhouette of memory and nostalgia, calling forth tendrils of recognition from a deeply submerged mental seabed of symbols, much like Dali, Jung, Borges and Buñuel. Unfortunately, for many artists and thinkers who inhabit these spaces for too long, their initial insight becomes a locked groove, cycling endlessly over that same grainy inch of inspiration, and what they represented so powerfully at first becomes an aenemic cliché teetering on the edge of parody.

Murakami has flirted with this in several of his works, alternatively successfully (as in A Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) and disappointingly (Sputnik Sweetheart, anyone?). After Dark is nearly a failure, but there is enough tweaking of his formula to keep it interesting for a time. His central conceit is that there are two worlds which inhabit us all, and it is the struggle to maintain a distinct separation between the two that fuels the emotional psychology of his characters. He is like David Lynch in this respect; each of them repeatedly returns to either the idea of the doppelgänger or of the homunculus, and each has an overwhelming need to make this separation explicit. For Lynch, it can appear as corporeal agents who freely traverse both worlds, or in the case of Twin Peaks it is the Black and White lodges. For Murakami, it is a rift in a person’s consciousness, a mysterious disappearance or a physical twin. No matter how firm our identification with a sense of reality, there is an equally tenable alternate reality holding scissors to our worryingly thin umbilical thread.

In After Dark the doppelgänger twins are sisters, Eri and Mari. Eri is a hopelessly beautiful model who is condemned to a self-imposed somnolescence throughout the entire book. Mari is her younger sister, and the essential heart of the work. Mari is an insomniac most nights since her sister’s several month-long exile of sleep began, unaware that she is searching for her sister somewhere in the shadowy nether regions of the night. The period after midnight is predictably depicted as an entry-point to alternative worlds, where Mari is beset with trials and nudging revelatory episodes in roughly the same manner as Kubrick’s Bill Hartford during his waking nightmare in Eyes Wide Shut.

The chapters alternate between the metaphoric malaise of each sister, and what is so alienating is that Murakami seems to be slumming it. The symbols do not carry their weight and feel forced upon the story rather than comfortably paired with it. A Videodrome-esque force powers an unplugged television, at one point capturing Eri for a time in a cavernous office space occupied by a plastic masked & chair-bound stranger, indistinctly flickering between two worlds, which is threatening but too obscure to really haunt. Murakami’s characters feel roughly sketched, which can serve as a concise metaphor in a developed shorter work but is often not compelling in a longer story,especially where emotional states represent a psychological twilight.

Film Still from Alphaville by Jean-Luc Goddard

Perhaps the strangest part is his narration, in which the observer/reader is supposed to be a camera-eye, somewhat in the tradition of Dziga Vertov’s documentary style conception but likely just a literalization of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, a continued reference point for the story. I don’t know if you’ve seen Alphaville, which is a great sci-fi noir from 1965 sans sci-fi special effects, but it is an accurate symbolic kernel for Murakami to re-imagine. In the dystopian future of Alphaville, private eye Lemmy Caution must navigate a dangerous technocratic dictatorship run by the sentient Alpha 60 mainframe. Alpha-60 has outlawed illogical constructs such as love, poetry and emotion, replacing them with an ideation of logical science and, by extension, Nazism and fascism. The film continually quotes bits from Jorge Luis Borges, in particular “A New Refutation of Time,” which provides the resolution in Caution’s final confrontation with Alpha-60. (I cannot recommend Labyrinths by Borges highly enough, the source of the original Refutation essay)

Murakami’s vaguely noir narrator is intrusive and ingratiating in a strange way, continually appealing to our TV-moderated visual sense while cheapening the motif of electrically charged menace. I’m not a fan of narration which disrupts the flow of a story unless it is absolutely crucial to communicating the symbolic resonance of a story. Far more often than not narration is a substitute for substance, masking holes in the narrative or simplifying the process of revelation central to a well-crafted narrative. Worse, they try to artificially involve you in the story without making the effort to convey the emotional weight naturally. (I am thinking of Tom Robbins’ 2nd-person narrative misfire Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas in particular) I just wonder why he chose to use a narrator who speaks directly to the readers, and it never became clear to me unless he is writing with an eye toward the eventual cinematic treatment…

Like Lynch before him, who nowadays is endlessly recycling symbolic content in an accelerating circle of fragmentary polarization, Murakami is at risk of seeming like a one-trick pony if he doesn’t ease up on using and abusing his highly personalized semiotic universe. Perhaps he needs to slow down, and appreciate any opportunities for any restful isolated pockets of time. My advice to you then is to read his earlier works first, and though After Dark isn’t as bad as Sputnik Sweetheart it is not essential, more of a holding pattern than a fully realized narrative. For me it just deepened my admiration for the numerous brilliant works he has already so effortlessly created.


A Call for Everything

July 11, 2007

I forgot to highlight this in my book review, but I wanted to let everyone know about an intriguing opportunity for writers out there. I came across this in Boing Boing originally, so forgive me if you’ve seen it already.

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Monochrom is an intriguing looking journal that has put out a call for submissions. They are “an art-technology-philosophy group having its seat in Vienna and Zeta Draconis. monochrom is an unpeculiar mixture of proto-aesthetic fringe work, pop attitude, subcultural science, context hacking and political activism. Our mission is conducted everywhere, but first and foremost in culture-archeological digs into the seats (and pockets) of ideology and entertainment. monochrom has existed in this (and almost every other) form since 1993.”

What they are looking for is reviews on any subject at all. What kind of subject? Well…

There is no maximum or minimum length for articles or essays. There is no general topic whatsoever. You write about things you find interesting. Or boring. Your text could be about radical constructivism. Or fish and chips. Or hacking your toilet. Or blowing up Mercury. Or HTML. Or Mormon theology and Battlestar Galactica. You’ll find your topic!

A big section of the publication will be dedicated to reviews. And we review everything. Want to review a certain medieval war? Or arctic sea protozoans? Laws of nature? Climate zones? Ways to die? Lava streams? Spam headers? Demonstrations? Sumerian gods? Neon feelings? A crisis? The different types of snow in Stephen King novels? Book shelves in porn movies? Kosher hot dogs? Axiology? Sperm? Johann Sebastian Bach? German officers in American movies who shout “Schweinerei”? Russian oil pumps? Calvinistic prayers? Trash cans in Kansas and/or Lithuania?…The Northwest as an ontological entity? Perfect! Go on!

Pretty much anything, as you can see. Check out the Call For Everything page to see how to send in your creative works. The deadline is September 15th. I’ve never heard of them before, but I like their everything-and-the-kitchen-sink spirit. If you submit anything, be sure to let me know about it. Good luck!


Dangerously Close to the Highway with Ralph Steadman

July 11, 2007

I was reading a bit of Herzog on Herzog recently,which is part of the wonderful “directors on directors” series wherein filmmakers talk to themselves about their careers. Or rather, someone interviews the director and then stitches together a savvy retrospective of their work. I really like the David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Terry Gilliam editions, but there are quite a few others I haven‘t read.

Anyhow, in the Herzog one I came across this quote from his bête noire Klaus Kinski:

Herzog is a miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, cowardly creep…he should be thrown alive to the crocodiles! An anaconda should strangle him slowly! A poisonous spider should sting him and paralyze his lungs! The most venomous serpent should bite him and make his brain explode! No panther claws should rip open his throat–that would be much too good for him! Huge red ants should p— into his lying eyes and gobble up his b—- and his guts! He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It’s no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts me.

Nobody is going to buy the book if I say nice things about you, Werner.

Certainly his comments were partly tongue in cheek, but then he and Herzog mythically had a habit of drawing guns on one another during the filming of their movies together. Herzog even directed a movie about his relationship with Kinski, My Best Fiend, but Herzog does seem a bit imbalanced himself…

Kinski’s quote reminded me of a review I had written some years ago which I would like to share with you. It seems fitting since Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson had a similarly tumultuous relationship, which is well represented by Thompson’s letter to Steadman from the intro to The Curse of Lono.

So here’s my book review, I hope you enjoy:

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DooDaaa: The Balletic Art of Gavin Twinge, a Triography by Ralph Steadman & Gavin Twinge (pronounced “Twarnge”) Bloomsbury, HC $29.95

It’s useless to imagine what might be that hasn’t been…senseless. A pointillist lost in a cubist’s nightmare. Hundreds of stacks of newspapers printed anemically with soy-based inks, quietly dissolving into late-night television pixels. History is like this, but we describe it generationally. So-and-so, his great-grandmother, she worked in hospice, she scrubbed floors, she rubbed elbows through hospital muumuus with Emma Goldman, learned about the newest cures for hysteria from her, she later worked as a producer on some early films. Never met Valentino, one of her greatest regrets.

By describe I mean an arc, the history we know, factually dictated in alphabetic ideograms we come to understand, as Noam Chomsky would have us believe, because we are literally hardwired to understand the printed word. The Japanese put out bowls of rice for the dead (rice of which the dead only consume the vaporous essence as it cools, withers, and hardens, that is them consuming it), and sail little ships, hundreds, a candle in each, incandescent and ephemeral, in appreciation of/out of respect for/representing the soul of/communicating with/and entertaining the dead.

History dissolves like this, leaving traces like calcified rice, obscurely consumed. Recognizable, but altogether different, less functional. Just different; it’s important to consider these differences. We read history and see the life, so, so vibrant once, all the more unreal for how much we resemble it. We see this history though a mirror which hangs askew on the wall, wrapped tightly in a diaphanous cloth, to prevent clarity (to prevent ghosts), we peek voyeuristically through the wrapped mirror’s chinks. We fear the present, this moment; we want to know how to keep it from harboring the dangers already past, sins of the past, mistakes from the past.

Gavin Twinge is one such mistake. He is a huge stain, like a monstrous limned meniscus, fading like a Cheshire grin. An intractable spirit best forgotten. He is barely a drop from the calligrapher’s quill on an ancient five-paneled screen. Barely a stroke of midnight in a futurist landscape, or the spoke of a futurist bicycle; rigorous metal girders holding aloft blue collar souls like so many petrified diamonds, stories buried deeper in the earth than the mines of Moria. Buried for our protection. To free him is to free a mutagenic viral infection, or to loosen the chastity belt society tightened on our animalistic prepubescent consciousness.

Gavin Twinge is inaccessible, an aggrandizing megalomaniac with a silver spoon in his mouth and a knife to the art critic’s throat babbling incoherently about flart and Vera and endless vintages of wine he’s quaffed in pursuit of his art’s luscious ass.

Read DooDaaa at your own risk, I tell you. For your own sake, please, do not read DooDaaa. You’ll wake up drunk, in a gutter on the side of the road, dangerously close to the highway, and you’ll have no idea where you left your car.

There were no polite ways of maintaining the status quo any more than there was a polite way to slit a hanging pig’s throat.” –Gavin

 


Curse of Lono by Ralph Steadman

I only tell you these things because I love you, Ralph.