Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Link by Link

Please note the new links: Free Music Archive (Free legal music downloads; I like Double Helix) and And Now The Screaming Starts (Horror thinkpieces, and some amusing videos).

Horror

California just turned into Utah.

And Dick "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction" Cheney seems to be enjoying a resurgence.

It's interesting, though, that these two areas in which Cons are finding traction are both related to fear and/or loathing.

Lefty that I am, I think an intellectually and morally vibrant Conservatism is important to our country, so I'm not rooting for Conservatism to go down this fear and loathing road. I sure hope they've got some more positive stuff on the shelf! Let's check in at The American Spectator, a Conservative periodical.

A fellow named Robert Stacy McCain writes:

"Any time a liberal starts jumping up and down and yelling about a "scandal" affecting a conservative, remember this reply: 'Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment.'"

Chappaquiddick jokes. In 2009. That's the way forward, folks.

(Admittedly I'm going for a straw man instead of, say, closely reading rebuildtheparty.com. I wish Cons well, but by "well" I mean that they become positive players in the future, not power players for negativity and fear.)

* * *

Speaking of Cheney, I saw a horror movie the other night called Wendigo. It's the kind of thing I wish Tobe Hooper was doing; a blend of artfulness and grittiness. It's not flawless; there's a bit in which a wise Indian gives the child protagonist some Ancient Indian Wisdom, which is okay except Only The Boy Can See The Indian. That's a bit of unnecessary musty tweeness. And the film relies a bit too much on our being scared of hunters because they're hunters, and hunters are assumed to be inherently scary. I'm not a hunter myself, but I've known many, many hunters, and they're not scary per se. Maybe Director Fessenden finds them disturbing, but he doesn't sell me on his story's hunters being all that sinister at the outset. Compare to Texas Chainsaw, which DOES sell me on hillbillies being scary, despite my hillbilly-rich background. I know hillbillies are only scary on a case-by-case basis, but these movie hillbillies are specifically scary.

Other than these quibbles, the movie's dope. Lovely camerawork, and the married couple at the center of the film seem really authentic and closely observed. The expressionistic and blatantly artificial spook-show ending put some critics (like Ebert) off, but I like expressionistic, low-fi, stagecrafty artifice in fantasy films.

Anyhow, one thing I've been interested in lately is the way good horror movies, even supernatural ones, often bring the horror back to humanity. In Wendigo the Wendigo isn't the Big Bad: it's the Spirit World's Sword of Justice, coming to get the Big Bad, who's just a mean hick. In Zombie movies, like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the Zombies are the initial problem, but the deeper problems are caused by humans disagreeing and squabbling for survival in the face of the zombie problem. In Hellraiser the supernatural monsters are only a deadly Deus Ex Machina, and the transformed human Frank is the main villain. In Alien, The Company, which puts profit ahead of human life, is a more contemptible villain than the deadly alien itself. Even in my beloved Texas Chainsaw Massacre there's a variation on this theme, as Sally flees from the crazed hillbilly killer to the comforting arms of the nice man at the barbeque place... only to find that he's part of the same Sawney Beane-style clan.

I'm pretty bad at plot analysis, but after a while even I get it: there's no problem so terrible that one's fellow human beings can't make it worse. In counterpoint, each of these films includes fellow humans who provide aid and comfort to the good guys/gals, so these aren't nihilistic misanthropic stories. I don't have any finer-grained insights, but the insights horror films offer into problems like Iraq and Afghanistan continue to intrigue me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Theory into practice

Ten minutes after publishing my last post (and believe me, the posted version is a model of restraint compared to the earlier drafts) I stepped outside to find my cat toying with a crippled bird. No points for guessing who crippled the bird. I grabbed a shovel and reluctantly but definitively killed the fluttering creature. The cat yowled at me, either because he mistook my violence for cruelty or because he was miffed about my spoiling his fun.

Ghoulish Gerlach

Edit: In the wake of the latest case of an abortion doctor being killed by a derange-o whose actions may have been fueled by overwrought self-righteous rhetoric, I would like to point out that any apparent wishing of violence upon specific individuals in any of my blogposts is simply an exercise in expressing negative feelings through fantasy, not a sincere wish for violence. Don't hurt people. Thank you.

In a recent (Thursday, May 21, 2009) letter to The Wall Street Journal (to which Laurie subscribes) there are several letters about an article on animal rights activists... not the car burning kind, the sober kind. A math professor at Ohio State University with the regrettable name of Ulrich Gerlach writes in to say:

"Your report makes repeated reference to "animal rights"... The supposition that animals (i.e. nonhumans) have "rights" is a contradiction in terms. A "right" is a moral principle that sanctions one's freedom of action in a social context. The concept of a "right" presupposes the existence of reason and volition, and the capacity to govern one's actions by means of moral principles. These capacities are absent in animals. Any attempt to evade this fact by talking about "animal rights" is to engage in the same fallacy as to talk about fictions such as unicorns or goblins."

Questions:

1. Why didn't Michael Vick's defence team call Professor Gerlach as an expert witness?

2. Did Ulrich Gerlach craft a definition of "rights" (his quotes, not mine) that leaves the door open for for human infant vivisection because he is

a. A sloppy thinker when it comes to real-world issues, as opposed to abstract mathematics?

b. A callow nihilist in spite of his self-assertion as definer of valid moral positions?

c. A vivisection fetishist?

d. All of the above?

Bonus question: Would any of these make him unique among WSJ subscribers?

3. When Professor Urlich writes "talking about 'animal rights' is to engage in the same fallacy as to talk about fictions such as unicorns or goblins" is he

a. Expressing a literal-minded mathematician's disdain for any discussion of fantasy and legend? Does he believe it is inherently fallacious to talk about unicorns or goblins?

b. Attempting to compare abstract conceptual values to fictional creatures? Is his phrasing comical in its grammatical wobbliness?


4. Should people who frame arguments about animal rights without mentioning such subjects as pain, cruelty, distress or anthrocentricism be gang-raped by grizzly bears until there is nothing left of them but a stain? If not, why not? Defend your position.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scattershot

Once you've posted cute cat pictures on your blog, you can never go back. A boundary has been crossed. So where to go from here?

Weeell.. I recently saw the movie Immortal, directed by respected European comics artist Enki Bilal. It's adapted from his Nikopol Trilogy comics (out of print, and a used copy costs more than a new Chrysler, BTW). The comic is sci-fi nonsense poetry, a sequence of tableaus on the subject of urban decay and disaffected Euro-glam. I hoped the movie would also be a sequence of tableaus, like Peter Greenaway remaking Blade Runner, but for the movie Bilal seems to have plugged into more conventional Tinseltown action vocabulary. The blend of live actors and low-grade CGI has a clumsy Song of the South vibe... the whole thing seems like an exercise in trying to pacify an oddball aesthetic for Hollywood sensibilities, and failing to please fans of either approach.

* * *

One nice thing about Kannapolis: the farmers' Market is packed with organic free-range grass-fed meat. Laurie and I have heard too many horror stories about factory farms and their Cheneyesque approach to animals; we don't object to slaughtering animals for food, but we think the critters should be have good lives right up to the final hour. Best sausage we've ever had.

Friday, May 15, 2009

D2!

Offended by Nostalgia

In the Summer of 1991 I was seventeen years old, and I knew that there was no more vibrant and essential musical collective than YES!




Boy howdy I loved me some Yes. A potted history of the band: they started when the Beatles were ending, and played "Progressive/Prog Rock" (imagine a stew of Abbey Road, Hendrix, and grab-bag Psychedelia) throughout the Seventies. They had a lot of membership turnover, but had a rep for exciting concerts and long compositions... they broke up in the early Eighties, reformed a couple years later as a pop act with the hit song "Owner of a Lonely Heart," then broke up again. In the early Nineties (by which time I was a crazed fan of the no-longer-extant band) there were two bands consisting of former Yes members trying to put albums together. Their record company decided to rush out a Yes album with tunes by both acts on it, and send them on tour as an eight-person band (it had always been five at a time before).

And there I was at the concert in Atlanta. Trembling with excitement. I listened to Yes every day. I was in the fan club. I owned expensive coffee table books by the artists who did their album covers. I went out of my way to buy solo albums by the band members (generally not worth the effort, drummer Bill Bruford serving as a noteworthy exception). I believed Yes INVENTED music. And I was about to be only a few hundred feet away as they played live. I even had a date! For the first time! Maybe love would blossom (no)!

People were still finding their seats before the show, when out of the audience appeared a cheerful middle aged woman wearing a vintage t-shirt, faded and yellowed (the shirt, not the woman), obviously dug up for the concert (again, the shirt, not the woman). It read:

HELP STAMP OUT DISCO IN OUR LIFETIME

And I was irked.

I didn't mind her having the shirt. She had probably worn it to a Yes concert in the late seventies, when it would have been timely. I was a high schooler, so Sharks Vs. Jets stuff made sense to me, and I could well imagine Prog Vs. Disco strife...in the late Seventies. But her wearing the shirt in 1991 declared "This concert is a nostalgia act, prog is as dated as disco, and my presence here has more to do with memories of 1977 than with 1991." And my Yes-fixated brain, steeped in boiling pubertal hormones, wanted to shriek.

Of course I said and did nothing to her, but I haven't forgotten her and her shirt. And now I realize she was right and I was wrong.

The last time Yes made an album I really, really cared about was in 1975 when I was a toddler. Granted, a piece of music is only as old as the first time you hear it, so as far as I was concerned Yes's entire oeuvre was about four years old, which made it daisy-fresh, right? I had imagined the tour was motivated by the purest of artistic considerations, plus the love and brotherhood of the musicians, right?

Wrong.

Subsequent interviews showed that the musicians hated the stage-managed-by-the-record-label vibe of the reunion, wished their solo ventures were sufficiently viable to keep the bills paid, largely disliked each other, and resented having to work as Yes to sell their music... Yes WAS a nostalgia act, reunited for the most cynical reasons. Their best days as a unit were long behind them, and while some individual members were still doing interesting stuff, they were doing it outside of Yes.

Happily I enjoyed the concert anyway, and then shipped off to college, where my musical parameters expanded exponentially. I now agree with that T-Shirt woman, wherever she is, that it's fine to luxuriate in nostalgia, as long as you acknowledge it for what it is.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Cel Phone and the Self

Once upon a time Andy Warhol did a series of polaroid photos and exhibited them with ZERO SHAME for the low-end nature of his selected medium. Perhaps if he were with us today he'd do a series of phone-camera shots. Take these snapshots of my cel-phone-enhanced life for what they are.

Accidental self-portrait; or, how I appear to the 25-year-old white boys who serve as North Carolina's casting directors... a nondescript blur.


Forest Park


D2


D2 IN ACTION

The Backyard

One of the most awesome things in walking distance of my home although another thing that leaps to mind is the shop Southern Charm (not pictured). If I had the spending money I'd buy every Christmas Cottage in the joint, then experience a massive dose of buyer's remorse.


'Ham.

The Ghost of Trane


Forest Park...

...and Kannapolis

Parents' home
Sloss
Artificial London
DC Metro

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thomas Kinkaide and Kenny G are White Noise Too

In case you're sitting around agonizing about whether you should watch the movie White Noise 2, here's my advice:

After reading this blogpost about the way they monkey with color in the Hollywood filmlab nowadays I've been more conscious of color correction (although it's impossible to watch, say, The Matrix or Fight Club without noticing it) and White Noise 2 represents a nadir of the practice. Everything is trying to look like Seven, except when it's trying to look like Thomas Kinkaide. At one point someone hands the hero a manila envelope full of important documents, and the envelope is a glowing Banana Laffy Taffy yellow, at which point Laurie and I burst out laffing ourselves. (Laurie can't explain how this flick got into her Netflix queue... probably something to do with all the Sci-Fi TV show stars in it.) It was a typical treat-the-audience-like-hicks supernatural thriller, probably worth a watch if you're nostalgic for the most embarrassing X-Files episodes or if you want to gawk at lurid colors.

* * *

On a seperate note, I've been having trouble getting cast lately. No doubt I need to raise my game, but I can't help wondering if the problem is that I'm doing John Coltrane acting, and they want Kenny G acting.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Right around

Having tweaked the author of Hollywood Animation Archive blog in my last post, I now praise him for posting this.

What a wonderful approach to capturing the all-at-once nature of social events! Gasoline Alley did this kind of thing, probably before this artist, but if I were a 'toonist I'd consider using this approach rather often. Neither prose, nor theatre, nor film can get this simultaneous yet leisurely effect. And while these toons have some social attitudes that are past their shelf life, there's a warmth to the characters, without ridding them of their rough edges.