Monday, August 31, 2009

The Cozily Suffocating Confines of the Nerd-Ass Comfort Zone

The Idea Of Order At Key West by Wallace Stevens has been on my mind lately. It may be the best examination of the relationship between art and life that I've ever seen.

The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Art, like the lights, works in the context of of the world in which we live.

Anyway, I followed a link to this blog, which I'd never seen before and which is too self-aggrandizingly nerdy even for me. It retorts to some critiques of Tarantino's hermetically sealed films in part by comparing Tarantino's work to Midsummer Night's Dream, which, the blogger argues, catered to theatre nerds by being about theatre in the same way that Tarantino caters to film nerds by making movies that are only about film.

But while Midsummer has a theatre plot thread, it nests theatre within a broader social context, and then nests that social context within the greater context of The Fairy Realm, which I read as the natural world viewed through an anthropomorphic lens.

Midsummer's rude mechanicals are there for the theatre nerds, no doubt, but the play isn't an act of total nerd indulgence. Shakespeare isn't putting foil on the windows, metaphorically speaking. His is an outward bound, omnivorous and expansive intellect, so when he includes some fun for the theatre nerds it isn't an exercise in keeping nerds inside a narrow nerd-ass comfort zone.

In closing, a quote from Eric Rohmer, translated by Carol Volk, from the introductory interview in The Taste For Beauty, a collection of Rohmer's essays (Rohmer is one of my favorite filmmakers, and an expert at navigating between reality and the artifice of film):

"...cinema has more to fear from its own cliches than from those of the other arts. Right now, I despise, I hate, cinephile madness, cinephile culture. In 'Le Celluloid et le marbre" I said that it was very good to be a pure cinephile, to have no culture, to be cultivated only by the cinema. Unfortunately, it has happened: there are now people whose culture is limited to the world of film, who think only through film, and when they make films, their films contain beings who only exist through film, whether the reminiscence of old films or the people in the profession...film is the art that can feed on itself the least. It is certainly less dangerous for the other arts."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cheaper Than Dirt

A sad moment today: our cat caught and killed a little creature. Not sure what it was since the cat hid in the shadows to enjoy his kill, but a bunny sat just outside the shadows and watched with nervous stance and wide eyes. Perhaps our cat was killing the bunny's child. It's all in the game, but I felt awful for the bunny.
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I had a disagreement with a stranger the other day about the taking of cheap shots (we were discussing Ted Kennedy's passing and he brought up Mary Jo Kopeckne's death in a way that I thought was below the belt). I'm formulating some provisional rules for cheap shots:

1. If you make cheap shots, you must be sporting about getting as good as you give. Take it if you dish it.

2. Own your cheap shots. Stand behind them. No Al Jolson routines about how your cheap shot wasn't a cheap shot. No confabulating your rudeness and indecency away. Be proudly, flamboyantly horrible, or don't be horrible at all.

3. And it wouldn't have occurred to me to point this out before yesterday's discussion, but don't bling your Jesus Decoder Ring and think that gives you such a wealth of moral credibility that accusations of cheap-shottery against your person are absurd. Here in the Southeast everyone gets a fistful of Jesus Decoder Rings complements of the house; they're not hard won.

All that said, there was a deeply awful cheap shot in the original version of this post; all that business with the bunny and the cat was a setup for a swat at a vivisection extremist I've hated on in these virtual pages before, and after some remorseful rethinking I snipped it. Not sure if that's a violation of my stated rules or not.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Honorable Employment

I used to do a lot of temporary work, back when there were "jobs." You kids don't know nothing 'bout that. Anyway, the most memorable of my post-college temp jobs was in a small company out of town, down the road an hour or so. It must have been to the East, because the sun was in my eyes the whole way.

The building was like a small hanger or converted garage. Most of the workers assembled in small open work stations and did... I don't remember what they did. On the other side were bins full of circular rivets, like ring tosses for folks with absurdly muscular wrists.

My job was to throw the rivets on the floor.

If the rivets sounded a solid bell-like tone against the concrete floor, they were put in the "keep" bin. If they clunked or shattered, into the "trash" bin with them.

This was a terrific job for me because it required such minimal attention, allowing me to plot my (awful) screenplay or to daydream about Ranma 1/2, an obsession at the time because it reminded me of my recently departed college life.

Enriching the experience was the fact that each of the employees had their own radios. No headphones or anything: everybody played their radios out loud, all the time. Each radio was about five feet apart. The acoustics of the place meant each radio was fully audible from where I was standing. Each radio was tuned to a different station. No one seemed to think this was purgatorial.

One of the employees was a cute young woman. Next to her stood a "simple" young man who constantly flirted with her. Flirting, for him, took the form of saying "Don't cry, baby, it'll be all right" in a self-satisfied sarcastic way every time she said anything at all, which was fairly regularly.

There was also a very pregnant skinny lady who smoked all day long.

This job ended abruptly when I smashed my car into the back of a truck on my way to work (did I mention sun in my eyes?) It wasn't on purpose, honest.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Marriage and Motorcars

Laurie and I are getting married tomorrow. Concord courthouse sometime after 2PM.

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In cruddier news, over the weekend I bumped into a concrete embankment when I (slowly) went round a blind single-lane onramp curve, only to find that traffic had abruptly STOPPED and I had a choice between bumping the wall or bumping another car. I made the obvious choice, and the damage was pretty minimal considering. I did have to get it fixed, though.

We've often said that one advantage of living in Kannapolis is that everyone, including mechanics, assumes you're wise in the ways of cars, so they don't try to cheat you. The drawback is that they'll ask you detailed questions about your car's specifications, and if you don't know offhand how big your rims are or how many cylinders the engine's got, they look at you like you just asked who Obama is. Auto lore is as fundamental as readin' and writin' around here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sniff Sniff.

I'm reading "An Actor's Business" by Andrew Reilly, an informative book about making a living as an actor. It's full of useful-seeming info (I say seeming because I haven't put it to the test yet) but I was taken aback by one passage in which, while explaining the nuts and bolts of the film business, the author goes on a tangent about how foreign films sukk. To whit:

"Some foreign filmmakers... seem to be enamoured with myriad camera angles that communicate no new information and symbols that do not advance a story but but turn the story into a crossword puzzle."

And there's more along those lines. Perhaps in the next edition Mr. Reilly will take the time to explain how modern art is flimflam and rap isn't really music.

I wonder which filmmaker, exactly, he's talking about. Peter Greenaway, perhaps. And here's Mr. Greenaway's retort (Taken from "Peter Greenaway: Interviews" edited by Vernon Gras and Marguerite Gras):

"...Cinema basically is illustration of the 19th century novel, ways and means of examining the world very much in the way that perhaps Dickens organized his narrative scheme. And you know, American cinema is a bit like telling children stories, to placate them-make sure the moral code is all right, and now we'll tuck you up in bed..."

Obviously I'm all in favor of telling children stories, and I'm sure Greenaway is too, but his point is well taken... Film tends to be organized around 19th century fictive modes, but it can be organized around 20th-century fictive modes, or any century's poetic or painterly aesthetics as well. Hollywood hasn't trained us for that, but that's no reason for a reverse-elitism against films that are about images, ideas or formal play rather than conventional narrative. Or as Robert Altman put it, Hollywood wants shoes and he makes gloves.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Quick Update

We finally got our marriage license and are debating the level of spontaneity/sense of occasion the wedding should include. It's looking like I'm going to wake up on my wedding day without knowing for sure that it's my wedding day.

I'm in a production of Marat/Sade that promises to pull no punches. Glad to be doing something that blends Gothic excess, agitprop and all-around artiness.

I'm also pecking away at a juvenile novel, trying to write the kind of thing I liked to read. If nothing else it keeps me off the streets.

Recently rewatched Gothic by Ken Russell (inspired to do so after mentioning that Ken Russell should direct the film of Lucius Shepard's uneven but patchily rewarding erotic-political-thriller-in-vampire-drag novel The Golden) and now suspect that Russell is an under appreciated filmmaker. Tacky, tasteless and overwrought, but I think most films should be. Eric Rohmer can handle the tasteful stuff, and I'll watch that with pleasure too, but if you can't capture life with such cinematic delicacy then for heaven's sake go for broke; brilliant tackiness with dimestore psychology and theatrical lighting all over the screen. My kinda flick.