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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Thursday, December 30, 2010

We're watching Lost. I'm not crazy about the glib O. Henry-on-amphetamines approach to character development, but I'm stuck on the show anyway.

Here's an example of why: at the end of Season Four (mild spoiler) Ben Linus turns a big frozen wheel to make some majickque happen. It's a rather Dr. Whoish plot twist and could easily have been flat mystic-shmistic hoohah but for one thing: it's been established that Linus is doing this to save his beloved island, and that as a result he will be exiled from the island. As he turns the wheel actor Michael Emerson commits. We can see just how fraught this action is for him, not in the big goofy prop wheel, but in the actor's seriously strained face. I know nothing about the actor's life, but he knows how to tap into some real pain and manifest it on his wonderful puppet face. And for once the writers didn't go overboard sentimentalizing it and trying to make us fall in love with the character all over again. The actors are better at winning sympathy than the writers are.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

How To Argue About Art (Reactionary Style)

I've gotten into several arguments about the recent removal of the following (not safe for work) video from a Smithsonian exhibit:

because some people found it offensive on religious grounds. I can see how a pious person could take offense at the video, but it seems more like an expression of despair at the inefficacy of traditional solaces like faith and money in the face of AIDS (from which the young artist died) than an exercise in cheap offensiveness. As a gesture of goodwill to those on the other side of the issue, here's a field guide to arguing against offensive art and the government funding of same.

1. Tell The Joke. The Joke is essential. You have to tell it. Like a blues song there is no canonical version, but a representative rendition follows:

"Hey, if they wanna be cutting-edge, I got an idea for them. Chortle! How about painting something beautiful? Something that requires skill. Now that would be avant-garde! Guffaw!"

If someone else has already told the joke, the fun isn't over; go ahead and tell it again. If a third person wishes to argue against modern art, that person should also tell the joke. Each time the joke is told, be sure to laugh as if hearing it for the first time.

As an alternative one can ask why these so-called "artists" (remember the sneer quotes!) pick on Christians, but not Muslims. Be sure to assume that every Muslim man woman and child is a murderous lunatic, and that anyone who claims to have a bone to pick with any aspect of Christianity is just petulant.

2. Do not, under any circumstances, engage the art in question. Any real exposure to the art under discussion might complicate the making of glib, snide remarks. Bonus points for asserting that Robert Mapplethorpe did Piss Christ.

3. Remember the instant-win killer app of modern art mockery: Michelangelo. Everything in the post-Renaissance art world can be obliterated by pointing out that it isn't as good as Michelangelo, with the possible exception of Thomas Kinkaide.

Don't worry; you don't need to know a damn thing about Michelangelo to make this assertion, nor do you need to have engaged his work with any real curiosity or sustained attention. All you need are the usual hand-me-down schoolmarmish articles of faith about Michelangelo, to whit:

His art was pretty.

He painted the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and sculpted David.

He was influential, and a genius.

Unlike these offensive modern artists, he certainly never indulged in anything remotely homoerotic. Pu-leeze.

That's all you need to know!

4. Government shouldn't spend taxpayer dollars on art. Art doesn't fire Patriot missiles into brown-skinned wedding ceremonies.

5. Remember: there is nothing, nothing, of any interest happening in the world of modern art. It's all the Emperor's New Clothes. There's no need to check up on this; take it for granted.

Some of you may be wondering "Are there any distinctions between 'Modern Art,' 'Postmodern Art,' 'Conceptual Art,' 'Abstract Art,' and 'Pop Art?" The answer is no. Use these terms interchangeably.

6. If the person with whom you're arguing says anything that might undermine these positions, just blow them off. Why bother engaging unfamiliar worldviews? That has nothing to do with art.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

See-Oh-Ehn Spiracy.

I'm fond of conspiracy theories as a sort of modern folklore, a sort of objective correlative by sleight of hand. I am, however, skeptical of real-world conspiracy theories, as my last post suggested, because of my experiences on the inside of situations that seemed conspiratorial on the outside.

When two students from my alma mater, Birmingham-Southern College, burned down a bunch of Baptist churches, I obsessively perused the blogosphere to see what conclusions people were drawing about the old school. Several bloggers found it suspicious that students from a Methodist-affiliated school (variously identified as "a Methodist College" and "A Methodist Bible College") only burned down Baptist churches. Some thought they'd uncovered proof of an interdenominational shadow war. I enjoy mentioning this to my fellow Southerners, most of whom are Baptist or Methodist, and all of whom regard it as a good joke. I can see how, given humanity's long history of sectarian strife, people who aren't familiar with the placidity of Protestant interaction around here might cook up such a narrative, but there's more animosity between Bama and Auburn fans than between Baptists and Methodists. Anyway, if you're ever in rural Alabama, pay attention to the churches you see. Chances are, most will be Baptist. I don't think the arsonists were picking and choosing. They shot a cow that same trip, on the pretext of hunting, so it doesn't seem like discretion was part of their thought process.

And then there's this obsolete old horror, posting from his cavern of Catholic kitsch about how the arsonists did what they did because they were Jewish.

They weren't, by the way, Jewish; they were typical Protestant-raised cultural Christians. One might think a barmy Catholoon would be only to happy to wail on them for being the spawn of Luther, but apparently his antiquated hate is too baroque for such linear proceedings.


Closer to home, my Dad is the Clay Shaw of Pinewood Derbies. Pinewood Derbies, for the uninitiated, are races that Cub Scout Packs hold once a year. Every scout makes a car from a standard kit. Block of wood, plastic wheels, pair of axles. Carve the wood, paint it, race it. Most scouts carved it to resemble the silhouette of a passenger car, which is not exactly the most aerodynamic shape. With my last Derby approaching I saw, in an issue of Boy's Life, a Derby design that looked more like a race car. Actually it looked like a doorstop on wheels, but I wheedled my Dad into helping me use this plan. He was uncertain because it was so off-model from customary design, but he went along. He even painted it really nice: black with crackling red flames; he was hoping to win the best-looking car contest, which we didn't.

But we did win the actual race. The judges scratched their heads over the unconventional design, but it didn't go against the letter of the rules; it wasn't a violation to look like the sole race car in a fleet of station wagons. A Pinewood Derby takes a while; there are many, many heats if you've got a big Pack. I think ours was over a hundred boys, but we won heat after heat, and our car took First Place. There was some grumbling about this, since the car had seemingly jumped the track a couple times and blocked other cars; probably just the result of being too light in front.

But it didn't pass the smell test. Because my Dad was the Pack Leader.

And the son of the Assistant Pack Leader won second place.

Imagine what a Truther or a Birther would make of this.

Now, anyone who knows my Dad and his Scouting Assistant knows that these are not people who would risk their good names, nor betray anyone's trust, over a Pinewood Derby. They know what a childrens' game is worth, and they know what a reputation is worth. But I can understand how, from outside appearances, this might look like a small-stakes conspiracy.

If I were an Ayn Rander I might argue that there's a correspondence between the leadership qualities it takes to be a Pack Leader and the Howard Roark qualities it takes to design an unconventional race-winning Pinewoodmobile, but I doubt my Dad would stand for it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Note for the night.

If an argument on behalf of position X is just as applicable to positions like "The Jews killed the dinosaurs!" then it's time to reconsider arguments.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Confused? Yes.

I was a fanatical Yes fan in high school (I'm speaking of the band Yes, here) which is proof that I was pretty confused. I mean, it's one thing to think Close to the Edge is good stuff; that's the if-you-only-buy-one-Yes-album-make-it-this-one album. It's a recording that doesn't need much defending. But thinking Tormato is a good album? With its prissy pastiches (Most anglo funk ever), vegan-meatheaded mystic-shmistic lyrics ("boy-child Solomon"? Oy, child,) and arpeggio-workouts-disguised-as-music? That's confusion.

In the liner notes for Relayer, the other Yes record I consider a keeper, there was a note informing anyone who cared to know that the album was recorded on producer Eddie Offord's portable recording equipment. As I have since learned from interviews, this means they set up shop in a band member's house. But at 16 or whatever I visualized the band recording in the trailer of a moving ten-wheeler, cutting an album as they rolled down the road on the way to the next gig. With Eddie Offord driving the truck, which had a sound board on the dash. I'm not kidding. This made sense to me.

I still seem to lose all sense when it comes to Yes. I've been downloading awful concert bootlegs, forcing myself to listen, then deleting them from my hard drive if not my mind, in an effort at aversion therapy. It just seems to keep me fixated, though; I much prefer jazz, these days, but some part of me will always be stuck on my first love.

One thing these concerts make evident, especially if you listen to them back to back with the original studio recordings: Yes suffered from bombast creep. If a tune was sensitively played and tastefully arranged at birth, bet on it turning into a thumping, crashing, squealing, effects-laden pomp-rock disgrace by the time it's become a concert staple.

Recently I went on a solo night-driving trip to the beach, and I listened to a long bootlegged instrumental medley of Yes tunes, as performed by Circle, a band composed entirely of members or de-facto members of Yes. Circle sounds a lot like the early post-psychedelic rough and ready version of Yes, so to hear Circle's version of later Yes music was awfully disorienting... like hearing the Beatles of Meet The Beatles play tunes from Abbey Road. They stripped bombast out instead of larding it up; the reverse of Yes's usual MO. I actually had to pull off the highway and get some food, because the music made me feel too discombobulated to drive. Music has power, and goofy music has goofy power.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Routeen Halloween

This Halloween, for the first time in about a decade, I handed out candy to trick-or-treaters. I was oddly nervous about it because in my imagination I visualized trick-or-treaters as aggro adolescents who might deface my car if they didn't care for the little candy bars we offered. To my relief trick-or-treaters turn out to be tiny children with sweet and/or shy dispositions, the timidest monsters I've ever seen.

I was aghast, though, to see most of the kids were being driven around our safe, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in big suburban utility vehicles instead of walking. It was different for me and mine. We would go outside, in the dark and the Autumnal chill, tripping on our costumes, struggling to see through our masks, exploring our neighborhood on foot, knocking on doors we didn't know. It was a cozy adventure, almost an initiation ceremony; our parents were close behind, but still, the moonlight filtered down through the branches and made everything look like a less trustworthy version of our daytime world. Experiencing it on foot, fully outdoors, haunting or being haunted by the enormity of the starlit sky, made Halloween just a wee bit eldritch. Experiencing it from the back of a boring everyday vehicle just doesn't cut it; that's how kids experience everyday banality. It's neither a trick nor a treat; it's just average.

I fussed about this on Fecesbook (and let's face it, everybody who reads this blog is facebooked to me so you all saw it) and an old high school friend stood up for the automotive trick-or-treating process on the grounds that parents are tired. Well, I'm pretty sure my parents didn't have it any easier, but they still had the decency to lead us on our disguised walkabout. I was surprised this old friend took such a bourgeois stance, since in our younger days she'd been a devoted Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft fan. You'd think she'd retain some love for the real Halloween spooky spirit.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How To Sleep the Aaron Way

If you're wondering why it's been so long between posts, it's because

1. I haven't watched anymore Rahxephon, because the first two episodes were so boring,

2. This is post # 665. Gettin' skeery! Twice in my life I've tried to purchase something, had it ring up as $6.66, and seen a cashier freak out. One gave me a penny discount, the other demanded that I buy something else. A third time the cashier just ran it through with no trouble, and her co-worker started teasing her for loving Satan. I figure I should save post #666 for Halloween.

So anyway, How To Get To Sleep the Aaron Way.

When I'm having trouble drifting off there are a couple of tricks that work for me, but I often forget about them. I hope that by typing them out consciously I'll make my waking self fully mindful of them, placing the tricks at my disposal anytime. Or neutralizing the tricks' effectiveness by dragging them into the daylight. Whichever.

One trick is a childhood favorite: Imagining that I'm being pursued through a forest by faceless heavies, but they'll never find me because I'm hidden in a cave deep within the earth. The threat of the pursuers is an essential part of the comfort here, for some reason. If I'm just underground it's not relaxing, but if I'm underground and thereby beyond the reach of danger, tension flows away. I was reminded of this recently by an Episode of Lost that employs the same basic situation; I guess it's a pretty obvious narrative troupe. Hiding underground. Works for other members of the animal kingdom, so why not us?

The best way I know of lulling myself to sleep during an insomniac mood, though, is to let my inner eye become a screen onto which my subconscious can project an animated film. Somehow when I do this I perceive a flow of images that my conscious mind could never cook up, and it's never the same twice. It's usually as if Paul Klee teamed up with Stan Brakhage, but I never know quite what to expect. Sometimes there's some Fleischer Bros. in there. Sometimes Matthew Thurber. It's a little frustrating to realize that somewhere in my cranium there's a wealth of visual creativity that I can only access as a sleep aid. Maybe I should buy some oils and some Ambien, and see what happens.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rah Project

If you're feeling a strange, intangible excitement, a sense that something wonderful is immanent, rest assured that it's not just your imagination: I've started rewatching Rahxephon, and I'm going to keep you posted on an episode-by-episode basis. You're welcome.

Why am I doing this? Because I bought the whole series (I don't know why, I just did, okay?) and might as well get my money's worth. Plus it's out of print apparently, and unless people discover a way to, I don't know, download bootleg copies of video material from the Internet or something, it may be hard to find, so someone should keep some kind of anecdotal record.

Having rewatched the first two episodes: Okay, blandly attractive boy has goofy friends (whom I found tiresome the first time I watched it, but now prefer to the endless fighter-jet and giant robot routines. This is a rare instance of something from a anime becoming LESS tiresome to me over time.) KABOOM military attack, fighter jet porn, and his friend-who's-a-girl gets a slight cut. Wait a minute, her blood is red; as I recall a key plot point about seventy episodes later is that her blood is blue, indicating that she's unknowingly a Mulian (the filthy rotten alien invaders.) Is there a continuity screwup here, or do they justify it later? Something to watch for.

So protagonist-boy runs around bumping into several Mysterious Girls. Rei Ayanami of Neon Genesis Evangelion started an anime fad for Mysterious Girls, so this show has a bunch of them. One of the other big trends in anime at the time was the so-called harem anime, in which a nebbishy boy socializes with five or six hot girls. Rahxephon tries to subtly cater to the same adolescent-boy urges while maintaining plausible deniability with furrowed-brow Lost-style seriousness and plot complexity.

The only interesting things in episode one are

1. the Mulian giant robot things look like art projects: pseudo ethnographic, with broken doll heads and such. Sadly the main herobot, Rahxephon, looks much less interesting, like a big boring robot toy, plus feathers.

2. One of the mysterious girls is actually a mysterious woman, with hips and body fat, and therefore more interesting to look at than the usual willowy mysterious girls.

The only interesting things in episode two are

1. the inevitable connection between the boy and the robot is kept uncertain for a while, which in giant robot shows represents an innovation.

2. The boy's Mom is an evil scientist who, like all scientists everywhere, is doing something nefarious. Plus her minions seem to be keeping tabs on the boy hero for some reason. Some of the best episodes will revolve around Satan-Scientist-Mom. The Japanese, like the ancient Greeks, always do well with lurid family conflict.

3. The version of Tokyo where this takes place kinda sorta reminds me of Birmingham, and all the running and driving around prettily painted urban locations sweeps me back to happy days of tooling around The 'Ham. Cheap instant nostalgia is half of what anyone watches anime for.

So far there doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to keep watching this thing, but as I recall other fans who had seen more assured me that the series gets more interesting once it's established its giant robot bona fides, and they turned out to be right. One of the reasons I found this show compelling was that each episode had its own identity, even if that identity was often not much of an identity. It never quite felt as if I'd watched slight variations on the same episode three times in a row, which can't be said of most anime.

P. S. this is dated September 15 because I started writing it then, but I posted it October 2nd. Thanks, Blogger. What do you want for free?

Friday, September 10, 2010

One Man Show

I recently heard an NPR story about Hal Holbrook's one man show about Mark Twain. It's got me inspired. I'm planning a show about Edgar Allen Poe in which I get drunk and hit on teenage girls, followed by a show on H. P. Lovecraft in which I have a seizure if a non-WASP is in the audience.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Color Correction and Incorrect Conning

Today I was strolling across the college campus where my Wife works when a dude in a car (I don't notice things like makes and models, but it looked pretty nice) pulled up by me, leaned out the window, and started giving me a spiel. Started with a very long, very rehearsed routine about how he was a data something-or-other-supposed-to-sound-technical-and-impressive, doing fancy-pants computer work for the college, but he was in Charlotte by mistake and needed to get to Charleston and was out of gas money and his phone was booby-trapped or something, so could I do him a favor and go to an ATM with him and withdraw some money, he'd pay me back honest, he makes $130,000 a year and is totally good for it if I'd just help him out here.

Although one fantasizes about telling off con men, I slipped into my default response to such routines, which is a sort of counterspiel, a "huh, whu, I don' geddit, no speekie de engwish, duh der diddle doo, oh look a sunbeam."

He said "Sorry to interrupt you," and sharked off.

Thanks to my wife I know a lot of people who actually do work with technical stuff, actually do travel around, and actually do make a lot of money.

Item 1: They have better problem solving skills than the kind of shmoe who stops random people on the street to get help. In a jam they'd find campus security or whoever was arranging for them to be doing a job in the first place. They have connections, and even if they are desperate for money, they don't get desperate about the money, at least not in front of strangers.

Item Two: They don't lead with a Life's Work infodump. People who do sophisticated work, like people of breeding, communicate who and what they are with their bearing first and foremost. They don't bling it, they just are it. They'll bring up specifics when specifics are called for, but if they need a stranger's help they don't start with "Hey buddy, I do XYZ and I gotta favor to ask," they start with "Can you direct me to Campus Security?"


The other night we saw a cheezy 80's movie; what I think of as a time capsule movie, where you're not there for the narrative or whatever, you're there for clothes, hairdos, cars, all the cultural bricabrac. And we were satisfied customers. I bring it up because, in paying attention to the bright colors of the film, I noticed something you won't see in newer films.

The heroine was outdoors on a sunny day, and the different planes of her pale-skinned face were reflecting various colors, including green and blue. She really looked like a Fauvist portrait, but one would never notice it if one weren't contemplating the color scheme of the image, because our eyes harmonize this kind of thing all the time in real life. Without looking like amateurish filmmaking, it gave the picture a little reality.

You won't see that in modern films. We watched some Lost Sseason Two) the next night, and I looked for any stray bits of reflected color on peoples' faces.

Fergit it. One thing future generations will mock about current movies and TV is that they color-correct everything to death. Got a face? It'll be beige, chocolate or orange. So will the background, if it isn't blue.

That's one reason I find myself drawn to older films (okay, it was Teen Witch, pure schlock but wonderful Eighties duds and 'dos.) Whatever may be phony or false in them, the reflections on the actors' faces have some bearing on reality.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Slivers in the Tree

I have a suspicion about abstract art. I suspect it came to prominence in part as a result of the imagery of the microscope and the telescope as it became widely available to the public through, y'know, Life magazine and textbooks. Images of nebulae and microorganisms provided a very different way of looking at the world and its structure(s) than the naked eye could. Most representational art takes a human's-eye-view as the baseline; abstract art takes the telescopic and microscopic views as new baselines. I'm not interested in getting into Sharks Vs. Jets stuff between abstraction and representation, because I value them both, but I think one reason the representational partisans object so zealously to abstract art is that it denies a comfortably human point of view as a sufficient base for looking at the world, and that probably unsettles some people. For some, though, it opens new possibilities. Old-fashioned God-as-man-with-beard art tried to picture God, The Sublime, in humans' eye view ways, which has its virtues and its charms, but Rothko gets much closer to my conception of God.


I'm reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Apparently it's caused some trouble in a high school lit. class. I'm not deep into it; about 30 pages of a 600+ page book. Still, it's clear from Chapter One that this is going to be an R-rated text. The (married) protagonist is sitting around the apartment, hoping someone will call with a job offer. Instead an anonymous woman calls and starts talking explicitly dirty to him. He hangs up, and the incident bothers him for the rest of the day. The phone keeps ringing, and he refuses to answer; he's too icked out by the first call of the day.

I can see why some people would be uncomfortable with this material, particularly for teen readers. But I can see the possible value of it. What teen can't relate to the your headspace, confusing and frustrating you, icking you out all day. I suppose the student who objected to the book saw the book itself in those terms. But still, the book offers an opening into a serious discussion about these kinds of problems, and advanced students need to get outside their comfort zones in order to address difficult topics. I hope that when the young protestor goes off to school she won't be lost at sea when sexuality gets increasingly persistent in her life, which it will. Maybe she'll remember the book and give it another try then; it contains wisdom from which she would be well advised to learn.

I recently finished Silver On the Tree, the last book in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series. Computer game nerds have a term for games that aren't open-ended, games in which the player has to go along a predetermined path to complete the game: "on rails." Like an amusement park ride, right? Cooper's plots are on rails. Will and company mostly have to go along till they get to the next hypnagogic semi-interactive showpiece, then let an old guy lecture them on the Matter of Britain symbolic significance of what's happening, then repeat til the conclusion. There's a pair of nice dilemmas for some characters at the grand conclusion, but the climax itself is pretty much a matter of "Then the children hoisted the magic treasures they found in the other books, and the treasures zapped the bad guys with magic beams and the day was saved, then the old guy gave a really long speech about good and evil, the end."

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Don't Wanna Go Back

I've written before about weirdoes at the laundromat, but as I sit here doing laundry in our own household machines I recall there were many as-yet undocumented but unsettling encounters. It was a 24 hour place, open to all, so all kinds of people showed up. If you were there in the early morning and wanted to have a sexual encounter with a sweaty trembling tweaker you were usually in luck. Not that I ever availed myself, you understand, but they made their presence and their proclivities known.

If you went on a Saturday afternoon you'd always have to contend with the big ruddy guy in the muumuu who didn't wash his clothes in the machines. There was a large sink the custodian washed his mop in; it was always kind of cruddy. And Muumuu Man would dump his laundry in there, pour on detergent, and turn on the faucet. He'd also smoke inside even though there were No Smoking signs everywhere. Once he stood right in front of the only exit, blocking the path with his big circus-tent-looking body, smirking as people tried to get around him. Oh, Muumuu Man.

One night was particularly noteworthy. I put my laundry in the machines and went for a little stroll around the nearby park. It was dark out, and I heard a howling that I took to be a dog. Eventually, though, the howling resolved into a phrase: "I DON'T WANNA GO BACK TO PRISON," over and over again. I went back inside. A bunch of cute college kids were doing their laundry and chatting. They were mostly white females and black males, and clearly very happy to be together. It was nice to be on the periphery of such a warm crew; like sitting near a campfire.

Then a scraggly hillbillyish guy came in, looked at them with a manic grin, walked all around the room, loudly slammed a top-loader lid, and stormed out.

Light nervous laughter. "That was random," one of the kids said.

Then the guy came back in the door with a thick branch in his hand.

"Now yew all get on out of here," he said. "We don't want yew messin' with our women."

One of the young black men said something appropriately inappropriate. The ridiculous person left. One of the kids called the police, who drove around but didn't find the guy. I wonder if he ever went back to prison.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Neon Montreal Evangelion

Back from Montreal after our second visit. Montreal makes me feel like a kid in Chattanooga again, in a way that I doubt Chattanooga could. The buildings loom so high they make me feel small. Moreover, Francophone culture is just different enough from what I'm accustomed to that it makes me slightly bewildered and curious, like adult culture does to kids. I found it a pleasant sensation.

Speaking of bewildering but pleasant sensations, we just saw that new Neon Genesis Evangelion movie, the first of a planned quartet. At first I was a bit underwhelmed (having watched the original show to death, do I really need to see a slicked-up rehash?) but by the end I rather liked it. The original show (which involved teenagers piloting giant robots a.k.a. Eva units against giant monsters a.k.a. Angels) often veered into rather typical (for the giant robot a.k.a. mecha genre) monster-of-the-week stuff in which the story is, essentially, monster shows up, kids struggle to overcome it, kids heroically succeed. At its most interesting, though, the show portrayed the struggle in less sanitized-for-TV-heroics fashion. Children screaming in agony, viscera gushing from monsters and robots in full-on body horror. The mecha served as objective correlatives for puberty and its accompanying indignities, while easy power fantasies were short-circuited by fear and agony. The new movie focuses on these elements, and the final note of heroism is hard-earned, affirmative without being triumphalist.

Anime fans (at least Western ones) love to whine about how whiny Shinji, the put-upon protagonist, is, but Shinji has good reason to complain. Some anime that followed Eva tried to feature protagonists that were like Shinji only less whiny, but Eva trumps them by making Shinji even whinier. The story is stripped down to a boy struggling against internal and external problems, struggling against his nature, inclination and circumstances to find some path to heroism.

One thing I liked about the dub: the iconic character Rei Ayanami was voiced, in the TV dub, by Amanda Winn, who made Rei, an unapproachable blue-haired girl, seem mysteriously alluring. The new actress, Brina Palencia, makes her sound emotionally flat; without emotional affect, as William Burroughs described fixing heroin addicts. I can tell without looking that there's copious whining about this on anime messageboards, but while a mysteriously alluring girl was the Rei Ayanami I enjoyed in the 90s, today Rei as idiot savant makes more sense, given what we come to know of her. Emotionally stunted Rei works for me.

And now, some Montreal photos. My new phone's camera is the digital equivalent of pinhole camera, which may have some nostalgia value in thirty years.

Colored windows can produce some interesting light-play.

This is where the fancy-pants scientists gathered before meetings, fancy-pants science being the reason for the trip.

I saw this little guy from the taxi and had to catch a picture of him at my earliest opportunity.

This is what I think of when I think of Montreal. Excuse the terrible cropping, but the sidewalk was busy.


Montreal has paper lanterns. This was not the exterior of NOOBOX, a noodle chain my Wife fixated on, but both NOOBOX and these lanterns speak to the Chinatown element of Montreal.

As a rule of thumb, the better the Montreal restaurant, the more audacious the condom ads in the Men's Room. The model in this ad appears to be 16, so you know my goat cheese tart and turnip soup were excellent.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Seems like old times.

I was out walking around Kannapolis the other day when I met some other people from Signal Mountain, Tennessee, where I grew up! At least I assume they were from Signal Mountain. They were leaning out of an idling car, addressing me as "faggot," and speculating about my sex life, which is behavior I associate with Signal Mountain residents. If they had then started whining about how the government takes their money and gives it to people who are too lazy to work for a living, that would have confirmed the Signal Mountain origin of these future meth cooks.

It was a nostalgic moment. It's nice to find that things which were regular parts of one's youthful days haven't entirely faded away, and can still be experienced when one is a grownup.

Speaking of asinine youthful activity, some friends and I have been talking about the perniciousness of immersive fantasy computer games, the kind that give one the sensation of going places, meeting people, solving problems, accomplishing things... all the things one wants from a life. Several of us, myself included, got pretty fixated on these games at points in our lives when we felt that we weren't going anywhere, meeting anyone, solving anything...

Well, look what I found! It's a vision statement for a game called Planescape: Torment (originally called Last Rites, apparently) which I spent pretty much all my non-subsistence time playing for many months. I always considered the game to be one of the more artful, thoughtful, and respect-worthy such games I'd experienced. But this vision statement thing showed me another side of the game:

"We gots Gold, Glory, Power and Hero Worship. Why save a world you know nothing
about and have absolutely no attachment to? F*** that. We know what you really
want to do – you want to run rampant in a world where you are a god. You want
the power to change your environment, slaughter all who stand against you, and
be a hero worshipped by the masses – everything you don't get pushing
paper or suffering through school 40 hours a week."


"Sure, you may be a fat dateless loser in real life, but in Last Rites, you get
the women and respect you've always craved."


"We will work hard to try and include positive relationships within the game –
relationships that the player may not have in real life or may desire from
watching movies. The player can have buddies that will lay down their life for
the character, Betsies and Veronicas/Gingers and Mary Anns fighting over his
affections, mentors, loyal servants, and so on. They will thank the player for
his help or fawn for his attention, giving the player additional ego-stroking."

Oy. I hate to admit it, but all that puerile wish-fulfillment jive was a big part of the appeal. It's a bit of a shock to learn that the makers of this habit-forming cultural junk food are knowingly trying to get lonely people to form those habits.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Superflat in the Back Bay

I was considering doing another review of another kitsch art book, but I can't do it now because I've been hanging out in Boston's art museums and galleries for a week, and off-brand Frazetta just can't bear the comparison. One thing about galleries: in the South they assume you're broke until you indicate otherwise, and they're fine with that. Places in Boston, though, are terribly huffy about all these nonpaying looky-loos. I would have paid a reasonable admission fee to see (and sometimes resee) the art, so perhaps they should switch to a ticket-price-refundable-with-purchase-of-art model.

Miro gets closer to my idea of the Fantastic than more representational fantasy art does. He's joined Klee and Kandinsky in the first rank of my fave nonrepresentational artists.

New respect for Salvador Dali. His overexposed famous works are by no means the whole story; I've now seen a slew of his little funky drawings that gave me fresh appreciation for his skills and imagination. I've failed to find the image I want online, but the Martin Lawrence Gallery (Actually fairly friendly about the whole looky-loo thing) had a small etching or something on a Biblical theme in which little stick figures acted before soft, lovely colored background... then on closer inspection the background revealed itself to be towering angels looming over the action, some in the foreground rather than the background as a first glance suggested. A remarkable shift of perception, but also an intriguing theological statement.

Cubism works better for me live than in reproduction, and Picasso's cubism especially. He did for portraiture what Charlie Parker did for pretty tunes.

Also new respect for Warhol. I never noticed this before, but in some of his silkscreens he's hand-drawn a tracery of lines over the figures in his shaky hand. I've always liked his sketches of shoes and whatnot, and when he incorporates it into his silkscreens it really makes the images pop. So to speak.

Scroll down here till you get to "Jellyfish Eyes - Black 4" and you'll see my favorite of the images I saw that were made within my lifetime. What isn't visible at this resolution is the way each pupil has many rings of color, pupils within pupils, or multiple rings of coronas around an almost microscopic core pupil.

Oceanic art is inspiring to me in a way I'm not sure I can articulate. Currently a lot of the dreamier nerds out there are terribly excited about Transhumanism; Oceanic peoples took such polymorphing of the body for granted, at least at a symbolic level. I recall being hypnotized by the Oceanic collection at the museum in Birmingham, Alabama as well.

Cornelia Parker's Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson) was my other favorite contemporary art discovery. A sort of mobile made of blackened burnt wood, suspended by thin lines tied to rough nails and pushpins in the wood. It looked like the fruit of a Clive Barker/Katsuhiro Otomo collaboration.

Also got to see some Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman photography. They both seem so necessary and so close to the truth while being so different in their approaches. Goldin is pure documentary, while Sherman is pure artifice, yet they both understand so much about our era.

Other delightful things about our trip to The Back Bay:

Meeting and dining with Laurie's friends (hello!) I hope to see and hear more from all. (For those who came in late: "Laurie" is my online to-protect-the-innocent pseudonym for my wife.)

Boston, or at least the Back Bay, is so pedestrian-friendly that it's driver-unfriendly. It completely inverts the Southern car culture thing where the attitude is "Why are you using the legs you were born with when you could be using a loud stinky expensive deathtrap? What's wrong with you?" In the Back Bay you can just cold stop in the street in order to focus in the conversation you're having with a fellow stroller, and all that the cars you're blocking can do is fume and honk. You could probably lie down on the nearest vibrating hood and take a nap if you chose, such is the cultural deference giving to pedestrians. My Wife's heedless jaywalking and complete disregard for driver's right-of-way finally makes sense to me. I've gotten a lot more arrogant about crossing the street.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Guide to Fantasy Art Techniques, edited by Martyn Dean

I still own this thing?

I bought this book in high school, mail order from Paper Tiger Books if memory serves, and I’m a bit perplexed that I still have a copy; I thought it had been lost in my hasty move from B'ham. Each chapter profiles a different artist (all white guys coincidentally) with interview snippets and slick reproductions of the profilee’s art. If I had a scanner I’d post some samples, but instead I’ll try to link to the appropriate websites so you can engage these artists as they present themselves 26 years later. Any quotes and such come from the book, though, not the websites.

Incidentally, back when I bought this book I actually got two copies. I was enamored of a fellow student who dabbled in art, and gave her the second copy as a Christmas gift. What she made of the nerd-fantasies and buxom pinups I’ll never know, but I did come across a copy at the local used bookstore a few months later, and always wondered if she’d traded it in.


Science fiction book jackets, near-photorealistic representational art, spaceships, aliens. Lushly textured and polished surfaces; spaceships and costumes that look like they’ve been produced as art objects. I’ve occasionally attended showings of furniture-as-art, and Burns’ props remind me of the lacquered grainy beauty of wooden furnishings designed to beautify the way sculpture is expected to beautify.
To my untutored eyes his sense of color is rich; he knows how to make color pop for the marketplace, but he isn’t afraid of densely textured monochrome. The humans are pretty, but there’s a bit of the “I’m a conventionally attractive, highly airbrushed model who’s been glaringly photoshopped onto this illustration” syndrome that plagues book jacket illustration.

Quotes-“I put on layer after layer of thin color through the airbrush. I end up creating colors that are unavailable in tube form-there’s a transparent sequence of colors coming through. As with Maxfield Parrish’s blue-which he built up with glazes. I find that with the thinned down acrylics through the airbrush you start to get the same kind of vibrancy.

“I want my pictures to have a general appeal to ordinary people-I can’t stand artistic posturing.

“I particularly want to… convey artifacts which are the products of truly alien minds and different sets of perceptions. And to suggest materials other than wood or metal or plastic-somehow!”

I’d suggest that the opposite of “general appeal to ordinary people” isn’t necessarily “artistic posturing,” but be that as it may.


A thicket of spidery penlines, colors that glow with the drabness of age and overcast days, ornate constructions and unsettling figures. In the 80s I was genuinely afraid of Ian Miller’s work. An artist friend described Miller, only half-jokingly, as Satanic. Today Miller is the artist in the book for whom I have the most non-nostalgic enthusiasm. Of these eight, he is the artist closest to the heart of my kinda fantasy.

Quotes- “I think that most of what I do has a very primeval root. I’ve been told that I’m medieval, but I think I’m more primordial. I have a fetish-cum-totem attitude toward images…I’m inclined to draw in a ‘frontalistic’ style, I suppose, after the Ancient Egyptians.

“I identified very closely… with the Japanese concept of ‘The Fleeting, Floating World’ and with he directness and unsullied perception of Japanese artists. Their stoicism and single mindedness is a great pointer for us all. It’s magic from sweat.”


I got two books by this guy; the first, Mythopoeikon was a delight to me. Sadly it fell apart after much perusal. Woodroffe was all over the place, cartoony yet capable of rich detail work. When I think no one’s listening I sometimes say “I AM BIG AND STRONG” in honor of a Felixesque cat Woodroffe drew who said those straightforward words. The later book, Hallelujah Anyway, was a bit of a letdown. Lots of photos with painted paper dolls, reminiscent of the Cottingham Fairies, but the same dolls in different little backyard contexts wear a bit thin when one’s shelled out for a coffee table edition. The full-on paintings had developed a settled style, unlike the jittery let’s-try-this attitude of his earlier work, and it wasn’t a style I loved: Twee Grandeur, like a veddy English and veddy psilocybin Thomas Kinkaide. Unlike his early stuff, which wasn’t afraid to be alarming while being charming, Woodroffe had lost his stomach for rot, decay, damage, all of which had been present in the early work. Once he would have shown us a field that looked lovely yet had all the browning and withering one finds in nature; later he expelled the serpent (or real toad) from the garden, to the detriment of his work.

Quotes:-“ Doing what reality can’t do makes the art stronger. I like to skirt the edges of kitsch because I think that’s where some of the best art comes from.” (editor’s note: if you think fairies in lingerie flying on dragonfly wings over England’s pleasant pastures constitutes anything less than a headfirst plunge into kitsch, you might be Woodroffe’s kind of person.)
“…a lot of artists make the mistake of believing that correctness is important. I build on the fact that it’s wrong. A lot of painters have done that in the past-particularly in mediaeval times, I suspect.

“I’m not acceptable in the art-establishment fields, but I have the compensation that a lot of people out there like what I do.”


His famous Clockwork Orange poster isn’t in the book; for some reason a bunch of his reference materials are pictured, but only a few of his images. All the paintings we do see show an artist thinking “Pinup girls are sexy, and fighter jets are sexy. What do I feel like painting today?” Answer: fetishy pinup-girl/jet amalgams. The stuff is slick, but like a lot of fetish art that isn’t to one’s own tastes, this might be nauseating.

I konked out trying to find interesting quotes. Moving on…


An industrial designer whose specialty is technologically plausible conceptual art. He designed those flying cars for Blade Runner. I admire his work, but his illustrations are more about means-to-an-end communicating possibilities to clients than about end-product entertainment for nerd eyeballs, so it’s a bit like looking at blueprints: interesting, but it rolls right off my brain.

I just looked at his website and I take it all back. I implore you, look at these cartoons. God bless you, Syd Mead.

“…get beyond the burning of fossilized petrochemicals-that’s a primitive way of doing it. We’re not so much advanced from the people who burnt oil in a lamp in Babylonian times.”


Hey, it says here he did the happy hippie funtime illustrations for The Joy of Sex, but you won’t see any of that in this book. It’s all spaceships, all the time. As a youth I found his lumpy ships off-putting, but now I think they’re pretty exciting. Foss is a sort of abstractionist-he certainly isn’t into the material-as-material approach to abstraction that the Ab-Ex crowd made famous, but an artist friend of mine once described Foss’s work as “painting a cloud and calling it a spaceship,” which I would repeat, only as a complement this time. Wonderful clouds with clownfish colors. Constructivist parade floats.

No quotes this time, although he cites Picasso, Turner and Schiele as inspirations, and he rhapsodizes about dirty old trains. In high school I had no use for those artists or dirty trains-today I love them all. No wonder Foss’s work has grown on me. Please buy some art so he can afford a less drab website.

MARTIN BOWER. A spaceship model maker for stuff like Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blake's Seven, and Space: 1999. An impressive resume of SF movies and TV; he's clearly a go-to guy for spaceship models. He says he also makes miniature hobbits for fun, and the book includes a picture of a disturbing cyborg woman figure he’s made. She looks like a buxom latex, er, toy. Ewwww. None of these cyborg women on the website, but I got the proof that he made them right here. YOU CAN'T HIDE FROM YOUR SORDID PAST MARTIN BOWER. (Who am I kidding? If I'd had the skills I would have whittled a few girlfriends myself back in the lonely days.)

BORIS VALLEJO. Somewhere along the way Vallejo decided to play The Monkees to Frazetta’s Beatles, and he’s sold a lot of calendars that way. Buxom women in chainmail seem to strike a chord with a lot of working-class nerds, female as well as male, as proven by his hot musclebound wife Julie Bell, who came into his life some time after the interview in the book. I'm tempted to make fun of their art, but I won't because either one of them could clobber me with one hand while painting a buxom barbarian with the other hand.

Vallejo talks up the old masters, particularly Murillo and Velasquez.

An indirect quote from Boris struck me as a youth: “…yellow (is) brighter than white on canvas because it creates a greater illusion of brilliance, and black can be made to appear darker by adding red to it to produce a sense of depth.” This led me to consider the hard-to-notice subtleties of life around me. It’s sad when the person giving you a subtler, more nuanced understanding of life is Boris Vallejo, but you never know from whence wisdom will come.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Book Larnin'

I recently finished Plus by Joseph McElroy. It's bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey as reworked by Samuel Beckett. It's a demanding text, formally complex, but I was close to tears by the end. The protagonist Imp Plus has been voluntarily disembodied, then reembodied in a mysterious bioengineered form that he/she/it must explore in an accelerated and alien version of the exploration we all make of our bodies as we grow and change. His changes happen quickly, and eventually he comes into a three-way conflict with his "parents" on the earth (Imp Plus is in orbit around the earth in a satellite) all of which leads to a Star Child transformation. I checked this out from the library, and hope to have my own copy someday so I can mark it up with crabbed, incomprehensible marginalia. I came close to giving up on the daunting text, but I'm awfully glad I stuck it out; the demands of the style force one to undergo a perplexing journey which parallels Imp Plus's journey. I don't know when I've felt so glued to a character; each page took as much effort as 3-5 pages of the average novel, but this became one of those "I don't want it to end" reading experiences. The good news is that McElroy has written a great deal more.

I've also started reading two old paperback novels I enjoyed as a teen in the Eighties: Stinger by Robert R. McCammon and Glory Lane by Alan Dean Foster. The former is about a dried-up Texas town that gets invaded by aliens; the latter is about a punk, a preppy and a valley girl type who wind up on a Spielbergian space adventure. I'm not far into either one this go-round since I've decided to restrict my reading of them to a specific context: to keep our neurotic cat happy I occasionally put him in harness and take him for strolls around the back yard (any more outdoor freedom than that and he tends to wind up having to go to the Vet.) Paperbacks are an ideal reading format for these strolls, so... once or twice a week I'll spend an hour or so with one of these adolescent favorites. I suppose I'm trying to crack the code of what I liked about these entertainments; they're both greasy kids' stuff, but I think I can glimpse some seeds of my later interests in these books. Stinger so far puts a lot of effort into setting up a dying Texan town; the author may be trying to entertain kids with a corny good vs. evil monster story, but he's interested in small-town angst, a subject I find much more interesting than monster fights nowadays.

Glory Lane's opening follows Seeth, a listless punk, as he wanders another small town, looking for fun and commenting acerbically on all he perceives. Since the days when I read this book a hundred times I've touched down with more deeply rooted punk sensibilities than a pasteurized portrayal like Seeth, but back in the 80's something with the stink of real punk would have sent this privileged Presbyterian fleeing to the exit. Seeth made me laugh as a high schooler, though, and left his mark: protagonists who can't stop with the witty social commentary still figure in my reading, from Humbert Humbert to his cousin Charles Arrowby and Martin Amis's own Self. I recently enjoyed Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, who blends punk sensibility, social commentary, small-town (or village) angst with a remarkable rumination on art, memory, rebirth. I suppose my reading of it was made possible by my enjoying of those earlier entertainments.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Best Netflix rentals of my last few years, part the first.

A few years back I did a post about interesting things I'd gotten from Netflix. It is just about the only thing anyone Googles across my blog for, so here's an update on my last few years of viewing.

In 2008 I was busy falling in love, so I spent less time in front of the TV, but I did see:

Stalker: A gloomy Russian Christian arthouse darling's bleak science fiction view of the present in future drag. The imagery of industrial wreckage is Ballardian, beautiful. The bald guy goes on a rant at the end which is a thing to behold. Slow and cheerless, it's like a bad dream. Watch it instead of actually having bad dreams.

Suspiria: Revolutionary Girl Utena as a live action slasher flick, only that makes it sound awful. A stylish and berserk vision of what a horror movie can be in a stylist's hands. And by stylist, I mean hairstylist. Or maybe shop window arranger for Macy's. Essential.

The Last Temptation of Christ: clever but a bit dull. Mixing up honkeys with non-period accents and genuine middle easterners in authentic locales is a gamble that didn't work for me, but I was in tears by the end, because the film isn't playing; it really wants to glorify Jesus in a way that makes sense for Scorsese. The protesters fixated on the honeymoon fantasy when they should have been focusing on Harry Dean Stanton's breathtakingly blasphemous turn as Paul of Tarsus.

Eraserhead: Like a bad dream after watching too many 80's sitcoms. Takes me to an unsettled spot as advertised.

Gummo: Overrated yet not without merit, this is a bit like watching a slew of homemade Youtube videos back to back, with all the trash and treasure that implies. Both the fanatical fans and the fanatical detractors look a bit drama-queenish by now.

The Saddest Music in the World: all I remember now is the style. It felt a bit like my ideal Grim Fandango film adaptation, if that clarifies anything (no.)

Galaxy High School: an 80s saturday morning cartoon that starts with a male and female protaganist going to school in space, with gloriously toony aliens. The girl gets lost in the shuffle because in the 80s everyone in the cartoon biz knew girls were icky. Ignore the dreadful plots and enjoy the colorful background aliens and spaceships and such. Or don't.

Eyes Without a Face: One of many animal-testing-reframed-as-human-testing horror movies. Austere, chilly. A doctor commits atrocities to give his injured daughter a rather less grotesque face, and while she'd really rather he didn't, defying the fat old patriarch ain't exactly her strong suit. She manages in the end though, boy howdy.

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. My kind of comfort food. Animation with a jolly Brit sensibility, like Wodehouse joining forces with Rankin-Bass.

Inferno: a companion piece to Suspiria, less coherent (if that's possible) but with bits of delightful creepiness. A little too glamtastic near the end, but enough like my nightmares to get a thumbs up.

Black Narcissus: This drama about Nuns in the Himalayas starts slow and is marred by colonialist racism, but has such enchanting acting, costumes and photography that we stuck with it. Besides the brilliant camerawork the highlight is the MAD NUN. We gasped repeatedly during the last twenty minutes of this overripe MAD NUN fever dream. If you like MAD NUNS this is the flick for you.

The Big Combo: a noir that looks like it was made for a hundred bucks but still looks way better than any self-conscious attempt at noir revival ever. The villain does some terrific villainous speechifying.

One, Two, Three. Jimmy Cagney and Billy Wilder deliver a tour de force of corny old-fashioned cold war spoofery. If you thought The Seven Year Itch was a hoot you should see this; if not, then not.

The Rules of the Game: I'm scared to say anything about this except that it bored me stiff in college but enthralled me in 2008. I was doing my first for-real professional acting job (also my last) and trying to rediscover a naturalistic yet dazzlingly skilled approach to acting. This helped.

And that was about it for 2008. My wife also introduced me to a few TV series, to whit:

Big Love: Bill standing in the kitchen, arguing with his wives: yay! Trying to be 24: boo!

The Wire: I came in midway through the last season and instantly knew I had to watch the whole thing from the start.

Heroes: reminded me of reading old issues of X-Men, which is a bit like eating Cheetos.

The L Word: The transition from single to married can be best explained by my married reaction to this show: "When are all these hot women going to stop taking their clothes off and making out? Boring."

Battlestar Galactica: I came in near the end and was totally confused. Pretty spaceships but I was more of a Roger Dean fan than a Chris Foss fan. If you know what I'm talking about you have misspent your life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thanks Honey!

I have a new computer! It's a nice upgrade from the TI 99 4-A I was using previously. Perhaps I'll update the blog more often now that I'm not so busy playing Parsec and Hunt the Wumpus.
Went blueberry-picking today; not to eat them, but to freeze them for my wife's research. Had to eat a few, though. I hadn't realized that there are subtle flavor differences between different kinds of blueberry. Some are sharp and tart, others subtly sweet. Others not so subtly sweet, of course.

Currently trying to read Plus by Joseph McElroy. It's a science fiction novel by a writer who apparently doesn't routinely end up in the SF marketing category, the better to shelve it in the inscrutable modernism catagory. It seems (fifty pages in) that the protagonist, one Imp Plus, is a former human whose mind has been transferred into a ship or satillite of some kind, transformed into some posthuman state. It seems that his memories (of life, of words) have been altered or damaged, but he is slowly remembering and regaining his awareness of who he was, all while figuring out what he is now. It's a bit like waking up slowly, groggily, in an unfamiliar place. A tough read but I'm finding it rewarding; the notions of being in some bioengineered posthuman state and of being isolated in outer space are hellish nightmares for me, so watching this guy come to terms with it feels like it might be instructive in some fine-grained face-your-fears fashion.

Finally finished The Sopranos. Let me get out in front of the blogosphere with my thoughts on the final scene. By implying that Tony may be about to get killed, but may just be about to have dinner with his family, the show leaves us in a state not unlike Tony's every waking moment. If we're wondering if he's about to die a sudden violent death, we know what Tony has to wonder, all the time. Instead of leaving us with plot-point closure, the show leaves us with a final thematic point: a life of erratically applied violent punishment and retribution is likely to cycle back around at any moment. Just a matter of time. Like Morte Arthur, The Sopranos is full of fascinating lessons in the inadvisability of killing people.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hollering "Uncle!"

We saw a double bill of live entertainment last night. Part one was a folk music group with a former theatrical partner in crime on lovely lead vocals. Veddy nice, and well worth driving to Charlotte for. I'm no music critic, but tuneful, dulcet guitar picking, sweet vocal harmonies, the occasional burst of skilled violin playing... a joy.

Part two was a performance of Uncle Vanya. I should have known what it would be, because the crew that was doing it had made a name for itself with bootleg theatrical adaptations of nerdcore movies. As a recovered Monty Python and Tarantino reciter, I'd rather have bowel movements in public than subject myself to that kind of unimaginative nerd indulgence, but Uncle Vanya, I figured, just might bring out the ambition in Charlotte's budget theatre scene. The useless theatre opiner of record in this town wrote a typically slippery review of it in which he failed to come out and say that the show was a tedious misfire, so... there we were.

Stunt casting! A duo of brilliant local improv/theatre clowns were in the show, one of them playing Uncle Vanya, both of them providing the only relief. They knew how to suss out what their parts were about and inflect their performances with rocknroll manic brilliance that served, rather than undercut, the dramatic possibilities of the text. Everyone else delivered amateur theatrics in the saddest sense. I don't blame volunteer actors, though; they all seemed to be striving to the best of their abilities for something real, and good directors can get something real out of most anyone. Inept shmuck directors, though, becalm the actors and create the kind of artless phoniness we left at intermission last night. Chekhov's words can be dazzling if the actors discover the words and the meanings as they speak it while remaining focused on what they as the characters desire. This production, though, consisted of actors declaiming with no sense of interiority, waving their arms around, engaging in cheap pratfalls that didn't grow organically from or serve the material. Imitating humanity abominably. It often seemed that the director was conducting an R&D experiment, trying to find new ways for theatre to suck. I'm sure the director would try to pitch the whole mess (in fact he did, in his self-serving program notes) as pomo subversion, or Grotowskiesque, if he'd heard of Grotowski. Bollocks. Injecting jokes and pratfalls only works if it's done with Laurel-and-Hardy virtuosity and some sense of counterpoint; some sense of how the gags can illuminate Chekhov, even if only through artfully considered contrast. It was the worst theatre I've seen in Charlotte, and I've seen a few stink bombs.

As we drove home in the dark, a possum appeared in our headlights. It was neither crossing nor dead. It was writhing on its side, streaked with red wet blood, looking miserable. I swerved to miss it; probably would have been kinder to hit it and let it sleep. If I'd had wishing powers at that moment I would have wished for the possum and the director of that evening's theatrical entertainment to change situations, so the possum would be doing what it wishes in good health and whatever company a possum desires, while the director would be ending in unalloyed terror and agony. Too harsh? Yes. But it's what I would have wished.

Edit: Greetings, friends of the director who have found my blog! Yes, my last paragraph is way too nasty, and no, I don't actively wish suffering or death on the director; that was a description of a passing fancy, not a statement of long-term position. Beyond that, hey, it's a negative review. I've gotten 'em too.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Close Quarters

I was in a movie once. A locally produced comedy short. I don't think it's available anywhere, tho I haven't checked recently.

I was acquainted with the writer/director, and he cast me wildly against type as a nerd. (The premise of the film was that nerds who make computer viruses should be taught to play sports and woo women as a rehabilitation scheme, which makes more sense to me as the years go by.) My first day of shooting was to take place in the evening at a jail in a poor town. I didn't write down the address for the very good reason that I was a fool, so when the evening came I went to both jails in town and came up empty. The guards at both facilities denied all knowledge of a film shoot. The first jail told me how to walk to the second jail, anyway, and I traipsed the few blocks from one to t'other. On the way, with the setting sun turning the sky rosy, I passed a little house with a girl sitting alone on the porch.

"Mister?" she called out. "Where are you going?"

"To see some friends," I answered, which was kind of true.

"Can I come with you? Please?"

Well, I thought. That's one way to find out where the jail is.

Anyway, I pretended not to hear her because I was that smooth. Later I found out that they'd canceled the shoot without telling me in time, and it was at a third (closed) jail that I hadn't known about.

I finally made it to the musty old jail, where the cute women doing props and makeup took me on a tour of the crude pornographic graffiti they'd discovered in the urine-scented old cells. This was unsettlingly exciting. We worked almost till dawn. The next day we spent all day at a school filming (and I do mean filming; the director comes from money and was springing for 35 millimeter film, not the video so beloved of local shorts) one scene ofter another. A lot of the scenes took place outside, doing slapstick sports routines in the sun. The cute women who did makeup and props offered to rub suntan lotion on us and we all said no thanks. Clearly our brains were scrambled with sleep deprivation and sunstroke. That evening we were the color of fire trucks. Let that be a lesson to the would-be gentlemen out there: getting rubbed down by two lovely women is better than going to the burn unit.

Meals were provided by the director. This consisted of chips, honey buns, candy bars and soft drinks, because the director thought this would give us energy. I began to see the down side of amateur filmmaking.

The final scene for the evening involved the nerds learning to play "quarters," a drinking game in which one tosses quarters into cups of beer and then drinks them or something. I'd never heard of this silly thing; all my drinking game experience involved kissing and confessing. By now we were all like kindergartners who had replaced naptime with pixy stick time, so happily we weren't using real beer. We were using flat Mr. Pibb. Once we pushed through the sheer awfulness of this we discovered a strange ecstasy on the other side; we were directed to act as if we were bonding in drunken, manly fervor, and for one wonderful, sleep deprived, sunburned moment it was true.

The film went on to win the audience choice award for local short films at the local film festival, mostly because half of Birmingham was in it and came out to vote. I drank an unusual amount of stuff that wasn't flat Mr. Pibb and was very happy to hear from our director that the cinematographer had told him "Every scene with Aaron in it is gold." In return for this complement I hit on the cinematographer's wife.

Local film!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

No Comment(ary track)

Someone just Googled across my blog by searching "obama reptoid cocaine white house." In celebration of this heartbreaking goofiness, I'd like to confess something.

I haven't watched any new anime releases in years, but I recently heard that they aren't buttering up anime DVDs with nonsense like dub actor commentary tracks anymore. I was actually saddened, because when I lived alone I was all too fond of the dub commentary track to Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, disk one, episode three. The show is pretty entertaining, but watching it with the dub actresses chattering all the way through it was a nice simulation of hanging out with fun people. I know, it's sad. Some people need to be married.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's 2010 and I'm posting about Here is Greenwood

Here is Greenwood is an anime miniseries that was released on videotape sometime in the late Nineties, and I bought the first two videotapes (of three (two episodes per tape for about $30 or so. Ah, the good old days)). I barely even think about anime these days, but occasionally I think about this basically disposable product for a couple reasons:

1. The first episode's laid-back anecdotal portrayal of life at a cushy boarding school played to my hot-coal-in-my-brain yearning to return to the cushy college life I'd just been forcibly graduated out of. Episode 2 onward declined into the lame plot-driven storytelling for which anime is famous, but episode 1 was content to present a loose assemblage of mini-stories that felt a bit like hearing someone wax nostalgic about their freshman year. I watched it over and over again, but since the second tape ($30) was two filler episodes (padding out that exhausting six-episode run) I figured the ambling style of the first episode was a one-off. Years later I rented the third tape and was proven right.

2. It's been dubbed twice by two different companies, the second of which rereleased the thing on DVD. I rented this just to compare the new dub to the old one. Hey, I didn't know what to do with myself, at least I wasn't roaming the streets.

The old dub is embarrassingly, wince-inducingly amateurish, but you could tell the actors cared a lot. They were fully invested. The newer dub was done by professional actors (some of whose work I'd enjoyed in the past, and yes, I researched anime dub actors online; did I mention about not knowing what to do with myself?). With the newer dub one got the sense that it was punch-the-clock-and-let's-dub-this-turkey-before-the-lunch-break day when they recorded this. The most glaringly awful line reading in this dub is less absurd than the average line reading in the first one, but it's dull. Bored pros phoning it in are less fun than total amateurs giving it their all.

For an example of a bored pro giving his all I cannot recommend Jeremy Iron's performance in Dungeons and Dragons highly enough.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Self-Pity Run Amuck

My gum has peeled back from one of my teeth, leaving a gap that keeps catching on the skin of my inner mouth. I am unsettled, but I suppose it's grist for the mill.

Anyway, I spoke with one of me fellow former inmates from Marat/Sade today. She's taking pro classes that focus on getting acting work, with an emphasis on commercials, which are apparently the bricks with which an acting career is built. After UPTA I have become utterly disillusioned with the idea of working very hard to make rubbish. As a student I had sweet fantasies of making a living by doing Chekhov for the rest of my life. Oh, what a marvelous world that would be!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Watching the Eggs

A bird has built a nest on a beam sticking out from the back of our shed. She's laid several beautiful blue eggs. Every time one of us passes through the back yard the mother bird flies from the nest and settles on a nearby branch.

Imagine her situation: children to incubate, but terror of these enormous creatures that occasionally lumber by. When the creatures arrive she is compelled to flee, yet compelled to stay near and watch over her eggs. Of course my wife and I are no threat to her eggs, but we know of no way to reassure her.

Afraid to stay, unable to leave. I'm incubated from such fragile circumstances, but I suppose it's the norm for most creatures, including many humans.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Healthy Living, D. C. style

We just got back from Washington D. C. One of the big differences between D. C. and the Southern towns I've lived in is that hardly anyone in The District is overweight. It's not hard to figure out why. Let's compare the average day of, say, a person from my town to that of a typical D. C. person.

A person from around here gets to work by getting in the truck and driving there. Then goes to lunch (BBQ or burgers) by getting in the truck and driving there. Then goes shopping by... getting in the truck, driving to Wal-Mart, HEAVING his/her bulk out of the cab, maybe waddling a block or two during the whole shopping expedition, then getting back in the truck, driving home, parking the truck in the yard by the front door for minimum walking.

Compare this to a D. C. resident. Our D. C. person leaves home, walks a few blocks to the Metro, moves quickly and efficiently through the rushing crowd, hops the right train, takes a breather for a few stops, hops out, catches the next train, hops out, walks a few more blocks to the front of The White House, one-handedly HOISTS and SUSTAINS a large sign reading

"Who destroyed Pentagon on 9-11?

Barack Obama

Saddam Hussain

Marion Barry

in Crack Cocaine Conspiracy with Zionist Jew Israelite Homosexual

Child Sex Slavery for Hillary Clinton Reptoid Jew Homosexual"

for the rest of the day. Beaming with vitality, the picture of health.

So get in step, Southerners! Move around a little.

(I'm scared to see what kind of Google hits I'm gonna get from that sign)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Cafe Guy

Hi. I wrote the following as an entry in NPR's Three Minute Fiction Contest. Obviously I didn't win, no doubt in part because they figured out that this was little more than a non-fiction blogpost. Enjoy!

The Cafe Guy, by Aaron White.

You might think that hanging in a cafe all day every day would be an enviable lifestyle, but his face was never not scowling. He never had company; no one ever sat or spoke with him. He always had a copy of the free weekly paper open on his table, but I never saw him reading it. He preferred to gaze levelly out the window, sitting sullenly in the cafe, all day long.

The preacher of my hometown church often admonished the congregation, "You may be the only contact someone has with Christ today," and while my religious beliefs had undergone a pronounced shift since I last heard that warning, I still believed I had a responsibility to reach out to others. I was a regular at the cafe myself, and whenever I saw the cafe guy I felt a twinge of guilt for letting him sit there in his glowering loneliness. Maybe I lacked gumption. Maybe I lacked love. Maybe I was uneasy about giving an opening into my life to such a sour person. Whatever the reasons, I never spoke to him. The occasional fleeting smile was all he got from me. He always feigned not to notice.

I assumed he would always be alone in the cafe. But one day, to my astonishment, he was sitting with another guy; a large, soft man with earnest open eyes. The large man seemed to be pleading his case.

"I'm sorry you feel that way," said the large man. "I think your ideas are incredible; I think you're a genius. But if that's the way you feel, I suppose I'll leave you alone."

The two of them went outside and sat at a sidewalk table while the cafe guy smoked. I saw but couldn't hear the large man continue to plead with the impassive cafe guy. Finally the large man left. The cafe guy remained, sipping his coffee and staring into the middle distance.

Soon thereafter the cafe was bought out and turned into something other than a cafe. I switched to another restaurant across the way; one that turned out to have better coffee anyway.

The cafe guy switched to my new restaurant too. I thought I had a greater claim to it since I bought food there as well as coffee, while he only ever got coffee. I was peeved with him for hanging out at my new spot without ever sampling the excellent menu. At the old place he had been the cafe guy, but he was never the restaurant guy. He was just a guy who never got any food, and never looked happy. I no longer felt guilty for not speaking to him; he really ought to have tried the salad sampler.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Another story about carpet cleaning

Back around 1999, when I was cleaning carpet, I was told to go, solo, to Sylacauga, a town about an hour from our home base. I wasn't thrilled, but I never was. So okay, off I went, the sun going down as I drove to this area I'd never seen before. The customer was a mild woman with an interesting house. Most of it was one large open room with furniture groupings and screens creating a sense of discrete locations. A bedroom, kitchen and bathroom were behind doors. I was impressed by the way it combined openness with intimacy in the little clusters of furnishing. It seemed she lived alone but was accustomed to company. The whole area was carpeted, and with the customer helping I moved every single bit of furniture in order to clean every bit of floor. It went pretty smoothly. Then it was time to put the furniture back, with plastic under to prevent any residue from the chair legs and such staining the wet carpet.

The customer was very particular about putting it all back in order. She couldn't remember how it all went, though. She wanted to put every bit of furniture back just so, but how was just so? Every chair, every sofa, every pole lamp, every screen, we had to agonize about just exactly where to place it. With few walls, corners or other fixed landmarks, she was unsure exactly how to line everything back up on the original floor plan. I didn't have the gumption to suggest we simply put the furniture any which way, and she could fix it at her leisure after the carpet was dry and I was home showering off the work day. And so putting the furniture back took far, far longer than the cleaning.

Once it was done she offered to lead me to the main highway, she in her car, me in my truck. Since it was dark and we didn't have GPSs (only a big mapbook) I eagerly accepted. I had found my way there but didn't relish trying to get back alone in the dark. That far from base my radio wouldn't reach the base, and I didn't have anything remotely resembling a cel phone, so I felt totally alone out there aside from my infuriating but genial customer.

Following the red of her taillights, I saw another reddish light flickering through the trees. Soon, despite the darkness all around, it seemed as if some small localized sun was still above some small localized horizon.

A house was on fire. Not just a bit of smoke or flame out a window, but the whole building, a residential bonfire. I'd never been so close to such a conflagration before. not far past it was the main highway. The customer turned back and drove homeward. I had a peculiar desire to discuss the fire with her, but of course our involvement with one another was over.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dud in the Race

We saw a documentary called Blood in the Face last night. It's a 1991 record of a white supremist convention where they get together in a farmhouse or something, cosplay, and rile each other up with hectoring rhetoric and bogus scholarship about race issues. The thing I found most unsettling about the conventioneers (bearing in mind that many of them were leaders in the white supremacy field) is how superficially normal they seemed. I mean, they were foolish hicks with awful ideas, self-bamboozled with less than rigorous arguments, but if they were to take off the swastikas and keep their hate in their pants they wouldn't seem that different from any number of folks you'll see at the mall. There's a lot of addlepated overweight white people around who are perfectly fine people, many of whom despise racism and bigotry, and I was uneasy about how easily the hardened haters could blend in. I'm more used to the Klan kids I rode with in the bus down Signal Mountain TN every day as a high schooler.

Man, some of those kids were proud, outspoken children of Klansman, and they really wore their white inferiority up front. Faces like Halloween masks. Second and third chins, but no first chins. Adam's apples like whiskery fists. I can't help but feel pity for these products of multigenerational malnutrition and, shall we say, bloodline purity, but is it any wonder The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is such a therapeutic film for me?

Our neighborhood was a well-to-do suburb, but we weren't that far from Byron de la Beckwith, the infamous killer Klansman, who once told an interviewer that he joined the Klan because he applied for membership in every club in town, and The Klan took him (I heard it on Fresh Air (that's as close to sourcing as I get)). Maybe if The Elks or somebody had taken Beckwith it would have turned out better for everyone (except maybe The Elks).

Anyway, the haters in the film are very big on rhetoric and logic that isn't really any less connected to reality than a lot of other ideas that float around, which is pretty troubling. One woman talks about how she didn't get into the racist scene because of hate (she draws a strong distinction between separatism and hate) but because she started going to a white supremist church and picked up the ideas in pretty much the same haphazard way she might have picked up any other batch of ideas if she'd ended up at a different church. She seems harmless, but it turns out her man killed an outspoken Jewish radio jock, so her apparent mildness allowed her to play a dumbed-down Camilla to her Nazi Tony (I actually feel bad comparing The Sopranos to these mooks, but the pattern of self-deluding enabling is similar). Another guy talks about his life from childhood, and it's evident that he's led a hard life with little real parental/moral guidance. And now he dresses up in Nazi bricabrac.

One of my favorite bits is when all the preachers and such are hanging out and one guy who's crazy about pop eyed biblical numerology starts going on a complicated spiel about how numbers in the Bible prove The Race War is immanent (it must be solid logic: it's got math in it!) and the other preachers' expressions go from patient, to trying-to-be-patient, to disgusted. The two most comforting things in the film for me are that

1. not that many people were at the convention, and

2. The finest minds in the White Supremist leadership are dumb guys. Not unusually dumb, though. It gets down to George Carlin's dictum that (paraphrased for delicacy's sake) there's a distinction between being stupid, being full of it, and being nuts. Racists are all three.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Muse Shift

Where've I been?

Suffice it to say that I'm starting a serious new writing regimen, with professional aspirations. Currently, this means slamming the theatre door. No more theatre. I feel strangely elated; I've always been a homebody at heart, so staying chained to my desk makes more sense for me than trekking all over for elusive performance opportunities. Furthermore, all the ailments of the writer's life (uncertainty, loneliness, self-doubt, blindness, agony, spiritual rot, drunken fits) are already with me, so what's to lose?

Rest assured that I am wrestling with numerous literary angels (currently on the docket: Fitzgerald!) in an effort to win their wounds and their blessings. The slapdash writing in evidence on this blog isn't going to be sufficient. New growth begins now.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What I've Been Upta

Attended a big mass audition in Memphis this past Monday.

Set out Saturday from Kannapolis for Nashville, where I was to stay with my parents. Got off to a late start in a rental car, and wound through the mountains in a dark cold pour of freezing rain. Do you remember the old Transformer type toys that had wheels which folded into the car's body as part of the car-to-robot transformation process? This car felt like its wheels were ready to fold up in just such a fashion. I finally got to my parents' house around midnight. Slept.

Sunday morning, awoke after my parents had already left for church. My brother and I had breakfast and walked the dogs, one of whom mistrusts strangers and wouldn't stop growling at me. After one walk together he mostly stopped growling... guess I'm part of the pack now. After lunch with the whole family I headed to Memphis. Trees like black twigs with silver highlights; ice flipping off the roofs of trucks. Ribbons of powdery snow rippling across the blacktop like sand on a windy beach.

Checked into my hotel, which was not the official hotel of the audition, but was a mere block from the theatre. The hotel had a groovy old lobby, narrow hallways, slow elevators and a colorful but creepy parking garage that would earn Dario Argento's location scout a bonus. A microwave in my room, but no fridge. No source for tea water, but the night clerk loaned me her electric teakettle. The internet flickered in and out, and my phone couldn't connect, so I was pretty much cut off from family.

Monday morning I went downstairs to get some lobby coffee, glanced out the glass door to the outdoor pool, and saw that the sky had dumped a load of snow all over Memphis, just in time for my audition. I attended the orientation meeting that morning (off to a late start since a bus of actors was caught in the snow) and got psyched up for my audition, for which I felt well prepared. Mingled a bit with the other auditionees. At 36 I was the wizened old crone of the bunch, shaking a palsied fist at all the twentysomethings.

Once upon a time I would have prepared for an audition by drinking Red Bull ("Can't fly without my magic feather" I was known to say) but now I sipped cup after cup of green tea. Meanwhile I perused the books-for-sale table; lots of challenging and new plays that aren't going to be produced by the theatres attending this audition. They're not doing new works by Maria Irene Fornes; they're doing Grandpa's Covered Wagon Christmas.

The moment arrived, and I auditioned like a green tea drinker instead of a Red Bull drinker. I overheard another guy's audition, and he sounded like a Red Bull drinker.

It seemed to be music theater's night, and most of the folks who auditioned and got many callbacks were singers... I chatted with/eavesdropped on other straight theatre folks, and many of them got no callbacks. The Red Bull guy I overheard was the only straight theatre person that night to get a bunch of callbacks. Back to the magic feather for me.

I attended my callback... it was mostly an informational session about the company, which I'd never heard of but have since discovered is a household name. It was a very, very enticing offer, except that it required being away from home for most of the year... and I'm a newlywed. After much agonizing I've concluded that Robert Bly be damned, I'm putting who I want to be with ahead of what I want to do. I'll just find something else to do.

Tuesday morning. Packed and loaded the car, incidentally glancing down the hall to the parking deck's lowest level to see that it was flooded ankle-deep with snow runoff.

Met an old college friend for lunch; one whom I haven't seen in years. She's looking good, sounding gloomy, so no change there.

Drove back to Nashville, getting into two GPS coffee snipe hunts. The first took me down an unfinished highway, off a ramp before the highway's end, into an area that was clearly a forest a week ago. The carelessly toppled trees and McMansion frames reveal that someone thinks there's still too much wilderness in Tennessee.

The second snipe hunt took me past a large, oddly shaped building. What was that, some office complex? Nope; it was one of the theatres that didn't call me back. After I found once again that "Sally's Fair Trade Organic Coffee, Comic Books and Bebop Jazz Cafe" was another figment of my GPS's overheated imagination, it started to snow again.

I got back to my parent's house, had a nice meal, and collapsed. Andrew Gainey, my late lamented voice teacher, appeared to me in my sleep to give me one of his spirited don't-let-'em-grind-you-down pep talks. Good timing, Andy.

The next day I slouched around my parents' house all day.

The next day I let William Gibson's Spook Country Audiobook chauffeur me home.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Transferring the Curse

Many years ago (I had bangs then) I was cast in a small supporting role in a Shakespeare in the Park production. I was in the first scene as a servant to a Duke. The man they cast as the Duke was a really nice guy whom I've seen do good work in a lot of parts, but for some reason Shakespeare just tripped him out. He'd start one of his speeches and suddenly slide into glossolalia: "That strain again! It had a dying fall. Hum, lumlum lum lum, fffm mum gum mmm mmm, sum pum sumthum bum gum gum bum bum." More or less iambic pentameter mumbling whenever he drew a blank on the lines, which was frequently.

He struggled with it, wanting to get it right but never quite nailing it. He'd fix one passage and forget another. I felt a mixture of sympathy and frustration... in later years I've done a bit of study on techniques for learning and speaking Shakespeare, but at the time we were both amateurs and I had no wisdom to pass on. Still, at least I knew my few lines and was able to spit them out whenever the discombobulated Duke came to the end of his Shakespearean scat-singing.

So opening night arrived, and whaddaya know? The Duke got his speeches out letter perfect. I was quite proud of him. And he turned to me for my first cue: "How now! What news from her?"

And I said: "So please my lord, um mum gum mum mum mum bum."

Somehow he had transferred the curse to me. When I hear the phrase "The magic of live theatre," this witchery is what comes to my mind.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goonybird Cinema

H. G. Welles was famously unimpressed by Metropolis. And it seems to me that his criticisms were more or less on target... yet the film's aesthetics have enriched the world of film in ways that Well's own film, Things To Come, can't claim. Only a chimp could regard Metropolis as a worthwhile narrative, but whatever the film lacks from a literary perspective, the sets, costumes and such are rich in cinematic virtue. They suggest possibilities for purely cinematic expression that owe about as much to substantial dramaturgy as the average ballet.

Avatar is a proud descendant of Metropolis; dumb as it can be, but saved by technical brio. About all its got going for it is the range of possibilities it offers to future films; like Jurassic Park, no sensible person will want to watch it once its technical innovations have been absorbed by the film industry. The film boasts the most nuanced and expressive CGI animation I've ever seen (well, as nuanced and expressive as the acting on most Hollywood films, so it's little more than slick emotion-porn, but still, it's a step up from the faux-human acting in previous CGI attempts). The artificial environment of the film is a fine-grained engagement with the natural world which reveals the director to be more than a hollow technonaut, and for me this artful take on nature is the most exciting thing about this flick.

Problems? Most of the lines of dialogue could be changed to "I am a macho person!" with no harm done to the warp and woof of the film, the character aesthetics are straight out of Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell (this is not praise (god bless 'em for getting Wayne Barlowe to do the critters though)) and the just-add-water plot is marred not only by the usual paper-thin Joe Campbellianism that we expect from big loud Hollywood but by the hoary old White-Man-Impresses-The-Soul-Brothers-By-Having-Just-As-Much-Soul shtick that one would have hoped we'd be past by now. And lefty that I am, I'm uneasy about being asked to cheer the deaths of American Soldiers (yeah, I know that's not the denotation, but that's certainly the connotation. Well, maybe they're more like Blackwater, but still).

I never would have bothered posting about this film, though, if I hadn't read this post. I'm fond of the author, who gives me my weekly dose of vitamin fanboy, but "He's out to make a film that is timeless, mythic, and universal in its appeal so it should be no surprise that a story with such broad intentions would have roots in other tales that have been told many times over" stuck in my craw. It's the kind of misunderstanding that nerds generally use to excuse callow just-add-water Jungianism in their junk fiction. The logic goes something like this: "mythic, legendary stories are simple, so to tell a truly mythic tale you should strip it of complexities and idiosyncrasies." Wrong, wrong, wrong. Read Ovid. Read Beowulf. Read Malory. Lit Crit has a term: "roughen the text". This refers, as I understand it, to the ways in which texts are complicated in ways that require the reader or viewer to slow down, to get (one hopes productively) confused, to think it through, to engage the complexities nestled within the narrative. You'll find boatloads of roughening in genuinely mythic talespinning. Hollywood baby food is another story. Hollywood has taken to heart Ezra Pound's dictum: "The secret of popular writing is never to put more on a given page than the common reader can lap off it with no strain whatsoever on his habitually slack attention." The libretto of Avatar is not mythic; it is faux-mythic, lacking real insight into human motivations and history. Enjoy the spectacle, but take it seriously at real moral peril.

* * *

Another nutty movie we've enjoyed recently: The Fountainhead. Written by Ayn Rand, directed by King Vidor, music by Max Steiner. So you know it's gonna be a model of restraint and good taste. It didn't make me want to read Rand's doorstops, but it did make me wanna see more Vidor; the man had style, a style Pauline Kael described as "hog-wild expressionism." So he was a good match for Rand's spittle-flecked narratives. Laurie and I got a series of kicks from this film (Those dresses! Those suits! That old-movie hamming!) but found the overlong speech at the end a bit comical. It's the money shot for Rand, a propagandist first and foremost, and it goes on and on. Apparently Vidor wanted to cut it, but Rand insisted on keeping the whole thing, and the studio gave her a measure of respect they never dreamed of extending to, say, Faulkner. The speech could be summarized as "the first person to bake a pie was the first person to be hit in the face with a pie." It monkeys with the Prometheus myth in an odd way, turning the vengeful gods into grubby dumb humans. And while it's sometimes true that dumb people reject true innovators, isn't it truer to say that it's the gods, or fate or what have you, that grinds innovators down? The Prometheus myth rings truer than Rand's petulant appropriation of it, and her own continuing book sales should give her shade pause. If all those folks, not all of whom can be elite, love her so much, what does that do to her elitist position?
* * *

The great Eric Rohmer died recently, so to pay tribute we watched one of my favorite films, Le Rayon Vert, released in English variously as "Summer" and "The Green Ray." One of Rohmer's most improvised films, it excites me the way Altman does, finding life with the camera instead of constructing it for the camera. The star, Marie Riviere, shows us what real expressiveness is. I have no idea if she's an actor per se or simply an intuitive performer, but she's perfect for this film, which looks better with each viewing.