Dylan Moran at Vicar Street. Pronounced Moren, the Oirish way, ever so close to Moron, the Aussie way. Fans of Black Books flock together, and Dylan maintains the persona of hate and spite very well, even challenging some drunk and chattering blondes to ‘evolve’. They moved. At times strangely reminiscent of Billy Connolly, without all the clean dirties, he’s nonetheless nicely surreal at times in the baroque Oirish way of wild paradox. Nearly Wildean. Themes ranging from couples, drinking (and the horrors of gin), the Oirish overseas, fat Americans, inner potential and ageing, hotels, all actors are tossers etc. Almost standard comedic fare, in retrospect, but served smug and smoking. See this fanpage for a sample, which actually sums up much of the show. Favoured insult: ‘why don’t you just die.’ And some original cartoons as background — a little distracting, attention wavering, as though Dylan doesn’t want to do this for much longer (apparently there's a book in the works). It would’ve been fun if he lampooned the Anglified Oirish who make big bucks in the UK and then come back to make jokes about the BBC. Oh, what ironic potential therein. But he’s still very likeable. Sim said, almost handsome.
Have finished Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety. Easy read, light concepts. An intelligent enough reading, utilising quotes mostly, of the multiple factors contributing to the ideals and norms of society which generate notions of status. Generalisations at a third person remove. A lack of direct intimacy and involvement, though excellently written. Written to be pronounced. Yet not preaching. Eclectic in its sources though not overtly particular nor unsettlingly surprsing. A safe conclusion with Bohemian lifestyles. No radical deconstruction or theory-laden baiting, no subversion or dismissive force. But a strong case for perspectivism and reading widely and critically into the business of life we enact. Perspicacious and friendly, yet not too suffused with the demands of critical genius.
I just love the drab irony of the Chalabi affair. Love the way the US administration so clumsily mops up its own idiotic nepotism. Conveniently forgets the mass of criticism and disdain over hiring him from the start. Oops, there's a problem after all. It's a decidedly anti-intellectual or anti-expert administration, what. Now, enlarge this to what’s going on in Iraq as a whole…
I'm pissed with the image culture because we (the televisual west) question the authenticity or intent of prisoner photos before we consider the abuse of humanity. We let stretch the gory reality of the invasion along spin lines sympathetic to the US, to adopt the fave line of reasoning of the Bush pack (criticising us = supporting trrism). It's hardly about the top brass who systemised this, never about the army intelligence units that ordered it. Never about the abuse of geneva rights and conventions. Maybe a questioning of 'how could (some of us) be this bad' or the possibility of one bad soldier put on showtrial: token guff. And finally, an image culture which allows the brutal arrogance of an administration that can act with impunity, which can push its cause in such hawkish denial that it doesn't see any problems in Iraq, which ignores the broad import of the imagery to the extent that soon it cannot deny things are not what they seem, that cronyism and massive blind force are the order of the day, that spin and thumbs up are a cruel insult to the daily deaths and tortures. When your executives can prance around culpability for so long, something's gotta give... The image reality should be the humane consideration of the systematic abuse, the consideration of what the people of Iraq are undergoing; but for us, it's mostly about the way this will affect the war effort, will it hurt the election consequently, all thumbs up. Which is really a framing of debate along channels safe for america generally. But which could burst like a soapbubble.
Wait for the showtrail of Saddam when the election comes around. I think Chalabi &co was in charge of that one.
I am finding something massively paradoxical and complexly wrong with our Image Culture, our blissfully mediated age.
For instance, the by-line in promos for The Day After Tomorrow reads: ‘Contains extended scenes of peril.’ Because, one assumes, we need to be protected from unexpectedly witnessing danger and mayhem without adequate psychological preparation. We need to be inoculated from scenes of death and people dying. Our entertainment seeks to protect us, paradoxically, much like the Jackass disclaimers tempt kids to do exactly the same stunts at home. We go and see disaster films precisely because they contain peril and mayhem. Such disclaimers act as a sanction in parent-friendly language, they gives us the feel-good option to choose morally, should we be offended by peril.
Yet, on the other hand, we tolerate images of torture and dead Iraqis without much of a shudder. There is of course enough distraction with fancy weapons and slick coverage and spin, enough reduction of Iraqis to ‘the enemy’ to make it all justifiable in terms of mediation. Torture was fine for Guantanamo detainees, so it’s fine for Iraqis no matter how innocent they are. Just another way we buy into the hubris of the US invasion and the idea of US superiority, just as we unquestioningly consume the US frame and presentation of the conflict. (eg questioning the US line means siding with the terrorists, any terrorists).
Also: the regular incredulity that greets the latest images from Iraq, cf the questioning of authenticity that met similar pictures of British soldiers in action. As though, this has to be enemy propaganda, we could never be this cruel, this tortuous. We have to deny the possibility of image-reality, of the real import and the wider context. Like the video of the bombed Iraqi wedding — was it really that wedding, was it really the same keyboard player, the same clothes etc? Could it not be? This is second guessing of the worst kind. It is good to question media imagery, but don’t stop at Iraq. Question the reality of Bush, Blair et al, question the whole train ride all the way to the top.
Also: the routine sanitisation of presentation, the suppression of images of dead US soldiers. Protecting us from reality again and fostering the spirit of denial which so many seem to enjoy, notably George W (who probably needs more protection than most). Thumbs up, goofy smile, leading the cheer at pep rallies; there are no problems in Iraq, there is only progress. This can only be stretched so far — to the point where the glaring inconsistency of the image-reality in Iraq can no longer be covered by Bush’s inane babble or the arrogant spin of his hawks, till the real line between media spin and reality snaps like a rude awakening.
For philosophers: it’s the Desert of the Real, or the Other that is Us already. But for me, always, it has to be about the people. We should never lose track of the real human loss, the individual human lives, that the images gloss over so easily. This is never the domain of perilous entertainment, but of sorrow, and an absence of justice.
Of course, the hubristic and staged look of the photos from Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison has a perfectly rational, systematic explanation (and don’t tell me there wasn’t a method or directive involved): simple, plain old psychological blackmail. To make a network of informants living in fear of humiliating exposure. It all makes sense now.
"The government consultant said that there may have been a serious goal, in the beginning, behind the sexual humiliation and the posed photographs. It was thought that some prisoners would do anything—including spying on their associates—to avoid dissemination of the shameful photos to family and friends. The government consultant said, "I was told that the purpose of the photographs was to create an army of informants, people you could insert back in the population." The idea was that they would be motivated by fear of exposure, and gather information about pending insurgency action, the consultant said. If so, it wasn’t effective; the insurgency continued to grow."
Let’s not talk about the anonymous and innocent Iraqis tortured and killed, or the 10,000 dead since the war began, or the age-old officer core protecting its own right up to the top brass, letting the actual soldiers dangle, or the secret Pentagon operatives or the sheer idiocy of George W mincing in smiling denial at the top, flouting that AOK thumbs up and ‘making progress in Iraq’ guff. It's all about dirty war tactics, the control of presentation and imagery, distraction and denial. And naked, hubristic means-end politics and abuse on a scale Machiavelli would've found disturbing.
And then there’s the army of private contractors and specialists lending their consultation to the war machine. See Mark Fiore’s quick capsule review.
By an amazing act of endurance or insulation, I’ve somehow managed to survive the 2004 Enkhuizen Jazz Festival. I’ve got New Orleans Old Style Revival Dixie Swing coming out of every damn orifice in my body. I’ve seen more grey hair than I thought possible. I saw white-haired men bouncing out It Don’t Mean a Thing like it really meant something. I saw a Glenn Miller revival band in full war uniform. I saw old couples waltzing well into the small hours. I consumed badly-poured, softdrinky Heinekens by the dozen and felt neither a flutter nor headspin, in fact, I don’t think I drunk any more than two pints’ worth ‘cause of the requisite 1/3 head. These people need to go to beer school and learn how to pour. I saw an audience totally focused on talk and gossip, saw jazz as background pleasantry. But, there were also some pluses. Or rather, innate minuses turned to positives — with regard to the staid ennui of playing only revival music (and that several degrees removed, revival-revival music which only old people play to remind them of their youth), that is, if you only play a particular period-style of music, and that music has well and truly moved on then you’re repeating a stagnation, living in ennui. (The people of Enkhuizen have never heard of Parker, Mingus, Miles et al, which to me has something of the Christian fundamentalist about it, dinosaurs and mouldy figs). Which always got me pretty annoyed in equal measure to the amount of overexposure I got. Don’t get me wrong, I love the early swing music, the real New Orleans stuff, but not when played in a pushed, choppy manner by retired white folks in Holland. This year there was more broad swing: there was a big band, there were several jump and jive bands like King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys who were a lot of fun (vaseline smiles and twisting antics with the bass, feet on pianos etc. Apparently last year there was some underwear with phone numbers flung). But of course they’re slightly more blues and bounce-based, more boogie-woogie. They wore yellow suits. Of course some of the folks thought it was too fast and theatrical. Of course Bill Haley and Little Richard invented them moves. But as I said to everyone who cared, the music has to move on. It can’t be Dixie forever. ‘Cause no-one notices it’s all the same repertoire every year round, no-one realises there was ever jazz after World War 2, they don’t even know the Duke. I was secretly hoping one of the old timers on stage would do a fluttering Parker motif on the sly, but it never happened. Lots of Louis growls, lots of squeaking, piping clarinets and choppy banjos, lots of yack. And they were mincing away till three in the morning.
Rino’s near-perfect Music-Preferential:
I prefer music made by blacks, and
I prefer it to have backing vocals.
Still, I got lots of Dutch booze and cigars for my welcome re-embrace of the Modernists of jazz. That’s my revival tonic.
I get to things late. This should come as no surprise, and it’s hardly a lifestyle decree or timely review mechanism, but it actually helps filter out the promotional guff pumping through our media, so only the cream remains. Several months or even years later. Though it does make me seem behind the times or out of step or slow on the media ball or what have you. If it’s good, I’ll get around to it eventually. And further, it’s good to surprise yourself occasionally.
So, with much idiot pop glee, I discovered (rather late) Ben Folds’ Rockin’ the Suburbs. Man has a fine, fine ear for the pop song and album. TripleJ did feature it as album of the week way back in 2001, and I remember the title tune’s wacky white-boy smarm, driving somewhere between Sydney and Newcastle (and how perfect this album was for JJJ). But I never got to hear everything else that’s great about the album: the slick production mix, the great dynamics (WTF? I mean the variety of drum sounds, the dynamic-piano arrangements and vocals, the killer chorus lines and simple-sounding complexity without loss of group dynamic (played mostly solo), the balanced blend of mid- and up-tempo, soft and rocking, light pop and right feeling), the well-rounded songs of love, youth and dying and roast beef combos, the up/bright feel so wonderfully sustained thru the whole album, songs of relationships, songs about people. It’s a real keeper. Really developed stuff, years ahead of the BF Five stuff. The kind of sustained quality you’d wish The Whitlams could muster. And also a nicely felt love-package for his Adelaide wife.
Documentaries are narrative. They are always a representation of reality because they involve the usual (artistic) choices of what and how to represent. Nothing that involves montage can claim to reality or objective truth. OK, so much for first principles. All this means is that we can appreciate cinematic movies and documentaries on the same grounds, to the extent that some laud docos as the new cinema — which, from these first principles becomes slightly oxymoronic or negated — cinema comes down to, and always will come down to the quality of its craft and directorial vision or sensibility, to its artistic choices. In film and documentary alike.
So when I saw the long rural takes of Être et Avoir, I knew I was watching pure cinema. But also, immersed in the antics and small dramas of the small country school, with probably the kindest and most devoted teacher ever, I began to sense a further slight difference in documentary styles. Director Nicolas Philibert says he is keen to make a film with the subject rather than about it — not to push an agenda or angle but to live with the subject(s) — to meet them equally whilst still consciously making all the choices of representative method. In other words, not making a journalistic or newsy documentary, but an empathetic one. And it’s wonderful to see how long shots, long takes are central to this non-judgemental style: it’s as though observation is sufficient judgement — it’s sufficient to be with to garner an emotional response — the viewer doesn’t have to be lead or compounded or even bludgeoned with a message or point — it’s a subtle equality between director and viewer. A mutual respect. I can’t think of any other precedents in this style, but a doco like The Thin Blue Line explicitly leads the viewer to adopt the reasoning of the narrative, to take on the angle of miscarried justice and thereby invoke sympathy — which is the opposite of empathy. Sympathy usually implies an inequality.
Ultimately though, the subject(s) of Être facilitate this sense of involved empathy: the impatient but well-behaved kids and their immensely patient teacher (patience is probably the drive of the film), the long calm rural shots and settings and changing seasons, the seeming-unobtrusiveness of the camera and the absence of heavy intent; above all the small but moving dramas of the everyday world of children, the calm world of normality.
And so I’m thinking of doing a bit more concerted research into the long take, some more Japanese cinema, maybe some Polish. The humanity of the long take.
Also on screen review: Little Otik. Not the very best (partial) stop motion or fairy tale rendering, and it’s a little too long in the tooth; but the occasionally sharp, absurd and farcically gratuitous humour obviously gave it a loving home with festival audiences everywhere. At times very mindful of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro — intense food, intense and abrupt close-ups, mental regressions etc. I got the feeling though, that Günter Grass would’ve done it much more justice.