OK, the first anniversary of Grey Tuesday is coming up; and what’s changed since then? Copyright is still an important legal issue and royalties are more important than ever. Apple announced it’s hocked a quarter billion licensed MP3 tunes just as it undertook legal action against a kid who posted Mac gossip on his blog. Lisa Marie has sold the entire Elvis Industry to some higher-level marketing venture; and in Britain advertisers want to use Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain routine to plug a car. If marketing companies can throw huge sums of money into cultural stealing (which is what it amounts to: usurping a tune’s familiarity and or subjective-musical power to invest a product with cultural kudos and association, colonising our minds), and thereby keep making more money unfairly with respect to the original artists and or writers, then their legal hunting down of the small-time mixers having a bit of fun with the music, in an effort to protect their profits, is obscene. Visions of an army of Colonel Parkers with teams of snide grey Simpsons lawyers, simply because they can afford them, to pick on some kids with mix and sampling software. Conversely, I love the idea of CopyLeft but it just doesn’t function in higher-level capitalism with its profit-ownership obsessions. The future utopia for artists or musicians (in the sampling age especially) is to make all music free. Which of course makes it impossible to protect, and so the whole vicious cycle begins again. The system prevails. Some snide manager whispers into a bored musician’s ear that there’d be no more coke riders. Or Moby renegotiating for the umpteenth time his commercial-use royalties ('I hear we’ve just got New Guinea'). Any industry protects its interests across the board, from legal protections to voting Republican. The music, ultimately, represents very little. Add to that all the profitable re-issues and greatest hits packages and you’ve got a shiny, healthy music industry that can afford to cry foul over missed revenues.
But after all the sampling and mashing and riff-lifting and rap-tracking, what’s actually changed in the state of music itself? Or more specifically, in light of all the people moaning about the decline of the true album format and the inroads that shuffling MP3 players make on people’s music listening experiences, has anything truly new and original happened in the spirit of music? Is there anything more than just the occasionally brilliant or truly affective combination of sample, beat and wildly crossed context? The mad cut-up or the sublimely dissing pisstake? Within its own context mashing is great fun, but it ultimately doesn’t add to the music; its just another means of reducing everything to sample material and raw unprocessed context. It’s the quality of the original materials or the power of the raps that are laid onto it, or the occasional wild accident that matters — if everyone was making mash albums there’d soon be a shortage of stuff to sample. Which means that ultimately it’s a reductive venture, given the hacker kudos of playing against corporate copyright rules. Of course, the Beatles were a great white elephant just waiting to be brought down (DJ Danger Mouse just got there first). With their rights in limbo, neither Peg Leg Paul nor Ringo Superhero are gonna pen personal letters of cease and desist (‘White Elephant Jumps at Grey Mouse’). Mashing also means deliberate provocation and baiting, deliberately planting little copyright stings on record companies too slow to act legally over the internet. Which is fine in context but ultimately another tiring, reductive maneuver, a difficult pose to maintain for any length of artistic time without genuine smarts and creativity. Which brings it all back where it began, in Dub. Technically speaking, mashing is an extension of the history of mixing that began with Dub. And what did Dub do when it ran out of source materials? It started making its own. Y’all should be looking back to what Sly and Robbie were doing in the 70s.
The decline of the album format is another issue. A lot of the mash stuff actually tries to tie it all together with shout-outs and dissing and bragging. But there’s a strong sense of limitation — again, the source materials issue. And if music doesn’t play at expanding its expressive or spiritual boundaries from within (jazz) then its net emotional gain and relevance will stay academic, and undergraduate at that. A fun little exercise only. Also, mashes are quite listener-fatiguing. The odd 99 Problems / Helter Skelter mash is great, and it might sound very odd to hear me say this now, but I really want to hear songcraft and good choruses and not some hastily sequenced non sequiturs. I want to hear intelligent writing and ability again. Gentle ability, handmade, soulful.
Recorded in Paris in 1981 on what’s billed as an all-night session, this is a good little guide to how African big bands do it. It's so easy-rolling that an entire evening could’ve been filled this way. At times eerily reminiscent of the early 70s JBs but almost diametrically opposed in rhythm structure (tight lock grooves vs. this freeform rolling improv), this is more an exercise in African jazz. Long solo excursions, big horn sections. Fela is the same hard-driving lead man, strutting around with a joint, goading musical cues, cueing the change, calling the shots. And directing the sound engineer to turn up the bass or cancel the effects. One man leading a big band. He discusses US and European-supported police-government/colonialism in Africa with the audience. Talking 'bout the government through music, but potently. He struts and moves almost the entire show. Leads the chant. There’s about 17 members to his band (The Africa 70). The show isn’t so much about putting on a show as expressing music as life: you’ve gotta be pretty deep in the groove to pull this off all night long. Call and response, horn breaks and wide open spaces slowly building and breaking again. Then heavier breaks. Fela does choppy organ chords and horn solos (the latter not as accomplished). His painted and bangled dancers come out and do an, er, floorshow (ever seen African women dancing on their hands and knees?). And all of it on the simplest beat: just a rimshot with a ricochet echo and a two-note bass hit. Building up all the time. 'Hey darling, show me your living license.' 'How can you criticise music when you’re not playing it?' It's great just to see the man in action, get the full picture. The only pity is the rather poor video transfer and atrocious sound. The entire band just doesn’t come across clearly; and the early 80s editing fit this into very late or early morning French TV schedule where only stoners come across it. But with the rhythm and horns in full swing, Fela at the console, it’s pretty great stuff. All night long. I want all music to be like that.
The pace of life, our burgeoning technology and the cultures we experience between these are accelerating. The rates of change and the new strata of information we have to absorb have conversely fostered a media and promotion industry which generate rapid-turnover cultural trends, each promotion more hip and important than the one before it (even though very little truly new and original material is actually being marketed). We are never allowed to rest, bide our time or make personally informed decisions about which art, music or film to buy into before the next big thing claims our dwindling attention and finances. In a way we are the willing subjects of trend and hype. We are attracted to the social kudos of being culturally informed and up to date, so we (as reviewers and consumers) keep buying into that hype. The hype is where it all happens, culturally speaking — the eternal present of the promotional Now.
But cultural history is never written by those with the most money to spend on promotion. The truly memorable art is the original, relevant and communicative work that usually dismays promoters and marketers and slips by the mainstream channels to become first an underground classic, then a cashed-in re-promoted classic and only later a part of our general cultural reference. All of which of course doesn’t do anything to dismantle the system of hype and promotion that can afford to spurn such occasional slow burning dark horses. The next big hype is always just around the corner, and the temporal distance to that corner is getting ever shorter.
Contemporary cultural promotion reflects the most profitable ventures. So we’re seeing the same kinds of formulaic films, bands and artists pushed again and again. Consumer’s culture dollars are limited — especially when there’s a flood of culture to choose from. Also, the sheer scale of cultural variety and access has increased rapidly thanks to technologies like the internet, so that every precious marketing minute matters more than ever. All of which compounds into the modern wave of advertising and similitude, with the highly anticipated but indifferent products floating on top, and all the other cultural dross often sinking to obscurity. Despite the fact that so much of our future cultural heritage starts out as this dross. Despite the resultant ennui and jaded media fatigue.
The really significant criticism and force of cultural review should concentrate on this flotsam, separating it from the other mediocre dross that washes on our attentive shores. With a nearly limitless amount of culture being produced and the promotional calendar so crowded, urgency and hype should be the least important concerns in judging a work’s true cultural or artistic value, if any. A reviewer should pick up on things that mightn’t have been fully appreciated at the time, or which didn’t make the promotional grade or whose timing missed the mainstream cultural boat. Reviewers need more time to compare, contrast and savour, rather than being at the compliant beck and call of every slick PR assistant with a bulging filofax. Their modus should be: if it’s really that good, then it’ll still be around in several months, or even several years from now. Because to fully appreciate a work it needs to be unshackled from its hype and promotional or contextual usurpation — the work will always stand up for and answer to its own worth outside of time. The promotional here and now of hype is not real — and it never mattered in the long scale. Great art, says the cliché, is timeless — an not without reason. Like the slow food movement, cultural review and analysis should also be slow and measured, indifferent to hurry and fads, and thereby its enjoyment will be increased.
I propose a Review which will evaluate nothing less than six months old. I propose a Review with a goodly proportion of prose and due consideration. I propose a Review without Hype or Promotional deadline.
Ostensibly a portrait of group sex, which I don’t think has been given its full literary due since de Sade, this is an interesting read in feminine sexuality. Compared to other dabblers of group sex (Houellebecq comes to mind, positively juvenile in contrast, though juvenility is an interesting starting point here too), Millet comes across like an old hand at the game. She’s thorough, honest and precise in recounting the blur and the gross joys of group action. She’s got a finger on the memorial contours of intimacy and space, from the outskirts of Paris parking lots to domestic nooks and crannies. She’s got an appreciably serious and hungry eye for sex and larger scales of satisfaction; Paglia would no doubt detect a trace of masculine perspective and attitude in her ability to project (imagination-wise, here) and indulge the raw desires as just that, raw, slightly detached, self-pleasing love of detail and variety etc. Her professed obsession with numbers (a little underdone, narrative-wise) doesn’t come close to de Sade’s mechanics and ingenuity, but Millet does define for herself the modern libertine woman. A libertine tract (mental news flash: for the godless libertine, fucking becomes religion and ritual), a tract with the requisite dose of philosophy — here masquerading as art-speak and liberation. Liberated in what sense I’m not sure — highly specialised and particular, like all liberations I suppose. Millet retains the trappings of adolescence/juvenilia that pushed her right in group-sex’s deep end: the containment and masturbation fantasies, shreds of guilt from parents and religion and taboos; and she makes continually clear these function in a continuity (just like she’s always banging on about sexuality’s relation to space). But on the whole, in terms of dealing with her subject slash self she provides something close to a thorough slash seeming-complete picture of sexuality’s domain and range… the discovery of preference and personal want, the fantasy crossing into reality (especially when it comes to masturbation), the jealousies and fallout in terms of relations (the treatment and insights into relations and sexual community are probably the most valuable here, in terms of humane reality) (interestingly, she counters jealousy with strength of imagination), as well as the fine points which give absolute pleasure and crave repetition. The brush with scatology. The self-perception or imago contrasts, the inward-outward, and of course the subtle bodily differences and varieties (of men) and minds in relation to sex. I wasn’t really taken with the near-philosophy and near-art parallels — obviously making a supremely able group fucker was the art of her life. The prose is symptomatic. By turns amazingly evocative and succinctly suggestive in her writing (the life on the Bois, the various places in the country, the interiors), Millet minces acute perception with sloppy continuity and carelessness. Don’t get me wrong, evocation is a highly prized narrative skill, and the first few chapters are great reads. But the obvious parallel to be drawn is with group sex itself — her prose skips around with partners and places and pleasures ‘till you don’t know who’s what or where and don’t even care. She tunes in and out. She fast forwards and then scrolls by frame. Memory and interpretation blend. Guys especially become an endless rotation of johns, like carelessly preserved slides coming out sideways, or from the wrong carousel. Her dominant mode is pictorial generally and cinematic specifically — although she seems to prefer documentary at times as well. Painting doesn’t seem to interest her beyond a professional sense, and neither ultimately does prose though there is a strong sense of personal satisfaction in not only having written this tract but in its candour and gumption. She strikes me as appreciably gruff and efficient in the sphere of sexual action, but also intensely private. Which is the hook line of the book. And which makes the near-pseudonymous title rather hairless really. I mean pointless. On the whole, it’s agreeable stuff; surprisingly lacking in repetition or doubt.
When the surrounding temperature, whatever it may be, can be felt by an area of skin it doesn’t normally reach, such as the small of the back, the body no longer presents an obstacle to the air, it is penetrated by it and is, therefore, more open and receptive. When the atmosphere which embraces the vastness of the world adheres to the surface of my skin like a myriad tiny suction pads, my vulva also feels as if it has been drawn out and dilates deliciously. (p101) (If a guy had written this, or Tom Wolfe, this’d be high camp)
On the slopes of the little hill we’re overlooking, the vines have been replaced by scrub. When my cunt has been sensitised to its very depths, I just have to close my eyelids and, through my eyelashes, I can see the village of Latour-de-France over to the right. I still have the faculty to think to myself: ‘There’s Latour-de-France’ and to appreciate not for the first time its picturesque position on an outcrop of rock in the middle of the valley. (p106)
But what a good poking I had that evening, my rear end grasped between his hands, pinioned and kneaded, with my top half thrust forward over the Roussilllon plain as it slowly dissolved! (p108)
… I thought of myself as being in the active realm of the men… (p168)
Exasperated desire is a naïve dictator which cannot believe anyone would oppose it or even inconvenience it. (p170)
Songs on my headphones, or My obsession with music (part 2)
For the benefit of Adam, who's been plying me with music-anecdotal details and mash tracks (DJBC, the WhoBoys, the Kleptones), and for my personal memorial benefit (as well as to give an idea on what's on my brain daily-like, because it's amazing how much cultural stuff we process in any given period, on any particular day, and which of course fuels my blog-testimony and archive (retroactively detailed)), here's a list of (some) tracks that've lightened my work burden lately, today:
Bag of Jewels (Lou Donaldson, off the Midnight Creeper album), Give Me Back My Wig (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Live at Montreux, amidst boos and jeers), Stone / Sunday [parts 1 & 2] (Cibo Matto), Half Breed (Yusef Lateef, off the great Last Savoy Sessions), Class Clown / Bi-Labial Fricative / Attracting Attention / Squeamish (George Carlin), Ghanashyam (Ravi Shankar), I'm Thru With Love (Chet Baker & strings), Pretty Country (Tommy White) (teardrops!), Hairy Trees (Goldfrapp (off Black Cherry: great porn music)), Autumn Leaves (Miles Davis), Walk On (Neil Young), Burning Airlines Give You So Much More (Brian Eno), Can't You Hear Me Knocking (The Rolling Stones, fresh funk), O Superman (Laurie Anderson, subtle melancholy mode), Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (Hayseed Dixie) (yee-hah!), End Of A Century (Blur), Coming In Hot (Peter Tosh), The Ghetto (live) (Donny Hathaway) (one of my fave grooves), Knock, Knock (The Humane Society), Three Point Scrabble (The High Llamas, off Cold And Bouncy), Diamonds and Pearls (Prince, still quite possibly one of the greatest pop songs), Lentement Mademoiselle (Django Reinhardt), Mephistopheles (Wayne Shorter), Into The Frying Pan (King Crimson), Space Is Deep (Hawkwind), Glad (David Byrne), Try Me On For Size (the Electric Prunes, all echo and reverb), Clock Strikes Ten (Cheap Trick at Budokan, nutty fans), Space Jazz Reverie (Sun Ra), Fluffy (Ween), Dali's Car (Captain Beefheart), Hi Court Low Cut (Mouse On Mars, off Glam) (love these guys), Viola Lee Blues (The Grateful Dead), In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly, the full 17-minute version which just never ends), Bamba The Poet (Youssou N'Dour), Every Day & Every Night (Tosca), Eventually (Ornette Coleman), The Ocean (Led Zeppelin), Since I Fell For You (Milt Jackson), Djobi Djoba (Gipsy Kings, great clap-syncopation), Dust (Van Hunt), Say Yes (Elliott Smith), Full Of Fire (Al Green, I love you - you the man!), Strangers When We Meet (David Bowie), In My Room (Beach Boys), A Message To You Rudy (The Specials), The Disappointed (XTC), Son Montuno (Chucho Valdes), Call Me (Madness), Zungo (Nina Simone), I'm Getting Sentimental Over You (the Legendary Jimmy Scott), My Favorite Things (John Coltrane, tireless: the closest approximation of inspiration there is), 007 (Shanty Town) (Desmond Dekker), Intermezzo, OP. 118 No 2 (Jason Moran), Space Beatle (The Beta Band, great 'I love you to pieces' chorus), All Over Me (Graham Coxon in Beatles mode), Natty Dread A Weh She Want (Horace Andy, off Skylarking), Losing My Mind (The Black Crowes, off the underrated Lions album), Achtung! (Laibach), Goodbye Goodbye Goodbye (Bill Frisell, so charming and meditative, great minor turn), Hard To Handle (Otis Redding ('I got to have it')), Cordoba (Eno & Cale), Dizzy Dizzy (live) (Can, amazing live album), Raisin Rhetoric (George Carlin), Motion Suggests (Pavement), Black Bugs (Regurgitator), ABoneCroneDrone 3 (Sheila Chandra) (nice Necks chords), Hey Joe (The Leaves), The Private Psychedelic Reel (The Chemical Brothers, though I would've smoothed out that drum loop a bit; it also seems a bit deliberate in hindsight), Twins (Manitoba), I Know What I Know (Paul Simon), Wouldn't It Be Nice Stereo Track With Background Vocals (The Beach Boys, again, love it), Highlands (Bob Dylan, who Scorsese doesn't get on with?).
I know, what could be more boring than posting a personal track listing. But with all that old-and-new-stuff-tension in the tracks, I'm sure you'll find some fun in 't, Ads. Also, with so many interesting keywords and artists, it's a great way to get picked up by search engines and particular search requests. Hello new readers; I share the music fantastic with you.
Firstly, this is Roth in political-novel mode, meaning there’s barely a whiff or issue of sex here; and meaning also that we miss one of Roth’s major field-talents (I’ve had to balance my reading of The Plot with Millet’s Sexual Life of Catherine M.). This is purely Roth the Literary Monk; one of the quietly active custodians of the novel form, working steadily away in his personal cell of the soul and his small but essential window on the world. Everyone’s been banging away in reviews about the Lindbergh scenario’s parallel with the current US administration, even though that is doing Lindy a slight disservice. Everyone wants this novel to represent our current politics (ou, the Politics Against America) which of course skews the broad valence and weight of the novel unfairly; as though we need further cultural affirmation of what is already bleedingly apparent — the incompetent idiocy and smallness of the Bush junta — or indicative of some latent guilt and conscience-issues re: his reign. This book, although small in terms of rage and scope, is still larger than George W. will ever be.
One of the finest achievements of the novel is the blend of child’s POV with fully adult prose finesse. Roth never descends to childlike babble and prattle — the prose remains fully intelligent yet encased within a child’s world and concern. I didn’t realise how effective this was until many pages in. It’s the most sustained trope of the book — and a writer’s difficulty executed effortlessly. Sterling adult prose told honestly, personally.
The subject of much of American politics is "We the People" — and Roth aims in the same direction. He plays beautifully on the American faith in proffered beliefs and ideals, in the ability of Americans to believe their own propaganda and myths, and hence the US system of bamboozlement that feeds it — not so much through direct doublespeak but political sophistry and duplicity. Perfidy, false patriotic piety, dissembling cant and overt misrepresentation (all things in line with the Bush junta). To exploit traits or characteristics (in this case Jewish temperament, persecution complex, congregation etc) as the defining cause of violence against them; to inflame prejudice whilst actually serving an extremist agenda. That is, explicit self-propagandising — an American political specialty. Here, the asserted right or privilege to speak for We the People with finality and racial superiority — and hence Roth’s emphasis of US citizenship and pride over racial distinctions and the politics thereof. His family always considers itself American first, Jewish later. And hence the classical-novel mode of politics entering and poisoning the family as pseudo-symbolic of the country at large, poisoning itself.
The point of the novel methinks is not to willfully parallel the Bush junta and its own particular cult of fear and propaganda, but to show how easily and close the US of the early 40s came (by fictive extension) to fascism and institutional anti-Semitism. This is one of the disturbing by-products of the corrective notes at the end, especially regarding Wheeler, Ford etc. The seeds were all there but the mélange of events raised a different fruit. This narrative force of ‘what if’ is married to the growth of fear in a single Jewish family; and by the child’s entrance into maturity through confronting and absorbing the essential unpredictability of modern life. The valence and cohesive relevance of family (gained by increased awareness) in the face of growing chaos, violence, paranoia. Hence, it’s a cautionary tale. But as always with Roth, all is achieved by a rich panoply of characters — the focus of centrality shifts subtly from Sandy, Alvin, the father and then to the mother, with all the minor characters in between and the political players in the contextual-mingled background. The eager energy of the father all the while contrasted with the eager gullibility of Americans adopting fascist sympathy. The fall-ins and fallouts with the government; the eager betrayal of his people by Bengelsdorf; the power (and guilt) of political bling and nearness to myth (the white god descending from the skies in his plane/chariot is a pure Hitlerian fantasy (contrasted in turn with the deliberate veracity-ambiguity of the Nazi causality in the plot resolution)).
I like the idea of Philip Roth as a Literary Monk because it provides a gold-standard model for serious literati in these seriously warped times. A model of ageing defiantly, in truth to one’s cause (the novel) and with consistent grace (say over the last four novels). Roth doesn’t descend (if that’s the right phrase) into op-ed forays of political reactionism or Jeremiads, yet neither is he aloof enough to completely lose relevance or cease engaging artistically with the times at hand. As far as longevity goes, Roth is quietly assuring his own greatness over flies like Bush by presenting the human, personal and above all the particular view of innocence matured (another myth strongly interred in the US mind) as a frame for political and social awareness. Roth the Writer should be the one who comes to mind when we think of Representative Americans. And also, on the level of the writing (and in addition to his supreme ease with the novel medium), I particularly like Roth because you can feel how the mechanics of literature connect and mesh with the broader society that spawns it, even down to its conscience. He’s becoming more and more a Newark man as he’s becoming a greater American.
A new life began for me. I’d watched my father fall apart, and I would never return to the same childhood… the father… [was] crying like both a baby abandoned and a man being tortured — because he was powerless to stop the unforeseen. And as Lindbergh’s election couldn’t have made clearer to me, the unfolding of the unforeseen was everything… The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic (p113-114)
I remained in bed with a high fever for six days, so weak and lifeless that the family doctor stopped by every evening to check on the progress of my disease, that not uncommon childhood ailment called why-can’t-it-be-the-way-it-was. (p172)
…every day I ask myself the same question: how can this be happening in America? How can people like these be in charge of our country? If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I’d think I was having a hallucination. (p196)
What it came down to for the child who was watching her [his mother] being battered about by the most anguishing confusion (and who was himself quaking with fear) was the discovery that one could do nothing right without also doing something wrong, so wrong, in fact, that especially where chaos reigned and everything was at stake, one might be better off to wait and do nothing — except that to do nothing was also to do something… in such circumstances to do nothing was to do quite a lot — and that even for the mother who preformed each day in methodical opposition to life’s unruly flux, there was no system for managing so sinister a mess. (p340-341)
It’s not very often that I fall in love with TV personalities. But my lordy, Lisa is the best weathergirl I’ve ever seen. Sky News has suddenly become watchable again, knowing that Lisa might appear at any minute to give her sweet and sweeping prognostications and pressure systems. She reduces me to blushing boyhood. She has the cutest sense of verbal flow and pitch, she has an absolutely charming intake of breath mid-sentence and an engagingly subtle trace of Irish accent. And smiles, smiles smiles smiles — even the dourest storm becomes a beacon of hope and slick swishing hair. I didn’t realize how deep in I was until some comedic geezer in the Irish Times TV guide let on his guilty pleasure for awaiting and watching Lisa. He picked up on everything: the on again/off again ring and all that implies; the sweet and fresh cuteness; the perfect intakes of breath between low and high pressure systems; everything. Except for the disarming tilt of the head. And I got pissed. I thought she was mine alone. Only I have noticed and mentally tracked her variations of hair and blazer. To see someone so attractive on TV, so professionally natural and easy on the eye, and completely forget the weather, news and headlines… it could only lead to sighs and wilting whimpers on the couch. She’s got a brain for science and a master’s from Cambridge. She gets up at 3:30 am. She’s got a basic website and was voted sexiest weather presenter of all time by some men’s rag. But there’s only one pathetic attempt at a fan site — meaning the market is awaiting the full appreciation. I sense my calling. I declare my duty.
A role tailored for Jack like a suit, double breasted pin stripe and vest. The sunniest noir film ever made. The classic Marlow/Hammett mode from the sly broad to the copious cigarettes. Restrained and absolutely stylish in its direction, pace and production (exceptionally realistic pacing). The classical features of Faye cast with perfection (Polanski looking to his mother’s makeup for inspiration?). The honest flatfoot with the Agent Cooper past (the heavy past of conscience, yes the influence probably goes the other way) and disdain for the greater powers and the corrupt society they run; the cops and the flunkies and bum steers and fraudulent rackets. There must be something inherently nostalgic in the form and medium of noir to be able to pull off such a flawless and smooth cinematic installment with devotion and absolute care for detail — maybe even a sense of detachment. Maybe because there is (literally) so little of Polanski in it, maybe because this is a film made very explicitly with its leads in mind. Or because noir is something so peculiar and uniquely American, like jazz, that its genre repetitions (because being so clear, defined, and hence limited) are so enjoyable as cinematic event that we can keep coming back to them like primary modes. In other words I’m amazed that its taken me this long to finally get around to seeing it from beginning to end (excluding the dubbed Italian version I came across somewhere). Could this be the film that established Polanski’s reputation ultimately? Wouldn’t it be great to think that a solid piece of genre filmmaking could do that for a director, and not his self-indulgent late-life dribblings? That’s what’s so good about noir: rigorous rules and modality. Restraint. The genre is bigger than the director. And possibly the formal respect and nostalgia is really for the studio system that helped spawn noir.
One of the great transition moments in Rock and Roll. And some of the most singular rock music ever — one man with the voice, the power and the looks. By this time E was used to dealing with the empty spaces and endless waiting and run-throughs of filming a production (book title: 29 Pictures); and his quiet patience when most other rock stars would’ve walked off and insulted the director is inaresting — indeed with almost every take involved in the 50-minute special represented here (surprising to see how many takes and scenes actually go into it), you get every boring, waiting minute without a single tantrum (though I lost track of E saying 'mah boy, mah boy' to himself). E still manages to pull of exponential, seismic shifts in energy, to unleash hoards of inner energy through his voice — the various takes of One Night, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Trying to Get to You are just amazing; within the space of a second he racks up the highest intensity. It's almost voyeuristic to see a single performer put so much energy into a televisual performance; you look around to see if it's really possible. And despite all the waiting and expected attention during the solo numbers (E is no MC and doesn’t care), he always puts in an on-performance; the three takes of If I can Dream are all intense, committed. Never fluffed. The only downers are the production numbers with the dancers and bordello scenes and neon streets — these are terribly dated, shockingly archaic. For our jaded media eyes, the wholly lo-cal state of the production concept (variety family musical fun informal performance spectacle with lotsa dancers) smacks of cheap televisual and saccharine patheticness. If it had been just E doing rhythm/blues and gospel tunes this would've blown the world away. It aims at slickness but ultimately comes across as camp and cornball, or merely competing with Ed Sullivan (send in the circus and magic acts). Greil Marcus was awarded essay duty for the sleeve notes, and despite his (elsewhere) diagnosis of a man singing for his life if not his musical career, here he comes across as putting cheap mock-academic superlatives and hyperbolic spin on the matter (parallels are drawn with Connery's 007). Writing more and more like a mindless fan rather than a deepener of the artistic truth. With the squared-in stage (the stand-up show), E looks caged and jaunty, but he slowly starts playing to the audience, busting a move, taking it in, testing the waters after 29 pictures, limbering up to performing again and hence there’s a sense of personal turning point, a sense of return to real audiences and immediate jubilation. And he did it by his vocal performance alone, not moves — this is some of his most committed singing. Considering the ease with which E could sing, and the boredom and laziness he wallowed in if allowed, this is probably one of the few live times where the vocals mattered most to him, and after days of intense singing he hardly even loses his voice. Also, the offstage band is wrong somehow — E needs the ride and bounce of a big, projecting band. The screaming girls are almost not noticeable anymore (again, the Nicholas Cage effect). Charlie Hodge keeps cropping up all over the place too; it was a mistake giving him a mike in the first place — he only hacks into it. Funny how every man looks ugly around E...
Yes, an inaresting combination. Like something went wrong at the Chinese restaurant when taking your order. We all had a good laugh as Buffy went from room to room in this very standard thriller; chuckled at her low-register screen presence, and winced with occasional mirth as she hobnobbed Japanese in this Japanese crossover shot. Shoot it does, but very wide. Scary little surprises, almost all of them audio-based drive the action; plot threads and pseudo-mystical sources are left hanging like sloppy noodles, and an ending so thoroughly dissatisfying it had us choking and shredding the chef. The impression of leafing through an American clothing catalogue, or possibly even a Wallpaper special, while waiting in a rather chilly Chinese restaurant where someone’s doing stupid human tricks. Can the jaw really stretch that far? The tiring expectation of a loud crash of horror every time things went quiet. Why do ghosts go about scaring and killing the long and maximally drawn-out way? No apres-vie best practice seminars? Why wasn’t there more soul and source in the characters, all so underdone and in the case of the police officer who’d already lost his colleagues to the same ghost (yes, this is an Asian production), completely excised from the final body count? In all a shame considering the fair production values. But we beefed up the disappointment with a bit of light and cool Ridley fluff (Men). Although fluff and beef are mangled metaphorically; no meat and roughage go together that well in a cinematic squishy. Ridley stands second only to Spielberg for consistent if pedestrian entertainment, your average, good value dinner fare. Cage is super as the OCD scamster but he’s locked in a rather predictable double set-up. The ticks and the manias come so naturally to him it makes you wonder: is this typecasting or acting? And in turn, are we viewers becoming obsessively predictable in being fed such familiarly double-crossed plot masquerading as original cinema? One thing I had trouble with is that whenever I see Elvis I now think of Nicholas Cage. The wires got crossed, somehow; the imitators have killed the king. No matter. Also, there was something uncanny on the Dutch TV before (a royal gala performance no less, and Beatrix looked decidedly weary as though thinking My, is it that time of year again?), namely, the annual Dutch Spastic Orchestra concert (they did have a nicer name, I've forgotten). Yes, they were fun in a perverse way (most of them played one-finger keyboard lines), but they later gave me the even cannier idea to start up an OCD orchestra. A hefty Philip Glass score perhaps, and then possibly speeding up the action with Benzedrine. And forcing to audience to listen for six, seven hours at a stretch. I mean, everyone deserves their representation, their chance in the spotlight, right? Maybe I’m the one that’s sick.
David Foster Wallace, the Broom of the System
What can you say about such a clear *first* novel: there’s shades of future brilliance, an introduction to the theme and method of the mature author, as well as the normal failings of overwriting, bad contour and unevenness, that nagging sense of juvenilia. Everything that the Jest is not. I liked the narrative duotone of the character who fears she is nothing more than a narrative character, working in an ensemble of characters who are actively plotted to enact a narrative for and around her. Smackings of undergrad humour maybe, not the mature DFW who fully knows his LitCrit and the value of real literature; and occasionally the gags are played purely for superficial fun in the numerous creative writing exercises in ways that don‘t help the reader’s triangulations. DFW knows this. But still there’s enough narrative cleverness and good dialogue to keep it simmering. And the first trace of the DFW theme-tropes (dare I call them memes?): reflective arts and sciences slash philosophical reflectivity; geographic reconfigurations; gross physicality (as Wittgenstinian tactic); psychological discourses and excesses of projection; students and drugs; acutely dysfunctional families; lampoon televisual culture; little narrative problem-paradoxes; and the gifted rendering of fractured characters’ dialogue. Choice quote:
"Handcuffs? You’re going to forgive me with handcuffs that say 'Bambi’s Den of Discipline' on them?" (p440)
With all his "fine disdain for ‘reality’" (cover blurb) and young writer’s cool, it’s easy to see how he got lumped in with Ellis et al (that ending leaves… desired). But what has Ellis done lately that even comes close to this.