Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mother Fucker Never Told a Lie

Several months ago I came upon a poorly screen printed t-shirt at my local Good-Will thrift/retail/whatever store with what looked like a comic on it. The print consisted of about a hundred tiny panels, many of them indecipherable, which seemed to be telling a story about George Washington. I've kicked myself in the ass for months for not snatching it up only because it would have been too big for me to wear. The comic depicted our founding father reeking havoc and handing out asses wherever he went. Since that day I've been struggling to figure out exactly what I saw.

Today I happened upon someone's avatar in the A.V. Club comment threads and immediately recognized it as a drawing from the fabled t-shirt. I inquired as to its origin, and in little time was informed that it came from a comic/video created by Brad Neely a little googling and my months of anticipation were generously rewarded...

whites of your eyes, BITCH!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Dan gave me a copy of Irreversible and asked me to watch it and let him know what I thought. He said "if you can make it though the first 15 minutes, then you should be able to make it through the rest." He also said that I would probably hate myself for watching it, but that I might want to watch it again.

So here I am having just watched it, and for the most part he was right. I do have a desire to watch it again(mostly to catch a few things I missed the first time) but don't know if I'm ever going to. It would be hard to overstate the violent nature of Irreversible and aside from being hard to stomach emotionally the films merry-go-round aesthetic will have you running for the dramamine before you get past the title menu.

I'm generally pretty thick skinned when it comes to movie violence, I don't get offended too easily in fact I don't see much of a point to. Most movie violence can be chalked up to bad decision making on the part of the director, where graphic violence is a stand-in for content and craft, where the ability to make people squirm turns a b-movie hack into a member of the avant garde, this movie might easily be thrown into that pile were it not for a few saving graces.

Its not the first movie to play its scenes in reverse order. Everyone going into this movie will be familiar with Memento and its effectiveness in toying with the narrative to achieve something greater than the sum (or difference) of its parts. Irreversible plays a similar game but goes much darker than Memento's small town noir and sinks you right out of the gates into the filthiest pits of city's bowels(at a gay night club called "rectum" no less) the camera swirling around as if hung by a chain.

There will be spoilers ahead so, if you plan on watching it and you can find it, stop reading here, and make sure no women, children, small animals, or the elderly are around.

Irreversible's achievement is not in that it shows some sort of brutal uncensored violence, a man getting his head smashed in by a fire extinguisher, or a rape scene which lasts a good 8-10 minutes. Though these scenes work toward the movie's overall effect which is a sort of inverted tragic levity that makes it's subjects senslessly violent story all the more tragic for it's sequencing. It does this I think by offering the story in a way which forces the viewer to consider the plot a little harder, where we might more easily block ourselves from the violence were it edited more traditionally or chronologically, here the bath water is drained deliberately to reveal the drowned baby if you will.

With each scene the colors get brighter, the contrast is softened, and most importantly the camera gets more grounded and steady. Indeed those first 15-30 are pretty hard to watch in fact all we really get to see are colors and textures of a gritty euro-trash red light district the camera occasionally panning to reveal a harshly lit glimpse of violent sex as the character searches the corridors of "rectum" to find the man responsible for putting his girlfriend in a coma.

The first half unvenges? us back to the the rape/beating and it is this scene where we see the victim for the first time aside from a bloody mess we see being hoisted into an ambulance a scene or 2 earlier. Nothing that might take place in the second half could redeem what happens to her. There are moments in this scene where I found myself covering my mouth in disgust/shock one especially heart breaking moment when we see a figure enter the underpass where she is being raped and surveys the scene from a distance and promptly decides to ignore it and go back the way he came unnoticed.

Now that we got all that messy business out of the way we can get down to meeting our characters which are a young couple and their good friend who has come to visit them. The friend is the woman's ex-lover which might make for a some touchy dialogue were this not a story set in modern France where people are above getting upset by all that. The dialogue in this second half is another gem which redeems the film from just being shock fodder.

The story winds itself back up until we're in the room of the 2 lovers naked, gratified, just waking up, exchanging playful affections all is fuzy, warm, safe, and diffused, the characters are likable enough that you really don't need what seems like a tacked on bit about the girl potentially being pregnant. The camera pans out the windows and it's blue skies and infinite possibilities. A final shot shows our girl reading a book on blanket in the park as sunbathers and children enjoy the beautiful day, save for one last bit where the screen flickers and buzzes a bit to evoke the films violent beginning.

Played in chronological order it wouldn't be the same movie at all, and while the story isn't quite as nuanced as Memento, i think it deserves its own special place into the world of non-traditional narratives. While its reverse approach might originally be merely stylistic in nature it does achieve something original and thought provoking.

Once the senseless violence of the world swallows you up there's little left but to be shot out the other side bearing hardly a resemblance to the ripe fruit you may have been going in. A process which is Irreversible.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Summer comes before the Fall

I rarely read any novel more than once,
The Fall is the one of a few exceptions, and I've read it more than any other.
I've been working on this puppy since last fall,


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blonde Redhead - Misery is a Butterfly

In the last post I alluded to "comfort music" and I cant imagine that term needs much more explanation. Like a warm blanket you can wrap yourself up in it and let it coo you to sleep. I'd say that we're living in a generation defined by the idea, but it seems pointless to pick on emo when as long as music has been around we've been pouring our frustrations into it.

The only difference Is that as the entry level age for society endorsed romance drops you don't have to be an old blues-man to howl away the tears and testosterone. Self-pity has always been around in music. The idea that because of an explosion in technology is lowering the bar for the theatrical moping and catchy histrionics we should lay the bill at the door of self-pity and shoe-gazing is a little off aim.

The unspoken rule is that as adults were expect to leave all this comfort music behind and start taking a more positive pro active look at what were listening to. I think one of the unique burdens/choices that recent generations have had to deal with within a culture of constant noise is to consider what they idly end up ingesting and just how it effects their decision making processes. Each generation is expected to be able to dissect manipulation at a younger and younger age. Its little wonder why we look back at what we were doing just years ago with a tall order of condiscension and nostalgia.

Without straying further into rant territory, i'll get back on the point which is that as time wears on the wheat is separated from the chaff and what makes real artistic progress makes the trip to new generations like a little box of love letters we couldn't possibly throw away while lazy and unoriginal emoting gets left in the rear-view looking like Boy George's hat. No finer example than the recent success and influence of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album-- essentially an emo album-- embraced on all sides.

The cruel hand of reason is unforgiving. I'm sort of afraid to say too much about Misery, or even find out what I really think about it taken apart and looked at under glass. The reason is that I still rely on this album as comfort music. It has a very pragmatic use, regardless of whatever intrinsic musical or cultural value it possesses. The conventional wisdom is that any album worth its salt would survive and be enhanced by such a dissection, still I cringe at the thought of touching this butterfly for fear that I ruin its beautiful wings.

This albums strain may be of a particular genus within comfort albums: "break-up albums". Singing duties for each track are traded off by lead vocalist Kazu Makino and multi-instrumentalist Amedeo Pace(half of "the twins" BR's identical twin brothers). The affect is as if the two were writing dear john letters back and forth. The musical ground they lay for this modern opera is a dense tapestry of synth and strings that fuse art-rock, pop, and classical chamber music pushing the despair to brand new/very old heights.

You might remember the scene in Bill and Ted where Mozart having been brought to the present chances upon a modern keyboard at the mall and proceeds to melt everyone's faces Victorian style. Given enough time he may have produced something close to Misery's baroque aesthetic.

Its hard to say much about the albums content that can't be felt. Makino's accent makes Bjork seem Middle-American by comparison and every song is as desperate as Vespertine's "Pagan Poetry". Pace's tone is equally hopeless. Together they capture the frustration of the too-needy-to-go...to self-absorbed-to-stay pain of a relationship gone sour.

This alternating of tracks eventually culminates into a frustrated and lonely 6 minute duet. Then with the opening chords of the albums last song "Equus" its as if the dark sky opens and beam of light falls upon the one or two trees which survived the fire. The song compares its narrator to a horse rider and her companion to a horse, and finds its inspiration in part from an accident involving Makino being seriously injured after being trampled by a horse. The production is a bright piece of pop which couldn't possibly serve as a happy ending, but makes sure to end the album at least ambiguously.

In lieu of actually studying the album any further:
Here's a list of 10 other great comfort/break up albums to sink down into:

The Cure - Blood Flowers
Fionna Apple - When the Pawn
Metal Hearts - Socialize
Cursive - Domestica
Elliot Smith - XO
Damein Rice - 9
Circa Survive - Juturna
Veda - The Weight of an Empty Room
Sunny Day Real Estate -Diary
Portishead -Dummy

Of course preference will change from person, what is one man's sympathetic masterpiece is another's whiny cringe machine.

There's always a rock musician who knows your pain. Give up. Tune in. Lay down. And let the man with the guitar and the woman with the microphone make it all better.

Dust vs. Diamonds:

next week Kanye Twitty vs. Eagle Eye Chesney?