East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Twelve more conservative songs

Further to the post below: here are a dozen songs that should've made the National Review's list.

The Rolling Stones, "Paint It, Black"
The sequel, "Varnish It, Mexican", was never released.

Aretha Franklin, "Respect"
All she wants is a little respect. No need for PC bull like equal pay, the right to choose or maternal leave.

Otis Redding, "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay"
He goes to that hotbed of debauchery, the Bay Area, and discovers he was better off in the South. Red states rule!

Procul Harum, "A Whiter Shade of Pale"
The title says it all.

The Beatles, "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
Hold hands, that's all. No suggestion of heavy petting or penetration or "sixty-nining" and how could you even think about such things?

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message"
A cautionary tale about what could happen to you if you don't get a job sweeping streets.

Bob Marley, "No Woman No Cry"
In which Bob discovers that if we had no women, there'd be no crying.

Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the U.K."
A proto-Thatcherite ode to the free market.

Percy Sledge, "When a Man Loves a Woman"
Note: not "When a Man Loves a Man" or "When a Woman Loves a Woman" or "When a Man Loves a Donkey".

Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean"
A disturbing depiction of the delusions of a lesbian sportswoman.

Guns 'N' Roses, "Sweet Child o' Mine"
Even Axl Rose believes in traditional family values, as can be heard in this loving ode to his daughter.

John Lennon, "Imagine"
By asking us to imagine a world without fundamentalism, nationalism and profiteering, Lennon shocks us into realising how terrible an unconservative world would be.

Why aren't you reading...

Why aren't you reading Jeff Chang's analysis of the National Review 's top 50 conservative rock songs (which includes the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and "WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN" for Kissinger's sake) right now?

Greatest hits! [an indulgence]

Because I'm too busy absorbing the new Five Plays Free! version of Napster to write anything substantial, and since this is my 250th post, and since none of you have been reading me from the beginning (since I didn't, you know, tell anyone), it's clip show time. Can't say there was an embarassment of riches to choose from; looking back, it appears most of the time my ideas are half-baked but the writing is clever. (This is pretty common among good music bloggers, but with most good movie bloggers it's the other way around. Both groups have their priorities correct; discuss.) So here are a couple of posts with fully baked ideas, plus three with almost baked ones that I dressed up particularly nicely.

Me and You and Everyone We Know (18th May 2005): This does seem to be one of those movies that weakens as time passes from the time you saw it. But that wasn't an issue when I wrote this, and it was the first post in which I really conveyed my enthusiasm for a film. In other words, the writing's gush, but it's good gush.

Last Days (31st October 2005): Includes screenshot of wet boxer shorts clinging to Michael Pitt's ass. Was there another reason to see that movie?

Crash (8th February 2006): Really obviously not the best movie of the year. Really obviously not the worst movie of the year. I still think I nailed the text better than anyone besides Dave Kehr. (Foundas's reply here.)

The year in music, in rhyming couplets (20th February 2006): I would've been able to say I was robbed of two Pulitzers (criticism and poetry), if only all my subjects and verbs had agreed.

South Park: Cartoon Wars (6th April 2006):
I saw immediately that this was a major media event and a major work of art. And then Comedy Central pussed out. (The new issue of Harper's doesn't puss out, but despite some clever commentary from Art Spiegelman it's not the same.)

I've a hunch that Go-Betweens requiem from a couple of weeks back might be the best thing I've ever written, but that might still be the grief talking.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Pink's "Dear Mr. President"

(Watch a live performance on YouTube.)

"You've come a long way from whiskey and cocaine" is the money line; it's a cheap shot, but at this point in history it's entirely fair. (Then again, I think the chorus in the Coup's "Head of State" -- "Bush and Hussein together in bed/Giving H-E-A-D head" -- is borderline kosher, and unlike Pink's line it's not literally true.) I'm loath to declare "Dear Mr. President" Pink's best song, because "Don't Let Me Get Me" and "Get the Party Started" are exceptional in different ways. But it's a better piece of writing than anything on Neil Young's admirable, more mediagenic new album Living with War. (Young does have one conceptual coup: on "Let's Impeach the President", he sings "flip, flop" over contradicting Bush soundbytes. When someone contradicted themselves like that back in my day, we called him or her a "liar".)

Pink, for her part, is more literary: the song's structured at first as an modest invitation for Bush to take a walk with her, as she questions him on personal politics, and gets progressively angrier: "You don't know nothing 'bout hard work/Hard work/Hard work". And more than that, it's an amazing exploration of empathy. Who cares about the homeless in 2006 when they're politically irrelevant? Pink does, you should, a President damn well should. And she even extends her empathy to lonely boy Bush himself -- but by the end she knows it's futile, he'll never have time for him, better to try to convince those who do.

So: best Indigo Girls song ever.

Cannes wait

NEED... to see... Southland Tales...

Sunday, May 21, 2006


East Bay View endorses Phil Angelides for Governor of California, and proposes this slogan:

"Phil Angelides: Anti-Arnold since Conan the Destroyer."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code: And the lying liars who tell them [movie note]

You didn't think it was going to be good, did you? Some optimists noted the novel's movieness might ease the adaptation, but that movieness is just there to distract you. What sold the book (which I read a page and half of) wasn't plot or characters or, have mercy Lord, good writing, it was the puzzles and conspiracy theories -- uncinematic. The generic thriller stuff just makes it taste less like medicine (and helps avoid one kind of lawsuit).

The movie, unfortunately, tastes like medicine. It's not a travesty -- Hanks and Howard, though hardly thriller guys, are pros enough not to let that happen. But it's dull and rhythmless until Ian McKellan arrives to camp shit up. And even then a strategic compromise fucks with our enjoyment. The filmmakers mollify the Christians: every time McKellan spouts some anticlerical lore, Hanks is obliged to reply "That's just your opinion" or some other relativist claptrap. This is worse than if he simply opposes the theory, 'cuz in that case you can have the oh-my-stars-I-was-a-fool epiphany scene. The crackpot in all of us wants the absolute, wants some visionary to shout "What you think you know is a lie! This is the truth!" What fun is a conspiracy movie if the main character keeps telling us the conspiracy might be a bunch of shit?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I like both Poplicks and "Goodbye Earl"

but I can't begin to process this.

Canonball #990: Arsenal

USSR, 1928
Starring Semyon Svashenko
Written and directed by Alexander Dovzhenko

Arsenal is about a football team with such a high reputation that a player that can't even get on the field for them gets selected for the English World Cup squad.

Not funny? Hey, Brazil are laughing.

Arsenal is the first of Dovzhenko's trilogy set in his native Ukraine, followed by Earth, IMO the greatest of Soviet films, and Ivan. Much more than Earth, Arsenal relies on Eisensteinian montage to make its points. One is that in wartime, brutality is ubiquitous; he crosscuts between a mother beating her child and a man beating his horse. "You're hitting the wrong one, Ivan!" retorts the horse, clearly knowing more about dialectical materialism than his owner.

Unlike Eisenstein, though, Dovzhenko is less interested in violence than in the results of violence, and even in this, symbolism trumps realism. Dovzhenko makes a soldier the victim of not mustard but laughing gas, and we see his face contort hideously in fatal laughter. He closes the Great War portion of the movie with a Ukranian, a German and a French soldier each returning home to find their wives cradling a newborn. "Who?" they multilingually ask.

After the Russian Revolution, the Ukraine was briefly independent; Dovzhenko presents the chaotic celebrations as deluded, with various disreputable clerics and capitalists looking far too pleased with the way things are proceeding. (The score on the Image DVD I watched was particularly effective here in its dissonance.) What there is of a plot is laid out over the next half hour: hero Tyrnish leads the workers into rebellion, the White Russians crack down, and the remaining Reds defend a munitions factory. Disregarding martial glory, Dovzhenko shows his people losing: travelling shots of dead and injured bodies straddling a railroad. And his close-ups: how he gets them to evoke so much is not something I can explain; certainly it's not the acting, which is unremarkable when it's stylised (his trademark SLOW HEAD TURNS~!) and bad when it isn't.

The fundamental message is, of course, that the capitalists are scummy bastards and not like real, hard-working Ukranian men. One bespectacled wuss tells a rebel to "stand with your face to the wall, so I can shoot you in the back." (Just for a moment you think this might turn out well for him.) We see more violence now, as an indictment of the White Russians -- an officer repeatedly raises his arm, shoots, and lowers it again. The arsenal falls, but the people cannot be defeated: Tyrnish gets shot at from point-blank range, but stands tall, presenting his chest, daring them to shoot again. Stirring as this image is, it's a pretty macho way to finish; Earth would be great in large part because it found a more communal, natural way to end.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Lil' Bow-Wowski

Look, I loved Kris Kross as much as anyone, but why the Dupri does this guy have a career again? He was bad enough when he was Lil', but you'd think by now the kids would've worked out that A CHILD STAR CANNOT BE A THUG. If Riley from "The Boondocks" didn't predate him, you'd swear that's who McGruder based the character on.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Canonball #991: The Big Lebowski

USA, 1998
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi
Written by Ethan and Joel Coen
Directed by Joel Coen

One way for a comedy to achieve cult status is through a countercultural or ridiculous premise: Rocky Horror, Harold and Maude, the works of John Waters. Another is through visual oddity or trippiness: Repo Man, Brazil, the funnier works of Tim Burton. All of the works just named have some of both qualities, but perhaps none has such an excess of both as The Big Lebowski. So maybe it isn't so surprising that thousands of its fans will turn up to conventions dressed as German nihilists or severed toes. Not surprising, but still weird.

So there's this guy known as the Dude whose name is Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) who's mistaken for this other guy called Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston) who hires the Bridges Lebowski to deliver the ransom for his kidnapped trophy wife, while the heavies who accosted the Bridges Lebowski steal the rug the Bridges Lebowski took from the Huddleston Lebowski when he went to tell the Huddleston Lebowski that he'd been mistaken for... but you see where this is going. There are two candy-coloured dream sequences, one where the aforementioned rug is used as a magic carpet, the other conflating sex with bowling, building on earlier faux-erotic slo-mos of the torpid athletes in action.

Most cult comedies use bad taste to attack the idea of good taste; here bad taste is used for the sake of bad taste. Instead of "isn't this trash fun?", it's "isn't this trash hilarious?" -- a fine distinction that nevertheless makes the Coens' work problematic for many. The Dude gets kicked out of a taxi for dissing "Peaceful Easy Feeling", but the Coens set his dream of sidespinning between the parted legs of a lane of chorus girls to Kenny Rogers. High art doesn't fare better, what with Julianne Moore swinging around naked, splattering paint like birdshit. It might seem that the Coens are as nihilistic as those Germans, but then they put Captain Beefheart on soundtrack, and you don't that unless you believe the distinction between cool and uncool is worth making. The Coens love to laugh at lameness, but they also love to love weirdness.

Dressed like the last great summer of '72 never ended, Bridges plays the Dude with a slouch and a whine. He's no nihilist, he just can't put up much of a fight anymore, yet even in his incapability he's a hero. During the moments when his determination gets the better of his lethargy, a decency radiates through his self-involvement, inasmuch as he wishes no harm to anyone. And hey, getting to live like a slob and bowl all you want is an achievement. As long as you don't think it's enough.

Murakami's Kafka on the Shore vs the last few episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion FIGHT!

  • At any rate, you -- and your theory -- are throwing a stone at a target that's very far away. Do you understand that?
  • I know. But metaphors can reduce the distance.
  • We're not metaphors.
  • I know. But metaphors help eliminate what separates you and me.
  • That's the oddest pickup line I've ever heard.
General indifference to narrative norms
Eva: In the end the action shifts entirely into the characters heads. And it's in still frames.
Kafka: At one stage the characters just start driving around town, literally looking for the next plot point.
Advantage: even

Existential whatchame
Kafka: Nakata kills a spirit in human form, because the spirit tells him to. And because the spirit is killing cats.
Eva: Shinji kills a spirit in human form, because the spirit tells him to. And because the spirit's going to destroy humanity.
Advantage: Eva

Potted Freud
Eva: Shinji hates his father, and longs for his mother, and has this weird sexual tension with Rei, who's sort of like his sister and his mother.
Kafka: Kafka kills his father and sleeps with his mother and his sister, although he might not have actually done any of these things, and the people in question might not be related to him at all.
Advantage: Kafka

Mystical forces
Eva: The puny humans fight against angels, and by extension, God.
Kafka: The puny humans are confused by talking cats, Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders.
Advantage: Kafka

Use of Beethoven
Kafka: Hoshino discovers classical music upon hearing the Million Dollar Trio's (Rubinstein/Heifetz/Feuermann) recording of Beethoven's Archduke Trio in B flat. (The more educated Oshima prefers the Suk Trio version.)
Eva: Flagrant use of Beethoven's Ninth. On the plus side, you can hear it.
Advantage: Kafka

Throwaway brand-new world ending
Kafka: A new world is created through symbolic questing and human will.
Eva: A new world is created through symbolic questing and human will, and it's sort of explained by pseudoscientific rambling so that makes it OK.
Advantage: Eva

Final round: Kafka is better written and more subtle and meaningful. But Eva has mecha fighting angels.

Winner: Evangelion. Eva will go on to fight the winner of Pokemon Red/Blue and the Misawa-Kawada series.

Federal dipshitting of the day

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Miyazaki vs the suicidal rodent

I've enjoyed the fruits of the Miyazaki blogathon, especially Walter Q. Bubble's own writing.

One difference between the output of Disney and the output of Miyazaki (there are few similarities between them as persons) is that Disney's softness feels like commercial calculation, while Miyazaki's softness feels like how the world should be. I mean those Disney kids, before they got declawed they were pretty messed up (click image to enlarge):

Donald, of course, was even worse.

Movie for Mother's Day: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Come on, you shouldn't be sick of Julianne Moore as a postwar mother yet. In the great Far from Heaven, Todd Haynes played down her maternal side: the kids barely mattered. In The Hours, Moore had the shallowest part of the three leads and was merely good. In Jane Anderson's Defiance, Ohio, Moore evades the danger of tedious saintliness, and overcomes an uncharacteristically hammy turn from Woody Harrelson, to become Evelyn Ryan, Ubermom: glowing, gifted and sometimes dangerously witty. Moore is fabulous with the mostly undifferentiated kids and deftly carries Ellary Porterfield, as the smart one, through some gush-minefield bonding scenes.

Even if Kelly, her husband, wasn't capable of surprising kindness, Evelyn is past the point where dumping him is an option. (When Kelly distraughtly confesses he thought his day-tripping wife had gone for good, she responds "You know I'd never leave the kids with you.") For all her wordplay, Kelly's greatest skill is her ability to create happiness in impossible circumstances through sheer will. There might be absurd constraints on the life you live, but why not make the most of what you've got? Life isn't that simple, of course: there's no reason to be pleased about a waste of talent, and situations arise that even she can't be happy about (cue obligatory Moore crying scene). It all ends happyishly, though, and why not? If life isn't all that miserable, art doesn't have to be.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Finally, proof that the media is racist!

(Can't make out the graphs? Click here.)

Richard Kelly, terrorist?

Anyone know if this is legit? I can't tell anymore.

No Auster? Bastards.

Via Greencine: The Times' contemporary American novels poll.

I love Morrison, but I've never read Beloved: it seems likely to expose her as the misandrist I've convinced myself she isn't. I mean the cow fucking, people!

(Would've voted for American Pastoral, but you knew that.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

United 93

Morally and intellectually I agree with Dennis Lim's Voice review. What he doesn't express is how the film twists you, gets in your gut -- and I'd find it hard to believe that it wouldn't have such an effect on a person of feeling. That's been better expressed by a number of women critics, each with her own set of caveats. (Thinking about writing about the press coverage in some detail, if I can find the time.)

All I can say is that I found it valuable as a memorial. But then I was cushioned from the attack by distance: they occurred overnight in my time zone, and I didn't watch them unfold live; of course I felt the loss on that day, but I don't have wounds that risk reopening. So I make no guarantee you will or should see the movie the way I did.

Et tu, Cody's?

Another Berkeley landmark bites the dust.

Further reading: Ron Silliman.

Circles and Squares

Via Matos via Rock Critics Daily via Tom Sutpen: audio of Pauline Kael's original attack on the auteur theory, from an address at San Fernando Valley State College in 1963.

Direct link here (warning: 55 minutes).

I don't have the published text of "Circles and Squares" on hand, but this seems to have even more insults than that version, mostly at the expense of Jonas Mekas (who arguably turned out to be one of those technically limited great filmmakers, though neither Kael nor Sarris would agree). But dig her enunciation! She's relaxed her tone of voice a lot by the time of this 1980 chat with Godard (sadly JLG is near-inaudible on this, but it sounds like he pwns her -- he directs the conversation brilliantly, dodging her questions).

(Short answers: "Circles and Squares" not her best work even though she's mostly right, auteur theory useful if only because it turned thousands of list-loving young people into cinephiles, Sarris a great critic but not until after 1963.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Go-Betweens: Didn't know someone could be so lonesome [music note]

(x-posted to the RHGTRH)

By 1986 the Go-Betweens, then composed of singers/songwriters/guitarists Grant McLennan and Robert Forster with drummer Lindy Morrison and bassist Robert Vickers, had won worldwide acclaim and sold no records. On albums like Before Hollywood (which is brilliant) and Spring Hill Fair (which I haven't heard), Grant's paeans to tricky loves and past pleasures meshed with Robert's tales of postmodern loves and aggrieved pool cleaners to create a deep, modest oeuvre. The tunes were there, but you had to listen closely: consider "Bachelor Kisses", in which the rising pattern of the verse is obscured by its peak in the second line, and in which the main chorus melody doesn't kick in until the final repeats. So it shouldn't have surprised that even "Cattle and Cane", which split eleven beats over its primary four bar pattern and still made McLennan's Queensland youth sound as serene as Eden, and which these days is regarded as one of the great Australian songs, sold peanuts.

Then vioinist/oboist/inamorata Amanda joined up, and on the back of their great album, Tallulah, a pop breakthrough seemed inevitable. Yet even then the traps that made the band matter made them difficult, and not just when Robert sketched the sisters who "sleep in the back of a feminist bookstore". When writing a hit-to-be addressed to a friend, hoping to win her over with a statement of absolute devotion -- who else but Grant would include the line "I know you're 32 but you look 55"? Given that his other all-hooks song began its chorus "Till you take your shoes and go outside", it was clear the band would have to say bye bye to their pride to get the stardom they sought.

On 16 Lovers Lane, the band attempted full sellout mode, and despite foregrounding the melodies, they couldn't carry it all the way. In "Streets of Our Town" (UK #81), Grant had to follow "And don't the sun look good today" with "But the rain is on its way" (and that's before he rhymes "knives" with "battered wives"). Meanwhile the emotional straightforwardness, unusual for Robert, of "Love Is a Sign" was masked in language that required semiotics, or at least a half hour, to decipher. With both intra-band relationships fracturing with their pop dreams, the Go-Betweens broke up, leaving the hits-and-more 1978-1990 as their testament.

I discovered the band via that comp, but not until Grant and Robert had assembled a new version of the band for 2000's The Friends of Rachel Worth. On that record, Robert was in relaxed mood, detailing what he'd been up to in the intervening years ("I lived in seclusion for a couple of years/In a German farmhouse just drinking beer"); Grant, on the other hand, was still looking for the sort of love that "leaves you clean like a waterfall" (rhymes with "hit a wall"). It was an excellent album, though nothing new. Perhaps taking them for granted, I skipped 2003's Bright Yellow Bright Orange.

But applause made 2005's Oceans Apart unskippable: their best since Tallulah, the record saw the songwriters split their differences, Robert upping his hook quotient and Grant pleasantly vaguing out, and it sold a few copies, in Germany. Grant's last classics, unless they clean up some of his demos and I hope they do, were "Boundary Rider" ("Cattle and Cane" redone a little more abstractly) and, even better, "The Statue". The bridge begins "They say ice can melt/Marble can blind you", and it's a terrific contrast, Grant employing literal solidity, then debunking it, then reestablishing it at the top of his vocal range, while making explicit the luminousness that was a secret weapon of the band. Produced through chamber arrangements and through talking about the weather, the images evoked by the best Go-Betweens songs make us feel we've seen the lives of two unusally empathetic artists, longing to express universals by citing specifics, "steel-grey hair", "his father's watch/he left it in the showers", alone, so at home.

Girish has MP3s.

The point of the previous post

was that it plagiarised a post about a plagiarised piece about plagiarism. It shows plagiarism is still possible if you're unpopular, which perhaps isn't a pressing point.

Go read Edelstein's ode to Julia Roberts (on screen not stage) instead. It rules.

Edelstein's piece on plagiarism was about 99% plagiarized

New York mag's Betsy Burton explains: "With the endless stories about the Kaavya Viswanathan case, and thinking about the plague of plagiarism, we decided to write a piece about plagiarism that is plagiarized. David Edelstein, our film critic, conceived of this idea and tracked down 20 articles on the subject of plagiarism pegged to various scandals. Then he did a big cut-and-paste job and wrote a denunciation of plagiarism that is roughly 99% plagiarized. ...The idea is that we're putting the piece out there and seeing how long it will take anyone to notice. I posted the piece at 10:40 a.m. ET. About 25 minutes later, Michael David Smith wrote to point out that Edelstein used Joseph Epstein's words."

Monday, May 08, 2006

SFIFF '06~!: Iraq in Fragments [festival note]

USA, 2006
Directed by James Longley

Yeah it's beautiful, but is it deep? I still don't know. If you've been keeping up with the decent newspapers, you already know the basic characterisation of the locations of the film's three sections: wearily ravaged Baghdad, the dangerously flammable south, anxiously expectant Kurdistan. Longley doesn't overturn these stereotypes, but his embellishment does squeeze original meanings out of parallels and juxtapositions. That he does all this in rapturously coloured montage is worth something. That he uses this technique to artfully integrate a variety of perspectives is a major achievement.

Which is not to say that all perspectives are represented adequately. There are four narrators, all male; women are near-absent. (A fourth story about a Sunni woman whose son has AIDS has been relegated to future DVD extra status.) Even a critic as alert as Bérénice Reynaud rationalises this as "a structuring feature of contemporary Iraqi society" -- it is insofar as the issue was that Longley found it hard to strike up working relationships with Iraqi women, a problem which a female filmmaker may not have had. (That Iraqi women can, when conditions are right, speak forcefully is proved by Riverbend.) This misunderstanding demonstrates a general failing of the work -- the absence of context. We're not sure how the status of women, for instance, has changed since the invasion. Longley, who relies almost completely on footage he shot, is concerned with now -- but as "now" slips a few more months into the past this becomes less valuable.

So you should see this as soon as possible, and yet there are timeless qualities to it. It's rare for any film, let alone a documentary, to be so rhythmic, from the choppy rage and violence of the second section to the serene, spacious sunsets of the third. By ending with the Kurds, Longley even manages to leave us with a note of hope. Is this unrealistic? Perhaps. But for some it's also necessary.

Also seen:
The Betrayal (Philippe Faucon, 2005): Americans got their Sixties movies over with decades ago, and by now are up to reviving the Eighties, with results so glib that it makes me long for times I wasn't around for. Fortunately, not only are the French willing to oblige, they're also aware that for many, the Sixties weren't as idyllic as boomer revisionism would have you believe. This is set in Algeria, 1960, and revolves around four draftees of Arab descent who translate and fight under their superior Roque (Vincent Martinez). The title tells us what to expect, but who'll betray whom? Adapted from Claude Sales's novel, it's fairly neat and literary, but it avoids easy answers. Small-scale on a wide screen, it punches above its weight.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

RIP Grant McLennan

Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens has died.

I regard "Bye Bye Pride", "Bachelor Kisses", "Cattle and Cane", "Streets of Your Town" and especially "Right Here" as among the greatest songs of the Eighties.

Friday, May 05, 2006

SFIFF '06~!: Exhaustion sets in [festival note]

At an Auckland International Film Festival a few years back, I saw a record-setting five movies on a Monday, then backed up with five more on the Tuesday. But old age is setting in, and sixteen in two weeks now takes its toll, so take the notes below with the caveat that the quality of my attention may not be what it was two weeks ago.

Roads of Kiarostami (Abbas Kiarostami): AK sent his son to say that since this was 34 minutes, then unlike during Five, the audience wouldn't have time to sleep. Shows what he knows! It's gorgeous at first, as we get to see examples of AK's B&W photography. AK zooms and pans along the roads, which run through the pics like proverbial silver ribbons. If I hadn't seen a dozen movies over the previous week and a half, I might not have drifted off once his pompous narration kicked in. I was back up by the end, when orange floods the screen, as AK sets one of his pictures on fire.

Iron Island (Mohammad Rasoulof): A community of impoverished Iranian Arabs have made their home on a rusting, slowly sinking tanker, under the firm rule of Captain Nemo, I mean Nemat (Ali Nasirian). It's part slum, part commune and all allegory. The citizens keep livestock and break off bits of the ship for industrial use; later they even drill for oil below deck. There's a cute kid, a cute old man and a pair of star-crossed lovers, but the Captain is the dominant character, keeping track of everyone's "accounts" but never seeming to enforce their payment. Nasarian plays him as a quasi-religious figure, firm in the belief that only through his absolute leadership can his people prosper. He, and the movie, seem mostly harmless until one extremely striking sequence of punishment. After that, we know there'll be no happy ending.

The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov): My main problem with the aesthetics -- the movie is continental drift-slow -- are dwarfed by my problems with the central characterisation. When Hirohito tells MacArthur he didn't know about Pearl Harbor, it's a lie; but Ogata Issei plays the Emperor as wobbly-jawed and guileless, incapable of politicking. (To his credit, though, Ogata is the only performer who bothers to act.) The movie's lack of exploration of the extent of Hirohito's involvement in Japanese militarism is a choice; its ignorance of the nous he displayed in clinging to the throne while his ministers were convicted of war crimes is a failure. I dread the day George W. Bush is portrayed as just a simple guy who didn't understand what was being done in his name. Oh wait.

Belle de jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967): Quite good.

To come: The Betrayal, which I don't have much to say about, and Iraq in Fragments, which I have a lot to say about but need a little longer to digest.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The second decent villanelle in the history of English

When I say I don't write poetry, rhymes don't count.

He fell down with a mighty crash upon
The grave, and roused the sleeping ghost
Of Serafina Haberdasheron.

"You bastard, leave before I thrash your Mom!"
The spirit scowled, as hailstones most
Hard fell down with a mighty crash upon.

"I swear," he cried, "it's not some trashy con,"
"I came to raise a royal toast
To Serafina Haberdasheron!"

But from his bowl all the goulash had gone.
The cream, paprika, and the roast
Had fell down with a mighty crash upon.

"You foolish man, I ought to smash a tonne
Of bricks on you!" The metric boast
Of Serafina Haberdasheron!

Just like in Kurosawa's Rashomon,
Uncertain's truth. Believed by most:
He fell down with a mighty crash upon
Cruel Serafina Haberdasheron.

The masochistic may find context here.


Noted without comment: "I heard a rumour that Nick Keesing and Brad Luen(I think thats his name) were running together to be co-editors of craccum next year. they have my vote. what a dream-team." -- boywonder, June 29, 2005.

Monday, May 01, 2006


As someone who pays too much attention to box office figures, can I just state that United 93's $11.5 million weekend is not a strong number, given the publicity? As Box Office Mojo points out, that's on a par with Syriana's first wide weekend, in a similar number of theatres.

SFIFF '06~!: Princess Raccoon [festival note]

Japan, 2005
Starring Zhang Ziyi, Joe Odagiri
Written by Urasawa Yoshio*
Directed by Suzuki Seijun
*IMDb lists writer as Suzuki

You only need to know two things about this movie:

1. Zhang Ziyi plays a raccoon!

2. It's directed by Suzuki Seijun!

What more can I say? Well, it might be worth mentioning that

3. Zhang Ziyi plays a Chinese-speaking raccoon!

4. What I haven't seen anyone say is that the plot is really, really easy to follow, in part because you know how it must go, prince meets princess etc etc. You'll experience mental pain if you try to follow the action moment-to-moment because it's full of impossible transitions and non-sequiturs. The formally interesting part of this is how Suzuki collapses the difference between interiors and exteriors, but to sort out exactly how he does this requires thinking in five dimensions and that makes my mind hurt, so let's leave it for someone's thesis, OK?

5. The musical numbers -- yes, every great Asian director is now doing musical numbers -- are surprisingly well-performed; in particular the movie features the best Old Person Rapping since Lyrics Born. The choreography, by Takizawa Mitsuko, is even better, especially for a generically Caribbean number in which the princess's palace is portrayed as paradise. It's vast, with close to a hundred performers moving complementarily. And Suzuki has the decency to actually let us see everything.

6. In fact the acting might as well be dancing, it's that stylised. It's a perfect fit for Zhang. Freed from the straitjacket of realism, she can focus on what makes her special, her grace in movement. (Are you listening WKW?) In the couple of instances where she's asked to actually act she's decent enough.

7. With all the arts coming together, Suzuki can't leave out painting. On one hand, two giant-sized Renaissance-looking paintings are used as props by the baddies; on the other, Zhang first emerges from a waterfall that gushes out of what looks like (to my non-art historian eyes) a Sung landscape, once again collapsing the difference between interiors and arrgh headache headache.

8. If only Suzuki had found a way to build the emotional resonances into something -- as it stands, the happy tragic ending is lukewarm (c.f. Peter Jackson, who in recent years has been uniformly Dead Serious even when he's joking, for better and worse but mostly for better). The best part of the movie is in the middle, when Suzuki steps back and lets beauty do its job: Zhang's and Odagiri's exhalations keep a morning glory afloat in the air; soon after, the evil Old Maid Virgen (sic) ascends to Catholic heaven while bastardising "My Way" -- one last fuck you to the good guys.

9. This is the best SFIFF ever (out of the three I've attended anyway). Mostly because the works I expected to be top notch (Three Times, The Wayward Cloud, this) exceeded expectations. Which puts a lot of pressure on Iraq in Fragments.

Hopefully next for Zhang Ziyi: Secret Squirrel: The Musical!, directed by Park Chan-Wook -- Secret Squirrel awakens in the body of a young Chinese woman to discover she has no memory of the preceding five years. She kills a ton of people with a rolling pin while singing Monkees songs and ends up marrying your auntie Grizelda.