East Bay View (a blog about several things)

now 98% free of substantive content

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The decade in Claire Denis

It's obligatory to mention that the career of Denis is difficult to extricate from that of Agnès Godard, her regular cinematographer for two decades (though Godard has worked with other directors); indeed, Beau travail might have the most incisive shots of male bodies ever, and there seems no point in dividing credit between the two of them. But too little attention has been paid to Denis's relationship with the other senses besides sight. Music is part of this – not so much the scores, which are middling, but the use of pop, most famously Corona's "Rhythm of the Night" and Denis Lavant's aberrant dance to it. But Friday Night seems to me to be a pretty straight-up-and-down movie about touch, and this is achieved through sounds – the matching of effects to actions. When we hear masking tape coming off the roll near the beginning we can feel it. Over-amplifying not the background buzz but the personal sounds your brain’s trained to block out – simply being able to hear the characters chew – gives a solidity that’s most notable for allowing the most physical sex I’ve seen on camera. Not sure which sound guy to credit, so I’ll take a stab: Jean-Louis Ughetto, I salute you.

The Intruder is certainly beautiful: most movies don't give us images as warm as Michel Subor drinking with a Pusan local or as vivid as a flashback to a boat's arrival at a French Polynesian island. But from Denis, that's not enough. Subor's character, Louis, is an intruder; various people are intruders in Louis's life (notably Béatrice Dalle); Louis even has an intruder inside his body - his transplanted heart. The heightening of Louis's condition, at first achieved through long looks at his huge chest scar, becomes absurdly literal when we see a bloody organ lying in the snow. All this is meant to make some vague point about rejection, and how communities and their outsiders relate to each other, but except in the Korean section and parts of the Tahitian one, Denis's use of photogenic isolated locations defeats her theme by not giving Louis enough human life to interact with.

35 Shots of Rum is Denis's variation on Ozu's Late Spring, except Ozu never had a chance to hear Lionel Richie. It's approximately as good as Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Ozuist Cafe Lumiere, which is pretty brilliant. Denis has complete confidence in Alex Descas (playing Chishu Ryu), and those of us who hadn't previously noticed he was among the most attentive actors around now wonder how we missed him.



Saturday, January 23, 2010

Brad vs classical music: Hits of the seventeen-aughts

Bach, Great Organ Favorites (performed by E. Power Biggs)

Early music is something qualitatively different, and the Baroque, aside from one-hit wonders like Pachelbel and Jeremiah Clarke, wasn't up to much before Bach, so 1700 is a convenient time to declare war on classical music (or art music, if you want to be a dick about it). The pieces on this album are believed to be composed by Bach in his twenties, except for the much later "Wachet Auf" and for the "Jig Fugue", which he probably didn't write and is kind of trite anyway. There's also some scholarship suggesting the horror movie staple "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" isn't his: the "Toccata" sounds pretty different from the rest of his organ work, but on the other hand, nobody over the following 250 years wrote organ music of this quality -- maybe besides Mozart's ditties for mechanical organ, but probably not. There's no shortage of recordings; here, Biggs is lively yet precise, without heaviness for its own sake. If you like this, the logical next step would be Bach's Trio Sonatas in an organ version, or in Biggs's pedal harpsichord version.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What would Brakhage have thought of YouTube?

Or DailyMotion? Or UbuWeb, for that matter?

Mothlight (1963):

What did he think of Kyle Cooper?

The only good part of Se7en:

(btw the Kael-Brakhage conversation doing the rounds is, like you might have expected, just them eloquently talking past each other: like the Kael-Godard except without the passive-aggressive sexual tension)

(BooTube edit: why you should host yr videos yrself)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The decade in Radiohead

It's as clear that Kid A is not the best album of its decade (or second, or third, or...) as it was that OK Computer was not the best album of its decade (or second, etc.), but shouldn't distract you from the band's achievement. It's difficult to recall how controversial Kid A was upon release: even before a decade of dubstep, its sonics seemed pleasant, not harsh, and the album was scarcely less tonal than their previous work ("What we're doing isn't that radical" -- T. Yorke). Having said that, "National Anthem" is a fun freakout and "Everything in Its Right Place" is a flicker of warmth amidst a freezing soundscape.

The soundscapes in Amnesiac, this time including a higher proportion of guitar, are uglier, and not always in a useful way. Colin Greenwood, as always, manages to hold the album together.

Hail to the Thief refocuses on writing, and Thom Yorke holds up his end of the job, even if his themes are limited (if not his concepts). "Sail to the Moon" is particularly simple and fetching.

The group rejuvenated themselves in public opinion by offering In Rainbows on a pay-what-you-wish download basis. In Rainbows is more of a band album, with Jonny Greenwood in especially fine form. And "I have no idea what you are talking about" is a definitive lyric one way or another.


New Weerasethakul

I mostly like this for the sound. And the Hello Kitty balloon.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Monday, January 04, 2010

Artist of the year: Michael Jackson

On reflection, not the death of the monoculture, but an indication that the monoculture is stronger than ever -- it's just a quarter-century behind the times. What some may have considered worth mourning is the loss, during the span of his career, of any necessary connection between artistic talent and quality of output. MJ was the most gifted young singer and dancer of the rock era, so it's hardly surprising he seems like a peak. And sure, Taylor Swift, the most naturally gifted young songwriter since Stevie Wonder, shows that talent still has its uses. But if you look at the other signature musical artists of the year (reckoning Gaga's impact as only peripherally to do with music), Susan Boyle is, on a fairly basic level, more talented than any combination of the Black Eyed Peas, and this matters not a jot. Meanwhile, will.i.am is more talented than Noah Lennox, and that matters, well, a bit. In conclusion, I am glad creativity is valued more than talent these days, but I wish indie dudes would sing better.