Saturday, December 31, 2011

For 2011

photo source
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No, it was mostly the worst of times:
  • Apropos nothing, Woody Allen is to filmmakers what the Chrysler Corporation is to cars: each new offering comes with loud assurances that the bad old days of slapdash ideas poorly executed are over, and that the newest effort represents a return to quality. So it was with this year's Midnight in Paris, which, critics more or less agreed, was Allen at or near his best. Even if that's true for MiP, the problem with Woody Allen films is the problem with Chrysler's cars: even at zenith, it was never very good, Annie Hall and the glorious 1960s muscle cars notwithstanding. More in this same generous spirit appeared in this earlier post.

  • Jenny Diski cares not for Mad Men and its dalliances with nostalgia:
    The style of the Sixties in Mad Men is so relentless and polished in every detail that it actually deals a death blow to authenticity. It is caricature, not authenticity, and although that, in a David Lynch sort of way, can be thrilling and effective if you subvert the style to darker devices, Man Men isn't sure whether it wants to be pastiche or historical realism. It wants it both ways, and for me, it is this indecision, which feels muddy and expedient as opposed to subtle or sly, that is Mad Men's self-sabotage. [quoted from here]
    Indeed so on every count: it is absurd to imagine that a striving advertising agency in midtown Manhattan circa 1962 would place an above-average emphasis on fashion in its formal and informal dress codes; nothing on Mad Men approaches the genius of David Lynch's obscurantist garbage, because Lynch's work is (I gather) "subversive" and "dark" when deploying period-specific stylistic visuals.

    Beyond that, and above all, Diski is entirely right to bemoan Mad Men as a lost opportunity to remove the glossy haze from early 1960's dramatizations to reveal that, in fact, things were  complicated and vexed on the grounds of lived life -- and thereby to clarify the urgency of that critical acumen for our own times. If only it did that instead of just insisting on a beautiful caricature!

    Ah, if only Mad Men would dare to be as stark, candid, and uncompromising about those days as Diski's favorites managed to be, The Apartment, and that paragon of fierce social criticism featuring Rock Hudson and Doris Day, Lover Come Back. Those films had the courage go push through to expose the euphemisms, injustices, imbalances, and smiling atrocities of the day.

    Sarcasm aside, Diski is watching it wrong. Mad Men invites its viewers, yes, to indulge a little nostalgia if they have a reserve of it to call on for that period; but it goes on to invite the taking of measurements between how things were and how things are, and to draw conclusions. It demands the same measurements and judgments about the distances between that time's given stereotypes and its embodied realities. Do we see it clearly -- what we think we hate about it and what we think we love about it -- or do we see its heroes, villains, and shibboleths only as we prefer to remember them? That Mad Men does not, on the whole, supply easy, clean answers is among its virtues and what sets it apart from most everything else on screens, then or now. That it puts actors on beautiful sets and in gorgeous period clothing is a device to its ends.
It is not 1961 -- please somebody tell the GDP and the assorted champions of austerity. It's entirely possible it never was 1961 in the popular sense. There is nothing more to say of 2011, or of 2012, except to wish my remaining three readers all the best.

Friday, December 16, 2011

RIP Hitch

With today's death of Christopher Hitchens, the world has lost a magnificent -- and irritating, and disagreeable, and stimulating -- giant. To see him at his inimitable best requires only to select more or less at random any of the hundreds of videos of him available on the internets, but this debate with Alister McGrath is a nicely annotated and thorough enough illustration of his gifts.

I will miss learning from him, and will equally miss being provoked by him. It's doubtful to try to project what Hitchens would say about this or anything, but I feel confident in saying that while it's fine to shed a tear for his passing -- which I did, a little to my own surprise -- it is vastly more important to honor his memory by carrying on his fight. (Pick at least one.)

I am glad his pain is over. God is still not great, but Christopher Hitchens was.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Ahab Spring

Any decent Marxist will tell you that ideas spring from the material conditions of society, and while I am neither especially decent nor consistently Marxist, I can say that material conditions account for the sparse posting to this precious, precious blog. Suffice to say that back in the sun-fondled, bluebird-circled spring of this blog, I would often find myself, while running, musing on posts I wanted to write, but that in more recent months, my thoughts have drifted elsewhere. To where and why is not worth detailing.

I believe in, at most, two principles for effective, disciplined blogging --- that posts on the topic of why there aren't many posts are dull or worse; and that one shouldn't write anything that one wouldn't want to read. Life is probably too short for adhering too closely to principles, and here's a list:

  • Last week, I finished the Seattle Marathon in a time of 3:30:07 (8:01 mile/min pace). Weirdly, the gun time of 3:30:26 is given as my"official" time, which tells me that I should make sure to elbow and shove my way as close to the starting line as possible should I ever again find myself in the starting chute of the Seattle Marathon. It was a very windy and rainy day, so much so that the water got below my rain jacket and killed my MP3 player at almost exactly the halfway point. Fun times were had by all (not just me), or so I choose to assume, and I heartily thank the organizers, volunteers, and many spectators who braved a rough morning to make it all possible, enjoyable, and safe.
  •  Joanna Newsom is coming dangerously close to equaling Neko Case in my estimation of sheer musical power crossed with every important category of allure. Her album Have One on Me shows the rare quality of canvassing, you know, several of the high points of the human condition in an intelligent, entertaining, and deeply rewarding way -- and what more could be asked of music? If you expect the songs to grab you upon a couple of listens, though, know that you're doing it wrong. Take, for example, "Occident" --- but take your time, with my assurance, such as it is, that the effort will be worth it:

  • Having recently viewed Terence Malick's The Tree of Life, I am prepared to say that Malick has done it again: created a film that says rather less than he seems to be aspiring to say -- if this film added anything substantial to the quote from Job* with which it opened, I am at a loss to say what it was -- using roughly 90 minutes of footage that should have been edited out. Here's hoping his next between-film-projects period of quiescence runs as long as this film felt.
  • As I quipped on the twitter recently, Super 8 exactingly captures that uncanny quality of classic Spielberg films that makes me want to stop watching them: some combination of treacle, pat moral tidiness, and excess nostalgia.
  • About that * an item or two above -- it would be refreshing for a Job 38 style theodicy -- "where were you when I created quasars and centipedes and tetrahedrons and gravitational constants, you miserable little puke!" -- to move forward from that to show its fucking work. As in: what is this greater good, discernible from a longer and wider view, that, on a proper accounting, balances out the severe, constant, multifarious pain of the world?
Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it inappropriately touched me.