15 November 2012

Is love ever too little or too late?

Another woman with early fame and a difficult later life is Bettie Page. I'm rather fascinated by her enduring legacy although her life was downhill after all of that famous photo work. I wonder how she felt about her past and whether there were too many regrets about what she did or didn't want to do. Do we becomes stars as we create this persona of ourselves? Or does it become real once others have seen it and fallen in love with it? That might be the tragedy of love: we wait until others see it in us.

14 November 2012

The vital spark of Louise Brooks

There is an intensity to Louise Brooks that I respect. Her ability to be fascinates me. She radiates vitality. To watch her energy and movement in Pandora's Box is to witness a new form of creation. Frankly, I'm amazed at how cinematography could make one woman look so enthralling. It is the mercurial possession of her acting that is so inspiring. She personifies Lulu with such energy that it almost seems to overwhelm the film. I'm not sure how more people remain unaware of this film. Unlike the inward isolation and threatened withdrawal of a Garbo and the decadent stillness and hearty irony of a Dietrich, Brooks commands by moving her body. No words; just actions. Amazing. I recommend Pandora's Box to one and all so they can witness this most unique woman.

13 November 2012

Nightmusic Oblivion

What is offered as a promise in "Oblivion" ('See you on a dark night') is realized in "Nightmusic" ('Tonight's the night'). I'm not sure why this should be so exciting, but part of it is how both songs highlight the dark romanticism in Grimes' music. I want to believe that somewhere in the dark of the forest, there is music like this playing.

12 November 2012

Marissa Nadler, 2011

At the beginning, Marissa Nadler sounds like any other album that she’s recorded. “The Sun Always Reminds Me of You” is a step in the new direction, but not a big one. That step doesn’t occur until “Baby I Will Leave You In The Morning”. The second half also sounds the same, but with “The Wedding” and “In A Magazine” to provide contrast. This is the side with less reverb and like the early records it shows off her gorgeous vocals. All in all, this is a normal Marissa Nadler album. The only difference is less reverb and four new gems in her catalogue. Lovely and intimate, this is a masterpiece from Marissa Nadler. Stripped of some of the gorgeous production of previous records, she presents her elemental self here. And it’s beautiful. The ghosts of her voice are present for many of the songs, but a new element on many songs is the presence of her voice without reverb. Although there are many tales of woe on the album, it still has the warm presence of a compelling storyteller. Where previous records presented an ethereal maiden as troubadour, Marissa Nadler removes that alien aspect of her persona to reveal the woman we always knew her to be and she’s no less beautiful and amazing. It’s unlikely that a more haunting album could be found this year and there’s great pleasure in that Marissa Nadler has recorded it.

Sharon Van Etten: Triumph in Tramp

There is a very refreshing emotional frankness to Sharon Van Etten’s music. Her singing – from the rueful starkness of her first album, Because I Was In Love, to the exorcistical maelstrom of her latest, Tramp – is never less than commanding. Her early work is emotionally devastating in the way it utilizes a simple economy of means: methodical expression of emotional turmoil married to spare acoustic guitar. The lyrics dominate her approach to create drama where music is a background support. Tramp works in the opposite direction – to some diminishing return as noted by Ed Comentale – with volume and furor dominating the usual method of Sharon’s direct lyrics and singing. The furor in the singing here is a welcome development as the songs that benefit most from it (‘Serpents’ and ‘All I Can’) showcase her confidence impeccably. The anger in this album is not scorned or defensive. It instead functions as an assault on the hell that emotional abuse wreaks. Shadows and demons are given no quarter here. Sharon dispatches them easily, but the tension of that battle is how she arrives there to stand over them. Difficult progress as we listen, but not difficult to appreciate. The personal triumph is all hers, but the example is an inspiration to us all.

11 November 2012


This was a lot more enjoyable than I'd expected. I've not liked Craig very much, but his scenes with Dench were great. I hadn't expected there to be so much of her onscreen, but it really balanced the film as well as added to Craig's struggle as an old agent needing to focus on his future. Ralph Fiennes was a welcome sight. I feel like Naomie Harris wasn't given very much to do - yeah, James, I get it: she's not a field agent - but she still worked it out well. As a great contrast to these cold, professional Brits, I have to admire Javier Bardem here. The man's elegance and mad charm really made all his scenes out as highlights of the entire film. The Oedipal side of his antagonism towards M and Bond was rather interesting, but I was impressed by how Bardem sold it. Roger Deakins stands very high in my estimation here. The whole film looked excellent, but I loved how he shot Scotland so gorgeously. I had been dreading sitting through it, but along with Deakins and Bardem on the ride the pacing hardly made this feel like it was almost two and one half hours. That title sequence was great as well. I might try to catch this again pretty soon.

10 November 2012

Who is Virgil Webster?

I started to watch The Inside today. It's really quite good. What has impressed me the most so far is the character Virgil Webster. He is the federal director of a violent crimes unit and he works with his own agenda in mind, to put it lightly. What fascinates me is how the show treats Webster. The man isn't so very unpredictable as much as he's exceedingly calculating. This seems like manipulation, however. Here is where the show proves most interesting: he always withholds his motives from his subordinates. Or when they're revealed, they seem wholly opportunistic and dangerous. He makes these decisions so as to provoke the two other main protagonists, Locke and Ryan. When interacting with Locke, Webster seems creepy and manipulative. Locke is a genius profiler and Webster relies on her intuitive grasp of her demons to operate at peak level. Sometimes Webster will assign cases that seem to work to Locke's disadvantage. The show pushes quite subtly the dimensions of this dangerous game. The question becomes: who is using their power to what ends here? By all appearances, Webster has a callous attitude toward his subordinates. He sees them only as materials to shape to great ends. But are those ends in the best interests of the law and his subordinates? This is a key question to the show and one that is presented with a lot of dark ambiguity. It's quite interesting to consider given the themes of the show. Still, who is Virgil Webster? What is inside the man? This is what we're left to wonder.

09 November 2012

The Visionary Company: Kate Bush and Claire Boucher

Listening to The Kick Inside this morning reminded me of the extent to which Kate Bush opens me up even more to Grimes. I had been thinking about the impact of Enya and Bjork on my listening to Grimes, but it occurred to me how much Kate Bush ends up guiding a deeper appreciation of the new artist. It feels hard to explain this appreciation without making it seem like I’m setting up a comparison or chain of influence of one to the other. It’s just that there’s this element of ecstatic and emotional summoning in Kate Bush that sets off for me the same recognition in Grimes. (I feel a similar recognition vis-a-vis Kate Bush in Antony Hegarty, Patrick Wolf, and Patti Smith.) It’s just that with Kate Bush and Grimes, the musical colors, emotional transitions, and imaginative spaces seem brighter, lighter, and sprightlier. This is just how I believe it reflects on The Kick Inside. I’m not sure if other correspondences would come to mind in other Kate Bush albums. This kinship between the worlds of The Kick Inside and Visions does not feel coincidental. Indeed, it feels like the same beautiful terrain that's been planted and harvested in two different ways.

08 November 2012

Rosemary in the House of the Devil

I was thinking about two of the most effective moments of shock in a horror film and what came to mind both seemed quite similar. First, there's the dream sequence in Rosemary's Baby where she's impregnated. Second, there's the attempted sacrifice and escape that ends The House of the Devil. Both of these events occur in the film when the mundane reality and vague threat of the location has been established so well that the sudden eruption of both scenes comes as a major shock. The House of the Devil is very careful in this regard as an earlier scene indicated the underlying menace, but the film transitions to building on that tension with the greater atmosphere of the locale. Rosemary's Baby is especially effective in regards to locale as the claustrophobic hotel feels like a labyrinthine prison.Anyway, I thought of this particular shock in both films and was satisfied by how well each film brought them to erupt within its narrative.

07 November 2012

The three faces of Barbara

Barbara Stanwyck is one of my favorite actresses. The Lady Eve is one of my favorite movies. I always marvel at Stanwyck's performance in that film. I marvel at how Preston Sturges was able to write such a character, but the way that Stanwyck brings her to life always astounds me. The film gives us a woman who is by turns romantic, canny, and imperious. Stanwyck blends all of it into one personality seamlessly, but with a careful change of masks that truly befits her character. The performance is never less than rich and insightful. She does so with a maximum amount of comedy as well which only helps make Eve all the more compelling. Stanwyck has never commanded my respect and devotion more fully than in this film. For her and for Sturges, it is a true masterpiece.

Top Fifteen Favorite Albums

Current 93: The Inmost Light

Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures

Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Mission of Burma: Signals Calls and Marches

Pixies: Doolittle

The Cure: Pornography

Camera Obscura: Let's Get Out of This Country

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: The Boatman's Call

John Cale: Paris 1919

Elliott Smith: Either/Or

Patrick Wolf: The Magic Position

Destroyer: Streethawk

Sunset Rubdown: Dragonslayer

The Pink Mountaintops: S/T

Danzig: How the Gods Kill

06 November 2012

"Visions" and "Low" by Day and by Night

Unexpectedly, I found that Visions by Grimes and Low by David Bowie complement each other rather well. The different eras of recording are fascinating, but in terms of tempo and ambience they work together. There's a half-dreaming self-awareness to each record that also puts them on the same planet. When I listened to the two records this morning, I knew that they'd fit together vaguely in a vaporous and dreamy way, but I wasn't ready for how well they would match each other. Bowie's record uses specific moods from song to song, but Grimes' record works in a general ambience with two competing moods within each song. Bowie's record is more minimal where Grimes' record is more exuberant. They work together so well in  ways similar to the night fading into the day. It's incredibly beautiful in how the two albums complement each other, but remain distinct properties. It definitely made my morning so much more enjoyable.

05 November 2012

Emotional Distress in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

It’s a very good movie. I was impressed particularly by how the two poles of emotional distress were handled in the film. I say impressed because these are the two sorts of people that I’ve encountered so seeing their struggles dramatized in the film was very encouraging. Patrick is the person who’s loud about their neuroses. This can be exhausting - especially when it becomes the person’s schtick - but Ezra Miller grounded it impeccably through the relationship with the athlete as the true side of himself that no-one wants to see. The school certainly doesn’t want to know that one of their own is gay like this misfit outsider Patrick. So he’s stuck in this limbo which he tries to minimize through his bright outer shell. There’s a lot of hurt inside of him and he’s trying not to let it consume him. Charlie, on the other hand, is constantly struggling with the attempt not to be consumed. Charlie is the person who’s quiet about their brokenness. I almost feel like this person has a more difficult path to recovery as it feels like there’s a form of shame to revealing this brokenness then having to share it - or burden them with it as the thinking goes here - with others. Almost as if being hurt and “abnormal” has to remain a secret; the more it remains a secret the more it feels like your own fault therefore more shame and more secrets. Logan Lerman is (brilliant if also) rather difficult to watch because he spends the entire film as a walking, open wound. He doesn’t lash out - well, until the end - or call attention to what’s wrong. The ways he speaks is off, the way he looks at something is glassy, and the way he becomes silent is suggestive. It’s scary, but also heartbreaking. However, as a balance, when given positive attention he becomes responsive and thriving. The awkwardness is still there, but the person is more dynamic. It’s a very good balance of the two parts of him. This rich, sympathetic handling of Patrick and Charlie is the best feature of the film. The whole film is good - the casting of the girls is excellent and they also become another rich element of the film - but now when there’s so much evidence of (male) teenage emotional disorder this movie works as an effective document for everyone wanting to see it from this vantage point. Ezra Miller and Logan Lerman both work very hard here to make the drama poignant and touching. It’s a difficult movie to experience if any of these feelings are part of you, but it’s encouraging that the love and respect for these characters is so intensely sympathetic and not cliched or needlessly depressing.

04 November 2012

From silence to ambience

One of the most unnerving moments that I've felt while watching a film came near the end of Grant Gee's Joy Division documentary. Over footage of Manchester, the end credits, and then a white screen with more credits, they chose to play "Atmosphere" as the closing song. The unnerving part came after the song finished and over the white screen there came the sound of a church bell. This majestic song playing over a city and then emptiness gave way to silence and then that tolling. It felt like the end of the world. Thus the unnerving feeling. Was this a bell for a funeral? A sly allusion to Donne? Or the best way to communicate the legacy of Manchester and Joy Division? It felt to me like the definite end of something. But the transition from that music to silence to ambience also almost felt like liberation. Like the spell had to be broken by the reminder of this world. I still feel unnerved by the end of that documentary as if that could be the end of the world. Not a bang or a whimper to finish it. Just the dignified resignation that we all meet our end. That it stops and life continues elsewhere somehow. I'd like to think that the bell will always toll. Because that means someone is signalling and someone else is listening.

03 November 2012

The Joys of Community in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

Community is the richest theme in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This theme stuck out for me because there is a scene near the end of the film where Charlie and his family is gathered around the table for dinner. Released from the institution, Charlie is back together with himself and now his family. After all of the preceding trouble, it seems that now he is on stable ground. At that point, he is reunited with Patrick and Sam as they are now in town for a visit from college. We are treated to a re-visitation from a scene earlier in the movie as this theme of community is presented as the conclusion of the film.

This is not the complete treatment of this theme, however. Earlier in the movie, Charlie's disunity with himself and others is the major undercurrent to the unity for which he searches throughout most of the film. Charlie is separated from others due to various forms of inner turmoil. A member of his family has failed him and the remainder of his family with whom he lives is not entirely aware of how he feels. Even his sister's relationship with a boyfriend looks dysfunctional. At school, he is out of step with everyone else and greatly fears this situation. He is counting down the number of days of high school that awaits him, literally. He searches for a chosen community on his first day of school: a peer named Patrick. (Charlie also becomes close to his English teacher, but the age difference as well as mentorship inflects this positively informed relationship quite differently.) He finds another peer - a girl named Sam - at a school football game where he sits with Patrick. Both of these new friends are seniors yet Charlie does not seem to notice the limited amount of time he will have with them.

Charlie's outsider-hood soon becomes apparent to Patrick and Sam. They befriend him and bring him into their circle. A community has chosen Charlie as he has chosen them. The remainder of the film will show the highs and lows of this group friendship. Like a noir hero, however, Charlie's past will not forsake him. Rendered in charming and loving scenes, this past torment is absent for some time. In three separate instances, however, trouble swoops into Charlie's life to render him weaker and weaker. This is why the penultimate sequence of the movie feels so rich. Charlie comes back to himself, makes peace with his family, and is comforted by the ones with whom he has spent so much of the movie. It is a beautiful depiction of situations and feelings that make him whole. He is less isolated, he is less tortured, he is loved. No wonder he feels infinite. His whole life is before him at last.

02 November 2012

Grimes et les corps musicales

Airy, vaporous, diffuse - how is this a problem? At least Lindsay Zoladz got the message. Like her, I'm fascinated by the tensions "between technology and the human body" in Grimes. Or to illustrate this better: the body as seen in "Vanessa" and the body and technology as seen in "Genesis" (both videos directed the lady herself). The former is a lovely, inviting depiction of the body through the ritual and mechanics of dance. The latter is a bright spectacle of the body in its various guises as displays of power. Common to both videos is the display of the body in terms of strength, strangeness, and beauty. I find this rather fascinating as it meets together in the singing which celebrates the body in its essence here. We have the physical nature of the body, but also it seems a spiritual celebration of it. Being as you sing and hearing as you sing also fascinates me in her music. What does the voice summon through this music? I'm not certain, but a feeling of abstract spirituality seems to pervade it. I'm saying at all that this is a religious element. It's just that her falsetto is so angelic that it calls for a reading of this sort. This is why the use of dance seems so appropriate to her work. Or maybe I just need an excuse to dance to it. Either way, this mix of the organic, spiritual, and technological holds a strong appeal for me in its refusal to stay dualistic and confined. I suppose the tag of "post-internet" works, but not for me as I think the wildest dreams of cyberpunks would have it. I guess we'll see how much use for feet in the future can be found in Grimes.

01 November 2012

Venus as a boy and me

Björk came into my life at the right time. This was rather late for me as even kids in my high school  already knew about her, but at least I was fresh to her when I did appreciate her work. Artists gain audiences through their reputation and accumulated work. In my case, I knew Björk through neither. I had heard of her on a very limited song-by-song basis through MTV, but in the end it worked as a fleeting impression. I knew that I liked “It’s Oh So Quiet” however. A few years later, I bought the collection of her music videos and jumped into it. As a keen lover of the form, her eye for the outlandish appealed to me. Those songs made the most immediate impression on me, though. “Venus As A Boy” was the one that I took as my own. I suspect it was due to it being the easiest to dance to. Sophie Muller’s music video sells the song so beautifully, but the playfulness of the music and singing made it so much more memorable. I still don’t know why it’s my favorite song, but it’s always the one that I identify as most like Björk. I love it.

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