Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Two Thousand Weight? #5: Pure Joy

by Mikey

Track One: "Suffering Jukebox" - Silver Jews

Live it's a tie: 650 torchbearers Millbrae Bros bringing Seattle to its knees with the help of a whiskey-soaked devil VS. Earth melting the brains of a hundred-plus yuppies at the Bad Seeds concert.

Track Two: "Strange Overtones" - David Byrne and Brian Eno

After requesting "Baby on Board", Lindy being picked to harmonize and become an honorary member of the Dapper Dans.

Track Three: "Old Fools" - the Magnetic Fields

Seeing WALL*E at Pixar (yeah, that's me). It ain't no Ratatouille but that first half hour is the greatest of the year. Strike that, any year. Fuck the haters (see below). WALL*E is optimistic about the future in spite of the evils of mankind taunting it in the face. After seeing this work of art constructed on robots but conceived and shaped entirely by humans, this jaded little misanthropic atheist saw a glimmer of hope too.

Track Four: "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" - Randy Newman

Speaking of hope, remember this?

Track Five: "Nude With Boots" - Melvins

The greatest band in the history of music soldiers on.

Track Six: "The Rip" - Portishead

Overhearing Nellie McKay say she's never heard of Cat Power from the booth next to me at California Vegan in L.A.

Track Seven: "Borrowed Your Gun" - Spiritualized

Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut is a movie about life and death and love and lust and art and commerce and children and parents and one's purpose or lack thereof on this planet and it made me laugh and cry and gasp and sigh and I couldn't get it out of my head for days. I woke up after dreaming about it with new revelations having come to light and I still don't know if I know what I know because it was all so fast and fleeting and full of wit and vigor and pith and vinegar. It's the most beautiful film about ugliness I have ever seen.

Track Eight: "I'm A Tide" - Broken Strings

Buried treasures: Pennies from Heaven, Zola, A Tree With Roots, The Blue Angel, Bela Bartok, The War of the World by Niall Fergusson, Rio Bravo.

Track Nine: "More News From Nowhere" - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds


Monday, December 29, 2008

The Cure of Misanthropy: On Wall-E, Kubrick, and Mike White’s The Year of the Dog

by Daniel Coffeen

rully barkin

I just re-watched Wall-E with my five year old (it is the first, and only, film he’s seen in the theater). Let me tell you why I think it’s a dangerous film and why I wish Stanley Kubrick, or even Mike White, had directed it.

Wall-E opens on a bleak landscape, an apocalypse of waste. The only life on this planet seems to be a robot, the eponymous Wall-E, whose sole job is to gather and compact the trash. The films seems to proffer a certain damning critique of humanity: we’ve destroyed the earth with our mindless, heedless consumption. But Wall-E is an unabashed celebration of humanity. Wall-E roams the waste gathering stuff he loves—lighters, light bulbs, various tchotchkes. And he watches the same maudlin scene from the same maudlin film over and over. All he wants, it seems, is a wife. In other words, the spirit of humanity that Wall-E embodies and resurrects is the humanity of the late 20th century white, middle-class bourgeoisie.

He’s a fucking robot! And the only mode of love he can muster is the familiar, monogamous, bathetic bullshit? He’s a machine! He’s capable of offering an education, a training, that can get humans past their humanity. And yet to the bozos at Pixar, all he can do is reproduce the very humanity that created this apocalypse in the first place.

Wall-E proffers the all-too-human Christian critique of humanity—we have to fight our bad ways. The play of sympathy in this movie is disgusting and so familiar I had to punch myself in the face, Esther Kahn style, while watching it.

A Clockwork Orange, too, gives us a certain apocalyptic vision. But, of course, that film shifts our sympathies in such a dramatic way that we find ourselves rooting for the ultra-violent Alex—as the last bastion of true humanity! Now that is a damning critique of humanity. That is misanthropy. Imagine Kubrick making Wall-E. The egregious thing about the Pixar film is that it thinks it’s tipping its hat to 2001, to the image of HAL. But HAL is cool, calm, and brutal as only a machine can be. HAL is an invitation to think past the bathos of humanity.

But why misanthropy? Because if we are to overcome our destructive ways, if we’re to cure the virus we’ve evolved into, then we have to overcome our humanist training, our humanist tradition. We have to continue to evolve. We have to shed our humanist skin and become other to ourselves. Or avoid misanthropy all together—but then don’t give me the guise of critique when all you do is repeat the illness, embed it deeper into our blood stream. The reason I loathe Wall-E is that it pretends to give us a cure while spoon feeding us the same old sickness.

rully sad

Thank goodness for Mike White’s Year of the Dog, a truly misanthropic film. Molly Shannon plays Peggy, a woman who comes to realize her disgust for humanity and her preference for animals. What makes this movie so powerful, so damning, is that Mike White never gives us a caricature of humanity. Peggy’s boss is pretty cool—but he is her boss and that is enough. Her friends are all fine human beings—but they are human beings and are hence saddled with their all-too-human concerns. These concerns are not petty; they’re just, well, human. Her brother and his family are not bad—but they are a human family and that, alone, is ugly.

Filming Peggy’s interaction with these people, White just puts the camera square on them so we share her viewpoint. These people are not bad: they’re not assholes, they’re not cruel or stupid. The only problem with them is they’re people!

And yet this is not a depressing, negative film. On the contrary, it is hopeful, joyous. There is a way out of humanity. We don’t have to choose the same old shit. We can shed the sickness of our humanity. Mike White, in his understated sleeper of a film, offers us a curing dose of misanthropy.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Two Thousand Weight? #4: So long!

Gonna go get my life on! It starts like this!

kick drum
pose tuff
wave bye

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Two Thousand Weight? #3: Hip Hop Suggestion Sector.

by Leile One

I’m not going to lie to you. 2008 was as wack as any other years in recent memory as far as the normal Clear Channel rap records are concerned. Sure, sure, we had some mainstream gems like Lil Weezy’s rhyme wizardry extravaganza Tha Carter III, and some funny rad viral video shit like Hot Stylz “Lookin’ Boy” type of shit, which I obsessed over for a good couple of months (major props to all y’all who did some great homemade versions). But despite these beacons of glory in a mainstream sea of robot voices and puke-worthy style bitings, most of the good shit this year was heard far, far away from the FM dial. No big surprise. But I thought I’d take a minute to mention a few of my favorite records from this year that were probably too dope to even graze the MTV2 3am jackoff hour. In no particular order:

Siah and Yeshua DapoED: The Visualz Deluxe Edition CD
There was a time when I was the coolest kid on the block for owning the original issue of the Fondle ‘Em Records vinyl EP of this criminally over-slept-on classic from the 1996 era of supreme college radio late night classics. Now it’s everyone’s to grab, thanks to a definitive reissue from Traffic Entertainment that dropped in April of this year. The production is on some absolute classic jazz-digger gold nugget styles (think: everything that was coming out in the mid-90’s times ten), and the emcee duo of Siah and Yesh sound fresh as ever on some real live chemistry that will bring you right back to the times of listening to rhymes in an alley while ignoring your math homework. The eleven-minute opus “A Day Like No Other” alone is worth the price of admission to the magical circus, and if you enjoy twenty pages of liner notes along with flyer images explaining exactly what the fuck was going on for these dudes back then, they’ve included that, too.

Why?: Alopecia
This one’s already gotten a lot of love from Pitchfork and such, and many may argue that this isn’t even hip hop. But you’re wrong. Nothing is more hip hop than rhyming about how you “got sick and blew chunks” in the parking lot behind Whole Foods. As this record proves once and for all, hip hop can also sometimes be about doing wet coke in a Starbucks bathroom, with the door locked, hella ashamed of yourself. To put it simply, this is the most hardcore shit that came out this year. Alopecia makes all the other records sound like Disneyland, even when they’re on some murder shit. Why’s new shit is on some murder yourself shit, which can at times be the tastiest murder of all, if you‘re in the right mood.

C.R.A.C.: The Piece Talks
These guys are kinda hard to pin down. That’s why this record is so good. Sometimes these dudes are on some pop sensational magic loveliness vibe, like on “Buy Me Lunch”, Exhibit A. Later they may hit you with some real rugged stuff, like, “Don’t make me have to POP THEM BOYS!!” They are not afraid to threaten you. I think what I like about this record is that it’s so diverse. More specifically, it’s nonchalant. It’s like one of those classic albums where some dudes just hit the studio and were like, “Fuck it, let’s just have fun with this, even if it sounds really crazy and doesn‘t sell.” Like Digital Underground’s Body Hat Syndrome, or The Pharcyde’s first record. This is one of those bravery type of albums that remind you that 2008 was actually pretty cool. And, in retrospect, it was.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

— A found fact. From Ryland and his family's tree to you and yours, and your family trees, here's some light:

bright lights

Monday, December 22, 2008

Two thousand weight? #2: Something approaching superlatives.

by Ryland Walker Knight


If you're curious, and I'm gonna guess you're curious, I offer something like a top ten list over at The Auteurs Notebook. I also offer something about some other "older" movies I saw and gasped about. I called it, "Wrangle yourself and laugh." I called it that because, well, because that's what I feel like I learned (a little) how to do again. It's a great thing. But it's tired in here, after a nap, and my family is funny, so I shouldn't be blogging. Let's light those candles, sister.

a bridge to somewhere

A Quick Note: on the late late bojangles. (EFF THE ARE EYE EH EH!)

From RWK to you, beloveds.

to love somebody; you don't know

I'm playing with a sidebar redesign. This involves blogroll/s. This involves shrinking the blogroll/s. I think smaller versions are more "helpful" and a "cooler" barometer of taste. Just know, the sidelined, as if you even care, that I am currently subscribed to well over 150 blogs in my Reader and when the "new items" number balloons past 600, like it did today, I freak the fuck out and that's bad news for this boy. So, like I said, I'm gonna try to thin some things. Like, for starters, my jeans. What?! Here's a gift: MORE NINA SIMONE! Here she's singing a George Hairyson song! (Also, thanks, Girish, as ever, for the nod; glad we're "wonderful" over here. Like, a lot.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

A conjunction of quotations #3

— edited by Ryland Walker Knight

gait, not gate
Petulia, from Tom

Nor is there singing school, but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence.
W. B. Yeats

We must meet reverses boldly, and not suffer them to frighten us, my dear. We must learn to act the play out. We must live misfortune down, Trot!
Betsy Trotwood

Consent is, on earth, always a risk, as democracy is, and hence is always accompanied by a knowledge of being compromised. So understood, consent is the show of a readiness for change, of allegiance to a state of society responsive to a call for change. This is how I present the enduring comedies of remarriage in their conversation with society, and how I see Astaire's farewell gesture, as he merges into the shifting crowd on the pavement outside the Arcade. The question is therefore how compromised consent is shown, is made—in Locke's use of the terms—express as opposed to tacit. The idea is not to hedge consent, as if your commitment were incomplete, but to give it in the knowledge that its object is still in essential part idea, its existence incomplete. This creates a romance of America, but it tends to make those who are not ambassadors into boosters, the former uneasy about the future, and somewhat guilty because of it, the latter refusing uneasiness, and proud of it.
Stanley Cavell

In the most recent upheaval [May 1968], the intellectual discovered that the masses no longer need him to gain knowledge: they know perfectly well, without illusion; they know far better than he and they are certainly capable of expressing themselves. But there exists a system of power which blocks, prohibits, and invalidates this discourse and this knowledge, a power not only found in the manifest authority of censorship, but one that profoundly and subtly penetrates an entire societal network. [Intellectuals are themselves agents of this system of power-the idea of their responsibility for “consciousness” and discourse forms part of the system. The intellectual’s role is no longer to place himself “somewhat ahead and to the side” in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity; rather, it is to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of “knowledge,” “truth,” “consciousness,” and “discourse."

In this sense theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice. But it is local and regional, as you said, and not totalising. This is a struggle against power, a struggle aimed at revealing and undermining power where it is most invisible and insidious. It is not to “awaken consciousness” that we struggle (the masses have been aware for some time that consciousness is a form of knowledge; and consciousness as the basis of subjectivity is a prerogative of the bourgeoisie), but to sap power, to take power; it is an activity conducted alongside those who struggle for power, and not their illumination from a safe distance. A “theory ” is the regional system of this struggle.

Precisely. A theory is exactly like a box of tools. It has nothing to do with the signifier. It must be useful. It must function. And not for itself. If no one uses it, beginning with the theoretician himself (who then ceases to be a theoretician), then the theory is worthless or the moment is inappropriate. We don’t revise a theory, but construct new ones; we have no choice but to make others. It is strange that it was Proust, an author thought to be a pure intellectual, who said it so clearly: treat my book as a pair of glasses directed to the outside; if they don’t suit you, find another pair; I leave it to you to find your own instrument, which is necessarily an investment for combat.

In "conversation"

I don't believe you. You're a liar.
Bob Dylan

Yeah, you don’t have the second plot in order to relieve the pressures of the first plot. Now, in theater that works. In Shakespeare it certainly works. But there’s something about film I don’t think it works, because film is a solid, plastic form – a solid piece of time form – and there’s something about breaking that time form. In Ordet the point of view is actual. We’re actually some place rather than the point of view being images from a more literary form of cinema. [...]

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t take life for granted. I don’t even take the premise for granted. I love not even taking the premise for a moment for granted. Like, let’s say, even knowing what this is, us talking to each other. This is a common experience for filmmakers. There’s an interviewer, and, say, we’re doing an interview for some puff piece after a screening. But that’s never been my sense of reality, of getting absorbed in the societal belief of things. I’ve always felt a little out of it, a little bit like a ghost. So I’m like a ghost and society is a phantom. They’re phantoms but somebody made them. I’m a ghost and I’m not even here. At a certain point I decided, “Well, I’m going to make films from my point of view. What would they think if I started to express my point of view? Would it mean anything to anybody?” So I decided to make films about my point of view. How I feel and see cinema. And then it turns out I end up being invited to Toronto.
Nathaniel Dorsky

Though Silent Light owes a strong, self-conscious debt to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s eccentric 1955 masterpiece, Ordet, another story about faith and love, the new film also recalls some of the more pastoral passages in Terrence Malick’s New World, yet another tour de force about love and faith (in other people, in the cinematic image). In one of the loveliest sequences in Silent Light, Johan’s family idles in and around a creek that serves as its communal bathing pool. As some of the children drift languorously in the water, their bodies modestly covered and blond heads floating like lilies, the parents tenderly wash the younger ones, scrubbing one child’s head with soap, massaging another’s feet with oil and exchanging small endearments and instructions.

It’s a gorgeous, innocent yet sensuous scene, a glimpse of the prelapsarian with a hint of the viper that Mr. Reygadas closes with a shot of a pink blossom, an image that begins as a blur of color and gently comes into focus. He holds on the image a few beats — much as he often does — not only because, I imagine, he wants us to appreciate its metaphoric resonance but also because he wants us to see its glory. There are a handful of ways to understand the meaning of Silent Light, words that I read as an allusion to love, but this is also very much a film about that ordinary light that sometimes still passes through a camera and creates something divine.
Manohla Dargis

A picture lives by companionship. Expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token; it is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world.

What voice is this that speaks within me? That guides me towards the best?
Captain John Smith

Beneath her the tiles rippled and breathed. The pulpy surfaces of the walls ripened uncontrollably under her observation, inhaling endlessly like lungs preparing to blast her face with a calling or a message. Stripes and pyramids fell across the air in nearly comprehensible organization, writing that changed just before she understood it, and the room itself became a vast insinuation, swollen with filthy significance. She wanted to catch her breath and wail, but realized that her own lungs were already full. When she exhaled, the room seemed relieved of its tension momentarily: she was crushed to remember that this very same action of ballooning and diminishing had been linked to all her other breaths. This terrible, terrible thing that was happening was her breathing.
     The beat of things, their steady direction, had dissolved into nothing--this room wasn't happening then, it isn't happening now; maybe it's a dream of what's going to happen or what will happen never. The sound of her own voice injures her like a shock of electricity through her ears, but screaming herself to hoarse exhaustion is the only reprieve from breathing.
     She looked up out of her voice and saw the angel.
     He will have ears like a cartoon of organic growth. He is yellow with light but covered with mobile shadows, animated tattoos. His face kept changing. His voice will come from far off, like a train's. His body is steady and beautiful and hairless, the wings white, incinerating, and pure, but the head changes rapidly--the head of an eagle, a goat, an insect, a mouse, a sheep with spiraling horns that turn and lengthen almost imperceptively--and the entire message had no words. The entire message will be only the beat and direction of time. Yes is Now.
     The angel who says, "It's time."
     "Is it time?" she asked. "Does it hurt?" He will have the most beautiful face she has ever seen.
     "Oh, babe." The angel starts to cry. "You can't imagine," he said.
Denis Johnson

Just like the tiptoe moth
That dance before the flame
They burn their hearts so much
That death is just a name
And if love calls again
So foolishly they run, they run, they run
They run, they run, they run, they run
They run without a sound
The desperate ones
Nina Simone [the drip-drop (pure) dope]

Well... There is a vast network, right? An ocean of possibilities. I like dogs. I used to raise rabbits. I've always loved animals. Their nature. How they think. I have seen dogs reason their way out of problems. Watched them think through the trickiest situations. Do you have a couple of bucks I could borrow? I've got this damn landlord.
Freddie Howard

Sometimes just making yourself at home is revolutionary.
Paul Beatty

On the one side, freedom confronts squarely the ancient claims of rationality, with its inescapable exlusionary logic—for example, the idea that "membership in a particular type of moral community, one from which fundamental dissent has to be excluded, is a condition for genuinely rational inquiry" (Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry, p. 60). This idea cannot be wrong, which oddly may be why the ethical and reflective interests of hermeneutics, committed as they are to things like openness to the non-identical, are at the receiving end of this logic. Hermeneutics, like freedom itself, may not be compatible with ontological security. On the other side, freedom confronts ironic modernity, or the idea that once we understand that history is the history of obsolescence, that we are only so many webs of belief and that the point is, Penelope-like, to unweave and reweave these so as not to get caught by them, there is really nothing left to call freedom, unless it is just being mistress in one's own house, full of undesirable hangers-on as it is likely to be. This cannot be wrong, either, but it makes an interest in the question of freedom seem, well, quaint, which must be ironic liberalism's ironic point. If this book shows anything at all, it is that a point of this sort is bound to be lost on hermeneutics.
Gerald L. Bruns

This grandson of fishes holds inside him
A hundred thousand small black stones.
This nephew of snails, six feet long, lies naked on a bed
With a smiling woman, his head throws off light
Under marble, he is moving toward his own life
Like fur, walking. And when the frost comes, he is
Fur, mammoth fur, growing longer
And silkier, passing the woman's dormitory,
Kissing a stomach, leaning against a pillar,
he moves toward the animal, the animal with furry head!

What a joy to smell the flesh of a new child!
Like new grass! And this long man with the student girl,
Coffee cups, her pale waist, the spirit moving around them,
Moves, dragging a great tail into the darkness.
In the dark we blaze up, drawing pictures
Of spiny fish, we throw off the white stones!
Serpents rise from the ocean floor with spiral motions,
A man goes inside a jewel, and sleeps. Do
Not hold my hands down! Let me raise them!
A fire is passing up through the soles of my feet!
Robert Bly

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

VINYL IS PODCAST #9: Dreamlands of the Night

by Ryland Walker Knight and Brian Darr

in grass
in moon

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RWK here tryna glut our hello lil kitty (kiddy?) corner of the internet with two podcasts in two days. This late afternoon Brian Darr and I took in some dreamlands of the night at the PFA Library here in Berkeley. (You can browse their Film Collection online.) As I say in the podcast, I'm not particularly well versed in the avant-garde. Before today I had only seen stills from and read essays about and seen the littlest of little clips of Brakhage's bigger than big films. Before today I had seen zero films by Bruce Conner, much less read anything by him. And before, inside today, I was seriously down in the dumps of confusion after reading Sheila O'Malley's rather beautiful pean to Mickey Rourke and all his hurt. So these films this afternoon sure did lift. They did some real lifting. I think this comes through in our talk, too. It started with a Kenneth Anger film, called Eaux d'Artifice, which, surprisingly, you can watch by clicking right here if you want to watch it all monochrome blues, without the occasional pink highlight. Then we moved into Anticipation of the Night by Brakhage (the pix above are stolen from Fred Camper and repurposed/reordered and cropped/edited by me). Then, after Mothlight (yes!), we watched Bruce Baillie's All My Life, which you can watch by clicking right here, if you want to watch it on youtube, which seems like sacrilege after seeing it on what has to be one of the most beautiful 16mm prints around in this cinephile-world. Then my fatigue got the better of me and I missed out on some James Benning and Bette Gordon before we switched to DVD to watch two Conner shorts, which knocked my socks off my feet and (kind of) into my mouth. It was a hell of an inauguration. And now, here it comes, the compulsion to see more. Of course, given my love of words, there's a compulsion to read more, in turn, and I think a great first place to start has to be the Avant-Garde Blog-A-Thon that Girish started/hosted with this post. There's plenty there to keep a curious reader/seer busy for years to come. Guess that's my plan!


[Our talk is bookended by some Black Dice and Fennesz. You should buy Beaches and Canyons and Endless Summer if you do not own them; they're really great.]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

VINYL IS PODCAST #8: Find the best thing possible.

by Ryland Walker Knight and Daniel Coffeen

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RWK here. When people ask me why I started this podcast, I routinely answer that producing these episodes is, in the most basic sense, a creative and fun way to hang out with smart people I like to talk to and to laugh with and to learn from—to just plain enjoy—aside from the fact that it's kinda easier (lazier? nah...) to just get together and rap on mess than it is to form coherent sentences that do not ramble and tumble and spill everywhere. As I wrangle my life into boxes and suitcases, I found time today to talk with my Good Personal Friend (and former professor) Daniel Coffeen. We had a few ideas and a few directions to try to pursue, but, as this fell together rather quickly (that is, last minute), we just winged it and let our talk meander all over our mind-maps through all kinds of topics: speed, affect, The Bourne Ultimatum, figures, Faces, cubist film, Esther Kahn, hurt, laughing, fear, Bad Lieutenant, the architecture of seeing, separation, Lola Montes, looking for a projection, creativity, pedagogy (and its failure) and glasses and a will to passion, among other jokes. The talk may get off topic (and veer too far into me), but I think this works (despite my constant stammering through a billion associations at once) for the simple fact that it was fun and we rully do enjoy each other's thoughtful (and hilarious) company. That, and I think we share some real good thinks. We hope you feel the same! Please, tell us things. For instance: don't you kinda agree with Nathan Lee? Please read more from the ever-estimable Craig Keller.

As for the songs this week: I'm too tired (defo too lazy) to load them up tonight. If you really want them, let me know. Otherwise, just enjoy the show! Cast that smile along with those ears over this way. Because, of course, that word "possible" is both an outcome and a value-judgment. Just like "catastrophe"...

vom yr mom!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two thousand weight? #1: Shipping costs are up.

by Ryland Walker Knight


[1. this thing / 2. stolen from Pinkerton]

It's official, or at least public now: I'm moving to New York City in two weeks. Barf it out. CFCF makes things easier: have a hear-see, you'll thank me. See you there.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Christmas Tale. A house is an outfit. [part one]

by Ryland Walker Knight

touch that sky

Weird: the title of my recent essay about a (possible) Desplechin double bill almost describes this new film. Except, of course, that this house, if it is baggy, is the kind of baggy you see a big man wearing; the kind that you can tell is full of body, full of flesh and torsion and not-quite hidden (not even silent) liquids. The house is the thing in A Christmas Tale, which, in a way, operates as a sequel to La Vie Des Morts, as it was shot in the same house in the same Northern cold in the same giveaway sumptuousness. Were my memory more reliable I might could say something else about the divergences but (suffice to say?) for now, at the least, I can offer that the maximal new film fulfills the precipitate preview-promise of the debut: there will be drama. And—hey, get this!—blood! The focus on blood here is, let's be real, a bald-faced joke. But it's the kind of joke that hides behind the joke that masks another joke; jokes everywhere, always, going in every direction, just like this narrative (if we want to call it that), just like this family sprawls, just like this house opens its hiding places and unmasks the world.

The house is the cinema, too, we gather. It holds histories and stages opportunities for new life, and new love, all kinds of desires and passions. Desplechin's cinema revels in these possibilities. Hoberman writes: "Expansive but cozy, convoluted yet circular, at once avant and retro, and contradictory down to its last scene, the movie ends with a new myth—if not a new cosmology—articulated by the writer Elizabeth." It's easy to point to the quotes in a Desplechin film (they abound) but it's often harder to secure their significance, much less their relevance, in tidy equations; his constellation of associations splays. The most pronounced quotations in A Christmas Tale (amidst the swirl of Funny Face and The Ten Commandments, Cecil Taylor and beat juggling, Emerson, Vertigo and Bergman; hell, Woody Allen and Wes Anderson) are, as is fitting, from two masters of the reversal: the opening of Nietzsche's On The Genealogy of Morals and multiple scenes and motifs and themes from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and an "of course!" nod to A Winter's Tale. This cosmology Hoberman hints at—I cannot but spoil his delicious hints—is Elizabeth's appropriation of Puck's final address in her own final address (via voiceover crossing into diegetic speech, "la parole" as she would say) that reminds us, yes, tomorrow is another day in the world of our choosing. Of course, although some try and some do succeed (adoption), on a basic level it remains unavoidable that we do not choose our family. We build the house about the family and we foster it, nurture it, as best we may in those walls; but we cannot renege our stock in the world. Or, that aim goes nowhere, gets nowhere. And there's nowhere but here.

touch this fire

Committed to contradiction as a form of life as much as a form of cinema (isn't the cinema a form of life?), Desplechin's films are often rightly described as "too much" but I'd like to claim that not as a derision; I'd rather say that most other films are "too little." Of course, don't get me wrong, I dig purity, too: Bresson is, is, like, totally—are you kidding me? And yet, I've always been attracted to the baroque, the proliferating and the layering of the image-and-sound. And, of course—are you kidding me?—Bresson is a king of layering sensations; but austerity is after a different endgame. Maybe that's just it: there's no endgame with Desplechin. Films end but, like all great storytellers, it's easy—hell, it's desirable, luxurious, seductive—to imagine the characters living forward, finding the world and building it again every day. I saw A Christmas Tale twice in two days. The first experience was dictated by my fatigue: lots of silent smiling tears. The second was directed by my exuberant enjoyment: a serious front-row grin. We contain multitudes, right?

Gushing on the phone, I told my friend, "It's a reminder that you can make art about yourself and not be an asshole." What I forgot to add is that, well, even if you are an asshole (it seems pretty unavoidable given enough time), you can aim for grace with the right kind of joke. But then we remember that, no matter how sumptuous the right kind of laugh can feel across our bodies, some jokes hurt. What separates A Christmas Tale from its decidedly more affable cousins, Kings and Queen and My Sex Life... (if not exactly reaching Esther Kahn), is the frightfully simple-looking plait of melodrama and comedy Desplechin mounts here. It's a film of reversals but it's not about simultaneity. It's this and that but those things are neither here nor there nor everywhere but anywhere what so ever as long as its bonds are not severed; the ties do bind; celluloid remains a strip; for all the cubist fades, this is not a film as network; I'm afraid to see Desplechin's digital brain if only because I adore this emulsion and this bleeding so; strands bounce against and into one another but the limits reign in the will to sovereignty. Indeed: as soon as Matthieu Amalric's typically dervish Henri climbs out a window and down the side of the house, he re-enters through the back door—only to leave through the front—we might say, through the mouth—to attend midnight mass with his mother, Junon (the rather-perfect, still-vibrant Catherine Deneuve), whom he hours before called "Le Con Capitain."

touch her body
touch his body

—And I think, "masculine?"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Free Links for today. (Placeholder?)

by Ryland Walker Knight

light fail

Not quite sure how many VINYL IS HEAVY readers know about or even think to look at (much less subscribe to) that other, goofy blog I keep called freeNIKES!. It began as a much more collaborative project between myself and Cuy Kimovich Kasparov, but, as time wore on, and KK moved across a pond over there, it became clear that this space is more like a glorified tumblr for as many wild and tangential enthusiasms as I can throw up in my free time. (This should not be taken as disparagement of KK's blogging prowess. Dig his other work at the ever-hilarious and -smart Weekend Terrorism.) Well, last night my internet "problems" at home were solved. And, amidst some other bullcrap, this morning and early afternoon I spent a lot of time corralling cool shit over there. In fact, I threw up 11 things. Some are more interesting than others. Some are borderline useless. But, as with everything over there, they all light me up in some way or another. One makes me sigh, most make me laugh, one makes me think, "Good grief," while others are simply "cool." So here's a list that's definitely redundant, in (watch out!) reverse-posting order, to take you through my trajectory. Maybe one of these will make your day!

Half-hour later update: A friend reminds me that my Google Reader Shared items feed acts as another blog of sorts and that, yes, I am rather addicted to that little "share" button. You can find plenty of daily enthusiasms by clicking this link to see the items as a website or by clicking this link to subscribe to the feed itself.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

VINYL IS PODCAST #7: For your milk!

by Ryland Walker Knight and Jennifer Stewart and Mark Haslam

plus one, son!

[Podomatic stream]
[Direct audio download]
[iTunes subscription available]
[Simple syndication subscription]

RWK here. Yes, due to all kinds of life and extra-blogular writing, posting has been light over here on VINYL IS HEAVY. The main culprit, though, is a lack of reliable internet and, like, zero interest in cafés post-work. So stay tuned. There should be a flurry of hot new shit soon; mostly (still!) about Arnaud Desplechin. (In case you didn't know already: I'm freaking out about A Christmas Tale. That's the realness, peoples.)

But today we saw Milk. We saw Milk at the Castro Theatre in the Castro at Castro and Market in San Francisco. All kinds of heightened levels of signification and significance and emotions. Also, it was overcast. It's finally getting cold around this town. And it feels great. Add to all that: it was a packed house and we sat in the third row. Now if only Milk were a little better. I really want to like this prim thing (and I do, for the most part) but it's kinda-sorta inconsistent—and, yes, it would be nothing if it weren't for Sean Penn's sure-to-win lead performance. Everybody's said it, as if it matters, so why not add to this choir of obvious hype: they should bow-tie the Oscar and engrave that shit yesterday. He's great—he really is!—and his joyful posture, even in a frown, is truly something to behold. I want people to see this movie, especially in our current season, precisely because it was designed for everyone. Gus Van Sant set out to make the movie that the most people would find purchase with—and he did just that—without a lot of his recent formal/aesthetic flourishes; although, to be fair, it's not like we're talking Ray or Walk The Line here. But I'm tired, and it's late, so I'm just going to direct you towards some of the sterling words that have already been written in favor of this film's simple virtues. As Steve Brule would say, "For your milk, dummy!"

Finally, here's some songs you should buy.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Natural is not in it: White Dog

by Ryland Walker Knight

who the FUCK spilled the ketchup?
[I've been having internet problems of late so this link-through is late, but, well, here we go...]

Sam Fuller's final Hollywood film is so not Hollywood all we can do is say, "Thanks." We have it here, now, in a beautiful new DVD, which I've looked at and then said a few things about over at The Auteurs Notebook. I didn't quite get to everything the movie made me think about, but I think some of the ideas about the phenomenological significance of the close up might be visible to the curious reader. In case that strain of argument is, in fact, buried deep: it's an immediate encounter we viewers cannot ignore, and Fuller never lets us forget this because these close ups often emerge after a zoom (as punctuation, as affective signpost) or a smash cut; the film is unabashedly directing your gaze; but there's nothing maudlin about this man's tears below. All that sentimentality is side-stepped by virtue of Fuller's low angle and looking up kino-eye and Ennio Morricone's meandering ivories and the utter gravity of something so absurd it has to be real; something like, you know, race hate. So if you didn't click that link up there click this one here and when you're done there, or in lieu of that, you might like to look at the images all in a stream-of-argument that says something else with the same materials.

dont go chasin waterfalls