Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Greatest Pinball Game in the World

by Leile One

The first thing to do is to get away from the desk. Fax any faxes that need faxing; blast out a few boring emails. Now you really do deserve a break. Tell the temp you’ll be back in a few, and put on your coat. The game room is a mere few blocks down the street, but remember that maneuvering your way out of an office situation is a delicate process. The last thing you want to do is arouse the suspicion of a snoopy supervisor...that power-tie down the hall can smell Pinball Fever on an employee like a bloodhound detects crime.

Once on the street, you can breathe a little easier. Light a smoke or enjoy a stick of gum. Have an excuse prepared for anyone you may bump into from the office. “Just on my way to grab a cup of joe,” or, “Sandwich time!” should work adequately. After all, it isn’t entirely untrue. What you seek in your affair with the pinball table is merely a mental and physical revitalization, a fuel with which to keep lit the fire that enables you to complete the day’s dull list of tasks.

Almost there. Your pulse quickens slightly, mouth tasting of rusted metal. You’ve got aspirations to reach multiball mode on ball one, and the skills to make it happen. That’s because you do not fuck around, and because you and the machine itself have reached an understanding. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the game wants you to rack up major points because you are its favorite customer. Of course, you can never be certain of this, but it’s a feeling you get in your heart and you’ve come to trust it. Therefore, when the machine directs you to shoot for the flashing arrows on the left and right after 75 bumper taps, you lovingly obey its command and do it in three flipper flips or less. When Leile One is on his game, the ball’s destinations are anything but random.

This is it. You exchange one dollar for four golden tokens, not redeemable for cash value after this transaction. Who needs cash when you’ve got the satisfaction of beating your personal best score? You stroll towards the apparatus, staring it down with a gleam in your eye that says, “Me and you, buddy. Me and you.” A disclaimer near the token-slot stresses that this game is intended “FOR AMUSEMENT ONLY”, yet I’m sure its manufacturer sensed that for some, it could be spiritually more useful than that. Sopranos the TV show? Haven’t really fucked with it. Sopranos the Pinball Game – now there’s something special...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Top Five Covers

Are We Not Men?

by Ryland Walker Knight

I can't possibly name THE BEST Top Five Covers so in its place I offer a list of covers I wish I could perform but, due to the fact that I have no musical skills other than singing along a little better than terribly, I can only dream about these as a vague possibility somewhere in space.

1. "Sadie" (Joanna Newsom), on banjo. [I was at this one.]
2. "Paris 1919" (John Cale), on banjo.
3. "I Wanna Be Your Lover" (Prince), on banjo.
4. "Heaven" (Talking Heads), only vocals, like that "Mr Grieves" cover on the first TVontheRadio EP. But nothing like that stupid-as-shit Arcade Fire cover of "Naive Melody".
5. "Rape Me" (Nirvana), by Smoosh. Kurt Cobain would have ben 40 years old last week. Seattle is tight.

You should list yours. Or, tackle which ones you think would be worthy of a Top Five Pantheon. I think we can all agree the DEVO "Satisfaction" cover is on the list, right?

Friday, February 16, 2007

THE LYNCH MOB: Lynch Links

Our man in Inglewood -- Get your ass in here!


The INLAND EMPIRE reviews. For, against and befuddlement:
Fernando F. Croce, Manohla Dargis, David Edelstein, Jim Emerson, Jurgen Fauth [(1) (2) (3)], Owen Gleiberman, Ed Gonzalez, J. Hoberman, Rob Humanick, Andrew O'Hehir, Keith Phipps, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Michael Joshua Rowin, Nick Schager, Keith Uhlich.

Lynch Links. Random fire.

[If you have a link you would like to see listed--something you've written or something somebody else has written or something from YouTube or whatever--feel free to leave it in the comments or email it to Ryland.]

EMPIRE Burlesque, or: Obfuscation and Its Discontents


by Stephen Farrell

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’ve never been a huge David Lynch fan. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way, like I’m understating my dislike for the man and his work, I mean it to be taken at face value: I’ve never been a huge David Lynch fan. I’ve seen Blue Velvet and Lost Highway and a smattering of Twin Peaks episodes back when they used to show reruns on cable, but other than that I don’t have too much knowledge of his work. INLAND EMPIRE is without a doubt the most “difficult” Lynch film I’ve seen, and is probably one of the more bizarre cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. It is also maddeningly hard to describe. It is ostensibly a story about an actress and the role she lands in a film which turns out to be cursed, but to call it a “movie-within-a-movie” would be an absurd understatement. Is it about Hollywood? Sure, but it’s also about early-twentieth century Poland. There are scenes of arresting, undeniable beauty, and scenes of talking, laugh-tracked rabbits. If someone asked me to describe what I saw in the (almost) three hours of my life it took to watch this film, I wouldn’t know where to start.

It seems that with this type of film, where there is no coherent narrative, where identities are unstable and dialogue tends to conceal more than it reveals, the best way to watch it is simply to sit back and let it wash over you, to allow the images and sounds and symbols to hit you on a visceral level and work their magic in the unlit corners of your subconscious. The problem is, every scene, every moment of INLAND EMPIRE is so obscure, so murky and ambiguous, I found my cerebrum working twice as hard just trying to figure out what it was all about, searching for clues in the sets, in the actors’ words, in the silences. Exposition being more or less jettisoned after the fourth or fifth scene, I spent the rest of the film scouring every detail and word, constantly trying to fit them into the semblance of plot that existed in those initial few minutes. Knowing that linear narrative is not going to supply a framework for the piece, every visual cue becomes a symbol and every furtive glance a semaphore that must be deciphered if one is to “get it.”

And that’s the problem with David Lynch movies. People like to say that you either love him or hate him, but that’s not true. No, with Lynch, you either get it or you don’t. For every one of his films (and indeed, for his oeuvre as a whole) there are always those who champion it as the most brilliant, creative, evocative work of art since…well, since the last one. And then there’s everyone else, divided between those who don’t get it, those who didn’t see it, and those who don’t know who the fuck David Lynch is (most of the moviegoing public). The problem is, among those who do see his movies, there can’t be any dialogue between the two groups, because those that get it will consider any criticism from those who don’t get it to simply be due to the others’ not getting it. Those that don’t get it will, for their part, think that anyone who gets it must be a dishonest, pretentious fanboy. And they’re both right.

David Lynch has been vocally silent about how he wants INLAND EMPIRE, and in fact all his films, to be interpreted. This is of course the right thing to do. The creator of a work has said all he or she needs to say about it in the work itself; talking about it or offering interpretations for one’s work implies that something has been left out. And as I explored in a previous post on this site, ambiguity is something which I greatly appreciate in storytelling. But ambiguity is not an end in itself. Without a concrete grounding in reality and narrative, the flights of fancy become meaningless. Surrealism must juxtapose familiar symbols in unexpected ways; if the symbols are not familiar or non-representative, it is abstractionism. People often talk about David Lynch’s work having a “dreamlike” quality, and this is particularly true of INLAND EMPIRE. The non-sequitor dialogue, haunting imagery and muted digital color palate all lend themselves to this. But just as one wakes from a dream perhaps disturbed but resigned to go on with life without learning what it all means, one leaves INLAND EMPIRE shaken and intrigued, but left without much to work with in making sense of it all. Or maybe I just don’t get it.

a map for the road

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Outlandish Empire

smoke, mirrors, tits, hallways, movies, life

by Ryland Walker Knight

In the beginning, David Lynch went to art school to paint, and movies were an afterthought. Now, movies are everything. By the end of its 172 minutes, Lynch’s newest film, INLAND EMPIRE, lays down for viewers an explicit claim: We use movies to build our lives, our dreams and enact fantasies, idealized and horrific alike. The film is rooted in Hollywood (visually name-checked twice), yet its aim is not to skewer. If anything, it’s a celebration of the possibilities of the movies.

As is a beast, INLAND EMPIRE is unruly. It may provide an answer to Andre Bazin’s critical imperative, “What is cinema?”, but that answer is entirely present-tense, rooted here and now in our 21st century (cinema’s second). And it starts with the medium itself, digital video. Yet this is not a pristine, candy-colored DV like Superman Returns, but a handheld, grain-heavy DV captured by a “prosumer” camcorder; the images are both buoyant and cumbersome. This may, in the end, prove too much for casual viewers, but if you can let go any aesthetic (or personal) ties to emulsified film, you can see how the digital blur bleeds whites and hot tones much as a painter would blend colors. The look will aggravate you at first—some actors are flatly kept out of focus—but as you proceed and find a rhythm with this wild brutality, you wind up seeing the beauty in the murky, dank world onscreen.

The choice to shoot on video frees the film to embrace any surreal tangent, and they abound. In fact, they build the narrative, if you want to call it that; if you don’t, call it a fiction, à la Borges. Laura Dern plays Nikki Grace, a successful actress newly cast in a banner film called “On High in Blue Tomorrows”. Her co-star is Devon Berk (lady-killer Justin Theroux) and their director is Kingsley Stewart (an unflappable yet off kilter Jeremy Irons). But all exposition is quickly swept aside once shooting begins and Nikki starts seeing herself in her meta-movie alter-ego, Susan, and, of course, vice-versa, beginning the freefall into, yes, the INLAND EMPIRE.

Cinema, at its best, is a poetic art, one which not only reflects our reality but refracts it through a prism of assembled images and choreographed sounds. That doesn’t preclude linear movies, though, as there are many poetic forward-motion narrative films, including Lynch’s own The Straight Story. INLAND EMPIRE, though, is anything but linear and wholly surreal—quite legitimately the opposite of The Straight Story’s brevity. By embracing multiplicity, one of Lynch’s strong suits, there’s no single answer to “What’s going on?” or “What is cinema?” to be found here. What can be found is a wonderland of right and left turns, bitch-slapping, whores, low-life con artists, a byzantine network of hallways populated by doorways leading who-knows-where?, dreams, lusty songs that menace under the titillation, cinema, blood & guts, dirty blondes and busty brunettes, subtitles and man-sized rabbits. Enter the maze if you dare: you won’t come out the same, but you will re-emerge.

INLAND EMPIRE tied my throat into a knot that has yet to let loose. It’s not a clarity his art provides: this film reaches out, through the screen, with two hands plunging into your chest, massaging your beating heart. This is felt in the film’s opening shot: a projector’s beam illuminates the all-caps title, which then bleeds into a close-up of a needle on a record, tying image and sound together. The film is an exaltation, an orgasm, a little scary death celebrating the multivalent mysteries of life. Any worthwhile art should grab your hand, take you into the looking glass, and point your eyes around.

[The review is supposed to be available here but The Daily Californian's website is mostly unreliable. Big ups to Aaron Bothman on the illustration!]

02006: 172 minutes: dir. David Lynch: written by Lynch

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On the DL: Why Lynch's Latest is the One we’ve been Waiting For

by Leile One

I had prepared myself for the worst. Rumors had been circulating within the local media and amongst my friends that INLAND EMPIRE was David Lynch’s toughest film to watch yet. Avowed lifetime Lynch fans were saying that unlike his other movies from the past 15 years, which are, for the most part, complicated experiments into the unconscious and surreal; this one perhaps has no payoff in its conclusion, whereas the other films have a brilliant “method to their madness”, so to speak. To which my response came effortlessly, well-rehearsed after many discussions on Mr. Lynch: “Whatevs. Everything the guy’s done since Twin Peaks is a fucking piece of shit. This should come as no surprise.” And inevitably an argument on the undeniable artistic merit of every single project His Majesty David Lynch has laid a finger upon would ensue.

Finally, I thought, with the opportunity to review his newest film, I could systematically break down why Lynch is a hack. To me, every film the dude has put out since 1991 amounts to nothing more than a couple visually appealing scenes tucked inside a mess of bad dialogue, lighting, and music, with no payoff at the end. INLAND EMPIRE seemed the perfect victim upon which to launch my assault, especially at three hours length--and given the mixed reviews I’d been hearing. When I found out that the film had already concluded its two-week run in the Boston area, and that I would have to travel to Manhattan to see the film, I was all the more secretly delighted. It was to be the perfect conditions under which to write the ultimate scathing review: a long, grainy, shaky camcorder movie with no linear plot to speak of, along with a ten-hour round trip on a stuffy Greyhound bus as prelude and epilogue. I could feel my blood boiling just thinking about the day-long process I was committing to.

Upon completion of phase one (the bus ride down), I approached the box office of the IFC Center like a rabid bulldog. I was ready to rip this film to shreds, to pull it off the projection platter with my teeth and destroy it frame by celluloid frame. I took note of a promotion taped to the glass window which surely could only be considered by theater management in the case of a David Lynch film: “Buy Nine Admissions to INLAND EMPIRE and Get the Tenth One Free! Just show us nine ticket stubs and the next one’s on us!” Seriously? Yes, confirmed the cashier, she’s printed some freebies herself. When I walked into the main lobby and saw that they are exclusively selling “David Lynch Signature Cup Whole Bean Organic Coffee”, presumably the only stuff good enough to drink for a director of his magnitude, at 30 bucks per 12-ounce tin, I had to bite my tongue to keep from doubling over with cackles. This shit was getting unbelievable.

At long last, I took my seat in theater two, pulled out the pen and pad, and prepared to do some venomous scribblin’. It had not yet occurred to me that it can be really hard to take legible notes in a pitch-black theater, but I knew I wanted to be as specific as possible when jotting down different things to hate on in my final analysis. Locating what I believed would be my first example didn’t take long. The IFC Center has included as an introduction to INLAND EMPIRE a short featuring a Q-and-A session with David Lynch, from the night of the film’s premiere back in early December. In it, an audience member asks something to the effect of, “What are you trying to say with this movie?” Lynch’s response is cryptic at best, and he basically says he’d rather not go into that; he wants people to draw their own interpretations of the film. Aha! I thought. It’s just like old DL not to step up and justify his sloppy ass finished product ... I am going to be in for a real nightmare here ...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A nightmare indeed, although I am astonished to report that INLAND EMPIRE is a truly enjoyable "bad trip" when it’s all said and done. This is the film that David Lynch has been trying (and failing) to pull off since Blue Velvet, but in this puzzle the pieces finally fall into place to make a compelling work of art. Some will argue that its sister films Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. offer more coherent, complete visions of a darkly surreal mindfuck within the ever present Los Angeles landscape. I will go out on a limb and say that the opposite is true. INLAND EMPIRE is the real deal.

If you like bugged-out shit, as any Lynch fan must, there is no shortage of it here. INLAND EMPIRE features some of the most straight-up scary audio-visual juxtapositions ever committed to film, including a genuinely chilling sex scene featuring leads Laura Dern and Justin Theroux. This is one area in particular where INLAND EMPIRE triumphs over its brethren: much of the sexual content in Lynch’s other films seems gratuitous or overly directed in order to achieve a certain response from the viewer. The sex scenes in this film, however, truly add to the overall craziness. All of the more bizarre imagery in the surrealist scenes stands not in isolation as merely a neat thing to look at (a la “dumpster man” in Mulholland Dr.), but as building up to a truly complete conceptual vision.

Gone are the cheesy synthesizer audio score backgrounds which fail to properly set the mood for each scene in Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway. Aurally, INLAND EMPIRE deals more in bass-heavy frequencies and subtle strings, which succeed in subliminally enhancing the cinematic experience. In fact, nearly everything on the audio side is incorporated effectively: even if it’s just the sound of a hooker’s fingers snapping it seems epic, and proper. Decisions for musical accompaniments from actual bands for the soundtrack seem less ill-advised than in past Lynch projects as well, even in an unlikely slow-motion scenario scored to Beck’s “Black Tambourine” featuring the prostitutes of Hollywood Boulevard.

While I am up against the firing squad here, another unpopular view: INLAND EMPIRE is better looking photographically than its immediate predecessors, despite the digital medium. Firstly, the set design is immaculate, each room containing a given scene providing the perfect backdrop for the characters to illuminate. The furniture, carpet, and even the windows help to lay the groundwork for the desired ultimate effect of a Los Angeles carnival funhouse on acid. The underlying grainy quality of the digital camerawork (not as shitty-looking as you might expect, and at times you can convince yourself it was indeed shot on 35mm) only serves to help further this vision. Perhaps using the digital format has also allowed Lynch to achieve better lighting for his subjects. Looking back on the over-the-top neon blasts of illumination, which presumably help “set the mood” in a film like Lost Highway, I am even more convinced that this is an ultimately prettier film aesthetically than anything Lynch has done in recent memory.

Finally, Lynch gets the dialogue right this time around. Whereas the viewer is forced to reckon with long pauses and corny one-liners as the bulk of the script in most cases of his recent work, INLAND EMPIRE offers some truly interesting abstract prose from its players. From the haunting warning monologue proffered by the spooky neighbor (Grace Zabriskie) at the beginning, to supporting character Freddie’s peculiar speech about dogs (delivered with excellence by Harry Dean Stanton), you will be anything but bored by what’s being said onscreen. In the end, this is where the film most convincingly triumphs and entertains: it’s full of bizarre, thought-provoking lines being delivered by actors at the top of their game. And, yes, Laura Dern deserves the Oscar for best actress for her work here. The fact that she received no nomination is further proof that the Academy Awards are a waste of time.

By the time the curtain was raised three hours later on that chilly Saturday afternoon, I realized that I was not going to be able to write the review that I was planning on for this. But I’m glad – I’m happy to experience once again a project I can respect fully from the man who brought us Blue Velvet. I still think his coffee bean marketing scheme is rather hilarious, and upon fresh viewings of Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. I have to say my opinion of those remains the same. In fact, to me they only serve to clarify the long list of what works in INLAND EMPIRE. As for Lynch, I think I agree with his stance on not explaining exactly how he wants you to interpret the film. It’s something you should probably just experience yourself. And, yes, do it while it’s still on the big screen if it is at all within your means.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Mutability of Time or: 50 Ft. Faces

by Michael Strenski

It was fitting that Lindy and I forgot our watches.

The theories and concepts surrounding time are vast and luminous. Judaeo-Christian belief treats time as a linear arrow, while Buddhists and Hindus dream of a circular wheel where everything comes around again. Like that Rage Against the Machine song. Immanuel Kant believed that the world is merely sensation, that time is created in the minds of individuals and is therefore completely subjective. Tupac Shakur thought time was a son of a bitch.

As the fourth dimension expounded by physicists the world over, time is one of a certain amount of elasticity, in which the closer an object is to the speed of light, the slower time moves. This concept of spacetime is the fundamental structure of the theory of relativity and is responsible for one of the biggest mindfucks known to man. Thank you Einstein. Further extrapolations on the theory of spacetime and other developments within theoretical physics has led many to hypothesize on the potential for time travel.

“Wormholes” are hypothetical tunnels that circumvent the curvature of spacetime by bridging two points into a more direct route. Imagine the path that time follows as a trail running along the base of a mountain. A wormhole would effectively tunnel directly through the mountain, so the distance travelled would be far less and the object in question would arrive at its destination sooner than anything (even light) that travelled along the conventional path. Although at this juncture traversable wormholes are still hypothetical (there being no evidence of their existence), they are valid within the concepts of general relativity.

INLAND EMPIRE is a film that bravely and poetically deals with fidelity, identity, reality, integrity, destiny, catsup, and mustard.


Now that’s just silly.

Monday, February 12, 2007

This is Not the Girl: David Lynch's Bad Choice

by Steven Boone

“[David] Lynch's Hollywood is a grand old girl, but she's one with some very treacherous curves. To trace the contours of her sensuality, you need a camera as sensitive as a set of fingertips. Lynch's is.” -- Stephanie Zacharek Salon magazine

Zacharek was referring to Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but the hypersensitive “camera” she mentions works overtime in all of Lynch’s feature films. With INLAND EMPIRE, those fingertips appear to have gone numb. Actually, they’re imprisoned in thick rubber gloves: Lynch’s figurative “camera,” his inimitable eye, is sabotaged by his literal choice of movie camera, the Sony DSR PD-150. As in Mulholland Drive, INLAND EMPIRE lingers over Hollywood’s supple curves (and dank crevices) , but because Lynch captured them with a camera better suited to gonzo porn and video depositions, the viewer’s sensual experience is akin to running one’s open palm over a Venus sculpted in sandpaper.

There’s nothing wrong with Lynch’s decision to shoot his latest film on standard resolution digital video; there’s nothing as romantic as the image of Lynch the painter wielding a camcorder the way he would take up a brush. He simply picked the wrong brush for this particular job. He also switched media without substantially altering his methods (and, yes, I’m aware that he shot in an improvisatory style for three years). This refusal to adapt to dv’s limitations paradoxically sets the movie far apart from his other feature films. The power of Lynch’s film art lies in the inscrutability of an indelible image—a frame that lingers upon a disorienting array of familiar objects, decor, tonal variations and human beings.

The recording medium should be capable of rendering these subtle gradations and nuances just as surely as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literary magic realism relies upon an utterly convincing conjuration of time, place and physical properties. The magic arises confidently out of the realism. Lynch’s great films, shot on widescreen 35mm, make mystery live and expand in the mind by being perfectly crystalline before the eye. They are often awash in shadows and negative space interrupted by a swath of fabric or flesh, a pinprick of color, a barrage of strobing light.


Lynch applies these dollops of cinematic paint to suggest a keyhole glimpse of vast, alien, familiar terrain. An ambient, ambiguous soundscape further reinforces the sense of a depthless abyss. In INLAND EMPIRE, the image is so flimsy, so evocative of other kinds of realism (reality TV, local news, industrials, etc.) that the curious events it captures lose their phantasmagoric allure. Lynch’s design is there; captured on DVCAM, it simply plays like elaborate video storyboards. Blown up to 35mm for theatrical projection, the dissipated image simply punishes scrutiny. Whereas Mulholland Drive warned us not to trust our senses (nor, consequently, our emotions, our lovers, our media conglomerates...) by slowly, delicately tearing at its opulent surface, INLAND EMPIRE’s home movie visual texture is untrustworthy from the start. Not only is it the first unsightly David Lynch film; it is the only one that, despite its surreal content, is stranded in mundane reality.

There are plenty of films that made interlaced DV’s limitations work. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle pushed the format using a flimsy one-chip camera for the Dogme 95-enforced verite of The Celebration and Canon’s PAL-standard, 25-frame XL-1 for Julien Donkey Boyand 28 Days Later. The latter film’s low-res master shots of abandoned London simply fell apart on the big screen, but the close, crazed dynamism of its zombie attacks, with their skittish, high-speed shutter strobing, are the essence of DV as pure cinema. The lesson: With prosumer DV intended for 35mm blowup, shoot close, cut before an image betrays itself. Bamboozled (shot on the PD-150’s mini-dv siblings, the TRV-900 and VX-1000) cut frenetically between dozens of static cameras to achieve propulsion you’d expect from a roaming steadicam—quite appropriate for this machine-gun satire; using an arsenal of Sony DVCAM models fitted with anamorphic lenses, Dancer in the Dark’s dance numbers looked like an MGM musical caught by a network of surveillance cameras—but with Busby Berkely himself at the switcher; preempted by Michael Mann’s Collateral and Miami Vice, the microbudget Streets of Legend (PD-150) nevertheless upstages them in the nighttime action-poetry slam. Tarnation showed how MTV blender cutting, applied with sensitivity, intelligence and, most important, rhythm can lend the grungiest 80’s home movies the kind of haunted grandeur that’s always been Lynch’s department. Shooting tight and cutting often, James Longley made a tone poem out of the documentary Gaza Strip using a bulky Sony DSR-500, a camera more often associated with callous electronic news gathering. Unlike the filmmakers in the situations cited above, Lynch seems to have plunged into INLAND EMPIRE with the notion that his little camera could do it all. With a $17.5 million budget and a shoot divided between Poland and Los Angeles, the film is hardly a threadbare, guerilla art project. But the PD-150 is not a million-dollar Panavision 35mm or HD camera. Lynch’s improvised saga of “a woman in trouble” moves like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. The mise en scene and lighting deliver mysteries that the PD-150’s anemic colors and absence of progressive scan turn into useless conundrums.

But Lynch is a man in love. Several years after he chose the PD-150 to shoot some commercials and short films, the infatuation persists. He’s not the only one. Such world-class filmmakers as Albert Maysles and Michael Winterbottom have used the PD-150 for important projects. Their case for this inferior, outmoded camera is that it’s lightweight, requires less crew and sports manual controls (aperture, focus, shutter speed) comparable to those on a film camera. It even has XLR audio inputs for patching in topnotch Sennheiser mics—just like the pros. Trouble is, virtually any 3-CCD prosumer camcorder in the PD-150’s class offers the same goodies. Panasonic’s DVX-100 rendered the PD-150 (and Canon’s XL/GL lines) obsolete five years ago by offering the standard 60i video of the Sony alongside true 24 frame progressive scan (24p) imaging with the gamma characteristics of film stock. This is the girl Lynch should’ve married. Her 2003 upgrade, the 100a, delivers an image even richer in contrast, with deep, solid blacks and minimal clipping in the highlights. On a video monitor, well-lit DVX footage in 24p mode is practically indistinguishable from 16mm dailies.

An INLAND EMPIRE shot on the DVX-100a might have been too beautiful for the heart to take. But not since Zacharias Kunuk’s fiercely poetic The Fast Runner, captured in drab Digibeta before the DVX era, has a digital video film cried out so loudly for 24p beauty. Finally, Longley’s Iraq in Fragments and Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross's Road to Guantanomo, both shot with the 100a, showed that with attentive postproduction, a 24p-to-35mm blowup can fool the keenest eye. And isn’t INLAND EMPIRE all about fooling the eye?

Now, let’s shut down the DV fantasy camp and consider the work as it exists: I suspect that the INLAND EMPIRE DVD will be a shockingly different experience from the theatrical presentation. Video’s 525 lines of resolution are made for the TV set. If INLAND EMPIRE is, as some critics assert, more video art than cinema, then the DVD release should be a proper homecoming. Lynch’s offhanded short videos don’t look half bad on an ordinary TV monitor; a three-hour work of such concentrated contemplation as INLAND EMPIRE might be gorgeous and provocative enough to shut me right up. Can't wait.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Evergreen Syrup Screenshot/s for the day

by Ryland Walker Knight

What kills me is the third image and its ghost edges. And that this brief glimpse is routinely forgotten when Trouble Every Day garners notice. I think the key to June & Shane's love, the film's heart (& not its libido) rests here, in peace, among gargoyles and lost scarves, floating above Paris, outside Paris: these moments that litter this film are the real-deal barbarian invasions.

Blood has never felt so heavy in its syrup drool flavors as it does here.

[Stay tuned: A real critique is formulating.]

Friday, February 02, 2007

Drive Safe: The Emperor’s New Overcoat

By Leile One

It is the year 2000. The setting is a crowded nightclub called Slim’s in the SOMA district of San Francisco. You are but one face in a throng of sweaty, blunted heads, all of whom anxiously await the onstage emergence of tonight’s headlining act: mythical West Coast hip hop legend, Aceyalone. You will bear in mind that at this particular moment in history, Aceyalone has yet to put out a bad record. His 1998 masterpiece A Book of Human Language is still relatively fresh on the mind of everyone present this evening. Project Blowed, the Los Angeles-based hip hop artist collective which he helped give birth to, has already been widely credited with forever changing the way rappers spit rhymes back in the early 1990’s. We are about to witness a pioneer in his prime, and we are justifiably excited when Aceyalone finally hits the stage. And to the utter surprise of everyone in the room, his hype man ends up stealing the whole damn show...

The hype man who stole our hearts and minds that night was none other than Busdriver, who would, thereafter, go on to release a slew of solo and collaborative projects – each record brilliant in its own right – and who would arguably go on to dethrone his onetime mentor Aceyalone as King of the West Coast Rhymers. Even in his “support role” that night at Slim’s, Busdriver was showcasing a formidable stage presence and kicking freestyles between Acey’s songs that would stick with us nearly a decade later. We had caught glimpses of the then-dreadlocked, bearded Blowed protégé on Fat Jack’s Cater to the DJ compilation from 1999, and some had already heard rumors regarding the skills of the man who seemed destined to take the torch from his elders within the LA underground and usher in a new millennium of dope shit from the Southern Cali hip hop scene. But nobody at the club was ready for the type of off-the-dome, off-the-wall flow delivery (think: breakneck speed with an undetectable stop for breath every sixteen bars or so) and punch lines Busdriver was hitting between Aceyalone’s verses that night. By the end of the set, it seemed as though Acey himself had realized who had become the impromptu star of the evening. He humbly asked Busdriver to “take us out” of the night’s festivities, and ‘Driver’s freestyled response to the crowd was classic: “Take you out? What are you my prom date? Whose aim is to make my penis elongate?” And so on. Dude went on for like five minutes on some absurdly fresh improvised whim...the crowd went nuts.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Seven years, several world tours and a handful of exquisite recordings later, Busdriver seems poised to make good on the unspoken promise he made onstage that crazy evening back in 2000: he is about to be recognized by the indie world at large as the underground hip hop messiah we’ve been unknowingly waiting for to save us from the squalor of rap as we know it. Signed to Epitaph Records (home to The Coup and Sage Francis; a few current hip hop hipster darlings), for his latest release RoadKill Overcoat, Busdriver may finally see the type of promotion and distribution to make him a force to be reckoned with on the “cool kids” scene nationwide. As a testament to the label’s faith in their new guy, they even produced a hilarious and presumably expensively shot commercial to help hype the new record. Were people like myself who have been following Busdriver throughout his career surprised to see him as the Myspace “Featured Artist” last week? You betcha. But then again, X Clan is the featured artist this week, so the plot can always get a bit thicker.

For better or for worse, we of the world of snobby underground hip hop aficionados are going to be forced to share one of our prized possessions with the world of Indie-Fucks at large with the release of RoadKill Overcoat. It is exactly the type of album that is sure to score big points with various outputs of hipster media due to its abundance of the following qualities: sarcasm, clever tongue-in-cheek political pokes, witty social commentary, self-consciousness, impressive use of vocabulary (can you think of any other rapper right now who can use the word “misanthropic” in a verse and not sound like a nerdy jackass?), danceable electronic grooves, and overall denseness of beats and rhymes. If this is what it means to “sell out” to a larger audience, an artist never made it look so complex and defensible.

It was gracious of Epitaph to include the song lyrics for each track on the album in the liner notes of the CD. And, take my word for it; you’re probably going to need it, considering the lightning bolt style of delivery that Busdriver tends to employ on pretty much every song. Your perception of this record will change dramatically if you take the time to do a “read-along” with a listen of each tune one time when you have a day to yourself. The written lyrical content of RoadKill Overcoat alone is enough to place this album on a pedestal of rare artistic achievements in hip hop music. The polysyllabic rhyme structures that Busdriver lays out are nothing new to his longtime fans and followers, but on RKO he takes it to a whole ’nother level entirely. For example, on “Ethereal Driftwood”:

You know what we want...
But I gave them a protagonist
The color of cinnamon and mahogany,
Filtered through award-winning cinematography,
And the motherfucking discography of a G

As far as subject matter, the usual suspects are once again verbally manhandled by Busdriver, still clever as hell within the sometimes-cryptic word-webs woven into each track. Your typical “bad guys” (the government, the yuppie scum, the record industry) are all dealt with in a way that is fun, rather than preachy, by the time the listener is just a few songs into the record. What is worth mentioning is the group of individuals who end up taking the dis harder than anyone else on the list – the twentysomething, college-aged, neo-hippie “activists”; you know, the guys who populate your typical American post-secondary campus passing out pamphlets, relishing wicked-awesome bong hits, abstaining from meat products and saving the world “one dude at a time”? The guys who generally end up going to law school and becoming CEO’s of shitty American corporations once their undergrad stints are over and it’s time to pay some bills? Those bro’s are dealt with most harshly on RKO, especially on the leadoff single “Kill Your Employer”, where ‘Driver remarks:

Let me guess, you’re a macrobiotic cuisine prep-cook
With a text book liberal outlook in an oppressed-nook
Couch surfing, but your Dad’s got employment history at Halliburton,
While you dress like wild mermen...

Busdriver’s decision to bypass the easy arguments, such as “President Bush is a dick”, or “giant corporations suck”, and instead go straight for the jugular of the flawed nature of the (relatively small) current American resistance movement ultimately puts him in a category of his very own, or, at least, within rap music. What we are witnessing is “conscious hip hop” folding in on itself; all of a sudden the movement takes a look in the mirror and becomes critical of its own consciousness. While it may seem wrong to fragment the already miniscule Leftist population in this country into even smaller factions, it’s good to see an artist who is able to separate the boys from the men and call some people on their shit.

Production wise, RoadKill Overcoat is solid. This should come as no surprise, as the duties have been split between Los Angeles super-producers Nobody and Boom Bip, both of whom possess favorable resumes from the projects they’ve delivered over the past decade. Every track on the album is dense, multi-layered, and contains instrumental subtleties that are easily missed on a first listen. Don’t make the mistake I did in attempting to hear RKO for the first time on your shitty computer speakers at the office. This is headphones material all the way.

One of the tastiest instrumentals on the album is on the song “The Troglodyte Wins”, constructed by Nobody. Although at this point it is generally considered played out (in my humble opinion) to lace your beats with sped up vocal samples, Nobody pulls it off here nicely and the end result is pure dope. If it sounds dangerous to you to choose the backbone of a beat to be a female vocalist singing “Get uuuuup...get doooown...”, then you are not alone. But the way it’s laid out on this song with some catchy synth riffs and expertly mixed percussion, it becomes one of the freshest beats on the album. Other standout tracks on the production side include the psychedelic masterpiece “Secret Skin”, which features some rather spooky organ and guitar samples, as well as the Boom Bip hard-hitter “(Bloody Paw on the) Kill Floor”.

Roadkill Overcoat differs from Busdriver’s previous recordings in one key respect: the vocals themselves. While homeboy has always been known for an all around rapid fire, wild-style rhyme delivery, his ventures into the realm of actual song-singing have been mainly nonexistent. There are experiments at work in RKO in terms of complex vocal layering on most of the tracks, but perhaps most surprising are the moments when Busdriver actually whips out his singing voice. In the case of “Sun Showers”, the gamble pays off pleasingly, even beautifully. The beat itself is on some catchy, keyboard-heavy, synthetic-drums-type pop brilliance, but what is truly marvelous is Busdriver’s style of perfect crooning all over the track. His pitch and key are on point in this instance, even as he makes unorthodox tempo and cadence transitions throughout the course of the song. The result is, dare I say, soul-stirring...

More often than not, however, these experiments in vocal harmonics do not turn out so well. And if there is one major criticism to be made of RoadKill Overcoat as a whole, it would most likely fall under this category. While most of the rap verses themselves are spit in the characteristic machine gun style we have come to expect and enjoy from the ‘Driver, attempts at writing a decent hook for some of the songs fail badly. This is exemplified in the single from last year, “Kill Your Employer”, which is excellent in most respects, but the corny attempt at a bubblegum pop hook is hard to stomach. Maybe he’s trying to be ironic? I’m not sure, but trouble again rears its head between verses on the otherwise decent cut “Pompous Posies! Your Party’s No Fun”. Busdriver’s stab at rhythmically and harmonically mimicking the organ riff during the bridge is nails on a chalkboard.

In fact, despite all of the great things that can be said about RoadKill Overcoat, a general disclaimer is in order: most listeners will find that this album, taken as a whole, or even track-by-track, is very difficult to digest. On the one hand, the songs are poppy, even catchy. But on a deeper level, there is something unsettling about each composition in the collection. In some cases, this disquieting sensation is due to the odd vocal deliveries Busdriver constantly assaults your eardrums with. In other cases, the discomfort is up front in the messages contained in the lyrics. To top it all off, between the intricate beats and layered vocals, the sheer density of the tracks at large is enough to give one a funny feeling.

This is not to discredit the record as an artistic achievement in any way – much to the contrary. The fact that a rap record in the year 2007 can force us to examine our own ideas on what is good art (should it have to be instantly enjoyable?) speaks volumes to the undeniable merit of RoadKill Overcoat. And for most who are willing to make the commitment, these songs will grow on you; it just may take a few attentive listens the whole way through, like De La Soul’s supreme accomplishment in their 1993 opus Buhloone Mindstate. This album may well end up going down in the annals of underground hip hop as the musical equivalent of a literary Gravity’s Rainbow. This comparison works on a few levels because it is indeed hefty in size and scope, something of a chore to make it the whole way through, difficult as fuck to gain true understanding of no matter which way you analyze it, but ultimately well worth whatever time you end up investing in it. And, like Pynchon in his prime, Busdriver is skilled enough to pull off crazy detours and digressions...often into playful self-consciousness, in the middle of something else, without making you hate him for it.

It will be interesting to see who in the rap world can top this in terms of depth, complexity, and overall groundbreaking-ness after its release, if not Busdriver himself. What’s funny is it will probably be some kid we haven’t even heard of yet, someone in a couple years who emerges from the same Project Blowed crew within the LA underground, who’s on a street corner on this very Thursday night near Leimert eighteen-year-old who’s currently serving the shit out of somebody with some unfathomable styles and punch lines off the top of the head. Maybe he’ll be the hype man on the next Busdriver tour. But for now, all hail the King...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Top Ten Turkey Tidbits Two Thousand Six

by Stephen Farrell

I’ll be the first to admit it: I didn’t pay enough attention to pop culture this past year to compile any sort of coherent year end top ten list of either music (uh, Fishscale was good) or movies (uh, Little Miss Sunshine was…released). I did, however, do a bit of traveling the last few weeks of 2006, to a certain Eurasian country (the one that isn't isn’t Russia). Here are ten people, places, and things that I feel embody the essence of Turkey, in no particular order.

Mosques: 98 per cent of Turkey is Muslim. Of course, that’s li ke saying that America is 70 per cent Christian, or Japan is 95 per cent Buddhist. The fact is, many people in Turkey, especially those of the younger generation, have quietly rejected their traditional faith, in much the same way that people the world over have turned to atheism, agnosticism, or (in America at least) various strains of kooky new age “spirituality” in the last half-century. It seems that, in Turkey, Islam is primarily practiced by the same demographic that apparently clung tightest to the Orthodox church in Soviet Russia: Namely, little old ladies in head scarves. True as that may
be, the physical symbols of Islam are much more pervasive than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, or than one would expect from a society that prides itself on its secularity. The most obvious outward example is the sheer number of mosques in TurkeyIstanbul alone has some 2000. In the countryside, every one-horse village I saw had more mosques than what seemed appropriate given the local population – and never fewer than two per town. I found the most interesting temples to be those which had been churches during the Byzantine period, and then converted after the Ottoman takeover in the fifteenth century. Some of these old Eastern Orthodox churches are rooms the size of breakfast nooks, hollowed out of a cliff face, and decorated with, essentially, glorified cave paintings of the gospels (many of which had the faces scratched out by Muslims offended by representations of humans—particularly religious figures). They served as a fascinating reminder that this Muslim land had once been a center of Christendom, both in Christianity’s nascent “outlaw” period and later in its rise to dominance in the Western world. The greatest of these church-cum-mosques is Istanbul’s Ayasofya, which was built in 537 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and was the largest building in the world for just under a millennium, until Rome’s Saint Peter’s Basilica surpassed it in 1623.

Turkish Coffee: I have to say this is one of the only things that truly disappointed me about Turkey. While I do not quite consider myself a coffee connoisseur, per se, I have, over the years, developed a healthy addiction to the bean. And by American standards, I am probably a bit of a snob about it. I’ve reached a point where I consider anything other than Peet’s to be a sort of step down—hey, it’s not my fault I grew up in the East Bay. Anyway, you can imagine my excitement when I anticipated enjoying the much-fabled Turkish coffee. But the “authentic” way to drink it is loaded with sugar so that when you get to the unfiltered grounds at the bottom, you’re basically drinking a mudlike treacle of pure caffeine. The whole time I was there, I never saw a single Turk drinking the stuff; instead, they drink copious amounts of tea—which they call cay, and pronounce “chai”—multiple times a day. It was very good.

Space Issues: I never realized how uptight Americans are until I saw grown Turkish men walking down the street arm in arm (or, perhaps more remarkably, adolescent boys doing the same). This speaks to two ways in which American and Turkish norms stand in stark contrast: we are much less secure in our sexuality, and much more uptight about our personal space. I’m not exactly sure where to point the finger for the latter except at all the usual suspects and easy targets like, say, Puritanism? the social awkwardness of the Founding Fathers? Er…Manifest Destiny? Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure: we like our space. Or, we do not like it when people get all up in our grills. The Turks, however, do not seem to have a problem with this.

Cigarettes: As I said, 98 per cent of Turks are Muslim. If that surprises you, get this: After doing my own research I concluded that 126 per cent of the Turkish population smokes cigarettes. And I don’t mean some “one or two after dinner or when I’m stressed out” nonsense. I’m talking about full-on two to three packs a day, have-a-cigarette-to-celebrate-finishing-a-cigarette smoking. Nowhere I’ve been (in the U.S. or even Europe) comes close. And you can smoke anywhere: airports, corner stores, Starbucks, in trains, planes, and automobiles. The only place I didn’t see people actively smoking was inside the mosques. I managed to avoid seeing the inside of any hospitals on my trip, but I imagine there would be ashtrays on every surface. And I thought Kentucky was bad.

Food: One thing about Turkish food is that it covers a lot of ground. While old standby cuisines like Mexican and Italian are great, we all know that there’s not much difference ingredient-wise, between, say, cannelloni and enchiladas. Turkish food, on the other hand, combines the best of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, but they mix it up a little more than you might expect. Instead of the typical pita (pide in Turkish) outer shell for the doner (what we would call gyro) sandwich, you can get the spit-roasted lamb wrapped in a tortilla-like flatbread – or served on an American-style sandwich bun, which was my favorite. It was hard not to eat these for at least two meals a day since they went for as little as 1.50 lire (about one dollar) a pop. Also represented are regional crowd pleasers like dolmas, kebabs (kebaps), and all kinds of yogurt and olive concoctions. The tapas-style meze appetizers were also delicious, as well as, of course, a dizzying array of deserts, the most well-known of which is baklava—whether baklava was invented by the Turks or the Greeks is a bone of contention between the two nations as big as Cyprus. Supposedly, the dessert culture in Turkey remains huge because one of the Ottoman sultans was convinced sweets were an aphrodisiac: you can still find a type of baklava termed “Turkish Viagra” for sale in the bazaars of Istanbul

The EU: Although we naively assume that Turkey is pro-EU, the Turkish people are quite fiercely divided on the issue. The concerns about Turkey’s possible admission to the club are more or less what you would expect. Proponents claim that joining would open up important European markets and give a powerful boost to the developing nation’s economy. Critics, on the other hand, argue that Turkey needs the EU like a hole in the head: the Turkish economy is the fastest growing in Europe (26 per cent in the last three years), and the relaxation of tariffs and other trade barriers required by EU membership could make Turkey susceptible to exploitation at the hands of the richer member states—sentiments which echo the arguments against globalization everywhere. Western Europe, for its part, is more than a little nervous about the prospect of Turkish membership, in large part due to the spike in Turkish immigration to the West that it would undoubtedly cause. After all, few things make Europeans more squeamish right now than a bigger Muslim presence on the continent.

Efes Pilsen: Efes Pilsen is the Budweiser of Turkish beers. It can be found in every restaurant and liquor store in the land, and you can go into any of these joints, ask for “a beer,” and be confident that you will be served none other than a nice cold Efes. It costs about as much as a pricey microbrew in the States (not price adjusted for the GDP difference between the two countries—all booze is really expensive in Turkey) and it tastes like Hamms. The fact that Turkey is so Muslim and yet everyone drinks beer (almost as much as they drink raki, the anise-derived aperitif that no one in the country seems to be able to eat a meal without) is yet another one of the many contradictions that make Turkish culture fascinating. The second most popular beer in Turkey is, of course, MGD.

Graffiti: While we complain about the co-optation of urban art culture by the mainstream and debate the merits of graffiti moving from the streets to the art gallery, the Turks have a bigger problem: their graffiti sucks. Most of the stuff that I saw was on some strictly middle school shit: triple-sixes and pentagrams, the ubiquitous anarchy logo, strange, vaguely threatening non sequitors (“LETHAL MAFIA MASSACRE”), and my personal favorite, “Love is Nothing Without FUCKING,” scrawled on the gates of the nineteenth century Ottoman Domabache Palace. More disturbing were the swastikas and other Nazi imagery which always seemed to accompany the anarchy symbols (“SS anarchy PUNK”). The strange thing is, the graffiti didn’t look as out of place as it usually does in American cities—something about seeing quasi-political things written sloppily on the walls of narrow medieval streets struck me as weirdly appropriate.

Fashion: On paper, Turkish style leaves something to be desired. The hot shit this season seemed to be pointy shoes, vintage-style army coats, and fauxhawk-mullets—all on both guys and girls. Yet what struck me was how their fashion sense is refreshingly less “cliquey”, and more homogenous than we’re used to. For instance, I saw very few people that in the States would be considered to be dressed “hip-hop” or “indie” or whatever. Everyone there just looked like they were drawing from the same huge pool of style options, instead of from the countless tiny (limited) pools here at home. There seemed to generally be less of the sense that someone’s personal style reflects his or her lifestyle/musical preferences/political leanings, and in so doing they have managed to do what no one in America seems capable of: being hip without being trendy.

A Bridge Between East and West: When Westerners think of Turkey (if they think of it at all), they tend to view it as some sort of middle ground between East and West, between Europe and the Middle East/Asia. Technically, of course, that’s true—the Bosporus strait runs right through Istanbul, separating Europe from Asia and making it the only city in the world to straddle two continents. But culturally, things are not so simple. What I realized in my travels is that the “East-West bridge” concept has some truth to it, but does sort of a disservice to Turkey. By regarding the country as nothing more than an intermediary zone between two clearly defined cultural spheres, this formulation does not allow much for Turkey to call its own: it assumes that every cultural aspect of Turkey must be derived from either Europe or the Middle East—or some combination of the two. Turkey, like everywhere else, of course has its own unique culture. But this proves a more important point: not only is the Turkey-as-bridge concept a fallacy, the whole idea of Eastern and Western spheres is closed and simple and wrong. While certain Europeans would like to believe that The West begins in the UK (or perhaps California?) and extends to the European shores of the Bosporus, this is a myth. This would imply that Bulgaria is culturally closer to Scotland than it is to central Turkey. I think not. There is, in fact, a great cultural continuum—and Turkey, like every other nation, sits in its own unique spot, just as it occupies its own distinct place on the map.

Ataturk: If Efes Pilsen is the Budweiser of Turkish beers, Ataturk is the Efes Pilsen of Turkish national heroes—which is to say, he’s inescapable. He was a military hero who led Turkey to independence after the First World War, the founder of the modern republic and the nation’s first president. Because of these accomplishments it is tempting to call him the George Washington of Turkey, but this doesn’t really do him justice. Not only does his handsome, benevolent visage grace every denomination of Turkish currency, more or less every place of business and family home has at least one picture of Ataturk on the wall—as does every official or government office, and most have a statue out front to boot. Sort of like cigarette smoke, the motherfucker is EVERYWHERE in Turkey. The guy’s cult of personality would give Stalin wet dreams, and it’s not completely undeserved: in a lot of ways, Turkey’s relative success in the modern world is due to Ataturk. His leadership in the fierce battle for independence (against the British and French, who were trying to carve up imperialist “spheres of influence” in the formerly Ottoman Middle East at the time) and the secularist reforms he instituted in the new republic are largely responsible for Turkey, today, resembling a functioning, upwardly mobile democracy and not a war-ravaged, religiously fundamentalist, third world sinkhole like most of the rest of the region.

Honorable Mention: Turkish baths, Turkish bathrooms (surprisingly clean), Turkish hip-hop, denial of the Armenian genocide, stray dogs, Santa Claus