Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy to live in Berkeley this spring.
-Some belated Out 1 notes.
-Pedro Costa at PFA Announcement.
-The New PFA calendar is dope.

by Ryland Walker Knight

out1, son
slumland empire

On Sunday, February 17, before that week's Wire, I saw Jacques Rivette's Out 1: Spectre. I'd planned on writing up a post to be titled, simply, "Out 1" (comparing this four-hour version to the twelve-hour Noli me tangere version) but then I heard their new calendar was days away and figured, with the concurrent excitement, I might fold the two projects into one. And, well, shit. I've gotten so giddy about all the offerings on this new calendar I've almost forgotten about the Rivette pictures: the Pedro Costa series (starting Saturday March 1st with Costa's newest film, the much-blogged-about Colossal Youth) even comes with an endorsement from Rivette himself: "I think that Costa is genuinely great." But let me not forget myself (do not think I'm silent out of pride?) and skip over what Dennis Lim once called "the cinephile's holy grail." It's taken me long enough to get to this messy, lovely picture.


Safe to say Out 1 is monumental, right? Or, if not monumental, simply big — in either incarnation (12- or 4-hours). I thought I’d tested myself with Satantango’s all-day adventure in the muck (was that really more than a year ago?), but last summer’s two-day adventure in the theatre of life (was that nearly a year ago? really?) was, quite manifestly, a longer (bigger) undertaking. And, I must say, length and “sloppiness” and lack of subtitles notwithstanding, I find Rivette’s film much more joyful, sexy, funny and endearing — I’ll even hazard “better” — than Tarr’s film. For starters, Rivette’s film is about plays, about playing. And, with the twelve-hour Noli me tangere, you get three breaks, including a night to sleep halfway through; the four-hour Spectre has no intermissions. And my French is way better than my (nonexistent) Hungarian. And, of course, Out 1 has Juliet Berto.

How Berto’s Frédérique fits into Rivette’s two versions of film — what role she’s given to play, what end she meets (or doesn’t) — may help begin to characterize their differences. The simplest distinction is Frédérique's curtailed involvement in the shorter version, Spectre: she is denied not only her blood-marriage to Renaud but also her rooftop death scene. She leaves Spectre by turning her back to the audience, putting her face against a wall, denying us her countenance — and with that she’s never seen again. In Noli me tangere, Frederique’s death punctuates her story with more finality, of course, and it means more given the rest of the plot that Spectre elides. Nevertheless, in both versions, her end resembles and speaks to the ends Jean-Pierre Leaud’s Colin finds, just as both Frédérique's and Colin’s respective endings within the different films speak to one another. Frédérique ends both films laying down, turned away from the world, unsuccessful in her final game(s); Colin ends both films giving up on his pursuits to find an underground society (in Spectre he has the last line of dialogue: “It didn’t work…”).

Both incarnations of Out 1 are concerned with negotiating the vagaries and demands of living in and existing with this odd Paris Rivette sees as a network of people and of stages — of opportunities for play — but where Noli me tangere is a cinema of duration (testing its characters’ patience and will as much as its audience), Spectre is a cinema of interruptions (better to scatter the narrative, to defamiliarize the audience). Still, each version pushes to disassemble itself, one just takes longer than the other: the lengthier Noli me tangere multiplies events and identities and characters through mirrors and structural rhymes; the shorter Spectre shows only traces of those mirrored trajectories. Things are always connected and always disconnected in Rivette’s Paris. Think of the “accidental” title: what is out and what is one? Is one out as much as out one? The subtitles hold more meaning, but Noli me tangere (Latin for “touch me not”) is more ironic than Spectre (clearly: everybody is a ghost — to everybody else, to themselves) since the longer edit foregrounds how certain relationships exist primarily in the tactile sense, even in absentia.

Of course, this is also an argument about filmic and theatrical performance as ghostly — about films themselves as trace memories, evaporating ephemera. So fitting that I cannot remember more of these monumental myths. I wish I took better notes, or wrote this immediately after seeing the picture, because it’s pretty hard to remember everything — from a week ago and from a year ago.

Which makes me think: Maybe I should start to keep a film journal. Perhaps I should use blogging as a way to jot down ideas quick and rough. That’s what most people do, I think. Basically: it’s hard to sustain any journalistic level of production when in school full time, especially while writing a thesis. Not that I’ve been seeing a great deal of films this semester anyways. (I’ve been sticking to Michael Mann and Terrence Malick and Alred Hitchcock at home, for the most part; Juliet of the Spirits sits unwatched on my desk, a month after Netflix delivered the disc.) But that will change, at least during the first two weeks of March, during this upcoming Pedro Costa miniseries presented by the Pacific Film Archive, “Still Lives.” I plan on seeing each of the seven features (one of which is a Straub/Huillet picture) and the three shorts the PFA has scheduled and writing them up for a corresponding series of posts on The House Next Door. Having never seen a Pedro Costa film before, this will be quite the experiment, with ample opportunity to go wrong. (Like, what if the flicks suck balls? Doubtful, I know.) But I kind of gave myself the assignment as a personal challenge so I don’t want to fail (myself). Besides, it could be fun. Also cool: Costa will be in attendance for all the events, including a Regents’ Lecture on the final day of the series, March 9th, so I may be able to schedule an interview. (Will get back to you on that.) Many thanks to Shelley Diekman and my friend Meredith for the gracious aid on the tickets front. The series is scheduled as follows.


Saturday, March 1, 2008
Colossal Youth at 6:30pm. [This is the film that sparked my interest as it saw a lot of blog pub last year. Kevin B Lee wrote about it for The House. Also: Girish’s “One-Stop” post got my eyebrows to raise.]

Sunday, March 2, 2008
The Blood at 3:00pm. [Costa’s debut is apparently quite indebted to film noir. Dig.]
Bones at 5:00pm, accompanied by the short film “Ne charge rien.” [Bones is the first film in Costa’s Fountaínhas trilogy (more Girish here); the short stars Jeanne Balibar, who can be seen in Rivette’s newest film, Ne Touchez Pas La Hache (Don’t Touch The Axe/The Duchess of Langeais).]

Thursday, March 6, 2008
Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? At 6:00pm. [A documentary about the editing practice of the legendary (?) avant-garde cinema practitioners Danièle Straub and Jean-Marie Huillet.]
Sicilia! At 8:45pm, accompanied by the short film “6 Bagatelas.” [Straub-Huillet’s adaptation of Elio Vittorini’s Conversations in Sicily; short is six unseen snippets from Smile.]

Saturday, March 8, 2008
In Vanda’s Room at 7:00pm. [The second Fountaínhas film is an epic 179 minutes.]

Sunday, March 9, 2008
Regents’ Lecture at 3:00pm.
Down To Earth at 5:00pm, accompanied by the short film “Tarrafal.” [Feature stars Claire Denis regular Isaach de Bankolé as a “comatose” Cape Verdean returning home; a 2007 travelogue on Costa’s return to Cape Verde—to look at an island political prison.]



But wait, there’s more. The whole new calendar, which starts with tomorrow’s Colossal Youth screening, is, to put it mildly, fucking awesome.

  • The Magnificent Orson Welles offers all the big hits and even some rarer titles, like the way cool Chimes at Midnight (Sunday, March 30, 2008, 2pm), which I'm dying to see on a big screen. Also: Cuyler tells me he's never seen Citizen Kane so I think we'll definitely give him a lesson in awesome on Friday, March 7, 2008, at 7pm (if we don't wind up going out on the town). Easier to make will be the next day's Magnificent Ambersons screening at 5pm.

  • There's also a screening of Bunuel's Los Olvidados on Friday, March 7th, after Kane. But it's repeated the following Wednesday so we'll see how that plays out.

  • The Clash of '68 is highlighted by Gillo Pontecorvo's Queimada!, starring Marlon Brando, and Peter Watkin's La Commune (Paris, 1871), which is another all-day affair, but the thing that really catches my eye is another three-hour film: Chris Marker's A Grin Without A Cat (Wednesday, April 2, 2008, 7pm), which sounds too hard to summarize all pithy here so follow the link. [Will run in conjunction with Protest in Paris: Photographs by Serge Hambourg in the BAM galleries.]

  • The last thing I want to mention is the PFA's involvement in this year's San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. Specifically, two Edward Yang films will be shown: 1986's The Terrorizer (Friday, March 14, 2008), which I have yet to see, but will soon, and his final, lovely, probably-perfect Yi Yi (Thursday, March 20, 2008). I'm starting to really mourn the loss of this cine-giant. I'll have more to say on him soon thanks to a generous gift from one Zach Campbell.

a very special way
liminal little boy

There's yet more in store that I have not drawn attention to but I have to go get on with my day and cook up some breakfast. For all the movie-going (and book-reading and thesis-writing) I've got in store, there's a whole lot of basketball to play, and dance parties to throw, and libations to imbibe, and meals to digest and life to live out of doors, in the light as much as in the dark. I hope I can do it all and come out smiling. Life shouldn't be a chore, it should be a delight -- it should be light! -- a walk in the park or a jump into a pool -- a lot of activity. Let's go.


Monday, February 25, 2008

The Monday Evening Wire. Just a Step Behind.
Episode 58 "Clarifications"


cb sez -- Hey there fans of the Wire and friends of VINYL, I'm sorry to say there won't be a recap this week. I did watch the episode, I did love it, but I found myself even more in love with the idea of watching next week's directly following, (something I wasnt able to do, although I did call all of my buddies with On Demand).

Therefore, next week's episode 59 write-up will include this week's as well. If you need to read someone's opinion about last night really bad, here you go. I also took a couple pics from him. Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Poems for the month: Selections from The Gay Science.
"Joke, Cunning, and Revenge" -- Prelude in German Rhymes

by Friedrich Nietzsche

star morals

To a Light-Lover

If you don't want your eyes and mind to fade,
Pursue the sun while walking in the shade.

Narrow Souls

Narrow souls I cannot abide;
There's almost no good or evil inside.


Interpreting myself, I always read
Myself into my books. I clearly need
Some help. But all who climb on their own way
Carry my image, too, into the breaking day.


The minds of others I know well;
But who I am, I cannot tell:
My eye is much too close to me,
I am not what I saw and see.
It would be quite a benefit
If only I could sometimes sit
Farther away; but my foes are
Too distant; close friends, still too far;
Between my friends and me, the middle
Would do. My wish? You guess my riddle.

The Thorough Who Get to the Bottom of Things

A seeker, I? Oh, please be still!
I'm merely heavy—weigh many a pound.
I fall, and I keep falling till
At last I reach the ground.


"He sinks, he falls, he's done"—says who?
The truth is: he climbs down to you.
His over-bliss became too stark,
His over-light pursues your dark.

Ecce Homo

Yes, I know from where I came!
Ever hungry like a flame,
I consume myself and glow.
Light grows all that I conceive,
Ashes everything I leave:
Flame I am assuredly.

Star Morals

Called a star's orbit to pursue,
What is the darkness, star, to you?

Roll on in bliss, traverse this age—
Its misery far from you and strange.

Let farthest world your light secure.
Pity is sin you must abjure.

But one command is yours: be pure!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Monday Evening Wire. Just a Step Behind.
Episode 57, "Took"

by Ryland Walker Knight

[A note: With
Wire expert Cuyler Ballenger out of town this weekend (he’s gettin big in the Big Apple), I agreed to substitute on this episode’s weekly recap. I’ll do my best. But, without the aid of DVR, my recap will be from memory, and less precise. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.]

clock time
doing time

As the episode started, my friends and I tried to remember: “Is this really the seventh episode of the season?” With this week’s lead segment (McNulty calling Templeton at The Sun masked as the serial killer behind a voice modulator), the snowball/redball case seems to be gaining speed in each successive episode. Of course, each episode is a step closer to the clink (or the grave?) for McNulty. Like Bunny Colvin before him, Jimmy “Bushy Top” McNulty will no longer be police at the end of this charade. And, like Bunny (again), McNulty knows his exit is near: somewhere in the middle of “Took” he pleads with Lester to get him “out of this shit.” Pick your metaphor — the pile grows higher; the ball keeps gaining speed — either way, you know there’s a big mess waiting in store in the end, at the finish line, when the clock stops.

But, as indicated by the lead quote of the episode, the real focus of “Took” happens to be the ongoing trial of Clay Davis: how Clay Davis continues to take from the city, how State’s Attorney Bond and ASA Pearlman got took in court. Employing Baltimore defense attorney Billy Murphy (a real B’more figure playing himself, renowned for his cunning courtroom smarts, and “a member of the city’s black aristocracy” according to Andrew Johnston), Davis has positioned himself (at least in the public eye of the show’s world of spectator-citizens, if not to us viewers) to play “not just the race card, but the whole deck,” as Gus Haynes says late in the episode: Murphy’s defense strategy appeals to the jury’s (and the courtroom’s) pathos by disregarding the logical facts offered in testimony by Freamon and Davis’ former limo driver. It’s all about the best argument. And Clay Davis uses his “silver tongue” to great effect on the stand, just as Murphy uses his wits to sidestep cross examining Freamon’s facts while tar-and-feather the limo driver’s honor in the following cross. They may not teach it in law school, but I’d hope all lawyers (especially all the “good” lawyers) understand this maxim from Billy Murphy’s website: “A trial lawyer who isn’t able to use the full spectrum of techniques has arbitrarily limited himself.”

This code of conduct seems to apply to everybody, though, not just (male) lawyers. Otherwise you’re going to eat the big lie and get took. The black humor joke here is that B’more is getting took by McNulty and Freamon as much (if not more so) than by Senator Davis. For all the fiscal good the redball they’ve concocted has done for their fellow officers, this rampant spending on a covert, illegal serial-killer-cum-wire-tap case may wind up costing teachers their jobs. Which, of course, would wind up costing more students the benefits of an education, of the means to be the next Billy Murphy or Daniels or Gus Haynes instead settling for the lot of becoming the next Michael or Avon or Omar or Marlo. (Remember that, despite his self-foreclosed end, Stringer went to school, too, and, even in the arena of the streets, his education helped him get bigger than he ever imagined.) So I hold out hope that Dukie will return to his best mentor ever, Prezbo, and get from the here of the streets to the there of the outside world (college? a job? a family?) instead of searching the help wanted ads on the corner. He’s got the brain to do it, even some motivation and support, but he doesn’t know who to ask for help. Or, he’s forgotten.

The big worry I had going into last week’s episode was McNulty had forgotten the widespread ramifications of his “project.” The dire final five minutes of “The Dickensian Aspect” helped assuage this fear, but McNulty’s OT glee confirmed he is of a one track mind. That is, until he realizes that “the problem with creating a redball is they start to treat it like a redball.” How fitting that Marlo communicates with Vondas using pictures of clocks: time is winding down. Not only that, time is jumbled. And not just in the coded messages between drug lords but also in the episode. “Took” could have taken place over the course of a week or the course of two days given the varied plot lines. For instance: Omar attacking during the daytime? Sure, I read that it was a scheduling foul up during the episode's production, but that’s a pretty risky move, a move inconsistent with Omar's (so-far) strictly nighttime raids (such as the arbitrary “you know what?” clipping of Savino). Or: did the Davis trial really only last that one day? Am I that lost? I guess the answer lies in the publication process of The Sun — specifically, the movement from McNulty’s harassment of Templeton to the publication of Templeton’s “To Walk Among Them,” with some time for Mike Fletcher to meet (and spend time with) Bubbles in between. First: it’s great to see Bubbles this positive, this joyful, even. Next: “That was him,” Templeton says, pausing before remembering to say, “again.” It’s great to see him twist and turn and Tom McCarthy is doing a great job with this weasel role. Will he fall next week? Or will his demise coincide with McNulty's in the finale? The cracks are evident to anybody looking (like, ahem, us), but who will shine that light? And: is Omar's apparent recklessness a sign of his downfall? Where was Marlo this week? Chris and Snoop? Always questions.

I guess all we have to do is wait to see how it plays. Which is why an episode like “Took” seems so hard to write a weekly recap about: a lot of the plot lines are get-me-by character moments. It’s almost a place-holder episode. But it’s a really good, almost delightful episode, too — especially as the tender “Goodnight Moon” closing shot, of Kima and Elijah saying good night to all of Baltimore, pulls back into the sepia summer night, all those bricks surrounding that family in miniature. There may be fiends and hoppers and hustlers but there’s a moon and a mom and a big wide world out that window, too. She’s saying, "Look, son, get the picture — the whole picture with every angle on where we are, where we live, in time and in tune — cuz we don’t want to get took. We want to live."


"They don't teach it in law school." -- Pearlman

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sex appeal is a big deal.

by Ryland Walker Knight

naomi, not tippi
scarlett and javier, not grace and jimmy
paltrow and downey, not kelley and grant
seth, not cary

I think whoever decided to put Naomi Watts in a Tippi Hedren beehive, whether they knew it or not, was out to slay me. Marnie is a favorite -- and ever more as I continue to reflect on its smarts (as much as on its imbalanced structure). As far as movies about unfolding a psychoanalytic logic in dense plotting go, I think Vertigo may, indeed, be the better picture, but there's something so off about Kim Novak that I never have an urge to watch it again. Now, if Tippi had played Madeline, it would have been a distinctly different picture (a different brand of obsession), but her insecurities are much more endearing, Naomi Watts style, than the fussy "hot girl" posture Novak inhabits. Another way to put it, I'll wager, is that Novak isn't as good looking as Grace Kelley. Yes, of course, that's a fruitless comparison. But, in all seriousness, I think it has something to say for how To Catch a Thief works so well. Maybe more important: look at how different an actor Jimmy Stewart is around Kelley in Rear Window. (I think his range is underrated, or often neglected, in conversations that favor his particular line-reading, um, habits.) This, of course, signals how the men each of these three ladies play off constitute different dynamics, in varying registers, of attractiveness (as a screen couple, as individual screen stars, as something or somebodies I want to watch) and efficacy (as actors, as crucial to the films they star in, as couples). Which is another cool thing to think about: how a star's (or any person's) sexiness is constituted by the other star (or person) that s/he plays with/off. That whole "it takes two" thing.

Sex appeal is a big deal. Especially in movies; definitely in Hitchcock*. These Vanity Fair restagings (more here) seem to understand this, and are, for the most part, pretty cool. Although that beehive looks pretty good to these eyes, the Rear Window remake may be the sexiest photo. It's pretty clear Seth Rogen's North by Northwest run is the most unsexy, which is a bummer, since Cary Grant is so damned sexy (to go along with his funny). Robert Downey Jr is a good looking guy, and a special kind of actor, but the new To Catch a Thief still life seems a little off the mark, too -- but not for lack of sexy. I think it speaks to the confidence and breezy charm of Cary Grant more than the look of consternation on Downey's face (and Grace Kelley's regal beauty is a world away from Gweneth Paltrow's too-skinny Hollywood good looks). Even when Grant is peeved he looks at ease, comfortable. It's why that crop-dusting scene is so funny, while scary: he's wearing a suit, he's waiting, he's a little impatient, but he's game. Seth Rogen is game but that expression he's wearing, along with the way the suit is falling about him (unflattering), makes him look less than comfortable in his own skin, much less the costume-skin of a legend. Really, though, the best of this project has to be the revision of Psycho with Marion Cotillard. (Dig that Janet Leigh's character is named Marion Crane.) And, no, not because she's naked, as the dude on Film School Rejects said, "but I love the fact that it recreates the scene in blocks." But we shouldn't ignore Cotillard's lithe limbs**. This famous murder is definitely some kind of punishment for being sexy. And, you know, stealing mad money.

But my interest in Hitchcock has way less to do with sex than all of this, than a lot of criticism, actually, which makes this post yet more silly and transparent. It's clearly a concern for the man (again: why so many blondes? why this fear of women?) but what I find most striking -- at least now, at my refined, ripe, naive, silver age -- is the evolution of his interest in America as such a powerful locus of challenging moral forces. But, wait, you say: To Catch a Thief takes place in France! Yes, it does. But America is very much on its mind: people are always telling Cary Grant's John Robie to go back to America; Grace Kelley's Frances Stevens beckons him away from France; Robie becomes a stand in for America, as he is characterized as a trickster, like many mythical Americans, always scheming to achieve his rightful (in his eyes, at least) slice of the devil's pie. What that pie is, exactly, I'll leave, for now, to you to decide.

laid down
stay here

*This is not to say that I think "ugly" people shouldn't be in films. Rather, there's a certain kind of star cinema that relies on an audience's projection of sexual desire.

**I had no idea Cotillard was this radiant, having not seen La Vie En Rose, which I fear being one long downward spiral of pain. But I may rent it yet since I haven't seen anything with her, except stills like this, and I had no idea I should be super excited (on a superficial level at least) to see her act with Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in the new Michael Mann movie, Public Enemies (due 2009).

and she
America, too

[Eva Marie Saint ain't half bad, either.]
[This America is a cross roads of faces and lands.]
[This America is North by Northwest, a no-place, a myth, an end.]

big nose
bigger nose
big faces
the end

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Black and White Valentine's Day.

by Ryland Walker Knight

I don't...
Heels up!
Different But The Same
The Same But Different

To you, my little prairie flower:
I'm thinking of you every hour.
Though now you're just a friend to me,
I wonder what the end will be.
Oh you would make my life divine,
If you would change your name to mine.*

The Awful Truth: Maybe the best Valentine's Day movie ever. Or, one of the best. Or, the best I've ever watched on a Valentine's Day. Of course Cary Grant is amazing but, really, Irene Dunne is quite the star: at one point she dresses like a galaxy. May your loved ones hold you tight tonight and every night. Right? Smile. [These and two more]

*As delivered by Dan (Ralph Bellamy) to Lucy (Irene Dunne)

A thought on "authorial intentionality" in film, in criticism

From Ryland:

Not sure if I 100% agree with Noel Carroll's reading of The General in Comedy Incarnate* (I have not finished, and I may not finish, reading the book) but I appreciate this brief characterization of "authorial intentionality" he offers in the introduction. Its something I'm hoping to incorporate into my idea of film criticism as a kind of phenomenological hermeneutics. But I really want to stay away from somebody like Heidegger, for now, because, at the least, that would require quite the diversion from my project. This is much more in line with what I'm after:

In addition to being impressed by Merleau-Ponty's work, I was also smitten by the phenomenological criticism of the so-called Geneva school, most especially by the writing of Georges Poulet. For Poulet, an author, by means of his emphases and selections, presents his "intentionality" to the reader -- the way in which his consciousness is directed toward the world. The task of analysis then is to identify these patterns of experience as they emerge in a text -- to notice toward what the author's attention is drawn, and, as well, to characterize the manner in which that attention is articulated. Discussing Balzac, Poulet locates an experiential pattern of recurring physical thrusts forward which he thematizes in terms of a movement toward the future; in Whitman, Poulet finds a mode of consciousness of the world that is marked by infinite receptivity as multitudes crowd into emptiness and things collect, meet up, and fill space. Both authors offer the reader a model of their "intentional consciousness," their fashion of encountering the Lebenswelt through reference to very fundamental modalities of experience.

The notion of "authorial intentionality" is immensely suggestive when it is transposed from the literary author to the film director. For essential to the notion of intentionality is directedness toward the objects of consciousness and that, of course, is arguably what a director does with cinematic apparatuses -- directs cameras towards objects and selects views and perspectives on situations through editing. Thus, cinematic technique can be a way in which a director may objectify, externalize, or incarnate his style of attending to or relating to the world -- articulating the temper of his consciousness of things on celluloid, his intentionality or mind embodied, so to speak, in silver nitrate. Though no allusion to Poulet's idea of authorial intentionality occurs overtly in the text -- perhaps for fear of sounding too literary -- this notion stood behind my analysis of Keaton's visual style, which I unequivocally thought of as rooted in his personal style -- his way of inhabiting the world.

I hope to make a similar argument, although tailored towards a different end (involving other concerns than bodily intelligence, like intelligibility, for instance), in favor of Terrence Malick and Michael Mann and their respective, most recent films (The New World and Miami Vice). Plus some stuff about what this kind of attention in a work of criticism means for the project of criticism and all that jazz. There's a lot at play already so I may wind up ditching my original plan to look at two later Hitchock films (North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief) that fit with the films of Malick and Mann for their individual interests (and the conversation between the films that such interests provoke) in what Stanley Cavell calls the mythical America, that place where pursuits of happiness are encouraged, and possible.

*Thankfully I got a copy from the UC Berkeley library. As is often the case with these "academic" works of criticism, to own a copy means forking over a rather large lump sum of your budget -- as you can see here on Amazon. I don't know why this always astounds me, but it does.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Free Nikes! (Not really; only sorta.)


As part of an ongoing (but mostly final) redesign project, Cuyler insisted on changing the URL and title of Encounter Politics to Free Nikes! I let him have his way. I'm doing my best to change the links on this page that still have the old address. So, for now, just hit this link right here to find your way over there (if you so desire). I know you don't really have a choice in the matter but thank you anyways for your patience. And, of course, your readership. You're the best. I mean it. XOXO! ttyl! --RWK

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Speedy Sponda is Loveless in an Endless Summer of French Club music.

by Ryland Walker Knight

Girish's brand spanking new post, "Laleen Jayamann/Short, Sharp Solos," got an immediate comment from yours truly since it dovetails oh so well with my past week of intellectual activity: I've been getting going in earnest on this whole Honors Thesis and listening to some non dance music. To start, here's the comment, complete with italics and links:

First: that extended quote from Jayamanne should be part of the ideal syllabus on film criticism. As I continue to develop my skills (as a writer and as a reader, or viewer) the second, shorter quote speaks for me, as well.

Next: I don't know much about music but recently I listened to two albums I'd neglected for a few years. Around 2000-2002 all I listened to, it seemed, was Fennesz and My Bloody Valentine. (That I mostly listen to French Touch dance music now is besides the point.) In the past week I threw on Fennesz's Endless Summer and MBV's Loveless. I still really dig them, and maybe even more now, but I understand why I stayed away. As my interests favored film more and more, I found music to be a much more immediate magic -- one I was less inclined to (fully) submit myself to on such a level as works like these demand. The wild movement between form and play is awesome: it's scary and inspiring. But now I get the same kind of kick out of something like There Will Be Blood (which I'd like to see in theatres again before it disappears (after the Oscars)) or Miami Vice or, even, Marnie, to look back to your last post. But I need to get back to homework so I think I'll stick with the theme and listen to that Oren Marshall album (he plays six tubas at once!) while I read about hermeneutics. [Understand THIS! Can you? How is that all tubas? Crazy, right? That's right: crazy cool.]
To finish: I find it odd how much one can change, and how one's taste can change, over time. But not just odd, of course. It's exciting. As much as I do my best to live my life now it's hard not to get excited for the future and what that might hold -- even the bad stuff will be a fun lesson.

Just the other day I was at a Black Lips show at Amoeba Records here in Berkeley (keep it real!) and my friend Willie and I both said, "Man am I happy to be out of this scene." Not that the dance scene is any "better" or "cooler" (well, I think it is) but the thing I dig about it is how energetic it is, how much movement is involved, how you have to surrender yourself to your impulses: even when I'm not at a party, or a bar (that is, drunk), it's hard to quell the itch in my legs when I hear something like that Knightlife remix of Bag Raiders, or that Ocelot remix of Robyn, or that plain ridiculous (irresistible, hilarious) UMYO remix of "Kryptonite Pussy", or, of course, anything Cut Copy does. There's probably an argument to be made for the movement between form and play in dance music, too, but it would be an effort to carve up something that refuses stationary situations. And above all, or more simply: this shit is a ton of fun.


[Good thing I got back to homework, right?]

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Monday Evening Wire. Just a Step Behind.
Episode 56, "The Dickensian Aspect"

by Cuyler Ballenger

empty chair

The first half of this season effectively made me not only not care, but not even want to watch what goes down in "the hall." But the timing of this series is always so spectacular, what with Super Tuesday and all, that the re-emegernce of the passionate Carcetti was not only necessary, but inspirational. In Obama-like fashion, Carcetti threw down on the mic(s), making a stand for those without a voice, those "who slipped through the cracks" of society, those homeless who are being picked off by a sick and twisted, uh... McNulty? And although the serial killer is (was never) real, and the speech was delivered out of a fit of rage, Carcetti cracked open a window looking in on Annapolis that he just may be able sneak through.

In (or rather out) another window, in a less publicized part of town, Omar is alive, though hurt, both physically and mentally. His crew is mostly dead and his leg mostly broken. I'm not sure how he will actually get to Marlo (no matter how fucking scary it is seeing him crying the whole hour). The thing about Omar is, and has always been, he's an idea as much as he's a dude. I mean where were those voices yelling "Omar's here, Omar's here!" in the middle of night when he blew up one of Marlo's black SUV's? It's like he's got a bunch of child-sirens walking the rooftops above him everywhere he goes. I'm not trying to say the show is losing its usually solid handle on "reality" -- not in the slightest -- just that my assumptions last week, about him being just another fool with a gun, may have been shortsighted. I wasn't raised in the streets, what the hell do I know about certain fellas like Mr. Little? If D. Simon is going to imbue Omar with some sort of transcendental killing ability, I, like Chris, will be aware and await his surge with open eyes.

Following the episode, Ryland said, "This is the first week I wish I had On Demand." I agreed. I'll have to wait and see, but the iNet tells me next week will leave us with the same sort of taste for more blood. Ryland (again) called Dickensian "dire," and, if I had to guess, it was those last five minutes (in the Richmond homeless clinic) of Jimmy watching that poor deranged man he's going to use to further his serial killer narrative that had Ryland use such a word. The almost inevitable ending of Jimmy, Freamon (and now Syndor) being investigated themselves is nerve-racking. The pace at which they have moved through the system illegally, from chomping corpses with fake teeth to tapping Marlo's cell (not to mention they're drinking the whole time) hasn't given them the opportunity to take a breath, a step back, and feel the weight they're trying to lift. That trip Jimmy takes, out of Baltimore into Richmond, not so unlike the trip Mike and Dukie took, removed him from this whole fiasco and let him see the hole he is, in fact, rapidly digging. It was an awkward ending, a conflicted feeling, but one that won't last as the final shot has Jimmy re-entering his cruiser to return to Baltimore and his mess.

In a strange way, Templeton is becoming almost, just maybe, likable? He is relentless: I mean, Jesus, the faces he makes when listening to a story that isn't quite juicy enough are hilarious. A couple weeks ago I thought the focus of the Sun was going to be Alma, and I was happy about that, but Templeton is good; he has the face of a liar, but kind of a redeeming smile. Somehow I despise him and feel for him simultaneously. This final season has a magnifying glass on the press, obviously, and in the past (most definitely last season), there was an argument made about that certain aspect of the city which was examined. With the schools, the argument was complicated: What does it mean to be a teacher, an educator, in a city (or part of a city) where most of the learning happens in the hours between after school and the next morning before it? How can relationships be formed that allow for these students to find refuge in the classroom and not make them feel like they are doing time? There was a success story in Namond. But it was mostly grim, as we were reminded this week with Randy's cameo. Seeing his thinned-out face sitting atop defined shoulders popping out of a beater, using language that sounded foreign coming out of his mouth was disappointing. Of course, only disappointing in that he was forced into his new role, that even off of the streets, the street mentality prevails. This sort of complicated view of what it means to be young in Baltimore was depressing, yes, but smart and intriguing (just like the actors who represented it). The argument about the press, the Sun specifically, up to this point is not just sort of simple, but somewhat uninteresting. I've come to realize this as each week when I sit down to think about this aspect of the show, it's the actors who are notable. Clark Johnson (Gus), Michelle Paress (Alma) and Tom McCarthy (the above-noted Templeton) are easy to watch, and they are often funny, but what they represent as the press, as reporters, really, is still as muddled as it was in Week One. It would be great if, in the coming weeks, we were given something solid to wrestle with about the role of the small-time paper -- either in general, or in its struggle to stay afloat in the age of picture messages.

Shit (read: like Clay Davis would say it), picture message upper-hand be damned, Marlo is crazy! I don't even know what he's about anymore, other than he's wearing a figurative crown, I think; now he's in control of the West and East sides, I think; and he's seen Spiderman. The Wire has always done well to prove that nothing lasts on the street except the game. Gangstas die young because power is mishandled constantly, but the drugs keep coming. Marlo has earned some enemies, but, oddly enough, aside from Omar, none seem to have any idea how to do anything about it. I'm of course neglecting Jimmy and Lester, who, in a weird (and unknown to the competitors) race, may beat Omar and whoever else to taking that crown off Omar's dome. Nevertheless, in the (final) co-op meeting, Marlo made it clear that he doesn't do this: he doesn't "meet: Anyone got a problem from here on out, bring it to me, or sit on that shit." Marlo's issue with the meetings, and Joe himself, was always that they weren't "doing" anymore, they just talk, like they lost focus of what is important. Joe and Stringer and a handful of others in the meetings were, in a sense, using drugs to clean up their act, to buy real estate or something. Marlo doesn't see the world that way, I think. Being the king of the street is his ticket to being the king of streets, only. He works hard at it and when he's killed (or arrested), for he will eventually be killed (or arrested), Daniels won't find a paper a trail.


"If you have a problem with this, I understand completely." -- Freamon