Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Viewing Log #66: 2010

by Ryland Walker Knight

There will be more words as we trade up calendars, including a number of other wrap-ups, but I wrote this one a couple weeks ago and it's highly unlikely I'll see much to add to it. And even though some of it may be redundant with the coming lists (and the viewing log series as a whole), I wanted to share this summary of sorts of my year. It's a preferential ordering, but it's certainly open to revision and it's certainly open plain and simple. I know a lack of rules aggravates some readers/friends, but this is my blog and I say to hell with rules. These are the films I saw (for the first time, though I watched some more than once) this year that left something in me worth transcribing (or translating), even if that's just some glib toss-offs as we have below. Besides, it gives you all the more freedom to press and volley or scoff and move on to something more, I don't know, serious. At any rate, here goes nothing.

  • A Brighter Summer Day — I don't doubt an aura built from rarity fed my enjoyment, but I also know, for a fact, that this was the best lit and unlit film I saw all year.
  • Film Socialism — The best argument yet for any and all forms of digital images and non-linear leaps in editing and structure. Also, the best argument I've seen that most of us are illiterate in more languages than words can encompass—presuming, of course, that images are their own language—since JLG makes words into images at all events and overlays.
  • Winter, Sarabande, Compline, Aubade — Hard to choose because they're all so similar, which points to how hard it is to watch more than one at a time, but if I had the skills, I would love to make little things like these.
  • Let Each One Go Where He May — One of those 'perfect' movies that's not quite perfect so it becomes more perfect. Also, it's about a lot of stuff I'd love to make movies about; especially the last scene/shot.
  • 36 vies du Pic St Loup — Because I saw it on film.
  • Wild Grass — I hope I have this much fun when I'm 86.
  • Angel Face — The best ending of any film I saw all year. (Except for maybe that one just above.) And sexy in a complicated way, the way sexy is.
  • The Small Black Room — Since I can't lob more hosannah's at their ballet movie, or any number of favorites by these dudes, I'll reserve this spot for this little number, which plays host to at least four amazing set pieces of paranoia.
  • La Captive — Perception gets grained into people.
  • Close-Up — Perception gets people ingratiated, and not.
  • Landscape Suicide — Perception kills.
  • L'enfence nue — Yes, life is hard. Could easily be paired with the Yang above for obvious reasons but could also be paired with the Akerman.
  • The Last Picture Show — Yes, life is sad and everything ends. But growing up, like sex, can be fun. (That is, after it's stopped being terrifying.)
  • Ruggles of Red Gap — A lesson in decency and in laughter.
  • Father of My Children — A lesson in decency.
  • Irma Vep — Scratchy gem full of footnotes and confusion and jokes about all of it; unending and unended, too.
  • Orlando — Sometimes the right face can sell the same joke 18 times. And videotape matters.
  • La France — This is how a fairy tale works, I'm fairly certain.
  • Bluebeard — Girls have problems with all kinds of narratives.
  • Boarding Gate — Sometimes the right lady can sell the same desperation to a bunch of different men and get herself across the globe. Sometimes that flight's just flight, though.
  • The Women — A mile a minute to nowhere but the start of more calisthenics jokes performed as/during calisthenics.
  • Everyone Else — Raspberries on the belly are never just for fun!
  • I Am Love — Affect porn, brought to you by soft focus and close-ups.
  • Unstoppable — Pure adrenaline poem to the proles!
  • A Letter to Uncle Boonmee — Pure melancholy poem to the peasants!
  • Lourdes — Indeterminacy isn't a reason to hide; nor is prayer a cure for fear. We're all tourists, just like Tati said before.
  • The Holy Girl — Hiding behind a wall and/or a uniform, listening—to the sounds in the thickening air—is just another kind of pretending to live.
  • To Die Like A Man — Always already acting sounds tiring, doesn't it?
  • Alamar — Dudes, listen.
  • Make Way For Tomorrow — Kids, pay better attention.
  • The Headless Woman — Ladies, listen, you better pay better attention!
  • Fin aout, début septembre — Guys, get writing already. Do something already.
  • Utamaro and his five women — Men, stop looking.
  • Bell, Book and Candle — CraaAAaaazy! And funny.
  • Shutter Island — InsaaAAaane! And poignant.
  • Macgruber — Pshh. Insanely funny, more like it.
  • A Perfect Getaway — Wherein the title reflects the experience to a P.
  • Jackass 3D — Wherein the title defines the subjects to a D.
  • Enter The Void — Wherein the title is the title and boys will be boys.
  • Gamer — Wherein the title should mean more amid all that boys noise.
  • The Portuguese Nun — Love's gotta start somewhere.
  • Dodsworth — Love's gotta stop somewhere.
  • The Ghost Writer — Taut and paranoid, just like you'd expect, with a kicker final shot after a shot (that one with all those hands passing the note) that teeters on unintentional hilarity.
  • Cold Weather — Crisp, minor, yet mobile and of a milieu. I've seen siblings talk like that. I also like that, at heart, this A.K. wants to entertain people; this movie's a comedy, not a caper.
  • Greenberg — Old dudes trying to be young dudes.
  • The Social Network — Old dudes trying to understand young dudes.
  • Sauve qui peut (la vie) — An old dude toying with understanding and trying and film and ladies.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Viewing Log #65: Mostly silent nights [12/20/10 - 12/26/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Squash sandy

  • Speed Racer [Wachowskis, 2008] # The candy looks awful crisp on that BR disc. Wish it was shorter, but I still really enjoy all its leaps and plastic, its freakout lightplays.
  • Double Team [Hark Tsui, 1997] So many accents and so many twists! If you're tired from a lack of sleep and you're eating some serious mac'n'cheese alone on a Sunday, this is your best friend. Helps to like JCVD and HK action styles and middle-period-towards-later-period Mickey Rourke.

  • The Expendables [Sylvester Stallone, 2010] A grand goof that's not quite goofy enough since it wastes a few of its muscle-clad talents outside the action arena and spends far too much time trying to build emotions into everything. I wanted a full-on camp classic, basically, but more of those wishes later, with a sparring partner of my own.

  • I watched a lot of basketball this week.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Conjunction of Quotations #12

— edited by Ryland Walker Knight

smart is dead
Hugo Alexander


She seemed divided about herself and her image right from the beginning. She claimed she never knew she was to do nude scenes in “Ecstasy,” though people on the set said otherwise. On the breast issue, she researched the possibility of glandular augmentation, but later insisted she would never do anything about them. (Hers were perfectly fine except by the increasingly grandiose mammary standards of Hollywood.) She never mentioned her Jewish background, but assisted in the war effort and in later life congregated with fellow European exiles. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about changing your name or your breasts or your hairline or your voice or your accent, or with suppressing your ethnicity and background, but with Lamarr the process involved whittling away parts of an identity without quite finding a new one to inhabit.
Molly Haskell


Capitalism is a male construct.
Tilda Swinton


There is no why for my making films. I just liked the twitters of the machine, and since it was an extension of painting for me, I tried it and loved it. In painting I never liked the staid and static, always looked for what would change the source of light and stance, using glitters, glass beads, luminous paint, so the camera was a natural for me to try—but how expensive!
Marie Menken


My, and I suspect Nathaniel's, basic concern is with the frame-rate and whether a DVD is capable of emulating his 18fps rate. And of course in electronic modes there is no black out between frames, which is really the fundamental difference between video generated images which are constant and traditional filmic projection in which half the time the screen is black.
Jon Jost


We’ve had a loss of the sense of the frontier. We have to reclaim that.
Peter Thiel


I'm not so fond of Foucault, it's because he's always saying, "During this period, people thought 'A,B,C,'; but, after such and such a precise date, it was thought, rather, that '1,2,3'." Fine but can you really be so sure? That's precisely why we're trying to make movies so that future Foucaults won't be able to make such assertions with quite such assurance. Sartre can't escape this reproach, either.


Kevin Harlan


Like sittin' on pins and needles
Things fall apart, it's scientific
Talking Heads


But architecture couldn’t hold him either. Philosophy, he was forced to realize, was his supreme gift, yet when he returned to philosophy in 1929, his mind never settled there. Still, much as he hated Cambridge, he instinctively knew that college life, and the relative freedom it afforded him, was more conductive to his work than a life spent on the Russian steppes, tending an endless line of human misery. But because he couldn’t settle on anything, the young men around him couldn’t really settle, either. And so this, too, was his legacy: to leave them and, later, philosophy deluged with his huge half-conscious will, which, like a sweeping flame, sucked up all the oxygen.
Bruce Duffy º


The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him "personal." Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
T.S. Eliot


It must be done with mirrors
my head that rests on nothing in mid-air.

Where is my body
where oh where?

I can see the stones
hidden in the hands.

O bring back my body to me, to me,
O miracle bring it back
before the mirrors break.
Maya Deren


The perfect page, the page in which no word can be altered without harm, is the most precarious of all. Changes in language erase shades of meaning, and the “perfect” page is precisely the one that consists of those delicate fringes that are so easily worn away. On the contrary, the page that becomes immortal can traverse the fire of typographical errors, approximate translations, and inattentive or erroneous readings without losing its soul in the process. One cannot with impunity alter any line fabricated by Góngora (according to those who restore his texts), but Don Quixote wins posthumous battles against his translators and survives each and every careless version.
Borges º


What is a wedding? Webster's Dictionary defines a wedding as "The process of removing weeds from one's garden."
Homer Simpson


I feel like Gene Wilder is my Marlon Brando or something. He just presents you with an array of emotions and leaves it up to you to decide. You know, when he played Willy Wonka [in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971], there was always something slightly terrifying and angry and sadistic about that character, all of which you would imagine might take away from the magic of it. But there was something about how he played it that let you see how this guy living alone in this place, as Wonka was, could have been affected by all of that, how it would have affected his emotional state.
Ryan Gosling


He's the engine that stirs the drink.
Charles Barkley, on Rajon Rondo

Viewing Log #64: No mad dream weaver [12/14/10 - 12/19/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

—They come reversed

  • I Know Where I'm Going! [P&P, 1945] # ...and I know who's going with me. Also, this part (h/t, DC). Silly distinction but: maybe my favorite of P&P's (ironic) propaganda era?

  • The Bad and The Beautiful [Vincente Minnelli, 1952] Love the cast, love the photography, bored by the story. Probably the best shot of somebody driving crazy in a movie, and there are some arrangements in certain frames that tickle the eye, but it's a lousy script peopled only by rote hubris.
  • Spy Game [Tony Scott, 2001] # Could have hinged an entire film on the two minutes spent skipping over how Redford throws away Pitt's love object (that lady's hardly anything else) into that Chinese prison; instead, Tony goes for the cheezeball atonement angle that doesn't resolve the mud of intentions. Along with the consistent sentimentality, there's the stuck-in-a-room-of-exposition staple, but the film's fun enough to breeze through all of that. At my most generous, I'd argue it's about Hollywood actors as liars, preying on their audience's willful blind eye to fantasy. At my least, I'll call it kinda simple compared to the other dreams T.S. gave us last decade.

  • I Am Love [Luca Guadagnino, 2009] # Yep: again. This time on BluRay. It looks fabulous, and the details are there. This time, of all three times I've seen it this year, I paid particular attention to the mother-daughter relationship as the bridge to Tilda's/Emma's actualization. More pointedly: somehow I hadn't thought about the daughter's haircut as prelude to Emma's and felt rather chagrinned. Guess the first couple of times I was too busy looking for the (air) quotes and marveling at Tilda's face.

  • Film Socialism [JLG, 2010] There's a common, let's call it, "lay complaint" that Godard speaks in code. Here's the first movie whose constellation of associations might just fit that bill for most of its audience. That is, despite the (simple?) pleasures afforded by its construction, the film demands a lot of familiarity with a lot of things and not just with JLG and his pet projects. Though I'm not fluent in all the languages required to enter this hermeneutic circle, I like to think I'm approaching fluent in the language of the image et du français (not to mention "Philosophie und verstehen"), which helps my entry, but I'm still barred. Or, I am at one arm's length. Or, I need more visits to this well. Or, etc. Still love that digital, though! Still love that editing, though! (Still, thanks to M.S. for the "proper" subs and for the salient review.) Some day I'll watch it again on a much larger screen; some day I'll catch up. Until then, I'll hold tight my own understanding of it as a, um, crie de resentiment or something.

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox [Wes Anderson, 2009] # Appreciates, seriously.

Fore, not aft
Wed to the window

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Convergence for your metabolism's liaison in light (12/15/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

Terry Evans

Starts here

Monday, December 13, 2010

Viewing Log #63: You stab yourself [12/8/10 - 12/13/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight


—Though I did see some movies this week and though it was not ideal to battle insomnia with seven straight episodes last night, I barreled through Season Four in the past few days. So that's what I'll talk at below. But I did want to note that I saw that stupid ballerina movie, and I actually tried to like it, but I don't know how I could like it. I also watched some of Domino again, and it's wholly stupid, too, but it's not really aiming for anything profound; its main fault is its sentimentality; but that's almost an endearing through-line for Tony Scott now. In any case, they make a funny pair and it should be no surprise that the one that commits 100% to its lunacy (that is, doesn't try it on like a costume at arbitrary lengths) is the one that wins. But enough. There's bigger idiot winds to brave against.

No, it's not

Suffice to say, I was compelled. At this stage, I am drinking some kind of kool aid. However, compulsively entertaining as this season was, I must air some complaints. My major complaint, in the wake of what I wrote last week, is that the show simplified Betty a little too tidily. Sally was complicated almost to replace (rather than refract) what seemed to go on in her mom, but that's a different kind of relationship to a television character than I was looking for; and I was perhaps too easily skeezed out by the idea of people making that scene/those images of Sally's, um, transgression at the sleep over. Which is another way of saying that there was a lot more about work and about Don's sex life in this season than I'd anticipated. Yet, all that fed one of the best things about watching Don's trajectory: the tension in him between acting and being*.

Don is tired of acting. But Don's impulses at being, at responding to himself, are the most confused actions he takes. It's what got him into the pickle of a relationship with Anna Draper, before all, even though that was the first bit of acting he had to do. But even that sentence gets at what a mess it can be to delineate these two strains of behavior. That is, they're always woven.

Recognizing what idea feeds another idea and how we have responded or will respond or are responding is about as difficult an element of becoming a person as I know of. And that's all this show's about at bottom. That's part of the joke, of course: advertising is selling ideas to people, and the show does a great job to feed certain fantasies, as all mass media entertainment can (and more often does, duh). That's why I want to see Betty's complications instead of her press-button immaturity. I want to know there's more to that creature. It makes me feel shallow. I think that may be the point.

Even more fascinating, however, was Peggy's role in this season. She's really given a lot to do, for a lot of reasons, including sex and power and both at the same time and telling a lot of boys to shove it, even Don in a way; and the fantasy that this little lady lived and thrived back then in the mid-60s is one I want to believe as well. This one makes me feel something close to proud, some might say inspired, and I dont doubt that's the point.

That's bullshit
—That's bullshit

Just as Joan's continued abasement at the hands of the writers continues to baffle me. Not that she can't stand on her own. Not that she doesn't have plans and dreams and boobs worth dying for. But one phone call to Vietnam in the finale is nothing compared to that whole birthday episode Peggy gets. Don't get me wrong: Joan gets to turn down Roger, she gets to flare up at Lane, she gets to do all kinds of Strong and Powerful acts. But they're forever undercut by what motivated them or what is consequent to them. There's got to be another avenue for her than another sign post that says sexuality was still circumscribed (and chastised, as highlighted by the Sally masturbation fallout), as well as circumscription for certain kinds of sexy ladies, in this era.

Which is why Don's choice of Megan over Faye is so sad, I suppose. We're reminded of his limits, of his inability to separate trains of thought; or, we see his rationalizations play out. We see she was right: she failed "the kids test" and Megan passed it better than should be expected. Faye was so appealing precisely because of the compliments Peggy gives her the same way Megan is so appealing precisely because she's allowed wrinkles and background the way Jane was not. (And because she never gives off that ugly gold digger pony bride vibe.) All these confusions in Don of course make me question my romantic confusions but I also have the luxury of some truly valuable time spent with professional that have helped me better understand all the strands woven through my life. Naturally, I'm still not an expert on myself, nor living, but I do take pride in how much attention I pay to differences that make a difference. I can see that California is a safe place for Don, a place where none of the expectations of New York matter; I see how he sees "a fresh start" not unlike his ex-wife; and I see how he conflates certain forms of happiness into a ball of expectations nobody will be able to make good on in the long run. When he figures out how to return to himself, once and for all, we might not have a show to watch anymore. But we also may not get there at this rate.

I spy

* = This construction is Martha's, I feel compelled to note, and it also describes some of the fun of the show where Weiner got his start, the irreplaceable Sopranos, which I feel compelled to mention in part because I can see how I've drawn a parallel between Betty and Carmella because I realize that my attraction to both of these characters is just that they are so complicated at times, just like anybody, though they can also be obtuse imbeciles with no grip on how to behave as adults.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Viewing Log #62: Indivisible has a lot of "I"s [11/29/10 - 12/7/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Cartoon chuckle

—Though I did watch Broken Embraces again with Martha (ahem), and Prisoner of Azkaban again with Haz, I didn't watch much else last week besides the third season of Mad Men. So that's all I'm going to talk about here.

Call the kids

On my first night in Brooklyn last week, after an unexpected and unwelcome tour of the west side, I went to dinner with some friends. Talk turned to movies and TV, as should be expected with this crowd, and I brought up my recent plunge into Mad Men in part because I watched an episode on the flight and in part because I wanted to talk to one of these four people in particular about my reactions and assessments so far. Unfortunately, we two were the only people familiar with the show and the talk was short. Fortunately, it afforded us a private set of words to gush with: when I said, "What about that dance Pete and Trudy do at Roger's wedding?" we both lit up and shook our heads with delight. And we both agreed, out loud, turning to our friends, that it's one of the rare shows that gets markedly better as it goes along.

This is not a result of simple familiarity. Sure, we know these characters more/better by the time this third season gets started. But there's a tone, a dynamic between expectation and action, that sets this set of thirteen apart. The biggest factor is the show's sense of humor. The ridiculous is an easy target but when you mix horror into that you get a messier laughter. Disbelief is a basic reaction to absurdity and laughter's an easy way to paper over uncomfortable social interactions but I don't think that's the only thing that motivates the jokes and laughs in this show. (And yet, what else can you do but throw up your hands and laugh when somebody beautiful and smarmy gets his foot cut off and his foot blood sprays across a crowd of slack-jawed drunks?) I'm fairly certain there's some poking fun at certain characters going on in some of the jokes—and it's mostly these men the show makes fun of; you see Pete, above, eating cereal and watching cartoons while Trudy's gone—but there's also a dry wit and there's also a righteous "aha!" every now and again, like when Joan smashes that vase on her self-pitying dolt of a gorgeous husband.

Put another way: for all the damage done, this season was fun. Especially the finale. (Save, of course, that late-night scene when drunk Don calls Betty "a whore" and means it.) If this show's really about television as advertising—that is, how television's medium advertises fantasies and sets up expectations of a world you want to join—the same way The Sopranos is about television as therapy—as a perfect arena to get advice on how not to live—then this season finale did the best job selling me my American dream: to build something successful of my own, using talents I'm proud of, in a world beset by vultures.


Yet it's also telling that one success is met with another failure, as happens with Don's home, though that nuclear dissolution could hardly be a surprise to anybody with a brain. The show remains replete with tidy plot points. The surprises aren't the arcs, though Duck's new role in Peggy's life is a wrinkle I didn't expect until "Seven Twenty Three" (3x7) started with all those "awakenings" (again, the bluntness!). This is the most curious aspect of Weiner's world, I'm finding: one step forward is always meted by another step back. It's hard to say who's ever getting ahead—to the point that you think that isn't the point here. Then again, when "happiness" is the point, and when the show's selling us a world where happiness is a fantasy or at least fleeting, getting ahead may only be as simple as dealing with unhappiness better than the next guy or gal. And maybe that's the American they're selling so well at this moment: we deal with things, sometimes better than other times, and we find ways to live. Living, here, isn't just meeting an image of yourself or what's expected of that image (ie, buying something or fucking somebody); living is balancing on your own two feet in the role you've chosen.

A different friend said, "Don wants his children to be children," when I said, "This Grandpa character's a trip." And I think he was correct. Don wants everybody to fall in line, really. It'd read more autocratic and asshole if it weren't tempered by the love he so clearly holds for every single person he has a relationship with, even that senile Grandpa; however, lies rot bonds and/or lies sever ties. Proof positive that love is never enough, and money certainly is not. When Ruby shoots Oswald on live television and Don tells Sally that "nothing" happened, Sally knows it's a lie. It's those lies than doom Don. Because it's admirable in some ways to want your children to be children and nothing else but it's ignorant to ignore (look at the root!) your daughter's burgeoning brain powers. One can hope Don learned this when he groveled for Peggy, in a truly affecting scene thanks to some wet eyes and smart dialog, but I'm not holding my breath. In fact, I'd be surprised if Sally and Bobby and Lil Gene are anywhere near as big a part of Season Four as they were in Three. (Am I wrong? Don't tell me?) At any rate, the kids are hardly as interesting as their mother.

Rag bets

Betty Draper, soon to be Betty Francis I suppose, is probably the most interesting character of all. But I am forever at a loss at how to articulate why since I'm just so damned involved in finding out what she'll do next in her myopia-mirrored-mired life. Makes me think another shoe will drop soon. For all of Don's lies, he's pretty dependable. Betty, on the other hand, seems stuck inside her competing emotions, playing a role she doesn't know the stage directions for, counting all her chickens before they hatch (which last season made literal, which continued this season with her dad's arrival). So I'm quick to hold back judgment. And I'll withhold it yet longer still because Betty's mostly a child and the charitable person would have you believe children can learn things, like how to grow up, as they attempt to rudder their pursuits of happiness.

Walter falters

After all, we are a young country.

Convergence for your silver eyes (12/8/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

Lasts longer

Table it

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Viewing Log #61: Nothing's arrears [11/22/10 - 11/28/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Joan's dissolve

  • The second season of Mad Men [2008]. Compromise is the name of the game in this season. Life's full of it, or so it would appear in Matthew Weiner's world of tropes, and the joy to be had here isn't flight; it's here, if anywhere. The schematism of the writing in this show is really something. It often works, really. But it's also so tidy in the structure that characters, however well drawn, are reduced to ideas. I think it has to do with the period setting as much as the actual writing. Something about signifiers that I'm too lazy to read closer here beyond a favorite damning word of many so-called intellectuals like myself: over-determination. The allure of the show may be its sheen and its ludicrously gorgeous cast (television's a medium of faces at its best and at its worst), but I keep watching because of those moments when things fudge and because there's way less exposition in this season than last. For instance, the low-light of the season, which I lead with above: Joan's rape. It's a terrifying scene in part because it's about competing perceptions, and because of its final dissolve, which is easily the most striking image so far in the show. Joan's looking at her future in that shot: an idle man waiting for his mess to be cleaned. And I don't think my sympathies for Joan and her continued belittlement over the course of these thirteen episodes stems from Christina Hendricks' beauty but her talent at quivering, and my amazement at what these writers want to put her character through in order to counterpoint Peggy's ascension. It's no secret that Peggy's the biggest success (so far) because she's self reliant. What's doubly amazing is that she is, in fact, our model for America in the show, which may be its home run trot in the end. She loves popsicles, she asks for what she wants, she believes in a loving God, she's great at her job, she continues to out-do herself, and she's open to life for all her tight-lipped interactions with the world. Don's fascinating and Hamm's beautiful, too, but his "arc" is the hanger the suit drapes from, as that line in San Pedro attests; no, this show belongs to its ladies, including both Mrs. Drapers. Can't wait to see how Betty—that dingbat—fords the future.

  • Inglourious Basterds [QT, 2009] # I do love this movie, lumpy though it may be, and the BluRay looks pretty incredible. The colors aren't quite celluloid rich but they still impress the eye at interesting wavelengths. Plus, the editing in this movie tickles synapses so well. (And not just bc RIP S.M.) Awful close to a masterpiece.

  • Shadow of a Doubt [Alfred Hitchcock, 1943] # Well, the first half hour. Then we went to dinner, to give thanks. (Chloe wasn't impressed, by the way, though she did find Cotten's drawl creepy.)

  • The second half of the first season of Mad Men [2007]. Seems like an unavoidable set-up season, with plenty to play out, but there were some moments I really dug: Betty shouldering the BB gun without a shred of affect save the smoke from her cigarette, that way John Slattery can be a total asshole but still charming, Joan's/C.Hendrick's eye brimming, Peggy's rise, Harry Crane, and the first glimpses of Duck Phillips' brand of creep. Not to mention Don's ability to, well, be a man despite also being another brand of louse prone to self-delusion and good old fashioned alcoholism.

Window seat
—Come on back from way out west

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Viewing Log #60: Vitalism dialectics [11/15/10 - 11/21/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Top right
—On your way up to poetry

  • The first half of the first season of Mad Men [2007]. When we all lived in Berkeley, we watched the pilot and I was beside myself with (obtuse and undue) disbelief at how on-the-nose all the anachronisms were, how the jokes felt forced. And I kept bad mouthing it, wrote it off. And I still hate its weird cultural cache. But because of a certain someone I decided to go for a second try. And it's not bad. But I still don't get why people, including so-and-so, think it's so great. Jon Hamm's something, sure, but it's not all that cinematic (slick art direction isn't image-making, really) nor is it written all that well. Yet I am entertained. I cannot front on that front. It's easy to gobble up on rainy days. I'll have more to say, maybe, when I finish the season. I'll have even more to say, I imagine, once I get a few talking points (or just plain pointers) from that goof who goosed me onto this path. For now? It makes perfect sense why Christina Hendricks got famous. (Hamm, too, duh.)

  • 30 Rock "College" [wr: Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, 2010] I thought she was saying, "Lizzard." Was she saying, "Lizzard"?

  • Sauve qui peut (la vie) [JLG, 1979] Love the aesthetic, as ever, and wish I could make a feature with this much freeze-frame "animation," but I just don't think it's all that interesting; nor do I think it's any great leap beyond, say, Vivre Sa Vie in terms of ideas. The real treat, as I can tell, is Nathalie Baye's fits and fights and her tank top at the breakfast table. Also, her first appearance on the bike is one of the more beautiful things I've ever seen in moving images precisely because he (JLG) arrests it so.

  • Unstoppable [Tony Scott, 2010] Yet "purer" than Pelham, as Danny said, because of its focus; yet obviously more mobile as well. But at bottom this thing wins due to its actors and their charisma as much as the all-over always-moving cover-everything Scott style I adore. It's a good time, Chris Pine's got a good career ahead, and Denzel's getting fat. See it in a theatre while you can. But don't think too hard on it ya loons.

—We go where?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Convergence for your call and review (11/19/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

Issue 4 Call for Submissions

anew ratify confirm


Yours truly will serve as "guest editor" this go-round
Some inspiration comes from Agee, too


issue 3 still "live"

Monday, November 15, 2010

Viewing Log #59: Mine, all mine [11/8/10 - 11/14/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight


  • The Taking of Pelham 123 [Tony Scott, 2009] As prep for Unstoppable because I didn't make it to the theatre this weekend and I did want to watch this one first since they're both about trains. As Danny and Andrew and I laughed on 6th Avenue that one time, its final shot is so fucking cheesy cheese balls that it almost works. And the movie's goofy enough along its nowhere way to love like a pet, like a fishtank maybe.
  • —A bullet for the entire week. The first four episodes of the fourth season of The Sopranos [Fall 2002]. The early star of this season is Janice and her insanity, which is good for a "holy shit" as often as a laugh, as when she's encouraged to talk to Ralph about breaking up with the compassion she's famous for—only to, instead, throw him down the stairs. That this event also involves the other stalwart of this season, Joe Pantoliano's Ralph, speaks to the writers' obvious excitement at throwing these two hairballs of crazy at each other, if only for a few hours of screen time. And it's a great analog to Ralph's relationship with Tony, as evidenced in Ralph's kink to be pegged and degraded in bed. Because this show, fearless as it is, goes there.

  • Whip It [Drew Barrymore, 2009] Kinda clumsy and clichéd, but winning with its jokes and its tight script and its performances, this thing's a real rawr'r for all the girls out there. And for saps like me, I suppose, who aren't afraid of the word "feminist" as much as they might've been, say, a couple years ago. Also, because, duh, this kind of strength is sexy as much as simply charming.
  • Van Gogh [Maurice Pialat, 1991] Almost feels like a Renoir with all the hanging out at parties and the theatrical staging of certain events, but it's certainly a Pialat in its offhanded, everyday dealings with sex and desire. That is, nothing's sensational or trumpeted. Or, if things are, it's the violence people do unto one another, not the acts of love, which are always understated and (here at least) often edited around. Nudity isn't racy, it's a fact, for Pialat. Just as are flings and the fluid (some might say fickle) changes a person can seem to undergo in the course of an afternoon, or 67 days, though it's obvious to the aware viewer than the person hasn't changed; it's how s/he's choosing to interact with others, with the surrounding world. Which is to say that once again here's a film about perception as registered in actions, without psychology, or without access to the minds inside the many clam-like characters.

  • Vivre sa via [JLG, 1962] # Another ringing BluRay recommendation. Amazing what JLG's able to convey with simple title cards, how two words will color a face five minutes later; a face, as is often the case, turned from the action that the camera's turned from, doubling the negation and the horror. The film also wins, of course, because of Anna Karina—but you knew that already. The point is to watch this and pay attention to the shape of it, not of her, as JLG's films are often blocky, as reflected in the 4:3 frame, but this one takes it further to break up the blocks themselves; it's a film of segregation, really, in the most basic way—separations determine everything. It's bleak. But it looks so good! (Sometimes I think it's the best one of this, the much vaunted, early period, because it's such a "pure" document. All the "tricks" serve some concrete answer to the question. After all, A.Baz's Q is the only one we all answer differently, and never the same way twice.)
  • The Red Shoes [Powell & Pressburger, 1948] # Consider this my endorsement for the BluRay Criterion put out of the new Film Foundation restoration. Everything's sharp, sure, but there's grain in there. And the colors feel real as much as caked-on and painted-loud surreal. Not to mention the fact that the movie is superb, of course, and speaks to a number of things on my ideas-worth-thinking-about check list. This time all I could focus on, whether due to a flu or to this presentation, was the well-renowned mise-en-scene of the film. A favorite moment is somebody saying something about Lermontov leaving on the 8:15 train to Paris, to which Vicky responds by looking up at the top left corner of the frame, which aptly dissolves to a clock on the platform, hands at 8:05, with her eyes directly on it. It's a simply thing, really, and obvious, but it's also an effective visual touch that's become rather rare in the making of movies these days. It's also the kind of thing people like to laugh at, or point at, in current cinemas like, say, a Wes Anderson picture, as some kind of arch touch when it's simply good visual storytelling. Sure, there's variances in tone between my two examples but I get the same thrill from, say, Kumar saying, "There he goes," followed by a shot of Owen Wilson hailing a cab, as I do this clock moment. Though, of course, in a world of "cut-away" humor (even good versions of it like on this week's 30 Rock) this pointing within a story can seem short-hand for clever instead of actually being clever. At any rate, this picture is not just clever, it's gorgeous. And worth sharing.

  • 30 Rock "Brooklyn Without Limits" [S5E7, 2010] We all know, as somebody on This Recording said, that it's Tina Fey's rack, not her butt, that turns LL's nerd chic into some kind of sexy (and makes TF's classier IRL attire that much more attractive) with, among other things, all those deep-V's. We also know that this season is turning out great, with "veiled" jabs all over the place: at the show itself, its character construction say, and at this modern world, as some say, with a bunch of dumb gross out jokes I can't get enough of since they're neither dumb nor all that gross.

  • Open Five [Kentucker Audley, 2010] More here.

  • That Paul Millsap explosion in that Jazz-Heat game sure was something. It's almost like Carlos Boozer's an afterthought these daze. Also, the Heat-as-villains can't quite work when they play like chumps coasting on cred they haven't earned yet together.

Sick day recipe

Thursday, November 11, 2010

We've got heads on sticks

by Ryland Walker Knight

Sutro remains

Monday, November 08, 2010

Napkins not necessary, but food is

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Get ready for a ramble
—A while back, Kentucker Audley sent me some DVDs of his films Holy Land and Open Five, both bearing "2010" like a badge I actually respect. For whatever reason, and I've got plenty, I waited until tonight, just a couple nights before the end of Open Five's online run at, to actually watch said film. And I watched it online. Part of the reason is because Danny reminded me: it's only an hour long. Another part is because Craig Keller's long-former completes a cool circuit with the picture for the curious reader. So I took that tour—watched the movie and read the essay—and now I'm telling you to follow suit while you can.

The picture's modest, no doubt, a fine little fit of juxtaposition, as well as further evidence of microcinema's availability (and its plain ability) at this late hour. It doesn't look like anything but what it is, which is almost a diary or the appearance of one (which I surely hope and trust is the case), which isn't what you'll encounter many places besides this little niche of what now constitutes "indie film" in an era when "Independent Film Channel" means a largely successful distribution company with rather decent taste (or simply better taste than Ho'wood). And that's the encouraging thing: that if I find the right help, and especially the right actress, I could shoot my own little feature dream. Granted, I haven't tried to make anything more than actual dairy entries before; but I don't think that matters in some respects. The point is the doing.

Which is what makes the story of Open Five so basic-near-boring. Sure, things happen. But what are these people doing? Everything seems on the cusp. Hell, the film starts in the nowhere of a floating fortress disguised as a fire escape in Manhattan, the lights below a constellation of what we won't get to touch in this world, and ends in a storage corridor, a pit stop on some winding road. Yet, along this trail to nowhere, we do touch bodies. Audley's camera's, which I suppose might be Joe Swanberg's camera, is keen on faces and on bodies; and the film's (Audley's) got an ear for language games and a smart timing sense for edits. All stuff I like. But this economy of gamesmanship between its characters adds to little but games; games played by vain dolts pre-occupied with pleasure instead of living; or, life as a dull game of ownership. Where Jake tries to claim Lucy by claiming to not want to (and worse: not needing to, yea right), Kentucker claims to want to claim Rose without sounding like he's truly staking a claim. Not to say I'm any better at this living stuff, nor especially the romantic side of things, but what's propelling me (these daze at least) isn't simply the flattery of the fleeting. (And it's hard to gauge what's a mirror and what's smoke and what's the veil pulling back in this flick, which should be exciting, but I often found rather suspect.)

—Hate to turn this into me, honestly, because maybe I'm a bore, but I don't want to watch my peers flirt all that much, if at all. Granted, I know how much this—these games!—motivate/s daily life (I spend plenty of time thinking about love and sex and their difference and their interaction*) but what really intrigued me in the picture wasn't how these dopes were navigating each other, though a lot of that felt plenty "real" (like telling a picky girl, "this is what food tastes like"), and I almost enjoyed seeing that nut Jake squirm towards some hushed "earnestness" (which with that voice sounds false before any horse shit sentence/sentiment about romantic freedom is uttered in full) in order to lay some babe who's far better at life than him (though her aptitude's not simply because she's gorgeous). No, what's really interesting is the hop-scotch cross-cutting, to say the construction, which is a fun folding (un- and -in) play on roles played, in large part because Kentucker plays somebody named Kentucker, who makes films, and Jake plays somebody named Jake, who sings songs, and because the two girls who enter their lives are, in fact, actresses "by trade" played by actresses. (And I should note that its one of these girls, the cherubic Rose, who's the only one interested in what people do or advocates for what she does.) However, the fun isn't simply the relationships I just laid out; that's all obvious enough. The fun is that these masks worn and frayed make the story, such as it is, a layer cake of confusion. Craig's refrain: it's complicated. This youth, this time: it's complicated. Words, conversation: it's complicated. The things that go unsaid, it turns out, are the least complicated.

Which is why it feels silly to have spent an hour typing all of this. I could've watched Holy Land by now. Or I could have been writing about Gina's movie, A Little Death, which is specifically about life as routine, as directed actions, as finding a role in the world.

So go watch K.A.'s flick and then lobby G.T. to see hers sooner than later. Though, as I know some friends would agree, Gina's picture truly deserves the size of a silver screen to give its single-take scenes (and, yes, its Dielman lean) the necessary weight. Which is to say, K.A. made a film for the online audience and that's part of its success (Rose is a film blogger, remember). Part of the reason you (probably) haven't seen Gina's film is because its audience is blind to it right now, and often blind to a couple hours of computer time. In any case, here's ALD's site, which even sports my name somewhere, and watch the trailer below.

* I also spend a lot of time at work, at writing, at reading, at running, at eating, at movies, at the park, at tables of different sizes, at the cover of my bed and at the center of my bed. In short, my life's full of stuff that doesn't involve sex and/or love and/or just hanging out. Though, like anybody, some nights I'd love to hang with certain people more than I'd like to be alone watching movies I didn't make.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Viewing Log #58: Midterm slide into weekend vegetabling [11/1/10 - 11/7/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

The boom of death
To be a screen or to be three

  • The second season finale of Eastbound & Down [Jody Hill, 2010]. Well, I'll tell you what. I liked the abrupt ending, to be certain, despite my fear of it simply setting up a third season, but aside from that I think the storytelling in this season was a lot sloppier and mean-spirited than the first go-round. Also, more sentimental, which means not as funny, but that's how these things go. Not everybody can be Ricky Gervais or Larry David, to pick two other comedies I've enjoyed on HBO. This one's worth seeing, at any rate, if only for the not-cool confidence of the great creation that is Kenny Fucking Powers.
  • Hamlet [Michael Almereyda, 2000] # Truly inventive adaptation with all the play of media and the visual puns and all that image-making throughout. Ethan Hawke is a limp prince in a lot of respects but mostly it's his clipped in voice and his too-2000 shaggy mane. Julia Stiles can't win with that wardrobe, or with that twinned lack of cadence and presence. No surprise that Bill Murray's the best thing going, giving each line a thoughtful reading (however much he's hamming, he's playing a ham) and each line makes me laugh; he truly gets it, he's not reciting. But, as I opened this note, the performances are largely secondary to the formal fun of video and film and montage and reflections. Almereyda's almost saying cinema exists to perpetuate itself (as the only medium for myth any more) but it seems more likely that he's less obsessed with cinema the way Godard is than he is simply obsessed with images and how images talk (which is still Godardian, and of an Eisensteinian inheritance).

  • Candyman [Bernard Rose, 1992] # It'd been ages so I'd forgotten plenty. It's plenty gross and still scary and probably fertile ground for a paper just like the one the film's out to lampoon in the first place. Also worth watching for the simple fact that it's got an intrepid female protagonist that I think lives up to these criteria.
  • Reno 911!: Miami [Ben Garant, 2007] Mercifully brief and often a knee-slapper. Think this comedy's style's better suited to the TV, but I enjoyed the afternoon laundry time so I could care less if it could be "better."
  • Obvious Child [Gillian Robspierre, 2009] Which you can watch here. As Martha wrote some time ago, the simple fact that this kind of story exists is an achievement, though slightly dubious, and what's really great about it is that it treats the issue not as an issue but a pragmatic choice and it's not about emotions, though there's that hook of the initial scene's "cold truth" and there's the honest head hanging on the morning of the abortion, because it's simply about a single event that happened to this one funny lady. Given Jenny Slate's actually doing some real acting here under her goof steeze (and that's encouraging, proof that she's got a future), my only quibble is the "Uno" thing at the end; but that's as fine a way to end this little thing as it would be to ask the dude if wants to play checkers; i.e., I'm glad there wasn't another make out scene. Cuz those are the worst!

  • Tim and Eric Awesome Tour Great Job! 2010 Pusswhip went on too long for my old bones to enjoy standing still with a grin and a toe tapping, but otherwise it was just what I wanted. And more! John C. Reilly showed up as Steve Brule to much deserved adulation and went on to kill, from a few tips on health to a health exam of a pretty young lady (he touched her boobs, yes, among a slow slew of nosey, pointed questions) to an awkward slow dance with said lady. And Neil Hamburger was great, with some real good jokes that made people uncomfy. But the real stars were the real stars. Even if the facial jokes are often lost without a close-up or a sound effect. In any case, awesome show great job! I could never do any of that!

  • Quick Change [Howard Franklin and Bill Murray, 1990] # Always loved this one, this picture of New York as one roadblock after another, as a place built to thwart dreams as often as to afford their possibility. The filmmaking is "functional" but not "bad" and, you know, that's largely "okay" because the picture (Bill Murray) is hilarious. Honestly? I'll take this over After Hours any day.

  • The 'Burbs [Joe Dante, 1989] # Good fun for a late night, though that one neighbor's motormouth just doesn't shut up. Like, ever. Funny to see Dick Miller in this (however small the garbage man role) after last week seeing his first real role in that Corman. I'd forgotten Carrie Fischer's Hanks' wife, too, and that was cool.

Some men dream #1

by Ryland Walker Knight

Her hanging heel

Rex's razor

Unfaithfully Yours, Preston Sturges, 1948
shot by Victor Milner

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Viewing Log #57: The rest of October

by Ryland Walker Knight

BluRio 1
—Words to live by, baby

  • Eastbound & Down [S2E6, David Gordon Green, 2010] An attempt to sweep away some of the mean spiritedness of the previous episodes that gets by on the hilarity of certain foibles and the sheer audacity of the racism. This can't end well.
  • Boardwalk Empire "Home" [Allen Coulter, 2010] Boring, poorly written, bathetic to no end.
  • Bucket of Blood [Roger Corman, 1959] The way a B picture should be made: with laughs, with a twisted idea for horror that makes bodies a source of revulsion, and art.

  • Rio Bravo [Howard Hawks, 1959] # Sometimes I think it's the best movie ever. And, I'm easily a part of the camp that loves Hawks because most of the movies are about the guys, hanging in a hang zone, helping define friendship. But all the films have women who can hold their own, as does Angie Dickinson here, and there's such respect for all the minorities on the sidelines; people are just people in Hawks. Oh, and this song is pretty great.

  • Spread [David Mackenzie, 2009] I like what I.V. wrote here. Weird, though, to make a career of deflating what "love" can mean to dumb people yet without any kind of high-and-mighty Creator judgments. The project is admirable, in a way, but equally suspect given all that attention to explicit sex. The best thing about those scenes, though, isn't the fact that there's flesh galore but that each piece (of ass?) is about how these characters are relating to each other. But, when your protagonists are mostly idiots, the "lessons" such as they are can be rather simple and predictable. In any case, Kutcher is perfect. Never thought I'd say that. But it definitely comes with the caveat that he's perfect at being despicable for most of the movie, and then perfect as a punchline at its end.

  • The second half of season three of The Sopranos [David Chase?, 2002] # is no less brutal and often yet more hilarious, with Ralphie as one of the greatest villains ever, and with Tony acting ever more the pent up jerk. Watching the series now, with some distance, it's so much clearer to me just how bad Tony is, how great at being a sociopath he is even this close to the beginning.

Bucket of Blood
—Please remove your hat

Monday, October 25, 2010

Viewing Log #56: October highlights so far

by Ryland Walker Knight

  • Jackass 3D [Jeff Tremaine, 2010] Despite more full cock shots, less queer than the other 2, and especially the better parts of 2, which is my favorite of the trilogy. The most curious thing in the flick is just how little they seem to enjoy the process besides Knoxville and WeeMan. Steve-O, in particular, looks to be only going through the motions. But, still, I laughed so hard my nose began to run.
  • Eastbound & Down [Jody Hill et al, 2010] Just waiting on the finale now. It got darker, that's for sure, and easily a lot meaner. Not sure these are good things. It's really weird just how much this crew, despite making a comedy series, is really interested in making Real Art that does a lot to Say Something under the guise of foul language and attitudes. I'm curious (1) if they'll be around in 20 years and (2) what in the hell they could be mad about then.
  • Boardwalk Empire [Terrence Winter, 2010] That is, so far. And so far so-so. Plenty of stuff to like, plenty of stuff I could plain do without, like those opening titles.
  • Blazing Saddles [Mel Brooks, 1974] # Gene Wilder is the best person in the world with Harvey Korman and Slim Pickens running a close tie behind him.
  • High Anxiety [Mel Brooks, 1977] # A lesser effort, to be sure, but some timing gags work perfectly; and some of the spoof elements are pretty great. Mostly, I enjoyed how much my sister enjoyed it.
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox [Wes Anderson, 2009] # A joy.
  • The jerk [Carl Reiner, 1979] # Still my favorite Steve Martin movie. A fine reminder of what once amounted to a particular kind of comedic genius.
  • Plenty of 30 Rock's latest season, which I'm enjoying.
  • Code Unknown [Michael Haneke, 2000] Not really a highlight, but it's made very well. Once again I'm left thinking: sure, but you can also go to hell, Herr H.
  • The Loved One [Evelyn Waugh, 1948] Narrow in the right ways, this may be a perfect novel, though sometimes the wit gets just a tad cute.
  • Louis C.K.: Chewed Up [2008] Dude's on fire.
  • Freedom [Jonathan Franzen, 2010] I'm fine with it! In fact, I find it really entertaining in good ways, though I also find a lot of the writing clumsy in that the on-purpose-clumsiness just feels clumsy sometimes. Still, I'm happy I read it, and read it then (this year, this moment). Doubt I'll ever pick it up again.
  • Henry IV: Part One in Ashland, Oregon at the Shakespeare Festival with my dad. My legs got pretty cold, but that was alright. What truly fascinated me was just how much more interesting an actor the guy who played Hal was than the guy who played Falstaff. Not typical.

Viewing Log #55: September highlights

by Ryland Walker Knight

  • demonlover [Olivier Assayas, 2002] Look at this twitpic, and then read Glenn's thing maybe. Here, again, I risk the wrath of GK, and Kent Jones: it's a hoot, and largely fascinating, but also the owner of a rather empty punchline.
  • The Social Network [David Fincher, 2010] A problematic, thoroughly entertaining film I hope I never have to talk to anybody about ever again.
  • The Thin Red Line [Terrence Malick, 1998] # Here's some gushing and here's some mush-mouth. It's important to me.
  • The Last Picture Show [Peter Bogdonavich, 1971] As formal as it gets and so, so apt to anybody with an ear for confusion. You know, everybody.
  • A Brighter Summer Day [Edward Yang, 1991] Worth every minute. Loved how much of it's specifically about light, and shining lights (on things) and not seeing because of the lack of light, and how all the big acts of violence happen at night, in low light. If I see it again (and hopefully in a theatre again), I'll take real notes and maybe write a real poem about it.
  • Pretty much every single episode of Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job [T+E, 2007-2010] # Cuz I had to. And cuz I love it. Cuz they're the best. (Sure, it gets/got tiresome; but who gives a turd ya dingus?)
  • The Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job Crimbus Special and Tour Promo [T+E, 2010] The best thing in the world. Everything.
  • Enter The Void [Gaspar Noé, 2009] I tried to be positive at this joint and largely failed.
  • The first half of Season Three of The Sopranos [David Chase?, 2001] #, which is absolutely brutal and absolutely fantastic and rather often absolutely hilarious.
  • Danny Perez's visuals at the Panda Bear show; especially the wave and its square spots at the end.
  • Oedipus Wrecks [Woody Allen, 1989] A lot of fun, in part because it's "on the nose."
  • Life Lessons [Martin Scorsese, 1989] Rituals, process, it's all a lie to try to cover your patterns.
  • Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? [Frank Tashlin, 1957] At the Castro, with Brian. The opening is my favorite part.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Convergence for your bawdy daze (10/20/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight


How a morning hangs
—Unbroken anyways

A conjunction of quotations #11

— edited by Ryland Walker Knight



Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic.
Rosalind Russell


I don't want to be a silly temptress. I cannot see any sense in getting dressed up and doing nothing but tempting men in pictures.
Greta Garbo


Elegance has therefore disappeared as the TV spectator's eye expected something else from tennis. The diabolical Connors and the amazing MacEnroe became loved for their bad manners, because these manners were more interesting than the starchy class of the last stylists (from Clerc to Gomez). All this, a very human phenomenon by the way, deepened the scenography of tennis with a new dimension: that of the close up after the rally, of the disarticulated replay, of the stroboscopic ordinariness of the slow motion, of the microphone at court level. The number of events per second inflated with all the affects, tics, drives and silent rages that a body is capable of.
Serge Daney


Far from the trite expression it usually is, “I don’t know what to say” actually seemed to be an honest and surprisingly accurate description of the problem. When women who have abortions are more closeted than gay people and the absence of abortion leaves a gaping hole in most T.V. and movie narratives, it’s no wonder even solidly pro-choice people are left floundering for a way to talk about it—free of euphemisms—as a real and unique experience instead of a flattened and shameful cliché.
Maya Dusenbery


Once something must have happened here,
before you were always quoting yourself to sleep,
needing to remember. Gunpowder
boomed in the birch forests,
redcoats flashed like flowers.
The city was narcotic with gold,
derricks stiffened beside wounded ships.
Women wept for the diving bells of dead.
Flames rose along the river, longing—

All that is green must turn to red.
Listen: the dynamite cracks
in the concrete forest.
That echo is the sound of borrowed grace. Believe it,
ask memory to be your burning stake.
Meghan O'Rourke


When I work together with actors and we try to create brash, obnoxious, strange, brutal, larger characters, it seems to me that the key is not that they are better or bigger than us. What I can see in Jean Renoir’s movies and some of that in François Truffaut and perhaps in a lot of French films which would be French at the end, is the fact that I don’t wake up as a human being and I’m not sure that I am one. Being human I have to work to look like a human being. You know, I have to pretend that I am this or that, even with political issues et cetera. In Renoir’s La regle du jeu (1939) I have to play the part that I’m rich or poor or a worker or angry or a woman, I have to play these feelings. In Renoir they don’t believe in nature, there is only culture. And the thing which is so human is that they are trying to look like a proper human being, a being they dream to be. I try to catch that in a character, this effort of showing off.
Arnaud Desplechin


A writer must preserve a balance between sensitivity and vitality. Highbrow writers are sensitive but not vital. Commercial writers are vital but not sensitive. Trying to keep this balance is always hard. It is the whole job of living.
Gertrude Stein


People remain what they are even if their faces fall apart.
Bertolt Brecht


Originally, there were many varieties of birds on earth. Some have become extinct: the great hawk, the passenger pigeon and the famous dodo bird have all disappeared. —Actually, they didn't exactly disappear. They were simply killed off. But of course [he shrugs] this is nature's way. Man merely hurries the process along whenever he can be of help.
Alfred Hitchcock


Yes, it is obvious that people now—they trust in the economy. Well, maybe after this week a little less, but still I don’t think it will change much. Economy is presented as some kind of “revealed truth,” it is just like religion for me. There is no logic to what happens in the economy, and still you have politicians, people keep telling you “this is good for the economy, this is how it should be done” because “that’s how the economy works” and so on and so forth, as if it were some kind of truth. And people just swallow it. It’s this kind of logic that there is something bigger than us that is “the economy” that creates a world that is going in a direction no one has any control on, because the economy is some kind of living organism that is taking over people’s lives or the values that are at work within the world where we live our adult lives. What I’m trying to say, or what Frédéric thinks {laughs}, and it’s not very optimistic, is that he reminds that economy is not fact, it is ideology. And as much as you have to respect facts, you are allowed to discuss ideologies; you should be allowed to have your say, because ultimately whatever truth you stand for is as good as whatever truth economy stands for. Ultimately we should be conscious that theoretically we have some space to decide what we want and what we don’t want, we should not be intimidated by economy.
Olivier Assayas


She broke down and let me in
Made me see where I've been

Been down one time
Been down two times
Never going back again

You don't know what it means to win
Come down and see me again

Been down one time
Been down two times
Never going back again
Fleetwood Mac


Having a home, husband, and child ought to be enough for any woman’s life. I mean, that’s what we are meant for, isn’t it? But still I think every day [without my work] is a lost day. As if only half of me is alive. The other half is pressed down in a bag and suffocated.
Ingrid Bergman


Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.
Oscar Wilde


On verra. On verra si je le fais à la fin.*
Gabriel Deshayes


Let's go get lost among the ether seekers squinting in despair as people from the 18th century hang brightly in the air dissecting bits of cloud (they're only waiting for a cue from Newton to begin their vague descent). If you could take the square root of this mass that we inhabit you would find a fully fledged motet caught in the shadow of the memories the centrifuge once ravaged as though honoring the dead with a chilled and useless flourish. "It waxeth wet," she says, concealing Vesta's fires in the folds of her new love (she has a passion for Racine). But Crazy Jane just shrugs and love begins to melt away. "Divide the air from air. Divide the castles from the clouds. Divide the light from light, but if you dare sequester my inertia in your tragedy I'll clasp the weary hand of god and let him drag me in a straight line to the back of your cathedral where pentangles are smashed to fit inside the roving spheres the invalids ingest on their way back from the sea." Despite their prayers, it wouldn't part. But if you listened very closely, you could hear the feeble march revive inside their chests. They had wanted to see flames but they could only see a single molecule, a bit deranged and accidentally inspiring the smell of violets from the surrounding air. And still they lurched and dragged their rickety old model up the mountain where they leapt off into the huge distance waving feathers pulled from caps that had dropped below the treeline. Another great wave shook the night, moving flagrantly through nothing, dulling bullets in their flight.
Elizabeth Marie Young

* = We'll see. We'll see if I make it to the end.

Friday, October 15, 2010

&Review no.3, Ghosts: Plumule

by Ryland Walker Knight

—courtesy the one and only Matthew Flanagan

The third issue of &Review is live online and on its way out into the world as a free newsprint publication. As with No.2, I have another poem in this issue (or an excerpt of a poem). All I'd like to say, here, is that it's better than the other one, though it's got similar tropes and preoccupations that should be transparent to anybody I know and anybody who knows me. Though, I don't know, maybe some people who don't know me will know something about me. (The word "meme" is funny, right?) In any case, it's a little stanza and its title is a word I happened to learn by accident but now adore. From wikitionary:
  1. (botany) The first bud, or gemmule, of a young plant; the bud, or growing point, of the embryo, above the cotyledons.
  2. (zoology) A down feather.
  3. (zoology) The aftershaft of a feather.
  4. (zoology) One of the featherlike scales of certain male butterflies.

Quite a beautiful, multivalent idea to live up to! But if I don't do it justice in this sample perhaps I will elsewhere. Failing that, you can revert to the alternate title "I never meant to make a fist." Also, of course, there's a whole boatload of other words and images, some by some other friends of mine, that Mia and Rachel have curated into a typically handsome package. You can download a pdf of the print version by clicking here or you can peruse the online edition by clicking here. You will also be able to find it in a few spots around Portland, and I imagine New York, and maybe even San Francisco with the right push. You can find out specifics here.

It came to my attention last night, while working on a crossword at the bar with this joker, that this issue's publication has hit a stall. Mia informs me there was an editing gaffe that necessitates some more work. As I learn more, I'll say more. But, hey, you can still look at the pdf and the images assembled.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Quick plug: Enter the Void

by Ryland Walker Knight

Knee On Toke Yo!

How about the flimsiest defense possible for an indefensible argument? Well, here you go! I volunteered at the 11th hour to try to wrangle together a "pro" side of a diptych column on the impossible-to-ignore Gaspar Noé wormhole of sense and "good" taste. I should probably say more but it boils down to this: you won't forget seeing Enter The Void. You should see it in a theatre, if it's playing near you, and you should go pee before it starts because it's kind of long and kind of tedious but, you know, that's the point (kind of). In fact, I think the flick could be yet longer and that'd make it better. If it really embraced the sprawl, actually went into a random-fire non-structure, truly hovered at the sidelines. But, as I say (feebly) in that post, it's worth the trip, such as it is, because it's going to make you feel something. It will take over you and your body. It may be pretty idiotic, and it may have an awful script, but its audacity's got to count for something.

For what it's worth, I realize this isn't a work of criticism. If I get some more free time, or the right nudge, I may pop up again to flesh out my thoughts. However, I'd really rather just talk about it. Or, truth be told, I'd rather read something about it written by Martha. Now, to some tacos and some baseball and some beer.

10 minutes later update:
This is because the movie opens in SF tomorrow though it already opened in NYC+LA and is also available On Demand for those unlucky enough to be denied the theatrical experience.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Go, ye giddy goose, so should I be sure to be heart-burned.

by Ryland Walker Knight

A shout long silent across the sky
—A shout long silent across the sky


Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers,
Not of that dye which their investments show,
But mere implorators of unholy suits,
Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds,
The better to beguile.


Stocks shoot a nest
Warble and rise like a yellow willow
—Nesting habits armed with folios like fingers


Along the lithia, shot


Peace, good pint-pot; peace, good tickle-brain.
Harry, I do not only marvel where thou spendest thy
time, but also how thou art accompanied: for though
the camomile, the more it is trodden on the faster
it grows, yet youth, the more it is wasted the
sooner it wears. That thou art my son, I have
partly thy mother's word, partly my own opinion,
but chiefly a villanous trick of thine eye and a
foolish-hanging of thy nether lip, that doth warrant
me. If then thou be son to me, here lies the point;
why, being son to me, art thou so pointed at? Shall
the blessed sun of heaven prove a micher and eat
blackberries? a question not to be asked. Shall
the sun of England prove a thief and take purses? a
question to be asked. There is a thing, Harry,
which thou hast often heard of and it is known to
many in our land by the name of pitch: this pitch,
as ancient writers do report, doth defile; so doth
the company thou keepest: for, Harry, now I do not
speak to thee in drink but in tears, not in
pleasure but in passion, not in words only, but in
woes also: and yet there is a virtuous man whom I
have often noted in thy company, but I know not his name.


Ready to wear


Heaven's blush
—Thaw, and resolve yourself into a dew

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The things you made

by Ryland Walker Knight

Dear ewe,

this one

Earlier today, the good folks at GreenCine Daily hit "publish" on this little paean to what I've often told you is my favorite film. I tried to get at a few things in the piece, but, as can happen, I lost my way. I wanted to talk more about address and philosophy and arrogance but I figured (probably correctly) that this would have far exceeded my duties, or at least the desired scope, at hand. I decided somewhere in there that I'd write you a letter about what really interested me watching the film again last week.

Suffice to say, it looked great on that HD television upstairs, even if I worried I'd gotten the settings all wrong and that Caviezel's face was in fact stretched fat. Further, even through shitty components it looked better than the old Fox disc I've carted around for so long. Nothing will replace a theatrical screening. (Or my first, somewhere after Christmas in the latest days of 1998, amidst some pinballing around LA's belt of plain concrete with my mom for a New Year's Eve "celebration" with her folks. You can imagine how psyched I was, all of 16 and proud to know who Terrence Malick was, having seen his two almost-forgotten 1970s features on VHS tapes my dad'd either rented or bought.) In any case, the restoration looks great, as you'd expect from those Criterion folks. Big surprise.

What did surprise me was how watching it loud, as Terrence Malick instructs via text before the film, really changed it again. Over the past twelve years, I'd been so obsessed with the images and the words that I forgot how bombastic the action scenes are, how often you hear a warbler, how certain actors' breath sounds clipped or how bodies fording grass fields can sound like a record played backwards on low volume. The wind sounds like wind, not bad microphones. And the voice-over work became more mysterious. I was certain for so long that Sean Penn'd said those last lines, the famous ones about shining I entertained tattooing on my left arm, but now I'm not so certain. Not that it matters. Each timber carries a different affect. I wouldn't be surprised if Malick made a bunch of young men record the same words and chose whose tenor suited the light best after the fact in post-production.

(How indulgent a working method! Yet also: how typical of a bright mind. Amass as much evidence and build the best argument; or, gather your groceries and get creative.)

This unmoored voice, ascribable to any, seems the defining characteristic of the film. I'd bet not too many people would disagree. My dad, for instance, always complains he can't tell who's talking. He needs that clarity for a fiction to work, he needs a representative element. (Or so it seems from our talks.) Again, I don't think this is uncommon. What I find so fascinating, though is that position's opposite: the delicious confusion of an overlay, like the white noise of some shoegaze rock, or the layers Wes Anderson makes 100% literal in so many of his slow-motion tableaux. A phrase that got morphed in my essay was "splay valence." This means something very specific to me, so it hurt to be asked to change it for clarity's sake, and slabbing down "layering meaning through a variety of aesthetic effects" felt exactly anathema to the alliterative fun of my prior, um, contrivance. It's also a bad definition. What's so comforting about Malick's movies is consistent with all my favorite works of art: they confirm certain philosophies I harbor about the world, specifically about wanting the world and wanting to be in the world. That is, they confirm my desire to want to live. You know that about me: it's about life, about living, for me. It? Art, mostly, but more simply anything, including life itself. So many hours we've talked this summer about how you want to live, what we're doing independently to find and make and lead the lives we want. (Of course, it'd be better if we could congrue those aims more often, ie, live near each other, but the world doesn't allow for everything we want all the time, including our wanting it.) Which is a long, indulgent way back around to these voices and their seeking, their questions, how they aim to get at the world's (and life's) mysteries. And, as we talked about last night even, there's all kinds of answers to pour yourself into—but it's the forfeit-others choice that helps define things. What I (and I think you) find so phenomenal about The Thin Red Line, in the end, isn't that it simply "accepts the mystery" (I know you're growing to hate the Coens) when that voice asks for his soul to join him but precisely that we can ask for that, for our selves to cohere, and see the world we want. And then use our powers to foster this world.

Too bad there's always got to be money involved, eh?

A world of love,