Jack and Ray on a bender

No, I’m not going to make a fashion blog out of this. If you’re into that sort of thing, head out to Tom & Lorenzo. This isn’t gonna be a story about two middle-aged gays, sipping wine, having a lovely, albeit bitchy afternoon.

This is going to be a story about some other Jack, and some other Ray. With Saul and Elaine Bass included for a good measure.

The guy that’s not Ray is a guy featured on a cover of Galaxy magazine (edited by Frederik Pohl) back in 1966.

vance

The guy that’s not Jack, you might have heard of him, went by a Bradbury surname. If your grandfather got into pulp-fiction after he got home from the Great War, you might still find something like this in his dusty chest hidden in the attic.

bradbury

And no, this isn’t going to be another ramble on how great SF was “back then” and how these whippersnappers of today don’t know a thing about it either. I’m too young to be that kind of guy (stopped smoking pipe years ago, and even shaved recently). It’s just that I’ve been reading one of those SF-almanacs that small presses still publish all around the world, and these two stories kinda stood out (it helped a great deal that they were the first two stories in a 600+ pages, quite light for its size, monolithic book collecting “all” the old masters of Science Fiction literature).

First one, “The Last Castle”, was written by Jack Vance in 1966. Second one, “Frost and Fire”, was written by Ray Bradbury twenty years earlier and published in something called “Planet Stories” (edited by Paul L. Payne).  For those of you who are not familiar with these names (and yet somehow you managed to stumble upon this blog…internet is a wonder), let’s just say that Vance and Bradbury don’t have much in common. If we’re thinking from a purely literary point of view. They were both very influential SF-writers and that’s as far as similarities go. All in all they were quite different beasts.

And yet, there’s a connection. In a bygone analogue era of pop-culture/pulp-fiction two decades were an eternity. These two stories, however different in style and execution, managed to bridge a gap between two vastly different worlds. One was written in post-WWII USA, the other a year before Summer of Love. So last century, both of them. Or so you might think. Fast forward near the end of second decade of 21st century and they still resonate powerfully. Such is the nature of good literature. It just doesn’t go away.

More on this to come tomorrow.

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Fuck, yeah! It’s been two years…

…since my last post. Or so the site tells me, though I can hardly doubt him. He’s rarely wrong in such matters. Two fucking years have gone by and I haven’t the slightest idea how did they just passed over my head. I’m lying, of course. I do have some sense about it, but it’s largely irrelevant to anything that I might continue to blog about here.

Anyhow, two years is an eternity in this ‘business’. Scene has changed and so this blog must change as well. What exactly is to be done I’m still trying to define. It’ll be something, though, and we’ll see how it goes.

For starters, this will stop being a blog about movies. It will still cover my musings about ‘framed entertainment’, but it will try to shed some light on other aspects of cultural production all around the world. Gaming (old school, of course, you know that one about old dogs and new tricks), literature, TV, comics, science, food and whatnot. After so many years of consuming stuff, it’s time to give back.

I missed this kind of writing. Free form, careless, rant-a-like. Burnout stopped me for a while but batteries are charged once again, new laptop is alive and kicking and all it remains is to actually start blogging again.

See you around.

 

 

 

 

Margin Call (2011)

margin_call_ver8_xlgIt may be that Margin Call isn’t the best movie ever made (rest assured – it isn’t). It may well be that it isn’t even the best movie released in 2011 (see above). It may quite possibly be something that you present at master-class workshops during the lecture on “Do’s and don’ts of movie-making”. Nevertheless, it may well be one of the most interesting movies of 21st century. Considering what I’ve just said, you can’t see how this last statement could possibly be true? Well, it’s counter-intuitive, I’ll grant you that. If Margin Call does something well, than it does this – it presents you with one hell of a complex world and leaves you hanging in there. The thing is that this complex world isn’t extrapolated fiction, nor is it allegory, nor a metaphor, nor any kind of neat trick artists usually use. The world of Margin Call is a world we live in. It’s just that you probably never have been around those parts. It’s okay, people dwelling there don’t actually need you. What they do, affects you whether you care about it or not. On the surface Margin Call may seem just like another market—crash movie but careful and observant viewer can make it much more interesting. After all, outside the world of documentaries, one doesn’t often need a dictionary just to trot along a plot (sure, you can interpret this as a sign of bad writing, but that would be highly reductive). Sometimes, though, even a dictionary doesn’t help much.

bscap0001Anyway, few of my friends make a living doing high finance. Not quite sure if they did watch this or not, but if they did I imagine that their reaction, or amount of baffledness wouldn’t be quite the same. We don’t discuss these things when we meet for coffee or a beer. It isn’t just that after long hours of work you don’t want to be talking about it to anyone, it’s that there really wouldn’t be any point to that. I couldn’t understand them, just like they can’t understand me when I go into my academic-philosophy mode of communicating with people. Discourse is both the problem and a solution but that’s a story for some other time. There’s a key point here. However similar in their hermeticity these discourses are, in actuality they are immensely different. The discourse of high-finance affects this globality we live in. The discourse of high-philosophy affects no one but a lone individual. In that light, main point of Margin Call stops being something banal as “They knew it [market crash] would happen, They [evil as they are] let it happen”. Instead, it realizes itself as a question – how did we put so much power into hands of people we can’t understand?

bscap0000The key note of democracy (though democracy really isn’t an issue here) or any sort of government is the concept of legibility. Our president cannot speak Mandarin (unless you live in China that is), nor can Congress members debate policies in Zulu sign language. There can’t be that sort of a gap between those who rule and those that are ruled. When Margin Call presents us with people whose actions have lasting consequences to many things across the Globe, and we can’t make heads or tails of their reasoning (unless we’re experts), then we find ourselves in a difficult position. If it were just a movie, we could dismiss it as a bad writing and not think more about it. Since it stopped being a move from the moment lights flickered on, we can’t dismiss it at all. So, if you want to think (and Margin Call presents us with lot of possibilities to do just that) try cracking this one – what really happened in this move? In a related story – what is happening in the world of high-finance right now? Who is keeping a check on that? How do you know that keepers are telling you the truth? And finally – how many years of extensive study would it take you to find that on your own? You can learn the lingo, of course. In the meantime, world will keep turning and things will happen whether you understand them or not. We all felt the impact of the events of Margin Call. All that remains is connecting the threads and not letting it happen again. Sadly, for this to transpire, quite a lot of people should suddenly develop both skills and interest in the study of high-finance. Not gonna happen. Funny thing is, it isn’t even a sole subject one should take care of. World is an infinitely complex place and films such as this one make sure that we remember just that. It’s so easily forgotten. All these crazy ideologies that keep springing around us are quite good reminder of how easy is to let go. Crowd thinks much clearer but sadly, we can’t afford that.

Directed by J.C. Chandor
Produced by Joe Jenckes
Robert Ogden Barnum
Corey Moosa
Michael Benaroya
Neal Dodson
Zachary Quinto
Written by J.C. Chandor
Starring Kevin Spacey
Paul Bettany
Jeremy Irons
Zachary Quinto
Penn Badgley
Simon Baker
Mary McDonnell
Demi Moore
Stanley Tucci
Music by Nathan Larson
Cinematography Frank DeMarco
Edited by Pete Beaudreau
Production
company
Before the Door Pictures
Washington Square Films
Untitled Entertainment
Sakonnet Capital Partners

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Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

2142661020aIs it too late to talk about George Bush Jr.? Or Michael Moore for that matter? After all, ten years have passed since filming of Fahrenheit 9/11, and more than that since the events depicted in it.  In a way, it is too late. In the other way, it’s never too late. Stage has been set a long time ago. Only thing that changes are actors. Sometimes even they stay the same. What can then be said that hasn’t been said before by many a conspiracy nut and some intelligent people as well? Is Fahrenheit 9/11 propaganda? It surely is. Is it open about it? Well, as open as Bowling for Columbine was. Maybe more. Is it worth our time then? Well, yes and no both look like a good answer. One of the questions that are worth checking out in the context of this movie is an ever-present question of an audience. Who is the (intended) reader/viewer of Michael Moore’s “documentary”? Let’s see what we can find.

What is the core of the Fahrenheit 9/11? Media manipulates. No shit, Sherlock. People in power lie to the masses. Well, yes they do. Memories are short and a spin can be put on everything. Confirmed more times than we can count. All these truisms are then applied to the Bush administration, 9/11, War on Terror and oil business’s. In the context of time, this kind of thing was maybe new or innovative (wouldn’t know, I don’t follow that much media or documentary moviemaking), but Moore’s film couldn’t escape many problems of such narratives. Thing is – all of these truisms combined spell out a “don’t trust authority” message all across the screen in bold metaphorical letters. This message has been utilized by many critically inclined artists, columnists, filmmakers, intellectuals and all sorts of people. And yes, throughout the history we learned that there is a definitive value in those words. We shouldn’t trust anyone. And we don’t. Still, despite our mistrust, things don’t seem to change (cosmetic changes we don’t count as true changes). Because, when you think about it, not trusting someone doesn’t do shit.

thumbAn abstract example. Consider Fahrenheit 9/11 to be a definite take on all the business with Bush, September 11 and war in Iraq. Consider it to be an authoritative piece of film-journalism that is both sincere and true in all its efforts. Should we apply our message on it as well? We should. The only course left open is some fact-checking and independent thinking while consulting various sources and different (often antagonized) viewpoints. God knows there are enough of those. It sounds good on paper. Thing is, it requires both time and resources. So, let’s say I just finished with Fahrenheit and now I want to decide whether I’ll vote for Bush again. It would take me at least 5 years of full-time research to come up with an informed answer (if I want to be true to the scientific method of inquiry while maintaining any sort of intellectual honesty). During that time, things will happen. People who I’m judging on my own will make them happen. World will change and new questions, together with new problems, will arise. Historians have spent more than one lifetime not agreeing on any singular topic in history. Meanwhile, plutocrats both new and old have a field day. My truth-checking, eventually, will be worth nothing even if I become an expert on the topic. And it will be worth nothing because I failed to act when the opportunity presented itself. I failed to act because I couldn’t act hotheaded, driven by half-digested, possibly untrue information. If I did act, I would have become just another manipulator and propagandist which is no better than his opponents.

a911-4_smallIn that light we should look at Fahrenheit 9/11. When it does not illustrate long known truisms, it functions as a rallying call for revolutionaries in the making. Seen any relevant revolutions lately? Seen neo-liberalist machinery doing its thing as usual? As Ferengi say: “War is good for business. Peace is good for business”. While businessman like Bush do their business, affecting lives of thousands of people, thinkers think, affecting couple hundred five or more decades later. If anything, Fahrenheit 9/11 puts us in the spot where we are forced to look out our position and succumb to something like a depression. Depression not because we “failed to stop” Bush, but because we are once again put into a situation where the same movie can be made about Obama. And world keeps turning. Ignoring Michael Moore because there’s not a single reason why it should not.

Directed by Michael Moore
Produced by
Written by Michael Moore
Starring Michael Moore
Distributed by

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Land of the Pharaohs (1955)

Land_of_pharaohsI guess you may call it ironic (though I prefer more subtle term such as ‘moronic’), this amusing little tale of ancient Egypt and its megalomaniac rulers being told with the help of 10 000 extras i.e. poor contemporary Egyptians hired to drag blocks of stone across the desert for the prospect of meager pay and promise of life eternal within the celluloid frame in the theater. According to the movie itself, things haven’t really changed. Old pharaohs didn’t pay wages though so if there’s some progress to be observed within the frame of last couple of thousands years it’s the progress of syndicates and paid labor. Quite revolutionary back in the day. Quite extinct nowadays.

One other thing is to be said. Whoever wrote the script (and I’m saying whoever because when there are three scriptwriters involved in a project, one of them being William Faulkner, it’s pretty impossible to discern whose idea was it anyway) actually knew how to dispose of a bad guy. This is the skill sorely lacking in contemporary Hollywood and it might have something to do with dominant puritanism that keeps controlling events on any stage in America. Anyone can write-off a character but to write-off a villain takes balls (and skill). You have to compensate adequately for the negative emotions vested into this character. If you write him off just like that, audience will be furious. If you write him off using revenge-discourse some moralist prick is bound to come along screaming about corruption and destruction of this or the other value. Suffice it to say that burial of Joan Collins within the tomb was a satisfactory ending of her character. At least in this instance, scriptwriter knew what he was doing. Probably venting.

bscap0001There are some other points of interest as well. Consider the nature of Hollywood epic. Ever since technology of moviemaking progressed to a point where you could produce more or less believable grandiose setting for any page of the Bible (though things like this have been done in early days of cinema – remember Griffith’s Intolerance), producers started having wet dreams about thousands of people in period-costumes doing period-stuff while crowd went wild showering them with money. History epics provided their audiences with cognitive dissonance. Ancient Egypt and its pharaohs were so strange and so detached from post-WWII USA that you just had to invent stuff to make the entire world understandable. Ancient Egypt was an alien culture (much like feudal Japan is alien culture to any Westerner, and even when you watch movies by Kurosawa, who was heavily influenced by West, there’s always something lost in translation), but story of Land of the Pharaohs is anything but alien. Watched from half a century distance, it’s so conventional that it hurts.

bscap0000There’s something that still bugs me though and it is pharaoh himself. You can’t really escape implicit critique of pharaoh. Howard Hawks plays with this on meta-level. For average Christian in 1955, belief-system of ancient Egypt was nothing but a bunch of bullshit. Walking gods my ass. Polytheistic religion? Pffft. So we got this pharaoh guy who believes in crap and forces thousands of people to build a monument to his glory. If there ever was a megalomaniac, Howard Hawks made a story about him right then and there. Still, as movie progresses, pharaoh becomes more humane. Final betrayal humanizes him completely. In the end, we’re left with the notion than even though he was a tyrant, he managed to complete something that will last for all eternity. He fulfilled the dream most of us humans have and you can’t really hate him for that. There’s something American in this presentation of pharaoh. He had a dream, and no matter the cost, he managed to pull it off. Thing is, pharaoh didn’t pay the cost but no real believer of American dream bothers himself with such communist nonsense. In the end Land of the Pharaohs encourages megalomania. After all, without megalomaniacs of old we couldn’t very well make pictures on the topic. It took us some time to finally look underneath the grandiosity of pyramids but at that point we moved into a post-modern. Land of the Pharaohs still belongs to classical Hollywood – a time and place where no such though could exist.

Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Howard Hawks
Written by Harold Jack Bloom
William Faulkner
Harry Kurnitz
Starring Jack Hawkins
Joan Collins
James Robertson Justice
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Lee Garmes
Russell Harlan
Edited by Vladimir Sagovsky
Production
company
Continental Company

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Voici le temps des assassins (1956)

MovieCovers-137729-192601-VOICI LE TEMPS DES ASSASSINSIt took me some time to get properly in tune with Duvivier’s movie. Unexpected difficulties arose, I guess, from a completely idiotic title under which this movie is known in the US. I mean – Deadlier than the male? Seriously? Seems that translators of old were quite nonchalant both with translation and adaptation of foreign movies. Must be all that crack they used to smoke after the War. Whatever the reason Deadlier than the male doesn’t even hint to nature of the business so it took me awhile to properly understand that what I’m watching is not just a drama, but a crime-drama up there with the best of them. You know the type. Not really a noir but full of femme fatales regardless. After all, it’s happening in France.

Once this has been properly understood, real problems appeared. Sort of which you can’t get rid of until after the end of the movie (sometimes not even then). For example – the biggest challenge here was enduring a 100-minute movie that irritated me with every single part of its digital being. This is in itself by no means a rare thing. Stuff tends to irritate me quite a lot these days. But – there is a certain variance to irritation. Some things irritate because they’re bad, stupid, slow, incompetent, or any combination of the above. Other things…other things irritate differently. In this instance, irritation stems from the sheer brilliance of Danièle Delorme.    

bscap0001She plays a character any sane person would want to impale on a stick (as our Turk friends used to do few years back) and she plays it magnificently. Now, interacting with scheming bitches is one thing. If they’re any good, you won’t even know what hit you. But, watching scheming bitches do their routine and not being able to do anything about it is agonizing. Part of you wants to scream, part of you wants to break something (a head, a kneecap, whatever you got) and the sane part of you tries to rein in all these emotions by reminding you that it’s only a movie and that if you break something you’re never gonna hear the end of it from missus.

Yes, we’re all these big, bad, cynics who were around when Eastern Bloc was an actual fact, we rarely react with emotions to anything that has something to do with art – we’ve seen it all before, and we’ve seen it done better – and we fart in your general direction etc., but sometimes, someone, manages to punch right through that carefully cultivated protective shell after which hilarity ensues. Suddenly, we remember that there is a life outside our intellectual barrier. So, if for anything, kudos to Julien Duvivier for that.

bscap0000Regardless of me being crazy like that (getting irritated by QUALITY fiction), Voici le temps des assassins is genuinely good. As far as I can tell (this irritation is so rare that it managed to successfully distract me from quite a lot of everything else) it’s no masterpiece but it’s far from genre-crap people used to and still make. Not sure how this would fare with feminists, though. Once again, woman is demonized (just listen to that – Deadlier than the male) from almost every aspect, her sole being is an act of pure aggression towards cultured and cultivated, ordered male world. Still, one might argue that the character of Catherine, however despicable it might be, is the only honest (or true in an ontological sense) character in an entire movie-universe. Anyhow, there’s bound to be something more than your average “she’s a villain” plot here but this time I was too distracted to look for it. You’ll have to take care of yourself.

Directed by Julien Duvivier
Produced by René Bezard
Raymond Borderie
Pierre Cabaud
Screenplay by Julien Duvivier
Charles Dorat
Pierre-Aristide Bréal
Based on a story by Julien Duvivier
Charles Dorat
Maurice Bessy
Starring Jean Gabin
Danièle Delorme
Music by Jean Wiener
Cinematography Armand Thirard
Edited by Marthe Poncin

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O País de São Saruê (1971)

O país de São SaruêI guess it’s time that I face the fact that I don’t enjoy Hollywood or pseudo-Hollywood movies as I used to ten or more years ago. It isn’t that they were particularly different back then, whatever nostalgia-freaks and eternal children might tell you (though, gotta admit, nineties spawned some quality shit), it’s that ten or more years have passed and I’m a changed man. I no longer look for entertainment in the cinema (if I ever did, though I must have at some point), and if I take that part from the equation there’s really not much of anything left. Occasional glimpses of intelligence or tidbits of some interesting idea are far too rare to warrant the suffering of looking at bothersome and fairly irritating contemporary mainstream or hipster-mainstream cinema. So I turn my gaze elsewhere in hope of stumbling upon something completely different. Should’ve known better by now.

Rule of the averages applies almost anywhere and once again I’m “forced” to sit through overly ideological (usually leftist) cinema which is, when you get down to it, not that different from Hollywoodites. That creators of these movies (together with their brand/PR representatives who, admittedly, are just doing their job(s)) think differently is nothing but a proof of how delusions rage all over the (artistic) community. If you look though, you can still find one redeeming quality to these movies (for some reason I find it more fulfilling as days go by). If you can draw a sign of equation between Hollywoodian and non-Hollywoodian ideologicalities, you can’t draw same sign between narrative modes that are used to showcase aforementioned ideologies. While Hollywoodian narrative structure (together with themes, motifs and discursive logic) is more or less repetitive style-variation, non-Hollywoodian ideo-factories operate on a completely different level.

bscap0001Let’s put this in layman’s terms. When you watch something like The 100 (it’s a TV-show but everything that has been said applies on it as well; sign-construction knows no boundaries), you know that you’ve seen it before. You might not know the exact moment of a plot twist, or the exact nature of some big secret or the other etc. but what you do know is the farthest possible level that show/movie can attain. You are aware of the limits of representation in contemporary (or omnitemporary) mainstream cinema. On the other hand, when you watch something like Carvallho’s O País de São Saruê you’re introduced to a complete unknown.

This is a Brazilian documentary from the 70s which has been banned from public eye for close to a decade because it undermined the great national narrative of Brazilian ruling caste of the time (military). This has been a recurring pattern in art history for so long that you have to wonder how many of those banned artifacts actually had any sort of subversive potential. That’s the thought for another time though. Anyhow, Carvallho’s movie is openly political, openly engaged ad openly “liberal” with the concept of documentary. This would have bothered me immensely if it weren’t for the fact that Carvallho is using this real-life footage (though some of it is obviously staged) to construct something like a multimedia experience, a synesthetic representation of invisible Brazil which isn’t pure (in a sense that it’s contaminated by the author’s puppet mastering) but is nevertheless powerful as hell.

bscap0000The possibilities of (mis)interpretation, possibilities of experiencing the unexpected, are much more prominent in Carvallho’s movie that in most of the mainstream-products made in the last four decades. If there are limits to Carvallho’s representation of reality, they are hidden far in the realm of abstract deities where few of us dwell. It has become increasingly difficult to find movies like these despite this almost free database called internet that we have. Thankfully, that just means that happiness is increasingly more powerful as well. Anyhow, if someone needed a wake-up call after neo-liberal orgies of World Cup 2014, moving pictures of Vladimir Carvallho should do nicely. They predate the problem but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say about it.   

Direction and Script: Vladimir Carvallho

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