Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Draughtsman's Contract

I am often too quick to forget the films, the art, of Peter Greenaway. Although I tend to list Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover amongst one of my favorite films, I do not always look over his entire career. Having recently worked my way through the remaining Lars von Trier films I had not seen, I decided it was time to return to Greenaway. I was sad to discover half of his films are only on VHS (this resulted in a pained attempt and eventual success of hooking my VHS player up to the television). And, more sad to discover one of his films never released as Region 1 DVD or VHS in the States.

I am starting at Greenaway's first feature film, The Draughtsman's Contract. (The Falls is his first full length film, but more mockumentary than feature film. This will be viewed in the upcoming weeks). From the films start one is presented with the classic Greenaway elements- symmetry, Renaissance painting, lush costumes, and the upper class.

As a catalogue film, Greenaway presents us with a list. A purpose for the film: to create twelves sketches of a country home in the absence of the owner. In Greenaway's world, this is the film's purpose. We are to end as soon as the draughtsman has created his twelfth work. Greenaway is less focused on the typical narrative. Greenaway is playful and abstract. Greenaway is skilled and detailed. Greenaway is tricky and tough.

The film follows the draughtsman as he sketches the country home. His day to day experience of painting what "one sees, not what one knows." In doing this, a murder mystery slowly unravels. Items not at the scene previously are suddenly starting to appear (a ladder under a window, a ripped garment, the master's horse abandoned, etc). And, to add to this, the contract itself. The draughtsman is to have his way with the landowner's wife twelve times- a sexual act for every painting.

Throughout the film, the audience is privy to a Shakespearean-esque character. A narrator, the fool of sorts. A man who wanders in and out of the background. He is nude and painted. He seems to represent the green world. A figure to remind us of how stiff the main characters' lives have become. He prances, dances, sticks out his tongue, and laughs widely. But, he is always around. He witnesses the violence. He is aware of the darker sides of those who reside within the manor.

Greenaway's film is beautiful. A real piece of art from start to finish. The story is not the most important piece of a Greenaway film. But, it makes for a lovely addition.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Palo Alto: Stories, James Franco

In the past, many artists (actors, comedians, etc) have created a double for themselves. Most recently, Joaquin Phoenix comes to mind. But, one can look back to Andy Kaufmann, too. In fact, I’m sure there are plenty of famous people who have recreated themselves. For entertainment or for escape.

While reading James Franco’s short story collection, Palo Alto, I started to wonder if this is another one of those examples. Recently, Franco has gone back to school for creative writing and acting. Also, he starred on the ABC soap General Hospital for a bit. What makes a world famous movie star work backwards in their career? There is nothing wrong with one’s desire for education. But, there is certainly a scratch your head kind of behavior at play.

On to the short story collection. Remember writing notes in high school and junior high? The way everything was a little over the top and the sentences were short and to the point? Well, these short stories are written a bit like those notes. All the details of a wild weekend or a dramatic night written down without much purpose other than to share.

Franco’s way of writing is memory based. At times, I admire the ability to remember. The awkwardness of youth. Franco remembers this so well. For that I give him credit. But, does one need eleven short stories showing off the writer’s great memory?

The actions of these stories are not shocking for me to read. I wonder if Franco is writing for an older crowd? For the group of people so far removed from their youth? Franco writes these stories as if he wants to shock you. He writes of stoned teens, young girls in orgies, underage drunk drivers, and boys who scream racist/homophobic slurs without really understanding their meaning. These stories do not shock. They’re just a slight re-telling of most childhoods. Or, at least mine. Am I revealing too much?

The one story I want to respect is ‘Halloween.’ The story of an underage drunk driver who hits and kills a woman on Halloween night. Most of the story is unnecessary. But, in this story, at the end we see the narrator from the point of view as an adult. The narrator realizes the memory of this event is almost fully emptied from his mind. There is something so honest and harsh about this reality. About how the awful things can be pushed aside. Other than this story, the rest fall flat and the substance is missing.

Like the drunk driver, I plan to forget most of these stories ever happened.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stridulum, Zola Jesus

BEST OF 2010

On March 9th, Zola Jesus released a 6-song EP named Stridulum. On August 31st, Zola Jesus released the full length album Stridulum II. The difference? The full length album contains three more songs than the EP. The order of the first six songs remains the same. In fact, I can't find a difference in the production of the EP and the full length. But, there is one difference... those last three songs on the full length make a difference. I am going to review the EP a I find it to be the stronger of the two releases.

In typical fashion, I can't review an album without finding other artists to compare to the reviewed artist. In the case of Zola Jesus, there are many female singers to pick and choose. But, I'll focus on three. Much of the mood and vocal of the Zola Jesus album resembles the beautiful song 'Daniel' by Bat for Lashes. I am not a Bat for Lashes fan. But, 'Daniel' is an incredible song. The two other artists Zola Jesus compares to... Siouxsie and Kate Bush. There is an 80s goth glam to the entire album.

Many of the songs off the EP deal with similar themes. And, these themes are nothing new or revolutionary. This is basic pop music with a flare for the dramatics and the 80s. So, how could I not fall in love with these songs?

And, what a name. I know I should not base a review on band name... but, Zola and Jesus. The beauty and perfection of this name. Perhaps, the literary nerd in me is geeking out for no reason. Oh well.

In looking back over Zola Jesus' history, I found an album released in 2009, The Spoils. There is promise to this earlier release. The production is pretty lo-fi. It isn't the album one seeks out as much as just adds to their collection.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Europa, the third film in Lars von Trier’s E-trilogy. The first two films in the trilogy were The Element of Crime and Epidemic.

The Element of Crime is one of von Trier’s greatest films. The sepia tones and hushed dialogue create a dream-like, surreal landscape. Many scenes from the film remind me of Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books and The Cook, Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Also, the tone of The Element of Crime reminds me very much of my favorite novel, Justine by Lawrence Durrell. I would love to see the novel played out in the same mood and setting as The Element of Crime.

Epidemic is my least favorite von Trier film. I have seen the film once. Enjoyed the purpose and the playfulness. But, in the end, the film requires too much of its audience. This sounds lazy, but it is far from lazy. The film is metafilm. The images are messy. The story is scattered. It is a lot to take on. Saying a von Trier film is his worst is by no means demeaning the film. To be the worst of a von Trier is still to be above many.

Europa is closest to The Element of Crime. The film is dream-like. The film noir element is very much present. In fact, Europa takes the noir classic to another extreme. Europa is almost a caricature of old fashioned noir. On the other hand, Europa is about classic films in general. Many would say elements of Hitchcock are at play throughout Europa. Notorious comes to mind first. But, Strangers on a Train and Vertigo could easily top the list of references.

The film is mostly in black and white. Although, from time to time, von Trier uses a splash of color. At times, this plays out beautifully (blood droplets falling from a wrist and into the murky water of a sink) and is not the least bit distracting. Other times, the color images in the foreground and the black and white in the background, too distracting. But, I’d like to add this film about the end of WWII shot in black and white with splashes of color came before Schindler’s List.

von Trier filmed the movie on levels. First, he filmed the background for the whole movie. Then he filmed different levels of foreground. At times, one can find four to six levels on the screen. This adds for a dizzying effect at times. Or, it can take away from the film. But, overall, the use of these layers adds to the dream state of the film.

I wouldn’t call this my favorite von Trier film, but I would place it somewhere in the middle. It is nice to see the beginnings of a film great.


Chungking Express

Prior to viewing Chungking Express I had only viewed three of Wong Kar-Wai's films. The first film I saw was 2046. I was smitten by the colors, music, and beauty of the film. Later, I learned it was a "loose sequel" to Kar-Wai's Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love. I rushed to see In the Mood for Love in hopes of finding answers. And, to see more of the director's style. What I got was an incredible, moving experience. In the Mood for Love remains one of my favorite films. A soundtrack and story to haunt the viewer.

My third experience with the director was 2007's Blueberry Nights. The film was Kar-Wai's first English language feature. Also, the film marked the acting debut of Norah Jones. Needless to say, after 20 minutes with the film I decided the film was not for me. I will one day revisit the film. But, that day is far from here.

Chungking Express consists of two separate (but equal?) stories. Both stories center around a cop. Both stories deal with the loss of love. Both stories deal with an attempt to find love. The locations of the stories and people from the stories all maintain background appearances throughout the film. So, why create two separate stories in a single film?

The first story focuses on Cop 223. His character is the younger of the two cops. The second story focuses on Cop 663. This character is the older, more mature character. Are we to view these as two separate men? Or, are we dealing with the complexity of human nature? The duality in each of us.

The first story focuses on a woman in dark glasses and a blonde wig. Her identity never revealed. But, she appears older. The second story focuses on Faye. A young woman with short, revealing hair. Faye is outgoing and quirky. Once again, the duality of a single identity. Two extremes.

The first story if pretty basic noir romance. Simple and interesting enough. Luckily, this is the shortest of the two stories as it doesn't feel complete. The second story is witty, clever, and too much fun. There are scenes in the film where Faye will just make you smile. Her character is so playful and innocent. There is a beauty and peacefulness in her character.

There is much to say and dissect about the film. But, there is much to give away, too. So, I am leaving the review brief. But, promise an uplifting time.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Forget, Twin Shadow

BEST OF 2010

I will always be a child of the '80s. Born in the '80s, music wise I am probably more a child of the '90s. But, who would want to admit to such a thing?

Twin Shadow is very much a New Wave inspired artist. Forget is the quintessential survey of New Wave pop sounds. From the start of the album I am reminded of my many nights of dancing to 80s music. This is a time I will always look back on very happily. And, having lost this period of time (because people just don't get 80s music anymore), it is nice to experience the sounds of Twin Shadow.

I hesitated to list this album as a Best of 2010 because it isn't quite new. But, it isn't quite recycled either. While many bands have made use of New Wave sounds over the past few years, Twin Shadow seems to be improving upon the sound. Also, Twin Shadow seems to admire instead of trying to follow a gimmick.

"I Can't Wait" is the perfect summer song. In being the perfect summer song, it may be my winter song. The song I listen to for the next five months while I wait for the heat to return. For the snow to melt. And for the free for all dance nights to restart. Until then, I have "I Can't Wait."

There are moments on this album when I am reminded of The Smiths. The lyrics aren't quite as poetic. The music isn't quite as authentic. But, the voice. The way the singer captures the era. I can think of no better comparison for a current album than The Smiths.


Monday, October 18, 2010

The Magician

Woody Allen lists Bergman's The Magician as one of Bergman's top five best features. Interestingly enough, I would complete my viewing of The Magician only a day after watching the newest Woody Allen film. I was struck by a side story of both films: the loss of a young son and the effects of such a loss on a marriage. I may be pushing it to suggest Allen is playing reference to The Magician. But, I find the timing of my viewing for both films to be pleasing.

The Magician is considered a Bergman comedy. This is to suggest the usual Bergman themes are at play: death, religion, love. But, in a comedy, Bergman is more playful. The acting is a bit more melodramatic. And, as in Shakespeare, there is always the happy ending. In the case of The Magician, the happy ending very much lies in wait until the very last possible moment before the films end. In this way, The Magician feels more sinister, suspenseful, and dark than the Bergman comedy I would most compare with this film (Smiles of a Summer Night).

Bergman regulars are present: Max von Syndow (The Seventh Seal) is strong as the title character, Gunnar Bjornstrand (Winter Light) is appealing as the town doctor, Ingrid Thulin (The Silence) is sensual as the cross dressing Magician's wife, and Bibi Andersson (Wild Strawberries) is part comic relief. This is the success of a Bergman film. The use of actors throughout his filmography. The cast becomes a comfortable experience with each film. Also, in the case of The Magician, the film is about the relationship of actor to audience. It works well to have these familiar faces as part of the relationship we, the audience, have with them in the past and the present.

The Swedish title for the film is Ansikret (Faces). For some reason the film has always been called The Magician in the States. The title change tends to take away from the specific theme of identity throughout the film. Using The Magician as title leads one to expect a dark horror film, instead of a meditation on our identity and the way art is a form of trickery in itself. Speaking of identity, von Syndow is incredible as the slowly revealed Magician. At the films start, we see von Syndow dressed in wig, beard, hat, and he does not speak a work. By films end he has been stripped of all disguises.

Bergman does a great job of including the drama, the suspense, the brief 'horror,' and the comedy. All aspects of these film types are at play throughout the entirety of the film. Would I list The Magician as one of Bergman's top five films? No. But, I certainly add it to the always growing list of Bergman's great films. As I have yet to view a film of his that I did not enjoy.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

About two-thirds of the way through the film, the much older Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) starts to run after the far too young Charmaine (Lucy Punch). In this brief moment, I was reminded of the final scene in Manhattan when Woody Allen's character runs to find Mariel Hemingway. The image is so brief in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger that it is almost silly for me to suggest the parallel. But, when dealing with an Allen film the past is always very much a factor.

Many complain that a Woody Allen film is just a slightly changed version of an earlier Allen film. For many directors this is true. For many artists this is true. Many people work in the same style, period, method, etc during their entire career. So, to fault Woody Allen for "repeating" himself is not a point of interest. Many artist will revisit, revise, and recast their final pieces. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is very much a reworking of some of what Allen has presented in earlier films.

The plot is fairly dark. The darkness falls close to, but not as dark as, Cassandra's Dream. The need for sexual exploration and the significance of art were earlier toyed with in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And, at the heart of the film, the poor choices we make and their end results on our day to day life is similar to Crimes & Misdemeanors. In fact, many reviews have argued this film is very much a Crimes & Misdemeanors remake. The bitter, nasty characters and the existential view of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger does come close to the darkness of Crimes & Misdemeanors.

It is possible Woody Allen is no longer writing films for the intellectual audience. Allen is writing for the everyday moviegoer. In doing so, Allen is a lot more upfront with his storytelling. In place of characters furthering along their plots, Allen has made use of a narrator (Zak Orth). The narrator is used (and just as unnecessary) in this film as the narrator in Vicky Cristina Barcelona was. This is probably my only true complaint of the film. The dumbing down of the Woody Allen plot.

The cast could hardly be improved. Gemma Jones, as the mother, is the perfect mix of lost soul, tired mother, and silly busy body. Throughout the whole film, Jones plays on the verge of complete breakdown. The redness of her eyes revealing how fragile she is in every scene. Naomi Watts is lovely and alive as a women trapped in the wrong career and marriage. Watts plays her character smart, wicked, and troubled. Hopkins is spot on in every scene. And, Lucy Punch may be playing a cliched role (think Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite), but she is the humor needed throughout this dark morality play. The one character in need of a new actor- Dia, played by Slumdog Millionaire's Frida Pinto. Each time she is on the screen she is there only to be beautiful. Her reactions, her lines, her story are flat. While Allen may not have given her the most incredible role, she could have made better use of herself. Antonio Banderas certainly did.

When all is said and done, Allen is just giving us a glimpse at our lack of purpose. No matter how far we go to find meaning. No matter how much noise we make to get noticed. No matter how hard we love in order to be loved back. In the end, we're just getting through a life that will end. This is tragedy era Woody Allen. The humor is only found along the edges.


Thursday, October 14, 2010


I have seen this film a couple of times. I have enjoyed every viewing. My most recent interest in the film came for two reasons: 1) I am excited for the new Aronofsky film Black Swan and 2) I enjoy watching scary films as Halloween nears. Add to these the reasons, the rumor of a Suspiria remake with Natalie Portman attached. I had to nerd out and have another viewing last night.

Part of the fun of Suspiria is the beauty. The film is lost in a very 1970s film style. The colors are bright, gaudy. But, they work. They glow in such an eerie way as to create a sense of fear or dread throughout the film. Also, there are moments of such beauty- still shots almost- that I was reminded of Dutch paintings. How does all this fall together to create a scary film?

Suspiria might not be "horror" in the way we think of horror. The film builds slowly. There is violence throughout, but we are never shown everything. We are never overwhelmed with gore. Also, the soundtrack (by the Goblins) is one of the craziest music experiences. I have always found the soundtrack to the original Halloween to be the scariest film score. But, Suspiria's soundtrack probably comes in as the scariest. The music is a mix of music box and cult chanting. Fantastic use of the music during really outstanding scenes.

Suspiria is a horror film that relies on your expectations. Argento knows what is supposed to happen next. But,he doesn't always play fair. Many times he uses your expectation as a way to set you up for disappoint. In doing so, the fear builds even more. The playfullness of Argento is used throughout much of Suspiria (and other Argento films).

There are scenes I'd love to talk about, but I would fear ruining the experience of a film many place at the top of their scariest films list. Part of the pleasure in last night's viewing was watching it with someone who had never experienced Argento. Watching the film through fresh eyes. What a treat to see this film for the first time.

If Disney animators took acid and created a horror film, you'd have Suspiria.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens

I am surprised by this album. I was starting to believe Sufjan Stevens to be a thing of the past. A brief stop in the indie-rock scene. I enjoy most of Stevens albums. I consider Seven Swans to be one of the most beautiful albums of the '00s. Stevens' last album, Illinois, is equally heartbreaking. But, lacks the simplicity and attention of Seven Swans.

On The Age of Adz, Stevens seems to fall somewhere in the middle of both albums. There are a handful of sparse tracks. The opening track, 'Futile Devices,' is gorgeous. It easily could have been left over from the Seven Swans days. Other tracks on the album involve the messy, playful instrumentation of some of the Illinois tracks, most specifically the closing track 'Impossible Soul.' Not only is 'Impossible Soul' filled with a plethora of styles and moods, it falls a little under 26 minutes long.

The tracks in between are all lovely. Stevens is a little more rough around the edges. Perhaps, irritated? Depressed? There is something a little more mature and bitter throughout his lyrics. I like this aspect of his writing. The innocence and cheeriness of his earlier albums worked well for those albums, but it is nice to see some growth.

Overall, the album feels a little unfinished. The electronic sound falling underneath most of the songs doesn't always work. At times, it makes certain songs seem slightly closer to demos. This isn't to say these tracks take away from the album. In fact, they add a bit of reality. The album isn't glossy perfection. There is a storm at work within Stevens. He is sharing.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Room, Emma Donoghue

After completing Emma Donoghue's newest novel, Room, I had to think back to the last time I completed a book in one sitting. I can only think of one book I have ever read from start to finish in a single day, Ian McEwan's Saturday. I loved Saturday. I love Ian McEwan. This is my first experience reading the literature of Donoghue. Her past novels are historical novels. I find their topics unappealing. But, her novels are always praised. I was happy to finally be able to experience a Donoghue novel without the historical pieces.

Room is a novel of disturbing subject matter. The content is loosely based on the real life events of the Fritzl case (a woman imprisoned, raped, and impregnated by her father over the course of 24 years). As I said, disturbing subject matter. But, Donoghue realizes no one wants to read a re-telling. No one is interested in sitting through an imagined play by play of the events. Instead, Donoghue gets creative. The story of the imprisoned woman is told by her (and her captor's) 5 year old son, Jack. The language is simple. The ideas are simple. The story is told from the perspective of someone who has never been outside of a single room. Someone of such a young age the reality of the situation can't possibly be understood. This is how Donoghue keeps her novel from becoming grim.

As I said, I read this novel in one sitting. This is not to say this is a masterpiece. This speaks more to the writing. The simplistic voice of a 5 year old allows for the novel to just keep moving. The pages fall away so quickly. In a matter of hours you are at the heart of the novel and there is no reason to stop. I was afraid that once I stopped, I would struggle to find my place within the novel's world. Room requires a lot of imagination. One has to allow Donoghue a lot of mistakes to really believe all the events taking place. This is to say, the novel is fairly weak.

I would suggest this novel to fans of pop-lit. The subject matter may be dark, but everyone enjoys these disturbing stories when they're on the news. They speak to everyone because they make us question how the world can be so cruel. The playfulness and humor of the narrator are a unique twist for the story. Donoghue takes what could be a very simple narration and gives herself the chore of writing as a child. For most of the novel, this works.


Monday, October 11, 2010

By Nightfall, Michael Cunningham

BEST OF 2010

It is possible, had Zadie Smith not named her 2005 novel On Beauty, then Michael Cunningham's newest novel would have been better suited to use the title. By Nightfall suggests something a little more sinister, a little darker, a little bit vampire. None of these is the case. The novel, By Nightfall, refers to Peter's insomnia. The use of this time as a way to ruminate on regrets of the past and unhappiness with the present. This is not a novel in celebration of life as Cunningham celebrated life in The Hours. By Nightfall is the darker sibling.

Much of the novel is obsessed with beauty. Peter is an art dealer. A second tier art dealer wanting to make it to the top. He thinks. Peter isn't quite sure what he wants. Does he want his wife? Does he want his assistant? Does he want his daughter to love him? What does he want from his wife's brother? Peter is at a loss. The sleepless nights haunt him in the same way he haunts his apartment after the rest of the household has fallen asleep.

Cunningham fills his novel with a plethora of references. One will find James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Pieter Bruegel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc. This is a literature of the high brow fashion. Cunningham isn't the snotty one. Peter is the one surrounding himself with these literary and art masterpieces. Peter's search for perfection. Peter's need for beauty.

Cunningham has written a novel on beauty. The obsessive power and control of something beautiful. Peter's entire career is in search of beauty. The one masterpiece for which he will become famous and world renowned. He seeks to discover beauty. What Peter hasn't fully understood is that beauty is fleeting. Once one grabs hold of beauty, something more beautiful is suddenly in sight. This is a slow realization for Peter. And, Cunningham never fully realizes this for Peter. Or, if Cunningham does, he doesn't reveal this to the reader.

I find most of this novel to be perfection. Sentences of pure delight. Descriptions of New York City placing me on the streets. Entire chapters so spot on in their dissection of humanity that I wanted to cry. This is Cunningham's second masterpiece (after The Hours). At play within this novel, many of the themes from Cunningham's past- the gay character, the literary themes, the beach house, etc. I will always wonder what took place in Cunningham's past. So many of his novels contain a scene of one gay male, one sexual female, and one sexually ambiguous male. There is something so significant in this set up for Cunningham.

There is a quote (which I don't remember too well) that says a great book will you make you want to stop reading it and start writing. This is one of those novels. After the flawed and disappointing Specimen Days, Cunningham has returned with a powerful and revealing novel of a man dissecting his life.


Sunday, October 10, 2010


From the moment the film starts we are made aware of what awaits throughout the film. The opening scene is a still lake. The reflection of trees fall across the water. Within seconds, a rock shatters the peace. The ripple effect of man's interruption on the natural world. From here, we are treated to the battles of man vs. nature, evil vs. good, city vs. country, etc.

The film is shot beautifully. We are constantly treated to brightly lit shots of landscapes: natural and man-made. At times, we stare at one wall of a hotel room, or a man leaning against the aged brick of a home, or the trees as they empty themselves of leaves. There is a constant reflective presence to the shots. At times, I was made to think of the art of Edward Hopper. All those people sitting and staring off at the world around them. The directory of Revanche, Gotz Spielmann, is showing us what we look at when we space out of reality.

The plot of Revenche is both small and epic. An ex-con tries to run away with his prostitute girlfriend. A police officer tries to deal with the stress of his job and his wife deals with the aftermath of a miscarriage. Both couples are connected by an old man. The grandfather to the ex-con and a neighbor to the cop and his wife.

The role of the grandfather seems trite. He wanders in and out of shots. Lost in the background. Speaking to the spirit of his deceased wife. This aged man represents the calmness. The middle ground to the struggles of the other couples in the film.

The film deals with various issues- religion, revenge, love, sin, age, etc. Basically, the film covers all topics any great piece of art should speak to. And, the film does all of this very well.

It is hard to say too much of the film without giving anything away. So, I have kept my thoughts abstract and brief. But,the build up of suspense is lovely. I was not let down. This is a film of quiet power and intense beauty.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter

I am going to start this review from the outside in. On looking t the album cover for Halycon Digest I thought I had stumbled upon the new cover for Antony & the Johnsons' latest release. The dark, black and white photograph. The front image of an androgynous person singing out, up. Possibly a position of pain or terror. There is something uncomfortable about the cover art for Halcyon Digest. From the start I knew I should be prepared for something different on this release.

Deerhunter's Cryptograms will always be their best album. Every song is about sound and response. There is a poetry at play with such little lyric. The distorted reality of Cox and the gang. They followed up this release with Microcastle. Microcastle, their third full length release, was enjoyable. A more lyrically heavy album still using the music as the stage. But, Cox's other band, Atlas Sound, seemed to be influencing what was at work with Deerhunter. The emergence of lyric.

After seeing Deerhunter tour with Cryptograms I was surprised by how little Cox said through words in his music. After the concert, Cox stayed behind and spent a good hour talking to anyone who would listen. Fans circled for questions, answers, and authographs. After awhile, Cox was just having a good time. This was clearly a person wanting to be heard. It was no surprise he would be in two bands. Or that lyric would start to play a more important role on his releases.

With Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter has reached their most listener friendly album. There is a sparseness to the sound. The music is softer. The voices are calmer. Cox even allows another band mate to sing from time to time. This is the Deerhunter release for fans wanting peace for Cox and the other band members. This is Deerhunter's version of Antony & the Johnson's The Crying Light.

It is probably too soon for me to review this album. I've listened to it on and off over the past two weeks. Maybe not giving it enough attention. I understand how haunting and beautiful the album is. I think it is a great step in their career.

I can't say the album is one of the year's strongest releases. Just a lovely soundtrack for a lazy, introspective day.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

I should start out my review of Walls' memoir by stating I am not a fan of memoir. I do not understand why others feel their past, their pain, their history is of any significance to the rest of the world. This is not to say, at times, that a memoir isn't capable of being fascinating. Of having lessons. Of being important in a historical context. Walls' The Glass Castle never really finds its meaning.

Having spent the past two days reading, basically non-stop, I have spent a lot of time wondering 'why?' What drives one to feel their story is necessary. My main thought is memoir is a way to cope. A form of therapy. As someone who likes to take the personal and sprinkle it with fiction, I realize the therapeutic nature of writing of one's life. After spending a lot of time in bed this afternoon, with The Glass Castle, I took notice of the family living across the street. As I pulled out of my driveway and drove down the street, I noticed a young couple and their two children. They had spread a blanket out on the front lawn. Were laying about in different configurations of comfort. This is what Walls is writing about. Her desire to have lived this moment of an ideal life. And who wouldn't look at this family in their Fall moment and think 'why didn't I have that?' This is why Walls' memoir was so successful. The dysfunction and envy we all have for a better family life.

The Glass Castle lacks purpose and prose. I would have found the memoir a thousand times more enjoyable had Walls worked on her prose. So much of the story is just fact after fact. Event after event. Walls lacks the ability to really bring to life her history. Focused too much on the behavior and anecdotes of her family. On purpose, there is little. Walls rarely, if ever, meditates on her history. So much of this story is just stated. Walls is never able to dig behind the meaning. To connect an understanding for a behavior or an attitude. This is a very shallow re-telling of a childhood.

There are plenty of emotional moments throughout the book. This is not to say Walls is successful at creating atmosphere. This is to say Walls is just like every single reader... wanting to make sense of their past. Wanting to understand why certain family connections never truly worked. Why certain family members were always too far away. As readers, we relate to the broken family. Or, at least those of us lucky enough to have been brought up in dysfunction (this should be most people).

After completing the book, I started looking up reviews and information. I was saddened to see a film version of the book was in the works. I am saddened because we are glorifying this emptiness. We are accepting Walls' inability to understand her past. We are accepting the behavior of her parents- two selfish individuals who never should have given birth. This is my biggest issue with the story, the parents. Two people who are hardly ever able to think beyond themselves. Spend their children's youths in poverty because they are never able to examine themselves or what they're doing to others. Walls refuses to hold her parents fully accountable. She comes from the old school belief that your family is a bond never broken.

Maybe I am too cold and distant a person to understand Walls' shallowness and stupidity. Maybe I went into a memoir hating the form too much to give it a chance. Or, maybe, The Glass Castle is really just a selfish act of a woman following in her parents' footsteps.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary and Lolita have been on my 'must read' list for many years. The amount of times I have picked up both novels, only to read a handful of pages, are countless. When I learned Lydia Davis, one of my favorite short story authors, was releasing a new translation of Flaubert's famed novel, I was over joyed. I would be able to enjoy the classic as translated by someone I admire. What are the chances?

Most people interested in reading Madame Bovary are already familiar with the plot. (But, in case you aren't... I won't give it away). I was afraid knowing the end result would keep me from enjoying the novel. I was very wrong. The pace and ease of every sentence and each chapter makes this novel something one wants to devour as soon as possible.

Most reviews write of their disgust for the title character, Emma Bovary. I understand their perspective. And, during the third section of the novel, I finally found myself uncomfortable and irritated at her behavior. But, for the first two-thirds of the novel I admired Emma's want. This is the novel about the dreamer. Emma is a woman living in novels. She dreams of a grand love. A love she has yet to witness.

Her past is shattered. Emma is not a woman of shallow history. Emma grew up in religion. Interested and loving towards her beliefs. As a young girl, Emma loses her mother. Not only is the loss of her mother traumatic, but she soon begins to question religion. Until she falls out of her faith. These are two large losses for someone so young. So why should we punish her for wanting success? For demanding a love to consume her every being? Even if the love is a bit selfish?

Reading Madame Bovary, I was reminded of my experience with Frank Norris' great realist novel, McTeague. One could argue McTeague is a masculine and American version of Madame Bovary. Of course, Madame Bovary came first. Also, the plotting of Madame Bovary is very much in line with many other novels of the realist movement- George Sands, Honore Balzac, and Guy de Maupassant.

Madame Bovary is a beautiful, tragic character. The characters we encounter throughout the novel are equally tragic. Falubert is not painting a world of purity or happiness. Falubert is presenting the flaws, the greed, and the vanity of so many of us.

I am beyond pleased to have finally experienced this novel. Worth waiting for Lydia Davis to "re-tell" the story.


Monday, October 4, 2010

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

This is a hard film to track down. I have been hearing about it for over a year. Waiting for a theatrical or DVD release, but nothing ever happened. After watching The Last Exorcism (and reading some reviews of the film), I came across an article talking about The Poughkeepsie Tapes and my need to see this film was reignited. Luckily, I was able to find the film online.

As I have said before, I am a fan of horror films. Add to this, I am a fan of horror films using documentary style methods of telling their stories. The Poughkeepsie tapes does exactly this. The entire film is set up as a documentary. The audience is treated to witness statements, FBI interviews, and news clippings of crime scenes. The piece of this film that makes it stand about your typical documentary- The Poughkeepsie Tapes themselves.

The film is a history of a serial killer named the Water Street Butcher. Towards the end of his killing spree, police found clues leading to the home of the killer. They searched the home and only found hundreds of VHS tapes. Films the killer had shot of himself capturing, torturing, murdering his victims. This is voyeurism to a whole new level. Throughout the film, clips of the murders/kidnappings are shown. The footage is grainy, dark, confusing. This adds to their creepiness.

This is a horror film. A faux-documentary. This is not real. The acting is not fantastic. But, the fear is all over the place. The footage of the killer's slayings is extreme on occasion. The body count, the blood, the screams... this is dark territory. There were moments when I was a little uncomfortable. The film doesn't just scare, it creates nervous paranoia.

The most horrific story line of the film is the capture of one specific victim, Cheryl. He keeps her as a "slave." Teaching her to love him, call him only "master," and to take part in the killings. She falls in love with him during the many years she is kept prisoner. When the police finally discover her, she continues to abuse herself. Eventually ending her own life. Leaving a love letter to her "master" who she hoped would have come back to save her.

These are the pieces of the film which really haunt you. The film clips. The evidence. There are a lot of hokey moments, bad acting, and unnecessary moments. But, fans for horror films would be smart to get their hands on the film.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gung Ho, Patti Smith

Ok, this album was released in 2000. It seems a bit odd to review it, perhaps. But, over the past two weeks I have rediscovered the album. Also, my total admiration for Patti Smith makes a post about this album (and any of her albums) a bit of a requirement.

I discovered Patti Smith when I was in high school. I was a fan of Van Morrison and discovered Patti Smith did a "cover" of Morrison's 'Gloria.' How odd that Morrison would lead me to Smith, but that is the way it went.

I researched to find what album would be the best starting point. Turns out Horses is the album of all albums. And, this is true. Horses is a masterpiece. In fact, Easter is a masterpiece as well. Horses is the rock & roll Smith, Easter is the experimental Smith. I stayed focused on these two albums for the next six years. Until Smith released the beautiful, haunting, mellow Trampin. As this was the first album I heard a Smith album upon its actual release, this album holds a special place in my heart. 'Radio Baghdad' and 'Gandhi' are both incredible songs.

After Trampin, I worked my way backwards through her discography. For the longest time, I placed Gung Ho, Peace and Noise, and Gone Again into one giant album. I didn't put much effort into these albums. Gone Again had a few songs I enjoyed, the same can be said about Peace and Noise.

Dream of Life and Wave are Smith's weakest albums. But, each contain classic Smith songs- 'People Have the Power' and 'Dancing Barefoot.'

Radio Ethiopia is the most personal album. And, by personal, I mean the album I connect with on an emotional level. There are songs on this album that I can't imagine the world without, namely 'Pissing in a River.'

I group Smith albums into groups. The strongest: Horses, Radio Ethiopia, and Easter. The beautiful: Trampin, Gung Ho. The middle ground: Peace and Noise, Gone Again, Twelve. The weak: Dream of Life and Wave.

Gung Ho used to fall in the "middle ground" category until I pulled the album out a week ago. Quickly pushing itself into the "beautiful" category. The album is filled with a spiritual journey. Smith is best when she is longing for the lost. On Trampin, Smith sings to her mother. On Gung Ho, she sings to her father. Smith is an artist who gives her all to her art.

Gung Ho's greatest songs: 'China Bird,' 'Glitter in their Eyes,' and 'Gung Ho.'


Friday, October 1, 2010

Trash Humpers

Harmony Korine. This is a director of a certain film. The type of film that appeals to few people. I admit to having watched most of Korine's films. But, I have never enjoyed the experience. His films are disturbed, dark, sickening, and downright unpleasant. But, I have to respect an artist for creating such emotion through film. I have seen three of the four films directed by Korine. The nauseating Julian Donkey Boy, the far too dark Gummo, and now the haunting Trash Humpers. What is Korine creating?

One could suggest a new form of trash art. The type of art that breaks down all expectations. Removes all societal views of beauty and meaning. Dismantles everything we want to believe and re-creates something new. Is new good? Or, is new a term used for something too far removed from mainstream? Well, in the case of Trash Humpers, this film is too far removed from mainstream. I can't imagine most people sitting through this film.

Trash Humpers follows four inbred citizens somewhere on the back roads of Nashville. These four people spend their evenings destroying all they get their hands on- televisions, radios, light bulbs, etc. Their nature is to destroy. Also, they spend a lot of time fixating on sex- hand jobs to corn, oral sex to leaves, and humping trash cans in alley ways. What is the meaning of this behavior? Does Korine want us to judge these people? To question our own sense of morality and social norms?

The films wanders, lost, for the first hour. We watch disturbing scene after disturbing scene: a child show people how to suffocate a baby, a grown up showing a child how to hide razor blades in apples, drugged up poets reciting nonsense, two murders, and a series of screeching sounds from the clan of "trash humpers." This film will assault all senses.

The last twenty minutes begins a new chapter for the film- a heart. The one creating the film finally speaks his thoughts. He talks of living in a world with too many rules. Of creating his own set of rules. Of not playing the "game" as one is expected. The camera shows the homes of some random street and the man says "I will live long past these people because I am free." There is something heart warming about this sentiment. The idea of death caused by restraint of the spirit.

The film is shot on a hand held camera. VHS style, at that. The film has a home movie quality to it. This can be bothersome to many people. But, I enjoyed the simplicity of the filming. Created a real sense of possibility to the film. A real idea of Americana. The reality show is such a success, it makes perfect sense for these people to think they have just as much a right as the rest of the world to be watched.

This film is only for those who have been able to watch Korine's other films. I don't suggest one go into a Korine experience with Trash Humpers as the first. You'll regret it.