(By Lee Russell, 1940)
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
On the Huffington Post, just a hair under half the readers who participated in the informal poll endorsed the multiple choice option (to the question, "Is It Acceptable Behavior To Interrupt A Reporter During A Live Report?"):
Absolutely not. If a journalist is doing a report live from a scene, they should be allowed to do their work without being shouted down or interrupted.
Indeed. This "absolute" right (the identification with the media, and with government) is where one draws a line between the left who conceive of actually-existing state power and its scaffolding as 'We,' a magisterial prerogative upon whose sanctity no mere peon can encroach for any reason ... and the left who conceive of it as a tool, at best, and a potentially dangerous one in addition. Obviously I have no political affinities with those who attended this "Values Voter" conference. Even so. The relation of these reporters to the people at the event strikes me as the relation of an imperial functionary toward provincial burghers. The latter, far from "shouting down" reporters, and trying to prevent "word" from reaching the public of "their event" (alternately insisted upon by the press as a matter of media rights & a matter of self-interest that the values voters are too stupid to recognize: ahem, media's noblesse oblige), at least showed decent manners in these clips.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
"Such laughs as "Mad Men" affords are tethered to hindsight--"We never indulge in such sexism/racism/anti-Semitism/homophobia now, and even if we do, we sure don't smoke."
Back in those Good Ol' Days, something like clothing was considered valuable if it was durable, classic, if it lasted. Today, you can still get good custom tailoring, but a lot of expensive clothing is simply cheap. Fashionable: merely fashionable. The same sort of thing applies, just a bit, to the case of Mad Men. Very fine, very professional production values. Such good ones that they deserve more than the faint praise I'm giving them here. At the same time I feel like they're being used to hide a certain fundamental cheapness in the film's manner, a mercenary and cynical (but, due to the show's success, perhaps not inaccurate) understanding of its' viewers' minds. In the first episode, when new secretary Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is being shown the ropes by Joan (Christina Hendricks), the latter explains as she unveils the "new technology" (an electronic typewriter) that it looks complicated, but they made sure it's easy enough for a woman to use. (It's missing a rimshot, which of course would be tasteless, but that's all it's really missing. The show provides a surfeit of moments like these.)
Who wouldn't, shouldn't grimace at this undignified gesture toward the enlightened viewer's very ... enlightenment? 'Ah, they were so sexist, so myopic, so unhealthy, so milquetoast, so closeted, so repressed, so hypocritical, so lacking in self-awareness.' And in 50 years the popular art of tomorrow will no doubt disparage us in ways that are unfair and self-congratulatory. C'est la vie (in an idiocracy). For one thing: Mad Men is good, but it's not even close to Tashlin's critiques. It remains exquisitely tasteful, on the surface, and ultimately middlebrow. Therein lie a few of the problems.
I use the term 'middlebrow' with a bit of a damning connotation, I admit, but only to continue to discussion, not to stall it. I have tried to understand just what it is about the middlebrow that causes some of us to struggle. Here, it's not that I think 'middlebrow' as an end result is the issue, but (if anything) the path that leads to the issue. Let me suggest one diagnosis: the reason middlebrow culture is tough for some of us to take is because it sets the bar for humanity too low, but then expects us to hover precisely at the height of that too-low bar all the time. Middlebrowism is fiercely intolerant of both the gonads & of magnificence. Of course, that's a harsh judgment that needs some leavening. Let's keep in mind that Raymond Durgnat wrote his great book A Mirror for England on the middlebrow British cinema, specifically to defend it even; and something like The Sopranos, which I'm also catching up with on DVD, may be a tad upmarket, but remains thoroughly middlebrow too. And it's excellent. Bertrand Tavernier is, or was, a middlebrow arthouse favorite, but Dave Kehr and Carloss James Chamberlin are two critics who've backed him, and most directors in this world surely haven't made a film as good as either The Passion of Beatrice or Capitaine Conan. The list goes on.
What strikes me in the current Age of Quality Television (not like Norman Lear's 1970s, or the classic days of old Ernie Kovacs, who's still better than anything on television I've seen, as well as most things on the big screen) is the relation to the symbol. Because we are, presumably, detached post-existentialist quasi-ironic consumer-viewers, in the 21st century (the convergence century), we cannot always take a symbol. So this is how tasteful narratives—I suppose—develop symbolism now. They take something and then make it an object of explicit or implicit contemplation for one or more of the characters. Recall: the geese in Tony Soprano's pool (season one), or in Mad Men, the pigeons & their relationship to meek wife Betty in the episode titled "Shoot." Wary of what we'd recognize as a symbol, cautious of a con job or of the exposure of stunted faculties from our high school lit courses ("in The Scarlet Letter the A symbolizes..."), we tasteful viewers demand not to be confronted with any overt symbol, but to treat them obliquely. The characters themselves bear a relation to a symbol ('birds'), ponder out loud or through their behaviors the significance of such birds ('freedom'?). Nobody then is forced to make an interpretation they take too seriously because the act of interpreting is oblique—it's for them, not for us.
How unaware they are, right?
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
—Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows (trans. Seidensticker & Harper)
Thursday, September 10, 2009
"This movie is not a meditation on anything."
Therein lies the key to the film; the key to Tarantino.
He has no "dignity," in a certain sense. Or, as the great Mr. Cairns says in the quote with which I've opened this post, this film is not a meditation on anything. Indeed, we may want a meditation, but do not (will not?) get one from Tarantino. Maybe some of us who liked Jackie Brown were led to believe he was capable of one, and that the Holocaust—i.e., the limit which leads to modernity's very abyss!—would coax this dignity out of him in spades. But no. Instead he makes a childish, violent, and irreverent film that receives as much derision as appreciation from the people who comprise this thing "film culture." Why? Well, it's tricky (treacly?)—but while every good film critic is probably a bit of a moralist, not every good film critic is a good moralist. And not every good film critic has the best perspective on things moral, or how they relate to art, to cultural production in its broadest sense, and to the history of style, affect, posture. I do not claim that I have the best perspective, myself. But I do think that maybe I've found hints of the proper trail in the woods, so to speak.
The problem that makes an insignificant but engrossing entertainment like Inglourious Basterds a "problem" at all is that some of us may wonder why such a film is (a) an event, and (b) something which speaks to others, including others we may otherwise respect, even though it seems odious. (In all honesty, I enjoyed the film and am probably among these latter, problematic folks more than I am the concerned citizens.) Well, to answer (a) with a short answer—it's that we live in the society of the spectacle, and the de facto composition of our "critical apparatus" that contributes to such a thing. As for (b), it returns to the question of dignity. Not all cultural production is dignified, and (as with technology) if it's both possible & profitable to do something, it's probably already accomplished or in the works. Entire film industries are predicated on capitalizing not on the bad tastes of the masses so much as the undignified allowances of these masses. I consider myself a semi-dignified young man, and maybe I'd even allow myself to be described as slightly educated ... but I have no illusions that I am above undignified pleasures. I do not mean to state that I, anti-elitist, am "one with the masses," but more precisely, that I, semi-decent person, am nonetheless fascinated by indecent things. And art, broadly defined, always supplies such things. In a broken society these things are integrated in such a way as to function problematically. The "myopic" sort of moralist-critic does not hold these negative capabilities in mind, and is, perhaps, confused when a major motion picture commands respect (i.e., from the establishment press, the box office, etc.) while not respecting the commands of our social rules of decency, dignity, and order (i.e., it goes there but ... is that really necessary?).
There is much more that could be written—that I could write—about all this, but a few things are clear: that we still are not so stable when it comes to how we conceptualize taste; and that we do not have good outlets for our indecent energies, let alone our critical faculties for same. If we are to point fingers at Tarantino for his indiscretions, his breaches, it may behoove us to point those same fingers at the culture which produced Tarantino, gave him money to make his films, produced an audience that would see it, and produced a community of writers & commentators who would earn money and/or attention in commenting on same.
Old man: "I don't understand the point of this long scene."
—A couple who were sitting in the same row as me during the tavern sequence.
(I scribble these notes in near-immediate effusion, a few hours after seeing Inglourious Basterds, and may well reverse or criticize my own initial impulses tomorrow. Lately, quick responses to films seen have been at a premium on EL, so I figured that if Tarantino's latest could draw out some words, I should write them.)
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
—from Robert Grosseteste, On Light (trans. Clare C. Riedl)
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Moreover, the architect Luigi Moretti, in a 1953 essay that hailed Italian television as a platform for the arts, reproduced examples of RAI’s experimental transmissions up to that point, including a studio production of Macbeth, a show covering famous jewelry, and, most importantly, two “luminous images in movement” by Fontana.30 The photographs are stills of moving light being filtered, at least in one case, through one of the buchi, Fontana’s signature works initially made from paper and then from canvas, respectively pierced from front and back with a stylus to create punctured surfaces. It appears that the one buco partially visible must have been handled like a screen to animate light in space and to project it onto a wall. This surely is the “new aesthetics” of “luminous forms crossing through space” that Fontana had called for the year prior in his Technical Manifesto of Spatialism. These spots and trails of light in frozen motion are likely the remains of a flickering, abstract light show that was part of Fontana and his peers’ Spatialist transmission.
—Christine Mehring, "Television Art's Abstract Starts: Europe circa 1944-1969" (October 125)
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Some words from Gabe Klinger on these two people.
A remembrance of Alexis from Noel Vera.
There is also Alexis' letter to Nika which was a major piece of film criticism (here).
May they rest in peace - and we shall gather at the river.