Posts from July 2004

Jul 04

Sausages 4Ever

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Sausages 4Ever: this is going to be the best blog in the world.

FT Top 100 Films 52: EASTER PARADE

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FT Top 100 Films

I love the synchronicity in this list. Yesterday we had Breakin’. Today Easter Parade. Both pretty much the same film for very different generations. Now I am not suggest Judy Garland breakdances in Easter Parade, nor does Fred Astaire spin on his head (mores the pity). But it is a backstage musical, which sources all of its song and dance numbers in the fact that its performers are singers and dancers. And it has some of the best Irving Berling numbers in it. Its perhaps not the best MGM musical, but with Ann Miller’s dancing, and Judy’s husky voice its a sure fire winner for your midweek matinee.

Except it is a film about Easter. Christmas films are ten a penny. Easter is much rarer. Its pretty much just Easter Parade, and maybe now the laugh-along riot fest that was The Passion of Ver Christ. What emotions should be in the heart of an Easter film? What is Easter the season of. Eggs? Rebirth? Renewal? There is a vague idea of rebirth in Easter Parade, though not of a supernatural kind. Rather Fred Astaire tries, Pygmalion fashion, to turn Judy Garland into his new Ann Miller in his dance act. He fails, realising that he cannot make someone into someone they are not. Odd considering Judy Garland played this unplyable role – something less true about her life.

So instead we have the idea of the framing device of the Easter Parade, a display of ostentatious wealth rather than anything particularly religious. This was the apex of the MGM musicals, which were all about ostentatious wealth. Easter Parade contains a superfluous Folliesesque number where the screen is stuffed with so many dancing girls you don’t know where to look. In comparison the standout number is “We’re A couple Of Swells” which is a simple song and shuffle from the two leads. Easter Parade has very little to do with Easter, and everything to do with 1948 musicals.

Pop The Vote

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Pop The Vote

On the I Love Music board I am running a poll to determine ILM’s Top 100 albums and tracks of the decade so far, what with being pretty much halfway through it as we are (unless you’re one of those anti-Carterian date rockists). A lot has happened in the last five years in the world of popular music – some genres ‘dying’, some being ‘reborn’, some continuing to mutate and spawn demonic offspring, but of course this is a poll for individual works (albums and tracks – not JUST singles mind) and not genres, although it will be interesting to see which styles prove the most popular when all the votes are counted. Right now I see no clear winner for either the albums list or the tracks list, but it’s early days yet. Please check out the voting form here and submit your choices based on the list provided, nominations provided by the ILM contributors on a ‘Pick One Only’ basis, leading to some shocking/hilarious omissions I’m sure you’ll agree – and that’s before the final chart has been calculated. The deadline for submissions is Monday 16th August, 12pm BST. Happy voting!

Riffing on a theme borrowed from sinkah’s

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Riffing on a theme borrowed from sinkah’s rise and sprawl (the noise piece), k-punk on glampirism. Without wanting to re-open the engagements of the last couple of weeks, it does strike me a) that “Low” is very much the rockist’s choice of 70s Bowie (cards on table, I’m for Aladdin Sane) and b) that the trouble with this Deleuze stuff is in the way you tell it. If Bowie functioned as “a force of reterritorializion” by “fixating upon the most deterrorialized, most intense elements, and ushering them back into the fold of r and r and melody” this also means, as k-punk acknowledges that there must also be deterritorialization (although he doesn’t use the word): “a movement in the opposite direction : listeners sent off on voyages of discovery, flights from the self, invention of artificial identities”. Now I can’t claim to be an expert on this here D&G stuff, but it says here (Mille Plateaux, Introduction, page 10 in English translation):

How could movements of deterritorialization and processes of reterritorialization not be relative, always connected, caught up in one another? The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece of the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. It could be said that the orchid imitates the wasp, reproducing its image in a signifying fashion (mimesis, mimicry, lure, etc.). But this is true only on the level of the strata – a parallelism between two strata such that a plant organization on one imitates an animal organization on the other. At the same time, something else entirely is going on: not imitation at all but a capture of code, surplus value of code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialization of one term and the reterritorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization ever further.

So my questions are, and perhaps someone who knows about these things could explain to me:

1) [Theoretical question] If the deterritorialization is pushed ever further, doesn’t that mean that the reterritorialization is also pushed ever further? But if so why privilege the first? Doesn’t this confirm that what makes this different from dialectics is the positive value attached to (‘life’) to ‘intensity’, and ultimately to positivity rather than negativity. Is intensity just ‘good’ (surely not, since as D&G say on p. 9: ‘one can never posit a dualism or a dichotomy, even in the rudimentary form of the good and the bad’.

2) [Bowie question] How does the model work for Bowie? Why isn’t the use of the experimental elements in pop the deterritorialization of the avant-garde rather than its re-territorialization? Surely on the D&G account given above, it must be both deterritorialization of one on the other, and vice versa? The avant-garde is deterritorialized, becoming part of the pop market’s commercial reproductive apparatus; and pop reterritorializes on it; but pop is deterritorializing too, and the avant-garde reterritorializing. I can’t find the analogies to explain this since I don’t know the D&G system well enough, but it does seem to me axiomatic that the process goes both ways at once, and that this defines what they’re trying to describe: the becoming pop of the avant-garde, and the becoming avant-garde of pop. a) now if this isn’t dialectics, what is it? and b) why isn’t this what mark s has been arguing?



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Well, I liked it. 

Songs about or by puppets #7: Marvin Gaye – “I’m Your Puppet”

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Marvin, Marvin – where have you gone? Oh yeah, your dad shot you. And frankly with songs like this, do you blame him? Just look at the lyrics.

I’m just a toy, just a funny boy
That makes you laugh when you’re blue
I’ll be wonderful, do just what I’m told
I’ll do anything for you
I’m your puppet

Now I am not sure what kind of father son relationship they had, but this kind of lyric is red rag to a bull on a borderline psychotic. I’ll do anything you want me too – what like die? I assume that comes under the scope of the lyrics. Later in the song he suggests if you pull a string you can make him sing. Hmm, if I had been around then my scissors would have been out tout suite. Perhaps less drastic than the gun method, but hey, he’s only a puppet.

The characters in Before Sunset

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The characters in Before Sunset (and nine years ago in Before Sunrise) are insufferable. And yet, and yet… Have we not all been there. Before Sunrise was university dorm room seduction by half-arsed philosophy for ninety minutes. Your ability to find it cute and kooky probably boils down to how much of said seduction by half-arsed philosophy you practiced yourself, and the amount of self loathing you have. You might think that in the nine years between the films the characters would have grown out of this trait – but in many ways Before Sunset is even worse. Because of the importance of their previous meetings, their love-lives and technique has been bound up in that moment.

That’s right. They still believe that seduction by half-arsed philosophy can work!

It helps that Jesse is still the loveably thick lunkhead with bad teeth he was in the first film. Celine’s dark sense of humour is much more pronounced, as becomes clear later there is much more darkness in her character now. And the simple understated tracking of their movements was very nice. There is a slight suggestion that the film is just an extended video for Delpy’s music career (and the song seems almost out of place, but luckily these two pretents could quote Shakespeare for hours and it would be in character). However the problem with Before Sunset is that it gives us too much information.

Not about the six-months-on meeting. Sure there is now a canonical answer to that film, which Before Sunset replicates in a very different kind of way. Not even about how these characters grow older. Instead we find out the surname of Hawke’s character. From the off it is there, written on the book jacket, tempting you to think other thoughts. Jesse Wallace.
aka Jessie Wallace.

I Was A Goblin: Roll 3d6

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Role-playing is a resource-intensive hobby. Aside from the ridiculous number of available rulebooks, supplements, pre-written adventures and so on, you need two things: time and people. I had plenty of time – people were more of a problem. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends at school, it was just that explaining D & D to them posed a problem. In fact explaining D & D to anyone posed a problem: no board, no winning, no losing, no end – ergo no point. Those absences were the very qualities the game wore as a badge of honour – the rulebooks for D & D, more than any other game, always had an evangelical tone: we few, we brave few who understand the freedom that role-playing games can bring are setting out to battle the primitive boardgames with their slim rules booklet and laughable single type of dice. (This emphasis on free-thinking was ironic given that D & D was notorious for encouraging strict enforcement of its many preposterous rules. But in the first flush of wonder I had no idea about that. I was a convert.)

I may not have had anyone to play the game with, but that was no barrier to the game eating up my time. A hobby whose basis is sitting around a table talking, role-playing nevertheless has a solitary, solipsistic side. There were rules to be swotted up, of course, but there were also characters to create, and the characters had to be written down on character sheets, which needed to be designed, and then of course you could start designing dungeons… the image of gamers as inadequate bedroom hermits was always a little unfair (RPGs are inherently social), but only a little.

Three months or so after I was given the D&D Basic Set, I played my first game. My parents used to take me to a group for Gifted Children which took over a school once a month and ran (in theory) lots creative activities. I don’t remember ever having to prove I was ‘gifted’ in order to attend these things and my suspicion now is that they were opportunities for right-thinking Mums and Dads to tell each other how clever their kids were and eat a lot of cake. The activities were puny: one potters wheel which was always being used by someone else, and a lot of chess. But one weekend someone had been allowed to run a D&D game.

How did I like it? I loved it. It was everything the rulebooks had promised – the secret of roleplaying is that if you’re an imaginative kid the referee hardly needs to do any work to ‘sell’ the story to you, you’re filling in the blanks all the time yourself. It was a simple adventure – two groups of monsters at war with each other, the players getting stuck into the feud, and I think that (yes!) a gelatinous cube was involved too, though I never encountered it. But it seemed incredibly rich and immersive – wounded and separated from the other players, I had to bargain for my life with a monster: I was the center of attention, the lead actor, except I had no idea what would happen next, and it was stupendously exciting. And – for a fairly shy boy – liberating.

The entire of my roleplaying ‘career’ was a mostly unsuccessful attempt to capture that feeling again, or to spark it in other people. Because by the time I got home I knew that I didn’t just want to play D&D, I wanted to be the person creating the magic that I’d just felt. I had to run games, and I had to do it soon.

Happy Birthday Kate Bush!

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Happy Birthday Kate Bush! A reader has emailed to ask that NYLPM mention that it’s Kate Bush’s birthday (don’t know if it’s a particularly significant one or anything) – NYLPM is happy to oblige. “Babooshka”, “it’s in the trees – it’s coming -“, side two of Hounds Of Love, comedy mockney accent, comedy Australian accent, doing Bronte as a pop song for yr debut single, doing JOYCE as a pop song for yr comeback single, U-U-U-Utah Saints, the video for “Sat In Your Lap” (my Dad would perk up greatly when Kate Bush was on TOTP), and pretty much everything else. National treasure. There are probably people who don’t like Kate Bush but I disapprove of them.

Some welcome optimism

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Some welcome optimism from America’s greatest living movie critic here on my favourite subject: the way DVDs are changing movies. Surely the biggest factoid of the year is that, as the editor of Sight & Sound has said, theatrical releases are now seen in the biz as ‘loss-leaders’ for the versatile discs. The second half of Rosenbaum’s piece is endearingly blog-like, being a list of ‘import DVDs I have enjoyed’. (No doubt the Chicago Reader‘s lawyers enforced such delightful anachronisms as: ‘Reportedly there are also ways to “hack” some single-region players into multiregional ones, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for advice on how to do that.’) But the key line here, which ties in nicely with — by contradicting — J-Ro’s consistent stance on how the corporate marketplace is marginalizing ‘difficult’ product, is: ‘We’re rapidly approaching a time when anyone living anywhere in the world can theoretically enjoy access to the canon of world cinema once reserved for film students in world capitals like New York or Paris.’ DYS readers may flinch at the c-word there, and the argument may well resemble ‘free-market’ ideology, but for me the shift has been an incredible liberation.