Amoeblog

One + One = Godard Roundtable

Posted by Charles Reece, December 5, 2011 09:11am | Post a Comment
one plus one poster godard

I'll be participating in a roundtable on Jean-Luc Godard over at The Hooded Utilitarian. My own piece (appearing this Friday) will be on his mixture of radical democracy, black militancy and the Rolling Stones, 1968's One Plus One (aka Sympathy for the Devil). The whole shebang has begun with a lovely introductory essay by Caroline Small. Check it out!

AFI Fest Review: Melancholia

Posted by Charles Reece, November 28, 2011 04:00pm | Post a Comment
melancholia poster

Much of Melancholia is structured similarly to Dogville, making its audience endure the tedium of von Trier's miserabilism for the inevitable big bang pay off. In Dogville, it was the heroine slaughtering an entire town for the various ways the citizens raped her in the previous two hours of screen time, but here it's literally the cataclysm of two worlds colliding -- that, I should note, makes the best use of low end frequencies in any film I've ever heard. (In the director's oeuvre, women have participated in the destruction of their own bodies, their family, their neighbors and now their entire civilization -- where will his heroines go from here?) This isn't a spoiler, since von Trier gives away the plot in the apocalyptic précis that constitutes the first 10 minutes or so of the film. Filmed in an ominously metaphysical slow-motion, this phantasmagoria is surely the best part of the film and a visual allusion to doleful Justine's ultimate fantasy. The film could only go down hill from there as it fills in her dreamy ellipses with the mundane drama that's the majority of the two acts that follow.

In the first act, we see Justine's melancholia destroy her new marriage during the wedding festivities. In "Melancholy and the Act," Slavoj Žižek argues melancholia is a pathological identification with a lost object that's being mourned before it's even lost. Because the identification is fundamentally narcissistic, about what Justine lacks, her husband (the object) can never fulfill what was the cause of the desire, namely a desire for her own desire itself. That is, melancholy "stands for the presence of the object itself deprived of the desire for itself -- [it] occurs when we finally get the desired object, but are disappointed with it." [p. 148, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?] Once acquired, the husband loses his ability to fill the void -- to short-circuit the desiring feedback loop -- in Justine's life, so she loses her desire for him (which was actually lacking in the first place). She mourns having lost him before he finally gives up and leaves her.

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AFI Fest Review: Carré Blanc, Into the Abyss

Posted by Charles Reece, November 20, 2011 11:18pm | Post a Comment
carré blanc poster

Writer-director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti's first feature-length is a re-imagining of Soylent Green by way of Children of Men. That is, the poor are used as food, but there is a pervasive concern for keeping the world populated (represented by an omnipresent count, the 'white square' of the title being most literally the recurring digitized zero). Instead of being the structural underbelly of bourgeois society (white-collar squares), in this dystopia, violence has risen to the surface as their defining privilege to act out the most barbarous of urges while the disadvantaged (those paradoxically less inclined towards sociopathic behavior) are left to hold up a genteel appearance. Violence is the master signifier here: corporate training consists of a variety of sadistic tests to see if the employee has what it takes to move up the latter. He or she has to think outside the (white) box to pass onto the next level (shitting on others who haven't made it as high). Understandably, no one wants to have children in such a world.   

into the abyss poster

Werner Herzog's new documentary is thoroughly described and critiqued by Lorrie Moore over at the NYRBlog, so I don't have much to add. Despite being ardently opposed to the death penalty himself, Herzog manages to portray the various lives involved in the execution of Michael Perry for the murder of three people in the Texas town of Cut and Shoot without polemics. It's expected of Herzog to make great documentaries, and Into the Abyss is no exception. What I enjoyed the most was the way his patented drollery complements what his subjects have to say. As he stated in the Q&A, he had no wish to condescend against Texans, and there are no narcissistic "gotcha" moments with which Michael Moore made his reptuation. Instead, Herzog understands the depressive redneck milieu, laughing at the more surreal stories rather than at the people doing the telling. These are people who've known little but violence, death and crime, so they tend to share the director's bleak view of life. 

On Invention: Frank Zappa vs. Baby Boomer Favorites

Posted by Charles Reece, November 13, 2011 10:16am | Post a Comment
frank zappa mojo classic cover

Mojo's collector's edition dedicated to Frank Zappa is a year old, but I chanced across it the other day at my local newsstand. Having found myself in more than one geeky debate over whether Zappa has tended to receive short shrift in evaluations of pop innovation and importance relative to The Beatles (e.g.: "In June 1968, Newsweek declared him second only to John Lennon as pop's 'leading creative talent.'" -- p. 27) or The Beach Boys (Leonard Bernstein called Brian Wilson one of the 20th century's greatest composers) or even The Grateful Dead (recall the days of coverage of Jerry Garcia's death versus the brief blurb accorded to Zappa's), this bit from British writer Miles' remembrance ("Inside Dr. Zircon's Secret Lab") proved satisfying:  

At the London press launch of Absolutely Free Frank told me he wanted to meet The Beatles to get their permission to parody the Sgt. Pepper ... sleeve on his next album, We're Only In It For The Money. I had been seeing a lot of Paul McCartney who was involved with IT [International Times, a British underground magazine that Miles co-founded] and my bookshop, Indica, so I went to a back room and called him. Paul liked Freak Out! very much, and in fact, just before The Beatles began recording Sgt. Pepper ... he told me, "we're going to do our own Freak Out!, but not like Zappa's of course." -- p. 40-1

Regarding Absolutely Free's sound collages, critic Mark Paytress ("Hungry Freaks") has it right:

Light years ahead of The Beatles' Revolver and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, only the inscrutable complexity and rich textures of The Beach Boys' autumn hit, Good Vibrations, could compare. But, born of Zappa's gnarly nature and recorded in the immediate aftermath of the teenage riots on Sunset Strip, Absolutely Free was the antithesis of Brian Wilson's sun-kissed bliss. -- p. 25-6

But, just to keep it all in perspective, former Mother keyboardist Don Preston sums up Zappa's musical legacy:

Frank's a strange phenomenon. Some people regard him as one of the new, innovative classical composers, but I think his work suffers in comparison to, say, Xenakis or Takemitsu. -- p. 29

And while the British Invasion was listening to American Blues, here's a shot of Zappa's high school-era band:

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SF at the AFI Fest

Posted by Charles Reece, November 1, 2011 09:37pm | Post a Comment
afi fest 2011 poster

Among the standard schlocky dramas (J. Edgar), this year's AFI Festival has surprisingly quite a few works of speculative fiction. Here are the trailers:


Beyond the Black Rainbow


Melancholia


Carré Blanc


Extraterrestrial


Target

Overall, there's a lot more decent genre material than in years past, and it's free.
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