Monday, June 29, 2009

Moby Dick--The Book, Not The Song

Never read Moby Dick. It’s been on the to-do list for years. Just finished it up. But I can’t think of anything more pathetic than a blogger in 2009 reviewing such a classic tome. So I won’t. I will quote one passage however.

“At such times, under an abated sun; afloat all day upon smooth, slow heaving swells; seated in his boat, light as a birch canoe; and so sociably mixing with the soft waves themselves, that like hearth-stone cats they purr against the gunwale; these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.”

Now that’s some good writing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Plotbox Turns 1

This week marks the 1st anniversary of the Plotbox blog. 69 posts in all. Titter...Titter. I’m celebrating by heading to the mountains of Northern California and attempting to read Moby Dick. There will be no internet and no posts for at least a week. What better time to read some posts you might have missed the first time around.

Chuck Barris
Don Rickles
Roky Erickson
Raveonettes vs. The Polyphonic Spree
Fatty Arbuckle
Jonathan Lethem
Sheman Alexie
Las Vegas
Roman Polanski
Clint Eastwood
Hair Metal
Klosterman on Metal
Sara Palin vs. The NHL
Mark The Bird Fidrych
The Dream Syndicate (full show audio for download)
Flaming Lips
Ibis Attack
Motley Crue
Crime Novels
Scott Walker

It Came From Kuchar

I love the brothers Kuchar. Mike and George, have been making weird, offbeat, underground films since the early 60s. In an era where most experimental filmmakers were dabbling in formal exercises, the Kuchars were pounding out bizarre melodramas, starring elderly women with insane eyebrow make up, putting turds in toilet bowls years before John Waters, and cornering the market on amazing film titles—The Devil’s Cleavage, Sins of The Fleshapoids, I Was A Teenage Rumpot, to name a few. They’ve continued putting out several films a year, embracing digital video after years of shooting on 8mm and 16mm. They are awesome. They are the real deal. They ooze the strangest energy. They are twins. They have strange speech patterns, and their Bronx accents are thick and delicious. It Came From Kuchar is an awesome doc that captures the beauty, the hilarity, the sadness and the energy of the world of the Kuchars. Kudos to director Jennifer Kroot for pulling this one off in great form. I love the Kuchars and was naturally apprehensive going in that the film wouldn’t do them justice. It does, and then some. It’s a great look at the NYC underground film world of the 60s, the SF underground film world of the 70s and does a great job focusing in on the creative process, how these guys work, how they are driven to work, and why making art is so damn important to them. The film mixes amazing clips of their films, lots of screen time for George and Mike, and lots of top notch interviews with the likes of John Waters, Buck Henry, Bill Griffith, Guy Maddin, Wayne Wang, Jack Stevenson and more. If it’s showing at a festival near you, go see it.

If you’re in SF this Tuesday, Curt McDowell’s Thundercrack, penned by George and starring George is playing at the Victoria. It’s the greatest underground film of all time. It’s a porn, it’s a comedy, there's a gorrilla involved, it’s one of a kind. It’s not available on video.

Here's a bit of Mike's The Craven Sluck

The Girlfriend Experience by Steven Soderbergh

I’m reminded of an episode of Barney Miller where, as part of a sting operation, the Ron Glass character has to make a porn with precinct money. What he makes is so boring, arty and pretentious that the sting operation fails. That episode sheds a lot of light on this film.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

As I’ve mentioned previously, a lot of new literature leaves me cold. I approach new authors with a hint of trepidation. I’ve been disappointed too many times. But I yearn for new, exciting writing. Fresh voices. Fresh stories. So I always come back for more. A workmate, who I’ve shared a lot of sandwiches and Chinese food with this year, recommended David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green. Why not, I figured? It’s always good to find a new person to recommend books. And I loved it. Black Swan is an awesome coming of age story. Set in England in the mid-80s, the book follows a stuttering 13 year old, Jason Taylor as he navigates the middle school years. Jayce is a kid who so desperately wants to fit in and to be liked, even though he clearly recognizes he doesn’t share the same values of his classmates, whose approval he so desperately seeks. Given his disabling stutter and his secret love of poetry, there’s no question the coming years are going to be tough. The book hits all the right chords. Beautifully written. Breezy, fun, melancholy, and deep. The book contains a lot of fragmented incidents that take place over a year, yet they all tie up in a resplendently satisfying way at the end. I also love Jason’s relationship to his parents. It’s spot on for a 13 year old. Clearly his parents are having troubles, possibly heading for the big D, but all the melodramas in his own life, blind him to the problems at home. Too good.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hit It & Quit It: Movie Week: Star Trek, Up

Star Trek
Can’t rave enough about the new Star Trek. I’ve always been a fan of the original series, but have had only passing interests in any of the franchise’s other incarnations. This movie has been talked about to death, so I won’t say much other than I was truly blown away. I’ve been watching the original series with my son over the past month, so I was up on my Star Trek lore. One thing I loved about the film was that the filmmakers clearly have a tremendous reverence for the original series, but managed to not become a slave to the past. The opening sound you hear in the film is a classic ping, so familiar from the bridge of the original Enterprise. But that ping quickly fades into a thoroughly modern score and sound design. The character traits that we know so well of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura and Scotty are clearly at the heart of the film, but by delving into these characters’ formative years and their maiden voyage, the filmmakers manage to imbue each character with fresh traits. The movie is an amazing achievement of taking something classic and energizing it with an absolutely fresh and modern sensibility. And it’s non-stop action, action, action!

Several weeks back I saw Wall-E producer Lindsey Collins speak. In discussing Up, she promised a return to a more classically kid friendly universe after the rather sophisticated Wall-E. I got to say, I really loved Up, but was surprised by the film’s melancholy tone. The first 20 minutes are full of loss, longing and sadness. Heady stuff for a kids’ movie. The movie gets more conventional as it progresses, but there’s some emotional weight to it throughout. There’s a sequence early on, where we see the lead character, Karl, age from a young boy to an old man. It’s one of those sublime sequences that set Pixar beyond all other animation studios. It’s a moment where you forget your watching a kid’s movie and realize your watching a classic movie. Another thing that I love about the more recent Pixar offerings is their clear love of classic cinema. Up pays homage to the Lost World from 1925. I only know this having recently saw the Lost World (with live musical accompaniment by Dengue Fever at the SF International Film Fest last month). Rather than situate themselves in any pop culture trend, Pixar orients itself around more classic points of reference, which I think is going to give many of their films a much greater shelf life in the long run.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It Ain't Easy Being Celine: Conversations With Professor Y

I’m a huge Louis Ferdinand Celine fan. Sometimes a tough position to defend due to his anti-semitism. But there’s no questioning the brilliance, the passion, and the importance of his writing. Biting satire, pitch black comedy, explosive language, passionate misanthropy, and those damn dots…rewriting the book on ellipses. Most folks, if they’ve read Celine, have gone for the early classics. The brilliant Journey To The End of The Night and the great coming of age story Death on The Installment Plan. I’d venture to say that his final trilogy, consisting of Castle To Castle, North and Rigadoon…which he finished the day before he died, may in fact be his best works. Those three novels are an absolute phantasmagorical and singular look into the fall of the Third Reich, chronicling Celine, his wife and their cat Bebert’s journey from France, through war-torn Germany and on toward Denmark.

Why bring all of this up now? Well, I just finished reading Conversations with Professor Y. In a sense, this is his come back novel. Celine, certainly according to Celine, was public enemy number one in France post WWII. Rather than take the chance of being tried for war crimes or being lynched by an angry mob, Celine headed for Denmark, ultimately spending a couple years in jail while the Danes figured out what to do with him. When he returned to France, he was a forgotten man, his books were out of print and he still was politically tainted. His publishers suggested he write a new novel to re-introduce the French to Celine. What he came up with was Professor Y…a faux interview, where Celine, in the guise of the bumbling Professor Y, interviews himself. It’s Celine at his crankiest and most embittered. Publishers, the movies, the reading public all come under Celine’s withering gaze. It’s a manic laundry list of complaints, all the while, Celine arguing for his place in history, as the man who brought the passion of the spoken word to the written page. He’s right of course, and the list of authors he went on to influence is impressive. But it’s a strange and bold maneuver for a comeback.

Not sure that this is a place where the uninitiated should start, but it’s a great read and a must for any Celine fan. Professor Y fits in nicely alongside Castle to Castle, a novel where Celine spends an awful lot of time not talking about WWII, but instead complaining and chronicling his aggravations as an aging, penniless country doctor. It’s hard being Celine.