Archive for December, 2010
2. Ghost Fargo, by Paula Cisewski
4. Eileen Myles: The Inferno; The Importance of Being Iceland; Sorry, Tree; + all of her Harriet posts especially the one involving Eliot Weinberger and the ensuing commentary! (I’m a fan of Weinberger, but you really have to admire her chutzpah.)
I keep going back to The Black Swan and mulling it over, finding shortcomings in my first post. The biggest flaw in my first reading of the movie I think is the ease by which I equated Thomas, teh choreographer, with Father, ie socialiaty and hierarchy. I read Nina’s unwillingness to comply with getting fucked, becoming natural as a way of eluding this Father’s demand for her to be fucked, to become “natural” like Lily, to become part of the social order.
But then I started thinking: The director is not the typical father! He’s the head of a ballet troupe, hardly the most masculine, typical social hierarchy! Furthermore, he exemplifies in every way my mantra “The immigrant is kitsch”: He’s a foreigner (speaks with an accent, is an expert at ballet, that highly artificial, highly European artform, as opposed to the American Movie), both lecherous and gay-ish (dandy outfits, but funny and threatening.
A couple of months ago I did an interview with Blaise Larmee, and Blaise, or his ideas, sparked some kind of debate in the comments thread, a debate which I didn’t quite understand (I think I was ignorant of much of the context). So Johannes and I decided to each read (or re-read, in my case) and write a consideration of his book Young Lions and try to figure out what’s up. I’ll get it started with my thoughts:
Young Lions is a study in prettiness. The child actors conducting the narrative, the intentional and sweeping pencil lines, the orchestrated heartbreak are graceful and beautiful. But all of this prettiness is saved from itself, from refinement and glossiness and a good sanding down that might make you overlook it by the generous use of omission, erasure, hole-poking, and breaking shit up. The book is a stylish object, full of stylish people putting on stylish shows, and is one of the more intelligent discussions of the role of style in creation that I’ve encountered in a while. Much like Kenneth Burke was able to explain human relations by framing our interactions as a stage play, Larmee puts his kids in boxes, little theatres, and conducts them, while the whole time they consider and question the very play that they are acting in. Larmee’s four characters, all members of a conceptual art group that views itself and its membership as if it’s a rock band, are placed in contained spaces and set to interact as we might do with figures in a diorama. The spaces are sometimes conducted as if films (with background music) or the book of a play (with scene titles), or even as a venue in which to watch a film (as in the closing panel of the the “New Museum” section). The book’s cover itself, a step away from the “craftiness” of comics and towards the mechanical of books, questions the medium’s conventions of presentation. Many of Larmee’s choices court questions if not controversy (dipping one foot into the pond of tweeness, but yanking it out before he gets too deep), including his choice to include a single blurb on the book’s back cover, from David Heatley, a cartoonist who, unfairly, is best known for voluntarily putting pink boxes of his characters’ genitalia when Big Publishing reprinted his work.
Young Lions invites perusal and rereading. Its lightness is part of it. The clip of the narrative, and flow of pages pull the reader through, encourage page-flipping, like a salaryman might rifle through a chunky manga album on the Chuo line at rush hour (it seems like Larmee has taken some lessons from Frank Santoro’s discussions of mathematical models and proper page structure). From the first page, Young Lions presents itself as a remarkably conventional narrative, with a crisis presented immediately (their art group is failing), a love triangle quickly introduced, and the need for a journey (a road trip to Florida) to bring about resolution. Where Larmee distinguishes himself is the strangeness with which he conducts his story. Just as he balances his perfect pencil lines that carve out pretty young cheeks and self-conscious coifs with smudgy palimpsests and completely absent lines where the white space begs for definition, he confounds his narrative with subtle steps into the fantastic, meta-fictional conceits that usefully demand critical consideration, and by leaving straight-up gaps and holes. This is where the richness and mystery is contained in Young Lions, not in the magic of the characters’ performances. (As the groups’ seeming leader, and only apparent adult, Wilson says, “Art becomes magic when it has nothing left to hide.”) Larmee’s continued attention to the concept of Yoko Ono creates a particularly compelling, and almost eerie, subtext of a hidden world beneath the one he is showing us, a world accessed in the whispers of passers-by and through the tenuous connection of cellular communication. (continue reading…)
[Laura Mullen wrote this response on my facebook page, and I thought it was really astute so I am posting it here:]
A thrilling and extremely unsettling frottage across layered binaries, Aronofsky’s Black Swan is *possibly* one of the most powerful feminist films of the decade if not the (so far) century. Obviously the film is an important addition to a long tradition of dance films, mostly for and about women: it’s clearly in conversation with Michael Powell’s 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes, whose hectic fevered eeriness it escalates. But half a century has gone by and the exploration of the way in which a rigorous and heavily stylized art form (ballet) both allows for and deforms women’s sexuality has taken a drastically darker and more savage turn–although (and this will destabilize feminist claims for the film) we haven’t managed to change the ending. What’s new here is the way Aronofsky uses the jagged edge of each reflection / comparison, so that the tired tale of woman-as-commodity has the fast vicious bloody pace of an ugly bar fight. (That strobe light dance sequence in the club, all red and black, is the secret pace of the film as a whole–just what the choreographer, with his exquisite French impatience, is trying to hold his slow star to…) A strobe light might be, in fact, the secret method or measure of the film as a whole: good / evil, black / white, old / young, innocent / experienced, alive / dead, clean / dirty, whole / broken, hetero / homo–and so on (off / on / off…)–flash each against their opposite so quickly that, in my experience, the subject who watches comes close to knowing the situation of the subjectivity watched. In the bathroom, after, I swear I thought I saw a splash of blood where…it wasn’t–and it took me awhile to stop shaking. (I’m not sure I’ve fully stopped.) This is a Director (and a writer) who knows something about what it means to lose body–and mind–in the effort to be perfect, as perfection appears to shrink to a brutally sharp (penetrating) point. But is the virgin / whore binary really complicated here or only (once again) exploited better than it’s ever been before? “Was I good?!” One character calls out to someone who only dreamed of being loved: the answer is yes / no.
I’ve been watching French director Claire Denis’s movies recently. I think they are pretty brilliant, even though I don’t quite understand her racial politics (a self-conscious-seeming invocation of Heart of Darkness except mostly in reverse, Heart of Darkness comes to France).
Here’s a trailer for “Trouble Every Day”:
What I most love about them is her treatment of narrative. It’s not a chop-chop reverse/backwards experiments in narrative that might come so readily in mind in the post Pulp Fiction era. Rather the movies move along rather langerously – despite being about murder and melee. It seems the langerous atmospherics refuses to give in to the sensationalistic story, or rather seems almost indifferent to the murder story.
I don’t even pretend with the alarm going off I just gun it the fuck out of there. I’m weaving in and out of traffic in a tux with security in pursuit. The streets are wet with panic. I could eat shit any second. I don’t even really know how to handle a motorcycle I’m just doing it. All that matters right now is that I never stop. Not with this mannequin’s arms bent around my waist. There is like an entire generation in her face. Staring off forever at what has happened, at what’s to come. This is my responsibility. All the failures and dreams of an entire generation and I can’t find the interstate.
James wrote this review of Clayton Eshleman’s new book Anticline. I agree with James that this is one of Clayton’s best books. On the whole, I think his poetry has only gotten better and better, especially over the past 10 or so years. Anticline was definitely one of the best books of the year.
Here’s an excerpt from the review:
His political poetry also manages to be personal without being confessional or narcissistic. He doesn’t feel “anxiety” about the rise of free-market capitalism and the reach of the American empire (as if the poor worry if those of us in the first-world middle class feel “anxiety” about them); instead, Eshleman, much like Ariana Reines in The Cow, moves from terror to almost incoherent rage to nightmarish vision. “I acknowledge the American government’s infiltration of my psyche,” he writes in “Consternation I.” “My mental atmosphere has become grainy, hyphenated, / cabbage-odored with seized distractions.”
Anybody have any feelings about David Cronenberg’s movie-version of J.G. Ballard’s wound-culture classic, Crash?
I just watched it last night and I didn’t entirely like it. I haven’t really made up my mind about it. Ballard’s original is of course already over the top and ridiculous and beautiful (sometimes the beautiful, baroque prose is the most ridiculous thing about it!). But the movie seemed less interesting, more just simply ridiculous in its softcore-ness.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the omission of Elizabeth Taylor, that icon of vulnerable (and wound-able, kill-able) celebrity power, the whole object of Vaughn’s sexual/technological/death fantasies. I have no idea why Cronenberg just omitted her. Without her, the ending just kind of peters outs with some more ridiculous sex.
It’s interesting that several people on this blog have now referred to The Black Swan as an allegory. I usually think of allegory as removed in some way, but that’s not true of the movie, which is claustrophobic and absorbing to the max. This connection between allegories and intense absorption reminds me of Ann Jäderlund’s poems. One sequence from Snart går jag i sommaren ut (Soon into the summer I will walk out) in particular strikes me as similar. And these were cut-ups of sorts of allegories from the book Själens Tröst, a religious book which was published in I think the 1400s or 1500s.
Several of them involve swans. Here’s one:
The big valley is a vast mother-of-pearl mirror. There walks the large dead swan in her dead shroud. And there walks the mother-of-pearl children. Or the fragile foundling clumps. That grow out of the virgin mother’s throat. They led the swan into a forest and placed beautiful white stones of mother-of-pearl on her back. Go now and eat that which you have taken from the swans. Then one ran up and cut a branch from the tree and grabbed a burning branch and stuck it into her throat. And scrubbed her both up top and down below. Until the swan’s flesh fell off in beautiful heavy clumps. For some time the swan lay in the bushes and slept. And black merchants came riding on black mother-of-pearl horses. Then they took the swan and carried her away.
Here’s an excerpt:
“It is tempting to read Zambreno’s novel as a satire–and the blurbs on her book suggest that we should–but the text actually has little of the cool comic detachment found in such satirists as Swift and Godard and Flannery O’Conner, that sense that we are looking through a microscope at the lives of various characters. Instead, O Fallen Angel is more of a grotesque parade of certain social “types” and clichés taken to their furthest degree. The book reminds me of early Robert Crumb, a great deal of Jeff Koons, and even some of John Waters, other artists fascinated by the kitschy, grotesque underbelly of American culture. And like those artists, Zambreno finds this kitsch exhilarating. The overriding tone of the novel is oddly joyful; and while the book is very funny, it’s not coolly so–in fact, there is nothing cool or classical about this book at all, and the novel in general brings to my mind certain Dogma 95 films where the camera plunges right into the action, making it purposely difficult to get our bearings. There are no establishing shots here.”
[PS James has written a bunch more reviews for Montevidayo, but unfortunately he's not managed to get Internet connection in his new house in Virginia, so they won't be posted until later, in the new year.]
[Also: Megan, didn't you write something somewhere about the book? Perhaps you could give a link as well.]