Friday, December 31, 2004


Yesterday, I did a post on 2004 and I forgot what may have been the event of the year, meeting and talking with Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy! He went to Wesleyan, so he returned to screen the musical and do a Q&A. He did about an hour of discussion in the cinema, then went to this reception, so I stood near him, and he talked for two more hours, by the end it was about ten people and him, and he just kept answering any question people shouted out. I've met a bunch of celebrity type people, but no one was ever as cool as he was. To be able to meet the guy who created 256 episodes of brilliant television was an honor, and the fact that he was so cool made it even better.

So, despite forgetting it yesterday, this was one of the best events of the year, right up there with the Spree.

Related Posts
Reflecting on 2004 (12/31/2004)
So This is the New Year (And I Don't Feel Any Different (1/1/2005)

Reflecting on 2004, the year that is almost gone.

So, technically it's New Year's Eve right now, and that prompts me for some reflection on 2004. It's been an astonishingly quick year, by far the fastest of my life. I feel almost like time is breaking down, because I can remember so many moments from this year like they just happened. This year, I feel like not that much actually happened. A bunch of issues from earlier sort of came to head, and were discussed this year, but overall, it's been more of a year of reflection than a year of creation. I don't remember too many really big events from this year that were great, more moments and feelings from times.

If I had to pick out one event from this year as my favorite, it would probably be seeing The Polyphonic Spree live. Who are The Polyphonic Spree, you ask? Well, here's a couple thousand words:

They are a 25 piece rock band, with trumpets, harp, flute, timpani, nine part chorus, keyboard, sax, trombone, guitar and more. Both their albums are brilliant, especially their most recent, Together We're Heavy, but nothing can prepare you for the wall of sound coming from 25 musicians all wearing robes and all completely into the music. It was so loud you could actually feel the music moving through you, and it was just overwhelming to hear not only the 25 people in the band singing, but also the couple hundred people in the audience singing the lyrics back at them. Seriously, check out their music. They do the sort of stuff that can make even the most cynial person break out into a smile upon observing the sheer joy of their music. I'm hoping they'll be back in New York soon, because it seriously is the best concert I've ever been to.

I went to a couple of other concerts that were pretty awesome as well. I saw Aimee Mann and Morrissey. Obviously, they were not quite as joyous about life as The Spree, but both were great live, and they were really good shows. Next year, I'm hoping to get to U2, Doves and maybe some other people. I'd really like to see something that isn't a rock band, but is more techno club stuff, like Daft Punk, Air or Moby. I like to go to a bunch of different type of concerts. Back in high school, I only went to Ska punk concerts, and while they were good, it gets boring after a while. Like, I'd love to see a rap show, or a hard techno type thing, just to mix things up. I guess if you really like the music, it's no problem going to similar things, but if I'm only a casual fan, I like to mix it up. Like, I bet there's not that many people who went to both The Spree and Morrissey.

What else happend in '04? I saw the Buffy musical, which is one of the greatest things ever made. The whole sixth season is brilliant, and this is really the center of it. The songs are great, but more importantly, it fits perfectly into the whole. I've seen it eight times or so, all this year. I've probably seen that more than any other piece of fiction this year.

I'm trying to think of something I did that doesn't involve just watching something else, but it's tough. We made the movie, Tabula Rasa, which I really liked. It was fun to make, and came out well. Was it up to what I originally imagined? Not quite, but nothing's ever going to be, and now, with some distance, I can enjoy it for what it is.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again, this year felt like the Amnesiac to 2003's Kid A, or the Zooropa to 2003's Achtung Baby. It had its merits, but it feels more like what came before than a complete reinvention. It was more a remix than a new song. I really need to do some new stuff, I'm not sure what, but something.

I feel like I've got the routine of college down, in the same way that around junior year, I got the routine of high school down, and this is comforting, because I know what to expect, but it's also distressing because out of chaos can come redefinition. But, when you're in the chaos, it's not good. People always choose the stable, safe route, rather than taking a risk that could pay off, but could also lead to disaster.

Related Posts
Reflecting on 2004: Ammendum (12/31/2004)
So This is the New Year (And I Don't Feel Any Different (1/1/2005)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Looking to '05

So, a couple more days and 2003 will join years 1-2003 in the been there, done that catergory, which means we've got a new year to look forward to. Many major events will happen in 2005, most notably I'll start up my third decade of life, as I turn the big two-oh. What other major event happens on that day, May 19, 2005? Why, it's the release of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the final Star Wars movie ever. Talk about the end of an era, as my teen years draw to a close, so does the saga that has shaped me more than any other piece of fiction I've ever run in to. When I was a young lad of three or four, I saw Star Wars, and was hooked on films from then on. I made it through the dark era of the early 90s, the boom time of the Special Editions and the backlash of the prequels. It's been a great run, and I'm not happy to see it come to a close, but I am really excited about seeing the film itself. In fact, it ranks number one on my most anticipated films of 2005:

1. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith - As I said, this one's very close to my heart. It probably won't be the best film of the year, but I'm still psyched to see it more than any other, and it probably will be one of the best theatrical experiences. I think the prequel trilogy so far has been good, but it can't compare to the original trilogy, nothing can. However, this is the story I've been waiting for since the 80s, and to finally connect the two will be quite something. It's the end of an era here.

2. Sin City - The trailer is a thing of beauty, it perfectly captures the look and the feel of the books, which are brilliant. The Yellow Bastard left me in shock staring at the final pages, and I want to see that done in film. The cast is great, the look is completely unique, and the movie feels totally differnet from anything else ever released. Even if this fails on some levels, it's going to look so good, it'll at least be entertaining to watch.

3. The Fountain - Darren Aronofsky's long rumored "post Matrix" sci-fi project seems to finally be filming, and may actually be released in 2005, here's hoping. I'm not really sure what the plot is, but it has something to do with the fountain of youth, and seems very Philip K. Dick/Grant Morrison. Aronofsky's already one of my favorite directors, so combining that with a story that's like one of my favorite writers, awesomeness potential is off the charts. I think this is going to be the film that elevates Darren from an already high level to celluloid God. We shall see.

4. 2046 - I'll actually be seeing this one in the next couple of weeks, on a Chinese all region DVD, but it'll also be released in the theater, and I'm hoping to get there as well. This is by the great director, Wong Kar-Wai. I've now seen all his other films, and this one looks like it's got the potential to be his best. Extremely stylish, a great cast, and his always great direction should put this over the top. I'd like to see it crossover and make it to the mainstream, in addition to the art cinemas, becuase Wong's style is something that needs to get out there into the cultural consciousness.

5. A Scanner Darkly - Richard Linklater's next, an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick book, done in the animation style of Waking Life. I liked the book a lot, and based on Waking Life, Linklater is clearly a PKD fan. Linklater has done a lot of movies talking about odd stuff, but he's never really done a sci-fi movie, so this should be interesting to see. It'll almost certainly be better than the recent string of awful PKD adaptations that have bombed theaters. Linklater is one of the best filmmakers working today, and he's coming off his best work yet, Before Sunset, so this will be crucial in seeing if he can do more than just talk.

6. Serenity - Joss Whedon writes and directs a film based on his cancelled series, Firefly. I've only seen three eps of Firefly, but it's got a lot of potential, and it's going to be really interesting to see Joss step things up to a feature film after so many years in TV. I'm hoping for a really arty film, rather than a mainstream action type movie, but we'll see. If this is a success, maybe we'll see another Buffyverse project.

7. Charlie and the Chocalate Factory - Tim Burton's next. I was a bit hesitant about this, but the trailer is so over the top, I've got a better feeling. It's definitely a return to classic Burton in terms of ridiculous visual style, after the toned down Planet of the Apes and Big Fish. This'll probably turn out to be his best film since Mars Attacks.

So, those seven should be pretty solid, and hopefully some other stuff will turn up as well. Still no sign of new David Lynch or Paul Thomas Anderson, but maybe by 2005, they'll have started up a new project, and maybe we'll even see some new filmmakers dropping great films, or existing ones stepping up their game. So much potential in a new year of stuff. It is good.

Related Posts
My 2005 Oscar Nominations (1/31/2005)
Looking to '06 (12/27/2005)
Top 10 Films of 2005 (1/1/2006)

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Office: The Christmas Special

So, throughout the run of The Office, it's been a notably downbeat series. The characters have been forced to compromise their ideals, gone through lots of embaressment, rejection, and sadness. Calling the first two series comedy is really inaccurate, it's more of a tragedy, the rise and fall of David Brent, as well as the gradual destruction of Tim and Dawn. So, after these two seasons of awful tragedy, where's left to go, further down, or perhaps, life isn't that bad after all.

For most of the Christmas special, we see a David resigned to his fate. He's been fired, but he still clings to his friends in the office, and relies on them for his social interaction. He tries to make himself into a hero, and is constantly forcing Neil to be a heavy. However, despite his front, he is getting gradually destroyed inside. His public appearances are degrading, and leave him depressed. Things get worse when Neil bans him from the office, and he asks his co-workers to have a drink with him, but no one responds, prompting Alice to tell him that none of them really like him. In the series, it would probably end there, in an awful awkward moment, but here, Tim steps in and offers to have a drink with David. Tim has always been a good guy, and that gesture clearly means a lot to David. Rather than having his self confidence destroyed, Tim steps in, and is a friend for someone in need.

Most of the Christmas special is just build up, and catching you up on what's happened with the characters in the time since the series. It's not as tight as your average episode of the series, which isn't to say that it's bad, it's just not designed to be as funny.

In the Florida scenes, we see the effects of Dawn's choice in the second series. She chose Lee because he could provide for her, but here, they end up sitting around Lee's sister's house, caring for her baby. Dawn looks desperately unhappy, and Lee has become lazy and content to just sit there and mooch off his sister. Also, she has given up her dream of being an artist. This is crucial because the dream was what kept her going, and now she has no hope for the future, things will be the same as they are forever.

So, when she goes back to see Tim, she's reminded of what she's lost. He is sad that she's given up her dream of being an illustrator, a dream that he supported. This is emphasized the most during the party when Tim says it's a shame that Dawn gave up the illustrating, and Lee says she could only make money at it if she was good, thus destroying both her self confidence in her art, and her hope of being an artist.

Tim in the special seems to have found a kind of equilibrium, and despite still being annoyed by Gareth, he is almost content in his position at the office. He still is clearly in love with Dawn, but doesn't let the fact that he doesn't have her get to him.

So, the special, and the entire series build to the Christmas party sequence at the end of the special. This sequence is massively important for both Brent and Tim and Dawn. For Brent, it is a critical turning point. He's said that he was going to bring a woman to the party, and Neil reveled in questioning about this, pointing out the obvious fact that he has no one. So, as the party begins, we see Brent waiting for his blind date to arrive. His two previous dates had gone awfully, so he's not expecting much. However, when his date does arrive, she's nice, and we finally see Brent let down his guard. He walks by Finch and Neil, but rather than trying to impress them, he spends the entire party alone talking with her. Rather than trying to be the center of attention, he's content to just talk with her. He's no longer putting on a show, he's just being himself. Things go well for Brent, and we don't know if their relationship will go anywhere, but the thing is, he had a good night, and for the first time in the entire run of the series, he's really connected with someone.

This is followed up by a critical moment for Brent. He passes by Chris Finch, who makes a joke about David's date, and rather than laughing along with it, as he would have before, David tells Chris to "fuck off." Here, David is faced with a choice between his past and his future. Finch was his idol, and represents the old Brent, in that he is always concerned with having a laugh, and being the center of attention, rather than considering people's feelings. In rejecting Chris Finch, he rejects the old version of himself, and thus, we're left with the feeling that he has changed, and has gotten a new set of priorities.

While this is good, the real highlight of the party sequence is Tim and Dawn. At the beginning of the party, they're hanging out together, and having fun, but there is clearly a lot being left unsaid. One of the most notable scenes is when they are winding up Gareth, and Lee comes in and explains that they're making fun of him. Lee has come in and destroyed one of their favorite activities. Eventuallly, Lee and Dawn leave, and Tim is left at the party alone.

Probably the best scene in the entire series is when Dawn opens the secret santa gift and sees that it's a set of paints from Tim. In giving her the paints, Tim is giving Dawn back her dreams, and as his note says, telling her she should never give up, because just the act of having the dream will keep her going when things are bad. Seeing the paints overwhelms her because it makes the differences between Tim and Lee so clear. For Lee, the painting is a waste of time and impractical, but Tim recognizes that it makes her happy, and thus is important.

This leads to the brilliant payoff, where we see Dawn walk into the party and her and Tim finally kiss. This is such a perfect scene, the music, the way it's shot and the moment itself. The characters have been through so much bad stuff, it makes their embrace even more powerful. This is the feeling that practically every filmmaker who's ever made a romance film is going for, and I don't think it's ever been achieved as well as here. The fact that Dawn and Tim make it together gives hope to both characters, and changes the office from something of a prison to a place that might not be great, but it's not important, because they have each other now.

At its heart, the series is about coming to terms with your situation in life. Tim at first is almost angry about being in the office, and wants to get out, but by the end, he realizes that his job might not be great, but that doesn't mean his life isn't great either. Dawn may never make an artist, but the fact that she has someone who will support her through whatever she does makes the bad stuff she has to face insignificant. And Brent may not be an entertainer, but in the end, he has people who apperciate him, and he realizes that there's more to life than having a laugh.

When they take the picture at the end, I get the feeling that this is the last time Brent will be at the office. There's a sense of closure, like he doesn't need to impress them anymore, and when he's not trying as hard, he actually gets a laugh. Similarly, Tim no longer wants to leave so desperately. He's content where he is, and while there may not be great things in his future, there will be happiness. It's all about realizing that life may not always be great, but there's always some good to be had, some fun along the way, and by the end, each of the characters have found peace.

I'll just say that the first time I watched the special I liked it, but didn't really get it I guess. On the second viewing, I was really affected by everything that happened. The Tim/Dawn and the change of Brent at the end hit me on a more emotional level than they had on the first viewing. I loved the darkness of the show on the first go, and the second time through, it was more the light at the ending that really hit me.

There's so much depth and many layers in the series, all developed in such a short period of time. The series isn't exactly a comedy, or a drama, or a romance, it's all three, and none at all. It's just a story that's really well told.

Related Posts
The Office (12/26/2004)
Top 10 TV Moments (1/29/2005)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Office

Yesterday, I finished rewatching the brilliant British series, The Office. The Office is about a bunch of people who work at an office. It's a brutally realistic show, reveling in the awkward moments that people have when interacting in everyday life. It's similar to Curb Your Enthusiasm, in both shooting style and level of humor, but it has another element, which elevates above mere comedy. The show transcends genre, it's just a story, the story of four people, and what happens to them over a period of time. I can't reccomend it highly enough, it truly is one of the greatest stories ever told.

The series has a ton of stuff to analyze, and I'm going to cover a little bit of it here. The central character for most of the series is David Brent. Throughout the series, we are made aware of the way that Brent's image of himself contrasts with both the reality of who he is, and the way that he is perceieved by the people who work with him. Brent considers himself the best boss that people will ever have. He's a "chilled out entertainer" in the work place, and considers "having a laugh" the great compliment he can receive. He considers himself one of the funniest people in the world, and feels like the office is a stage for his comedy. He never seems concerned about actual productivity, he is concerned with keeping morale up, but this is really just an excuse for him to make jokes.

Throughout the first series, the myth of David Brent is built up. We get to know the character and the way he perceives himself. He thinks he's hilarious, but the people in the office generally view him either negatively or with complete apathy. For them, it's just a job, and they don't understand the fact that they're supposed to be David's audience. David also has major problems understanding his people. In the first episode, he tells Dawn she's fired as a practical joke, but she doesn't realize this, and ends up in tears, leaving him sitting there, just staring at her very real emotion. He's supposed to be an entertainer, but he's reduced her to tears.

During the first season, Brent has some successes. When he plays guitar for his co-workers, they seem to actually enjoy it. In the first season, most of the workers tolerate Brent's schtick. They may not find him hilarious, but no one really calls him on his behavior either.

Running parallel with this over the course of the first season is the story of Tim and Dawn. Throughout the series, they're treated as parallel characters, simultaneously pushing each other forward and holding each other back. Tim clearly is in love with Dawn from the start of the series, but she has a fiancee, Lee. They're both different from Brent and Gareth in that they don't like their jobs, and consider it only a stopover on their way, rather than an end in itself. Both see the office as something of a prison, and feel that the longer they stay there, the less likely they are to ever leave. Tim asks Dawn out in episode four, and she rejects him, so, from then on, there's a slight awkwardness in their relationship.

As season one ends, Brent is promoted, and is given Jennifer's job. He promptly rejects all his workers in favor of taking the promotion himself. Thus, all his rhetoric about caring about his employees, and treating them as a family is gone when it comes time to help himself personally. One of the best scenes of season one is when Brent presents the "good news and the bad news" to his workers, namely that they all may be fired, and will have to relocate, but he's got a promotion. The party scene at the end of the season is also brilliant. Brent says that he's decided not to take the promotion, to help them out, but later, he's confronted by Malcolm, who says that Brent couldn't get the promotion because of a medical problem. This is the first example of Brent's image being broken down. He's at his high point in their esteem, and when his lie is brought to the surface, he doesn't know what to do.

The other major event at the party sequence is when Tim tells Dawn that he's accepted a promotion, and is staying on, rather than going to university. For Dawn, this represents the vicarious destruction of her dream. If Tim could get out, it gave her hope that she could also, so his choice to stay there destroys a part of her also. The season ends with Tim and Brent having sold out, Dawn is distraught, and things generally look bleaker than they did at the beginning of the season.

The entire second season is devoted to destroying the myth of David Brent. Over the course of the first season, he builds up this idea that he's the greatest boss, and a hilarious entertainer. In the second season, we see this illusion smashed, and reality hits Brent.

Neil comes into the show to serve as a double for Brent, basically being the person Brent wants to be/thinks he actually is. At the meeting with the workers, Neil is witty, kind, and clearly liked by the people he is working with. Then, Brent goes on, tries to get huge laughs, and completely bombs. Later in the episode, Brent is brought to task by his bosses twice for making racist jokes. In the second season, Brent is constantly under watch, and as a result, his failures are much more apparent. He cannot get away with doing whatever he wants.

In the second episode of the season, we see Brent's facade crack for the first time. He takes the Swindon lot out for a drink, and attempts to win them over, but completely fails, and even admits that he has failed. He comes back and gets yelled at by Neil, which leads to his confession to Dawn that he's unhappy. This is the first time we see David at loose ends, unsure of himself.

This downfall continues when he bombs at a motivational speaking session, culminating in the dance scene. For comic relief day, Neil and Rachael do a dance, with Brent dismisses, claiming he could do a better one, and proceeds to perform an incredibly awful dance that leaves the workers flabbergasted. His showboating, combined with lack of doing any actual work leads to him getting fired. The scene in which he's fired sees all his negligence catch up with him. He never does any actual work, and it becomes a problem. It's perfect that he's fired on comic relief day, which should be the ultimate showcase for him, and ends up being the sight of his downfall.

In the final episode of the season, things go worse for him, he's fired from the motivational speaking job, and forced to beg Neil for his job back. This scene sees the myth of David Brent completely destroyed. He's no longer in control, he's not trying to be funny, he just wants his job, because without it, he has nothing. The office is his stage, and his purpose in life. He doesn't have any friends outside the office, and being fired is the equivalent of death for him. I love the way the season ends on such a down note. There's no attempt to make him feel better, there's just the reality, this guy is bad at his job, and has to be fired, and his feelings on the matter don't really come into play.

At the same time, over the course of the second season, we discover Dawn's dream of being an illustrator. Dawn is watching herself drift towards a life she doesn't really want. In marrying Lee and keeping the job as a receptionist, she's doing the safe thing, the thing that will keep her from being poor, but she's also destroying her passion. The most important speech for her is when she talks about how she used to say she was an illustrator, who did some work as a receptionist, but now she's just a receptionist. She has given up the dream, and basically accepted her role in the office. There's a divide between people who consider the job their ultimate goal, like Gareth, and those who just consider it a stopover. In saying this, Dawn has basically given up the hope that it's just a stopover, and consigned herself to an unfulfilling life.

While this is going on, she's seeing Tim drifting away from her. At the beginning of the season, he's a stickler for work, and discourages frivolity in The Office, but later, it's when he is going out with Rachel that we see Dawn at her lowest ebb. Tim had been the hope that she had that she could get out of the office and do something with her life, and to see him not only drifting into a permanent position, but also a permanent relationship is to see all her dreams destroyed.

For Tim himself, there is also an element of accepting his fate. He hopes to be in David's chair one day, and at the beginning of season two is clearly on the way up within the company. He's put his dreams on hold, but indefinitely. Gareth talks about the fact that having pipe dreams is good, even though you're never going to get to them, and Tim still has the dream of leaving to become a psychologist, but with each year, it becomes less and less likely.

As season two ends, Dawn is ready to leave for Florida with Lee, which is basically her deciding that being practical and having someone who can pay the bills is more important than persuing your dream. Despite pining for Tim the entire season, when he finally does ask her out, she rejects him, and leaves the country. The sequence in which he asks her out, done with no sound, is absoultely phenomenal, the silence is suffocating.

So, the end of series two leaves Tim and Dawn with their dreams shattered, and Brent with his world destroyed, but there is hope, in the special.

Related Posts
The Office: The Christmas Special (12/27/2005)
Top 10 TV Moments (1/29/2005)

The Life Aquatic

So, I just saw The Life Aquatic, the new movie from Wes Anderson. I completely loved The Royal Tenenbaums, the opening sequence, with 'Hey Jude,' is similar in scope and genius to the 'One' sequence in Magnolia. It tells the whole story of the family, and introduces all the characters in five or so minutes, with astonishingly inventive visual tropes. The end where the falcon flies off just left me in awe. But, I'm not as big a fan of Rushmore and Bottle Rocket. They were definitely quirky, but sometimes too self consciously so.

Where does Life Aquatic fall? It's not as good as Tenenbaums, but it's definitely better than his first two films. Bill Murray is so relaxed in his performance, he's almost catatonic and it works perfectly for the character. He is Steve Zissou, and serves as the anchor of the movie, no pun intended. The visual style of the movie is really interesting. The sea creatures are CG, and are incorporated seamlessly with the live action stuff. The underwater photography is great, and the pastiche documentaries are hilarious.

I love the relationship between Jane and Ned, it develops naturally and is really sweet. Klaus is a great character, and was interesting to watch whenever he was on. The way the movie moved between mostly light comedy, and some heavy drama was really interesting to watch, and the death at the end is completely unexpected, and seems almost unbelievable. It doesn't belong in the world of the film.

Some of the stuff in the film strays into the overly quirky. Also, Steve's whole situation is rather muddled, and what he wants and where he's going isn't exactly clear. This isn't necessarily a negative, but it makes it tough to really get involved with the characters. He sort of drifts through the film, and as a result, the film doesn't have a real feeling of forward momentum. This doesn't stop it from being a good film, but it may prevent it from being a great film.

However, there is one incredible sequence that pretty much makes up for any of the problems, and that's when they go undersea in the submarine and confront the jaguar shark. Sigur Ros' Starl Fur is the soundtrack, and the jaguar shark is an astonishing thing. It's a perfect combination of music and image, and a transcendent movie moment. See the movie for that alone.

Related Posts
Magnolia: PTA's Masterpiece (7/22/2005)

What's going on with me?

This break so far has been really intense, a lot of really deep, challenging discussion. I feel like our years of repression of emotions has led to an era in which everyone is depressed and I do nothing, but talk about my problems, and whine about how screwed up we all are. Everyone is screwed up, but that doesn’t mean that the future isn’t going to be different, for better or worse. All we can do is try to move forward, lose the things we don’t like about ourselves and build up the parts we do. That sounds really easy, but it's tough to do, and just the act of whining gives you this feeling that that alone is going to do something.

One thing I feel like is it might be our attempts to make films and such that give us this feeling that we were all so holed up. I don't get the impression that a lot of people I know from college go back to their friends at home and have three hour discussions about the things they failed at in high school. But, then again, I doubt that people there would think that I would do that. To quote one of my favorite movie quotes, "We all wear masks, metaphorically speaking." And, I feel like what I'm doing here is letting down the mask and you see all the screwups, but the other people I know have the same problems, and we all covered them with these masks. Is that common behavior? I'm not sure, I don't think it's only us, but it's not everyone by any means.

I've actually been rather happy lately, it is Christmas, but it's not just that, I feel like a confluence of events is happening that will make 2005 a year of massive change, or rather, some opportunities have been presented to me that will allow me to change my situations in 2005, and make them better. Active rather than reactive, that's the goal.

Related Posts
Reflecting on 2004 (12/31/2004)
So This is the New Year (And I Don't Feel Any Different (1/1/2005)

Monday, December 20, 2004

What makes an action movie work?

I'm going home tomorrow. It's been a really quick semester, seems like it just started and now it's half way over. Or perhaps half full. So, break the big push is to make a movie. Hopefully, this'll be the best thing I've ever done, and will be a big step up. I'm really psyched to see what we can do, and hopefully, will have some fun along the way. It's always good to have some kind or project keeping you moving forward. I feel like if I'm just going along, with no real goal in sight, I get more easily annoyed at things and am just less happy, but when I'm working towards something, things are better.

What else am I up to over break? I ordered 2046, the Wong Kar-Wai movie, yesterday, and I'm really looking forward to watching that. Once I see that, I'll have seen all of his movies. He's already one of my favorite directors, but with that film, he'll become one of about five or so people who I've seen everything they've done. He'll join Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, and Quentin Tarantino among the people who've made a lot of movies, and I've seen every one. It's good company, and of those, Wong is definitely one of the most interesting directors. This past year, I've been watching a lot more foreign movies, and "art films," and Wong is probably the best producer of the pop-art film. His movies are always compulsively entertaining, and visually brilliant, while keeping the unclear, wandering plots of art cinema. However, the plot isn't the show in his movies, it's really the craft adn the emotion. Chungking Express, not that much happens, but the in between moments are so perfectly produced, it doesn't matter. That movie is also the best example of him creating characters you really care about, notably Faye and Officer 633.

I guess the most significant thing about Wong Kar-Wai's movies is the rambling nature of their narrative. Most Hollywood movies are so tightly constructed that there's no room for artistic tangents. This isn't always a bad thing, but it can restrict the artist's choices. Plot comes first, and character development comes second, something that's not always a good thing. The best plots come out of character choices. Recent action movies seem to be reducing any sort of character development, and instead become really long chase sequences that stretch over the movie's entire length. See Terminator 3 or The Transporter for examples of this. If you compare Terminator 2, where you really care about the characters, to Terminator 3, where the characters are barely established before we go off on a movie-long chase, you can see how action movies have changed. Wong's Fallen Angels or Ashes of Time are two movies that value character development and artistic expression over the action. Another example of a great action movie from recent times is Hero, which had great characters, incredible artistic flourishes and awesome action. The two are not mutually exclusive. The Matrix: Reloaded, despite being hated by people, worked because it was a director's showcase. They were going to make the coolest movie they possibly could, and to some extent, succeeded. Kill Bill was another example of that, and was even more successful. But, even in Volume 1, there are enough character moments that you actually care about who's involved in the action. And Volume 2 transcends that, to the point where the action is periphary, the real drama is in the characters interacting with each other.

Notably, what I'd consider to be probably the best action film of all time, Leon: The Professional, works solely because of the character development. What would be the main focus of any other movie, the rivalry between Leon and the Gary Oldman character, is pushed to the side, and instead we focus on the relationship between Leon and Mathilda, which is absolutely riveting to watch. Their relationship is one of the most interesting between two characters in any film, and that's what makes the movie work, not the guns or violence.

I wouldn't be particularly interested in making an action movie, because most action movies ignore the more interesting issues that surround the violence. I could see myself doing something like The Invisibles Volume II, which features incredible action, but is more about deconstructing the action, and using it as a way of making both King Mob and the audience reassess their attitudes towards violence. The total over the topness of the scene in Counting to None where he busts in on Takashi being tortured and guns down some Japanese business men in an over the top way is basically distilling the action movie to its bloody essence. The Invisibles is a commentary on filmic and comic book presentations of violence. I'd be interested in exploring that, juxtaposing the fact that we think those scenes are so incredibly cool with the fact that they're about killing people, which is inherently wrong. I'd also love to do an action movie that looks at violence in the way Irreversible does.

Irreversible takes the emotional justification out of the revenge film, and in the opening scene, it presents the brutality of revenge for what it is, just more violence. It makes the audience at first repulsed by what the characters are doing, but then, during the rape sequence later, puts the audience in the same mindset. I'd much rather play with audience expectations and emotions towards violence than just present violence as an end in itself.

And in talking about quality action stuff, I can't neglect to mention Buffy. Sure, it's a series about fighting vampires and preventing the apocalypse, but what matters much more is the personal interaction. Very few people who really like the show watch it for the fighting. Buffy the character is much more interesting than Buffy the action figure.

If you want to make a good action, make good characters first, then whatever you have happen will be interesting to watch.

Related Posts
Fallen Angels (12/10/2004)
Leon: The Professional (2/18/2005)
Ashes of Time (4/20/2005)

The Filth: Issue 3

I don't think issue three of The Filth is one of its strongest issues. It goes over a lot of classic Morrison concepts and doesn't bring that much new to them. It's difficult to place this into the overall narrative of the piece, and a lot of its significance doesn't become apparent later. That said, it's not like there isn't good stuff.

The opening sequence is classic Morrison, revisiting stuff previously discussed in Animal Man and Flex Mentallo. The idea that Hand agents can enter a superhero comic and affect it on the page ties in with his ideas of different layers of reality. The Filth is a comic that exists in our reality. It appears in two dimensions in our reality. The tale of Secret Original exists in two dimensions within the reality of The Filth, a comic within a comic. The idea that the hand agents can leave the page gives them the 5D power over space and time that John a Dreams has in The Invisibles. The most interesting thing to me about this sequence is seeing the 2D characters' reaction to the changes in their universe. I also love the idea of these people using the "paperverse" as a farm for technology. The fact that they can go in, grab the scorpion gun, and then return to three dimensional reality is very cool. It's using fiction as a farm for reality, and the interplay between the two there is really interesting. It's almost a literal representation of the way invention turns idea into reality.

Secret Original himself is a character whose been drawn out of his fictional universe into the "real" world. I love the idea that, upon realizing the fictionality of his universe, he is subjected to all kinds of twisted versions, notably the slash style tales of him and Eve.

What I find most interesting here is Greg's emotional journey. In burying the cat, we see him feeling very real emotions, and in the world he exists in, that's his only anchor. Emotion is his reality. That's why Greg sticks where Ned doesn't. However, he can never return to the world he had before. For one thing, he's got another version of himself tied up in the closet, for another, Dmitri has turned up to try to get him back to the hand.

It's notable that Greg has lost the combover. His transformation to Ned Slade has stuck a little bit, the new Greg is much cooler than Greg circa issue one.

Related Posts
The Filth: Issues 1 and 2 (12/18/2004)
Seaguy (4/9/2005)
We3 (6/22/2005)

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Filth: Issues 1 and 2

In 1994, ten years ago, Grant Morrison began the comic book series The Invisibles, which concluded in 2000. I've been over that series countless times, and it gave me hundreds of ideas to think about. Incredibly layered, with great characters, dazzling concepts, and spectacular action, it's my favorite story of all time, any medium. Well, in June 2002, he began his most important series since The Invisibles, something that would continue his "sigil trilogy," as well as further explore the cosmology created in The Invisibles. I read the series as it came out in monthlies, and then did a reread last year, shortly after the last issue came out. But, it's been a year since I touched the book, and after picking up the trade, I felt it was time to return to the world of The Filth. So far, I've read the first two issues, but already it's a series awash in interesting concepts.

The Filth is a deconstruction of the fantasy world of The Invisibles. Over the course of Volume I, Morrison realized that what was happening to King Mob in the book was happening to himself in real life. So, starting with Volume II, he made King Mob into an even cooler assassin, gave him a girlfriend, and better clothes. Morrison had turned King Mob into a fantasy figure of what he could be. In the first pages of The Filth, Morrison completely deconstructs this figure, and presents us with an alternate version of the archetypal Morrison bald hero. Greg Feely is stuck in a depressingly real world. When we first see him, he's being laughed at by kids as he buys porn, spends the night home alone, except for his cat, then heckled by his boss at work. Feely is essentially cutting the cool out of King Mob, and placing him into this pathetic world. During 'Black Science II,' King Mob is shown an image of his worst nightmare himself overweight, sitting on a couch, watching TV, and that's exactly who Greg Feely is.

However, Morrison doesn't make Feely an entirely unsympathetic character. He retains a part of King Mob's more sensitive side. When Mob confronts the magic mirror in 'Black Science I,' all his worst memories come rushing back to him: "When Jacqui left me, when my cat died." All that Feely has is his cat, Tony. It is that emotional connection that keeps him going through all the crazy, bad stuff that happens later in the book. Tony is Greg's anchor to reality.

One of the most important things about The Filth is the concept that we cannot eradicate darkness, instead we have to confront and try to use it for our advantage. This is explicitly represented in the story of Soon Li. "She wondered if intead of trying to kill diseases we could befriend them. She dreamed that personal I-Life helpers could eliminate disease and repair damaged tissue. Here are I-Life microbots pacifying a throat cancer cell and persuading it to evolve into a non-malignant helper T-Cell." This one page encompasses the most important theme of The Invisibles, the idea that we have to befriend people until they beg for mercy, it's love as a weapon.

We all have to be like I-Life, and confront the darkness. This is why the book has such an aura of nastiness. Right from the title, you can tell this isn't a pretty book, it doesn't have the pop sheen of most of Morrison's work. Instead, it's got a very nasty, organic feel, with a constant focus on bodily fluids and nasty sex. Greg's porn obsession, the porn that is delivered to Greg's apartment, which features "White men with black dicks...fucking your wife." That about sums up the flavor of the series, it's concerned with nastiness that exists beneath humanity. The garbage filled waters the dolphins swim through, the bizarre orgy Simon has over the bonsai planet, necro-pornography and much more to come. The Hand works out of the crack, and that describes both the fact that the stuff they deal with has fallen through the cracks of society, and the fact that they are basically dealing with the shit of the world.

Ok, so it's a nasty world, one Greg discovers when he confronts Miami in his shower, naked except for a combover, a pretty nasty image, that recalls Aphex Twin's Windowlicker video, with its juxtaposition of the attractive and the repulsive. After meeting Miami, a colored liquid leaks out of Greg's nose, something we eventually realize is the liquid formula for Greg Feely. Miami is trying to de-Greg Greg and return him to his previous state, as Hand superagent Ned Slade, except Greg sticks, and is clearly reluctant about being Ned. After being used in issue two, he quits, an indication that perhaps the parapersonality Greg Feely is the real one. Except, that Greg is being replaced by a double who is exactly like him. Ned, formerly Greg, is forced to look at a new Greg getting ready to take over his life, and with him, a new Tony. Ned threatens the new Greg, and saves Tony as a result. To him, the feelings he feels for Tony are real, and are unique to this Tony, they could not be replicated with a double.

The first issue ends with the appearance of Sharon Jones, someone whose body has been taken over by Simon, "the world's richest and most perverted man." She serves as a camera for Simon, and is completely under his control. At one point do we cease to be ourselves? The body of Sharon is gone, and she's been replaced by the mind of Simon, so she she more Sharon or Simon?

One of the best pages of the entire series is in issue two, where Ned stares out into the murky waters and ponders his existence. "This has to be Hell or some Tibetan Bardo experience. And I keep thing...if I was going through some sort of weird after-life purgatory, would I know it?" This ties into David Lynch's movies Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, which explore those very questions. There's a really interesting series of panels where we see Greg in heat vision, x-ray vision and negative vision. Which one is the real Greg? The ending exchange is brilliant. Miami asks Greg, "Everybody needs you to be normal...can't you just act it?" To which Greg responds "Act? Act? What's my fucking motivation?" Is Greg now playing the role of Ned, or is Ned still stuck in having to play the role of Greg, so that being Ned becomes a role? This ties in with The Invisibles idea that you can control reality through action, if Greg starts acting like Ned is supposed to, does he become Ned?

The I-Life tie in with many of the themes later in the series. One of Morrison's favorite concepts is "as above, so below," and he is constantly playing with the difference between individuality and collective thought. In interviews, Morrison has discussed the idea that just as I am not just a bunch of cells, when the cells work together, they become an entity known as "Patrick Meaney." The cells alone could not do what I do, but together they become something more. Morrison presented the idea that each person is like one of the individual cells in the body, and that when we join together, into the supercontext, we can become some kind of new entity. He feels that humanity is now in its larval state, and will eventually leave a cocoon and become a completely new entity, the journey from caterpillar to butterfly. The I-Life are what it would be if each of our individual cells has consciousness. The humans try to use them for assassination missions, but that doesn't work. Instead, they work for their own survival, as when they consume their founder Dr. Soon. With the creation the bonzai planet, the I-Life have their own world, just like the Earth. As above, so below.

What the I-Life creatures do to the Hand investigators sent in to regulate them is idiotize them, make them into "retarded children." They have taken away the functions of higher consciousness, so these people are now just a collection of cells, rather than the higher thought functions. Later, the I-Life take over Sharon Jones, and turn her into the bio-ship Sharon Jones. This is a literalization of the idea that we are just a carrier for a bunch of cells. The I-Life use Sharon Jones as a vehicle to travel around in. In some ways, this is what all humans are, just a vessel for cells to travel in.

The issue ends with Ned confronting Spartacus Hughes. Ned beats him because Spartacus was expecting a better foe, the "real" Ned Slade as opposed to someone who is just acting like Ned Slade. When Spartacus Hughes dies, he says "Anyone can be Spartacus Hughes," which is explained later when Spartacus turns up in a different body. Spartacus is just a parapersonality, a role to play, much like Ned Slade is.

As he is dying Spartacus sees an entire civilization of I-Life in front of him, an image that parallels what Greg sees in the puddle of milk towards the end of the book.

So, Greg confronts LePen, and says that he wants to know what he was before he was Ned, to which LePen responds "what was your face before you were born?" The real person is irrelevant, all that matters is the role you've been programmed to play. That's why Ned choosing to quit represents such a rupture to status: q.

So, that's the first two issues. Lots of interesting concepts, and even more to come.

Related Posts
The Filth: Issue 3 (12/20/2004)
Seaguy (4/9/2005)
We3 (6/22/2005)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Twin Peaks and Buffy

This was an essay I did for the final for my TV class. Check it out, it doesn't go too far in depth, but it's got some good stuff.

For most of television’s history, the television drama was an exclusively male dominated form, featuring male protagonists in male-oriented genres, like action or cop series. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, new shows began to combine traits of existing drama series, with those of a traditionally female oriented genre, the soap opera, traits like serialization and a strong focus on the emotional lives of characters. Both Twin Peaks and Buffy the Vampire Slayer combine a traditionally male-oriented genre, the action or cop series, with heavy use of soap opera elements. In meshing the two genres, the series embrace a new type of storytelling that has more in common with art cinema or a novel than with a traditional TV series.
Twin Peaks was a fusion of two traditional television genres, the male oriented cop drama and the soap opera. The show fully embraces genre conventions of each. The main character, Dale Cooper, is an FBI agent, who, over the course of the series works with a local sheriff’s department to solve the murder of Laura Palmer. While the serialization of the investigation is unusual, the setup is classic television. Sheriff Truman and the rustic Twin Peaks police department bring to mind The Andy Griffith Show. Cooper’s adventures in investigating the murder would be at home on traditional cop shows. He questions all the people who knew Laura, finding out new information from each person. He goes undercover in the first season finale, and during a stakeout succeeds in capturing a prime suspect in the murder. The investigative techniques used by the characters are typical of television cop series, but the serialization of the investigation makes it unique.
However, the show has another dimension that is pure soap opera. The series’ focus on many different characters within a single town recalls day time soap operas like Days of Our Lives. The writers are unapologetic about their adoption of soap opera conventions, as shown by the show within a show, Invitation to Love. The introduction of Laura’s identical cousin, Maddie, is both a stereotypical soap opera plot, and recalls an early female-oriented program, The Pattie Duke Show. Also, the show’s intensely serial nature is directly descended from soap opera. Every episode is continuous, and plot threads routinely stretch on for ten or twelve episodes. So, the series uses a soap opera structure as the backdrop for a serious police investigation, with the characters’ personal lives and conflicts viewed through the lens of a cop show. In this way, the creators are able to have a show with the gravity of a cop drama, but the continuing emotional development of a soap opera.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer also fuses two traditional genres together. On one level, it’s an action show, about a girl fighting vampires, but on another level it’s a relationship drama, that frequently strays into soap opera. What Buffy does is use the action conflicts to physically represent the emotional conflict of the characters. This is first done successfully in the second season when, after sleeping with Buffy, Angel loses his soul and becomes Angelus. In the following episode, “Innocence,” Buffy and Angel fight, and through their fighting, Buffy attempts to work out her emotional issues with regards to the new Angel. So, while the fight is a necessary element of an action show, it also serves a soap opera element, a physical representation of the characters’ emotional problems.
Another scene that uses fighting as a way of working out emotional issues is Buffy and Spike’s fight in “Smashed.” For an entire season, Spike had been in love with Buffy, but she had resisted him. In “Smashed,” he finds out he can hurt her, and they fight each other, however, as they hit each other they gradually begin to kiss, and eventually have sex, the implicit message being that for Buffy and Spike, sex and violence are the same urge. The scene represents the way the show turns violence into an act of communication between people. Because Buffy is the slayer, and so many of the people she deals with are superpowered, they engage each other through physical violence rather than traditional discussion. Buffy and Spike relate purely on the level of violence, something she makes explicit when she says, “Well, I do beat him up a lot. For Spike that's like third base.” By basing Buffy and Spike’s relationship on physical conflict, the writers are able to incorporate the action elements into the soap opera plots.
Because Buffy is an action show, it has to have a fight scene in each show. But as the show goes on, the fight scene moves to the periphery, and the soap opera elements become more prominent, a trend that culminates in the sixth season. While most seasons are driven by a fight against “the big bad,” such as fallen God, Glory, the sixth season is driven purely by the personal problems of the characters. In addition to this, it is the most serialized season, a heavily soap operatic element. The main villains of the season are a trio of geeky people Buffy went to high school with, who have just as many personal problems as the heroes. All the plot developments revolve around traumas within the group. Buffy, who had been resurrected earlier in the year, has to deal with the fact that she was pulled out of heaven, and now “lives in hell” as a result. Xander and Anya deal with anxiety over their upcoming marriage, and eventually with the consequences of their breakup, a storyline reminiscent of soap opera. Willow struggles with her breakup with Tara, and her subsequent “addiction” to magic, an arc that culminates when she turns evil and attempts to destroy the world at the end of the season.
The Willow plot in season six takes a soap opera convention, the addiction plot, and plays it out on a grander scale. Starting with season two, Willow had used magic, but in the beginning of season six, Tara breaks up with her, due to overuse of magic. This sets up the episodes “Smashed” and “Wrecked,” where she bottoms out after a binge that leads to Dawn getting hurt. She is “clean” for a while, and reunites with Tara, but Tara gets shot by Warren, which sends Willow over the edge. She uses magic to rip the skin off of Warren and kill him, and then proceeds to attack her friends. Eventually, she decides that the pain is too much, and tries to end the world, only to be saved by Xander, her closest friend.
By comparing the end of the Willow arc to a similar story on Six Feet Under, we can see how Buffy takes soap opera conventions and plays them out using the tropes of an action show. Six Feet Under uses soap opera conventions, without filtering them through an action show lens. In Six Feet Under, after Nate’s wife goes missing, presumed dead, he goes on a drinking binge, allows himself to be beaten up, and contemplates suicide, only to be stopped by his ex, Brenda. These episodes feature the exact same emotional beats as Buffy, but show how it would be done if Buffy did not have the supernatural and action elements as a part of its premise. Nate’s contemplation of suicide and Willow’s attempt to end the world are the same desire, filtered through each show’s specific lens. In the end, both characters find comfort with an ex-lover, who helps them through the pain they are feeling. Buffy uses many soap opera conventions, notably extreme serialization of character conflicts, but filters them through an action show lens, creating a hybrid of traditionally male and traditionally female oriented form.
The dream sequence is a trademark of art cinema, notable for valuing visual expressionism over narrative clarity, something that television is not known for. However, both series feature episodes set almost entirely in subjective dream worlds, episodes that represent the series transcending their genres, and creating a new kind of television. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this episode is “Restless.” The fourth season finale, it breaks with the action show tenet that the season finale should feature the culmination of an action plot, such as in the third season finale, “Graduation Day II,” when Buffy and an army of students fight a massive snake demon who was formerly Sunnydale’s mayor. The action climax is in the previous episode, and the season finale is concerned with the characters. “Restless” features four separate dreams, one for each of the series’ main characters. While the dreams are loosely connected, and there is narrative build throughout the episode, the primary focus is on exploring the mental state of each character through a variety of filmic techniques used to represent the world of dreams.
Whereas the traditional TV dream sequence is either designed to service a specific plot point, or to be a source of comedy, these dreams are designed to replicate the feeling of actual dreams, with a variety of random elements, ignorance for narrative rules, and no clear narrative drive. The episode seems to be far removed from soap opera tradition, with its lack of narrative development in the episode; however, it actually takes the serialization of the soap opera to the extreme. Rather than just having to be aware of the ongoing plots, we have to know the character’s mindsets dating back to the first season to understand what is happening. In Willow’s dream, we see her in the clothes she wore in the first episode of the series, and dialogue from that episode is repeated. A dedicated viewer will realize that the dream is discussing her fear that she is still the geeky character of the first season, a fear that is implicit in her actions throughout the series, but most explicitly represented here. This sort of continuity demands an attention to subtext that is not generally demanded by the soap opera. Restless serves as a coda for four years of the show, and brings together many of the character subtexts that had been developing over the series’ run. This episode is not an exception in demanding the viewer be familiar with intricate details of the characters’ personal lives, and that tendency is one element that shows how the series takes traditional soap opera characteristics to the extreme.
The episode also upends the demands of the action genre. The first three dreams feature some violence, but not the sort of action that is demanded by the genre. In Buffy’s dream, the obligatory action sequence finally appears, but it is shot from great distance, in slow motion and without sound, thus rendering the action sequence in the mode of art cinema, rather than in the traditional visual language of the show. After fighting for a while, Buffy tells the first slayer, her opponent, that she has had enough and is going to wake up now, thus denying the audience of an action payoff for the episode. Because the series is so intensely character based, the inclusion of the action sequence seems unnecessary, and despite the series’ firm presence in the action genre, this episode in particular has transcended the need for a traditional action sequence. This episode, with its ignorance of narrative rules, and reliance on subtext and visual metaphor seems to be a break from television tradition, but it does have one notable forbearer, an episode that the red curtains in Willow’s dream cannot help but recall, the final episode of Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks’ last episode is set almost entirely in the world of the red room, a mentally subjective realm that may be part of a larger dimension known as the black lodge. The episode represents a radical reinterpretation of the type of narrative fulfillment one would expect from a cop show or a soap opera.
The episode begins with Cooper going in to the black lodge, to save his girlfriend, Annie, who has been kidnapped by Windom Earle. This represents a perfect fusion of the cop show elements with the soap elements. Cooper had been working on the Earle case for many episodes, and here at the finale, it dovetailed into his personal story. However, rather than providing an obvious sort of narrative resolution, David Lynch brings together all the symbolic elements he had been developing over the course of the series to create a surreal, mostly silent journey through the black lodge, that resolves the narrative in a completely unexpected way.
Much like “Restless,” understanding this episode requires complete knowledge of the series to date, in a way that goes beyond the typical soap opera. Cooper winds up in the same space as his dream from the second episode, and Laura says, “See you in twenty-five years,” which requires the viewer to realize, based on Cooper’s appearance in it, that the original red room sequence took place twenty-five years into the future. Leland Palmer reappears, as well as Maddie Ferguson, characters who had not been seen for fifteen episodes. This episode resolves a lot of the issues surrounding the series, but in an implicit way. To understand what occurs in this episode, the viewer needs to look back on previous episodes, and the movie based on the series, to piece together the cosmology that Lynch was creating. Along the way, many facts are left deliberately ambiguous, and the end of the series is extremely open, both elements characteristic of art cinema.
This episode completely subverts the tenets of the action genre. Rather than giving the audience a payoff in which Cooper battles Earle, Lynch plays everything out symbolically. Cooper confronts Earle, only to watch Earle have his soul sucked from his body by malignant entity Bob. Cooper offers his soul to save Annie, and rather than this sacrifice being enough to save her, it leads to the real Cooper being replaced by a doppelganger, who runs through the lodge, and ultimately escapes into the real world.
What Lynch has done in this episode is take a plot line typical of the work place drama, and twist it. On shows like ER and NYPD Blue, a character is frequently killed or written off after choosing a personal life over a work life. That is exactly what Cooper does in the last episode. Once Cooper is ready to commit to Annie, he is forced to sacrifice himself to save her, and symbolically dies when the doppelganger escapes into the real world.
So, what this episode does is take plot lines developed in the tradition of a cop show and a soap opera, and subvert the audience expectations for the resolution of said plots. Rather than giving the audience a straight forward duel between detective and criminal, we are given a surreal, symbolic battle that is as much about the director’s artistic vision as it is about resolving the narrative. In spotlighting the art over the story, the series becomes more like art cinema than anything traditionally seen on TV.
In conclusion, both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twin Peaks bring together elements of the soap opera and the action series, and in the process create a new type of series, a highly serialized, art-cinema influenced novelistic TV series. In using soap opera conventions, the series do not only serialize plot, character and symbolic development is also serialized, to the point that characters become the focus, and the necessities of action or police investigation become background. Both series demand multiple viewings to understand the foreshadowing and implicit narrative development. In creating multi-layered, complex series, creators Joss Whedon and David Lynch develop a new type of television, one that is not designed for episode by episode payoffs, but instead to create a larger world, one that is slowly revealed with each passing episode. By using the series to tell one massive story, rather than many little ones, they are able to create characters and worlds with a depth that film cannot match, thus fully actualizing television as a storytelling medium.

Related Posts
Angel: Better to Burn Out than to Fade Away (3/16/2005)
Ten Works That Changed My Life: Part II (1-5) (5/2/2005)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (7/26/2005)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Three Phases of David Lynch: Phase II: Part I: Blue Velvet

Phase I of David Lynch's career saw some extremely interesting and completely unique films, but did it see a film that I would consider an unqualified success, something that's as enjoyable to watch as it is challenging to think about? No, but would that come in Phase II? Well, not quite, but his best film, and the beginning of Phase III, would not have been possible, artistically or commercially, without what happened in Phase II.

The beginning of Phase II, and the film whose shadow hangs over almost every other project Lynch has worked on is Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet lacks the outright surrealism of Eraserhead or Dune, instead it creates a new type of world, one which almost all of Lynch's future films could be placed in. Blue Velvet explores the distinction between a bright surface and a dark heart, as manifested in the town of Lumberton. In the first images of the film, we see a red rose against a perfect blue sky, above a white picket fence, followed by a smiling, waving firefighter passing by, leading to a kindly old man watering his lawn. However, the old man collapses, and the camera follows him to the ground, then delves underground, showing a mass of swarming bugs right below perfect green grass. No image more perfectly sums up the themes of this film, Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me or Mulholland Drive.

The film features a character who is probably closer to Lynch himself than anyone else in Lynch's oevure, and that's Jeffery, played by Kyle McLachlan. Jeffery is an all American guy, who clearly loves the culture of his Midwest town, and is perfectly at home in it. However, he is also fascinated by the dark world that exists just beneath the perfect suburbs, and as the film goes along he gets dragged into it. The amateur detective finds himself drawn into very real danger, most notably chronicled on his ride with Frank Booth and his posse. Jeffery's descent into hell, as shown there, is not unlike Donna's trip to the pink room in FWWM.

Blue Velvet establishes a ton of Lynch trademark elements. The idyllic small town, that seems to be situated out of time is one. The town has some 80s elements, but also feels remarkably 1950s, from the car that Jeffery drives, his goofy slang, to the clothes that Sandy wears. The town feels very old fashioned, and the way that the characters talk is similar to how Betty speaks in the beginning of Mulholland Drive.

Another Lynch trademark is the singer singing in a nightclub, into an old microphone and in front of red curtains. This is probably my favorite Lynch trademark. I love the way he uses musical performance, not just music in his work. Most films that use songs on the soundtrack do so as a shortcut to tell you what a character is feeling. Witness the "sad" montage in any romantic comedy. However, what Lynch does is show how the song affects the character, and thus there is a genuine emotional release. When Dorothy sings "Blue Velvet" and Frank cries, it tells us so much about the character. A similar scene occurs in Fire Walk With Me, when Julee Cruise sings "Questions in a World of Blue," and Laura breaks down, or later, "Llorando" in Mulholland Drive. The red curtains return quite frequently, most notably in Twin Peaks. The musical performance here recalls the Lady in the Radiator from Eraserhead.
And on a similar note, the lip synch performance into the lamp by Ben, besides being a phenomenal scene, is similar to the Club Silencio scene from Mulholland Drive.

This movie also establishes Lynch's fascination with detectives, most notably amateur detectives. Jeffery's goofy enthusiasm at being caught up in a case is similar to Betty and Rita in Mulholland Drive, or even James, Donna and Maddie in Twin Peaks. Lynch's later films also make the audience into detectives, having to piece together clues to find out what the film means. And, Jeffery is similar to Agent Cooper, to the point that Cooper could very well be a grown up version of Jeffery.

What else does this film establish in Lynch's world? It is notable for bringing together Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti would go on to score every future David Lynch film, and his contributions to Twin Peaks go a long way to defining the world of the series. It also is the first Lynch film to feature Julee Cruise, who would figure in some of the most important scenes in Twin Peaks.

While this in many ways is the archetypal Lynch film, it does have some differences. Frank Booth is a character unlike any other in Lynch's oevrue. Most Lynch characters are sealed up emotionally, but Booth is right out there, in a way somewhat reminiscent of early Bobby on Twin Peaks, or some of the people in Wild at Heart. However, Booth seems to be Lynch's most sustained look at evil, and the darkness within people. I find the character riveting, and compulsively watchable.

Another anomaly is how straightforward the story is. While there are plot twists, the reality of the narrative world is never called into question, as it is in almost every other Lynch film. It's very twisted concept wise, but Lynch does nothing to play with the form of the story itself.

So, that's Blue Velvet. It sets up Lynch Phase II quite well, with its 1950s small town feel. This is the film that leads into Lynch's greatest work, Twin Peaks, as well as lesser tale, Wild at Heart, as you will see.

Related Posts
The Three Phases of David Lynch: Phase I(12/13/2004)
Twin Peaks and Buffy Essay (12/17/2004)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (7/26/2005)
Lost Highway (3/19/2006)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Irreversible Changes

This article presents an extremely interesting concept. I'll let it speak for itself:

"Physicists call it entanglement, and it describes the state of two or more particles once they have interacted with one another. From then on, irrespective of time and space, a correlation will always exist between them. What happens to one will affect the other - even if they are now at opposite ends of the universe.

The word entanglement is really a misnomer. Some scientists use "non-separability" to describe the same condition. And the difference is significant. For if matter emerged from energy in the singularity of the big bang, it would seem to follow that all the particles of which it consists are in that state of correlation. They have not become entangled, but at the fundamental level they have never been - and can never be - separate."

What does this mean? I guess this would be a scientific interpretation of the idea that when people interact, a part of themselves is imprinted onto the other, and is carried on in that way. I've always held to the idea that you are the change you see in others. Basically, when you influence somone, and change them, they carry a piece of you with them. So, when you die, you are in fact carried on by all the people who remember you.

I used this when talking about the end of Blade Runner. At the end of the film, Roy bares his soul to Deckard, and it's almost like a piece of him moves into Deckard and lives on in Deckard's new understanding of the world, and the change he makes in his own life when he decides to be with Rachael and run away from the city. The concept was talked about jokingly in Seinfeld, when Jerry says (in reference to Susan), "She's not really dead if we find a way to remember her," leading to the creation of the Susan Ross foundation.

But, joking aside, I really believe that concept to be true. If you change someone's life, they carry a piece of you with them, and that's exactly what that article is talking about, the idea that each time we interact with someone, we become connected, and that connection never disappears. The whole of humanity is a web of connected people. We move through space and time, and make new connections, and when we die, those connections don't go away, since any interaction you have with people, changes both you and the other person.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Three Phases of David Lynch: Phase I

I'd consider David Lynch my favorite movie director. Even though Tim Burton and even Quentin Tarantino have done more movies that I really love, no one makes films that are more interesting to analyze than Lynch, and he also made the brilliant TV series Twin Peaks. What makes Lynch such an interesting director is the way that all his movies fall into a united symbolic universe. Most directors, you watch one of their movies, and it stands alone, but to really understand what Lynch is trying to say with his films, you have to see each of them, and find the connections between them. In this way, he conforms to the original premise of auteur theory, which is that a director's body of films is one cohesive unit, which develops similar themes in each of his works.

I'd divide Lynch's output into three eras. First is the Eraserhead era, second is the Blue Velvet era, and third is the Fire Walk With Me era. While each era includes a number of films, those three are most indicative of what he was doing at that time. There is crossover between the eras, but I feel like each is the mark of a significant change in his output.

The Eraserhead era consists of his early shorts (which I have not seen), Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Dune. This is his least interesting filmmaking era, or at least the era in which he made his weakest films, and it seems more removed from his later work than anything he's made after Blue Velvet. In this era, Lynch was focused much more on surrealism, and creating crazy images than on trying to tell a strict narrative.

One of the unifying tenets of any David Lynch movie is that the film's arc is emotionally based rather than based on a narrative. The end of Mulholland Drive is structured the way it is because it creates a coherent emotional arc, even if the narrative is muddled, and of all his films, the one with the least narrative is his first, Eraserhead.

To even describe the story of Eraserhead is tough. It's a film that is almost purely about symbols, and it exists in an odd realm that's not quite dream and not quite real. This could be said of a lot of Lynch stuff, but never more so than here. I consider the setting of Eraserhead probably the most bizarre setting of any movie. It feels like a completely alien world, and no one behaves like real people would. The really odd interactions of this film, notably the dinner scene, return in some of Twin Peaks, and Mulholland Drive also, but never to the extreme they are taken here. It's really discomforting to watch these people who can barely string together a sentence holding conversations.

The most critical thing to later Lynch movies is the Radiator sequences. A woman stands on a stage in front of curtains, looking on a black and white patterned floor, singing is an image that Lynch brings back in various forms in nearly all of his movies, most notably the red room and Club Silencio.

Eraserhead has a lot in common structurally with later Lynch works. It begins in a world that is very bizarre, but has rules, and feels like it could almost be real, it's just a little off. However, at the end, the movie becomes more and more mentally subjective. The entire final sequence seems to take place entirely in Henry's head, and much like the ending of Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway, features bizarre imagery and a general feeling of confusion for the viewer. Lynch packs the screen with bizarre happenings and you have to keep up.

Perhaps the greatest similarity between this and other Lynch works is the ending. Almost all Lynch movies end in a way that is very similar to what happens in Eraserhead. In Eraserhead, Henry meets the Lady in the Radiator and is taken to heaven, presumably having killed himself. He finds peace in a white environment, and all the trauma of his life is over. This pattern is replicated a number of times, in The Elephant Man, but more importantly in what three of his most recent films, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. But, more on those connections later, suffice it to say, that for Lynch, the only way for a character to find peace seems to be in a form of suicide.

Anyway, Eraserhead sets the template for future Lynch works, but actually has very little in common with his more polished later films. However, his next two movies pick up quite a bit from Eraserhead. The Elephant Man is one Lynch's least Lynchy films. It's played fairly straight, with a rousing emotional narrative, and very little directorial excess.

The most Lynch element of the film is the opening sequence. It is a trippy montage of John Merrick's mother being trampled to death by elephants. After that, there's some traditional Lynch elements, such as the bizarre characters at the carnival, but it's pretty standard story. Where the film most resembles Eraserhead is in its look. Shooting in black and white, Lynch's Victorian England has much in common with the industrial dystopia of Eraserhead.

I'm not a huge fan of the film, because I feel it's a bit too emotionally manipulative. It's got great performances, but is one of Lynch's films that I would place outside of the unified Lynch-verse. It's well made, and was probably necessary for Lynch to do this in order to make the jump from indy director to known quantity, but when compared to his other films, this can't quite measure up.

David Lynch's Dune is a film that's widely seen as a failure, and it's easy to see it that way, because the story basically falls apart in the second half, there's very little character development, and the ending is rather abrupt, but if you look at the film from a slightly different angle, you can find Lynch in space, his most surreal film that isn't Eraserhead. I love the opening sequence, with Princess Irulan against the stars, giving a voiceover on the universe of this film. The image is quite similar to the opening of Eraserhead, with Henry floating along a backdrop of stars.

The whale creature that powers the ship seems to be taken directly from Eraserhead's radiator sequences, only much larger here. The grotesque flowing blood and general nastiness of the baron's ship recalls sequences from Eraserhead. My favorite parts of the film are Paul's dream sequences, filled with strange imagery, like a hand floating in space. These sequences don't do much to forward the plot, but they form the core of the film, bizarre images, in a film that is consistently filled with bizarreness.

My favorite thing about Dune is something that doesn't turn up in any of Lynch's other films, namely the individual voiceovers used to convey each character's thoughts. They are a great device for simplifying narrative exposition, and also allow you to get to know the individual characters better. What narrative coherence the film does have, it owes to these.

Like almost all Lynch films, the narrative sort of breaks down towards the end of this movie, but here it's not motivated by a character's deteriorating mental state, it seems like Lynch was taking his time at the beginning of the movie, then realized he was getting close to the end and had to sprint the rest of the way. Paul's relationship with Channi is barely touched on, and the ending battle is rather perfunctory. Time just seems to pass, and events occur without motivation or reason. It's easy to find fault with this, but in doin so, you can miss the merits that these sequences do have, and the way Lynch condenses huge amounts of story into a very short amount of time.

This film also features the debut of a lot of people who would become Lynch regulars. Kyle McLachlan appears in his first Lynch movie, setting the stage for the far more fruitful collaboration the two have in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Everett McGill appears here, setting up his role in Twin Peaks, same for Jurgen Prochnow, and Jack Nance returns, as he does in every Lynch film until his death.

So, what are the unifying characteristics of Lynch Phase I? A general surrealism, odd images, nasty liquid, worms, Victorian style architecture, and an uneven quality of film. These three films are all lesser Lynch, and merely serve as a springboard for the greatness to come in Lynch Phase II.

But, before that, it's interesting to speculate about what could have happened if Dune had become a massive success. Lynch was already writing the sequel, so that would certanly have been his next project. There's two ways things could have gone. One, Lynch completely embraces the Hollywood mainstream, continuing on the path that started with The Elephant Man, and Eraserhead remains a relic of a more independent past. I think Lynch would have still made strong films, with surreal elements, but he would certainly have never engaged in the narrative experimentation of Lynch Phase III.

On the other hand, perhaps Lynch would have become more of a Steven Soderbergh, alternating between big budget studio films, like Dune, and more personal projects. He could still have made Blue Velvet, and might have had an even easier time of it, due to the capital he would gain from the success of Dune. I feel like Lynch is not someone who would ever abandon his artistic integrity, and clearly, even in mainstream projects like Dune, he brings a lot of his sensibility. I could imagiine him being something of a Grant Morrison, dropping a great mainstream book like JLA, then going to make a brilliant original story like The Invisibles.

So, that's it for David Lynch Phase I. More tomorrow on 50s-retro David, the era in which Lynch went from good filmmaker with potential, to great filmmaker.

Related Posts
Dune (3/1/2004)
The Three Phases of David Lynch: Phase II: Part I: Blue Velvet (12/16/2004)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (7/26/2005)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

League of Extraordinary Gentemen Volume II

A couple of years ago, a movie was released entitled League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, aka LXG. This movie was rather bad, with generic black trenchcoat, dark alley production design, zero character development, and a convoluted, and ultimately unsatisfying plot. However, the movie was based on a comic series by Alan Moore, one of the medium's greatest writers. League was not anywhere near his best work, but it was an extremely entertaining romp, that mined the pulp tradition in a way that recalls Indiana Jones or Warren Ellis' Planetary.

I liked the first volume of League, but it spent so much time setting up the premise and assembling the characters that it never quite made it to greatness. The second volume picks up pretty much where the first left off, and in the first issue, sets up the basic plot, that martians are invading England, and it's up to the League to stop them. However, rather than going for a huge, epic type confrontation with martians, Moore takes the focus off plot and puts it firmly on character. The three characters who get the most development are Mina, Quatermain and Mr. Hyde.

A lot of the stuff with Mina in this volume relates to her encounter with Dracula back in the book Dracula. In grabbing a pre-existing character, Moore is able to take full advantage of her backstory, through the reader's knowledge of it. I don't think there is ever specific reference to her encounters with a vampire, or that she was in Dracula, but by the context, it becomes pretty obvious. Mina and Quatermain had a really interesting relationship here. The scene where they're having sex and she asks him to bite her was so twisted, and the payoff with the reveal of her neck was genius. I love the fact that Moore is able to create a clearly flawed character and still have her be a hero. She's got a lot of issues, but that doesn't stop her from doing the right thing. The final panels are a really tough ending, and make you sympathize with Quatermain.

The other really interesting character here is Hyde. In the first volume, the focus was mainly on Jekyll, and his attempts to keep the monster in check. What happens here is much more interesting. Jekyll basically vanishes and we get much more character development on Hyde. He clearly is in love with Mina and that makes for a really interesting dynamic. It's almost a Spike/Buffy dynamic, where he's trying to do the right thing to please her, even she clearly has no attraction to him. But, this is played a bit more twisted than that. Before going off to fight the martians, he asks her for a kiss and to feel her breast, which I found hilarious. It was at once so tender a moment, and so clearly wrong what he's doing.

But, despite clear sympathy for the character, the violent streak is far from gone. Hyde's treatment of Griffin was brutal, incredibly wrong, yet perfect for the story. The irony of the very thing that Griffin did to the girls' school back in Volume I being done to him was great, and the reveal of Griffin's fate made for the most awkward dinner scene since Darth Vader and Han Solo ate at Cloud City. I love the moral ambiguity of what Hyde did. He thought he was acting in the right, and Moore at once sympathizes with it and clearly rejects it.

I love the fact that the volume was more character oriented. Very little was seen of the actual martians, they were only a device to explore the characters. It felt much more intimate than the first volume, and also more surreal. The Dr. Moreau stuff was extremely bizarre, and was perfectly illustrated. If I had one complaint, it would be that the first issue is basically indechipherable, and completely unrelated from what happens later on.

So, I'm hoping for a volume III soon. Considering the end of II, it would be very different from what's come before, but I have the feeling Moore knows what he's doing.

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Promethea (2/22/2005)
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Friday, December 10, 2004

Wong Kar-Wai

I watched the movie Fallen Angels yesterday, a film by Wong Kar-Wai, a brilliant director, who did the movies Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. Fallen Angels contains a story that was originally going to be the third part of Chungking Express, but instead was cut out, and put into its own movie, along with another story. The movie concerns a hitman and his partner, who is in love with him, even though she never says so, as well as a mute guy, who "re-opens" stores after they close for the night. It feels a lot like Chungking Express, in that there isn't an overarching plot, it's more just a bunch of events that happen, contributing to a feeling, rather than a story.

In this way, the film functions in a similar way to how David Lynch works. The emphasis isn't on constructing any sort of linear narrative, it's on moving through the film in a way that feels right, using techniques to convey character emotions. Wong Kar-Wai doesn't play with the narrative structure, like Lynch does in his third period, but he operates with a similar disregard for the strict logic of plot. Within the multiple stories in this film, and the stories in Chungking Express, there are a ton of emotional connections and parallel story elements. The expired pineapple reference is the most obvious, as well as the presence of the Midnight Express food stand from Chungking at the close of this film. Another major connecting element is Charlie's frequent references to a woman named Blondie, which recall the woman in the blond wig from Chungking Express, as well as the woman in the blond wig the hitman in this film takes up with. Thus, the situation of Charlie's jealousy of her blondie is paralleled with that of the partner's jealousy of the hitman's blond woman. Much like Magnolia, there a ton of parallels in the different stories.

Wong Kar-Wai makes great characters, but he's most notably a visual filmmaker. While I don't thlink everything in Fallen Angels hangs together, the movie is so beautiful that it doesn't really matter. Practically every shot seems perfectly composed, both from an aesthetic point of view and as a means of telling the story. The use of grainy black and white is striking, as is the incorporation of video. The video sequences provide some of the best emotional moments in the film. The use of distorted, wide-angle lenses makes for some phenomenal shots, notably at the end when the partner is sitting in a noodle bar, framedon the right, extremely close to the camera, as a brawl goes on in the distance on the left side of the frame. It's an amazing composition, and tells us everything we need to know about her.

The motorcyle sequences in the film were also brilliantly done. The sense of speed is perfectly conveyed, and Hong Kong looks very Blade Runneresque, a city of the future almost. The way the lights blur as the bike moves, but the characters stay perfectly still was genius. I also love the shooting in the bar scene, when the characters have a kind of blur about them, as if we're seeing them through a haze.

Wong's most successful movies are the ones where he has the most to work with visually. Days of Being Wild is a good movie, but it isn't great, because the settings just aren't as interesting, and the potential for interesting shots is not as large. The semi-sequel to Days, In the Mood for Love, is a much stronger movie, becuase Wong creates much more striking visuals. Clearly, he had massive growth as a filmmaker between Days and Chungking, and continued to grow, culminating in In the Mood for Love, which is absolutely gorgeous.

His next movie, 2046, is part sci-fi, part 60s, so I'm really looking forward to it. The stills I've seen have been extremely striking, with really interesting costumes and settings. In his best movies, Wong makes the setting into an extension of the characters, and this film seems to have the most interesting setting of any of his stuff yet.

Related Posts
2046: Screening with Wong Kar-Wai (6/16/2005)
Wong Kar-Wai Day (8/3/2005)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Finding Meaning in Discussion: On Linklater and the Before Duology

Yesterday I was talking about Before Sunset, and I feel the need to talk about it again, because it's both an amazing movie and a movie that means a lot to me personally. In 1995, a movie called Before Sunrise was released. It was about Jesse and Celine, two strangers who meet on a train, and spend a night wandering about Europe, talking about philosophy, society and many big issues. Nine years later, they meet again, and Before Sunset chronicles the eighty minute discussion they have after meeting each other.

The reason I saw Before Sunrise was because it was directed by Richard Linklater, who made School of Rock, but more importantly, he also made Waking Life, which is another of my favorite movies. Waking Life actually features an appearance from Jesse and Celine and their dialogue in the movie, about her idea that she is an old woman looking back on her life, is lifted from Before Sunrise. Waking Life had a nominal main character, but it was really, much like Linklater's debut film Slacker, a collection of short thoughts from a large variety of people. We don't stay on anyone too long, and each of them gets just enough time to give us a little speech on what they're interested in.

While it's tough to say which is the better film, because Waking Life has so much I love in it, the Before movies do something that no other Linklater movies does, and that's spend a lot of time developing the characters. I don't think either of the Before movies have the sheer variety of interesting concepts presented in Waking Life, but when the characters talk about something, it's a lot more interesting, because you know who these people are, and the experiences that they bring to the discussion.

The two most influential pieces of fiction I've ingested in the past couple of years, probably even since Star Wars, have been The Invisibles and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What Before Sunset does is combine the intellectual questioning and exploration of ideas and thoughts of The Invisibles with the emotional drama of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In doing so, Before Sunset represents where I'd like to be, and in a lot of ways where I am now.

Waking Life, for all its passion, is ultimately a movie of the brain. You watch it and your mind is challenged, but emotionally, it doesn't really hit you. Before Sunset is emotionally overwhelming. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Jesse is talking in the car, and we see Celine reach out to touch him, only to pull her hand back. We can see her longing, but she just can't quite make the connection.

The movie's primary emotional temperature is frustration. Both characters are frustrated with the fact that they want something more from life, they want to live out what their night in Vienna, in Sunrise, promised them, and no matter what they do, there'll always be the specter of that hanging over their heads, their younger, more romantic selves, the people they can never be again. Rewatching Sunrise after seeing Sunset, one exchange really stands out, and that's what Jesse says to get Celine off the train and into the city with him. He says "Alright, alright. Think of it like this. Um, uh, jump ahead, ten, twenty years, okay, and you're married. Only your marriage doesn't have that same energy that it used to have, you know. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you've met in your life, and what might have happened if you'd picked up with one of them, right? Well, I'm one of those guys. That's me, you know. So think of this as time travel, from then, to now, uh, to find out what you're missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband, to find out that you're not missing out on anything. I'm just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you're really happy"

So, in Sunset, it is the fact that they did go to Vienna that leaves them thinking. Jesse is married, and it's not going well, and a large part of that is probably due to the fact that he can not fully commit himself to his wife as long as the idea of Celine remains in his memory. The years of separation only build up this legend of her in his mind, and the night becomes legendary. It's like she was his true love, and to accept his marriage would be settling for something less than what he really wants.

The end of Sunset has a great emotional payoff, and I feel like the last half of the movie really appeals to my Buffy sense, the interest in seeing characters explore angst. Buffy's was always a bit more epic than the stuff that Jesse and Celine go through, but it's the same basic principles. These characters have issues that develop for a while under the surface and then finally break out and have to be explored. If I had to compare Before Sunset to one Buffy episode, it would be Entropy, where not too much happens, but the characters have fallings out and comings together just based on what has happened in previous episodes, and the revelation of things that they'd been feeling.

But, the thing that makes the Before movies unique from a more traditional romance movie is the high level of intellectual discussion that they engage in. Jesse and Celine, more notably in the first movie, engage in a lot of really interesting discussions on big issues. They talk about their place within the universe, within society and in relation to other people. I found the scenes in Sunset that focused on Jesse's feeling of inadaquecy because he's not out there changing the world very interesting. Jesse is the sort of person who clearly has all these grand notions, but finds it tough to put them into practice when he's stuck in the lifestyle neccesitated by his marriage. His interest in Buddhist concepts reminds me of discussions I've had with Jordan, and his feeling of wanting to do something huge and earth changing, but instead getting caught up in the frequently mundane nature of day to day life reminds me of myself sometimes. I love the contrast between Jesse of 1995, who holds all these romantic ideals, but keeps pushing them off, and the Jesse of 2004, who feels like time has past him by, and it's too late to change things. This contrast is made even more interesting at the end of Sunset, which is much more pure and romantic than the ending of Sunrise, despite the veneer of cynicism over the movie.

Richard Linklater is the most talky director of anyone working in film today, but his movies aren't talky in the same way that Kevin Smith's or Quentin Tarantino's are. His talk isn't about being cool, or dropping pop culture references it's truly about communication, the communication of ideas. Starting with Slacker, which is basically the camera following a bunch of people around, and listening to them tell someone what's important to them. In the very first scene of his filmmaking career, Linklater himself appears, talking about parallel universes, and the vast changes that little differences in someone's action could have on the universe. I've had the idea that a world exists for every single possible action we could take at any possible time, in which case there would be an infinite number of worlds, and it was really cool to hear a similar idea on screen with Linklater.

Waking Life makes explicit the thesis of all Linklater's work, which is that the most meaningful connection that people can make is in a discussion with someone else, when you reveal your ideas and inner self. The blond woman talks about it, how language can represent ideas and concepts that would have been impossible for primitive people to convey, and that it is in discussing indefinable concepts, like love, that we find meaning. In my own life, I've found this to be true. A lot of my best memories are just of talking, about the universe, anything, talking which wasn't about passing the time, but about really conveying some deeply held beliefs, and debating them with others.

That's one of the things that made The Invisibles so special to me. Not only did it create a bunch of new ideas in my head, but it also allowed me to discuss these new concepts with other people who had read the book. The Invisibles served as a base from which we could go off to discuss many other things.

When I first saw Waking Life, I loved it, but I saw it as a collection disparate scenes. On a second viewing, and after many great discussions, I realized that the film was about the act of communication through discussion, and thus, every single scene was in fact contributing to the central theme. Before Sunrise/Sunset takes this theme and plays it out on a more personal level. It's crucial to Linklater's world that Jesse and Celine's relationship is not based on the physical, that's not what made it special, it's the emotional connection that they cultivated through their discussion. They presented a deep part of themselves to each other, connecting in a way that just doesn't happen that much. Jesse says it in the coffee shop scene in Sunset, that you think you'll meet a lot of people you connect with it, but you only meet a couple, and that's why he regrets letting Celine go. Sunset is only talk, the setting doesn't matter, they barely even touch each other, it's all about meeting on a mental level, with real dialogue, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. That's what this film is about and it's what all of Linklater's best films are about, the meeting of minds to convey ideas.