Saturday, November 20, 2004

Boogie Nights

So, counting down my top 50 movies all time we come to 49, Boogie Nights. Now, this movie has an interesting reputation, due to its subject matter, the porn industry. This is a movie about the porn industry, but it's definitely not a porn itself, it's not even really about the porn industry, it's about a group of people who become a family for each other, and what happens to them. This movie is about porn in the same way that The Sopranos is about the mafia, yes, it's set in that world, but what makes it interesting is how their unique circumstances affect the characters. You're not watching to see Tony kill people, or to see Dirk filming, you're watching for the interactions between characters.

Boogie Nights has been compared to Goodfellas a lot, and I can see some similarities, but what Boogie Nights does that Goodfellas doesn't is create very strong characters. Paul Thomas Anderson is clearly interested in the porn industry itself, but he's more interested in creating characters. As he did in the brilliant Magnolia, this is a film that seems to be structured around character decisions rather than an artificially imposed plot. The best movies move along organically, with events occurring because of logical choices that the characters make. That's how this movie works. It's about a bunch of people, and they're all pretty interesting.

The movie feels very epic. It spans six years or so, and a ton of stuff happens. In some ways, it's the archetypal rise and fall story, but there's enough character stuff happening on the peripherary that it never feels cliche. I love movies with a lot of characters, and this movie has roughly twelve major characters. PTA's greatest talent is his ability to manage massive casts, and while this movie has a clear main character, it's still an ensemble piece, and everyone gets some interesting material to work with.

What makes the movie special is really in the way PTA makes it. The long shot that opens the movie is absolutely phenomenal, echoing and even surpassing A Touch of Evil in its scope. Another amazing shot is in the pool scene, when the camera does a five minute or so tracking shot, then follows a diver into the pool without a cut, goes underwater, then comes back up. Awe inspiring.

Anderson's use of music is similarly impressive. He breaks out a lot of the best songs of the 70s and fits them organically into the film. He does a bunch of montages, but they actually move the story forward, and are hugely entertaining. The "Jesse's Girl" scene with Alfred Molina is just one amazing use of music.

Pretty much everything clicks here, and this movie serves as a good warm up for PTA's Magnolia. It's the film that gave us Chest Rockwell, that should count for something.

Related Posts
Magnolia: PTA's Masterpiece (7/22/2005)
Hard Eight (9/7/2005)
Punch Drunk Love (9/13/2005)
Paul Thomas Anderson Quote (9/13/2005)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By

Listening to the new Handsome Boy Modeling School album has prompted me to go back and listen to some of Dan the Automator's previous work, including his masterpiece, Lovage aka Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By. Now, the title is a bit doofy, and I was attracted to the album expecting something that'd be comedic. However, after listening to the album I found that it was hilarious at times, but it's actually a very dark, moody album, far removed from comedy. The album has a very specific atmosphere. It feels like it should be sung in a smoky lounge, with some neon lights, late at night.

The album has vocals by Mike Patton and Jennifer Charles, and the way they sing together is unlike anything I've heard before. It feels very intimate, particularly on the album's best tracks Book of the Month and Sex (I'm A). This is a very different sort of vocal styling from what Patton uses with Fantomas or Faith No More, and it's much more interesting.

The production just owns. Automator uses strings, horns and vocal samples to create a canvas of beats. Some of the best moments are the intro to 'To Catch a Thief' and the horn samples of 'Stroker Ace.' Another highlight of the album, which now includes basically everything about it, are the lyrics, which are both hilarious and so perfectly delivered. 'Book of Month' is a back and forth of metaphors between Patton and Charles, including classic lyrics like "You are the griddle, I am the meat" and my personal favorite lyric, in which Charles talks to Patton about her rotting body, saying "Jealous of the flies and the worms inside me"

The album is completely unique. It's lounge, but also trip hop. Just look at the cover art, clearly this is an awesome album.

Related Posts
Handsome Boy Modeling School (11/13/2004)
Elysian Fields at Tonic (3/18/2006)
Serge Gainsbourg: History of Melody Nelson (4/8/2006)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Was the Past Really Better? Part II

First, one thing about memory: everythings gets better as you become more distant from it. The bad things start to slip away, and you only remember the good things. That's why, even though I wasn't so much a fan of a lot of high school, I look back on it fondly now. We have a tendency to filter out the negative things. That's not to say that high school was bad, it's just that you tend to focus on the good things, and the boring moments slip off somewhere into the void of lost memories.

The same thing can happen with movies. If you haven't seen a movie for a while, you can build it up in your own mind, talking it up, remembering the great moments, and then when you go see it again, it's not as good as you remember it. Of course, you can be surprised by how good something is if you haven't seen it for awhile, but I'd say a slight disappointment occurs more often. Like, I saw Gladiator on Friday. Now, I hadn't seen it since 2000, and I remember it being a really great movie. However, watching it again, I was struck by how weak the dialogue was, to the point of really hurting the movie. And, the action scenes weren't as impressive either. I'm not really sure how that ended up winning the Oscar for best picture.

Anyway, you always hear people saying music wasn't as good as it used to be. Older people are more likely to say it's not as good as the 60s or 70s, sometimes you'll hear people my age talking about how the 90s were better. I'm going to go out on a limb here and concede that the popular music the 60s and 70s was better than what is popular now. Maybe it's just that I don't like most R 'n B type ballad songs that are so popular, nor do I like the noise-hard rock of bands like Korn, or even the angry rock of someone like Linkin Park. There are still some great popular songs, 'Hey Ya' was one of the absolute best pop songs of all time. However, I feel like in the 60s, bands that were breaking new ground were what was popular. That The Beatles, the most popular band in the world at the time, could put out an album as diverse and bizarre as The White Album, astonishes me. Each of their album somehow maintains a pop sound, while still goin really crazy with sonic experimentation. And it's not just The Beatles, all sorts of meaningful artists were putting out great songs that were also popular, and it was at this time that the full album length work came into vogue.

Today, music has changed a lot. It's not that it's gotten worse, it's just that the most popular bands are usually far from the best bands. The best thing about music today, as compared to the 60s, is the diversity of material available. Back then, it was mostly rock and jazz, now rock, trip hop, rap, etc. There's such a variety of stuff, and most notably, a new type of music, made by bands like Air and Massive Attack. These bands have no real stylistic equivalents in the 60s era, they're redefining music, and just because they're not popular, it doesn't mean there's not quality albums being put out. Almost all the stuff I listen to pre 1990 is rock, but I've got a huge variety of genres when it comes to recent stuff. You may have to look a little harder, but amazing albums are still being made. The Polyphonic Spree is one of my favorite bands of all time, and they didn't come about until a couple of years ago. When you look back, the crap songs slip away, and the best remains. That makes people inherently biased towards the past.

While I wouldn't say music is in a Golden Age today, comics definitely are, or if not now, have just finished one. The 1990s was the decade when the comic book became the graphic novel, and creators started to publish incredible finite series. Works like Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan and of course, The Invisibles, told some of the biggest stories ever told in any medium, and more so than even Alan Moore's 80s work constitute a bibliography that's the best in comics history. People talk about the 60s as the best era of comics, they had nothing comprable to what went on recently. With the end of Transmetropolitan, an era ended as well in a lot of ways, but I think it's more that we're in an era when a lot of new talent is emerging. This is the equivalent of the late 80s, when people like Ennis, Ellis and Morrison were proving themselves on corporate titles before starting their magnum opi. Comics have never been better than in recent years.

Film is also in a great era of films, but it's more comprable to what I was talking about in music. In the 80s, Spielberg and Lucas almost singlehandedly invented the great blockbuster. Stuff like Star Wars and Indiana Jones set a standard in terms of quality works with blockbuster appeal. Lately, I'll admit most blockbuster movies have been pretty awful, but recently, we've seen a ton of new directors coming up and producing amazing works. In the last 10 years, we've seen the emergence of PT Anderson, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Darren Aronofsky and a lot of other great directors. While there may not be as many good blockbusters, 2004 has produced some of my favorite movies of all time. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kill Bill II, Garden State, Before Sunset and Dogville were all brilliant movies, the sort of timeless works of art that will become immortal.

So, maybe popular culture is going down hill, but as long as great works are being produced, it doesn't really matter what's popular. In both comics and film, auteurs have been getting more respect, and that's a great thing. And the thing is, even if you think pop culture is crap today, we've got a backlog of thousands of movies and albums, so whatever era's to your fancy, you can enjoy as you please.

Oh, and I forgot to mention TV. Other than Twin Peaks, basically all the series I really loved were made within the last 10 years, most of them even more recently. Buffy, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Office, Spaced. The auteur driven finite TV series has emerged, just like it did in comics, and this is without a doubt, the golden age of television.

Related Posts
Was the Past Really Better?: Part I (11/14/2004)
The New World of TV and Film (3/31/2006)

Monday, November 15, 2004

Was the Past Really Better? Part I

Well, the short answer is no, but that doesn't explain why, and the real answer to every question that we face in life is not in the answer itself, but in why what the answer is, is in fact that answer. A bit complex, that. Even I'm not really sure what I was talking about.

Anyway, so much of what people talk about seems to be just about how good things in the past were, and this idea really bothers me. I think there's two levels of past fetishization. One is the idea that things really were better then. Like, in the 60s, music meant something, and movies were the work of auteurs, not just the tripe you see now. People will talk about Hollywood's Golden Age, or comics' silver age, and really feel that the works being done back then were better. You see it in videogames too. So many classic game compilations have come out and been embraced because people are enamored with the idea that older games were better.

I'll admit that I subscribe to this school sometimes. I would have loved to have been around when The Beatles set the tone of popular music, rather than generic hip hop song of the month, and I am sort of jealous of that era. I prefer the popular music of then to the popular music of now. Similarly, I will often wax poetic about the days of the 2D game, back when things were simpler. I'd much rather play Final Fantasy III than Final Fantasy VII, but I don't think that's just a nostalgia thing, it's more about the fact that when FFVII was made, 3D games were in their infancy.

But, I digress. There's this one strain of thought that things in the past actually were better. However, recently, another strain of thought has come up. This is one that holds that old things were better, but takes a sort of ironic approach. This is the school of thought that gives us people still constantly talking about shit like Saved by the Bell. This was an awful show, as was Full House or any number of other series people will discuss, but they still watch them, in a sort of semi-ironic way, at once reveling in the badness and actually enjoying the show, becuase they feel so above it. TV is probably where this is most prominent, people who you could never get to watch an episode of Twin Peaks or The Sopranos, and say that 144 episodes of Buffy is too big a commitment, will gladly spend hours watchin really awful sitcoms, and go on to claim that TV today is going downhill.

You see this a lot in comics too. People will either say that back in the 60s, books were so much more imaginative and fresh, or that the 80s were the Golden Age and stuff today isn't as good. Alan Moore's Supreme series is all about revisiting 60s comics, and showing love to them. Thing is, these comics weren't really that good, it's just nostalgia. That's not to say that Supreme is bad, it's a really great book, but in a lot of respects, I'd rather see Alan moving forward with original material than just rehashing old things. I think Grant Morrison has a much better approach to nostalgia, wherein he's not trying to capture the actual style of 60s comics, but rather the feeling of awe and majesty that they gave to the kids who read them. The best example of this is the brilliant Flex Mentallo.

So, ironic nostalgia bad. You can see this a lot in music too. An entire industry has grown up around specials about bad early 90s music. Rather than focusing on albums from that era that were actually good, like U2's Acthung Baby!, they spend all their time on the same approved set of novelty songs. People always thrown on stuff like 'Ice, Ice Baby' or 'Can't Touch This' as opposed to playing a song that's actually good. Those songs were bad then and they're still bad now.

Basically, it really bothers me that people spend so much time focusing on trash culture from the past, particularly the early to mid 90s. There was some great stuff back then, it was the time that gave birth to Twin Peaks and Sandman, but that's never what's mentioned, it's always the novelty rap songs and bad sitcoms. I can see enjoying something ironically once in a while, but for a lot of people it seems they never enjoy something sincerely and fully. There's so much good stuff out there, don't waste you time watching or listening to crap.

So, what is good now, and how can love of the past be better put to use? That'll be part II.

Related Posts
Was the Past Really Better?: Part II (11/16/2004)

Sunday, November 14, 2004

People Complex

People are so complex, yet we usually interact only on the surface. In your average day, you might run into a lot of people, but very rarely do you ever actually get deep and really communicate feelings and emotions. Why is this?

Back at home, Jordan, Steve, Cimmino and I frequently had "discussions" where we'd talk about all kinds of stuff and I use that as sort of my scale for judging interactions. I really got an idea of how they viewed the universe and what their priorities were. It's interesting to understand the intellectual backing that makes up a person's world view. I think we were all really influenced by The Invisibles, and even people I knew back home who didn't read it, heard so much about the concepts. The series formed sort of a base we used for exploration of metaphysics concepts.

So, it's interesting to talk about similar concepts with people here at Wesleyan, and get a completely different perspective on things. I just sort of took for granted the idea that we were moving towards some kind of major growht in consciousness, some event in which we would leap forward, transcend the physical and become purely mental beings. It might not be at 2012, but this was the direction of humanity. However, I found that idea challenged, and was forced to consider whether it really is where we're going.

Like, I talked about lucid dreaming with Jenna, and she called me a destroyer of dreams, basically implying that what dreams are supposed to do is let your mind work through the issues of the day, and lucid dreaming would instead further tax you, and prevent you from getting the rest that sleep is supposed to give you. I can see this point. Lucid dreaming is so much a dialogue with yourself, it can get you spun up in really intense self analysis, and some people probably don't want to go there. I find dream analysis really interesting because it's the closest thing you can get to an objective view of your own mind, but it's still just talking to yourself, and sometimes, it's better to get in touch with the outside world.

I guess for a lot of people the outside world is the only thing they have so that they don't, to quote Yes, "Don't surround yourself with yourself." The more you look at people, the more you see the things that have made them up, and the mental things that determine who they are. People feel obligations to do things, different things depending on what they've come from. Ultimately, I feel living life is like making a movie. Sure, you want it to be popular and critically acclaimed, and make the people you know happy, but if you're not happy with the finished product, it doesn't matter what other people think of it. It's your movie to make, your life to live.

Related Posts
What's the Deal With Being Depressed? (11/23/2004)
Writing People (12/6/2004)
So This is the New Year (And I Don't Feel Any Different) (1/1/2005)