Wednesday, January 19, 2005

On Music

I was listening to some Beatles recently, the albums Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. What struck me about these was the way they were incredibly experimental, and yet extremely popular. These albums were breaking new musical ground, but rather than doing it in obscure genres, they worked with songs that were easy to get behind, and enjoy, either as just catchy pop songs, or as a work of art. I could almost compare it to someone like Quentin Tarantino, who's making really personal, arty films, that are also easily enjoyable by a mass audience.

When you compare The Beatles to rock today, most notably radio successful rock, what immediately comes to mind is the fact that The Beatles is so much more pop. The most popular bands on the radio are either pop punk, which I just don't enjoy, and certainly doesn't aspire to be anything more than a catchy riff, and a decent chorus, or angry rock, from people like Linkin Park or System of a Down. Angry rock is probably my least favorite genre of music. You're successful musicians, what have you got to be so angry about? But, that's not even my main problem. It's more the fact that it just doesn't sound good. It sounds harsh and nasty, whereas music, even dark songs, should have some beauty in them. So much of radio rock today has no beauty.

The Beatles had really beautiful songs that did rock, but also were successful on an artistic level. They were more ambitious than any popluar band before or since. Which isn't to say that they're the greatest band of all time, though a good argument could be made, it's just that the great music being made today, and what's popular isn't in line.

On a semi-related note, something that really bothers me is that popular music today is basically two genres. We've got rock and we've got hip hop/r&b. I love all kinds of music, and listen to a wide variety of stuff, but I often find myself wanting an even bigger variety. One of my favorite albums of all time is Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, a fabulous album of lounge/trip hop songs that is also completely unique from anything else out there, except perhaps the song "I've Been Thinking" on Automator's new Handsome Boy Modeling School album. That song and the album are an example of an updated version of the sort of songs that were popular in the pre-rock era, singer driven, but surrounded by interesting instruments, just really cool songs, and notable, in the fact that they're not guitar driven. Ever since the creation of rock and roll back in the 1950s, the vast majority of popular music has been guitar driven. Now, there's the exception of hip hop, but that's its own thing, that I'll touch on later.

Because everything is guitar driven, it's tougher for people to adapt to an album like Lovage. It has choruses, but rather than instrumental hooks, it has bass lines, and instrumental samples to construct the melody. Lovage has a level of sonic experimentation that only the best rock can match. You don't know what to expect from song to song because The Automator throws a variety of beats at you. When rock took over, the use of different instruments, other than the guitar, generally fell out of favor.

Now, there is electronic music, and I do love it, I love the combination of electronic with different real instruments the most. Electronic stuff is just another resource, and the best bands take advantage of everything. One of the reasons I love The Polyphonic Spree is the vast variety of instruments they work with. You get a great variety of sound from them, and it makes them really interesting to listen to.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't just rely on guitars, make songs that use all sorts of instruments, and don't be limited by the dictates of a musical genre. The Beatles certainly weren't.

Related Posts
Handsome Boy Modeling School: White People (11/13/2004)
Lovage: Music to Make Love To Your Old Lady By (11/19/2004)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Top Actresses

When looking at film, I usually look at the director. I would call a movie David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 or Richard Linklater's School of Rock. I consider the director the author of the movie, and the one person most responsible for creating the film. However, there are some other people who are also critical, and can completely change the way the director's vision is put into practice, and these people are called actors. A really good actor can take a bad movie and make it good, or a good movie and make it great. Witness Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribean. This is a servicable action movie, but his performance as Jack just owns, and makes the rest of the movie so much better.

So, here's some of my favorite actresses. Not coincidentally, a lot of them have worked with my favorite directors. I think a big part of liking an actor/actress for me is their choice of scripts, because if you're doing great acting in a bad movie, I might notice it, but if you're doing it in a great movie, I'll definitely pick up on it.

Julianne Moore - Her relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson has given us two great characters, but she does great work in pretty much every role I've seen her in. As part of the Magnolia ensemble, she plays a dislikable character, but makes her human, and understandable, even in the midst of crisis. She's great in The Hours, as a 50s housewife, desperate to escape the confines of her suburban existence. She has probably the toughest role in the film, having to spend almost all her time acting with a kid, and she pulls it off.

Naomi Watts - First off, her performance in Mulholland Drive is one of the most awe inspiring performances ever. The audition scene, where she goes from goofy 50s character to brilliant actress, the change in character between the first and second half, all the while staying on one emotional arc. She gives the movie its heart, the thing that Lynch's very similar Lost Highway lacks. Just watch her in Club Silencio, completely silent, but her face tells you everything you need to know. 21 Grams is another great performance, again in dark and tormented mode. Her recent role in I Heart Huckabee's was more comedic, and she excelled there too. The bizarre ads, the bonnet, great stuff.

Natalie Portman - Obviously, being in Star Wars doesn't hurt her in terms of gaining my appreciation, but acting wise, the Star Wars films are by far her least work. Even though it was ten years ago, and she's done a lot since, she's never topped the brilliance of her work in Leon: The Professional. The relationship between Leon and Mathilda is one of the most interesting in film, and it really affects me emotionally. Her work in Cold Mountain was the highlight of the movie, and Garden State was her best performance since Leon. In Garden State, she was so full of life, she was the energy in the movie. Closer was more great work, and I'm really psyched for her slate next year, which includes Episode III and V For Vendetta. Throw in Mars Attacks! and Heat, and she's already got one of the best resumes in the business.

Maggie Cheung - She's only done a couple of movies in English, but that doesn't preclude her from being a great actress in my eyes, and if you've seen In the Mood For Love, you'll know she's brilliant. That's one of the great subtle performances, with each gesture seemingly perfetly calculated to convey the feelings of loss and longing that she has. She's great in Hero as well, once again teaming with Tony Leung. Despite dying so many times in the movie, each one still feels emotionally relevant. She steals Ashes of Time, with a wordless performance that is the emtional centerpiece of the movie. And in 2046, just the glimpse of her brings back a rush of emotions. I'd love to see her do some work over here, since she speaks great English, and is unquestionably one of the best actresses working in the world today.

Nicole Kidman - Of all the people on this list, I'd have to say that my favorite is Nicole Kidman. Despite being a massive star, she takes on a lot of really challenging roles, in movies that people aren't going to see. She works with very challenging directors, and is chameleonic in her acting skill. She steals Eyes Wide Shut, and in only a couple of scenes, puts her shadow over the whole film. In Moulin Rouge, she sings beautifully, and keeps an emotional center amidst a lot of visual craziness. The Hours is another performance in which she's barely recognizable, and completely becomes a character. But, her best performance is in Dogville. The car scene at the end of the film is chilling. Working with no props, no set, she still makes you believe that everything is really happening. And next, she's teaming up with one of the world's best directors, Wong Kar-Wai, in a film that I seriously need to see.

So, that's it. Five great actresses, all beautiful, but more importantly, all people who can really get into a role. If I see that one of these people is in a movie, even if it's a movie that looks rather crap, I'm much more likely to give it a look. Good acting is all about becoming someone else, and these people can pull it off, most notably Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts.

Related Posts
Dogville (11/26/2004)
Clean (6/28/2005)
Magnolia (7/22/2005)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Moving Through Space and Time

One of the things I think most people don't recognize about the world is the fact that time is another dimension. That's why when you "go home" on a break, even if you're back in the same physical location, it's not really the same place because when you left, the place didn't stop. This is most evident when you go back to school. I didn't really this break, but last year, when I went back to Rye Neck, I was so evident of the fact that the physical place hadn't changed, and yet it was completely different. So much of a place is actually the people who are there in a specific time. When I go home on the small breaks, and none of my friends are there, Mamaroneck has a completely different character than it does when everyone is home.

What's the point of this? It's that you can't waste time wanting to go somewhere you used to be, because you can never get back there. Time passes and things change, and you lose the good along with the bad, but it's better that way, because without the passing of time, we'd all be stuck in the same situation forever, and maybe things aren't as good as they used to be, but there's still the hope that they'll get better in the future. The cool thing about life is it really is never too late to change things, there's always a chance to start fresh, and once you make things better, the bad things in the past seem much less bad.