Saturday, February 26, 2005

Jackie Brown

I'm almost done with Promethea. The series is at direct injection level right now, I really want to read the rest of it right now, but I'm trying to give what's happened so far a little more time to sink in. The thing that strikes me is how similar this is to The Invisibles. I have the feeling if I hadn't read The Invisibles, I'd be reeling and in awe right now, like I was after the first reading of Volume III. I still love what Moore is doing, it's just I'm more into the characters than the concepts, because I've already read the concepts in The Invisibles.

Anyway, yesterday I watched Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino's third film, and his second best, behind only Kill Bill I. Jackie Brown is a really unique film, even though it's referencing 70s blaxploitation movies, it's not in the same way that Kill Bill references Kung Fu movies. It's really in the soundtrack and star that we see the blaxploitation influence, not so much the content of the film.

What makes the film unique is something difficult to articulate. It's a combination of pacing and style. On the DVD, Quentin calls it a 'hangout' film and I think that's really accurate. You're not so much engaged in the story as you're sitting around, kicking it with the characters. Other than the opening title sequence, we don't even see Jackie Brown until a half hour into the film. The film has a leisurely introduction to its world and characters, so that by the time we run into Jackie Brown, we know the stakes of what she's involved in.

But, even once the main plot starts up, we still get the feeling that we're just capturing the everyday travails of these people. Most movies focus on the most extraordinary moments of people's lives, and while what happens in the movie does have a huge impact on the characters, there's never the sense that it's so out of the ordinary, until the end. Sometimes, I feel like the ultimate goal for filmmakers is to make a movie in which nothing happens, yet is still very interesting. This movie is a step in that direction, we just drift through their lives, observing. The thing is, Quentin makes the characters so interesting that their very existence is fun to watch. It's a tribute to his filmmaking skill that he can make someone listening to music in their car as they drive a riveting scene.

The core of the movie is the relationship between Jackie and Max Cherry. Robert Forster as Max Cherry is the most human character in a Quentin Tarantino, and the most interesting to watch. You really understand him, and the joy that Jackie brings to his ordinary routine. The chemistry between them is huge, and I love their final scene together.

The use of music in the film is amazing. Quentin is always able to find brilliant obscure 70s tracks and bring them to the surface, and that talent is never better put to use than here. The most notable is the way he integrates The Delfonics' 'Didn't I Blow Your Mind this Time' into the narrative. Tarantino associates the song with Jackie, so just the scene of Max buying the tape can tell you everything you need to know about how he's feeling. Plus, it's an awesome song. Other great tracks include 'Across 110th Street' over the titles, Brothers Johnson 'Strawberry Letter 23' and The Grassroots' 'Midnight Confessions.'

I could see why some people would find the film too long, it's by no means a tight film. You could easily cut this down to an hour and a half, but that's completely missing the point of the film. It's all about inhabiting this world with the characters, not the money switch business. I can't think of a single scene that stands out as boring or should have been cut.

This film is much less flashy and overtly innovative than Tarantino's other films, but it's also much more real. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are in many ways more about the telling of the story than the story itself, and Kill Bill Volume 1 is all about using a bare bones story as an excuse to do a bunch of sketches and set pieces. This isn't bad, I love to see messing around with the nature of storytelling, but Jackie Brown has such compelling characters, you get more wrapped up in their story than you can in the tale of Butch or Vincent Vega. Quentin is a big fan of Wong Kar-Wai, and while Pulp Fiction seems on the surface more similar to his work, this film actually reminds me a lot of his, in the way it dwells on the lives of people, rather than a really complex plot. This film has a lot of similarities with Kill Bill II, and the relationship between the Bride and Bill is the only thing that even touches Jackie and Max in Tarantino's oevure.

I love the film, and I think it's sad that a lot of people who enjoyed his other work never sought out Jackie Brown. It may not have changed cinema in the way that Pulp Fiction did, but in retrospect, it's a much more unique and layered film, and is just a joy to watch. Watching Jackie play all sides against each other in the brilliantly executed money switch sequence is also watching a brilliantly executed piece of cinema.

Friday, February 25, 2005

More Promethea

So, I just finished the journey up the tree of life in Promethea, and I'm pretty satisfied with how it ended. I think the earlier issues were actually more effective, since they had more easily definable concepts. It's a lot easier to talk about intellect or emotion than to talk about the universal male essence. But, that doesn't mean that Moore hasn't done good work or that these aren't great issues. I feel like because they're discussing tougher concepts, it's going to benefit more from a reread than the comparatively simple first chunk of issues.

Anyway, the male and female isssues I see as companion pieces, and are another followup on the idea of wand and cup discussed back in the first book and in 'Sex, Stars and Serpents.' I think 'Sex, Stars and Serpents' does a much better job of conveying the essential nature of the two energies, and without it, I'd have been lost here. The best I can come up with is that the female issue is all about both compassion and sexuality, as represented by the madonna/whore. So, the cup is both a site of lust, and a receptacle for love. It's all one love, and this is about receiving the love.

The more interesting thing in this issue is Sophie's new costume, which features an open third eye. It's a good representation of the changes she's gone through as a result of her journey.

Then, the masculine issue, which is one of the most beautifully illustrated of the entire run. Williams does gorgeous painting to show this gray world. What this is about is the spark of ignition that mixes with the love in the universe, which leads to the big bang, which sets the material world into existence. I feel like this stuff is much more about Moore's cosmology than stuff that's really relevant to the real world. But, that's logical, considering this is supposed to be about a realm that goes beyond the material world.

Everything pays off in the final issue of the journey, where Sophie and Barbara make it to the level of God, and expierence what we are before we are born and where we go after we die. They make it to Heaven, and essentially discover the nature of God, as Moore sees it. The way I took it, the whole nine issue journey is about gradually stripping off aspects of worldly individuality, culminating when Sophie and Barbara are absorbed into the white bliss and experience what it is to be God. There's a really striking page where we see the prayers of people all over the world, represented in a variety of different languages. Then, we get a glimpse of hundreds of lives, and realize that God is present in everything, every moment of our lives, we're connected to something higher.

At the apex of their journey, Sophie and Barbara exist in 5D space, not held down by time or place, and are a part of every single person's life in the entire world. That's what it is to God, to be present in every facet of existence. Our lives (or afterlife) is a journey away from individuality to universality. That's what the serpent is, ascending up towards Heaven. Sophie and Barbara make it there, but she soon meets Stephen Shelley, and is reminded of her material existence. I feel like the point Moore is trying to make is that the love that Barbara and Stephen has is so strong it transcends this universal love and ties their individual essences together.

So, rather than merging into the bliss, all three decide to become doves and return to the material world. It's an amazing sequence as they descend past all the realms they experienced over the course of the journey. After going on this really long journey, it's refreshing to return to material things, not only for them, but for the reader too. It's difficult to decipher these issues after a while, especially seeing as how they become more and more complex. It really feels like you were with them on the journey and that's a tribute to Moore's storytelling.

There's something powerful in the idea that despite being in heaven, and having perfect bliss, all three of them decide to return to the material world. I think it's because once you ascend past emotion and all things human, it may be bliss, but it's impersonal. It's the emotions that make things real, and for Stephen and Barbara, their love is more important than the universal bliss they achieved up in sphere one. I like the idea that they're reincarnated, and get to explore the material world anew again.

For Sophie, the journey was all about moving beyond her own perspective, and coming to understand what's up with others, specifically her mother. The final scene is very sweet and plays off of one of my favorite moments in the whole journey, Sophie's encounter with her father.

Moore has set up a lot of stuff on the material world during the journey, and I'm really excited to see that play out. The whole journey was a very risky storytelling move, but it was a complete success for me. Together with JH Williams, he has completely changed the potential of what can be done with a comic book, in a way that no book since Watchmen has done.

I also think a lot of ideas were conveyed to the reader. I learned a lot, and I think he makes some important points. Over the course of the journey, individuality is broken down, and we understand the connections between everyone. The similarities between this and The Invisibles are striking, both have essentially the same message, and that's we're all the same, we're all connected, and if you just put in the effort to understand someone, you'll realize they're not so bad after all.

Related Posts
Promethea: 1-16 (2/22/2005)
Promethea: 17-19 (2/24/2005)
Promethea: Until the End of the World (24-32) (2/27/2005)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

IPods and Promethea

I'm working in the computer lab, and I'm surprised to see that practically everyone walking around has their own IPod or portable CD player on. I'm not hater on music, and I listen to a ton of stuff everyday, however, I find the trend of wearing your IPod everywhere disturbing. The reason for this is because it's an example of removing the moments of transience from our day. When I'm walking around, I think about stuff, and I feel like if you're listening to the IPod you're trying to prevent yourself from thinking about stuff by filling the gap with music.

It's those in between moments were I come up with some of my best ideas. I know that I come up with more ideas for stories during the school year than when I'm on break, because I have classes, and unfortunately, sometimes I tend to zone out and think about stories, rather than think about what's going on in the class. The stuff I write, I basically write there in class, walking around, and when I'm lying in bed, trying to go to sleep. In other words, all moments where I'm sort of between things, sitting in a wating room, you can either read a magazine, or just sit there and think about stuff. Sometimes it's better to think about stuff. I like to have stuff to do, but when you take some time off, you can really discover new facets of your mind that you wouldn't otherwise find.

Like, when I watch a movie or read something, I like to take a few minutes after watching it and just ponder it. A lot of the time, I will find connections that weren't readily apparent, and it's in the thinking about it that you can find out a lot about what the director or author was trying to do. Rather than immediately moving on to the next activity, it's good to give the movie a little time to sink in.

I know I've been doing this on the Promethea reread. After each issue, I'll ponder what it was saying, and usually I'll find layers that weren't that obvious on the first read. And, this pondering can create ideas that I'll explore all across the day, when I'm between tasks. This is why I have a problem with the IPod, it removes this downtime where you can think about stuff. So, listen to music, yes, but do it as an activity unto itself, not just filler. When you're walking around, listen to your brain, cause I think there's some interesting stuff in there.

Anyway, I read three more issues of Promethea since last I discussed it, and I am now into unread issue territory. I reread one of my favorite issues, 'Gold,' which is about the highest sphere of human existence. It discusses how we create Gods that represent the highest aspirations within ourselves. So, Aprhodite, the god of love, represents the ultimate potential of humans to love, and she doesn't just represent it, she is present in all love. It's an interesting idea, but one that is sort of tough to justify. The more interesting idea in the issue is the evolution of gods. It's not that Apollo went away, it's that the idea of him became weaker and was replaced by a more refind God. T

he finale of the issue occurs when Sophie and Barbara reach the most recent manifestation, the one that represents the highest values that humanity can aspire to, Jesus. I haven't seen Passion of the Christ, but I feel like in two pages, Alan Moore accomplishes everything that Mel Gibson was attempting to do with the film. Sophie practically breaks down seeng the suffering that he is going through, during the crucifixtion, and she realizes the dual nature of the image. This is the highest human potential, brought down by the lowest human cruelty, and yet through it all, the good shines through. I'll admit, it's pretty shocking to see Jesus appear, considering Moore's pagan leanings, but it works very well, and I think actually really captures the message of Christianity, in a way that blends it with everything else that Moore is talking about. I love the issue.

There's a slight downturn in quality at the next issue, the 'red' issue, about judgment, essentially anger. The issue is still really well made, but it's tough to look at. The red coloring is a bit too much perhaps, and I feel like the point of the issue isn't as evident in the others. That said, it's still fun, and it sets up some interesting subplots out in the material world.

So, this brought me to my first new issue, 'Fatherland,' which seems to be about universal love and mercy, traits expressed here through father figures, who provide security and love to the characters they run into. Promethea runs into her father, and I like this because it brings about the return of Sophie, who's more interesting to read about than Promethea. The more interesting development is Sophie meeting her father. This scene was really well done, and really expressed this feeling of universal love, in the feelings that he and Sophie share for each other. Even though they never knew each other, there's a connection between them, and clearly this is a huge moment for both of them.

At this point, the series seems to be moving away from the more magick textbook style, and is instead using each step of the tree of life as a chance to riff on the characters and develop them further emotionally. One of my favorite things in these issues has been Sophie coming to understand her mother. In the green emotions issue, she understands what drives Trish to do the things she does, and it comes back in this 'Fatherland' issue.

Out in the material world, I'm really interested to see what happens with the FBI agents and Stacia. Moore is doing a great job of giving us just enough to keep those stories moving forward, and he seems to be positioning everything for a confrontation when Sophie returns. While I'll be sad to see the magical journey end, I do want to see Sophie back in the material world, dealing with the consequence of Grace/Stacia's actions.

Connecting things, I feel like constantly filling your time with little distractions, rather than thinking about stuff, takes you out of what Moore calls the Immateria and grounds you strictly in the material realm. The more you think about stuff, the more you see connections between things out here in the universe, and you become more aware of the higher realms of consciousness that Moore is talking about. I'm not that saying that everything in Promethea is real, I'm saying that his feelings about the power of ideas and the importance of the mind are very real. If you read the book as a physical journey, it's obviously very fictional, but if you look as an allegorical journey through humanity, it makes a lot of sense and, like The Invisibles, can be a helpful guide for fiinding a new way to look at the same world.

Related Posts
Promethea: 1-16 (2/22/2005)
Promethea: 20-23 (2/25/2005)
Promethea: Until the End of the World (24-32) (2/27/2005)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


"Any form of art is propaganda. It is propaganda for a state of mind rather than a nation-state but it is propaganda nonetheless, and it's best if you accept that and understand what you're doing and be honest about it: you are trying to change the mind of your target audience. You are trying to change their perceptions, you are trying to stop them from seeing things how they see things and start them seeing things the way you see things." - Alan Moore

That quote basically sums up the motivation behind Alan Moore's Promethea, the comic book series/magic textbook that released its last issue last week. I read the first 18 issues, and am now rereading those, and will move on to read the last issues as soon as I can. The first nine issues of the book are pretty good, interesting superhero work, with some cool concepts at the center. However, after issue nine, Moore begins to use the series as a way to convey to the audience his worldview, doing exactly what he talks about in the quote above.

The second year of the title begins a story about Promethea journey up the tree of life, according to the Kaballah. The already great JH Williams kicks his art up a notch and does phenomenal color themed issues that each touch on a different element. There's the dark blue moon issue about imagination and the yellow sun issue about intellect.

The intellect issue features a mind blowing page that's a mobius strip. As you read it, you flip the book around, going over and under the strip, gradually reaching the beginning, at which point you can continue seamlessly. The page goes on forever. It's also got great horizontal and vertical symmetry.

The series is basically an ode to fiction. Promethea is a fictional character that select people can transform into by writing about her. It's a symbolic version of the character inhabitation that every writer does. Eventually, the characters take on a life of their own. Promethea is the physical manifestation of this.

More than that, with the series, Moore strives to break down the walls between the material world and the world of ideas. He stresses that each of these worlds is equally real. In the intellect issue, he posits that since language defines reality, the material world is in fact subject to the particularities of language. Without language, we would have no material world.

Is the work therefore just a justification for the years of work spent creating fictional characters? Possibly, but it's also notable because it puts forth the very credible idea of the writer as magician, keeping the old gods alive in a modern world that values logic and science over emotion and spirituality. Promethea would not exist without the exploration Moore did in From Hell. From Hell puts forth the idea that William Gull (aka Jack the Ripper) is ushering in a new age with his killings, bringing the world from the feminine spiritual age into a masculine scientific world. When he kills Mary Kelly, he imagines himself in the present day, in an office building, profoundly aware that the mystical knowledge he carries is gone.

So, Moore is bringing it back with this book. He puts forth the idea that gods exist as ideas, so as long as the idea exists, the god remains. By writing this book, he is creating a concrete record of the sort of spiritual beliefs that were destroyed by the scientific revolution. It's an admirable goal, and I defnitely sympathize with it. I agree with the vast majority of what he's saying, becuase I also think that ideas are the most real thing. The most powerful ideas are older than any human, and will last longer than anything material will.

I'm really psyched to get to the rest of the series, and find out what happens at the end. Moore has done so many brilliant books, it's difficult to assess the highlights of his career, but I would say Promethea is probably his second best work, behind Watchmen. But, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and now Promethea are the works of his that nobody other than Grant Morrison has touched, in any medium.

Probably the thing that makes Promethea so much more than just a magick textbook is the art by JH Williams III. I'm frequently prone to hyperbole when it comes to comic book art, but this is arguably the best art ever done in comics. Williams work is very pretty on its own, but it's the way he constructs the page that makes it so special. His double spreads are dazzling, and every layout seems to have meaning behind it. Williams and Moore are possibly the first people to fully actualize the potential of the medium. This is a story that couldn't be done anywhere other than comics.

Related Posts
Promethea: 17-19 (2/24/2005)
Promethea: 20-23 (2/25/2005)
Promethea: Until the End of the World (24-32) (2/27/2005)