Friday, September 28, 2012

Rainy Friday Music

Watch September come to an end in a nasty rainy day. Great, just great. Well, it is a Friday, and one has ones rituals, so here goes....

1. Pere Ubu - Stormy Weather [well, that was appropriate!]
2. Jackie-O-Motherfucker - Newcastle, UK Oct 29
3. Miho Hatori - Barracuda
4. Koushik - Be With
5. Soft Machine - Why Am I So Short?
6. Carter Family - There'll be Joy Joy Joy
7. Yo La Tengo - Superstar Watcher
8. X - Back 2 the Base
9. Don Byron - Frailich Jamboree
10. Paul McCartney - Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey

Well, they are defying my efforts to find videos for the day - though it looks like we can turn up some Soft Machine, which can't be bad:

And I suppose Sir Paul is a good thing - especially the weather the way it is... live a little, get around...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Master and Such

The Master arrives, like all the PT Anderson films before it, on waves of hype and praise and some complaint - I suppose I could review it, but the world abounds in reviews, and I have other things on the mind, so I think I will just make a list of things that caught my attention...

1) My first impression of the film is of how perfect Joaquin Phoenix looks for 1950 USA. That lean, hard body, skinny, strong, but with no definition - I look at old pictures of my father and uncles in the 40s and 50s and they look exactly like that. It goes a long way toward selling the character. Freddy looks right. Now, his behavior, his movements, ways of standing, and so on, are mannered, sometimes to the extreme - though I doubt they are as extreme as they look to 2012's eyes - but his body, face (and hair, clothes, and so on) are uncanny. He looks like 1950 come to life.

2) I saw two films last weekend, The Master and For Ellen. I liked For Ellen - a carefully observed character study, a quiet acting tour de force for Paul Dano - a nice little film, though that's all. (It's enough, of course, though perhaps underwhelming against the competition. Like all those perfectly acceptable little indie films in the spring that disappeared on contact with Moonrise Kingdom.) But reading through the reviews, I find For Ellen described as "poetic" - probably more than once. And this is something that bothers me.

I am taking a class on poetry just now, Modern Poetry at that, so it is in my head. I've written about it here before - I have theories, which I confess are a bit idiosyncratic. I think, for example, that film resembles poetry more than any other written form - I think its basic structure, the compilation of shots, as discreet units, arranged in a sequence, and building meaning out of their sequence, their arrangement, and out of a host of connections from shot to shot, sequence to sequence - is a process that is much closer to poetry than to prose. Film is poetic by its nature. But I think its poetry lies in its construction - poetry itself is defined, I think, by the heightened language - and by the structures patterns of language. By line breaks I am tempted to say.... And if a poem itself can be more poetic by being more explicit about its ambition, and its derangement of language, then so can a film, by highlighting its construction, its derangement of images. And so - how is The Master not poetic?

Why do people call For Ellen "poetic" but not The Master? I suppose it's obvious - it's the slow pace; it's those long the long held closeups of faces, of people alone, mostly Dano alone, thinking, waiting, holding the screen. It's the inserted symbolic shots - the sky, trees, the roads, motels, and so on. Those are the things that signify poetry in films. The Terence Malick stuff, I suppose. The lyricism, the contemplation.

But there's a lot more to poetry than lyricism. We are reading Ezra Pound just now in that class, and soon will be reading T. S. Eliot, and when you read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock or the Wasteland, or you read Hugh Selwyn Mauberley - what do they have to do with films like For Ellen? And how are they not almost perfect prefigurations of a film like The Master? Look at what it is - a film that follows a man, his passage through life, through a period of time - but impressionistically, discontinuously. It is large and sprawling, but so is Whitman - so are Pound and Eliot - Milton, Dante. And look at how it works - dense, allusive, built around patterns, rhymes and rhythms, condensed to hard, specific images, arranged to play off the images around them. How is it not poetic?

As it clips along, Freddy on a beach, Freddy at sea, Freddy insane, Freddy trying to work in a store, Freddy fucking a store model, after half poisoning her with his concoction of photography chemicals and whatnot), Freddy fighting with a complacent bourgeois, Freddy among the migrant workers, Freddy running across a field, Freddy on the waterfront - the scenes come, without connective tissue to the last, a device you will find, I say, in Pound and company, in Hugh Selwyn Mauberly, to name a name. Not just as ellipse - but with even sequential moments (as Freddy's fight with the workers, and flight from them across the field), the scenes can be constructed as if they were completely unconnected. And it continues, and like poetry, it builds patterns across scenes - runs multiple patterns: as simple as the way Jonny Greenwood's music seems to run separately from the scenes - layered over them rather than sculpted to match them. It's in the ways individual images can overpower the flow of images - Freddy running across a field; Freddy trashing a jail cell - or just Freddy's way of standing, walking, the way he seems placed against the grain of every scene he's in. It shifts tone, between scenes, within scenes. It repeats images - moments, images, memories? or just the way an alcoholics' life falls into dreadful repetition - though the film never announces anything like that, anything like a clear meaning to the images it gives you.

3) I love it without loving it. I am in awe of it, without feeling the overpowering sense of its rightness I feel, for example, with Moonrise Kingdom. Is P.T. Anderson the equal of Wes Anderson as a filmmaker? He might be, to tell the truth - but Wes is more to my tastes. But - it's hard to ignore the coincidence of the names (I can ignore the coincidence of the two Paul Andersons, however) - but it really comes down to the fact that they have separated themselves from the other (American) filmmakers of their generation. No others match them - some may get there (Kelly Riechardt? Ira Sachs? etc.) - but none have yet. But the two Andersons have, I say, lifted themselves into the ranks of their forebears - Scorsese, Lynch, The Coens. They are in the ranks of the best world wide, the filmmakers whose works I wait for years between - Costa, Denis, Kurosawa, Apitchipong, older filmmakers like Hou and Kiarostami. I don't think it's an unjustified comparison. It took me a while to get there with PT (while I was with Wes from the go) - but this and There Will Be Blood seem to me to deliver what they promise, and what he has been promising - utter mastery of the medium, put in service of stories that show you things in the world you might miss. So yes: I can't say I have taken the measure of this film, not by a half, but I think I can say it is a great one.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday, End of Summer

Start, via Lawyer's Guns and Money, with Sandy Denny, and Who Knows Where the Time Goes:

And - because why would I resist? Nina Simone:

I don't have that song on my computer - I was wondering why; I thought I owned all those Fairport Convention records - I have certainly listened to it enough... ah - technology: I have Unhalfbricking only on vinyl - who knows where the time goes indeed?

And so? because time is fleeting this Friday morning, we turn to simplicity, the Random Ten:

1. G.O.N.G - Mystic Sister
2. Keiji Haino - I DOn't Want to Know
3. Badfinger - I Can Love You
4. Kinks - Sittin' on my Sofa
5. Meat Puppets - Rotten Shame
6. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Red Eyes and Tears
7. Neil Diamond - Sweet Caroline
8. The Fall - Telephone Thing
9. The Beatles - The End [guitar solos!]
10. Johnny Cash - Delia's Gone

And one more video - in memory of the Boston Red Sox, a team well on its way to something very wintry and grim....

Monday, September 17, 2012

Antietam 150

150 years ago today, the battle of Antietam was fought. I wrote about it two years ago - tried writing about it last year, though I didn't post anything - saving it for this year, partly... This is a big anniversary. (For me anyway - I wasn't around for the 100th anniversary, and won't be around for the 200th (unless I am a very old man indeed) - so 150 is it...) Antietam was a fascinating battle, and very important - probably the most important of the war. It's importance goes beyond its military and strategic significance (though those were big) - it is as important politically - the occasion of the definition of the war. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the nature of the war, made it into a revolution of sorts - and it came as a result of Antietam. The war itself changed shape, from something consisting of a series of battles, with both sides hoping to capture the enemy’s flag and win outright, to something like a total war - where the two sides would build and fight and cut each other up.

In military terms, Antietam was important enough. The South could have won the war in the fall of 1862 - by gaining foreign recognition; by swinging Northern elections far enough to break the Republicans' control of the war. Antietam put that to an end (along with Perryville and Corinth in the west.) I spent more time 2 years ago writing about the Union failure at Antietam - Lee's army was wrecked - it could have been finished off, as far as any army could be finished off in the Civil War. That was harder to do than anyone thought; both sides were constantly hoping for a modern Cannae, but it was almost impossible to do it in the 1860s. Killing power had grown, but communication power lagged, and the fact was that both sides were usually wrecked in every battle - one more than the other maybe - but most of the time, when one side chose to leave, the other side had less choice than they thought about whether to let them go. The logistics of the day made it very difficult to sustain battle. (In a couple years, if I keep posting these anniversary posts, we'll get back to that when we get to Grant in Virginia. A bloody mess, but something new, a genuinely sustained campaign... we're a long ways from that in 1862.) But at Antietam, while much of McClellan's army was shot to hell, all of Lee's army was - McClellan had two complete army corps that saw virtually no action. They could have broken the confederates - if they had captured the only ford across the Potomac, they could have finished them off. But they left it where it ended...

And yet - it is a turning point of the war. That's an overused phrase - one that can mean a bunch of different things. You can classify different battles as turning points. Like - Which battles determined who WOULD win the war? Which determined who COULD win the war? Which determined that the side that should win the war, really and truly WOULD? (This is different in subtle ways from #1.) And I suppose, finally - which battles determined what the war was going to be ABOUT?

1) is Vicksburg, basically - that cut the Confederacy in half, forced the east to fend for itself, gave the North access to invade the South from many angles... after that, the north was going to win, as long as it remained a war. (Though there wereways for the politics to play out differently - thus #3.)

2) is Gettysburg, more than anything else - especially alongside Vicksburg. Before Gettysburg, you can imagine the South forcing some kind of peace on the battlefield. Forcing negotiations, something like that - after Gettysburg, that wasn't going to happen. The SOuth might survive to force a peace, but they weren't going to win it.

3) this, I think, is Atlanta - because that was the point where there were no longer any ways for the south to survive. This is different than the other two - you see this a lot in the literature - that even in 1864, the south could still survive. It’s true. What Vicksburg and Gettysburg did was make sure the south could not win the War - but they could still win politically. They could still survive, hang on, create political crisis in the North, etc. But after Atlanta - they could not win. They could still fight it out - costing a lot of people their lives and causing immense suffering and despair - but they were going to lose.

4) and so we're back to Antietam. This stopped the South's best chance, probably, at forcing foreign intervention, some kind of armistice - but more importantly, this is where the war was defined. The freedom of the slaves, the remaking of the republic, into something - to be honest - closer to the ideals of the declaration of independence, to the dream of America, instead of its rather nasty reality. But also (as a consequence) into a total war - a war for the definition of the nation. It’s about the Birth of a Nation - this is pretty much where it was born. The irony of Griffith's title shouldn’t fool us - he was right, that the nation was born out of this war - born out of the freeing of the slaves. And this is where the North accepted that. For the South, from the start, the war was about slavery - don't let 150 years of revisionism fool you. They were fighting for slavery, from the beginning to the end; the North tried to fight for union first, and only came to accept it as a fight for slavery later. Here, basically, or 5 days from now, with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. A direct result of Antietam - which makes it quite justified in saying, it's the day the Nation was saved - maybe the day the nation was born. A better nation (though it would take another 100 years to make it stick...)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Random Ten

I am still a bit off my stride here - I hope that improves. Expect another Civil War post coming soon, with Antietam's 150th anniversary 3 days away. And - I guess the rest is up to me. Right now? it's time to fire up shuffle and see what we see:

1. Richard Thompson - Never Again [always a good place to start, Richard Thompson, especially with Linda singing]
2. REM - Hollow Man [decent sounding late REM]
3. Meat Puppets - Nail it Down
4. Mudhoney - If I think (live)
5. ELO - Strange Magic
6. Mono - Halcyon (Beautiful Days)
7. Low - Murderer
8. Tool - Third Eye [long live Bill Hicks!]
9. Smashing Pumpkins - Tristessa
10. Ghost - Oblit 1961 [wait - why does iTunes think this is "reggae"? Ghost is a lot of things, but reggae is not one of them]

Video? What can we find? how about some ELO?

And - speaking of strange magic, here's Tool:

And I suppose - Bill Hicks may be in order here:

"send in Vanilla Ice..."

Friday, September 07, 2012

Friday Songs

Home again this Friday, back from my travels, up into the north country...

...a good time had by all. And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming (such as it is):

1. Melvins Lite - Holy Barbarian [one of the very few records I have bought this year... sad, I suppose... good record though; Melvins are reliable]
2. The Mars Volta - Cicatrix (live)
3. Doctor Nerve - Take Your Ears as the Bones of their Queen
4. Minor Threat - Salad Days
5. Stooges - No Fun
6. DNA - Calling to Phone
7. Pere Ubu -Sentimental Journey
8. The Who - Summertime Blues (Live at Leeds)
9. U2 - 40 [after dwelling in the more challenging corners of my music collection, we suddenly seem to have shifted to much more familiar grounds]
10. Burning Spear - Marcus Garvey

And for video? How about some vintage Stooges footage?

And I suppose - contemporary Pere Ubu footage: