Thursday, March 25, 2010

From My New Undisclosed Location

Well, that's done. I have moved house, into a smaller, but perhaps nicer place. Now I have to unpack - this is an accurate representation of the place:

The world has been busy, meanwhile - Health Care Reform passes, finally - a huge relief. I can't get too excited about the results - it still seems to me that the system is designed to provide a kind of endless preemptive bailout of the Insurance Industry - but it does good things, moves the system in the right direction. We're better off with this reform than without it - we will be better off still if we can build on it. I see the right wing is up in arms - and sometimes almost literally - about this; I am hard pressed to see why. The raving and ranting about it is utterly bizarre - where is this awful "usurpation" people talk about? People are carrying on as if they had found out that the government was running torture chambers in an offshore concentration camp and -

- What? what was that?

Enough. As with most political issues these days, the only real debate is on the left. The Republicans and their tea-bagger friends* have basically stepped out of the political conversation - they rave, they posture, but they believe in nothing, they support nothing - they are nihilists. Thankfully, they are weak and stupid nihilists, but that doesn't mean they can't inadvertently cause good people to collapse in a parking lot from a bad heart... But in this process, in the end, the real debate and work was between the left and the center. The right has stopped trying.

*Tea-baggers... I am not going to refer to these people as "tea party" anything. The tea party was a rebellion against a tax imposed on a colony from England - it represented a real power struggle between absentee government and self-determination. Taxation without representation - really. This stuff? is stealing the good name of Sam Adams (brewer and patriot) for a front group for a corporate lobbying firm. Rounding up nitwits who know about as much about politics as a parrot that's been watching Glenn Beck to stand around and should mad slogans - keep the government out of medicare - or whatever the fuck they're on about... Christ! The whole thing plays like something straight out of The Idiots - a flash mob for morons...

Oh! And happy birthday, Akira Kurosawa (a day or so late) - thanks for summing up how I feel!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

RIP Alex Chilton

Alex Chilton has died... how awful.

Still in great voice, too...

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Weather Report

Still in the middle of moving, so not much time (or enthusiasm) for blogging... Meanwhile, Sister Rosetta Thorpe can tell you how the weather has been...

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Content and its Discontents

My weekly post... this is going to be a thin month, even by my standards, with moving - I hope I don't completely disappear... I have a place, and should be able to start moving in soon - but times and efforts are still to be determined.

But, after a week of thinking about nothing but apartments and money and moving and such, I am dying to do or think or write about anything else. So - first - this can serve as my weekly/biweekly, whatever it is, movie post - I've only seen one movie in the last week, but it was a doozy - Bong Joon-ho's Mother. A 13/15, per my little rating scheme... Story is - a girl is killed; the cops arrest a guy with mental problems - he happened to be out and about that night, drinking, flirting with girls - he can't remember anything, and he's easy to intimidate, so off to jail he goes. But his mother has none of it - she sets out to clear him, dogging the cops, hiring a lawyer, investigating herself (with the mercenary encouragement and aid of his thuggish friend) - what she finds.... It's a very tightly plotted and constructed films - everything is very neatly wrapped up - almost too neatly - I mean, too neatly for strict realism. That tight detailing plays as a kind of madness itself, and plays against the hints of swirling darkness in their lives and the town and so on.... Like Bong's other films, this is a masterful mix of tension and wit - everything plays out kind of askew. High melodramatic moments are undercut with odd absurdity, sometimes straight farce. It has, at times, an almost Imamura-like feel - strange flashbacks and flash- something, forward, sort of... lots of imagery of water, sex, plus a retarded kid who sleeps with his mother... and a few giddy shots - directly overhead, that sort of thing - that look like Imamura. Bong shoots a lot of the film is tight closeups - or big close shots with out of focus (but often very visible) backgrounds - especially when the mother is on screen. It's disorienting and unsettling throughout - a beautiful, haunting movie.

So in lieu of movies to write about, let's write about blogs. Film Criticism has died again - Jim Emerson provides probably the best overview. First, there's Richard Schickel acting the fool again; and (a bit) more substantively, Thomas Doherty proclaiming The Death of Film Criticism itself. That one lured in Jonathan Rosenbaum to comment - identifying many signs of cinephilic life... Emerson too seems to have logged onto the computer sometime in the last 10 years - I like this paragraph enough to quote it:
I look at film criticism the same way. Not that one should only write about movies one likes, but that the goal of criticism has nothing to do with box-office or influencing consumer behavior or changing minds. Movies are about seeing things through others' eyes. So is movie criticism. My only hope is that you'll find whatever I wrote about a particular movie worth reading and thinking about, even if you ultimately reject my point of view or have no intention of seeing the movie in question.

I don;t know if I quite managed to say this in my last reaction to a Decline of Criticism post, but to me, the internet is still more like a conversation, or letters to the editor page, than a publication - or mass of publications. I don't really need to have complete, formally structured essays online - for all that I do favor more formalist, academic, poetics oriented writing, I am comfortable reading what amount to drafts, notes, half-completed thoughts. The blogs (and message boards before them, and maybe twitter/facebook, etc. after them) at their best have the tone of something halfway between a seminar class, and a bunch of grad students or bookstore workers arguing philosophy over Sam Adams' in the pub... I think that leaves a gap in the critical world - that for the moment is filled by journals, and books - though I worry about journals and books in the future.. But what's on the blogs is good...

And that brings me to a similar topic: The Ebert Club. For $4.99 a year, you get - something... a bunch of stuff - though mostly, I think, the satisfaction of paying for something worth having. It raises a point though - leaving aside the idea of paying for this as a kind of donation - would I pay for any web content? Would I pay for Ebert, if I had to? or David Bordwell's blog? or Glenn Kenny's? Truth is - probably not. I pay to get on the internet - pay quite a bit for it, maybe... once on - I am not sure how enthusiastic I am about paying for content.

Though it is directly relevant that I buy any and all Bordwell or Thompson books when they appear. And would probably buy a collection of Ebert's essays/columns. (As a critic, I always found him very useful, a good writer and solid guide - but hardly indispensible. As a columnist, he is as good as any I have read in as long as I remember.) And I think a big part of it is - you pay for the delivery system, not the content. (Even if it is the content that is the source of value. Value is not exactly a monetary thing. You pay for content with your time and attention; you pay for the book with cash.) That and the fact that books are still a far better delivery system for really dense data than the web. (Though this too - Ebert, great as he is as a straight columnist, is even better as a blogger - he uses pictures and video and links to great effect... as do Bordwell and Thompson - their blog is a blog....) I am, myself, an odd mix of luddite and anarchist in this - I hate paying for online content; I don't think copying data (or programs or anything like that) is theft; I don't think there are any sustainable ways to make people pay for digital content - anything that can be reproduced and distributed without costs will be... But at the same time - I buy books, and a fair amount of magazines; buy 95% of the music I have on CD; buy and rent DVDs, though I much prefer to attend movie screenings - and have no reluctance to pay for any of these things. I think paper and bits are different things, and have to develop different systems for being economically viable.

Though again - one reason I could do without Ebert (if he went behind a paywall for real) is that the internet provides far more quality material than I can even pretend to read. I mean look - you have:

A Godard interview...

A very old Alice in Wonderland clip, with accompanying essay.

Bernardo Bertolucci on Rules of the Game.

An essay on Andre Wajda's Tatarak.

That's all today. It's too easy to put things on the web - too many people are doing it. It is not going to encourage a direct pay for content system. It is going to require - something else. Possibly, to be honest, semi-subscription systems, like Ebert's club, or even Netflix. Something....

Finally - to loop back to the beginning, and my moving woes, which actually inspired a lot of this: whatever happens on the web, it is in better shape than newspapers. Film criticism may not be dead, but the daily paper newspaper is certainly on the roof. How do I know? I bought a couple papers, looking for apartment ads - and found? on at least 2 days - none at all. And worse - this Tuesday - I couldn't even find a classified ads section - newspapers will not survive without ads. They don't make money selling papers - they make money selling readers to advertisers. That is how it had been for at least a century - if that is gone, the paper is gone.