Sunday, April 29, 2007

Her Eminence, the Lady Sonya Taaffe of the Snow Shovel Campaign, has requested that I discuss three movies which I recently have viewed; The Blood of a Poet, Orpheus, and Re-Animator. One of these things is not like the others.

I'd seen all three of these movies before*, though so long ago that my memory wasn't so great. Now I have all three on DVD, and that's good because they're good movies. Well, maybe I could've lived without Re-Animator, but when I saw it in the store packaged with a highlighter that looks like a syringe, I couldn't resist.

But let's go alphabetically here;

The Blood of a Poet (Le sang d'un poète)
1930 Directed by Jean Cocteau

It's a commentary on artists, and what it means to be an artist, that really speaks for itself rather eloquently. It's a film that uses bizarre imagery to communicate things otherwise incommunicable. Possibly it was the most experimental cinematic narrative up to that point--my own limited experience with movies and the loss of thousands of movies made before 1930 prevent me from knowing. But The Blood of the Poet's unbridled surrealism certainly surpassed in its strangeness the works of Fritz Lang and the German expressionist filmmakers of the time.

A poet accidentally acquires a living, human-like mouth on his palm. When placed under water, air bubbles emerge from the mouth. He can't seem to get rid of the mouth, wiping it on various surfaces, until his hand covers the mouth of a statue resembling the Venus de Milo. The narrator warns against the danger of giving the mouth to a statue, which then comes alive, effectively becoming the poet's muse, and he seems greatly relieved to have invested his talent in the creature.

The statue leads him through a mirror into a hall with a series of doors. Through each keyhole, he sees a different scene of human strife play out, each seemingly without connexion to our protagonist, though entry through the mirror implies that these are things he nonetheless has at least a keyhole sized perspective on. So Cocteau rather wonderfully addresses the poet's ability to connect with the humanity of people in wildly different situations. It's a nice shade of the "write what you know" philosophy.

The poet eventually seems to become a highly regarded individual, perhaps a muse himself. He goes from living in a humble flat at the beginning of the movie, to wearing a tuxedo while playing cards with his statue muse. Opera house balconies filled with aristocrats watching the seemingly perilous game suggest the poet's now become an institution, yet death, in the form of a gun the muse twice makes him use on himself, seems always a waiting consequence of his art. First the gun gives him laurels, then it just gives him death.

Orpheus (Orphée)
1949 Directed by Jean Cocteau

In a more traditional narrative of characters and situations, this modern re-telling of the Orpheus myth also deals with the poet's relationship to death. In his most significant departure from the original myth, Cocteau casts death as an aloof, beautiful woman, who captures the attentions of Orpheus, diverting them from his wife and nearly all other things.

Orpheus is played by the absurdly handsome Jean Marais as a nationally renowned poet at odds with a new generation of poets. Yet the death of one member of that latter group seems to fill Orpheus with an obsessive inspiration. It marks the beginning of a path for Orpheus to explore death and seek to know it; appropriately mirrors are again used as gateways.

I'm still a little unsure about the ending, which diverts from the myth, seeing an Orpheus happily settling into life with Eurydice. I am feeling a bit dim to-day, so maybe I'll come back to it . . .

Oh, once again, I spotted something Francis Ford Coppola took from Cocteau for his Dracula movie;

This is a trick shot where actors scooting across a floor on their backs are shot from above to make it appear as though they're standing against a wall. Then, when they turn an obtuse angled corner, they find themselves apparently somehow falling sideways. In Orpheus, this is to convey the strange physics of the underworld. In Dracula, it happens to John Harker as he's escaping from Dracula's castle. It makes a lot less sense in the latter film, sure, but whatever. It's still a good movie.

1985 Directed by Stuart Gordon

However, the fact that the opening title sequence of this film blatantly steals the score from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho comes across less as an interesting homage than as wholesale theft. There's no individual "Re-Animator" feeling created with the opening credits. It just made me think, "Oh, it's the Psycho soundtrack. Why?"

In an interview included on the DVD, Re-Animator composer Richard Brand claims his use of the Psycho music was intentional, that it was meant to be "quirky." He maintains that, among everyone working on the film, he was the only one who recognised, from rough cuts, that the film was so over the top that it ought to be presented as a horror movie parody, and to do that he needed to use an iconic horror movie score. He says that it was an accident that no credit was given to Bernard Herrmann originally, and Brand says he personally made sure credit was put in later prints.

That's right--Richard Brand is full of shit.

Still, the movie is good, schlocky fun. Perhaps that's appropriate since H.P. Lovecraft wrote the original story as a parody of Frankenstein, now the movie is a parody of zombie movies. But there is a sincerity in it, too, notably in the form of Jeffery Combs, who plays Herbert West with wonderful zeal.

It's well this movie is so enthusiastically phoney, though, as it allows us to enjoy the gratuitousness;

These things happen.

The special effects are top notch, and most of the budget clearly went to exploding eyeballs and fake limbs, thereby confining the action to four or five rather plain looking sets, inhabited by no more than seven or eight people at any one time.

I can't help wondering how Herbert West would do on an introspective journey through the underworld . . .

When hunting zombie cats, bring your croquet mallet.

*Previously, I'd seen only all but the last fifteen or so minutes of Orpheus. Sonya urged me to rectify this, and she is wise.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wanna see one of the most pathetic things on the internet? Behold! John Mellencamp filling in for Roger Ebert.

MIND OF MELLENCAMP: Well, gosh darn it, if them Eggbert and Roperts aren't the meanest sons o'guns--I'm just gonna give thumbs up to every movie.

Some of my favourite bits; "Well, I didn't think the movie was that bad," "Now--I didn't say I didn't like the music, I said I didn't get the music," "[Vacency] is in the tradition of Hitchcock," "I haven't seen many horror movies."

Of all the well versed movie critics who'd love the chance to fill in for Ebert . . . sheesh.

MIND OF ROEPER: Suddenly I look like a very good critic.

Ebert, come back. Now.
For Poetry Month, here's Jack Kerouac reading his poem about Charlie Parker.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I'm already pretty sick of seeing the pictures the gunman sent to NBC. I don't think the public ought to be denied access, but it's the sort of thing that ought to be relegated to, not something that ought to dominate the New York Times web site. The collage of victims' photos was better.

Why is NBC News constantly in the news? First Tim Russert in the Scooter Libby trial, then the Imus thing, now this . . .

Monday, April 16, 2007

Monday I dreamt I was with a class of college students, leading them through a dense tropical jungle on a bright, cloudless day. Persian buildings could be seen here and there, including white towers with golden domed tops rising above the trees. Eventually we came to a bright blue wall that I realised was in fact the sky. There was a large, blank white rectangle painting on it that I knew was used as a movie screen, and I wanted to show the students some movies. But one of the students, a guy who looked like Jay Hernandez from Hostel, which I watched a few nights ago, opened the white rectangle in the middle like a couple of large sliding doors. There was a dark room inside and I told everyone to stay out because I knew Lost Highway was playing in there and that, because Lost Highway isn't available on DVD, going in the room would result in disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, Jay Hernandez didn't listen to me, and soon he and many of the other students were dying of some kind of flesh-eating tropical disease.

I suppose there's some slight resemblance there to the school shootings to-day. The latest and worst of what seems to be becoming a terribly regular fact of life, I can't help feeling a little numbed. With Iraq to think about, and Darfur, the world seems increasingly covered by a boiling sea of violence.

I must admit, what's interested me most so far about this has been the politics on gun-control that appears to have already taken the stage. From the White House Press Briefing given by deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino:

MS. PERINO: As far as policy, the President believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed. And certainly bringing a gun into a school dormitory and shooting -- I don't want to say numbers because I know that they're still trying to figure out many people were wounded and possibly killed, but obviously that would be against the law and something that someone should be held accountable for.

Q Columbine, Amish school shooting, now this, and a whole host of other gun issues brought into schools -- that's not including guns on the streets and in many urban areas and rural areas. Does there need to be some more restrictions? Does there need to be gun control in this country?

MS. PERINO: The President -- as I said, April, if there are changes to the President's policy we will let you know. But we've had a consistent policy of ensuring that the Justice Department is enforcing all of the gun laws that we have on the books and making sure that they're prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Q Lastly, in Texas, if I'm correct, he passed legislation, no age restriction on possession of weapons, if I'm correct. Should there be some kind of federal age limit, as far as the President is concerned, raising the age for gun possession in this country?

MS. PERINO: Unfortunately, I'm going to have to go back and look at what the record was in Texas. Maybe Ken Herman could tell us. We'll go to Ken next.

Keith Olbermann pointed out to-day that one of the guns used by the gunman was modified with a special clip that allowed it to hold more than its standard ten rounds of ammunition. Such clips were made illegal by the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, but that law was allowed to expire by the Bush administration.

Olbermann also mentioned a press release from Gun Owners of America that argues that the gunman might have been stopped sooner if the students were allowed to carry firearms.

So they want to see a world where every college guy who thinks he's got a small dick can legally carry a gun? Every boozy frat boy? I have to wonder what ridiculous, slow motion shoot-out is playing in Bushie minds. It seems impossible that anyone can be so stupid, yet if they're deliberately attempting to destroy this country, you'd think there'd be faster ways of going about doing it. Maybe there's just no accounting for delusions. I wonder what remedy Gun Owners of America would recommend for someone whose callous short-sightedness has resulted in American deaths at home and abroad.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I haven't gotten too much done lately, mostly because of birthday stuff--the zoo on Friday and Grindhouse (second time) on Saturday. But I have managed to do a lot of colouring here and there. I just hadn't gotten enough sleep to do any drawing, as Thursday was still Thursday and for some reason my mother wanted me up even earlier on Friday to go to the zoo. It was a nice trip, though. We watched the gorillas playing--there were five or six medium sized ones and a big alpha male. We watched him descend on a smaller male, give him a casual thump on the head, and take what he was eating, all while two females watched. Another enclosure had a voyeuristic ourang-outang, who was pressed up against the glass to watch the human children.

Watching tiny monkeys racing across their busy enclosure, leaping from rope suspended tires over concrete streams to dry, twisted branches, I wondered if Super Mario Brothers taps into buried animal instincts. I wonder what humanity would look like if suddenly deprived of all its cybernetic stuff.

Last night I watched Tengoku to jigoku, which was quite good, and perhaps one of Kurosawa's most blatant statements on his own curious and complex political views.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I had a pretty good birthday, except Kurt Vonnegut died. So it goes. It doesn't seem like that long ago he was plugging a new book and appearing in commercials. I'm sort of surprised he died at all.

Otherwise, it was a good birthday. My sister, in a move of pure genius, prevailed upon my mother to give me a Disney Princess themed birthday. My sister knows me. I also got a Donald Duck Pez dispenser.

I guess I'd better get what sleep I can now . . . My thanks to they who wished me happy birthday.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The old clock inside the computer tells me it's my birthday, so I'm twenty-eight years old now. No career path or college degree, yet I am Time's person of the year. And I'm a muthafuckin' blogger, one of the pyjamahadeen--of sorts. So there's that.

I am optimistic about this comic I'm working on. I've shown bits of it to Sonya, and she seems to like it. I bet a comics publisher would be crazy not to take it. Does that satisfy you, birthday god? You never talk to me.

Mostly people're giving me money, though I haven't bought very much yet. I spent ten dollars at Wal-Mart an hour ago on Bound and Dead Alive, and last week I bought the second season of Twin Peaks. That wasn't too ridiculous, I only bought the first season six fucking years ago. And now I hear the seven episode first season is actually pretty hard to find, so I feel for the poor little lambs coming to the show only now. Of course, unavailability of the first season is still nothing compared to the elusive pilot episode. Believe it or not, if you live in the U.S., the best way to watch the pilot, which is the first episode, was, until a few days ago, on YouTube. You can order an import DVD, but the sound's fucked, which of course, as any Lynch-phile knows, ruins a David Lynch film. But the image quality is better than YouTube--I actually tried to sync the two up, using the YouTube sound with the DVD picture, but it turns out the DVD actually plays slightly too fast. So Warner Brothers gets the last laugh as Paramount's release of the show suffers from the pilot's unavailability.

Most of what I've been watching lately has been anime I got for free from Tim--lots of series I fit on lots of DVDs. Most of them not very good. Last Exile, which'd looked promising, turned out to have writing so annoying that I had to stop watching halfway through the third episode or risk reflexively dashing my monitor against the wall. And ten episodes after the wonderful first episode of Tenchi Muyo GXP, the writing took a nose dive. So I just re-watched The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, a series whose brilliance I'd sort of forgotten (it's a component of a much larger post I've been meaning to write for weeks, so stay tuned).

Yesterday I watched the first episode of Code Geas, though, and was very pleasantly surprised. Interesting writing, beautiful CLAMP character designs, and absorbing unpredictability. Lelouch, the pretty male protagonist, actually has character traits apart from being pretty, a teenager, and supernatural. I know, I was amazed, too.

But I think now I'll go to the nightly Twin Peaks viewing. I'm about three episodes in and, although I haven't watched the series in six years, I'm finding it's still written on my brain from my millions of repeated viewings of tapes in the late 90s, especially the Lynch episodes. Though these are much better quality copies.

I'll be accompanied by cherry pie and coffee . . .

Saturday, April 07, 2007

I'm still in Grindhouse afterglow. As you may remember from one of my posts about last year's Comic-Con, I was very much looking forward to the movie. And it surpassed all my expectations.

I was looking forward to a movie that absurdly kicked ass. I got that in Rodriguez's Planet Terror. But in Tarantino's Death Proof, I was treated also to beautiful, foot fetishist photography, beautiful women, nice dialogue, deft characterisation, and an absorbing story. I love Tarantino's patience, his ability to put viewers viscerally into the story by framing easily swallowed dialogue with quiet tension.

The other nice thing that I wasn't expecting was the general atmosphere created by the pairing of the films, the fake trailers, and the retro advertisements. I never experienced the actual grind-house cinema scene, and the only exploitation movies I've seen are Japanese, so nostalgia wasn't part of my enjoyment. It was more like another movie existed apart from yet comprised of the two movies--a storyline of style and sensibilities suggested by the confluence. Like the supplemental articles and interviews in Watchmen--Grindhouse is a meta-movie.

My only complaint, really, is that there's not nearly enough sex in either film. I only hope the DVD remedies that. But otherwise, it's one of the best movies I've seen this year.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Huckabees director apparently does not heart Lilly Tomlin.

I think what impressed me most about the second segment is what a cool cucumber Jason Schwartzman is. And wow, does Dustin Hoffman look uncomfortable. How the hell did they finish making that movie?

That's a picture from Los Angeles, but I saw something similar yesterday at Fashion Valley mall here in San Diego--I couldn't find photos of that, but I did find video, thanks to the local ABC station. Thanks again, Disney.

I was going to the mall for lunch yesterday with my mother and sister and as we were pulling into the parking lot, I first noticed a clothed woman holding a sign I thought read "Blueberry kills animals", though I found out later the culprit was actually a store called Burberry, who's selling real fur garments. Then, as we were turning into the lot, we saw the nude trio, who were encouraging passers-by to wear "faux fur". I say they were faux nude, since no one could see any of the good bits.

Still, there's something oddly guilt-inducing about naked women standing around in public. I was a little reminded of Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet, and I actually felt a little guilty about my fur hat and leather jacket. Though mainly I just felt sorry I'm not getting laid.

Hopefully there're more naked girls in my future to-day as I mean to catch Grindhouse. Somehow to-day I've also gotten a little work done on my comic. Not much, but still, I was sort of expecting to-day to be entirely shot considering there'll probably a good wait at the cinema . . .

Thursday, April 05, 2007

You know, I get ridiculously pleased when Disney does something good. I guess there's a part of me that wants to think of Disney as an entity that provides fun for humanity, and not an evil, bloated corporation.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The cats around here eat Royal Canin brand food, so of course I checked the web site to see if Royal Canin is among the pet foods involved in any of the recent recalls. They're not, and I love the snooty message on their site:

We want to make it very clear to pet owners that the nationwide pet food recall does not include any Royal Canin USA dry or wet pet food products.

The safety and nutritional quality of our pet food is our top priority because for many people, their pets are their top priorities.

See, the other companies just don't care about your pet, or people. That's why this is happening. We try to keep our humble corner clean, but we can't help it if all the others are loud, smelly, obnoxious savages.

That's just the attitude I like to see from a French company.