I thought that post I wrote on the British funding cuts had enough qualifiers about it being ugly/silly/spiteful etc. to make it clear that it's not like I walk around all day rejoicing int he downfall of British arts funding. Furthermore, I thought the clarifying comment I left responding to David Cote made it clear that I know the difference between empty trendy British theatre and empty trendy Continental theatre. I also was pretty sure I made it clear that I don't actually support the funding cuts, but rather was confessing to a petty thing that I've felt occasionally as a result of the steady stream of imperious assholes the UK and the continent sends to theatre conferences here in the states.
Apparently, I was wrong. To which all I can say is ::sigh::. It's stupid to get in an argument about things you don't actually disagree about, so I won't. Chris Wilkinson is right, but I'm surprised it wasn't clear I wasn't making an argument about anything, I was venting about something I was feeling, based on experience I've had. And I'm frankly mystified by the assertion that someone who writes about theatre has never heard a British theatre artist or critic be a snot about American theatre. But I mean, if he hasn't had that experience, that's cool. I wasn't-- to say it for the nth time-- making an argument about anything. I was just venting.
Now obviously, I think everyone over there is rightfully tetchy about the upcoming cuts; I would be too. So I understand that everything that's not vocally opposing the cuts is hard to take even when it comes wrapped in so many grains of salt you could make a crust and cook it in an oven. So just to reiterate: I would much rather the States funded like England, instead of the other way around. I'm a big fan of government subsidy for the arts, and I agree with an earlier Guardian poster that post-War Britain has lived through a multi-decade long golden age of theatre (along with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Elton John and other schlockmeisters). I'd like that to continue.
It's very hard not to be deeply frustrated by a blog post that misrepresents what I wrote in such a way that a former collaborator and ex-friend can then attack me in the comments. I mean, I understand that's how the internet rolls, it's just not pleasant when it rolls over you.
I was thinking the other day "I wonder where the phrase `big wigs' comes from?" And, rather than look it up, I thought to myself "wait a minute, Parabasis readers are a group of funny, creative people and many of them are writers, I should just ask them to make one up for me".
So go, Parabasis readers! Make up an origin story for the phrase "big wigs"!
When 99 called dibs on season finales in the spring, I did a tiny bit of silent brooding--I'm obsessed with questions of closure, you see, and especially with how the failures and successes of finales so often determine how we look back on a series years down the line. There's something exciting about being able to weigh in at the end--give what you hope might be the Last Word on the narrative.
But here's the thing--this emphasis on closure has also always struck me as perverse. We place so much power in the final episode of a season or series, forgetting the the real pleasure of long-form serials happens in the middle (and in the waiting between installments). So with that in mind, I'm officially claiming dominion over season/series premieres.
I should say, too, that I'm not invested in doing recaps here. Instead, I'm seeing this as an opportunity to think through the season premiere as Event Television. As such, I'll talk not just about where I think the show might be going in the coming season, but about the experience of watching it more generally: the general level and tone of the hoopla around the episode, how it falls in the nightly lineup, what the fan community is like, etc.
So, now that we've got that taken care of, I watched Mad Men on Sunday after getting fully on board with all the preseason hoopla. As such, I'd voraciously read all the online reviews and thus knew that the season would be starting almost a year after the surprise formation of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce that closed out season three. This will be the first season of Mad Men I will have watched live, and thus the first time that I will be free of spoilers (and that's even more certain now that Matthew Weiner has refused to offer prescreeners to critics!).
The question of spoilers seems more loaded with regard to Mad Men than other serials, since its historical setting means that we're rarely surprised by the larger machinations of the plot (I'm thinking of Roger's wedding on the day of the Kennedy assassination, for instance, or Don's date's mention of the ACLU members lynched in Mississippi). One of the things that distinguishes my experience of watching Mad Men from other serials is the sense of dread that suffuses the series. As much as the show is about making the present look better in comparison to the past, it's also about idealizing that past, as all the fetishization of the drinks and style can attest. As such, even though I hardly see the 1950s as some antediluvian paradise, the casual mentions of unavoidable change make me brace for the uneasy future for these characters.
One of the weirdest things about watching the show (and one that no one seems to have mentioned), is the effect of its back-to-back pairing with True Blood. Is the delicious and tacky excess of the coming vampire/werewolf war in Bon Temps part of the future I'm bracing myself against while watching Mad Men? As gruesome and explicit as things can get on Mad Men (lawnmower mishaps or hallway fingering, anyone?), it's missing the sense of glee that characterizes True Blood. As much as I think it would be good for all of them (especially Sally Draper) to cut loose, I'm afraid of whatever upheaval would make the move from the world of Mad Men to the world of True Blood possible.
This dread is the funny thing about Mad Men, and why I think it might, for all its focus on the pains of patriarchy, be fundamentally a pretty conservative show. The structure of the show, thus far, has made us fear change. This season holds the promise of something different, though--at least I hope so. The characters who seem in the best shape are Peggy and Pete, and they're the ones whose lives have changed most fundamentally in the nine months that have elapsed between seasons. Betty is the only one who's still hanging on to her old life, and that doesn't seem to be working too well for her, as her petulant-girl routine no longer gains much audience sympathy when she isn't being actively victimized. Even Don is at his most beleaguered when he's trying to hold onto his old life (see the incredibly depressing decor of his "bachelor pad").
So I'm wondering--are we headed into a new kind of Mad Men? One that won't be characterized by dread? Or will the dread just keep ratcheting up? Thoughts?
...putting out a fire with your heart. Except the fire IS your heart, too.
Have I mentioned my deep, abiding love for Matt Freeman? Because it is real. And true.
The French New Wave is still swinging, though perhaps at a slower speed. Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, and Jacques Rivette, legendary filmmakers that met as film critics, are now over eighty. Yet retirement is out of the picture, as each continues to produce and direct feature films, recovering New Wave sensibility and charm that has only grown slightly less innovative with time. In his latest feature, the mature Rivette focuses on middle-age romance. 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup is an atypical rom-com, starring Jane Birkin, (an actress best remembered for being Serge Gainsbourg’s wife, and inspiring a large Hermès purse) and Sergio Castellitto, the charismatic Italian actor, who also starred in Rivette’s Va Savoir.
Those familiar with Rivette’s work will not be surprised at the emphasis on theater, that this time appears in a circus scenario. Kate (Jane Birkin) is newly reunited with a small circus troop that she once abandoned after her lover, a fellow performer, was killed accidentally in the whip act. Now, traumatized, she stays on the outskirts of the tent during badly attended performances in the south of France. Kate’s chance meeting with Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto), a mysterious well-dressed man with an Italian accent, inspires hope for new love. However, her fear dominates as he becomes more flirtatious and obsessive in his pursuit.
Despite the centrality of the Vittorio/Kate romance, real sparks never fly. Although Vittorio’s smiles and wit compel the audience, he fails to charm Kate out of her forlorn ambivalence. The actors’ lack the chemistry necessary for screen-love, and thus the audience turns their anticipation towards an engaging comedic subplot surrounding Vittorio’s turn as a clown. As this is a Rivette film rather than a true travelling circus, elements of absurd theater reign in an abstract tent performance (Waiting for Godot is an obvious reference).
36 vues du Pic Saint Loup is Rivette at his most playful. Miles apart from his last film, La Duchesse de Langeais, a historical melodrama based on a Balzac short story, 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup remains light-hearted even when characters discuss the transient nature of life—due in large part to the comedic skills of Sergio Castellitto and André Marcon. New Wave themes pose questions to the audience on the nature of cinema and its relationship to theater: characters speak to the camera and quote Godard, (“All of our dragons are really princesses waiting for us to free them.”) The magnificent provençal landscape behind the delicate dialogue and troop acting make this feature a true pleasure. Although, Charlotte Gainsbourg has now surpassed her mother in acting and celebrity, Birkin pulls off the grieving lover’s paradox with a widow’s experience. While 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup is not at the caliber of Rivette’s most lauded work, Céline et Julie vont en Bateau (1974), both films invite the audience to escape with their characters into an alternate imaginary world.
-- The mixed bag of the rise of nerd culture.
-- Still need more nerdantry? Top Shelf has a great line up of books coming out soon.
-- How we die, by Atul Gawande.
-- I loved this post by Parabasis china plate Josh Conkel.
To all you peoples out there, bored at your day jobs... this should help you eat up some time.
Fellow blogger Ben Owen and I were having a conversation recently about band names. Not "bad" band names (I'm not sure there's such a thing, honestly) but rather repellent band names. Band names so off putting for one reason or another that there is just no way you are going to listen ot their music. Here's a short list we came up, add your own in the comments! (yeah yeah, this isn't exactly substantive... whaddya want? I'm moving on Sunday and my life is chaos!):
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
How to Destroy Angels
Panic! At The Disco!
My Chemical Romance
I'm normally a big fan of Lawyers, Guns and Money. We see eye-to-eye on lots of things, but there are some pretty big differences. One, their unrelenting Yankee haterdom. Two, their love of both soccer and hockey. Three, this review of Inception.
I wasn't really planning on posting a review of Inception, since, well, Uncle Jimmy did a pretty good job of it. I pretty much agreed with that and didn't feel the need to go any further. But SEK's review at LGM and this review, linked to in the comments at LGM, sum up the general flavor of the criticism of the film and I think it says something interesting about our expectations of pop culture, particularly "smart" pop culture.
>Grant Morrison, On Realism:
"It's like this theory I've been developing – you know what they always say about kids? That kids can't distinguish between fantasy and reality. And that's actually bullshit. When a kid's watching 'The Little Mermaid,' the kids knows that those crabs that are singing and talking aren't really like the crabs on the beach that don't talk. A kid really knows the difference.
"Then you've got an adult, and adults can not tell the difference between fantasy and reality. You bring them fantasy, and the first thing they say is 'How did he get that way? Why does he dress like that? How did that happen?' It's not real. And beyond that, when you're dealing with characters, they exist on paper. They're real in that context. I always say they're much more real than we are because they have much longer lives and more people know about them. But we get people reading superhero comics and going, 'How does that power work? And why does Scott Summers shoot those beams? And what's the size of that?' It's not real! There is no science. The science is the science of 'Anything can happen in fiction and paper' and we can do anything.
"We've already got the real world. Why would you want fiction to be like the real world? Fiction can do anything, so why do people always want to say, 'Let's ground this' or 'Let's make this realistic.' You can't make it realistic because it's not. So basically Batman is 75 years old, and Robin is 74 years old. They don't grow old because they're different from us. They're paper people."
H to the Tizzo to Sean Collins. /
This is a pretty wonderful video:
I meant what I said. And what the video Harry Reid's encounter at Netroots Nation is a good reminder of is that saying things is nice. Follow-through is better. And the only way it works is with accountability. I still have a fairly high measure of respect for Harry Reid, but if this doesn't get done, I don't see a reason for him to maintain a position of power. So get it done, Senator. And give back that ring you haven't earned. Yet.
Over my honeymoon, I read AS Byatt's The Children's Book (short review: great story, I wish a better and more compassionate writer had written it) which contains a number of lengthy nonfictional sociopolitical asides about life and culture amongst the mid-to-upper crust in Edwardian England. As the main character is a writer of children's fiction, specifically dark and menacing new fairy tales, this gives Byatt ample opportunity to discuss the place of children's fiction in late 19th century England. Sadly, the book is packed away in a box so I can't quote her conclusions, but to paraphrase, she talks about the rediscovery and transmogrification of folk tales during the time period, thanks to a whole host of people from the Brothers Grimm to Hans Christian Andersen to Wagner. She writes at great length as well about what these stories meant to the people of the day, and that it was an era obsessed with children's stories. Not just with adapting and creating new ones, but in reading them and discussing them.You can see in the world she simultaneously evokes and documents the seeds that would later sprout into Tolkein, and indeed (although he never appears in it) the book ends shortly before Tolkein's first writings were published.
In 2003, Byatt also wrote an anti-Harry Potter op-ed for the New York Times which, luckily is not packed away in one of my boxes, but rather is on the internet. You can see many of the themes present in The Children's Book in the op-ed, particularly the prized place of really genuine menace within children's literature of the time. She finds the Potter world devoid of real mystery and instead filled with a kind of ersatz substitute. The op-ed article is both too complicated in the points it makes and too infuriating to quote at length here, it would completely sidetrack anything else I was trying to say. So if you want to read it, here it is in all its arrogant glory.
The combination of the op-ed at the novel did get me thinking, however. Clearly The Children's Book is as much about our time, our struggles and our culture as it is about the soap operatic sexcapades of the Fabians. And the more I thought about it, the more I noticed that we seem to be knee deep in a kind of neo-folkloric moment. Have been, in fact, for quite some time. There's examples galore, particularly in comics. Mike Mignola's formula for Hellboy is essentially to find some (preferably obscure) folk tale or 19th century ghost story or two and insert Hellboy in it. I may not be a fan of Fables, but it taps into (and in my mind, wastes) a rich vein of Grimm-based stories. Neil Gaiman's one real gift (both in comics and out) is in creating pastiche out of the very kinds of truly mysterious stories that Byatt loves. And then of course there's Alan Moore, who is basically a walking lost 10th century warning about a bogmonster that speaks in iambic pentameter This has filtered into film through Guillermo Del Toro and Peter Jackson, and I even see a bit of it in theatre, through Phelim McDermott and The Debate Society's The Snow Hen and a little bit in music through early Joanna Newsom and the work of The Decemberists.
We are also collectively obsessed with children's literature, from Harry Potter to His Dark Materials to Twilight. Byatt also mentions Terry Pratchett who, although generally pitched to adults is certainly appreciable by high schoolers and a precocious eighth grader or two.
I don't know what any of this means, mind you. It's not a movement. Movements have leaders and goals. It's more a trend. Or a strain, perhaps. And I can't help but notice that it has happened at the same time as a kind of collective Peter Panning amongst my generation with its rad dads on skateboards, love of talking like cute widdle kittehs, kick ball leagues for adults and twee music by Belle and Sebastian. Not to mention love of reading comic books.
The question I have is... why now? Why this moment? Byatt tentatively draws links between this moment of new childishness and World War I in The Children's Hour (with the former accidentally giving birth to the latter). Is there a connection between this moment and the violent world we're in?
Of the many balls that Will Dinski is juggling in Finger Prints, his assured graphic novel debut (which I received for free from Top Shelf), perhaps the most interesting is the ways in which Dinski applies shopworn stories-about-artists tropes to non-artist characters. Here, we have the artist consumed with making the perfect work of art, willing to ruin both his marriage and his muse in the process, while his young protégé creates a new method of working that undercuts everything he has built. Sounds familiar, right? There’s just one problem: in this mixture of sci-fi, social commentary and Hollywood intrigue, the artist isn’t an artist at all. He’s a plastic surgeon, and the great work of art he hopes to complete is the transformation of a young starlet into Barbie Doll perfection. As art about art-making goes, Ratatouille this ain’t.
Dr. Fingers is a super successful Hollywood plastic surgeon, with A-list clientele, a dead marriage to an aging unsurgeried woman and an ambitious young assistant. His top client, Vanessa Zimba, is the hot young thing of the moment, starring in a comic book adaptation opposite the (closeted) Casey Kansas, with whom she’s having a publicity-stunt affair (shades of K-Stew and R-Pats mixed with Brangelina). She’s also his muse. “I’ve been perfecting you since before you were an actress,” he tells her at a party thrown by Kansas, “My masterpiece… one more surgery and you’ll be perfect”. So consumed is Fingers that the affair he’s having with Zimba seems secondary, a way to convince her to go under the knife again and again and again.
As it turns out, his assistant Dr. Tatsu has invented a machine that will resculpt the user’s face into either Casey Kansas or Vanessa Zimba at bargain basement rates. Soon, this newfangled mass production of movie star perfection is destroying Fingers’ business. Throughout, Dinski makes it clear that what he’s really talking about here is the making of art. Right before Tatsu’s new process is unveiled, guests at a party crown around a painting while of the guests explains, “it’s signed by Eshelbiyer, but it’s more likely one of his assistants painted it. A true Eshelbiyer hasn’t been made for many years.” Not content to explore issues of mass production, the artistic temperament or our fame-obsessed culture, Dinski piles on with questions about authorship, intellectual property and quality versus quantity.
One hundred four small pages, each with ten panels on them is not a great amount of space to explore all of these themes. Indeed, the book can easily be read in under an hour. Its brevity invites multiple re-readings, to see how the thematic questions bounce off of and comment on each other. Ultimately, these themes intertwine to form an examination of The Real. If a work of art is painted by assistants (or made by a machine) can we really say the artist whose signature it bares “made” it?* and if people are constantly employing surgery to change their appearance, can we say that they are really still themselves? Does the public, graceful, charming and heterosexual Casey Kansas exist, or is the private, meanspirited gay social climber the real him? When everything looks the same, how do we differentiate one thing from another? Finger Prints presents the reader with a wryly comical nightmare about mass production, created by an artist known for selling hand-made books, released at a moment when (thanks to digital mass production) the internet is gradually reforming the comics industry.
Finger Prints, then, is a short story to be reexamined, rather than a novel to get lost in. It's built on clever iterations of theme rather than deep characterizations or world creation, and its drawing style efficiently moves the reader through the story. As he discusses in this interview with Tom Spurgeon, Will Dinski constructs each page out of the same component parts, ten equally sized panels (five on each row), occasionally combined to fit in larger images. Dialogue is always sequestered into separate panels from images, almost like a silent film. The drawings themselves are in a sketchy style that will be familiar to anyone who regularly reads webscomics. The overall visual effect is a Sunday funny that’s definitely not safe for kids.
If Finger Prints is any indication, Dinski won’t be wearing the “up and comer” label for too long.
I agree with commenter R. Lewis that it is high time we brought this weekly recommendation comment thread feature back! Woot! But let's expand on it as well... this used to be a theatre-only feature, where you'd recommend plays going on in your area (as in geographical, not bathing suit) that people might like.
So yes, let's have play recommendations... but let's also have recommendations for other things as well!
What's floating your boat these days?
(I'm going to recommend Josh Ferris' Then We Came To The End, as I haven't actually had time to see any theatre in about a month due to the impending move)
But you know what it doesn't do?
UPDATE: Or...maybe it does. Really well. As Malachy Walsh and others point out in the comments below, the sales figures are a little unclear. The Brandweek article cited below has a drop, various others have a bump that ranges from 7% over the course of the year and 107%(!!) over the last month. So...this post may be entirely without basis. If you feel like it, drop below the fold and check it out. Or you can just move on. Your call.
How about that heat, huh?
More disturbingly, this is what happens when you treat the arrest of a black man, in his home, as something that can be fixed over beers. This is what happens when you silently ascent to the notion that racism and its victims are somehow equally wrong. The ground, itself, is rigged with a narrative of inversion that goes back centuries. When you treat the two side as equals, expect not just more of the same. Expect worse.