And what better way to celebrate it than with a ridiculous youtube video?
by 99 Seats
Back when I talked about the inaugural New Black Fest, I noted the low attendance from non-minority theatre-makers. Immediately, the pushback came: "We didn't know about it! How could we come without an invitation?!? What are we, mind-readers?"
By Isaac Butler
Ah, Winter Break and the glories of reading for pleasure without apology! For my three week sojurn to Richmond, VA, Washington, D.C., Brooklyn, NY and Smith Mountain Lake, VA, I packed The Collected Nonfiction of Joan Didion, Don DeLillo's Great Jones Street, Jonathan Lethem's monograph They Live (about the film of the same name), Charles Baxter's Burning Down The House, Toni Morrison's Beloved and The Library of America's Philip K. Dick: Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s. From this last tome, I just finished Dick's 1966 Now Wait For Last Year, about a surgeon who gets caught up in an unhappy marriage, an intergalactic war, and a drug that causes people to move through time.
Despite having all the regular Dickian elements-- clumsy, 8th grade level prose, hilarious names, crazy hidden conspiracies, brilliant ideas tossed off with abandon, etc.-- the book wasn't really doing it for me like, say, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Until, that is, its final, amazing chapter. This chapter has in it everything I look for in a Philip K. Dick novel and more.
But discussing it at all involves spoilers, obviously. It's the last chapter. So if you don't want it spoiled, don't keep reading. If you've never read Dick, tho, lemme tell ya, this is not the place to start. Start with either of the novels mentioned above, and when you're done with those two, read Dr. Bloodmoney and then A Scanner Darkly. If you're already familiar with Dick, tho, Now Wait For Last Year is a bit of a sleeper gem.
Full spoilage, after the jump:
By Isaac Butler
Best Movie I Saw Released This Year: Winter's Bone
Movies I Most Enjoyed Talking About: The Social Network, Black Swan
Worst Film (By Far) I Saw This Year: The Ghostwriter
Movie You Can't Make Me See No Matter How Hard You Try: The King's Speech
Biggest Cinematic Surprise Of The Year: How openly I wept at Toy Story 3
Best Cancelled TV Show: Party Down
Most Exciting Play I Saw This Year: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Play I'm Most Pissed About Missing: Buddy Cop 2
Best Anything Cultural: Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco
Best Restaurant I Went To, International: Akelarre (San Sebastian)
Best Restaurant I Went To, Domestic: Cuchon (New Orleans)
Best Thing I Did: Get Married
Best Place I Visited, Domestic: Marfa, Texas
Best Place I Visted, International: Barcelona
Scariest Thing I Did: Move to Minneapolis, MN, Change careers.
Best Cultural Re-Experiences: Fortress of Solitude (Jonathan Lethem), Slings & Arrows, Fun Home (Alison Bechdel), Consider the Lobster (David Foster Wallace)
Best Book I Read, Assigned Non-Fiction: Notes From No Man's Land (Eula Biss)
Best Book I Read, Assigned Fiction: Wittgenstein's Mistress (David Markson)
Best Book I Read, Assigned Poetry: Early Occult Memory Systems of the Upper Midwest (B.H. Fairchild)
Best Books I Read, Unassigned Fiction: Then We Came To The End (Joshua Ferris), I Am Not Sidney Poitier (Percival Everett), Chronic City (Jonathan Lethem)
Best Books I Read, Unassigned Nonfiction: Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (Zadie Smith)
Best Plays I Read: Intimate Apparel & Mud, River, Stone (Lynn Nottage), And When We Awoke There Was Light and Light (Laura Jacqmin)
Best Books I Read, Comics Edition: Skim (Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki), The Portable Frank (Jim Woodring), Superspy (Matt Kindt)
What About You?
by 99 Seats
Fiordellisi told the Times, "It's frightening to me, what's happened to Off-Broadway theatre. I feel that we can longer do theatre for the sake of the art form. We have to adhere to the formula of having a film star in our productions to sell tickets because it's so financially prohibitive. I don't want to do theatre like that."
Anybody got $12 mil burning a hole in their pocket?
As I mentioned in my last, the insanity of the end of the semester cut into the pace of television-watching around these parts, but here are some of my thoughts on Season 2…
In terms of the larger questions of continuity, and in relation to Season 1, the show still hasn’t quite figured out its relationship to seriality. In the pro-continuity column, Angel has become a regular cast member this season, so that plot line remains shockingly consistent in the background—even the stand-alones usually feel like they contribute to the overall plot at least in their metaphoric relationship to the ongoing Big Question of the Buffy/Angel love connection. “Bad Eggs,” for instance, is a great balance between a super-scary creature feature and ominous foreshadowing of Buffy and Angel’s imminent loss of sexual control. “Ted” is another favorite, especially in how it makes Buffy’s relationship with Giles look even better, and makes his non-judgmental reaction to Buffy’s having slept with Angel more meaningful once that happens.
(A confession moment—Giles is my ultimate Dad crush. In an alternate universe, I am the product of a union between him and Laura Roslin.)
More on continuity, character, and compulsion after the break.
by 99 Seats
“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”
From an actual Citizens Council pamphlet:
The Citizens’ Council is the South’s answer to the mongrelizers. We will not be integrated. We are proud of our white blood and our white heritage of sixty centuries.
When I get concerned about showing the South as the noble, aggrieved party in the Civil War, this is why. Making the Confederacy about states' rights is the grandfather of this move. If people like Haley Barbour have their way, the Civil Rights movement will be viewed as being about concerned citizens, trying to maintain their unique culture in the face of outside, Communist agitation. Oh, wait.
by 99 Seats
Via Ta-Nehisi Coats, AMC is planning a new series, set in the aftermath of the Civil War. If you've been reading Coats, you know this is a time period he's been deeply engaged in. This take has one somewhat problematic bit: its central story.
But aside from providing a big, steam-powered metaphor for America building its own railway to the future out of blood, sweat, and racially-charged tears, Hell On Wheels is at its heart a vengeance story about an ex-Confederate rebel hunting the Union soldiers who killed his wife, as well as a gritty Western that takes place in the lawless, eponymous traveling camp of the title.
Ta-Nehisi notes a number of exciting, thrill-packed narratives available that center on the exploits of African-Americans: escaped slaves, rebels and heroes all. None of those get the treatment they deserve. He ends his post with a gorgeous little stem-winder:
These are our stories, our magic. And surely it must said that the ultimate responsibility for preserving that magic falls to us. I don't so much begrudge people for honoring their own particular magic, so much as I recognize it is of their world, and I do not have to live in it. We must seek out our own.
A great point and well-taken. But I think he doesn't note the circular nature of the problem. The myth of the noble South, the fallen cause, stands in the way of those other narratives because it's become woven into the fabric of the country. To present a version of the antebellum (or post-bellum) South as a fascist, racist state, hell-bent on enslaving a race of humans as its primary cause, is to tantamount to being anti-American. Which is funny since we're talking about, as the folks at Laywers, Guns and Money regularly note, treasonous behavior. In any right thinking country, a set of folks who openly rebelled against the government in favor of a immoral act would be villains forever and ever. Not so here.
To put it another way, and I have put it this way before, would any writer, producer or TV executive ever consider green-lighting a TV series that focused on a Nazi soldier seeking revenge on the Allied soldiers who killed his family? Imagine how far that pitch would go.
To fully confront what the Confederacy actually was, and what slavery truly meant, is for this country to confront what it truly is. Clearly, that's not too high on our list of things to do. So we sweep it under a rug. And we sweep the good and victorious deeds done in the service of humanity with it, to our peril.
by 99 Seats
So. I'm out of town, in snowy, cold Rochester, NY. An old good friend of mine has a theatre company here and is putting up a reading of a play I wrote with a few collaborators awhile back. (If you're in the area, drop by tomorrow!) But this has brought up an interesting question/dilemma/conversation.
This project is composed of three short plays written by three different writers, exploding the world of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. As pretty much anyone in the theatre world will tell you, writing an adaptation of A Christmas Carol is like making a license to print money. Regional theatres program the holy shit out of that thing, every year. Our little project was partially conceived as a response to the classic and as an alternative programming idea. If A Christmas Carol is too old, white and stuffy for you, well, here's Jews, blacks and white trash folks coming at ya! Seriously. I'm making it sound cheesier than it is. It's a fun project, one of my favorites.
Anyway. All of this is context. The real issue at hand is this: the n-word. In my section, I have characters that use it pretty liberally. It's been part of the characters, part of the fabric of the play, part of the humor. It's not a word I use, in my life, in general, though I'm not really part of the Ban the N-word crowd. But I used in this play and it's worked well in the past.
For this reading, though, my producer was having trouble finding actors of color for the reading. Which created some agita for all involved. I was in New York and my friend was scrambling looking for actors of color. For a while, it seemed like he was going to come up snake-eyes on that score and we'd have to find a way around it. I wanted the reading to happen and I actually feel like the basics of my story aren't necessarily "black." I started thinking about changing the language. No one asked me to, not in any pointed way. I felt that the story could work with the language changed. We finally settled, it seemed, on having one black actor, for sure, and one Latina actress, but the other part could be white, could be Latin, could be anything. It felt weird to have anyone other than a black person using that word, so I stripped it out, leaving the rest of the story intact.
When I got here, though, my friend and producer had found a second black actor for the piece. We just had our first read-through with the cast and some of the changes...well, as my dramaturge called it, it sounds like the basic cable version of the play. But...the story is there, the world of the play is there. And it feels somehow weird to add the N-word back in. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It feels like I'm not adding it for really story or character reasons, but for the shock value and for the humor. But...on the other hand, it feels like these characters would use the word. And on the third hand, out here, with an audience I don't know, I don't know if it will pull people out of the play to hear that so liberally. And on the fourth hand, should I be concerned about the audience at all?
So, gentle readers...what do you think? Am I censoring myself? Or expanding my character's vocabulary? Unnecessarily using a strong word? Or giving it too much weight when, in the end, it's just a word? What say you?
By Isaac Butler
Ezra Klein, vocal tax-cut compromise supporter, has this to say about it, and I largely agree with him:
The tax deal passed last night, and without changes. Liberals don't really like it. Conservatives don't really like it. Even people who supported the deal -- myself included -- don't really like it. It's tempting to say that this broad spectrum of gnawing dissatisfaction just shows that the bill was a true compromise, with everyone getting a little and giving up a bit. And maybe it was. But it was a compromise that said something bad about our political system, not something good: It said we're operating without a clear theory of what's gone wrong in the economy, or how to fix it.
RTWT here. Worth noting for all those who thought somehow we'd improve this deal after it was agreed to: It passed both the House and the Senate without a single alteration.
by Isaac Butler
Actual moderate Democrat EJ Dionne has a skeptical take on No Labels that reflects some of the points I was making earlier:
I am still devoted to moderation but reject a cult of the center that defines as good anything that can be called bipartisan. Some of the same centrists who just a few weeks ago called for bipartisan efforts to slash the deficit now praise Obama's tax deal with Republicans, even though it increases the very same deficit by around $900 billion. Exactly what principle is at work here other than a belief that any deal blessed by Republicans deserves praise?
Moderation, very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats, is so dead in the Republican Party and on the right that even a staunch conservative such as David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter and No Labels co-founder, is an apostate. He was too quick to raise questions about Sarah Palin's qualifications and dares to think that Republicans need to get serious about problems such as health care.
You can RTWT here. I don't agree with all of it, but it's still a good read.
By Isaac Butler
Frequent commenter Ed Howard has a really great dialogue up about Black Swan over on Slant Magazine. I'm pretty sure he likes both Aranofsky and Black Swan better than I do and I can't cotton to his affection for The Fountain, but it's a perceptive look into the film. You can check it out here.
by Isaac Butler
Comics are so often seen as the province of white geeky nerds. But, more broadly, comics are the literature of outcasts, of pariahs, of Jews, of gays, of blacks. It's really no mistake that we saw ourselves in Doom, Magneto or Rogue.
That seems about right to me. One of the more interesting aspects of encountering work by people who grew up around when I did, reading the comics I did (and I mainly read my older brother's comics) is seeing how diverse an audience these "trashy" comics spoke to. And I think Ta-Nehisi nails that it comes from the sense of outsiderness. For me, growing up a Christian Scientist and a social outcast, for my older brother, growing up black, for X-Men director Bryan Singer growing up gay, for Junot Diaz as a self-professed "Dominican Black Nerd," for Ta-Nehisi, these yellowing, wrinkled magazines spoke to a common sense of being outside looking in.
There's a reason that-- even as Geek Culture becomes dominant as mass entertainment and Spider-Man becomes a musical-- self-professed geeks still feel like the underdogs. And it's linked to why home fitness sets advertised in Comics in the 70s with ads like this.
This is not to say that comics were simply a fully-inclusive smorgasborg of liberal awesomeness. There's of course the whole "Women in Refrigerators" thing. And many of the characters of color had exactly all the problems you'd imagine characters of color would have being written by white guys in the 70s.
But the picture is more complicated than simply "the gender and racial politics were-- and continue to be-- problematic."
By Isaac Butler
In a (positive) review of Chris Ware's Lint, GutterGeek's Jared Gardner manages to convince me to never, ever read it:
The reader is gulled early in the book into thinking that this person we knew only as the high school thug in Rusty Brown might actually have depths or at least scars that would make him more than he at first appears. By the end of the book we must face the fact first impressions are not always deceiving, and if anything Lint is actually less than we could have imagined.
In other words, it's a book by Chris Ware. I'm sick of this gimmick, honestly. The overdetermined miserablism of Chris Ware is no more authentic or interesting a gaze into the human condition as the film Patch Adams. I'm surprised anyone is "gulled" (great verb btw) by any of this anymore. Don't we know when we open a Chris Ware story that it's going to end with some kind of sucker-punch or some "people are shit and so is life" style reader-punishment?
I had a whole big rest of the post devoted to my dislike of this kind of work, particularly with regards to Ware, Clowes and Tomine, but then I was over at Hooded Utilitarian and I found this old post about Chris Ware's New Yorker Halloween cover and it pretty much sums up what i was going to say:
Obviously, Chris Ware is a talented designer…but I have to say that personally my patience for his antiseptic blocky buildings and antiseptic toy-like people is pretty much exhausted. And, just out of curiosity, where exactly are the Halloween decorations here? Oh, right…if you included those, the picture wouldn’t be quite bland enough. Yes, yes I know that he’s showing the antiseptic emptiness of contemporary life…to which I say “feh,” and also, “yawn.” The bourgeoise literary tradition where you excoriate the bourgeoisie for their empty, lifeless culture by creating empty, lifeless culture — it’s been going on for generations, and I presume it’ll continue as long as two bourgeoisie are alive so that one can sneer at the other, but I don’t see why we (bourgeoise or otherwise) need to pretend that it provides some deep and humane insight.
Because it doesn’t — it’s just glib. Which is what this cover is; overwhelmingly glib, with the self-satisfied glibness that is the inevitable adornment of a real New Yorker cartoon. You could get the same level of insight from the crank at your local bar. “Damn it, cell phones…they’re ruining the world! People just don’t talk anymore like they used to!”
You can RTWT here I'll just add that that's pretty much the issue I have with his work in general... it's glib in a self-satisfying way that doesn't peer into the depths of anything, or interrogate its concerns in an interesting way. At least, the writing doesn't. His art-- or at least his sense of page layout-- remains a Monster of Awesomeness. But it's in the service of bland misanthropy and shallow miserablism.
I assumed, going into this project, that if I had a guilt reaction, it would be along the lines of "you're rotting your brain, watching all that television." When I told my bride about the idea, for instance, her first question was whether I'd run the idea by my adviser. "It doesn't sound healthy," she said, presumably with some vision of me wrapped in a Slanket, surrounded by empty bags of Cheetos. And of course, this Morgan-Spurlock-esque badassery was part of the appeal of the project to begin with. My image of the future was (appropriately) that I’d look more like Dracula after Jonathan Harker finds him post-feed, when "it seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood; he lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion."
(More on the surprisingly unrelated phenomena of television and repletion after the break)
by Isaac Butler
So a new political group calling itself "No Labels" recently came into being with a high profile launch event at Columbia University that lead to big, fawning coverage in NPR and Slate. Balloon Juice does a pretty good job of seeing right through what this organization is. Click here to read what they're talking about, or if you want the short version: It's all Republicans and the most conservative of Clinton Democrats, the very people who enabled the worst of the last administration, plus some people who merely enabled the worst of the one before that.
This is why I find "centrism" to be so ridiculous. What Centrism means in this country is a bunch of Republican and Democratic insiders getting together to all agree to do whatever is best for big business and the wealthy. It's absurd.
Not to mention that in a country with two main parties, all "centrism" means is being vaguely in the middle of them. As both have shifted dramatically rightward over the past couple of decades, now "centrism" means someone like Evan Bayh, a "Democrat" who wants to eliminate the estate tax and use fretting about the deficit to destroy social security, or David Frum the guy who came up with the phrase "Axis of Evil." Or David Brooks, who wrote glowingly "Big Government Conservatism" (basically, Conservatism minus any sense of fiscal responsibility) and cheer-lead everything Bush tried to do from invading Iraq to privatizing Social Security.
By Nicole Beth Wallenbrock
The poster for Darren Aronofsky’s newest film, Black Swan, recalls Mathew Barney’s Cremaster series and the Nutcracker all at once. The portrait of Nathalie Portman smiling in eerie make-up—white face with eyes painted black—enhances the actress’s ever-apparent grace; her neck looks elongated for the role, her posture intimidates. This time the director’s penchant for the uncanny (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) lands in ballet, a craft of appearance and movement, so different and yet so similar to wrestling, the focus of his last film.
Aronofsky follows his past investigation of an exclusively male profession, by peering into the world of ballerinas—a metaphor for feminine discipline and sexual repression. Although ballet theater provides Black Swan with a familiar, yet unique setting, the documentary element of the last film that exposed professional wrestling for its theatrics is absent. Instead, a more layered psychological portrait of performance emerges, all while stroking, a pulpy horror genre. Nathalie Portman plays Nina with virginity and innocence, wearing only white and “ballet” pink until the black swan sequence of her final performance. Perhaps, Portman is a tad old for the part, living with an overbearing mother, (Barbara Hershey), a music box, and large plush toys, or perhaps this intentionally heightens the bizarreness of the family life which she will eventually destroy. In the scenes between ballet mom and ballet star, one feels the influence of Brian de Palma’s Carrie, a film that also depicts an innocent young woman’s sexual awakening to violent power.
While at times the film’s dialogue lacks conversational flow, and at others’ actors appear unnatural, the artificiality of the dance world and the strangeness of the invoked horror-genre excuse these off-beat moments. Blood and cutting are central to creating The Black Swan’s mood and pace, nail files and clippers are fear factors that provoke twitching every time. If Portman is cast well because of her dance-training and size, Winona Ryder is superbly cast in a minor role as Beth, an aging primadonna that mirrors the actress’s has-been situation in Hollywood. Vincent Cassel plays the Balanchine-like director of the ballet, and provides much of the film’s humor in his obvious, sexual, phrasing and strong French accent. Unfortunately, the rival ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis), does not threaten the protagonist or the audience. The actress seems more like a California party girl than a dark force of nature. This mix of brilliant and sloppy in acting and dialogue is part of the film’s larger disordered style which can feel both liberating and cluttered.
The film is most ambitious when suggesting the dual nature of human existence and the merging of young women, reminiscent of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. However, it is in the film’s breathtaking climax that the dancers’/actors’ efforts as well as the camera attached to twirling Portman create the most visually arresting dance sequence in the history of cinema. Viewers should attend the film expecting playful horror only to be surprised when the film takes bigger risks that succeed visually, if not otherwise.