Friday, January 25, 2008

There Will Be Bullshit

I saw There Will Be Blood last week, and I think it's a great movie. However, 90 percent of the reviews tell us the film represents a symbolic battle between God and Greed/Capitalism. Maybe I'm the wrong guy to tackle a criticism of this point of view, because I'm as far from impartial as you can get. I detest symbolism. Detest it with every breath in my body. I think it's a bullshit way to read a text. When you look for symbols, you lose the text and burrow up your own asshole. Anything could be a symbol for anything else, and the whole exercise becomes a pointless waste of time. People who look for symbols in books, movies, and songs hate books, movies, and songs. Symbolism leaves out detail and aesthetic pleasure. If Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday (and, yes, I'm aware that their names are loaded with allegorical and symbolic connotations, but those names come from the Upton Sinclair book which very, very loosely inspired this film) represent Capitalism and God, can you explain to me your reasons for believing this? In my reading of the film, admittedly based on a single viewing, Plainview cares very little for money, and the reason for his greed is a hatred of people, which he explicitly spells out in a very interesting conversation with a man who may be his brother. He wants to grab up all the oil for the sole reason that no one else can get it. He spends most of the film living in a shack, and when he finally buys the big house, he's indifferent to it. Greed fueled by misanthropy instead of a hunger for money and the American dream lifestyle. Hardly sounds like a sterling representative of capitalism. The preacher seems to care very little for God, and his unsettling creepiness, manipulative nature, selfish thirst for glory, and questionable motivations are hardly emblematic of Christian theology. If you stay close to the text, this movie is a rich, strange, American original. I'm glad it's found an audience, since Paul Thomas Anderson's previous film, the equally rich, strange, and American Punch-Drunk Love was overlooked.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Real Geezers

I just discovered the Real Geezers through a link on Spacebeer yesterday, and I love these people. The woman produced several films I don't particularly care for, and the man was a screenwriter of mostly forgettable stuff (in my opinion), and almost everything they say is full of common sense, intelligence, and humor. Two people in their eighties with different sensibilities having great arguments. More old people on TV, movies, and the Internet, I say!

This clip fits in particularly well with my last two posts:

Here's another good one:

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Everything that ever happened to me (abridged), Part 1

I can't articulate what I'm trying to do here, and I don't know if any of this stuff belongs together, but here it is. This post will go on indefinitely, possibly, and will surely be continued for the duration of this blog's existence. Will this be the autobiography of a 30-year-old man who has lived a relatively uneventful life? I don't know. This is a pointless introduction, so without any further ado, here is "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" by Ween, with liner notes by George Will. Literary pretense + small town folksiness + farts = me at 10:53 p.m.

"A man of talent is like a marksman who hits a target others cannot hit, but the man of genius is like a marksman who hits a target others cannot see." - Schopenhauer
"Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read." - Frank Zappa

I've always read a lot of criticism, even when I was a kid, and I think the stereotype about critics (failed artists taking their revenge) is mostly bullshit. My favorite critics (James Agee, Robert Warshow, Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer, Manny Farber, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Ray Carney when he's not being an awful human being) are writers. That's all. Writers writing. Agee also wrote fiction, journalism, poetry, essays, and a blurred, indescribable mixture of all these, and Farber makes his living as a painter. He also spent time as a carpenter and a teacher. I could go on about the others, too, but you get the point. Bad critics are usually strictly journalists. I don't know what that means except that I'm probably making an unfair pronouncement about journalism. Reading good criticism has made me a better ... what? I don't know. I don't know if it's healthy to analyze everything you see, hear, read, eat, and punch. What's the point? Art should speak for itself, but there is so much chatter. Higher education, journalism, criticism, blah blah blah. My opinion, your opinion. Which opinion will prevail on "American Gladiator" tonight? Who shouts loudest, wins. I'm getting tired of all the incessant chatter, even the considered stuff. That's why this blog has become mostly images instead of words. One person's interaction with culture is a personal thing, one that can't be understood or articulated by anyone else on earth. Every second of our individual lives is packed into every other second. Why do we argue about whether a movie is good or bad? Who wins? Who loses? What's the point?

When arguing with friends about a movie, album, book, sandwich, etc., I've noticed something. The person who doesn't like it, whatever "it" is, almost always "wins" the argument. Does "wins" belong in quotes there? I don't know. Negativity is easier to articulate. Slam dunks can be made. End zone dances can be extended for a full quarter. Defense blows. When you're on defense, your indescribable personal connection with an artwork cannot compete with your opponent's specific objections. Unless someone says something unbelievably stupid about why they hate the film/sandwich/whatever (i.e. "There was too much singing" about a musical, or "I didn't like the lead actor's hair," or "That sandwich would have been better if it hadn't been placed between two slices of bread and served on a plate" etc.), you're going to lose the argument.

Life is nothing but contradictions. I only agree with everything I've written so far when I'm not disagreeing with it. Here is my opinion about a movie. I've been thinking a lot about The Darjeeling Limited lately. I'm on the defense. I seem to be the only one I know who liked it. My wife liked it, too, but in a very muted way. Between "good" and "meh." Seconds before beginning this post, I noticed two new comments from a friend of mine on the negative side of the scorecard. I've only seen this latest Wes Anderson film once, but, like The Life Aquatic, my opinion of it has changed several times since. This week, I kind of think I love it. And I kind of think that the people who don't like it, even if I think they are wonderful human beings, are undergoing some kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers thing because they are all saying the same things about why they hated it. Oh, snap! Now you're on the defense, haters! Before I get into that, though, I need to go a few other places. I'm going to go back to 1985, to a Friday night in my former home, with my formerly married parents, and a VHS rental. After that, or maybe before that, we'll see when I start typing the next paragraph, I'm going on a fool's errand, to a place that can never exist, where I will try to articulate exactly what it is I value at the exact moment I watch a film and how anyone who argues about the merits of a film with someone else needs to give the opponent the same courtesy and attempt to articulate this completely indefinable aesthetic. Can it be done? Maybe we could understand each other better if we tried, though trying is all we can do because there's no way in heaven or hell to succeed at this game.

Class consciousness has always been a big part of my own identity. I was raised in a small town by a railroad machinist and a housewife, both of whom had spent large chunks of their childhoods alternating between poverty and getting by okay. Until my mother's dissatisfaction with the constraints of being a homemaker when I was a teenager led her on to menial jobs, a return to the college she'd dropped out of at 19 when she married, a Master's degree, social work, writing, published work as a poet (and an eventual divorce from my non-supportive father, no matter what the fuck he thinks caused it, and I know I'm being too hard on him but sometimes he deserves it), we were a five-mouthed (six if you count the Dalmatian, Pepper, who died when I was 12, and two months later the black lab/mutt mix Jazzy, who died the year before my parent's divorce, when I was 24) one-income family. I'm not wearing this as some badge of working-class authenticity. The majority of my hometown was, still is, working class, so only the dirt-poor kids were ostracized. Most of my friends shared my economic background. The handful of rich kids were hated, but mysteriously became the most popular kids in the school. My only economic childhood burdens were the lack of name-brand foods in our cupboard and refrigerator, and modest Christmas and birthday gifts, though we got a Nintendo when I was 10, and I received a drum set when I was 12, though my parents borrowed the money from my grandfather and spent the next several weekends doing odd jobs for him to pay it off. (I remember a privileged friend of mine a few years ago asking me what I got for my birthday. When I told her that my mother sent me a CD, she snorted and laughed, like I had been shortchanged by a cheapskate. What the fuck? That's what I asked for. I don't understand rich people. I guess money trumps love, even if you're a liberal.) My parents felt the real financial burdens as children. My father's father drank himself within a hair's breadth of bankruptcy and lost his farm. (Incidentally, he was a wonderful human being. My father, unfortunately, takes after his mother, and has never read anything voluntarily, ever. He won't even read newspapers or photo captions. He reads his mail, and ads for cars and motorcycles when he's ready to trade in his old model for something new. He spends his life ensuring that nothing, good or bad, will ever happen to him. Life has other plans, much to his chagrin.) (Jesus Christ, I'm an asshole. He loves me, and what have I ever done with my life?) (I want to point out that I'm two vodkas in to this post. I don't know if that affects anything. I don't usually post about my personal life, so this might explain it, but I'm getting somewhere. The payoff will occur 600 posts from now, in the year 2000. I swear this has something to do with movies, eventually.) (I use parentheses like David Foster Wallace uses asterisks. I apologize.) (I hate David Foster Wallace's writing, by the way. Just want to put more of my friends on the defensive.) (I'll probably get zero comments on this post. If I wrote, "Today I ate a truffle," I would get 40 comments.) My dad's sob story has been simplified to one line. On to my mom. She grew up dirt-poor. Her dad drank too much, too, but he bounced from odd job to odd job instead of farming, bouncing her along with him and the rest of their large family all over Nebraska, Washington, and Oregon, and back to Nebraska, where he sort of got his shit together as a truck driver. She's told me about living in places with holes in the walls, rats coming up out of the toilets, not enough beds so she slept on the back porch, enduring constant interruptions from my grandfather's drinking buddies. One drinking buddy worked near their trailer, so he cut through it every morning on his way to the job. My grandmother let my mother hang up her Monkees poster in the living room. The drunk saw it one morning and laughed his ass off, thinking it was my grandmother's. When my mother was a teenager and my dad was in his early twenties, in the early days of their relationship, they came back from a date to find my grandfather and some alcoholic drinking it up. The drunk said something obscene to my mother and my grandfather chased him out of the house, all the way to the highway, in a pouring rain, and beat the shit out of him. My future mother and father watched the whole thing. Some date. I've never had a date that good. I can't even imagine my grandfather running. A formerly handsome man, he's enormously overweight now. A crane fell on him in New Mexico when I was a small child, and he lived because he was so fat. Dignity? Nobody's ever had any. It's a myth. We're animals, for fuck's sake.

I guess I'm supposed to hate Wes Anderson because of my background. The Darjeeling Limited is self-indulgent, elitist, about rich kids, imperialist, racist, right? I can't believe that we're damning Wes Anderson for being white and rich and privileged. Let's take every American film and TV show from the last hundred years. And we're finally getting pissed about this? From someone who is honest and forthright about his elitist privilege, and makes it the subject of his film? Meanwhile we pretend that every sitcom and Hollywood movie is reflecting average American life? Those giant houses in the suburbs. The expensive furniture. The lack of unemployment. The intact family units. None of this acknowledged. We're not outraged at these lies and brainwashings perpetuated by even good films like Risky Business, etc. Ferris Bueller is a hero, and Wes Anderson's the elitist? Give me a fucking break. What, he should pretend to be poor? Progression? A filmmaker constructing his own visual world out of his own imagination, even the references to other films and songs made personal. A filmmaker with a rich, cohesive visual palette, a visual palette that has continued to evolve with each film even when the narrative hasn't. An expert handling of color and movement. The movement of human bodies through the frame. A Precision Ambiguity. That's what I'm looking for, and that's what Wes Anderson gives me. He's not sloppy. He puts two years into a film, and we call it elitist in two minutes, and somehow we've done something important for culture. No one's above criticism, and I made the same criticisms of this film at different points in the last couple months, but where were you/me when the useless, elitist bullshit culture that has either given us or pretended to give us every opportunity and told us every lie we've ever had/heard preceded The Darjeeling Limited? Now we're upset, though, because someone whose films we supported ended up making money from these films and made a movie reflecting this success. The Iraq War is a real drag and all that, the Patriot Act, too, but the Writer's Strike is what we should really be up in arms about. Those poor, poor TV and Hollywood writers. Why aren't we out in the streets, banging pots and pans? The people behind Jimmy Kimmel, "Everybody Loves Raymond," and "2 Fast, 2 Furious" are not as rich as the directors and stars of same. Don't look around when they come for you, bro. You didn't speak up for these heroes. Fuck those motherfuckers. They shouldn't be paid one dollar. If they were real writers, they wouldn't live in that town. Enjoy Sodom, you mediocrities. Dollar, dollar bill, y'all. I'm obviously not talking about The Darjeeling Limited anymore, or my friends who didn't like it. But I do hate hack Hollywood and TV writers and their whiny bullshit. People have real problems in this world.

Obviously, I didn't even get to the purpose of this post yet, so I'll leave that for Part 2. Up next: the trip back to 1985 and that VHS rental (pictured above), and how I watch movies and what I'm looking for when I watch them, though I don't think I know how to explain that. And more personal revelations. (Revelation #1: I don't like broccoli.)

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