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.)


Spacebeer said...

You ate a truffle? Awesome!

In addition, I love broccoli, you jerk.

Krouchdog said...

I love it, and I can't wait for part 2.

Rustle.Destroyer said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and eagerly await more.

Anonymous said...


conorj said...

Don't I feel like the asshole in this cyber room.

conorj said...

I guess I could see the mental storm that this may have caused you. Sometimes I take this stuff too seriously myself. But first of all, I think I was a bit inarticulate with my choice of the word of "elitist." By elistist, I meant culturally elitist (not class)--and in my opinion pop-culturally elitist. W. Anderson is wearing on his sleeve this sort of personality that I could once relate to, and that I admit he's the best at. W. Anderson spends the best of his days at thrift shops finding the coolest stocking caps and shirts, and at the coolest Rodeo Drive shops finding the coolest frames for his glasses, and watches movies to find the coolest people and the little details that make his movie cool. He loves Elliot Smith, and loves rock'n'roll. Rock'n'Roll is apparently the greatest of all art forms now that baby boomers have gotten old. Now, attention to detail does a good director make, but the personality of a man who is constantly seeking cool, is not as interesting as someone who is seeking something more insightful. Honestly, does Wes think that J. Huston is the best director ever, or do you just think that he thinks it's kinda hot to call J. Huston his favorite director? I'd go with the latter. Do you think that an upper-middle class kid from Houston, who gets to hang with highly-priveleged peeps from the Northeast and LA is making movies about his people, or just sort of impressed with himself that he got to meet Angelika and B. Murray?

I think W. Anderson has a very astute sense of consumerism, and how to utilize it in his films, but honestly, have you ever met a person that loved Wes Anderson films more than an early twenties male in college? I tend to be annoyed with people that wear it on their sleeves that they are cooler than me, and I see a lot of W. Anderson's work as an indie-power trip rather than sincerity. I also have met several people in a university situation that act the same way such as him, though he is the best at it. I love things about the priviledged class such as _Metropolitan_, but this person W. Anderson might be too evidently annoying by now. I'm open to seeing _Darjeeling_ again and trying to like it. I was in a bad state when I saw it. But it's true that it is indulgent, and it's true that you had somewhat of a vapid, and pretty-looking experience when you saw it, right?

To me, I'd rather watch _Zodiac_ or something. At least that film is not branded with some subtle "I'm way-too-cool for corporate, but this is sort of like this one American Express commercial i once did--but let me consult Marty Scorsese first" film that I have hesitations about. I don't care about it that much, and I'm glad for his success, but I don't want to praise him for it. I'd rather praise people that aren't branding their films.

I like _Bottle Rocket_, and _Steve Zissou_, but in retrospect perhaps I was attaching a lot of meaning to those two films. I'll always love them, but maybe I've moved past his work.

And by the way, about the "caring too much, what's the point?" stuff, I care exponentially more about who the Cubs sign in the off-season. For at least there is hope for spring. You are a wonderful human being as well, just had to play some defense. Defense is always the hardest--I fully concur.

All I'm saying, is don't give great praise to something you thought was pretty and enjoyed, and that's all. That's not enough. Look at a film like _Once_ from this year, and realize that we've moved on from someone who is destined to repeat the Woody Allen curse. In ten years, shit's gonna be raw, and there will still be holdouts who love W. Anderson so much that they will refuse to admit that he's made the same film for the last twenty years. And that's just how it is. Disappointing.

PS--Go on youtube and search David Lynch iPhone. It is a good look.

Love you Josh. Keep on getting at what you're getting at.

Dr. Mystery said...

Don't worry, you didn't cause any mental storm. I had the idea for this series of posts in my head before I read your comment, and it would have come out roughly the same way. I was literally one second away from beginning to type when I read your comment. These posts are only peripherally about Wes Anderson anyway, they're mostly about me and how I watch movies.I wasn't trying to pick on you or my other friends who also expressed disappointment with the movie. As for Wes Anderson (or any other director),I don't think about whether I'm having a vapid or more substantial experience while I'm watching the movie. Hopefully, there is no intellectual response at all until the movie is over. I actually felt a very substantial and satisfied feeling after leaving the theater, but everyone else I met had such an opposite reaction that I backpedaled a little, and felt that maybe I had been hoodwinked. So why am I still regularly thinking about this movie? The aesthetic pleasures of this movie, for me, are exactly why I go to movies. Forgive false comparisons (and all comparisons are false, probably) but Anderson's films are deeper and more mature and less self-consciously "cool" than the so-called "mumblecore" dorks, even Andrew Bujalski (whose films I like a lot), and are about a hundred times more visually relevant. Guys like Joe Swanberg make films full of vapid, banal, inarticulate cool kids, and somehow their films are more "authentic" than Wes Anderson, who actually knows how to make a movie. In short, I like texture, mood, movement, light, shadow, color, acting, characters, atmosphere. That is enough. No one's going to change the world, except for the first person who can figure out how to destroy it. And god bless anyone who makes the same film (or book, or album) over and over again. All my favorite artists make the same thing over and over again. Keeps them from being dilettantes, or dishonest. (I'll get to what I mean about that in a future post. A body of work as a whole kind of thing, a "the real time for evaluation is when all the work is done" thing.)

Dr. Divisive

Anonymous said...

i always hated the idea of david foster wallace, but "up, simba" made me cry, and only 1 other piece of writing has ever done that, and so, lo and behold, i admire david foster wallace for being able to do that.

sincerely defending the offense of defense,


Dr. Mystery said...

Continuing the discussion, conorj:
Wes Anderson doesn't live in Los Angeles, so I doubt that he spends his time in Rodeo Drive thrift shops. Rock and roll is the greatest modern art form, and I thank Satan for it every morning at six a.m. and sixty-six seconds. I have no idea how he spends his daylight hours, nor do I care. I trust that Anjelica Huston and Bill Murray are smart enough to realize that someone is bullshitting them. I feel that he is a cool kid, but he is inclusive about that coolness. Whit Stillman's upper-class-ness is exclusive, Anderson's is inclusive. I don't think he's branding his films with anything other than his personality. "Move past" his films all you want, I'll stay in kindergarten and enjoy them. Pretty and enjoyable is enough to be defended, though I think there's more there. I'm impressed that you have access to a time machine that tells you what life will be like in ten years. No one loves me but my mama, and she could be jiving too.

Dr. Mystery said...

Sorry about all the snark. A bottle of wine and I address your criticisms as Perez Hilton, I guess.

Young Buck Invincible said...

Wow! I am way behind on blog goodness. Thanks Robot X. This was great.

Blog Archive