Saturday, May 31, 2008

I was looking into doing a medical study as a way to gain some extra money. I just received a phone call telling me I didn't qualify, because of something that sounded like "billy-ribbons." Too many of them were being produced by my liver, an abnormal amount. Looking into it, I think she was trying to say something about bile? My liver produces too much bile?
Altered States starts out as a poor man's El Topo, then becomes a poor man's An American Werewolf In Paris for a while. What's interesting is how it works like an eighties version of a seventies movie, in a way I, of course, can't really articulate. Something about the way the narrative is actually focused, and doesn't seem all that perfunctory, but the characters are basically cliches. Also: I really like how most of the special effects are video effects.

I also would like some kind of reason for why there's movies like An American Werewolf In London, The Thing, and Altered States- all those body-transformation/deformation themes all arriving at pretty much the same time. The David Cronenberg films of this time also kind of keep with these themes.

Oh man: In this Sound Of Young America interview with Jack Handey, I learn that guy wrote the Toonces The Cat and Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer sketches! And was friends with Steve Martin in the late seventies! CLICK ON THE LINKS!

In the world of sidebar blogs: Ben Parrish sends old Batman covers to Joel Brazzell, and through this I discover this really amazing stretch of covers in the early post-200s issues of Batman. Batman with a tiger head, or being led to the electric chair. Weird threats of death, and also: sexism. (One cover has Catwoman yelling "you just lost the battle of the sexes!" and another has women holding up signs protesting an unmarried Batman.) Where is this imagery coming from? Eventually there's a cover where Batman and Robin are trying to work out which one of the Beatles is dead, using album cover clues. Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, and the 1960s. The Batman TV show had been canceled, and the character was just invested with all this iconic imagery, but was just existing to be distorted. The Gardner Fox/Sheldon Moldoff era covers from just before that time are pretty good too. Heavy weirdness in the air, that doesn't seem far from early sixties wackiness at first glance, but... man, holy shit. Some dude, probably in his early thirties, hacking it out, psychological anxiety seeping through. (Batman, being pushed out of the door of a plane, the white house in the background, with the caption "Death casts the deciding vote!" Is this a response to the RFK assassination?)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Somehow this news doesn't count as news enough for me to hear it when it happens, but John Philip Law, the star of the movie Danger Diabolik, died this past week. This is as good an impetus as any to watch it again, or for the first time. Directed by Mario Bava but not a horror movie, a score by Ennio Morricone not working in his western mode, and one of the most fun movies ever. It's this masterpiece of vaguely psychedelic sixties-pulp that's been homaged so many times yet is not at all diluted.

In other movie news, Nick Nolte is starring in Alejandro Jodorowsky's next movie, with David Lynch attached as a produer.
For those of you who don't read every blog I link to, this post is about a video that's pretty amazing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

In the latest issue of Arthur, there's an interview with one Rudolph Wurlitzer. His was a name I didn't know, but I learned he wrote the screenplays for both Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop and Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, as well as writing novels acclaimed by the likes of Thomas Pynchon and Donald Bartheleme. Pynchon was quoted, about the Wurlitzer novel Nog, that it was "proof that the novel of bullshit is dead." I read this and thought to myself, great. "I know exactly what you're talking about, Thomas Pynchon." Others might say "Don't Pynchon's book have a ton of bullshit in them?" and while this might be true it's not the sort of bullshit that grabs you as immediately apparent when you open up a book.

So, I ordered Nog from interlibrary loan. And when I went down to the library, I found out that said library also had a copy of Frank Santoro's Storeyville in stock. Frank Santoro reads this blog occasionally, and is very much a good dude. Storeyville was originally a comic published in newspaper tabloid format, and then reissued as a hardcover book last year from Picturebox, bearing back-cover blurbs by the likes of Chris Ware, Brian Chippendale, and David Mazzucchelli, a hell of a triumvirate.

I walked the streets on a very nice day with these books in my hands like talismans or totems, excited to high heaven to have such reading material.

Okay so Nog starts off strong, with a great first chapter, and then sort of falls apart to be about hippies free-loving about. I'm about halfway through it. It shares with Storeyville a sense of being about a narrator searching/becoming/dealing with the influence of someone they admire. Fair enough that I should carry them both around with the assurance they had lessons to teach me.

Storeyville I feel uncomfortable talking about, because I don't feel as strongly about it as Chris Ware did upon reading it in 1995. I don't think it's bad, I think it's good, there's some great drawing in it, but something in my reading of it- a lack of engagement with it's rhythms, maybe, or not reading it in the context in which it was written- makes it hit me not as hard as it hits other people. I think I will be able to write a pretty good essay about Cold Heat once that comes out, as that's a book very much of its time, that I read as it was being made. Sequences in Storeyville stand out, but the cumulative effect doesn't strike me- maybe it was reading those reviews that spoiled the last two pages elsewhere on the internet? Maybe it's the format change- The newspaper format, with it's cheap paper folded in the middle, kind of precludes flipping through in a way a book doesn't, it kind of forces you to read it and turn its pages deliberately. There's a lot of people talking about how the original edition was a perfect match of form and content, and how the new bookshelf-ready version is just an adaptation for these times, where a comic can find a place in a bookstore or a library shelf.

I don't know what I can say about Storeyville: The drawing, in general, reminds me of Ben Katchor's, except that I think it's better, and rewards looking at it more. The way color palette frames compositions, the more expressive moments- Right now I'm looking at the bottom six panels of page nineteen, which are awesome.

I really can't work out the pacing of it, at least not for a sustained amount of time, the way that constitutes reading a comic. I kept on looking at Cold Heat in single issue form- each one worked really well as its own thing, with its own pace, in a way where I'm not sure how it'll work as a graphic novel- Storeyville can be broken down almost into strips, sunday pages, which themselves function like paintings, and it's weird for reading momentum considering it as a whole- The story feels so slight, compared to something like Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise- another comic where you let the images work like paintings, but which keeps up velocity and ends up feeling epic in scope. The figure drawings are super-inconsistent, which makes certain scenes hard to follow. Although it works well in the action sequences. There's also this stillness at work in the frequent landscape drawings. Both of these things are great, but there's this tension between them which makes it hard for me to read. Some will say that the more sketchily drawn bits are to be read faster than others- this distinguishes between the more landscape-dominated scenes, and their feeling of tranquility (for example, page 8) and the more movement-oriented scenes (page 9). This guideline makes the more populated scenes even harder to follow. (Is it Ben Jones' influence in Cold Heat that makes the character designs feel more delineated/more likable?)

I like the way the dogs are drawn, as well as the birds and horses, even if the drawings of human figures doesn't always work for me. And it keeps on getting better, the more I look at it, free from any sense of narrative pushing forward.

Picturebox gets a rep for putting out experimental books that I tend to think of as being really exciting for the way they engage with a huge tradition of comics. But: Almost every time I read one, I'm disappointed at first glance. They all work really well in anticipation, and after the fact, but they all have these learning curves- I was disappointed in Ninja at first for not being in full color, and for having a lot more to take in than I was able to absorb in a first reading, that felt pressured by the drawing and the hype to be as fast as possible. Eventually I worked it out. Then Maggots came out, and disappointed me in being even more abstract than Ninja, until I came to admire the way it depicted movement and life-as-lived. The serialization format, which was completely economically unfeasible, really flattered 1-800-Mice and Cold Heat for the way that the initial issues gave you time to acclimate to the aesthetic so you could see how the other issues furthered it. Powr Mastrs is one of the few books I understood immediately, but that was after multiple rereadings of the story in Kramers Ergot 5- Other people admitted to rereading it before really getting its greatness.

Anyway, if you are reading this in Olympia Washington, Storeyville is available at the public library and is pretty cool. If you are reading this in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and are Frank Santoro, what's up dude.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I've been thinking about a radio show where Brazilian music dominates. I do not think this will happen, though, as that which I want to share is mostly confined to one compilation, the "Brazil 70: After Tropicalia" record put out by Soul Jazz.

What I would want to highlight about it is how much it feels to me like laptop music, conjured from organic instruments. Almost all of the songs are defined by these ecstatic moments, which, even though the songs have vocals and structure, seem to arise more from the arrangements: There's a ton of moving parts to these songs, all speeding up and slowing down and putting different things into focus. It feels like pop music in the emotions it evokes, even as the rhythms move in directions that make dancing hard to contemplate.

There's other compilations of Brazilian music that I thought I could mine. One, called "The Sexual Life Of The Savages" seems like a lot of people heard it because of the promise of Brazilian post-punk. It's not as interesting as Brazil 70, probably because the idea refers to rock band set-ups, which keep the arrangements more limited. The pop elements lead to it feeling like watered-down versions of Ut, or someone else from the New York Noise compilations Soul-Jazz puts out.

There's also a compilation just called Tropicalia. It is kind of cool when a song comes on with something you only know as a sample, but then the whole song floats by on that groove. The Brazil 70 stuff comes on and keeps going like J Dilla was serving as bandleader.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Paranoid Park is not that bad of a movie. "Not that bad" is a relative term, of course, and I use it mostly in comparison to Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which is god-awful. Both movies are dumb, but Paranoid Park has these moments where it becomes a skate video, almost, contextualizing it's stupidity. The dumbest moments of Elephant were where it pretended to be somehow insightful, whether in patronizing satire or in scenes of future school shooters making out in a shower. This isn't to say that Paranoid Park is good, just that the subject matter is chosen well enough for what the director cares about to not be really egregious and ill-chosen.

Did I ever blog about how The Great Silence is a pretty good film? The spaghetti western starring Klaus Kinski, directed by Sergio Corbucci in 1968? It was recommended to me, on a message board, ages ago by someone who I tended to argue with over film but who I gave credit to for being intellectually engaged. He was on the money about The Great Silence though.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Last night, my computer sprang back to life, smelling of sour milk. The keyboard, however, no longer works. So I can use my computer to consume things, like music, I can't really create anything new.

And music-consumption is tricky. When a record came up on my Soulseek wishlist, and I clicked "download containing folder," I learned that the user I was dealing with had everything in a folder marked "music." Someone has done this to me before, and I pointed it out, and they corrected it. I could not correct it so easily, being without a keyboard with a shift key that would allow me to highlight large amounts at once. I deleted tracks one by one before disconnecting my internet, but leaving Soulseek on in the hopes that eventually there would be a runtime error causing it to quit and reset to before I attempted such downloads. This didn't happen, because Soulseek doesn't really do anything that would cause it to experience an error when the internet is disconnected.

Monday, May 05, 2008

On Friday, milk was spilled on my laptop keyboard, initializing a phase of radio silence here at blog headquarters. At first I welcomed the possibility of a more analog lifestyle, but then practicalities began to rear their head.

The first thing I did, after flipping the computer upside-down so any milk that seeped in fell out, was watch Julien Donkey-Boy. I've avoided the films of Harmony Korine thinking they would be filled with nonstop negativity and exploitation. Julien Donkey-Boy is actually a very human film, with the only actively cruel character being played by Werner Herzog. Herzog is great, as he invests the character of the abusive father with this sort of zen machismo that is present in his very being, making for the most likable character of that type maybe ever. Maybe this means I should reconsider my decision to not watch any Todd Solondz movies.