Monday, June 30, 2008

I spent the past weekend taking in the Olympia Experimental Music Festival. It was one half inspiring to one half dispiriting. The issue comes in with the use of the word "experimental" and then seeing a lot of noise, or improv, or something with a visual score.

There was a woman performing under the name Knot Pine Box, who it seemed like a lot of people didn't like, but I enjoyed how her first song ended with the refrain "What if it's already been done?" because that seemed like a question not everyone else was asking. Not like it should be, necessarily, I can see it being a hindrance, if you were really concerned about not repeating anyone so much you never attempted anything.

Anyway: At its best, it seemed like people were doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. At its worst, it was like people were doing what was expected of them after a lifetime of being told they were unique and special. The experimental film showing was pretty bad about this kind of thing too. There's this thing that happens where the avant-garde gets absorbed into the academy, and then it's no longer the future, it's just this sad and dead little tributary. I have started to hear talk of "noise conferences" and noise as a course of study at art schools. I went to a school that had its writing programs largely concerned with language poetry and its film program concerned with autobiographical documentaries. I can imagine people being really psyched on going to noise school, but I can't help but see the spectre of grim death in the offing.

I can imagine the same thing happening with art comics as well, sort of concurrent with any kind of comics studies. The latter is totally a valid thing, a way of teaching the visual language. But I can also definitely imagine weird self-congratulation happening. You know: I think noise studies is a silly thing, and John Cage disciples are stupid, but the idea of teaching music theory is super-valid, and with that knowledge students should be able to do whatever they wish. (Maybe comics will avoid this academic maundering if, when talking about the school of thought that originates with Gary Panter, the Rozz-Tox manifesto is disseminated widely. But maybe it's the existence of that manifesto that is what leads to Jimbo not being taught as widely as Maus.)

I was saying to people at the experimental film screening that, while I've noticed a lot of students just referring to their work as experimental after it failed at its original intent, the people I'm friends with just refer to actual forward-thinking things as "next-level," rather than experimental. It's hard to view a lot of the stuff at the experimental music festival as "next-level," honestly, but at least a lot of it was sincere and enjoyable.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The new Pixar movie, Wall-E, is quite an achievement. It's the best film to come out of that production house yet, I would say: A mixture of 2001 and Idiocracy for kids. A love story between two robots, who are really only gendered by their abbreviations. Even then, Wall-E is this very gentle creature who's obsessed with a broadway musical, while the figure coded as being female blasts everything with a laser.

There are really so many things I liked about the movie: The human throwaway characters connected by accident when machinery malfunctions. The way sets were clearly different from each other, but uniquely mindblowing in their different color palettes. The way the point of the main character was to create new livable structures out of garbage.

Even the opening short was good: Embracing this sort of Merry Melodies comic anarchy for a procession of gags in a way I wouldn't associate with Pixar, due to Pixar's Disney association. The way that chaos was sort of greeted as a liberating force in the film itself.

And then the set pieces, oh my god: the dance sequence in outer space, and the use of nondiagetic dialogue to sort of reinforce that. Then, a hundred small moments. The damaged circuit boards. "Cupcake in a cup." Babies isolated from insulated parents.

Jeff Garlin! The music from 2001! Alternately: The large periods of time that would pass without dialogue!

And sure: I'm able to recognize and become distanced by moments of "How are they talking in space?" But I was also able to rationalize around these things: Maybe they can't actually hear each other, and what we're hearing is just what the characters are saying into the void.

This might actually be my favorite movie of the year thus far. We'll see what happens if Synecdoche, New York comes out, but for now: Wow, that was awesome.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I've been trying to teach myself how to write plots by reading genre fiction. It hadn't really been working out- I have problems making it through these books, due to the way they read not having as much of an emphasis on voice as what I usually read. Alternately, the plots have been feeling kind of invisible, which seems like the whole goal of good writing, that they feel as organic as possible even as they move towards their ending.

With Philip K. Dick's Ubik, though, you can kind of see the strings. It's a well-regarded book in his oeuvre, but it has the feeling of being made up as it was being written, kind of moving in distinct movements and acts. It creates tension by its gear-shifts into different territory in this way that feels hacked-out at its core, like the secret is just "Okay come up with some bullshit, and then come up with some more." It's just some pretty good bullshit.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I paid money for the new Girl Talk record, due to my fondness for Unstoppable and Night Ripper, even though I knew I probably wouldn't like it, what with the guy moving more in this DJ direction away from glitched-out songs. It's pretty dire. The idea of having the physical object around my house bums me out. It is really not transformative. 2008 has been a pretty disappointing year for music.

I do like the idea of paying an undetermined amount for music, but the fact that you're guessing how much the music is worth before you hear it is probably going to be more damaging to unexperienced artists in the future- It benefits people only after they've actually made a good record, and I get the impression that some musicians have no real way of knowing which of their records is better than others besides sales. (Note: This idea is just based on my telling the guy from Out Hud that their second record was really bad while their first record was pretty good, and him being really surprised that was a thing that people thought.) But seriously- the idea of owning music is you can listen to it whenever, but there are some things that you hear once and know you will probably never really care about it and can get everything out of it in three listens.

It seems like Black Pus, Thee Oh Sees, and Excepter are the only people who came out with records this year that were "breakthrough" records, that were actively better than what had come before, rather than just kind of disappointing. This is because those people all come from crazy noise backgrounds, and just sort of calmed down enough to put in more melody and song structure (although Excepter's Alternation was pretty good for this a few years ago), which is different from some indie rock band that's been around for over a decade who couldn't be bothered to write decent songs this go-round. (I am talking about the new Breeders and Silver Jews records, although probably also other things that I've forgotten about because I took them off my hard drive already.) I also like the James Pants record from Stones Throw, which is maybe kind of comparable to Girl Talk, but more deserving of your money.

Monday, June 16, 2008

This weekend, I graduated from college, and my mom came into town and stayed for three days. After she left, a copy of Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button arrived in the mail. This seemed appropriate, due to the book's nature as a family drama, but I'm also reminded that it was the first book the artist completed following his graduation from New York's School Of Visual Art. It's a lot more mature than his last book, The Mother's Mouth, although still displaying some little tics and approaches that are completely jettisoned from his current webcomic Bodyworld. (i.e. self-conscious framing devices that act as a narrator)

Bottomless Belly Button reminds me of the last two Noah Baumbach movies, only improved by their shift to comics. The strength that movies have, of the distinct presences of actors, has been removed, and replaced with this kind of complicated cartoon set of symbols, which makes it feel less slight, and more epic and resonant. There's also a more detailed fictional world at work than you'd see in a typical indie family drama.

Anyway, it's awesome. It might not be the best comic of the year (although I don't think I've read a better one), but this will probably be Dash Shaw's year, based partly on this work he created fresh out of college, which strikes me as an inspiring thought.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Double Life Of Veronique was the movie I heard about from Kieslowski fans back when I was watching the Three Colors trilogy and it was not on DVD. It is now, though, and it's great: Possessed of a color palette of red, yellow, and green that completely puzzles me how it was created, and seeming powered by its images: Irene Jacob singing as it starts to rain on her face, or handling a marionette designed to look like her, to name two prominent examples. Leaving aside any ideas of subject matter, it just seems so much more cinematic than something like White, or at least my memory of that film, which seems more plot-oriented and almost like a play or a short story. This isn't to say the other films I saw a few years ago are bad, just that this was better. I'm sure this isn't really insightful or deviating from common opinion at all, just adding my voice to the chorus, writing it down for the sake of my own memory.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

This weekend, in New York, there's a comics festival going on called MOCCA. But here in Olympia, there was the Olympia Comics Festival, largely attended by locals. I imagine that, in New York, thes belle of the ball was probably the publisher I already talk too much about, Picturebox, with their debuting comics by Michel Gondry, and having him sign it alongside his son selling a minicomic. This was ordered from the internet.

In Olympia, I was blown away by the Sparkplug table, manned by Elijah Brubaker, who's drawing a comics biography of Wilhelm Reich. Sparkplug isn't really the best publisher- a lot of their stuff seems a little dull to me. But at their table they were selling all sorts of stuff, repping for other people- There were books on hand from Bodega Distribution, and minicomics by Tom Kaczynski and Matt Furie, and a lot of gorgeous stuff from New York's Partyka collective. They also had Anke Feuchtenberger books from the Belgian publisher Bries that I saw too late. (I should've bought a copy of W The Whore instead of Service Industry and issue 4 of Reich.) Anke is a German woman whose stuff looks like a way better Julie Doucet, filled with all this cryptic imagery. The Partyka stuff was what was most impressive to me, looking around the table. Lots of hand-sewn bindings, silkscreened covers and interiors, etc. It all looked amazing, and word from the internet is that the comics are pretty good too. I picked up a book called See Saw by Sara Edward-Corbett, which had totally lavish handmade packaging to collect strips from the New York Press about four elementary school kids. A few years ago, I talked about Bill Watterson's observation that, after so many years of comics about children, he thought a strip drawn by a woman, about a little girl, could be great. I was talking about how that seemed likely to actually exist at some point in the future, with there seeming to be more women reading and making comics. (I guess Lynda Barry could be said to be doing what Watterson was talking about, actually.) See Saw felt like another variation on that idea, filtered through this lens of handcraft that seemed to appeal to a lot of the women at the show I talked to. I walked away from the show even more psyched about comics, their weird potential, how they're currently exploding into a million different directions, because this seemed like the first time I've really been confronted with a large amount of beautiful handmade things, with an appeal separate from that of a mass-printed book. It probably would've been better if the cartoonists who'd actually done stuff like that had been present, for a greater feeling of the intimacy of exchange, but maybe it also would've been sadder, because it didn't seem like there was a lot of money changing hands. (Note: Most people doing comics based out of Olympia are doing really dull work, both in terms of presentation and subject matter.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

After enjoying Julien Donkey-Boy so much, I decided that I should actually see Gummo. Which actually is pretty unpleasant, in some of the ways I was worried about beforehand. What's interesting is that, by all accounts, Julein Donkey-Boy was made in a much darker place, in a way that's almost brushed over in that ANP Quarterly interview: More paranoia, "my brain had pretty much melted." Gummo, by contrast, was made as this successful enfant terrible figure, flush off the success of Kids. If Gummo is not exploitative, (which it kind of is) it's kind of reveling in people's bad behavior, from sort of an outsider's perspective. Julien Donkey-Boy seems much more collapsed, and also much more invested in things like transcendence. It's sort of surprising, given Korine's reputation, and the stronger film for it.

Gummo has this moment of joke-as-metonymy, which I will attempt to paraphrase: "I knew a guy who was dyslexic, but he was also crosseyed, so everything came out right." Which seems to be the perspective it wants you to take on various kinds of troublesome behavior.

The issue is exactly to the degree to which Korine's eyes are crossed when it comes to the behavior in Gummo. Rich kids idolizing bad behavior on behalf of the poor and mentally ill.

In positive news: My friend Bryan Fordney's new video has been uploaded to the internet. I'm waiting for it to load now. Also, the Paper Rad Problem Solvers videos are now on Youtube, and are really great, as previously discussed. Speaking of things previously discussed, Dash Shaw's Bodyworld webcomic just keeps getting better, but I should link to the beginning of it, and just assume people will read all of it if they're interested. He also did a short story a couple of years ago that I thought was great. I should look into his over-700-page graphic novel that just came out.