Archive for the Interactive Category

Undercaffeinated blog post

Posted in Comics, FILM, Interactive, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2021 by dcairns

Hope I wake up before I finish writing this.

Finished reading Making a Film: The Story of Secret People, which is adorable. More on that soon.

More charity shop haulage: I bought LOGAN on Blu-ray for a pound. It’s a near-miss for me. I just think the mission of trying to make a superhero movie that’s super-serious is a bit silly. I could see that the same team’s THE WOLVERINE was trying to get away from costumed CGI asskicking and do noir stuff, but it all ended with a big robot fight, they hadn’t been allowed to really go for it. LOGAN goes for it, but hits a wall somewhere.

(I watched the b&w version, LOGAN NOIR, figuring that since director James Mangold went to the trouble of making it, it’d be the version to see, I have the colour version playing now for comparison. Very strange seeing it in colour. Like losing a friend.)

The part of the film that really works is all the Patrick Stewart stuff — in this film’s version of the future, Professor Xavier, beloved mentor of the X-Men, has dementia. This is so well written (Scott Frank is co-writer with Mangold and Michael Green) and played, and is such a great idea… I can’t think of any example of a senile superhero even in comics, and Prof. X. is the perfect character to apply this to, since his powers are mental. What happens when he has one of his seizures is really creepy and wild.

Unexpected added value from Stephen Merchant and Richard E. Grant, two more Brits stepping outside their usual arch mode and really committing to taking the thing seriously.

Hugh Jackman as the title character has always been good in this role, and certainly wants to be great in this. And all his stuff with Patrick Stewart is very strong. The fact that the story is just a chase and some fights doesn’t seem to do any harm here.

It’s the relationship that has to take over from the Logan/Xavier one, with which the intended audience has a longstanding familiarity, that suffers from having to make room for the punchy-stabby bits. Dafne Keen is properly uncanny as the young mutant who is in some way Logan’s daughter. Nothing lacking in the performance, which is mainly physical. The key to my dissatisfaction probably is highlighted by a moment when Keen and Stewart watch SHANE together. It’s nearly always a mistake to smuggle a classic film quotation into a not-yet-classic-and-maybe-never-will-be movie.

SHANE is about a man and a child, two rival father figures who are on the same side but have different styles. And it’s about violence, its terribleness and necessity — it being a western, the necessity for violent action is only lightly questioned, but nevertheless the film attains some depth. LOGAN certainly CONTAINS a lot of violence — an INSANE amount of violence — and everybody does it and there really isn’t any interrogation of it, and most of it has no consequences. There’s an attempt to show us that murderizing store clerks is bad, but the lesson is abandoned to make more room for sticking knuckle-knives through nameless dismayed persons’ heads. Knasty.

The holding back of sentiment is commendable, but at some point the emotion should break through and also we need to feel the pain of a dying protagonist — it’s like THE AGONY AND ECSTASY again, it fails on the agony. Jackman limps but still feels invulnerable.

Also I’d watched THE GUNFIGHTER where the whole film is “Hurry up and get out of town Gregory Peck.” This one is a long chase where the character TWICE stop running and casually say “We’ll move on first thing in the morning.” NO. That’s not going to work, is it?

Beautiful moment where the little heroine, a Kaspar Hauser with the power to punch through walls, encounters a vision of the family she’s never had —

I tried plugging my Blu-ray player into my laptop but nothing happened, so here are some photos taken off my TV on a bright day. Yes, I suck. And here I am critiquing James Mangold, who on this evidence should kill it with the new INDIANA JONES (my favourite of his is DAY AND KNIGHT [although there are lots I haven’t seen] so I think he can get the tone).

We also watched JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE which more fun than a Donkey Kong barrel full of CGI monkeys. Clever, character-based jokes, a beautiful ensemble cast — TWO ensembles, in fact — and although the thing’s a CGI-fest (something LOGAN, to its credit, never feels like), which meant I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the action, it as the alibi that it’s all happening inside a game. There’s probably a visual look out there which would have made interesting use of CG stylisation, the way TRON did, but neither the original JUMANJI with its ambulatory taxidermy animals, not this one, has found it. But the Rock and Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan and Jack Black are lovely, and although I find I strangely still have no interest in other Jake Kasdan films such as BAD TEACHER and SEX TAPE, I would happily watch the sequel to the reboot of film of the book about the game.

The Devil’s Music

Posted in FILM, Interactive, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2021 by dcairns

Oscar Micheaux’s BODY AND SOUL opened Hippfest last night and was a triumph — thanks in no small part to the jazz accompaniment by Wycliffe Gordon and his big band. It’s a movie full of skilled performances, and some good big cartoonish ones, and a curious mixture of sophisticated and naive storytelling. The score made it seem like some of the more curious choices were intentional — perhaps because he’s from Georgia himself, where the story is set, Gordon seemed really… well, phrases like “in tune” or “in sync” could seem a little corny. But he really gave the film the power of confidence, so you could definitely believe Micheaux totally knew what he was doing.

An early news article tells us that the film’s phony preacher villain (Paul Robeson, startlingly nasty) is being tracked by “Black Carl, noted Negro detective” — a character we were very excited to meet. But he never shows up. He’s like Godot. This may be because the New York censors reportedly objected so strongly to the premise of a drunken, lecherous and corrupt preacher, even a fake one, that Micheaux was forced to recut and retitle the third act making the whole central part of the film a dream. This kind of ending (see UNCLE HARRY) is usually pretty disgustin’, but it kind of plays here… Since there was a strong history of Black audiences talking back at the screen, and since the heroine’s mother, deceived by her fake pastor, spends the film in a daze, audiences would yell at her “Wake up!” So at the end, she does.

And, thanks to Gordon’s score employing vocals — a risky business in silent accompaniment, but one that pays off here — Black Carl becomes a truly defining absence, the film’s avenging conscience, spoken of in song and headline, rather than a one-line mention.

Professor Charles Musser, Micheaux scholar, and Wycliffe Gordon himself, who joined us for a virtual Q&A after the film, provided useful context. Musser questions whether the film was really recut, and may have always had its strange, oneiric structure, which he identifies as a mash-up and critique of three hit plays about “the Black soul” — The Emperor Jones, Roseanne and All God’s Chillun, all of which had starred Robeson on stage. Just as Sidney Poitier felt compelled to play noble characters because he was the only Black star, carrying the burden of representing his whole race, Robeson seems to have been horrified at what he’d done here and spent the rest of his life denying that he was ever in such a film as BODY AND SOUL.

I asked if Black Carl would have showed up had the censor not forced a revision — Musser told me, first, half-seriously, “No doubt about it. He would have carted Robeson off to the prison in the sky where he would have had to serve penance for his sins,” but added, “Oscar Micheaux’s response to the censors was that he had left out something important –the opening scenes that makes clear that Robeson is playing an escaped convict who is pretending to be a man of God. Of course, this was playing off of Chaplin’s The Pilgrim. So I am not at all sure that this “new” beginning was for the benefit of the censors. I think this was the original, intended ending. You have to decide if this was the film’s “reality.” Or if this over-the-top ending was just one more fantasy. It does bear some relation to the ending of Symbol of the Unconquered when our hero turns out to be a millionaire.”

Micheaux intercuts jaggedly, running parallel actions whenever possible: if a character leaves, we’ll likely watch them going off down the street in little snippets that bite into the scene they’ve just left. This creates an odd, staccato rhythm in bursts, and might have seemed awkward or inept, but the music found a pace that really made it work. And the anticlerical slant was fascinating — Micheaux lampoons the congregations ecstatic reactions to their fake pastor’s big sermon — those censors weren’t wrong to see this as an attack on religion, not from where I’m sitting.

It’s not too late to catch this movie at Hippfest, with its truly amazing soundtrack. Here.

I want to see more Micheaux now. A kind of outsider artist who didn’t get much support from Black critics and intelligencia. I hope when I do see WITHIN OUR GATES, it’s with Gordon’s forthcoming score, which you can hear a sample of in the Spotify playlist he put together for the screening’s afterparty. Meanwhile, are there Micheaux talkies you’d recommend?

The Glinner

Posted in Interactive, Politics, Television with tags , , , , on June 27, 2020 by dcairns

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Since I simply HATE sport, and Twitter insists on giving me sports headlines, I’ve set my Twitter location to New York, because at least that way I get notifications on sports I know nothing about and which don’t automatically annoy me.

I woke up this afternoon and found Graham Linehan trending, and knew it wasn’t going to be for anything good.

Graham Linehan has been banned from Twitter. He’s the one who actually got me onto WordPress and then Twitter, but we’ve only had one brief exchange in recent years. I was kind of concerned about his mental health, since the once-brilliant comedy writer who used to offer links to amusing things found online, was now obsessively monotopical, only able to talk about trans rights issues from the point of view that trans rights are bad.

I asked him why this subject devoured all of his entire attention and he replied in all caps that it was because nobody else was talking about it. I gently pressed him on this, and he admitted it was a slight exaggeration. I do try to maintain a civil tone online. It occasionally helps.

The Glinner’s pronouncements on trans rights varied from reasonable-sounding to frothingly insane. Reasonable people, I think, could respectfully disagree about whether trans women should compete in female sporting events or whether some kids are being rushed into gender reassignment procedures before they’re ready. I’m not trans, I’m not a parent, I’m not a child, I’m not a woman, I prefer not to force my way into these arguments, but for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Linehan was certain this was his fight, his hill to die on.

He wrote an article about how he couldn’t write comedy in a world where expressions like “female penis” were taken seriously. Which is a weird thing to fixate on. My impression is that some trans people enjoy the apparent incongruity of the phrase, find it sort of humorous as well as useful, and anyway, so what? Words are always changing their roles (like people).

In a much earlier conversation, Linehan had talked about getting into production (I hoped I might get a job out of him one day) because he didn’t expect his creativity to last into late middle age — I’m not sure why he thought this, but it’s at least better than blaming a decline in comedy ideas on trans people. Any conspiracy theory that suggests that The I.T. Crowd is not as brilliant as Father Ted or that Count Arthur Strong, despite its wonderful central character, is not nearly as good as either, because of continuing advances in LGBTQ rights, seems to be operating (poorly) on a false basis, to say the least.

There was also the fact that Linehan’s entry into the debate followed a trans-based subplot on The I.T. Crowd, which seemed like the product of lazy, out-of-date thinking more than a coherent, retrograde or political stance. Linehan was criticised for it, and I believe admitted it was a mistake. (A character embarks on a relationship with a trans woman, having misheard her revelation that she used to be a man. When he finds out, he throws her out a window. It sounds worse on paper, actually, but it’s… not great.)

What made Linehan’s Twitter rants dangerous is that he could seem quite reasonable on the surface, at times, before plunging into transphobic vileness. A sincere, I presume, belief that women were being put in danger, could be used to justify anything — distorting what people said, for instance. When a teacher said that their grad students could bring up subjects in seminars that they couldn’t discuss with their parents, Linehan quote-tweeted this with the single word comment “Grooming.” Does Linehan know that grad students are adults or does this not matter to him? Likewise, how is it grooming if the students are the ones raising the subject? Why was Linehan following this person anyway?

At some point my attempt to believe Linehan was a well-meaning person who had different beliefs from me disintegrated completely. There seemed to be a toxic, Twitter-fuelled admixture of politics, ego, neurosis, anger — did the man’s surviving testicular cancer feed into this in some bizarre way? Or is it just the way the internet can turn everything into a war? The word “transphobia” certainly seems well-designed, because fear lies under the hatred, pretty clearly.

Twitter allows people to communicate together in an apparently consequence-free way, people who would not normally seek out each others’ company. It’s a bit like granting a populace the power of invisibility. Hi-jinks ensue. Then there are pile-ons and public shamings and these don’t typically transform the offenders into better people. Prejudices are fed.

Linehan would slide from sounding concerned about women’s rights being infringed, to making snide and nasty comments about specific trans people, reserving the right to deadname anyone he didn’t like, to sounding like a “harmless” fuddy-duddy who didn’t like the way society was changing… I imagine some were drawn in by the concern or “concern,” and ultimately seduced by the hatred. In a way, perhaps he was too. Twitter was slow to act.

There might be real places where trans rights and women’s rights are partially at odds, where some creative thinking might be required, where the natural tendency of people of all genders and sexes and persuasions to get excited about issues which deeply affect them might be stopping them getting together and building something positive that’s for the common good. I strongly suspect the solutions will not be devised on Twitter.

Linehan was always nice to me. I want to think that he’s redeemable. A man having a very protracted, public nervous breakdown rather than an evil bigot. This might be wishful thinking. But getting off Twitter might be good for him.