Fluxing miscellany. If you're looking for top 10 film lists, click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

THE MAGUS liveblog

Context: The Magus is a really annoying novel by John Fowles that took me nearly two months to finish. First published in 1965 and re-issued — in a substantially-ish revised version — in 1977, Fowles' novel is ranked #93 on the Modern Library's semi-reputable 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. It has a fantastic opening paragraph:

I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria. I was sent to a public school, I wasted two years doing my national service, I went to Oxford; and there I began to discover I was not the person I wanted to be.

The first 40 pages are just as precisely written, and would make a perfect, self-contained short story: callow Nicholas Urfe's love affair with your ultimate '60s free spirit from hell. But Urfe conceives of himself as an intellectual/sexual libertine-superman type, and things end badly when he ditches off to Greece. After this there's about 500 pages of tedium as Urfe is drawn into the deranged games of one Maurice Conchis in a set-up that basically resembles David Fincher's The Game except really tedious and laden with Greek mythological allusions. Urfe keeps being a jackass because of his sexual vanity, and eventually he's judged at a trial where lots of Freudian claptrap is spewed at him ("Time has not allowed us to investigate the subject's specific womb and breast separation traumas, but the compensatory mechanisms he had evolved" etc. etc.), after which he goes home and becomes a better human being who can maintain monogamous relationships. Aside from the opening, it's all rather silly and badly dated; Fowles is good at anatomizing discontent to early '50s Britain that pre-dated swinging London (and Conchis' narrative of his own life is good fun), but it's all rather portentous and sexually hysterical. But I suppose this is regarded as a classic of sorts for whatever reason.

Having read all 656 pages, I felt it was incumbent upon me to watch at least once the legendarily awful 1968 film, which Fowles despised and flopped; Woody Allen noted that if he could live his life over again, he would do everything the same again, except see The Magus. This should be fun.

1:13 - thrilling opening shot panning about 270 degrees through some truly stunning mountains, plus cheesy ominous music and faux-Greek lettering font, zooming down onto a yacht — establishing both the landscape the game will play out on and alluding to the yacht Conchis keeps the twins on. Neat.

3:44 - "No women on this island." "Good." "Good?" "Good!" Caine in full hard-ass mode. Totally hilarious suspicious old Greek ladies eyeing him.

6:13 - "What's wrong?" Caine stoically kicks a soccer ball instead of saying anything.

8:35 - "I've got everything a poet needs except poems." "I've got everything an air hostess needs except illusions." Twin souls!

11:36 - "Eerie" vibraphone solo. Please.

23:21 - In a flashback, Anna Karina is explaining to Caine that she always takes a paperweight with her everywhere because it somehow consoled her after an abortion three years ago. She is saying this over incongruously peppy Mancini-type music.

35:44 - The actor who plays young Anthony Quinn is ridiculously and unnecessarily awkward. The whole army desertion plot is cut. Young Candice Bergen is, as always, super hot, but a terrible actress to ask to play just with her face. She's way OTT.

36:03 - Anthony Quinn just speared a squid.

37:48 - This is probably the least dramatic way possible to stage a guy running around an island looking for someone. Didn't anyone see L'Avventura before they started? Jeez. It's as bad as Southland Tales' "Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)" sequence.

41:14 - Caine: I can either pinch your bottom or kiss you. Which shall it be?

46:24 - Karina: "Oh Nico, this is life, not an existentialist novel!"

47:48 - She gives him back the paper-weight. "I don't need it anymore." Bad judgment, Karina. Look at that smirk.

49:31 - This is really boring and annoying so far, but I'll admit they did the locations perfectly. No one could possibly visualize them differently. Seriously.

54:22 - First character introduced who has no correlative in the book.

1:03:52 - Anna Karina naked. First thing to justify an R rating in 63 minutes.

1:16:15 - presumably to save time, they've cut the twin sister and made a leap from girl-as-ghost to schizo and then actress, with Caine an unconscious improviser for a script they'll right. Eh, OK.

1:22:42 - as Caine receives news of Karina's suicide, a herd of black goats walk past his window.

12: 09 AM - taking a break to make a late sandwich and read the New York Review of Books. This movie is so immensely dull. Even worse than the book. Under half an hour to go, thank goodness.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pitchfork live-blogging

5:35 PM: Hello. Festivities begin shortly.

5:42 PM: So yesterday, sucking up how stupid and odd it felt, I stayed inside, drank up and watched The National play the closing set of Pitchfork, Day 2. It's fair to say it's the only transcendent internet experience I've had. The quality of streaming live sound/video has improved immensely since the last time I checked. So hey: today The Walkmen, Grizzly Bear and The Flaming Lips are being streamed, in ascending order of me caring about the performances. (Would've started earlier, but there were router problems.) Time for some meta-fun with concerts.

Just so the set-up is clear: I live in a three-bedroom apartment with roommates. My particular room wasn't even a room two years ago (I checked with someone who lived here before my time), because it has no windows. Now there is a "window," i.e. a frosted-over pane of glass that can't be opened for ventilation. It's pretty hot. The room's about 8x8 and my speakers are more than good enough for this. I have more beer than anyone at Pitchfork right now, and I don't have to stand in line for the bathroom. Let's rock shit up.

5:47 PM: Every Thermals song sounds the same to me. I love "No Culture Icons" and "Now We Can See," but that's about all I need. I don't how rocking this would be even if I was there. Hutch Harris' pink polo shirt and hair very Stephen Malkmus in 2007. Not really paying close attention right now.

5:50 PM: Wondering who this is for. I mean, I'm dedicated and enthused enough to sit in my room and do this all day, and obviously it's great free advertising for the festival, but it's not even a good time-killer; not too many bored people at work right now. Curious.

5:51 PM: Holy fuck. Green Day. I hate this song (overexposure), but I dig this rendition.

5:54 PM: Straight into "No Culture Icons." Excellent.

5:55 PM: Sounds like a totally different song without the lo-fi scuzz. I actually like it better as a high-compression, low-dynamic range clusterfuck, but this is still pretty awesome.

6:01 PM: "Now We Can See" still rocks, but I'd be cranky if I was there and sat through 35 minutes of songs I didn't really care about to get to the singles, which is all I care about. Still, the Green Day-"No Culture Icons"-"Now We Can See" trifecta a hell of a way to close. Now they're playing 2007's Spoon "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb." Saw this yesterday. Surely they have enough archival footage to last the weekend, no?

6:09 PM: So I've always heard The Walkmen are excellent live, but they're only a second-tier band for me; I'm not willing to pay the elevated prices they command now, so presumably this is as close as I'll ever get. I presume they play "The Rat" last, and hopefully they'll have horns with them? Hamilton Leithauser's always looked like a jock who accidentally sings like Bob Dylan to me. We'll see.

6:13 PM: Sparks ad. Gross.

6:15 PM: Leithauser not remotely amused by the beach ball situation. I don't blame him. Grow up.

6:19 PM: Yeah. Still can't tell most of their songs apart.

6:27 PM: Takes major cojones to launch into "In The New Year" for just the second song. Certainly they don't fear burning out early. Leithauser's practically acting the song out. His right neck vein is just bulging out. Just before launching into every chorus, the rhythms are stretched out a little on guitar; it's a little more expansive and less metronomic than the recorded version. AV Club twitter feeds say the mix is wretched up front, but it sounds excellent from here; another win for the internet. Also, just realized not being there means I don't have to hear Tim Tuten's atrocious intros. (Is he still being inexcpliably invited back?) Internet: 2, Reality: 0.

6:31 PM: Whenever he's not singing, Leithauser looks like he's about to punch someone.

6:34 PM: Did he actually just use a song break to tell a whole group of people annoying him to burn in hell?

6:38 PM: Had to check the song title, but this live "Canadian Girl" is excellent. A little soft-rock in the bassline, which is unexpected. The horns have arrived. They look like refugees from the high school jazz band, god bless 'em.

6:40 PM: Oh shit. "The Rat" isn't last after all.

6:43 PM: Always assumed they'd massage out that tempo slowdown for the middle of "The Rat" live, but it's as awkward as ever. How do they feel about this song anyway? If memory serves, they were "assisted" by the label into making what's easily their most commercial song ever.

6:44 PM: First major internet problems. Missed the end of the song. Fuck.

6:47 PM: Seven horns! More than The National.

6:51 PM: "Dónde está la Playa" now in E-flat major instead of D-flat major. Sounds a lot warmer.

6:56 PM: "Nice having the trumpet players back. We haven't had those in a while." Cue for "Louisiana"? I think so.

6:58 PM: Inadvertent, but post-Katrina, this song is more haunting than ever.

7:03 PM: I misremembered; the album actually came out after Katrina. Maybe it's deliberate.

7:06 PM: Yeah, I don't like these songs enough to be paying close attention anymore. I'm sure it's great there, but unless they play "Long Time Ahead For Us" (which will never happen), I'm basically tuned out.

7:08 PM: Never mind. NEW SONG.

7:14 PM: New song quite nice, vaguely Christmas carol-y, as with much of their material. Set times apparently running so tight Leithauser's unplugging his guitar *before* the song is over. Don't care about M83. Time to make dinner.

8:10 PM: Typos cleaned up. Dinner consumed. Checked the M83 set briefly, seems nice but nothing to reckon with online, still don't care. Clearing head with extremely white jangle-pop more overtly hooky than anything I'll hear for the next two hours. Saw Grizzly Bear with basically rasa knowledge two years ago at Pitchfork 2007, where they completely blew me away. I haven't been the biggest fan of Veckatimest — so dense and hard to sift into its component parts — so maybe this'll clarify things.

8:18 PM: Sound dropped out during those awful Art of Thumb-Fu commercials, which aren't perhaps "racist" per se but hardly much better than, say, this.

8:23 PM: Grizzly Bear open with their opening track. Fair enough.

8:30 PM: Considering how many instrumental/vocal switch-offs there are, their relaxed poise and casualness is remarkable.

8:32 PM: Is that Michael Ivins watching from stage left sidelines? As impassive as ever.

8:33 PM: Two songs in ten minutes. This will be the slow, deliberate set.

8:37 PM: The fact that they're able to play "Lullabye" live at all is amazing. Flute, clarinet, auto-harp...good lord. Watching them work through it really does help you know how to listen to it. Still mesmerizing, but it's still from Yellow House. Still murky on Veckamitest.

8:43 PM: Parts of "Little Brother" (the bridge, if you can even call it that in such a meandering song) definitely sound like Clouds Taste Metallic-era Flaming Lips. That fragmented stomp and the hugeness of their sound, which is amplified so much live (even over the internet).

8:48 PM: Song performance count: Yellow House 3, Veckatimest 2. Mostly this is just proving the former album is much better. These still sound amazing.

8:51 PM: I can't be the only one who's curious how Grizzly Bear's "Happy Birthday" would've gone.

8:59 PM: For whatever reason, "Two Weeks" is kind of flat live. Drums aren't loud enough, keyboards are too thin. It was brave of them to start it while the monitors were dead, but this needs rethinking maybe.

9:03 PM: Need to re-up some supplies before the Lips, and Grizzly Bear are failing to hold me completely spellbound. Brief break.

9:47 PM: Chemical assistance on the roof from neighbors. Perfect mood for watching people bop out to balloons while "Race For The Prize" blasts. 17 again, in a good way.

9:50 PM: Is Wayne just talking endlessly to cover up for the fact that they're not actually going to do a request set?

9:54 PM: Is this a new song? Is this their new sound? Are they now a pounding psych band, back-to-guitars basics? If so, I might kind of dig it.

10:00 PM: Yes, that was a new song. There's a weird hostility in the air tonight; it's like the Lips have reverted back to their mean, surly, unpredictable 1987 phase. Wayne keeps yelling "motherfuckers." Addressing the issue of whether or not they're doing the request setlist, he defensively insists they let the fans write the night every night, then reads off the number of each song before they play it. It's like he suddenly realized the faithful might be getting pissed off at their new incarnation. He's not normally this angry. Or have I missed something in the 5 years since I saw them?

10:18 PM: I dunno. This is interesting, but Wayne seems really angry and weird today. What the hell. Is it just me?

10:22 PM: This endless acoustic rendition of "Fight Test" is horrendous. Is this just for tonight, or is this how they've been doing it live for a while?

10:35 PM: Words are beyond me. I'll insert my Twitter reactions in here later, but this show is either brilliance between the talky patches or a complete meltdown. I can't really tell.

10:41 PM: As Lips enter like the 15th hour of their "Yoshimi Vs. The Robots Pt. 1" rendition, me to friend on gchat:
they're strict about sound curfew at the fest, as i recall
and they have 19 minutes left.
c'mon.
for fuck's sake.

11:47 PM: I have no real clue what to say about that. A gutsy show, certainly. Aside from "Race For The Prize" and Oklahoma's State Song, seems like they did it almost entirely without tape loops, which they haven't done in lord knows how long. Wayne was defensive about the set-list thing all night, notching off no-brainers like "Do You Realize??" while reading their chart position. (News flash: #1). On the other hand, they blasted through "Bad Days" (which they apparently hadn't done in a decade), "Mountain Side" (from 1990!) and an (admittedly terrible) song from Okie Noodling they'd apparently never done live before. Their new (I presume) stripped-down versions of "Fight Test" and "She Don't Use Jelly" were atrocious, and Wayne repeated the chorus for those (and "Do You Realize??") at least two extra times, which massively shrunk the amount of time available for songs — which may have been the goal. In being reduced to just playing songs without pre-recorded sonic help, they seemed anxious to put off each attempt as much as possible. When I saw the Lips in 2003, it seemed like Wayne basically doesn't play anymore and they're dependent on loops to do a "show" rather than merely play. Which is fine, but tonight seemed like a fight for reinvention. Are these new songs an accurate indicator of a promising new direction? Is Wayne Coyne tired of being alt-rock's kindly grandfather?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Adventures In Press Kit Bullshit: MY SISTER'S KEEPER

In films as disparate as "John Q," "Alpha Dog" and "The Notebook," Cassavetes has investigated the nuances of the human condition, the nature of love and free will and human dignity — all themes that resonate in Picoult's book.

[...]

Whenever possible, the production filmed in practical locations, underscoring Cassavetes' penchant for realism.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

This week, 5/23

Movies: Ghosts Of The Heartland, a very brief Hudsucker Proxy note.

Music: White Rabbits [!. I love this album.]

Books: Home Game by Michael Lewis. The comments section is pretty fascinating. Spot the heinously embarrassing typo!

Misc.: Rooftop Films opening night recap

Friday, May 15, 2009

This week, 5/15

Movies: The House Next Door: Summer Hours

Village Voice: The Films of Sergei Loznitsa (at Anthology).

Music: Indie 500. I: Andrew Bird, Bishop Allen, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Animal Collective. II: Franz Ferdinand, Canadian Invasion, Junior Boys, Neko Case. III: Metric, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Doves, M. Ward, Julie Doiron, Dennis Wilson.

Slow week. Next week should be a little heavier on, you know, paid stuff.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Just to be clear: what this is is a place where I will post a Friday round-up of links of whatever I've done that week. A couple of people asked for this, so we'll pretend this is actually something the world needs to know. Also apparently I should have a concrete online presence to hype myself.
Me, Twitter: This is a perverse thing to say, but REVANCHE made me appreciate IMPORT/EXPORT that much more. I'm guessing I'm alone on this. / They admittedly have nothing in common besides one sort-of-similar character, but it threw me off for a while. Good job warping me, Seidl.

Robert Davis: @vrizov Heh, would love to see you expand on this. I wonder what Seidl is working on.

MILD SPOILERS BELOW FOR Revanche AND Import/Export, I guess. Neither is really that kind of movie though, at least in the early stages.

Import/Export was on my mind when I went into Revanche because I've already started thinking about another high-concept top 10 list. Seeing as this is the first decade I've been around long enough to do a top 10 of the decade, I also want to do an alternate 10 Most Zeitgeist-y and starting to realize I may have badly underestimated Import/Export as "just" an enormously accomplished and acidly unlikeable movie when its panoramic ambitions actually come off. Then Revanche starts with a Ukrainian hooker working abroad under unfavorable conditions, and I couldn't stop thinking about Seidl's film for half-an-hour. (At which point, she checks out, for reasons I guess I shouldn't reveal.)

Revanche was OK, but it's obviously not as magisterial as Seidl's movie (nor, to be fair, does it particularly seem to aspire to). I'm sure it's coincidence, but Seidl's unflinching portrait of the cybersex trade makes Spielmann's conception of a medium-class Viennese brothel seem like a joke, even if it's based on research. (I wouldn't know; ask my dad if you run into him in the city. Maybe I'm joking.) Red wallpaper? I got "Twin Peaks" flashbacks.

And, oddly, none of this is actually the fault of the movie, which is just fine. (If, you know, deterministic and not exactly my thing. I'm burned out on both neo-noir and rural redemption tropes, even if Spielmann spends half his time actively subverting them.) It's just that Seidl's movie has come to seem, in my mind, like the definitive pan-European film of the decade, and anything even vaguely impinging on its territory is going to suffer by comparison. I need to see that again, soon.