Friday, January 29, 2016

Epistle to the Apostate

Hey, Yago --

Read your article. It's interesting, and it needs a response. I hope there will be better ones coming, but here is one.

Note: my disagreements with you are in no way meant to be arguing with your feelings -- as an explication of your reaction to the Warriors circa 2016, your piece is illuminating, and you are, of course, allowed to have the judgments you have. But I think your judgments and mine, when contrasted, might point out some interesting differences in how and why to watch basketball. So that is my intent here: to highlight some contrasts in our judgments so that we can both maybe learn something interesting about how / why to watch basketball. Please take my comments in that spirit!

If I can begin by attempting to summarize some of your objections, this may help.
1. Steph Curry receives adulation in arguably excessive measure and for extremely suspect reasons: he's not a plucky underdog, he's a rich kid who grew up with a lot of advantages; he's not really a small man, but he's a little baby-faced, light-skinned, etc., and just in general is a kid who seems to have been genetically engineered to be non-threatening; also there's this weird xian crap around him, which, yuck
2. The Warriors are winning excessively and excessively easily, and this removes some of the compelling nature of the games
3. Their style may prove detrimental, as other teams attempt to copy-cat them
4. Their style may prove detrimental, as it may come from an excessive focus on the quantitative aspects of the game and "efficiency" in general

I actually agree with more than a little of all this. Let's go bottom to top.

I personally don't perceive an excessive focus on efficiency / quantitative approaches to the game in the Warriors' game. Doesn't mean it's not there, just means that I'm not perceiving it, because what I'm perceiving is one magnificent player (Curry), and some remarkably versatile supporters (Dray, Iggy) along with a lot of role players (Klay, Bogut, etc.) execute a style that shouldn't work as well as it does at such a high level that most teams can't compete with it. On a raw personnel level, this team doesn't seem to me like it should be that great. On an efficiency level, the paragon is James Harden: get fouled or get a 3, play no D so you get the ball back, lather, rinse (or stir the tea), repeat. This team shoots a lot of threes, but that's because Steph is peerless at it and Klay is streaky but competent there. But there's not the overwhelming focus on threes or free throws that you'd expect to see if they were truly an efficiency-minded team.

As for (3), well, I'd rather see teams try to play like the Warriors than like James Harden. For one thing, the Warriors play defense, and they run beautifully. (Their gang-rebounding and cherry-picking is one of my favorite things about them -- at any given time, anybody might get the rebound that triggers a break, and almost anybody might be able to bring the ball up the court. THAT is the ball I love, building on the great versatility of the players they have.)

I think we may differ most here on (2): as long as the style is appealing to me, the wins and losses are less important. (I think I learned this from growing up watching the Nuggets -- I knew they weren't gonna win anything, so I learned to root for and appreciate the way they played.) And since I'm not a die-hard Warriors fan, I also don't have a huge amount of investment in their wins or losses... Obviously there's a continuum: maybe you're a 60/40 wins/style guy, maybe I'm a 60/40 style/wins guy. (I mean, it's not just an exhibition: it's not actually the ballet, tho my appreciation for basketball and ballet actually works more or less the same. I do care about the wins. Just not to the exclusion of other stuff. This is what I take Shoals to have championed with "liberated fandom", for what it's worth -- watching and appreciating the game without deferring to a rooting interest...)

And as for inevitability, I think that's an overstatement. They've lost to two sub-.500 teams. (If I hadn't retired as a Nuggets fan, that win would have made my year, I bet.) The Grizzlies and Cavs both had long stretches where they looked like they'd completely solved the Warriors -- and, as I said: this roster doesn't actually strike me as that great, beyond Curry. Take him out, or reduce his effectiveness, or do the same for Green, and this is not an extraordinarily good team. Put it this way: if they have to rely on Klay and Barnes for extended stretches, their opponents will be very satisfied...

With respect to (1), I agree with all of your assessments. That said, I find myself able to watch without thinking about any of those externalities. I enjoy watching him because he is a lights-out shooter, a phenomenal finisher, and possibly the best ball-handler I have ever seen. When I see these things, I am not moved to consider the discourse surrounding him -- as a once-failed, now-retired sportswriter, I have that luxury! ;)

That discourse matters: I am not telling you to ignore it or pretend it does not exist. But I'm mostly going to!

Another mind I respect deeply on basketball belongs to Tom Scharpling, and he has a similar read on Curry: for Scharpling, Curry now feels like a rich bully.

I understand and appreciate this point without agreeing with it.

Honestly, the thing about the narrative about Curry that drives me the most nuts is about "athleticism". It's the same idiotic thing people said about Steve Nash: "he's not 'athletic'", evidently because he doesn't jump high enough? But eye-hand coordination is an athletic ability, and Curry and Nash are both off the charts there. Speed and quickness are athletic abilities, and they were both exceptional there. Endurance is an athletic ability, and both have that. Both are enormously talented athletes, and anyone who downplays this is a fool -- or, perhaps, trying to advance a pernicious agenda.
Anyway. I don't expect I've changed your mind -- nor was I trying to! But I think you differently value wins and losses than I do, and I think you're more embedded in game-external conversations than I am, and those are both...malleable. You might like the game better from where I'm sitting. You'd definitely like Curry better.

Your pal, Fat / Collision / Etc.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Schwarz und Weiß

The third film in AFS's Wim Wenders retrospective I've attended was also the third and final installment of his road movie trilogy.

But sadly I still have only a vague idea of what that label means to me, or specifically how the road movie genre is defined exactly. Apart from these three Wenders movies the only other examples I can think of are Easy Rider (1969, Dennis Hopper), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Monte Hellman) Scarecrow (1973, Jerry Schatzberg), Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick) Wild at Heart (1990, David Lynch), My Own Private Idaho (1991, Gus Van Sant), Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998, Terry Gilliam), The Brown Bunny (2003, Vincent Gallo) and Prince Avalanche (2012, David Gordon Green).

Although I do love the variety of life experiences the genre's loose structure allows, the beautiful nature, rural and urban scenes photographed, and for the most part lack of a burdensome sense of plot getting in the way of the feeling of freestyle filmmaking. And the cool music.

Im Lauf der Zeit (1976, Wim Wenders) opens with intertitles telling us, in German, that the film was shot in black and white, at 1.66:1, and uses production sound. Last night I again, after last Friday's Falsche Bewegung (1975, Wenders) found myself spending Friday night watching a slow paced, Robby Müller shot, Wenders Road Movie and lost myself in another world. Except this time the movie was 3 hours, but no seriously it flew by.

Like Alice in den Städten (1974, Wenders) and Falsche Bewegung, the film stars Rüdiger Vogler. Vogler as the main character for the third time really has sealed my love of his work as an actor in these. This time he drives a bus that houses his mobile film mechanic shop, stopping in German towns to repair projectors in theaters. Vogler plays a character called BRUNO WINTER and encounters ROBERT LANDER (Hanns Zischler) at the beginning of the film in a sequence that builds up parallel editing of shots of Bruno parked in his bus out in the countryside getting ready to shave with shots of Robert speeding recklessly through city streets in his VW bug. Their first meeting is a wonderful collision both visually and figuratively.

Robby Müller's cinematography is again the highlight of the show. Shot on Orwo black and white 35mm, wide panning epic vistas of beautiful countryside, wonderful textures of paint chipped structures, and elegant gradients of shadows and light playing on the subjects are everywhere. And plenty of driving shots. The night exterior tracking the motorcycle through the country roads as we see a lightning bolt striking beyond in the horizon had me smiling.

Of all the trilogy Im Lauf der Zeit is the one that had me laughing out loud. Mostly it was shock laughter, as there are a few gags that arise out of graphic depictions of some bodily functions I'm definitely not used to seeing in a movie. Or when Bruno at the bumper cars ticket gate and a woman played by Lisa Kreuzer (Alice's mom in Alice in den Städten) shows up and asks for a light for her Hitler head candle completely deadpan.

Im Lauf der Zeit is really relaxing. It just feels like as long as you're in for the ride who cares about the usual priorities like plot, and an over arching theme. It's all character development and like being on vacation.

Among the later stops the duo make, the abandoned GI post recalls the candle light shack scene in The Grapes of Wrath (1940, John Ford) that Gregg Toland shot. In Alice in den Städten there was a scene in the motel the Vogler character stops in where he watches a scene from Young Mr. Lincoln (1939, Ford) along with a scene towards the end where the same character clips an obituary column of Ford titled "Lost World." And Im Lauf der Zeit has another scene where Bruno is on his truck and clips a photo from a film journal showing Ford on the set of Mogambo (1953, Ford) it looks like. So what's to be made of all this? What's the link, the reason for these references? People of the earth? Slower paced, tales set in the countryside with vast horizons and big skies? The black and white film?

Paper Moon was made by Peter Bogdanovich and released in 1973, the year before Alice in den Städten and has a shot where Ryan and Tatum O'Neil play characters eating in a diner where outside through the window a marquee can be seen that advertises Steamboat Round the Bend (1935, Ford) as its featured attraction. And Paper Moon is also shot in black and white and mostly rural. I don't know what point I'm trying to make with this, but it's impossible not to think of ADDIE when you see ALICE. I mean I'm not trying to imply anything negative about this link, if you can even call it that. Just speculating. Maybe I'm just trying to show off my memory or observation skills?

But okay, since I've already started down this road, there's also a moment in Im Lauf der Zeit when Bruno and Robert are talking about passing through the towns of Powerless and Peaceless. They mention that in between both towns is a mountain called Dead Man. Robby Müller went on to shoot Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch). And Dead Man feels like a road movie for sure; also there's a shot in Im Lauf der Zeit of a symmetric 1 point perspective down a town's thoroughfare with a large tall building weighing the center in the background, just like the shot in Dead Man of the city of Machine with the smokestack; also there's a CU of the van's wheel spinning in Im Lauf der Zeit that looks and feel like the CUs of the train's wheels in Dead Man.

Apologies if anyone was expecting anything in-depth but this time here I just felt like writing a journal entry of a movie I really loved.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Blue Őyster Cult Song for Every Episode of I Don't Even Own a Television, a Podcast About Bad Books

As promised, or maybe threatened, here is a comprehensive compendium collecting the collated correspondences between the I Don't Even Own a Television podcast and the works of Blue Öyster Cult. This document will be maintained, so please do check back often.

w/ Jeb Lund

Coming soon! One issue with trying to cross-reference IDEOTVPOD and BŐC is that BŐC is kind of short on songs pertaining to romance-gone-wrong topics—and romance doesn't go much more wrong than in IDEOTVPOD's kickoff episode, Pregnesia. But I'm working on it.

w/ Dave Stattler

For a book about the virtues of willing yourself to power, about selfishness raised to the level of moral imperative, no song is better than the leering, sneering ode to the 70s, This Ain't the Summer of Love.

3—The Dirt
w/ Jackson O'Brien

I mentioned earlier that BŐC's catalog doesn't give a person a lot of options when it comes to songs about love and romance. If it's time to talk about talking about being a rock star, however, nobody did it better (or funnier) than these guys. The weirdness and romantic power of people playing loud music in front of people was a fixation for this band and their songwriters, and maybe their best statement on the topic was 1977's robotic stomper, R.U. Ready to Rock.

Some of the band's best harmonies shine over a deliberately held-in-check riff and Eric Bloom gets to declaim about the stations of night, about living only to be born again, and those "countdown blues". None of it makes a whole lot of linear sense, but there's a lot of menace, making it a perfect fit for a hazy melange of overlapping, sometimes contradictory stories from some of the 80s/90s biggest, and most violent, rock stars.

4—The Rules
w/ Rachel Millman

A book by the aggressive Jersey Shore star J-Woww!? Demands nothing less than Dragon Lady:

Out of the flames of a man's desire
A hair-raising voice from an evil choir
Raining down like a freezing fire
Dragon Lady

She appears mysteriously
You don't take her seriously
Until you're under her spell

5—Princess of Mars w/ Centa Schumacher
Coming soon!

6—Michelle Remembers
w/ Poncho Martinez

For Michelle Remembers, a harrowing tale of ritual satanic abuse and repressed memory, a harrowing Richard Meltzer lyric about horror and the failures of memory, a thing called Veins:

I open my eyes
From a dreamless night
With a sense of dread
You could cut with a knife
So I'm thinking that
Maybe I killed somebody
You never know—you never know when
You might have killed somebody

7—Let Me Tell You Something
w/ Amanda Brand

For Let Me Tell You Something, a book by a Real Housewife of New Jersey, I have to confess: I don't speak Jersey. For me, this book is written in an Unknown Tongue for sure.

8—Backwards Masking Unmasked
w/ David Thorpe

A book about satanic panic? Count me in! As long as I still get to listen to this rewritten and extended jam, all piano flourishes and choruses built to intimidate. If you're going to name a song after your band, and write yourself into a conspiracy theory about history, you might as well do it this well.

9—Veeck As in Wreck
w/ Tim Harrison

Get fired up for baseball! Don't hold back! Let Go!

10—Ready Player One
w/ Mike Sacco

A book that's a pandering pastiche of popular culture has the benefit of being at least easy to sit through. No matter how bad it gets, at least you can think about things you actually used to like! So for the dumb quest story / awful artifact Ready Player One, I propose the little-known BŐC quest epic The Vigil, a multi-part ride that's every bit as enjoyable as the few good bits in RPO with the added bonus that it's definitely not trying to get an elbow into your ribs to remind you of something you used to like.

11—Left Behind
w/ Leeman Kessler

When the rapture comes and all the good people are harping it up in the infinite, I for one plan to be singing along loudly to this Patti Smith lyric about the aliens or UFOs or whoever the hell it was that "took my baby...took my baby away" Man do I like this song. Fire of Unknown Origin.

12—Dude You're Going to Be a Dad
w/ Klopfenpop

Coming soon!

13—Those Who Trespass
w/ Jeb Lund

Don't Turn Your Back is a good message for anybody dealing with revenge-taker Bill O'Reilly.

14—Chariots of the Gods
w/ Centa Schumacher

Chariots of the Gods posits that aliens did a lot for us poor humans. And noplace does BŐC handle that theme more interestingly and funly than in the concept record Imaginos and in that record's title track.

15—Stranger in a Strange Land
w/ Adam Marler

Stranger in a Strange Land is about a telepathic alien who founds a church and such, written by a pal and a confidante of L. Ron Hubbard, who founded a church based on aliens and telepathy in order to make a huge pile of money. Flaming Telepaths tells a parallel story—and tells you, again and again, that the joke's on you.

16—Covert Conception
w/ Mara Wilson

Coming soon!

17—A Spell for Chameleon
w/ Jesse Dangerously

Piers Anthony's ode to despising a woman in multiple ways deserves nothing less than this Cars parody that was never supposed to make it onto record You're Not the One (I Was Looking For). The other joke about this song is that it was legendarily directed at the man who produced it, who understood roughly nothing about what BŐC was good at/for.

18—Super Sad True Love Story
w/ Poncho Martinez

Coming soon!

19—Voodoo Child
w/ Eugene Violet

Voodoo-themed graphic novel? Song written for a segment of Heavy Metal (the movie) that, unfortunately, couldn't be used, because the song did in like 5 minutes what it took the segment like 20 to convey. Oops. Vengeance (The Pact)

w/ Chris Collision

Screams, a Doors-lite spooky number, goes well with the first episode I was ever on, the Cold War James-Bond-with-psychic-powers-against-Soviet-vampires (yes, really) horror/thriller/whatever book, Necroscope.

21—The Eye of Argon
w/ K. Thor Jensen

Not 100% sure on this, but I feel basically okay assigning a personal fave tune, with lyrics from legendary British fantasy/SF writer Michael Moorcock, to the legendarily bad self-published Eye of Argon. I guess my position is that a tribute to Conan deserves a parody of Conan, so here's the great live version of Black Blade that introduced me to Moorcock.

22—Real Men Don't Eat Quiche
w/ Centa Schumacher

In the 70s, we evidently cared a lot about what Men did and did not do. Something that goes really well with panicking about what Men can and can not eat is ratcheting up the camp levels and getting all biker-gangy, but with voices raised in song, and singing, oh, singing, of the Golden Age of Leather.

23—Scar Tissue
w/ Ben Firke

Red Hot Chili Peppers are the worst band of all time; Anthony Kiedis is the worst lyricist of all time; without reading it, I assume this book is the worst book of all time. In "honor" of this, I present BŐC's weird parody of "becoming a rock star" songs, The Marshall Plan. Weirdest/best part of the parody is that it predated Juke Box Hero, Summer of '69, etc. I guess some parodies create the conditions of existence for the thing they will eventually be parodies of. I guess some bands who could really use a hit should maybe play it straight instead of mocking the entire enterprise they're involved with.

24—The Actuator: Fractured Earth
w/ Alexander Hinman

Not gonna lie: this episode made this book sound incredibly dumb, but more than a little fun. Which is about how I'd describe this song, one of the cheesiest (and more successful) attempts at rocking this band ever put together: Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein's Castle at Weisseria. What can I say, maybe I just like bad Dio impressions...

25—On the Brink
w/ Jeb Lund & Rocky Swift

One wildly dumb fear-mongering piece of tripe from the 70s deserves another, so...a Jimmy Carter-loathing screed by anti-abortion fanatic and former Nixon toady Ben Stein gets matched with the 'bring-it-on' message BŐC semi-explicably sent to the Ayatollah, a fairly dull number called Divine Wind.

26—Treacherous Love
w/ Mara Wilson

A high-school girl running away with her teacher? That's not just Treacherous Love, that's Sinful Love.

w/ Bill Hanstock

A workplace drama about bad people doing bad things? Sounds like a Career of Evil.

The central premise of Pines is what if a bunch of dumb shit you once liked was tossed in a blender and served up to you, panderingly what if a dipshit with no personality wanted to try to escape a place—so the amazing parody We Gotta Get Out Of This Place is perfect, as the entire band channels their inner robot and singer Eric Bloom tries out the persona "evil singer of heavy rock who cannot convincingly convey the sentiment 'little girl, you're so young and pretty'". It's basically perfect.

29—Wild Animus
w/ Tim Faust

Wild Animus is an insane / inane depiction of one man's quest to get in touch with his version of the animal we all most hope lurks within us: a mighty, majestic...sheep. Blue Őyster Cult's Born to Be Wild is a slightly sad illustration of one band's quest to throw something into their set list that's guaranteed to get a pop from the crowd.

30—Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Like most middle-aged men, BŐC and the author of Zen and blah blah blah who fucking cares have an evident fixation on motörcycles. On literally every level I prefer BŐC's Shadow of California to this "novel". Arguably a failed attempt at a multi-part epic, the song still works for me, including its weird lurches from more or less catchy rock parts to a truly disorienting time-signature lurch where the vocals are no longer tethered rhythmically to the music. Sure, everything on The Revölution by Night has some faddish and absurd-sounding drums, but the remainder of the production is appealing and the best songs, of which this is one, are all at least interesting, though not always as crafted as the band's best. Plus, the menace of the perspective, including "might makes right" and the great title, work beautifully for this particular Californian who finds no little darkness in the state.

Literally none of these things are true of the novel.

31—The Curse of Jezebel
w/ Centa Schumacher

Fallen Angel is about as close as I can come to appropriate about this Bible-based romance / fanfic that really only comes to life when it's discussing troop movements or something. I warned you earlier about this: BŐC isn't at their most robust when it comes to matters of lust. But I really like the vocal on this one, and would love to hear a version with the (admittedly delicious) keyboards and bass slightly lower and the guitars a little (a lot) louder. Similarly, I'd like to read a version of The Curse of Jezebel with about 230 pages removed.

32—Killing Floor
Goin' Through the Motions is an actually pretty funny meta-song, co-written by the greatest meta-songwriter of all time, Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter. Killing Floor is more an example of going through the motions without commenting on it—though I do think it's entirely possible that it was a deliberate act to write it in a fully half-assed fashion, this would have represented a husbanding of resources, not a commentary on genre mediocrity. Anyway, everything Ian Hunter does is worth attending to.

33—Candy Girl
w/ Lemon

BŐC may never have been better than when they were throwing their previous lead singer under the bus with the non-sequitur She's As Beautiful As a Foot, originally written to make him look like an asshole for singing something dumb. I would like to make the writer of Candy Girl look like an asshole for writing this dumb book.

Sadly, the dull rehash of an earlier work (itself a dull rehash of other people's earlier works) Armada sparks thoughts in me mostly of one of my favorite songs by anybody, E.T.I.. Because...I dunno, both have aliens. But only one has scintillating harmonies and maybe Buck Dharma's most transcendent guitar solo and BŐC's most breakdancing-robots riff and rhythms ever. So: BŐC 1, Ernest Cline 0.

Books about rock and roll and its attendant lifestyles are always a little tricky. Readers want prurient details and salacious gossip, but the standard rules of narrative still apply, and spending novel-length periods of time with the truly debauched is a wretched experience. Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll is also a little tricky, especially in this version: one of the band's signature numbers, this performance was taped immediately after they'd booted the song's architect, singer and drummer Al Bouchard. So it's still a great song, on some level, but the details feel wrong, and it's nowhere near the experience it could have been. Or was.

Not much going on here: a book about an airport shut down in a blizzard, planes th their wings covered in ice and snow gets Wings Wetted Down, a song about...wings...wetted...down.

Actually I have no idea what this song is about. But it's got a good sound to it, you know?

37—Doom: Knee-Deep in the Dead
w/ Poncho Martinez

In Doom: Knee-Deep in the Dead, we read of a soldier shooting his way into and through hell. It's mostly ridiculous and only intermittently entertaining. In Hot Rails to Hell, we listen to a guy freak out about being on a scary New York City subway, which plausibly could have been rattletrapping its way to the netherworld, and it's thoroughly excellent. (Early BŐC was a fairly deliberate affair, and their first three albums are mainly concerned with sketching various depictions of hell. As a tactic for a band whose creative brief was explicitly "American Black Sabbath", it's pretty canny, and the results are mostly satisfying, and almost always interesting. This one is more satisfying than interesting, which is a good first approximation to a description of rock and roll itself.)

38—Flowers in the Attic
w/ Centa Schumacher & Amanda Brand

I still think Flowers in the Attic is more interesting than not, especially as a portrait of the female experience in America. Mirrors is kind of similar: an unintentionally mean picture of the same thing, from a different point of view.

A mirror is a negative space with a frame
And a place for your face it reveals
What the rest of us see
It conceals
What you'd like it to be

Pretty girls can't look away
Pretty girls can't look away
Pretty girls can't look away
Pretty girls can't look away

39—Shadow Moon
w/ Tricia Ellis

The repetitive and incomprehensible but rocking Teen Archer goes nicely with the repetitive and incomprehensible but infuriating Shadow Moon, perhaps the most ineptly crafted artifact IDEOTVPOD ever suffered through.

40—Kitchen Confidential
Not much going on here. A book about a bunch of immature id-beasts chasing booze, drugs, and women gets a song called Hungry Boys. shrug Shit, man: you try doing this fifty times.

Not sure which song I want to use here. There are two obvious possibilities, based on how cynical I'm feeling about this book at any given time. Check back soon. I'll probably make a decision someday.

42—Casino Royale
w/ Lauren Parker

Arguably a reach, but the prototype version of James Bond we find in Casino Royale reminds me a lot of the dry run of classic BŐC banger "The Red and the Black" I'm on the Lamb but I Ain't No Sheep. The initial Bond is a sniffing, amoral middle manager with impossibly specific tastes and a distinct penchant for sadism; the debut "Red and Black" is a friendly shuffle that doesn't seem to have noticed it's about whips and pursuit. Both would be refined considerably by their creators.

43—The Alchemist
Workshop of the Telescopes is one of my favorite songs that I don't understand at all. But it is definitely about alchemy, which makes it a good fit for The Alchemist. Bonus (maybe): the song is absolutely an early example of what would come to be called steampunk, and, as such, provides a nice pointer towards a version of same which doesn't aggressively blow.

44—Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
A book about boring people saying boring things and inflicting their feelings semi-consensually on any/everybody in the vicinity? Sounds "naked, exposed, like live rock and roll" to me, which means it sounds like True Confessions.

45—Snow Crash
Snow Crash? about...Baby Ice Dog?

46—The 50th Law
w/ Centa Shumacher

When it comes to this bizarre money grab by sociopathic Hollywood climber Robert "money is" Greene and New York rapper / entrepreneur Fifty Cent, there's only one song that fits, this off-kilter ode to alienation and suspicious acts. So please enjoy Cagey Cretins!

It's so lonely, baby, in the state of Maine!

An undercooked attempt at guru-ing like Illusions merits only the overblown (but, to me, delightful) Magna of Illusion, a tale of piracy and doom.

But, then, aren't they all tales of piracy and doom.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What Did I Just Watch?

Continuing the Wim Wenders series, the second entry in his road movie trilogy.

Shot on color 35mm by the amazing Robby Müller and restored at 4K in 2015 on DCP,  (1975, Wim Wenders) is droll and unpredictable throughout. It's odd.

Falsche Bewegung opens with some helicopter shots of a German town that progresses into the window of one of the houses where the film's star Rüdiger Vogler, who I'm really beginning to appreciate since Alice in den Städten (1974, Wenders), obsessively keeps playing a Troggs record then punches through windows with each of his fists. He lives with his mother and wants to be a writer, so he ventures out into the country on a train in search of inspiration.

None of this movie made any sense to me whatsoever. Yet watching it Friday night I would not have rather watched anything else. I'm still only beginning to really become familiar with the road movie as a genre. But Falsche Bewegung seems to be the best example I've seen of leaving your usual surroundings and encountering different people, who don't necessarily teach you anything although that in itself causes you to live.

Didactic film practices always rely on cause and effect. What's great about Falsche Bewegung is that it's never important where these characters came from or where they're going. So the first character the writer encounters is a girl called MIGNON played by 13 year old Nastassja Kinski (in her first movie and she's credited here as Nastassja Nakszynski). Mignon is really pretty, never speaks a word and is a magician acrobat performer who street hustles with her companion, an old man with a shady WWII Nazi past who plays a harmonica.

On a train across from them an actress played by Hannah Schygulla is drawn into the group. The final member of the group will be a poet played by Peter Kern. I'll always remember Kern as FATTY in Faustrecht der Freiheit (1975, Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Schygulla is easily one of cinemas greatest actresses who had a symbiotic chemistry with a director, in her case Fassbinder, that lasted through several films: Von Sternberg/Dietrich, Fellini/Masina, Cassavetes/Rowlands, Waters/Divine. Okay so I know I don't have a strong point to make here, but having watched dozens of Fassbinder movies and loving them so so so much I was absorbed by the nuanced creativity of Falsche Bewegung just because it used some of the same actors from Fassbinder's films, was made around the same places during the same years and is so far from resembling most mainstream more well known movies or all of the garbage on Netflix and cable TV.

Falsche Bewegung is mostly a couple of characters talking at any given time, but it's not dialogue driven. It's all about the people, but it's not character driven. I boil film down to a formula, I've always believed if a movie can nail just one aspect out of plot, dialogue, character, setting, or genre then it can fail at the other four and still work. Falsche Bewegung is a formidable example of the road movie genre and an unforgettable escape.

And again Robby Müller's cinematography painted gorgeous locations on canvasses both rural and urban, highlighted by green fluorescent sources in the nightwork, autumn foliage, sweeping valleys, giant snowy mountains in the day work.

Watching Falsche Bewegung in the theater last night was one of the rare instances I lost complete sense of time at some point during the movie. I can't wait to see where Wenders goes next.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Oh, the problem of labels in film viewing. There have been certain directors that I've found where I have tried to find and watch as many of their movies as I could. Rainer Werner Fassbinder is a case of one of those directors. And it was worth it. And when I heard that he was around and working with contemporaries of his time in Germany who are called the New German Cinema, that didn't do much for me. I didn't respond to any of the other filmmakers sharing that label like I did to Fassbinder. But this is because I had not made sufficiently diligent efforts to explore the films themselves.

I've never been a big Herzog guy, but it's to my embarrassment. Especially because his name is thrown around so often. Movies either click with me or they don't, that is the mystery of the public's taste. I'd held even less of a regard for Wenders' reputation as I had Herzog's, but I've also spent less time viewing his films.

The Austin Film Society has programmed a Wim Wenders retrospective and I chose to check out some of his movies. Of particular interest for me were the early ones, which I'd never seen before.

Last night I went to a screening of a gorgeous DCP restored  Alice in den Städten (1974, Wim Wenders) not expecting a lot and found immediately that it had far exceeded any expectations for it I could have imagined. I don't know what the formal criteria are for minimalism, or if there's even a strict way of defining it as a aesthetic movement, but all I kept thinking about during Alice In the Cities is that compared to most other films it doesn't seem to be trying to do a lot, but does. And I can't think of a better way to describe that as minimalist.

Alice in den Städten starts with a young German Bohemian type with longish messy hair on a beach taking Polaroids of the landscape, as he sings "Under the Boardwalk" to himself. Then he drives, takes more pictures, checks into motels, watches TV, eats, sleeps, and listens to the radio. And the style of Alice in den Städten that's established early on will remain evident throughout its runtime: Robbie Müller's 16mm black and white cinematography, the locations, the stillness and silence.

Robby Müller is a cult hero of mine because of his diverse array of collaborators and work, which includes:

  • Saint Jack (1979, Peter Bogdanovich)
  • They All Laughed (1981, Bogdanovich)
  • Repo Man (1984, Alex Cox)
  • Paris, Texas (1984, Wenders)
  • Down by Law (1986, Jim Jarmusch)
  • Dead Man (1995, Jarmusch)
  • Breaking the Waves (1996, Lars von Trier)
  • Dancer In the Dark (2000, von Trier)
And these are only a few.Alice in den Städten is composed of so many subjective shots from driving in cars, flying on airplanes, trains, and even a ferry. And there are obviously those with the opinion of what does and doesn't belong in a movie who do not value empty shots of landscapes, but in this case it's done with such an eye for interesting images that it becomes one of the best parts of Alice in den Städten. Müller also exposes the negative in just the right light to where there's always a lot of detail and deep focus. After what I'm guessing are Florida beaches, the loner drives to NYC and in several instances the Empire State Building is in the background, like a postcard. There's also an in-camera technique used often where the lens closes as opposed to an optical fade out.

Then there're the shots that don't function solely to enhance the plot, like when Alice is on the roof of a building looking through binoculars, and a POV starts on the World Trade Center then tilts down and across other buildings and finds a seagull then tracks it. That stuff isn't planned. That stuff is creative filmmaking.

Turns out the loner is a journalist whose deadline has approached for completion of an article written about the American landscape, to be published by his bosses based out of Germany. But, the loner has only taken pictures and not written a single word. Just one quote culled from his esoteric ramblings is "when you drive through America something happens to you, the images you see change you." And that's profound for me without going into anything deeper.

Okay so if any of this sounds boring, maybe it would be, except ALICE is some little kid whose mom abandons her in the care of the loner whom she trusts to take her daughter back to Germany and meet up with in a day or two.

The kid who plays Alice delivers an amazing performance. She's precocious, critical of the loner, bright, eccentric, and always eating. The chemistry between the loner and the kid turns into this humble, honest, simple just plain old tender bond that occurs as the trip progresses. Lots of the scenes find that rare slightly off European prosaic dry humour that's what gives Alice in den Städten its quality and will pop up later in the best work of Aki Kaurismäki and Jim Jarmusch.

For being so young, it's hilarious how over everything Alice is. So the story is a little sentimental, but I'm tired of associating that word with a negative connotation. For me one of the best moments is in a photo booth, when Alice and the loner are looking into the booth's lens and Alice starts to smile, but the loner doesn't. She looks at him and sees this, then changes her facial expression to deadpan to match his. She wants to be like him. And yeah even though the movie never says who her real dad is I feel like she needs this guy, even if it's only for a few days.

Alice in den Städten is also so impressive because it doesn't portray high stakes drama, it's just a few days this dude and this kid cross paths and it's not about them teaching each other anything groundbreaking about life or anything. It's just a couple of people who don't hate each other and form a little attachment and the realization that that's pretty important in a way.

There are so many little moments that find relevance beyond logic. Like the kid slouched next to the jukebox in the German diner who hums and mumbles along to Canned Heat's "On the Road Again," for the duration of the song it seems, as the conversation between Alice and the loner continually returns to him lost in his sesh. There's a Chuck Berry concert for, I don't know, just because. But the score is so sparse, it's just a few strums of an electric guitar and can convey so much, slightly spooky, a little empty, maybe just as casual and unassuming in its charm as the rest of the movie.


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Fat's best HEAVY TUNES of 2015

Another weird year in music, one that was more controlled by my machinery for music-listening than ever before. My plugged-into-the-stereo music laptop seems to have lost the ability to play entire .mp3 files—this, just a couple years after deciding it was going to play all album tracks in alphabetical order. And my main working / archiving / everything else laptop took a month-long break when, for no reason I understand, its OS became corrupted. Thanks, Linux. I bought a turntable and mostly hated it. I quit using my little walkman and just started using my phone for everything—but once my laptops died, I was basically down to streaming music, which was fine, except at some point, I bought a Chromecast, for streaming from my phone to my stereo. After which, when I was at home, I just wanted to stream stuff from my phone to my stereo, but you can't stream from Bandcamp to a Chromecast, and most of what I loved this year came to me on Bandcamp. I would really have liked to listen to most of what I loved this year on my stereo.

Anyway. Here's my year in HEAVY TUNES, in roughly chronological order. A year of albums for me, more than songs. Some of them even came out this year!
January Early in the year, I gave Sleaford Mods the fairest shot I could. Some of their songs are pretty good! I really enjoyed "shitstreet" and "under the plastic and NCT", particularly the lyric and delivery of "three words: cage, wheel, hamster! 'ere, here's a bit of cheese—nibble the bastard!"

They didn't hold up for me, though: a combination of songs that all stick around a little too long and which are basically impossible to tell apart and a completely unacceptable Twitter presence, devoted mainly to telling people that their beats are bad, which is a little like the Ramones complaining that other people's songs are short, repetitive, and catchy.

More promising and longer-lived was Robonaut, a cool project that provided a lot of the year's best background music for writing. Between the good sounds and perfect song titles, I spent a lot of time with this one on: it's best described as a soundtrack for a science fiction movie that nobody has yet made, and the skittering noises, interesting textures, and sheer sonic interest of the whole thing was immensely pleasurable.

In January, I also started experimenting with Kowloon Walled City. We'll talk more about this later, but what I initially responded to was the curdled, emotionally exhausted, unhappy vibe. I spent a lot of my year listening to this at work, is what I'm saying.

In spring, I added maybe the best Holy Mount record, Vol, a late-2014 release with great glide-riffs, wonderful synth textures, and just enough vocal hooks to scratch all my pop-prog itches. One of the year's best records for bringing some emotional motion, mainly soaring, to static environments (mainly working). It's credibly heavy and/but makes you feel good; helpful in a grind of a year like a dull blade pressed to your inner thigh's veins.

Spring also brought me around to Windhand. I was incredibly late to this band, but when they finally clicked for me, I wanted to listen to little other than their giant-sized Sabbath riffs and sheets of mainly incomprehensible vocals. For now, I'm thrilled to binge on 2013's Soma, but I've tried the record that came out this year a time or two, and have found it pretty excellent. It will be there when I am ready for it.

Similarly, I discovered this year Oakland's own Abstracter, when a metal-looking dude at the coffee shop happened to be watching YouTube videos of them and my curiosity was engaged. It turns out that they're magnificently heavy and loud and slow, with occasional pretty moments that add breathing room. Both 2012's Tomb of Feathers and 2015's Wound Empire are great listens, with "Glowing Wounds" and "Ash" being my favorite songs, the best balanced between overwhelming volume / heaviness and flares of beauty.

The year's prettiest music came from Marriages, a band that evolved from my all-time favorite atmospheric instrumental metal band, Red Sparowes. Vaguely gothy, interestingly textured, and frequently rocking, this was my undisputed record of the year until October. Even if it did get dethroned, Salome was my year's most reliable inspiration for soft feelings, particularly on "skin", "love, Texas" and what would have been the song of my year in any normal year, "less than". Highest recommendation for anybody who is willing to mix their emotions with musical intensity.

By summer, the new Courtney Barnett album had come out, and it was as good as I had expected, if a little overproduced. Maybe the year's best record for singing along!

Summer continued poppy with Roman Cities' ep the Sharksleep Sessions. A great throwback pop-rock album by Kowloon Walled City (and Snailface, and other) bassist Ian Miller, this was the album I reached for when I wanted to feel heartened and vaguely 80s. Bonus points for the invocation of a very 80s neon-drenched version of the future in probably my favorite track, "just like water"! Other favorites were "memento" and "every time you fall".

Just as with Holy Mount, I continued to dig into the back catalog of previous HEAVY TUNE roundup appearer Verma. (Though Bandcamp sure doesn't make it easy to do that—nor do they seem to have a workable version of any other kind of "discoverability", unfortunately. Ah well.) Verma's album Salted Earth might be their best, and the liner notes they give you are definitely wonderful and worth reading.

Unsurprisingly, there was also plenty of Blue Öyster Cult in my year. I saw them for the first time and often went to bed to weirdo 80s stew Revölution by Night. Three of their best second-tier songs ("Shadow of California", "Shooting Shark" and "Take Me Away") with a couple of their worst-by-far ("Feel the Thunder" and "Let Go") with a fair bit of occasionally enjoyable filler, it was somehow an easy record to reach for, especially at bedtime.

As I was experimenting with my turntable, a couple Fucked Up records landed. I was completely "meh" on Glass Boys, including the not-as-gimmicky-as-it-sounds version with half-time drums—even that mild innovation left the songs sounding like forgettable outtakes rightfully clipped off of better, earlier albums—and thoroughly baffled by "Year of the Hare", but "California Cold" might be the single best song I have heard by the band.

Early in fall, I put myself on a no-buying-things diet, which I immediately broke to order Kowloon Walled City's new one, Grievances. I had just seen the band at the Hemlock, and the songs I had liked before had turned into songs I loved. The record is by far my record of the year. Nothing else sounded like this album, nothing else resonated like these songs. Where earlier KWC records seemed devoted to the art of unpleasant, unsettling riffs, this one creates entire landscapes of attenuated anxiety; the riffs are still there, and they hit as hard as ever, but now they embody and evoke a pained kind of endurance, in an aural space that's beautiful and devoted to pain in equal measure. For me, the best example is the title song, which was by a lot the year's best payoff to a hell of a setup.

That sustained me through the very end of the year. But in the last fortnight of 2015, some doors opened up and some air blew in. I was exposed to Okkervil River, and liked it immensely. (Sad that it took me 10 years to come around, but whatever.) "Black Sheep Boy", "Black", and "Westfall" made immediate impacts on me, with great pop melodies and spookier-than-I-expected lyrics. Very much the followup to Neutral Milk Hotel that I'd been needing for a long time.

And two great punk albums came in to abrade my ears a little bit, after two years of a lot of thick, dark gunk (Abstracter, Windhand, Solar Halos, Shooting Guns, etc.). G.L.O.S.S. made as great a punk record as everybody said, and sometimes you need a wonderful punk record to listen to. And Super Unison released a smash hit called "Photorealism" and a self-titled ep that got better every time I listened to it. High-energy and scathing, great music for breaking out of ruts and remembering to tell the cops inside and around us to get up against the wall.

Finally, Lemmy died. I pulled out Motörhead's No Sleep 'til Hammersmith, and for the fourth time in my life, nothing made more sense than Motörhead. Like when I was 16, buying a weird cassette at a truck stop on a Greyhound trip, and falling a little in love with pop numbers like "Dancing on Your Grave" and gruff filler like "Back on the Funny Farm" and world-historically great blues songs like "Killed by Death". Like when I was 24, feeling completely alone in the world and in a new town, and Lemmy growled from stage "don't forget about rock 'n' roll, man, it hasn't forgotten about you". Like when I was a couple years older, in the same town, but alone again, and the lyrics of "Stay Clean" were as true and important as any music ever would be. I wouldn't fetishize the man—caring about women and Jews make that impossible—but the songs can still work and remind us that the good past and the bad alike live on in our days. There's promise there, and responsibility.

—Fat, tired

P.S.: on consumption. I bought everything on this list except: Sleaford Mods, which I streamed until I decided I didn't like it enough to buy; "Salted Earth", which was a free download; Okkervil River (streaming on Spotify for now, paid to see them live); G.L.O.S.S. and Super Unison (streaming on Bandcamp for now). The Motörhead and BŐC albums I bought used, but I have paid to see both bands.