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high blood pressure

My mother-in-law was what you might call a passive suicide. She found out she had cancer at a relatively young age; she consciously decided not to do anything about it; a few years later, she died from the cancer. There is, apparently, more than one way to kill yourself.

My blood pressure as I type this is 160/100.


the deep end

The Deep End is melodrama, and that might be all you need to know in order to decide not to see it. But it's a pretty good movie; only a couple of the necessary plot twists are too clunky, and the gradual building of, not suspense exactly but interest in what might happen next works well. Ultimately, though, what you've got is Tilda Swinton. Swinton's been in a lot of weird movies, like Orlando where her character lived 400 years and changed genders every so often, and Female Perversions, based on a non-fiction book of feminist theory, where Swinton had hot sex with Karen Sillas that was a match for what you see in Mulholland Drive. The Deep End isn't weird, but by now when we see Swinton we assume weird; between the baggage she brings from her earlier movies and her oft-noted skin tones, she's like a high-end European version of Rose McGowan (if McGowan were about 8 inches taller). Swinton is the main reason to see this movie; ok, Swinton and that Croatian hunk from ER. I give it a 7 on a scale of 10; for comparison purposes, I gave an 8 to Rosemary's Baby and a 6 to Arlington Road.


return of radio MX

I told it to play music with The Housemartins as the core. I got:

"Five Get Over Excited" by the Housemartins, Depeche Mode "Blasphemous Rumours," "Single Serving Jack" by the Dust Brothers, New Order "Temptation" (my fave song, but this was the remixed Greatest Hits version, oh well), Jamiroquai with "Where Do We Go From Here," "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" by the Smiths, "The Answer" by Bad Religion, and ABC "The Look of Love."


blade runner

I've seen Blade Runner many, many times. It may hold the record for Most Times Steven Has Seen a Movie He Doesn't Actually Like. I watched it again last night, and I'm feeling a little kinder towards it this time around; I've adjusted my IMDB rating from 4 to 6 on a scale of 10. Like most people, I admire the look of the film. I don't know that I appreciate the look as much as others; while I admit it was very influential on the look of subsequent movies, its style-over-substance nature has also been influential, and I don't think that's a good thing. And, again like most people, I am intrigued by the subject matter (what is human?).

That's about it for the things I like. As for what I don't like, well, first off, I'm one of those obnoxious Philip K. Dick fans. Now I'm aware that Dick said he liked the movie. He was also a raving lunatic by the time he said this, so I don't know how seriously we can take him. I'll say this: there is a lot more going on in the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? than shows up in the movie (and yes, I know that's the standard complaint of book lovers, but it's true here). The most important missing element in the movie is "Mercerism," a semi-religion that is v.important in the book's philosophy. In any event, I don't think Blade Runner does a good job of getting at much essential Dickworld. For me, the best example of that world on film remains the scene in Total Recall when the bad guys try to convince Arnold in the hotel room that he is actually sitting back home in a chair enjoying a virtual, rather than real, experience.

As for the non-Dickian aspects of the movie, well, if you've heard from the legions of Blade Runner fans what a classic it is, you'll likely be surprised on first viewing to find out that it's kinda boring. Apparently to help make the point that the emotional lives of humans and replicants are too similar to tell apart, director Ridley Scott instructs the actors playing humans (or supposed humans) to underplay, to make them seem more mechanical, then lets King of the Replicants Rutger Hauer overact oddly, as if he was a leftover from Kubrick's Clockwork Orange (another so-called classic with crappy acting from everyone not named Malcolm McDowell). I guess Hauer's bogus emoting is supposed to make him seem more human than the humans, but this is only true if humans are scenery-chewers.

Ultimately, it's hard to care about any of the characters in the film. I suppose that could be one of the "points" it's trying to make; I suspect it's more what happens when you cast dull-as-nails Sean Young in a leading role. Again, I'm aware that this distancing-from-humanity feel could be on purpose. That doesn't make it any more enjoyable. The movie gets everything right except the people. As usual, Pauline Kael hit it on the head: "It hasn't been thought out in human terms. If anybody comes around with a test to detect humanoids, maybe Ridley Scott and his associates should hide."


me and charlie and david lynch: epilogue

Without Charlie, I would never have worked through my thoughts on David Lynch et al. This thread has been mostly about me ... it is my blog, after all ... but it grows out of two things. First, there's what I said about Charlie less than twelve hours ago: "He is a true and good friend, and he is this to all of the people who call him friend." He brings out the best in people. But there's also what Charlie said earlier in the conversation. It's a comment worthy of someone's .sig file; it tells anyone out there who has never met Charlie Bertsch just what kind of person he is:

"I just think that good criticism puts out the welcome mat."


me and charlie and david lynch: part five

Here's the thing for me: the kinds of arguments I have with David Lynch fans, I don't have with fans of, what, "Lynchian" music, because I don't listen to that music in the first place, so I have nothing to argue about. I may prefer straightforward mainstream-ish movies, but I'll watch pretty much anything; it's only two hours out of my life, even if it stinks (well, these days it's more like three hours out of my life, but you get the point). But when it comes to music, I like words and guitar. My taste for electronic-influenced pop music doesn't extend much beyond Another Green World. When I hear electronic music and like it, it's always because of the beat; outside of that, I don't get it. And I'm sucked into icons and imagery in music, too. I don't care about where Naomi Watts fits on the cultural landscape, I just care about her as an actress (or a naked body). But Pink ... now SHE interests me, and it's only partly because I like her albums. I want to know what Pink means, and that kind of meaning falls under cultural studies, not musicology. (In fact, though, Pink's confessional lyrics win me over, which means I'm more of a sucker for good lyrics than I admit to.)

As an academic, I've never gotten past the ex-steelworker phase: audodidact till I die, fuck em if they can't take a joke. I'm simultaneously drawn to trash and, in my class-based insecurities (class-based even though I was raised middle-class and am now middle-class; I spent ten formative years in the working-class), fearful that I don't really get anything that isn't trash. So I study and teach pop culture. Music is something that has nurtured me my entire life; it pre-exists my understanding that criticism was out there, and I feel comfortable with it. Combine this with the fact that most of the critics who influenced me as an academic were, in fact, rock critics ... I'm a child of Greil and Lester, not of Jameson and Butler ... and I am not fearful of expressing myself on music. Meanwhile, there's movies. I've been watching them my whole life. My film major days, which were ironically at a junior college, in comparison to my literary studies at the prestigious Cal, were firmly based in the canon and were pretty traditional, so while I have never read Milton despite my English Ph.D., I've seen gobs of silent movies from the Ukraine. So again, I'm confident when I think and write about movies, because I've got a proper educational background AND personal experience.

Somewhere in the above paragraph, I could probably extract a useful understanding of why I approach literature, music, movies, and pop culture in the different ways that I do. Instead I'll finally end this lengthy discussion cum monologue.


me and charlie and david lynch: part four

I welcome ambiguity a lot more in music than in what you might call the narrative arts. I know no music theory; I don't have the slightest idea how music is put together if we're talking about breaking it down on the level of the note. As an English Ph.D., I of course know how to break apart texts based on words, but I generally resist doing this for music. I never like teaching lyrics as poetry, that's one manifestation of this, but there's more. When a movie or a novel or a television program affects me viscerally, I can generally reconstruct the effect after the fact by using my training as an analyst. Music ... I can't do it. I know what the camera work in Max Ophuls' movies does, but I can't put into words the feeling I get listening to Duane and Dicky playing together on Allman Brothers at Fillmore East. I can and have written eloquently on the meaning of S-K's "Youth Decay" based on a reading of the lyrics and a contextual placement of the lyrics and the band into my world. But what really gets me in that song is the astounding rush of the three musicians focusing their playing into one big arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr at the end of the song; words fail me. At those points, I am welcoming ambiguity.

And it's v.rare for me to get that feeling at movies. I'm too tied to narrative. You know, back when I was a film major, almost 30 years ago now, my first film was a decent one, it got some positive feedback. This was in 1973 ... past the sixties, but influenced by the sixties, so film students were still into that mode of making experimental films ... maybe they still are, I don't know ... anyway, I still remember what my film professor told me after watching my movie. He said it was very good, and that it was "old-fashioned." I told a story; I was hooked on narrative, not as something to examine and play with, but as what I wanted out of a movie. I shot it silent and added music later, so there was no dialogue; I had to tell the story solely via images. And there was one image in particular that stood out, when a huge pair of scissors appeared and cut a photo down the middle, the photo being of a family (Robin's family, actually), the movie being about the wife/mother of that family making a post-divorce life for herself. So even as an "artist" I wasn't immune to visceral reactions, but it served a straightforward narrative. I seem to demand this from film makers; I prefer Boogie Nights to Mulholland Drive. But I don't demand narrative from musicians, I don't know what the point of narrative in music would be.