Month: October 2004

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Scary Things on the Web

(Soundtrack: Hole — My Body, The Hand Grenade)




First of all, make sure to be there for the fateful finale of Rick Geerling’s All-Hallow’s month blogging (my only regret is that all I contributed was a pair of lists–ah well!)

For your convenience, Eric Olsen has compiled a comprehensive index to all of the seasonal blogging going on at Blogcritics.

The wondrous Eve Tushnet links (somewhat disapprovingly) to a very interesting critique of Donnie Darko (which I finally saw two nights ago!) by Jim Emerson. I think Eve is right to criticize the “pop-Freudianism” of the piece, but it’s still well worth your time–meanwhile, I’m thinking very hard about DD as some kind of hellfired version of Harvey (“I wrestled reality for 28 days, and I’m happy to say I won out over it!”), and who knows? Something may come of it! Oh yeah, and, strangely enough, there’s an excerpted scene on the DD DVD that covers almost exactly the same animals/language/consciousness/Watership Down ground that I went over earlier this week in my posts on We3…very strange…

Not scary (except in a “so good it’s scary” kind of way), but very important, is the new issue of Indy Magazine, which features articles by Henry James and Marc Singer!

But here’s the scariest thing of all! Forget about the Jerry Bruckheimer interpretation of world politics that this insipid collage asks us to buy into (which is disgusting enough), just try to comment and see what happens! Apparently, everything I had to say in response to the piece was deemed “offensive” by the comments-censor. I assure you that was not the case:

“With enemies like these, who needs friends? Or a sane domestic policy?”


The only offensive thing about that is that it’s true.

Anyway, FUCK YOU American Digest–for your sake (to paraphrase Grant Morrison), I really hope there is a hell!

Happy Hallowe’en Friends!
Dave

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My 101 Favourite Anglo-American Narratives
(Soundtrack: The Clash — Sandinista!)

Inspired by the comments thread from a couple of days ago, the appearance of yet another lyrically-biased Greatest Comics List (Don’t get me wrong, it seems like a great list Tom, and I appreciate lyricism too–my love for Keats’ Odes & O’Hara’s “lunch poems” knows no bounds!–but still, lyricism is not storytelling–and neither, from what I’ve seen, is Krazy Kat!) and the fact that I’m too tired to do anything else!

In no particular order then:

1. The Blithedale Romance–Nathaniel Hawthorne

2. It’s A Wonderful Life–Frank Capra


3. Pierre; or, the Ambiguities–Herman Melville

4. Paradise Lost–John Milton

5. The Wings of the Dove–Henry James

6. The Pickwick Papers–Charles Dickens

7. Middlemarch–George Eliot

8. Red Harvest–Dashiell Hammett

9. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp–Powell & Pressburger

10. Animal Man–Morrison, Truog, Grummett, Cullins

11. Portrait of Jennie(film, not the book!)–William Dieterle

12. Shadow of a Doubt–Alfred Hitchcock

13. “Hills Like White Elephants” — Ernest Hemingway

14. “The Gioconda Smile” — Aldous Huxley

15. Wuthering Heights–Emily Bronte + film (William Wyler)

16. Bleak House–Charles Dickens

17. Lost in Translation–Sophia Coppola

18. Stage Door–Gregory LaCava

19. Alice Adams–George Stevens

20. Moonrise–Frank Borzage

21. The Merry Marvel Metatext, 1961-c.1990–Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Gene Colan, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Ross Andru, John Buscema, Mark Gruenwald, Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Peter David, and many, many friends (some of whom were more helpful than others…)

22. Little Dorrit–Charles Dickens

23. Dance Night–Dawn Powell

24. Of Time and the River–Thomas Wolfe

25. The Great Gatsby–F. Scott Fitzgerald

26. Minnie and Moskowitz–John Cassavettes

27. The Bitter Tea of General Yen–Frank Capra


28. Vertigo–Alfred Hitchcock

29. The Sun Also Rises–Ernest Hemingway


30. The Ambassadors–Henry James


31. Heart of Darkness–Joseph Conrad


32. Cane–Jean Toomer


33. Winesburg, Ohio–Sherwood Anderson

34. The Turn of the Screw–Henry James

35. The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade–Herman Melville

36. The Eve of St. Agnes–John Keats

37. The Filth–Grant Morrison and Chris Weston

38. Hamlet–William Shakespeare


39. The Portrait of a Lady–Henry James

40 “Young Goodman Brown”–Nathaniel Hawthorne

41. The Devil and Daniel Webster (film)–William Dieterle

42. Punch-Drunk Love–P.T.Anderson


43. The Marble Faun–Nathaniel Hawthorne

44. Goblin Market–Christina Rosetti

45. Modern Love–George Meredith

46. A Christmas Carol–Charles Dickens

47. Maud: A Monodrama–Alfred Tennyson

48. The Miracle Woman–Frank Capra

49. After Hours–Martin Scorsese

50. The Sacred Fount–Henry James

51. Turn, Magic Wheel–Dawn Powell

52. The Glass Key–Dashiell Hammett

53. The Maltese Falcon–Dashiell Hammett + film (John Huston)

54. Three Strangers–Jean Negulesco

55. Cerebus (up until the end of Melmoth–I have no information concerning the rest of it)–Dave Sim & Gerhard

56. The Long Goodbye–Raymond Chandler

57. Miss Lonelyhearts–Nathaneal West

58. The Moviegoer–Walker Percy

59. You Can’t Go Home Again–Thomas Wolfe

60. Meet John Doe–Frank Capra

61. Watchmen–Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

62. Strange Cargo–Frank Borzage

63. Citizen Kane–Orson Welles

64. Juarez–William Dieterle

65. Native Son–Richard Wright

66. Little Women–Louisa May Alcott + film (Gilliam Armstrong)

67. Locas–Jaime Hernandez

68. Peanuts–Charles Schulz

69. Oracle Night–Paul Auster

70. Mildred Pierce–Michael Curtiz (not book!)

71. These Three–William Wyler

72. Woman Under the Influence–John Cassavettes

73. Georgia–Ulu Grosbard

74. Stella Dallas–King Vidor

75. Holiday–George Cukor

76. The Scarlet Letter–Nathaniel Hawthorne (not film–they all suck!)

77. I Know Where I’m Going–Powell & Pressburger

78. Show Boat–James Whale

79. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers–Lewis Milestone

80. What Maisie Knew–Henry James

81. Amours De Voyage-Arthur Clough

82. The Thin Man–Dashiell Hammett (not film! although it is fun…)

83. Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle–Alan Rudolph

84. Three Comrades–Frank Borzage

85. The Royal Tenenbaums–Wes Anderson

86. The Strawberry Blonde–Raoul Walsh

87. Great Expectations–Charles Dickens + film (Alfonso Cuaron)

88. The Long Night–Anatole Litvak

89. A Tale of Two Cities–Charles Dickens + film (1958;Ralph Thomas)

90. The King James Bible–“God’s Secretaries”

91. Sullivan’s Travels–Preston Struges

92. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–Michel Gondry

93. “The Killers”–Ernest Hemingway + film (Robert Siodmak)

94. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn–Elia Kazan

95. The Roaring Twenties–Raoul Walsh

96. In a Lonely Place–Nicholas Ray

97. Love Letters–William Dieterle

98. Murder, My Sweet–Edward Dmytryk

99. My Man Godfrey–Gregory LaCava

100. Kings Row–Sam Wood

101. Mulholland Drive–David Lynch

Good Afternoon Friends!
Dave

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Rabbit! Run! Rabbit! Redux…

I thought I’d cut and paste a couple of things I posted in Jog’s comment-thread, just to keep all of my We3 thoughts in one place:

I actually tried not to include any real spoilers in my We3 post yesterday, but since you’ve touched on several plot points in the body of the text here, I thought I’d drop a thought or two in this space!

The major thematic aim of issue #2 seems to have been to dramatize a kind of transvaluation of values in Bandit’s mind–to the point where that one act, pulling the dead guy out of the water, goes from being “good” to “bad” (and, of course, the corollary of this is Pirate’s continued reliance upon human “bosses” for help with her/his tail–after Bandit and Tinker have ignored his/her pleas…)

Clearly, this crew (or what’s left of it) now understands that, though human beings may have imparted the idea of a moral code to them, they can no longer trust “The Man” to provide the content of that code!

Jog replied:

Interesting stuff Dave – I have to admit I find myself wondering why Bandit seems to be the only one concerned about the consequences of his actions (albeit on a very simple level, like killing scared people = bad). Perhaps the other two were left more to their own devices in their prior life and never developed Bandit’s moral sense?

To which I responded:


I think that when Bandit says “Bad Dog”, he’s referring to his failure to pay attention to Pirate, rather than to the hunters or train passengers that he’s killed–but, obviously, there are several ways to interpret these basic conversations…



on the indifference of Tinker and Pirate to moral issues: well, I think Pirate’s concern for “friendship” has to count as moral thought–certainly a rabbit’s main concern in the wild is to determine whether other animals want to eat them or not (i.e. whether they are friends or foes), but it’s not part of the normal course of things for a rabbit to play peacemaker between two other creatures (thus universalizing the question of friendship!)

on Tinker: well, I think s/he’s decided that all moral thought stinks of The Man (sort of the way a certain type of activist will claim that “the alphabet” brought destruction upon the human race by creating the necessary preconditions for hierarchies of expertise–there’s some truth to it, but there’s a lot left unsaid there!)



Jog’s review is excellent by way. So is Ian’s!


Okay–time to go deliver my presentation on Mark Twain!


Good Evening Friends!
Dave

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And what can ail the mastiff bitch?

(Soundtrack: Silverchair — Frogstomp)




Just read Morrison & Quitely’s We3 #2, and, while it’s hard to comment on a work in progress, I can’t very well keep quiet about it either!

Let me tell ya, this is definitely not a “feelgood” series… One of the defining moments of my childhood was going into an emotional coma after seeing Watership Down on television long before I was “prepared” to see the “battle of life” dramatized in so unsentimental a fashion. Something very similar happened, around the same time, when I was forced to sit there and watch the animals being frozen by the witch in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (I know, they are eventually saved, but I was long gone by then!) I suppose it didn’t help that I grew up in an anarchic household characterized by an almost fatalistic succession of feline appearances and disappearances… I was pretty well situated to see that, for good or for ill, animals’ lives are in our hands…


I happen to think this is a good thing! I’m not one of these wildlife fetishists that has a problem with pet ownership, or “domestication”. My reasoning on this subject is of a piece with my other political commitments. I’m dedicated to the concept of the “improbably human”. I don’t believe, with Rousseau, that humans are “born free”, or noble, or good. At the root, we’re just here to spill blood, milk and semen, like the rest of the creatures we share the globe with. And yet, somehow, we got the idea that there’s more to life than biological imperatives (although many would disagree with me–including this assholehunting is “natural” and therefore just like a loving sexual relationship? how’d you like to be involved with that guy, hunh?). It started with the first word. The first concept. The first time someone noticed the difference between “is” and “ought”.

Grant Morrison has called this series a story of “meat and motion”, and some critics have lauded the creators for refraining from “anthropomorphizing” the protagonists of We3. To the first comment, I say: Grant, stick to prognosticating about the endtimes–you’ve never said anything helpful about your own work; and to the second, I say, if having animals speak (and think about whether they are “good” or “bad”) isn’t anthropomorphizing them, I don’t know what is! And that brings us to another issue–“domestication” is anthropomorphization. I may not have turned my cats into humans, but I’ve done my best to raise them as people. No, they don’t speak. But they do understand words, and they also know that there are things that they should and should not do. Now, Dashiell and Simpson are a long way from mastering the Kantian Critiques, but one thing they do understand is “friendship”. I know they understand it, because I see the looks on their faces when they fail to live up to the ideal by giving in to biology and losing their tempers with each other or me!


Anyway, that’s where I think this series is going. Yes, “home” is the goal. And the soldiers of all species are the superficial obstacles. But, as always with Grant Morrison, this is a story about relationships and “counsels of perfection” (not just Bandit’s concern for “the good”, but Pirate’s notion of “friendship”–and, before you say it, please note that Tinker understands these concepts…understanding is not the same thing as paying heed!). Of course, as humans, we have good and bad lessons to teach animals–and We3 unleashes the full chiaroscuro effect of “anthropomorphization”.

It goes without saying that my interest in narrative trumps all other aesthetic considerations (which is why I find this kind of list so alienating–forget about the fact that I don’t believe in “Top 100’s” in the first place… all I’m saying is that, if I did believe in them, I wouldn’t ghettoize the media into novels/films/comics, I’d make it a “top 100 narratives”, and TomAnimal Man and The Filth would be on it!!!). And yet, I do appreciate the specific opportunities that diverse media offer to creators (I just don’t believe in “grading” works of art on technique. that’s microcriticism, as far as I’m concerned!) Case in point–We3 #2 pages five, six, and seven. As Jim Henley and I discussed in a comment thread several months ago, one of the greatest things about comics is their unparalleled capacity to convey (rather than merely suggest) simultaneity. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved the ol’ Cockrum “time becomes visible to the naked eye” splash in Giant-Size Avengers #2 (would someone do the world a favour and scan that thing onto the web? please?) In these pages, Morrison and Quitely have built a tragic “Wall of Violence” that could not have been assembled out of any other materials, and I tip my hat to them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some weeping to do!

Good Evening Friends!
Dave

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No Holds Beard!

I’m hard at work right now (well, okay, not right now…but, in about two minutes, I will be again!) on a presentation on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court-about which I must say that I was less impressed by the narrative than by the hundreds of illustrations (by Daniel C. Beard) that accompany it… (I generally like Twain–although not as much as Ernest Hemingway did!–but this is pure satire, and it’s not my thing at all…still, it’s fun to think about, now that I’ve slogged through it…)



Anyway, here’s a site devoted to the artist’s work… I don’t know about you, but I think some of it looks very proto-Dave Simian…

Good Afternoon Friends!
Dave

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Enter: Spurgeon

(Soundtrack: Ella Fitzgerald — The Jerome Kern Songbook)

I like the looks of Tom Spurgeon’s brand-new Comics Reporter site… I certainly haven’t always agreed with the man–in the early (pre-formatting!)days of this blog, I came out pretty aggressively against Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, but, in retrospect, I think I can admit that this was more because the book didn’t give me what I wanted than because of any actual weaknesses in the study itself, as conceived by its authors (it is certainly well-researched!) Yes, I wanted more close-reading, and a look at the possible influence of melodramas like Kings Row on Stan himself, but I don’t suppose that it was terribly fair of me to demand that Spurgeon & Raphael write the book that I would’ve written!

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed interacting with Tom on messageboards and comment-threads, and his accession to a web-fief of his own cannot help but redound to the benefit of the online comics kingdom! He’s off to a flying start–I particularly enjoyed his Numarvel piece… I think he’s absolutely right, by the way (although, to be fair, I’ve hardly made a dent in Morrison’s X-Saga, nor his JLA–which is relevant to this particular discussion–for that matter…it just doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as interesting as most of his other stuff, but I’ll get through it someday, as long as I don’t have to buy it!)–it is (was) part of the charm of Marvel narratives that they do, inevitably, run in circles…

The way I see it, the best “corporate continuity” storytelling is just Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance and Melville’s Pierre; or, the Ambiguities revisited–artificially extended through time by the magic of “dynamic stasis”, which generates incredible existential pressures! (and this is the aspect of these comics that I’m interested in) However, any move forward in this context will trigger the catastrophe that looms at the end of these narrative tunnels. There’s no light out there Dirk! The problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that the “catastrophe” has already happened–back in the early nineties, when the writers lost control of the metatext and the circle was broken… That’s why even Grant Morrison falls into the “nostalgia trap” when he works on the iconic characters–the supply lines have been cut.

So yeah, I agree with Tom that the Marvel Universe is basically an undead monster, and that (contra Dirk Deppey) there’s no way for editorial to resuscitate it–although, as is my wont, I find support for my argument in the texts, rather than outside of them…

Still, given my position on these matters, isn’t it funny that I’ve acquired a reputation as a Big Two apologist? I don’t get it at all!

Good Night Friends!
Dave

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Amour Fou

(Soundtrack: Red Aunts — #1 Chicken)





Holy mackerel! I just saw Leos Carax’s Amants Du Pont-Neuf (also saw a special presentation of Milestone’s Hallelujah I’m A Bum yesterday, but more on that one later…)–what an amazingly demented film! As many have noted, particularly the perceptive featured-reviewer on the movie’s IMDB page, this is the old tribute-to-classic-Hollywood-with-a-difference routine–but what a difference! More than anything, I’d say Carax’s work is a sort of revisionist take on Borzage–the master of the “love triumphs over all obstacles” school. What happens, the director appears to be wondering, when love is the obstacle?

The film opens with a bone-crunchingly disturbing “meet-cute” situation, as one-eyed artist Michele (played by Juliette Binoche, whom I’ve never particularly liked–but she’s perfect in this one!) finds drug-addled fire-eater Alex passed out on a busy Paris street, right after a car has run over his foot. Suddenly, a French paddy-wagon pulls up and carts them off to some kind of drunk-tank. Carax turns this harrowing bus ride into a nightmare version of the “Man on the Flying Trapeze” sequence in It Happened One Night, another really important inspiration for this transient-romance. Unlike in Capra’s film, the “singing” (well, wailing) in this scene plays up the lack of community amongst this group of wayfarers, and this sets the tone for the rest of the film. Later on, we find out that Michele has drawn a sketch of Alex, and this provides the pretext for their rapprochement, once they both wind up back at the street performer’s roost on the Pont-Neuf, which is under renovation and closed to all law-abiding citizens.


Inevitably, a romance blooms, presided over by aggressive, cynical, dope-dispensing Hans, the other resident of the bridge, who poses (very badly) as a mentor-figure to the two youngsters. Just as in It Happened One Night, this pair work overtime contriving artificial means of staying together, and, as in most Borzage films, they basically “live on love”–and the fruits of their furious passion. However, Carax departs markedly from these earlier romances by emphasizing the destructive nature of their love. They may have “found each other” and “formed a country of two”, but they very clearly stand in a position of “new hostility” vis-a-vis society at large. At the midpoint of the film, they perform a drunken, gun-blasting ballet, against the backdrop of (actually, more like “besieged by”) a summer fireworks festival. And this is the mildest of their adventures. Most of the rest of them result in the maiming, drugging, or murder of various innocent Parisian bystanders…

This last event occurs when Alex attempts to prevent an afficheur (entrusted with a “missing” poster that threatens the relationship with the promise of the restoration of Michele’s sight, which has been deteriorating throughout their stay on the bridge) from making his appointed rounds. Naturally, Alex, like any romantic-comedy hero (think Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby), has to find a way keep his beloved near at hand. Unlike any of his predecessors that I can think of, he resorts to arson–burning every poster he can find, and then the glueman himself!

Sadly for Alex, it’s all in vain, since the medical clarion call reaches Michele anyway, through their crusty transistor radio. Again, this is an old-time melodrama situation (will she regain her sight? she hardly dares to hope!), with the twist that, somehow, we are sure the doctors will succeed in their mission, if only she can get out of her lover’s clutches in time! Sick!

She manages the trick by drugging his wine, leaving him a note informing him that she never really loved him and instructing him to forget her. She says nothing about shooting a hole through the palm of his hand, but that’s what he chooses to do instead. Then he just lies there until the police come to arrest him for the manslaughter of the sign-guy.

Two years later, she comes to see him in prison, and, despite his initial reticence, they fall deeply into conversation and their accustomed romantic reverie. He’s got less than a year left on his sentence, and they agree to meet on the bridge when he gets out, on Christmas Eve (sounds like Love Affair no?). When they do, on a beautiful snowy night, they are forced to share the fully refurbished bridge with the rest of the world, and it’s pretty hard to watch the scene in which they come together in the midst of all the traffic. Only the magic of movie-love keeps them safe, because they aren’t even looking one way, let alone the proverbial “both ways” that your mother told you about! They break out the booze, and there’s a Cassavettesesque extended mild-joke-and-wildly-overreactive-laughter scene that is both exhilarating and cringe-inducing, after which she declares that she has to go and he realizes that she’s living with some other guy. He screams “mensonge” and lunges at her, sending them both hurtling off of the bridge. I was all set for a double-suicide finale, but no! Somehow, the cold water–or maybe it’s just being away from the bridge, which is both a love-nest and a self-policed concentration (on each other) camp for two in this film–restores them to some semblance of sanity, and they rise to the surface…



They are rescued by a garbage scow helmed by an old married couple on their final tour of duty. The young lovers decide to ride it out with them–and, for the first time, their connection with each other seems to put them into sync, rather than out of it, with others. This scene is very reminiscent of scenes in Minnelli’s The Clock, which continually forces painfully shy war-time lovers Judy Garland and Robert Walker into close and increasingly amicable quarters with various late-night urban types, most notably James Gleason, as the old milkman. And so, as the boat scuds away from the bridge-to-nowhere, these two people are finally primed to begin their love-affair with the whole wide world!

Pretty damn good!

Good Night Friends!
Dave