Month: November 2004


Subtext? What’s Subtext?

The latest issue of one of my home-town alternative weeklies features a jokey interview with Phil Jimenez. There’s nothing too exciting in there, but I thought I’d bring it to your attention anyway.

Here’s an example of what I dislike about the piece:

[Jimenez asks, rhetorically:]Why isn’t Batman bi? This is part of a constant need by people in their 30s and 40s to apply complex sexual and emotional ideas upon these characters. Batman was not designed to talk about man/boy love, he was designed to beat up bad guys. There have been some wonderful adult comic book treatments of these ideas, but I would ask how much further we need to deconstruct these characters. What needs are we fulfilling when we mix childhood fantasy with real-world concerns? Anyway, so long as Time-Warner owns them, we will never see Batman go down on Robin.

They even pull out the old “politics and ‘sexual stuff’ cannot be incorporated into a superhero narrative” chestnut! Uh…sorry, but politics and “sexual stuff” are part of every narrative. For exhibit “A” of what happens when you try to pretend that this isn’t the case, see Kingdom Come.

Whilst reading various KC/Incredibles discussions over the weekend, I was struck, once again, by the artificial barriers people take such pains to erect between “story”/”entertainment” and “subtext”. Now, I have nothing specific to say about The Incredibles, because I haven’t seen the film and don’t plan to anytime soon, but I do think it’s odd that anyone would insist upon either “enjoying” the film or “analyzing” it. You see this all the time though: “Oh, it was great entertainment, but if you start to think about it, it’ll make you sick!” [In a hushed voice] “It’s Nietzschean…” (or Randian, or fascist, or whatever) Well, you know what? It doesn’t become Nietzschean just because you decided to pay attention to this fact. It already was (unless you don’t know what you’re talking about–in which case it probably wasn’t). And you enjoyed it! So what does that say about you? Well nothing of course! Oh, I guess it means that you were capable of being “entertained” by a piece that participates in an objectionable philosophical discourse. But so what? Is that such a terrible thing to learn about yourself? I think Plato is an extremely dangerous thinker. But I still love reading the Dialogues! There’s a lot to object to/think about in any text (even Emerson! even Amazing Spider-Man!), and you don’t have to go spelunking for it either–it’s all right there on the surface! There’s no such thing as subtext.

Good afternoon friends!




Building The Sepulchres of the Fathers

(Soundtrack: Rage Against the Machine– Evil Empire)

The conversation on the “Giant-Size Avengers #2” thread on The Pop Culture Bored has switched over to pretty much all-Kingdom Come all the time, beginning with this Scott Tipton post…

I’ve been pushing an interpretation of the book as a participant in the Machiavellian Republican tradition (a good place to begin reading about this tradition, and its place in American historiography, is J.G.A. Pocock’s massive The Machiavellian Moment)… The cornerstone of my argument is my perception that “stability” is presented as a good in itself in this text. As far as I can see, Waid/Ross argue that power/sovereignty is to be used, primarily, to safeguard precarious (republican) balances against the historical process, which is always seen as degenerative… Thus, “character”/”virtue” is seen as the only bulwark against catastrophe/anarchy.

As a corollary of this argument, I’ve begun feeling my way toward an interpretation that places Squadron Supreme in the opposite historiographical camp. There is an ongoing debate, amongst scholars of the period, about the exact nature of American Revolutionary discourse. On the one hand, you’ve got Pocock, Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, etc., who insist that the revolution was a “conservative” movement, intended only to preserve rights, and to create a state that would resist “corruption”. These theorists have come under fire from people like Joyce Appleby and Isaac Kramnick, who argue that the uprising was a more open-ended affair: an invitation to “permanent revolution”. Of course, both sides can find historical evidence for their interpretations, and it seems to me that, back then, just as now, there were people making making use of both idea-sets, sometimes simultaneously. The important thing, though, is to recognize that the positions are distinct. The “cult of the founders” is a different thing from the kind of American millenialism that I associate with figures such as Emerson and Whitman. And I’m not interested in “Americanism” that isn’t, at bottom, universalist, and dedicated to eternal progress/redress of inequalities on a world scale (and that includes, of course, justice to animals!)

Anyway, Squadron Supreme fascinates me because that book is about the dificulties that proponents of radical change must confront. That’s all I care about, politically. Our age, like Emerson’s, may be “retrospective”, and Kingdom Come certainly reflects this (just as the recent results at the polls do–on Presidents and “Proposals”), but that’s not good enough for me (nor was it good enough for Emerson)! The world is FAR too fucked up for us to look back upon our “fathers” with anything but regret. There’s no need to judge dead people. And understanding is always a virtue–but anyone who puts the past on a pedestal is also condemning most of the world to the gallows.

Good night friends!



I Got Yer “Print Moment” Right Here Warren (too bad I couldn’t find a better image on the net! It’s from Avengers #66, and it’s by Roy Thomas and Barry [Windsor]-Smith)

(Soundtrack: Spectropop’s Girl Pop)

Just checking in to direct your attention to a really fun discussion (initiated by Abhay Khosla) about silver/bronze age comics storytelling on The Pop Culture Message Bored (which is more like a group culture blog than a messageboard, and that’s a compliment!)… Ian Brill has also made some essential contributions, and, of course, I’ve added my own 12-15-20-and-25 cents’ worth! The discussion so far has dwelled upon the inadequacies of Warren Ellis’ recent distinction between modern and archaic superhero narratives, specifically on the question of the importance of “plot” to Silver/Bronze Age storytelling… (not that Ellis’ piece isn’t interesting! And I’m pleased to see him bringing Phil Spector into a discussion of page-by-page storytelling innovation–I tried to do precisely the same thing a couple of weeks back, when I described certain Quitely layouts in We3 as “walls of violence”… “immense presence of information” is right!)

Anyway, I’ve used up all of my blogging time now, but it was worth it!

Good afternoon friends!



Let’s Keep Talking About Mulholland Drive, Shall We?

Commenter-Charles had some interesting things to say about the film (and I hope you enjoy the Flak tracks Charles!):

I love MH, and wrote a synopsis of its structure back when it came out on dvd for some friends. There’s 2 schools of thought on Lynch, that he’s a irrationalist (an image that he tries to spread in his popular interviews) and that he’s quite rational (but a certain type, namely one who doesn’t provide answers before the question). I believe his narratives are too tightly structured to place him in the former category, as MH demonstrates (contrary to the outlook of, say, Martha Nochimson). Your dream within a dream scenario points to what I see as Lynch’s dismantling of the Hollywood dream while still using film’s oneiric qualities (what’s Reason to do when it falls through the rabbit hole? The only rational thing it can, adapt). There’s too many specific connections between the earlier dream sequence and the later reality sequence and the embedded flashback sequences (e.g., the key being there and then missing and how it clears up the significance of the box) for me to believe that this segment is on the same plane as the earlier one. But the last shot of the ghosts over Hollywood, in what seems a nod to Anger’s cover to Hollywood Babylon (but it’s a been a little while since I’ve seen the film), seems to either be a nod to Hollywood’s potential and inevitable lure, or a final bit of cynicism, or (probably) both. Anyway, the film strikes me as using dream (i.e., film) to critique dream (i.e., the Dream Factory) while casting a skeptical eye on itself (i.e., being a continuation of the factory through it’s allusions to Classic Hollywood to reinforce its meanings, such as the reversal of the homosexual love triangle from GILDA, from which Rita gets her name). But I look forward to hearing the commentary to see where they go with it. Thanks. Charles

Good stuff Charles! Although, just to defend my interpretation a bit, what do you make of the fact that “Silencio” is present in both parts of the film–and, even more importantly, that Betty & Rita see Diane dead before this tableau can possibly have taken shape in “real” life? I don’t think there are any definite answers to this question, and there certainly is a lot of textual evidence to support the Diane-is-real/Betty’s-a-dream interpretation… Still, even if that’s what Lynch intended, he can’t (as you say) seem to help undermining himself with stuff that doesn’t fit with the rational explanation, and I love that! It doesn’t suit me at all to believe that the only thing in that box is one paltry crime of passion!

Couldn’t the correspondences be more of a comment upon the fact that, no matter what “mode” we think we are dreaming in, we always dream according to certain patterns? And we’re never quite able to dream (or live or think!) our way past the moment of ultimate fulfilment/catastrophe? If this were merely the story of one woman’s disillusionment, it could never have held my brain in its thrall for this long! I prefer to think of the film as a breathtaking expresson of my own personal credo–the universe isn’t broken, it is a break-up!

I’ll try to get back to some comics soon–but it’s not easy right now friends!

Bon Soir!


The Scene’s The Thing!

Will Pfeiffer directs our attention to a potentially exciting resource–the Synoptique Style Gallery. The site’s founders are asking film geeks to come together and build a massive library of cinematic virtuosity one upload at a time! Finally–a truly noble dream! I like what’s there so far, but I’d like it even more if someone would contribute the “16 Reasons”/”I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star” scene from Mulholland Drive to the mix! It must be a great scene, ’cause I’ve been thinking about it for a week! Now, you might think that so many zooming close-ups of people gazing longingly at each other in such a short period of time would be overkill, just as you might be tempted to declare that overwrought fifties bubblegum ballads make a mockery of romantic love, but, well, if you thought that, you would be wrong, that’s all! In fact, the combination of these elements creates an artifact so real that you’re more likely to doubt your own existence than the emotions on display!

Other scenes I’d like to add:

1. The tracking shot that follows Geroge Bailey from the train as he ponders the fact that he will never get out of Bedford Falls (referenced, believe it or not, in Amazing spider-Man #129!)

2. Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon seated in front of the fireplace in William Wyler’s These Three–it’s shot through a window, unbeknownst to the viewer, until the rain drops appear on the surface at exactly the right moment!

3. Bette Davis’ freak-out delirium in Dieterle’s Juarez–with Claude Rains as Napoleon III as Satan.

4. Barbara Stanwyck’s (and the camera’s) mad romp up and down the church aisles in Capra’s Miracle Woman.

5. The camera’s ascent from the duel in the barracks into the German postcard heavens in Powell & Pressburger’s Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

There are only a million other great scenes! Too bad I have to make tracks for school RIGHT NOW! Why don’t you play along at home?

Good Afternoon Friends!


“There’s a man… in back of this place… He’s the one that’s doing it”
(Soundtrack: AM Gold Radio)

Somehow, I managed to avoid seeing Lynch’s Mulholland Drive until earlier this week. I don’t know why. These things just happen. Anyway, I’ve atoned for the lapse–four times now!

Thinking about this movie has been very good for me–it’s a wonderful example of what a great storyteller can do with narrative structure (studded with lyrical moments, of course!) and it sure beats the hell out of pondering the whims of the American electorate…

I concur with the Flak magazine commenters’ broad outline of the film, which you can download here if you haven’t heard it–they don’t say anything staggering, but it’s smart and fun to listen to! So Mulholland Drive is the Wizard of Oz in reverse…

Still, there’s more to this film than that… Interpreting “Betty’s” adventures as “Diane’s” “fiction-suit” protection against the rigors we are exposed to by the last half-hour works, there’s no question about that, but I don’t see why you have to stop there. There’s no place to call “home” in this movie.

Seems to me that there’s an overwhelming tendency, amongst critics and other analytical folk, to privilege the “sordid” over the “sentimental”. But that’s nonsense. Both are human constructions. There’s nothing more “real” about a strung-out tinseltown casualty than a wide-eyed ingenue sleuth. One of the major themes of Darkling I Listen (and I’m trying it again–in something called Chimera Lucida) is the connection between romantic comedy and film noir–the fact that these two widely disparate genres affect me in very similar ways…

So why are we so sure that Diane’s story is the “base” and Betty’s is just “false consciousness”? Isn’t it merely because most of us put up more barriers against happiness than despair? Who’s to say that Betty/Diane isn’t dreaming both parts of the film, after winning that jitterbug contest in Deep River Ontario? (I love that opening sequence by the way: it’s like a Rorschach test made out of music, colours, and energized bodies–and isn’t that what life is?) Nightmares are dreams too.

From where I sit, the only “real” things in this film are the blue key, the blue box, and the homeless “man” that’s “doing it”. The key is imagination, the box is experience, and the creature behind “Winkie’s” is the director/artist, who strives in vain to adjudicate between these two hopelessly irreconcilable things.

The truth of this film is spread across both of its “parts”. “Life” is an uninhabitable planet. Narrative is artificial atmosphere that enables us to walk upon its surface. That’s why Grant Morrison’s concept of the “fiction suit” is so apt. But, as Emerson knew, there’s no way to bring “it” nearer to ourselves.

I think my jaw dropped permanently during the wordless encounter at the studio between “Betty”, Adam, and “pseudo-Camilla”, who is auditioning for the role of “love interest”. The scene is dominated by crazy Old Hollywood closeups of intense longing and Linda Scott’s maudlin/profound bubblegum version of one of my favourite Jerome Kern songs–“I’ve Told Every Little Star” (why haven’t I told you?). But you can’t tell the Other how you feel about her/him/it, and you can’t even express these feelings very accurately to yourself.

So “opening the box” isn’t just “waking from a dream”–it is, literally, death. Whatever’s in there cannot even be thought by human beings–despite the fact that getting in there is pretty much all we think about! The way of “optimism” and the way of “despair” intersect at the abyss (although, as Camila notes, the second way is a “short-cut”!), and Lynch’s vertiginous transition between narratives at the Utopian moment of expected fulfilment (after Betty and Rita have found the box together) is one of the most incredibly affecting evocations of the Sublime in the history of cinema. Without all of this preparation, the Diane scenes (masturbating, deliberating in the darkness about whether to accept Camilla’s purred invitation, the walk from the car to the party, her quiet breakdown at the dinner table, and her suicide: the nightmare counterpart of Betty/Rita’s lovemaking–both are the logical climaxes of their respective narratives, and neither succeeds in rescuing the dreamer from the necessity of dreaming!) wouldn’t have nearly the impact that they do.

I’ve been reeling from the experience all week!

Happy Guy Fawkes Day Friends!


“A Covenant With Death and an Agreement With Hell”

William Lloyd Garrison–the guy’s still pretty relevant, don’t ya think? If more Americans understood that “[their] country is the world”, we’d be looking at different headlines today… You don’t get to be the superhero and the insular nerd holed up in your basement clutching your Bible, moaning about “values”…

Now more than ever, I think it’s time “Blue Staters” considered secession. You could hold the convention in Hartford–there’s ample precedent for it

Good afternoon friends!