Month: March 2005

The Jolly Corner

 The Jolly Corner:

I’m deeply indebted to folks like Tim O’Neil for giving me opportunities to jump back into discussions of comics that I acquire later than most of my blogopeers, due to financial limitations… (there’s an excellent review of We3 just waiting for you at Tim’s place…)

Tim and I rarely agree, and so it should come as no surprise that I take issue with his approach to this book. As is often the case, it comes down to a difference of opinion concerning authorial intention (or agency, pure and simple). Here’s Tim:

It’s one thing to change the rules as you go (which, as Dave Fiore accurately points out, is pretty much what Dave Sim did for the entirety of Cerebus), another entirely to insert a blatant deus ex machina simply because you have written yourself into a corner.

[…]

…the basic fact is that if the animal’s armor could be taken off with the apparent ease that my dog can slip out of the cone we put around his neck after a visit to the vet (which is essentially what Bandit and Tinker do in the final pages of the third book), there is no conceivable way that the plot hangs together. If the doctor who freed them from the lab knew that the animals could be liberated from their metal armor in just a few moments, and that their cybernetic enhancements were no more involved than something a homeless man with no obvious medical training could harmlessly remove, than even if you accept that the Powers That Be wanted the animals dead (which is a dicey proposition considering the nature of the science involved), if she had been so set on ensuring the animals survived despite her bosses’ wishes, she could simply have absconded with the three of them – sans armor – and taken them home in her car.

He’s right of course. And yet–from where I sit–so wrong!

Please don’t take that the wrong way… Let’s just say that I think it’s a storyteller’s job to write her/himself “into a corner”… Anything less would be false to the human condition… Let’s face it–we’re all cornered. A great story doesn’t place us on the freeway, it studies the alley–and a “laughing philosopher”, like Morrison, will always find a way to throw a block(ed)-party, just before they hit the wall… As I noted, in Tim’s comment-thread, he’s like Capra and Dickens that way. This is what melodrama is all about–it exhibits the “improbably human” in action… This whole series (like Animal Man before it) progresses inexorably toward that shining moment in which an omnipotent–but simultaneously human, and very flawed–deity (Morrison himself in AM; Doctor Trendle in We3), motivated by a newfound respect for the puppets that he’s been manipulating (for his own purposes) throughout the story, allows something ridiculous to happen…  Dr. Berry couldn’t have just slipped the armor off of the animals and gone home, because it wasn’t her decision to make. It’s Trendle’s. That’s why the final moment is so powerful–it’s not the “family tableau” itself–it’s the fact that we know it defies all logic…and we are joyously complicit in the smashing of commandments that the text itself sets in stone! The abrogation of the law. That’s why Jesus came here, remember? What else could goodness be? The only appropriate response to a cul-de-sac is deus ex machina

Good Afternoon Friends!
Dave
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Cerebus Part VII — Issues #17 to 19

 Cerebus Part VII — Issues #17 to 19
(see also: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI–not to mention Part V
I-and-a-half)

This is where Sim began thinking seriously about narrative structure–although the first hints of it are undeniably jokey:

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Lord Julius’ last-panel declaration irritated certain parties in the lettercol (including T.M. Maple). The reaction is of a piece with other complaints about the instability of Estarcion–as a fictional construct–that began to surface at this time.  One reader laments the epidemic of anamundisms (i.e. “condominiums for Tarim”) that have overtaken the series–to which Sim replies “my aardvark for a dictionary!” (and goes right on violating every law of “dramatic unity”)… I’m glad he did so, of course–but the growing confusion, on the part of these readers, is also completely understandable. In fact–their bewilderment is a huge part of the story! If Sim hadn’t received those particular letters, he would’ve had to make them up…

Here we are, on the verge of “Mind Game” itself (that’s issue #20 folks!)–and the author of Cerebus was fucking with his audience big time! The early issues of the series made a cartographic pact with fantasy-lovers of the Tolkien persuasion (“want to escape into my head?”–the maps seem to say–“right then! here’s the route”); later on (in issue #20 itself, in fact!), there would be pseudo-scholarly pieces at the back of the books on “The Aardvarkian Age” (written by Deni’s brother Michael). Sim was playing chicken with “world-building”–and it’s no surprise that readers thought they were in for something completely different from what they got. Bruce Baugh (in this piece), gives an excellent account of the disenchantment occasioned by the swerve:

The one that I most noticed at the time was a certain failure of worldbuilding: it’s very difficult to believe that that Iest is really downriver from the stuff seen in Boreala or, for that matter, Iest’s early apparances. It went from generic medieval-ish fantasy to something distinctly more Restoration/early modern. Now, consistency is not the be-all and end-all of an engrossing narrative. But the tone doesn’t quite cohere: there’s the sort of detail and even number-crunching that an essentially serious story about corrupt urban politics would call for, mixed in with ongoing sword-and-sorcery parody, and early appearances of the master story. I thought at the time, and much more so during Church & State, that Sim would have been better served by starting up a separate series with a higher-tech, more culturally developed world for those sorts of stories rather than trying to bolt them onto the Aardvarkian Age.

I couldn’t disagree more strongly, of course (for reasons that I go into here). I have no interest in the aspiration toward ideal lab conditions that world builders strive for. Storytelling is a kind of magic–not a science–and it isn’t magic if it explains everything. So bring on the anamundisms! Would you prefer the mundane? Those eighties cheeseballs had it right–we are the world… Character is destiny–but character is setting too!

All of this is just to say that I love the fact that Sim spends all of this time

1. setting things up for a massive confrontation between the T’Gitan horde and Lord Julius’ armies;

2. creating superfluously brilliant characters like Gudre, Stromm, and Krull ( a figure that offers another commentary upon self-interested narrative–in a world without God, all we’ve got are our stories, and we all try to play God with–and, often, in!–those):

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and, 3. fleshing out the details of Lord Gorce’s intrigue against Julius:

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Only to flush it all down the subjective drain with the knock-out drug that Perce feeds Cerebus at the end of issue #19!

Next–“Mindgame”!

(oh yeah–the art is unbelievably good in these issues too!)

Good afternoon friends!
Dave

Entertainment Tonight?

 Entertainment Tonight?
(or, Dave tries using Picasa2)

If you aren’t on board the Cerebus express yet, consider this:

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But does Leeza Gibbons like it?

Okay, no, I guess that’s not the real John Tesh…or is it? Sure looks like him…

and doesn’t that Cerebus costume look eerily like some of the pigs from the post-Revolutionary phase of Bachelor and Halas’ Animal Farm adaptation?

Well, again, maybe not, but my mind made the association anyway…thanks in large part, no doubt, to this:

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Friends–I would do anything for one of those t-shirts!

I’ll be back later with a post on issues #17 to 19…

Good Afternoon!
Dave

Why Haven’t I Told You?

Why/Haven’t I/Told You?

Did you know that you could easily spend the rest of your life reading net-musings about Lynch’s Mulholland Dr.? Last year, I contributed some words of my own to the tower of babble–but I’m back for more, thanks to Mark K-Punk:

The ‘standard’ interpretation of Mulholland Dr claims that its first two-thirds are the fantasy/ dream of failed two-bit actress Diane Selwyn, whose actual
life is allegedly depicted, in all its quotidian squalor, in the final
section of the film. This would underscore MD’s striking similarities
to The Singing Detective, whose complexly-interacting narrative
lines are weaved from the fantasies and memories of the convalescent
pulp author, Philip E Marlow (Michael Gambon). Yet such a reading is
ultimately unsatisfactory. As Timothy Takemoto argues, (you have to scroll down to his piece, ‘Double Dreams in Hollywood’) to see the second part of Mulholland Dr as real is inherently conservative in its assumption that there is an unambiguous reality to which we can ‘return’.

Following Zizek, Takemoto suggests that what MD presents is not an
exposed ‘reality’ but a ‘grey fog’ of competing, incommensurable
realities, from which desire and will are never extricable. (An
homologous case is Kubrick’s near-contemporaneous Eyes Wide Shut, which is standardly interpreted as entirely the dream of the protagonist, Tom Cruise’s Bill. What this reading of Eyes Wide Shut has in common with the dominant readings of Mulholland Dr
is a confidence in the possibility of parsing reality from desire, a
distinction which both films disturb, as the very title of Kubrick’s
film indicates).

Where was Mark back when Charles and I were having it out in the threads? Clearly, I share his hostility to the Wizard of Ozzing of the film. We’re a strange species–the only thing we like better than a mystery is a solution (especially a hard-bought one). Unfortunately, the only way to  secure that final-Grail piece is to sell the quest short. You know there’s always something missing. You know, because what’s missing is “you”.

This is the age of the second person singular–and we missed it.

We always do.

Mulholland Dr. is its prophet and encomiast.

Play it. Watch it. Play it again. There’s no stopping it, really… Oh sure, life goes on–but there’s no shaking that prison-bar pause sign, once you’ve succumbed to this film.

What I find strange is that none of the fascinating pieces that I’ve read (and I’ve barely scratched the surface, of course) really does much of anything with–for me–the key scene. Oh sure Silencio is breathtaking, that first conversation in Winkie’s lays the foundations for a free-fall and Diane hooked by the phone is intense…but the heart of the film beats somewhere between here
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and here:

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and what song is playing during this charmed interval?

I make up things to say on my way to you,
On my way to you, I find things to say.

I can write poems too, When you're far away,
When you're far away, I write poems too.

But when you are near, my lips go dry,
When you are near, I only sigh, Oh, dear.

Refrain:

I've told ev'ry little star,
Just how sweet I think you are,
Why haven't I told you?

I've told ripples in a brook,
Made my heart an open book,
Why haven't I told you?

Friends ask me:
Am I in love?
I always answer "Yes",
Might as well confess,
If I don't they guess.

Maybe you know it too,
Oh, my darling, if you do,
Why haven't you told me?

“I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star” (composed by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and deliciously bubble-gummed by Linda Scott) The scene comes exactly halfway through the film, and it’s more of a turning point, as far as I’m concerned, than the belated switch-over between Betty’s tale and Diane’s. Up until this moment, we’ve been splitting our time between following Betty & Rita’s screwball sleuthing and Adam Kesher’s bizarre game of “High Noon” with fate. Many people have identified the director and the actress as two aspects of the same dreamer, and I’m right on board with that, so far as it goes–but where exactly does it go? I mean, there it is–the actor (or purposive self) being seen in the way that every one of us wants to be seen (as a ray from the heavens), and the director (or interpretive self) catching that lightning in a looking-glass bottle…but the much anticipated moment of integration never comes! These two halves remain have-nots–Betty has to leave to keep her date with Rita (a date which will bring them face to face with Diane’s corpse) and Adam is compelled to refocus his gaze upon the lip-synched spectacle on stage, an elaborate cue for him to speak the much-rehearsed line: “this is the girl”.

And that’s it…third-person triumphant!

Forget about not being able to tell “you” what you’ve always wanted to say…these two candidates for “wholeness” never even meet. As Derrida would say, no letter (especially not a love letter) ever reaches its destination. Each of us spends our entire lives trying to reduce that third person by one–and ramming our heads into “the girl” or “the boy” of our dreams. You can’t tell the “whole truth” to a person that you aren’t directly addressing, and no one has ever found that Northwest passage to “you”.  The “shortcuts” (like the one that Camilla unveils to Diane after pulling her from the limo on Mulholland Dr.) aren’t even paved with good intentions, but they do lead straight to Hell (which, Sartre to the contrary, is most definitely not “other people”.) 

And that brings me back to the twin fantasies of pure communion (in love and in hate) that the film offers us–the first in Betty’s impossibly poignant declaration “I’m in love with you” (the very expression of which exposes the unreality of her story and her supposed interlocutor) and the second in the consummation of Diane’s plot to kill the (sublime) object of her desire… After each of these events, there is only Silencio–and the stark emptiness of a  box that isn’t a box, but an airlock, sealed against the vacuum of radical otherness. There isn’t anyone that wouldn’t give their lives to be sucked up into that space–to address those emotions, at long last, to the appropriate place–but the words die still-born in a void. That’s why “I” haven’t told “you”–and maybe it’s a lucky thing too!

Good Night Friends!
Dave
 

Louis B. Hartz Must Be Laughing…

Louis B. Hartz Must Be Laughing (and crying) What’s Left (oh right–there is no left) of His Ass Off

Yes folks, just in case we needed any more proof that, when you really get down to it, there is no (significant) oppositional thought in America, the good folks at Fanboy Rampage (except for James Smith–who is, and always will be, awesome!) are performing supererogatory feats of capitulation to the Man…

You want “Moral Capitalism”? Could someone please explain to me what the fuck that means?

Yeah, yeah–John Byrne is evil. But what makes you think he isn’t right? (and why do you care if people who have enough money to mount massive lawsuits get a little more of that shit?)

my own comments are pretty far down in that thread–so here they are again:

John Byrne is absolutely right (this is a one-time only thing, so let’s not get used to it!)

there’s
nothing “fair” about capitalism, and copyright itself is an abomination
in the eyes of all good folk… anything anyone creates (especially an
easily-disseminated wonder like a story) belongs to the world, on a
need basis… Who the fuck cares whether the Siegel and Shuster heirs
win this petit-bourgeois struggle against Warners? I want to take those
little green shares in oppression away from all of them…

Okay America–resume squabbling over the spoils of war!

but let’s not forget what’s really important here (to me anyway)–Cerebus!

I think I’m gonna take Mulholland Dr. for another spin later too… (thanks to David Golding’s excellent suggestion that I read this piece by Mark K-Punk)

Good Aftanoon friends!
Dave

This is a pretty good lil’ quiz

This is a pretty good lil’ quiz

Although I corrected a spelling mistake in the text–that’s not punk!

Kathleen hanna
You are Kathleen Hanna. You are observant and
aware. You are concerned and as nice as can be.
You’ll do anything to make a statement and
aren’t afraid to talk about issues other people
ignore. You’ve had some issues but music is
your therapy.

Which punk rock goddess are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Cerebus Part VI– Issues #14-16

Cerebus Part VI– Issues #14-16
(see also: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V)


Here’s a tip–anyone who tells you that you ought to start reading Cerebus with High Society isn’t really your friend… Sim laid the foundation for that storyline here, in the Palnu Trilogy, and, more specifically, right here, on this page:

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yes, that’s Groucho Marx… and Sim’s got his act down, right from the start… that loping, vaguely insulting strut; the Rorschachian eyebrows and moustache; the torrential downpour of bile that’s so ingratiating it feels like the milk of human kindness…

Here’s Sim, from the Swords of Cerebus intro to  #15:

Suffice it to say that, after two years of writing Lord Julius, I am continually amazed at the basic comedic richness of the character Julius Marx developed for the world at large to enjoy. I try to remain as faithful to it as I can, and I look forward to aging him in the book as the world saw him age…the eternal anarchist, caustic, brilliant, insulting, maddening, and hilarious at the same time. I think every situation needs their Julius Marx. Palnu is just fortunate to have theirs running the whole show.

But are they lucky?

Sim doesn’t exaggerate his wish (and his ability) to capture the Groucho persona–and yet, perhaps even he failed to see, at this stage of the game (those intros were written in the early eighties), how chilling this character (and the world he presides over) becomes, when he is “running the show”… But that’s the genius of Cerebus  isn’t it? The breathtakingly original juxtapositions… Let’s draw a beatific Charles Schulz grin on a teddy bear thug melting into the lap of a lovingly rendered woman in a Barry Smith wasteland! Let’s remake Foghorn Leghorn  into a drawling albino albatross of stupidity around the Aardvark’s neck! (unlike the Mariner, Cerebus’ problem is that he can’t seem to bring himself to kill this pasty jinx) Let’s turn up the volume on Stan Lee’s self-mocking Hamlet act and send in the melodramatic spandex zombie-clowns to trample the narrative–and little Earth-Pig dreams–every few issues!

Let’s make Groucho Marx the bona fide ruler of a state… 

Whoa!

Sure, Groucho often played authority figures–but the joke is always that he never for an instant intends to use the power vested in his office, or profession, or whatever… In every one of the films, he wears his ineffectuality with pride,daring his interlocutors to call him on his imposture… Meanwhile–everyone has a crazy good time–because there’s no one minding the store… But Lord Julius is in power–and he ain’t fooling around. Think about it. Pure, uncut arbitrariness makes a very effective weapon against a sluggish, usage-bound sovereign. Julius knows every trick in the book–because he’s smarter than you and twice as playful–but when the game becomes oppression, what then? The contrarian in jackboots is a terrifying prospect–it’s more Kafkaesque than Kafka! In Schmittian terms–the Exception is the Rule in Palnu…and Sim tells us everything we need to know in half a page:

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The movie Groucho never made that face on panel three–it’s the motherfuckin’ Mask of Anarchy ! It’s so brilliant that I used to have nightmares about it–and I probably will again tonight! No wonder the guy on panel five is plotting to kill him (yeah right, like that was ever gonna work!)

(and just as an aside–doesn’t that ranting priest look a lot like Dave Sim? So much of the author’s irreverence reads like self-parody avant la lettre… and of course it just reinforces what we already knew–all parody is a veiled form of worship)

That’s all I’ve got right now… There’s a lot of plot in these issues, of course–but it’s all in the service of establishing another larger than life personality upon the widening stage of Cerebus. Like Sophia, Elrod, and the Roach, Julius earns the author’s protection (a kind of diplomatic immunity) through the sheer rightness of his migration from the pop cultural realm into Dave Sim’s private theatre of the absurd–and he seems to exist primarily to humiliate/vex the protagonist. Unlike the earlier figures, he appears to be smarter than Cerebus, and he poses a different kind of a threat… The figures that the Earth-Pig respects are always more dangerous to him than the fools that trip him up… He can deal with the occasional pratfall, but not with being led down the garden path–which is unfortunate, ’cause he’s got a serious streak of gullibility…

oh–and, lest we forget where the heart of this series lies–issue #16 closes with this cinematic gem of the don’t- meet-cute/he’s-got-amnesia-anyway school! (it’s worthy of Random Harvest–and let me tell ya, that is worthy indeed! Really–no comic book artist has ever offered so much to a lover of classic Hollywood–not even Eisner!):

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Good Night Friends!

Dave