Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Spring Breakers & Mythic Descent into the Underworld

Spring Breakers: Vanessa Hudgens as Candy, she's the Ishtar of this shit.

Movie Review
Spring Breakers
p. 2013
d. Harmony Korine

  It seems impossible to me that someone could go to Spring Breakers and actually write a review where they make statements like "I didn't like it." or "Spring Breakers is a bad movie."  If you didn't like Spring Breakers, you are an idiot, and if you can even contemplate saying "Spring Breakers is a bad movie." You have bad taste in art.

 In fact, Spring Breaker is an amazing movie. As should be clear to anyone who sees the film, Harmony Korine has created a contemporary retelling of the classic "Hero's Descent into the Underwold" one of the most long-standing enduring myth's of world culture.   The oldest telling is the pan-Ancient Near East myth of   Tammuz and his mother/love Aphrodite/Ishta/Inanna:

Inanna Goddess of Heaven and Earth, Akkadian

According to the myth of Inanna's descent to the underworld, represented in parallel Sumerian and Akkadian tablets, Inanna (Ishtar in the Akkadian texts) set off for the netherworld, or Kur, which was ruled by her sister Ereshkigal, perhaps to take it as her own. Ereshkigal is in mourning at the death of her consort, Gugalanna (The Wild Bull of Heaven Sumerian Gu = Bull, Gal = Great, An = Heaven). She passed through seven gates and at each one was required to leave a garment or an ornament so that when she had passed through the seventh gate she was a simple woman, entirely naked. Despite warnings about her presumption, she did not turn back but dared to sit herself down on Ereshkigal's throne. Immediately the Anunnaki of the underworld judged her, gazed at her with the eyes of death, and she became a corpse, hung up on a meathook. (WIKIPEDIA)

  In this retelling, you can see some of the story elements of Spring Breakers clearly:  sisters...go to the underworld... pass through seven gates taking off their clothes at each one...  In Greek myth this story became the story of Adonis and Ishtar.  In Roman myth it was the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.  The correspondences extend beyond the Mediterranean- Norse myth features the tale of Lemmink√§inen's rescue from Tuonela by his mother.  And who can forget the Welsh version: Pwyll's descent into Annwn in the Welsh Mabinogion.

  Spring Breakers is not simply a retelling of the old myth- there is no kidnapping, no retrieval of consequence from the underworld.  Rather Spring Breakers mirrors the structure of myth- of the underworld descent myth, without overtly announcing it as a source of inspiration.  (GOOGLE SEARCH SPRING BREAKERS & DESCENT INTO THE UNDERWORLD MYTH)   In mythic fashion, Korine uses the techniques of contemporary film to mirror the jumpy, lost in time and space form in which we moderns receive myth- a sentence from a tablet dug up in the Mesopotamian desert here- a retelling from a Greek Shepard a thousand years later, learned analysis from a German scholar two thousand years after that, translated into English by a different scholar a generation later- that's how we learn about myth- not in a jaunty made for tv narrative retelling.

Spring Breakers: Ashley Benson as Brit, the Ereshkigal of Korine's retelling of Inanna's descent into the underworld.

     Harmony Korine has always understood that, and every one of his films has embraced this mythic style.  It's easy to focus on the sensationalistic features of Spring Breakers: the debauchery, the exploitation of young female body parts, but that really misses the point of the film.  After all, if an Artist depicts the tortures of an underworld a la Dante critics do not castigate him for "accurately" depicting the tortures of hell.  Assuming that the St. Petersburg of Spring Breakers is a mythic underworld, one would EXPECT to see scenes of unimaginable horror.  Similarly, to castigate Korine for "judging" the leisure time rituals of America's youth misses the point that Spring Breakers is a work of art- it's not a documentary film made by Korine with the intent of getting teenagers to stop partying at Spring Break, or with the intent of raising awareness of the evils of Spring Break.  

  Spring Breakers is demonstrably a successful work of Art because of its demonstrated ability to evoke a strong emotional response: both positive and negative, from an Audience.  When a great work of Art evokes a strong negative emotional reaction from the Audience, that is almost more impressive then evoking a positive emotional reaction because after all, one would expect a great work of art to be hailed as such.  Making a work of art that is difficult and alienating while still being great is the most impressive artistic achievement of all, and Spring Breaker is that work of art.

  Harmony Korine can quit now because Spring Breakers will live forever.


Monday, April 01, 2013

Show Review: Iceage & Milk Music @ The Casbah

Iceage singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt
Show Review
Iceage &
Milk Music
@ The Casbah San Diego, CA.

 Like Veronica Falls, Iceage is a band that has certain friends in common.  Also, I was involved in a decision to hire their PR firm for a project.   Iceage has done pretty darn well for a bunch of young, nihilistic punks from Denmark.   Last week, I was briefly in Los Angeles, where Crocodiles were recording with another Danish national, Sune Rose Wagner... so that is A LOT of Denmark.

 Interesting fact about Denmark: They actually had their own colonies up until the 20th century: Iceland and Greenland.  People don't really realize that Iceland was an impoverished colony into the 20th century- things didn't really turn around there till after World War I.  Another interesting fact about Denmark is that they had a top flight national Ballet troupe in the 19th and 20th century.  And of course you've got Soren Kierkegaard, Hans Christian Anderson.  Funny thing about Copenhagen is that it is a surprisingly long way north of Amsterdam- like a 10-12 hour train ride.

Milk Music: buzz band alert, fans of Wipers, Dinosaur Jr. take note!!!
    Opening band Milk Music is the third band out of Olympia that has made it on to the national stage in the last several months/couple years (Gun Outfit and Lake are the other two I'm thinking about.)  If they don't remind you of the Wipers you haven't listened to the Wipers, though the band I heard more often on the patio was "Dinosaur Jr."  The sound was a mixture of punk, metal and rock played with sloppy enthusiasm and verve.   Quite easy to see the appeal and I would not be surprised to see them established as a national touring band by mid summer.   Milk Music is an act you want to know about sooner not later so you don't look dumb.

 Iceage pulled about 200 people- not a sell-out but crowded.  They pulled pretty much every single one of the floating 100 person Audience that most respected indie/punk bands can pull at Casbah/Soda/Void.  They also had another 100 of what you might call "hard core Iceage fans."  Seemed like a lot of the same people I saw at the John Maus show a few months back.  I'm not sure why I've never seen it mentioned- but they lads in Iceage are really good looking dudes.  I guess that irrelevant for a bunch of Danish teen punk nihilists but I was struck by the charisma of the live show and the Audience really dug it.

  Like another hardcore influenced band with an indie Audience that I've seen in the last few months (Metz), Iceage have a huge upside because the "heaviness" of the sound gives them an entree into the world of punk/hardcore/screamo fans that goes to the Warped Tour.  They clearly are not savvy pop careerist- judging from how they carry themselves and who they associate with.  That is to their credit.   I like how they are playing US clubs instead of trying to simply play large festivals.  Speaking highly of them.   They seem like a cool bunch of guys with the right priorities.  Too bad they are on Matador though, not a fan of that label.  


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

"I'm Kiera Knightley I like to play Victorian period literary figures like Anna Karenina. blah blah blah acting craft."

Anna Karenina
 by Leo Tolstoy
p. 1873-1877
first English language translation 1886

  The classic Russian novels of the mid 19th century are interesting because they present an early example of the "British Invasion" phenomenon.  In the British Invasion, British rock bands, influenced by old Blues records and the example of 50s and 60s American rock pioneered, created a brand of popular music that "invaded" the United States, from whence rock music had been invented.  In doing so they forever changed the landscape of the art form, in addition to showing up the native Artists and making a pretty penny.

 The mid 19th century equivalents of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones were Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dovstoyevsky.  When their classic novels began to make it into English, critics and the general audience alike were stunned by their superiority.   In Dickens & His Readers: Aspects of Novel Criticism Since 1836,  George Ford that it was this "Russian Invasion" that was the proximate cause of a half-century long decline in critical acclaim for the work of English novelist, Charles Dickens.

  Having read Dickens and now Anna Karenina essentially back-to-back it is easy to see why this is so. Whereas Dickens is skilled at depicting characters and scenes, Tolstoy deftly charts the interior thoughts of his intertwined husbands and wives.  Anna throws off her husband, Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, for dashing Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky midway through the book and everything is down hill from there.

Jude Law plays Count Alexei 1: Kiera Knightley's husband.

    The travails of Anna, Alexei 1 and Alexei 2 are paralleled by two other married couples:  Prince Stepan "Stiva" Arkadyevich Oblonsky and Princess Darya "Dolly" Alexandrovna Oblonskaya and Konstantin "Kostya" Dmitrievich Levin and Princess Ekaterina "Kitty" Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya.  Dolly and Kitty are sisters.  Kostya and Kitty are close to being Tolstoy and his wife.   Despite the long names, Anna Karenina is clearly derived from the models provided by English Novels of the 18th and 19th century.  But Tolstoy adds a vast, inner life for his characters to his military sponsored horse races and Moscow balls for the Russian urban elite.

  A century of readers have appreciated Anna Karenina as one of the first fully developed "psychological novels" and the accomplishment is all the more stunning because Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina and it took 20-30 years to really penetrate into the Audience for the English language novel, and when it did people (rightly) hailed it as a Masterpiece and breakthrough, rendering former efforts pale by comparison.  Anna Karenina is like the mid 19th century version of Guns N Roses Appetite For Destruction taking a year to reach number one on the Billboard 200 Top Selling Albums Chart: A legendary accomplishment that defies believe. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Show Review: Veronica Falls, Brilliant Colors & Golden Grrls @ The Casbah

Veronica Falls

Show Review
Veronica Falls
Brilliant Colors
& Golden Grrls
@ The Casbah, San Diego.

   Hard to believe that last night was the first time I'd seen Veronica Falls.  I felt an affirmative duty to go last night, like I had disrespected Veronica Falls by skipping their previous San Diego experiences.   The point was driven home a few weeks ago, when I saw my friends posting various social media updates from the New York City date of this same tour.  Essentially, the sole and only purpose of a show review on a blog is to make a personal endorsement of the live show of a particular act.  If you aren't prepared to do that, you probably shouldn't review the show.

   Personally, I'm interested in the mechanics and comparisons to be drawn between various shows, but from the perspective of people who read this blog it's "Veronica Falls Show Review" typed into Google that typically bring them here.

   That goal is served better by reviewing the first show of a tour rather then the last, but Veronica Falls will be touring the UK & the EU so I suppose there will be people in those markets who are looking for opinions on the subject.

  Veronica Falls is a great live band, well polished, with solid musicians playing all instruments and great song writing.  It's hard not to compare them to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.  In fact, their "similar artist" tab on Last Fm is the biggest "miss" I've seen on that site.  They've got The History of Apple Pie, Girls Names, The Babies, Widowspeak, Christopher Owens & Torres.  You've got to be kidding me. How can The Pains of Being Pure at Heart not be in that top 5?  It seems impossible.  I would argue that they are the English analogue of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- and I think The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are an incredible, really viable band with a strong fan base, so that's a good comparison.

   The crowd was fair but not great last night, no doubt having Foxygen playing across town at the Soda Bar diminished the available Audience.   The turn-out was roughly in line with the "100 paid per 1 million last fm plays" that I use as a predictor of show attendance.   It seems to me that Veronica Falls last release on Slumberland was compromised by the move from Revolver/Midheaven to the Orchard- kind of caught in the window during the transition.

  I was equally excited to see the opening bands- both of whom also have releases on Slumberland Records.  In case I haven't actually said it, Slumberland is one of several indie labels:  In The Red,  K Records, Hozac, Captured Tracks, Sacred Bones, Secretly Canadian label group & French Kiss label group that I actively track.    The main thing that elevates the listed labels from the labels I work with is sheer number of release.  If you want to go pro in the Indie Record label game you need- minimum- one LP release per label for quarters 1, 2, 3 & 4 with nothing released after early October.   Due the trailing nature of digital royalties having a consistent release schedule is the only way to ensure that you don't experience precipitous drops in monthly revenue.  Getting the number of releases up to one, per quarter, per label with no releases after mid October is basically the only professional goal I have in the music business.  Everything else besides accomplishing that goal is literally meaningless.
Golden Grrrls

   Rushing to the Casbah to get there in time for Golden Grrls- I suspected that they would take the stage early... and they did.  I caught three songs but it was enough to see that the buzz I've noticed about them online is borne out by the live set.  They have crisp, catchy tunes and an easy manner that would seem to indicate a good deal of practice.
Brilliant Colors

    Main support Brilliant Colors also had good, well written, catchy songs.  They don't really have a "look" but I am quite sure that they don't give a fuck about that shit and that would laugh in the face of anyone who brought it up.  They seem to be in the same spectrum of Bay Area bands like Grass Widow: not necessarily the flavor of the month but a good band, dedicated to their art and willing to work out.

  Watching the show last night I got the distinct feeling that not repping for all three  bands on a consistent basis in this forum represented a failure on my end.  I regretted not previewing the show, and missing prior shows by Veronica Falls & Brilliant Colors.  As far as I'm concerned, if a band continues to tour and put out new records they deserve support.   If any of these bands is playing in your town- go see them.  Hope Brilliant Colors comes back soon (they are from the Bay Area, not England, like the other two bands.)

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