Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Blob (1958) d. Irwin S. Yeaworth Jr.

Steve McQueen in the Blob directed by Irwin S. Yeaworth Jr.

Movie Review
The Blob
d. Irwin S. Yeaworth Jr.
Criterion Collection #91

  It's hard to really get into a groove with the Criterion Collection because the numerical sequence on the spine has no relationship to chronology, or really to anything, it just represents the order in which the films were released.  One aspect of the Criterion Collection is clearly to provide a solid DVD release for titles which haven't already gotten one.  Thus, the early part of the collection (1-100) is filled with older foreign movies and more recent American movies that are almost uniformly what you call "cult classics."

 One attribute of the Criterion Collection that I infer from the selection of titles available on Hulu Plus is that Criterion obtains different rights for different titles.  I get the sense for the more well distributed titles in the Criterion Collection that they only have the right to make the DVD- no permission to stream on line.  On the other hand for the more poorly distributed films they "own" the movie- and can do whatever they want.

  The Blob stars an unknown Steve McQueen as the hero- a borderline "delinquent" teen (in the tradition of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and by "in the tradition" I mean "direct copy of the performance of;")
who is the only one who believes that their sleepy town is being terrorized by a gelatinous, slow moving Blob.

   As the description over at the Criterion Collection helpfully points out:  Strong performances and ingenious special effects help The Blob transcend the schlock sci-fi and youth delinquency genres from which it originates.  For me, the real joy is in how The Blob features as a cross over between sci fi and the "youth delinquency genre."  Were it not for the Criterion Collection, I never would have known the pleasures of this film.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Aesthetic Principle of Repetition

 "The search for novelty leads in the end to boredom.  We are bored when we have run out of "interesting" things to do, or when our own lack of vital energy disgusts us.  We are not bored with our personal obsessions, our natural functions, or the periodicity of nature- no matter how familiar to us they may be.  The short shortsightedness of the conventional view of repetition as repetitious is evident in the words of our most absurd contemporary politician, "You seen one redwood, you seen em' all."

  - Telling it Again and Again: Repetition in Literature and Film by Bruce F. Kawin. (Cornell University Press, 1974.)

  If I had to make one specific criticism about the manner in which the internet has harmed aesthetics it is in the utter negation of repetition as a valued aesthetic principle.  The best illustration of this impact is in the phenomenon of the "viral video."  In this article about Jonah Peretti the demon king of buzz (creator of buzzfeed) the New York Magazine identifies the three underlying principles of virality:  "virality depends on novelty, cleverness, and luck." (New York Magazine Profile of Jonah Peretti.)

   Really though it's only the first of those three factors that have any meaning in terms of aesthetics, "cleverness" and "luck" being either specious of aesthetically neutral.  Novelty though- the pursuit of novelty at all costs means the exclusion of Repetition, the aesthetic opposite of Novelty.  The obsession with novelty and the pursuit of virality inevitably relegates Repetition to the cheap seats.

  Additionally non-Aesthetic concerns of the Marketplace are natural collaborators with the conditions that support the advancement of Novelty as the ultimate aesthetic principle.  It is common knowledge that the largest possible general Audience requires a mixture of novelty and repetition, but that the Market requires new products on a timely basis, creating an endless demand for so-called "Novel" variations on established artistic formulas.

  There is no sadder sight in contemporary art criticism then the critic who castigates an Artist for lack of novelty.  Such a critic is no better then a kool aid drinking hack for the forces of market capitalism and the internet novelty generating process.  Being a critic today, in 2013, requires a deep appreciation of the aesthetic value of Repetition.

  Repetition is not boring, it is actually the central fact of human existence, and it has been recognized as such by thousands of years of religious and philosophical, not to mention artistic, thought.  Only within the last few centuries has Novelty arisen AT ALL let alone as a directly countering aesthetic principle.

Bouvard and Pecuchet by Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert, boss dog.

Bouvard and Pecuchet
 by Flaubert
p. 1881
Penguin Classics Edition
Translation by Dr. A.J. Krailsheimer

 I've developed quite the appreciation for Gustave Flaubert and his lifestyle.  Flaubert  declared himself "disgusted" by bourgeois life and at the earliest opportunity he repaired to the countryside to live in isolation, supported only by his trust fund, of course.

  From his little cottage he wrote the books that secured his everlasting fame, Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education, but he also wrote a couple of non classics that are interesting because they represent the life long obsessions of a very interesting author.  The first is the previously reviewed Temptation of Saint Anthony, which is a surreal fantasia concerning a night in the life of the reclusive St. Anthony (he lived in the Egyptian desert for 20 plus years, in a cave.)  The other is this book, Bouvard and Pecuchet which is supposed to be his denunciation of the bourgeois and their stupid obsessions with books at the expense of common sense and experience.

  Flaubert's obsessive hatred of the bourgeois can only be described as a kind of projected self loathing.  I'm not the kind of guy to attribute artistic genius to repressed homosexuality but you can't read about Flaubert and his lifestyle without at least wondering if maybe, just maybe, he was gay and couldn't deal with it.

  Bouvard and Pecuchet are two Parisian clerks with a shared fondness for books and knowledge.  When one receives an inheritance they jointly decide to go "back to the land" in a manner familiar to anyone who knows anything about 19th century intellectuals/bourgeois.  Once on the land, they make a hash of it, lose all their money and lose interest in agriculture.  In turn they embrace science, then archaeology, literature, politics, love, philosophy/religion and education.  They fail at each step and the purpose of the book seems to be to expose the stupidity that underlies all attempts at obtaining true knowledge from the pages of a book.

  Bouvard and Pecuchet was left unfinished, so there is no ending only a sketch that Flaubert left behind.  The obsessive reading of the principle characters struck me close to home.  After all, what is this blog but an effort to achieve what Bouvard and Pechuchet set out to achieve.  I will likely pursue additional information about Flaubert- I hear his letters were quite interesting.  That's probably where I will begin.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Show Review: Weedeater, ASG @ Soda Bar San Diego

Openers aSg were impressive.

Show Review:
@ Soda Bar San Diego

  I'm always interested to see a packed Tuesday night show in San Diego.  Nothing testifies to the drawing power of a successful diy/indie band like drawing a crowd on a Tuesday night in San Diego.   I can remember the rare occasions where I've been to a succesful Tuesday night show... Pains of Being Pure at 2009? DIIV? 2011?

  Weedeater pulled a very solid crowd of metal dudes, hipster metal dudes, the slightly less metal significant others of those dudes a bunch of pasty white guys wearing cool t shirts and shorts, and a smattering of normal looking chicks who must be... big Weedeater fans? IDK.  I think San Diego misses out on a lot of the  more diy/indie/pitchfork approved metal acts because few of those bands actually come from the west coast, so they never really do diy tours on the way up.  By the time they get to San Diego they have a booking agent and may already be in a position where they are skipping San Diego to play Phoenix/LA instead.

  I was impressed by the energy level of the crowd.   It was nice to see an Audience that was totally, totally up for the show and not particularly interested in posturing and making the scene.  Openers aSg are also from North Carolina, and just put out an LP on Relapse Records- said record: Blood Drive, got a 7.6 on Pitchfork.  I didn't know that until just now, but it doesn't surprise me- it was obvious that aSg is a band that knows what the fuck its doing up there.  What the fuck they are doing up there is playing melodic stoner rock- vs. the stoner metal of Weedeater- heavy stoner rock, but stoner rock for sure- not stoner metal.

  For fans of the genre aSg is worth a look on their current tour.

 Headliners Weedeater had the Audience pumped for the life show. Throughout the performances, songs were punctuated by spontaneous expressions of enthusiasm from the crowd.  It's literally like a surfeit of emotional energy being generated by the Audience and the ultimate expression of a succesful live performance by a band.   Weedeater creates a tremendous volume of sound for a three piece, and after last night I think I would point the drummer and the way he uses cymbals to create that volume.   There is simply an immensity about the live sound of Weedeater that I think draws people to their show.

 This wasn't the first time I've seen them live- and I would go again.

Movie Review: The Harder They Come (1973) d. Perry Henzell

Movie Review:
 The Harder They Come (1973)
 d. Perry Henzell
Criterion Collection #83

 The Harder They Come is one of those works of art where the concept/identity of the work is better then the reality of the work itself.  You get that situation a lot when a mediocre movie has a kick-ass sound track, or kick-ass cinematography or whatever.  People associate the film with the best part of the film, even though the film as an over-all work isn't particularly note worthy.

 Reggae star Jimmy Cliff plays Ivan, a country boy who moves to the city to find work, has trouble finding work, cuts a reggae hit, then gets mixed up with a drug gang during a period of the film where I literally couldn't understand what was going on, then gets killed at the end and becomes a Robin Hood style folk hero.

 Most of the movie is set in the pungent slums of Kingston Jamaica, and this gives The Harder They Come an almost documentary feel.  There is one scene before Ivan really gets going where he is kind of hanging around a dump and there is this long tracking shot where you see scavengers and children playing in the garbage and it's particularly moving.

 Not until the final shoot out practically does the film leave the city for the country, and by then the country feels like a one-off location shot.  Production values are low all around, and the actors are either non-actors or (certainly) local actors- although putatively in English you need to strain to hear the actual lines in the film. I'm not even talking about the accents, I'm talking about the sound quality of the recording.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Nana by Emile Zola

Book Review
 by Emile Zola
p. 1880
Penguin Classics edition

  Interesting fact about Nana is that it was the first-ish French novel to be promoted through the use of "modern" techniques of mass market advertising.  And it worked: Nana sold 55,000 copies in the first day of release.  That's... a lot of books.

  Nana is part of Zola's 20-volume Les Rougon-Macquart series.  This was his attempt to to tell "The natural and social history of a family during the second empire."   The character, Nana has a small part in  an earlier volume of Les Rougon-Macquart, L'Assommoir.

 L'Assommoir ends just as Nana begins her life on the streets, when Nana the novel picks up.  The plot of Nana is essentially the rise and fall and rise and death of a famous prostitute, but the fun is the details.  Specifically, the large crowd intensive set peaces, which read like Zola had found inspiration in the locales of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.  It's hard not to read the epic horse racing scene in the middle of Nana and not recall the similarly epic steeplechase scene in Anna Karenina.  Novels are beginning to get majestic by the mid to late Victorian period, and I know from reading authors like Don Delillo and Pynchon that the epic set piece remains a favorite of Novelists down to the present day.

 Other then the crowd scenes, Nana is a nasty bit of work.  She literally ruins every man that she touches and lives a life of senseless waste and debauchery.  If she came back today she would no doubt be doing porn- that's the vibe of Nana.  Not really a fan, and 450 plus pages, it's not a particularly easy or fast read.  I wouldn't recommend it, especially if you've read Anna Karenina and remember the steeplechase scene in that book.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Show Review: Oblivians, Octa#Grape, Shake Before Us & The Kabbs

Oblivians- no "the" FYI- Casbah wrote it as The Oblivians on their website, d'oh.

Show Review:
Shake Before Us
& The Kabbs
@ The Casbah

  Haven't been to the Casbah since April, when I went to see Kurt Vile.  I was happy to be back last night, excited even.  I went to this show cold simply because they've been selling so many copies of their LP on the Midheaven/Revolver site- currently #6 on the Midheaven/Revolver Six Month Top seller chart (Dirty Beaches is #4 on the same chart.)  So I know, for a fact, that Oblivians are going to sell six figures worth of music.  That's just a cold hard fact about the Audience for Oblivians, so if I see that a band that has sold that many records is coming to San Diego it's my business to see them live.

  The price point last night was 15 USD, fine with me, but maybe the reason the show didn't sell out.  If the ticket costs 15 bucks the show doesn't really have to sell out, but the fact that this is the first record by Oblivians in a decade plus probably accounts for both the high sales of the record and the inability to sell out the Casbah on a Saturday night.

  The crowd was a solid garage rock crew- much older then the group that showed up, in force at the Shannon and the Clams show last month (unreviewed), but still recognizable as the local Audience for garage rock.  One might reasonably have a discussion about whether garage rock is "hot" or "not" at any specific moment, but the established Audience is not open for discussion.  A garage rock outfit with a solid pedigree (prior tours, record out) can count on a minimum Audience of something close to a hundred, and this includes people who will go the Tower Bar on a Tuesday.

  Garage rock fans are typified by a long-term commitment to the sound, and they make for a great, respectful Audience- the number of people smoking on the patio during the set was low last night.  The Casbah staff looked happy to be there, and Tim Mays himself was in attendance.   Clearly this was a show that the venue itself was excited about.
Octa#grape- locals with the chops to go National/International- need the right label: In The Red, Swami, Hardly Art
     Openers Octa#Grape really dazzled- I didn't know anything about them going in- not even that they were local (Octa#Grape Facebook Page)- in fact- based on the skill level displayed I thought they were tour support for Oblivians until I looked them up on the web.   They played a style of sloppy garage punk with good songs, musicianship and stagecraft that really sets them apart from any other local act I've seen in the last five years.  The most recent band I've seen that I would compare them to is Olympia Washington's Milk Music.

  Label wise they would be a good fit for an In The Red, a Hardly Art or a Swami- or a newer label that is looking for a band with a shot at making a national impact.  The band looked older (as am I) so I'm not sure if they are going to be hitting the road full time but it looks like they've already been to sxsw and toured Europe as an opening act.

  While I was watching them last night, I was literally tapping my show companion on the shoulder and saying, "Wow- these guys are really good." That doesn't happen very often.

  Hopefully I will be able to see more of them in the future.

Weedeater, from Wilmington North Carolina plays Soda Bar on Tuesday night!
     I wanted to mention that Tuesday night Weedeater plays Soda Bar.  With 1.3 million last fm plays, Weedeater is a legitimate, viable force in their genre (stoner/sludge/rock/metal) and they are from Wilmington, North Carolina so it's cool when they get out here.  I try to limit my exposure to this genre, but I've seen Weedeater before and they do not play slow.  It's a good live show, worth checking out even if you aren't a genre fan.  I've been to the Soda Bar a couple times in the last few months, but I haven't actually written a Soda Bar show review since King Dude in November of last year.


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