Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Show Review: Madeon @ Voyeur

Show Review:
Madeon @ Voyeur

  It is so funny to me when you go to a "gaslamp" type club and there are all these women dressed up like, let's face it, prostitutes. I don't have a problem with that- and I'm not denigrating women for doing it, but it is what it is.  What possesses an otherwise sane woman to strap on a pair of six inch heels and a skin tight dress that highlights all your unflattering bulges is beyond me, but that was the story last night at Voyeur.  I'm strictly live and let live when it comes to difference in Audience culture but it was difficult for me not to speculate on the mindset.

 Mandeon attracts a trainspotter heavy crowd simply because he works at a pace that leaves every other dj in the world who isn't Jeff Mills gasping for air.  His sets typically switch between songs every minute or so, with numerous stylistic flourishes that he shares with other similarly succesful djs.  This means that people come to watch Madeon in the same way they watch a band, and those people were present last night.

 From my position on the balcony I could see a cluster of devoted fans- 100% male- by the way- clustered around the stage for the entire set, pumping their fists in Ecstasy.  Madeon has moved away from the mash-up heavy style that brought him to international prominence.  His newer material actually sounds more like an old Jeff Mills set- with plenty of heavy techno and electro beats and hardly any recognizable samples.  It is a promising direction for a promising talent, and my sense is that Madeon will be a force in the EDM world for years to come.

 As for Voyeur, well.... to each his own.  There were plenty of trainspotters there last night who were obviously just watching the Madeon headlining set- maybe 50% that and then 50% club trash.

Häxan (1922) d. Benjamin Christensen

Häxan: worship the devil much???

Movie Review
Häxan (1922)
d. Benjamin Christensen
Criterion Collection #134

  Häxan is a Danish film about witches and witch-craft, written with the idea of exposing the ridiculousness of medieval beliefs about witches.  While watching this movie I was thinking that it was made less then 30 years after 1895- which is where I'm at in the history of the Novel.  In other words, if Häxan was made in 2013, twenty seven years ago it would have been 1986.  I think it is fair to say that everyone recognizes the influence that Art in the 1980s has on Art today, so there surely was a similar relationship between Novels of the late 19th century and the developing medium of film.

     Häxan is interesting because it is more of a "documentary" then a narrative film, and the documentary is something that film essentially brought into literature as a separate art form.  Of course, non fiction books dwarf fiction/literature, but they have not been historically considered art/literature.  Documentary film, on the other hand, has an artistic status separate and apart from the narrative film, and is recognized as a distinct kind of film literature.

  Häxan is also interesting because it deals with witches and witch craft.  Christensen uses actual illustrations from actual medieval texts that strike pretty close to the pagan roots of witchcraft related beliefs.  Of course, in the 1920s, you couldn't talk about witches without talking about the devil, but it is clear today that witch type believes pre-dated Christianity and were hold overs from the Indo-European/pre Christian era.

 If you consider the "Witches Sabbath" a corner-stone ritual of witch craft trials in the Middle Europes, the description is basically a Dionysian revel of the type common to pre Christian culture with a Satanic spin thrown on top.  That connection is made very clear by the narrative portions of Häxan, where Christensen actually shoots a witches sabbath complete with a guy dressed up as the Devil.

  My take away from Häxan was simply to reinforce how utterly ridiculous religion and religious beliefs are at a basic level, and at how much harm they can do to vulnerable parts of the population.  Witches tended to be old, poor, marginalized women who had little or no voice in society.   They were inevitably easy targets, and almost by definition had no one to speak up for them.

  It is a sad chapter in history, though an interesting one, particularly if you focus on the links to pre-Christian/pan Indo European religious rituals.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

Ciaran Hinds plays Michael Henchard in the 2003 television movie of The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge
 by Thomas Hardy
p. 1886
I know I promised three Thomas Hardy novels in a row, but I'm going to do Germinal by Zola and the Kreutzer Sonata by Tolstoy before I tackle ole Tess of the D'Ubervilles.  Like I ementioned the other day,    Thomas Hardy is interesting because he is a late Victorian novelist who sets all of his novels in the early-mid Victorian period.  Thus, if the reader is not hip to this fact, theyr could easily be deceived into thinking that Hardy was a contemporary of the Bronte sisters rather then Zola.

  Even though his novels are set in the past, Hardy is not writing historical novels, rather he is writing very "Modern" novels with modern themes and modern characters that are simply set in the past.  And while The Woodlanders reads like Hardy's take on the conventional Victorian marriage plot, The Mayor of Casterbridge is closer to the historical epics of French novelists like Hugo and Balzac, only without the epic sweep of current events.

  In the Mayor of Casterbridge we witness the fall and rise and fall of the titular character, Michael Henchard. In the first scene- which is set up as a stand alone flash back that wouldn't be out of place as a narrative device in a contemporary novel- Henchard sells his wife and child during a drinking bender.  Stricken by remorse the next day, he pledges never to drink again.

 Fast forward twenty years, and the wife he sold, Susan Henchard, returns after the death of her "husband" (the sailor who bought her) along with "their" daughter Elizabeth Jane, in tow.  In the intervening 20 years Michael Henchard has risen to become the Mayor of the small agricultural trading center of Casterbridge. Complications then ensue regarding Henchard, his hired hand Donald Farfrae, Henchard's soon to be jilted betrothed/mistress Lucetta and of course Newsom, the sailor/"husband" who is thought to be dead.  Any casual reader of 19th century English literature will know from the first mention that any character thought to be dead in a novel is never, in fact, actually dead.

 Hilarity, or rather darkly comic tragedy ensues, but once again the plot moves around a brisk, late Victorian clip and by the time we reach Henchards' ruin at the end the reader feels satisfied but not overwhelmed. I suppose Hardy represents a last moment of late Victorian respite before the maelstrom of Modernity overwhelms all conventions and destroys everything before it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

Here is Rufus Sewell in the 1997 film of The Woodlanders- he is playing Giles Winterborne

Book Review
The Woodlanders
 by Thomas Hardy
p. 1887

  I should have read The Mayor of Casterbridge (also by Thomas Hardy) first, because it was published in 1886, and The Woodlanders, while serialized in 1886, was published in book form in 1887, and that is the controlling publication date as far as I'm concerned.

Emily Woof as Grace Melbury

 I'm honestly surprised that Hardy serialized his work, it must be a reflection of the market for literature in the UK in the 1880s because his prose lacks many of the characteristics that are the hallmark of serialized 19th century literature.  To whit, there aren't pages and pages of minor characters, location descriptions, digressive minor plots that bear little or no meaning to the central plot, etc.  In fact, despite his setting (almost?) all of his books in the past, it is easy to see that in terms of prose style and plot development Hardy is a thoroughly contemporary writer who simply chooses to place his books in the not-so-distant past.

 For example, The Woodlanders take place in semi-rural England in 1857.  The reader knows this because a major plot point concerns the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, which allowed civil, non religious divorce for the first time.

  The plot of The Woodlanders is a more-or-less standard marriage plot involving Grace Melbury, raised by her yeoman father to think of finer things.  She is married to the educated but deeply flawed Edred Fitzpiers.  In order to do so, Melbury breaks the heart of her neighbor, to whom she has been promised by her father because the father stole HIS wife from the neighbor's father.  Following?  The neighbor in question is Giles Winterborne.

  No sooner are they married (Melbury/Fitzpiers) then Fitzpiers takes up with the wealthy widow Mrs. Charmond.   I couldn't put it better then wikipedia itself:

The novel reflects common Hardyan themes: a rustic, evocative setting, poorly chosen marriage partners, unrequited love, social class mobility, and an unhappy ending to the plot. (WIKIPEDIA)
    I imagine that the readership must have had nostalgia for this time period similar to the way we look nostalgically back at the 50s, 60s and 70s.  At the same time that he minds the near past for his material, Hardy is nothing like the novelists of the 1840s/50s.  Specifically he shows an adept grasp of the plot mechanics and pacing of the Novel that make his work enjoyable to read despite the rural scenery and repetitive plots.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Show Review: Speedy Ortiz @ Soda Bar

Speedy Ortiz frontwoman, main man Sadie Dupuis

Show Review:
Speedy Ortiz
@ Soda Bar

  Had Kremlinologists on my mind at this show last night.  During the Cold War, Kremlinologists were people who specialized in the interpretation of the actions of Communist States, particularly the U.S.S.R. that did not have a free press.   The idea behind the TERM Kremlinology is that the lack of a free press required a more well developed set of interpretive antenna, that one had to sift official and unofficial statements by the government and state controlled media as a fortune teller sifts tea leaves to predict the future.

 But I think Kremlinology is a good way to describe the study of any closed institution that doesn't have open disclosure of it's ways and means. You can consider the difference in the level of information disclosed by a publicly traded corporation vs. a privately held corporation: the publicly traded corporation has an annual statement which it is required to produce by law, as well as quarterly statements, also required by law.  A private corporation doesn't need to do any of that.  So, you wouldn't need a "Kremlinologist" to discuss a publicly traded corporation, but would for a privately owned corporation.

 I bring this up because I was watching Speedy Ortiz perform last night. Speedy Ortiz is a four piece female fronted band out of Boston that almost certainly received the most surprising Best New Music nod from Pitchfork in this calendar year, and it happened last week.  If you are smart and actually recognize the importance that Pitchfork approval plays for an unknown indie band, such events are most revealing, because it is how you see what aesthetic values really get the Pitchfork editorial staff moving.

   You only have to read the Lindsay Zoladz written Best New Music review once  to recognize that Pitchfork cares about lyrics.  Pitchfork likes emotionally intense, emotionally sophisticated lyrics.  That's not ALL that they like, but if you do that you have a leg up.  This characteristic of emotionally open/deep lyrics is something Speedy Ortiz shares with another Pitchfork approved artist I recently saw (Majical Cloudz.)

 If you listen to the LP (Major Arcana) it is also clear that the cluster of 90s alt rock influences like Liz Phair and Jawbox as well as sources suggested by Zoladz (Archers of Loaf, Helium.) put Speedy Ortiz in a category that has always been near and dear to the heart of the Pitchfork Editorial viewpoint.  Here's a 10 for Neutral Milk Hotel's. In The Aeroplane Over the Sea.  Personally, for me, that review is probably the point of greatest divergence between my own aesthetic preferences and those of Pitchfork.  I would give that Neutral Milk Hotel record a zero.  I'm not saying I'm right and Pitchfork is wrong- it's actually the opposite.

 Same thing with Speedy Ortiz- the cluster of emotionally aware lyrics and 90s indie rock stylistic influences is not something that appeals to me, but it is obvious why it appeals to Pitchfork, and why they would be awarded a Best New Music for their debut LP.

 The live show is muscular compared the relatively delicate recordings. The Major Arcana LP review mentions that Sadie Dupuis has roots as a bedroom recording artist, but she brought a fleshed out band to San Diego for the live show.  There was a muscular drummer, a well versed bassist and competent guitar work.  And of course Dupuis, singing and also playing guitar. I'm listening to the LP right now for the first time as I write this, and comparing the music with the show I watched last night, the clear comparison is Liz Phair.  Is the world hungry for a new Liz Phair?  It's a valid question, and only time will tell.  For sure, the door is wide open for her to drive right through and she seems likes a deserving Artist who should be rewarded for her hard work over a period of years.

   Part of being a succesful critic is being able to acknowledge talented artists who may have different influences and goals then that of the critic.  Something you see again and again in Arts criticism is that critics pounce on differences as flaws in Art.  Then, after a popular audience embraces the differences, critics back pedal and revise their own opinions to justify the differences.  Speedy Ortiz is a clear example of a respected critical source leading the Audience in that regard- Speedy Ortiz had 275 listeners the week before their record came out, the week after: 5000.

 So now the only remaining question is do those 5000 people embrace Speedy Ortiz or do they only listen once because of the Pitchfork review?  Do they buy tickets to the show? Do they buy the album?  Every other question is settled by the review.  And the review makes perfect sense if you possess even a rudimentary understanding of Pitchfork's long standing editorial viewpoint that favors the sounds of "classic" 90s indie rock.

The Seventh Seal (1957) d. Ingmar Bergman

Playing Chess with Death.

Movie Review
The Seventh Seal (1957)
 d. Ingmar Bergman
Criterion Collection #11

   Finally, a Criterion Collection title streaming on Hulu Plus that comes with one the featurettes that are a hallmark of the Criterion Collection.  The extra is an afterword by Bergman expert Peter Cowie- about ten minutes long.  The Seventh Seal is one of those titles without which the Criterion Collection itself likely wouldn't exist.  Like The 400 Blows, The Seventh Seal helped to create the Audience for Art House Cinema in the United States.
Ingmar Bergman, Criterion Collection stalwart

  The idea of the a knight playing chess with death on a beach has been so deeply disseminated in American popular culture that I would bet there are tons of people who would be able to recognize that image and not know from whence it came.  This chess match opens the movie and throughout we see the Antonious Block (Max Von Sydow) dueling with Death on the chess board during quiet moments during his journey homeward.

  Cowie's video afterword notes that within Sweden Bergman was not as popular as he was outside Sweden because Swedes could actually understand the dialogue, and the dialogue was terrible.  Watching The Seventh Seal for the third or fourth time I tried to listen to the Swedish language dialogue to see I could hear what Cowie was talking about, but of course, I couldn't.

  Bergman is often stereotyped as being pretencious and dull but there is plenty going on in the Seventh Seal to keep the viewer interested.  In fact, I'd rather watch a Bergman films then a Fellini any day.  There, I said it.

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