Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Ivan the Terrible part 2 (1958) d. Sergei Eisenstein

Ivan the Terrible in glorious color- shot on film seized from the German Army(!)

Movie Review
Ivan the Terrible, Part II
 d. Sergei Eisenstein
Criterion  Collection #88

 A huge percentage of education is text selection and guided reading. Any traditional educational scenario involves drastic time constraints, requiring a maximum of attention focusing on the selected texts- whatever they may be.  As long as those texts remained primarily in book or paper copied format that represented a huge bottleneck in the path between individuals and education.  The nexus of teachers and texts in the field of education is something much darker and deeper then the analogous role that a major label plays in music or a  Hollywood studio plays in film.

Sergei Eisenstein- Russian film maker.

  This didn't used to be the case.  Education was fairly dispersed among the population until the growth of the State Research University model that became popular in the mid 20th century. That the American state research university is fundamentally opposed to the diminution of their monopolist role in education is simple to demonstrate- why don't you try taking a look at the pan-Academic JSTOR database?  There is nothing free on JSTOR.  That hacker,  Aaaron Swartz who killed himself after being prosecuted in federal court in Massachusetts?  His theft was of these articles- and he was prosecuted by the database.

 Thus it behooves interested individuals to be interested in the liberation of foundational educational texts whatever the field of learning.  In the area of Literature, those texts are now available for free or close to it because of the long history of bringing those works to the market place in new formats created by advances in technology.

 I would argue that Hulu Plus/Criterion Collection collaboration is perhaps the most far reaching source for a specific area of education (literature/film studies), perhaps followed by the Gutenberg E Book project- or Gutenberg is first and Hulu Plus/Criterion is second.

  Ivan the Terrible part 2 is a fine, fine example of what this collaboration brings to the table.  Here we have a film that was commissioned by Josef Stalin, and shot by Sergei Eisentstein.  It was suppressed in Russia and didn't see the light of day until the end of the 1950s.  Because of the dramatic Cold War/Dictator glorifying nature of Ivan the Terrible parts 1 & 2, reception in the West was always going to be a dicey affair.

 So, the Criterion Collection/Hulu Plus arrangement began in February of 2011.  Then at some point, probably not on day one, Ivan the Terrible, part 2 was uploaded. Let's say mid 2012.  Before that moment, you could buy it on DVD or maybe see it in a film school somewhere if you took a course in Russian Cinema (and good luck with that, dear sir.)  The DVD was 30 bucks, and it was rare for video stores to carry even a single Criterion Collection title- remember the Criterion Collection section at Blockbuster? No?

 I would have never paid 30 bucks- let alone 60 for both- to watch these films, but now I'm so glad I did because in Part 2, Eisenstein dramatically switches from black and white to color and there is this the fucking bonkers dance scene- it's about 55 minutes into this Youtube video, and all of a sudden you realize why everyone compares this movie to a Disney movie. Ha! Win!  I like, sat up on my couch when this happened- I had no idea- so great.

Show Review: Ritualz, Micro Genre, Dark Techno, Witch House & Sea Punk

Ritualz- Ghetto Ass Witch album art

Show Review:
@ The Void

   Any attempt to classify or distinguish different types of popular music is a discussion of genre.  Errors are often made by critics who use genre distinctions/classifications as a judgment on the value of entire categories of music.  Of course, genre simply distinguishes between different kinds of music by noting similar and disparate characteristics of the music, genre distinctions shouldn't have anything to say about whether one genre is better or more valid then another.  Quality distinctions either come within genres or across over lapping genres, or by transcending genres.

  Within this area of aesthetics, the most important development in the last decade has been the emergence of the term "micro genre."   Micro Genre refers to a category of music which traditionally would NOT be considered a "genre" because it lacks certain features that ALWAYS characterize genres in popular music.  Things like:  Artists, Fans and Records.  Instead, Micro Genres possess advocates and collectors- people who are interested in the creation of genres and typically interested in the idea of genre in a way that isn't linked to any particular kind of music.

  Two "micro genres" have enjoyed particular attention in the last two years.  First, there was Witch House.  Wikipedia defines Witch House:

Witch house applies techniques rooted in chopped and screwed hip-hop – drastically slowed tempos with skipping, stop-timed beats– coupled with elements from genres such as noise, drone, and shoegaze. (1)

   Witch House reached a "peak" as a Micro Genre in October 2010, when Salem released King Night. (2)  Witch House was first transcended/assimilated in February of 2012, when Grimes released Visions. (3) Although it would be inappropriate to call Grimes a "Witch House" Artist, she certainly incorporates many of the stylistic markers that let people to coin the term in the first place.

   The second notable micro genre is "Sea Punk."  Where Witch House was firmly rooted in music, Sea Punk had a broader Artistic heritage that incorporated a strong fashion/design/visual aesthetic alongside the musically dubious component.  To this date, there have been no major musical break through's in this micro genre, but the visual component has linked up with the larger Internet Art aesthetic.

 I would argue that a current micro genre with the potential for generating a genre transcending Artist is Dark Techno- a kind of electronic/industrial "dance" music which is characterized by the use of lo fi recording techniques and static/noise elements, paired with an aesthetic that draws from 80s/90s underground industrial music.  Prominent examples include Vatican Shadow and Cut Hands.  It is easy to see the potential for this area to produce a genre transcending Artist- just look at the example of Nine Inch Nails, who incorporate many of the same influences to great popular effect.

 One of the difficulties for a dark techno Artist trying to transcend genre (or micro genre) is the visual asethetic of dark techno with it's black and white/lo fi emphasis.  This is not what people looking for the next thing want to see.  From a visual perspective, embracing the internet art aesthetic makes more sense then trying to revive the 80s/90s industrial dance vibe.

 Enter Ritualz.   His new Album Cover for the Ghetto Ass Witch EP is the image at the top of the article.  Even though the music I heard last night fit firmly within the dark techno micro genre, the visual imagery is drawn from something outside that world- closer to the stylistic characteristics of Sea Punk and Witch House- both of which have been deeply and profoundly influence by the asesthetic world of Internet Art.

 In fact I would say that the very existence of the term "micro genre" as well as the micro genres themselves were essentially derived from concepts and ideas that were created by the Internet Art community, and I would strongly argue that Micro Genre- as a concept- is properly seen as an extension of Internet Art, in the exact same manner that "post-modernism" was a concept developed in architecture, which was later extended to other arts.  Exact same analysis for the term "gothic" by the way, just two centuries earlier.

  This connection between micro genre and internet art is not one that I think has been deeply explored by the music critical community simply because large segments of that community are ignorant of internet art.


Thursday, August 08, 2013

Pierre et Jean by Guy de Maupassant

Book Review
Pierre et Jean
by Guy de Maupassant
p. 1888

   Another head scratching inclusion on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.  I'm not complaining because Pierre et Jean checks in at something close to 100 pages so it takes about an hour and a half to read, but really, why?  Why include Pierre et Jean?  The accompanying essay in my book says that it represents a turning point away from the Naturalism of Zola/Balzac towards a greater concern with psychology and human relationships but um hello, Gustave Flaubert? Madame Bovary came out in 1856.

 Pierre and Jean are a couple of brothers from a well off family, one planning to be a lawyer, the other a doctor.  When an old "family friend" unexpectedly leaves his estate to the lawyer, the other brother is pissed off, and, as it turns out, the lawyer son is actually the real son of the dead guy, pathos ensues.  It's a quick, breezy read, but hardly what I would call a classic, and certainly not one of the 1001 Books I should read prior to death.

 Even if you are talking about the novels of Guy de Maupassant (he is better remembered for his short stories) Pierre et Jean places a far distant second to Bel Ami, which at the very least, is an a la mode tale of fast living and loose women. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Ivan the Terrible part 1 (1944) d. Sergei Eisenstein

This still from Ivan the Terrible part 1 is a good example of the excellent use of shadow and general influence of German Expressionist films on Eisenstein

Ivan the Terrible part 1
d. Sergei Eisenstein
Criterion Collection #86
Box Set, Eisentstein the Sound Years

  Russia is an interesting place.  I can't think of another place that has played such an outsize role in the cultural history of the West without developing into a Western market for Art products.    Russia is like a weird bizarro culture that has absorbed all the lessons of Western Art and Culture without becoming the west at all.

  Even if you compare Russia to Japan- the other major non-Western representative in the World Film Canon, they lag. For many cultural products Japan is the number three or even number two market, Russia is barely top 20. I think that's what makes Russian art so interesting.
Ivan the Terrible with his rival/vassal, the idiot Prince Vladimir

  Take Ivan the Terrible part 1.  Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein is best known for his work in the silent era, where he helped to introduce the basics of film editing and grammar to the entire world.  In 1944 he was currying favor with dictator/genocidinaire Josef Stalin.  Stalin was a huge fan of Ivan the Terrible, and this film is clearly made with a Stalin pleasing agenda.

 Specifically, the meat of Part 1 concerns Ivan the Terrible's struggle to unify Russia over the opposition of the Boyars.  Bear in mind that Stalin had the analogous class in Soviet Russia brutally murdered- all of them- they were called the Kulaks.  Thus, watching Ivan the Terrible is probably similar to a viewing of Leni Rifenstahl's Triumph of the Will:  A good time at the movies, but raises uncomfortable questions about the intersection of film and totalitarianism.

 After all, if you look at the great Dictators of the 20th century: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini- they all had a deep understanding and appreciation for the power of Cinema in modern life, but they were hardly going around promoting different novelists etc.   Movies are more powerful because you don't need to read to appreciate a movie- assuming that the technology has been disseminated, the Audience for film is essentially everyone vs. for a novel it's everyone who can read.

  Leaving aside the queasy making moral implications, Ivan the Terrible is a watchable film despite the mid 1940s creation date.  Part of this comes from Eisenstein's skill as a film maker- though his style seems closer the the German Expressionist films of Fritz Lang and FW Murnau then those of his early avant garde/silent period.  Eisentstein's use of shadows on the set really stand out in my mind.

  I should probably reveal at this point at least one of the other blogs that has attempted this same feat of watching all the Criterion Collection titles- the Criterion Contraption- authored by Matthew Dessem- did really thorough work on 1-118 before abandoning work in 2012 (probably got married? had a kid? realized the utter futility of existence in a meaningless world?) But his write ups are super duper thorough and contain a ton of stills- and his entry on this movie is worth a look because he shows all the different set ups that Eisentstein uses- they are quite striking.

  He talks so much about the movie though it makes me feel like I don't need to watch the movie itself.


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Germinal by Emile Zola

What you mean Gerard Depardieu starred in a mid 1990s French film version of Zola's Germinal?  That is the least surprising fact of all time.

Book Review
by Emile Zola
p. 1885

  Let me put one thing out there: If you consider Germinal to be Zola's greatest work then I hate you.  There I said it.  Germinal has two things going for it:  One, it is fucking raw as shit- the main characters are coal miners who fuck and shit and fight for the entire book- often in graphic detail.  One of the main female characters is essentially raped while she is still waaay underage- like hasn't hit puberty yet and the characters in Germinal are generally depicted as behaving one step above animals.  Two, Germinal is political, perhaps the first avowedly "working class" focused novel.

  Although many Russian novelists had already broached the subejct, none really dig into it- to the point where I'm certain that Germinal is the first novel centered around a labor action- I can think of one Trollope or Eliot novel where discontented workers are a plot point, but the action is limited to a single confrontation outside a factory.  Here, we get a "naturalist"/realist look at actual coal miners doing actual coal mining.

  Personally, I think Germinal represents the first step down a long, dark path, that of the "political novel."  I understand the post-modern argument that all novels are political in some sense, but avowedly political novels, particularly those that focus on the working classes of the 20th century, are particularly burdensome from an aesthetic standpoint.  The idea that a novel has to have political content to be "important" is so dumb and wrong headed that the prospect of reading what is to come in this department makes me cringe.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Joseph Conrad fan and a HUGE George Orwell fan, and I love what they do with politics, but I'm talking about the Zola/Steinbeck workers-in-the-fields genre here.

  Criticisms aside, it's fair to say that Germinal is the most popular of Zola's novels as far a general (read undergraduate students taking a European literature survey course) is concerned.   And it does pack a bawdy punch, and the mining portions are well written and hold your attention.  But the politics...moooaaaannn.

  On a related note, I am within striking distance of closing out the 19th century.  Maybe 20 books left? The 20th century is like 800 books though, so it is going to take a while.


Monday, August 05, 2013

Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1896) d. Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1974)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Book Review
Effi Briest
by Theodor Fontane (1896)
Penguin Classics Edition

Movie Review
Fontane Effi Briest
d. Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1974)

  A rare (first?) double, thanks to Criterion Collection to upload Fassbinder's Effi Briest to Hulu Plus- apparently out of the goodness of their heart seeing as it is not part of the Criterion Collection itself, nor a part of the recent Eclipse Collection of early Fassbinder films that Criterion just released last month. I'm not complaining!  It felt cool to read a recent-ish(1990s) translation and then watch Fassbinder's take on it in the same general time frame.

  Effi Briest is who you would call the German Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina- i.e. the cheating wife whose exploits form the basis for a break out novel which uses adultery as a theme.   Briest is closer to Karenina then Bovary- her milleu is the landed aristocracy of late nineteenth century Prussia.  Young Effi Briest (17 going on 18) is married off to the "much older" Baron Geert von Innstetten (38) in literally the first chapter of the book.  She is spirited off to the Baltic resort town of Kessin, where her new husband is the head Prussian in charge.

  While there she has a brief illicit affair with the charming though strangely named Major Crampas, a "cavalier" but not  a "gentleman" who knows her husband from back in the day.  A major difference between the book and film is that the book only alludes to the actual infidelity through the off hand comments made by Effi until the point at which her husband finds evidence.  In the film, it is clear that they are meeting up for illicit physical rendevous because you see them kissing and embracing.

  A huge difference between Effi vs. Bovary/Karenina is that the ruinous affair is not discovered in Effi Briest for more then six years.  During that time life continues as normal until a freak accident with her child causes a maid to force open her desk drawer in search of a bandage.  When he goes to replace the contents post accident, husband discovers the incriminating letters.  He then challenges Crampas to a duel, kills him and divorces Effi.  Effi of course lives for a few years and then dies because she lacks a will to live.

   I was expecting a more arty take on the source material from Fassbinder then what I got.  It was more or less a straight up adaptation.  The one thing he does do that is slightly unconventional is use lengthy quotes from the movies as interstitial title cards to draw audience attention to particular themes in the novel.  The best example of this is the ghostly Chinaman that Innstetten invents to keep Briest in line.  After Crampus points out to Effi that Innstetten has created this story to keep her in line, Fassbinder refers to it on multiple occasions through the use of the interstitial title card, with a quote from the book summarizing Innstetten's controlling motivation.

   I'm just personally fascinated by stories of disintegrated marriages- I can't get enough of the theme. What I'm doing right now- reading all these classic books and watching films, is an attempt to gain perspective on my own experience without having to bore my friends and family to death talking about.  One of the themes from my own failed marriage: a serious minded man with a woman who wants to be fun and free, is echoed by almost everyone of these 19th century novels which deals with the subject.  Inevitably though in these books the marriage is between an older, wealthy man and a younger, poorer woman.  That was not the case with me.

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