A bad dream, and how to create a masterpiece (hint: it’s largely luck)

I had some awful dreams last night. I think it’s because Bill, Dana and I watched yet another Stephen King film adaptation. The film was called Big Driver and it wasn’t scary in the slightest but it did remind me of an extremely pale interpretation the film Irreversible, and my dream was reminiscent of the night club/fire extinguisher scene from that, so I think there was a connection.

Anyway, I dreamed I was at a community center in the projects somewhere (why are bad neighbourhoods called ‘the projects,’ anyway?) and it was inexplicably walled in with thick plexiglass walls so no one could get in or out. There was some giant bonehead with a mean temper who really wanted to get in and was right up against the plexiglass, arms spread out, face pressed against it. I had the impression there was a girl in there that he felt he some right to. Some random unassuming fella came over, put his hand on the bonehead’s shoulder and was like “hey man, what’s up,” but the bonehead was laser focused on whatever was in the community center he wanted, and he shoved the random fella away without taking his eyes off his objective. The bonehead had this “I’m invincible and untouchable” kind of air, but the random guy didn’t care and just picked up a big rock and smashed it against the bonehead’s hand on the plexiglass. His hand shattered, blood splattered out from it on the plexiglass, and the bonehead screamed and stared at his smashed hand, instantly losing his untouchable air and becoming starkly human. The random guy then started bashing the bonehead’s head in from behind with the rock until there was nothing but a bloodied pulp left. But the random guy wasn’t upset at all, he was smiling the whole time, like the whole thing was a fun game. It was kind of neat to see the bonehead be exposed as the human he was, and for the random dude to show that you don’t have to be an imposing monster to come out on top over others — you just have to completely disregard social hierarchies and essentially be nuts. But more than anything, the scene was just horrifying. It’s left me feeling disturbed all morning.

I also had a really busy day yesterday, and I have another busy day today, and that’s got me feeling weird too. So it’s just a strange-feeling day overall.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how genius is usually fleeting. There are very few artists who consistently make amazing stuff, and most of my fave art is one-off amazing shit by artists whose resumes are otherwise mediocre. Blade Runner is a good example of this — I think it’s one of the greatest films of all time but Ridley Scott’s other films mostly suck (with Alien being the obvious exception, and it’s great but it’s no Blade Runner, obv). Amorphis made Tales From the Thousand Lakes and Elegy, both of which are sublime in my eyes, and everything else they’ve done has pretty much sucked. And a lot of my fave songs are the only songs in that artist’s entire catalogue that I enjoy at all.

I could go on with examples but my point is that I think there are so many factors at play in the creation of art that it’s nuts to assume an artist or collective of artists will be able to replicate their successes. Where were their minds and hearts at during the creation of a particular album or song or film or painting? What external factors influenced their work throughout the creation of it? Now apply those questions to everyone involved in the creation of a film or an album — producers, directors, actors, costume designers, special effects creators, set designers, engineers, people who perform the mastering of audio recordings, artists who create the visuals for movie posters and album covers, etc. The stars must align for each of these individuals, and they must then align for all of them — then a masterpiece will occur. So to expect that such a thing will occur with any regularity is like hoping for lightning to strike twice. Yes, sometimes it happens, but it’s rare. I think that consistency is easier to attain for artists who are able to work more independently since that would mean less variables involved in the creation of the art, but it’s still not a sure thing since people feel different from day to day. It’s kind of a crazy thing.

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The best disco music ever

Yesterday I bought yet another disco compilation record at a vinyl record swap. It had a few good hits, the rest sounded respectable, and the artwork was good, but when I got home and put it on, it sucked shit. I was immensely disappointed, just like I have been by almost every disco compilation I’ve checked out.

I think part of the problem here is that, incredibly, my introduction to disco was the very best of the best: Don’t Walk, Boogie.

I was working at Salvation Army as a 20-yr old when I first encountered Don’t Walk, Boogie. I thought the cover looked cool so despite not having any experience with or love for disco, I brought it home, gave it a listen, and was shocked. It was awesome. Well, by the first side, anyway. The second side was hit and miss but the first side was 30 straight minutes of upbeat, energetic, cocaine-fueled grooves and good times.

I loved that record so much that on New Years Eve 2007, I brought it to a house party where a friend was DJ-ing and spinning records. I gave it to him and assured him everyone would lose their minds when he put it on. He was skeptical but eventually played it, and the dance floor completely cleared within a few seconds. Absolutely no one but me enjoyed it, and I was so shocked, brokenhearted, and embarrassed that when I left the party I didn’t even bother asking my pal for my record back. Only the party gods know what happened to that copy of Don’t Walk, Boogie but I imagine my buddy threw it in the trash in short order.

But my dismay over what transpired that night didn’t last long, and I was soon kicking myself for leaving it behind. I still loved it and wanted to listen to it even if all those goons at the party didn’t like it, and now I didn’t have it! I looked for it in various forms online over the years but could never find the same edited versions of the songs, so last year I finally bought another vinyl copy of it off of ebay for what I consider too much money.

When that record finally showed up and I put it on, I realized I had been right all along, and all those jackoffs at the News Years party didn’t know shit about good music — Don’t Walk, Boogie is as amazing as I remember, and I won’t accept any other opinion. The songs are all great hits, they’re all driving and full of energy, and they’re all edited down to 3 minutes and 30 seconds so that there is no time wasted with anything that is not a killer hook. And after revisiting side B and paying more attention to it, I see the value in it too. It’s not as immediate or rollicking as side A, but I don’t think it’s meant to be. It has more of a warm afterglow kind of vibe, like the winding down at the end of a wild party, which is of course very fitting. Despite probably being thrown together as just a dumb compilation, I think the record is actually a surprisingly valid piece of art.

So there ya go. In my opinion, Don’t Walk, Boogie is by far the best disco compilation every made. Second place goes to an unreal Christmas disco record, aptly titled Christmas Disco by The Mistletoe Disco Band. The arrangements and musicianship are insane. I like it so much that I even listen to it outside of the holidays. The musicians are not credited anywhere and it’s a fucking shame because these people nailed it.

There really isn’t enough love for genuine disco these days. I need to start a disco band and start promoting the genre again. Just picture all the empty clubs we would play to. It would be even sadder than New Years Eve 2007.

Trilogies are pretentious and annoying

I notice a lot of artists are obsessed with creating trilogies. Filmmaker Lars von Trier has his “depression trilogy” of films. Robert Smith and his band The Cure have their “dark trilogy,” consisting of their Pornography, Disintegration, and Bloodflowers albums. Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman had Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence. There’s J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books. Tons of musicians compose trilogies of songs, or a song with three ‘movements’ in it. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer have their aptly titled tune, “The Three Fates.” Dream Theater have their “A Mind Beside Itself” trilogy of songs, consisting of Erotomania, Voices, and The Silent Man.

These are just a few examples that came to mind while writing this, and of course I’m not talking about franchise bullshit like Home Alone 1, 2, and 3. I’m talking about pretentious art stuff. I wonder why it’s so common, why artists are drawn to doing things in threes. I don’t know but I don’t like it. What about duos, quadruplets, quintuplets, etc? I haven’t come across any of those that I can remember so I feel like it’s mostly a path dependency thing, where artists are accustomed to other artists doing it so they instinctively copy the blueprint. Even when artists don’t intend to make a trilogy but later acknowledge they have inadvertently done so, I find it annoying. I don’t even want to hear about it. Trilogies are just so overdone.

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I actually love almost all the pieces I listed in the first paragraph. I just have to not think of any of them as, ahem, you know what.

Roma sucks, and I need to stop checking out the purported ‘best flicks’ of last year

Jenn and I had both heard good things about this Roma flick in the last month or so. It was on a lot of lists as one of, if not THE best film of 2018 so we checked it out last night. It wasn’t awful but it certainly wasn’t great. What it was, was pretentious — in spades. Wowee. Black and white; tons of long, slow, panning camera shots; tons of scenes where nothing much happens and you wonder if it might be significant later but it isn’t; tons of recurring “themes” like airplanes, dog shit, and space men. I don’t have a problem with any of those things in and of themselves but when they are all done together and in a particularly boring way, I get a strong sense of someone trying really hard to be a classic annoying artist type.

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This works on a few levels.

The airplanes, dog shit, and space men were the most annoying parts to me because I think that inserting something a few times throughout a film is such an easy thing to do, and if it’s vague or pretentious enough, it gives the artist immediate cred with all the sycophants. Like, “ooohh, notice how prominent the dog shit is in so many of these shots. Ooohhh, notice how the car’s tire smushed that dog turd. What’s it symbolic of? Fascinating.” I don’t find it fascinating. I feel like I could make a film and toss a few random details throughout the film to create similar “themes” that people would gush and crow over, even though the things were emotionally and thematically empty. For example, here are some random things: umbrellas, incidental weather reports on the tv and radio, and a female character putting on lipstick in the background of some shots. Throw those into your snail-paced black and white flick and the Academy Awards would surely sing your praises. “The director’s take on female sexuality is at once disarming and challenging. Best film of 2019.”¬†I really believe it’s as easy as that.

Last year, I tried The Florida Project. This year, it was Roma. Well, fuck it. I’m not falling for this ‘best film of the year’ bullshit again. From now on, I’m sticking with the shit that gets lousy reviews yet still intrigues me. All reviews are trash. That includes this one.

Movies are wasteful, and for lazy people.

Before anyone blows a gasket, I’ll clarify that I’m one of the lazy bastards that I’m going to bitch about.

It just occurred to me that every film or tv show costs millions of dollars to make, and there is a massive footprint left behind by them: scouting locations and actors; entire film crews flying all over the world to film a scene that lasts only a few minutes; cars and buildings blown up; elaborate costumes and makeup and special effects that will never be used on another film; countless meetings between executives and producers at high end restaurants so they can discuss what font to use on the poster; etc. Then there is the countless hours of physical labour that go into it — writers, producers, set designers, casting, lighting crews, film crews, sound crews, stunt doubles, etc.

My point is that even the shittiest film or tv show requires an immense amount of effort and resources to create — and then we, the audience, end up sitting on a couch in our sweat pants, slack-jawed, eyes glazed over, brains mostly turned off while we stare at the talking heads on the screen in front of us. It’s really quite absurd how much work goes into creating our passive entertainment.

Meanwhile, in the not-so-distant past, reading books used to be the go-to entertainment form, and books have a far smaller footprint and require us to actually use our brains.

This makes me feel guilty for not reading more. Of course there are still some great flicks out there that no one should feel guilty about watching but that’s probably less than 1% of all film and tv — the rest of it, we should definitely feel a great deal of shame over.

I think I need to start reading more.

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Mandy, Beyond the Black Rainbow, and the hypocrisy of the reviews these films have garnered thus far

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I loved Beyond the Black Rainbow, and this guy’s performance in particular.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen two films made by Panos Cosmatos — Beyond the Black Rainbow, and Mandy. The former was widely panned by critics and has a low approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while the latter has been lauded by critics and audiences alike.

Meanwhile, I’m baffled as to how these films could be received so differently when they are so similar to each other.

  • Both films are set in 1983.
  • Both are retro as all hell, a la Stranger Things, down to all kinds of wonderful details like the fashion and furniture of the time.
  • Both films utilize a plodding, glacial pace.
  • The dialogue in both films is delivered in a slow, dream-like way.
  • Both films clock in at about 2 hrs.
  • Both films tell simple fantasy stories (BtBR is about an evil doctor that imprisons a girl who has psychic powers, Mandy is about a guy seeking vengeance against some religious fanatics who killed his spouse, and their biker-demon henchmen) but tell them in ways and dress them up with interesting storytelling devices that make the films seem more complex.
  • Both films are quite violent, and have scenes where sharp spikes are driven into some poor bastard’s mouth — Cosmatos seems to have a fascination with penetrating orifices with sharp things. I like it.
  • Both films wear their influences on their sleeves, quite overtly: for example, the biker-demons in Mandy are clearly inspired by the Cenobytes from Hellraiser, while the “devil’s teardrop” knife from BtBR and Red’s axe from Mandy are clearly inspired by the films of Cronenberg. And of course, though less obvious to the layman, the slow pace and dream-like qualities of both films hearken to the films of both Lynch and Kubrick.
  • Both films share a nod to 80’s metal: in BtBR, it’s the ‘heshers’ listening to Venom by a campfire; in Mandy, its the Motley Crue and Black Sabbath shirts she is usually seen wearing.

I think both films are fine (though I much prefer BtBR, most likely due to it leaning a bit more toward the sci-fi and horror genres) and very similar so I don’t understand why one was shat on while the other is celebrated. I bet it has everything to do with Cage being in Mandy, and all the sycophants pushing each other out of the way to eagerly suck a star’s dick.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: critics are fucking idiots. They are as biased as anyone else — nay, more so since they are paid to write their drivel and Hollywood hype machines don’t mind throwing a few coins at the monkeys when it’s to their advantage — so their opinions are actually less valid than yours or mine. Don’t pay any god damned attention to them. Just watch what you want to watch, and feel about it however you feel. You don’t need a fucking critic to tell you what moves you and what doesn’t.

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I’m on a mission here.

34 years later, I review ‘To Live and Die in LA’

I watched To Live and Die in LA a few days ago for the first time, and I fucking loved it.

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It’s not considered a classic film or anything like that but I’ve heard it mentioned favourably a few times over the years. I didn’t pay much attention until a friend bought the soundtrack on vinyl several weeks ago. The artwork on the sleeve showed the sunset photo shown above, and that’s really what made me want to see the film. Something about that picture is deeply unsettling to me. I think it captures the claustrophobia and paranoia of the city. It also speaks of man’s arrogance and ignorance, our insatiable desire to constantly conquer and the inevitable consequence of eventual catastrophe. This image fills me with dread and fear, and I love it.

So I watched the film, and I loved it too.

I wanted to avoid spoiling the film for anyone but I can’t help myself. There’s stuff I want to talk about, and considering nobody reads this, I’m not going to bother censoring myself if it’s not going to impact anyone anyway. So if you’re reading this and are considering watching the film sometime, Kyla and Ben and Golda, then stop reading now. There, I think that’s fair warning.

Here’s what I liked about the film: I liked how gritty it was. It was so gritty, it verged¬† beyond ‘gritty’ and entered ‘disturbing’ territory — the gun shots were graphic, especially the shots to the face. There was full frontal nudity, including the protagonist’s dick. That’s rare now, and it was even more so in 1984! I really liked the grim, unhappy ending. Seeing the protagonist die a violent death was totally unexpected, I actually gasped in shock. But what I think I liked the most was how virtually every character in the film was either revealed to be a piece of shit, or turned into a piece of shit by the end. I think that was the hardest aspect of the film to watch. The audience always hopes for a great redemption to close a film but when it never comes, and when the exact opposite happens, it leaves us questioning humanity, morality. We don’t get the easy satisfaction, the sugar fix we are accustomed to, and we are instead forced to confront our uneasy feelings.

I love that. I don’t want satisfaction. I don’t want sugar fixes. I want to feel awful. I want my faith in the human race shaken. I want to be left with feelings of hopelessness and despair at the end of a film, and To Live and Die in LA did that.

Kudos to William Friedkin and everyone involved in the making of this film. I know I’m way late to the party but I hope they are all proud of this particular work.