Sunday, February 26, 2012

Essays I Haven't Written


Poetry is about saying it as it seems. Saying it "like it is" assumes the Romantic trap of thinking that the final state of things can be deigned by the poet’s sense of what cannot be accurately or concisely phrased. The permanent significance some poets attempt to capture is an illusion: word meanings change, cultural habits change, reading habits change, world views change, the meanings of what was formally thought to be a settled affair changes as well. Or rather our attitudes change to the subject changes. The object is inert, bereft of meaning. The poet, attempting a verse that reaches years , decades beyond it's time, is better served getting his her own properly and artfully qualified perception of events and ideas right. One might not trust met narratives anymore, but brilliant individual responses are always illuminating.
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Barry Alfonso, noted essayist and Traveling Man, had this to say in a note regarding the manufacturing of Hip Consensus:

It seems to me that the heyday of rock criticism almost precisely followed the arc of the counter culture of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, when the exalted arrogance of The Young (or at least the “hip” segment of it) believed in a unified code of ideals and ethics, built around misty notions of revolution, self-liberation and hirsute hedonism. There was a cleanly-drawn line between Cool and Uncool in those days and the leading rock critics of the time fell in line with the prevailing ethos. The rise of the underground press rewarded the music scribes with small change, psychic cachet and innumerable promo albums, creating an ambiguous symbiotic relationship with a music business that didn’t want to change the world so much as make lots and lots of $$$. It became something of a Ponzi scheme of the collective mind, crashing somewhere between the rise of Jimmy Carter and the fall of disco. The rhetoric of Marsh, Nelson, etc. did get seriously inflated and hyperbolic, straining to pump up a few hirsute entertainers into the reincarnations of Byron and Keats. The work of too many of these critics seems myopic, jejune and often pretentious by current standards, the detritus of a time when the economy was booming and youngsters could afford to imagine something as unsustainable as a Woodstock Nation. Still, there are moments of colorful, cogent writing to be found as well. The golden era of rock criticism was more than a make-work project or a sustained act of wankery – in fact, I think the first Rolling Stone Record Review anthology is just as good a read as your typical WPA Guide.

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I’d agree that Costello has spread himself too thin in his efforts to become the most versatile rock songwriter of his generation, but what has diluted his later work isn’t variety so much as ambition. His work was already diverse in the styles it employed—Motown, gospel, Brill building power-sob-ballading, folk traditions, guitar-centered rock power chording, effortlessly melodic and melancholy ballads—a habit gained from his other principle influence, the Beatles, and as the wide swath of approaches has given him to write an amazingly solid set of poetic/obscure/ brilliantly hard nosed lyrics that could accommodate several themes and subterranean intellection  in the space of a compelling song. Doubtless the dips, curves and marvelously detailed turns of the songs forced him to work a mite harder with a lyric. Some of it was, of course, a grueling strangeness that was more alienating than alienated, but the records he produced from My Aim is True through Imperial Bedroom were overall a dazzling array of stanzas and catchy choruses that would seduce the sensibility in a masterful variety of styles. Costello, though, is a pop songwriter for all the subtlety his music contains, and he been seduced by the notion that he should be an artiste— as the pieces got longer, the styles taken from a broader sample, the variety more dress-up make believe than convinced of its own primacy, the good man reveals himself a talented musician in a hurry for a more impressive reputation. What I think Dylan would have benefited from is the sort of range the earlier work of Costello shared; his lyrics would have been sharper more often.

_______________________________

Most popular music is theme songs for losers and their moron cousins, dreamers. Dreamers just haven't yet received the memo. Who would listen to it if it were a winner's game. A room full of Bud Collier clones in Groucho glasses.
___________________________
The basic flaw in the auteur theory is that it preferred hero worship over art, which was a convenient way to overlook the wooden set ups otherwise hack directors presented audiences. There was the misconception that just because someone would film situations similar from film to film , it constituted an aesthetic and constituted a style; some were artful in their familiar scenes and scenarios, but far more were merely fashioning a way to work quick and under budget.



Friday, February 24, 2012

Vowel Movement


“Movement”, a poem by Wyn Cooper , is that frustrating species of poem that  starts off well enough, full of promise and intrigue, that chokes to a close. It begins as  a smooth ride with effortless transitions between speeds  suddenly becomes a lurching, jerking collapse. We are to make note of all the movement that occurs in this narrative, the countryside the narrator speaks of to his unknown companion.The tone is nostalgic, the recounting of annoyances fondly recalled. But time goes on, life advances from one neighborhood to another, one terrain for another completely unlike it. One moves and attempts to be quickly assimilated by something more urban, bustling, impatient, impolite, a city that narrator doesn't want to discuss, not for long.

This is the pun contained in the title, an obvious ploy from the get go; the irony, I suppose, would be that the weather, the relative stillness, the lack urgency in the bucolic ruins of fading America are not, in fact, cursed with inertia, as the speaker addresses the particulars with telling , nearly idealized detail. An implied sigh accompanies the pause between first and second stanza; this is the part of the conversation where the speaker is lost in thought and averts his eyes, falls into a melancholy that dares him to speak what he is not able to find words for. The poem goes from being fairly specific to vague and euphemistic. The effect is spoiled by Wyn Cooper's need to sum up the inchoate morass seething under the surface of these well mannered images;
 "...before we
settled in a city of other movements,
found new rhythms that suit us better,
we tell ourselves over and over. "

The poem is a nice if other unremarkable presentation of the low level anxiety that haunts the suburbia of John Cheever, who was a master short story writer and novelist who  explored a generation of the white middle class that had to distract themselves with drugs, adultery and workaholism. The aim of those who lived in Cheever's New York's outer communities was an continual effort to dull a collective suspicion that the lifestyle and manicured neighborhoods they chose for themselves are lifeless results of   preferring Bad Faith over singular authenticity.Cheever, though, was much subtler and more lyrical as he wrote of his characters attempts to fill an emptiness that will not be healed. Cooper had some more writing to do to make this idea work; the poem just quits suddenly and the screen one imagines this monologue being played against goes blank. The last sentence reveals an unwillingness to see this thing through. The poet is unsure how he wants to talk about this string of related icons.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nolan Finley is a big fat meanie

Nolan Finley is editorial page editor for my home town newspaper, The Detroit News, and he writes an opinion column that reflects the terse bluntness of someone who does not give a righteous rat's ass about the welfare of others. He is a seriously constipated White Guy who prefers his anger to facts, compassion. His Bible, it seems, are the numbers appearing the Bottom Line. Today he equates "Obamacare" with an historically unprecedented attack on the rights and liberties of American citizens.  He only seems content when is in a foaming lather. 
Finley seems to think that the capacity of the American people to contract catastrophic diseases with no medical resources is a Constitutional right and that Obama is being a bully in seeking to make sure that the great number of the uninsured have coverage they can afford. This upsets Finley no end and writes himself into a perfectly illogical snit: what's really being argued for here isn't anything like Liberty, Freedom or Individual Rights, but rather a thinly disguised rant for the sick, the injured, the poor and the homeless to die off faster than they already are. This is just mean, in plain fact, the reactionary , paranoid ravings of someone who is afraid that he is going to have his toys taken away. Rather than discuss what needs to be done about health care, Finley drapes himself in the flag and red-baits the issue. That is cowardly, it is cheap, it is disgusting and self centered.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pound Cake


While discussing the aching , seemingly inexpressible pain and confusion that profound states of love and infatuation  can create within a soul, poet Robert Pinsky brings up the touchy subject of Ezra Pound. Pinsky, to be sure, qualifies his praise for the late bard appropriately, stating emphatically that his  treasonous broadcasts against the American war effort in WW2  and his racial theories are gross perversions. One had to concede his gift, though, the ear he had, his seemingly flawless ability to join t high falutin' , archaic and colloquial language into a new poetry that could touch the deepest , most inaccessible cords within the human soul. 

This is Pinsky's belief, and he makes a good argument, but I don't hear the same music he does. I willI concede , though, that Pound was Modernism's premiere talent scout; problematic as T.S.Eliot's own anti-scepticism and conservatism are, his genius as a poet and critic make him Pound's principle gift to 20th century culture. Otherwise, I find Pound's own work, in large parts, to be an unsatisfying , lumpy mash up of styles, ideas and techniques that are finally doomed, despite bits of real brilliance, to a nostalgic ambivalence preventing his work from truly catching fire, as the work of Eliot, Blake and Yeats had done. 


There is, too often, a sage tone that is emulation, constructed, not actually inspired, created perhaps in ironic parody of the older forms Pound sought to separate modern poetry from. The effect, though, is that he seems tethered to the past, as he spent a lifetime trying to create something of equal genius on the terms of past masters. This , I think, contributes to the blow hard I hear in is writing, a smart man , not a brilliant one, who cannot distinguish between his good ideas and his bad ones.

Eddie Van Halen Shreds





I realize that I am just a few months away from turning 60, but here I am anyway, listening to Eddie Van Halen take his spectacular solo on the song "China Town" from  the new Van Halen record  A Different Kind of Truth . The supposed requirement that I was to grow up finally at a certain time and act my age with more "age appropriate" music ( what? My parents Big Band collection? My Mom liked to listen to X) is a lie I told myself. I am acting my age and this shredding fete on the fret is age appropriate appropriate  The riffs are fluid, flowing with the liquid clarity of an rapidly moving stream, a fluency accented with odd classical formations and post modern blues bends, sub-dominant notes pitched to the heavens. Speed, style, an instinct for getting to the essence of the implied emotional narrative an instrumental should have. This is exciting stuff. There are rock guitarists aplenty who have emerged in the wake of the revolution in technique Eddie VanHalen introduced in the mid seventies who are,maybe, maybe consistently faster, involve themselves in more complicated (as opposed to complex) expositions, but very few of them have EDV's freshness, his flawless instinct fills and suitably choked chords. He has the gift of knowing when to start a solo, and when to end it. He is the man to beat. So far, undefeated.Roth does not have the range he had from back in the day, but his tone, cadence and talk-belting rasp and attitude for the outrageous accents EVH saturates this hook-happy tunes with. What impressed me the most was that this was a great album all the way through. The riffs are hooky, to say the least, the bridges go to places you wouldn't expect, the choruses are splendidly hummable. And Alex VanHalen and Wofgang VH are a perfect rhythm section. Most of all, though, Eddie plays with an energy and ingenuity we haven't heard in years.It's his guitar work that attracts me to this band, the nasty, sexy, whammy bar -delineated solos that rise up in the full glory and quick witted elan of post-blues rock virtuosity.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A goddamned shame


To be sure, after the shock of Whitney Houston's death wanes a bit and we can again feel the chill in the air and the heat emanating from the desk lamp, a professional sourpuss or two will attempt a cultural post mortem on the event, excoriating media commentaries and fan reaction alike for reducing the singer's abrupt finale as "a tragedy" and "a shame" or ". There but for the grace of God go I..." The upshot of the objection will be that the gadfly (or two) loathes clich├ęs and platitudes and that it's pathetic all we can do is mutter "ain't it a shame”, tsk-tsking instead of DOING SOMETHING!! Fuck those guys.

The irrefutable fact is that Houston's death is a shame and it is a tragedy. Let's be more emphatic: it's a goddamned shame and a goddamned tragedy. There is nothing else you can call the early death, brought on, no doubt, by a long term addiction to crack cocaine and other chronic party favors, of someone as gifted as the suddenly deceased Whitney Houston. Hers was a voice that was, when all is said and the note cards are shuffled and rubber banded together, an instrument that was singular in her heyday, a voice that remains singular years after that day has passed, and will likely be one of those voices fans, old and new, and writers will refer to in glowing terms no less than what's happened to Frank Sinatra's reputation as a vocalist. Sinatra was a punk and a sociopath much of his life, but his voice and his songs made the stream of personal offenses forgivable ; Whitney was a train wreck for years who couldn't hide the effects of a drug habit, but her voice and her material will be enough, I suspect, for the lot of us to turn up the volume on her tunes when they play. Everything else that happened will be as if nothing happened at all.

The best one can do is hope that her talent, amply represented on her albums and hits, will outlive the infamy of her last decade or so, a time of stupid, inane, inexplicably moronic behavior driven by drugs, a period where the brilliant and beautiful Whitney was turned one of the least appealing people to make the gossip programs; she became less appealing than chewed pizza crust. Her death is a shame and the horror of it all is that there is NOTHING ANYONE CAN DO ABOUT IT! Those who obsessed with celebrity culture and those obsessed with grousing the masses lack of more profound reaction have the momentary wish that they, whoever "they" happen to be, should pass laws against these terrible things, that being brilliant people dying "before their time”, and the banality of the collective opinion about celebrities that unbelievably few of us have met, let alone know anything about besides what's allowed on a press release.

My wish would be for us to turn off our television and computers for a day and instead take a walk along the beach, with a book, a pair of sunglasses, a nice box lunch, grateful that this day, this hour, this minute that we are alive with the full of our senses are working just fine, that we are engaged with a world that is phenomenal even without the metaphors we try to assign it, that we are not this day, this hour, this minute dropping dead from whatever is waiting for us and which we'll meet eventually, date and time undisclosed.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The shiny lights of the season

It was a room full of things  like broken radios, wood furniture, rusted patio chairs, paintings of paper boats on Central Park ponds, newspaper stacks and boxes full of cleaning supplies and parts of battered reed instruments. It was a room full of thing she was interested in, as the years that have gathered behind her took with them a large share of the sum of her interests in the life she passed through as though she were a mist settling on the hours and minutes in the lives of other people. She looked out the window at the neighborhood that sprawled street by street , perfect blocks of homes, drive ways and detached garages, each doubtlessly hiding mute dramas behind the line of trash cans and compost heaps. This is where all the bottles are buried, she thought, this is where he daughter learned about boys and the zip less seduction, this is where her husband gave her secret names under supermarket signs, this is where decals with insane eyes gave the corroding silver trim of American cars a signal that age comes to any set of machines and animal limbs, that things pile up and become nothing at all when memory flickers or is distracted by strings of fire crackers or  the shiny lights of the season

Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas, and the genius of his lyrics. - Slate Magazine

Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas, and the genius of his lyrics. - Slate Magazine:

Jan Swafford essentially argues in her Slate article that Leonard Cohen is a better lyricist than Bob Dylan, or anyone else for that matter who has bothered to compose rhyme to melody. A broad premise , typical for Slate and internet magazines where deadlines often drive good argument. Still, the story has a point I think Swafford tip toes around; Bob Dylan is, in essence and in fact, a song lyricist who has a particularly strong gift for the poetic effect, while Cohen is a poet in the most coherent sense; he had published several volumes of poetry and published two novels prior to his taking up the guitar. Dylan's style is definitely the definition of the postmodern jam session, a splendid mash up of Little Richard, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and a long line of obscure or anonymous folk singers who's music he heard and absorbed. His lyrics, however arcane and tempered with Surreal and Symbolist trappings--although the trappings , in themselves, were frequently artful and inspired--he labored to the pulse of the chord progression, the tight couplets, the strict obedience to a rock and roll beat. This is the particular reason he is so much more quotable than Cohen has turned out to be; the songwriter's instinct is to get your attention and keep it and to have you humming the refrain and singing the chorus as you walk away from the music player to attend to other task. Chances are that you are likely to continue humming along with the music while you work, on your break, on the drive home, for the remains of the day. This is not to insist that Cohen is not quotable or of equal worth--I am in agreement that Cohen , in general, is the superior writer to Dylan, and is more expert at presenting a persona that is believably engaged with the heartaches, pains and dread-festooned pleasures his songs take place. His lyrics are more measured, balanced, less exclamatory and time wasting, and exhibit a superior sense of irony. Cohen is the literary figure, the genuine article, who comes to songwriting with both his limitations and his considerable gifts. All is to say that Dylan has Tin Pan Alley throwing a large shadow over his work. Cohen, in turn, is next to a very large bottle of ink and a quill.

'via Blog this'

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chair


I was told to have a seat while the managers finished their discussion in the other room, but I looked hard and long at the chair they offered me, a kitchen chair with a vinyl covered cushion that was tan colored and creased in an inept machine tooled method to make the surface appear like leather. The lights in the room dimmed somewhat and it seemed as if the entire floor of the building had become one large elevator car; I could feel myself sinking to the depths below the stomach to where nausea was a brew always waiting at the table you walked away from in a hope that you could learn new ways to slake a thirst. You return to where you were continually ill, you return to the place where disasters occur like the arrival of mail and small teeming insect colonies when the weather gets warmer. Strange how I got tired of a life that made made sense without explanation, a life where every decision was followed by appropriate response , with the results being an equilibrium not unlike a placid like dreamed of in a passing Idyll, smooth surface, calm waters, perfectly diffused sunlight . I got tired of that and wanted to lurk around the basement again, to wallow among the empty boxes and bottles behind the figurative water heater; life should be a series of pipes that leaked contentedly. So here I was, on the third floor staring at a kitchen chair's cheap vinyl covering, waiting for the managers to finish their discussion in the other room.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

There

There is nothing else to do. All you get in return is a bag full of candy wrappers and wads of chewing gum scraped from under school desks. Neither one of us thought of saying a prayer should the elevator cord snap suddenly and send us to a horrible, flattening death, but there we were anyway, staring forward at the doors, waiting fro them to open to a floor that resembled the one we just left, exactly the same but three floors closer to the parking lot.

Red Pennies

There's nothing but red pennies on the table top, tarnished copper coins that have travelled the length of the city with once being drawn out by fumbling fingers seeking bus fare, or that last two pennies offered in a purchase to round out the change to some even, coin-less denomination.

She spreads the coins over the table with the palm of a hand and relishes the feel of industrial metal.

The aroma of the pennies reaches her nose, she can almost taste the bitterness from when she was three, always putting money in her mouth that her parents might have dumped on dresser drawers, empty ashtrays on living room coffee tables, lost between any plush cushion that have a


Her cat, Emile, who is hungry and demands with stares to be fed. She smiles. Enough here for half a newspaper, she thinks, or a single bite from a peanut butter sandwich. She pets her cat, the phone rings.
"


A higher power with no sense of irony


I heard during a lecture that Thomas Pynchon had written somewhere that God is the original conspiracy theory; I haven't found the source of the quote, but the saying appears in many places around the Internet, and it seems that the sentiment has resonated loudly with quite a few. Whether there is an all powerful Deity really isn't the topic of the following poem, originating, rather, from a frustration of a good number of folks to invoke his name when the conversation, in print, on a monitor, or in person, touches on the intangible, the unanswerable, the unknowable.

It's a mystery, it's god's will, it's part of a plan not revealed to us--all these, in variations both subtle and dumb, emerge when the chasm yawns before the assembled.The stark differences in God's persona between Old and New Testaments had changed his mind as to what to do with the world he created, and it's reasonable to think of him as a Deity who is constantly changing, evolving. Otherwise we'd have a God who is static and incapable of changing; he'd be someone who'd be incapable of dealing with an continually unfolding cosmos which he put in motion in the first place. The Prime Mover, I'd think, must by definition be able to move again, and yet again, as needed , as his vast mind assesses, discerns and decides. But iti may be a mistake to think of God as omnipotent ; if we are made in his likeness then our weaknesses are his as well, and this gives a vital clue that God is less than all-powerful and that he doesn't know the outcome of each and every matter before him. It's an attractive notion that God remains teachable by the very things he creates.

I understand the reluctance venture forth into things where there is nothing concrete and all else is supposition--it would be a tacit admission that our daily lives are guided by habits of behavior not directed by natural, embedded imperatives and mandates from heaven, but are rather instinctual/species behavior which we conveniently decorate with a language capable of turning our thoughts into fine arts, culture and technology. Ours would seem to be a species with an alphabet, nothing more, a variation from the gene pool which, in the meantime, could be developing an even more intriguing species to supplant our loud presence on the planet. who wants to think that they are merely passing through , merely in line on the evolutionary chain of happenstance? Invoking god's name would be the fastest way to block out the sun.There's a reason that it's written that God blessed/cursed man with Free Will; I actually believe that FW is central to his Divinity, in the sense that he could choose to battle his creative power and simply do nothing. The existential nature of God, though, would become bored and ill-tempered simply existing in a vacuum, and so he decided to create meaning for himself, much as we do in this realm. Free will is that thing that allows us to associate together and determine and define right and wrong, good and evil, and it is also that inspire given instinct, I believe, to empower us to fight the baser desires and instincts.

Ah well. I say that we have the capacity to think and may as well do so, chasing every loose thread and inconsistency we happen upon. We can't just call the problems of existence acts of Providence and leave it at there. Thinking, discussion, analysis, poking at eternal mysteries are the Acts of Providence each us are the recipient of. To lie down is to deny a miracle, and that can't be good for anyone. .
How God Created The World

No god I know
waits for a chat
as he waits
in a garden ripe
with words that
are first in line.
There is no garden
until he desires fruit
rich in the taste
of particular soils,
there will be no desire
until he creates hunger
and the need to sit down,
there will be no table or chair
to put anything
that belongs on them
until he contrives the
things that go there
and makes it all look
like they've been present
for the ages.
There will be no ages
unless he makes things
with tongues, mouths,
tastes of all sorts,
something alive
with a memory of what's good
in this life they discovered along
the way as they experimented
with ways to talk to a god
who seems so busy
thinking things through,
he realizes
nothing will age
unless there are creatures
that die.

The god I know
thinks of big words
and broad strokes,
he's been asleep
since the beginning
time, which he invented,
he will wake up
and create, I think,
the cell phone, on a lark,
and will notice
at once
that his voice mail is full.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Samuel Beckett walks out of the Wallgreens


There are not enough words in the dictionary to get across those areas of emotion that, while lacking the full force and heat of feelings that have bubbled up like lava from some formerly dormant crater none the less make your week a series of textured anxieties. The magazine stands you pass in the drug store remind you of a lover from college who has since found her own life and lost herself in the process, the prescription you're picking up in the pharmacy has a trace of your mother's voice instructing to close the kitchen door, the daylight you walk back into, the parking lot you enter, the car alarms that are sounding off in a variety of tandem duets all make you feeling that something is missing, as if lost. Or perhaps it's more like that there was nothing there to start with, merely a rumor of what this existence is worth, a poetry disguised as metaphysical certainty. 

There is no one word in the dictionary to tell you what that is, as everything is slowly revealed to be a fabric of definitions, each word and concept in the definition crystallized by yet another set of definitions. Yes, all the cars in the parking lot look alike, and the skyline resembles the profile of every other decent and deteriorating city you've ever been to, craggy cement and brick skyscrapers being hustled by sleek glass spheres and spires, each edifice and building material holding as story about  the builder's preference, apologies of choices made for the general good and the attempt to bring something back to the  cities that commerce , eroded tradition and ugly names for bath oils and fruit salad rolls ushered from our consideration, the only demonstrable reason  being the only word that requires no concordance, no explanation beyond a hand gesture toward a back pocket, it is money, it is that thing we occasionally call currency in our more precious moments , it is current, it is right now, it is what can be used in transactions that will change the landscape, the language, the neighborhoods at the present moment.  History is useless deadwood and the future never arrives. 

You put the medicine in your pocket, you look for car keys, you look at people at the bus stop nearby discussing something heatedly, with large, over sized gestures, movements of arms and hands to illustrate explosions and a fist to an invisible jaw. It is the conversations you can't hear that are the loudest ones you remember.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sad Sack Generation


Laura Miller, Salon's sharp book critic, had a column in the Open.Salon blog a while back  on her blog at  Open Salon about the current crop of sad young literary writers. Progressing to the point where our inner lives are the principle subject matter for the middlebrow " serious novel", she wonders aloud how is that we've come up with so many novelists and short story writers who write novels about people unable to transcend their grieving. There is no "getting over" the depression that follows the death of a loved one, or the break up with a wife or girl friend. A generation prior would find no end of fiction writers who could lighten their meloncholy and despair with choice bits of humor, wit, absurd comedy, notable in work like that of John Cheever or John Updike; no matter how grim the action or limitless the poetry once could extract from the misery might be, their instincts were to undercut the mourner and push him or her toward the larger task of reentering the world where they live; sorrow is a neighborhood one ought not reside in too long. With time, you become a bore entrenched on your own box of miserable experience. Much of the cause for the rise of these dour, all-is-ashen scribes has been the emphasis in recent decades on the journey within rather the adventure without; characters confront a rough patch in their life and spend the course of many chapters studying their feelings and second guessing their reactions to further circumstances beyond control, resulting in some eventual metaphor about powerlessness. Once in a while this can be a moving saga, but there is less than there used to be about what people do in the world and how their actions effect communities and neighborhoods they might pass though. It would seem that someone had uttered once that having your characters merely think about world suffices for momentum, but that is hardly enough. There is a tedium in the results, a monotony self awareness that is depressing for all the depressed people these plots deal with. Blame therapy, twelve step movements, the 60s? It hardly matters now. Once we read stories of women and (mostly) men who wanted to engage their universe and change it somewhat, a situation where introspection, if any, was predicated on actual turns of events; tension was created, resolution came finally,and we had dramatic action. Even the great soliloquist Shakespeare knew that Hamlet's navel gazing had to be juxtaposed against more turbulent events around him. It's a shame that our better prose stylists have largely forgotten that lesson.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spielberg

It is interesting to consider which of Steven Spielberg's are his be movies art, but the irony is that the director is really little else than jittery hack without a real idea, emotion or camera move in his style who just happens to have a brilliant technical command of film making techniques. There's no doubt that he has a deep and abiding love for movies and for movie making: there are movies he's made that rise above his typical habit to pander and tell the story without a misstep. Those would be Munich, a film  on the serious side of narration that is emotionally tense and taut in the telling; it reminds you how brilliant this director can be when it comes to crating tension. I would add as well his adaptation of  Phillip K. Dick's dystopian short story Minority Report. In spite of the expected creation of a future world that looks as though Steve Jobs would have designed it, sleek, efficient and without a soul, Spielberg creates and sustains the paranoia that makes Dick's tales the amazingly knotted thrillers they are.  but he is basically a technocrat who cannot help but make you feel that he's more interested in the how of things of things instead of the how. He is, to say the least, not hesitant to use every gun in his arsenal in much of the time in order get through his plot points and the emotional resonance they are meant to convey. Resonate they do, from Close Encounters, ET and through his two new films, War Horse and Tintin,  it's a unpleasant feeling that you've been had, worked over, played for all you were worth. Emotional displacement is not one of his results.  What makes his conspicuous button  palatable, watchable is the brutal efficiency of the spectacle he provides. Fantastic and overstuffed many of his films seem to be, they are brisk and they don't waste your time; there is a calculus Spielberg has devised that makes even the most absurd of his films from being entirely a waste of time.He is, I think, a button-pushing cynic who approaches movie with the same level of sincerity the producers of "reality" television shows do. HIs seems , film by film, to care less about the artfulness of the story--subtlety,irony, character complexity--than he is in eliciting a response. On the score, his work is the most mediocre of directors currently in Hollywood. He is less honest than Michael Bay, he is less likable than Edward Wood.