Sep 042016
 

She looked out into the quiet, sunny streets, and for the first time in her life, she hated it all—the white city, the white world. She could not, that day, think of one decent white person in the whole world. She sat there, and she hoped that one day God, with tortures inconceivable, would grind them utterly into humility, and make them know that black boys and black girls, whom they treated with such condescension, such disdain, and such good humor, had hearts like human beings, too, more human hearts than theirs.

—James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain

Sep 032016
 

Indeed, a student can’t have too much time on his hands, if he wants to understand every theater’s individual repertoire, study the Parisian labyrinth’s intricate convolutions, learn how things are done, master the capital’s peculiar language, and grow accustomed to its special pleasures; he needs to explore both good and wicked neighborhoods, take all the interesting courses at the university, catalogue the treasures in all the museums. And the student needs to throw himself into endless idiocies, which seem to him important and noble. …And so, step by step, he strips off his babybark, raises his horizons, and in the end comes to understand the human layers of which society is composed.

–Honoré de Balzac, Pere Goriot

 Balzac on students  September 3, 2016  Commonplace Book Tagged with:
Sep 032016
 

My brother, my sister and I have played World of Warcraft for years. It’s fun, but it’s also a way for us to find time to talk and to hang out despite living thousands of miles away from each other. So when the release date for Warcraft was announced, we knew that there was really no way we were not going to see this movie, reviews be damned. And yes, the reviews were absolutely awful.

Here’s the thing: watching the movie I understood the complaints of every single reviewer who found themselves sitting in a dark theatre watching the silly portentousness of it all. Their suffering must have been real and was surely terrible.

But the movie wasn’t for them. It was for me and my brother and my sister, who laughingly compiled our list of all the very cool (but yes, if you want to be a killjoy, also very silly) things we hoped we’d see. And I’m happy to report, almost everything was checked off our lists, including a sheep. Even better, we got to see a major scene near the film’s midpoint echo one of our favorite moments from the early storyline of the last expansion. So for us, this film was a complete and total win and we were ecstatic.

But once it was done and I was home, the film got me thinking about a couple things. The first is that, despite its budget and blockbuster sheen, Warcraft was a small film in the sense that it aimed to be nothing other than a niche product appealing unashamedly to the specific segment of filmgoers who were ready to enjoy it for what it was. And in this way it reminded me of Krull, my go-to example of an amazingly effective stab at pure-fantasy filmmaking.

And that target audience? They turned out and bought tickets to watch it. My theatre was full of men and women of all ages, all of them clearly gamers, all of them laughing and having a good time together, and all of them clearly chill (except for the Fury Warrior sitting two rows up with a snack ready to go in each hand). It was a great crowd, and crazy as it sounds, I kinda felt like, once the end credits were rolling, that we should all share our specs, guilds and realms so that we could hang out afterwards. I was attending a WoW party in my hometown, and I was a bit sad when we all got up and disappeared back into the world.

Second, I realized that this film does something at the level of production that was different from what I’d seen before. Films with product tie-ins or that adapt popular stories or properties are as old as cinema itself. So it’s easy to mistake Warcraft as more of the same. But I really don’t think it is.

Now I haven’t dug around or done the necessary research—so consider this bar talk slash intuition translated into print—but in every other example of a non-incidental tie-in or adaptation that I can think of, the Hollywood film operates as the hub of the cross-media and licensing strategies. In those cases where the non-Hollywood properties have seemed to have some level of independence and this hierarchy has begun to blur, I can’t think of one where either 1) the film didn’t flop terribly; or 2) a studio or conglomerate didn’t buy the property (or its owner) outright. In both cases, the priority of the film and studio in the cross-media story world is clearly reestablished.

Warcraft has not followed this pattern. Despite frenzied accounts to the contrary, the film did not flop and there will be sequels. But neither did it shift the story focus to a new film-driven franchise. Blizzard intended Warcraft primarily as a means to develop and to support the core game by providing backstory for the recent Warlords of Draenor expansion. They also aimed to support and generate interest in the next expansion, called Legion, by reintroducing ideas and themes from earlier expansions that the new game content would build upon. In support of these goals, Blizzard appears to have insisted on controlling the film’s narrative and its presentation from script development forward even though doing so reportedly put the project at risk more than once due to studio objections to their demands.

To my eyes, the film that came out in theaters this summer looks like the movie Blizzard wanted to make. It supports the emerging game story and fits seamlessly into the cross-media collection of supporting works being issued as book series and animated videos that develop and introduce that story to various audiences. The film is larger in scale than these other works, but in terms of narrative, it seems to be on equal footing with them.

Stated differently, the game and not the film remains the hub of Warcraft‘s story world, which means Hollywood is not in charge of this story machine; it is just one of the gears. I think that makes this situation something new and very much worth watching as it develops.

 September 3, 2016  Movie Logs Tagged with: , , ,
Sep 022016
 

London Spy Poster

This is the gay spy thriller the BBC put out last year and that has finally come to Netflix in Quebec. For celebrity obsession reasons, I liked it, but it is a dark and strange show.

The key early moment comes when Ben Whishaw speaks with his dead lover’s mother and she feeds him a very credible lie. Whishaw responds that “I haven’t read a lot of books or seen a lot of places, but I’ve fucked a lot of people.” He then exposes her lie and figures out a bit more of the puzzle.

In this moment, the series announces what I take to be an important but implicit project: to reimagine Sherlock Holmes in such a way that sexual experience supplants rationality and knowledge as the object and tool of deduction. As absurd as it sounds, Whishaw will peel back the lies and secrets hiding an MI6 plot simply by refusing to let go of his memories of the sex he had with his lover (and with those who came before) and by listening to the feelings these memories provoke. Because it’s Ben Whishaw suffering his way through this ordeal of emotional detection, I was on-board, but I wonder if that would be the case otherwise?

Ben with Big Ben

What was perhaps most shocking to me though was the image the series paints of government. This story operates in a world where agencies we don’t see or control are willing to discredit a critic by having a doctor purposely infect them with HIV. These same people kill a man by locking him into a luggage trunk and then leave him there to rot. They kill a different man and disguise his murder as a suicide, lighting the tableau in ways that remind me of a scene from The Silence of the Lambs.

The narrative does not however treat this brutality or the people who perpetrate it as if they were exceptional or fantastic or required explanation. In this London, the sun rises, the Thames flows downstream, and high-level government employees are psychopathic. Yes, Whishaw sees this and resists, but the very fact that he is so alone as he fights and that the others he meets are so oblivious to (or accepting of) what’s going on suggests that it is his sense of the world and not theirs that is the problem.

I’m guessing this paranoid world view is simply part of the spy genre, but by the end, the darkness of it was oppressive, and I’d had all I could take.

London Spy (Beach)

 

One final note: although the show is very well done, I think it missteps badly when it identifies the contents of the USB key that Whishaw finds in the first episode. The specifics of the contents are unimportant and when spelled out sound silly. In my opinion, let the MacGuffin be a MacGuffin.

 September 2, 2016  TV Logs Tagged with: ,
Sep 022016
 

De Profundis CoverNearly a year after reading it for the first time, this short book remains one that, when I’m sitting in my reading chair and glancing at my shelves, I find myself picking up, flipping through and reading a page here or a page there. Or if I don’t actually pick it up, I end up remembering bits and thinking about them as I sit.

Wilde’s confidence in the power of art and imagination is inspiring and his appropriation of history and the Christ narrative as a queer antecedent is wonderfully and deeply audacious. And the story of the love and the failures that brought him to prison reads like a novel. (The father’s persecution of Wilde reminds me of the diabolical officer in Billy Budd.)

There’s earned wisdom poured into this book, and, coming to Wilde as I did from the popular image that persists today on mugs and shopping bags, its seriousness was unexpected and a happy discovery.

 September 2, 2016  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Sep 012016
 

TNM_Romeo_Juliette_photographe-Jean-Fran--ois-GrattonThe Thêatre du Nouveau Monde staged a translation of Romeo and Juliette this summer. Turns out the Beav had never seen or read the play and didn’t even know the story. (“C’est une historie d’amour…, no?”) So at the last minute we grabbed tickets and watched the final matinee.

The production presents the story clearly and directly, which, given this was the Beav’s first encounter with it, I was glad of. I could have lived without it being set in Mussolini’s Italy, but still, the core was there.

Serge Denoncourt, who was coming off his well reviewed A Streetcar Named Desire, was directing, and I’ve decided I don’t like his approach. He’s clearly caught up in the idea of sexual provocation and is willing to tinker with the text of the plays in substantial ways. Neither are necessarily problems—who doesn’t like a bit of sexual provocation?—but to my eye, he also seems intent on stripping away complexity and ambiguity as if insisting, bizarrely, that the play is accessible because it doesn’t actually have much to offer.

This production felt to me like a collage of imperfectly digested movie moments, and it was hobbled by wild and uncontrolled shifts in tone. The extremely tacky staging of the couple having sex on their wedding night (yikes) and the bumbling final death scene, during which a large part of the audience actually laughed (double yikes) are both good example of these missteps. The balcony scene—which seemed determined to establish that it was not (and yet was) a “Balcony Scene”—stumbled nearly as a badly by suggesting that the young protagonists were silly rather than falling into feeling. (Marianne Fortier’s Juliette comes out of the scene fine.)

Despite, all my complaints, the play survived, the Beav liked it, and as I left, I felt happy to have watched this story again. I was also happy to see it in translation because hearing Shakespeare translated is as unexpected now as it was to me last year when I watched Richard III. French Shakespeare is and is not Shakespeare in very strange and exciting ways.

 September 1, 2016  Theatre Logs Tagged with: ,