Mar 312017
 

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading—that is a good life.

—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Mar 312017
 

I loved the seasons of Justified that I’ve watched, and reading this novel is like hearing the TV from another room. So the writers and producers must be doing something right when it comes to the adaptation.

Ultimately though, however much I might enjoy watching something like Justified, my head just doesn’t work when it comes to reading the source fiction. Names don’t stick. I don’t notice the details that stitch together the ins-and-outs of what the bad guys are doing. Worse, I don’t care that I’m not able to make the links. For me, reading crime fiction means pages are flipped, words are read, but the plot just happens in a buzzing, oddly narcotic haze populated by shadows.

I think that the pleasure hard-boiled crime novels—like this one, like The Maltese Falcon—offer their reader is a chance to watch a blank figure of archaic masculine virtue struggle to do a difficult job in a modern world. This man is thrown about and put in danger, but he survives and eventually wins, and he does this through force of character alone. I imagine this is a fairly obvious observation about the genre.

What’s odd though is that, while I dislike reading this kind of crime fiction almost as a rule, I often enjoy watching it when it’s adapted to film or television. What’s going on?

My hunch is that the relevant difference is this: ogling a stylishly photographed strong, silent type of the sort offered up by crime fiction is good fun but identifying with one (which is what reading positions me to do) isn’t. In other words, I enjoy desiring Timothy Olyphant but find no pleasure in desiring to be a tough guy.

 March 31, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with: , ,
Mar 302017
 

This production featured incredible performances. By the dinner scene, Benoît McGuinnes had become a tour de force, and the other actors stayed with him straight through to the end. Over and over, I was caught off guard by natural effortless readings of lines that somehow struck me as unexpected or revealing. It was a great experience.

That said, I’ve never seen a show in which I hated the set more or felt more strongly that it was purposefully aggressive toward the audience.

The stage was empty except for a closed, black box that was raised up on row after row of construction jacks. This box was enormous: it was the same width and depth as the stage and it was high enough to take up half the available vertical space. As a result, it served as a roof over the actors’ heads throughout. There were only two places for action to be performed: at the very front of the stage (the only place where everyone was out from under the box) or further back, under the box. In the latter case, the actors were screened from the view of anyone not on the ground level, and for people in the balconies, watching the play often meant watching actors’ feet and hips.

So why was the box there? It’s tough to say because over the course of the entire production it is used in only two ways, both of them extremely brief. First, the box’s front wall opened during the first and last minutes of the play offering a brightly lit and blindingly white space where Caligula acted out his anguish and despair in private. The first of these moments was shocking and exciting. As it happened I thought it was effective. By the final moments, I’d changed my mind.

The second use of the box was more fragmentary. At three or four points during the performance, small panels opened in its front walls to reveal the dead Drusilla watching the action of the play silently from above. These moments were disconnected, distracting and largely without point. If I were to be less generous, I’d call them sentimental.

Neither of these two uses of the box—not even the first, which I liked initially—offers anything substantial enough to off-set the fact that it makes the actors act where most of their audience can’t really see them. As a result, the box feels hostile and arbitrary, a sense of things that makes me wonder why it was there at all.


One thought: the open box has proportions resembling those of a cinemascope frame; the panels opening onto Drusilla resembled video screens; the action only proceeds clearly when confined to the narrow (i.e. flat) space of the front of the stage. Are these hints that this stage is operating in relation to the cinema screen? It it inviting a consideration of mediation?

If so, the idea is too undeveloped to do any work.


Update here.

 March 30, 2017  Theatre Logs Tagged with: , ,
Mar 282017
 

The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

–Philip Larkin (via)

Mar 242017
 

The neighbouring village had a temporary stoplight for a few weeks as road crews did some work on the bank of the river. Seeing as how the village is a sleepy, stop-signs-only kind of place, the change—I could get caught by a red light! Grrrr!—felt big time and sophisticated, especially since the light wasn’t around long enough to actually become annoying.

Stopped one day last week on my way home, I stared out over the fields rather than at the river. My mind was wandering around elsewhere, and so I only realized how beautiful the scene was as the signal flipped to green. There were cars behind me, but I grabbed my phone and snapped a quick pic before taking off.

And no one honked.

 March 24, 2017  Moments Tagged with:
Mar 232017
 

I don’t like crime fiction. I knew this, and this book—which is as weird to me as The Sound of Music was to a young David Lynch1—confirms it.

I mean it’s great in a tough guy and dames kind of way. And if that’s your thing, cool.

I just don’t care.

At all.

 March 23, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with:
Mar 222017
 

According to cliché, there’s no “I” in team. There is however an “i” in “poise” and that “I”—let’s risk pretension and call it an eye—makes a “pose” something admirable and beautiful.

Tom Ford’s second film is magnificent and moving. It offers a cool and expansive but also a carefully self-conscious regard upon popular and art spectatorships.

I loved this movie and truly don’t understand what (other than bile) could have kept it from being a darling of the award season alongside the equally ambitious but very different (because sincere) Moonlight.

…maybe that was the problem: this is a personal movie about “the personal” but without ostentatious sincerity.

Exhibit A: this is how Tom Ford dressed for work:

 March 22, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Mar 222017
 

Iron Fist was a comic character I loved when I was a kid even though he was marginal and even if I didn’t have many issues with him in them. The issue where he was killed (back when people died in comics and stayed dead) completely upset me. So I have some bias toward buy-in when it comes to the Netflix series.

Oddly though, I’m not feeling it, which means that, of the five seasons of television springing from Netflix’s and Marvel’s collaboration I’ve liked only Jessica Jones. That’s not a great record. (And I’ve really not liked Daredevil.)

I’m not done with (and not binging) Iron Fist though so maybe things will turn around. For now I just want to note for future reference that the thing that drives me crazy with the series so far is the sense that Danny Rand isn’t so much a character as he is a mash-up of various possiblities of how to imagine the character.

Contradictory responses and desires are one way to generate the illusion of depth and complexity. But here, the variations in character traits read as confusion because they so often manifest at moments when the shift enables a plot development. So Danny’s naive but menacing when he needs to be misunderstood enough to be confined to a mental hospital, but he’s controlled and cagey when he needs to suddenly have money and cultivate allies. And the difference between the two feel less like personae adopted by a complex character than alternative versions of the character, each appearing when necessary to advance the plot.

This interaction between plotting and character development makes sense, but I hadn’t thought of it so directly before watching the initial episodes of this show.

So maybe more to come about the series…

 March 22, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: ,
Mar 182017
 

The Beav: “C’est n’importe quoi…”

Me: “Yep”

I’m not at all sure what the appeal of this story is supposed to be. What pleasure does it think it offers? To my eye, it’s just carefully shot wretchedness from start to finish.

And speaking of shots, that last one? Leonardo is no Jean Seberg.

(Yes, I’ve clearly found this movie extremely annoying.)

Mar 142017
 

Oddly boring and ponderous movie. Yet its style—the color, the editing, the script—is all over the map. Everything but Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s performance feels one misstep shy of out of control and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour (2014) is the better film by orders of magnitude.

I miss the Oliver Stone of Natural Born Killers. Nothing he’s done except JFK has ever come close to its level of lucid insanity. And nothing he’s done—nothing at all—comes close to the earned confidence of its anarchic beauty.

 March 14, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,