The Triumph of Style

I'm generally not one to favor that style-over-substance approach people like Guy Richie and Quentin Tarentino feel they can rely upon, but in some cases, it can be absolutely flooring. In some cases the style of a director can seem out of place in the majority of his or her films, but you put up with it because their films are interesting. I've always been a fan of Wong Kar Wai and felt that when he stepped away from his established style to make In The Mood For Love, it was the smartest thing he'd ever done (the film is beautiful in every way). Bits of the style he'd established in Chungking Express and Fallen Angels seeped into Mood, but it was essentially a departure. Departures from your established style can yield positive results (There Will Be Blood, Frenzy, Dersu Uzala), but, almost more exciting is what happens when you find the perfect use for the style you've created; the reason you had a voice in the first place.

My Blueberry Nights
by Wong Kar Wai
It's no secret that Wong Kar Wai loves America. He loves it as Sergei Eisenstein and Akira Kurosawa did before him. He loves it almost as much as John Ford loved it. His films have all been testaments to that love; He's made manic-crime films a la Point Blank; retellings of golden age Doris Day-Rock Hudson romances; he's structured entire films around pieces of American music; he's in the middle of remaking The Lady From Shanghai. He's the Jean-Luc Godard of Hong Kong; a cinephile's cinephile. Best of all he's managed (until now) to make his films incredibly entertaining in their own right, completely divorced from his fanboy's nature. When I say until now it's because if anyone else in the world had tried to make My Blueberry Nights it would have been unwatchable. A predictable, romantic comedy/road movie where the naive girl learns lessons from the kooky characters she meets along the way, all the while sending postcards to the boy she secretly crushes on. That is about as trite a plot as they come. But what saves it from certain failure is the fact that as I was watching it, Kar Wai's style (the very thing that had given me pause while watching his other movies) makes perfect sense. To put it simply this is the movie he was born to make.

This is Kar Wai's first english language movie (and if he were smart he might make it his last movie period) and stylistically he's never going to beat himself. The slow crank speed of his cinematography, the lingering, sweaty soundtrack, the shifting narratives, the blindsiding, ambiguous heartbreak, all of it adds up here in ways it never did in his Hong Kong films. Every cliche, every silly line, every tired plot device, every piece of narration, all of it would have killed any other film. Not this one. This is Kar Wai's loveletter to America and nothing (not even Norah Jones in the worst acting turn by a singer since John Lurie's debut in Stranger Than Paradise) could ruin it. The film has faults (even the title screams "wasted hour and a half!"), but they brought more smiles than anything. Rachel Weisz can't pick an accent? No sweat! Natalie Portman as a world-weary gambler? Isn't that cute!?! Cat Power is Jude Law's supposedly Russian Girlfriend? ...Actually, I really don't know what to make of that. Sure I guess she has the bangs to look kind of Russian, but she doesn't even fake an accent. And her music's all over the soundtrack. That one's a head-scratcher. But the point is that the folksy wisdom the lead inherits from the crazies she encounters feels fresh. He gets help from co-writer Lawrence Block in capturing that feel of modern southern lore, but here it's all in the camera. Silly, idealistic stories were meant to look like this, and to see that potential fulfilled (on both ends) was strangely satisfying. Never in a million years could I be asked to care about Norah Jones finding her way back to Jude Law, but, here I let it all wash over me like the gorgeous sunset, diner grease, cigarette smoke, and winter air that drift through the reels. Nothing has ever looked quite so perfect as the fluorescent lights of a Memphis dive through a camera in drop-frame slow-mo.
As it is I think there are two kinds of people who'll enjoy this movie: girls between 12-35 who love romantic comedies/Jude Law and me. Do I recommend this film to anyone who doesn't meet that criteria? HELL NO! But I can tell you that I was so ecstatic over the absolute success of Wong Kar Wai's storytelling that the fact that it's been told a million times never bothered me for a second. Sure it's been told before, to the point of irrelevance, but never by Wong Kar Wai. Never the right way.

Earth Day

Four days ago was earth day. I don't think anyone mentioned it to me once that day. Dunkin Donuts gives out cold drinks in both plastic and styrofoam cups at the same time. We really deserve to be erased, don't we? This is a graphic Cooper Mckim made for a t-shirt design contest. I'm sorry he didn't win (not that I don't like Maggie Farrell's design, in fact I wear it as I write this); the best I can do is show it to everyone who'll look at it. Kind of like environmental problems; can't force anyone to acknowledge them, we can just do our best. Happy Earth Day, Cooper.

Woman in the Dunes

Last night I watched one of the most original films ever made. No one's ever come close to the bug-eyed weirdness of this film (plot, feel, and all). It was Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes and it was truly excellent. It was made in 1964, it's not quite drama, not quite sci-fi, not quite psychological horror, but there are elements of the lot to be found. It follows an entomologist who's lured into spending the night in an isolated desert village. He's led to a rope ladder leading to a house deep in a pit surrounded by sand. The inhabitant is a single, strange looking woman who goes out at night to dig the sand, put it in buckets, and then put it in a net for the men at the top of the pit to collect. He realizes pretty quickly he's not getting out unless he escapes and spends the next three months alternately making himself comfortable and trying to get out. The sand that surrounds them is as much a character as anything else (so for that matter is Toru Takemitsu's pre-Exorcist violin scraping. This might be my favorite horror/sci-fi score of all time). It pervades their lives, their sleeping, eating, drinking, sex, livelihood, hobbies, everything. The sand is their reason for living and will be the death of them before anything else. The entomologist is also curiously in thrall to the woman he shares the house with. His feelings toward her are constantly shifting as time passes and his ambitions change. She is the bane of his existence and the siren song that pulls him in. Her sexuality is clearly an issue, but it's approached from a completely different angle. It is her sexuality that probably frightens him the most; he knows he isn't strong enough to combat his feelings about her. Films don't appear to be this emotionally complex anymore, for whatever reason, but I sincerely wish we'd try again.

It's almost a lot of things: noir, sci-fi, romance, horror, dystopia. The cinematography explores every rough texture, finding smoothness so rarely that it becomes precious when we or the entomologist stumble upon it. Human skin has never been so nuanced - never as perfect as it could be, yet paradoxically never more beautiful. Teshigahara made films like André De Toth, but with the despair writ large, rather than waiting in the wings or seeped into the faces of his characters. By contrast, all of Teshigahara's heroes are flummoxed to the point of exasperation. They don't know how to play it cool. They scream and bark and try like hell to beat a system that's gamed them from the outset. Fate is three steps ahead and they can do nothing about it except slowly get used to the idea. Even if it means kissing freedom goodbye.

My Favourite Film Number 1

This is part of my effort to write about my 100 favorite films in two pages or less. Due to the nature of this film, the essay is also available on Honors Zombie. The others that follow will be decidedly less campy, but I love it just as much as any art film I've ever seen, so here it is.

Dawn of the Dead
by George A. Romero

Dawn of the Dead? Oh yes, friends. Why this, of so many bad post-exploitation era zombie films? Why this at all? Dawn of the Dead and I have something of a history together. I saw this movie in the fourth grade as part of my dad’s attempt to both catch up on horror films he had missed out on as a teenager and to show me what horror cinema really is. And he was spot on really; what film represents the vanguard of 1970s horror cinema better? Director, writer, performer, and producer George A. Romero (Ed Wood and Orson Welles weren't the only ones) had gained renown for directing Night of the Living Dead, it’s indie predecessor, the godfather of budget horror, but it was with Dawn that he let the world know Night wasn’t a fluke. Unfortunately Romero never quite lived up to the standard set by Dawn; the supersaturated gore, the not-so-subtle critique of consumerism, the better-than-average performances pulled from the many non-actors filling the screen. Dawn is the action horror masterwork by which all should be judged, it features accurate representations of the culture and zeitgeist of 1978, features the height of 1970s shoe-string make-up effects and embodies the spirit of a true B-movie.

The film starts with the fevered dreams of Fran, a technician at a television station preparing an emergency broadcast, one gets the impression, for the last time. The story follows Fran, her helicopter pilot boyfriend Stephen and two cops, one black, Peter and one white, Roger. Zombies are overrunning western Pennsylvania, a surrogate for the rest of the world, and these four may be the last of civilization by the time the credits role. The film proper takes place mainly in a then-new indoor shopping mall, the potential for laughs, social criticism and discomforting violence of which never runs dry. Having grown up a few hours away from the places shown in the helicopter flight to the mall, I found these scenes particularly eerie. The forest where the zombies are killed by the dozens of hunters and soldiers looked not unlike the type I saw everyday. In this regard (as well as many others) Dawn is the movie that first led me to believe I could make movies. If Romero could put action in my backyard, why couldn’t I? I saw the same potential lying in wait in the everyday world that he did.

The handling of the crisis in the woods and the TV studio could be footage from a forgotten Maysles Brothers’ documentary; dozens of people in plain clothes interacting fanatically with one another in a believable yet alien fashion. The screaming pundits do an neat job with the exposition: “They get up and kill! The people they kill get up and KILL!” Next we see the way the authorities are handling the crisis; not well. The men in blue are holed up outside an urban tenement building that refuses to be evacuated. It’s here we see what it is everyone’s so terrified of. The scene in the basement is one that no gore-fan will ever forget. The conflict that permeates the film is whether to abandon everything and survive or to keep up the façade of normalcy and soldier on. The theme is not uncommon in war films and it’s handled with acumen uncommon to many budget horror films, especially when after weeks of living a life of relative solitude, our survivors question whether they’re doing the right thing. In a scene cut from the original theatrical run, our heroes go through the motions of life, try to prepare for the birth of Fran and Stephen’s child, their martial discord, exploring all the clever ways to while away the hours, while slowly it dawns on them that the mall has become a prison from which they might never escape.

Technically, Romero’s no Antonioni but he’s capable. In fact his blue collar working methods and mannerisms make his films seem like the filmic equivalent of Romero and his friends; a lovable, working class shaggy dog. Where he shines is in his character portrayals; the complete, believable people stuck inside this world. As anyone would if stuck in a claustrophobic nightmare such as this Romero slowly unpacks every facet of the four personalities; the neurosis, the need for control, tenderness, sorrow. The best of Romero’s characters for me is Ken Foree’s Peter, the tall black hero of the story. He looms over the crisis like a kind of detached father figure. He suffers the most when Roger succumbs to his wounds and wakes up one of the living dead; he tries in vain to patch up Stephen and Fran’s relationship, with some difficulty he is the first to admit defeat to the outside world without giving in to the hopelessness that overtakes Fran. He stays withdrawn enough to care when things go wrong, but not to let it overtake his psyche. His eyes say it all when Fran and Stephen passively battle over whether to keep the television on which has stopped all broadcasts days ago. Stephen wants to believe there’s a reason to stay and protect the mall, Fran sees that there is none and wants to leave it; Peter watches them both, undecided about what to do, but smart enough to either not have a side or just not to let on what he really believes.

It’s a competent character study, but it is much beside the point; which is of course zombies. Romero essentially picks up where he left off with the make-up. Night of the Living Dead showed you the dead freshly risen from the dead and their appearance reflected this. Now, several weeks into the crisis, livor mortis has set in. The blue corpses of the dead are much more troubling a sight then the average looking people who menaced the heroes in Night. With the crisis now extended to much larger portions of the world then just a Butler County farmhouse. With the bigger environment for the humans comes a much larger number of the living dead. Hundreds of the creatures wait hungrily outside for the doors to open and when they finally get in, Tom Savini was there with improved make-up effects. It’s tough to think of a film’s make-up that has so inspired the makers of movies than Savini’s work here. The graphic images of the invading biker gang being salvaged for meat have been copied more times than the opening shot of Jaws and with good reason. This is what people came to see and it’s what they take away from the film more than anything else. What really got me was watching the screaming victims continue struggling even as they were dismembered.

The denouement, while optimistic by definition, is complicated. The survivors, having sworn off the mall and its excesses, traps, and allure, escape in the helicopter they rode in on from the immediate threat of the zombies. What waits for them beyond the sunset is not hard to predict. They may escape the dawn of the dead, but there’s a day in front of them that can’t be any better than what they left. Romero has a penchant for never leaving a story completely told, realizing that if we don’t see the bitter end, the imagination gets to fill in the rest. He uses this trick in nearly everyone of his movies; we see enough to know how the problems at hand were dealt with, but the bigger problems lie in wait over the next hill. This kind of story telling is the kind that has had the biggest impact on me. Bring your characters in or out of the fire, but never extinguish it. There’s so much more imagination in never closing the doors you’ve spent your time and energy opening. To me, Dawn of the Dead is a perfect film (even with the over-the-top musical cues, budget constraints, limitations of many of the actors) thoughtful, never excessive, naturally performed and will be at the top of my list until the day I die. With any luck I’ll stay dead when that day comes.

Colin Meloy at the Capitol Theatre; a near-perfect evening

Sometimes, when the weather's halfway between breezy and hot, nothing is quite as perfect as reading outdoors. Sometimes, when you've got no park or grass to sit on, you do it next to a big metal power box outside the Capitol Theatre waiting for Colin Meloy to walk from his bus to the backdoor. I flipped through Heimeto Von Doderer's The Demons, volume II, as the sun went down. People walked past, cars drove by, Herr von Geyrenhoff called on Charlotte von Shlaggenberg, devil knows if she'll show, she's always late. Colin Meloy never showed up, but, I didn't mind so much. I went round front, ate crepes and coffee, met some nervous fanboys, and then walked in the front door of the capitol to watch Colin Meloy play an acoustic show. The capitol is a beautiful space (a little like the Palace in new york, but smaller and with the ambience of the Academy of Music) and reading The Demons under the balcony just felt right. The music he chose before hand is not unlike the music I'd have chosen were I in his shoes; The acoustic version of The Game by Echo & The Bunnymen, Pink Bullets by the Shins, Morrissey, british folk, etc. Rarely have I ever gotten this sensation, that the performer and I were just on the same wavelength. I felt like I knew him, like my friend Sebastian was about to take the stage, and this didn't change much when he finally stepped out.

Laura Gibson came on first and thats about when the absolute perfection of the evening made itself apparent. Laura Gibson stood, like a china doll, in a perfect white dress, her arms out at the same angle holding her guitar, which she played oh so slightly and sang like a less jazzy Regina Spektor. She looked like she belonged: here, on stage at the capitol, opening for the round faced Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. The evening was like I picture the childhood memories of Dicken's characters to be; picturesque, perfectly shaped, beset by warm feelings. No amount of thought or money could possibly reproduce the way that the evening felt; you could try, but you would fail, somethings are meant to be perfect one time for everybody. If you don't go looking for it, you might never find it. She did a cover of an old blues song that was spot-on, perfect.

Colin Meloy was a little less enthusiastic than when you hear him on his live record or the last time I saw him with the Decemberists. The touring has gotten to him, but not enough for him to not have a good time; this is the job he's chosen for himself after all. He wears Portland hipster chic; a button down plaid shirt, a sort of train-conductor's beret, and a pair of shiny jeans. His guitars are things to be envied; a beautiful battered Gibson twelve string, his Martin nylon string, and a designer guitar with words etched into the neck I didn't recognize. They all sound clear as a bell and compliment his voice, which does more of the same. His songs are wonderful and he likes a fair share of audience participation; the crowd is only too happy to oblige. The guitar solo in Perfect Crime 2, the organ in Red Right Ankle, and finally the mother's voice in Mariner's Revenge Song all became full-voiced wails of admiration. It's funny that sometimes you can see someone perform, not having listened to their music in a while, or having a few songs in your dream-setlist. He or she might not play them, but they will play a song you weren't expecting that ignites your love for their music, and music in general. His versions of Shiny and Of Angels And Angles were outstanding and soft and beautiful. Those were the songs I paid my money for; they were awesome. I wasn't really thinking about it, but when I heard the opening chords to A Cautionary Song, I got really happy, it might have been the perfect rendition. That night, Tuesday the 15th of April, might not have been perfect, but it's as close as I've come recently.

To Live In An Interpol Song

The Meanest Thing Anyone's Ever Said To Pauline Kael

And as for Damnation by Béla Tarr. Do you think anyone's ever watched Stalker and thought: "You know what this has too much of? Happiness." And thus Damnation. What a miserable film. 2 hours of ennui the likes of which I've never experienced before. Even the scenes of passionate love making look two shakes from a wake. I've put myself through a lot of slow films in the past (ask anyone), but this is where I draw the damned line. Even the cinematography bored me; on paper it sounds great, and yes, the still images do look stunning, but together, with it's pacing and the fact that it looks as though it was shot on video, I can't say a thing in this movie's defense.

Guns kill people when people fire them

Yes, it's a cheap, low thing to poke fun at the recently deceased, and for that I apologize to the surviving members of the Heston family. I will however use this to talk a minute about Gun Rights. In 2004 29,569 people were killed by guns in America. To say nothing of the deaths of Iraqi civilians by American soldiers or other Iraqis, or the countless deaths at the hands of militaristic third world governments run by pugnacious religious regimes. I'm not suggesting repealing the 2nd amendment (though revision wouldn't be out of the question) though I am suggesting that more than any other constitutional amendment, it has been the cause of death and injury. The others were essentially designed to keep violence from ever becoming a part of American society. People seem to cling to the second amendment, kind of the same way they hang on to that passage from Leviticus. Maybe the rule made sense at the time, but, right now, it's killing kids on the street, murdering civilians, empowering convenience store crooks, and helping the government prove that it needs to exist. In 1923 a former head of Scotland Yard told the United States to ban firearms, as they were the thing causing most violent crimes. That was three quarters of a century ago; In the meantime, five wars, countless midnight seizures of power, dozens of assassinations (most, if not all of which, happened to equal rights advocates), millions of armed robberies, friendly fire, shoot-outs with the police, accidental deaths and gang violence. No one's given an inch because of something decreed in 1776. Here's the thing, I can see people wanting guns to protect themselves, but they wouldn't need guns if there weren't armed criminals to defend themselves from (or tell themselves they need protection from). In reality, it just makes everyone feel nervous, prejudiced, and invincible. This country doesn't need guns, neither does the planet. Nobody needs a gun.

From My Cold Dead Paws

Charlton Heston is dead. You think we can pry that gun from his hands now? You'd think in all the obituaries they'd mention his marriage to the succubus, or all the times he had to go back and keep renewing his deal with satan. You know for the enormity of his resume, you'd think there would be better roles in better films.

The Underrated Work Of Genius - News & Tributes

People often say (or intimate) that there isn’t much good music made today. Were it not for the fact that most of the music I listen to in a given week were made in the last five years, I might consider agreeing. Not because I think there is nothing but meritless music made these days, but because most, if not all, the music I listen to today takes it roots from the music made between 1969 and 1989. Most notably stolen from (or borrowed if we mean to be a bit more generous to today’s hitmakers) is the post-punk movement that took place between 1978 and 1984. Bands that started making records in the last five years that you’ll find at your average club or college radio playlist today will more than likely have done at least as much research as I have on the subject. In fact it’s tough to think of one immune from Gang of Four comparisons, and nearly impossible to think of one who doesn’t want to be Echo & The Bunnymen. Coldplay admitted they used the Bunnymen, R.E.M., and Depeche Mode as fuel for their second and third records, Bloc Party, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Of Montreal, Radiohead, The Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio and other indie staples all borrow heavily from the Cure, New Order, The Fall, The Bunnymen, The Smiths, Public Image LTD., and others. Even bands that were around for for the movement’s death like Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, and The Flaming Lips have started taking cues from the more melodic records of the time. The real test is whether these bands can learn to change. The thing that makes Post Punk so edgy and fondly remembered is that so few bands hung around to embarrass themselves like the Classic Rock or Pop bands that clung to life like residue on a tooth brush. (Picture would have happened if the Beegees or the Rolling Stones had called it quits before 1975). Radiohead, The Arcade Fire, The Stills, and LCD Soundsystem, among others, have proved themselves capable of absorbing their influences, paying homage, and then running into new territory with them; Bloc Party, The Helio Sequence, The Faint, & Interpol have all made decent records but as of this writing haven’t yet proved themselves capable of keeping their influences in check; they all sound very much like they’re borrowing from 80s bands (not that diminishes their ability to make good music, mind you). It strikes me that when a band has the courage to take what they know, hang on to it, and then go in an unprecedented direction, that’s the definition of courage and it shows more artistry than when you never leave your means as a band. When bands try this they get as much flack as praise on principle, and so it takes a lot longer to truly appreciate the effort. This is where the Futureheads come in.

News & Tributes
by The Futureheads

I’m on too many email lists for my own good, and one of the subscriptions is get is from the Futureheads. When they started talking about their new record (due in a few months), they sent out a disheartening little message about their sophomore LP.

“…but before I go in to it I would really like to thank those of you who 'got' our second record and enjoyed where we took it, perhaps not the most predictable musical diversion, but a progression none the less. It was a pretty difficult process to rejuvenate and restore our confidence after it failed to live up to the first records success. A personal challenge and a half but nobody ever said to us, ‘be a band, it'll be easy, a doddle'. We were so sure that we had made an album that would take us to places we had never been…”

I was struck by this because, though admittedly it took me some time, I loved the record. In fact I had come to think of it as one of the best records I’d ever heard. I wanted desparately to explain that I loved it, considered it as masterful as many of my other favorites (Weezer, Nick Drake, Tom Waits), and that, yes the first record might have been a bit more ‘party-all-the-time’ catchy and sounded a bit more like everyone else, I would take News & Tributes over the eponymous any day. The more I thought about I realized that their first record’s weakness was the second’s strong points; The Futureheads sounded like a post-punk record, like it had been recorded, forgotten and then found under John Peels desk when they swept his office after his death (this could of course have something to do with Gang of Four’s Andy Gill producing a handful of the songs). This is definitely a plus when you like Entertainment! or Unknown Pleasures and want to hear something that could be the half brother of either of those records, but there was almost no risk in this formula (except to be called copycat hipsters). I still love the first record it just pales when placed next to the second one.

The start of the record is one of the smartest I’ve ever encountered. A drum program slowly grows louder and then it’s replaced by live drums, which get even louder (I was in a car with the speaker all the way up the middle of the night the first time I heard it, the ideal setting for music in my opinion). Then come the guitars; striking like lightning, kicking the thing into action, like someone turning the keys all the way. Then Barry Hyde’s voice comes in “in some cases yes, in most cases no…” It’s like a warning; ‘be warned, this is an experiment and they only work half the time, but we think you’re gonna like this’. The chorus of this song was the one thing my friend Ken told me about, and it’s probably the most English-sounding thing every recorded. The four band members chant (dubbed many times over I suspect) “YES! NO! YES! NO!” You know what that sound is? It’s ambition and it’s glorious! It sounds like a football game is underway and the band is at Manchester United leading the crowd like conductors. And the best part about this song, though it’s certainly the happiest the record get, it isn’t the loudest. Next is “Cope”, like a punk, metal, rock, and pop tune all shot out of the same barrel (guitarist Ross Millard is something of metal fan with a love for Mastodon [he’s not the only one]). It’s less than three minutes long and it takes you prisoner every second. The language is just as fierce as the music when it needs to be; there is no chorus to speak of but the thing that gets repeated most often is “HOW DARE YOU!” It is an awesome song and while it may recall the crunchy anger of tunes like “He Knows” or “Le Garage” it doesn’t really sound like the Futureheads; the melody is off kilter, and the harmonies are just bizarre, somewhere between the Gibbs and the Dead. So many alien elements in so little time was initially a turn-off during the hot summer it was released during, but it won me over when winter came and bitterness was exactly what the doctor ordered. (winter is a theme for my musical habits, but that’s another article).

Next is Fallout, which relies on verses given up for voice-less passages to elaborate on the new level of production the Heads have achieved. The verse starts with a brash attack from guitarists Hyde and Ross Millard that seems to be plunged underwater for the second half. Try walking down a city street while it snows outside with this song in your earphones and see if this doesn’t make some kind of sense. The tone has gone back to their “future is a dark place” theme as it forecasts a couple trapped in a fallout shelter for days after something horrible’s happened on the surface. Something terrible is happening out there, and the idea of surviving with the few things you hold dear is really important to the Head’s music and crucial to really understanding News & Tributes. It underscores much of their music and is something I find fascinating, which is why News & Tributes works so well for me. Hyde’s lyrics seem to fixate on the idea of being drawn from someone or something close and the need to reclaim it and the feelings it holds, even if it means revisiting something painful. It helps too that he has the most British voice in rock music. The influences on the record are a little more varied than cold british post-punk, Kate Bush and science fiction. Critics have cited the Beach Boys, XTC, Big Country, Blur, The Knack, GOF, Talking Heads, & Cocteau Twins, to name just a few, as some of the audible influences on News & Tributes. More impressive than simply flipping through their record collection, they have managed to digest what made these records so great and come up with something that surprises you every second it spins.

As always there’s a weak point, and the rule that the single is the worst track on the record holds true, but only because to me it sounds too much like they were writing a pop song. It’s still a lot of fun and such, but the hook just isn’t strong enough. Anyway, I don’t mind so much because it’s followed by one of my favorite songs of the last ten years. “Burnt” is an anomaly all right, stripped down, driven by a lone bass line for most of it’s three minutes and forty-one seconds, relying on acoustic guitar for the first time on any Heads record; in short, it isn’t your average post-punk tune. The electric lead sounds alternately like a Television lick and a distorted Cello (I don’t know Ross Millard did that, but I’d give my pinky finger to find out). The chorus is addictive in the best way; it’s almost too good, dissonant with the song’s hitherto melancholia, but monumental, sounding like all the best Kinks songs smashed into one. They also, unlike most others bands in the world, found a nice balance with dynamics. Whereas most 80s-obssesed guitar bands will give you an onslaught of sound, every space and second filled with synth, acoustic guitar, leads, piano, backing vocals and other things, News & Tributes has a much-appreciated return to quiet. The best thing about Coldplay’s Parachutes, Sigur Rós’ Ágætis Byrjun or Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights from a theoretical standpoint is that they use silence and solitude to aid the feel of their music (No one will do this as perfectly as Joy Division did, but they do a good job nonetheless). It’s one thing to evoke loneliness by singing about it, it’s another thing to actually make us feel it in the music. Not every second is filled with overdubs or choral-style vocals. News is the one record that’s done that in the last few years. For all their studio savvy, it still sounds like four guys and they never break from the integrity of the model. The leads never overpower the rhythm and they don’t all have to play at once. It’s a simple strategy, but it’s one that

The Heads graduated very quickly from one-trick pony to electrical storm, and yet the sad email. The production, songwriting, and arrangement all matured, so why haven’t people given them the credit they deserve. There were positive notices, to be sure, but this was lost among 2006’s big nothings like Bob Dylan’s Modern Times and The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Stadium Arcadium; records that sound like their creators have learned absolutely nothing from their many, many years making landmark records and shaking the world by the collar with stylistic 180s and abjurations of commercial appeal. It’s up to the new guys to bring about change, but most kids my age just want to listen to Van Halen and Sublime. I understand appreciating a record, but not to the point of irrelevance and not when there are people making good use of their influences. When someone flat out refuses to listen to anything not prescribed to them by their social stratum or heritage, then bands with something to say are going to be forced underground to make brilliant records that no one will ever hear.

Age of Progress

I will say something for digital film and
technology; it has made filmmakers a bit bolder. A fascinating offshoot in experimental filmmaking took off midway through this last decade that many revered directors have fronted. While teenage boys like Zach Snyder put their masturbatory digital effects on display for 300 and Watchmen, art house directors took the new advances in stride and used them for interesting forays into once-popular genres. Lars Von Trier used digital technology in his films Dogville and Manderlay to take on American drama and the conventions of small towns that populate a century of laconic small-town plays. He stripped down his set to an elaborate, empty stage, not unlike a black box theatre and used mostly foreign actors to comment on American hypocrisy and challenge hypocrisy Eric Rohmer used it for his film The Lady and the Duke to recreate the French Revolution using enormous spliced-in oil paintings as backgrounds for each outdoor scene, giving the film the unromantic historical feel it needs. Michel Gondry's movies wouldn't exist were it not for the things he does with digital technology. So while I will from time to time rail against digital filmmaking taking all the backbone out of epic filmmaking (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Pirates Of The Carribbean) there are some people who decide to use this power for good.

I am extremely likeable

Here we have the playbill artwork for Amulets Against the Dragon Forces, which is a popular Dungeons & Dragons module for the Forgotten Realms campaign setting:

5 days!

Nicholas Ray had One Eye