Saturday, May 31, 2008

Elastic interactive

I had one of those connective moments this morning, when two disparate ideas coalesce. I'll try to elaborate on it and see if there's anything there. It was really just a flash, and I haven't worked through all the implications. I read a study some few years ago in which these researchers took fMRI's (brainscans) of people who considered themselves Republicans or Democrats while they were reading quotes from the opposing sides major candidate. I believe this was '00, so it would've been Bush and Gore. The scans showed that there was major activation in the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain. The basic conclusion was that we respond emotionally to the opposing side before even rationally deconstructing what they've said.
I know I have this experience when I read Jeff Jacoby, the token conservative on the Boston Globe's editorial page. When I see he's written something, I have this moment of slight venomous emotion before I've read the piece. I've emotionally started to salivate at the thought of his bullshit. Sometimes he does make good points, other times I'm all ready to write a letter to the editor myself. Of course, that never actually happens, but you get the idea.
That's not the point. A few months back I read this piece somewhere on the internet about music criticism or somesuch, and this guy was writing about how our personality shapes how we approach music. It's like what we identify with as our thing and what we identify as the other is the starting point for how we appreciate music.
It kind of hit me this morning that this is the same type of phenomenon, so that because we've identified some band as hip or as a sell-out or whatever is going to emotionally influence how we rationally break down the aesthetics of the sound. Obviously, postmodernism has long brought into question what rational really means, and neuroscience is showing us that the postmodern idea is really true. There exists no purely rational thought, and the emotional signals won't even necessarily show up in our consciousness as feelings or anything. They might just be electrical signals in the brain that warp the thinking process and keep us from truly apreciating a band or music or a film or whatever.
Now also there are limits to this. It's not that Bush and Gore are objectively both right, and the opposing sides just don't see what's the what. True also in the realms of art, but it's just good to realize that there is more going on underneath the thoughts of 'this shit sucks' or whatever than just a pure opinion. I guess that was all kind of obvious. Identity shapes our likes and dislikes, but the idea that it might also be behind denying or over enthusing I think is relevant. I was trying to get farther into that, but I'm just not feeling it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The catch up, catch all post, or I think the feeling is returning to my head

Sometimes sleepwalking is good. I don't say that lightly, as it seems to be a common afliction of the modern world. That said, the past month was one I just had to get through. I don't want to get into all that involved. Let's just say that it's done. I'm on the other side looking back across, and it's time to get back to work, writing, and resume all requisite mental processes.
First and foremost in my thinking and excitement had been Haruki Murakami. I read his novel Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World a while back, and was just absolutely bowled over. It was brilliance incarnate. I cannot be effusive enough with my praise for the bizarreness and originality of that piece of work, so when I got my casheesh from the gov't I splurged on a whole slew of his books. I even spent sixty bucks for used copies of his first two novels, which weren't published internationally but were published in English for in-house Japanese consumption. I had to scour the internet to find copies for less than four hundred dollars a pop. I'm can not wait to get these, as they aren't in my hot little hands just yet. I have read his third novel, The wild Sheep Chase, and it's sequel Dance, Dance, Dance in the past week, and they are absolutely absurd. His books are so disjointed and angular, his perspective such a hardboiled right angle, his phraseology so killingly odd (who thinks to compare an airplane to a beetle?). He's reminded me that grammar laws were meant to be broken if the effect is legit. He inhabits this strange world that lies just between naturalism and non-naturalism. There's so much in his work that is brutally and emotionally very real, and yet there's just all kinds of wierd things happening. It's just the greatest. I will read everything he's ever written by the end of the summer.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Oh, where did you go, Wong?

It was my sound and serious intention to take a hiatus from blogging for at least 30 days for several reasons. Maybe I'll elaborate on them over at access the process, since that feels like the better forum, but in my nostalgic rereading of my own earlier posts here, I realized that I'd talked in depth about my love for Wong Kar-Wai and yet had not mentioned his most recent film, My Blueberry Nights. For one thing, it's always unpleasant to watch one of yr idols stumble and get jumbled up. Who wants to reflect on that? Still there were some redeemingly interesting features to Blueberry, so I'll try to focus on them.
It seems there comes a time in all great filmmaker's careers when they've taken their current style to the limit, and need to break free. For examples see the Coen's Ladykillers, Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, maybe Tarantino's Kill Bill stuff, whatever. This generalization has it's limits, but there does always feel like there's a film that hits the wall. Blueberry might have been that film, but there are too many other factors (first english language film, Lawrence Block as a writing partner, an actual pre-established script) to really say that Wong hit his wall and now has to film a new direction.
The main critiques out there of the film are that Norah Jones was tepid and Jude Law is way too handsome to've pined so long over some girl he knew for a few days. I think that's bull. To me the problem was the connection/poetic collision wasn't established well at all in those early scenes between the two of them. The writing seemed lacking, and for this I blame Block just because I refuse to believe that Kar-Wai is in any way fallible. Those early scenes felt like they were much too hum-drum for any kind of long term pining to've been set into effect like that first scene from Days of Being Wild sets up. There's no poetic beauty, just chit-chat, and this really does sink the film as a whole.
That doesn't mean there wasn't some seriously good shiite as well. David Strathairn and Rachel Wiesz: see this movie just for the thirty or so minutes that they inhabit the film. It's intense and powerful and gives the glint of what this movie could have been, and Chan Marshall's momentary passing was just fab. Natalie Portman is also fun and wild, but for a card player like myself that stuff does not play. It just annoyed me and took me out of the proceedings. Again, here I blame Block for trying to inject a commercially exploitable element into Wong's usual dense atmospherics. It was too theatrical.
So, having said all that the use of musical jump-cuts is, as far as I know, totally revolutionary and never before tried. It doesn't quite work for this film, but I think that's more a result of the aforementioned problems than the idea itself. It could be used to sound (no pun intended) and powerful effect,'s certainly not clear to me just how. I do hope Wong will try again will try to bring that particular technique to bear in future films, as it's an alluring idea for a new way to use music in film.
I won't say much and certainly nothing specific about the ending, except to say that it felt tacked on and so not in the Kar-Wai vein, mostly because of my first comments moreso than I'm just by nature maudlin. I hope that was elliptical enough not to give anything away.