Friday, March 04, 2005

This Is An Adventure

Despite what some of the more negative reviews might have led you to believe, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is an excellent movie, and is well deserving of your attention. If The Royal Tenenbaums saw director Wes Anderson pushing his stylistic quirks the limit while riffing o the old family saga story type, then this movie sees him take the exact same approach and apply it to the adventure story, of all genres. As unlikely as this combination may sound, it's actually pretty fantastic in practice. Or at least, I thought it was -- some of the less positive reviewers may beg to differ.

The ensemble cast, the overt artifice, the pop-centric soundtrack: all of Anderson's trademarks are here, but applied to the wonky Moby Dick knock-off that is the movie's plot, things become fresher and less assured. And I mean that in a good way -- I loved Tenenbaums, but many of my friends didn't, and the perfectly sealed aesthetic world in which that movie took place seemed to have had a lot to do with that.

The Life Aquatic takes place in a equally unreal and hyper-detailed environment, of course, but... I dunno, it's less air tight, and I like it that way. Like when Zissou fights those pirates to the sound of the Stooges' 'Search and Destroy', I can see why it should work, but it doesn't quite. The roughness makes it more charming and affecting, I think. Plus: the cut-away set that they use for the boat half of the time is just plain amazing.

So, erm... yeah: it's an extended riff on fatherhood, privilege, and the thin line between truth and fiction that draws power from its ridiculousness. It's a flawed movie about a very flawed man whose self-centeredness is routed in a weary search for adventure. As such the form of the film -- seabound adventure shot through with deadpan humour and exasperated sadness, and put together in a way that calls attention to its own fictionality -- is perfectly suited to its subject. I might write a more in depth discussion of what I think the movie actually does later, but this'll do as a first impression, I think.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Just Like Honey

Happy International Read A Comic Book Naked Day everyone!

I've been meaning to stage and photograph some sort of ill-advised public version of this event for a couple of years now, but I've never actually got round to it, probably because I'm both hugely lazy and just a little bit more sensible than I want to be.


Ah well, I guess there's always next year...

In related news: I heart Steven Wintle, now and forever. Wait, does that make me sound like a stalker?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Secret Pint

Okay, so how excited was I when I discovered that Government Commissions (BBC Sessions 1996-2003), the new collection of live performances from those plucky Glaswegian drone-rockers Mogwai, included the version of 'New Paths To Helicon Pt.1' that got me into the band in the first place?

I've heard a couple of different versions of this song, and all of them have been good, but this version... this version still knocks me out every time I hear it. I can't remember how I first came across it, but I think it was on a mix CD that someone gave me and... it's just beautiful, man. Over eight minutes of the warmest, blurriest noise that I have ever heard in my life. Listening to it now I get a rush of high school memories. In particular, I'm reminded of the last school trip we ever went on, which involved going on a "ghost walk" around Edinburgh. Which basically means that we wandered from one "haunted" place to another in search of... what? Cheap scares? Historical information? I'm still not entirely sure what we were supposed to get out of that particular trip, but it was a very important night for me, because it was the night that the bizarre love-triangle I was briefly involved in really kicked off. Jesus, what a weird night that was! I'll spare you the details as they're too embarrassing and don't generally reflect well on me. My best friend was involved, and so was a girl I ended up going out with for two-and-a-half years--that's all you need to know. On the way home I had that Mogwai track ('New Paths To Helicon Pt.1') repeating over and over on my mini-disc. The night seemed really huge and open and scary and fun and... yeah... this connection has stayed with me ever since.

There's a real sense of possibility to this song, I think, and maybe that's why it seems so perfect in the context of this particular memory. I mean, don't get me wrong--there's a lot of sadness in this piece of music, but the ever-rising waves of distortion that come to the fore during the song's climatic mid-section just sound really positive to me. And you know what? Despite all of the awkwardness and sadness that resulted from the train of events I've been talking about, it still stands out in my mind as a time that was thrillingly full of potential (much of which would be realised, some of which wouldn't). So that's what this song is to me, and I'll always love it as such.

The rest of the album is okay -- some of it's a little too flat and dirge-like, but the good bits are really good, especially the stunning twenty minute long act of audio-violence that is 'Like Herod'. Recommended for confirmed fans only, I guess.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

There Is Thought...

Some thoughts on Seven Soldiers #0, by Grant Morrison, J.H. Williams and others:

Yes! This is the stuff! Epic superhero comics as I want to read them. Grant Morrison knows why Lord of the Rings is so popular right now, and he knows how to channel that feeling of being a part of something big and exciting into a thrilling superhero story. Thankfully, however, he also knows that it's never as simple as all that.

Making the new Whip both a writer and the story's narrator is a pretty sharp way of foregrounding this theme -- her self-awareness exposes her motives as being both understandable and slightly deranged at the same time. Here's one choice monologue, as narrated to the reader during the climactic action scene:

My apartment and my fears about money and the future and never being good enough... Compared to this, everything seems so fucking stupid and unreal.

How do you know when you've become a superhero and not just a crazy fetish person with a death wish? Is it when you join your first team and finally have your psychosis validated by group consensus? Is it when you ride your first giant spider? And trust your life to a rhinestone cowboy with a silver bullet?

As for the rest of the group she joins, what they most resemble from this distance are a group of Mystery Men level characters who somehow get caught up in an Invisibles sized plot. They're a bunch of fanboys, old timers and weirdos, basically, but Morrison isn't mean to them. As I've already mentioned, he gets the appeal of this superhero stuff, but no way is he going to take it at face value. The little icons that depict the powers of each of these six heroes are key to this effect -- they're initially played for chuckles, but by the time the gang have started to take on the giant spider they just about seem stirring (see also, Dynamite Dan, whose powers are actually much more impressive than you initially expect them to be).

Jumping back a little to take another look at this issue's overarching themes, there's something oddly heartbreaking about that little meta moment where the Spider is dragged off and updated. I mean the build-up in the swamp is a creepy horror masterclass, but those revamp scenes are really something else.

It was my dad's tunic... And my brother... I... I just don't want to lose it. Please... I think I made a big mistake. I didn't mean to come here at all.

What this highlights is that these characters are not only trying to impose their own fantasies onto the world, but are also subject to other people's narrative aims as well. Our six soldiers find this out all too well at the end of the issue, when they suddenly realise that they're not playing the game that they thought they were playing after all. It's a nasty, brutal moment, but an effective one all the same, and taken as a whole I think this issue sets up the playing field for the Seven Soldiers event quite nicely with its odd mix of different genres and low-profile characters.

And J.H. Williams -- what a fucking artist! The way he makes the layout of the page essential to the action is just wonderful, and is utterly essential to the various atmospheres evoked in this issue. The stuff in the swamp is creepy as all hell, with the murky foliage threatening to overwhelm both the characters and the reader. The Whip's acts of urban violence, on the other hand, are fast paced, tightly packed and brutal, while the extended western riff that takes up the bulk of the issue is notable mainly for the real sense of space and wildness that Williams establishes therein. Best of all, however, are the parts of the story that take place in an utterly alien meta-fictional place where solid things turn soft and change (i.e. where the behind the scenes machinations of the series are dramatised on page). Williams makes this overtly surrealised space seem every bit as vivid and striking as its more grounded counterparts, and despite the fact that the transitions between these styles should probably jar he holds it all together through sheer virtuosity.

Ah well, it looks like I'm going to end up getting hooked on these books, just like I knew I would. But fuck it, if the rest of this event lives up to the standards set by this issue then at least I'm in for one hell of a ride!

More on various other comics, movies and pop songs later.


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