Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Doctor Feelgood: Gap-filling Time Again

I plan to watch Oil City Confidential (2010) and to follow this advice on the music:

[Stupidity is] Definitely the place to start, followed by Down By The Jetty and then maybe Ian Dury’s Laughter just to hear how good and radical Wilko could be in different musical surroundings.

On Brody On Amour (2012)


What should we make of Richard Brody of The New Yorker's extraordinarily disdainful response to Michael Haneke's Amour (2012)? For example:
I don’t doubt Haneke’s sincerity when he affirms in interviews the personal and compassionate roots of the story—the sufferings of his ninety-two-year-old aunt, who had wanted him to help her commit suicide. But what comes off onscreen is the filmmaking’s smirking pleasure at depicting, with a chilling explicitness, a heinously affirmative killing—a peculiarly active variety of euthanasia.p>In doing so, Haneke lined his dominoes up perfectly. First, he constructed characters whose bonds of love seem incontrovertible, so that Georges couldn’t be accused of mixed motives. Second, he made this characters seem, angelic, so that there’s no trace of perversity or caprice on Anne’s part, no selfishness or cruelty on Georges’s. Third, he cast soulful actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, to play the couple.[my italics]
[T]he director films his elderly couple with a superficial simulacrum of wisdom and experience, strips them of traits in order to reduce them to the function of the film to render the appalling act justifiable, to strip out the appearance of mixed emotions. And yet, what comes through is that Haneke likes filming a killing, takes a smirkingly ghoulish look at the act, and takes unconscious pleasure in the unconscionable. As Georges smothers the incapacitated Anne under a pillow, her legs kick in resistance: she may be willing to die, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to stop living. Nothing in Georges’s demeanor suggests anything but the desire to end Anne’s misery, in defiance of any objection the world might make. How he faces that opprobrium, or the force of law, we can only imagine. Haneke either knows and doesn’t show it, or doesn’t bother to imagine it; but, for him, it doesn’t matter. He has had his fun. He has shown murder and made his viewers love it, has brought them into complicity with his smirkingly ghoulish pleasure. The hollowness of the contrivance conceals the grotesquerie of the sacralized Grand Guignol. Where “Django Unchained” suggests Quentin Tarantino’s unconscious delight in the unconscionable “Amour” reflects Haneke’s calculated desire to stir up a reaction by way of a cynical ambiguity, to recalibrate a moral shock with an overwhelming preponderance of mitigations. [my italics]
The subject of “Amour” is powerful and true... That’s what makes Haneke’s rigid contrivances—the pristinely repressed and filtered script and images, the directorial straight face held with iron bands to suppress laughter—all the more repellent. [my italics]
Let's start with Brody's basic complaint that Haneke 'lined up his dominoes perfectly', that he engineers a kind of best/ideal case for euthanasia. Well, what's wrong with that? Obviously, as multiple old saws go, extreme cases, whether they be best/ideal or nightmarishingly murky and confounded, normally make for 'bad law' and/or lousy public policy. But Haneke's made a movie, not authored a treatise or a carefully weighted pros and cons style report on a projected law change. Haneke's ideal case can legitimately form part of the backdrop for a public policy debate but it's no substitute for that kind of careful discussion. Similarly, describing highly idealized cases of punishment and torture (where we know guilt with certainty, where there's intense time pressure, and so on) is one thing; developing and justifying public policy about punishment and torture is quite another. Extremely vivid highly idealized cases may mislead - taking account of that is why we have treatises, formal processes of policy development, and all the rest of it.

One can sort of see what's getting Brody's goat here: Haneke on euthanasia is playing the same game that 24 did on torture. But so long as we are clear that embracing euthanasia/torture as public policy would mean endorsing a whole euthanasia/torture regime, hence accepting lots and lots of highly non-ideal cases then we can stop panicking about jejune treatments of ideal/best cases. That is, we can allow ourselves to feel the power of Amour's and 24's types of cases precisely because such cases do nothing to establish (and, unless we are easily panicked, can never force us to take a position on) the moral viability of the respective regimes each might be felt to implicitly advocate.

Now consider Brody's claim that "How he [Georges] faces that opprobrium, or the force of law, we can only imagine. Haneke either knows and doesn’t show it, or doesn’t bother to imagine it". This point strikes me (and others, esp. swkaplan among Brody's commenters) as completely bogus. Haneke's film is clear that Georges ends his own life almost immediately after he end Anne's. He has no 'fun' left in him; here's can be no question of Georges gaining any advantage from killing Anne. He isn't now 'able to get on with his life' let alone achieve anything less noble. That this is so is, of course, another example of Haneke getting his 'dominoes in a row' for his ideal case. So this part of Brody's argument is riddled with falsehood and reduces to his main argument that (Straw Man-ishly) supposes that Haneke is making public policy, that Amour's drama is a treatise.

Update:An article by Haneke scholar, Roy Grundmann is worth thinking over. Grundmann's essay contains several obvious mistakes, but in grappling directly with the pigeon sequences and the paintings it's a useful starting point towards a more comprehensive reading of the film than I provide here (where I'm really just trying to straighten out a basic logical point about the film's strategy and mistaken reception).

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Paintings in Haneke's Amour (2012)

Three quarters of the way through Amour, immediately after the terrifying moment when Georges slaps Anne, Haneke shows 6 paintings, each for about 8 seconds. Repeat viewings confirm that each is a gallery-lit closeup of (part of) one of the paintings from Georges's and Anne's apartment. Here are Amour's gallery-lit closeups (in Haneke's order) together with how we see them in the apartment.






The sequence begins and ends with paintings we see in the bedroom. We don't encounter the third painting in situ, in the living room, until the very end of the film.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Super Jumper (Abba vs Van Halen)

Mad Geniuses at work here both in the music mashup and in the video edit. It makes me so happy! Unutterably brilliant.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Winners' History and Whiners' Whining

Steven Hyden's thoughtful and provocative seven-part series of articles, "The Winners' History of Rock And Roll", posits that:

In the late '60s, Led Zeppelin represented a new choice between.. "a clearly defined mass taste and a clearly defined elitist taste." This dichotomy would define the rock discourse for the next several decades, until elitist taste finally eclipsed mass taste due to audience attrition. Today, the best rock bands, almost without exception, make records with no chance of reaching the "mass taste" audience. You can blame that on changes in mass tastes — as much as "mass tastes" still exist, anyway — as well as revolutions in media and the record industry. You can also blame the bands, many of whom (intentionally or not) have sequestered themselves from the very people who used to be rock's core constituency.
This has led me to think about exactly how far I've internalized the elite-taste/indie/NYC-centered vision of rock's possibilities over the last decade or so. Here, I guess, are some of the artsists I've definitely dug over the period that may fit Hyden's model of "sells out midsize theaters in large cities and elicits blank stares every place else... a group that appears to have little or no concept of what a beer-chugging, Middle American audience might want out of a rock record":
  • Dirty Projectors
  • LCD Soundsystem
  • Bon Iver
  • The National
  • Sleigh Bells
  • Beach House
  • Passion Pit
  • Arcade Fire
  • The Rapture
  • The Strokes
  • The Shins
  • The Decemberists
  • Bat For Lashes
  • St Vincent
  • Broken Social Scene
  • Joanna Newsom
  • Panda Bear
  • Metronomy
  • M83
  • Anna Calvi
  • Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
  • Jens Lekman
  • Fleet Foxes
  • Life Without Buildings
  • Interpol
  • Swans
My off-the-top-of-my-head/itunes list feels, on average, more open to broader success than Hyden's totems of indie isolation and impotence: Grizzly Bear. I suppose that Hyden would say that a lot of the stuff on my list isn't Rock and/or macho enough to count for his purposes. It's fair to say, for example, that Dirty Projectors never thought they'd be or wished they'd be as big or as slamming as Led Zep. But what of LCD and M83 and Arcade Fire and The Rapture and The Strokes? I think they met the great unwashed, Middle American audience at least half way, and all attracted or attract a solid female audience not just "the same pasty, 35-to-44ish, predominantly dude-y bunch" that Hyden fears Rock has dwindled down to.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Betty Davis

A recent Sound Opinions episode has switched me on to Betty Davis's eponymous 1973 album. Filthily rocking, funked out, with great visuals (see above; I guess that that's who Beyoncé was channeling in her Austin Powers role), it's fantastic.

Check out its brilliant lead track, 'If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up' - a title/hook-line every songwriter in the world wishes they'd concocted - here.