What Did Jung Say About Glow Sticks?

6 02 2012

Josh Trank and Max Landis Pen Gnarliest of Chronicles

Chronicle opened at number one this weekend, and domestic receipts have already surpassed production costs. There’s been a lot of talk about Chronicle being an Akira for the found-footage generation. And yeah, I guess they both feature a heavily-bandaged whipping boy who breaks out of a hospital facility and goes on an ESP rampage, if that’s what people are getting at. Personally, I see a greater resemblance to Clamp’s X/1999. But whatever. Regardless of its J-Pop antecedents, Chronicle is a concise science fiction tale that culminates in a bus-tossing battle to the death in a metropolitan area with a prominent landmark. So we’re already off on the right foot.

But Chronicle is also a study in fraternity. Three characters—Andrew, the put-upon;  Matt, the ex-chasing big brother figure; and Steve, the prototypical prom king—form an unlikely bond so strong that it makes their noses bleed. The conspiratorial intimacy that is a product of this bond is of such a caliber that it’s characterized by cruising-altitude group flight. It’s really touching to watch, which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see it all annihilated when Andrew, a truly broken person, fails to harness his all-consuming rage as expertly as he harnesses his new-found power.

Above (from left): the scion, the bitch, and the wardrobe.

Russ Fischer at /Film says some interesting things about the film’s approach to friendship here. I especially appreciated Fischer’s analysis of Steve as “the exact opposite of Andrew”.  Socially, emotionally, and behaviorally, they totally are mirror opposites who suddenly find themselves with one enormous thing in common, and this specularity is succinctly conveyed through camera work and dialogue. Their specularity also makes Andrew’s eventual sense of betrayal all the more eviscerating.

Fraternity. Belonging. Documentation. Chronicle is not nearly as “subtext-free” as The A.V. Club’s Scott Tobias seems to think it is. Here’s how I see it. One of the first (and only) things that the character of Andrew volunteers about himself is that he’s shy. He lives behind the lens; for the longest time, we hear his voice more than we see his face, and when we do see his face, it’s only in the mirror, or when things outside his control (always aspiring alpha males) forcibly separate him from his camera. After forming his accidental bond with Matt and Steve, he steps out from behind the camera—but only within the confines of his small and private fraternity.

The trio repeatedly defy the laws of nature without the slightest repercussion, but the very moment that they upset the social order, all hell breaks loose.  When Steve orchestrates a talent show triumph for Andrew, going so far as to play a very self-deprecating straight man to his introverted friend, Andrew finds himself in public view. And while there, a brief triumph is followed by immediate public humiliation that involves both sex and shame.

The soft sciences call this aversion therapy.

Albeit with the best of intentions, Steve has deliberately upset the viewer/viewed dynamic. The closeness that Andrew and Steve had enjoyed—at one point, Steve even calls Andrew his “best friend”—is spoiled, replaced in Andrew with distrust of Steve and his motives. And suddenly, CCTV footage starts getting woven into the fabric of a narrative that has so far been propelled only by handheld footage. For all of his ever-growing control over people and objects, Andrew has lost control of the camera. A convenience store camera views Andrew now. So does a hospital room camera, and a camera in the lobby of an office building. Surveillance footage starts to tell his story without his consent. And indeed, at one point during the final battle, Andrew is floating outside the observation deck of the Space Needle, surrounded by digital cameras, iPads, and camera phones, all sucked away from onlookers. It’s only a matter of time before you cross the Rubicon with this sort of instability, and then of course things can only end badly.

No good can come out of upsetting the viewer/viewed dynamic. Which is what this film is about.





I ♥ †

22 01 2012

Audio, Video, Vanitas

The new video for the Justice single “On ‘N’ On” pairs the emptiness of space with the emptiness of vanity, and it’s a tour de force that bisects asteroids and carcasses in its linear push toward infinity. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Roll the tape.

This thing is straight-up infested with vanitas symbols. Some of these, like the goblet and the hourglass, are striking even though they occur only once. The musical instrument in this tableau is an electric guitar positioned between two nudes, and the fruit, though spilled as bounty from a cornucopia in one of the few active vignettes of the video, is colorless. Other visuals are serial, and become more interesting with each iteration. Among these recurrent vanitas symbols are diamonds, coins, and swords, as well as the steady depictions of stars, planets and other celestial bodies and phenomena (I guess this includes all the Kubrick nods; that light show at the bridge is essentially a 2001: A Space Odyssey homage). Most prominent, though, are the vanitas symbols involving the human form, including long flowing hair, the female nude, skeletons, and skulls.

Fig. 1. An assortment of skulls.

There are also hybrids. Though no mirrors occur per se, many visuals are twinned or doubled—often as a mirror image. And included among the video’s representations of the human form is imagery that borrows heavily from the exploded diagrams and cutaways of classic anatomical illustration. These repeated suggestions of a human corpse range from the the realistic to the surreal, and reinforce a tone that is more empirical than ghoulish. But my favorite thing about this video? The vanitas symbols of coin and skull are combined in the appearance of an Indian head nickel that has been altered by carving.

Fig. 2. Hobo nickel.

Though it was the crucifix, and not the cross, that was a popular inclusion in vanitas painting, the Justice logo has its own assigned meaning when it comes to momento mori symbolism. Because it has come to indicate death when attached to a name or date, the symbol of the cross will forever signify  justice pour tous. Not to mention that, when it’s hurtling through space, a monolithic slab of a cross passes as another good 2001 reference.





Pew Pew; Pew Pew Pew

6 10 2011

Star Wars, Star Wars; Cool Cool Cool

Okay, so that dude from The Wire is awesome. His character in Community, Professor Kane, is invested with all the candor of a Pierce Hawthorne, but none of the co-dependence. Decidedly out-of-group, Kane is instead detached observer. His status as an outsider vis-à-vis the human race reinforces the fierce exclusivity of the study group, while his status as a professor gives his observations authority. All of this, combined with the pratfall-free gravitas of the character as written, lends Kane’s dialogue a very reliable truth value. Legos “used to be simple”. People are “laughing at” Magnitude. The study group is the “mean clique”. Walks like a duck. Talks like a duck. And so on.

Hot & Brown  Coffee Shop Closet Squatter

On the Chang front, it was partly saxamaphone with scattered facial twitching and a chance of Larry Bird. That Head of Security guy resigned (strangely, his Chicago accent morphed into a Hispanic accent during his resignation speech), so Dean Pelton promoted Chang to Head of Security. But even more noteworthy was the pair’s rambling, internal monologue voice-overs, which were rendered unintelligible by their concurrence. This strategy of mutually-assured deconstruction is Community‘s best slam yet to the voice-over, which the show has always satirized as a tired and lazy device.





No One’s Cutting Away

29 09 2011

If Awesomeness Were Bountiful Zinc Deposits, Community Would Be Zambia

Britta has a backpack now. For a hot minute she was even feeling her see-through yellow pen—until an errant, cause-related flyer sent her into one of those episode-long fits of unfocused rebellion. And this one was a doozy. At first it just seemed like “regular side of the bed” Britta, as Troy put it. Britta’s character got a rant which, while not nearly as hilarious as her “civil liberties” speech from the bottle episode, did involve a four-letter word (Ikea), and did  include the line “maybe my path is a warpath that leads to the Terrordome”. But it wasn’t the rant that blew my mind. It was the unprecedented degree of physical comedy assigned to Britta’s character. At one point she was in a dog crate pouring red paint on a globe, and right before getting tased by Chang she stormed into the caf wearing a black bodysuit covered with mutilated Barbie dolls. For real, Britta was straight-up feral in this one. So cherry.

Mind the can, student.

There were other highlights. In an interesting variation, Pierce appropriated Leonard’s raspberries. The Model UN Battle Royale showcased Garrett and utilized a deliberately-ridiculous disembodied head storytelling device (think “dental plan”/”Lisa needs braces”/”Flintstones chewable morphine”). Oh, and yeah! You know how I love doubles? Well, tonight Community added Annie Kim (a.k.a. “Asian Annie”, a.k.a. “Annie Lite”) to their already lengthy list of character doubles. I was totally psyched. Annie Kim gets her comeuppance by the end of the episode, but here’s hoping she gets Springfielded into a subsequent storyline. I mean, she’s a guest star, not an extra, but they got Anthony Michael Hall to come back for the paintball redux, right?


Clockwise, from top left: see-through yellow pens; “Hello”, by Lionel Richie; Hadron Collider; the arm.

My favorite bit, though, was when they were all squeezed into a cafeteria booth like they always are, and Annie is freaking out about her evil twin, and she’s in one of those Adderallesque states, all agitated, all nervous energy, and she’s squeaking her straw up and down in her cup’s plastic lid while delivering a long section of dialogue, and all of a sudden you see Troy’s hand slowly and purposefully enter the frame, and Troy’s hand takes the cup, and just as purposefully leaves the frame, and Annie’s still going on, and then Troy’s hand re-enters the frame, and returns the cup sans lid, and I thought to myself “well that was one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen”.

Because it was.

This wrinkled my brain. 





Goodness Spacious

22 09 2011

Season Premiere of Community Proves Enlightful

Glee mockery has been a running theme, but I was still disconcerted when the promos for Season Three of Community strongly suggested a Greendale musical number. Imagine my relief, then, when this number turned out to be little more than an intro daydream—thereby leaving the show’s fiercely-protected fourth wall largely unmolested. This, by the way, was the first of the episode’s many misleads (my favorite was Dean Pelton’s goatee), which provided extra tension as the table was set for the study group’s junior year.

After a hilarious set-up and pay-off involving the study group’s bias-driven misinterpretations of Troy and Abed’s homosociality, the collective, it’s-the-beginning-of-a-new-semester resolve suggested by the musical fake-out and early dialogue quickly degenerates into a delicious laugh pie of snark, sight gags, and  melancholic authenticity well before the end of the first act. Also, Britta bought the wrong textbook.

Britta’s doing it wrong.

And then the fanboys did saith, “Let there be continuity,” and so the best bits of throwaway dialogue and ad lib from Seasons 1 and 2 did get tweaked and whole notha leveled. Jeff got to plug a line into the “shut up, Leonard” formula. Troy got to follow up—but not top—his description of Britta as “the AT&T of people” (itself an offshoot of the shared “you’re the worst” construct). Pierce got to rezone his soul at the Laser Lotus Celebrity Center. There were no novel manifestations of the Springfield effect among the faculty, staff or student body, but this was unsurprising given the need to introduce the recurring characters of the show’s prominent new guest stars.

Evolution.

The saturnalian anchor of the episode’s plot was the role reversal of Jeff and Pierce. Jeff’s narcissism cellphone gets him kicked out of his biology class on the first day which, by his own decree, makes him ineligible for participation in the study group. Pierce, who was on the waiting list for the class, also gets Jeff’s spot in the group. This, of course, makes Jeff go mental, which culminates in a monkey gas-induced 2001 homage. By episode’s end, Pierce has told the study group a convincing lie to restore the natural order. Jeff sees through this lie, and confronts Pierce about it; the shared secret, coupled with what small semblance of gratitude Jeff can muster, affords the two men one of those those touchingly brief windows of intimacy in which Pierce gets to be a father. Wrap the episode up by having one character mess with another character’s name (“Starface”), and Dan Harmon can tie yet another Community episode with a big bow of that-was-awesome.

So yeah. Naysayers take note. This shit is still going strong like Donkey Kong, and the integrity of the Greendale universe was maintained despite a few isolated incidents of envelope-pushing. Rubicon uncrossed.





Money, It’s Gotta Be the Hats

5 03 2011

Heavenly Host Depicted As A Limited Liminality Company

I just saw The Adjustment Bureau, which is categorized by people who market movies as a “romantic thriller” because it appeals to nerds but also has something for the imaginary girlfriends who love them. Matt Damon’s character is stuck in one particular place emotionally, and takes the same bus every day for three years in the hopes of encountering his own private one that got away. It’s also suggested (point blank, actually) that an intense, real-deal relationship can be enough to fulfill a human being—indeed, that such comprehensive intimacy may even be more fulfilling than any lucrative and fame-inducing career it might thwart.

Yeah, I did like it.

So the Adjusters are all dudes, which should give ancient poststructuralists, if there are any left, something to be dismissive about as they turn to dust. Slick-looking, fedora-wearing dudes. And let’s just go ahead and agree to agree that they’re angels. You don’t accidentally rename your mortal PKD protagonist “David”, which is about as Biblical as it gets (while remaining as banal as the original “Ed”). Plus the idea that angels have difference engines where their feelgooderies should be is just awesome.

Kneel before Stamp.

The award for Most Banging goes either to Harry (Anthony Mackie), a lowly Proctor in the hierarchy of the Adjustment Bureau who may or may not be a manifestation of the “magical negro” trope (I say it’s a stretch), or McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar), who’s higher up than Harry but less sleepy.

AB is also quite good on the technical front. The location shooting was seemingly very disciplined–-the geography of Manhattan is depicted with remarkable accuracy. And you might justifiably expect an overabundance of bells and whistles in a PKD adaptation, but there’s not all that much CGI happening here. Refreshing. In the few places where it is used, you don’t even mind it, because it’s very muted and not at all gratuitous. Forgoing the exploding buildings and flying protoplasmic blobs, this movie relies instead on an aesthetic mess of notebooks, doors and hats—which effectively renders the weirdness compelling.





A Blog About Sacks As Well As Things That Are Not Sack-Related

14 09 2010

Just Another WordPress.com Site Indeed

My only possible tagging rival, the weird beard behind Hovermansion’s Blog,  has been doing some amazing things with crepe paper seriality lately. Whether it be confounded specularity, as is the case with a preening Dracula who two-fists hairstyling accoutrements in front of a reflectionless mirror, or confounded primogeniture, as evinced by the disappointed king who sees little of himself as he stands before his decidedly not shovel-ready son, doubling and reflection are recurrent Hovermansion themes.

The digital mixed media pieces on Hovermansion, which are usually sparse collages built up from original drawings, are characterized by a wanton incorporation of generic, Google-retrieved clip-art. Through the deliberate selection of mostly one-point perspective images, Hovermansion scenes achieve an impossible flatness that would make the Cubists proud. But it’s the blog’s subtle approach to content-through-technique that really twirls my props. I’ll start with the author’s most recent creation, since it’s the one that prompted me to finally post about his blog. Oh, and I don’t usually include image links in my posts, but this is a rare instance in which I will, because these Hovermansion pieces deserve to be seen in all of their over-sized glory. So, yeah. Do click through.

Picture-In-Picture

In “It’s Gonna Be A Rough Day At School”, the seriality of Eugene’s triple portrait is nothing short of comic genius. Not one but two instances of PIP (and the sloppy pasting of Eugene’s face onto the family photograph may actually score higher on the funny than the comic-font captioned inset over Bernard Shaw’s shoulder).

Broadcast and Projection

Another great post involving duplication and facsimile is “Conspiracy Theory 101″. Here ima hafta insist that you click through on the small version above to explore the original, as the strange hole in the wall (the post’s tags suggest that this is to be interpreted as a “wormhole”) contains aliens who observe the same scene as the viewer—duplicated via surveillance equipment that itself echoes the overhead projector in the main space.

Despite all of the repetitition, the “do not erase” bit is probably my favorite detail on this one.

Infinite Regress

The earliest instance of Hovermansion’s hallmark seriality is found in “House Rat”. And it’s an intricate example—perhaps even more intricate than the elaborate upside-down representation required for the overhead projector in “Conspiracy”. In “House Rat”, the blog’s ubiquitous gilded frame (it has since held Hulk Hogan, as well as an Ames employee working at a key-cutting machine) contains the entire image, which itself contains the entire image, and so on—without any indication whether the viewer is seeing a mirror or a static depiction. The presence of this gilded frame and its contents is awesome in its superfluity.

The inherent observational humor, wordplay and forced literalness of Hovermansion really make it unnecessary for me to tweak or draw parallels or identify source material. But that’s never stopped me before, so I’ll still end on one of my side-by-side comparisons:

L: PT Cruiser (artist’s rendering), via Hovermansion; R: Midlife Chrysler (in banana), via a douche bag near you








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