Monthly Archives: August 2012

Announcement: Gone Fishin’, or, Squeezing Out the Last of Summer’s Lemons

For the next couple of weeks, the Back to the World crew is buggin’ out for the territories – whether to the Yukon, the Muskokas, the former Lenape lands of Manna-Hata or the vast unexplored tracts of our inner lives – and will be pointedly ignoring you. Please use this time to indulge in activities you think we might not approve of. See you in September. xo

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, margaux williamson, other

Little Boxes #105: The End of the Line

(cover of Our Fighting Forces #135, by Joe Kubert, 1972)

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Tea With Chris: Paramount Leader

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: Aaliyah’s ghost, haunting Drake for making terrible self-aggrandizing music with her earthly remains.

Margaux: It might be helpful if Roseanne Barr was President of America. It might be helpful if Roseanne Barr was Paramount Leader of China. 

Our black hole is less *intense* than other black holes. But it is still more mysterious than we are.

This is what it sounds like in Arkansas when the sun goes down.

Speaking of the sun going down.

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Savage Knight at the Opera

by Chris Randle

When the title character first appears in The Dark Knight Rises, staggering rather than triumphantly leaping, it’s as a distorted reflection. The film’s other intimations of ambiguity prove to be far less memorable. Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman charms me in spite of its shambolic flaws, because the disparate elements – Anton Furst’s anachronistic production design, the parallel Prince/Elfman soundtracks, Michael Keaton’s wry resignation, Jack Nicholson’s lascivious camp – achieve a certain idiosyncrasy, flecked through operatic pulp that’s aware of how ridiculous either lineage can be. If a John Waters character gave up on scandalizing the norms and resolved to just slaughter them instead, it might sound like Nicholson’s Joker: “Now comes the part where I relieve you, the little people, of the burden of your failed and useless lives.” When the “homicidal artist” spares a Francis Bacon painting from his henchman, recognizing a kindred blemish, I still laugh, partly because the moment seems ever more alien from the current wave of superhero movies. Velázquez reinterpretations, gas that makes you laugh yourself to death – neither interests a director like Christopher Nolan.

This film makes it increasingly clear that Heath Ledger’s own brilliant invocation of the character was an aberration within Nolan’s Batman trilogy – within the same movie, really, given that The Dark Knight eventually reveals his climactic plan to be moral parable rather than flamboyant spectacle. Before that tedious business with the twin ships, however, he’s the man shorn from context amidst a convoluted mythos, who delights in improvising his origins. Ledger successfully wriggled out from under Nolan’s boy-intellectual compulsion to imbue every line and action with solemn significance. Grant Morrison often writes the Joker as “super-sane,” suggesting that no one adapts to the capitalist metropolis better than a mercurial sociopath. He also thrives in any screenplay where conversation otherwise involves people exchanging aphorisms and maxims. Without that autocritical incongruity, watching The Dark Knight Rises sometimes feels like being held at mounted-cannon-point by a party’s biggest bore.

As when forced through entire backstories next to the salsa, there are distractions. The plot follows the same techno-espionage mode as Batman Begins – influenced by Denny O’Neil, who co-created the integral Ra’s al Ghul character – but eschews its unbelievable contrivances and ludicrous doomsday weapon (I did hear Carl giggling at the casual “this is now a nuclear bomb” announcement). When he’s not making habitually frenzied cuts, Nolan produces a few striking images: explosions blooming across Gotham City; Batman flickering through darkness towards a mercenary; Jonathan “Scarecrow” Crane settling into his metier as the new regime’s show-trial judge, cheerfully dispensing aribitrary executions from the summit of an unhinged, paper-heaped bureaucracy. There is also, depending on one’s tastes, the rival spectacle of Anne Hathaway’s fickle, witty Catwoman and Tom Hardy’s supermassive Bane (rewriting the etymology of “tank top”), though Nolan invariably consigns the few women to chocolate bar roles (© Margaux Williamson, 2012).

(Can we talk about how fucked up it is that Catwoman, after gulling and robbing various rich men in a quasi-romantic partnership with her female accomplice/companion, suddenly gains a new reverence for property rights + desire to date Bruce Wayne upon stumbling across this photo of a nice blonde family in their ransacked home? And how I’m not sure Nolan consciously intended any of those implications, because he understands sexuality or women or general human behaviour in similar terms as that guy who asks permission to “play devil’s advocate” at every college seminar?)

Of course, the film’s grim politics hardly end there. The Dark Knight Rises is not a direct critique or allegory of Occupy Wall Street: the script was written a year before that movement erupted, and Bane’s rhetoric, a melange of economic populism and unsubtle George W. Bush quotations, is an admitted ploy. He wants to annihilate Gotham City, not collectivize it. Yet this disingenuousness only makes the resulting scenes more reactionary, a Reign of Terror that plays out like a slasher movie – just replace the gleeful schadenfreude with dour admonishment. The citizen uprising against corrupt oligarchs descends into venal, murderous rancor immediately, as if Gotham is full of would-be Berias; later, we’re invited to cheer on a long column of cops (or, given the director’s tendencies, nod gravely) while they charge towards the revolutionaries. Nolan is too cowardly to show any of those working people who used to be redistributing fur coats among them, but it still felt appallingly fascistic. The cringing deputy commissioner even rediscovers his sense of Man-Purpose by firing wildly into a mob, at last crumpling upon the snow as some Haymarket pieta.

You could always listen to the villain instead. Heath Ledger’s voice was central to his Joker, skipping along in harlequin steps (“you’re a freak…like me!”) before clenching with terrifying fury. The original Bane is a smart brute, hulking yet calculating, and Tom Hardy magnifies that one good idea by giving him tones marvelously jaunty and genteel. His threats glint inside oblique mockery. (The film’s one politically astute line comes from Hardy’s hidden mouth: told mid-attack that the Gotham Stock Exchange holds no money, he sneers, “Then why are you here?” Invisible capital!) Along with the voice, there are moments of unnerving gentleness, as when Bane strokes his erstwhile employer’s shoulder, about to brush him from existence. Would I misread to wonder if Dark Knight Rises, a film very much in the paramilitary mode of 21st-century superhero adaptations, presents this costumed tenderness as another sign of evil? Why does Nolan think that a reactivated urban-assault prototype (formerly the Batplane) hovering overhead is a more comforting sight? Standing outside the theatre afterwards, Carl groused: “I don’t go to a Batman movie to watch people dodging missiles.”

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Little Boxes #104: Colt Killer

(from “The Quick Colt Killer” in Wild Bill Hickok #13, writer unknown and art by Gerald McCann, 1952)

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Friday Pictures – Tsuguharu Foujita










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Filed under margaux williamson, visual art

Tea with Chris: ‘Is Your Hate Pure?’

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Margaux: Uugh. James Cameron, director of faux-moral movies, buys a lot of land in another country. This seems so real-wrong. Are people really still allowed to buy land?

A video of how your environment can affect you!

This is such a weirdly entertaining article on the Occupy Wall Street Summer Camp by Alan Feuer.  When there is not an intoxicating swell of action, patience and humour prove nourishing .

The teenagers of the Torontonians and the art company Mammalian Diving Reflex (with Darren O’Donnell in the mix) are having a sleepover at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel on the night of August 10th. The event is called Dare Night: Lockdown, sleepover with one eye open – An all-night horrifying sleepover dare-filled lockdown night. These aren’t the boring old-fashioned art days where the artists on stage challenge the bourgeois audience with difficult ideas about how culture should be and send that audience home so they can think about that. These are the new days, when the artists simply change all the rules for one night (or in this case 17 hours) and the audience job is to endure a new world. I can assure you, as someone who sometimes hesitates to “participate” in art, other than probably being completely delighted, you’d also probably be completely safe here. Sort of. Maybe. Begins August 10 at 7 pm, ends August 11, 12:00pm (17 HORRIFYING HOURS!). Free.

“This is the way the world ends” – A thoughtful article from Terrence Rafferty on the new crop of unheroic apocalyptic movies. My favourite: “Humanity is about to expire, but this time it’s personal.”

Carl: I don’t know why but my teacup is overflowing this week.

This account of the “increasingly bizarre and beyond logic” trial of the Pussy Riot art-activists in Moscow is at once entertaining and appalling. Another perspective on the case comes from Natalie Zina Walschots, who writes about other cases of prosecution of heavy-metal musicians who “stand in the sacred heart of things and scream.”

Here is Jacob Wren doing his own screaming as he generously blogs his novel in progress, Rich and Poor. The kinds of issues Jacob likes to masticate – class, violence, money, art, complicity – are also the meat of this conversation between art critic Martha Buskirk and Alexis Clements of the “Hyperallergic” website, titled “Art’s Corrosive Success.” And another angle on the art world’s insular economy comes from Allx Rule and David Levine in this satirical attack on “International Art English.”

Two great foes of corrosive success (whatever other corrosions they succumbed to) died in the past week or so, Gore Vidal and Alexander Cockburn. Neither produced a masterpiece, except for their lives. Vidal, that terrible-wonderful patrician-queen walking paradox, is being feted everywhere. But Cockburn, who was a columnist for The Nation when I worked there (Vidal also had a long association with the magazine), is less widely remembered today. My favourite comment about him this week came from a friend: “He was the real Christopher Hitchens” – that is, the fearless and unkowtowing political critic and scourge that Hitchens set himself up to be but too often let down (as his former friend Cockburn lamented). Michael Tomasky’s appreciation is ambivalent but does get at what was important about Alex; his former editor (and a former mentor of mine) JoAnn Wypijewski’s more personal tribute gets at what was beautiful about him:

“Is your hate pure?” he would ask a new Nation intern, one eyebrow raised, in merriment or inquisition the intern was unsure. It was a startling question, but then this was—it still is—a startling time. For what the ancients called avarice and iniquity Alex’s hate was pure, and across the years no writer had a deadlier sting against the cruelties and dangerous illusions, the corruptions of empire. But, oh, how much more he was the sum of all he loved.

So let us celebrate our surviving scourges: Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury nailed one of the most neglected scandals of the current U.S. election season, vote-suppression legislation, with his historically acute series this month, “Jimmy Crow’s Comeback Tour.” And few have been paying heed while Canadian doctors stand up against similarly prejudicial bullshit on our side of the border, the Harper government’s cutoff of health care services to refugee applicants.

All right, enough. Now I have to go decide whether to make snack chips out of prosciutto or kale. Maybe I’ll mix them up together. Like a pussy riot! Like a pussy galore!

Chris: Terrible-wonderful patrician-queen and a gourmand-vulture too. When news of Vidal’s death emerged the first thing I thought of was Suddenly, Last Summer, the gloriously overwrought melodrama he worked on with frenemy Tennessee Williams (who once said of Vidal and Truman Capote, sounded both appalled and impressed, that “you would think they were running neck-and-neck for some fabulous gold prize”). Being a member of the cohort that learned about queerness from John Waters’ Simpsons cameo, this was the second thing: “Friends? Ha! These are my only friends: Grown-up nerds like Gore Vidal. And even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will.”

Dan Bejar explains a fair number of Dan Bejar songs: “I always loved music, but listening to rock seemed kind of gauche. It was not something that a human actually does; it was like some other world. The idea of it seemed very exotic.”

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