Carl: Whether or not your political align with his, Michael Lind did some useful work this week in his three–partseries in Salon of breaking down the current language of economic populism on both sides of the ideological divide, and, one can only hope, restoring the term “rentier class” to our vocabularies.
In another analytical mode, Richard Nash provides a refreshing, historically deep examination of the state of literature and publishing that is an immense relief from the blah-blah-money-blah of the day-in-and-out digital-dread discourse. To spoil the ending for you: “Let’s restore to publishing its true reputation — not as a hedge against the future, not as a bulwark against radical change, not as a citadel amidst the barbarians, but rather as the future at hand, as the radical agent of change, as the barbarian. The business of literature is blowing shit up.”
Last week in TWC, I paid tribute to the late Jason Molina. This week his fellow songwriter and friend Will Johnson lays a beautiful mourning cloth over those bones.
This week it is the time to mourn Paul Williams of Crawdaddy! magazine fame, one of the inventors of rock criticism as the barbarian. He started when he was 17, and stopped too soon. May our own maverick wildings someday make up for his lost time.
Also in sequels, in this week’s Tuesday Musics, I presented some discoveries that came courtesy of a talk by Ian Nagoski. Here is one I alluded to but didn’t follow up, the Indian classical singer Kesarbai Kerkar, whose amazing story (itself an epic Indian tale of humiliation, pride, discipline, triumph and withdrawal) is dwarfed by her actual art. (Thanks to Gabe Levine for the find.)
Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:
Carl: While I make some fun of reunion tours and the like in my piece on the oxymoron of Gen X nostalgia in the NY Times Magazine this weekend, it’s not always a lazy, narcissistic or greedy thing for an artist or a group of artists to revisit their past work. For example, in the Summerworks theatre festival this month, Toronto-based company Small Wooden Shoe is remounting its first-ever show, called Perhaps in a Hundred Years, created six years ago. (Disclaimer: I’ve recently become a member of SWS’s board.)
They have a few reasons: First, they like it, and hardly anyone saw the show at the time, so now that they have a bigger reputation, they’d like to give it the exposure. Second, and more intriguingly, they wondered what it would be like to revisit the people they were then – to re-enact a show that was not-so-veiledly about their relationships and situations at the time, when all those relationships and situations have changed. They say it’s now “a period piece, only the period is 2005.” And third, that’s particularly funny because the show is science-fiction, ostensibly about the future. So is it then a period piece about the future, or is it the future now?
I’ve yet to see it but I’ve seen these three performers in many other contexts and they are always charming and brain-tickling, and sometimes quite a bit more. Here is a little promotional video.
It would have been hard to enjoy this interview with David Lynch very much more. It still doesn’t make me sure I want to listen to his first album of original music. But I would listen to him talk about the weather forever.
But the most beautiful and affecting thing I’ve seen this week was this gallery by photographer James Mollison (drawn from his new book), depicting “Where Children Sleep” – children from all over the world, from the spoiled-princess or chillingly unchildishly minimalist bedrooms of affluent American kids to an eight-year-old in Cambodia who lives in a dump. I could say more but it is better just to look. Look and see, see, see.
Chris: This month, New York’s Film Forum is finishing up its Essential Pre-Code series – that is, a series of hard-to-find movies released before the mid-’30s, when the Hays Code forced Hollywood to hide its racy red light beneath a bushel. Tragically, I’m not in New York, but at least I can read a critics’ guide and fantasize.
Any ’90s nostalgia on my part is kinda ersatz, but this single I found via the Singles Jukebox is doing the trick. Of course a drum solo known as the Amen break would eventually be resurrected.
Margaux: I saw and loved Werner Herzog’s 3-d feature “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”. I went to see it again the following week because I couldn’t think of what would be better to see. There was a really nice article about it by Larry Rohter in the New York Times.If you love (or are amused by) Werner Herzog, this is him at his best, if Werner Herzog drives you crazy, Werner Herzog will drive you crazy here.
Speaking of love and hate, I read a recent feature on Miranda July that discussed the intense love and intense hate directed at the artist and filmmaker. I read the article because I am looking forward to seeing July’s second feature which is not in theatres yet. The article was fair and nice, but the writer and even Miranda July herself seemed overly preoccupied about people hating July’s “preciousness” and “perceived hipster tendencies”. It’s awful to be hated by strangers but anyone who made such a pleasurable and meaningful first feature shouldn’t worry so much about the trivialities of haters – or at least the critics defending them shouldn’t try to patiently explain it away. I would have much preferred to read more about the depth in her work rather than a tepid defense of her most negatively targeted qualities. Enough of the world will find July’s movies and wait eagerly for each new feature – hopefully of which there will be many.
I’ve been listening to two songs this week. The last episode of HBO’s True Blood put my favourite Neko Case song to good use: making us feel drunken empathy for those mean old vampires who lost love, and glad for those mean old vampires who found it.
The other song on repeat is by Loudain Wainright III – his beautiful “ I Saw Your Name in the Paper”. I think he wrote the song in 1971 (maybe for Liza Minnelli?). He wrote it before he had children, but re releasing it on a 2008 album with two famous children out there in the world was a ballsy move. I love nothing more than when someone casts themselves, very subtly, as a villain in their own work – without sneaking in a wink or qualifiers to the audience. It can be more interesting to not know the creator’s intentions. It’s an honest position for a normal human and often a more useful and humorous one than singing about all the other hateful creatures out there.
(I watched this with my friend Sheila Heti late at night in a cabin in the woods. We projected it onto a wall with our make-shift entertainment system. We were under the shared assumption that it was possibly the most entertaining movie that we brought with us. Every 25 minutes or so Sheila would say, “I think maybe I’ve seen this before.”)
There is a ballet company. The Company is in Chicago. The director wears a yellow scarf. He calls people “baby” or sometimes “genius.” A “genius” comes from Canada to choreograph a new ballet, “The Blue Snake.” There is not enough money to make “The Blue Snake,” but the director (easy and charming) says he will find it. The dancers continue to practice and perform, sometimes in a mirrored studio and sometimes to an audience in the rain. Sometimes new dancers arrive, sometimes dancers quit. Some of the dancers live together in a crowded apartment because maybe they don’t get paid a lot. Ryan is one of the dancers. Ryan lives in a big apartment all alone, maybe because she works a night job as a waitress. One night after her nightshift, she plays pool by herself in a bar. James Franco watches her. He has come to the bar after his nightshift as a chef. He goes back to her apartment with her and makes her an omelet in the morning. Ryan’s family comes out to a lot of her performances. They are clearly supportive if not greatly responsible for her career as a dancer. No one talks much. Sometimes the dancers get injured. When one is injured, another ballet dancer takes his or her place. Ryan is in the spotlight after a few others have suffered injuries. Her spotlight is brief, injuring herself while dancing “The Blue Snake.” She’s okay about it, even smiling, and James Franco crosses the stage awkwardly to give her flowers, while the dancers bow after the performance is done. In the last scene, the dancers come out of the mouth of a giant head and dance around. The head looks wrathful and also a little bit like the company’s director.
The best part of the movie was during The Company’s “Christmas Roast” when the dancers, on a make-shift stage, dress as different members of The Company and act out skits representing scenarios that we have already seen. Although the skits were literal representations, they were loose and playful. It was kind of nice to remember that the dancers, like us, have witnessed the scenarios they were part of. Now they are making fun of one of the romantic dances that happened in a thunderstorm. Now they are making fun of the “genius from Canadia.” It made the rest of the movie seem even more starkly like real life – lacking in poetry and even in .. “representation.”
It’s pretty interesting when a movie doesn’t work – when the poetry seems absent, the metaphors don’t resonate, when the art seems missing. It makes the movies that work seem like miracles. It’s especially interesting when a movie like this doesn’t work – a movie where the skill and craft and the director’s experience are all clearly on display.
Failure always seems to be an interesting part of good art. I guess it is easier to fall on your face if you happen to be reaching out far. Some failures are super interesting or easier to forgive than others, like: the bountiful missteps of Marlon Brando; the masterpieces of David Cronenberg that are aiming for the multiplex but end up at the cineforum; the David Lynch-like silence that sometimes follows David Lynch movies; the ambition in Sofia Coppola’s awkwardly revealing “Marie Antoinette” (though to be fair, I didn’t see the end because in the cinema in which I was watching it, the film caught on fire);the incaution in Woody Allen’s one-movie-a-year output (also often awkwardly revealing). Groping and searching and hubris always seem more generous than an immaculate career – more like contributions.
Nothing horrible is revealed in “The Company” other than the fact that it didn’t really work. I am guessing that a movie about an art system is a bigger challenge than a movie about a love affair. I guess at the end of “The Company” we are meant to see the giant head on stage as perhaps the art itself – spitting out dancers with broken bodies or failed or briefly glorious careers. It didn’t really resonate as it was supposed to, but I could see what the movie was maybe going for: art is as a merciless god, barely paying attention to the participants who offer their lives to it — some failing, some falling, some shining.
It’s okay, I think, as I gaze at the hand-painted ballet set, at the wrathful god’s wide-open mouth, projected onto the cottage wall (my friend half asleep beside me): It is only a god of the humans’ creation.