"In this important book, the influential film-maker and writer Peter Gidal shows how Blow Job is a film about film, about time and also about mortality. Gidal places Blow Job within a history of works by artists, including Duchamp and Velázquez, that directly affect the viewer, enacting a pattern of recognition and loss that constitutes the experience of perception itself.”
On the phone with the program director this evening, I’d meant to ask if he was related to Claude Lévi-Strauss, revolutionary anthropologist, or Levi Strauss, revolutionary jeans manufacturer.
I’ve been accepted into a course of study, anyway; an MFA in art criticism and writing. If I find the funds I will go. If I do not find the funds, I will go into the West, like Galadriel. That sounds like a suicide simile, something eternal yet hopeful. Rather, I plan to go to Mississippi, which is in fact south-west of Indiana. I will wear clothing similar to Galadriel. The car window—I’ll have it down; and my white robes of satin will ripple through the humid Tennessee air, and my white thong sandals will slap the concrete lots of gas stations along the way. My pewter necklace will jangle in my lap.
Establishing this conceit required visiting the wikipedia entries of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Levi Strauss, and Galadriel. (The program director, I believe, is not related.) Then I was compelled to know what the “Istari” are. Now I know more about the Wizards of Middle-Earth.
My radical Virilio postulate: sometimes the internet is your boyfriend, or a boyfriend. You regurgitate its worth into his ear, the ear of flesh, when you’re too full. Like a momma-bird. You weep together like doves. You use pheonix tears as lube. Bird metaphors are libidinal. Virilio lacks sex; I’m correcting that.
What follows is my radical shill.
Cody is in Georgetown tonight wandering around listening in on French conversations. I’m in Indiana with an oscillating fan blowing sweet nothings across my neck. We talked on the phone and my description of the following conspiracy was utterly boring to him. This did not give me pause—he’s yoked his sagacity to the material concerns of affordable health care, the legislative measures for teachers’ rights, and the destabilizing effects of industrializing small, post-colonial African countries. I’m concerned with editors and writers. What I lack in competence I make up for in maintaining a blog. I also run a lot. I ate only bananas and chocolate-cherry muffins today, and in this heat, after my long exhilarating run, I shit miles of puce-colored taffeta. Cody asked to hear more about that, the pervert.
I’ve been reading The Cosmos Trilogy, definitely east coast poems, poems made out of docile impertinence, torpid meanness, poems made of the money spent, the motorcycles raced, the women finger-banged, and the Italian villas drenched in the dreamer’s diving sweat, while writing them. The weakest section—like the weakest (or boring) section from The Divine Comedy—deals with heaven, with the cosmos. The later sequence in the section, rounding it towards purgatory, begins to throb; a sensual bass chord of illness and paranoia and pain creeps in under the discussion of creation: “The octopus also is/ The black space around itself/ Its octopus ink clones in clouds.” Nazis come to the fore. The angel abandons us and leaves us on Earth.
Having read Area Code 212 certainly I prefer its pagination over this compendium, and the archangel on its cover. Richter’s painting of a toilet roll is too sad, too thin, too silly to contain “Goodness” from Life on Earth or “February” or the new long poems, clawing tooth and nail to a meter that will not contain the rancor of so many proper nouns. “One Hundred,” the end of the cycle, teasingly approximates terza rima before abandoning its charms, and drowns in flames. How did 9/11 occupy Seidel so deeply? Was it the first real terrible thing he had to think about, excepting the Holocaust?
In “Derrida’s Reading of Hegel in Glas,” Critchley summarizes the difficult business of conceiving the practicing of philosophy as a holocaust: “Thus, the total burning and consummation of essential light give itself to being-for-self as a holocaust, that is, as a whole (holos) that is burnt (caustos). With the advent of this gift, the fire of light goes out and the sun begins to set; the dialectical, phenomenological and historical movement of occidentalization that will result in Absolute Knowledge has begun.”
"[M]ight one not ask whether Glas is also delineating an ethics of holocaust, of a primordial gift or sacrifice that is the unthought limit of philosophical conceptuality? Can philosophy think holocaust, its ashes, its remains? Can ontology, even fundamental ontology or the question of the truth of Being, responsibly break its silence on the Holocaust? What is at stake here?”
Might one not ask whether The Cosmos Trilogy uses 9/11 much the way Critchley allows Derrida, as a primordial gift or sacrifice that is the unthought limit of poetic conceptuality? Can poetry think 9/11, its ashes, its remains?
Use that Richter two-ply and wipe the goddam smile off your face.
Well Lord above, I said to Cody, the bathetic construct that exists off the phone. On the phone I said (to the Cody living and breathing in the city that is the cradle of the whole world’s super-power): “I think Christian Lorentzen and Lorin Stein are in on something. I think they’re working together—having a little fun, you know—getting this ‘holy shit’ poetry thing together.”
"Seidel fits in how?" asked the construct. The Cody leaning in a doorway in Georgetown, inhaling the perfume off Parisian faces, said, "How do you know?"
"Because I’ve a lot of time on my hands. I have time—unlike a lot of Americans—to read poetry, for one thing. And time to read Ethics—Politics—Subjectivity by Simon Critchley,” I said to the construct. ”Because I’ve been on blogs a lot! Because the senior editor could have farmed that story out,” I said to Cody.
Cody said, “And you’ve seen their shared interests. They both like Seidel. They’ve contributed to n+1. They did that Faster Times event ‘Drink with the Lit World’s Best Editors and Writers’ at the Libertine Library. They set on a film panel together. It’s all very friendly, the posturing, the post-mortems, the tangle of alliances. But it doesn’t end there, does it?”
By this point I am gurgling, retching, gurgling. He’s breast-feeding me, my poppa-bird.
Did he kill a man. I repeated the question to Cody, later, on the phone—the quip tasted delicious. I lay with my back on the treadmill feeling for dead bugs with my feet. “We talked about this earlier? This was the conversation when I didn’t say anything.”
"Right. Internet stuff. I guess."
So we talked about Mississippi instead. An accident.
I saw on a thankfully mute television today ESPN, The Worldwide Leader in Sports, dissecting an umpire snafu that befell a Dodger’s pitcher last night. Up came the slick graphic screens designed by Risdee fratboys, with the language copy written by the douchebags of Brown, with the sportscasters in their monkey suits who would be doing more for the common good if they were at GS trading hog futures, talking seriously about the rule book, with the periods, Rule 8.8.67, like it’s the date of a Dead Bootleg, and serious and arch legal language, on why the umpires were wrong.
I’m sure Joe Buck’s dad had a rulebook, too, but he read it once and then it was fucking over. Now it happens the whole next day on every mute television I see.
Having to see Lebron James’ enchantment under the sea face during his Dowry Decision Show was also like one big umpire snafu story.
Having to watch some of the most successful people in sports history prevaricate over a marathon 36 hour stretch about the graciousness of the “great American businessman” George Steinbrenner was also one big umpire snafu story.
As moving as the funeral of Gerald Ford.
If it is not clear, I liked the old days better. When the umpires were just poor sacks supervising jocks and the jocks would get thrown out of games for obviously incorrect reasons and you’d see them in the dugout with mystery in their angry eyes. Now you just see eyes filled with the central AC in their dope condos, where they will later that night turn on ESPN and feel vindicated by a bunch of suits who would be more useful to society selling Maseratis in Iowa.
The actual Field of Dreams field is on ebay or Amazon selling for 5.4 million American.
I went to The Paris Review website to read Elif Batuman’s account of a 12 hour Dostoyevsky theatre experience—a blind date? did she break up with Max? I didn’t actually make it to the post; update to follow—but lingered over the large image from Inception. I scrolled down a bit. I’ve read a lot on the film already; I didn’t want to get sucked into another fifteen minutes of agreeing with a Paris Reviewer—and from the first sentence on, had this tingling sensation. “What’s Christopher Nolan’s new movie Inception about?” I scrolled to the top, tingling. Yep: suspicions confirmed. Caleb Crain is the quintessential bookish movie-goer. Everything is about. He wrote the piece!
This is somewhat comforting, actually, in that his angle generally satisfies our curious desire to master a text. His spurious polemic against Avatarnotwithstanding, he appreciates cinema, and has a sense of humor about the proceedings. Nikil Saval’s diagnosis of Nolan’s The Dark Knight two summers ago was witty but humorless. Saval used Daniel Pearl’s on-tape beheading for a snark-landing, which in principle worked but was still, you know, rough-going. Crain’s on-going discussion of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and continuing Freudian readings serve here and also his earlier entry on Splice. (Is it funny to check his blog comments and find that no one has dared reply to the tomish Freud entries? Sometimes his blogging is simply too ambitious to endorse with a simple “like” or “your mom.” Sometimes I want to write “Fuck yeah!” but that’d be ludicrous.)
Mr. Crain has also written about Top Gun and Czech cinema on his blog, though for under $15 you can purchase a paperback compendium of, among myriad topics, his movie writings here.
Whether I like it or not, now that Caleb is married to Peter Terzian, he’s placed a premium on expending energies toward discussing film. Maybe his attention is so divided by romance, overwhelmed by bliss, felicitations, &c., he can’t return to his manuscript about this divorce happening a long time ago? I can’t remember exactly what he’s up to. I’d like to say the same thing happened to me. But I am not married. And I’ve only stopped talking about books because I’ve run into a briar patch of Elfriede Jelinek. A thicket really. Who knew I’d hate her novels Women as Lovers and Wonderful, Wonderful Times, that my stomach would curdle at the long descriptions of Austrian teens’ ennui, that I’d chew on Advil while navigating the anarchic shopping arcades of Vienna? Jelinek however does have a Nobel Prize for Literature. DuckBeater is a member of the Academy of American Poets, not much doing. (In fact, Evan Scott Bryson is really a member, though not much doing.)
Anyway: from Mr. Crain’s Paris Review post:
"It probably doesn’t make sense, therefore, to class Inception with Paprika, Mulholland Drive, and other movies about dreams: it belongs rather with The Matrix, Existenz, and Avatar—with movies about the mind-body problem in the age of gaming. Thus the movie’s fascination with the décalage between the passage of time in reality and its passage within a dream.”
"Movies increasingly resemble video games, but they used to think of themselves as resembling novels. The interpretive guess that I would hazard is that Inception reflects the anxieties and the pleasures that the moviemaker feels as his medium shifts from a novelistic analogy to a video-game one.”
UPDATE: Having read part one—I’m convinced Elif is still dating Max. Also, she casually endorses the LA Times, a paper I loathe.
MORE: Having finished all four posts, questions remain! I can’t figure out if her and Max are kaput. Maybe it’s in Us Weekly or People but Todd is using my car right now to hatch his escape plan, so I can’t go to the supermarket to find out.
ALSO: My boyfriend is attending a campaign luncheon for a democratic senator where lobster is being served. He doesn’t eat seafood—do people from Nebraska eat seafood at all?—but hopefully the meal features a hearty salad and bread.
I am drinking a Diet Coke. Disgusting.
A lot of exclamation points have been edited from the post. Still, most of it reads in shrill blogger gasping. Must needs concentrate on developing a sober voice.
J. Hoberman, whom I adore (his essay “21st Century Cinema: Death and resurrection in the Desert of the (New) Real” appeared in the December 2009 issue of ArtForum, where among other Baudrillardian hesitancies, he proposed: “Did the history changing shock of 9/11 plunge the nascent twenty-first century into an alternate universe—or reveal a new reality?”; amazing), recently wrote this:
"However distasteful (see Palindromes), Solondz’s movies are genuinely philosophical (ditto). Appearing for the third time in a Solondz movie, the hyperrational computer nerd Mark Wiener functions in the filmmaker’s oeuvre as the increasingly Asperger’d voice of experience. In Welcome to the Dollhouse, Mark advised his younger sister, Dawn, that high school would be better than junior high—not so, evidently. Palindromes is prefaced by a dedication that notes Dawn’s suicide. There, Mark explains his philosophy that people cannot change their basic nature. Toward the end of Life During Wartime, Mark responds to Timmy’s increasingly shrill attempt to puzzle out the nature of forgiveness. Can you forgive someone who punches you in the face? A terrorist? Hitler? Your father?
Mark’s logical conclusion is that the phrase ‘forgive and forget’ is a meaningless contradiction. To forget a wrong is to nullify the act of forgiveness, and yet forgetting is ultimately the most absolute form of forgiving. Or, as the paradox-minded Franz Kafka put it, ‘The Messiah will arrive only when he is no longer needed.’”
Above is a sneaky preview in the form of some notes I made while rewatching it, which (for the keen eyed scrubbers amongst you) does include one key moment in the film that I forgot to mention in the thing itself.
“Reader Appreciation Week” doubles as “Part-time Contributor Appreciation Week”—one of the perks. One of the many perks when contributing to BWDR!
And since we’re talking about movies structured around dreams—
Inception has by now reached England’s shores, and reading this piece made me re-consider how dreams, directors, cinema and politics function in Nolan’s opus, if they do at all. But it’s obvious—four layers of dreams down (maybe five? maybe infinity!)—that these things should be reflected on, so the course isn’t actually that appealing. Now that I’ve thought about it. O God, I am also thinking about Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy in fancy suits, necking, if it comes to that. It should always come to that. For what it did have of gentlemen in finery, I should not complain.
Many, many minutes of the movie were gripping, haunting, &c. However the tumult, I felt a brazen thirty-minute swatch of boredom tickle along the end of the first third of Inception and this melted into bemusement but I don’t think it culminated, as one would hope, in gnashing of teeth or rending of clothes. The film did leave me with an abandoned feeling, which was filled up by a cheese quesadilla later, and bogus, Hans Zimmer horn-filled dreams even later that night. My sister-in-law felt panicky after watching the movie, too. Cody, with whom I saw the movie, and with whom I shared cheese fries and drank most of the soda pop, and with whom I saved necking until later, excepting a sly peck on a bridge spanning the Georgetown canal (swoon), said he “did not dream” throughout the night after the film. How like Cobb.
The sort of exhaustion and anxiety induced by watching Inception is akin to sitting for a long math final, or the logic section of the LSAT. Two hours of holding, refining, accepting, re-directing, synthesizing and approving filmic information, by way of calculus. Or long division.
Like most movies I feel threatened by, I’m seeing this one again tonight with Todd. He is uprooting from Indiana very soon (hopefully I’ll receive dispatches from Florida, to surreptitiously post), and we must accumulate QT before he heads east and before I head south. We’re brave wanderers, especially considering our credentials.
I saw The House Bunny twice in theaters.
I want to see the train rip through the street again.
“Now, five years later, The Books’ new album The Way Out stays true to form by sculpting formless arrangements and once again capturing the imagination. Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong have developed tremendously as producers: The diversity of moods on The Way Outshows the clear maturation in the pair’s tastes. Using exercises in autogenics to start and finish the album — at one point, a voice explicitly asks the listener to go deeper and deeper — they fill the middle with everything from children’s voices to spacious brass sections to anecdotal interpretations of musical genres. In “I Didn’t Know That” and “Beautiful People,” among others, The Books’ experiments continue to push past the edges of expectation, dishing out another welcome serving of food for thought.”
Nemesvari, Richard. “Robert Audley’s Secret: Male Homosocial Desire and ‘Going Straight’ in Lady Audley’s Secret.” Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality. Ed. Calvin Thomas. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000. 109-121.
The author, a professor of English at St. Francis Xavier University whose research interests include Victorian fiction and women writers, investigates the homosexual subtext of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel Lady Audley’s Secret in regards to its protagonist, Robert Audley. Nemesvari assesses the extent to which Braddon wrote her novel aware of homosexual culture in Britain in the latter half of the 19th century, and how sensation fiction of the period generally included references to homosexuality, albeit subversively or in suppressed fashion. Sensation fiction discusses all matters sensational, but the truly scandalous, the unmentionable acts of homosexuality, were not open for investigation or even naming. Relying on several historicizing and theoretical texts, such as Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, Elaine Showalter’s gender studies work, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire and Epistemology of the Closet, the author posits Robert’s potential homosexuality. He carefully distinguishes between homosocial conduct and outright homosexual desire between Robert and George Talboy’s, and builds his argument of self-awareness on the emerging masculine “panic” that Sedgwick describes. Citing three major events in Braddon’s novel—the reader’s introduction to Robert, and the careful description of his person and habits; his frustration and sustained agitation at the disappearance of his friend; his marriage to Clara Talboys and the convenience of his newfound proximity to George—Nemesvari begins to parse minor components and indications of the latent desires Braddon may have purposefully crafted to embellish the sensations of the novel. This is all by way of comparing Robert’s sexual deviance with Lady Audley’s, the depths of which Robert escapes by safely conducting himself in heterosexualizing activities. Lady Audley is damned, however, because her society offers her no such opportunities of redemption for her bigamy and attempts at murder.
If only for giggles, I found Nemesvari’s argument and analysis highly stimulating. Robert, a peculiar character anyway, comes across as even more aloof and silly in the choice passages of Lady Audley’s Secret where he seems to puzzle over his homosocial desire. That the tensions between his agony at George’s disappearance and his awkward relationships with the bachelorettes of the novel can be explained by bleeping a gaydar over his person is doubly convenient and convincing. However, while the evidence may be sensational (entertaining) it is also sobering. Robert’s constant coming to near-recognition of his deviance seems to propel his ambitions in investigating Lady Audley and her secrets; her apprehension and subsequent punishment allows him, in a way, to displace an investigation into himself, masking his desires. In this way, Nemesvari argues, Braddon exposes the delicate and ambivalent sexuality of the Victorian patriarchy that oppresses females. Robert, then, is to be pitied or loathed, and Lady Audley—unsecreted—seems quite admirable.
From a Letter to Allison, Wherein I Discuss My Grandfather, then Kathryn Bigelow and Sean White's appearances on "60 Minutes"
Because his vision is so bad, my grandfather insists on keeping his eyes shock-wide open. This has the unintentional effect of making him look owlish, and more wise than usual. The bloody bandages on his arms and leg give him this preciousness, however, this childishness without the vitality.
Grandpa told me last night that he has decided not to continue with the chemo therapy—”Quality over quantity, that’s what I’ll tell the doctor when Kirk takes me up tomorrow”— and instead to live out the remainder of his days in the relative comfort of dying of lung cancer, and cancer of the everywhere, which, at 86 years of age, sounds like a reasonable course of adventure to put an old body through, to die through cancer instead of dying through chemo.
Then we watched the interview on “60 Minutes” with Kathryn Bigelow, which had the confusing splices of her movie The Hurt Locker, and marveled at the woman’s talents. Then we marveled at the next segment, on Sean White. I described what was happening. “Kathryn Bigelow is very feminine looking, she has sleek long brown hair and pink cheeks. Her femininity makes it difficult to understand, apparently to this interviewer, why she is so capable of creating hyper-masculine cinema. Now Kathryn is walking in a field in a pair of GAP skinny jeans? Now she is talking about Scopophilia.” Grandpa asked if I had seen The Hurt Locker and I said, “No, but I have pretended more than once to have seen it, and thought it very important.” He said, “She’s probably so good because she is a woman. She can get around the subject—you know, men.” I agreed.
What about Sean White? ”Sean White has flowing red hair and is going down his own private half-pipe!” I suggested Sean should cut his hair, more aerodynamic that way. “His trademark,” said Grandpa, “wouldn’t part with it.”
"Sean White is lonely. Sean White makes ten million dollars a year in endorsements!"
Incidentally, my oldest brother called during this to say he was watching the same program. And to ask if I had seen The Hurt Locker. Nope.
I had the opportunity years ago to interview the magisterial poet John Balaban, and the link above connects to the full interview on the Valparaiso Poetry Review website.
Bryson: When you were reading off the names, I felt it was a small assault on this generation — on quiet Americans sitting around complacently while there’s a war going on overseas. I was wondering, what the role of a poet — especially a poet coming out of the Vietnam War — is nowadays?
Balaban: Again, poets — they aren’t going to make the evening news, are they? I mean, it’s a pretty rare thing. I think they did recently. And actually with the current war in Iraq, Laura Bush had this event, or was about to, where she invited writers to the White House. Poets, she was going to have poets. Her innocent — or at least naïve — view is that poets would be good guests, because they’re artists and not political, right? But in fact, it was my editor at Copper Canyon Press who organized a huge work-protest. He was gonna go, I think, and talk about the war. And then it became a protest, and the whole event was called off because it was clear it was going to be an embarrassment. And it became a movement. There’s an anthology that came out called Poet’s Against the War. Enough money was donated to it that we could afford an ad on the editorial pages of the New York Times. It became a political statement. Still, what the poets say is probably less important to the public at large than what rock-stars or celebrities have to say. I mean, I don’t pay much attention to their views on things. But somehow poets get through. Like with this brilliant book very much about this war by a young Iraq War veteran, Brian Turner, Here, Bullet — fine book of poetry. You know the old saw that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world — and I’m not sure if Shelley really believed that…. But despite their marginalization they always seem to come through, or at some moment of importance get to speak up. They’re feared. And you would think that anything as marginalized as poetry wouldn’t be a bother to anybody in office or government or in control, but in Eastern Bloc countries of the former Soviet Union, poets were considered such a possible source of trouble that they were compromised in these writers unions. And basically the function of a writers union was to keep them in line. Keep them comfortable enough so they didn’t dare risk their comfort, and have a service that minded their behavior in prose or poetry. I think there is always that latent fear that they will say something….
Are Wesley Yang and Molly Yung the only two Asians regularly contributing to n+1?
Christopher Hsu writes for Paper Monument. Close!
The editorial board of The Point is seemingly transnational, the contributors mudbloods. Harry Potter 6 trailers are looking shrill and tearful, Voldemort sings and has a bad nose.
What is it about After All magazine that stresses one about back-issues? The writing isn’t particularly timely. Is that it?
Reading this story I thought about Ellen Page in Hard Candy.
I saw the movie Eclipse two nights ago with my mother and her friend, same director.
BookForum and ArtForum. Links links links.
I am totally joking about Molly Young being Asian. I was riffing on a typo from a sentence that did not make it into this post.
Nolan’s Inception comes out Friday? I’ll be in Washington, D.C., with Cody on Friday and we will see it then and neck in the seats in the darkness. No we won’t. I crystalize in movie theatres and materialize only to pee.
This story by Nick Antosca sums up my feelings about Sundays this summer.
I am applying to—and anticipating rejection from—a program of study in NYC. Between New York and L.A., just holding the two cities in my head, one behind each eye, simultaneously imagining their weathers and their crowds and their transportation systems, makes me want to barf.
[L]est we forget: The Village was released in the summer of 2004. If it would not promise democracy’s futurity―least of all the Democratic party’s―than at least it could provide a little guidance as to living in this day, in this war-dumb country, in this new bogus century where god was nowhere to be found.
I have a generically ambitious essay up at A Bright Wall in a Dark Room about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, a troubling film, a stupid film, a meaningful film. Doesn’t everyone miss when Marginal Gloss regularly contributed?
And here is a picture of my brother Todd in a small wagon pulled by a Jeep, in a small-town Fourth of July parade, on the state-line of Indiana/Ohio:
Did he throw candy? A.J. may answer in the comments section! And here is a picture of the moth that flew into Todd’s ear last night (it had to be tweezed to be removed, and then flew away—a truly monstrous experience if you’ve ever suffered it):
M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender: Based on the Essay ‘The World as India’ by Susan Sontag”
I wouldn’t be surprised if Shyamalan uses Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will as his pump-up film before he goes into production. “I will defeat fascism,” he says. “I will defeat fascism. I will defeat fascism.” He is a very sincere artist—like dear Leni—and hopes to solve the world’s ills with glorious filmmaking. But I believe he has lost his way.
A week ago I began an essay that makes two claims: 1) M. Night Shyamalan’s work is inextricably bound up with the cultural moment, in a curiously aggressive way, in that it offers a mirror and critique of the political situation it occupies upon release (a tendency that really irritates critics); and 2) the director’s reputation suffered after The Village because of a momentary collapse of the liberal confidence in the project of truth, not necessarily because the movie blows in its formal aspects, but in its ideological. I appended a lengthy endnote defining what constitutes a “liberal confidence in the project of truth”; really, really out of my league. I happen to like The Village and Shyamalan’s work over-all. The Last Airbender—I paid for mine and Kate’s tickets last night—is a failure, a big boring pile with some intriguing bones, maybe a jawbone, something.
The Last Airbender is bad, you know, in all the ways the critics are saying it’s bad: muddy visuals, incomprehensible story, stagnant acting, burdensome dialogue—the lodestars of disinterested badness. And the movie is bad—insultingly bad?—to its Nickelodeon series’ fans, documented extravagantly elsewhere. However, the film is also bad in encouraging ways that the critics aren’t talking about because they’re too busy being pissed off for getting paid to watch movies for a living. A. O. Scott had to take his son along. Just terrible. Actually, his review was generous. Ebert’s was generous and indignant. Kenneth Turan’s milquetoast review bordered on the wary.
Turan, Her Space Holiday, and the poet Eleni Sikelianos should contribute a big milquetoast send-up of California for This Recording, now that I think about it. They could talk about movies and music and books. I guess I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. I’m using a noun as an adjective. Milquetoast. Who cares. DuckBeater is funded by Lockheed Martin and never forgets who he is working for.
Why did Shyamalan do it? Sontag helps us out in some kind words about translation, from which The Last Airbender was presumably meant to benefit in its jump from animated kids show to live-action blockbuster. ”Translation,” writes Sontag, “is then first of all making better known what deserves to be better known – because it is improving, deepening, exalting; because it is an indispensable legacy from the past; because it is a contribution to knowledge, sacred or other.” This relates, too, as to why The Last Airbender is encouragingly bad. I’m working on that. I have faith!
If only because it continues Shyamalan’s preoccupation with communicating the particularly American syncretism of New Age transcendence and Episcopalian doctrine, and problematizing this ambitious synthesis by adding a non-subtle commentary on empire, industry, and ecology. Is that a start? Probably a false start (I’m not sure if I’m kidding—it’s getting late, I’m eating cookies, etc.). But: the director’s fascination with the crisis of religious experience (the power of myth) within a culture that has dichotomized the numinous into blasé seculars in the one hand, and a radical extremists in the other, has become increasingly dramatic. And if he, like Aang attempting to master the water element, would just fucking master his emotions, he might be able to make a god damn coherent movie out of his ideas. Communing in a foggy dream-state with a slithery CGI moon dragon is not the way to go. Shyamalan and Marilynne Robinson, alone in their genius, are casting for souls.
This is compelling stuff, even if drab special effects belabored the point. I hope Shyamalan works in Hollywood again just so he’ll get around to remaking The Passion of the Christ the way Gus Van Sant remade Psycho. The logical second or third step.