Tuesday, 7 September 2010
Monday, 14 June 2010
These guys are good:
Thursday, 22 April 2010
Wednesday, 16 April 2008
I went for a drink with two old friends recently, and one of them asked me who I'd rather see the celebrity deathclock start on soonest, Britney Spears or Amy Winehouse? I didn't really have to think about it, I'd much rather have another Amy Winehouse album than a Britney album, so I marked miss Spears for Death. My other friend protested that caring about celebrities personal lives is for women and homosexuals.
I don't agree, it's pure performance art. What we think of as a celebrity's 'private' life is a gestalt entity consisting of their actual private life, the publicists' and agents' spin on their private lives, tabloid journalists idea of what will sell more copies and the public need for entertaining scandals. By the time you read about it, if it bears any resemblance to reality, somebody hasn't been doing their job. If you think that a magazine has any idea what Brad Pitt's private life is like, you're an idiot. It's an industry that involves hundreds of thousands of people building scandals out of the most mundane and unremarkable things.
'The Hollywood insider' (not the magazine) is the character that makes a lot of gossip journalism possible. These are usually failed celebrities themselves, and they can be either bitter or benevolent about it. They're the people who hang out at the parties and then sell their stories to the papers. The jilted lovers, the confidantes eager to write tell-all books, the gal pals who write the gushing blurbs about the dresses at the wedding, or the simplicity of the decor. Or they can be the people 'revealing' drug problems, eating disorders, etc. Usually anonymously, always for the stars' own benefit, of course. Seeing as they are betraying the confidences of their so-called friends, there is really no reason to take anything they say to heart.
Why are the lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous so compelling? It's not just the gossip, there's something archetypical going on here. The whole Brangelina thing has seriously religious overtones, for me at least. Brad is a bit like a sun god avatar, a blonde, smiling, good-natured actor, who marries Angelina Jolie, who always reminded me of Kali, the blood obsession, the tattoos, and she just looks like the pictures. Beautiful but deadly, and a mother. They've slid firmly into the part of my brain that keeps various religious cosmologies apart, probably because they spent a lot of time and money tapping into the same archetypes as those gods. The Greek pantheon is filled with jealousy, rage, adultery, murder, incest and rape. They realised that seeing the divine dragged through the mud is one of the great joys of life. Perfection is as boring as it gets.
I also can't enough of the ridiculous excess. If all the money and the fame doesn't create larger than life personalities, then what does? Having so much money you don't even know what to do with it anymore, can't be good for you, nor can being recognised on the street give you a humble disposition. I was spellbound watching "The Fabulous Life of Celebrity Pets". I can't see why anybody wouldn't want to watch a documentary on how to spend a middle management salary a day on a dog. It's the kind of lunacy that just makes me happy. If you don't like that attitude, feel free to be horrified that there's a dog that's richer, more famous and that has a better life than you, and not because it can talk or cured cancer in a whimsical laboratory accident. That is at least as valid a reason to keep watching.
If I ever become famous, my friends have my permission to sell any stories, real or imagined to the press. Though I prefer imagined, because I don't think there's anything I've done in the last ten years that qualifies as a scandal. I'm thinking something along these lines:
"He sat in the room, covered in coconut oil and wearing only lederhosen, forcing the midgets to dance with his whip, while he halfheartedly tried to strangle the swan. It was then that I realised that Hollywood had changed him."
In fact, let's make it contest. Whoever leaves the best interview snippet in the comments section along with his name and postal address, will get my copy of "The Man Who was Thursday" by G.K. Chesterton. Make your entry 100 words or less. Contest closes the 16th of May. I will not correspond with you about whether or not you've won. The winner will be announced on this blog on the 17th.
Posted by Olivier de Vries at 22:14
Monday, 31 March 2008
Kenzo Kitakata's Winter Sleep is apparently only the second of the hundred books he's written to be translated, and I can't say how happy I am that someone is going to those lengths to bring us modern Japanese authors besides Haruki Murakami. Kitakata is described on the jacket as the 'Don of hardboiled detective and mystery writing in Japan' and it does tend to remind me of 'Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World'. But Kitakata doesn't use a fairytale to represent the inner world. His main character is an ex-con artist philosopher and his lack of interest in money, social conventions and anything besides his art is neatly captured in the sparse language, which acts as a metaphor for his artistic pursuits and how they isolate him from society.
The artist secludes himself in a cabin in the mountains to paint without interruption, but an attractive older art dealer drops by and tries to get him to switch galleries. He's unconcerned with the piles of cash she brings whenever he lets her take a painting away, and she ruthlessly tries to manipulate him any way she can. The other woman is a young girl trying to become a painter herself. He becomes her lover and teacher and the foil for explaining Kitakata's artistic theory. The third main character is a mentally disabled murder with talent, who becomes obsessed with his paintings, who he teaches to paint, so he won't have to kill again. the characters dance around each other for a while, moving towards a not very happy ending. The artist needs to finish his masterpiece, and his two protogées need to become artists before the winter is over.
What I found most interesting about the book was the way in which artistic growth could be captured in the hardboiled scheme, it seemed a bit incongruous, but turned out to be a fantastic find. It also revealed why authors like Murakami are so fond of a pulp genre that's hardly used by anyone in the states and Europe anymore. Early translations of Spillane or Chandler must have looked like desert landscapes to the Japanese. A barebones mystery, dotted with references to alcohol, cigarettes and beautiful women, all centered on lonely and fundamentally self-destructing characters. But the Japanese probably never regarded it as genre fiction, I like to think they viewed it as a kind of philosophical zen poetry about these themes, with the actual mystery or detective story as completely inconsequential.
Katherine Dunn's Geek Love is apparently some kind of classic, having been nominated for a National Book Award in 1989. It details the family life of a Carnival proprietor, his wife and the freakish children they made experimenting with chemicals and radioactivity.
Just like the characters, this book's outward displays of unique weirdness really doesn't make for interesting insides. There are no interesting twists, no revealing descriptions, no fascinating characters, despite all the effort expended to make it into an engrossing macabre fairytale, it's really just a grotesque catalog of perfectly ordinary episodes, only ugly because they don't coalesce into anything more than that. For all your freak show needs, watch any episode of Carnivale, which manages to pull off everything Dunn wanted to do and more, sans the family relations angle.
Dana Vachon's Mergers and Acquisitions starts off like a fresh Brett Easton Ellis, but manages to stay quite lighthearted in tone, except for the incongruous suicidal girlfriend subplot. The main character is a slacker investment banker, who manages to work his contacts for a job at a rapidly disintegrating Wall street firm, while of course remaining somewhat aloof to the bizarre personalities and extreme temptations of life among the super wealthy idiots.
Most of the book is a somewhat entertaining farce about the main character's total lack of talent and surprising bad luck in his new job. His considerably dumber friend does better, because he's mistaken for a more senior and competent banker than he actually is, and because everyone has slept with his sister at some point. The whole thing isn't exactly biting satire like the cover blurbs would have you believe, what's missing is the dark underbelly Ellis and Jay McInerney always seem to find.
It's quite hard to write convincingly about a completely superficial world, but if you can't find anything substantial at all in the plot, it becomes almost impossible. The suicidal girlfriend is supposed to be that anchor, but Vachon just writes her as a mopey chick that wants to kill herself because her impotent father is raising another man's child as his own with his latest trophy wife. They grow apart and she dramatically attempts suicide, but lives, now alienated from him. He manages to suck-out and gets a lot of money and recognition for nothing, amidst various misadventures. I'd describe this book as a slightly more cynical version of 'the Secret of My Success', Micheal J. Fox's 1980's business comedy.
Maybe I just need to know the Wall street deal makers some of these people are supposedly based on, whose pathetic loneliness and desperation will certainly be enough to sue Vachon for the unflattering descriptions he provides. But there's no reason for me to care about super-rich jerks and the vapid, privileged hipsters they spawn otherwise.
We own the Night was competent and that's really all there is too it. Marky Mark and Robert Duvall are the cop father and son duo that try to rope black sheep club-managing brother Joaquin Phoenix into helping them catch some of the drug dealers hanging out in his Brooklyn nightspot. He refuses, and after his brother takes a bullet from a regular customer, he goes undercover to catch the assailant. He gets hurt and the purposely vague Eastern European escapes, then kills his father. The brothers reunite to catch him, Joaquin now a provisional cop planning to join the good fight as soon as family business is dealt with. He deals with it, taking up the gauntlet and finally admitting he loves his brother, who takes a desk job because he can't take working on the streets anymore, but losing his girlfriend because she just doesn't understand why he has to do this. The movie is supposed to be set in 1988, but the Blondie songs in the club sequences at the beginning are all from 1979-1982, which is my only quarrel with the movie. Nothing amazing, but well worth the trouble of going to see, solid acting all round.
Lars and the Real Girl is one of those bittersweet films from the Wes Anderson school of film making. There are the kooky characters presented with a lot of understatement, the social misfits trying to grow up, the tortured relationships between everybody, etc. The script is by one of the writers of six feet under and that shows, it's high quality, but a bit too episodic. The story centers on Lars, a 27-year old programmer with severe social anxieties, played surprisingly well by Ryan Gosling. He lives in a shed outside the family home where his older brother now lives with his pregnant wife. His brother's wife and all the other people in the small Alaskan town they live in are urging him to get a girlfriend, he's even being pursued by girl just a little bit less adorably awkward than he is. One night he snaps and orders a real doll over the internet, but he believes her to be an actual person. A kindly psychiatrist convinces everybody in the town to play along and soon 'Bianca' the wheelchair-bound half-Danish, Half-Brazilian Nurse is more popular in the town than Lars himself is. He begins to have fights with her, and is also begin to like the titular 'real girl' a lot more. Predictably, 'Bianca' isn't breathing one morning and at the funeral Lars finds comfort with the real girl. The big surprise for me in this movie was how well Ryan Gosling managed to play both Lars and 'Bianca', getting both the tics and mannerisms of the man and of the one-sided relationship with the doll absolutely perfect. And this from the guy who was in 'the Notebook', a saccharine tearjerker a movie like this is the insulin for. The balance between quirky comedy and drama was just off, though. It was a good film, but a bit more tension, uncomfortable weirdness and at least a mention of sex (those dolls are anatomically correct, after all) would have made it great.
Mad Men is the new show by the production team and one of the writers behind 'the Sopranos'. Apparently David Chase was so impressed by the pilot script he hired creator Matthew Weiner on the spot for the last season of his show. And it's clear why, Mad men doesn't have the Soprano's easily explained conceit -mobster character study through psychiatrist- but it does have the same appeal, a great cast struggling with superior scripts with multi-layered things to say about American Society. The show is set in 1960, and deals with the professional and private life of Don Draper, a creative director for a Madison Avenue advertising agency. His colleagues and city mistresses don't seem to know anything about his private life, and his wife doesn't seem to care about his job. The show is dedicated to being period specific and representing a 1960's microcosm that also explains where modern consumer society comes from. So there's a lot of smoking drinking and cheating on wives going on, absolutely charming racism and misogyny (Draper's wife sees a psychiatrist who calls him the following evening to tell him what she talked about) and gems of wisdom about the advertising business and some of the classic campaigns of the sixties. The famous 'lemon' volkswagen' campaign is ridiculed by Draper and colleagues. There's some fantastic lines in every episode but these from the second episode are just immortal:
"Have you ever been in love mister Draper?"
"Love doesn't exist. Love was invented by a man like me to sell nylons."
All said while knocking back an old-fashioned and chain smoking. BBC 2 is showing it on Tuesdays, there's no DVD yet, but there will be one soon.
Last but not least, I'll be reviewing a lifestyle/youth craze from the depths of urban despair in post-industrial France and Belgium.. I originally thought it would be some kind of music craze, but it doesn't have any signature songs, except this one, a remix of a cover of a French 80's classic by artist Yelle.
Predictably, they whole thing is already over six years old, being invented, or maybe co-opted by the manager of Parisian club MetroPolis. Tecktonik is a registered trademarked and has it's own line of products. The hairstyles and fashion are clearly defined, as is the dance.
This is what they look like....
The only workable definition of any kind of ethos behind it is no rebellion, no statements and no messages. The name reflects the clash of more Southern European (read : Metrosexual) types of dancing with more Northern European (read: Violently Heterosexual) styles. The movements are a representation of that tectonic shift when the continental plates hit each other. Style over substance. Thank god the beef is there, or it might seem anemic even by fad standards. Hardstyle and jumpstyle dancing enthusiasts are already using it as a self-defining exclusion. Tecktonik is gay, what they do is more acceptable.
The fact that I'm talking about what is essentially a trademarked youth culture concept, should chill you to the bone. It's not the kids who decide what's cool, even in the underground, it's a guy in a suit. It's only cool because it sells energy drinks and t-shirts. This is the one of the most bankrupt crazes I;ve ever seen so much so that there is no message, and the music is an afterthought. The Yelle video is basically an add for expansion into Northern Europe.
Posted by Olivier de Vries at 14:43
Sunday, 30 March 2008
Geert Wilders' hardcore fan base was a bit disappointed with the film, some of them were quoted in the NRC as thinking he hadn't really expressed himself. No riots in Holland, some diplomatic kerfuffle, i.e. Jordan considering withdrawing it's ambassador and predominantly student protests. Also on the cover of the NRC is the fantastic news that Jihadist website Al-Ekhlaas (true devotion) is only somewhat sarcastically endorsing the message of the movie. Surely that wasn't part of the plan. Islamic public figures across the country are gearing up for the debates next week, which might actually do some good. Not to be outdone, professional ex-Muslim provocateur Ehsan Jami is now planning to release a cartoon depicting Mohammad as a pedophile.
Luckily, this also means that the Christian Democrats' plan to go out in a blaze of glory is ruined and they'll have to face up to the reality of seeing the 4th cabinet in seven years fail miserably in the nesxt two to three months. There was a distinct feel of the apocalypse junkies in the 'left behind' series to the government's pres releases these anxious weeks leading up to the release of the film. How they would have loved to rally the country behind the Christian values less than a third of the population believes in, only to be dramatically felled by Moorish Scimitars, happy in the knowledge that their place at the Lord's right hand is secure. All is not lost though, it took months of campaigning by concerned imams get the Middle East fired up about the Danish Cartoons, so there's still hope for that plan.
The streets running red with Blood is out, though. Dutch Muslims seem to be taking the whole thing in stride, more interested in the one thing that successive Dutch governments have claimed to want to initiate, an open dialog with the Muslim minority in the country about the role of their religion in society. It's oddly fitting that this should be accomplished by a right-wing opposition party's rejection of the principles in their holy book, and not by strenuously avoiding offending Muslims, as was the political paradigm. This might be the best thing to have happened in the debate since the sixties, or I could be proven wrong when I turn on the news in half an hour. Fingers crossed.....
Posted by Olivier de Vries at 18:16
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Dutch shockpol Geert Wilders has a new plan to disseminate his ideas about the Islam and Muslims in general. The film 'Fitna' taken from an Arabic word that can be translated as anarchy, or a test of faith, is definitely coming out this month, despite rather mild protests in the Arabic world and expertly managed fear-mongering by Christian coalition part CDA.
Wilders is a catholic politician who left major liberal party VVD in 2004 to form his own party, with a program apparently taken directly from the last three decades of Republican presidents in the United States, featuring such gems as smaller government, lower taxes and freedom of the individual, prompting political commentators to label his program as 'Reagonomics for Holland'.
The other main strand of his strategy is picking up the racist voting bloc that was disappointed with the failures of Pim Fortuyn's party after his death, and managing to get more death threats than Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after the death of Theo van Gogh, necessitating similar round the clock protection. Now he wants to make a film as well, reaching even more audiences with an outwardly reasonable argument that's going to be correctly assessed by the intended audiences, i.e. moderate muslims and non-muslims as having a vaguely objectionable subtext.
Because that's the main problem with Wilders' arguments against Muslims, he never continues along the same lines to pronounce the same verdict on other religious leanings. Of course the long standing suspicion that he is an Israeli agent might have something to do with this, or his catholic upbringing.
The Christian democratic party CDA has done everything in their power to make the release of the film a disaster. Wilders merely announced that he was making a film, then asked everyone, especially Dutch Muslims, to please remain calm. It's thanks to the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs that Islamic protesters managed to burn a Dutch flag along with a Danish one. Thanks should also go to the left-liberal establishment and their various misinformed celebrities for organising a great deal of useless demonstrations. How come none of these bastards are willing to protest the parties actually in power at this time, but are always available to kick an opposition party when it's down?
Now his American provider has kicked him off their server under some vague 'objectionable content' regulation and Dutch bloggers Youtubers have slapped together a series of films where they're apologising for him. I don't agree with Wilders' politics, I think he's at best a demagogue, but that doesn't mean he can't do this. Freedom of speech is far to easy to defend if it's just the things you happen to agree with. I want to see that movie and form my own opinion, I'm not interested in left-liberal or christian-right censorship, both are patronising and ultimately a lot more damaging than anything the movie will stir up.
Posted by Olivier de Vries at 00:36