Thursday, 31 July 2008

Bloggers! Don't Fuck With The Filth!

Some links and images to hold you while I finish my post on issue 2 of The Filth:

* Comics wise, 2009 seems to be trying real hard to tweak my fanboy nipples. I mean seriously: new Seaguy, new Scott Pilgrim... it's almost like the best comics of 2004 are lining up to kick my ass all over again!

Here's the cover for Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe:

(Via Sean)

And here are a couple of Cameron Stewart's preparatory drawings for Seaguy & The Slaves of Mickey Eye:

(Via this Barbelith thread)

There are more Seaguy preview images on Grant Morrison's website if you register and look under Previews, by the way. Lots of enthusiastic ramblings from the man himself on that site too:

Seaguy resurfaces in 2009, with a sinister new partner, a hatred of the sea and
a rebel restlessness he can't explain. Why are Doc Hero and his ex-arch-enemy
Silvan Niltoid, the Alien from Planet Earth, whispering strange equations behind
canvas at Mickey Eye Park ? What's in She-Beard's closet ? Why is Death so
useless ? And can that really be the ghost of Chubby Da Choona, mumbling uncanny
warnings and dire prophecies of ultimate catastrophe ?

* While we're talking about new comics goodness, can I also say a big hell yeah to more Demo and more Umbrella Academy? I'm glad to see that Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba and Becky Cloonan doing so well right now. Pixu, Demo, BPRD: 1947, Umbrella Academy, Day Tripper... that's quite a list!

* But enough of the future, here's something that's almost a decade old and half a year out of season: Tom Ewing's 1999 review of Low's Christmas. It's a typically sharp piece of writing that deals with the crossover between indie, faith, purity and religion without ever blunting itself by hammering too hard on any of these themes.

* And really, how perfect is Low's 'Just Like Christmas'?

By the time we got to Oslo
The snow was gone
And we got lost
The beds were small
But we felt so young
And it was just like Christmas

It was just like Christmas

*While I'm linking to Freakytrigger I really should mention the Comics: A Beginners Guide entries Martin Skidmore's been doing over there. They're clear-headed and passionate, and are well worth a read even if you already know your Mirkins from your Mary Janes.

* Ever wanted to read a sex-advice column written by Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat? The man who started a song (hell, an album!) with the couplet "It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen/ But you’ve no idea where that cock had been"? Well here you go. Sample paragraph:
Sex is very important in relationships, of course it is, but all that advice that “sexperts” on the telly and your friends toss out is nonsense if you ask me - wonderful sex can be an exciting distraction, something to take your mind off the reality of the matter, but once you get fed up with being buggered with vegetables while dressed in your partners lovely, smooth hold-ups as the neighbour tosses off and films it from across the street, you’ll find you’re back to where you were: bored with each other. Where does it all end? How far will you have to go? Problems like these are often just physical manifestations of an emotional state, and sex might not be the answer.

(Via Matthew Perpetua)

* Essential reading: Craig Fischer on Eddie Campbell's After The Snooter, aka the best autobiographical comic known to man.

Turn It On

Essential viewing: Sleater-Kinney rocking through the ages:

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The Devil's In The Details

Okay so I've just posted an inhumanly long essay on the first issue of Grant Morrison and Chris Weston's The Filth below. Inspired by Jason Powell's ongoing efforts to blog his way through Chris Claremont's X-Men stories, I'll be writing about the rest of this series in an issue-by-issue manner, though hopefully most of my posts will be shorter!

I'm also intending to do similar (and simultaneous!) work writing about Kirby's Eternals, the original Omega the Unknown, Birdland, and 100% in the near future. The intent here is to focus on the details a bit more than I normally do, plus to trace a couple of lines of connection between the works I'll be covering. It should be fun, but if it's not your thing then don't worry, cos I'm going to try to post my usual mix of half-baked theories and pop culture nonsense while I'm working on this project.

For example, here's a 'Alice Practice' by the Crystal Castles, which sounds like the sort of song your Amiga 600 would make if it grew up then had a nervous breakdown:

I think I'm in love!

Anyway, that's enough of my blather for now. Take care out there!

Faster Than The Speed of Wall

The Filth #1

“us vs them”

Written by Grant Morrison; Pencilled by Chris Weston; Inked by Gary Erskine; Coloured by Matthew Hollingsworth; Lettered by Clem Robins; Cover by Segura Inc.

There’s this story about a guy who wakes up from his mundane life to discover he’s really a super-important sci-fi guy, rather than just some douche with bad hair. Inevitably, he’s a little incredulous about the whole thing to begin with, but as one world crumbles away he soon starts to find himself more at home in his new reality.

And it is always his new reality, whatever complications may arise down the line.

Oh, and also, sexy ladies are normally involved – what better way to make sure the transition from the "real" world to another, more over-determined world goes well?

This story is called The Matrix, or maybe Star Wars, or the movie version of Wanted[1] It’s similar to any number of children’s fantasy stories too, though I’d actually argue that the better examples of that form are considerably more mature than the Hollywood equivalent[2]. It also happens to be the story we find in issue #1 of The Filth. Well, almost – it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s the kind of story that The Filth uses to jump off into all sorts of ickiness and uncertainty.

Our protagonist here, Greg Feely, lives a life that is several shades more desperate than, say, The Matrix's Neo – he’s a middle-aged bachelor whose only friend seems to be his cat, and who seems to be in complete denial about his propensity for pornographic magazines. Strangers seem to like to shout gnomic absurdities at Greg on the bus ("Slade. Don't fuck with the filth."), and early on in this issue we see a pair of teenage girls tittering at him as he buys a couple of suitably degrading magazines ("She-Male Nurse" and "Young Sluts", in case you were wondering). All of which is far less glamorous than having a group of pseudo-goths turn up on your doorstep to drag you off to a dodgy looking rock club, even if that's not your thing.

Enough with the snark though! My point is that The Filth starts off with a premise that could potentially be box office fodder, and then makes itself unpalatable through the strength and strangeness of its details; as always, the important stuff is in the sharpness of the execution rather than the blunt premise. Speaking of which, what a bizarre execution this comic starts off with! We see it twice: firstly in a series of four panels showing a bearded alpha male with a bloodied knuckle-duster, delivering a speech about how he hates smoking because it's like violence; then, the “camera” pulls back, and we see the same man depicted three times in the one big panel, with each representation giving part of the speech as he pours petrol on a beaten and bloodied scientist. We also get the end of the man's speech, wherein he says that what smoking and violence have in common is that they make him feel "quite... dirty."

The effect is disorientating at first, but it’s actually just a cunningly applied variation on the old action movie trick of showing you one cool move several times over. This scene might seem incidental, or at least perfunctory, but the way it’s played it hits on a couple of the key themes of the series. As acts of violence go, it’s terribly self-aware, with the bearded man taking obvious pleasure in the “dirty” nature of the task, and with the reader being presented with a brutal act in a way that seems designed to fetishise it. Morrison loves to play with perspective (a fact that Douglas Wolk had a lot to say about in Reading Comics), and here he’s doing so in a way that makes the reader complicit in the hyped up, pornographic nastiness in which this comic trades.

Which raises the question: do you feel "dirty" yet? And if so, do you like it?

David Fiore was right to say that Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls is much more in tune with the sorts exploitative (social) fictions it sets out to destroy than The Filth is, but that doesn’t stop the book from being rich with the sort of hideous details that characterise its targets. Indeed, both the mundane "real world" segments of this issue and the skewed sci-fi super-nonsense are permeated with a tone that I would describe as that of tabloid pornography[3]. When we see Greg at home in this issue, he's either looking at porn ("Hear Caroline scream as Mike shoves his eleven inch dick... in her dad") or watching the news ("Thousands dead... mourning continues"). In fact, in one scene he seems to be doing both things while masturbating; this combination might be there to hint at the laziness and squalor in which Greg exists, but it also serves to carefully unite the crude, screaming brutality of modern news stories with that of hardcore pornography rather neatly.

This strange note is only amplified when Greg is informed that he's only a "para-personality", a holiday home for Hand agent Ned Slade. His activation comes in the form of a sexual encounter with another agent, who has planted herself in his shower and given herself a decrepit comb over to match his (as you do, like). As Greg's existence as he knows it trickles out of his nose in a snotty rainbow, we're "treated" to a psychedelic sex scene where bodies meld together in an oddly distorted and uncomfortable haze. Later on in the issue, we see the bearded bastard guiding a young woman who announces herself to be "Simon's bizarre human camera" towards a tiny artificial planet. Simon, we're informed, is "the world's richest and most perverted man" (a label which most tabloids would kill to be able to apply), and he's interested in buying this world so he can despoil it. Well, despoil it further, since the world's creator (the scientist from its first page), has already been burned and thrown down onto her "beautiful bonsai planet" to die.

The evil, facial hair-rocking motherfucker (Spartacus Hughes is his name, but we won't find that out until issue #2) delivers a vicious, titilatiory monologue on the subject in order to whet Simon's appetite:

" sexy Nobel prize-winning Doctor Soon lay for several hours, dying of shock in almost total darkness, she began to feel her artificial I-Life creation crawling all over her burned skin, like a billion angry, hungry ants."
We'll get more details as to what's going on with these I-Life creatures in the next issue. What comes through here is that heightened sense of pseudo-erotic cruelty that I've been describing for the past few paragraphs, finally revealed in its most overt and callous form.

The overall impact is as simple as the specifics are strange: upon opening the pages of the book you've opened yourself up to a world where ultra-violent despair is not only prevalent, it's presented to you as an avenue for cheap thrills and giggles.

And hey, while we're vaguely talking about the hysterical language of porn and tabloids, how about some punnish multiple-meanings? Here's a wee list of that Jack Fear posted on Barbelith back when this issue first came out:
Filth = dirt, garbage = entropy.
Filth = smut = pornography.
Filth = degenerate people, the criminal class = the agents of chaos.
"The Filth" = "The Fuzz" = slang for the cops = the agents of control.

Greg/Gregory. As in porn director Greg Dark? (now crossing over into "legitimate" cinema via his association with Britney Spears...)

Feely: a sexual connotation (copping a feel) but a non-pentrative, vaguely pathetic one. Also implying a sensitivity and depth of emotion--"touchy-feely"--much tender feeling towards Tony (the Tiger?) cat.

Many connotations of The Hand explicated or hinted at the Crack Comicks site.

All good points, all worth noting alongside the general harshness of The Filth's world as a key to what it's all supposed to mean.

There's another element of this issue that needs to be commented on here, and that's the bewilderingly Morrisonian stuff, the elements that are just plain odd. "Weirdness for the sake of weirdness!" Now there's a term that has been over-applied to Grant Morrison's work in general! I seem to remember checking some comics sites shortly after this issue came out, and finding that an inordinate number of people were confused by the bit of dialog where Nil (the agent who shagged Greg back into his superspy life) informs Greg that he doesn't need to worry about them crashing into a wall because they are moving into "ninth gear. Faster than the speed of wall".

Now in all fairness, the scene I'm referring to does feature two characters wearing eye-scalding orange outfits and ridiculous blue and green wigs, and they are flying a bizarro bin lorry into another dimension , but seriously? That's just a slightly less familiar version of the super-powered nonsense most comic fans catalog as easily as a fish swims through water. The same can be said for the "ninth gear" lines, which shouldn't seem that odd to a reader who's used to seeing the Flash vibrate through walls and into alternate realities on an almost hourly basis. But yet confusion ensued anyway, and possibly still does to this day.

This ties into one of Morrison's greatest strengths as a writer, his ability to suggest a whole series of long-running comic book stories through just a couple of strange gestures. I'll look at this aspect of his work in more detail when I'm discussing issue #2, but it deserves a mention here since it adds to the sense of wrongness that makes this story special.

Plus, also: the repeated use of CCTV footage to follow Greg's daily activities is persuasively creepy, and it also represents another play on perspective -- who is watching Greg, and why?

These oblique edges ensure that The Filth ends up feeling more similar to Cronenberg’s Videodrome than to anythingVerhoeven has ever created. It's still heavy on the nasty details, but it embeds these in an arty presentational style that makes the fact that it's ABOUT these things rather than an example of them slightly more obvious.

The art team of penciller Chris Weston, inker Gary Erskine and colourist Matthew Hollingsworth need to be given their due credit at this stage in proceedings, because they make this unlikely mix of toxicoloured costumes, desperately pandering violence and sci-fi strangeness seem every bit as grotty and physical as it needs to. Weston's figures have always had a bulgy, crumpled quality, and this is utilised to perfection here -- his figures are beaten down and out-of-shape, no match for the detail-heavy, deeply absurd world they live in.

Now (whew, almost done!) it takes a couple of issues for the heart of this comic to fully reveal itself, a fact which could be more problematic than any amount of technobabble. Indeed, there's only scene in this issue that really clues you in to where this book will find its emotional centre-point, and even that is full of baroque sci-fi strangeness. The moment in question comes near the end of this issue, when Greg learns that the Hand intend to provide a lookalike to keep his life warm. Now, this scenario is disorientating enough, but when the doppelganger tries to replace Greg's cat Tony, Greg finally cracks and lashes out. Rather brilliantly, he does so by using a toothbrush to knock a needle out of his replacement's hand and into his. Anyway, it's agreed that Tony won't be replaced, despite his apparent ill-health, but the important thing here is the look of sheer sunken dismay on Greg's face when Tony goes to his counterpart instead of to him at the end of the scene. That cat represents Greg's one genuine connection in the world, as well find out as the story progresses, and this moment provides something sentimentally endearing in the middle of all the madness.

And really, the madness is just beginning here, but at what a pace!

What's that up ahead? Don't worry, just say it with me now: "This is ninth gear. Faster than the speed of wall."

[1] I'm no fan of that particular Mark Millar comic, but Sean Witzke is right when he says that the book attempts to savage the very "heroes journey" story structure that I'm taking a shot at here. If you want a reasonably well articulated argument as to why this strategy might not be successful, go read Geoff Klock's take on the first and second issues of the comic.

[2] When I'm talking about the best examples of the children's fantasy genre, I tend to be thinking about authors like Alan Garner (whose characters grow up by discovering their own place in a brutal history), or Ursula Le Guin (whose creations often have to confront the fact that their dreams and desires can be as destructive as they are liberating).

[3] I wish I had a copy of some of Angela Carter's non-fiction writing to hand at the moment. There's an essay in Nothing Sacred that touches on the very particularly British language the tabloids use to describe sex that would be useful here, and I think a re-reading of The Sadeian Woman could inform some of the points I want to make later in this series. Ah well -- that's two more books added to the endless list of potential purchases.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Your History (with Extra Added Stereo Surround Sound)

Inspired by David Fiore, here's my list of favourite movies for each year I've been alive:

1982: Blade Runner
1983: Videodrome
1984: This Is... Spinal Tap/Nausicaa of the Vally of the Wind
1985: Brazil/After Hours
1986: Blue Velvet
1987: Robocop
1988: Akira
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead
Barton Fink
Glengarry Glen Ross
Groundhog Day
Clerks/Pulp Fiction
Toy Story
Princess Mononoke
The Big Lebowski/Dark City/Rushmore
The Iron Giant/Audition
Best In Show
Mulholland Drive
Punch-Drunk Love/28 Days Later
American Splendor
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/MEAN GIRLS!!!!
Tideland/Dave Chappelle's Block Party
The Fountain
Hot Fuzz/Ratatouille
Iron Man (this will probably change before the year's out) The Dark Knight Wall-E

I'm much less sure of this than I was of my albums list... a mild gust of wind would probably leave this completely rearranged, but so it goes.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

"Good News Everyone!"

Marnie Stern has a new album on the way! It's due out on October 7th, and it has the rather unwieldy title This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That.

Hopefully, this trend of ever longer album titles won't continue, cos if it does then Stern'll be giving Fiona Apple a run for her money by the time her third record comes out!

Also: Stern has apparently contributed to In Advance of the Broken Arm/Hella drummer Zach Hill's solo album, Astrological Straights, which comes out at the end of August. I'm not hoping for too much from that record (I like Hill's frantic drum work, but I'm not sure how much it does for me outside of the context of Marnie Stern's music), but I'll probably give it a listen just to tide me over.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

When Stupid Gets Scary

Look, up on the stage! There's a man there, singing through his mustache, but who's he singing for, and who's he singing to?
I saw a girl in the crowd,
I ran over I shouted out,
I asked if I could take her out,
But she said that she didn't want to.

I changed the sheets on my bed,
I combed the hairs across my head,
I sucked in my gut and still she said
That she just didn't want to.
He's ridiculous isn't he, even though he's Nick-fucking-Cave. As figures of male sexuality gone bad go, the Cave that sings 'No Pussy Blues' reminds me of this guy:

Yep, that's Stuntman Mike from Death Proof ("The FIFTH Film From That Lazy Bastard Quentin Tarantino!", the DVD box yells helpfully). Like Cave, Mike's look and profession point us to the fact that this guy was probably hot stuff with "the ladies" at one point. Actually, does being a handsome but goofy old stunt guy give you the same sex appeal as being a past it rock star? Probably not, but either way they're both pretty pathetic as we find them now. Okay so Cave is almost certainly not this pathetic in real life (even with his pseudo-ironic mustache), but roll with me for minute, cos Cave's horny yowling articulates what's behind the surface of Mike's whole shtick.

Mike's lame John Wayne-isms would be as absurd as everyone finds them if Death Proof ended before he got the chance to look out at the audience (which is to say -- at you!), smile, and bring the carnage. Is it reading too much between the lines to say this is all about frustrated male lust? Well, it's reading a little bit between the lines but not too much: he does linger around, take photos of, attempt to flirt with, sniff the feet of, and blag his way into a lapdance from the women of the movie, so... yeah, there's no stretching involved here.

(Oh, by the way, go read Noah Berlatsky's piece on Grindhouse -- it's sharp on both genre and gender in Death Proof, with a particular emphasis on the role that female friendship plays in the film.)

Anyway, what fascinates me right now is the way that both 'No Pussy Blues' and Death Proof flirt with the underlying menace of seemingly impotent males (Death Proof through mace-mashing, leg chopping motorized violence at the film's heart, 'No Pussy Blues' through its fuzzed-up guitar wigouts), while still making their male protagonists look feeble in the end. I mean, for all this flailing and howling, Cave's character still has the blues by the time the song ends, right? And while Mike's violence does have horrible consequences within the context of the film, when the second group of girls beat him down he starts whimpering like a freshly kicked dog, exposing his impotence in the face of retaliation.

For all that, there's still a certain lingering creepy menace in both of these pieces... I mean, did everyone read Miss AMP's Grinderman interview in Plan B last year? Best piece of music criticism I read in 07, no doubt -- it dramatized both the appeal of testosterone heavy music and the ways in can create a very threatening, all male environment in a way that was both urgent and witty. So go buy the issue, it if you haven't already, cos I can't find the piece online anywhere.

But... guys are weird, is what I'm saying. They can be laughable and frightening at the same time, and that's something that both Death Proof and 'No Pussy Blues' understand and amplify, in their own trashy ways.

And hey, while we're discussing male rage and sexual stupidity, I should probably point y'all in the direction of Lee Slattery's "Everyone Loves The Lizardman", which has plenty of male confusion and upset. Plus, you know, with extra added Lizardman:

Via the ever wonderful Eddie Campbell.

More tomorrow, unless my brain totally packs in again, which it just might do!

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Thought That Won't Stop Thinking

I was reading this geek-tastic Guitar Player interview with Marnie Stern when the following paragraph reached out and pulled me down into the page:

“Sometimes, I’ll do a really basic guitar line, add guitar parts on top of it, and then take away the basic guitar line, so I’m just left with all the other parts,” shares Stern. “With the main part missing, it sounds more interesting. It’s technical and noisy, but it’s also melodic. A lot of my songs really are pop songs underneath all the goop.”

Well now -- I take back my glib snark about the interview being geeky, cos te above description of Stern's working method brought some of the weirder elements of her music into focus for me. Like the way her songs sound intensely structured while also seeming to fly off in unexpected directions on a whim.

Weird photo of Stern on that website too:

But what does all of this guitar talk have to do with the comic book writing of this man:


Good question!
One thing that I thought Sean Collins' reviews of Grant Morrison's work on Batman and Seven Soldiers pinpointed really well was the way that Morrison's comics constantly hint at huge amounts of information that's just off-page. The amount of between-the-panels detail in Morrison's later work is insane -- sometimes it's frustrating, sometimes it's downright thrilling, and I think Sean nailed that feeling in his posts.
Which makes me wonder: how often does Morrison construct his stories the way Stern crafts her songs, coming up with big plots, writing a whole load of crazy shit around them, then blurring the main plot away?
I don't know, maybe he never works this way, but it's a compelling thought all the same.
One or two more general pieces to come, then I'm going to dive in and do a few issue by issue readings of some of my favourite comics.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Movie Record Chart 2008 -- Well, That Wasn't Working!

[UPDATED 29/07/2008]

OK, so I've written up three or four more of those movie chart things and I've already grown pretty disheartened with the idea. It's hard for me to write enthusiastically about movies that are okay-to-dull, so I don't think I'll bother unless the world gets in touch to inform me that they really need to know what I though about Journey To The Centre of the Earth 3D (more like a theme park ride than a movie, but good natured for all that) or The Incredible Hulk (entertaining if rather perfunctory).

As such, here's the accelerated version of all the other entries I was going to write!

Movies I've seen in the cinema this year that I'd recommend without reservation: Iron Man and No Country For Old Men. One genuinely entertaining popcorn flick and one harsh, beautiful "life is full is too brutal and random for you, no matter how tough you think you are" movie. Oh, and The Orphanage gets better the more I think about it as well!

Movies I've seen I'd recommend with reservations: Be Kind Rewind (I like Michel Gondry's self-indulgent, sentimental side, but if you don't then please STAY AWAY), Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (I have a weakness for dumb comedies, but if you don't then this is not for you -- also, homophobic much?). Also: THE DARK KNIGHT, which I loved, but which might do you in if you don't like massive, grim, super-long movies about people who dress up funny and tear the place down.

Movies I really should've seen in the cinema this year: Persepolis (which only seemed to be show at 12 in the afternoon, cos it's a cartoon and therefore for kids), There Will Be Blood.

Other movies I've seen in the cinema this year: Wanted, Juno, Teeth, The Incredible Hulk, The Forbidden Kingdom, Sex and the City, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, What Happens In Vegas, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Cloverfield, The Happening, Sweeney Todd, St Trinians (this might've been 2007), I Am Legend, Kung-Fu Panda, Step Up 2: The Streets, Balls of Fury, Journey to the Centre of the Earth (3D).

Movies I'm looking forward to seeing in the next few months: Wall-E, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.

Movies I'm really glad I haven't seen this year: Mama Mia, Meet Dave, Superhero Movie, probably loads more that I've thankfully forgotten.

In other news: David Fiore has expanded upon the "your favourite album for every year you've been alive" meme, following up his list of records with a list of movies. I'll probably have a go at creating my own list of films once I've finished another post that I've currently got in the works.

More shortly!

Patton Oswalt -- 2008 Commencement Address -- Commonplacebook

From Patton Oswalt's Commencement Address to his old high school , which I just read and enjoyed:

All of you have been given a harsh gift. It’s the same gift the graduating class of 1917, and 1938, and 1968 and now you guys got – the chance to enter adulthood when the world teeters on the rim of the sphincter of oblivion. You’re jumping into the deep end. You have no choice but to be exceptional.

But please don’t mistake miles traveled, and money earned, and fame accumulated for who you are.

This speech isn't nearly as full-on as the David Foster Wallace speech I recently posted (and which apparently influenced Oswalt), but it's still pretty great, and it has more poop jokes, so... shall we call it a draw?

Also: Is two posts enough to make this a mini-theme?

Friday, 11 July 2008

This Is Your Life/These Are Your Lives

Here's my version of the "Your Favourite Album For Every Year Since You've Been Born" meme, as stolen from Mr Sean Witzke:

1982: Richard Thomson -- Shoot Out The Lights
1983: REM -- Murmer
1984: The Minutemen -- Double Nickels on the Dime
1985: The Jesus and Mary Chain -- Psychocandy (East Kilbride's finest, ya bas!)
1986: The Smiths -- The Queen Is Dead
1987: Prince -- Sign O' The Times
1988: Sonic Youth -- Daydream Nation
1989: Pixies -- Doolittle
1990: Public Enemy -- Fear of a Black Planet
1991: My Bloody Valentine -- Loveless
1992: PJ Harvey -- Dry
1993: The Wu-Tang Clan -- 36 Chambers
1994: Nas -- Illmatic / Manic Street Preachers -- The Holy Bible
1995: Fugazi -- Red Medicine / Flaming Lips -- Clouds Taste Metallic
1996: Tricky -- Pre-Millennium Tension
: Radiohead -- OK Computer
1998: Pulp -- This Is Hardcore
1999: Sleater-Kinney -- The Hot Rock
2000: Ghostface Killah -- Supreme Clientele
2001: Roots Manuva -- Run Come Save Me
2002: EL-P -- Fantastic Damage / McLusky -- McLusky Do Dallas
2003: Outkast -- Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
2004: Fiery Furnaces -- Blueberry Boat
2005: The Mountain Goats -- The Sunset Tree
2006: J-Dilla -- Donuts
2007: Marnie Stern -- In Advance of the Broken Arm
2008: Portishead -- Third / Los Campesinos! -- Hold On Now, Youngster...

There's actually a stretch between 1990 and 1994 where my list runs worryingly close to Sean's, but who's going to argue with good taste?

(Answer: lots of people, but that's what comments sections are for!)

Looking over the list, I think it makes my musical tastes look a little more predictable than they are: doomy/arty rap, bare bones rock music, the occasional abstract noisefest... there's no dance music, damn little pop, and very few choices that are either willfully obscure or totally populist. A list of singles created along the same guidelines would read very differently, but I don't have time for that now... maybe another day.

Anyone else up for a crack? Be warned -- this meme will eat your brain if you let it, so don't start it if you're supposed to be doing something else tonight!

David Foster Wallace -- 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address -- Commonplacebook

Something to start the day with -- from David Foster Wallace's Commencement Address to Kenyon College (as delivered on May 21st 2005):

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

And if you dig that, go read the whole thing!

Possible objections to this speech: it's written in David Foster Wallace's typical smart-ass style, it could be seen to put forward the notion that it takes higher education to bring you outside your own head, and it comes perilously close to advocating a form of "enlightened self-interest" (don't do this for moral reasons, do it for yourself!, etc).

Reasons I don't care: I'm a big fan of David Foster Wallace's better works (Infinite Jest, his articles and essays), it's a graduation address so of course it's going to place value on education, and it scoots right through the everyday Harvey Pekar style frustrations and onto a level of engagement with the world outside yourself I normally associate with the end of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. Except, y'know, with less Gnostic rapture and superspy intrigue.

Of course, if I was really taking all this to heart I'd probably have to write a mini-essay explaining why you (the reader!) might be able to find value in the essay. Self-centered coward that I am, I've got nothing, except to say that it all strikes me as being so obvious but still so true (this cliche being one of the running topics of the address).

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Most Meaningful Right Hook In The World

Today's been good to me, on the whole. I mean, work was work and all, but after that I had some coffee, talked some nonsense, discussed the possibility of getting a short story published in a new Scottish literary magazine. And all through the power of Liam K -- thanks mate!

Meanwhile, on the Internet, somebody called Zibarro In The Real gave me a kick to the brain without meaning to:
I have a "dumb" question; but what are the New Gods gods of...what specific things do they embody?
This question started a fair bit of conversation on the Barbelith Final Crisis thread, with the general consensus being that some New Gods were more symbolic than others. Cue the laughter:
Lashina = LASHINGS

Which, fair enough, can't disagree with that logic. But still... my brain had been kicked, and it wanted to kick back, telling me that the characters in Kirby's Fourth World epic are more important for what they do and how they look than for any one-for-one symbolic resonance.

Which isn't to say that the Fourth World books aren't a meaning-filled battleground of ideas, but rather that these ideas are more interestingly expressed in the form of Kirby's bizarre characters than they would be if they were more easily reducible to a series of cardboard cut-outs.

Sure, the Forever People are Kirby's take on the flower power generation, but if that was all they were then they wouldn't be half as interesting as they are. I mean look at 'em:

Why would anyone want to close the conversation on these freaky fellows in the name of clarity?

All of this talk brings me back to something Marc Singer said when he was discussing the Fifteenth Anniversary Edition of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum graphic novel:
Morrison's working notes show that he's well aware of how symbolism best works in comics, incarnated into humanoid forms that can then happily beat up on each other. The more concrete the incarnation, the less overt and, therefore, the more potent the symbol.
Indeed, the appeal of Kirby's later work would be nowhere near as inescapable as it is if his thematically mature comics weren't still full of bizarre characters knocking the cosmic energy out of each other.

Or, to put it another way, it's probably true to say that "Desaad is Pain, and Granny Discipline", but that fact in itself is nowhere near as interesting as seeing what kind of hideous punishments and traps they come up with. Equally, knowing that Mr Miracle is an avatar of freedom does very little to explain just how damn appealing it is to see him escape the crushing machinations of fate again and again and again.

I should point out that I'm not having a go at anyone involved in the conversation on that Barbelith thread -- I'm just riffing on a couple of thoughts here, and this particular line of questioning actually got me thinking again, which is always a plus!

I think that the point I'm reaching for here is not dissimilar to the one Sean Collins likes to make with regards to allegorical horror -- just because something is obviously meaningful doesn't mean that it's particularly interesting, or that the work in question has somehow "transcended" its genre (blech!).

Because you know what? Where good genre work is concerned, meaning is often conveyed just as well by kicking and punching and weirdness and drama as it is by metaphor, symbolism or allegory.

Since this little piece has been very quote and link heavy, I'll leave the final word to fantasy author and pulp-pride flag waver China Mieville:
The thing about good pulp is that you trust the reader and you know that the mind is a machine to process metaphors so of course all those connections will be there. But you've also granted the fantastic its own dynamic and allowed that awe. There's no contradiction. So I want to have monsters as a metaphor but I also want monsters because monsters are cool. There's no contradiction. It's a grotesquery and grotesqueries are completely fascinating.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

An Escape From Infinite Regress

Here it is, the long-awaited Vibrational Match Manifesto (2008 Edition)!

(1) Relax and just write what you want to write when you want to write it.
(2) Stop trying to write manifestos, it just plain doesn't suit you!

No, seriously: it took me a week to write that! Hey, so I over-think things -- it's part of who I am, but right now I'm trying to find a way to stop it leading to that ridiculously indecisive state I seem to be so fond of.

Which means: longer posts, updates which are consistently sporadic rather than inconsistently sporadic, and a general commitment to writing about what I care about rather than what I feel I should be writing about.

Simple stuff, but sometimes simplicity's the hardest state to achieve, let alone maintain.

More when my brain finally kicks back into gear.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

2008 Movie Record Chart -- Wanted

Okay, new feature.

I've got a cineworld card, and so do one or two of my closest friends, which means that we see a lot of movies every month. It's an easy and reasonably cost-effective social thing, so... basically what I'm saying is that I see a lot of shitty movies that I otherwise wouldn't watch because of this card.

(Does this make it sound like a good thing or a bad thing? I'm not sure.)

In order to better keep track of what I'm seeing, I'm going to start keeping a record of it on this blog. Since this could get pretty boring pretty quickly, I'm going to evaluate each movie as I go, using a series of questions/categories unless the movie is just too good to be dealt with in this way.

(And yeah, I'm kinda riffing on The Face Knife's movie review chart here, but not too heavily -- my categories are way less specific and I'm going for a slightly less snarky tone.)

Alright then. Here we go:

Title: Wanted

Key Crew: Timur Bekmambetov (director of Night Watch, Day Watch), Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, James McAvoy.

What’s it about? Fight Club meets the Matrix, only less subtle than either. Office drone discovers that his dad was part of a fraternity of assassins, gets drawn into that world after his father's death, etc. Regular beatings and bloody revelations ensue, plus Angelina Jolie pouts and fires guns and stuff.

Comic Book? Yeah, it’s an adaptation of the Mark Millar and J.G. Jones comic that asked the question “What if supervillains ruled the world and you were actually one of them?The answer involved the "you" of the question perfoming acts of hideous violence, with the intent being to hook the reader on the hero’s journey before making them aware of the fact that they’ve been sold a load of hateful crap.

Sequel? Nah, nor does it really set itself up for one. That said, I’m already hearing talk that a sequel is in production, so what the fuck do I know? People dig making money, I guess -- no big news there...

The good: The kicking, the shooting, one or two explosions, an ok-ish car chase. Some freaky “man slowing down time/man having panic attack” visuals, though they’re mostly used to show how stressed James McAvoy gets when his Totally Fat Boss Lady shouts at him.

The bad: The story, which largely ditches the nastiness of the comic (meanness to Fat Boss Ladies aside, and even that's a softening of the character's latent racism in the comic). And... I didn’t really think the comic worked, since it overplayed its excesses to the extent that it was hard to get caught up in. Which should mean that I like the move version more, but it seems really cynical and generic without those hateful flourishes. Not that the comic wasn’t cynical (it visually cast Eminem and Halle Berry in the roles McAvoy and Jolie ended up playing), but for all its faults it still seemed more ambitious than this dull approximation. Plus, even when something exciting happens in the movie, it only reminds you of either the Matrix or Bekmambetov’s other work.

Daddy issues? Oh hell yes! Watered down Fight Club style daddy-angst leads to revenge, confusions, gunfights and then more revenge.

Misogyny? Of the standard Hollywood “female characters are irritating shrews/cheating bitches/bronzed lust objects” variety. I mean, Angelina Jolie is given precisely one bit of character history, but... depressing as that is, it’s one more bit of characterisation than many other movies of this genre would give her.

Does it bring the explodo? Yeah, a bit. Through a rat-based demolition program (no joke). More exciting than any of the explosions, however, is the repeated motif of people flying through glass windows in slow motion, so that you can really take in the fractured shards of glass that covers their faces. Yeah, I know that the bit in Day Watch where that guy crashes through one sign and out of another was cooler, but what can you do?

Romantic reconciliations? If meekly snogging Angelina Jolie in front of your cheating girlfriend counts, then yeah, sure.

Stupidest idea: The loom of fate was pretty goofy, but it goes with the territory I suppose. As the chalk of destiny is to Day Watch, the loom of fate is to Wanted.

Kicks to the nuts? I don't think so. If there were any, they didn't manage to stand out in the middle of all that gunplay.

The verdict: If escaping from your mundane life and into a world of generic action movie bollocks appeals, then this is the film for you.

Further reading: For a more involved discussion of the Wanted comic, check out Plok's post on the racial element of the story and Sean Witzke's defense of the book.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Dirty Thoughts From Other People's Comments Sections

Here's a little ramble I had in Sean Witzke's comments section. Sean compared Grant Morrison's inversion of the rules of his own JLA run in Final Crisis with the contrast between two other Morrison comics, The Invisibles and The Filth. Here's what I had to say in response:

I kinda love the fact that The Filth is turning out to be such a big influence on Morrison’s DC work…

I mean, check it: You’ve got the reality-breaking, darkcore madness of Final Crisis and Batman RIP which are totally Filthy in their themes and tone, and then you’ve got All Star Superman, which seems like the shiny happy opposite of all that stuff but which has the same hall of mirrors plot structure as The Filth.

Seriously: I mean, (1) It’s called ASS! Come on, you know that’s Filthy, and (2) It’s a series of discrete 1-2 issue stories that reflect the main plot while only advancing it marginally.

The massive difference in tone is, really, only as notable as the difference between Quitely’s artwork (relaxed, graceful, full of humour and melancholy) and Weston’s (cramped, frantic, bursting with ugly details).

Or at least that’s what I’m claiming today. Speak to me tomorrow and I’ll probably tell you that it’s bullshit, but… yes… where was I?

Oh, yeah: I love that this totally bizarre, much-bitched about and hated miniseries (The Filth — which I do love, by the way!) has ended up being the touchstone for Morrison’s recent heavy bout of corporate work.

Actually, thinking about it, you could argue that The Filth occupies the same position in Morrison’s recent work that Flex Mentallo did in the mid-to-late nineties and Arkham Asylum did in the late eighties. I’m just riffing wild here, but if you wanted to chart Morrison’s progression from literary wideboy to psychedelic poptimist to fractured, carnage-addled supporter of low-key kindness then you could definitely use those three works as exemplars. Except… I don’t really like Arkham Asylum, but I do love most of Morrison’s work from that era. Ah, fuck it!

I later decided that Morrison's controversial The New Adventures of Hitler was a better representative of Morrison's early work, because (1) It's actually good, and (2) Its iconoclastic approach to real people and events ties it in with some of Morrison's early prose and dramatic writing.

Plus, I somehow ended up challenging the totally-absent Tim Callahan to a wrestling match in a paddling pool full of robotic eels. Why? I think it was for the right to finish his series of books on Morrison's work or something. I dunno, can I claim it was my attempt to imitate a Filth-style breakdown?


Oh well, how about I just blame it on this:

Thought not, but it was worth a try all the same.