Monday, 19 October 2009

Revenge of the Giant Face

Ah, let's indulge in some time travel shall we? Let's go all the way back to September 2009, when Sean Collins had this to say about Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds:
It is, in other words, a deliberate assault on the facts surrounding the deaths of millions and millions of people, including the systematic genocide of six million Jews in the Holocaust... It's morally monstrous and its practitioners are moral monsters.
Oh, wait, shit. That's not quite right. That's what Sean C. had to say about Nazi-sympathizing turd-monger Pat Buchanan. Sorry everyone, but problems like this tend to occur when you start to mess around with history, you know?

In order to find what Sean actually thought of Inglourious Basterds we have to go back even further, to August 2009 no less! It was a kinder time, a gentler time, a time where a man could read an essay on the cathartic, history rupturing violence of Tarantino's latest picture without any danger of stumbling onto this long winded response.

Here's what Sean actually said about the film:
...Inglourious Basterds may be the punkest movie I've seen in I can't even think how long. Maybe ever. It's about nothing less than the power of art to destroy evil. It's about how important it is to love film more than the likes of Hitler hate life. It's about how movie violence, art violence, art designed as a FUCK YOU, can help you deal with the violence that so terrified Chamberlain's cohorts and to which Hitler and his cohorts were so indifferent. It's Woody Guthrie's "THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS" guitar slogan made literal. It's a lingering closeup on the bloodlust-saturated eyes of Eli Roth, the beautiful Jewish torture-porn poster boy and enemy of good taste, as he empties a machine gun into the bodies of members of the Third Reich. And it's a total fucking fantasy. Yet that's what makes it so vital.
Collins then went on to compare the release he finds in Inglourious Basterds with the traumatized euphoria of a Nine Inch Nails concert. It's a good essay -- so good, in fact, that it almost had me convinced that I felt the same way. Except that if I'm honest, I didn't find any release in Tarantino's spaghetti-western-war-punk-fantasy.

That said, Inglourious Basterds didn't bother me the way it bothered David Fiore! Still, I get where Dave's coming from, because it's a deeply strange movie -- the mix of stomach wrenching tension, goofy comedy, expressive violence and defiantly "Tarantino-esque" banter makes it hard for the viewer to know how they're supposed to react. Even the film's first chapter, which Sean correctly describes as being loaded with real danger, has at least one absurd laugh in it. It's not easy to keep a straight face when Landa pulls out his massive comedy pipe, is it?


Well, somehow he manages, but I couldn't help myself. My laughter was absurd and inappropriate, but then so was that fucking pipe!

The difference between my take on the movie and David Fiore's would be that I'm happier to take this uncertainty as part of the ride. Dave suggests that Inglourious Basterds allows us to think about the way political perspectives are formed in an "unusually visceral" way, and I think he's absolutely right! Tarantino's movie circles around a series of overlapping schemers before plunging into the heart of the venn diagram -- which, of course, happens to be located in a cinema! This is where my reading starts to look a lot like Sean's, because the unreality of the film is key to its success. Tarantino isn't exactly shy about the fact that this is a fantasy -- after all, Inglourious Basterds starts with a title card that reads "Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France" and peaks with a scene of ghostly revenge that's straight out of a Hammer horror movie. The fact that this climax is explicitly linked to the use of film as a weapon is just so much metafictional gravy, really.

So why can't I find catharsis in this process? Because as good old Dave Fiore noted in another Basterdly post, "if the movie works at all, it works in the reverse direction–as a statement about the inability of art to do anything but respond to other art..."

It should be clear by now that the differences between my take on the movie and those of my fellow bloggers are actually pretty small, but I'm going to keep on blowing them up into something big anyway. Why? Because it's more fun!

So: Dave's right, Inglourious Basterds is about art vs. art, and that's why it's so fucking good! Again, none of this is hidden -- the movie's finale sees all of its characters collide at the premier of a Nazi propaganda film, which makes the messy, blood-drenched ending seem like a triumph of aesthetics over agitprop. This is a shot to the face of those who would wield art like a cudgel, and if that seems like a paradox to you then that just means you're still awake.

All of this points to why my opening Pat Buchanan joke doesn't really work, because while Tarantino messes around with history here, he makes damned sure you know exactly what he's doing! He also takes pains to show that this is violent, bracing business, but that might just be because his movies are all about violent, bracing business. So as a whole war's worth of plots and schemes crash into each other, the blood starts to flow and you start to count the casualties start to stack up. Tellingly, the characters who survive the climactic carnage do so by pushing their stories harder than the rest. For example, in the movie's first chapter, Landa acts as though he is comfortable being the "Jew Hunter"; in its last, he makes a fairly audacious play to find a new narrative for himself, and with it a pivotal role in history. And he gets all of that, but when Pitt's Lieutenant Aldo Raine carves a swastika into Landa's head he adds a little something extra to the Nazi's story. Which is oddly fitting, given that Landa adds a little something to the movie every time he wanders into a scene (seriously, every single mannerism is a like a comedy pipe pulled out at just the wrong occasion).

If you find yourself asking whether this jumble of cinematic pleasures is enough to justify a fully-fledged assault on history, well -- isn't that an interesting conversation to have? Inglourious Basterds doesn't open a can of worms, it machetes the fucker to pieces and then shouts "HEY LOOK, MORE WORMS!!"

Which is probably why Mike Barthel's take on the movie is my favourite so far. Using Inglourious Basterds as a jump-off point to discuss the US Constitution, Barthel waxes euphoric on the power of art as interpretation. He also comes out with this beauty of a paragraph:
The unfortunate reality of American political discourse is that people don’t really understand how the government works, and because of that, the smooth functioning of the government actively requires hiding certain things from the public. This is not to say these things are wrong; at least a few people in the government are smart, moral people who care about the Constitution, and they have thought through these complex issues and given them the thumbs-up. But they are complex issues, and getting through them requires several years of careful study and an ability to listen to arguments you don’t immediately agree with, all of which it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get people whose first impulse is to draw a Hitler mustache on something (anything! a butternut squash! whatever’s closest at hand!) to do.
When he starts to talk about Hitler moustaches, Barthel accidentally echoes David Fiore's point about America's obsession with swastika branding, framing it as an impediment to honest and open political process. So what's the solution? I don't have it, and Tarantino probably wouldn't care about it if he did, but I'm starting to think that this man might be on to something:

Yes, that's right, it's pedantic British comedian Richard Herring, getting his Mein Kampf on. I saw Herring's Hitler Moustache show at the Fringe in August, and while I won't subject Herring's routines to excessive paraphrase here (that dubious pleasure is reserved for my "real life" friends!), I will say that it was one of the best shows I've seen this decade. By branding himself with the Hitler moustache, Herring becomes a comedy villain. He becomes an uneasy joke, but as a joke he's free to question every statement that comes out of his mouth without ever giving up on meaning or morality.

The best example of this effect comes when Herring stops trying to provoke laughter and starts to berate members of the audience who didn't vote in this year's European elections. His rhetoric in this part of the show is as sincere as it is scathing, but there's an implicit irony at work that stops it from being overbearing. No matter how agreeable the sentiments Herring expresses are, you're still being lectured on politics by a man with a Hitler moustache. That small clump of hair, boldly brandished, becomes an invitation to not take what its wearer is saying at face value. It's a fuzzy reminder that there's always room for argument and debate, and as such it serves much the same function as Inglourious Basterds' "Once upon a time..." introduction.

In stark contrast to Inglourious Basterds, though, Hitler Moustache has an overt political agenda. Starting from the proposition that the toothbrush moustache can be reclaimed for comedy, it quickly becomes a rallying cry against prejudice and complacency. In a routine that was very poorly represented in this Guardian article, Herring uses crass racial stereotyping as a jump-off point for an absurdly clever examination of conflicted liberal attitudes to cultural differences. This isn't blank irony of the kind that gave David Foster Wallace nightmares, because Herring doesn't use comedy to disavow meaning. Instead, he uses it to reaffirm the fact that our opinions have to be tested if they're to be truly useful. Of course, being the man who got a forty minute comedy skit out of a yogurt-heavy trip to the supermarket, Herring is an expert at attacking a proposition from every possible perspective. That he manages to do so while taking on contentious subject matter, and that he creates constant laughter in the process, is what makes this show a triumph.

Plus, Herring also takes care of the nasty argument closing/moustache drawing trick in a silly and novel way. Or so you'd think, but it seems that some people still want to draw the 'tache on, even when it's already there! But hey, even that weird bit of graffiti-artistry is fitting when you look at it from the right perspective. Hitler Moustache is nothing less than a weaponisation of irony, and it's made me want to try to be smarter, funnier and more active in local politics all at once.

As for Inglourious Basterds, I'm not going to pretend that my take on the movie is anywhere near definitive. For one thing, I've not even touched upon how great Melanie Laurent is as Shosanna Dreyfus:


Seriously, some of the things Laurent does with her face warrant a separate two thousand word essay!

Still, I've got a big enough ego to think that if you read this essay alongside Sean's, and Dave's and Mike's and Geoff's etc, then you might just start to get an idea of what Inglourious Basterds is actually all about. Most likely you'll get a hint of it in the places where these pieces clash or blur into each other or seem wildly divergent. If Sean Witzke ever gets around to writing a full blog post on the film I think he'll probably get closer to the spirit of the thing than anyone else, but this post of mine? If you just read it on its own, and if you give it just a little bit too much of your time, you might just start to see a face staring up at you through the screen. It might look like Hitler's face, or it might look like Herring's, but if you look closer you'll realise that it's not really either of their faces. No, if anyone's face is peering out at you through these words then it's a blank parody of my face, beady eyes peering out from a queasy void:



And what should you do when you see this face? Well, like I said, you should probably move on to other blog posts, or better yet, turn the computer off and go out for a walk or something. Still, if you wanted to pause for a moment and graffiti my face I wouldn't be too sad. Just so long as you try to be a bit more imaginative than I've been here, which shouldn't be too hard. After all, I'm sure you can do better than this:



Well... can't you?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Growing Flowers in the Outer Church


I didn't have time to get into this in my Adam Curtis post, but while Jebni was talking about the narrative possibilities of blogging he also came up with this stunning interpretation of The Filth:
Another way of illustrating the “neveryday” imaginary of blogging is through an allegory: Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s comic book, The Filth (Morrison and Weston, 2004). Their (anti-)hero is Greg Feely, an ordinary, “sentimental” cat-lover who leads a double life as Ned Slade, a transdimensional agent for the psychic police-cum-waste-disposal agency of the world, known as The Filth....

While he’s battling giant flying spermatozoa or navigating the sewer of the world, Greg/Ned will wonder out loud if he’s forgotten to feed the cat. It is truly touching, and not pathetic. What Morrison’s narrative achieves is the realisation that in the middle of struggles over the fate of life itself, “I Love My Cat” narratives are amongst the best narratives there are. And yet this touchy-feely mundanity of cat-love is neither an authentic origin for Feely, nor just a “fake” but necessary refuge for the “real” Slade, despite its proven worth. As the book progresses, it becomes clearer that the cat scenario is neither the “real” story, nor even just one valid segment amongst several, but one of several occult media dialects: the killer sperm, the cat and the zombie “anti-persons” all enunciate or channel through each other. In the end, we learn that cat-love can be generated by a sentient nanotech infestation, but is still valid.
Jebni then goes on to draw connections between his concept of blogging and the Filthy neverworld known as The Crack, which apparently "runs through everything and everyone." This is pretty fitting really, because both The Filth and the Internet are perfect conduits for the crap that runs through our lives. As two of Greg's superiors (Man Green/Man Yellow) tell him: "The rubbish has to go somewhere. And where there's brass, there's muck, they say, don't they?"

Talking about crap: at one point, I considered relaunching this blog as a static wordpress site. The ideas was to upload a series of interconnected essays which the reader would have to navigate by following embedded links to other pages. I wrote a lot of material for this version of the site before deciding that it was too gimmicky, too hard to navigate and not nearly as flashy as it should be, but I might come back to the idea one day. [1]

Anyway, one of the essays was going to use the idea of The Crack as a jump-off point to discuss the integration of social realism, fantasy, music, pulp fiction and psychology in Dennis Potter's work. I was going to focus on Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, with a particular emphasis on the way that Potter's disregard for realist unity allowed him to examine the best and worst aspects of his protagonists freely.

This sounds a little dry in the abstract, and maybe it would have been. But hey, at least when I was talking about how the Crack obliterates the distinctions between rage and embarrassment/escape and collapse/fact and fiction/body and mind, I could have shown you clips like this to liven things up:




That's Michael Gambon in the original BBC production of The Singing Detective -- none of that Mel Gibson pish for me thanks!

(And don't you just hate it when waiters offer you Gibson Pish in a restaurant? "Does sir wish any Gibson Pish with his scampi?" And they're always so snooty when you turn it down! [3])

As it was conceived, my wordpress blog would've fitted in nicely with Jebni's interpretation of The Crack. It would've been a place where my various different interests could have channeled through each other, but it would also have been a bit too "about" itself for my liking. And while I'm still fascinated by the many metaphorical possibilities of The Crack, I'm more interested in The Ink right now. Greg Feely learns about The Ink in issue #9 of The Filth, in which he's put through what amounts to a delayed induction day for his "job" as Ned Slade. True to form, this induction is not only eight months late but it also serves to make things even less clear than they were before. For example, while he's getting sailed around The Crack, Greg is introduced to the giant pen hand from which all of The Filth flows:


"The Ink brings things to life, you see," we're told, which is obviously true since without the lines on the page there'd be no comic!

We also lean that The Hand harvest The Ink for their own purposes, which echoes the Paperverse plot from issue #3 nicely, but there's more to The Ink than raw power. It's the stuff of life itself, remember, and in its own way it's as unfathomable as anything else in The Crack.

You see, as Greg's colleagues struggle to explain, there's a horrible ambiguity as to what the hand actually is:


[4]

Ah, there's the important bit: "AW WE KERR ABOOT'S THE INK." That's all I care about too, though possibly in a different way. Because while I'm all about theorising and criticising and trying to combine different kinds of discourse, all of that is meaningless unless it's an attempt to get at the un-gettable - which is to say the slippery substance of all this fiction. The raw stuff. The Ink. [5]

Like Andrew Hickey recently suggested, we might not be able to hold a complete working map of the universe in our heads, but there are many ways to bring elements of the big picture into focus. For example, the crude interactive technology of the modern comic book can make life very vivid if it's used correctly, as it is in The Filth. Many Most of the things that we see in The Crack are horrible, of course, but still -- The Filth is not, in the final analysis, a depressing book. In fact, it's almost sweet in its own way.

I think that this is possible precisely because The Filth doesn't hold back in its exploration of the more horrible side of the human psyche. Looking over the pages of the comic right now, I'm reminded of scenes from an earlier Morrison/Weston collaboration, The Invisibles:



There was always something slightly off about Weston's art on The Invisibles, a sense that his versions of the characters were less naturally stylish than usual. This is used to good effect in the scene I've excerpted above, in which two of our usually glamorous heroes end up coming into contact with the banal horrors in their heads. Here the lumpy everymanish quality that had previously been jarring serves to emphasise the despair that the characters find in the idea of being normal.

The shorthand used in these scenes functional if a bit obvious. Reading these pages, we understand that our protagonists (particularly vain super-assassin King Mob) can find hell in the idea of staring dependently at a TV screen that watches back. We might find this to be a dull and superficial concept of hell, but we can take this as a being a piece of snippy characterisation of King Mob if we want. The only real problem is that the imagery Morrison and Weston use in this scene is a little underdeveloped -- you can see the influence of William Burroughs and David Cronenberg in the fleshy lampshades and cyclopean bugs that populate these fantasies, but when compared to the putrid horror of those artists at their best the images we see here seem a little bit tame. [6]

When Morrison and Weston worked together again on The Filth, they easily surpass their previous attempts at horror. In addition to hiding this creepy little observer in Feely's TV...


...they also plant ears in the walls of his house, effectively turning Feely's home into an inverted skull:


Not only does that TV monster look far more convincing than anything in that Invisibles scene (it's the little scrotal brain sacks that take it over the edge, I think), it's also got a better context. By literally giving the house eyes and ears, Morrison and Weston neatly blur the different interpretations of Feely's situation. Is he being observed by his bosses at The Crack or is he just a lump of sick flesh trying to work itself out, like Michael Gambon's character in The Singing Detective?

And... oh god, I've got to be careful or I'm going to end up flapping around in circles about how attention to context and attention to detail go together like chips and cheese, but this really is a perfect example of The Crack serving as a perfect place for The Ink to flow. Greg Feely is sort of like King Mob from The Invisibles gone to seed. Feely's life would seem like a cruel punishment to King Mob, but while Greg never exactly shakes off this feeling himself, he does at least achieve a sort of battered understanding of his existence by facing up to all of its contradictions. It might all just be in his head, but even if its not then Greg's double life see's him escape from mundane "reality" into... a job. A horrible job, in which he has to deal with all the piss and shit and brutality in the world while wearing a goofy uniform, which... really, kind of escape is that? What kind of understanding could anyone find here? Well, how about the understanding of how to go on living in a world this horrific and confused? Wouldn't that be worth something?


In my last essay on The Filth I talked about how Greg ends up lashing out against his role as a Hand Officer, but I was a little shy about discussing what comes next. That's because "what comes next" is at the heart of this essay series, and it's so absurdly goofy that I don't know if I can explain it without making a dick of myself. [7] "What comes next" is realising that, like Jebni says, sometimes "I Love My Cat" narratives are the best narratives. [8] What does this mean? It means facing up to all the shit in the world, acknowledging it for what it is, and realising that if you can find it in yourself to care about something then there might be some hope after all. Like I said, this sounds stupid and soppy and banal, and that's because it is all of these things, but that's not all it is. It's a form of genuine love and appreciation, born out of the realisation that everything and everyone around you is part of the same stupid toxicoloured mess of a story -- that it's all Ink, basically!

In its own crude way, this beleaguered revelation reminds me of the incandescent poetry that Alan Moore throws out in Snakes and Ladders:
We are insensate molecules, assembled from the accidental code engraved upon our genes. Mud that sat up.

Chemicals mingle in our sediment and in their interactions and combustions we suppose we feel, suppose we love. We reproduce, mathematically predictable as spores within a petri dish. We function briefly, then subside once more to the unknowing silt.

We are a blind contingency, an unimportant restlessness of dirt and yet Rosseti paints his dead Elizabeth, head tilted back on her impossibly slim throat, eyes closed against the golden light surrounding her.

Clay looks on clay, and understands that it is beautiful.

Through us, the cosmos gazes on itself, adores itself, breaks its own heart.

Through us, matter stares slack-jawed at its own star-dusted countenance and knows, incredulously, that it knows. And knows that it is universe. [9]
In both Snakes and Ladders and The Filth, hope and self-awareness are linked, with the idea being that only by recognising the full horror of our situation are we able to work to change it. [10] This is what I meant when I said (almost 1,000 words ago now, jesus!) that The Filth is actually pretty sweet. After thirteen issues full of violence, broken dreams and grotty pornographic horror, Morrison and Weston still manages to find hope in the form of one man's love for his cat. The Invisibles found a similar value in all of our Inky little lives at the end, but The Filth manages to find hope in the life of a sad, lonely working man, which makes it kick harder for me. Possibly because I feel like a lumpy Chris Weston character called David Allison instead of the Philip Bond caricature that was bigsunnyd.

Thinking back to Snakes and Ladders for a minute, I'm drawn to the image of an Imperial Crown tumbling off George the Fifth's coffin and into the soot and spit of the street. In Alan Moore's hands, this becomes a symbol of the unification of the sacred and the profane, an indication that where there's shit there's spirit. The Filth makes this thought even more forcefully because it's far happier being part of the endless detritus of our culture. There's no real treasure here, no gold crosses mixed in with the muck, just dirty brass ones that can be polished off to reveal a faint gleam, a little light to help you find your way home:


And yes, I do consider that to be a strong enough thought to end a gazillion word essay series on!

Thanks for reading everyone.

FUCK YOU AND GOODNIGHT!


***


And now the Endnotes:

[1] And if you're wondering what kind of shit I came up with for that abandoned website idea, here's one of the pages in its entirety:

Fantastically Damaged: Mickey Rourke as Man-Made God

Don’t delude yourself, and don’t believe the hype - Darren Aronofsky is a manipulative motherfucker.

He’s never been deep. In fact, like Jarvis Cocker, he’s almost profoundly shallow. Whether he's making a movie about drug addiction, advanced mathematics, wrestling or mortality, Aronofsky's focus is always on that cut, that shot, that piece of music. What's more, on the strength of The Wrestler, this definitely isn’t a bad thing.

A lot of the early press chatter around the film homed in on its supposed naturalism, with the subtext being that it was more mature than his previous hyper-orchestrated works, because it was less fussy/more manful/more real.

Which is bollocks, of course, as Aronofsky the filmmaker must surely have known, even if Aronofsky the interview subject towed the party line. [2]
The realism of The Wrestler is Oscar realism, but Aronofsky dispatches with the tragic back-story of Randy the Ram with brutal efficiency. It’s all there – the broken marriage, the non-existent relationship with his only child, the mundane day-job in a supermarket – and it’s all treated very seriously, but Aronofsky knows that this isn’t the show. It’s just a framing device, something to get you interested in that body, that performance, that face:


Who’s the good guy? Who’s the villain?


Who cares!


As soon as you’ve started to consider these questions, you’ve opened yourself up to the spectacle. And as soon as you’ve started to watch the spectacle, you can’t help but notice that body, struggling to keep the illusion alive.
And hey, some of that hyped-up orchestration is still evident! You can see it in those extended shots where the camera follows Randy from behind as he walks into the arena/the supermarket (DO YOU SEE?!). You can also see it in the way Aronofsky works the comparison between Randy and his love interest, Cassidy. She's a stripper (DO YOU SEE?!) who's struggling to keep up with the younger girls, and so she serves as both a cracked mirror for Randy and as a possible escape route -- she's there at the sidelines of his big match during the climax of the movie, but by the time she arrives he's already surrendered himself to the fantasy.Cassidy's role is slightly offensive in the standard Hollywood way, but Aronofsky's direction and Marissa Tomei's performance make this obvious manipulation work for the movie rather than against it. Here Aronofsky's focus is on his body, her body, their bodies and the mess of their lives. He shows us self-made goddesses and gods, but in doing so he can't help but show us how much damage has been done to these deities, both by the characters they've created and by the audiences these fictions attract.

The moment where Randy cries about being a "broken down piece of meat" is pure sentimental trash, but it gets to you all the same, because that mass of ragged flesh is on display. You can't ignore the meat on Randy's bones -- it's horrible, and it's magnificent, and it could break you down. What's more, looking at it for too long could break your heart.

This is manipulation that, by virtue of its sheer force, makes us question what we're being manipulated into watching, and why.

Still, if this connection -- this genuine empathy born out of showy physicality -- isn't enough to create a happy ending between Randy and Cassidy, then what does that say to the audience?

You've watched them bleed, you've found yourself moved by this, but in the end you're still just a spectator, still just part of the audience, never part of the show.
I'm just trying to give you some idea of what it's going to be like to be me as I finally go public and change the destiny of humankind forever. I'm going to expose your secret conspiracies in the name of freedom. And when I'm done, I'll step up to the microphone and say "you too can be like me: Max Thunderstone -- Man-Made God." And they'll all cheer like children, you watch...

(Max Thunderstone in The Filth #10, 'Man-Made God')


[2] On reflection, I'm actually being slightly unfair to Darren Aronofsky here. In this Slashfilm interview he makes several intelligent distinctions between the attempts at objectivity in The Wrestler and the wholehearted subjectivity his previous works. In fact, I like his comments so much that I'll quote them at length here:
I think the first two films were exercises in subjective filmmaking and pushing that to the extreme, trying to figure out every possible technique to put an audience member into the characters’ heads. Pi was constructed that way because I had a limited budget and that became kind of the strategy of how to turn that limited budget into a strength. It was to really cut back on cutting away to the bad guys and really making a whole visual language that was all about pushing the audience into Max Cohen’s head. Requiem, a big reason that I was attracted to it is when I read the novel, I realized that Selby’s a very subjective writer and constantly going into fantasy and to dream. It would allow me to kind of expand on the thing I was doing in Pi, but with a bigger budget and color and with more time and with four characters. So when I read that opening scene of the novel and I saw the mom locked in the closet and the kid stealing the TV, I instantly had this idea of a split screen sort of showing the audience, “Oh, we’re going to see two very personal stories here from two different perspectives.” Then eventually it opened up into four perspectives. They were really exercises and really pushing subjective filmmaking. When I got to The Fountain, it was kind of a transition. I was definitely done with that as an exploration and also the subject matter of The Fountain was much more– It was a romance and it allowed me to move more towards the objective, although I still kind of played a little bit with getting into Tommy’s head and into his reality. It was kind of a transition and kind of expanding my style, I guess. I think getting to The Wrestler was really just going in the completely opposite direction. Basically, the film is 98 percent objective. It’s like a documentary. I call it proactive documentary, because I think in a real documentary everything is reactive. If you’re watching Cops and a guy runs away and then a second later the camera chases after the guy and goes after him, we didn’t have that second delay. We kind of knew what the scene was about and we knew where Mickey or Marisa was going to go. So we were able to choreograph that. We kind of had this proactive style where we were working with the actor to give a documentary feeling, allow realism to happen, but we were ready for it. There’s no really internal sound stuff, except for maybe two or three times I used it, which was like during the heart attacks and when he’s walking to the deli counter and the crowd comes up. Otherwise, besides that, there’s never a personal sound beat. I kind of really didn’t want to do that, but I couldn’t resist. It’s actually a little weak. People responded to those moments, I think.
Of course, this "proactive documentary" style is still a style, but I think Aronofsky is aware of that. Besides, if I start to quibble on this point any further I might as well just reprint Roland Barthes' Writing Degree Zero, right?

[3] No, I have no idea what I'm talking about here either. Here's a wee Mitchell and Webb sketch about a snooty waiter to justify the digression:




[4] Of course issue #12 of The Filth makes it pretty obvious that the hand is Greg's own, but by the time the series has wrapped up Grant Morrison has been sure to render that reading as unlikely as any other, bless him.

[5] I'm reminded here of David Fiore's claim that:
"Life" is an uninhabitable planet. Narrative is artificial atmosphere that enables us to walk upon its surface. That's why Grant Morrison's concept of the "fiction suit" (from The Filth) is so apt.
Which sounds dead on to me. The only problem is that sometimes expeditions out into the farther reaches of the planet "Life" can scramble your perceptions. Sometimes it feels like the closer you get to your intended destination, the further away from it you seem to be. That's what happens to Greg Feely throughout The Filth, which is probably why some readers find it hard to get to grips with.

Issue #9, 'Inside The Hand', is probably the best example of this. If The Filth is Chris Weston's masterpiece (and I think it is!), then the four page sequence in which Feely meets Man Green/Man Yellow is a mini-masterpiece within the bigger one.

While Feely is being grilled by his superiors the art shifts into a dazed Gilbert & George pastiche. Weston's linework, normally expressive of crude biology, is boxed in by stark, repetitive abstraction. Instead of the usual abundant absurdities, we're left a battered close-up of Feely's face, which has been drained of colour and walled in by disinterested faces of his employers:

Being typical members of the management class, Man Green/Man Yellow explain Greg's role in short, cryptic sentences which always seem to arrive in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is as close as Greg gets to a simple explanation of what his purpose is, and he's still left with his brow furrowed and his questions unanswered:


Since you're currently reading this essay, I'm sure you've got some idea of how Greg feels. The closer I get to The Filth, the further away from it my thoughts go. All I want to do is write about The Ink, about the lines on the page and what they do to me, but I can't. As soon as I start typing my mind wanders to Dennis Potter plays and Darren Aronofsky movies.

Despite my earlier protestations to the contrary, every line of this essay is about itself and nothing else. Every paragraph is a textual representation of my bright green/bright yellow face; I keep straining to match the expressive ruffles of Greg Feely's face, but I keep falling short. Still, I'll try again and fail better, and if I'm lucky maybe I'll come up with something that's almost as expressive as the pages I've sampled above.

[6] In fairness, there aren't many people who can beat Cronenberg and Burroughs at their own game. And if you disagree, hey, don't argue with me! Argue with these guys:




[7] Thankfully the creators of The Filth were less scared of making dicks out of themselves than I am. Jebni wasn't lying about the sentient nano-tech cat love that's being spread about at the end of the series -- that shit really happens in the comic!

And you know what? I'm glad that it does. It's a perfect use of the biological motifs that have run through the whole series. If, in the world of The Filth, everything repeats from the macro scale down to the micro ("As above, so below" and all that shit), then surely it can work the other way? If we're all part of the same cross-contaminating gunk, why can't positive narratives spread out from the smallest scale to the largest?

[8] Cat haters of the world, relax, I've got your backs too! Or at least, Adam Roberts does. Just check out this quote, from his review of Charles Stross' Accelerando:
Now it may be that Stross is a cat-lover; that many of his readers will be cat-lovers; and that they will coo over this fictional cat and indulge Stross in his conceit. It so happens that I am not a cat-lover. It happens to be the case that, in addition to suffering allergic asthma when exposed to the foul polluting fur of these quadruped Nazis purrers, I find it morally inconceivable that any human could waste their affection on a creature that takes such delight in torture and selfishness -- that it takes a self-deluding anthropomorphisation and a soppy moral indolence to afford these parasites space in a person's heart.
Ouch! I'm a pet person myself, but that's some harsh, funny shit! (Link via David Golding.)

[9] If you haven't read Eddie Campbell's comic book adaptation of Snakes and Ladders I'd recommend you do so as soon as possible, because it's an absolute treasure of a comic! Go buy A Disease of Language, which collects it along with another Moore/Campbell collaboration, The Birth Caul and all sorts of other goodies. These two performance pieces turned art comics compliment each other nicelt -- The Birth Caul is a thorough deconstruction of human language and perception, while Snakes and Ladders takes human cruelty and suffering as its starting place, and proceeds to literally shoot for the moon. Moore's words are mighty, as is to be expected, and Campbell matches him at every turn. He provides lived-in textures to the various scenes conjoured in The Birth Caul, and in Snakes and Ladders he comes up with page after page of beautifully startling visuals, which... actually, you know what? Forget matching Moore, I think Campbell actually beats him on his own turf in that comic!

[10] It should be noted that seeking to strip people of their own delusions is pretty much always a dick move, since delusions and fantasies are all part of the shit we breath. It's sometimes necessary, but it's almost never going to be painless, as Greg Feely discovers when he reveals LaPen's "true" nature in issue #13: