Saturday, November 8, 2014

Three Guarantees in Life: Death, Taxes, and Ostracism of Anyone who Points this Out.

Remarks commonly made when something goes wrong:

That's life.

Such is life.

No one ever says THAT'S LIFE when great things happen. They're much more likely to utter something like "For once in this life something went my way!"

This should make us examine how we look at pessimists. If we all subconsciously accept that life is more tragedy than triumph, to the point where the word life is common shorthand for negativity,
we're being rather inconsistent when we reflexively accuse folks of being "glass half empty" people simply because they highlight life's non-stop struggles.

We're all legal experts when it comes to Murphy's Law. As a consequence most of us seek affirmation, which is why there are legions of calendars, greeting cards, and self-help books, to reassure us that somehow it's all gonna be okay. Seems to me the person who buys such a calendar is already admitting the pessimist's point. The pessimist doesn't need a calendar to remind him life is a downer. All he has to do is wake up in the morning.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Death has a funny way of improving musicians

Any time an artist "dies too soon" - Amy Winehouse, Tupac Shakur, Jimi Hendrix - everyone assumes the artist would have gotten better. There is always the assumption of something great on the horizon: "He died at his peak." "He died just as he was truly finding his voice."

How come no one ever assumes they would have gotten worse? Why doesn't anyone proclaim that artistic burnout was just around the bend? Think about it, when people discuss musicians, they almost always say:

"I liked his early stuff better."

"They had that one good album..."

The common term for a disappointing album is a "sophomore slump," not a "seventh album slump."

With all the examples of artists who had one or two good records and then a lifetime of failing to replicate them, does it really make sense to always give dead young artists the benefit of the doubt?

Plus the posthumous stuff is nearly always a mixed bag (at best). Granted, the work may be unfinished or edited in ways the artist wouldn't have chosen. But still...if we're so assured that genius was just around the bend, why isn't the proof ever in the pudding?

What's funny is that we're just as forceful in our ridicule of artists who do keep going! How many times have the Rolling Stones had to answer for wanting to do another tour? Apparently they never learned the marketing lesson of dying early to keep folks pining for what could have been (not that Keith Richards didn't try).

If Axl Rose had died in '92, we would have been saved the cornrows. If Dylan had died at the release party for Blood on the Tracks, we wouldn't have had to suffer through his "Christian period."

Almost no one artist gets better with age, so it seems like a hell of a coincidence that every single artist whose "fire burned out too soon" was just about to give us a triple album of gold. In his farewell letter, Kurt Cobain apparently quoted Neil Young: "It's better to burn out than to fade away." By burning out, Cobain probably saved us the agony of watching him muddle through a twenty-year "experimental phase."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Too many films are now up to snuff

In our enlightened age, "damsels in distress" are supposed to be a thing of the past. Well, they are: because now we have damsels in pieces. Concurrent with the wails for better cinematic portrayals of women is a trend towards quasi-vivisections on screen. Each director seems determined to keep upping the ante for dismemberment. It's an arms race involving the removal of arms.

I recently saw A Walk Among the Tombstones, Liam Neeson's latest movie. It makes Taken look like an obtuse art film. I won't give away any plot points (first there would have to be a plot), but a woman ends up duct-taped in the back of a van as two sadists with blades contemplate how they're going to slice her. Any time two knife-wielding psychos are hovering above a kidnapped woman wearing nothing but duct tape we can pretty much assume she won't be writing a Yelp review of her evening.

But that wasn't enough for this director: he also has the two knife wielding psychos call her a cunt! Being a serial killer is pretty bad, but a serial killer who sneers out the c word? Now you're really a monster! 50 years ago if you wanted to convey that a film character was sinister, you had him not shave. Today he has to be a Holocaust-denying pedophile who eats puppies for breakfast and doesn't recycle.

The two knife-wielding psychos also gratuitously explain to the victim (and the audience) the anatomical reorganization they're planning to perform on her. Evidently the director thought the audience needed to be told that knife-wielding psychos who kidnap women have been known to use the knives to cut their kidnapped women.*

Later in the film, even after we have learned this woman's fate, the film unnecessarily flashes back to the repulsive images in the van, once again putting the victim's imperiled countenance squarely on camera. This is putatively done to build suspense; the jeopardized woman shown earlier in the film is shown again to remind us that other characters are in if we'd forgotten that these killers, you know, kill and stuff. Of course this doesn't build suspense. At all; it just makes the film a gross-out endurance test** (exactly like those much condemned '80s slasher films that an esteemed thespian like Neeson wouldn't have been caught dead appearing in). I wish they had told me ahead of time I was paying $16 to watch a Ginsu infomercial.

Here's what is behind a lot of this: If you make cartoonishly violent action films, long on explosions, cardboard villains, and impersonal body counts, you're classed as a crappy action director. If you personalize the violence and make it "realistic," even surgical, and make the people committing it cartoonishly shuddersome, you can still pass yourself off as some kind of artist (see all the people fooled by Drive). But these supposedly more artful vivisection films are just as manipulative and cynical as the basest Schwarzenegger flick. Actually, their pretenses make them worse. At least True Lies knew it was just a big dumb action movie.

Remember those William Castle film gimmicks -  Smell-O-Vision, theater seats connected to electric buzzers? I anticipate a resurgence in cheap film gimmicks: Splatter-Vision! The Anato-Cam! Instead of a skeleton flying over the audience, how about a small intestine? Or we could have a Gallagher-style smashing of full bladders and stomachs onto filmgoers. Or let's do away with 3-D glasses and just issue specs whose lenses are made from pulled human skin! The great schlock artists of the past died too soon; we're braced for a new Golden Age!

The word rapey has entered the lexicon. It's time to add snuffy.

*Part of me also thinks the more unlikable we make the villains, the more we're able to rationalize the broader violence of the film. 

**When feature films are this graphic, how much different are they than violent porn? Not much...the main difference is that people will admit to watching movies like A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A nation of suits

Everyone derides generic execs with hackneyed answers as "suits." Then an exec talks with a little spice and they take to Twitter to demand his firing. Case in point:

Ted Bishop, co-owner of The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, was ousted as president of the PGA of America over a tweet and Facebook post comparing golfer Ian Poulter to a little girl.

The TwitterSphere is now the ultimate "suit;" monitoring, policing, and destroying anyone who dares budge an inch from the ever shrinking lilypad of acceptable speech. You can't both bemoan boring suit talk while zealously enforcing a code of speech that leaves people with no option but to use suit talk.