I am not what you would call an early adopter. On top of that, it takes me a long time to get around to things. But I do take people’s recommendations seriously…just be prepared for me to follow through within 1-3 years. My point with this preamble is to say that this game is not new, but I still need to talk about it.
Tearaway came out at the end of 2013 for Playstation’s Vita (it’s like a Gameboy, Gramps). The aesthetic = construction paper craft table come to life. You play as Iota, the masculine envelope-headed messenger, or Atoi, the female version.
These characters are trying to get a message to you. Yes, you the player are part of the game as well. You are referred to as “the You” in the game world, your face becomes part of the world (a la Teletubbies, your face is inside the sun), and your fingers do more than wiggle joysticks - they’re necessary for getting Iota or Atoi to their destination.
To do this, Tearaway utilizes all of the new fancy doohickeys and thingamabobs offered on the Vita. I’m not the person who can really delve into technical marvel for you, but I’m totally impressed. You tap the back to break through into Iota and Atoi’s world. Your fingers can move big objects, squash enemies, and play enormous drums the characters are too small to do. The Vita has a camera on the front that captures video of your face that is then featured in the sun. You have to take pictures of your world (for me it was often my bedspread, Moshi, or other things in my room) with the camera on the back. There are levels where you have to roll the character around using the Vita itself as the balance. This trailer does a better job showing than telling, so give that a look:
Fun, right?! Anyway, the point of the game is to fill their world with more stories and to do that, for whatever reason, Iota/Atoi must find their way to You in the sun. (NOTE: I borrowed this pic from the interwebs, but this person’s face is so perfect! I was consistently jarred by my pasty image popping out of the sun, but I wish I’d looked more like this kid.)
There are three main stories you go through: one narrated by a male voice but right as Iota/Atoi is about to reach the sun, the female voice declares she’s heard this story and snatches Iota/Atoi and puts it into a new setting and the second story. The second story does get a narrative conclusion, but it’s only the end of that section. You were never that invested in the plot or its conclusion, though, because you’d already been reminded of the construction of things when you’d been snatched the first time. The third story is, in a way, unwritten. That’s not to say you have free reign over what’s what - it’s not an open world, but the visuals are meant to capture the nebulous space of pre-recorded ideas.
Compared to the first two stories/worlds, the third story feels loosy-goosey. Rigid boundaries are gone and there’s a lot of galactic, unformed images. In one sequence, a character questions Iota/Atoi about “the You,” disbelieving in its/your realness, so the game prompts you to say something to the elk-looking creature. I simply do what I always do when meeting someone new with something interesting on their head - I gave him a compliment. So the words, “I like your horns” echoed through the screen. The character accepts your existence, but then those words (in my case, “I like your horns.”) occasionally sound out as you play through the dream-like level. Movement in this level was down, down, down - a difficult perspective to navigate but one that totally added to the vision-quest-in-a-desert vibe. And when your voice rings out, the echo gets more and more distorted.
The “enemies” are called Scraps and they’re fun to fight, but the point of the game isn’t to beat a lot of little cardboard boxes. There’s a real effort to bring you as a player into the game. You control the avatar, your fingers are incorporated into the game, your face is in the sun, your room/cat/whatever you take photos of is brought into Iota/Atoi’s world, and you literally create some of the look of the game.
You must create things that are missing from the world out of construction paper on the drafting board. In one of my favorite sequences, you have to design a snowflake. I’ll be honest, I was doing the drawing with my fingers instead of a stylus and had some trouble getting exactly the ridiculous detail I wanted to include. I made my snowflake pink, yellow, and light green. When you complete this project and return to the world, your snowflake is falling from the sky. To see your one multiplied into hundreds is pretty cool.
To literally make the game tactile, you can create the characters from the game in paper - appropriately named Papercraft. Throughout the game you collect how-to instructions for building them and making them a part of your physical world.
I can see Henry Jenkins having a heyday with the platforms and the blending of worlds here.
My point is that you become part of the game in ways I hadn’t experienced before. For me, this resulted in a strange protectiveness over Iota/Atoi and their paper world…because I had a hand in creating it and my fingers were so often thrust into it. This becomes even stranger when you enter the newspapered lair of the scraps.
This image above doesn’t capture it, but the one below does. Your photos which had been taken for previous tasks in the game are strewn all over the floor and on the walls. You are in their world - you’re not just controlling a character (although you are doing that, too), you’re not anonymous. (NOTE: Again, the person pictured is not me, but you can see how his face has become part of the caverns motley decor.)
The tone shifts away from happy-fun paper land in the third story. It is still beautiful. Like I mentioned, there is a lot more play with paper that has yet to be given a purpose, books without words or pictures, and ideas not yet fully formed. Space, movement, and time are different here.
You encounter a messenger who never got to deliver their message. They’re trapped. And they’re stuck in a little ball that you tip and roll through the level, but it’s like a ghost of Iota/Atoi - there is no dialogue exchanged. Everything you learn about this lost soul comes from a squirrel. And this haunting tune accompanies the level:
In general, the music throughout Tearaway is tremendously good. Lots of accordion, fiddles and violins, and what sounds like a kazoo. The folksy, holly-hobby-sounding music matches the aesthetic of the game. But this particular song, that sad voice (which does sound like Iota/Atoi), and what it represents made me so sad. And, as the You who has been guiding my Iota, I was upset that another You would leave their messenger behind. I know. What a sap. It’s just a game!
Yeah. The game got to me. The ending gives you this retrospective from Iota/Atoi’s point of view describing his version of y’all’s journey. Looking at your experience from another angle just further makes you part of this game world. I lost it when Iota called it “our” story and told me how many steps he’d taken to reach me (the You in the sun): 88,314.
The message that Tearaway makes a point to state at the game’s conclusion is that stories are important, and we need to be making things, creating and sharing ideas. Not a bad message for a video game, but one I find very, very cool. And not just for kids. In fact, I don’t know if kids would enjoy the game. Or maybe they would, but for reasons different than me (look out..maybe a lil Stuart Hall moment for EVERYONE!). Play the game. It’s real good.
This morning I watched James Franco’s highly anticipated Saturday Night, the “edgy” documentary that filmed what was happening backstage at Saturday Night Live. Considering the film was finished nearly four years ago and just kind of sitting around (as probably most Franco films should), there seemed to be this idea that people were not necessarily afraid of its release, but that the powers that be (whether it was producer Lorne Michaels or NBC) didn’t want it released. The fact nobody wanted to distribute it seemed a bit odd, considering nearly everything Franco has rubbed his undershorts on has been picked up by somebody.
The truth of the matter is the film is fucking booooooooooooring…and not just in a way that somebody might think cinema verite (media scholar BITCHES) could be boring - with it’s focus on observation as opposed to intervention. But it’s boring in the sense that Franco has little vision. There is no point BEYOND “this is what happens at SNL,” which has already been discussed ad nauseum for the past 40 years. This film doesn’t even have cocaine in it or “the molly,” to which I say “who the fuck cares then?” Franco does nothing more than offer a glorified behind-the-scenes - but nothing that plows deeper into the labor either the actual writing or emotional labor involved in being part of this Fordian comedy model. He does not question nor challenge the system, just documents, which simply is not enough given the proximity he had to Michaels, the cast, and crew.
There were glimpses of opportunity where he could have pushed a little further. Producer Higgins compares the show to Ford Motor Company and mentions the implications of the show becoming an institution - pairing this with a montage of writers frantically trying to write sketches through the night, sleepwriting, or looking anxious would help amplify the labor required to keep that institution running on a weekly basis. We could also throw in something about how maybe comedy shouldn’t be compared to institutions or industrial practices, as humor is supposed to (in an ideal world) question, challenge, tear apart those very practices and ideologies.
Though Franco hints at the continued rejection felt by many cast members, there is no examination of how they 1) work through that 2) why they continue 3) how they are compensated (either financially or through some sort of fulfillment). He interviews Casey Wilson (who would be fired after a season) who talks about bombing during their reading of submitted scripts and feeling embarrassed (and a bit shamed). Feelings of failure are brought up again, but almost glibly, and again without questioning or delving deeper into what that means for the show. How do these feelings help structure and reinforce the hierarchies? We see the producers specifically choose sketches based on the better known performers - surely this has to put a bee in Bobby Moynihan’s bonnet? And why not return to Casey Wilson during this 4 year period and go “That was a jerkoff move, no” and get into it? His refusal to either visually challenge (more montages!) or straight up get the scoops becomes increasingly more frustrating. Essentially, all he does is say “dude, this is hard.” And fucking…yeah, brah. I don’t think in the 40 years (37 at the time he worked on this) anybody was still thinking the show appeared like the magic dust found in ant farts.
Motherfucker didn’t even know Prince doesn’t lend his songs out. There’s a point where Bill Hader plays “I Would Die 4 U” from Purple Rain. The sound shuts off and Franco explains that they had to because they couldn’t get the rights to the sound and (THIS IS FUCKING QUOTE) “WTF?” Dude, just…fucking everybody my age and above knows this … and his surprise is fucking dumb. The inclusion of this in the documentary is fucking dumb and serves no other purpose but demonstrate how out of touch he must be with popular culture or how privileged he is to think that somehow Prince would look into Franco’s tiny, stoner eyes and hand over his catalog with a bow-di-bow kiiiiiisss.
It just seems that for somebody who likes to think they push envelopes that he could just pretend to do it for this documentary and put something together that really interrogated SNL as an institution - one that went from challenging the status quo to becoming it.
As noted before in a brief post a few weeks ago, I’ve been watching pro-wrestling. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing little else but watching wrestling - not for research, not for blogging purposes, just pure fucking entertainment.
At the beginning of this venture, I made a conscious decision to NOT watch E!’s Total Divas. The WWE has no clue what to do when it comes to their divas division. They don’t even bother with narratives and I’m kind of surprised they don’t just throw a pair shoes in the ring to make sense of why the divas are wrestling or always seemingly frustrated with each other. If anything could and should be referred to as “BASIC” it’s the WWE Divas division. Not because of the divas themselves, but because the WWE’s writing staff is full of dudes who (I’m just throwing this out there) treat Porky’s like the New Testament. If anything is post-feminist (a sense of feminist illusion, all signs with no meaning), it’s WWE lady wrestling. Nobody has a schtick. There’s no transgressive bitches like Sensational Sherri or Luna Vachon or Chyna, women who make you simultaneously experience fear, respect, and not really give a shit whether you liked it/them or not. As much as the current regime is trying to get Nikki Bella to antagonize an audience, calling them fat, ugly, and delusional (prettay prettay apt) - the performance consistently falls flat - not necessarily because she’s a bad actress (she is, but so is 90% of the wrestlers on the main roster), nor because she can’t wrestle (the past few matches, I think, I have been pretty incredible - that bitch is catching people in midair), but because she is forced to balance between being a marketable face/body for the gaze as opposed to a legit transgressive, “suck my clit” wo-man.
In spite of lackluster diva on WWE, I decided to give Total Divas a shot, as I needed something around 45 minutes for lunch. It took me about a solid week to knock out and get up to date on the entire series.
This is what makes Total Divas work for me - you have a bunch of people who already accustomed to being on television weekly. While everybody would clearly like to be the breakout star or want more time because Divas isn’t their primary television gig, there is less impetus to create television for television sake. There is already enough stress between body issues, fucked up relationships, and competition that there is no reason to create more drama for drama’s sake.
They are also not super rich and famous people attempting to use a reality show to convince audiences that, in fact, they are just like us. They recognize their job affords them certain opportunities and continually bring up the fact that they are both lucky and hard working. They are frequently shown training, working out, or prepping to be on the show. They struggle with the fact that they are competing with limited spots to perform, having maybe one match per Raw/Smackdown shoved somewhere in the middle and are treated rather disposable when it comes to PPVs (because we really need to another goddamn Sheamus match…). They have access to stuff and places that most don’t, which makes the show of interest, but they still seemed excited about such opportunities.
It’s also one of the most racially diverse programs - there are only two white chicks: one is Nattie and she’s Canadian. The other is Summer Rae and she’s just bitch. Race is not a central issue, meaning, they don’t talk about intersectionality over brunch-time mimosas, but there are points where they reference difference - Naomi is concerned her father-in-law (Rikishi) won’t accept her because she’s not Samoan. Eva doesn’t want to be whitewashed by going blond and instead decides to go red to accentuate her Latina roots (they already had two brunettes!), and Ariane has to negotiate commitment and marriage with her Armenian boyfriend. There are also no Kim Zolciaks running around attempting to show how not racist they are by being fucking racist.
In fact, Total Divas is kind of boring in the grand scheme of reality shows. There are arguments, but more often than not their solved by people actually talking with each other, admitting fault/apologizing, compromising, and hugs. Even the times where people have hit each other (Natalya and Summer Rae), it’s been brief. Unlike Real Housewives where confrontations are advertised and drawn out for weeks and weeks until a “very special episode,” there is a complete lack of spectacle in Total Divas. Instead, Divas, is very much about small aggressions: small actions, passive aggressive behavior, and inconsiderate moments. It’s kind of incredible to watch women who get paid to throw each other around in the ring, but really have problems communicating what they want and asserting themselves (especially to their dudes). I cannot identify with women who get throw tables at an empty restaurant because of some comment somebody made at a charity fashion show - I can, however, identify with people making “helpful” comments about ways I could lose weight, doing I job I love but feeling stuck in a kind of shitty system, dealing with other folks’ bad moods (and having them deal with mine), or being polite when getting shitty gifts.
It hasn’t been until this current season, where situations have appeared put together for the sake of the show. With wrestler and Diva-husband, Daniel Bryan out of commission after shoulder surgery, the producers have continued to try and keep Brie relevant since “quitting” and temporarily out of “diva” service. This included a forced conversation about their future after WWE and the possibility of opening up an eco-friendly Bed and Breakfast. I like the fact they acknowledge these careers are short term and that while they are currently successful, they are unskilled and unprepared for regular jobs outside of entertainment; however, the conversation never goes beyond that superficial realization that eventually things will change. The idea of actually investing in something AT THAT MOMENT seems ridiculous even to somebody like myself who is good at making panicky financial moves. I doubt it when Brie says she handles the financials in the sense that I’m sure these jabronis have an accountant or know an accountant who would be able to tell them NO.
There are clearly other moments and conversations I’m sure the producers have pushed. This past episode, for example, rivals Nattie and Summer Rae were forced into the same car after Rosa agreed to give Summer a ride. Anybody would know this is a bad idea and Rosa’s false “I just want everybody to get along” (bitch…c’mon. BITCH. STOP) was absurdly dumb. The fact that after hours full of nitpicking and Nattie and Summer get into a fight, which includes Nattie pulling her physically out of the car into the street - was a bit much - especially considering Nattie’s concern with playing by the rules and following company policy in order to become Diva’s Champ. If this were “real” I doubt the WWE would be into this type of behavior being representative of the staff - particularly when everything (in theory) related to characters and storylines are well-protected. I doubt the WWE would be ok with that type of absurdity.
That being said there are a lot of points that feel very real - mostly the small slights and their internalization. Again, despite the fact these women are paid to grapple and body slam, they spend a lot of their off time beating around the bush, going out of their way to compromise, and “sucking it up”. This isn’t an element reality shows really go for - you don’t see very many reality shows depicting people actively trying to AVOID confrontation. I can’t imagine Bravo’s Andy Cohen going up to any of his femskinned (look that shit up) and asking for them to just “hold back a little.” There are also quite a few things I can’t imagine the benefit of showing - Natalya pissing herself during a match and then later getting IcyHot in her asshole/vagina.
"Girl, bye" indeed.
There are also a lot of conversations that I don’t see on this type of television format. Like semi-serious to serious shit that many women go through, struggle with - but are handled in ways that don’t dwell in melodrama. Nikki deals with being called the “fat twin,” Naomi wants to get an implant that would prevent her from getting pregnant for three years (because she forgets to take her pills), Eva Marie finds out she has a differently shaped uterus that might effect her ability to have children, Ariane has issues with intimacy and sex. JoJo is nineteen and experiences too many feelings.
But these conversations, conflicts, and anxieties are familiar. The struggles are familiar - just amplified because these women are in the entertainment industry and are aware how short lived that opportunity is for them (these ladies are no Mae Young or Moolah. They’ll drift into retirement and tanning salon advertisements).
It looks like this season has decided to abandon realness and move more toward typical reality programming. The introduction of Summer Rae last season was the first step - she is a Bitchicorn - the rarest of all bitches, somebody who really knows how to out bitch everybody at any time and somehow gets bitchier when apologizing for being a bitch. Like she’s a bitch, without being a bitch. Summer Rae is the chick who says “I’m just like one of the guys and/or Girls are the worst and hate me” - but doesn’t realize that she is the common denominator in that second part.
It’s amazing the amount of bitchery - and if her performances on Raw, Smackdown, and Countdown are any indication…bitch is not an actress. She is athletic, her body is insane, she is ambitious, but acting…not her thing. So unless, she saves it all up for this show and is goddamn genius, I’m going to agree with John that
The WWE has attempted to interweave Total Divas into their content, which is dumb - first, because they are using drama from several months before to justify their already ridiculous narratives. This most likely means that everything that makes this show somewhat relatable and endearing will be clobbered. There aren’t going to be more moments of John (Jimmy Uso) telling Naomi that he respects her body and her right to choose the birth control she wants. No more random let’s show the unethical treatment of animals in industrial farming. And probably fewer moments of figuring out how they are to negotiate gender expectations with their career goals, personal aspirations, and futures.
And probably less of John Cena really turning out his best Patrick Bateman. If the rumors are true that none of the divas on this show are allowed to be awarded the Women’s Championship belt - can the same be true for Cena? If that’s the case - then let’s put these girls to work - SWITCHBLADES and TEQUILA FOR EVERYBODY!
I understand that many people care about the Super Bowl, and I imagine it’s for a number of reasons: to feel like your city is the best/worst, to root for something, to watch commercials, to be disappointed by the halftime show, to see if you won the office pool, etc. But that’s not why I care. In the same way that Valentine’s Day and Halloween = days for unlimited candy, the Super Bowl = a day for dips in my world.
Melinda, the woman who writes 99% of what you read here, shares my dip obsession. We extended “dip days” to include award ceremonies, so the Oscars, Golden Globes, Daytime Emmys, and the AVN Awards are accompanied with some dips. I don’t know/give a shit if you love dip as much as me, but if you did want some dip, I’d like to be able to guide you on your path.
At our last dip fête, M and I accidentally managed an incredible feat: we created the perfect mix of savory/sweet and hot/cold dips. It was unprecedented and the results were nothing short of glorious. One of the stand-out dips of the evening was this pecan-topped artichoke dip. It is rich as hell, but not as oppressive and heavy as other artichoke dips I’ve had in the past. Additionally, there’s no spinach.
I know. I can feel someone getting upset at this omission. Look, if you want something green, go make a fucking salad. Adding spinach to this creamy dip ain’t adding a bit o’ health. Not really. It’s like those dastardly new Mike ‘n’ Ikes made with real fruit juices; motherfucker if I wanted fruit, I’d eat an apple…but I wanted candy and you done fucked that up. So if you need something green to feel good about your day, I’m sure you can add something in here. But I want you to look in the mirror while you do it. And, yeah, I know the pic below has spinach in it, but that’s only because all the other pics of the dip looked gross. But you’re not eating a picture, so ignore the green.
Transfer the mixture into a small baking dish and spread to flatten. Sprinkle chopped pecans on top.
Bake for 35 min., or until dip is heated through and edges are bubbly. Drape with foil if pecans begin to brown too much. Serve immediately.
There’s also a note in there for people who find this recipe too trying and you can dump out 2 things of TJ’s ready-made artichoke dip and skip steps 1-3 and a half. Soooo if you really can’t handle this, there are options.
Since M and I were having a dip party (for 2…obviously it was just the 2 of us relishing enough dips for a wedding reception), there were a variety of things to be dipped into this dip. But the front runners were a thinly sliced baguette and pita chips. Other stuff that could be OK: breadsticks and tortilla chips (according to that pic above), those Ritz toasted chips, I’m always a fan of a party-pack of fancy crackers, and I’m sure you could put a veggie stick out there and it might be OK, but you are mixing hot/cold there. I’m including it for those of you who don’t mind this violation, but I wouldn’t put that in my mouth.
Anyway, this stuff is like molten lava right out of the oven, so set a timer and don’t touch the stuff for like 10 minutes. Otherwise, you’ll be peeling burned skin off the roof of your mouth and nobody likes that. Actually, some people might like that in the same way people relish popping pimples. So if that’s your thing, guzzle this down immediately out of the oven.
Man, I forgot how angry I am at Mike and Ike for “fixing” something that wasn’t broke. I gotta write them an angry letter.
Sometimes we don’t know until after the fact the things that would surprise us coming out of our mouths. This past summer has been a whirlwind — see if you can guess the pattern in no particular order…
1. “I don’t know…I just wish Damien Sandow had better merchandise”
3. “MOM, JUST BECAUSE IT’S SCRIPTED DOESN’T MEAN IT’S NOT REAL”
4. “I get Ryback’s constant need to feed and march around successful”
5. “I’m just going to catch up since 2012 - essentially since the Shield appears because they seem posed to be the next big thing. I don’t know…anything more just seems a tad ridiculous. Of course I’m caught up. Oh, I’m only just watching the Raw Replays, Smackdown Replays, and Pay-Per-Views." NBD
Only little has been changed for comedic effect - very little. Too little.
First things first, let’s discuss the two and half month lag between posts? Was it because I
A. Strained my big ol academic brain and needed a bit of break from writing pseudo-intellectually about shit I like and don’t like
B. Sex rehab
C. Cocaine stupor then Sex rehab
D. Both B and C
E. Bitch just lazy
In order to ensure a glorious and meaty return I spent this off-time watching 27 series of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, a British panel show centered around music, featuring guests from music, television, and comedy. The show began in 1996 and continues to air despite numerous personnel changes, industrial shifts, and popular culture becoming an impossible merry-go-round of appropriation and corporate garbage (JEDWARD).
Analyzing the show is probably most digestible through looking at its hosting waves: Mark Lamarr, Simon Amstell, and the five series of guest-hosts. Each phase is rather distinct, with each period having its own special tint of mockery, self-awareness, and “givin’ a shits”. One of the things that marks the program, and is consistently reinforced through its marketing, is its disregard for celebrity culture (at least to a certain extent). This is not a program that panders much to celebrity status. Guests on the show are regularly mocked, those who are the subjects of questions are broiled, and even the audience is thrown into it when blamed for the popularity of contemporary “musicians”.
The jabs have gotten softer over the years, as most of the guest hosts sit and read what they are told, most not having the strength or ability to riff or adlib as jokes come their way. Some hosts, like Frankie Boyle and Jack Dee, who are comedians are great for noting the idiocy of guests, but are open about not paying attention to music past 1984-1998 and therefore do not engage with their musical guests in the same way permanent hosts Lamarr and Amstell could and often would.
Both Lamarr and Amstell made names for themselves for being celebrities’ worst nightmares. In the early 90s, Lamarr was on The Word, a kind of youth culture lifestyle, music program. He was known for being confrontational, which was and continues to be a refreshing change of pace from the norm. Instead of treating the format in a way that encourages the interviewer to be thankful for being in the presence of a C-level artist, Lamarr aggressively reminded people how lucky they were to be featured on a show - particularly those who had minimal talent and were (in his estimation) undeserving of recognition in the first place. Lamarr did not play by the “rules” and was pretty dismissive toward others who did.
Lamarr was able to create a “grumpy” persona, though I think this minimizes his contribution quite dramatically. He was not necessarily a crank, but somebody who refused to participate in something that did not align with his values. It’s anti-establishmentary as opposed to just being a sour puss, which although some may feel as slight, is quite an important distinction - particularly given the trajectory of career. He moved onto the wonderfully absurd Shooting Stars, with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer where he continued to question the authority of the gamekeepers (Vic and Bob) and the nature of quizzes in general. The joy in watching him in Shooting Stars is not necessarily the pleasure of fighting back, but the points in which he breaks from character and laughs. In essence, where he confirms that the nature of his “character” is just that, a performance constructed around his “no thanks” approach to the commercial powers that be. Do I think he was absolutely adverse to his own celebrity? Nah - that guy plied his wares across the board - but I do think he was able to know his limits, call bullshit, and quit.
Lamarr hosted Buzzcocks from 1996 - 2005. The first few years are more about building a bridge from Lamarr as that “asshole” from Shooting Stars and The Word. One of the continued jokes from Shooting Stars concerned Lamarr’s style, which was rooted in rockabilly. They referred to him as “50s Throwback,” Lamarr would get annoyed, the audience would laugh, and things would move forward. The Lamarr years were great because
1) Lamarr actually liked and knew music. He made no bones about his distaste for most contemporary pop music (Geri Halliwell and Robbie Williams were both major players on his shit list - interesting also is the fact Williams appeared on Lamarr’s Shooting Stars team TWICE and seemed extra annoying). But as much as he had a distaste for contemporary pop, it didn’t mean he wasn’t aware of what was happening - he seemed to be constantly listening - along with co-captain, Phill Jupitus - who CONTINUES to be up-to-date on trends. He was always able to offer up extra information, a few helpful clues/trivia, and go deep for the zingers. Unlike the others who went after him, it was a show about music first and then comedy a close close second…and even then the comedy was a metanarrative about the state of music, the panel game show format in general, and himself.
2) Everybody was sorting their shit. There were some growing pains, which can be annoying to some, but I liked (particularly in a binge session) watching the show grow, people figuring out their place, and finding the rhythm. Lamarr is trying to super hard to balance between conforming to the persona that acts as the anchor for the show, while also trying to forge a new, more freeing presence - one where he can also feel free to have fun, where there’s no need to break, because it’s just him. Jupitus works his way from an overeager nerd to a wise beleaguered judge who is “getting too old for this shit”. Sean Hughes has said it took him awhile to get into it - moving from “I’m getting paid” to actually enjoying it (though he’s the first to make a run for it and is replaced by Bill Bailey). I’m not sure the relationship dynamics prior to the show like whether Jupitus/Hughes/Lamarr were friends beforehand. I imagine there was some camaraderie in that all three started as poets, are comedians, and for Jupitus/Lamarr into music (and have similar tastes).
3) Lamarr didn’t let anybody get away with much, but it’s not a show about him. Lamarr’s management is incredible, a master of shutting down. This is a vital skill for this type of show, which stresses comedic performance as well as trivia prowess. This means non-funny jabronis who have been told their funny try to stretch their wings and suck all the comedy out of the room. Lamarr excels at reprimanding those who are ruining the game by being unfunny dickfaces and encouraging those who bring either humor or knowledge to the proceedings.
4) The show was a collaborative effort. As much as Lamarr has control over the show - he actually works with Jupitus and Hughes, as well as the other guests to squeeze as much entertainment as possible. Lamarr seemed able to read situations and adapt - getting meaner, more tired, or morose as necessary. He jokes WITH Jupitus and Hughes (and later Bailey) who are also enlisted as part of the wrangling squad. It’s not simply Lamarr’s show, though technically the “star.” This same sense of collectivity would not be the same post-2005.
Lamarr “took a break” in 2006 and Never Mind the Buzzcocks used guest judges to replace him. They only addressed his absence once in the first episode - Bill Bailey and Phill Jupitus are playing in a band and talk about how they’ve got to continue in spite of Lamarr’s absence. Other than that quick two minute acknowledgement, the show and its players don’t spend a lot of time dwelling in the past. Rumor has it Lamarr was planning to return - which seems true enough - after 10 years it seems worth taking a breather, especially working nonstop for the past 15-20. It also seems equally likely that after those 10 years Lamarr saw what was coming and decided to get the fuck out of dodge. Pop music had changed, Pop Idol (American Idol for us Yanks) determined what it meant to be a star - and the BBC was complicit in these shifts - providing opportunities for these kids to get richer despite having little to no talent or interest in music. This would be (at least partially) the reason for Lamarr’s break completely from the BBC in 2010, when he quit his radio program citing BBC’s lack of interest in music and his own feelings of confinement - not being able to be a DJ. He has only shown up a bit here and there - a few voiceovers, a five-second cameo in Nick Lowe’s “Sensitive Man” video.
He seems to have “opted out” which is all the reason to admire him more. Some have claimed the lack of work is due to Lamarr’s “bad boy” behavior and massive ego, but I think these are assertions made by people who don’t understand why somebody would choose to not work within an industry that increasingly demands obedience. They consider leaving the industry “giving up” when in actuality you could see participating in the industry “giving in.” Handing over yourself and allowing any job to dictate your code of ethics is arguably what it means to “give up.” I think in actuality, Lamarr is one of the few people who recognized the change and didn’t want any part of it, choosing to do what he wanted instead of ‘playing the game’ and making money. He Greta Garboed that shit and it’s worth pouring one out for him as we move forward.
If Lamarr was planning to return it sure wasn’t evident by BBC’s quick scoop of Simon Amstell. The choice of Amstell as a permanent replacement was a no-brainer as it was an easy transition. Eerily enough there were a few scattered comments during the times he appeared as guest to the similarities between himself and Lamarr. At one point Lamarr jokingly claims Amstell as his son after the latter talked about making Britney Spears cry on Pop World. In another joke not specifically about Amstell and a couple of years before the takeover, Lamarr contends that the BBC is planning to replace him with a younger version of himself as other programs had recently done the same thing. The joke was in reference to somebody else, but watching it in hindsight is a tad unnerving once realized the joke was actually a premonition.
Simon Amstell’s run was where I actually started Buzzcocks. I’m guessing it was around the same time I was watching The Mighty Boosh and Noel Fielding was on twice during that time. I continued to watch for Amstell. I felt he was a bit of a spirit animal of sorts - he was self-deprecating, an outsider to the world of pop celebrity, but somebody who was interested in celebrity culture. Amstell is like Lamarr in the sense he is a comedian who started on television interviewing celebrities and notoriously causing conflict. Whereas Lamarr pushed boundaries, Amstell straight up shit on his guests. Lamarr just asked questions, knowing they would be difficult and would possibly get a reaction. In talking to Danni Minogue he just straight up asks what she thinks about the fact her album is not selling well. It’s a good enough question, but not one typically asked in these interviews (though should). It was more abrasive than most, but one easily handled if you were smart enough to deflect or pivot. Amstell, on the other hand, always went above and beyond in Pop World. He was much meaner and didn’t attempt to veil what he was trying to to do in these interviews, which was to point out celebrities were not special and just regular human beings.
Lamarr was good at shutting shit down and getting people to quit their foolishness. That was his gift. Amstell was good at really digging at people, but in ways that kept them acting the fool which allows for the digging to the continue. Lamarr’s outbursts ensured everybody got a turn, whereas Amstell and his prime target dictated the course of the episode.
Amstell brought his Pop World energy to Buzzcocks, which had a few consequences. First, it became the central piece of the show. Rather than the collaboration seen in previous seasons, the game became more about how far Simon could go to make his guests feel uncomfortable and who would get the brunt of his joking. Jupitus and Bailey only really play the game and are rarely given the opportunity to joke around as Amstell does most of the joking. It’s understandable why Bailey left and why Jupitus almost quit, as the tension becomes increasingly palpable. There’s no sense of a partnership between the three - I wouldn’t place this burden on Amstell, as somebody trying to work his way into a more adult world of comedy, but on the BBC who is clearly trying to up the numbers and encouraging Amstell to do more. It also makes sense as to why Amstell would leave only after a handful of seasons - it’s not necessarily fun for people to be afraid of you and not want to hang out and even less so when you don’t have any allies on the show. Since leaving, Amstell has addressed this negative affect (and I do mean the in-betweeness, feelings and vibes) in his sitcom Grandma’s House, which was a great two-series sitcom. His standup also reveals more of his vulnerability than Buzzcocks could allow.
Here is five minutes - essentially 20% of the show taking the piss out of Antony Costa from Blue
and here’s another 20% with Donny Tourette
For me, Amstell was great to watch work. He was great at delivering the prepped jokes, but also in engaging with guests who needed a brush with reality. He also seemed to be having fun, which helped the energy of the show. Lamarr was always the worn out host of a quiz who was forced to manage the madness. Amstell was the guy who snuck into an after party and said “fuck it, I have nothing to lose.” That being said, this era is rife with tension and couldn’t possibly be sustained - by either Amstell who loses his lustre, the captains who grew tiresome of becoming simply props, and the BBC who surely had difficulty getting guests to agree to place themselves in the firing range. Simon Amstell is better on his own - Buzzcocks was a launching pad to bigger, better, and more complex enterprises.
In Amstell’s final season, Noel Fielding took over for Bill Bailey as a team captain, which allowed for a more youthful absurdity, Boosh fanbase, and musician/comedy friends. For the past five years the show has had rotating guest hosts. This guarantees that shows will be inconsistent. When David Hasselhoff is the host that week, you know it’s going to be the worst because he can barely read and is a not funny person who tries super hard to prove how funny he can be and fails so miserably that the not even the failure is worth laughter. But this lack of stability also allows for a lot of variety. Jack Whitehall has been a pretty good guest host, but I would be right annoyed if he was showing up weekly. Frankie Boyle too has been stellar, but I doubt he would be able to keep out of trouble. The punches are great for an episode, but I think the BBC and Boyle would go nuts if it went for an entire season.
One of the best hosts was Richard Ayoade, who is best at doing the “anti-panel” game - deconstructing the panel show as he continues to perform on a panel show. I would watch the shit out of it, but I don’t think it would be incredibly sustainable.
What these past few seasons have accomplished is creating a bond between Jupitus and Fielding and allowing them more time to make jokes and participate in the quiz. It seems like there is a mutual respect between the both of them, as comedians, fans of music, and folk interested in trivia and psuedo facts. Not having a permanent guest host has allowed them to take back the reins of the show so to speak and work together to set the pace and dynamic of the quiz. They help each other reestablish the order and put people in line. They work well together and that has lifted the energy of the show considerably and returned it to the fact it is a show about people having fun. Lamarr had his outbursts but it was clear he and the majority were having a good time (there were a few episodes when things would get uncomfortable and weird…when it seemed like Lamarr wasn’t having a good time, but they were few and far between). The Amstell years were full of tension. It doesn’t matter if the guest host is shit, because it’s only one day. It doesn’t matter if they’re assholes, because it was only one time. No stability, no patterns, no expectations. While it works for the BBC by way of marketing, there does seem to be something missing without a permanent host. Perhaps its just my own need for order, but I like the idea of a continued relationship between all three of the permanent players - of Jupitus, Fielding, and X working together to make this work, as opposed to just two captains running amok. There are more opportunities to usurp the authority with a permanent host, more ways to weasel around the rules, and a professional who is able to keep the game flowing and the players in line.
Just a couple of weeks ago it was announced Rhod Gilbert would takeover as a permanent host. He has been a solid guest host so far, allowing bits to breathe, but also feeling free rile up guests when necessary. On paper it seems like a perfect solution to the host problem. He’s a prickly pear who is not afraid of being unpopular and call out his guests, but at the same time can negotiate and manage personalities and jokes.
The show has been attempted in the States TWICE - the first time on the USA network with the Zappa brothers at the helm and the second for VH1 with Marc Maron as host. Both failed miserably. The panel show hasn’t really worked in the United States since the 1970s. In the 1950s and 1960s you had What’s My Line and I’ve Got a Secret followed by Hollywood Squares and Match Game, but even these are not same - Never Mind the Buzz Cocks and shows like it (Mock the Week, Would I Lie to You) are not about winners - at the end of the day, there is nothing at stake - no car or vacation to win, no embarrassment of failing on television. There is nothing gained by those who participate, which is why I think the the panel game show cannot work within the American culture. We’re not really a people who take enjoyment in the process. We’re not really about the love of the sport, unless that means somebody will get the shit kicked out of them on their way to winning the big game. These shows are also about watching people hang out - poking fun at each other, helping each other. There are a lot of dynamics happening here, but intricacies are not really a focus in the types of games we like to watch on television. We need people to either be incredibly humiliated on television or win a bajillion dollars - no time for anything else in between those two extremes. It is all about results and without the sense of clear winners and losers, what’s the point? There’s also not a huge emphasis on trivia in the states - it’s not really valuable to know shit for the sake of knowing it. It doesn’t necessarily make you a better person or of any use to society - at least in the eyes of culture. People are super impressed by the database, but also consider it a waste of time…and perhaps it is, but I’m not really interested in competition for the sake of competition. I’d much rather watch people have fun learning trivia than compete over who gives the best haircut.
I’m more than pretty sure binging in this fashion fosters a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Let us all become involved in that sort of research.
I have a habit of binging without purging - but rather than tell you how much pasta I can eat in one sitting or how it takes me about a commercial break to eat lunch, I’ll let you in on my recent TV binges.
Most days the television is ALWAYS on - mostly on daily garbage, meaning nothing that I really need to pay attention to - court shows, Cops, Love it or List It. A look or two up from my computer is all I need to get a better picture and then I can continue to grade, write, or whatever. It has become a habit of sorts - a quick way to de-stress and think “What the fuck is happening to popular culture?” before going back into the confines of my computer screen (aka playing Criminal Case on Facebook).
Once classes ended, I started catch up on shows I wanted/needed to finish. I went through about six seasons of Law and Order: SVU, two seasons of The Wire, and the most recent season of New Girl.
Law and Order: SVU
It started when I ran into a marathon on USA and realized I needed to start creating my own marathons. While KB and I still roommated, we started to go through all the episodes of SVU, chronologically. After a hiatus, I went back to it and unearthed an entire world of a Stabler-less sex crime investigation and D-ramamama
The concept of the show is bizarre - at some point, Dick Wolf had to sit down and tell NBC execs, “Listen, you know what I think I could sell in that 9pm block? Sex … crimes. The sponsors will go wild.” Yet, every time I hear that BONG BONG, I get settled in, ready to solve some crimes like a goddamn German Shepard. Stabler and Benson are such a great team, and then you have the crustiness of Richard Belzer and Ice-T that really rounds out a pretty great cast and sets up solid relationship structures. Flawed, complex characters within a fairly formulaic, simplistic narrative.
Once season 8 hits, the world of SVU gets a bit weirder. The producers and writers try to milk as much drama as possible - at the end of the 9th season, a lot of the final episode is dedicated to the jaws of life cutting Stabler’s pregnant wife out of a totaled car - and the will she/won’t she death predicament (of course she didn’t, because it’s NBC and America). Once Stabler leaves things get weirder - the narratives becomes more complex as we introduce more characters and go into their rabbit hole narratives. They must have also gotten a new crew, because even aesthetically the show has changed - weird filters, flashbacks, shaky tracking shots - somebody just got down watching some Bunuel films and they have some things they’d like to try. The show also relies more on spectacle than it used to, which for a show about sex crimes, gets a little iffy. For a program that uses “escalation” to discuss dangerous behavior, it seems like they should follow their own advice. Sometimes these spectacles work - like the Pablo Schreiber’s creepy serial stalker which reminds us all of chaos and broken systems (though my mother disagrees, ignoring the his return this season. I admit, I may be a bit dickmatized by Pablo Schreiber - which considering his characters, reminds me that I need to set up an appointment with my therapist).
I am television scholar. I have a PhD. I only started watching The Wire last year. I feel like the Keyser Soze of scholarship right now. It’s like studying film without having seen anything made before 1980 or saying “You know what FUCK Citizen Kane. Orson Welles can suck dese nuts!” I didn’t really care when The Wire was initially on - I was in my room watching Terror Firmer on repeat like a sicko - not watching quality television.
What kept me from watching The Wire? People who LOVE The Wire. There are those who love the show and those who are denial that the show ever ended. I was at a conference where we were discussing racial diversity on television and this dude spoke IN THE PRESENT when talking about The Wire. It had been off the air for four years. I acknowledged that it was important show - helping to usher in “quality” to television - that television had the capability of addressing institutional problems - broken politics, broken schools, racism, sexism, challenging stereotypes - but not in a “very special episode” type of way. I started watching last year, but this past two weeks I blazed through the last three seasons.
I get it. When it’s great, it’s great and even when it’s ok it’s pretty good. I can imagine watching it ten years ago and thinking “holy shit,” but starting after watching contemporary shows build off the legacy alters the viewpoint. It’s solid, but does indulge in some Sorkinesque pedantic proselytization. I also hate McNulty - the central figure from which the narrative pivots - I hate him as a character, I’m not a super fan of Dominic West (I guess… I’ll have to do more research)…and shhhhhheeeeeeeeiiiiiitttt there needs to be more hon talk and filth.
It only took a day to get through the most recent season of New Girl. I was going to watch it as it happened, but the first episode put me off that it took me awhile to get back to it. I loved the crushing that went on between Nick and Jess - mostly all things Nick I’m a fan of (because who isn’t in love with Jake Johnson. I called it after watching Paper Heart, folks…so get in the back of the line).
But the first episode this season, was a bit disappointing, mostly because it moved the narrative to surround their status as a couple. It was no longer about Jess as a individual, nor Nick as a dude, but more about their coupling. It’s just a slight difference, but one that makes the entire series’ focus shift. The series eased up a bit on their romance, though most scenarios placed stress on them, causing them to deal with it by the end of the episode, hug it out, make out, and go to bed. It also seems as if they upped the fat jokes this single and also made a caricature of Winston being a single dude. I kind of just wish he and Ferguson were just the happier ever after we wanted, though Winston and Ferguson ARE pretty much me and my cat, so perhaps this critique is mostly a knee jerk reaction for “SHUT UP, MERIWETHER AND LEAVE US ALONE.”
Their breakup by the end of the season has some potential fun for next season with whole range of awkward emotions like lingering lust, jealousy, and pretend “give a fucks” that turn to secret range. Hopefully this doesn’t lead its way into Ross and Rachel: The Millennial edition.
I’m obsessed with SZA’s Z. It came across my desk a few weeks ago and I can’t stop. It has become my 2014 staple.
From the get-go you’re positioned into a strange ethereal place - there are so many elements coming together, all familiar, but their convergence makes them strange. As a whole, the album is like walking through a dimly hallway with an array of open doors into narrative fragments. I think some may think it lacks cohesion (Pitchfork), but they’re wrong. The album and its songs need to be thought more of as part of a more significant surreal “experience” as opposed to an iTunes pleasure machine.
I find myself having kaleidoscope feelings during individual tracks. “Child’s Play” with Chance the Rapper is full of bittersweetness, but with cheeky lines (Chance’s 30s Cagney impression = A+). On one hand, the song is fully fragile. The first line “Ripping the heads off of my Barbie dolls, toss them to the side” opens up a brutal forerunner to what it means to lose love - the physical and emotional tears. The irony is there is nothing aesthetically brutal about this song; in fact, it’s full of fragility. SZA’s affected lightness, airiness combats the violence and tragedy of references to Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Othello.
The song transitions into upbeat jam (and best song of 2014 as far as I’m concerned) “Julia” - again there is contrast between the raucous, infectious dance beat with and the understated frustration of not getting what you want, when you want it, and the despondency associated with rejection.
The whole album is full of these rich and layered pieces. It doesn’t need to be full of power vocals or ridiculous overblown sentiment. Its contradictions in its instrumentation, vocals, are full of jabs, cuts, and smirks. Every time I’ve listened to this album, a different song captures my imagination, a new moment catches me and thrusts me into creative reflection as I pair images with lyrics - short scenes.
Z is reflective, self-deprecatory, and yet full of hope. I’m just full of love for this album.
My original life plan starting last August was to take one day off every week. No checking e-mail, planning lectures, grading, reading for the sake of teaching - and while it worked alright for six months fell apart pretty quickly in the New Year. A lot of it due to mismanagement of workload, but a large chunk goes to the lackluster assortment of films coming out this season. I know a bunch of people have hard ons in their twisted panties for Spider Man or Captain America, butI would rather eat farts. I did see The Grand Budapest Hotel, which made my heart aflutter in sad whimsy, but the pickings have been relatively slim. Not having an excuse to leave the house makes working a little more obligatory. “Just a moment tinkering with this presentation” turns into an entire day. Checking e-mail turns into a labyrinthian search for that movie starring that one guy who was playing that character who also checked e-mails.
After a bittersweet week of wrapping things up and entering a period of liminality, I threw a proverbial FUCK IT, and sat and watched movies all day. The only tinkering I did was with my Chinese take out order.
Bad Words (Bateman 2013)
There is something wonderful about adults treating children like shit. For that alone this film is worth seeing. Overall, the film is fine. I think it’s an attempt for Bateman to shed his recent representations as the put-upon guy - who can get mean if he wants to, but for the most part is a decent, upstanding citizen, who gets caught in the muck. His character Guy Trilby does have a redeemable quality about him cements him as moralistic in spite of his apparent amoral behavior. It also tricked me into its sentimentality. I thought it was ok, but by the end was invested in the friendship (with shades of father/son) that develops throughout the narrative.
I give it three Bad Santas
Grudge Match (Segal 2013)
Am I proud of myself? Absolutely not. I wasn’t proud of myself last year when I saw the previews and thought “Oh man…yes. YES” and even less so while I kept watching these jabronis carry on. But I’ve somewhat come to terms with the fact that I love an old person story. I’m still charmed by Grumpy Old Men AND Grumpier Old Men. I saw this film as opportunity for more grumps but this time with more Stallone’s marble mouthery. “THE SHENANIGANS!” I thought.
It’s funny how life long Pittsburghers sound like they’re from Brooklyn or Long Island. There wasn’t one “n at” or french fry salad n dat dam film.
We need to have a serious discussion about Sly’s face. What the fuck happened, gang? It looks like somebody made a face out of Velveeta, poured vodka on top, and set it ablaze. Did somebody confuse his face for a block of cheese and try to grate it for nachos?
The tone is just too much. PICK SOMETHING - it’s either got to be Grumpy Old Men fighting or Cocoon with more punching. Cut the middling bullshit. I was not full of chuckles, nor were mine eyes full of tears. I don’t care if you’ve come to terms with the fact you’re a shitty dad/dude - just beat the shit out of each other and call it a day.
It was frustrating to watch a shitty film about two old dudes who are no longer relevant, featuring actors who refuse to fucking retire (and are barely relevant). $40,000,000 was invested in this and yet films featuring complex women are left on the back burner. C’mon Hollywood, get your daddy issues in check. See a therapist like everybody else.
I give it 2 feathered haired “Gimme a Breaks”
Star Trek Into Darkness (Abrams 2013)
I saw the first part of the reboot twice in theaters. I thought it was able to balance origin stories with action, be a little cheeky, and still play with the size and scope of spectacle. I held off on the sequel. Not for any political reason, but just caught up and missed my chances. It was time to see Cumberbatch in all his villainous glory.
I know people talked pretty explicitly about the Alice Eve underpants scene, which as much as I would love to stomp my feet about don’t really care enough. Kirk is a skeaze - that’s like point #1 to his character. Also, those high cut briefs were too weird to be sexy. Unless you like thinking about your ripped grandma undressing, then you were probably hot and bothered. I was more troubled by the blatant racism from the get-go. We already knew Abrams and co replaced Kahn, played by Ricardo Montalban, with the whitest white dude to ever be white, Benedict Cumberbatch - which completely erases the implications of white imperialism of the Starfleet who “explore” and “conquer” space - already starting in questionable territory. But to start with that beginning - of “savage” “dumb” indigenous people in need of saving is full of problematics as the white people “sacrifice” themselves. Now granted, not everybody in Starfleet is white - but most of them are pretty damn white.
Also - there are so many eyerolly parts. I get that Spock/Kirk slash fiction is a thing and the idea of them kissing is something that gets folk a bit excited - but this? Jesus - just have them fuck already. This sentimental bullshit is too much as the forced sense of intimacy between two characters who are intimate negates any sense of ACTUAL care the two could have for each other. What made Kirk and Spock so great together was the SUBTEXT. You didn’t need them to dry hump to get that they were partners, best friends, soul mates. They just were.
I also thought the movie was pretty dull. I’m not quite sure if it had something to do with translating it from the big screen to the small, but as much as people were yelling, nothing really seemed to happen.
I give it 3 Shatner Chokes
A couple of unnecessary lens flares
and two “have you even kissed a girl?”s
Is it just me or has the past three year within film been chock full of daddy issues? Fathers take your sons out for more ice cream cones and pick them up after soccer (ON TIME) like you promised. I didn’t realize there was a theme to these films until all the examples of absentee, figurative, bad, and dead dads converged together into one psychotic mess. Hollywood has always had a thing about surrogate fathers, but it seems like I’ve seen more stories about how sad dudes are and how much they want hugs from their dads. I also admit that this could be the case forever, but I’m just now noticing it.
In need of a necessary shining jewel in a mediocre crown, I ended my night with
The Double (Ayoade 2013)
I have been jazzed for this film since it was first teased about a year ago. I love Ayoade’s work in television, his music videos, and his first feature, Submarine (2010) is weird and wonderful. Submarine was full of play and that transitions into full blown style in this film.
Full disclosure - I also have a weird thing for Jesse Eisenberg. I can’t explain it. I don’t quite understand it. His face is weird. He seems full of awkward. But I’d still make the beast with two backs.
There is no filler in this film. Every shot has its place and each frame is remarkable. I wanted to screen capture everything, then print them all out, and just spread them all over town: nail them on neighbor’s doors, post them on lamp posts, put them in wallet and show strangers, glue them to walls.
The film is weird and how can it not be when taken from Kafka. It’s also a great film for those invested in Ayoade (assholes like me) who find pleasure in seeing his network of folk paraded in front of them. The cast of Submarine is scattered throughout in bit parts, as are Chris O’Dowd and Chris Morris from It Crowd (and don’t you nerds think I forgot about Nathan Barley). The narrative also hit me in weird places. I was totally engorged by everything in front of me. I tell you what, the Brits killed it in 2013. Between Ben Wheatley and Richard Ayoade, British films have provided some great unsettling narratives. It got me in all the right places and at just the right times.
Several signs converged to prompt me to cut off my research regarding James Franco’s directorial ventures. The first was my father telling me how much he loved Oz: The Great and Powerful, which he reminded me, starred “my boyfriend” James Franco. The second was the hullaballoo surrounding Franco’s flirtation with a barely legal fan. I give credit to that lady. When I was seventeen if Dave Grohl offered me a ticket to Pound Town, my bags would be packed and my folks would have seen nothing but a trail of dust following my lusty ass. But that is neither here nor there.
Finding Franco: Directing Edition
Franco’s directing is much like his writing - full of concepts without any sense of “giving a shit” for emotional depth. I only watched The Broken Tower (2011), Sal (2011), Interior. Leather. Bar (2013),As I Lay Dying (2013), and his short film Feast of Stephen (2009). They were films that were relatively accessible and covered a variety of topics, most of which center on how much James Franco knows about stuff that we may not know about as if to say
oh…you haven’t heard of Sal Mineo? The other guy from that James Dean movie [who by the way I played in a tv movie…again, not to brag]? Well, let me take you on a cinematic journey
Already, his films are intellectually masturbatory, an attempt to offer new insight into people we presumably have never heard of, books we’ve never read OR a completely different perspective on how either can be represented through the magic of CINEMA
It can be somewhat easy to become lost in scenes. Broken Tower is beautifully shot and there are images that easily stand on their own (plus Franco and Michael Sheen make-out. My dream journal has once again been hacked!). As I Lay Dying nicely represents the grime and sweat of Faulkner (so I’ve heard). The problem is Franco has a hard on for experimenting with techniques which turn neat ideas into eye-rolling “give me a breaks”.
In focusing too hard on being different he forgets the point of his narratives, which are often tragic and require empathy from the audience. Sal is about the last day of Sal Mineo’s life, but we aren’t permitted to know anything about him, because this period is filmed predominantly in close-ups. Surely, there’s something arguably poetic about this, the idea that no matter how close we get we never TRULY KNOW him. I strongly doubt that was the goal.
The film remains artificial, as do the majority of Franco’s narratives, with character motivations unclear, incomplete plots, and relationships in a state of “so what? who cares?”. In Broken Tower the narrative is pieced together through moments that seem to be significant for Franco, but aren’t developed in ways that elaborate on why we should care or add to the emotional complexities of its subject, Hart Crane. While beautifully photographed, it hardly matters as nothing goes deeper than the image itself. The Kuleshov Effect can only do so much to convey a story.
As I Lay Dying employs the the split screen the whole goddamn time. The split-screen can be great in forcing the viewers to choose between competing viewpoints which leads to further contemplation regarding what it is we are experiencing and why. Doing it throughout the entire thing allows for no stability, which is fine to some extent, but in a narrative about death, family, abuse, rape, abandonment, and poverty - stylization actually detracts from representing these emotive elements. There are some directors who can tug the ol’ heart strings while being fancy with editing or mise-en-scene (Gus Van Sant, Wes Anderson, Nicolas Winding Refn, Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese - I guess list a favorite here). I’m not sure if this is an issue of style = art - that you can’t make something comprehensible that is referential AND meaningful. It’s all about the aesthetic, creating something that’s visually interesting, but this work offers nothing of value or significance. It’s like eating ice cream for every meal. It’s great at first, but leaves you cramping and pooping for days - this is perhaps the best way to describe the experience of watching a Franco film.
Perhaps reliance on style is the sign of an insecure filmmaker, one who is afraid a film without gimmicks would belie a sense of genuine emotion that if criticized would become too hurtful and personal. Much like his literature, there is a refusal to commit and put himself out there for fear of being rejected and laughed out of both art and commercial worlds. With his current trajectory he can rely on arguments that A) the audience doesn’t get his wavelengths (and if he keeps targeting 17 year old girls who don’t know better, then he’s absolutely right) B) His failure is part of a larger life piece he’s working on that audiences still don’t understand or C) trick question: there is no argument, just a shrug of the shoulders with that Cheshire grin and a moment waiting for panties to drop. Well, Carlos, nice try, but it’s not going to work this time.
But for those of you who are interested in seeing what’s trolling around in my brain, I made this for you: