[Yes, it's been a while, hasn't it? Apologies - things became quite busy. But I live.]
I don't normally do holiday-themed posts — so many other people do a far better job of it, it seems — but this time around I thought I'd take a moment to post my own take on a discussion held elsewhere about the horror films that really worked for you as game-changers and formative experiences.
M. I recently rewatched Fritz Lang's movie (thank you, Criterion and NetFlix) and saw much in it that I missed the first time around. Not hard since the first time I saw it was literally decades ago, and having seen that many more movies between then and now not only showed me how influential the film had been but how restrained filmmaking seems to be on the way out. Silence, distance, contemplation — the very things that help create the most primal dread and terror — are being replaced by loud, fast shocks. When was the last time you saw a movie where not a whole lot happened on the surface but you were uneasy for days after you saw it? M did that to me, and also introduced me to Peter Lorre (funny that the next movie I should see with him in it was The Maltese Falcon), who all by himself is reason enough to see the film. He presents us with a serial killer not in the Nietzschean superhero mold, but in a coldly unromantic way — as a frightened man lashing out pathetically at the rest of the world, killing children as a way to stitch up his ragbag ego. That is far more horrifying than any ten Jigsaws.
Videodrome. "It's against pornography, but it's also against the people who are against pornography." That was the explanation provided to me by a friend the first time I saw Cronenberg's amazing sleeper of a film. I was 19 at the time; he, 20; and while my understanding of the film has widened a great deal since then, that formula still seems valid. It was the first truly modern horror film I'd seen, where the danger was not a masked killer with a knife or a monster in the closet, but pieces of the fabric of modern life itself: TV, the media, mass communication, mega-corporate concerns, and most of all the ideas that drive all those things. "It has a philosophy," says one of the main characters, in reference to the clandestine satellite broadcasts that form the movie's main plot point. "That's what makes it dangerous." And in what other movie are you gonna see James Woods being turned into a human VCR?
Kwaidan. Sometimes the atmosphere matters more than the meaning, and Kwaidan is all about the feelings of cosmic disquietude conjured up by its four classical Japanese folk tales. If nothing else it stands as a masterpiece of production design, with giant indoor sets that gave the whole thing a deliberately stagy and phantasmagorical sheen. (The same approach is found in Jigoku, which I saw far too late to be on this list but which could have been just as influential.) The last story in the cycle remains open-ended, as a way to remind us all the more that with horror, sometimes a meaning is not needed — just an aesthetic.
Back from New York Anime Comic Con Fest Mashup Thing Event.
Impressions: They might have been better off just formally abandoning any "Anime Fest" description and just slotted in anime-themed programming generally. The end result here was that the anime side of things felt terribly marginalized. Not that they weren't fun or well-attended, but the arrangement was jarring compared to last year.
I hope NYAF gets its own separate show again next year, but my sixth-and-a-half sense is telling me they're more likely to drop the NYAF label entirely.
Most of the stuff in the show proper will be discussed over at About.com when my site goes live.
Tom Shales, Washington Post TV columnist, hits on the reason why TV seems to have bottomed, or rather flattened out:
... the very concepts of "good" and "bad" in the arts and communications are now deemed obsolete. Movies and TV shows just "are" and have been fashioned for consumption by various essentially undemanding constituencies.
TV and movies, both, but one could contrive an argument that just about any entertainment that exists seems to have fallen into this hole.
I've long tried to keep the perspective that niches are inevitable, that a world like this encourages that many more niches to flourish, and that in every niche there will be good things, mediocre things, and barrel-bottom-scrapers. I speak from an admittedly prejudiced perspective: Merzbow (niche of a niche) and anime (niche of a niche) and so on.
But I have to remind myself, and by extension others, of something. The best test of the quality of something as it exists in a given category is how well it transcends the limits of that category. That by itself is an argument for true quality, and not just for satisfying the requirement of a given niche. It's why I tried to talk about something like A Drunken Dream in terms of comic art generally, and not just "shojo". With something that good, you don't want to put a label on it if you can help it.
There is little enough modern literature from South Korea in translation that any new book at all is worth paying attention to. I am not sure how much Young-Ha Kim’s I Have The Right to Destroy Myself reflects what’s going on in that country’s literary scene right now, or if it’s even wise to assume one can reflect the state of the other. What I do know is that while not being a great book, I Have The Right is interesting enough on the face of it to make me want to read another Young-Ha Kim novel.
The unnamed narrator of Right is hard enough to pin down. On first reading, it seems that he’s a kind of assisted-suicide agent: he puts cryptically-worded ads in the papers that allow the suicidal to gravitate towards him. He does not kill them himself, but provides them with all the justification they need to complete the act. People are surprised by what he turns out to be, but as he says — no less cryptically — “Nobody really knows much about a god.” On a second reading, I came to believe the narrator is nothing less than a personified version of the suicidal impulse itself — a savage god, to borrow Al Alvarez’s term from his own book about suicide. Right’s narrator talks about death in the same way Yukio Mishima did — as a great artistic summing-up, a pruning-away of the dead wood to produce the real meaning of one’s life. Read more