"Tomorrow" became Friday due to the nastiness that always descends upon me this time every year. The air changes, the temperature drops, and sometimes (or at least yesterday), even the atmosphere decides it's so sick and tired of remaining pleasant that it will shake-up things and cause crazy tornado/hurricane-like weather right here in the five boroughs.
Whenever there's climate change (small "c"s; local not global), my immunity system takes a holiday, and I begin my journey through the four-stages-of-Aaron's-colds. Thanks to a lot of Cold-eeze and ColdCalm plus a couple nights of Nyquil-induced sleep, I'm into stage four, which allows me to act and react with some degree of effectiveness. Along the way, I've missed press screenings for several films I eagerly wanted to see, including Olivier Assayas's five-hour-plus Carlos today. But sometimes … priorities … follow-through … all that … and here we are.
So to pick-up where I left-off on Tuesday, working harder to summarize rather than argue, more of what to expect (or not) in the coming days and weeks:
- Pausing for Podcasts: I will try to more regularly highlight some of my favorites—of which I now have many. For example, the third (and final) series of the excellent A History of the World in 100 Objects from BBC Radio 4 began appearing on Monday. Whether or not you're a history buff , each of these 10-15 minute episodes prove fascinating as they take archeological artifacts and tell the story of human and cultural development around the globe, not solely focusing on Western history at all. Most fascinating is discovering the way so many societies from Asia and South America to Africa and Scandinavia developed similar innovations and beliefs at roughly the same period in history.
The podcast as an entity has made me fall in love with radio all over again, and the best of them—Radiolab, This American Life, Sound Opinions, Backstory With the American History Guys … just to name a few—are more interesting and informative than almost anything you'll discover in any other medium. Among my regular rotation, I also regularly listen to the Slate Political Gabfest and the Slate Cultural Gabfest podcasts. On a nearly weekly basis, I tell myself I will write some sort of response or critique of the latter as inevitably some argument—generally from the pompous and dismissive Stephen Metcalf—causes me eyes to roll and the rest of me to rile. I love Dana Stevens, but too often the chasm between popular and high culture in her arguments bothers me. Julia Turner is the only member of the hosting trio who ever seems to actually understand how their more mainstream discussion topics affect the culture—popular or otherwise—at hand. We'll see if I have the patience or discipline to take-on this regular feature.
- Reality TV has been around longer than Reality TV, and not all of it is bad: I'm going to let this one remain a bit vague, but I find the general trashing of the genre now known by this misnomer quite annoying. Most people who dismiss reality television have never watched more than 15 minutes of it. They also refuse to look at it in terms of a new form of storytelling, instead getting caught-up in the annoying instant-celebrity attributed to its participants. I don’t mean to say that every reality show is great. Obviously, that is far from the case. But just as with the other broad genre markers of "comedy" and "drama," some series deserve credit for taking the form to a higher level. And in truth, while we may reflect back to the beginnings of the reality trend and note the premiere of Survivor or The Real World or even An American Family as the birth of the "genre," the truth is, "reality TV" is simply an extension of forms that have existed since before the advent of television or cinema. Ultimately, like in any genre in any medium, there is good, and there is crap; there may even be good crap and crap crap. Generally, the crap dominates the good; "crap" is easier to make than "good." We see it every day both figuratively … and literally.
- The Art of Adaptation: I've mentioned this before, but since it's been a while since I've mentioned most things, I plan to really address this now. I'm a total cinegeek for studying the differences in storytelling technique among various media. I love the subject-matter so much, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on it, utilizing Nabokov's Lolita and both film adaptations as a case-study. Recently, I've played with the idea of posting said thesis on this site, but since I haven't read it in a decade, and doing so will certainly induce extreme cringing, I remain slightly gun shy to follow-through. Besides, it's really long.
But my ultimate goal is to write a lot more about certain films—and when the opportunity presents itself, television and theater—critiquing the elements of adaptation apart from the overall quality of the film itself. For example, the Swedish versions of the first two Stieg Larsson novels are, on their own, not bad movies. They're not great either, but generally, both might satisfy audiences as entertaining, straightforward, thrillers, especially The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Noomi Rapace excels as Lisbeth Salander; maybe both films feel a bit too much like European TV which should appear on Masterpiece Mystery, but for someone who hasn't read the novels, I can see the appeal . As adaptations, though? Both films are relatively disastrous. They each focus too much on the plot-points of the overall mystery and less on what make the novels such page-turners: the complexities and relationships of its main characters. The first film completely castrates the Mikael Blomkvist character, making him virtually unrecognizable, completely reactive and often helpless.
On the other hand, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is possibly one of the best adaptations I've ever seen, and definitely a model of how to transform a series of graphic novels into a film. That's not to say it's the best movie ever; and just as I can see audiences unfamiliar with the Larsson novels enjoying the Swedish films of them, I understand why Scott Pilgrim essentially tanked at the box office even with so much positive press and word-of-mouth. That has nothing to do, however, with how well Edgar Wright told the story and captured the essence of Bryan Lee O'Malley's fantastic six part series.
People most often get confused by adjectives. A "faithful" adaptation may resemble a "literal" adaptation, but they are not the same thing. Cinema is a different language from literature, and those who speak one well may not have the same degree of fluency in the other. You want proof? Just read Nabokov's initial adaptation of Lolita, which he wrote himself for what eventually became Stanley Kubrick's film. It's terrible, and yet Nabokov was one of the greatest novelists in history. English is my first language, and yet I never expect to write anywhere near as well as this man to whom English was his, what? Third language? Fourth? But, he didn't know how to write a screenplay.
- Remakes: Arguments for and against: A film remake is really just another form of adaptation. The argument over why filmmakers choose to remake certain "properties" recurs with as much frequency and force as the annual discussions detailing why this is the worst year in film history; why Hollywood has last its imagination and can't create any new stories, as opposed to 50 to 100 years ago when there were already no new stories and a heavy dependence on remakes and literary or theatrical adaptations; or why suddenly out of nowhere there's a bedbug pandemic, utterly ignoring the last eight-to-nine years of summer headlines detailing the sudden bedbug pandemic.
Why would someone choose to remake a beloved film? Why would anyone waste time remaking a terrible movie? Personally, I believe the latter are most ripe for new attention. The Steig Larsson novels are headed for American/English-language remakes primarily for commercial reasons, but because of the filmmakers involved, I actually anticipate much more interesting films and "faithful" adaptations, even if they lack "literal" replication.
A remake always possesses the potential of becoming a valuable exercise if it presents a legitimate reason for its existence. But I find the bigger problem arrives when people—critics or otherwise—only treat said remake as a remake and not as a new work. Ultimately, this issue brings us back to why "the book is always better than the movie." We hold on to our first reception of that story. The initial storytelling experience becomes precious, and anyone's attempt to change that—especially when looking at material we enjoyed the first time—will garner extreme suspicion.
- Audience Theory and the Dilemma of Modern Criticism: The current battles among critics bore me. Publically, I'm certainly not going to take sides; and privately, I don't care that much either. The discussion regarding the death of modern criticism I also find perplexing since there is more film (and all) criticism out there than ever even though I realize the argument is an economic one. I've always been bothered by the pretentious pomposity of some of the "old guard"; I'm now as disturbed by much of the new breed too.
What I do find fascinating are the trends in criticism, or at least in film reviewing—before anyone attacks me for confusing the two where they do not overlap— and the apparent desire on the part of most people who now consider themselves critics to approach every film objectively, thinking they not only perceive every intent of the filmmaker, but have no personal bias that affects their viewing state. I'm not excluding myself: I regularly try to remain objective and separate my feelings about a movie from my critical judgment of its formal qualities. More recently, however, I have noticed a greater consciousness of the divide between the two.
- Boycott the NFL!: OK, not really. But I'm sick of the NFL hating and taking advantage of its fans. The NFL makes following one's preferred team more difficult than any other professional or college league, and the reasoning—including the economic theories—are outmoded, outdated and flat-out stupid. I wish there was a way to convince the owners that their television blackout rules and DirecTV exclusivity have only lost them money over the years, especially from fans such as me, of which I know there are many. Some sports bar owners might become disappointed if I had easier access to 49er games, but the NFL would have a loyal customer for some sort of reasonable package that did not require me to make a larger choice for satellite service I don't want..
- Revisiting 2009: Until we come around to those end-of-decade lists, I haven't noticed people returning to reexamine what they laid-down in cement as the "best of (insert any year here)." We too often arrive at these determinations with some degree of haste among a couple months of intense viewing, trying to recall those films we saw in March among the tidal wave of "prestige" releases appearing at the end of a calendar year.
My employment status will play a big role as to how well I manage this little project, but I intend to revisit my own Top 10 films of 2009, along with my runners-up and some of the titles beloved by so many others that didn't touch me in the same way. Will my choices differ? The rankings of them? I don't know. I'd like to think not, but I anticipate they probably will. A year actually isn't that long. Part of me is more interested in examining my choices for best film of 2004. I anticipate Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would remain at the top, but I have a feeling much of the rest could change. But we'll see what I get to.
- The Soapbox: I often hesitate to write too much political commentary because does anyone care? Probably not. But from the beginning of our democracy, the soapbox represented more than just a proverbial put-down. While I anticipate this blog will remain primarily focused on cultural and entertainment-oriented topics, the apathy of the last few years disturbs me to my core; yes, even including the record nationwide turnout that elected President Obama; it proves meaningless when all we hear about now is this "enthusiasm gap" because people have the political attention-span of the time it takes to read a Tweet. Few things incense me more than looking at the election returns and noticing the number of votes it takes a candidate to win—whether the race is for mayor of New York City, governor of California or senator of Delaware, Alaska or Nevada. Our system may be broken in part because the combined votes required for the candidates in those three states will likely total less than the loser in California or New York will receive running for a seat that affords them the exact same say within the upper chamber of our "representative" democracy. However, the issue is only exacerbated due to the reality that such a small percentage of the eligible voting population actually goes to the ballot box and participates, and an even fewer number takes the time to learn about the issues and candidates beyond maybe listening to the propaganda spouted by both sides.
That wraps up the miscellany for now. Next week, I plan to bring Out of Focus a bit more into focus, but as with everything involved in my resumption of this endeavor, I'm going to follow the inspiration wherever it takes me, with no promises to get in my way.
Wishing all my tribemates an easy fast (if you're into that kind of thing) and a good Yom Kippur. To my goyfriends, happy weekend!