Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: Chocolate

Ahem, I'm two years late on this one. But, if Walter Benjamin's taught me anything, it's that mechanically reproduced media exist outside of historical place and time, so I don't have to care that this was a movie that came out two years ago. Or something like that. Let's call it the idiot unconscious.

Anyway, if you like martial arts movies, you need to get your hands on Chocolate immediately.


I'm not necessarily an expert on martial arts movies, but I know a guy who is, and he's been my personal Yoda for a while here, so I think I can speak with a certain credibility.

The genius of Chocolate is in its synthetism. Apparently, blogger doesn't think synthetism is a word, but I'll be damned if it isn't.

Anyway, the basic plot of the movie is a bit saccharine. Our heroine (Ahem, heroine in a martial arts movie? Even recent greats like Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi aren't given this kind of top-billing, usually dropped in with an ensemble or secondary to male leads.) has autism, a particular variety that allows her to absorb fighting styles simply by observing them optically. It's a hell of a talent, one that I really would like. Beyond my present mastery of the crane style, of course. So, she's got this great skill, which comes in particularly handy because her mother has cancer and needs the treatment. So, our heroine, Zen, and her slightly husky-pants friend Moom embark on a collection campaign, hoping to reclaim debts owed Zen's mother by a whole load of generally shady guys that were part of her past, a past that included defying her clan and falling for Zen's father, a (gasp!) Japanese Yakuza. Wouldn't be a problem if Zen's mom wasn't Chinese. But, of course, being of Chinese descent seems to be rather useful if called to martial arts heroics.

All of this Hallmark card pathos doesn't really matter, except that it provides the backdrop for a story much in line with the enforcer/debt-collector topos of martial arts and western films. Well, except that our enforcer is autistic, hardly speaks, and really can't be much older than about 14 or 15.

Lucky for us all, she is one of the best martial artists I've seen in a while.

And, even more lucky for us, the director, writers, and cinematographer know their history.

Classic en masse henchmen ass kickings and boss battles? Check.

Multiple styles? Check, including one of the best scenes I've seen since the Drunken Boxing in Jackie Chan's Drunken Master series. Zen and a Japanese kid in a gold and black Adidas break-dancing sweatsuit square off in a monkey-style pas de deux. Not only is it an amazing vision of monkey style, but the nod to breakdancing is both obvious and knowing.

Jackie Chan style prop and architecture fighting? Check, with a freakishly amazing scene on and around the facade of a building, street signs, a train trestle, and street level. All at once, in a single scene. And this doesn't even begin to explain the slaughterhouse scene, which can't be described as anything less than a paradigm shifter.

And, for those of you new to the genre, it's even got that hilarity and self-parody that Kung-Fu Hustle had in spades. Less slapsticky, but still self-referential. Who knew that martial arts films were in their pomo phase?

You need to see this pronto.

Absolutely my martial arts film of the year. Or 2008. Whatever.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Me, Humiliating Myself Publicly. Again.

I'm DJing the below opening.

Dwayne Butcher: “Forget What You Know, this is Dwayne”

Friday, April 9, 2010
6:00pm - 9:00pm
Motamedi Gallery
500 South Second Street
Memphis, TN

Come for the art, which will be great. Much better than the DJ, who intends to play lots and lots of Ted Nugent. Or not. You'll have to come to the opening to find out.

Metal at the End of the World: Appunti per una storia

Let it be known.

I intend to write a book on metal.

See, this past Wednesday, it turns out that two movements of the universe played into my favor.

First, I say the Exodus/Testament/Megadeth 20th Anniversary Rust in Peace tour the night before.

If you need a review, you probably haven't ever listened to any of the bands in question. The only complaint I have is that Testament played the whole of The Legacy instead of the whole of Souls of Black. That's sort of like saying, gee, I wish we'd've won the Super Bowl by more.

Anyway, then, Wednesday, it turns out that the cord that connects the computer to the digital projector in the classroom in which I teach was crushed by some misfortune and thus not working.

So, like any good academic, I improvised and lectured at my students about Benjamin, Barthes, and Megadeth. I was sort of mindblown on the larger cultural significances of going to see Megadeth, absent two original members, playing the whole of an album live that had been released 20 years earlier. I feel like I did a pretty decent job at it and may have created at least one more metalhead amongst America's vulnerable youth. Everyone wins.

I kind of wish someone would break that cord again, but don't tell my boss I said that.

Lecturing about metal is lots of fun.

Thus the book, which is currently a figment of my imagination. In fact, I looked on the ol' amazon.com today and realized that there is actually a nice body of literature out there. Author's note: that's what academics say instead of using normal phrases like "there's a lot of books."

What this means really is that I have no idea if someone has already talked about what I want to talk about, so this may all go belly up. But that's the risk of academia, right? Someone's probably said something similar already. But I'm still hoping to contribute. Right after I manage to figure out when I'm going to have the time to not be a specialist in 20th century Italy.

Anyway, just in case you're a book publisher or grant giver, here is the tentative table of contents. I've made some pretty corny titles out of some of these, so forgive me. In no particular order...

-Apocalyptic City: Politics and Metal at the End of the Cold War

-Roots, Bloody Roots: Sepultura and Post-Colonial Metal

-Metal's Constructed Masculinities, or Why Dave Mustaine had to take His Shirt Off

-The Benjaminian Nostalgia of the Rust in Peace Anniversary Tour

-Metal's Classical Instincts: Anti-Simplicity and Anti-Punk

Review: Marlene Dumas @ David Zwirner

The Wall 2009

Marlene Dumas
March 18-April 24 2010
David Zwirner
533 West 19th St.

Well, it's official. I don't hate Marlene Dumas anymore. For years, I've been hearing about her work and seeing the stuff everywhere. Consequently, I blocked it out, victimized by oversaturation and what I thought was a disproportionate excitement over works that struck me as mostly insipid and self-indulgent.

Dumas, like contemporaries Elizabeth Peyton, John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage, and Michael Borremans, paints pictures of people doing things.

Of course, Currin and Yuskavage like to paint people doing slightly titilating things. Like touching tit or tweaking the teats of those with tits. Each, to their credit is odd enough to make the tit tweaking actually tittilating. Currin's figures are squirmy and Mannerist, like Kate Moss, except curiously pretty instead of peculiarly creepy. And Yuskavage's works look like a cotton candy machine on full tilt, so they're fun, if nothing else. And, both can move paint with the best of them.

Peyton, too, who seems to have built a career on painting pictures of people that our collective cultural memory deems important. They're usually doing important people things, like smoking or walking around, so important people doing important people things apparently makes for important paintings. Or dull, were it not that Peyton actually does wonderful things with her materials. Ultimately, we get interesting paintings of interesting paint depicting uninteresting people doing uninteresting things. So we break even.

Borremans is about the same to me. Interesting painter, uninteresting people. And, bless his heart, he looks sort of like a poor man's Luc Tuymans to me, which is the kiss of death, because Tuymans is one of the better painters working today and has maintained a level of consistency that makes the rest of the bunch look like dabblers and dilettantes. But Booremans isn't all bad, and tends to be worth the time.

Dumas was about one show away from being lumped in with the rest of them until this most recent show at Zwirner. Total redemption.

Now, this can't be understood without a nod to the 2008-09 MoMA semi-retrospective Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave. Poor Dumas really did get the short end of the stick, with her exhibition running in parallel with MoMA's Miro retrospective. Sort of like watching me shoot hoops with LeBron. Anyway, the PR for the exhibition says it all: "Dumas merges themes of race, sexuality, and social identity with personal experience and art-historical antecedents to create a unique perspective on important and controversial issues of the day." Notwithstanding a worthy and honorable curatorial intention, this is code for "blah blah blah." Or, translated into another over-art historicized English, Dumas makes paintings that suit the omnivorous sado-parasitism of our contemporary media culture. Unfortunately, much like the text, the paintings didn't say much beyond what they were. The paintings were bland, the show was bland, and I left wondering why I'd been guilted into caring about Dumas at all.

Then, I saw the Zwirner show. I like being wrong. Dumas is, in fact, a very strong painter. She seems currently possessed of a fixation on dry application and brushwork that barely sketches the essential elements of any form. And, thankfully, her subject matter has visibly matured, engaging the complex politics of the Middle East, Israel/Palestine in particular.

The Wall is a great one. More or less, compositionally inert, the painting is made of two competing sets of five verticals, one of people, one of the slabs that make up the Wailing Wall. The whole thing is sublimely self-reflexive, a picture of people standing in front of a wall, for people standing in front of a wall looking at a picture hung on a wall. The explicit rectilinearity of things--mostly the perpendicularity of our gaze in relation to the mirrored parallels of the painting, the Wailing Wall, and the gallery wall--stabilizes the composition and reminds me of the depth of tradition of pictures of people looking at pictures. Struth's museum photographs, Rockwell's art critic, they're both in there. It's wonderful stuff, implicitly Modernist in its perpetual flatness and beligerently contemporary in the frozen temporality with which it depicts a recurrent ritual occurring at one of the great palimpsests of both history and politics. Man Watching is much the same, the great repoussoir of the Road Map.

Under Construction swivels the picture plane ever so slightly, implying an eternity of expansion, the infinity of time displaced by the Israeli security fence, that blemish of the now on the land through which our collective history must pass.

Mindblocks was probably my favorite, something a bit Ernstian in its stacked masses and faux-decalcomania. What were once the citadels of Ernst's own apocalyptic imagination are replaced by an insistently mundane stack of stones, blocking a road, probably the one from that Map. The grim inevitability of the present is lost within the diversity of her paint applications, a strange paradox that allows our refuge in the autonomy of abstraction while always reminding us of its connectedness to contemporary events. Painting and politics: never the twain shall not meet.

Go to the site. Read the titles, linger over the word play, consider the truth of which they speak, both political and painterly.

Dumas has done something quite magisterial with this exhibition. She has made paintings that are wonderful to look upon. She has made paintings that are wonderful to think about. She deserves much credit. We should all start paying attention.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Point of Order: Civilization, For the Ladies

Attention members of the fairer sex.

I've already pilloried the guys for this, but now it's your turn.

I realize that public restrooms are often not the most sanitary places.

And, I realize, that as the more evolved of our species, you have developed the ingenious and admittedly more sanitary "squat" technique.

But, ladies, since we all know that intelligence and beauty come at the expense of aim, let me ask the following.

After you have finished, please leave the restroom as clean as possible for the rest of us.

Some of these restrooms are universal.

Maybe I'm a bit precious, but I don't like to walk into a loo that looks like a monsoon has just passed through.

You think you're grossed out, dear reader? Imagine how I felt.


A Lenten Prophet

Well, here we are, somewhere close to Easter. I've never been anything but a half-assed Catholic. Frankly, other than supporting the Fighting Irish and thinking that Saints Francis and Anthony are pretty cool, I'm mostly a whole-assed Catholic.

But, I was out for lunch yesterday with some pals from the 215 and we got to talking about giving things up for Lent. See, every year I give up Lent for Lent. I relieve my soul of some excess blemishing and the Holy See gets its tribute. Everyone wins.

Somehow, we got to talking about indulgences, and I realized that we need to give Elvis just a little bit more credit.

We've already heard about the rock n' roll thing and the amazing style and the photo-ops with Nixon and so forth.

But I'm convinced that Elvis needs to be given additional credit for being the prophet of the American apocalypse.

For Trinitarian reasons.

See, Elvis, in all of his glory inaugurated what I would like to call the trinity of American doom.

And, in true Kingly fashion, did it alliteratively.

So, for this Lenten season, at least for a moment, I would submit that we might replace faith, hope, and charity with fried food, pharmaceuticals, and firearms.

In celebration of the King of Kings.

All praises due.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

One Hell of a Good Idea

Just found out about this, which I think is really a great idea, particularly since so many of my friends and colleagues are right in the midst of the breeding eras of life.

I have a friend from New Jersey who has started a company called Baby Baubles and More which takes your old baby clothes and other child-related fabrics and turns them into quilted Christmas ornaments and other baubles (fig. 1).

This is such a cool idea.

As soon as I can figure out where I've hidden my Underoos, game on.


So, there are some rumors that the Super Bowl, that most sacred of events, may be held in the new J-E-T-S/Fools in Blue stadium, which, as you should all know by now, is actually in the great state of New Jersey.

People are belly aching and baby crying about this already.

Might I offer the following counterpoint?

Do you like how I ask, even though I'm doing it already? I mean, this isn't like, "Ahem, so sorry, but I'm going to have to remove your spleen with chopsticks."

Anyway, what the hell kind of world are we coming to?

Football in the snow is how the Universe intended it.

Ask anyone who cares about the Packers, the Bills, the Steelers, the god-forsaken Patriots.

Hell, even those apostates at the University of Michigan know what I'm talking about.

Football in the snow is what separates the wheat from the chaff.

If you aren't tough enough to bring your long underwear, your three layers of gloves, your hand warmers, and your flask, you don't deserve to be at the game. F'real.

And, teams, if you're such a bunch of weenies that you can't trust your front five, your running backs, and the timing of your timing routes, you don't deserve to be playing in the game. And that's fo sho.

I demand that the Super Bowl be played in a snowstorm. I demand that we return God's game to Lambeau, where it deserves to be, or to any other stadium so close to inclement weather.

It rains in Miami all the time. Are these guys so soft that they're afraid of its frozen cousin?

Look what Tom Brady did to the Titans this past year.

59-0. Six touchdown passes. Five in one quarter.

In one of those verdammte Massachussetts blizzards.

You can't do that?

You don't deserve the Lombardi.

Strap it on, gentlemen. This is football, not pick-up stix.

Point of Order: Civilization

Might I offer the following?

If you are in line at a store, a coffee shop (as I just was), or anywhere else in the universe...

And someone in front of you in line finishes their transaction and moves to find a table...


Honestly, this is far beyond my usual fussiness concerning personal space and the demise of manners.

I know a guy who knows a guy who, in order to make the point that car motorists should share the road with bicyclists, built himself an armored cage with protruding metal spikes that would attach to his bicycle when he rode the road.

I'll go borrow me one of those Gwar outfits if I have to, but GET OUT OF THE WAY!

And, if you must be on the phone, use your Church voice. Your inside voice is still too loud.

And turn the volume on your phone down below Armageddon level.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Un Mystere.

I just had to do one of those "type these word" verification things, and it was "1972 misdeed."

I wasn't even alive in 1972.

But now I'm intrigued.

The End of Days

I may be losing perspective.

My phone has the internet and I was on it earlier killing time, which is exactly why having the internet on your phone is worth every penny it costs.

And on the homepage, in what they are calling "Odd News," was a story about the price of Chicken Wings going up.

I don't think the people at my phone internet news company understand.

This is not odd news.

This is a major crisis.

If we can't get wings, what the hell are we supposed to eat?

In other sort of hard to believe chicken wing news, to be sure that this really happened, I Googled "yahoo odd news chicken wings," and the first thing up returned "Bandits rob delivery man of chicken wings in Georgia." The same return involved the news "Panda found eating like a pig."

A Refutation of Intelligent Design

Now, before somebody gets things all out of whack, and threatens me with excommunication or burning at the stake or one of those tea bag rallies, let's pause for a moment and remember the following.

I don't doubt the existence of a supreme power. But I'll bet it isn't a white guy with a beard.

I don't doubt the theory of evolution. But, most days, I think being a monkey would come with less hassle, so neither am I convinced by its implications of betterment.

But I've been watching a lot of the Tudors these days, so I'm sort of back on my heresy bandwagon, and I thought I'd touch on the topic of intelligent design.

I have nothing against intelligent design.

In fact, I really like El Lissitzky.

But, if this design is so intelligent, explain me the following.

Why, if this design is so intelligent, is it that the aforeimplied intelligent designer decided that it would be wise to design the human finger such that the pain of smashing it accidentally will linger for hours afterwards?

If this design is so intelligent, why are my fingers so fragile?

And why were they put in a place that is so easy for me to smash?

Not really that intelligent if you ask me.

Omnipotentus hic null disegnator intelligentus est.

I made that up, but I figure a little Latin will at least keep the Catholics at bay.