Once more, with style

I’ve been paying attention to the usual suspects who crop up on the various top ten movie lists I’ve posted here. And indeed the very silly amount of times I’ve done so has proven to be something of a boon in that the regularities say something about the salient features of the medium for me.

Movies are supposed to be “immersive.” You’re not supposed to be conscious of the fact that you’re watching a movie while you’re watching one – you’re supposed to be totally involved, with the sound and image in a theatrical setting completely dominating your field of view and aural sense of place. Usually, when you do become self-conscious during a movie, it’s because something has gone wrong: the acting is bad, or the special effects are off; something has happened to break the illusion. But a lot of the movies that pop up on my lists are movies that in some manner call attention to their very artifice, to the fact that they have a ‘surface’, so to speak.

Which goes a good way to explaining why, say, Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch movies annoy a lot of people: they are in some respects actually bad movies, at least in terms of what I’ve described above. The experience is a little bit like reading a book or looking at a painting. You can, of course, aim for extreme realism in a painting, but the viewer is always aware of the frame and canvas, and needs to actively bring herself to imaginitively engage with it.

I wonder how far this notion can be stretched: you could make the case that the reason I prefer traditional 2D to 3D animation is how 2D much more explicitly has a surface, and that the reason why three strip Technicolor is my favourite kind of colour is because it seems more painted than real.

My theory isn’t too surprising, given how I typically prefer more stylized forms of art, but I guess it’s kinda neat to arrive at this conclusion in a more inductive manner.

Anyway, let’s do this.

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Talkin’ about French comics

 

Blending in with the locals

Of course, just when I kvetch about having difficulty finding what I want in comics, I immediately get smacked in the face by something amazing: The Incal. I’m still early on in the graphic novel, but so far it’s making a serious bid for being an immediate favourite. It’s a French comic which ran through the 80s, and along with Valerian it’s making a strong case for the Gallic contribution to sequential art.

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Talkin’ about comics

One of things fueling my desire to try my hand at comics is how they annoy me. I don’t mean the medium itself, but rather how much harder it is, compared to other media, for me to find those works that really feel tailor-made for me. Tolkien or some other author said that he started writing because no one else was writing the kind of books he wanted to read, and I understand the sentiment. “Produce the content you want to see” is a motivator in and of itself.

But anyhow, these are some comics I’ve really enjoyed.

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The Spiriting Away of JoshW — Beneath the Tangles

A couple years ago I started writing about Miyazaki movies here. Now I’ve gotten around to Spirited away at Beneath the Tangles.

Forgive me for having completely obvious taste, but Spirited Away is my favourite anime movie. More than that, it’s in the running for my favourite movie of all time, and if I had to pick just one animated flick that you absolutely had to watch, there’s a good chance I’d choose it over all those…

via The Spiriting Away of JoshW — Beneath the Tangles

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Sighs

Writing a review or analysis of Suspiria feels almost like an effort in futility, not just because of how much has already been published about it within horror and cult movie circles, but also (and primarily) because of how it feels designed to baffle the attempt to describe the peculiar experience of watching it. Thus it has taken considerable time and effort to untie my tongue here, but at least the delay has had the benefit of making this a seasonally appropriate post.

Anyway, I’ve long, long heard people talk about Dario Argento’s little 1977 horror flick, usually in reference to all the buckets of blood that get spilled. But no one bothered to tell me that it was one of the last films to be made in three-strip Technicolor process, that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was in particular studied when it came to implementing the colour design, and that it was set at a ballet academy. I would have been all over this thing a decade ago, had I known. Priorities, people!

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Weird personal post don’t read

So I’m making a comic book.

Recent experiences have impressed upon me a couple of needs: the need for my art to have a focus if it is to avoid hitting a plateau, and the need for myself to have a focus, if I’m going to keep my head straight. That backbone of purpose has been provided by academic work for much of my adult life, but the well seems to be finally running dry there.

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Uncanny valley

The short story is that I’ve been doubling down on the really artsy-fartsy stuff recently, which I’ve found has eaten away a lot of the time, effort and inclination that has gone towards blogging. I hope that eventually a new blogging rhythm will emerge out of this. But in the meantime, for the sake of proving there’s still an (irregular) pulse here, I’ll continue my recent discussions and defences of pop sci-fi curios with Steven Spielberg’s frequently underrated movie, A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

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Space oddity

I’ve probably said it before, but one of the big threats to modern blockbusters these days is the curse of being ‘ok’, where the major studios have honed the art of producing the sort of entertainment which feels good going down while being bland and homogenized enough to not leave any significant impression. But at this point in my life, spending the time and money to plan an evening out watching something mildly diverting is something that I increasingly find isn’t worth the effort. The price of that movie ticket could go towards a good book, for instance.

Luc Besson’s Valerian doesn’t have this sort of focus group fiat feel. It is bad in ways that, for instance, a Marvel movie would have sanded over. But as spectacle it’s also far more inventive and singular than those movies typically are. Admittedly, though, a big part of my goodwill towards it comes from its earnest desire to channel classic space opera, which is something you don’t see very often. Given that we are promised a constant stream of new Star Wars movies, while Marvel itself has been cranking out those Guardians of the Galaxy flicks. But while the original Star Wars was the product of a man who had read golden era sci-fi, modern Star Wars and its brethren are largely the product of people who have watched Star Wars. The only other film in recent memory to feel like an actual space opera was Jupiter Ascending, and I seem to be one of the five or six people who actually loved that movie. That, combined with how Valerian has tanked at the box office seems to be proof that my taste in popcorn cinema seems to be at complete loggerheads with what the moviegoing public wants.

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Turning to more important subject matter…

To my shame and discredit I haven’t talked much about sci-fi books lately, so let’s rectify that by talking about Gabe Hudson’s Gork, The Teenage Dragon, a book I picked up almost solely on the concept alone: a romantic comedy centered around planet-conquering dragon warlords. I am so the target audience for that kind of schlock. Granted, Hudson skews the material along teen comedy lines where I would have tried to pen something more Austenian. But I guess a reptillian Lizzie Bennet is perhaps too much to ask.

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Crime and punishment

Time for another David Lynch review! This time jumping back to 1997.

Lost Highway is a frustrating movie. Like Psycho, it spends its first act being one kind of movie before taking a sudden sharp turn into becoming something completely different. But unlike Psycho, the movie it transforms into is much worse than what you were previously watching.

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