Sunday, October 11, 2015

Blogging and the echo chamber

Oh, long lost blog.

My wife has started blogging at Weer All Crazee Now, the parenting blog I started for us a while back, as well as starting a food blog, YummyTummyTime, which got me thinking about blogging. I suppose that's most of why I wrote Clickbait opinions, although the thoughts have been crawling around my brain for a few weeks now.

I've meant to keep a little active in critical thinking on Letterboxd and when I started, I always wrote at least something about every entry, but I've allowed myself to get lazier and lazier even on writing a couple of quick sentences. I do still enjoy maintaining it as a record, though.

The thing is, I'm tired of opinions these days.

It all feels like calling into the echo chamber these days.

Politically, what sets this off for me is gun control. I'm really ambivalent about this issue, at least to the extent I'm concerned over it specifically, and nothing anyone says about it in the public debate is at all helpful in resolving that. In fact, quite the contrary, as I've stated elsewhere, the vast majority of what is said on both sides is utter malarkey that makes me want to disagree with them on principle.

And I basically do. My ambivalence is not borne of two sides making excellent points and me struggling to find a place where I can choose on set of logical principles over the other. My ambivalence is due to two groups of utterly brainless buffoonery shouting bullshit that means something only to them, and me staring blankly at the inanity of it all.

But, looking through those eyes, I see that's what nearly all of the public discussion is. Not just on politics, but music and movies, manners, parenting.

On some of those we choose sides in cases where sides don't matter. I love this band, so I hate this band, because somehow no one can like two bands that sound different from one another or it makes one morally superior to take either side.

We follow politics like sports, in which one "team" winning is goal, rather than all of us coming together to build a safe, prosperous community together and disagreeing on how best to go about that goal. We state our opinions not to invite people who haven't decided or who disagree to better understand our view of the world, but to swing our dicks around proudly for the people who already agree with us.

I know, one can pull the insane, divisive comments from any time period, so perhaps we are, perhaps we aren't in a worse time than any other, regardless of how it seems.

I mostly don't care. I talk like this, because I'm middle aged and that's the way we talk.

If public debate used to be better, let's try to get back to that.

If public debate has always been this uselessly shitty, let's make that one of those things we believe the world should improve on, like life expectancy and work conditions. If we're not finding a way to build safe, prosperous communities together, why would we even give a fuck if we're right or not?

That's what 5-year-olds do. They choose for nobody gets a cookie over their brother getting the bigger half.

And in that world, I'm not that interested.

If your takeaway from me offering my opinions on art, commerce and the bigger questions is only to find a list of ways I'm right and ways I'm wrong and formulate the discussion from there. If none of us are inviting each other to try to understand our views and find ways to understand the views of everyone else, then we don't really deserve safety, prosperity or community.

And I'm bored of trying right now.

Clickbait opinions

I remember ten or fifteen years ago and there was a series of controversies that opened up online about moviemakers complaining about other people's work. There were several of them, but the one I remember best is Kevin Smith complaining about Magnolia. It's worth noting I disagreed with his opinion, but there was a streak of offense that he would even do such a thing that I really didn't get. I'm just too committed to my own freedom to express myself to spend my time coming up with reasons why others shouldn't be able to, however logical they seem to other people.

Now, with everything on Facebook being cut down to the most potentially controversial thing and marketed for maximum click value, this seems to come up again and again, whether it's Quentin Tarantino on Netflix or Keith Richards on Black Sabbath.

First of all, let me say, I'm a fan of both of those dudes. I also disagree on both points.

But, here's the thing, as a single point, I don't give a fuck.

My defense of them, in both cases, is that neither called a press conference to announce this single point. They were being interviewed about a large segment of things, including their recent and upcoming projects and they expressed opinions and thoughts and facts about themselves within the context of being asked those things and gave them. Within the contexts of the whole conversations, those expressions are more generally more interesting. Opinions can reasonably vary about whether that "more interesting" adds up to being particularly interesting.

Now, Tarantino's current streak of going on about taping TV shows on VHS rather than watching through a streaming method, etc., does seem to take a little credibility away from his argument in favor of shooting and projecting movies on film, in that he comes across as a Luddite rather than an aesthete, but it doesn't matter. The Hateful Eight will make that point on its own, or maybe it won't, and that's how it should be.

For me, within the right context, I find the opinions of people interesting, regardless of whether I agree, so perhaps I dislike this trend for much different reasons than other people do. I can't imagine guys like Tarantino and Richards being shut up, but with each of these things turning into a controversy, what will that do for the instincts of future generations of talkative artists?

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Montage of heck

Kurt Cobain once wrote what might well be the most perfect rhymed couplet in popular music, "What else can I say? All my words are grey." Instead of using that on the final record, or in later live performances, he changed the second part to "Everyone is gay". Whether he was trying to piss people off, as he regularly claimed, trying to obfuscate the meaning of the lyrics, as he often did, or simply breaking off the perfection from the song to make it more jagged, less perfect, I've often wondered. There's probably a little of all of that, and I'm not sure even he ever had a real sense how that balanced out himself.

In the publicity leading up to the documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, his daughter Frances Bean Cobain gave an interview in Rolling Stone, Frances Bean Cobain on Life After Kurt's Death. It created the expected firestorm, with news outlets everywhere posting versions of the big quote, "I don't really like Nirvana that much. Sorry, promotional people, Universal. I'm more into Mercury Rev, Oasis, Brian Jonestown Massacre."

The best part is that is reports her grinning after the first statement.

Man, does that sound like something Kurt would have said.

She could have said, "I don't really like Nirvana that much. I'm 22 years old. I'm more into Vampire Weekend, Death Cab For Cutie, Mumford & Sons."

All of the old fogey alternative guys like me would have rolled our eyes and sighed, a little about how we're old and a lot about how the kids of today will never understand how much better things were when we were that age. The same thing every generation of old fogeys has said since time immemorial.

But, no, by choosing contemporaries of Nirvana, and ones considered so much less cool by the kinds of music fans who like Nirvana, she really stuck in and twisted it, didn't she?

Fuck us old fogeys! And, man, so many of us got sucked right into the trap. Just beautiful.

So, now I've seen the documentary myself. I wasn't sure if I wanted to or not. I knew I was going to, mind you, but I wasn't sure if that would be an expression of my joy or not.

The movie switches a lot between a normal talking heads documentary and chaotic montages of events and impressions. It is very much working for the same kind of approach as Nirvana's blend of catchy pop hooks and hard core punk rage. It only rarely seems to find those "Lithium" moments where it seamlessly fuses the two comfortably into something uniquely accessible and haunting. I'm not sure that means it doesn't work.

The movie definitely feels sometimes like it's breaking off its smooth edges for something more jagged, less perfect.

It does stumble a bit. I expressed how tired I am of the overuse of animation to fill in the gaps in documentaries. It's a nice idea, but it rarely works. First, most don't have the budget to quite manage what they think they're doing with them, and, second, what they're doing tends to feel a bit lazy.

Some of the animation in Montage of Heck really do work. When they sloppily animate Kurt's drawings and journals some into chaotic montages, like punk rock versions of the Gerald Scarfe animations in Pink Floyd - The Wall, that attempt to capture something about Kurt's spirit and person.

Other times, though, they used some kind of awful smoothed over Flash animation is used to recreate events that don't exist on film and those are so awful that I wanted to vomit blood in disgust at the inappropriateness of them. Yes, I believe that somewhere there are some really great storyboards for those sequences. The angles and choices made for them was solid, but the cheap, slick animation used was so slick and over-polished looking, they just grated on me. Perhaps in another Kurt Cobain documentary, they would have fit. I suspect in that one that Frances told Montage of Heck director Brett Morgan she didn't want, the mythic, romantic Kurt Cobain documentary.

Most of the time, this is the one that uses shitty looking footage of Nirvana's 1992 performance at the Reading Festival when a readily available DVD of that show, Nirvana: Live at Reading, shows that there is very clear, beautiful footage of the show. In fact, I believe most of the footage in the documentary is just roughed up versions of that, or perhaps pre-cleaned up versions of it. That footage, rough and cut tumble, feels right. It feels like the very personal, warts and all story they're telling, in a way that feels exactly right to capture the spirit of the man they're trying to tell us about. It's exactly the right decision in the same way that the animation on the flashbacks is exactly the wrong decision.

I confess, there was probably never any satisfying me in the making of this. I have my own confusing, complicated relationship with Kurt Cobain, which this only confirms and complicates. I am an old, overly self-conscious man. I know exactly how easy it is to fall into confirmation bias in seeing the commonalities with an artist one admires. It's just a matter of ignoring the similarly obvious differences. This, though, not only confirmed a lot of the ones I already knew, but exposed ones that hadn't been discussed before, or I'd never taken notice of before.

I don't know if that makes me feel better or worse about the movie, and I'm certainly not sure how I feel about the movie as a document, but it certainly has moved me in a lot of ways, which is all I could ask of it.

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