Reading the Comments

Yeah, I know that it’s something of a rule of thumb to not read the comments underneath pretty much anything posted anywhere on the internet but sometimes it can be utterly hilarious. A fine example of this is the recent post on Io9 about the new Ghostbusters movie and one of the first photographs of the new team in their uniforms -complete with Ecto-1 behind them.

CJk7RsLWUAAZg1K

I saw the post on Farcebook and some of the comments were absolute gems. For example:

leave my childhood alone

I’m not quite sure how Hollywood is interfering with this guy’s childhood -well, any more than it already has done by promoting harmful stereotypes and so on- but if someone in Hollywood actually has invented a time machine then they really are wasting it by using it so.

gay rambo

You know what, I think Ivan might actually be onto something here. Why not all of those things?

fat ghostbuster

Because aye, the original 1980/90s Ghostbusters were the picture of health…

And then we have this corker.

disservice to feminism

Cheers bro, good story. I suppose women playing football or being doctors or doing anything beyond being housewives and whores does a disservice to feminism too?

neck beard is strong

^^^Got it in one.

In between the whining fuckboys, and the large amount of people laughing at them it has to be said, were a few people who did seem to be simply complaining about the plethora of Hollywood reboots and ‘reimaginings’. These people do have a point albeit a small and fragile one that they probably shouldn’t really be getting out in public- and it is true that there are at present rather a lot of retreadings of old ground by the movie industry. However this has, pretty much, always been the way of things. Stories have always been told and retold -tweaked for new audiences and even completely rewritten. I wonder if there were any neck bearded Greeks complaining about Virgil’s rebooting of Homer’s epic when he wrote the Aeneid? There probably were tbh…

It can be frustrating to see rehashes of films that don’t need remaking when there are so many cracking indy films being produced that could really do with having some Hollywood money thrown their way. Still, there have been some great reboots recently such as the new Planet of the Apes films, Carrie, and The Evil Dead (without which we probably wouldn’t have the new Ash vs. The Evil Dead series which is being released this year). Sure there have been some completely terrible films such as the Robocop remake but, for the most part, the reboots that I have seen have been fun to watch.

Also, these remakes and so on are able to remould older classic stories to make them suit a more modern audience. I’m not sure how many of those complaining will remember but the past, even the recent past, was a fucked up place with rampant sexism -outright misogyny in places, racism, homophobia and all manner of other barbarous bigotries proudly on display. I’m not saying that those things don’t exist now but things are most certainly better than they were. Those who know me, or who read my occasional wittering on this blog, will know that I’m something of a fan of HP Lovecraft. Now we all know what a cock he was with regards his racism but I still love his writing. As much as I love it I still find it off-putting when I come across his talking about ‘lesser races’ and referring to people in rather despicable terms. I wouldn’t want to have this stuff erased from HPL’s work but I am glad that the majority of those who have taken his mythos and who have written works inspired by it have, for the most part, not been massive racist dick bags. Their work is based on HPL’s work but it is thankfully sans his bigotry. There are also people who write work based on his mythos that are completely different in prosaic style and setting -there are even people who write Lovecraftian work featuring black and female protagonists! Oh the horror!

It therefore has to be kept in mind that this is not a remake of the original 1980s film and the plot seems quite different from what little has been revealed.

Erin Gilbert (Wiig) and Abby Bergman (McCarthy) are a pair of unheralded authors who write a book positing that ghosts are real. A few years later Gilbert lands a prestigious teaching position at Columbia University, but her book resurfaces and she is laughed out of academia. Gilbert reunites with Bergman and others when ghosts invade Manhattan and she and her team have to save the world.

~wikipedia

So this is a different film with different characters and a different story. I really don’t see what the issue is. Unless that it that the people complaining are just a bunch of man babies who don’t want to get girl cooties on their toys.

For good measure, and because everybody loves lists, here are some reboots, reimaginings, and remakes that have been pretty damn cool in recent years (in no particular order).

Battlestar Galactica
Star Trek the Next Generation
Star Trek Deep Space Nine
Star Trek (the new movie)
Star Trek into Darkness
Carrie
The Evil Dead
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Sherlock
Elementary
Doctor Who
Stargate
Stargate Atlantis
Stargate Universe
Dawn of the Dead
The Grudge
Ocean’s 11
Every Robin Hood film made since 1912
I am Legend

Yeah, I’m really sick of having all these ace things to watch…

What does get my goat though is when non-English language films get remade in English because apparently people won’t read subtitles. Fuck those people.

Watch This: Urban Ghost Story (1998)

I do love me some supernatural horror -not werewolves, vampires, and the like but I do like a good ghost story. I love ghost stories, I think, because I am such a rationalist and the presence of ghosts is probably the greatest of the ruptures with the real that we see in the supernatural horror canon -certainly more so than the other traditional monsters that we see stalking the pages and screens of the genre.

There is however one thing that has repeatedly bugged me about ghost stories and films and that is the class of the people who are, usually, affected by the supernatural events. It isn’t true in 100% of cases but there does seem to be a preponderance of upper middle class people affected by things that go bump in the night. It is almost as if regular working class people are immune to the attentions of the dearly no-quite departed. I know that there are exceptions to this but they are exceptions and exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis eh?

What confuses me about the lack of working people in supernatural horror films is that the economic situation of working class people is such that fleeing from the horror isn’t even remotely an option -or is at least going to be far more difficult that it is an automatic source of tension and conflict.

I’m not sure how much of this is a hangover from the Gothic tale and the works of M.R. James but I do much prefer a story where I can relate somewhat to the life experiences of the characters and to the non-supernatural troubles that they face.

As I said, there are some exceptions to this. One exceptional exception is the 1998 BBC film Urban Ghost Story.

The story follows the events following the joy riding accident that nearly kills the 12 year old protagonist and does kill her equally young friend. Twelve year old Lizzie lives with her Mum and younger brother in a small flat in a Glaswegian high rise. After the accident strange things start happening and Lizzie’s mother, Kate, does her best to try and protect her daughter from events but she is hampered by her economic position and all the generally shitty things that we have to deal with on a daily basis.

It is a beautifully bleak film which does a great job of capturing at least some of the reality of life for working people in the UK and uses that reality to further problematise the supernatural troubles that beset the family. There are one or two problems with the film -the reinforcing of the myth of young working class women getting pregnant simply to get a council flat is a glaring one- but on the whole it is a brilliant example of a working class ghost story.

It hasn’t been on television for about five years -which is no surprise as it looks like it was filmed on video and so maybe wouldn’t appeal to those who expect everything in HD- but it is available on DVD and, I’m sure, it will be available somewhere like the Pirate Bay. If you get the chance to watch this I highly recommend doing so. 🙂

Comics Cause Cultural Catastrophe – CRISIS!

Amazing Alliteration Adored by All. 😉

Simon Pegg was interviewed by the Radio Times recently -an interview in which he discussed his concern about the infantilisation of culture caused, or reflected, by the popularity of American superhero films.

[…]part of me looks at society as it is now and thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. We’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

“It is a kind of dumbing down because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys. Now we’re really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.” (The Independent)

Now; whilst I do believe that we are seeing an increasing infantilisation of culture, at least in the anglophone world, I think that this has more to do with the steady creep of a trend with American culture which has been seeping outwards thanks to the internet and the dominance of the American cultural voice in that medium -exploring that isn’t the purpose of this post though. What Pegg seems to be saying here is that it is the practice of the culture that has formed around the comic book/superhero genre which is causing the infantilisation of culture. I really don’t think that this is the case; I think that Pegg is here putting the cart before the horse -the popularity of superhero films and comics I think reflects the way in which cultural production -in Hollywood at least, churns out lightweight escapist material at times of great social tension or unease. Of the top ten grossing films in the US during the 1980s, another time of heightened social tension, nine are fantastical and the tenth, Beverly Hills Cop, is a comedy (LINK). In fact if we look at the charts reported then we see that films incorporating the fantastic show up repeatedly in every decade’s top grossing films -right back to Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ in the 1920s. Which isn’t really that surprising given that crisis is the permanent state in which we, in late capitalism, find ourselves as capital seeks to adjust to technological and social developments.

I think that I understand however where Pegg has gotten this impression. Science Fiction fandom is experiencing something of a shock as it has found itself, more so than ever before, dragged into the mainstream. For those of us who have had an attachment to all things geeky that stretches back before this new surge in popularity it may seem as if literally *everyone* is getting hooked on all things SF. I don’t really believe that this is the case. The Avengers and Avatar may be the biggest grossing films in recent history but that doesn’t mean that this interest necessarily transfers into a desire to explore other manifestations of SF/F for most people.When my Mam, or the guys at work, start talking about the latest Avengers film as something other than a film to take the kids to I may reconsider this position. An SF or Fantasy film is almost always going to be a visually spectacular treat for movie goers -even the bad ones like Transformers or Prometheus are visually stunning- and so are going to have a wide general appeal for some of the same reasons that action films do -they are spectacles. We find ourselves in a situation where we have the circuses but not the bread.

Pegg’s view is one that seems to be shared by the great Alan Moore who told the Guardian in 2013:

I hate superheroes. I think they’re abominations. They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine- to 13-year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not nine to 13, it’s nothing to do with them. It’s an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year old men, usually men. Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal. (The Guardian)

Moore’s criticism here though seems more directed at the world of the superhero comic itself rather than at any wider social trends and with this I agree -though my knowledge of comic book, and especially superhero comic book, fandom is extremely limited as they are something that has never appealed to me, even as a youngster. Moore expanded on this in an interview last year, 2014, where he said something that I think is a lot more relevant to teasing something out of Pegg’s position:

I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times. (Slovo Books)

This, I feel, is a much more incisive critique of not only the current plethora of superhero films but also of the preponderance of reboots and ‘re-imaginings’ that we have had over the last five years or so. I don’t, necessarily, have an issue with the concept of the reboot/re-imagining -the reuse and remixing of older stories is the bedrock from which 4,000 years of human literature has grown after all- but this current glut does seem to be as though a previous generation is, consciously or not, trying to indelibly imprint the present day with the semiotic signs of its youth.  This isn’t the infantilisation of culture but the cultural manifestation of the mid-life crisis of a generation of, mostly, American, mostly, men -some of whom have found themselves in the position of powerful cultural producers. In this way the recent spate of reboots and superhero films are culturally reactionary in that they serve to displace and subdue new forms of cultural expression that need to arise to address the situation in which we find ourselves today.

That’s not to say that people who enjoy superhero films, or reboots and rehashes of films gone by, are swivel eyed conservatives -far from it, I really quite enjoy the Marvel films and TV Shows, but the effect they have on new forms of culture is, I feel, undeniable. This collective mid-life crisis, coupled with massively increasing social stratification and hardship, has defined the form that the circuses with which we are amused have taken: Superheroes and attempts to recreate the youth of a generation of American men. Which is probably a bit healthier than throwing religious minorities into pits full of dangerous animals to be sure. I have little doubt though that there are those amongst us who seek to have a reboot (or would it be a re-imagining?) of that old tradition….

Ben Farrell

My very good pal Ben Farrell(Facebook Link) is a strange chap. He’s a very strange chap and he has a record available on Band Camp via Different Circle Records.

Ben Farrell is an Irish immigrant living and working in the harder parts of Glasgow for over a decade. A late developer to the music scene, he finally found some drive and has managed to creep onto the musical radar of those with curious obsessions.

His music has echoes of the past mixed with issues of the present. Melodic picking characterises many of his songs that often describe our darker thought processes which are relieved by moments of the absurd.

So how would you describe Farrell’s music?

Imagine The Smiths bumping into Syd Barrett at an anti nuclear demo before heading off to an opium den, strange lyrics complemented by intricate melodies.

 

Laibach

tanz-mit

A couple of nights ago C and I went to see Laibach at the Classic Grand in Glasgow. Laibach are a Slovenian art group / industrial music group that have been performing as dadaist interlocutors in culture and politics. Their détournements of popular songs -taking pop songs and subtly altering them to change their meaning or to expose hidden aspects of the pieces. A great example of this is Gebert Einer Nation their cover of Queen’s awful rock ditty One Vision.

They are, without a doubt, one of the most creative musical acts performing today -in my never so humble opinion. The show on Tuesday was absolutely amazing and reinforced my opinion of the band ever so slightly. They are the first band in a very long time where their show has felt life watching a piece of performance art rather than merely musicians playing on a stage. Everything from the demeanour enacted by the performers through to the spectacular visuals projected across the back of the stage. The entire show, from start to finish, was a work of audio-visual art.

They are currently touring their new album Spectre which is one of the most overtly political albums in the band’s long history. With no opening act the band started early performing the entirety of the new album before taking a short intermission, which added to the theatrical feel of the show no end, and returning to play some of their classics. Throughout the show we were cajoled and mocked by a pre-recorded emotionless voice telling us we were the best audience ever and reassuring us that the band loved us. A nice twist on the bullshit that touring band’s tell to audiences throughout their tours.

They still have a whole raft of gigs to play on this tour, click here for details, and I highly recommend that all of you go and buy tickets right away. You do not want to miss this show. Go, go and tanz mit Laibach!

In apprehension, how like a god!

Hamlet

Things have, of late, been rather grimdark for the Family Strange and so it was a great relief to, last night, go to the Glasgow Film Theatre to watch Maxine Peake as Hamlet. I’ve not seen Shakespeare performed since I was young -and then it was simply excerpts of various played put on to junior school age kids. This performance was recorded last year in Manchester and was, last night, shown simultaneously in a number of cinemas around the country. This has to be the first time I’ve ever been to the cinema and the show has had an interval -something that was greatly needed as Hamlet takes some three hours to perform.

It was a wonderful night and it was excellent to see C, who studied late medieval/renaissance theatre at Cambridge, get thoroughly excited about something that she is amazingly geeky about. Everything about the show absolutely blew me away. The performances were second to none, especially Maxine Peak as the titular tragic prince, the music, though overwhelming at times, really added to the sense of claustrophobia and madness which permeates the play. The show was so bloody powerful I honestly can’t describe it well -had I tried to write this last night it would have simply been the letters O, M, and G repeated with lots of exclamation marks. Maxine Peake dominated the stage, her presence as young Hamlet filling the space even when she was merely lolling in the background observing the other players on the stage.

I read a lot of Shakespeare when I was young, maybe 11 or 12 years old, and whilst I didn’t fully understand what I was reading there was always one verse from Hamlet which stayed with me -despite A Midsummer Night’s Dream being my favourite play. It comes in the second scene of Act II when Hamlet is reunited with his, two faced and ill fated, friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and recounts to them something of the depressive malady that has settled upon him.

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

The reason that this soliloquy has stuck with me over the years is that it near perfectly describes my understanding of the world. Intellectually I find humanity an amazing animal. We have wrought immense changes upon the planet no which we live, built cities and produced an abundance of food and material goods, we have created arts so beautiful it breaks the heart and literature to elevate the psyche to the heavens, our science explores the very beginnings and ends of all things. We gaze into the heavens at distant stars and galaxies and think that some day we shall walk there, we have grown to understand our own fragile form so intimately that we have managed to double the amount of time that an individual has between birth and life’s ending. We have walked on worlds that are not our own. We are as gods.

Yet despite this propensity for greatness we are as primitive and brutal as the gods of the holy books, we wage wars. We starve and enslave one another, we poison the wells from which we drink and the vast majority of us are denied access to the sweet fruits of human endeavour with little hope that this situation will be remedied before we are brought to our end. There is no hope, there is just this sterile promontory upon which delight, where it can be found, is fleeting -a mote of dust given life and light by a ray of the sun.

Our lives are so fleeting, blink and you’ll miss it, that to tilt at the windmills of capitalism seems to be a momentous waste of the brief time we have between birth and the box. Better to try to fill that time with what moments of delight we can grasp before we cease to be and all memory of us fades.

When I shared the above soliloquy of Hamlet on Facebook yesterday, in my excitement at the upcoming show, the people who commented on my status all referenced the film Withnail and I (the philistines! 😉 )and so, as I can’t find a video of Maxine Peake’s performance, here is Richard E. Grant in the final moments of the film.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

A little while ago I was having a discussion with someone over on the Lovecraft Ezine message board where I posited that it is perfectly possible to have a multiplicity of readings of a work of art and that it is also possible, desirable even, for an individual to be able to read a work in different ways. This was, of course, in relation to the racism in the work of Lovecraft and how it informed his cosmic horror. I recently came across a piece by Adolph Reed on the films Django Unchained and The Help which came out in 2013. In the article Reed also discusses the previous year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. In the article Reed analyses the films and their appeal to liberals on their supposedly anti-racist credentials.

Now I never read Beasts of the Southern Wild through the lens of racial politics in the US and more of a fairy tale fantasy with contemporary trappings. The story of the film is told through the eyes of a small child living in extremely harsh circumstances and has a focus on the stories she uses to interpret and understand the events unfolding around her. Adolph Reed however reads it as a valorisation of poverty and as a form of poverty porn for liberal types with a penchant for “social justice”.

Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, which also received startlingly positive responses from nominal progressives, marks the reactionary vector onto which those several interpretive strains converge. It lays out an exoticizing narrative of quaint, closer-to-nature primitives living in an area outside the south Louisiana levee system called the Bathtub, who simply don’t want and actively resist the oppressive intrusions—specifically, medical care and hurricane evacuation, though, in fairness, they also mark their superiority by tut-tutting at the presence of oil refineries—of a civilization that is out of touch with their way of life and is destroying nature to boot. The film validates their spiritually rich if economically impoverished culture and their right to it. (Actually, the Bathtub’s material infrastructure seems to derive mainly from scavenging, which should suggest a problem at the core of this bullshit allegory for all except those who imagine dumpster-diving, back-to-nature-in-the-city squatterism as a politics.) Especially given its setting in south Louisiana and the hype touting the authenticity of its New Orleans-based crew and cast, Beasts most immediately evokes a warm and fuzzy rendition of the retrograde post-Katrina line that those odd people down there wouldn’t evacuate because they’re so intensely committed to place. It also brings to mind Leni Riefenstahl’s post-prison photo essays on the Nilotic groups whose beautiful primitiveness she imagined herself capturing for posterity before they vanished under a superior civilization’s advance.

Beasts of the Southern Wild stands out also as a pure exemplar of the debasement of the notion of a social cause through absorption into the commercial imperative, the next logical step from fun-run or buy-a-tee-shirt activism. The film’s website, has a “get involved” link, a ploy clearly intended to generate an affective identification and to define watching and liking the film as a form of social engagement. There’s nothing to “get involved” with except propagandizing for the film. But the injunction to get involved pumps the idea that going to see a movie, and spending money to do so, is participating in a social movement.

Adolph Reed: Django Unchained, or, The Help: How “Cultural Politics” Is Worse Than No Politics at All, and Why

I hadn’t looked at the film that way before and, on reading this, it is entirely obvious that this is one of the effects of the film. Now I’m not from the US and so am blissfully, for the most part, unaware of the cultural setting in which something like this is presented. So for me the film was, as I said above, a beautiful dreamy fairy tale set amid a backdrop of gruelling poverty. Now, thanks to reading Reed, I have a deeper understanding of the work and can place it more firmly in the cultural morass which produced it. I can however still enjoy the movie as a dreamy fairy tale told and filmed beautifully. I don’t see any real contradiction between enjoying a work for its aesthetic and entertainment achievements and being able to analyse it critically.

That’s not to let all works of film and art off the hook however. Sometimes a film or book is so totally devoid of aesthetic and entertainment value that all that remains is the critical analysis which identifies the piece of shit for exactly what it is…

(Seriously, watch this. It’s one of the best film reviews ever 🙂 )