12.30.2017

Favorite Films of My Lifetime (So Far)


Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
DVD folders of chainsaws and Ashes
Silver-white priests who kick ass for the Lord 
Ron Howard's brother and Harrison Ford
When my Herzog!
Fights my Kubrick!
When I'm fee-eling sad!
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't fee-el! So baa-ad!
Taxi vigilantes and lightbike Lebowkski
"My curse will be lifted" and "Nice try, Kowalsky!"
They think I'm MacCready but ring-a-ding-ding
These are a few of my favorite (T)hings!

Just wanted to create a Table of Contents entry for these four posts






Cut You in Half While You're Smilin' Ear to Ear: Magic

To-night!
(2007)


Bryan: Bryant you old such-and-such! Are you ready to shake the pillars of heaven?

Bryant: I'm not saying I've been everywhere and I've done everything. But I do know this is a pretty amazing planet we live on here. And a man would have to be some kind of fool to think we're all alone in this universe.

Bryan: It's the final countdown! It's Magic. It's...

"Radio Nowhere"

Bryan: 2.5/5 It's okay.

Bryant: I’m paying more attention to the sound/production of these songs thanks to the malefic influence of Dog Star Omnibus, and right off the bat, I can tell I’m going to ding this song a few points for its production. There’s a strong rock song here, and the production did not quite find it. This isn’t bad, though; I do like it. 2.5/5

"You'll Be Comin' Down"

Bryan: 2/5 Seems kind of redundant of "Lucky Town." At least in the chorus.

Bryant: Damn, I had not noticed the similarity to “Lucky Town.” I guess that’s why I like this song! Well, that and Clarence. I think it’s probably true that having a Clemons sax solo – even a mediocre one, which this one is – is going to add about a half a point for me. 2.5/5

"Living in the Future"

Bryan: 1.75/5 Meh.

Bryant: I like this song. 2.5/5 My scores are stuck in a rut, apparently.  I blame the production, which is just … off. I can’t entirely put my finger on why I feel that way about it, but Wikipedia gives me a few clues. First, Brendan O’Brien also produced The Rising (which I felt the same way about), so I think he might be at fault here. Second, apparently the band did not record as a unit thanks to the scheduling challenges. Now, for all I know, Born to Run was recorded exactly the same way. All I know is that there is an artificial feel to these songs that does them no favors. The good news is that I bet there are great live versions of all of these; they do seem to me like fundamentally good songs, so a great performance of them could and would elevate them into another category, at least for me.

Bryan: With regard to Brendan O'Brien:

In the 90s when my old band Boat Chips started recording we were right at the end of the Analog Age. Actually, that's not quite true; that age was well and truly done by the mid-90s but as far as home recording was concerned, I mean, we were still operating on the previous age's premises. We did our first few albums on a 6 track, then the next few on a 8 track, then we had Cakewalk and some other software. (For me, it was a dizzying progression. I handled zero percent of this side of stuff and would just show up and do my part; occasionally I'd plug in a microphone and by the end of our recording career in 2004 I was trusted to attach the pop filter, even) When I saw music on the computer screen for one of our songs, it looked a bit like this:


That's not actually one of our tunes, just to give a visual idea. What you have there is the digital readout of the loudness and softness of the mix, with the peaks and valleys of sound. I bring all this up because while Boat Chips was futzing like a million other bands with spiffy new home recording software, the professional bands themselves were drafted into The Loudness War. That was the result of the industry's progression from primitive recording to the digital age. (I hope I set this up right! It's meant to be parallel.) Suddenly, everything - regardless of the tune - started to look like this:


Brendan O'Brien is a producer of this Loudness era, and Magic is a Loudness War record. Over-compressed as shit with the dynamic range choked to death. That's what won, though - it became about eliminating the highs and lows in the range and pressing it all against a digital ceiling.

I admire Bruce's saviness about his career, and I see his working with producers like B'oB as a concession to the realities of the biz. I can respect that. I do kind of wish he (Bruce) gave a bigger crap about this and worked with someone like Butch Vig (whose production sensibility might be considered of the Loudness variety, but I like his ear/ touch quite a bit) instead of Brendan O'Brien (who I do not). 

But sooner or later, Bruce must figure, he's going to play it live and have to communicate its meaning better than the studio anyway so maybe he just shrugs it off. It's all about the tune for him.

Now, Butch Vig - there's a Loudness-era producer who can do all the same tricks but whose ear is fantastic; there isn't a record he produced that isn't a masterpiece of dynamic range, for my money. (Especially those Garbage ones.) I wish Bruce had hooked up with him instead of B'oB for these albums.

I say this as a mostly tone deaf, still-technologically-challenged, ungrateful whelp. But that's my take on it all. If his early albums suffered from not having someone at the console who captured the songs as adroitly as the they deserved, these new ones have to overcome the Loudness Solid Block of Blah That Has Hoodwinked The World. Trouble is, I don't think the songs are good enough for that (although they do sound better live.)

I hope this digression hasn't been tedious.

Bryant: Not even slightly. It helps me understand my reaction to this stuff.  I can remember the incongruity the sound of The Rising held for me on the first listen, second listen, third, etc. Back then I had no notion of why I was hearing it that way, no notion that the production might be the reason why I was hearing it. But I knew that it didn't entirely match my personal definition of what "Bruce Springsteen" sounded like. That definition varied from "Blinded by the Light" to "Highway Patrolman" to "Dancing in the Dark," too, so it's not like I had a narrow corridor that the Boss could fit in and that was it.

At the same time, though, the album didn't entirely NOT match my personal definition of "Bruce Springsteen," either. They seemed like fundamentally Springsteenian songs, just ... missing something. Or with something added.

I didn't know. I kind of do now, and while the intricacies of production are still somewhat mysterious to me, I'm getting to where I'm more attuned to it.

Very interesting!

"Your Own Worst Enemy"

Bryant: 2.5/5 More of the same.

Bryan: 1.75/5 Yeah, more meh. I like the "your flag flew so high it drifted into the sky" line but this is just boring. On this particular topic, I prefer this one. Which I bet the E Street Band would have turned into something special. I can't picture Bruce singing it, but maybe Steve.



"Gypsy Biker"

Bryan: 1.75/5 Ditto.

Bryant: If I pay close attention, I make a good guess as to what Bruce is singing. I’m not paying particularly close attention, though; the song doesn’t make me want to. But, again, it’s not bad; just kind of bland and uninspiring. 2/5


Bryan: 3/5 A bit more purposeful of a song. Still not the most interesting melody/ arrangement but it's fine.

Bryant: I think this aspires to a sort of Phil Spector sound, but holy Hannah does it not get there. Brendan O’Brien is a hack; I instinctively know him to be the Akiva Goldsman of music production. 2.5/5

Bryan: Someone needs to add that to his wiki! And credit you.  


Bryan: 3/5 The opening sounds old school E Street-ish and then into the generic sound of the rest of the album.

Bryant: It’s alright. 2/5 This wants to be in the vein of “You Can Look But You Better Not Touch” and just doesn’t get there.


Bryan: 2.5/5 The music's okay but here's a rare lyrical misfire from Bruce IMO - the ending irony ("bodies hanging in the trees") just comes out of nowhere and sounds silly to me rather than withering-insight/irony. Message confusion.

Bryant: This is my favorite song on the album. This surprises me; I didn’t remember it at all. Your note about the lyrics being incongruous piqued my interest. As I mentioned earlier, I’m doing a shoddy job of paying attention to the lyrics on this album – (a) because I always do, (b) because the production is a sock full of mud, and (c) because the songs are a bit on the mediocre side and are not calling for my attention – so I wasn’t sure whether I agreed with you or not. But I decided to give Bruce the benefit of the doubt and assume that since that’s how the song culminates, he intended everything that came before it to support it. A bit of research turned up this quote from an interview with Rolling Stone: "The song 'Magic' is about living in a time when anything that is true can be made to seem like a lie, and anything that is a lie can be made to seem true.There are people that have taken that as their credo.The classic quote was from one of the Bushies in The New York Times: 'We make our own reality. You guys report it, we make it.' I may loathe that statement – the unbelievable stupidity and arrogance of it – more than I loathe 'Bring it on' and 'Mission accomplished.' That song, it's all about illusion: 'Trust none of what you hear / And less of what you'll see / This is what will be' – we make it. Until you get to the last verse: 'There's a fire down below / It's coming up here... There's bodies hanging in the trees / This is what will be.' That's the heart of my record right there." I think that musically, the song supports this notion; it cues you that while he’s singing about magic, it’s not a good or fun type of magic. The song is ten years old now, and the topic he’s singing about it so much worse. Or, if you prefer, my perception of it is so much worse; it’s an important distinction, obviously. Either way, I respond to this song. 3.25/5 I think the production benefits this song rather than getting in its way.

Bryan: I like your take on it. I like the song a bit more now that I've heard it a few times. I can definitely appreciate what Bruce was trying to do, but I don't think he pulled it off here.

Brave of Bruce to object to this stuff from Republicans, though. Maybe the idea will catch on. Lord knows there's enough discussion of any other-side-of-the-aisle "magic!" Particularly from musicians and actors.

"Last To Die"

Bryan: 2.5/5 Good but still kind of generic - is it the arrangement? I don't know. Something about this seems like the wrong approach.

Bryant: Not bad. I agree that it is generic. The string-sounding section toward the end is awful. I’m not sure what it even is.  Synthesized strings? A wall of guitars? It sucks balls, is all I know. There’s a good song buried under all this oatmeal. 2/5

"Long Walk Home"

Bryan: 2/5 Good lyrics/ idea but suffers from the rest-of-the-album disease: i.e. it all just sounds generic/ over-compressed. This is the precise opposite production problem to  Asbury Park

Bryant: There’s a sense of drama in this song that pulls me into it, so I assume that when I discover the great live version that I’m sure exists, that will become a favorite. This is not. 2.5/5 plus Clarence, so 3/5. I’d have recast this in the mold of “I’m on Fire,” with some light sticks-on-the-edge-of-the-drum percussion and some wistful synth and group vocals by Bruce and Clarence and Steve.

"Devil's Arcade"

Bryan: 2.25/5 Might've made a better U2 song - seems better suited for them. Or maybe it would've benefited from a more Nebraska type arrangement.

Bryant: I’d be happy to hear U2 cover this, if only so they’d make something cohesive out of it. The nine-note melody that pops up throughout and is mostly played on electric guitar (I think) is problematic, and I don’t entirely know why. Bottom line is that I don’t like it. The song itself, overall, is okay. 2/5


"Terry's Song"

Bryan: 2/5 Musically I'll give this one more of a "1.5" but the idea/ tribute is sweet and I tip my cap with an extra half a point.

Bryant: I like this more than you do, although it may be purely because it sounds more organic. Compared to much of the rest of the album – to which it was apparently a late addition – it’s a breath of fresh air. 2.75/5


~
Bryan: Total 27.5, Avg 2.27 There's some nice Clarence on this album, but none of the songs really excite me much. Seems like the kind of music people who know how to write songs/ rock out would put out but there's little essential here.

Bryant: Overall – 29.5 total, 2.46 average. This is a frustrating album. It scored the same as The Ghost of Tom Joad for me, but if I were asked to pick a favorite, it’s be Magic, easily. But giving it a bit of actual attention – as opposed to merely using it as background music – reveals that the production really did let the songs down quite badly. Are they bad songs, though? Not at all; it’s a good collection. So if I were to work at them, and gain an appreciation for the context that underpins each, I can imagine this becoming more of a favorite for me. After all, I do believe that context – the context of the title song, for example – matters, and I can think of examples of becoming a much bigger fan of a song after something caused me to recontextualize it. (Placement in a movie will do that for me quicker than anything, except maybe for hearing the story of how and why it was written/recorded.)

That said, it’s not necessary for context to be present in order for a song to work. I always think of “New York City Serenade” in that regard. I remember the first time I heard that song, it felt like my mental definition of “music” was being rewritten on the fly. Did I know what the song was about? No. Didn’t matter; I felt the song. An understanding of its context can probably make me love it more, but it wasn’t necessary in order for the love of it to come into being.

I like all of the songs on Magic, and I might say that I get close to loving a few of them; but I never quite get all the way there. Maybe I still will. That’s possible. It’s equally possible that somebody else would have that blossom of love burst forth upon their first listen. I see no reason why that isn’t possible, too.

For my own tastes, though, this one is fine, but not magical.

Bryan: I want to buy this on vinyl and see that stamped on the back!

UPDATED RANKINGS:

Bryan:
Lucky Town 2.15
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.19
Magic 2.27
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.44
In Concert / MTV Plugged 2.82
Tracks 2.83
Chimes of Freedom 2.86
Blood Brothers 2.88
Human Touch 2.9
Book of Dreams 3.1
Hammersmith Odeon, London 3.1
The Rising 3.3
Devils and Dust 3.36
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.43
Live in New York City 3.5
Loose Ends 3.63
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.65
We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions 3.67
The River 3.71
Tunnel of Love 3.8
Darkness on the Edge of Town 3.82
Live ’75 - ‘85 4
Live in Dublin 4.11
Born to Run 4.41
Nebraska 4.5
Born in the USA 5.4


Bryant:
Human Touch 1.7
Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 2.04
Lucky Town 2.15
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.46
Magic 2.46
Devils and Dust 2.48
Book of Dreams 2.58
Chimes of Freedom 2.69
In Concert / Mtv Plugged 2.75
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.75
Tracks 2.81
Blood Brothers 2.9
The Rising 3.1
Live in Dublin 3.22
Tunnel of Love 3.35
We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions 3.37
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.38
The River 3.39
Live in New York City 3.48
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.68
Live ’75 - ‘85 3.7
Loose Ends 3.92
Born to Run 4.35
Darkness on the Edge of Town 4.4
Nebraska 4.63
Born in the USA 4.88

~
Hey folks, there'll be no Sunday Night Springsteen tomorrow - see you next year!

Kevin O'Neill: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (vols. 1 and 2)


There's what might be called "mash-up culture" and then there's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which exists in a class all its own.


These bios are gold.

I actually sat down to read Providence - thanks to my friend Trey's ongoing Lovecraft explorations over at his blog, figured it was time for me to get cracking on that one. But, despite having reread the whole thing within the past few years, when I opened the Alan Moore folder on my external hard drive, I ended up rereading League again. 

 

It's definitely a work that rewards multiple reads. It's not my intent to analyze or overview the series (or the multitude of references therein, near-exhaustively annotated here) though some of that will undoubtedly happen. Its nearest neighbor - in some ways - is Philip Jose Farmer's World Newton - a work which also shares some of League's curious sexual preoccupations - but even with that it's apples and oranges. Anyway, as the header up there announces, we're here tonight on Scenic Route business. Let's have a look at the visual design of the series, co-conceived by Alan Moore and meticulously executed by Kevin O'Neill.

O'Neill first came to prominence (or at least got on my radar) in the late 80s with Marshal Law, a caustic critique of both superhero comics and certain perceptions of US foreign policy. I'd probably have loved the series had I come across it at the time. It wasn't, unfortunately, much to my taste by the time I got round to it. 

It'd be interesting to do a compare/contrast with Chaykin's American Flagg. A project for another day. Probably a whole 'nother blogger.

But O'Neill's cartoonishly nightmarish style and his facility with objects and settings both everyday and fantastical - and of multiple eras and in a variety of styles - made him the perfect collaborator for what Moore had in mind for League. Moore had already explored pastiche to great effect (1963) as well as the late Victorian era (From Hell). Now he and O'Neill were going to combine them. Let's have a look at where it all began in the first volume of League, which began being published in 1999.

(Some of these screencaps - if "by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill" didn't clue you in already - are NSFW.)

We'll look at a little of the backstory and worldbuilding when we get to The Black Dossier and Century, but I love the tantalizing glimpses we get in the first two volumes.
I also love the way the Invisible Man's movements are represented throughout the series.
The amorality of both the Invisible Man and Hyde - and how they contrast - is very much a part of the story.
As is (or will) Hyde's keeping his ability to see Griffin a secret.
"Tremble, dear reader, at the horrid spectacle of Johnny Chinaman armed with the mighty weapons of our new Electric Age..."

The second series began in 2002 and amplified everything going on in the first considerably. I remember standing at Newbury Comics at Providence Place, RI and leafing through the first issue. This was in a not-buying-comics phase, but I always kept up with what Moore was doing. I was blown away and ended up buying each issue - a rarity at the time - mainly to try and figure out what the hell was going on. Was that John Carter? Are they doing War of the Worlds now?


Has anyone read C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet? It's been on my list forever.
I particularly like the two foxes rending one of Dr. Moreau's unfortunates on the right, here, all calmly observed by those on the other side of the track.

If you are familiar with the series, I tried to choose screencaps which evoke aspects of the plot without spoiling them. It won't always be thus, kiddies. But just to get things started.

Each volume of League comes with substantial supplemental material. This is no surprise for any Moore work - the last 6-10 pages are always filled with dense prose and other wonders. I thought perhaps he (or they, I should say - I don't know the extent of his and O'Neill's collaboration in terms of plot but let's assume there is some) was just providing some contemporaneous-sounding ads and media, but as early as the first volume, a considerable backstory, spanning the centuries and several other dimensions, was being fleshed out. 

Unfortunately - as most of it is prose - it is precisely the sort of thing I'm downplaying in this series to concentrate on the scenery. I'll likely be showcasing some of it a bit more, though, in the posts to come, as without it, some of what we see makes little sense. This was (I imagine) a problem for those fans who skipped over these sections. Skip any part of a Moore read at your own peril, gentle reader!
"Allan has mislaid his Tabuki..."
Setting the stage for the Lovecraft story to come (the first of the Nemo trilogy, which came out over 10 years later) all the way back in the first volume.
Far be it for me to cheer the crass commercialization of art, but it's a damn shame this game - or a really demented first person shooter for some specially-designed steampunk Sega Genesis - does not actually exist.
Worth expanding here, for the caption. I imagine this is pretty close to "things Alan Moore finds uproariously funny that might puzzle other folk."

Speaking of moments of questionable-taste comedy in League, or perhaps just things that crack me up, I thought I'd isolate a few of them. These don't flow from panel to panel (except where they do) - sorry for any confusion.


This whole section - recruiting the Invisible Man, who has been raping the girls of a very depraved home for wayward girls - is guaranteed to make our moral superiors and Newspeak censors in the media-academe beside themselves with word salad.
I submit, though, that the levels of satire on display just might serve some other literary purpose than propagating rape culture or whatever else. Get thee to a pun-nery.
This whole Moreau stuff is a mix of hilarious and horrifying. I love that "Mina, for God's sake, don't criticise them!" While we're here, the Mina of the first two volumes - while definitely written as a Victorian lady, i.e. matrons know best, dearie - is sympathetic; in later volumes she becomes a bit Joey Potter-esque. (i.e. why on earth would these men be so infatuated with such an unpleasant person?)
"Ravaged by a foreigner" - the subtext of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

And finally, the best response to entitled-fanboy-grumpiness from a creator/ creative team I've ever seen:



~
 You have been enjoying screencaps from:
Vol. 1 (1999) and
Vol. 2 (2002)
See you next time for The Black Dossier, when things get really weird.