the artifice of memory

January 31, 2008

i owe it to myself to write a review of atonement.

the acting was strong. i didn’t know keira knightly could ever be anything other than a gangly, cockney soccer player, a second-rate lizzy bennett or just a sex symbol, but she does alright here. the other dude was pretty good as well. in fact, the movie opens strongly: the first act is a fine display of white-knuckle period drama in the same vein as gosford park, but it’s all completely downhill from there. the one saving grace was an extended tracking shot on the beach at dunkirk which does its damndest to convince us that, yes, war is bad, and it’s ugly, and if you can make any sense out of it then you’re probably already mad. but besides this brief meditation, the narrative remains, for (at least) the entire second half, completely out of focus. the resolution seemed not only forced, but painfully contrived. it was the cinematic equivalent of “…and then i woke up.” obviously, the transposition from literature to cinema hasn’t treated this story well. i’m sure ian mcewan’s novel goes about its business in a more poetic and meaningful way, but i am left with one overwhelming feeling: i sure am glad i didn’t spend 500 pages finding it out.

moreover, the narrative that i have seen described as “jaw-droppingly powerful” and “redemptive,” among other things, failed to convince me. i wanted to see some revenge, but none of the characters had any strength of conviction, nor was there any discernable moral (aside from the tacked-on deus ex machina mentioned above). nabokov said in the epilogue to lolita that a story doesn’t need any moral, and that when writing a book he has “no other purpose than to get rid of that book.” i agree with him, and indeed, his book doesn’t have any particular moral (arguably). but at least that story was stunningly, beautifully told. atonement-the-film went flaccid after the first half-hour. i saw this thing over a week ago now, so my criticism might be a bit blurry, but my frustration remains as virile as ever.

oh, wait…spoiler alert. bit late now. but consider yourself warned.

i was thinking about how many lists i write and how i like to write them and how everybody has a ‘top 10’ this or that and how they are all over blogs and reviews sites and whatnot. here’s a brief example:

top five reasons i should go back to europe:

  • to see sebastian and the grom crew.
  • visit florence and check out what all this ‘renaissance’ hoo-ha is about.
  • two words: minging birds.
  • learn another language.
  • russia and the trans-siberian railway.

i’ve come to the conclusion that blogs and the likes are especially well-suited to these kinds of applications for the precise reason that they are impossible to interrupt and argue with. my reasoning is this: nobody gets listened to on the internet, unless you’re perez hilton or a new york times journalist. chances are you’re not either of these, and so the typical internet user will treat you as a soulless, anonymous moron with nothing intelligent to say. anybody with a keyboard and a phone line can get on a forum and spout their narrow opinions on (literally) any subject conceivable to man. a list is an economically efficient way to streamline these opinions. i’m not saying it’s a bad thing. i like a list. but i recognise their function: getting as many opinions across in as short a time as possible. it’s the fastest way to forge an identity online (besides, i suppose, any arbitrary response to the timeless ‘asl?’ question). anyway that’s just what i was thinking. i should be reading more academic stuff about online culture, but there is hardly time with all the novels i’ve got lying around.

been spending a rather large amount of time fraternising in and around the ‘melbourne independent music community’ lately – partly by choice, partly by association. the upside is, of course, exposure to some truly incredible up-and-coming bands and artists, as well as discovering some of those who are comfortable simply frequenting cosy local sit-ins, playing to an ever-faithful troupe of like-minded bohemian punters. these kinds of shows are often more like poetry recitals than actual gigs, but on the other hand, the scene we have here in melbourne is seemingly infinite, and on some of those lonely drives home, ears still ringing, i often find myself floating in a shallow melancholy. it comes with my realisation that i have a strange tendency to look beyond our shores for music that truly inspires me, when in reality, the intimacy and familiarity of local music always, always hits home harder. and it seems that the homogenous, ever-so-slightly predictable and prevalent indie community at large is finally starting to take notice of some of the unique, vibrant talent we are producing.

but, being the music industry, there’s usually a slight air of arrogance wherever you go. it’s inevitable. even those that begin with the humblest of intentions fall victim to a discerning cycle of rhetoric and ‘integrity versus utility’ judgement at the slightest hint of popularity. i’m not naming any names – i’m not even referring to any particular peeople in particular. it’s just a saddening trend that is all too painfully obvious to anybody who flirts on the outskirts of a scene – something i have been doing a lot of over the last five or six months – and it’s gotten to a point where i find myself torn between reverance and something like inverted jealousy. there’s this delicate balance of genuine warmth and passion on the one hand, and systematic intimidation (in the form of closed-door membership) on the other.

i love my city. i will always love melbourne and i will always come home to it. even at 21 i know that is true. and most of the time i feel like i belong here. but occasionally, i don’t; i get alienated, in over my head, lost, alone, whatever. that’s why i’ve been writing lots of music lately. actually, it’s the most prolific i’ve been since my high school days.

current playlist

the strokes – is this it?
the cribs – men’s needs, women’s needs, whatever
the maccabees – colour it in
over it – silverstrand
the cure – s/t
bright eyes – i’m wide awake, it’s morning
the decemberists – castaways and cut-outs
the psychedelic furs – s/t
trans am – the red line
the clash – s/t
annuals – be he me

notice the jarring lack of aussie bands?

there was so much more to write in this blog, but i kinda like the direction it ended up taking instead. until next time, so long.

the silent disco

January 18, 2008

good evening, readers. i know that my latest absense from the old blogosphere has been pretty lengthy. without making excuses (would i ever do that?) you can attribute this break to my desktop computer and the desk that it sits upon – an awkward height for any boy to deal with. it was giving me headaches and back pain aplenty, so i did what any normal person would do in my situation – bought a new laptop computer!

oh, those koreans! long story short, it wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it. i feel up-to-date again, although this latest macbook air is just plain silly. and all things considered, vista has been running exceptionally well (at least since i installed the service pack release candidate). anyways, this entry isn’t all fun and games.

clinton-grybas1.jpg

i just wanted to say a few words about clinton grybas. now, those of you who know me well know that i have two passions in this world: getting fired up watching afl football, and talking shit about the state of journalism and the media. well, clinton grybas was easily the best afl commentator in the country and – for the first time in a long time – i found myself getting actually emotional hearing all the news reports about the death of a well-known person. he was charismatic, honest, enthusiastic, natural, funny and clearly passionate. it was so refreshing to hear a good young talent calling the football (triple m doesn’t count; i can never tell the difference beteween huddo, damo, richo, stevo, jonno and boof). his on- and off-field interviews were fantastic and quite simply he made most other football callers sound like amateurs. i was a massive fan of this guy and i’m really, really sorry that he’s gone.

anyways. i’ve been making a concerted effort to actually play some of the video games that have been gathering dust on my shelf. notably: call of cthulhu and grid wars.

if we’re talking about geometry wars clones (and you know we are), grid wars is the best you can get. make no mistake: these old-school arcade games are monstrously hard and take years to master. i haven’t been challenged like this by a video game in a long time. there’s a really great review of it here, and i also have to give them credit for the screenshots. true story: microsoft wouldn’t let the developer host grid wars on his site anymore because it was “too good” a clone of geometry wars. i’d say it’s better, actually. you can download it, and other geometry wars clones for the pc, here.

next up is call of cthulhu. having been a casual lovecraft fan for a while, i was really keen to check out this game, not just because of its story but also its design. i can honestly say this is one of the scariest games i have ever played. it’s set in 1922 new england, and the washed-out, grainy graphics really suit.

the whole atmosphere of the game is decidedly morbid, and you will not at any stage feel comfortable while playing it. it’s not all hairy – in fact, you don’t even pick up a weapon to defend yourself until halfway through the game. there is no on-screen health meter, and your sanity will waver whenever you see something gruesome, causing your vision to distort and blur. whether you’re a lovecraft fan or not, this is a great old-school adventure game that’s thick on the story and foreboding setting.

i’m also really looking forwards to spore. i swear this game will be revolutionary. like simcity (and, to a lesser extent, games like civilisation) before it, this is a game that takes reality and makes it playable. well, not literally of course. but it reflects everything we think we know about technology and the world around us. in this case, they have taken on the biological and philosophical implications of evolution itself and transposed them into cute pixelated characters. for those of you that don’t know, players design their own creatures and watch them pass through various stages of evolution, culminating in space exploration.

the creature editor

the entire game universe will be created by the players. that means that every landscape, every character and every character interaction is ‘determined’ by player action (or inaction): a simulated reflection of the cause-and-effect nature of evolution itself. this one will surely be dissected into a billion pieces in any given melbourne university cultural studies subject over the next few years, and with good reason. you can choose to research another planet’s lifeforms, or annihilate them. or you can pump huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to simulate a greenhouse effect. or you can just play around making adorable little creatures.

anyways. i’m in the throes of applying to go overseas. yes, i realise i don’t need anybody’s explicit permission to do this, but since i’m looking for a job in japan, i kinda do. with any luck this will be happening within the next couple of months. that also means that this blog will be getting a lot more attention as it will be one of the only lifelines connecting me to the real world. i might even decide to take a photo or two. i’ve also been writing a lot more music than most of you are accustomed to lately, and have been getting started on numerous short stories and even some script ideas. so don’t touch that dial!

this whole idea stems from my desire to sample as many new things as possible, with a minimum of preconceived prejudice. i know this has probably prevented me from experiencing certain things in the past but i sincerely believe i’m more open-minded these days (within reason, of course), even if i barely remember expressing opinions on anything. for example, who would have ever thought that the amy winehouse album would make it on to my ‘best of 2007’ list? swimming around my head at the moment are aspirations of moving out of home and a career change, to name only the two most pertinent. so, you know, hit me up if you wanna try some peyote or something.

the american election is happening again. i know this entry is already way long so i won’t dwell on it for too long (as much as i would like to), but i will just say this: barack obama is the most sensible, level-headed, likeable and genuine american politian i can remember having ever listened to. it would be an absolute tragedy for democracy and common-sense everywhere were he not to a) win the democratic nomination and b) subsequently win the election. not that i can see the republicans getting up (no pun intended), but i fear that your run-of-the-mill yank is more ready for a female president than a black one, given the choice. ironically, it’s amazing how many americans don’t feel obligated to vote in their own country’s election, and then get up on their high horse about how great their nation is, not to mention wars in other countries that they have no business commenting on (or fighting in).

but perhaps the thing that bothers me the most is the ‘family tree’ of american politics that we’re looking at, should hillary clinton win:

bush (R)-> clinton (D) -> bush (R) -> clinton (D).

courtesy of wikipedia.

surely we can think a little more laterally than that, people. or can we? increasingly, the american (and british, and even australian) governments have been operating on an economy of fear. the ability of regular citizens to think – and indeed, vote – for themselves is carefully controlled by press agents, spokespeople, speech writers, major news networks, and so on. it doesn’t take a noam chomsky to realise how biased all mainstream news outlets are, one way or the other. we’re talking about an irrational, generalised fear: not of any one person, or a single ‘doomsday’ event, but of an imagined, fictionalised, mythologised entity that threatens the (again imagined) ideals of western society. like ‘terrorism.’ or ‘the enemy.’ or ‘those who hate democracy.’ there is enough uncertainty, enough ambiguity, in western cultures as to foster a loss of identity and fear of the unknown (most notoriously, changes in economy and government), which essentially results in people being told how and what to think, and having them buy into it. it’s the only constant we can rely on.

i know this sounds like sensationalist propaganda (no better than the rhetoric that i’m apparently criticising), but the difference is that what i’m saying is true. even letterman is getting in on the joke. funny, yes, but also kinda scary.

seen some good movies lately, notably hotel chevalier and the darjeeling limited. darjeeling was more or less what i expected, but the real surprise for me was hotel chevalier; so simple, but so funny, and so sexy. who knew natalie portman would look great naked?

also got to meet jason schwartzman.

jason-schwartzman.jpg

this was spectactularly awesome, and i wanted to talk to him about how great melbourne is and how ‘west coast’ reminds me of all sorts of sunny polaroid photographs of america and how i could more or less quote every line from ‘rushmore’ and boy oh boy how jealous i am of his career. but alas, there was no time, and i’ll just have to settle for this awesome photograph. super nice guy, it must be said.

i’ve also renewed my interest in anime. i’m about one third of the way through monster, which is an achievement in itself. talk about a mindfuck; this show runs the full gamut of emotions, exploring all kinks of human relationships and motivations. it’s definitely more rewarding the more you invest in it, and unlike most anime, is not flashy at all. there are no special effects (or giant fighting robots), no pretty lighting effects, etc. what it is is a bleak and realistic psychological drama. and, having first-hand experience to draw from, the rendering of germany is spot on.

not that flashy anime is a bad thing.

plug plug.

yes, it’s australia day weekend next week. i always look forwards to it; the weather’s always nice and invariably somebody hosts a wild party. this one threatens to be the biggest yet. what could be more australian? somebody (i won’t name names) once told me that “patriotism isn’t cool, dude.” up the punx! i am proud to be an aussie, even though i’m keen to jetset. and hell, i’ve even gone this whole distance without mentioning that as of november last year, australia is fiercely and proudly left-wing again! fantastic. for the first time in my living memory, we have an eloquent, intelligent and genuine politician leading our country – not to mention one who won’t be cashing in his super-annuation for a few years yet. so, let’s everyone get on it next weekend!

click on through to see my best and worst of 2007!

Read the rest of this entry »