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Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008


According to G.K. Chesterton:


a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend.


Taking a trip up the California coast, one can gather what the early twentieth century’s “prince of paradox” was getting at. Sure, you can sit in a library and collect four books which might tell you something about life. Its origins, its rhythms, its meanings, its possibilities. But then, . . .


. . . well—now, there’s a thing . . .



what



four books would you choose? I mean, if you were trying to read the four that would teach you about the point and purpose and girdth and gristle of it all?


Would you go with the boxed set of The Origin of the Species, Frankenstein, Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, and The Catcher in the Rye? Or would you string together: A Tale of Two Cities, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Macbeth, and Das Capital? Of course, you might could go with: The Odyssey, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and Les Miserables . . . or perhaps do as all sane mortals might: simply throw your hands up in intellectual resignation, stack everything silently back on the shelf, and concede that four books really wouldn’t get you as far as carrying one of those tomes out the door, climbing into your car, sitting with a friend conversing, as you both take in the grand view passing along your shoulder.


(As for the battle: that I’ve already been through, and let me tell you: two things are certainly true about that: (1) what Nietzche said about “that which doesn’t kill you . . . (etcetera and so forth)” is certainly so; and (2) the little mouthed truism “better to have warred and won than never to have warred at all,” makes most sense—but only if “better to have warred if losing was the only alternative” was, in fact, the only alternative).




 


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Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Richard Hawley
Live at Other Music [Video]


Jim White
Crash into the Sun [MP3] (from Transnormal Skipperoo releasing 4 March)
     


Dirtbombs
Sherlock Holmes [MP3] (from We Have You Surrounded releasing 11 March)
     


Flowers Forever
Black Rosary [MP3]
     


Beach Bum [MP3]
     


Happy New Year [MP3]
     


The Kooks
Always Where I Need to Be [Video]


Frightened Rabbit
Heads Roll Off [Video]



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Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008

It’s funny that in the scandal that a Maxim reviewer flogged a Black Crowes album without hearing it, the reports usually start out that the mag wasn’t exactly a bastion of journalism to begin with, which is to say “Well, what do you expect?”  As Fred Mills at Harp point out, Dr. Eugene Chadbourne used to do the same at Maximum Rock and Roll as did Richard Meltzer elsewhere but the big difference was that they proudly admitted it up front, which is to say “Hey, I already KNOW this is a joke?”  OK but the Maxim thing is an isolated incident… right?  I mean, reviewers don’t blow off their assignments and just type up whatever fits their mindset (or the publication’s mindset), right?  They actually sit down and play a record at least a few times, concentrate on it and really think about it, right? Nope.  Granted, it ain’t as egregious as this Maxim case but the sloppy way that some of these write-up’s are done are obvious when you see cliches, not to mention repeating passages from the press release (which you don’t necessarily know about but which does happen).  So yeah, Maxim does deserve the public shaming for this stupid incident but don’t be too sure that the rest of the scribing world is so clean either.  Shocking, ain’t it?


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Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

The Clash - Live: Revolution Rock
This new Clash live show documentary will be airing on PBS stations in the US in March and will be coming to DVD via Sony/Legacy on 15 April. The 60-minute program highlights some of the best performances from the seminal band’s all-too-brief career, ranging from live-in-studio bits to playing Shea Stadium during the Combat Rock tour.


The Raveonettes
Aly, Walk With Me [MP3]
     


Todos Tus Muertos
Andate [MP3]
     


Legendary Argentine rasta-punk band’s greatest hits record makes their music available in the United States for the first time in ten years. A unique mixture of social messages and massive doses of punk, ragga, reggae and raw energy.


Buy at Amazon


Everthus the Deadbeats
Organics Mechanics [MP3]
     


Eric Matthews
Little 18 [MP3]
     



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Monday, Feb 25, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

...or If John Grierson Were Alive Today How Hard He Would Plotz

By Jesse McLean


The mainstream acceptance of documentary films is undeniable, which is to say they’ve started to make money. This newfound box office clout has transformed the genre from one of format to mood.  Non-fiction films are now subject to the same rigorous expectations of any western, thriller, or musical.  And while it is always heartening to see practitioners of a heretofore ‘ghettoized’ art form reap a financial reward, that cheer is darkened by the thought of a Darfur genocide doc pitched to unctuous studio execs a la The Player (“It’s Super Size Me meets Schindler’s List!”). 

John Grierson, the Scottish-born pater familias of British and Canadian documentaries wrote in his book First Principles of Documentary, “We believe that the materials and the stories taken from the raw can be finer (more real in the philosophical sense) than the acted article.”  Which is all fine and good, but when you’re opening on 2000 screens, you want to know that it’s going to play in Poughkeepsie. 

Grierson engendered the notion of documentary as unaltered truth, and his veracity has been debated ever since, but never before have the tools of cinematic grammar and genre conventions been applied to the form with such verve. 

The most common tact stolen from fictional films appears in the crosscut.  Innumerable examples exist of this editorial dash between two or more threads of action to create suspense (Roger & Me, The War Room, Startup.Com, Hoop Dreams, ad nauseum).  Now I don’t suggest that documentarians should be barred access to the rudimentary tools of editing, but this technique can only erode the already crumbling notion of unvarnished truth espoused by giants of verité like Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies, Public Housing, Domestic Violence) or Allan King (Warrendale, A Married Couple, Dying at Grace).  I’ll make a concession: if the editing style of your documentary owes a heavy debt to Hitchcock, maybe you should back away from the Avid for a breather. 

In the mood for courtroom fireworks?  No need for Grisham, just turn to Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, Capturing the Friedmans and others, (although this trope is the domain of the TV investigative feature and so popular that, well, it has its own station). 

How about docs that mimic other genres?  Crime drama meets police procedural in Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hill, The Thin Blue Line, Biggie and Tupac, Cocaine Cowboys.

Dysfunctional family drama?  Capturing the Friedmans (again), Tell Them Who You Are, Brother’s Keeper, My Architect, Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows.  You get the feeling that if Eugene O’Neill were around today he wouldn’t be typing but shooting from the hip in HD. 

When discussing the ascendancy of documentaries, there is an undeniable elephant in the room, and that’s not a fat joke.  Michael Moore makes non-fiction issue films but rarely deserves the appellation of ‘documentarian’. Moore is the filmmaker as polemicist, a projected cousin of non-fiction rant books that littler bookstore shelves hither and yon.  And while I often agree with his politics, this is not the reason I bristle at yelps regarding his passing acquaintance with objectivity.  I expect from him the same impartiality proffered by wingnuts like Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity.  Those who preach to the converted deftly avoid the burden of objectivity but sacrifice authority for all their furious exhortations. 

He has also spawned a brood of filmmaking brats infatuated with making themselves the star. Progenitor Ross McElwee aside (Sherman’s March,Time Indefinite), odious first person entries such as 20 Dates, My Date with Drew and the inexplicably popular Tarnation enervate.  All I have gained from these works is that I don’t want to watch films about people I would change seats on a bus to avoid. 

Now to the fun part - who to blame?  I would like to extend a judicious finger at reality TV but I believe it only highlights the public’s thirst for truth.  Once these stopped being ‘reality shows’ and were tagged ‘reality based’ (with story editors on staff, for Christ’s sake) it turned into professional wrestling. Artificiality admitted and embraced, their popularity soared and activated in the viewer’s brain what I like to call the Aaron Spelling Effect, with symptoms mimicking those of enveloping narcosis. 

However, the longing for truth continued and it is a sensible urge.  In a world of fictional WMDs, steroid-fuelled homerun kings and Katie Couric News Anchor, how’s a fella supposed to set his moral compass?  At the movie theater it would seem, a sanctuary for us all in troubled times. 

In days past (I’m looking at you Depression Era), we trudged to the theatre for escape.  Only now we crave truth but in digestible form.  Hence, the addition of genre spice to our documentary gruel.  The problem is that the majority of the public receive information in a ‘documentary’ as if it was as John Grierson intended, “raw…more real than the acted article”.  Filters are left at the door (Hepa or otherwise) along with critical thought.  It’s as if the smell of popcorn causes ninety-minute brain death. 

Which leads me to shake my accusing finger at David Holzman’s Diary

It’s 1967.  David Holzman picks up a camera and films his daily life.  He is a lover of film and the process of filmmaking.  He cites Jean-Luc Goddard’s maxim about truth in cinema.  A clip from a glossy Vincente Minnelli film is included in a rapid sequence of one night’s television viewing.  David films his girlfriend sleeping in the nude.  He acquires a fish eye lens and plays with it, hoisting the camera over his head like a child.  He interviews a friend who voices his concerns regarding David’s experiment.  He drives his girlfriend away with his filming obsession. 

The Library of Congress entered this film into its National Film Registry in 1991.  Why, one might wonder, would a film of anodyne detail deserve such an honor?  Well, it is a terrific document of New York’s Upper West Side in the late sixties and looks good in black and white.  And for those that don’t know David Holzman’s Diary, it was fake. 

I don’t bring this up just to cite what could be the first ‘mockumentary’ long before it became a term, the most tiresome word in a sitcom pitch, or the form for many first time directors to tackle (Woody Allen, Tim Robbins, Rob Reiner, Albert Brooks and Jim McBride, director of Diary).  I don’t bring up this hard to find film (once available on VHS, currently available from UK’s Second Run DVD in Region 0 PAL) in an effort to convince you of how subtle and effective its evocation of ‘reality’ - I may as well try to describe a cool breeze. 

The two directors mentioned illustrate the unending battle between fact and truth.  While Goddard famously maintained that film should be ‘truth 24 frames a second’, Vincente Minnelli responded in an interview that film is, in fact, ‘a lie 24 frames a second’.  Not only does it provide a telling comment on the methods of two widely divergent talents, it foretells (in an already prescient film) the problematic crux of the blockbuster documentary.  A form ostensibly dedicated to objectivity should not concern itself with character arcs, plot points or, God help us, test screenings (“I liked When The Levees Broke but could it be less of a downer?”). 

So the next time you’re lined up to see the newest non-fiction film about the troubles along the Gaza Strip, consider instead buying a ticket to Don’t Mess With The Zohan.  For if Vincente Minnelli is right, you just might learn something. 


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