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Wednesday, Mar 28, 2007

Baudrillard’s death made it clear how far postmodernist theory has sunk in the estimation of those paid to write about such things for a general audience, with most writers dismissing him as a charlatan, and his ideas as performative, self-aggrandizing sophistry. This, naturally, seems to reinforce one of his great themes, how the ability to convincingly reproduce the real (i.e., the conditions of “truth”) has become increasingly difficult, or rather increasingly easy to simulate. A superfluity of information, kept in motion by proliferating media and accelerating technological developments, makes us simultaneously overinformed and helplessly confused. We can’t assimilate information, so we come to treasure novelty for its own sake, as a sensation rather than a building block for the edifice of our understanding of the world.


Philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition seems to have been a fairly prescient book—published in 1979, it accurately predicted much of the change brought by the internet, which he anticipates as a massive interactive database, brings to society, making information ubiquitous and those who can best manage that information into a new strata of movers and shakers. Technology has made information’s usefulness more accessible, and this usefulness has been commercialized, making what information can produce its most important quality over whether its true in some idealized sense. Easily accessible information allows for the manufacture of what Lyotard calls “proof” for use in “language games” that reproduce legitimacy—what gives society’s basic institutions their authority and enables them to renew it. He paraphrases systems theorist Niklas Luhmann, claiming that “in postindustrial societies the normativity of laws is replaced by the performativity of procedures.” Efficiency produces its own truth and colors the truths we find elsewhere; efficiency (which is the profit motive in operation) suddenly becomes indistingioshable from common sense—we do things the fast way, not the way our elders did, etc. Lyotard goes further to suggest we see that which is efficient as what is truly real, what remains when the layers of mediated illusions are stripped away (and not itself an effect of media saturation).


So possibly as information becomes easier to obtain and process and turn into productivity, we begin to translate our sensations and desires into similar information to be processed, to be made useful and productive—we assess our own feelings for their efficiency, though we think of this not in managerial terms, as a way to get more out of our natural states, but in terms of personal ease, convenience. As society makes ubiquitous instrumentalized information the basis for its institutions, a similar process takes place at the personal level, as we make convenience an overriding value, an end in its own sake, as it seems to bring us closer to what’s real (what’s most efficient). And the sensations we can’t figure out what to do with, the ones we don’t know how to make use of, become unreal to us, nightmares, surreal delusions. A substantial portion of our consciousness becomes incomprehensible to us, even as we are processing more external information than at any other time in the history of the human race.


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Tuesday, Mar 27, 2007


There are two important stories surrounding the 1985 Stuart Gordon film Re-Animator (or if you go for the full blown ballyhoo treatment – H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator). The first one is the narrative up on the screen, a balls-to-the-wall horror comedy which redefined both the gore film, and the outsider cult classic. But the second, and equally endearing tale, is the one involving a Chicago theatrical director, his decision to make movies, and the uphill battle he faced bringing his vision to the silver screen. In the days before DVD, this latter saga would have been saved for an extensive print interview, or a several article series in which various members of the cast and crew were interviewed to get their side of the story. Now, thanks to the digital revolution, we don’t need endless column inches to learn how junior mad scientist Herbert West became a genre icon. We just need to wait for the eventual merchandising concept called the ‘special edition’.


Re-Animator definitely remains a doorway film. It argued that horror and comedy could coincide effortlessly, and that the nastiness of gore could easily be sidestepped by keeping one’s vivisected tongue firmly in cheek. The outrageous and frequently over the top narrative, centering around medical school students (and lovers) Dan Cain and Megan Halsey and the terrors they experience at the hands of haunted newcomer Herbert West, was bloated with unbelievable moments of sheer cinematic audacity. Yet thanks to fresh faces Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs, director Gordon managed to balance the insane with the scientific rather well. He also tried to keep things as physiologically realistic as possible. When you consider that the main storyline centers on using an experimental formula to revive the dead – and the zombie zaniness that eventually occurs, - there are also a lot of super schlock theatrics as well. Pouring every ounce of his energies into pushing the limits of acceptable arterial spray, Gordon gave bloodhounds voluminous vein juice the likes of which they hadn’t seen before.


And it is indeed these moments of corpse grinding that maintain Re-Animator‘s current mythical status. From exploding eyeballs to carved up cats and a finale with more naked members of the living dead than in any alt-porn title, Gordon explored every parameter of his anarchic autopsy based atrocities. One sequence in particular still gives geek show fans the giggles. While describing it in mixed company would be quite unfair (as well as spoiling one of the film’s best ‘gags’), let’s just say that a headless ghoul with a co-ed crush tries to get busy with a certain decapitated body part. It’s sexual splatter at its tastiest. Yet there are those who find the claret and comic asides much ado about nothing - new. In fact, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 would eventually trump Re-Animator in most film fans minds. The narrative weight and cinematic invention of Raimi’s gonzo gorefest surpasses anything this Lovecraftian lunacy has to offer.  There are even those who prefer Gordon’s far more serious take on the author, his follow-up film From Beyond.


But that’s the beauty of a film like Re-Animator – and a perfect illustration of the value of DVD. In a format that proposes the possibility of contextualizing each release, to supplement and complement any film with a wealth of additional information, even those who are only slightly smitten with a particular motion picture can find reasons to rejoice. In the case of this latest Anchor Bay version of the title – there have been at least two other repackagings previously – the must-own moment is a brand new documentary, a talking head retrospective that finds almost all involved back to discuss their participation in what has become a fervent cult phenomenon. Indeed, the great thing about Re-Animator Resurrectus is that the entire cast is present, including all three leads - and that’s a real rarity in the world of digital distribution. Most reviews you read make a point of noting who decided not to participate in a bonus feature reunion. But in the case of this latest home video reincarnation, all are present and accounted for.


So is Gordon, and his big burly teddy bear appearance belies a past overflowing with hubris and misguided principles. All throughout the interview, we hear a man remembering his overblown conceits, his desire to use the experimental theater he ran in Chicago as a stepping off point for this new kind of horror experience. Wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon is on hand to keep things in perspective, explaining the reactions people had to her husband’s ideas, and making sure to note when Gordon got a little out of control. For balance, the cast then comes along and argues for the filmmaker’s fascinating connection to the material. They praise his care and concern, his desire for rehearsal time and his mischievous personality on set. It’s a delicious dichotomy, and one that enhances what many would still consider to be a standard, if slightly unhinged, horror film experience.


In fact, what most DVD manufacturers fail to understand is that, aside from an ardent fanbase desperate for a specific title, newcomers to something like Re-Animator will base their interest level solely on the extras and bonuses provided. Even with its regal reputation and obsessive devotees spouting its magnificence all over the web, with messageboard debates heating up and taking sides, when it comes to spending that hard earned green stuff, most people react with their head first, and their gut second. So if they really aren’t interested in a whacked out comedy centering on a group of doctors experimenting with corpses, you’ve got to give them some kind of value for their fiscal confidence.


And nothing cements a shill more successfully than getting two tales for the price of one – in this case, the film itself, and the story behind it. Certainly, those in the know will argue that reissuing a movie several times – also known as the notorious industry practice of ‘double dipping’ – lessens the overall worth to a targeted audience. But with new fans flocking to the medium every year, choice keeps a title alive and viable for anyone unfamiliar with its entertainment elements.


The same could be said for Re-Animator‘s enduring qualities. People love it because it defies expectations, tweaks the standards we except in a horror film, and puts the living dead into scenarios only the sickest of fans have ever dreamed of. It barrels backwards into its terror commitments and uses slapstick and satire to lessen the blow of its unbelievable gruesome extravagances. In a time when the MPAA was asking movies to moderate their levels of violence, Re-Animator went whole hog (and unrated), filling the screen with more body parts and killer intestines (???) than a dozen of the more derivative slasher epics. Love it, loathe it, like it, or merely shrug your shoulders and wonder what the big bloodletting deal is, but there is do denying that as a symbol of why some films endure while others quietly fade away, Re-Animator has a couple of significant stories to tell. And thanks to the dimensions of DVD, we now have access to both fascinating tales.


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Tuesday, Mar 27, 2007
by PopMatters Staff
Barbara Morgenstern

Barbara Morgenstern


Barbara Morgenstern
The Operator [MP3]
     


Wake Me for Meals [MP3]
     


Gruff Rhys
Candylion [MP3]
     


Voxtrot
Kid Gloves [MP3]
     


Land of Talk
Speak to Me Bones [MP3]
     


Harlem Shakes
Red Right Hands [MP3]
     



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Tuesday, Mar 27, 2007

Motown signer Mary Wells released “Two Lovers” in 1962. It was one of her first big hits, paving the way for her biggest, “My Guy,” which is in some ways the diametric opposite of the earlier song. “My Guy” salvages some schmaltzy lyrics with a poised, restrained performance that hints at wayward thoughts being repressed—when Wells the ending refrain “There’s not a man today that could take me away from my guy,” it sounds a little as though she is trying to convince herself.


“Two Lovers,” however, can be seen as one of the better songs about cheating, because it is such a cheat itself. It opens up with the baldfaced declaration—“Well, I’ve got two lovers and I ain’t ashamed, Two lovers, and I love them both the same”—as if no one in the world could have a problem with that, as if the news were going to make us all celebrate too. It’s as startling in its own way as The Crystals “He hit me, and it felt like a kiss,” another semi-deviant ‘60s pop hit. When you think of all the effort we’ve put into stifling female sexuality and enforcing patriarchal notions of property, this becomes an extremely radical way to start a pop song, and you almost have to expect the way in which this subversion is going to be ultimately snuffed out by the time the song ends. But for the time being, for those first few measures, it as though an alternate universe has been created where women don’t need to fear becoming a slut by affording themselves romantic options. But then it starts to turn on itself. The other “lover” treats her badly, and it turns out, is simply the same guy as the first lover, who is apparently a capricious jerk: “You know, he treats me bad, makes me sad, Makes be cry, but still I can’t deny that I love him.” So far from being polyamorous and proud, the singer is now yet another masochistic woman tolerating rough treatment, no different from the woman in “He Hit Me” (”...and I knew he really loved me”)—indeed, she goes on to apologize for giving the appearance of having been untrue, taking the blame for his bad behavior. So the song is not progressive at all—by the end it’s depressingly conventional.


But this retraction of the radical way the song began doesn’t negate it; instead it enhances its power. We are expected to jump to the wrong conclusion and relish in how wrong we were when we are reminded that what we first thought is really impossible, really can’t be validated publicly and openly in popular song. The song reminds us how we an let ourselves think the unthinkable, reminds us how close to the surface it is, how quickly we can shift our whole way of evaluating what behavior is permissible. That illicit thrill appears to mirror the actual feeling of cheating, and the letdown mimics how reality inevitably encroaches. But the thrill is not in getting away with something—not in the betrayal of cheating at all—but in the very fact that it seems for a moment that there is nothing to get away with. What’s thrilling in “I’ve got two lovers and I ain’t ashamed” is the way that multiple, complicated, ambivalent desires are acknowledged and thereby simplified, naturalized. It extends the promise that simply being honest about the feelings could resolve them into the complacency that Wells so adeptly conveys. For the moment you forget that in reality this sort of honesty is not especially welcomed and it certainly doesn’t simplify anything, no matter how natural it may feel.


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Monday, Mar 26, 2007


Forget all the other offerings this week. Pay no attention to the tepid horror films from an overhyped festival or those carefully commercialized cartoons. Heck, just avoid the whole stinking lot and make sure you pick up a copy of Alfonso Cuarón’s spectacular Children of Men. More or less rescuing sci-fi from the constant Star Warring of George Lucas and his ilk, this stunning cinematic achievement was criminally overlooked come end of the year awards season. Here at SE&L however, we put it right up there with The Prestige, The Fountain and Pan’s Labyrinth as an indicator of 2006’s best. Though the lack of a theatrical setting will cause the scope to shrink a bit, there is no denying the power in what Cuarón created here. All other releases this Tuesday are forced to take a back seat to this astonishing movie. For further comment on this classic, look no further than our proposed pick for the week of 27 March:


Children of Men


One of last year’s most amazing motion picture experiences (and illegitimately ignored titles) Alfonso Cuarón single handedly reinvented the speculative fiction genre with this look at a world gone infertile. Some have argued over the movie’s metaphoric meaning, which looks at life in London during a rebellion-suppressing siege, and suddenly see symbols of the current Western war on terror. But there is more to this magnificent masterpiece than party politics. What Cuarón accomplished was the ideal immersion of subject matter and audience member, creating a perfect parallel universe where we recognize ourselves, and imagine our reactions to the situations occurring. Then there is the brilliant camerawork by Emmanuel Lubezki (who should have his own golden statue), cinematography stuffed with amazing tracking shots and brilliant war zone ambiance. For this film alone, Cuarón would demand respect. When placed within his already impressive oeuvre, however, it becomes an omniscient omen of great things to come.

Other Titles of Interest


AfterDark HorrorFest: 8 Films to Die For


You have to admit – it’s a nifty gimmick. Take eight low budget, under the radar horror films, stick them together in a single marathon festival showing, and hype the holy Hell out of it. This is what the people at AfterDark did, and now seven of the onerous octet are arriving on DVD. You too can experience the shattering scary movie letdown of seeing publicized terror turn tepid right before you eyes.

Color Me Kubrick


It’s the perfect story for a film – a homosexual travel agent named Alan Conway fleeced dozens of people in the mid-‘90s by impersonating (rather badly, most say) the famous reclusive filmmaker. And in John Malkovich, director Brian Cook has the perfect gone to seed lead. But for some reason, the random events depicted never add up to anything meaningful. The result is a film that feels humorless and half-baked.

Happy Feet


This year’s unlikely Oscar winner (beating out Cars and Monster House) proves that penguin power is still alive and well. Besides, it’s cool to think of Mad Max‘s George Miller picking up his first Academy Award for a CGI kid flick, not some amplified action adventure epic. If you can survive the shtick provided by a couple of the voice cast members (why, Robin Williams – WHY???), you’ll clearly treasure this musical treat.

Turistas


Thank you, Eli Roth. Thank you so BLOODY much. When Mr. Cabin Fever released his masterful post-modern Ugly American condemnation Hostel on an unsuspecting world, many cited it as the beginning of a new, nauseating horror genre – violence porn. They were wrong. THIS is the actual result – a horrid hackjob about adolescents gone gratuitous that offers none of the terror or talent that Roth exhibited.

Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj


How do you make a sequel to a movie that your original star no longer wants to be associated with? Why, pick on a supporting player and start shooting – film, that is. While some might think this kind of goofball gross out comedy went the way of the Farrelly Brothers’ Me, Myself and Irene, the reality is that small budgeted idiocy of this kind continues to make a minor profit - thus this pointless follow-up


And Now for Something Completely Different
Pervert


Proudly proclaiming its debt to Russ Meyer and the frisky exploitationers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, outsider auteur Jonathan Yudis (most noted for working on Spike TV’s Adult Party revamp of Nickelodeon faves Ren and Stimpy) has ALMOST made one of the best worst movies ever. Starring “adult film star” Mary Carey (who does bear a decent resemblance to her Grammy winning namesake) and a remarkable Darrell Sandeen in the mandatory Stuart Lancaster roll, what we get here is part horror film, part softccore smut fest and a whole lot of bare naked bosom. In fact, the film is flawless for its first 40 or so minutes, easily mixing screwball comedy and lots of Carrey caressing her cans. When she finally leaves the narrative (for reasons that won’t be spoiled here), her replacements can’t keep things afloat. The rest of the randy monkey business kind of flops around, never finding the perky pace of the previous pulchritude. As long as you ignore this questionable quibble, you’re sure to have a good time.

 


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