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A D Jameson

http://adjameson.com

A D Jameson is the author of three books: the story collection Amazing Adult Fantasy (Mutable Sound, 2011), the novel Giant Slugs (Lawrence and Gibson, 2011), and the inspirational volume 99 Things to Do When You Have the Time (Compendium, 2013). His fiction's appeared in Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, Unstuck, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Birkensnake, PANK, and elsewhere. Since 2011, he's been a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Besides HTMLGiant, he also contributes to Big Other and PressPlay. He's currently writing a book on geek cinema.

Let’s overanalyze to death … Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

So far in this very irregular series, we’ve scrutinized Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” and Macaulay Culkin eating a slice of pizza—preparation for tackling one of the greatest and most beguiling music videos ever made.

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” was a single from Bonnie Tyler’s fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night (1983), and her biggest hit. It was written by Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf’s once and future collaborator. Steinman also planned out the video, which was then directed by Russell Mulcahy, a man responsible for numerous ’70s and ’80s music videos,  as well as the films Highlander, Highlander II: The Quickening, and Blue Ice. So that’s the aesthetic world we’re dwelling in. (In a single word: overblown.)

The video itself is pretty broad, and rather easy to read—broadly. Simply put, Tyler plays an instructor (or an administrator) at an all-boys boarding school. (I will refer to her character as “Tyler” throughout, for convenience’ sake.) Extremely sexually repressed, Tyler endures a long night of the soul fantasizing about her young charges; this constitutes the bulk of the video. Come morning, she (and we) are returned to restrained, repressive reality. But we’re left with the hint that A.) at least one of her students has magically become aware of her fantasy, or B.) her fantasia has caused Tyler to become mentally unhinged. (I lean toward B and will defend that reading below.)

That’s the basic outline. The devil, however, sits in a straight-backed chair, clutching a dove. He’s also in the details, so let’s delve deeper …

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Craft Notes & Film & Music / 5 Comments
January 13th, 2014 / 8:01 am

Let’s overanalyze to death … Macaulay Culkin eating a slice of pizza

On 16 December of last year, Macaulay Culkin posted to YouTube a video of himself eating a slice of pizza:

I watched it and showed it to some friends because, on the one hand, how random! Macaulay Culkin! Eating pizza! Lol! One million other people and counting apparently felt similarly.

The video fascinates because it depicts a star (or a former child star) doing something utterly mundane. The presentation is simple, stripped down. The shot is static and there are no cuts. Culkin looks embarrassed to even be there, to be watched eating. There’s no glitz, no glamor. The guy eats pizza just like you and me, even tearing off the crust (though I would’ve finished the rest of the slice).

At the same time, the video fascinates because it’s awful—it’s “so bad it’s good.” That reaction is breathlessly conveyed in the Time Magazine blog post, “Questions We Asked Ourselves While Watching Macaulay Culkin Eat a Slice of Pizza,” which presents no fewer than forty-six questions about the video, in pseudo-live-blogging fashion:

Why does he look like he really doesn’t want to be wherever he is, or eating the slice?

Has he ever eaten a slice of pizza before?

Why does he look so sad?

Does he know he’s being filmed?

Do the pizza oils get trapped in his beard?

Why does he keep looking up?

Forty-six questions is a lot of questions, prompting a forty-seventh: “How many times did author Eric Dodds watch the damn thing?” And one million views is a lot of views. Thus, despite being banal, despite being awful, the video is somehow also something else. Would it be fair to call it transcendent? Even sublime? And if so, why? Because it purportedly offers us unmediated access to a former star, now desperately embarrassing himself?

But far from being random, or mundane, or excruciatingly candid, Culkin’s pizza video is a put-on, its every second pure artifice. For starters, it’s a loving recreation of another work—a short film of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger:

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Film & Music / 11 Comments
January 6th, 2014 / 8:01 am

Suzanne Scanlon’s highlights of 2013, definitely worth your attention.

Suzanne is the author of Promising Young Women (Dorothy, 2012), also worth your attention.

What did you most regret doing in 2013? (or not doing)

The Punk Singer @ PhilaMOCA

Super short notice, but if anyone in the Philly area is looking for something to do tonight, PhilaMOCA is screening The Punk Singer, the new doc about Kathleen Hanna:

8pm & 10pm, Eastern time

Events / 4 Comments
December 18th, 2013 / 8:15 pm

That’s it, this site is dead—I’m outta here

1.

There’s a lot of ego on display here and when I’m honest, I enjoy that. It gives this site much of its attraction: people post and comment here in the spirit of one-upmanship, calling attention to themselves. The stakes are real: get a lot of page views, get voted up a lot, and you might win a publishing contract! (I have.) In the increasingly impoverished world of indy lit, what could be better than a website where typing some words into a text field and clicking a button can make you a (virtual) celebrity? When I post and comment, I do so giddy with the realization that others are watching—others who might invite me to their parties, or to contribute to their literary journals. (Some have.)

2.

The indy lit blogosphere that we have made and are currently still making is as much about provocation as it is communication. Since its participants tend to be well-educated writers and artists, we tend to be good at provocation. We intend our comments and posts to make others think and feel differently—including, sometimes, negatively.

3.

I was born in a relatively sexist / racist / homophobic corner of the world (Scranton, Pennsylvania—represent), where I was raised by fairly liberal parents who mostly espoused views one might call progressive. Nonetheless I absorbed a lot of sexist / racist / homophobic ideology, because the culture surrounding me was largely sexist / racist / homophobic. I attended a Catholic grade school and high school, for instance, and became an Eagle Scout—and while I’m not trying to single out those institutions (which did some right by me), we didn’t exactly sit around reading bell hooks.

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Behind the Scenes / 24 Comments
December 18th, 2013 / 5:45 pm

The full text of Wallace Shawn’s monologue The Fever is available on the internet.

My favorite films of 2013 so far & still in progress

Prince Avalanche

This year, I tried to get caught back up on films. And even though 2013 is far from over, here are my favorites so far:

  1. A Field in England (Ben Wheatley & Amy Jump)
  2. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
  3. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón & Jonas Cuarón)
  4. Iron Man Three (Shane Black & Drew Pearce)
  5. Le joli mai (Chris Marker; revival)
  6. Museum Hours (Jem Cohen)
  7. Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn)
  8. Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green, + here’s hoping Paul Rudd is Ant-Man)
  9. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh—technically 2012, but I didn’t catch it until this year)
  10. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson; ditto)
  11. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)
  12. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)

I have plans to write more about 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 12. As well as 9, perhaps. (But not 10.)

+: Godard’s Le mépris is getting a 50th anniversary release, and of course it’s incredible, even though I’m going to miss it this week at the Siskel because I’m stuck grading final papers.

Other new films I’ve seen and enjoyed to varying degrees:

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Film / 45 Comments
December 3rd, 2013 / 8:00 pm

Jeff Bursey interviews Steven Moore. Among other things, it includes a photo of a young Moore playing a sitar.

Also relevant: Jeff’s review of Moore’s recent The Novel: An Alternative History, Vol. II. (I loved Vol. I myself.)

Some movie news plus videos to look at

1. Peter Greenaway and Jean-Luc Godard have made a 3D omnibus film (along with one Edgar Pêra). The 2D trailer is here, and you can find information online: CinemaScope / Fandor / The Hollywood Reporter / Mubi / Variety.

2. Guy Maddin is planning a moving-picture adaptation of Sparks’s radio drama / concept album / opera-thingy The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman.

3. A lot of people don’t know that David Lynch once made a video for Sparks, but you’re not one of them:

And this is also relevant.

4. While we’re all here, we might as well look at this.

5. As well as this. Pretty well-done, no?

Film / 8 Comments
November 16th, 2013 / 12:45 pm

Greetings & apologies for the recent lack of content on my part (assuming anyone’s even missed me)—I’ve been wrapped up with writing a new book, and with teaching. But in a desperate attempt to stay current I’ll contribute the following vital question: uh, what’s your favorite color? Mine is blue.

This Empire podcast about The World’s End is worth a listen—the analysis is good, and the interview with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost is illuminating.

While we’re on the subject, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

25 More Pints: Revisiting The World’s End

The World's End

[Note: This review discusses the entire film, and as such contains many spoilers.]

1. The World’s End is a challenging film that’s already well on its way to being misunderstood. I myself got it entirely wrong on my first viewing, after which I concluded that it was the simplest and weakest of Edgar Wright’s movies to date. After a second viewing, I can see more of the film’s intricate design, and now think it might be Wright’s most complex work, and possibly also his best.

Part of the problem is that I went in with wrong expectations. The World’s End is a very different movie than Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. It’s funny, but it’s not as funny as its predecessors, and I thought that a problem. I wasn’t alone—Anthony Lane, for instance, wrote of it in the New Yorker:

“the patter of laughs [...] is less breakneck than it was before, and the result is strangely sour and charmless by comparison. [...] I cannot imagine returning to it the way one does to ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz,’ hungry for fresh minutiae.”

But this is a film all about returning, and the minutiae are there. They’re just invisible on a first viewing.

2. The World’s End is indeed a soberer film than its predecessors. This isn’t a problem, though, because the film, while comedic, isn’t ultimately a comedy.

Wright & co. do try to alter our expectations. Consider the opening narration, in which Gary King triumphantly recounts a twelve-tavern pub crawl that he and his mates attempted in 1990. Although they conked out nine pubs in, King proudly pronounces the night the greatest of his life.

From there we cut to an unflattering shot of him seated in sweats in a rehabilitation center, decrepit, gaunt, and totally spent. It’s a funny transition, to be sure, but it’s uncomfortably funny, and more than a little bleak—our hero’s a drug addict, something the film doesn’t want us to forget. As others continue speaking, King zones out, lost in his memories . . . only to be replaced by an image of what he’s doubtlessly thinking about: a beautiful shot of a beautiful pint of golden beer, over which Wright applies the title: “The World’s End.”

And for King, that’s true: beer is the world’s end.

3. King begins the film a tragic character, his many flaws all apparent. Only he recalls the past as glorious. Everyone else is glad to have left it behind, and now thinks him mad—a loser unable to function in the world of 2013. King’s biggest mistake, his error, is that he never moved on, never shaped up, never got with the program—he never grew up. As such, he’s treated like a child—as he later cries, complaining about the rehab center, “They told me when to go to bed!”

The message would appear simple: This is going to be a film about learning to mature. “You can’t live in the past, Gary King!”

But what if it turns that out one can? What happens if we take Gary King seriously?

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Film / 47 Comments
September 2nd, 2013 / 8:01 am

25 Pints: The World’s End

the_worlds_end_movie-wide

[Update 1 September: Since posting this, I've seen The World's End a second time, which radically changed my opinion of it. I now think it an extremely complex film and a masterpiece, perhaps even Wright's best work to date—see my second attempt at a review/analysis.]

1. I love everything that Edgar Wright has made.

2. Spaced is one of the cleverest sitcoms I’ve ever seen, demonstrating repeatedly how innovation can be wrested from the most hackneyed cliches of a given form.

3. Shaun of the Dead I rank among the greatest zombie films made, the full equal of Night of the Living Dead and (the original) Dawn of the Dead.

4. Hot Fuzz is probably Wright’s best film to date; three viewings in, I’m still grasping its subtleties.

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is my probably favorite film of the past three years—when I am honest with myself, I’m forced to admit that I love it even more than Drive or The Ghost Writer.

6. Edgar Wright is the only celebrity that I follow on Twitter.

7. I now go into everything that he makes expecting nothing short of sheer brilliance and genius.

8. I went to see The World’s End opening day.

9. It pains me greatly to say that the movie is, to date, my least favorite work of his.

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Film / 12 Comments
August 28th, 2013 / 12:11 am

The culture is vast and people are truly weird

Some things I’ve recently learned that it might benefit you to know:

1.) Did you know that, after Bruce Lee died, there was a cottage industry of films “starring” the recently-late martial arts star? I didn’t, but they exist (and are sometimes called “Bruceploitation“). For instance, witness The Dragon Lives Again, aka Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, aka 李三腳威震地獄門 (1977), the entirety of which is currently up at YouTube watch it quickly:

In it, according to le Wikipedia,

The deceased Lee meets a number of pop-culture icons, including Dracula, James Bond, Zatoichi, Clint Eastwood, The Godfather, Laurel and Hardy, The Exorcist, and even 1970s soft-porn character Emmanuelle.

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Roundup / 10 Comments
August 23rd, 2013 / 10:42 pm

Which comics do you consider the most essential reading? (Comics = comic books, comix, comic strips, web comics, more?)

Reading what’s extraneous

Drive-Only-God-Fogives

Last week at Big Other, Paul Kincaid put up a brief but intriguing post in which he asks to what extent various factors surrounding a text influence the way we think about it or its author. He gives the following example:

The program I use for databasing my library pulls down information from a wide variety of sources ranging from the British Library and the Library of Congress to Amazon. More often than not, this can produce some very strange results. I have, for instance, seen novels by Iain Banks categorized as ‘Food and Health’, and novels by Ursula K. Le Guin categorized as ‘Business’. In all probability, these are just slips by somebody bored, though you do wonder what it was about the books per se that led to such curious mistakes.

Paul’s musings raise many interesting questions. For one thing, we might wonder whether the factors he’s describing are indeed extraneous or external to texts. Because I can imagine a good post-structuralist immediately objecting that texts more porous than that, and that it’s all just a sea of endless texts slipping fluidly into one another.

Me, I don’t have a problem with treating texts as discrete and coherent entities, but I admit the situation is complicated.

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Behind the Scenes & Presses / 15 Comments
August 13th, 2013 / 4:10 pm

What’s the weirdest thing you can think of?

Another way to generate text #8: Writing through a foreign language dictionary

Cassell'sI’ve spent this summer studying French, and while flipping through my copy of Cassell’s French Dictionary, I realized it contains un roman caché, just waiting to be libéré.

Here’s all one needs to do:

  1. Flip to any random page on the foreign language side of any foreign language dictionary*. For instance, I just opened my Cassell’s to page 593 (in the French half).
  2. Copy down all of the English on that page, ignoring the French. (Republicans should totally love this technique!)

*You don’t need to use any particular language or dictionary. And the more dissimilar the other language is from English, the more varied the English-language results will be—see below for more on that. And of course you can use this technique using any dual-language dictionary, not just English–X, but I’m assuming English as our baseline since HG is (mostly) an English-language site.

Here’s all of the English on Cassell’s page 593:

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Craft Notes / 5 Comments
August 5th, 2013 / 8:01 am

What are you doing this weekend?