22 January 2015

Recent reading, online and on paper: AMUSEMENT IS CONTROL

The Dissolve's most recent Movie of the Week was Back to the Future, which dropped like a bomb on me in 1985. I was at an age where I couldn't drive a car but I could be driven crazy by a teenage crush on a Hollywood sitcom star. I wasn't old enough to see an R-rated movie but I was old enough to be let loose in the mall without parental chaperoning. I had no personal experience of the 1950s but my parents sure spent a lot of time there. I identified with the oddball, loner-ish nature of both Marty and his dad; and I've always been a sucker for decently written science fiction, even if it's written as a comedy. The Dissolve's last essay over-thinks the films, in my opinion; but the Forum discussion was an enjoyable back-and-forth between a couple of critics who (I think) are just a little younger than I am.

A recent thrift shop find, Prof. Amos N. Guiora's Fundamentals of Counterterrorism would be better titled "Fundamentals of Justifying Your Pre-emptive Strike to the United Nations." After 130+ pages in that vein, though, the last section does present some strongly worded urgencies about protecting people's civil liberties in the face of known unknowns. While with a publishing date of 2008 it's a little behind the times, it offers an interesting view into the mindset of the people who are at the highest levels of responsibility for anti-terrorism decisionmaking.

Also picked up a copy of Frank Meeink's memoir Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead. Pretty harrowing stuff, and I continue to wonder about the links between childhood abandonment and trauma, and addiction -- whether to substances or hate or whatever.

Finally, a treat came into the house: Don Hertzfeldt's The End of the World. Now, I'm a huge fan of Hertzfeldt's animation; he's arguably America's best living animator, using a technique, refined yet unchanged since 1995, that looks deliberately unsophisticated to deliver sophisticatedly multi-layered messages. (Er, the messages have improved since 1995; see, e.g., It's Such a Beautiful Day, a must-view on Netflix streaming right now.) I remember seeing Billy's Balloon way back in my "film festivals are a full-contact sport for me" days, and I've always been excited to see his new work as it comes out. This book, however . . .  it's got the Hertzfeldt non-sequiturs. It's got his pervasive existential doom (it is literally about the end of the world). It's got the horrific, the sublime, the sudden cut-to-black -- except it hasn't, right? Because it's not a film, it's a book. Really it's a bound storyboard. And I guess it's a fine storyboard; but I think Hertzfeldt's profundity comes in the pacing and repeated juxtapositions of images in his films, not in the images themselves. The images, as I say, have a deliberately unsophisticated design to them. Taking them out of the context of a motion picture -- films being like an artistic mathematics of images over time -- seriously diminishes Hertzfeldt's ability to effectively and fully get across his challenging and scary themes.

There was a joke list in The End of the World of about a dozen of the author's "other works." While I'll never get tired of Hertzfeldt's not-really non-sequiturs, I do wonder if the "other works" are just a list of notes for another storyboard.

All this to say, however -- I'm damned disappointed that I'm not at Sundance right now, body-checking the crowd for a seat at the premiere of World of Tomorrow tonight. Bah!

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