Monday, January 18, 2016

David Bowie's Gone and We're Still Here (1947-2016)

Good morning!

Well, it's been a tough 2016 already, friends. 

Last Monday morning around six in the AM,  I was feeling a little under the weather and struggling to get my act together enough to get out the door to work at the correct time. As my fingers were forgetting how to lace my boots from sleep deprivation, Matthew came in from making the coffee and sat down on the bed with his serious face, which definitely is atypical for him at any time, much less at this ungodly hour.

"Listen, I need to tell you something and it's gonna be ok, but I wanted you to know before anybody else did."

Me internally: What is he even talking about did I sleep walk and knock over the tv or something? Is he mad at me? What is he talking about? Me outloud:"Yeah, fine, what is it, bibi."

"David Bowie died."

I replied almost nastily, looking at him like he'd hit me full in the face: "No....he's not....what are you talking about?!?"

"I mean, it was on Kotaku this morning, so it may...not be true....I don't know I just wanted to tell you before you saw it at work or whatever."

My hands started shaking as I reached for my phone. "He put out a record on Friday."

I googled "David Bowie" which immediately suggested "David Bowie dead" and as several reputable news sources came up on the browser, I literally burst into tears.

Now, something you should know about me-- I do not burst into tears in my own life for almost anything. While I cry to beat the band when Barbara Stanwyck gets her heart broken on screen or Hank Williams sings about dreaming about Mama last night or someone saves a baby on an old episode of Greys Anatomy, I'm not a big crier in terms of my own life. I'm usually too stressed or too focused on how to fix things to cry in real life over my day-to-day even when it's merited. So I think I was fairly as shocked as Matthew was that tears were streaming down my face as I just laid back down in my bed.

"I'm so sorry, little bean."

"EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE. WHY IS EVERYTHING SO HORRIBLE?" I said, almost laughing through my tears about the comically bad run of days I'd had in the last week. My best friend's going through a serious crisis, I'm sick as a dog, my job/commute/workplace is killing me, I need to lose about thirty pounds, when are we going to have a baby, I MUST stop drinking so much, I hate everything....and David Bowie is dead.


As the information fell into place, I realized the album release was Bowie's last, greatest publicity stunt, as cannily planned as any other in his fifty four years in the industry. Who ELSE would hide an eighteen month, reportedly ferocious battle with cancer behind a frenzy of professional activity, from the aforementioned record with accompanying short-film-style music videos to a Broadway play featuring a Bowie penned score. Before doing the real-world equivalent of disappearing behind a magician's cape, he made sure the two singles from what was to be his final record were rife with imagery related to his passing, which of course, his faithful audience, myself included, just took as regular Bowie subject material. I had listened to "Blackstar" in December and "Lazarus" on the 8th with a "Not bad, sir!" feeling of Outside meets Heathen, totally missing lines like "Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside", "Just like that bluebird, I'll be free/ Ain't that just like me?", "Look up here/I'm in heaven" that would become achingly prescient. I hate how good this last record is, only because it stands as a stark reminder of how much I'm going to miss the man.

My love affair with David Bowie began in 1998, when, as doofy thirteen year old already having passed through a few years of voracious reading and album consumption regarding the Beatles, I picked up a copy of Viktor Bokris's Andy Warhol biography, hoping to garner some info on his friendship with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Bowie was mentioned several times, and when I saw a cd single (!!) of "I'm Afraid of Americans" in the music department of Kmart (where my mom had parked me sometime earlier as she ran around looking for household items), I loved the weird, simple line drawing on the cover. "Are you sure you want this? It's $10," my mom tutted, as this was at least twice as expensive as any of the other singles in the bin. "YES," I said, emphatically, not knowing 'd taken the first step on the biggest musical obsession of my life.

You can imagine how my mom probably was into the hanging guy in the tree/possible lynch vicitm on the cover of the album her thirteen year old was asking for her to buy...
A listen or ten later, "Pretty good," I thought. A little more modern of a sound than I was used to, but something about it piqued my interest. The next time I was at Phonoluxe, a record store on Nolensville Road where I'd been slowly collecting Beatles albums over the last year and a half as my allowance allowed, I wandered over to the regular rock n roll bins (separate from the collectors/mint record bins) and flipped through a different section of the B's than I usually perused. Based on covers alone, I picked up Space Oddity and Fame and Fashion: David Bowie's All Time Greatest Hits. At the library, there was a single copy of Stardust: The David Bowie Story by Henry Edwards and Tony Zanetta that I dutifully checked out.

It all started here, kids
Aaaaand I was hooked. Hooked, hooked, hooked. The heady combination of book smarts, glamour, good looks, boundary pushing, and GREAT. MUSIC. was like nothing I'd ever heard before. I reread Stardust several times, taking copious notes of records to look for and important acquaintances like Lou Reed and Iggy Pop to research. Photocopied the photo inserts at the Madison branch library on an old, finicky xerox to make legal paper size homemade posters of Bowie in various stages of his career, learning to use to zoom and contrast features on the machine like a pro. I had just recently made friends with a girl the year ahead of me in my related arts class, and gave her a mixtape I think in return for her letting me borrow her copy of The Stand. In the way only pre-internet, too-smart pre-teens would have the time and energy for, Kelsey and I both launched headlong into a shared obsession and a friendship that's been going strong for eighteen years. For the all-important next five years, finishing out middle school and continuing on into high school, we lived and breathed David Bowie. There were so many books to read and movies to see and, all importantly, records to fall into. A millennial resurgence in 70s nostalgia served our analog curating tastes well, as there was lots of stuff on VH1 and late night tv to consume and digest. "David Bowie's the musical guest on this late night rerun of Saturday Night Live, I'm gonna set my VCR!" "Someone with the premium cable channels taped a copy of Ziggy Stardust the movie for me, we have to watch it!" I can remember sitting on the carpet in front of the turntable in the upstairs living room of my parents' suburban house, listening to Lodger and trying to figure out what in seven hells was going on. Who sounds like this? WHAT sounds like this? Flat on my stomach with my heels kicked together in the air, a copy of the liner notes spread out in front of me and a spiral notebook. "Brian Eno?" in ballpoint pen next to a few lines from "Fantastic Voyage". He wasn't just something I listened to, he was a huge part of who I was....and to my hopeful teenage heart, what I could be.

Two idols, one picture
In the midst of mourning last week, I pulled out as many Bowie records as I could from my collection to re-arrange them in chronological order and just flip through them for old time's sake. Look at this body of work just spread out on my living room floor, an embarrassment of riches:

The only one missing is Never Let Me Down....that is not uninentional...
And that's not even all of them! And doesn't count books/buttons/whatever else I could scrape up Bowie-related. Since 1998, I've been a Bowie devotee. Years of checking the record bins on every trip to Great Escape or Phonoluxe yielded the pile of albums you see above. And EVERY record reminds me of a different time in my life-- I could tell you when I bought most of them or who this or that song reminds me of. While Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane are two of his best albums, it was really Diamond Dogs that first introduced me to my favorite "form" of Bowie, the soul chanteur receiving transmissions from another planet. Dark, dangerous, gorgeous decadence. Diamond Dogs and the Eno trilogy are records I can listen to front to back, on repeat, forever. They're a major part of the fabric of what I would call "my musical taste". And isn't my life richer for that!

This Man Who Sold the World poster and the Space Oddity album cover poster used to hang on my bedroom wall in high school-- both of them came with copies of the album.
My love of David Bowie sustained me through dozens of other musical interests-- he was a gateway drug to the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Television, William S. Burroughs...probably ones I can't even think of off the top of my head. I wouldn't think about him every day anymore, but any time anyone mentioned him, I thought, "There's my guy." When I was feeling bad, it was nice to pop in Low or Stage and just sit down with an old friend.

What I can't believe with this whole last week is how I'm actually grieving this loss. I never met the man. I don't know if it's being in a kind of adult crossroads here at 30 after the can't-wait-to-grow-up-ness of my teens and the just-spinning-your-wheels-trying-to-keep-moving feeling my 20's that is working as an emotional accelerant, but something is making this break my heart about a hundred times worse than if it was anybody else. It must have been similar for people in our parents' generation to lose Elvis or John Lennon-- not to co-opt those tragedies, each of them died far younger than David Bowie; but in terms of the impact he made in my life, he was, like Lennon and Elvis to that age group, the soundtrack to my life.

Earlier this week, trying to explain how upset I was to a friend, I legit started crying again realizing he was "there" for me. Growing up with parents that loved me but didn't always much understand me, here was something and someone I could pin all my hopes for a glittering future to. There are people out there who are like this, I told myself. Look at how big and outrageous and gorgeous and dramatic and grand the world can be. A little less so for loss of him, but I can't put into words well enough how much having that to hold on to meant to me then as it does now. Can you even imagine how it must feel to have had that much of an impact on one person, much less the legions of fans who are going through the same deep sorrow to lesser and greater degrees all over the world? I hope he knew how much he meant to everybody, not just as the "style chameleon" interviewers and journalists like to lean on as shorthand for his career and influence, but as a truly original and immensely talented artist.

So safe travels, Starman. I'm still too sad, I can't lie, but this tweet helps:



Anyway! I've been angry (Tarantino) and I've been sad (David Bowie) so far this year, hopefully I'll come back with some good news next time I update this spot! :) Lots of light to all of you, 'til next time.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I Hate Hateful 8 (And Here's A Whole Lot of Why)

HAPpy new year, kiddlings!

How have ya been, what have ya been up to? It has been a busy holiday season-- I feel like I'm still saying "Oh man, what am I going to get so and so for Christmas" to myself in spite of the fact the 25th has come, been, and gone. Ditto New Years, which Matthew and I spent watching AbFab and swilling champ in the shadow of the Playmobil pyramid I received for xmas (it. is. SO. COOL). Both days seem like they half happened for how out-of-it all these at work/not at work starts and stops, I'm telling you! In spite of my dazed condition, I've been moved to pull up a chair at my own corner of the internet to update you on my very learnèd opinion on the new Quentin Tarantino movie. People of my long-term acquaintance know one of my party tricks in college used to be that you quote any line (ANY LINE, not just the memorable quotes) from the whole of Pulp Fiction to me and I could give you the next five, as if I were Richard Burton reciting passages from Shakespeare. That's how crazy I was/am about his first four-ish movies. I'm veering from my usual positive outlook on the world to respond to a number of people who asked me "But what didn't you like about Hateful 8? I thought it was pretty good!"

What didn't I HATE about Hateful 8 would be an easier question to answer succinctly (the costumes). And I'm here to tell you why.

Such promise! Such unfulfilled promise!

Just take a moment to put yourself in my over-sized loafers and think upon the beforehand knowledge I had regarding the former of the Kurt Russell winter double bill. Written and directed by one of my favorite living directors. Showing in a limited number of theaters in 70 mm (!!) and Panovision, reviving a dead film format last used in 1966. A REVENGE WESTERN featuring aforementioned beloved John Carpenter star and Samuel L. Jackson. I would even excuse the casting of Tim Roth (one of my least favorite actors of all time, an opinion I obviously do not share with QT) and Walter Goggins (am ALWAYS leery of actors known for television roles being put in major motion pictures) because look at that setup. I purposefully put aside my extreme disappointment in Tarantino's post-Kill Bill 1 output, because self-same movie may be the best new-at-the-time movie I've seen in a theater and consarn it, maybe he's pulled his act together finally in the ten plus years since he'd put out a movie I would watch more than once. All this dragged me out to Franklin on Christmas Day eve to stand in line with a bunch of other like-minded individuals hoping to score good seats to the 7 pm showing of, as a Stagecoach font on the front of the souvenir booklet reminded us was, "the eighth film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino". Here's a shot I took with popcorn bucket in balanced in the crook of my arm, brimming with bright eyed anticipation for the three plus hours to come.

Talk. About. A LET DOWN.

Where do I even start? From a purely technical standpoint, the "glorious 70mm once in a lifetime experience" I was promised was undercut by the fact that the theater did not project the film on a large-enough, Panovision sized screen. I know I don't exactly understand how projection works besides light and film and machine, but I am deeply confused as to why people in other cities saw a full 70 mm format screening (see a jubilant in-theater shot of the correct sized screen here ), and I saw a movie projected on a regular size screen with a generous FIFTH OF THE FIELD OF VISION BLACKED OUT TO ACCOMMODATE THE SCREENING RATIO. It felt like the emperor's clothes... was everyone else really impressed by this mindbogglingly poor decision on behalf of the exhibitors? I was honestly sitting in the theater up until the film actually started going..."So they're going to expand the screen, right? They're not going to just show this whole time like this, right?"

It was supposed to look like the top paint looked like the bottom at THE ONLY 70 MM SHOWING OF IT IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE.

Yeah, not the same thing.
Glorious my eye. I think I would have done better to just go see the movie in wide release and in a less generous ratio that was at least better-to-look-at. Or even in one of those horrible pan-and-scan 90s full format (words I never thought would escape my mouth). F- for presentation.

Even with that going on, I think I could have forgiven the horrible viewing experience if there was anything up on the screen to view. Tarantino to self: "How about we set a western, a genre known for showcasing the splendor of God's green earth, shot in wide format, special stock film of which much ballyhoo is made, in A SINGLE ROOM, guys? Indoors! Crazy, right? Whaddya think? NO ONE'S EVER DONE IT BEFORE." For a reason, my friend. Sweeping vistas? John Ford-like dollyshots of horses galloping across the open plain? Maybe a mountain? Not for 90% of the movie, I'm afraid. If you like looking up close at what could essentially be a television or very detailed dinner theater set, well, this is the movie set is for you.

"Wait, so the ENTIRE MOVIE is set in this room?" "Well, yeah, more or less. I'd say like 90%." [considers this]"You're the boss, applesauce."
SPEAKING OF, this is the least well written and acted of ALL...A-L-L...the Quentin Tarantino movies. I don't say that lightly. I say that with a heavy heart and a near tear-inducing level of frustration and disappointment. The whole picture felt like Tarantino wrote a very interesting one page treatment with each of the eight characters outlined in two to three sentences, sold the idea to the Weinsteins, sat back for eight months, and then stayed up all night the night before production began, freshman-year-term-paper-style, stretching forty five minutes of action and dialogue into THREE. FREAKING. HOURS. Three hours for a movie lover is no big deal, if it's done well. I was psyched to see some epic, Sergio Leone style narrative spill across the screen in the grand tradition of  spaghetti westerns, a genre in which I know QT has mastery-level understanding. Or hey, maybe he would do some Delmer Daves/Raoul Walsh/John Ford OLD SCHOOL Western. Another style he's referenced with great proficiency in past interviews and work. But oh hell no.

Problems (warning, spoilers ahead):
  • Provocativeness for the sake of provocativeness
    • Violence towards women: the FIRST time Kurt Russell hit Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in the mouth as hard as he would a man, even in the year 2015, I was shocked. Very effective, made you think twice about the characters, who was good and who was bad, etc, etc. The subsequent ten or fifteen times, I was also shocked, by how unshocking it was, based on sheer, meaningless repetition. How could the writing be so heavyhanded (no pun intended) as to assume this would continue being a "Oh my gosh!" moment for the ensuing million times it happened? I have questions but no answers, kids. Questions such as:
      • If Kurt Russell is "principled" enough to hang criminals for their offences to see justice served, how is he not above just clocking a woman in the face a comical number of times? For crimes (ostensibly committed with her brother's gang) that we are never really even made aware of...I know more about what Bruce Dern's character did to deserve to be killed than what she did to be repeatedly beaten while on her way to be hanged.
      • When Jennifer Jason Leigh's character was down to like no teeth and bathed in (hers, other people's) blood, there was a momentarily surreal shot of her broken mouth cracked wide in a laugh...but it was a thirty seconds of interesting counterbalanced by HOURS of waiting for something like that to happen. And it turned out to be an isolated incident. What was the point of her entire character other than as an impetus as to why the two factions of characters were all in the same place?
At least SLJ's costume was on point.
    • Race: QT ALWAYS gets flack for using racial epithets in his movies. And it's (almost) always undeserved. HOWEVER. Let's talk about:
      • Samuel L. Jackson's "big speech" about killing Bruce Dern's son. I think I was supposed to be jawdroppingly surprised by what happened to him....uh, except similar sex-as-an-act-of-degrading-someone was all the frank over A Brief History of Seven Killings or even one story arc of the police drama The Shield. How am I supposed to respect/root for his character after this? Yeah, what Bruce Dern did was some racist, horrible, inexcusable stuff-- but what SLJ did to his son wasn't so much "revenge" as it was just horrible and unfunny when I felt like Tarantino might think the overblown, over-the-top-ness of it would elevate the scene waaaay more than it did. The resonance or dawning horror I think I was supposed to feel as that story unfolded was instead just "is that all there iiiiiiis...? Is that all there issssss...."
      • Apparently the Lincoln letter was a later-draft addition to the screenplay-- the leaked version of the script doesn't include a scene I was trying to find from the final cut, where SLJ says something akin to "it's hard for a black man to be taken seriously in America today". Which is a sentiment I 100% respect and 100% feel is relevant to the year 2015/2016...and which I also feel just got airlifted into the script to be like "TOPICAL...amirite?" Show me, don't tell me-- and instruct me or enlighten me if you're going to try to get into big topics. You don't just get to reference a major issue and get points for having "discussed" it. WHICH BRINGS ME TO:
      • The use of the n-word over, and over, AND OVER, AND OVER, AND OVER. See also: writing problems.
Here's one page of the original script, which plays exactly like this in the film:

You can go, "Well, ANY Quentin Tarantino page of dialogue could have ten instances of the n word in around a minute and a half of screen time, right?" True. However, I've never been so acutely aware of him using it as lazy-shock-value/broadly telegraphing "SEE, THEY'RE RACISTS" instead of actually correct/true-to-the-character writing or nuanced dialogue. I know he wants us to think "Oh look, it's one racist talking to the other!" But let's pretend the offensive word wasn't offensive. Replace the n word in that conversation with "greengrocer" and you end up with something like this:
1: You know that greengrocer over there?
2: What greengrocer? You mean that greengrocer? The greengrocer sitting at the bar?
1: Yeah, that greengrocer. The greengrocer sitting at the bar!
2: I don't associate with greengrocers, even if he IS  a greengrocer sitting at the bar.
1: Well that greengrocer isn't just ANY greengrocer...that greengrocer...that greengrocer OVER THERE....
I know I'm exaggerating, but it was JUST. THAT. RIDICULOUS. Not "excessive" so much as actually foolish-sounding.

    • Showing and telling and showing and then telling again: Did we need to hear/see/see/hear/hear every FREAKING PLOT POINT ALREADY MADE FOUR TIMES in the movie FOUR ADDITIONAL TIMES. Examples:
      • SLJ essentially explains what must have happened to Minnie who runs the place and debunks the Mexican character's story that "they've gone visiting over the mountain" point. I mean, it was like a Sherlock Holmes/ murder mystery deconstruction of all the reasons this probably happened rather than that. "And so, it would follow that if x is true, and x is this, then it's not possible for y to be true. What I think probably occurred is....". Ok. Great. A little annoying, but ok. THEN THEY SPENT 10 MINUTES SHOWING US CHANNING TATUM AND FRIENDS DOING WHAT SLJ SAID THEY DID. [internal screaming] Should I have gone to get more popcorn during one of those parts? Because having both of them in the movie makes no sense.
      • Flashback with voiceover for the part where SLJ kills Bruce Dern's son as QT never misses an opportunity in this movie to treat the audience as if their substandard intelligence wouldn't pick up on the events unless it was both telegraphed AND shown. "See? It's cinema! You're hearing what happened but then you're also seeing it but then we're also telling you again for emphasis what happened."
      • Last scene where the "true identities" of each of the gang members are what end? For what purpose? Who cares? "I'm Sharky Sharkerson." "WELL! SHARKY SHARKESON! Did you know SHARKY SHARKESON killed eight men in a hold up? Sharky Sharkeson has a $10,000 bounty on his head. And you're him! The old Shark himself!" It was a lobotomy-patient-approach-to-dialogue call back to the n word situation I mentioned above 
    • Bad Directing Leading to Bad Acting
      • Why was Kurt Russell, a very strong, very experienced actor, doing THE BROADEST JOHN WAYNE IMPERSONATION known to man on every single line of his dialogue? I mean, a man who lived through ten plus Disney movies and a slew of mid sixties' and seventies' child actor tv appearances in his adolescence should pretty much be immune to being embarrassed for his onscreen work, but I was embarrassed FOR him. I think Tarantino is to blame, because I'm 98% this was HIS choice for the character rather than Kurt Russell's. So I am also mad at Tarantino for doing this to one of my favorite actors.
      • Why was Michael Madsen even in the movie? He had like six lines of dialogue-- all very well acted, but was QT just throwing his old friend some "exposure"? Did "The Hateful 7" as a title rankle with him to the point that he needed an additional character with almost no effect on the storyline? Ditto Jennifer Jason Leigh, a FINE dramatic actress, who was mostly just shrieking or cussing or singing that one ballad in the middle (which was actually pretty decent).
      • Why was Tim Roth pretending to be Christoph Waltz pretending to be whatever was supposed to be going on with his character? Waltz being one the few bright spots of the last two Tarantino pictures, I figured he must have had a scheduling conflict which the filmmaker solved by saying "Hey, Tim Roth, can you come and do two days of work on this new movie of mine? No, I'm excited to have you be here, too. Can you watch these two audition reels of Waltz from my last two movies and just do 'him'? Yeah, no, just however you think he would say it, you say it that way. FANTASTIC." Uhhhh, not so much.
      • Why was Samuel L Jackson, another great screen presence, given nothing to work with and yet expected to work in pretty much every scene for the whole movie. I can see Tarantino in his Kangol hat behind the camera calling out, "JUST YELL, SAM! Yeah! Just KEEP YELLING!"
There's so much more. Why was the much-hyped Ennio Morricone original score used to the least effectiveness at every opportunity?  I actually wrote out a page long list of other things I hated, but you can call me on my cell phone and ask me about it sometime if you have another hour to kill hearing me weeping bitter tears over what could have been.

Hateful 8: More like the Unenjoyable One Hundred and Eighty Seven (minutes of my life I won't get back)

Last point I'll make: how you REALLY KNOW this is a bad movie? I'm sitting there trying to make sense of nonsense character motivations/plot points just to give Tarantino the benefit of the doubt. I can't think of another movie where I've been mentally racing through a list of possibilities that never come to anything because it's not a brilliant written movie that I'll eventually discover has been fooling me the whole time (à la the ultimately ineffectual but at least imaginative Shutter Island) but instead, as said, a sham of a screenplay. At various times, I thought:
  • The character who shot SLJ was actually Bruce Dern's son-- the whole forced fellatio monologue was a ruse cooked up by SLJ to force Bruce Dern into drawing his gun so SLJ would be justified in killing him after he's put him through some heavy psychological trauma related to the (spurious) account of his child's death. Bruce Dern is related to both Channing Tatum and JJL, which is why he was there in the first place in cahoots with the gang.
    • Nope, sorry, didn't happen. Just two unrelated, stupid plot lines floating around in this janitor's mop bucket we're calling a narrative.
  • The Mexican character who talks like one of the banditos from Treasure of the Sierra Madre is actually perfectly fluent in English and using this "Oy, gringo" facade as a strategy against the others. At some point, we'll hear him drop character and really mess these guys up in the Queen's own English.
    • Nope, just a Mexican stereotype from the 1940s. Sorry.
  • Walt Goggin's character's BROOOOOAD, horrible performance in the whole of the movie has something to do with something HE'S hiding. Maybe he's been in cahoots with the others this whole time and is playing some kind of long con on Samuel L Jackson?
    • Uh, no, he's just not a good movie actor and being egged on by a director I'm beginning to believe is not-a-good-movie-drector.
  • All of this will make sense in the final 15 minutes of this torturously boring three hour experience.
    • Sorry, Charlie. At least that one scene with the under-the-floorboards shoot out was kind of cool....? #notnearlycoolenough
Well, I have let vent my spleen, people. I really can't tell you how almost on-edge I was part way through the movie knowing it would be another few years before I'll get maybe an even less impressive movie out of what was once one of the most promising working directors in Hollywood.

The Roy Orbison song that would have better fit my mood over the closing credits, btw:

How about you? Did you see the movie? Where do you stand in terms of Tarantino fandom? Have you seen any movies that did or didn't live up to your expectations this holiday season? Let's talk!

I have to get back to the grind, but I will talk to you again about something I am less mad about very soon, haha! Til then.


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