Archive for the 'Video' Category

Praising Jesus to Make Music to Praise Jesus To

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

[I wrote this a while ago, but never posted it. I’m not sure why, I was just never happy with how it turned out. However, I thought I would continue my tradition of ending a blog sabbatical with a Danielson post, so here it is. — S.]

I’ve been meaning to write a review of the Danielson documentary for a few months now. Danielson has been my number one favorite band for the past year, and so I was quite excited to watch the film and see a little bit of what band leader Daniel Smith, who I really think is a musical and artistic genius, is all about. It documents the band’s history up to the release of 2006’s breakthrough album Ships. The band is unique and the personalities fascinating enough that I believe it’s a good movie even for people who aren’t as familiar or abjectly fawningly in love with Danielson’s music as I am, and it raises a lot of worthwhile issues about art and religion and what it means to be successful.

In one of the interviews, Daniel Smith is asked what irritates him about critics reviewing Danielson records, and his answer is that the writer always feels the need to spend the first half of the review on disclaimers about religion: “I’m not a Christian, but…”, like a mantra to justify their objectivity with respect to the music. He correctly points out that critics review reggae records without prefacing it with “I’m not Rasta, but…”. I’m not an alcoholic, but I listen to country. I’m not a complete douche, but I listen to Coldplay. Ha ha just kidding! I don’t listen to Coldplay. But I do share this desire to add exculpatory disclaimers when I say things like “I’m really into this Christian rock band…”.It’s a problem because “Christian rock” is such an apt description, but has a lot of amply justified prejudice to live down. So it’s kind of his own fault that he inherits a lot of the indie scene’s general suspicion of Christian™ music, which is so much horrible pablum. The mainstream evangelist labels that are hostile to Danielson are essentially factories for mass-producing kitsch according to very precise specifications, who have no context at all for perfect, psychedelic pop tunes. His message may be Jesus, but his medium is pure John Lennon.

It’s clear that Daniel’s father, a folk musician himself, is irked by the reaction of the Christian music community, and it really is a massive indictment of their collective aesthetic taste. But then, this is the same community that chows down on Left Behind like it was palatable, so, you know, not exactly news I guess.

Daniel Smith is eager to share with interviewers the religious inspiration for the music; when asked about his creative process, he always responds that he doesn’t take credit for his art, he just “points to the creator.” Several times throughout the film, Smith repeats some variation on “It all comes from the Creator of music, the Creator of all everything. We just let Him speak and try not to get in the way.” He compares his relationship to his creative output to that of a young child helping his father fix a car — he’s not really helping, he’s just there, having fun, feeling useful, more in the way than anything else. It’s a little difficult for an atheist to engage with Smith about his process. Fortunately for me, we’re living in the postmodern era and I have no trouble sidelining any authorial privilege over interpretation, so I have no compunction about offering an alternate explanation: that Smith is a genius and, therefore, also a little crazy. Much like another crazy songwriting prodigy, Daniel Johnston, who was the subject of his own doc, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, who’s craziness also tends toward religious fervor. Though in his case well beyond Smith’s wholesome eccentricity, tending rather more towards dangerous psychotic breakdowns. Also unlike Smith, Johnston’s story is a tragic one, though not only for his failure to achieve mainstream success, but for his failure to develop as an artist. At the end of The Devil and Daniel Johnston, he’s still playing the same songs and drawing the same child-like cartoons of Jesus and Casper the Friendly Ghost.

I found the interactions between the two Daniels one of the more interesting scenes, because it was the one time that Smith seemed uncomfortable. Both are preternaturally gifted songwriters and “outsider” artists who struggle for mainstream acceptance. The focus in the latter half of Make a Joyful Noise Here is on Smith’s attempt to push forward and redefine himself with his music and art, without the Famile. Towards the end, director J.L. Aronson is able to get a little deeper into Smith’s actual writing process, which Smith understandably has difficulty articulating. One thing he said really struck me as a very true expression of the creative process: that mostly what he does is wait for different ideas and images to “start pointing to each other.” This is a frustrating and mysterious process that nobody really understands or controls, and that seems to me like pretty much everything that can be intelligently said about it.

Sufjan has his own little chapter in the movie, and we see him hesitantly learning to play the cowbell, taking brother Andrew’s place on their European festival show, and opening for Brother Danielson at tiny clubs in front of eight people. However, I felt like the Sufjan portions were sort of beside the point for the film as a whole, and would have been better left as DVD extras, keeping the film a bit more focussed on the perspective of the family. The film is separated into chapters narrated by each of the family/band members, which gave a very personal and intimate touch to the production; Sufjan’s section is a departure from this. I mean, it’s clear why they chose to focus on him, he’s a huge star now. I just felt like it wandered a little too far from the focus and theme of the rest of the film.

The doc ends on a triumphant note, first with the recording of the amazing Brother Danielson record, and then the critically-acclaimed Ships, which brought together everyone who has ever contributed to a Danielson Famile recording, and provides a bookend to Smith’s long-term three-part vision of Danielson Famile/Brother Danielson/Danielsonship. I really can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

Health Note

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

I bought a chin-up bar and installed it in my hallway doorframe. I saw it when I was at Sport Chek, cheking out tennis rackets, and thought it would be a handy little piece of exercise equipment. There’s a gym at my office, and before I was full time I always thought it would be a good thing to make use of, but I’ve never been. I’ve decided that I don’t like gyms, they’re stinky and gross.

So I figured that a chin-up bar is a simple and private way to help cultivate a physique — along with my Ripped Berry smoothie from Booster Juice. “I’ll have a Ripped Berry,” is what I say to the completely bored girl behind the counter, “because I’m ripped.” And then I do a little flex pose for her. She pretends not to notice or hear me, but I can tell she’s pretty impressed.

And then I go home and do three chin-ups… that’s right, IN A ROW!

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Alice Donut Liver Henry Moore

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

I posted the mp3 of Alice Donut‘s new single, the seven-minute epic “Madonna’s Bombing Sarajevo,” on the WoJ post a couple days ago, but I recently saw the video and thought I’d share that too, because it’s pretty cool. (Unfortunately the quality is kind of shit, I think there’s a higher res version on their myspace.)

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Alice Donut was my favorite band in the whole world, and pretty much the only band I listened to, from age 16 to about 18. And I still think they hold up as one of the great 90’s post-punk bands that was always sort of on the cusp of breaking really huge, but never did. They have a fiercely loyal cult following, but I think they were just a little bit too out there to break through to a more mainstream audience. Their lyrics were a bit too intelligent, and Tom’s vocals are a bit too strange. When they broke up in 1996 I was devastated, but luckily I was able to see them on their final tour, the very first rock show I ever saw, with seminal Vancouver punksters NoMeansNo and the Japanese noise-core group Ultra BidĂ©.

They reunited in 2004 and released a semi-disappointing comeback album, Three Sisters. Their latest record, Fuzz, is pretty awesome though. It’s nothing super new or groundbreaking, it’s no Pure Acid Park or Untidy Suicides Of Your Degenerate Children, but it is a good, solid rock album.

Fun fact: the band name was conceived on the way to their first gig, at CBGBs. They didn’t have a name yet, and drove past a donut shop and came up with the horrible/brilliant pun on the movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The promoter at CBGBs shortened it to Alice Donut to fit on the posters.

DFW Newswatch Alert

Friday, December 29th, 2006

A movie version of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is in production. Cool!

I finally watched Tony Takitani, a movie based on the Haruki Murakai story of the same name, (You can read the story here.) I was a little disappointed, just because the script followed the story almost word-for-word. The vast majority of the film consisted of nearly static shots, narrated in the third-person throughout. In several scenes a character would look into the camera and provide a line of third-person narration. It was beautifully shot and acted, but the style was sort of alienating; overall it felt “told” instead of presented in a more self-contained way. This effect was probably enhanced by the fact that it’s in Japanese with English subtitles, creating yet another textual layer between me and the action on the screen.)
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What If Your Blood Were Not You

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

Subtle “The Mercury Craze”

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“What would you give in order to get your hands on the utmost in luxury blood?” I love Dose One’s lyrics and I love this album.

Man Man “Banana Ghost”

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From another one of my favorite albums this year, Man Man’s Six Demon Bag.

Cornelius “Gum”

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The new Cornelius LP, Sensual, isn’t really grabbing me the way Point did. Sensual sounds a lot more minimal and cerebral, more experimental, while Point had a more accessible lush pop energy to it. Still good though, and “Gum” is my favorite song on it at the moment.

Time of the Season for Loving

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Dear Wendy, written by the infamous Dutch Americanophile Lars von Trier and directed by his longtime collaborator Thomas Vinterberg, is the heartwarming tale of a boy and his gun, although in this case the heart is warmed not so much by sentiment but by hot lead.

The story revolves around a group of young outcasts, (mid to late teens seemingly, but this is a little vague, in some ways they seem very adult, in other ways, particularly their enthusiasm for escapist fantasy, quite childlike). In their podunk American mining town of Estherslope, they form a secret gun club in an abandoned mine works, lead by Dick, a strict philosophical pacifist who discovers that carrying a small pearl-handled pistol greatly improves his self-confidence. Sharing his newfound source of confidence and power with the other downtrodden and abused residents of their backwater berg, their guns become mystical fetish objects imbued with personality and will, and around which they devise elaborate cult rituals. Calling themselves ‘The Dandies’, they dress in Wildean vintage costumes and speak with an affected literary erudition, study ballistics and gunshot wound pathology and practice marksmanship. Their guns are given names (Dick’s pistol is the titular Wendy), and new members take part in a wedding ceremony to their chosen weapon. The link between guns and sexual power and knowledge is made explicit throughout the film. Susan, picked on at school for her small boobs, finds that as her skill with her akimbo pistols grows, so also do her breasts.

Dick deals with his moral conflict about his pacifism and his gun cult by developing a strict moral code that the guns are never to be drawn. So repelled by violence are they that they cannot even utter the word “killing,” using instead the word “loving.” Loving, says their code, must never ever happen; that would be the worst thing of all. None of the real, human relationships in the movie have any substantial sexual element, which is part of what makes the characters seem extremely child-like. The confusion of loving vs. killing is pretty much the central conceit of the movie. Written by Lars von Trier, it retains the sort of theatrical-realism as in Dogville or Manderlay, the same heavily allegorical “village square” setting, although in this case the third-person omniscient narration is replaced by Dick’s voice-over reading a love-letter to Wendy. Borrowing from Manderlay in particular is the interest in confronting the audience with racial tabu, especially with respect to the fear of black sexual potency, a theme completely hammered home in Manderlay and introduced again here.

I wasn’t really watching the film, as a lot of other reviewers did, as a satire/criticism of American gun-fetish culture. von Trier is often dismissed by silly idiots because his movies are only about shitting on America. I didn’t really see this film as dealing particularly with American society, the guns here being, I though, metaphors for sexual power. Structurally, the film has a lot in common with the coming-of-age genre, with the major exceptions that the obligatory romantic interest between Dick and Susan is here completely sublimated into Dick’s passion for his pistol, and that everyone dies at the end.

Dear Wendy is definitely more lighthearted than either Dogville or Manderlay, maybe thanks to the contribution of Vinterberg, but if you weren’t impressed by either of those, Dear Wendy is unlikely to change your opinion of von Trier.

But I don’t feel tardy…

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

On Friday I went to see Michael Apted’s documentary 49 Up. It’s the seventh film in the Up series, which began by interviewing ten seven-year-old English schoolchildren in 1964, and checking in with them every seven years (at ages 14, 28, 35, 42, and now 49) I’d never heard of the series before reading the Cinemateque listing, and apparently I’m the last person on the planet to know about it.

Fortunately for me, this edition incorporates a great deal of footage from the previous Up films. Despite this, and despite the 135-minute running time, I felt like I was missing a lot of the context that would make these people interesting to me. The film consists of a lot of sit-down type interviews, with Apstead off-camera asking fairly point-blank questions about what they think about their lives. Their satisfaction in their career and family life, interspersed with previous interviews with their younger selves talking about what they want out of life, whether they want kids, and so on. I found it sort of surprising that a majority of them, it seemed, ended up roughly where their 7, 14, and 28-yo selves had predicted. Most of them were happily second-married, with between three and five generally normal-seeming children. They were all basically generous, decent people. Makes you think life isn’t so hard after all, really.

Except for John, the working-class kid from Liverpool, who spent most of his early adulthood living in squats in London and wandering homeless in rural Northern England. At 49 he’s become a Social Democratic politician on income assistance. His life was the most interesting, basically because suffering is inherently dramatic. And also, terrifying as it sounds, I found him by far the most relatable. Like him, and unlike most of the other subjects, I feel a severe discontinuity with my past hopes, desires and fears. Although my life hasn’t gone off the rails quite so catastrophically, where I am now, fast approaching thirty, has very little in common with my expectations ten and twenty years ago.

The point of the documentary isn’t really drama, though, or even character. It felt much more like a nature show, an oddly distant anthropological study of the baby boomers. On a typical reality tv show, the subjects self-select for shamelessness; here, they were chosen as children, nominated by their school boards. The fact that all but one of them has stuck in there for 42 years is a little surprising. One subject deals with the intrusion into her privacy by not allowing her husband or children to take part in the film. Nevertheless, she continues, perhaps out of a sense of obligation to the project. Another uses the project to promote his charitable organization in Bulgaria. “Watching people get old, bald and fat,” he jibes, “… it’s thrilling, I’m sure.”

And it is, in a way. It’s life, and what could really be more interesting. Phillip Roth’s book Everyman is interesting in the same way, dealing with the life trajectory of a mostly ordinary, good-hearted, selfish man who gets a job, gets married, has kids, has affairs, gets divorced, gets old and then dies. Of course, the novel form allows Roth much more license to explore the nuances of inner life and self-justification, which are all the interesting parts of ordinary lives.

Death Of A President

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

I watched Death Of A President last night. It’s a television fake-umentary about the aftermath of the assassination of President George W. “Dubbya “Hitler”” Bush in 2007. He’s taken out by a sniper while leaving the Chicago Sheraton after a speech. Concurrent with this is a massive, unruly protest in the streets, so naturally protest leaders are rounded up. Then they identify a Syrian employee of the building from which the shooter attacked and are pressured to build a case against him. The unfolding of the investigation, the pressure to treat this as a Syrian-sponsored terrorist act, and the political consequences, are all handled in a pretty plausible and interesting way. U.S. domestic politics was left moot, which is probably a wise decision. Can you imagine what Fox News would be like for the next three months afterwards? Can you imagine the Atrios thread? “Comments (62,967)”

The story is primarily told through acted interviews, spliced with newsreel footage of Bush and Cheney speechifying, and acted scenes of protests and secret service agents scrambling. Repurposing scenes of actual events within the fictional context created a seriously eerie effect. particularly President Cheney’s eulogy over “Bush’s” casket, which I guess was a real eulogy he gave for someone else. It’s really Cheney, and he’s really eulogizing. At one point they overdubbed the words “George Bush,” but it was the only time I noticed it. Uncanny.

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Congratulations North Korea

Monday, October 9th, 2006

N. Korea detonates a nuclear device. According to seismic data, the underground detonation was between 3.8 (S. Korean data) and 4.2 (US Geological Survey data) on the Richter scale, which translates to approximately a 1 kiloton bomb. Which means the device probably failed to achieve critical mass. So that’s good news, I guess.

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Survival Research

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006
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Danielson forever!

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Did I Step On Your Trumpet?
That video makes me feel warm and squishy inside. There’s no such thing as too much Danielson. I think I have all their albums now, and I’ve fallen in love with every single one of them. My daily listening has yet to make me any more Christian, however. Am I doing it wrong? Should I try playing them backwards?