Monday, May 28, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

The movie did not open well, apparently.
I've been mulling this over, for a couple of reasons: 1) I enjoyed it immensely; 2) I didn't feel especially compelled to see it.

Solo reminded me of Vera CruzRobert Aldrich's comically cynical western from 1954 — with elements of the Hope/Crosby Road movies and (naturally) Casablanca. It is absolutely larded with the sorts of details that continuity freaks slaver over, but rolls from scene to scene so briskly that when it was over and we were in the parking lot I was surprised to discover the film was 30 minutes longer than I thought. I'm with Kate Taylor: Solo is the simplest and most satisfying Disney Star Wars yet.

So why was I in no hurry to see it?

It's a strange thing — Disney is producing franchise content with, I would argue, commendable panache. The roster now includes four movies with sturdier stories and more compelling characters than the Majordomo managed in his last four SW movies. Yet the Mouse's marketing department struggles to make the pitch.

The one Solo trailer I saw elicited a universal “meh” from my family. It wasn't until someone replaced the orchestral score with the Beastie Boys' “Sabotage” that my feelings toward the material's potential changed. The running joke was “'Sabotage' improves everything,” but it was indeed an indication of just how lost Disney's promo people seem to be when it comes to presenting this property.

Until I was actually sitting in the theatre chair, this movie did not feel like essential viewing. Unless “Star Wars” is at the beginning of the title, the rest is peripheral — an unintentional side effect from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Solo (I'm hoping still) has potential to launch a series, but the fact that Rogue One was an unambiguous one-off does not improve the odds.

Now consider the stills. If you enter “Solo” into Google Images, you'll get plenty of shots that look like this:
Inert, murky, predominantly sombre if not joyless, and lacking the visual punch of, for instance, The Last Jedi's garish red palette. Solo has at least one set-piece that was visually surprising, along with plenty of sequences with kinetic oomph, but you wouldn't know it from what we see online and elsewhere.

And finally I think the franchise is desperately missing Ralph McQuarrie's unscalable vision. I can't imagine McQuarrie ever giving the go-ahead to perching a lead character on top of a thumb-drive, or inside a peeled-back sardine-tin. And that's just vehicle design.

It's a shame — aside from the occasional ho-hum visual, Solo joins a growing list of deeply satisfying Star Wars narratives.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Groovy Gurus: re-essaying the wisdom that sends a young man down unanticipated paths.

I went through a bit of a rough patch in my mid-20s. Nothing remarkable — closing the door on a significant relationship, and reconfiguring all the others. Mid-20s stuff, and I was hurtin' in that mid-20s fashion.

I stopped listening to rock 'n' roll and started listening to jazz. That helped.

I also started reading self-help books.

Most were actually unhelpful — Alice Miller, especially (I have to wonder if her wounding theories didn't in fact add to DFW's woes). But a few cut through the fog to boost my internal wherewithal.

[Takes deep breath...]

I forgot to mention: this was 1991. Just bear that in mind, please.

M. Scott Peck had several books on the NYT bestseller list. I read The Road Less Traveled, and I grokked it. “Life is difficult” — yes! It is, it truly is...

Here's another quote, from another book that was big in '91:
What does it mean when a man falls in love with a radiant face across the room? It may mean that he has some soul work to do. His soul is the issue. Instead of pursuing the woman and trying to get her alone, away from her husband, he needs to go alone himself, perhaps to a mountain cabin, for three months, write poetry, canoe down a river, and dream. That would save some women a lot of trouble — Robert Bly, Iron John

Dude — yes!!

A friend had a shack in the pines near Peterborough. I couldn't afford three months, but I did have a week of paid vacation coming to me, so off I went. No mountain, no river (certainly no phone), but plenty of solitude, notebooks and pencils. I supercharged my mythopoeic ass and returned to the city a stronger man.

So: helpful words from fellas who wanted to be helpful to other fellas — readers who were younger and more adrift than they. Readers like me. Mission accomplished.
"Now me want cookie!"
But, you know, a fella keeps reading and if he's actually taken some of these mythopoeic lessons to heart he reads widely and he reads deeply. And he eventually goes back to the words of the early sages that sent him on this journey and he re-essays their worth. And perhaps what once struck him with immeasurable force in a time of youthful crisis may, upon deeper reflection, be worth little when the reader finds himself on the other side of said crisis. He may read more of these men's words, and listen to accounts of their behaviour as they aged and did not go gently into that good night. And the reader may think, with some justification, “Yeah, that is just a little whack.”

If you don't kill the Buddha, he'll do the job for you.

Look, Jordan Peterson is not my bag of meat. But I get why he's a very big deal right now — he's Robert Bly on steroids, a digital media Lenny Bruce, clean and sober but jonesing on Jungian archetypes.
The "Groovy Guru" of KAOS -- I'd almost swear that's a MacBook to the left.
And I totally get the controversy. For the uninitiated (really?) let me sum it up — “You're not listening to what he's actually saying.” 

And both sides are right.

I won't address the nay-sayers, except to say, wow, do you ever have a shitty grasp on mythopoeic essence — your novels read like the hackneyed screeds that sent me screaming from the church pew. (I'm digging your comic books, though — keep it up.)

If you're an avid Petersonite — keep working through his syllabus, bucko (hey, he's big on Frye!). It might be in a year or two or it might be next week, but you will reach a point where you'll be glad you did the further/deeper reading.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The road map to the life of the mind

“I gotta tell you, the life of the mind...there's no road map for that territory. And exploring it can be painful. The kind of pain most people don't know anything about.” Barton Fink [In which we discover Our Hero to be an insufferable prat.]
"But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
The life of the mind — there is a road map for that territory, actually, but it is wildly unreliable.

Still, I've been thinking a great deal about why I think the way I do — why I yam what I yam. I cogitate thus because I am on the other side of the age divide.

Kids These Days think about things differently than I do, but not so differently than I once did. How the heck did that happen?

I've had the “young liberal/old conservative” canard thrown at me, but I protest. Given the resources and consciousness-warping wealth of this country, I believe supplying a roof for every head and basic nutrition for every household table ought to be a given — everything after that is just detail work. That makes me a Lefty, no?

On Paul's urging, I asked the family: “Who is it that you say I am?”

“Oh, he's way-out-there Left,” said my wife.

“Nah, he's conservative,” said my daughter.


I hope to meander through some recollections of people and words that brought me to where I am, currently. But first, some longer reads that have prompted this particular direction of meditation.

“Liberalism and empiricism have parted company, and nothing has been learnt” — so says John Gray, in The Problem of Hyper-Liberalism.

Terry Eagleton — that godless, Commie Christ-nik — surveys Gray's Seven Types of Atheism with a mixture of admiration and disappointment.

“Liberalism has failed, because Liberalism has succeeded”John Médaille suggests the obvious — Liberalism is mercantilism's vanguard stooge, knee-capping traditional ideologies to gain hegemonic control over the masses and their means — then wonders, “Why does anti-Liberalism fail, and fail always and everywhere?”

The Barton Fink illustration comes from A Tourist With A Typewriter, by Stephen Sparks.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"What Nietzsche had to strain to see, we would now have to strain to overlook."

“Everywhere language has fallen ill, and the oppression of this dreadful sickness weighs on all of human development. Language has continually had to climb up to the highest level it could reach, in order to grasp the domain of thought, and has therefore had to move as far as can be from its profound impulse simply to correspond with things as they are. Thus, in the short space of contemporary civilization its strength has been exhausted by this excessive effort. It can no longer accomplish precisely that purpose for which alone it exists: to enable suffering people to understand one another’s most basic troubles. Man is no longer recognizable in language. He can no longer give a true representation of himself. In this dimly intuited condition, language has everywhere become a power unto itself, which now grabs the people with ghostly arms and forces them to places they don’t even want to go. As soon as they try to understand one another and come to some agreement they are seized by the madness of general concepts. Man is no longer recognizable in language because language no longer corresponds to his actual troubles but only to the hollowness of those tyrannical words and general concepts. The very sounds of the words enchant them. As a consequence of this inability to make themselves known, whatever people create together carries the sign of their lack of mutual understanding. It corresponds only to the hollowness of these tyrannical words and concepts and not to man’s actual troubles. So to all its other sufferings humanity must add this new suffering: that words lead to actions which no longer correspond with feelings.” Untimely Meditations, IV, 5 — Friedrich Nietzsche
 “What Nietzsche had to strain to see, we would now have to strain to overlook” — David Cayley, 1993.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Obligatory Hockey Post

C'mon -- you think I'm not excited?

The season for my preferred team was comically bad and mercifully short, so I have had no difficulty whatsoever reconnecting with the hockey fervour of my youth. And now that they are playing NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's latest vanity team, the Gary Bettman Bettmanettes (aka, the Vegas Golden Knights), there is added impetus to stay up late and cheer on the Jets.

Am I giving the Commissioner -- the model for a questionable tattoo -- a bad rap? Kevin McGran takes a shot at equitable reportage.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Making The Argument

I've been sitting on my hands, avoiding it.

I'm lazy. Also nervous about being caught out -- who wants to go first in a debate? Second in a debate -- now that's a different story. You are under no obligation to build a case of your own, aside from, "It's maybe a little more complicated than you think."

Here is an example of what I'm talking about, from four years ago: Gaza And The Loss Of CivilizationPalestine, in other words -- Brian Eno's outrage; Peter Schwartz's measured, "I don't think there is any honour to go around here." If it weren't for Eno we wouldn't get Schwartz -- all via Byrne, who seems to have made this sort of exchange-and-explore his raison d'être.

Byrne's is a good model. I'm afraid I'm more familiar with Joel's experience -- protracted and passionate argument with an individual on the cusp of psychological collapse. Given the tenor of what I'm seeing on the Splinternet I'm beginning to wonder if that isn't a spreading condition.

Related: VR pioneer Jaron Lanier says, "We won, and we turned into assholes" -- over here.

More anon.