Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Book According to Lemmy

Here are some of the things, in no particular order, I love about Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister (as per Greg Olliver & Wes Orshoski's wonderful documentary Lemmy)
  • Lemmy is "famous not wealthy."
  • Lemmy's favourite drink is Jack & Coke.
  • You'll often find Lemmy haunting the slot machine in the corner at his favourite local L.A. bar.
  • This joke: Q: How do you make a dead baby float? A: Two scoops of ice cream and two scoops of dead baby.
  • Lemmy remembers a time before rock n roll.
  • Lemmy isn't influenced by any modern musicians or bands.
  • Lemmy is still alive.
  • Lemmy discovered that you need not be bothered with the down time between hits of LSD by just doubling the dose.
  • Again, Lemmy is still alive.
  • While other rock stars are out partying and blowing their income, Lemmy is probably somewhere writing a new Motorhead album.
  • When asked about drug use, Lemmy does not want to answer in detail because he doesn't want kids to mistake him as saying it is okay to live his lifestyle.
  • He isn't saying it isn't okay to live his lifestyle, either.
  • Lemmy has a house full of WW I and II stuff that would turn many a museum director into a quivering mess.
  • In spite of the above point, Lemmy has these things because he likes them. Never is there any indication that he cares about their wealth outside of their natural historical value. When he's dead, all the junk in his house, he muses, will be someone else's problem. No point, I suspect, in giving a fuck about much after you're dead.
  • Lemmy doesn't seem to give much of a fuck about anything other than being Lemmy.
  • The quote from a friend that if the entire population of the world were to be wiped out, the only things left on this planet would be cockroaches and Lemmy.
  • When asked about the rumor that he has bed over 2,000 women, Lemmy is modest and wants to set the record straight: In reality it is probably closer to 1,000.
  • One of those women was his son's girlfriend. One time they swapped.
  • Lemmy is funny and realistic about what his name means to his son's mother; who he admits was just "casual sex."
  • Once Lemmy, despite not being asked, wrote a letter to a female's husband letting him know that there was nothing between him and his wife.
  • Like his music or not, Lemmy is one of the few people that you can legitimately call a Rock God
  • Lemmy has a house full of everything anyone has given him over the years.
  • Lemmy is, I think, the real Chuck Norris.
  • The stories that Lemmy is willing to tell the camera are just as good if not better than the myths and legends that have built up about him over the years.
  • Lemmy is, in spite of all of this, just a man.
Now go and see the documentary which is. It's an excellent look, in mostly cinema verite style, at the current life of one of rock/metal/punk's greatest living legends.

It is funny, insightful, in depth and leaves you feeling refreshed by it's subject. We could all learn a thing or two about living and life from Lemmy

Friday, October 26, 2012

An Expression of (a Tree of) Life

Over the weekend the Siskel to my Ebert Vancetastic at The Audient left me a comment asking how I had decided to ditch my star ratings just as he is starting to implement his own. I do have an answer for him but unfortunately it won't be of much use to him, or anyone else, from a practical standpoint, but let me explain my rationing in full.

The truth is, my view of the world changed (expanded may be a better term) and so the way I related to it also needed to change. The best why to explain how it changed is to explain what it changed to and the best example to use, in remembering that this is a film blog, is Terence Malick's masterpiece Tree of Life.

If you trace the world back to the dawn of creation (let's leave God out of this debate just for argument's sake) it came into being as a physical thing. Who knows exactly how or why it happened but low and behold we have a huge physical mass that, eventually grew to be able to sustain life.

And so, life happened. But, the first man/creature/plant/whatever didn't have any knowledge to begin. This thing was among the Earth's new babies and so it was up to them to learn. From learning springs knowledge and from knowledge springs evolution, and from evolution springs conventions and ways of thinking/feeling/doing which we turn into tribes/cities/societies/any sort of governing body that helps us guide our lives based on a set of agreed upon theories/principals/modes of belief/whatever. That's why you can trace all knowledge back to a select few original things (5, 20, 100, pick a number). Everything since has just been different examples of these core human discoveries.

So that's, in my mind, how evolution worked. I don't know what a stove is, I put my hand on a hot burner, it hurts, I now know that heat will burn. Cooking requires heat, so don't put my hand on the stove top when it is hot. Every time I think of putting my hand there again I remember that time I was hurt by doing so. Now I will be cautious around any different thing that is hot. It all traces back to one instance.

But not only do I have knowledge, I can also share it. I can tell a friend, cousin, sibling, stranger or child this because I've already done my homework. Learn from my knowledge not my experience getting there. However, my example is not absolute. Who's to say, after all, that someone else can't do the same thing and experience no pain? I make my knowledge public but the experience it is based on is mine alone. (ed- Obvioulsy the person who doesn't feel heat would still get hurt, but let's not get off course with knitpicking).

So there's the problem. Knowledge is a human concept and being so it is flawed and open to interpretation. We don't trust one another, we lie, imagine, dream, make things up. Every one's minds are different, bodies are different and so on down the line. No two snowflakes are the same. If I say a shirt is red and someone else says it is pink then how are we to really know what the true colour of this object is in the real physical world that exists outside of our bodies, which are the only connections we have to it? My only knowledge of this colour is that which my brain deciphers through my eyes, all of which, because they are human, have a margin for error and are programmed differently than every other set of human eyes on this planet. And so, as Socrates said it, "All I know is that I know nothing."

That's all I know too. That's all anyone knows really if we trace life back to the very beginning. To go back to the stove: I didn't know something, I had an experience, now I think I know something and can do with that information as I please. I can judge all people who touch stoves as stupid and unsophisticated because they don't have my knowledge and I am certainly not stupid and/or unsophisticated; I can tell everyone it is a sin to touch stoves or I can keep it to myself and take pleasure in seeing other people discover the hard way as I did. Anything. Because knowledge is man made the key to it is that it only becomes knowledge worth knowing if a large body of people think about it and agree. The Earth is round, water is wet, the sun is hot, stoves burn hands etc. Sure, I have no real gain in arguing.

So all knowledge, at the end of all of this, is the extension of the experiences of the few forms of life that existed at the very beginning. What was it? Who knows? In Tree of Life it's dinosaurs. In 2001: A Space Odyssey it's apes. What it is isn't what's most important.

And so there we see it, in Tree of Life: a Dinosaur can kill another of its own and then decides to show what we now recognize as compassion instead. But it's not compassion. Compassion is 10 letters we have put together as a way of easily expressing what this dinosaur at the beginning of the world has experienced. And from the first time comes the second, the third, the fourth and so on for the rest of time until we achieve recognition of the thing without so much as a second thought.

From this one act of pity, the first of it's kind as far as we need to be concerned, comes something that we now base entire societies on. Did you're boss let you take the day off without hassle when you were sick or force you to work in your misery? Thank that dinosaur if he did. The concept dates back to the beginning. Plug in any example you want as a way to express it, the concept always stays the same.

Similarly, in 2001, from an ape realizing that a bone can first be used as a tool and then a weapon and then so on at the dawn of time we evolve to a time of huge, complex, vast space stations that are populated with technology that is unthinkably sophisticated and can, as everything before it, be both tool and weapon. Life being but a reoccurring instance of these core things just in different forms, which change as people pass their knowledge on down the line from generation to generation. People, after all, need different examples before they find one that clicks. That is, to me, the definition of clarity (being able to peel back the examples on the way to the core).

That's the groundwork laid, which Tree of Life takes roughly 20 of what can only be considered some of the most beautiful moments ever put on film, to establish. Present day and a boy is trying to decide if he should live like his sheppardly mother or his stern father. That's where this quest starts for everyone in their own unique way: at the level of family until it slowly extends outwards on the journey to the end where it can all make sense in one final and infinite way. What does one hold on to? What does one dismiss? Do I touch the stove or just take dad's word for it? Life, having evolved so far away from original experience and being so full of examples of knowledge that can either help or hinder, is big, messy and confusing.

Some people believe in gods to make sense of what happens in life. Some believe in science to unlock the mysteries on the universe. Some believe in the revelation of some true paradise after death. And some believe in knitting. Anything to give some purpose and direction to this jagged mess of possible meaninglessness. They are all wrong because none of them will ever know completely for a fact that any of these things are true. They are also all right for the exact same reason. The coin, after all, without exception, always has two sides.

The conclusion then that Tree of Life leads to (along with Citizen Kane as well if you need another reference point) speaks to me deeply and touches me profoundly. This is not because it houses some universal truth about life or nature or religion or anything, but because it places the entire history of the creation of the world within the story of one man and his family and ends in a place that, for symbolic purposes I guess is Heaven, but to my mind doesn't need to be that symbolic. It's the only place in life when everything makes sense. At the end. The picture is complete. At the end of Mike Lippert no new knowledge will enter his head or influence him to change who he is, how he behaves, how he thinks and how he relates to the world. The story of Mike Lippert has been written.

Which is why Tree of Life and Citizen Kane end where they do: in the one place, at the end, where every object or person that has ever influenced the lives of their protagonists can be found. Just as we can trace all knowledge back to it's origins, when we come to the end, the only true way of knowing  who a person really was is to trace all the objects in their lives back to the very beginning of it.

And that is why I believe there is no absolute knowledge, no right and wrong, no nothing outside of self analysis. We make of it what we will based on what we encounter along the road. If there's a God or aliens out there or whatever really isn't for me to know right now but I'm sure to always keep the possibilities close by. Everything, thus, is only as it appears to the individual. Everyone struggles so hard to define themselves, to live the right way, do the right thing and be the right person to the right people. It's exhausting and drives some to insanity, paranoia, obsession, you name it. There will always be comfort in others, but everyone, no matter who they are, what they do or where they come from, are in exactly the same boat as us: making it up as we go along. Some have an easier time admitting it than others.

It's only if we put all of the knowledge in the world together in one place all at once that  we would be able to establish some sort of clear picture of what it all means. It's the same for the individual. So now Socrates needs updating: All I know are the things I know even if I don't always know what they mean because I really only know nothing when it comes down to it. And so life goes.

So why drop the ratings? Because, who cares about them? I love discovering myself though film, not awarding star ratings. I watch movies because every once in a while you'll come upon a Tree of Life or a Citizen Kane or a 2001 A Space Odyssey which play before you and tell you everything you've ever thought was true or ever wanted to hear before.

And even when I just watch the movies to be entertained, who am I to judge a work created by people I don't know, under circumstances I don't understand unless the people involved want to make that knowledge public?

In the grand scheme of life then it seems like a worthless pursuit to try to reduce a film into however many symbols out of five. I respect film too much to do that to it. It's taught me so much about my own life and informed my thinking and actions so much over the years. It's the least I can do for it in return. 

But hey, that's just me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

October Fright Nights #3 - Scream

Looking back 16 years after its original release, it's interesting to think of whether Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson's Scream succeeded more for it's parodying of the worn down slasher genre or for it's ability to be a more than competent new entry into it? Maybe a bit of both back then?

Today, in 2012, the self referential dialogue feels a bit tired and worn (especially after four entries into this franchise alone). One must, in accepting it, realize that the appeal was that in 1996, save for Wes Craven's New Nightmare 2 years prior, no one else was doing anything like this (which is certainly what landed it the number 20 spot on my Movies that Made Going to the Movies suck list).

Back then it was uncharacteristic to have characters in a horror film who had watched and discussed the same horror movies that we had watched and discussed ourselves. This played as a sort of tongue-in-cheek reverse criticism. It already knew all the logical problems of the genre, becoming its own joke before the critics could make it theirs.

But today, as I wrote in my review of the already forgotten Drew Barrymore/Justin Long romcom Going the Distance " There was once upon a time, before Scream, when movie characters didn’t talk like they knew things that happened in the outside world. Now it seems as though movies feel that if they aren’t referencing the times they aren’t part of them." Couldn't have said it better myself.

So, what's surprising about Scream and what, I suspect, makes it hold up, is how well it embodied the slasher genre on it's own terms even before the need to make fun of itself. Look at the extended epilogue that opens the film as Drew Barrymore receives a mysterious call that begins with humor and character before it effortlessly, but not rushingly, descends into terror and then violence in exactly that order. The whole film is structured this way: character scenes slowly build into the unsuspecting bursts or terror and violence required to continue deepening the mystery.

The screenplay by Williamson is well plotted and never gives any indication of who the killer could be up until the big final reveal. Williamson was smart in that he offered the possibility that anyone could be the killer and didn't cheat in logic once the whole picture became clear. Watch especially the subtle way he gets (spoiler's) Matthew Lillard's character off screen prior to any killings happening.

It is, after all, the key to any big surprise ending that we are able to trace our steps back and have everything check out logically. Although the film has it's fair share of the generic, you never really see the mechanics of the plot openly grinding away in plain view.

And then there's Craven, an intelligent man already considered a master of horror two or three times removed from this film, and who has always been attracted to projects just one or two steps left of genre transgression. You can see as Craven and his cinematographer ring suspense out of every little detail: mysterious canted angles, subtle shifts in focus, long takes, and a score that underlines the suspense but doesn't substitute for it. This is, after all, the man who's debut feature film was a remake of an Ingmar Bergman classic.

And let's not forget Neve Campbell in the leading role: smart, driven, and strong willed. Campbell never reduces the character to dumb teen horror movie cliche. You feel her terror, her torment and her physical pain all along the way. That's not to mention the presence of Jamie Kennedy, David Arquette and Courtney Cox who all play characters that, when knives aren't slashing and blood isn't flowing, create a compelling human narrative, which is, at the end of the day, the ultimate success here. You feel you're part of this town, this group of friends and these ghastly murders. That's all any good slasher movie, at the most basic level, really needs to do.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October Fright Nights # 2: The Brood

David Cronenberg's The Brood is the worst kind of trash: the kind that thinks it's smarter than you. Apperently based on the director's own experience with a messy divorce, it revolves around a women engaged in an experimental form of psychotherapy in which Oliver Reed delves deep into the minds of his troubled patients and helps them act out their buried demons, and the woman's ex-husband who can't understand why people from her past are being murdered one by one by mutant children. Think Jung with gore.

In typical Cronenberg fashion the film spends it's gruelingly boring first hour playing more like a Intro to Psych 101 course as all of Croneberg's intellectual favourites (Freud, Nietzsche, etc.) make their way into the the thinly disguised psychoanalytic allegory.

Only problem is that this material will not be on the final exam, and Croneberg, as he is want to do, throws all his academic mubo jumbo out and let's the shit that he's been hinting at the entire time royally hit the fan in the lo-fi horror trash heap of a third act where the random mutant children are finally explained in a typical psycho sexual fashion that has long been figured out before the honourable Dr. Reed gets to explain it all to us. The only thing missing is James Woods with a stomach vagina.

Cronenberg's main problem throughout his entire career has been that he's a man who thinks high and films low. His narratives often revolve around their intellectual pretensions as if the director fancies the musings of his mind above the construction of a coherent story to explore them within. The cold, detached visual aesthetic just solidifies Cronberg's belief that it's more important for an audience to think material his way instead of feel it out. Working through his oeuvre, one gets to wishing that he'd put down the text books and make the true trash horror masterpiece his name deserves.

Let's remember, when we trace it back to essentials this is a film about murderous mutant children. End of story. Nothing more. All else, despite Cronenberg's I'm-smarter-than-you condescension, when you get to the heart of the matter, is irrelevant. Too bad this film never got the memo. The Brood, in one form or another, is probably a good horror movie. Under David Cronenberg it isn't much of a horror or a movie at all.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Fright Nights #1: Don't be Afraid of the Dark

Counting the days until Halloween one horror movie at a time.

I've seen this one before. An emotionally isolated girl is sent away by her L.A. mother (no more characterization needed there) to live in Providence in an old haunted mansion with her oblivious to the point of cruelty father (Guy Pearce, wasted as the straight man) and his new squeeze / interior decorator (Katie Holmes). The kid is unhappy, lonely, unloved, etc. Computer generated demon things whisper out from the basement; the kid explores but no one will listen to her cries of imminent danger, because, for christsakes she's just a kid; even after the groundskeeper, lying mutilated and bloody on a hospital bed, doesn't stutter when he tells Ms. Holmes to get the kid and get the hell out of town.

In 1980 the horror of a belittled and abused child was called The Shining and was a masterpiece. In 2012 it's called Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark and treads the same waters but replaces the cold detached sarcasm of the internal drama with fantasy horror held together with the broad strokes of American melodrama, letting dad off to learn his lesson the easy way. From melodrama is born caricature and from caricature is born films like this, which visually is beautiful (even if it doesn't do enough to make the house the true main character), but is then, as where melodrama often leads, average to the core.

Dad is cruel and won't listen; the kid (Bailee Madison) mopes and cries; and the squeeze tries her best to relate to the kid so that she has a purpose in a screenplay that didn't want to write more supporting characters. And just in case anyone wasn't paying attention to the obvious, the screenplay is nice enough to take the kid to a doctor to warrant a scene where a psychiatrist suggests that maybe the kid is creating the creatures in her mind as a result of a weak mental state. Do you think dad listens? But it's okay, neither does the screenplay.


Welcome to You Talking to Me 2.0

The ratings are gone. One of the things I knew needed to happen while rereading every post I have ever written for this space is that the ratings had to go. It feels like liberation. I can beathe again.

Back in March 2012 when I came up against a brick wall (personally, mentally, physically) and pondered whether or not it was worth continuing a film blog, especially one I had grown unsatisfied with, one of the very questions swirling around in my mind was whether or not writing reviews even interested me any more. Had they, after so many years, begun to overshadow the love of film that got me into this in the first place?

For most of my (unprofessional) career, the review has been my method of choice. I could do snippets, capsule reviews or even drive a particularly inspired piece into the thousand word range. And then, one day, I just didn't care. The Joseph Conrad quote rang out in my mind: "Write because you have something to say not because you want to say something." And with that, I was done.

I thought I was dead, but then, upon further thought, realized I was just lost. Looking back at all of these crazy brain droppings I had left here over the past two years I noticed two things: some of the pieces provided valuable and insightful musings on how the individual relates to cinema as an art form and some of them were just plain nonsense.

I can't continue to say I stand behind everything I've written before today (or at least in the form it is written). Some of it, maybe most of it, is still true, but that Mike Lippert was one struggling to define himself through a never ending stream of movie consumption. It was about not only always having an opinion but always, in more cases than not, having the right opinion dammit. I'm proud my name's on all of it. I'm not sure, however, if it's still an accurate reflection of me. Alas, here is also the birth of Mike Lippert 2.0. The two are, after all, in a perfect world, one in the same.

Rereading I was surprised to find how much of myself there really was in the pieces without ever really knowing it. On my time off away from film writing my musings were (and still are) deep and varied: life, art, spirituality, friendship, romance, independence, positivity and, maybe most important, being oneself. And then I read the opening paragraph to my Tree of Life review and was almost bowled over to find the sketches of my entire new worldview right there in it's infancy. I was there, buried just under critical pretensions. Profound (at least to me) and yet compact and readable. God good film writing gets me going.

And then the review just got in the way. The one thing I found, above and beyond all, is that whenever I started to flip over into review mode, whatever greatness I may have had going on in my mind was pushed off to the side. And that's why the ratings had to go. I'm more important than the movies. The ratings were often arbitrary and in no way a reflection of what the writing was actually about: a reflection of my own personal experience. Some men build look at the stars. Some search the deserts for answers. Me, I turn to the cinema. You Talking to Me is a reflection of my findings.

And so the blog had to change, not drastically, but it needed a new personality and needed to be inspired by the films that inspired me to create it. It needs to be more personal but also funnier and, for the first time, gasp, uncensored, all while maintaining the format I have built over the years. My personality bridges the gap between several ways of thinking (film scholar, industry insider, satirist, cultural critic, movie geek etc.) and so this space, at it's best, will be alive with humor, insight, criticism and observations surrounding all kinds of movies, all filtered through and tied together by the one constant: me.

That's is, after all, the one thing I know better than anyone else.

Mike Lippert, October 16, 2012.