Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Master's whip lash: 8 notes

1) "If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world."  --Lancaster Dodd

2) "And I refused to be a fool dancing on the strings held by all those big shots. I don't apologize, that's my life. But I thought that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings."  --Don Corleone in The Godfather

3) "The choice was put to them whether they would like to be kings or king's couriers.  Like children they all wanted to be couriers.  So now there are a great many couriers, they post through the world, and, as there are no kings left, shout to each other their meaningless and obsolete messages."  --Franz Kafka

4) "The animal snatches the whip from its master and whips itself so as to become the master, and does not know that all this is only a fantasy caused by a new knot in the master's whip lash." --Kafka

5) While in Columbia, SC, I bought a copy of Hanna Rosin's The End of Men, which proves that recent economic and social shifts have left many men powerless, adrift, and inconsequential. Soon after, I went to see The Master at the Nickelodeon theater where, almost immediately, one sees Freddie Quill humping a sand sculpture in the shape of a woman's body on the beach. "A case in point," I thought.

6) With its expressionistic, The Tree of Life gorgeous style, the beauty of the individual shot in The Master seems more important than story coherence. I got the impression that the film's scenes could be rearranged and it wouldn't especially matter, especially given the static nature of Freddie's and Lancaster's relationship. The story of The Master suffers from the same crisis of authority that the movie depicts.

7) My favorite thing about The Master is its title, and its implicit question--where does one find true mastery? The movie concerns one man's desire for an authority figure to give him guidance, but Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) implies that all authority is bogus, all variations on the American confidence man who thrives on giving people delusional reasons to feel important. In comparison to the fundamental business savvy of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, Lancaster Dodd is a fraud, a charlatan peddling cancer cures, time travel, and hypnotic release. Who is the master in this film? The word "master" also suggests self-control, restraint, but Freddie has very little of that. The Master depicts a crisis in authority that attains a near-universal condition. With much of the storyline centered around Dodd, The Master struggles with its core of built-in bs. Yet, with its many indeterminacies, narrative breaks, and discontinuities, the film invites analysis and seeks converts just as Dodd does. The critic can feel release and joy in just giving in the film's rhythms, images, and evocative dialogue.

8) What is Freddie fighting against?  The threat of his own inconsequence, and, often, anyone who threatens to undermine Dodd. Funny how critics tend to be beaten up in The Master.

Monday, September 24, 2012

permanent revolution links

---World Order's "Permanent Revolution"

---the raid on Zuccotti Park

---Homer Simpson votes

---"at the Venice Film Festival press conference, [Paul Thomas] Anderson described a work process (not "processing") that resembles Malick's: he wasn't sure what he had, or what the movie was about, when he got into the editing room, but wound up stripping away almost everything that didn't have to do with the relationship between Freddie and Dodd"  --Jim Emerson

---Brian De Palma discusses his filmmaking career

---Facebook's bid to become the world's homepage

---Google's photography

---In-Between

---"They were cheap tricks, but good tricks,” says Buck Henry, who, with Mel Brooks and the TV producer Daniel Melnick, was inspired in ’65 to create the sitcom spoof Get Smart in homage. “It wasn’t Brueghel,” Henry says of the early Bond films, “but it was like the stuff that Lichtenstein and those other guys were doing—great Pop art carried into another medium.”

---"If they get a break, they deserve it.  If you get a break, it's a handout and an entitlement."

---Some Like It Hot in color

---"People can sense the truth.  Truth has an ontological superiority over lies."

---trailers for Liz & Dick, Vamps,  Tower Block, SyrupPromised Landand Gambit

---"Holidays in the Sun"

---a Charlie Chaplin filmography

---deconstructing cinema: scene by scene

---making Drugstore Cowboy

---"He made it for $7,000 and hoped to sell it to the Spanish-language video market for $15,000. It didn't matter if nobody saw it, what mattered was getting the money to make Part 2. Then he'd repeat the process and finish the Mariachi Trilogy. `Those three films,' he says now, `were going to be my film school, because the only way you learn to make movies is to make movies.'

But his plan failed because El Mariachi was too good." 

---Three Reasons: The Game

---"There are two kinds of people in this world"

---"One of Frank Capra’s first talkies, the otherwise lifeless Ladies of Leisure, made a star of the young Barbara Stanwyck. She plays a working-class girl who sits, and eventually falls, for a rich young artist. In one scene just before the two discover they’re in love, the flinty model fails to gaze at the ceiling and embody “hope” to the painter’s satisfaction. “Look through the ceiling,” he says, “Visualize! Sky, space, the universe, stardust, anything! There is no ceiling, don’t you see?” And with a dubious upward glance Stanwyck snaps back, “Horsefeathers, it’s a ceiling. You could ask anybody!”

It’s not hard to see why Pauline Kael loved Stanwyck in general and this performance in particular, calling her “an amazing vernacular actress,” a phrase that might just as aptly describe Kael’s style on the page. She was drawn to comedy because it always finds shortcuts to the awful truth. Most heroines of the screwball Thirties radiate a brashness and candor that can seem a blueprint for Kael’s critical persona, and here especially Stanwyck’s portrayal of a feisty woman trusting the evidence of her own senses—against a man spouting art-school clichés—almost foretells Kael’s career. “We generally become interested in movies because we enjoy them,” she wrote in her brilliant 1969 essay “Trash, Art, and the Movies,” “and what we enjoy them for has little to do with what we think of as art.”  --Jana Prikryl

---the end titles of 21 Jump Street

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Am I Not Pretty Enough?": a discussion about The Loved Ones

In a California Dreaming restaurant in Columbia SC, I ate lunch with W, a 21 year old film major at USC, as we talked about Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones over sweet iced tea, San Francisco shrimp, and Dreaming's special salad (which includes lots of bacon, Hormel ham, and a croissant).

FD: Did you like the movie?

W: Oh yeah, very much so.

FD: Shot in Melbourne, Victoria and originally released in 2009, the film is decidedly not for children. What did you like about it?

W: I like how the director Sean Byrne established a very unique tone for a horror film.

FD: How?

W: It's both sick and funny, and often those things don't go together very well. It's also very scary and bananas, with excellent character development.

FD: Examples?

W: Brent (Xavier Samuel) is a broken teenager.  In the opening scene in which we see Brent and his dad converse in the family car, a zombified, bloody creature appears on the road, causing Brent to crash into a tree and kill his father.

FD: I like the way Brent lives so close to death due to his guilt over his father, and the way he flirts with suicide by dangling off of a rock wall, but then his story transforms into one where he wants to survive.

W: That climbing up the cliff is a metaphor for survival too.  It's not a normal climbing wall. It's like an adrenaline moment when he almost lets go.

FD: But isn't he flirting with suicide?

W: I don't think so.  The whole point of that scene is to prove to himself that he's worthy of something. It's a rebellious teenage thing to do.

FD: The movie cleverly sets up these moody morbid characters (Brent and Mia (Jessica McNamee)) who affect a Goth style, but they don't want to be as close to death as their look suggests.

W: The film takes a realistic approach to how a teenager would react to a traumatic event.

FD: I also liked the early high school scene where Byrne emphasizes the slow motion entrance of Mia with heavy metal music just before Lola (Robin McLeavy) abruptly appears to ask Brent to the prom. Lola's hardly noticeable at that point.  It seems like bait and switch in terms of film technique.

W: The whole movie is a bait and switch.

FD: How?

W: In terms of tone and subject matter. The cliched scene by the lockers leads you to assume that this movie will be a comedy about love and romance.  Lola suffers Brent's rejection, and he's polite about saying no, but he already has a girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine).  There's a sense of normalcy about the whole scene. Later, the director will rip the rug under you and the violence is that much more shocking as a result.

FD: Soon enough, prom night begins. Stoned Brent gets kidnapped (with what appears to be chloroform) by Lola's daddy (John Brompton) on top of the cliff face.  Meanwhile, Brent's friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) has a prom date with Mia.  The film cuts back and forth between those two storylines that go in completely different directions. What did you think of the story structure?

W: Clever in two ways.  You need a counterbalance for Brent's horror scenes.  When you cut to the comedy of Jamie and Mia's date, that's a reprieve from a stifling situation. It also builds suspense. In The 39 Steps, Richard Hanney's about to crack the mystery of the spy organization in the concert hall, but instead of just focusing on him, Hitchcock cuts to the British bobbies and their concerns with sealing off the theater. Similarly, in The Loved Ones, you want to see Brent get out of the situation, and the cross-cutting keeps interrupting that.

FD: I find it odd that the Joe storyline proves so relatively banal, like a grunge variation on Sixteen Candles (1984).

W: Byrne ties that storyline in with the main theme of the film--teenage grief--once you learn why Mia wears black. Byrne also finds ways to mislead the viewer to think that you are in one storyline (by cutting to a disco ball, for instance), but actually you aren't. In one really effective moment in the movie, you see Lola's father do various awful things to Brent.  The father then leaves his house with a grin on his face, and we know that Mia and Jamie have driven to a secluded area to make out.  "Daddy" walks in slow motion in such a way that you think that he's about the bust the couple, but Byrne has used slick cross-cutting to mislead you. You don't want the story lines to mesh that way, but he keeps hinting that they will.

FD: Let's talk about Lola.  Her characterization begins modestly, but then she steals the movie with her sickly, homemade mock prom where she's always queen.

W: A friend of mine had his doubts about the film until he got to the montage of Lola's room with Kasey Chambers singing "Pretty Enough."  That's when he said yes, this movie's very good.

FD: Why?

W: The song goes "Am I not pretty enough?  Is my heart too broken?  Do I cry too much? Am I too outspoken? Do I make you laugh? Should I try it harder? Why do you see right through me?" It's all about being the invisible one in the room. We know that this movie will turn to horror, yet Byrne takes the time to show us Lola's room.  She has dolls, but they're all in these weird suggestive positions, and she has a scrapbook, with an infantile picture of a castle, dismembered pictures of boy's torsos, and a photo of Brent with a red dot on his forehead. Everything's pink. It's funny, because the scene seems very cheesy and teeniebopperish, yet it prepares you for the more grotesque stuff about to happen soon enough.

FD: It makes sense in a way, that romantic obsessions would lead to cutting hearts in the loved one with a fork.

W: Naturally.

FD: Although I would think that if you love someone, you wouldn't want to do that.

W: It's not about loving.  It's about unrequited love and rejection.  She's living a revenge fantasy.

FD: It left me wondering if Australians have a thing for power tools, like drills.

W: (smiles)  Every horror film needs a unique weapon.  Like in The Cabin in the Woods, the weapon is a bear trap.  The Loved Ones employs a drill. Lola wants live out this revenge fantasy, but she also has this controlling relationship with her father.  This relationship makes the film scarier because it seems realistic. Because she's so spoiled, she gets want she wants.

FD: Isn't the dad the real sociopathic killer?

W: No. There are scenes that hint that she controls everything. The family eats chicken at the mock prom party in their living room.  She asks Brent, "Is this finger-licking good?" and she sticks her finger in his mouth, and says "Show me." Later, Lola and her father break a wishbone where she says "Make a wish, daddy!"  He gets the bigger part of the wishbone, and he looks crestfallen, saying "My wish was for you anyway."  And she says, "My wish is for you too." He's the doting father taken to a horrific extreme.

FD: Byrne is careful to help us understand her character, even though she's an amazingly vicious monster, a princess of horror.

W: Yes, there's this great shot where we first see from Brent's perspective what's going on when he wakes up from the chloroform. You see the disco ball, the prom sign ("End of School Dance"), the father sitting across the way at the table, and then Lola's face creeps in on the left, looking back at him. And then the camera pans to the right and we see this zombified older woman with a hole in her forehead.  The scene is both very familiar (sitting at the family dinner table), but then there's these weird details (a syringe full of blue liquid and lobotomized Bright Eyes).

FD: What's to separate this scene from the torture porn of the Saw films?

W: We have a charismatic antagonist, who is kind of likable and completely different. And we have a protagonist (Brent) whom we can emotionally comprehend. The torture doesn't seem gratuitous. Saw films get more fetishistic with each new more elaborate violent set-up, but here the violence still serves to tell a story.

FD: What horror film influences do you see?

W: The Descent, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pretty in Pink, Misery, and Carrie.

FD: Any last thoughts?

W: This weekend, we have The House At The End of the Street in the cineplex, but who cares?  These generic stupid weekly horror films can't compete with this. I've rarely felt so many emotions when watching a horror film as I did with The Loved Ones.

FD: Anything else?

W: Don't mess with Lola.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

point-of-view links

---Elvis Costello in Germany

---Buster Keaton and Goldfrapp

---"Is Romney ready for the kill list?"

---"many men are engaging in a sit-down strike. In macho cultures, such as those of Spain, men import poorer, more traditional women from other countries to marry. In Japan, Ms. Rosin reports, men are causing something of a national crisis because of their indifference to dating, marrying and even having sex. . . .

Then, men complained of clinging, freeloading wives; now Ms. Rosin hears repeatedly from women that, in the words of one executive, women should `be very careful about marrying freeloading, bloodsucking parasites.'"

---60 years of presidential attack ads

---20 good film books

---"What's unique to cinema is that you shoot the point-of-view shot," De Palma suggested. "The audience is getting the same information as the character is getting. We're seeing what the character is seeing. And then, in Hitchcock, you cut back as he's smiling or leering--it depends on how you react to visual information that's being presented to you. But the fact is: the point-of-view shot is a unique tool of cinema. So when we start moving into surveillance cameras, that's an extension of the point-of-view shot. And much of cinema is about watching. Watching people do things, following people—which is what we do when we're sitting around. We're looking over here, we're looking over there. We're living a point-of-view shot."

---“The worst thing for human beings,” says Greenfield, “is not getting attention."

---Mickey Rourke: Highs & Lows by Jason Bellamy

---the opening credits of Twin Peaks

---"On February 22nd, the day the novel was published in America, there was a full-page advertisement in the Times, paid for by the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, and the American Library Association. `Free People Write Books,' it said. `Free People Publish Books, Free People Sell Books, Free People Buy Books, Free People Read Books. In the spirit of America’s commitment to free expression we inform the public that this book will be available to readers at bookshops and libraries throughout the country.' The PEN American Center, passionately led by his beloved friend Susan Sontag, held readings from the novel. Sontag, Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Claire Bloom, and Larry McMurtry were among the readers. He was sent a tape of the event. It brought a lump to his throat. Long afterward, he was told that some senior American writers had initially ducked for cover. Even Arthur Miller had made an excuse—that his Jewishness might be a counterproductive factor. But within days, whipped into line by Susan, almost all of them had found their better selves and stood up to be counted." --Salman Rushdie

---trailers for Snowman's Land, Everybody Has a Plan, and Wreck-It Ralph

---Bogdanovich's Howard Hawks file

---The Truth about Dishonesty

---"Baumbach tackled post-college ennui in his 1995 debut feature, Kicking and Screaming (that film's star, Josh Hamilton has a small role in Frances), but moved on to explorations of divorce (The Squid and the Whale), family dysfunction (Margot at the Wedding) and adult drift (Greenberg).

Returning to the subject at age 43, Baumbach acknowledged that he brings a different perspective — or as he joked, `farness' — to that period in one's life. `I could in some ways have the distance of the director: How will I shoot this? What is the best way to tell this story? Probably not being 27 helped me do that in a more efficient way. But I also totally connect to the story.'

Baumbach shot Frances Ha digitally on what he calls a `modest budget' and opted to make the movie in black and white in part to replicate the look of the collaborations between Woody Allen and cinematographer Gordon Willis on films such as Manhattan."

---Mapping the Long Take: Bela Tarr and Miklos Jancso

---"The more I talk with PhDs around the country, the more I learn that my husband’s and my situation isn’t that, um, unique. There are PhDs who have secure jobs but who live thousands of miles from their families; PhDs who resemble nomads moving from state to state after their lectureships and VAPs have ended; PhDs who have given up on academia altogether because of the poor job market, the politics, and the bad taste it has left in their mouths; PhDs who cobble together a `salary' by adjuncting at 2-4 different schools (often miles apart); and PhDs who live on unemployment (until it runs out), with no insurance, and no extra income from a spouse or partner to help make ends meet. As a professor tweeted earlier this week, 'Academia is such a racket.'” --Kelli Marshall

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cosmetizing the corpse: Richard Linklater's Bernie

With the population explosion, the greying of the baby boomers, and the inevitable die-off, one wonders about the occasional odd placement of dead bodies. One hears of a mismanaged crematory in Noble, Georgia that had corpses stacked in odd places in the backyard. Another woman entombed herself in a blanket in her car for 16 months before someone discovered her. In Richard Linklater's Bernie (based on a true story), the big mystery is not how Bernie kills the oppressive "mean old hateful bitch" (as the locals call her) rich widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) since he confesses to shooting her in the back four times with her "armadillo" rifle, but what he does with her body afterwards. The film opens with Bernie (a pleasantly muted Jack Black) demonstrating to an audience of would-be morticians how to "cosmetize" a corpse for an open casket funeral. He shows how you must Super-glue the eyes shut, prevent "lip-drift" of the mouth, take extra care to clean the nose and ears of hairs, and watch for applying too much rouge (a common mistake amongst morticians). In contrast to his portrait of the hipster youthful Austin world of Slacker (1991) (which holds up well), Linklater now focuses his lens upon the already semi-embalmed and very square (one could say Methodist) small-town milieu of Carthage, Texas and its weird loving relationship with the highly sympathetic community booster and assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede.

At times resembling Errol Morris' classic documentary Gates of Heaven (1978) with its nearly mockumentary interviews of people mourning their pets in California, Bernie includes much semi-satirical footage of Carthage locals (mostly played by actors) confiding their affection for Bernie (who gave large amounts of Marjorie's money to community businesses, churches, and individuals) and their hatred for Marjorie (described as "holding her nose so high, she'd drown in a rainstorm"). Bernie directs and stars in musicals for the local community theater, sings at funerals, dotes on the older widows, leads the influential Christmas decorating committee, and describes himself as a "people person." Portly and inclined to wear Tommy Hilfiger clothes, Bernie earns some gossipy attention once he manages to schmooze his way into taking long first-class vacations with Marjorie to New York City and Europe, but once she signs over her millions to him in her will, he becomes her virtual slave, doomed to watch her chew her refried beans 25 times per bite at the local Tex/Max restaurant, wash her underthings, and suffer her frequent rages when he doesn't jump like a small dog to her bidding fast enough. As he says during a drama practice, "If I don't call her, she will give me living hell."

After enough of this cloying torment, Bernie just snaps, gunning Marjorie down in the garage.  He then pulls a Talented Mr. Ripley deception on the people of Carthage by keeping anyone from noticing her absence, and by giving her money away to anyone who asked for help. Through it all, Jack Black restrains his tendency to comedic excess, acting like someone eager to get beyond Gulliver's Travels and Kung Fu Panda 2. Shirley MacLaine is effective but also diminished as a hateful witch. Also, Matthew McConaughey helps out as Danny Buck, the local criminal-stalking District Attorney, but I found his star presence distracting amidst all of the small-town folksy lesser-known actors.

Bernie works best when it sticks closely to Skip Hollandsworth's TexasMonthly article "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas," with its colorful local details ("Boot Scootin' Western Wear"), its turns of speech (Bernie described as being "a little light in the loafer"), its kitschy households, and its emphasis on the bizarre way in which Carthagians blithely sought Bernie's acquittal after he confessed to murder. Through his grotesque portrait of elderly beauty pageants, mawkish funerals, and ersatz Reader's Digest-enhanced hypocrisy, Linklater calls attention to the latent rage that underlies class divisions. No matter how community-supportive they may be, people still resent becoming the servile property of the rich.      

Friday, September 7, 2012

breaking links

---6 filmmaking tips from Monty Python

---"Who" by David Byrne and St. Vincent

---the growth of Wal-Mart

---cinematic cocaine

---the female-directed films of the Toronto International Film Festival

---"If you think that people can’t seem to make a move without consulting their phones today, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet."

---"The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift" by Anne Helen Petersen

---Hollywood's icons of style

---"A Place of Dreams, a Source of Villainy: How Foreign Movies Portray America" by Max Fisher

---Matt Zurcher's study of Paul Thomas Anderson: "There Will Be Blood and Symmetry"

---trailers for The Bay, This Must Be the Place, The Company You Keep, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2, last and least, Atlas Shrugged, Pt. 2

---Red

---"We are five years into a severe global food crisis that is very unlikely to go away.  It will threaten poor countries with increased malnutrition and starvation and even collapse.  Resource squabbles and waves of food-induced migration will threaten global stability and global growth.  This threat is badly underestimated by almost everybody and all institutions with the possible exception of some military establishments."  --Jeremy Grantham

---reasons why Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is so dark

---Apocalypse Supercut

---David Byrne (again) and Brian Eno keep in touch

---"[Willis] so often left her full train of thought exposed like a nerve—leaving in first-blush impressions, even when they were prejudicial or patently ridiculous, at times allowing herself to come off as unfashionable, unkind, even prudish. Her essays are long arcs toward an answer—an answer that sometimes eludes her. As the political and social battles she fought have either faded away or changed shape, her humility remains startling. In our world of binary polemics and Like-button activism, to suggest that thought is a process and ideas the result of a narrative is startling, energizing—countercultural, even." --Karina Longworth

---comical anti-gay ads

---Aleksander Hemon profiles the Wachowskis as they work on Cloud Atlas

---"This new situation, which was accompanied by the oft-articulated perception that motion pictures, as they had existed in the century following the Lumière brothers’ first demonstration of their cinématographe, had entered a period of irreversible decline, arises from a technological shift in the basic motion picture apparatus—namely, the shift from the photo- graphic to the digital that began tentatively in the 1980s, and gathered momentum from the mid ’90s onward. The digital turn occurred in the midst of and was amplified by pre-millennial jitters, not unlike the fantasy that the world’s computers would crash when the date shifted from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000.

The second, more unexpected and less rational, reason for the new situation occurred barely nine months into the twenty-first century. This was a world-historical happening, namely the events of September 11, 2001. As watched by millions "live" and in heavy rotation on TV—which is to say, as a form of cinema—these events could not help but challenge, mystify, and provoke filmmakers as individuals while, at the same time, dramatizing their medium directly in an impersonal way. No less than "Titanic" or "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy or the saga of "Harry Potter" (and actually, a good deal more so), the events of 9/11 were a show of cinematic might.

This is not to say that twentieth-century cinema no longer exists— even nineteenth-century cinema is with us still. But the digital turn, accompanied by a free-floating anxiety regarding the change in cinema’s essential nature and a cataclysmic jolt out of the clear blue sky that, for the vast majority of the world’s population, was apprehended as a manmade cinematic event, have all combined—perhaps conspired—to create something new. That new thing is the subject of this book." --J. Hoberman

Monday, September 3, 2012

Against irony: the Film Doctor's one sentence review of D.T. Max's Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

Much like Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, D. T. Max's Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace is so much better than it has to be, in this case for its portrait of a young scraggly-haired, bandana-wearing, tennis-playing Midwestern television viewer/writer (influenced by Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Godel, Escher, Bach), who found that "our obsession with being entertained has deadened our affect," so he determined that instead of merely joining the "three dreary camps" of recent fiction (Bret Easten Ellis-esque "Neiman-Marcus Nihilism," "Catatonic Realism," or "Workshop Hermeticism"), he strove to write what some called maximalist post-postmodernist prose that blended Lester Bangs' hipster informality with "recondite polysyllabic nouns," so, as an "apostle of sincerity," he battled Mark Leyner-esque irony, eschewed "self-consciousness and hip fatigue," and wrote a modest 1079 page dystopian novel entitled Infinite Jest (concerning a fatally addictive video cartridge, a tennis academy, a Quebecois separatist movement, and a recovery ward for addicts--all plot lines converging like parallel lines into a projected ending to be imagined by the reader) to make himself (i.e. Wallace) worthy of the love of poet Mary Karr (who happened to be married) since he believed literature should break through people's "excluded engagement of the self" in these dark times, taking comfort in Dostoevsky's model to search for ways to "live meaningfully in the present," but then, awkwardly, he got famous, consorted with Prozac Nation Elizabeth Wurtzel (who was put off by his chewing tobacco), sought the advice and competition of Jonathan Franzen, experimented with bondage (with a jump rope), appeared on Charlie Rose's talk show, hated publishing parties, adopted dogs, searched for a way to "halt the onrush of data," wrote about the subtle despair of taking an ocean cruise, the pain of lobsters getting boiled, and the weirdness of visiting the Illinois State Fair (with Wallace's family "quietly" agreeing "that his nonfiction was fanciful and his fiction was what you had to look out for") before turning to boredom as a means to finding grace through the IRS in his unfinished "Long Thing" The Pale King; for a Kenyon College graduation address, Wallace recommended that you be "aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience," and if you don't, you "will be totally hosed," and even though his life sometimes followed the Sylvia Plath/Robert Lowell path of extreme brilliance, depression, and suicidal tendencies (repeat with visits to Yaddo), Wallace discovered that, when writing, he felt so blessed that "I can't feel my ass in a chair"--reason enough to enjoy D. T. Max's concise and exacting Every Love Story is a Ghost Story.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Don't Worry, Drive On: Fossil Fools & Fracking Lies



"Eminent petroleum geologists calculated that global oil production would soon hit a peak and begin to decline, no longer meeting ever-rising demand, but oil industry spokesmen countered with the message `Don't worry.  There's plenty of oil.'"

Thanks to Maria Popova (@brainpicker)