watched pollock. ed harris stars in and directs this one, so naturally i'm being overly generous towards it. probably helps that i haven't seen too many of those formula-biopics that the letterboxd reviews compare this to. it's not devoid of hamfistery, but there's an intimate scale to it that i found fairly not-suffocating. it's told in a series of chronological but disjointed vignettes that feel only loosely tied to the narrative of pollock's career.*
letterboxd reviews also mention that an artist's biopic ought to be a reflection of its subject's work, and that pollock is lacking in that regard. it's a fair point. i can't say i would find this especially compelling without its clout (historical and otherwise). i also can't say i have enough familiarity with pollock as an artist to even like or dislike his work, let alone how to go about applying it to narrative film. if i were to take a swing, though, i'd pull a quote from the film (and apparently not the man) where pollock's art is described as "like looking at a bed of flowers; you don't tear your hair out over what it means". am i giving this movie too much credit to say that its structural ambience was a deliberate artistic choice?
ed harris's pollock is tortured AF, and you know i love to see it. but i can't say it functions well as a character study, in that i come away understanding pollock (or at least this movie's version of pollock**) and what makes him tick. then again, trying to solve his personality might doom this to that overplayed biopic arc of the addicted artist. if i'm continuing my tour of generosity, perhaps there's something more humanizing about a lack of answers. it's a much more comfortable narrative to have an artist that's in tandem with his demons, but the reality is often of a human that struggled with neuroses and also happened to be an artist. (vincent van gogh being the ur-example of this; i like to imagine that pop culture moved on from that version of his narrative, but maybe i'm just looking in the right places.)
this idea i like, of the artist as a person that just happens to make art, is cribbed from/a reminder of this werner herzog quote from burden of dreams, the documentary about the messy production of his fitzcarraldo. definitely a bit funny that herzog, notoriously the textbook artist-eccentric, is so insistent on his utter humanity. but if these movies are metaphors for the obsessive artist, they are also the document of the artist's shortcomings as a human being.
watched the fabelmans, because i've been working on 2022 catch-up so i can get mad about the oscars. steven's still got it! certainly sentimental (and not at all suffocating), but i saw a tweet about its psychological hangups beforehand that became the lens with which i viewed the whole movie. there's a bit of tortured-artist text in here, if not very glamorous; the need to make art being described by spielberg's self-insert's uncle as a kind of affliction or compulsion, the mode being anything from filmmaking to lion-taming.
the most compelling image in the film is when spielberg's character is watching his parents announce their divorce to his sisters, and he has a vision/premonition of himself filming the proceedings, re-visualizing it through his camera. it's an image that recalls the beginning of the film, wherein his younger self is lightly traumatized by an onscreen trainwreck, and proceeds to obsessively try to reenact all its glory with his toy trainset and his father's film camera.
art as a buffer; trying to process the world by making it beautiful. here we are seeing spielberg's recreation of some of the most devastating moments of his childhood, now reduced to one dimension and therefore bestowed with Meaning.
hell, the entirety of the fabelmans is a partially-fictionalized retelling of spielberg's childhood; in telling the story of this life, there is a need to rationalize what happens as a story. the tragedy of the entertainer: to make his experiences palatable for the audience is to create poetry from events that inherently have none. (the tragedy of the biopic: a human experiences meaningless pain, and a script tries to make sense of it as character development.)
watched gimme shelter, the documentary about the rolling stones concert at altamont speedway in 1969. you know, the one with the murders. as an article of cinema vérité,*** it's placing itself far from this notion of artificial narrative. (though the pursuit of this vision is, of course, inherently artificial.)
of the "objective" images provided, i'm particularly struck by the ones where mick jagger attempts to calm the crowd down from the erupting violence. he pleads with them to chill out, have a good time, and just listen to the music, maaan. we are watching this recording as the rolling stones are watching this same recording in the editing room; what happens next is a foregone conclusion. so there's an emphatic futility to jagger's words, regardless of his star power, his cultural impact, and his art. history (the narrative with reasons, but no meaning) will only steamroll on.
hmm, this is coming off as why-do-we-teach-humanities brainrot. listen, i love art. some of my best friends are art. i excrete words and pictures, but i can't call myself an artist, and i'm jealous of the people that are capable of seeing and reflecting the world in a way i can't. i think-- if i'm being artistic and narrative about my pathology-- maybe my insecurity about my own work is that my STEM-brain can't help but feel the overwhelming omnipotence of reality. in trying to speak sincerity through what i create, it only feels like making mud pies and having the audacity to call them the real thing.
*there's also a strong (if not stronger) throughline in the form of pollock's relationship with lee krasner; following cursory research into pollock's career and krasner's responsibility for it, this is a warranted creative decision. i didn't like elvis as much as i wanted to, but i think it was onto something comparable by framing the story of its subject (quite literally the kpop idol blueprint) through the viewpoint of the man that made him into a product.
**interviews with ed harris mention that his version of pollock is moreso a personal interpretation. this movie was a passion project that took ten years to get made, and in the meantime harris was teaching himself to paint in pollock's style. i don't want to be too parasocial, nor do i think that passion makes a project good, but i do think that the level of personal investment involved benefits the movie's intimate qualities. is using a personal interpretation of pollock a more noble form of fictionalization compared to, say, the way bohemian rhapsody warps its subject's life into a narrative? let he who has not projected his emotions onto the life of someone long dead cast the first stone. unless that's just me. then forget i said anything.
***i sound snippy here, but i liked gimme shelter, and i ought to look into this movement more. lately i've been thinking about the vérité qualities of sports; football broadcasts on the living room TV are reminding me of the hockey broadcasts i did in college. being in the TV club in college was kind of... how do i say... a waste of time that i didn't enjoy. but i can't deny the occasional glee of being up-close on floor camera and trying to follow the violent pursuit of a tchotchke.
first of all,
still thinking about avatar, which is not something i particularly recommend or condone. i grew up only vaguely aware of the cinema world, but i've somehow got a uncharacteristically vivid recollection of how it felt to exist in the context of this movie.* what a mindblowing technological feat to witness back in ancient 2009!
in 2022, it doesn't have much going for it. why would it? this movie could be about any damn thing, it's kind of secondary to that selling point of its spectacle. but what it is about suggests a meta-narrative that, when i read into it, i find very... haunting?
avatar presents its vision of the future through an escapist fantasy. for the protagonist, jake sully, it's partially an escape from his paralysis, and partially an escape from earth. (there's one CG shot of the blade runner dystopia city, and it looks like shit in comparison to the rest of the movie. i want to conjecture that this is deliberate, like a metaphorical present-to-future leap in terms of advances in special effects.) now, the fact that this movie's idea of an escapist fantasy is being a white savior-cum-racial caricature is very LOL. but if the movie is not self-aware in that aspect, it seems morbidly self-aware in another.
while jake thrives on pandora, in his na'vi body, he neglects his human body. he barely eats. his muscles atrophy. he testifies, through his video diary, that the human world is the one that seems fake now. of course it would; there's a very deliberate visual contrast between the human colony's artificial mechanics and pandora's bio-luminescent flora. but isn't that notion kind of harrowing for us, the audience, when we know which one is the true image? technology has advanced to a stage where the artificial recreation of reality is conceivably preferable to reality itself.
jake's escape from reality is, however, intruded upon, because the avatar technology allows the dutch east pandora company to see and record what he's doing all the time. perhaps, in this reading, this means that the idealized fantasy being used to escape a dystopian reality is nevertheless funded and monitored by the same corporations that caused that reality, and will be used for your further exploitation.
luckily for jake, these reminders of the human world are chased off pandora to never bother him again. the movie ends happily; jake sully having his consciousness permanently uploaded to his avatar, forever awake in the only world that's real to him. delusion as reality is fucking awesome, actually!!!
sorry, i know this is very vitriolic. i've spent a lot of my life living online, and i still value the friendships i made and experiences i had, but it's also been a safety blanket.** becoming real was a pain in the ass, even if the rewards were worth it. so i'm kind of personally obsessed with this reading of avatar. it gives me a deeply cavernous feeling that better films have failed to induce.
reminds me of the obsessed artist trope, in that it's the same feeling of being so possessed by the ideal image-- whether living it or building it-- that you can no longer tolerate being human.
was going to skip the sequel, but my dad wanted to see it, so wound up watching it in theaters. i'm equally neutral on it. the virtual/reality aspect isn't as tantalizing/harrowing, which makes sense. the cultural implications of moore's law are that the illusion of avatar was awe-inspiring then, and a foregone conclusion today. also, this movie is doing more of a Lore thing.
that being said, this movie does mention a different kind of digital reincarnation, as the sigourney weaver and stephen lang characters are reborn as younger na'vi versions of themselves.*** (the unobtainium equivalent in this entry is a whale brain juice that stops human aging altogether. coincidence?) the real-world digital-world equivalency that immediately comes to mind are de-aging and deepfakes, which we're still getting the ick from in 2022, but maybe we'll age into them by the time avatar 3 rolls around.
perhaps the best moment in this film is when the stephen lang avatar finds the site of his human body's death, picks up a skull (his own?) and crushes it in one hand. long live the new flesh.
this reading of avatar brings to mind other media that i also don't like to bring to mind,**** like westworld season 1, which i did finish. (i can't deny the dopamine rush of the plot twists, but my opinion of the show has remained largely the same since my october entry. i'm just not very keen on this kind of thing.)
surprise! this is another post where i compare two pieces of media. double surprise! this is another ed harris post.
the man in black (that's ed harris) is a mysterious man wandering through westworld so as to find the center of "the maze," a secret puzzle left behind by one of the creators of the park. on his way, he terrorizes and tortures the populace, either to find the next stage of the maze or just for kicks. he's not a great guy. but i did love to see ed harris swagger around evilly. didn't particularly love to see any of the other characters. as a matter of fact, i started getting especially sick of...
...william. william's an earnest park guest visiting westworld with his more hedonistic friend. william professes to being easily invested in stories, and is drawn to the more wholesome side-quests. they happen upon dolores; she's one of the hosts, a victim of the man in black, and the protagonist. she's been having a couple of surreal ("surreal") flashbacks to what are implied to be wiped memories. as william realizes that dolores may be attaining consciousness, they make a break for it.
i thought: hmm, william REALLY feels like some nice-guy-nerd wish fulfillment. seems kind of hypocritical to have all this snide commentary on the park-narrative as a made-up fantasy, while william was unironically living out the same fantasy heroism in the show-narrative.
so, um, for those of you who aren't aware. dolores gets separated from william and winds up at the center of the maze, where she's confronted by the man in black. she declares that william will come rescue her... only to realize that william's story, as presented to us, has been a product of her flashbacks. the man in black IS william.
after they got separated, william started slicing his way through the westworld population to find her again. (this is supposed to be how he realizes he secretly loves being a video game serial killer.) but he left westworld unsuccessful; and when he visited again, dolores's memory was wiped, seemingly nowhere near conscious. the illusion was shattered.
i have to concede: holy shit, i love this. it's so fucking funny! this guy found out his vidya waifu wasn't real and it blackpilled him! RIP westworld, you would have loved doki doki literature club.
it is genuinely a really enticing character arc: loving the fantasy world to the point of wishing it was real, and becoming immersed to the point of thinking that it is real. and THEN! being confronted with the notion that it was never real, only to become more obsessed with its perfection; in exploring every inch of it, luxuriating in its details, pushing its boundaries, and trying to uncover its secrets. the casul to completionist pipeline.
the season's final moment is also a fantasy-as-reality turning point; in this case, the violent uprising of the park's hosts. william receives a shotgun blast to the arm, at which he smiles elatedly.
i was absolutely ready to stop watching westworld after season 1 until this happened. now season 2 is starting to look like a dire possibility. i've got reason to believe that they fumble the ball with the man in black, but maybe i can pick and choose the scraps that would make a worthwhile character study...?
god damn it. i, too, may have to wander the corridors of a narrative for the purpose of finding an answer that i might not even like.
P.S. (Personal Stuff):
i forgot to mention this here, but i got my spotify wrapped. (i know i should probably move on from streaming, but i don't listen to many independent artists anyways. i'm paying for the convenience of it if anything.) for some reason, my top artist was the beatles? not that i don't enjoy them but, like, i've only listened to two of their albums in their entirety, i wouldn't nearly call myself a "fan". anyways, here is my opinion on every beatle.
mccartney/lennon: in terms of the songwriting debate, i consistently prefer mccartney's stuff in a blind taste test. sorry for being a poptimist. i have no other opinions on these two but a in-group feud is always a classic.
harrison: the prevailing opinion seems to be that he was the hot one, and i can't say i disagree, but you have to understand his whole desiaboo thing is kind of weird for me. now that i think about it, i never really see him cited in indian pop culture the way other western musical exports with a decidedly less indian identity have been (e.g. michael jackson). though, that's possibly just my experience, and possibly a time-and-place thing. i grew up getting the beatles mixed up with the beegees because the latter was a much more prominent presence in my upbringing.
ringo: i basically got all my knowledge of the beatles secondhand, from a friend i had in college. at one point we watched a hard day's night and it is genuinely a very cute movie, including ringo's little character arc. his popular reputation as the lame deadweight endears him to me. i empathize.
got a little too eager at great clips and now i have kind of a meg ryan situation, which would be fine if my face didn't have more of a peter lorre situation. the story is developing.
i have two friends that are siblings (that might as well be my siblings) that were both in town for the holidays. we watched the new bleach series since we'd watched a decent chunk of the original when we were younger. i was going to add a longer reminiscence onto this post, but i think we're good here.
*i also specifically remember avatar and the hurt locker being touted as the neck-and-neck contenders for best picture at the oscars that year. james cameron and katheryn bigelow had divorced a couple years back, but i wasn't aware of that at the time, and i'm not sure if the media narrative was "battle of the exes" or what. i do remember thinking that the so-called competition was a load of hoopla, because why would the academy awards give it to anything other than the somber war film? i was very certain of this despite having not seen the hurt locker and being 9 years old. i was right, though.
**i know the second-life approach to living is the preferable alternative for a lot of people. no hate. my circumstances differ from others.
***not as relevant to the thesis of this post, and moreso suggested than explored, but i really dug the fifth-dimensional parental issues for these characters. estranged father-son relationship where you're race traitors in opposite directions, so the other person possesses the crucial aspect of your identity that you lack. and also, having a tree as a dad and yourself as a mom.
****never saw the movie, but i did read the entirety of ready player one as a teenager. i didn't like it. i still don't. just wanted to mention my misery.