Saturday, June 29, 2013

Jesus Christ and Superman: The Passion Of The Man Of Steel

Music is my passion; film is that maddening dominatrix that haunts my subconscious, tormenting unto yea the very end of days.

Reasons: Told at early age that the sounds emitted in vain attempts to join into a chorus that the action I performed could not be referred to as "singing" by rule of law in a five state area. Either I never told my parents, they weren't listening or maybe it was they that advised me of this, merely the first among many. (Literally: there was a posted ordinance for about a week. I was shunned.) Instruments were chosen but frankly that takes a lot of focus, which I had in abundance (if not totally useless because the filters eliminating useless effluvia of the mass psyche transmission devices), they were expensive, people expected results, dammit and there were none forthcoming.

I could play a radio. Parents got me an AM/FM transistor job, about nine inches square and two inches deep, bright blue it was, and made of the same heavy grade plastic used in a lot of cars. Could (and did) sustain high impacts without noticeable damage and continued with its basic function, infecting my mind on an hourly basis for several days at a time with every conceivable piece of music in the pop music ether. One hit wonders, massive operatic pieces, movie and Broadway hits, country and TV and novelty, sometimes even spoken word, and that not merely comedy.

The two most memorable of these spoken word recordings for me was, first,  The Americans by Canadian newsman Byron MacGregor, a smooth velvet voice reasonable as a quiet demand but powerful enough to bear some emotional impact. Hear my words, his voice said, feel the meaning. The words themselves were a Godsend to anyone that lived within the three county area of Wayne/Oakland/Macomb. It never approached pity, neither sent nor received, but a damned fine Thanks, Neighbor. Ranters of this era would do well to pay heed.

The second is often mislabeled as comedy, mostly due to the performer and, well, he was an inherently funny guy, this being Red Skelton's Pledge Of Allegiance by one Mr. Red Skelton, Hoosier state native and a huge childhood hero. (Many nights my Grandma McDonald and I would watch TV. Red was a never miss, we both loved him.)

Having said that..

Headline: Are Jesus Christ And Superman The Same Person?

No, seriously. This madness is so far beyond merely entertaining as to merit attention. Look, ma; the critics are frothing!

I would like, first, to address the three main argument within existing criticism of the film Man Of Steel.

The very first thing that immediately leapt out to me while reading the critical communities' reviews (professional and fan), was the first criticism with which I must strenuously take issue. There are critics and fanboys who gave the film an overall negative response, and the basis seemed to be consistently the same. Sadly, then, with so many of this mindset, if you believe, wrote or so mush as thought this, you and I have no to discuss. Ever.

"It sucks because, you know, Zack Snyder."

The above is in quotation marks as it is a direct quote. As this comment, and several alternate statements that match the above in one form or another, became a meme unto itself ([Whatever thing attached to topic of derision] + plus [derogatory] because you know [topic of derision]) and I am utterly offended at the inclusion of Mr. Snyder in such territory.

Seriously? Sadly, yes: some commenters have gone so far and stooped so low as to saying there is not one single work in Snyder's overall filmography that is worthy of positive attention. Emphasis added, or not, and here I have no intent to cite sources, the internet is itself common knowledge and connection enough for a simple copy and paste and search on Man Of Steel Zack Snyder reviews. Have at it, if you wish: go ahead, wander far and wee from these words before you, seek and search, then return and call me out should there be verifiable evidence somewhere in the universe that proves me wrong. I will wait.

(These words may not be here by the time you get back. The internet is a ticking clock waiting for its own alarm, then silence shall reign. Men will go mad, women panicked and children sacrificed, blood omens all.)

This mindless lock step comment/willful spreading of the meme has been applied to any artist of any value. It is, as mentioned, a meme. The problem is the long term effects of this meme, this mental infection from a word, notion or image. Once this foul slogan is attached to any artist, the artist can be reduced to a footnote in less than a decade, cf: career of Brendan Fraser, a superbly talented actor in drama and comedy, has a powerful presence and has had every film he has been in virtually reduced to nothingness.

Film, you see, is more than an mere art form. It is, indeed, communicating with lightning. The earliest incarnations of film (as it is called), was the Zoetrope, a spinning circular device, with a series of images drawn on the interior, with slotted holes equidistant one from the other. The device would be pushed and it would spin; at the exact correct speed, the images appeared to come to life. Inherent in the every iteration of every filmic art is the Flicker. The Flicker is the foundation, the great I AM of film editing. Now you see it, now, you don't. It is the Darkness we see but do not perceive that unites us.

Films are audience driven. As an art form, the best means of experiencing this form is in an acoustically perfect chamber on the largest possible screen and with a few hundred similarly minded people, all under the hope that this entertainment will be worthy.

The meme, then, suggests that the gathering will, prior to first viewing, be ready and willing to pan it unseen as garbage, because, you know, [whatever] sucks. The critical community as a whole has gone soft, soft in the belief in Film, out of touch with the Flicker In The Dark Chamber and terrified of the collective limited use of the written media in regards to self-expression. We are all, as once said, merely chained and can only see dancing shadows on the wall.

The current filmography of Zack Snyder is as follows:

The Dawn Of The Dead
Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole
Sucker Punch
Man Of Steel

Prior to the above, he did release a documentary short Playground and a video of Morrissey Oye Esteban!

His first feature length film, the remake of George A. Romero's The Dawn Of The Dead. That film was released in 2004.

Now: Picture it. You want to make movies for a living. You have a short documentary and a video out there. The studio says, hey, we want to hire you to make a movie... and here lies a momentary supposition. I have always suspected that the studio representative said something like the following:

:fade in:
Studio Executive: So, Mr. Zack Snyder. Right? Didn't mispronounce anything, right? (Grins and cocks head, waiting for the laugh and then) Good, may I call you Zack? Okay, Zack, let's get to brass tacks, the bottom line. The studio has taken an interest in you, and we'd like to try you out, doing a low budget remake of a low budget horror film. Think you would like to do that? No, wait: Sorry, whole deal is this, you shoot it on time and on budget, better if below budgets, and we'll sign you on for other projects, okay? Oh, and before you answer, the movie? The one we want from you?  Something called The Dawn Of The Dead, some kind of horror film from about 20-30 years ago, we have the rights cheap, the original director was some kind of Pennsylvania recluse name Romero? Name mean anything to you?

(The Studio Executive stops and stares unwaveringly, as if the coke spoon hit him in both eyes simultaneously, he does not blink, he does not move, he is actually looking for a response.)
:fade out:

Anyway, that is how I prefer to imagine it. His first film was a studio backed remake of one of the horror communities most sacred of cows, a massive dynamic nightmare that rocked our little world that carried echoes lo! even unto the next generation. One of the most revered directors that focused on the horror genre and made all of his films as low budget and local as possible.  Then, about at that time, the meme made its first ugly appearance in my life...

"The remake sucks because, you know, Romero hasn't made a good movie since the second living dead." The "second living dead" film being the one Snyder was to remake.

Now, no one as I recall made any serious effort to say that Romero's entire filmography sucked because, you know, Romero, but I always ignored that as I had the certain knowledge that there are enough die hard Romero fans as to cause a widespread Ethernet lynching should someone attempt to suggest such a thing. Flame attempts met handily with a tsunami of response: Oh, say thee, sirrah, nay. Nay. Back thine words with thine fists, arise! Damn You! Arise!!

But there was splash effect onto Snyder. Enough in the horror community came out with overly harsh terminology (because everyone reads Hate Criticism: I hated your movie. Hated it. Hated it. Hated it.) that some twinges were made via cerebellum tattoos and earworms. Now, again, for the record, hating a film on its own merits, fine. Discussing those merits or lack of same, fine.

Slamming it in advance of screening? Sad, lazy and frankly, a form of ignorance that is matched only by the arrogance of those attacking.

Snyder's career, which should have flourished from the start was hindered by a preconceptive meme. Seeds in the collective lawn, social crabgrass.

Leave the rest of his work aside for the moment, though. Is Superman Jesus Christ in this film, or not? 

See, that is the point of my review. The pairing of topics with which I am comfortable discussing at length, overall experience, understanding... you know: a review of a film.


No exceptions. The work must be examined for its own merits.

Having said that, then, the second point of contention that I have to respond, and these reviews are readily available on many good film review sites, both professional and fan base. That criticism?

There is a notable lack of content in all of his films and the characters are always too weak.

For Man Of Steel, then, as a film (while I feel a massive embolism a-borning), should first and foremost be openly compared to the last depiction of the life of Christ that was intended for a mass market was Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ.

To be most open minded, liberal if you must, let us look to the films, as film, each as to its most overriding story arc, character, images and sound. Content is not important here. Do these films compare?

Yes, and most favorably.

Gibson (see tirade above) did not get to see his intended work on the screen. His original intention was to release The Passion Of The Christ, using the original languages, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Latin, and no subtitles.

None. Ever, anywhere: no subtitles.

The film was intended to be a calling out. Is there anyone here who has no familiarity with this story? Anyone? Anyone?

How does Man Of Steel compare?

Having seen both films, I feel it safe to say that if all of the dialogue in Man Of Steel be removed and replaced by a language not of this Earth, the two films have the same most basic impact. The structure is sound enough to tell the tale with no dialogue at all. We as a global human entity knew this story, Superman being one of the three most recognizable fictional characters on the planet; the film was released to mark Superman's 75th Anniversary. Born in 1938, just like my dad (he used to remind me of that, and now, I tell my kids), and Action #1 has a Jun-Jul on the cover, dad was born on Flag Day, June 14th....

...the same day Man Of Steel was released 75 years later. That leads to the annoying sidebar that follows.

Happy Father's Day, Dad! Okay, that was late, but I hope you recall that I did call you on your birthday. You weren't too steady on your feet after having been toasted, from the sounds of it, during The Epic Pub Crawl Of The Retired. Your exact words, as I recall, were something along the lines of everyone seemed to think you needed a toast, and you had been pretty well toasted before we spoke.

Love it. No, I am not being mean: LOVE IT! That's me da, see: off on an Epic Pub Crawl at 75 by God years, Hope I can do that... eventually. Pub crawl, that is: never did one. Would love it if it could be timed with a bunch of local acts in various places and we cab everywhere. Video everything. Vegas be damned, This Is My Life And Hang On. We write our own mythology in this family, and ours is mostly Comedy. End sidebar.

Back to the point at hand, though: the characters are ... not strong enough? Right, okay, we know them all, we all have points of admiration and points of eye rolling cringe induction. Not here, though. Each character is fleshed out and reduced in the script to the point of immediate recognition, then brought to breathing life by one of the best casts assembled for this kind of film. Seriously, is there a wrong moment in any of the performances? AND WHAT PERFORMANCES!! It is a "given" that a super hero/comic book movie is only as good as the villain, and somewhere God is smiling, the villain was Michael Shannon doing that intense Michael Shannon thing, bringing a life to Zod that has not been seen since Terrance Stamp in Superman II. Which, btw, is a massive amount of praise IMHO, I loved Stamp and I loved Shannon.

The response then, is: how much character development do we need for characters that have existed in the global collective sub and not so subconscious for three fourths of a century? Yes, there was a form of shorthand used, but seriously, again: did you not know these people? Were you not shocked and pleased to see that a Pulitizer Prize winning reporter behave like, you know, a reporter? Parents acting like parents on Earth, and like hard core political warriors on Krypton?

Third, and least of the three responses here, is the sense that there is something visually dull about the film, something intangible but very present that prevents the full emersion into the work itself.

This quibble on my part is a matter of taste, and would dearly love to hear an extended discussion from folks that knew the nuts and bolts mechanics, the Pay No Attention To Us Behind The Curtain folks that really know the actual physical process.

The print I saw was apparently fine, but hard to determine as a late coming group required my Scout Law training that I offer my seat to a lady (present), child or the infirmed (present). So, I was in the second row center, about 20 feet away from the screen (what is that? 6 metres?) making Laurence Fishburn (one of many, many reasons for me to see anything, period) appear to have a chin that stretched, according to my depth lack of perception, over most of the North American continent. Egad. Neck pain, cold... but still...

The closeness showed off a lot of grain. Some would find this distracting, thinking it something wrong with the actual visual image, when it is a matter of the film being shot via a chemical process involving light, silver and alchemy or a box that reported every existing 1 and 0 in the known universe. It was a film, not a digitally shot film, a film shot on film. Interesting choice for a story that frankly demands a certain largesse in terms of special effects. Snyder has no problem using digital camerawork, and that technology has served him well. The producer, Christopher Nolan, has a long public history of deriding the digital camera, refusing to make movies unless there is the alchemy present, the attempt to speak in lightning and keeping the Old Ways intact.

The effects, so often the most over and under praised focus of film as art, are in Man Of Steel special in the most awe inspiring meaning of the term "special." There are many visual moments in this film that are extensively and excessively massive that appear to actually be happening. You'll believe that a man can fly. You'll believe that a man can bend steel in his bare hands. This is, after all, bitch whine moan or complain, the story of a "strange being from another planet." At its core, at is very center, thematically and visually, this man is Not One Of Us. He is loved and reared among us. His planet was all dead, planet crumbled and Superman just kept moving on, forget Krypton and keep going."  (Crash Test Dummies, from "Spuerman's Song" on the album The Ghosts That Haunt Me.)

The main difference between The Passion Of The Christ and Man Of Steel is the answer to the question: What makes a Hero heroic? Both films have the same answer: nothing, for they are but men, if exceptional men, but men all the same. We can aspire to the greatness within, we can expect the scourge and the heroes among us will rise and lead the way. We can follow, get out of their way or make our own path.

Is Superman Jesus? Are they the same man? Regardless of the deliberate attempt by some to willfully have us think that, no they are not. They are two separate things, but they resonate, create a harmony. Does Superman kill, does Jesus stand as our Advocate during Judgment? These are two separate myths, the myths that give our lives emotional depth and satisfaction. We write our own myths in my family, and ours are mostly funny. Heroes can laugh, and can make us laugh, but their primary purpose is to inspire thought and excite to action.

The Ultimate Film Trio at this time, then, Comic Book Movie Genre, is, in order of viewing, as follows:

Captain America
Man Of Steel

Just reading those titles, you can feel the vibration: Superhero: The Movie Part I Unbreakable Part II Captain America Part III Man Of Steel.

Some things are right just because they are. This film is one of those things.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dark night, open road, Mellon Collie And The Infite Sadness: Or the night we met Lester Bangs

Picture it: Christmas; homestead, high school daughter, middle school son and elementary school son, the three and three only, apples of my eyes and lights of my heart. Gifts passed on, usually forgotten for the most part but many remain as Ultimate Bonding Moments. Bonding moments: the ever lasting effect of parent and child on both parties simultaneously; everybody grows in this moment.

My eldest was a bit of a Pumpkinhead. I guess that is what the Terminal Overload Fanatic Baseline would call themselves, like Deadheads to The Dead. Not a total over the cliff dive into Jonestown Kool-Aid level, but at least someone that picked up on something ephemeral, some vibrations that resonated deeper than others. I had that moment with the same band, the track Disarm from Siamese Dream. So, I was aware of them, but not as much as she was, but she was reared to understand that Goodness Abound Over Here, the passing of the sacred whisper amongst The Chosen Few, the Insiders With Backstage News, and mentioned them on occasions, with attention to some form of Allard Shorthand English that meant, high marks, interesting and you may find something you like.

ASH is the language we speak. All families have their own shorthand, brief comments that speak volumes about a shared experience allowing for a quantum leap in conversational logic and performance.

There was a rumble from the Pumpkinhead Underground of the soon to be leased follow up album Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. I was aware of this. ASH speak daughter, "dad somethings coming." ASH speak father, "understood."

At the time, I was working for a small company involved in the design, production, manufacture and distribution for a series of products, of the primary components to make the stuff meant we worked in a warehouse full of nothing but chemicals. Wee tiny bottles for a literal pinch of this or fifty-five gallon drums for a metric fuckton of that. I did the shipping and receiving department, which being the sole employee guaranteed me with little to do and all day to do it during any slow down. So, being paid to be bored is not my style so I obsessively and compulsively made certain that it was spotless (easy than you'd think, mostly a sweep a week was enough) and as close to a huge Skinner Box Maze as possible. When three industrial strength shiny shelving arrived I was told to assemble it to be used exclusively for certain products. I got the dimensions and plotted out a place accessible, safe and simple that also fit into the Maze already in progress.

One never finishes building a maze, I found. Logistically it can be a nightmare unless you are of the mindset that then next factor must be in the original plans based on choices made. Something I learned in about a week: I was actually forced to sit down and re-read The Dramatic Imagination by Robert Edmond Jones.

About that book: it is the only book one needs to understand interior design.

Traffic patterns were the key. All I needed to redesign the maze was total of staff at maximum, and basic job title on occasion to fine tune something. Many of the staff used the company shipping for their own personal bulk mail; management knew about it, and for the most part made it understood it could be used for personal reasons by the staff with approval, which I never heard denied. Regardless: a shipment that needed to be in Chicago by 3:00 PM that day, and no one could make that same day delivery date, so off I went in the boss' Bronco, yippee ki yay, off to the south side of Chicago I went.

Radio. Heading into Chi, reading the signs, found a Rock 'n' Roll station, tuned in and added a soundtrack to a long drive DJ'd by a faceless voice somewhere out in the ether. Different era, different times: the DJ announced that while the Pumpkins next album was being prepared little or nothing was being discussed (including the title). There was, though, a single from that album, which I heard that moment and at least five more times before the end of the day.

Review: Bullet With Butterfly Wings by The Smashing Pumpkins.

I-80/90 east bound, into the sun I drove, the hour difference in time making a suicidal Gumball Rally race scene into a more comfortable into and out of the City Second To None. DJ announced, new single. ASH: daughter comment. Yeah, okay: does this thing go to 11? Check bass and treble levels during DJ babble, all okay, traffic low, crank this mutha up and do it like we did it back in the Motor City: Kick out the jams, muthafuggahs!!!

And nearly drove off the road.

Billy Corgan, vocalist, performer and bass player; pretty much front man. "The world is a vampire." Just naked, out there. Then, before the heart and mind can connect, entire the thunder of a thousand souls stomping in rhythm because Kiss My Big White Irish Ass, there is no reason, there is no issue or event; just naked. Imagine if someone were to use the useless Great Boondoggle Of South Bend for a performance of the best marching bands in the area to choreograph this piece, a military dance moment that will bring Glee and be Pitch Perfect.

Then Billy, after "The world is a vampire" then "set to drain. Secret destroyers hold you up to the flames." The band and Billy are entering the center stage of my brain here. The production is freaking genius. Here, the term "freaking" is meant in the 60's vein, as in freaking out, or Freak Out! which was an LP by Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention. Over here this band is saying got a message for you. Might want to pay attention. ASH daughter, here I am, paying attention.

"And what do I get, for my pain? Betrayed desires *Billy sneaking in a sneer, then back to the Mister Serious artist voice* and a piece of the game. " The band, not in the background, but behind, standing (from the sounds of it) as if they were tired of that guy out there and wanted a good hearty Here I Rock moment of their own... except this is not any moment of contention within the band (like Fleetwood Mac during Rumours), this was a collection of musicians that wanted to play their instruments as if failing to due so would cause (or maybe prevent) Armageddon. Then Billy doing the nasal thing he does to annoy my generation (seriously, Dude? Have a couple of your own!) but not annoying; no, no, this sounded like... could it be, could it be happening as I am listening??

Yep. Kiss My Big White Irish, by Jesus and Glory Halleluiah, it is the Second Coming Of Iggy And The Stooges. Chi is not Detroit, but never did we question the music from there. They knew us and we knew them and during the decade of the sixties, no other region inspired more people to pick up an instrument and just blast it out. I was all over in Detroit tri-county megalopolis, and we all knew that yeah, we created Punk, shipped it out as rock 'n' roll singles and then waited for the explosion. John Sinclair, where are you? I got questions, dammit!

Then: "Even though I know - I suppose I'll show
All my cool and cold - like old Job."

Holy Crap, he brought out the Old Testament! Seriously? I heard that Bible reference and sat the hell up all "YES SIR! NO MA'AM!" Throughout, the band is Right There, approaching full boil, maximum r 'n' b, is that ... is that The WHO? No, ah... but yes. Yes! YES! YES!!!!"

The Who instead of The Stooges with Iggy instead of Pete or Roger. Then they howled. At once, unison harmonic imbalance The Watusi The Twist and sonuvabitch, someone from my daughter's generation (if only via the media as collective soundtrack) the entire band decided to grab my balls and hammer crush while demanding that I listen and if I dare, join in.

"Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage
Then someone will say what is lost can never be saved
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage."

Holy Mary Mother Of Jesus, tap the Elixir Keg and get out the Fatted Ambrosia, it is social orgasm time, the happy ecstatic release of collective instantaneous joy and rage and hate and pain and God Damn You Listen To Me I Am Pissed And I'm Mad As Hell And I'm Not Gonna Take It Anymore and fists in the arm and jumping.

Overall response for the TLDR pinheads: Wuz gud.

Flash forward. CD comes out, I buy it for my daughter. We go to Battle Creek for the Christensen (and other, unimportant social unworthies) Christmas Orgy.  This n that n tother thing, nothing film worthy for entertainment and torture. Wife gave me a wee CD player, two speakers and cigarette lighter plug. Cool, I like it, retro and current at the same time. Perfect to the vehicle, 1978 Dodge Aspen four door, maroon in color, standard 6 cylinder, dependable mostly as a reference for timelines. Barb got a present from her uncle Ralph, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, her second copy of the day. She glanced at me, we locked eyes, I made a bright smile and a nod. Non-verbal ASH; daughter smiled like she meant it and did, and thanked them because the album was on her wishlist for that year. She expressed what I perceived as an honest reenactment of her initial response. We both had to leave early, hopped into the Aspen and drove home. While I was plugging in the CD player for the first time, virgin use, she was getting out the CD. Asked: What do I do with the other copy? Answered: Keep it or this one, I'll take the other and I will buy you something else as well.

We played the discs.

When we got home, the second disc had finished. We were rather stunned at first, this was a massive, sprawling monster mess, gutbucket but slick production, no piece of the human condition unexamined in one form or another, a massive massive Grand Opus that vaulted past Masterpiece (conveying here the original sense, look, I am one of you... Yep, the kid fits!") into Moment Defining Entire Work Of An Album That Would Survive A Plane Crash! If the band had collectively died in a group masturbatory action that required the potential and eventual of death by asphyxiation, their place was secure. Here is one for the vaults, the Must Have, Must Share album that really needs more attention.

Oh. And the CD player just died. Stopped, shorted out, the magic grasshoppers chasing each other on a tiny wheel or however the hell these things work (a lot of the laser technology physics confused the hell of me!) but the damned thing just ceased to function. Blah. I said, as I recall, something like, Great, what do I tell your mom? It played a pair of discs one time and then failed.

Then my daughter said, "Rather poetic, though. Right?"

This is where we met Lester Bangs. Played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Almost Famous, some of the old legends returned to me. I read Circus because it was a studio rag promoting whoever was The Next Big Thing or the latest from The Reigning Kings. Bangs wrote for Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine.

Boy Howdy. Okay? Boy Freaking HOWDY!

Bangs wrote with the mad passion of the lover possessed by a succubus, sweating and heaving in throes of ecstatic memory implant and forcing himself onward, ever onward, faster, harder, louder: "Detroit Michigan is the place to be!" Uncle Ted said that.

Bangs breathed fire, he ejaculated and he redefined the extant of how far someone can push their own boundaries, full on Man On A Soapbox Howling Into A Hurricane Holy Man, praise Jesus, glory, glory hallelujah.


Follow your bliss, if you seek balance. Move with gentle goodness, bring in all possible sources, never stopping for there is no end in this road if done properly.

If you are tired, weary and brokenhearted, though, broke down and heavy laden, well, that bliss is going to look different. That bliss has a requirement, to go, to seek and do, active in all ways, bringing forward the moment when all hearts beat as one, and the room is full of wild and happy souls, jumping and rejoicing in unison and harmony. And when you find this, this rock 'n' roll fantasy, and it removes the pain and brings its own gain then you must bring it to the table. Let everyone in on it, 'cuz when it is good it moves mountains!

March, if you feel the need. Gather and weep, laugh and heal. Whatever. Burst forth into song, find a way to make someone smile or laugh. Push aside the bounds enforced upon us all in the Global Skinner Box Corporation. Let it out, bring it out, and let the chips fall where they may.