Monday, August 31, 2009

Inglorious Boredom

I’m going to say this for the record: I was all up Quentin Tarantino’s ass in the early ‘90s. I loved Reservoir Dogs, the only movie of Tarantino’s that, to me, still holds up. I was pretty wowed by Pulp Fiction as well, though the luster wore off quickly, especially after I saw American Boy. The argument has been made for the last few years among anyone stupid enough to care: is Tarantino the master of the derivative or is he simply engaging in the time honored tradition of homage? Regardless of which camp you fall into, the best that can really be said about Mr. Tarantino is that he is a great hack, schooled in cinema history and adept at recycling better movies than he could hope to produce.

I have no objection to this. The world needs great hacks (if you’ll pardon the contradiction) just as it needs true visionaries. I have no concerns about the so-called anxiety of influence. Everything is up for grabs and available for use. The Master and Margarita, my favorite book, could not have existed without all the incarnations of the Faust tale. The Secret Chiefs 3, one of the only bands working that matters to me, is an outfit that wears its influences on its sleeve. The shadows of R.D. Burman, Nino Rota and younameit are evident from the depths of the Chiefs’ complex recordings. And they never made it a secret, either. To me, this incorporation of influence is a beautiful thing, when done well. What Tarantino has submitted to the world with his most recent film, Inglorious Bastards, is an example of how not to prop up your cherished betters.

Tarantino wanted to make a World War II movie with a dash of Spaghetti Western, much the way the Kill Bill series mashed up kung fu films and Sergio Leone. Had the results resembled the violent and fun Kill Bill 1 instead of the tedious and disappointing final act of Kill Bill 2, then Inglorious Bastards would be the rollicking, bloody good time the previews make it out to be. But alas, the film is a tedious effort with a few kick ass moments that can’t save the whole, flabby mess. There are some who disagree, citing the ambitious center of the film, which has little, if anything, to do with the titular group of Jewish-American soldiers who scalp Nazis on the command of Brad Pitt’s cartoonish cracker. No, Tarantino reaches higher, trying to cobble together a movie about movies, the way they were used for propaganda by the Nazis (both real and imagined), and the way they are understood by a certain segment of society informed by dominant cultural… oh, who gives a fuck?

For quite a while, people have been praising Tarantino for his dialogue. This might have been true once. Reservoir Dogs was mostly talking, as were many of the best bits of Pulp Fiction. But, sadly, the dialogue that strangled the conclusion of Kill Bill runs amok in Inglorious Bastards, for no reason other than to delay things or interject some loose strand in a film drowning in them. Q.T. stretches the shit out of every scene, inserting sentence after elegantly phrased sentence into the mouths of actors who are dressed to kill yet rarely do. There are Nazis galore, a good ten Americans who talk a bit about killing them, and a few foppish Brits who come along for the unthrilling ride. Mostly they chat. Occasionally they slay. Largely they bore.

Look: if Tarantino wants to dissect and repackage the beloved films of his youth– spent, famously, working in a video store– then more power to him. Instead of merely “borrowing” their music and a few of their surface aesthetics, he might spend more time considering what made them great, or, at the very least, enjoyable. But no, Tarantino prefers to think of himself as a writer, not of scripts or of stories, but of moments, all of them beset by verbosity. How to link these moments? Well, worry not, Q. will find a way, however tenuous. And the result will be over two hours. Pity; I’d definitely prefer 90 minutes (hell, I’d settle for 75) of action centered on a loose, ridiculous plot then a lurchingly paced 153 minute “action” film that substitutes action for ponderous bullshit. Call me crazy.

Whatever, Lev

Chad Post already ranted against this article by Lev Grossman, but I thought I’d highlight this laughable piece myself. My favorite line is definitely:

“These books [Grossman’s vision of the plot driven wave of coming fiction] require a different set of tools, and a basic belief that plot and literary intelligence aren't mutually exclusive.”

Well, Lev, no one really ever said they were. Plot, story, character, these things have always been cherished by readers, despite their ranking on anyone’s literary ladder. If there is a “plot against plot” then it’s the Grossmans of the world who are looking for it and finding it tucked solely in their own subconscious fears of inadequacy. Are you feeling ashamed, Lev, for not liking the work of, say, Lobo Antunes or any other difficult writer? Sure, they jettison plot in favor of other interests, but there’s hardly a bereft of story in most of these so-called difficult books (modernist or post-modernist). One is either up for the challenge or not. No need to feel like a lesser reader, Lev.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Messer Chups…

Why won’t you come to Chicago?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Skating Rink

If one were to believe Amazon, the release date for the newest translated Bolaño book is tomorrow, August 28, 2009. But I have heard similar things regarding New Directions books in the past. I bought The Skating Rink last week, knowing that the press (the best going, if you ask me) likes to drop their titles early, especially those that will certainly sell. As of last night, it has been read. My quick review is as follows:

This is the first novel Bolaño wrote. One might expect something loose and slight, the solipsistic self-mythologizing that is part and parcel of the first novel (though this may be more of an USA thing). To be sure, there are elements in the book that parallel the author’s biography. Bolaño did arrive in Spain a broke poet from Mexico, and he did get a job as the night watchman in a campground. Otherwise, the novel seems to be less concerned with autobiography and more concerned with mimicking the detective novels that would continue to influence Bolaño throughout his career. While the story is fairly simple (deceptively, at times), it hints at the larger achievements that followed. This is not to say that The Skating Rink is a bad book, or even “lesser Bolaño.” The novel is tight, well crafted, and full of the trademarks (broke poets, murder, corrupt officials, desire) that mark a lot of Bolaño’s fiction. What it lacks are the digressions that make so many of the author’s other works interesting (or infuriating, depending on your taste). The translation (artfully done by the always reliable Chris Andrews) allows English readers to glimpse the early seeds of Bolaño’s vision sprouting—a more than worthwhile spectacle. As noted all over the web, New Directions is releasing translations of the remainder of Bolaño’s works. Thankfully it will only be a few months until Monsieur Pain comes out (which, along with a book of Bolaño’s essays, I’m dying to read). More on that then.

Thanks, as always, for your time. Back to the salt mines.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Open Cuba

Go here:

Sign the petition and help put an end to this absurdity.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Though I am pretty opposed to Twitter (I can explain why, though it’s really not worth going into), I must admit this is almost enough to make me join:

Don Williams on Kurt Vonnegut

Read this.

A touching and goddamn topical tribute to one of my true heroes, Kurt Vonnegut, one of the best things ever produced by the United States of America (along with fellow writers William Faulkner, Mark Twain, and Walt Whitman—stay tuned for a longer list of what makes America great). I’m saving Mother Night for the day when I need something new from Kurt, as I’ve read all his other books and can’t stand the idea that no more will come.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ghosts of Chicago, or, Goddamn Right, We Were the Best

I have to laugh at this site:

Now, while I am forever lamenting the death of my favorite bookshops, cafés, etc., I tend to get bored with this conversation. All those ghosts of Chicago that I mourn were annoying replacements of the older ghosts some guy 20 years my senior mourned. What does fascinate (and depress) me is the evolution of a city. How can Chicago, for example, always be Chicago when so much of it has changed? It’s interesting to me, though, as I said, the whole bitching about long lost places like Lounge Acts and Wax Trax can get old. Still, watching the Blues Brothers the other day, Cassandra and I got a little weepy at the sight of long-gone Maxwell Street.

Side note: I love that this poster called the Aspidistra the best used book store in Chicago. I always thought so, even before I worked there.
Following an interview I heard earlier this week with John Waters, who talked extensively about why Leslie Van Houten ought to be granted parole, Squeaky Fromme was released.

Yeah, it’s the anniversary of Woodstock, but the Manson girls are eclipsing the 60s nostalgia.

Mexico City Book Sidewalk

Essential PoMo Reads

I love lists like this one, though I frequently disagree (I mean, who wouldn’t?) but that is half the fun, right?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Paglia on Healthcare

I love Camile Paglia, even when she's out of her goddamn mind, which she frequently is (calling tha albatross a literary red herring, for example, is just ridiculous). But read her take on the healthcare proposal and its many flare ups and distracting little tidbits. I have to say that Camile is asking some good questions, though it all begins to fall apart by page 2. My biggest concern is that this important issue will be bungled the way Hillary bungled it in '93. Please, Mr. President, don't let that be your legacy (though it hasn't seemed to stick to the teflon Mrs. Clinton).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clarice Lispector

Read this.

I read a few of Clarice Lispector’s books last year, which was good timing as I can feel all smart and shit like the people who rush to read a book just before the movie version comes out, just so they can claim that the book was better. All that aside, Lispector is an interesting writer and it’s nice to see that this new biography is giving her the attention she deserves up here in the United Snakes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's On My Mind

I work for attorneys (although, come fall, I will work for attorneys a little less and stand in front of a classroom and pretend to be a teacher, that is when not squeezing in time at the NU writing center), one of whom is perplexed by my taste in music. He can’t understand why I have no interest in the White Stripes, for example. Today, before getting halfway through the door, he asked me if I liked Rage Against the Machine. I told him that they’re fine, I guess. No real opinion. He seemed to think their music was up my proverbial alley.

“Their politics are a little too radical at times, but they’re good,” he said.

I told him they’re politics were not radical enough for me. I was joking, but the more I think about it…

Consider this:

The first Rage album was released on Epic records, not exactly an indie label. They have played at Lollapalooza, which, if I am correctly informed, has stages sponsored by corporations. And they let their music be used in the Matrix films, the last two of which were little more than extended commercials to sell sunglasses and cell phones. (These items were marketed in conjunction with the films, seriously.) To me, these examples run contrary to the behavior of a truly radical organization—musical or otherwise. So, fuck them.

Anyway, are they even a band anymore?

On a not-at-all-related note, I have begun reading Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy. I am all of 20 pages into the first book and I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to pick it up.

Haruki, I’ll be seeing you tonight. Your mother has to work late, so it’ll be you and me and Gato. Don’t give me any trouble, please.

Give-‘em-Hell, Rocco

The NEA gets a new head. He seems like a bit like Gen. Patton. This is exciting, assuming the attitude doesn’t get buried under inane political debate and other bureaucratic jive.

Friday, August 07, 2009


I’m really not sure how to process this, which is fine—I’m tired of viewing everything through a prescribed lens. But here you go, I.S.S., the catchiest boy band ever:

I can't stop listening to this CD.

Go Here And Become a Kenyan

Do Shut Up

Chad Post on the latest right wing attack on the NEA:

Really, is this still something the right wants to stomp their feet and bellow over? Jeesh, focus on something productive, people.