Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lie Detector

In Praise of Lando Calrissian

I tried watching The Empire Strikes Back for what was probably the eleventy-first time last weekend. Alas, Lucasfilm pulled some predictably asinine tomfoolery and the non-digitized version does not conform to the dimensions of my laptop. I have had no trouble with other DVDs, they all fit my computer automatically, as does the "Special Edition" version of Empire and the other Star Wars films.

Screw it. I've seen these movies seriously probably a hundred times since the pan-n'-scan, VHS, taped-off-HBO version, well-worn and kept in my parents library alongside favorites like Cosmos and Ken Burns Civil War.

When I was a kid I wanted to be Lando. I'd like to think nowadays that it was because my nascently literary mind recognized him as the closest thing to a morally ambiguous character (it's that same moral ambiguity that makes the previously mentioned Nancy Botwin such a win in my book) in the whole of Star Wars. Lando's a good guy. He's responsible for a whole city, and when you're responsible for those people, sometimes you have to make a deal with the devil, and sometimes that blows up in your face.

Really, though, I think it was the cape. There's that scene in Empire where Lando gets in to a scuffle with Han Solo and his cape comes off, revealing that at no time (unlike in Jedi) was it ever attached. That's right, America. Lando Calrissian saunters through Cloud City wearing a cape attached to his shoulders through the sheer virtue of his own awesomeness. THAT'S why I wanted to grow up to be Lando.

All the other kids, they wanted to be Han Solo or Boba Fett, and while I can't fault Solo (guy has his own ride and it is sweet) Fett dies like a chump in Jedi, and his biggest proponents can't explain to me the decision-making process that leads your salty badass to dress in pastels. Pastels. Who is it that orders his supercommando uniform from Mandalore Ltd., complete with rocket backpack, and gets ocean green highlights? Who? I ask you.

Give me Lando. Give me a guy who can fly the hero's ship if he has to, who owns the best real-estate in the galaxy (seriously, how unlikely is it to find an earth-liveable sweet spot on a gas giant, complete with shining white city?) who has to weigh his responsibility to hundreds of thousands of people against his responsibility to his friend, who makes a deal with the devil only to be redeemed, who Rocks. The. Cape.

Friday, November 20, 2009

In Praise of Nancy Botwin

Of course I came to the party late. 'Weeds' ended its five-season run on Showtime on August 31. I'm about halfway through season 4 at the moment, so, again, late. But let me just say this: though my research has been unscientific at best, I feel comfortable making the following pronouncement: Nancy Botwin is (or was) the best-written lady-character on TV.

It goes back to the Bechdel Rule. The rule that states it might be a good idea for women on TV to be well-rounded, well-written characters who aren't either simply ciphers for the men in the story or otherwise defined (or choosing to define themselves--I'm looking at you, Sex and the City) by the men in their lives. Too many female characters on TV spend a predominant amount of their time preoccupied with the men in their lives. They don't have agency. Things happen to them to which they are expected to react, but they're seldom pro-active and it's always about the boys (I'm looking at you now, Grey's Anatomy and Desparate Housewives--it's right there in your title!)

Which isn't to say it's a total wasteland out there. Think Peggy Olson in Mad Men. But she's not the anchor of that show, not its heart by far. No, I can think of no other show which is entirely anchored by the presence of a strong female character, who grows and develops, who is flawed and interesting, who gets the bulk of the screen time. (Though I have heard good things about Nurse Jackie)

TV occasionally tries to float us one, but the lady in question ends up either written deliberately as Queen Superbitch (see Canterbury's Law, a short-lived House knockoff where House is a girl and a lawyer instead of a doctor) or some kind of living saint (see HawthoRNe). Through five seasons of Weeds we got to follow Nancy Botwin as she triumphed, fucked up, escaped with her life, fucked up again, loved and lost and dealt a copious amount of pot.

I hope we see more of her.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I am still me, tethered to the shore. The light has gotten brighter in this room since I turned it on. Pupils dilating. Can your trip be about something? Does it have to be? Must you record & retransmit everything for the hope of public adulation? The difference between experience and transmission (for lack of a better word).
That the only virtue of life lies in experiencing it, but that the thing you personally think of is how to package that experience & transmit it, to make it a story of holding the back of her arm, not just the experience, and casting aside stray thoughts that don't fit the narrative, the STORY. But--take the metaphor again of the movie in which people are stoned, the transmission of this experience, that it is necessarily hollow, you can't get people to experience the movie, it's not holographic, no smellovision. Already you're figuring how to bundle this up & sell it.
You can't just experience it, you have to transmit it. The movie in which peoplea re stoned, the people in the auditorium watching the film, to those people we sound ridiculous because cinema can only transmit the image of people being high, not the sense of meaning or altered perception inherent in it. (And those people aren't even stoned either, they are doing this for hours @ a day, rehearsing the scene as written.) This gets us to language, I suppose, as the first form of transmission (I am referring to script here) and therefore, while necessary, is still a bastardization of experience (and yet I'm a slave to its rules and feel the above sentence was bogus in a way I don't care to go back and correct.)
Those people in the archetypal, prototypical film can't tell you waht it means to have any experience they're having (& they're not really having them, just performing them, but take it as writ) they exist only as images representing an experience through which (darkly) you look.
It's like 2001: A Space Odyssey. What I think Kubrick is trying at is to represent visually in the film's final montage what it must have been like for cavemen to encounter that obelisk, so removed it was from their perceptions. But he can't, so what we're left with is a lightshow, which is what all cinema is, essentially, a lightshow. A dog & pony show. Cinema/Lit--CinemLit?--is the outgrowth of our need as humans to transmit our understanding. That is, our capability of abstraction of thought. But that's just it, what we construct are mere abstracts not the thoughts themselves. Have I used the word apophenia yet? The fundamental, I dunno, flaw in humans. We cannot experience the thing naked, we must clothe it in meaning. make it modest. Decent. The old man in the mountain is just a rock, but we see a face, part of our abstraction is apophenia.
I have strayed too far from my original point. And that is that representations are by their nature flaowed, but that's not a bad thing, right?
Just to be, that's the thing, not to have to trake, transm it, package the experience but to wander out into the waters, untethered to the shore.