New Interview At Joel Bocko’s “Lost In The Movies”

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Joel Bocko New Interview Woody AllenFor those that regularly follow Joel Bocko’s website, you will have probably seen my new interview posted last week. I contacted Joel late last year since his work is quoted in Woody Allen: Reel To Real. In fact, he was one of the only critics mentioned, within, that correctly declared the late 70s/1980 of Woody’s cinematic output to be a genuine high point- and, yes, this includes Interiors as well as the supernal Stardust Memories. Joel expressed an interest in reviewing the book and interviewing me. The result is 15,000 words on art, criticism, philosophy, and film– with only a slice of it on Allen.

This Fall, I’m updating Reel To Real with new material, including an unexpurgated version of the above interview- another 5,000-8,000 words, probably- that was simply too technical to include on Joel’s site. Still, those interested in the macro of my judgments- their inner ‘why’- will do well to read it. They are a blueprint to the arts as a whole.

Anyway- here is my answer to the first question. The interview can be read in full here.

Before we begin, for the sake of readers can you introduce yourself, your interest in Allen, and the reasons behind your outlook and approach to this book?

I am a poet, critic, and novelist living in New York City. I have a variety of interests- hence my desire to do film criticism from a wide “art-first” approach, where issues of character, writing, narrative, imagery, music, and their summation(s) matter. More than anything, however, I wanted Woody Allen: Reel To Real to be a kind of blueprint for critiquing art as a whole. It covers dozens of films at great depth so that, over time, the reader knows what to look for, and can extrapolate some of these ideas to the art-world at large. In an important sense, this book isn’t merely ‘about’ Woody’s art. It is about ART, with Woody serving merely as a convenient specimen.

For this reason, I don’t necessarily state my premises outright- I don’t give readers a ‘list’ of what to look for in a good film, as that’s the quickest way to formulaic thinking (which is counter to art) and a way of avoiding the exceptions that utterly DEFINE so much of art. For instance: to many viewers, John Cassavetes’s best films might ‘go on too long,’ or Walt Whitman’s great poems have too much ‘stuff’ within. Yet a careful look at either reveals that there is purpose- there is communication- in the excess, even though concision is a good rule of thumb. The point is that any artistic rule immediately calls up sub-categories, exceptions, sub-exceptions, exceptions to the exceptions… save for one. And it is this: whatever ends up on the screen, page, or frame, it must be purposeful- it must communicate something of substance, or at least act as a route to substance, of re-framing substance. And the measure of ‘substance’ is Man at his apex. I am … Continue reading →

Review Of Marina Julia Neary’s “Saved By The Bang”

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Saved By The Bang Marina Julia NearyA few weeks ago, I came across Marina Julia Neary’s Saved By The Bang, an interesting (albeit flawed) novel that takes what might very well have been a PC disaster- a family saga set during the Chernobyl meltdown- and manages to avoid the typical pitfalls one associates with such. Just think, for example, of the childlike way Octavia E. Butler once dealt with slavery, or Steven Spielberg’s twee, hamfisted treatment of the Holocaust, or the multitude of journals- poetry, prose, and everything in between- that opine on war and suffering and evil all the while excluding the art itself in favor of agitprop. Of course, it is quite easy to express fear or sadness or hopelessness, for these states are simply part of the human condition. They are built into us from so many access points that the smallest thing will tap into them. Yet it’s much harder to slip into their interstices, to get at things less obvious- more difficult to come by- which is why most ‘artists’ don’t really give a damn about their own craft, favoring, as they do, the fluff extraneous to it.

Saved By The Bang implicitly knows this, side-stepping the above dilemma by turning a drama into a kind of comedy, thus obviating any ‘need’ for bathos- the same sort of inversion, in fact, that helps polish and define Liev Schreiber’s wonderful Everything Is Illuminated (2005). But while the book has a number of strengths that easily put it in the top 5% of published writing today, it also lacks the sort of ‘highs’ that define the best works: it is more or less a solid book that has as many bad moments (3 or 4) as truly excellent ones (likewise 3 or 4), and an interim that merely floats well- for good or ill. In short, there are simply too few memorable passages or lines that work on the mind after the novel’s done, and while the characters’ lack of genuine depth might be unimportant, in some tales, the lack of highs- spoken by or narrated around these characters- keeps it from better company. Being a Chernobyl survivor, myself, I’ve long wanted to write a book about the incident, and I’d have surely done quite a few things differently. But that is neither here nor there. My desires and my way of doing things are and should be irrelevant to criticism, which needs to consider what a thing is rather than filtered through what’s always wished for. So let us focus, instead, on what the book does well, does not do well, and- I guess- does not quite do at all.

Saved By The Bang begins with a comic look at the Belarusian intelligentsia, starting at the height of an affair between the protagonist- Antonia- and a well-known tenor, a nice touch that avoids the oft-silly, moralizing, and clunky buildups towards such by immediately casting some doubts on the book’s (initial) lead. It then moves on to Antonia’s marital woes, … Continue reading →

The Red Pill, Feminism, & The Missing Synthesis

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The Red Pill Reddit

“Perhaps all philosophy boils down to the simple fear that the universe has no need for us: men. I mean, because women are, in a strange sense, more essential to Being than we are…We build machines, create tribal languages in philosophy — like little boys with secret codes in their clubhouse — to get back at the universe because she has failed to give us a function. All our works, male works, will perish in history — history, a male concept of time, will vanish, too, but the culture of women goes on, the rhythms of birth and destruction, the Way of absorption, passivity, cycle and epicycle.” – Charles Johnson, Oxherding Tale

“The weakness of men is the facade of strength; the strength of women is the facade of weakness.” – Lawrence Diggs

“I believe every word that man said because it’s exactly what I wanted to hear.” – Space Ghost

Introduction: ‘The Red Pill’ In The Feminist Context

Of all grating human tendencies, I’d argue that the wont towards simplification to be among the most retrograde. Forget violence- it’s been on the outs for thousands of years now, and will be quite unrecognizable in the next few centuries. Forget bigotry- it’s little more than personal immaturity made visible, and at times rewarded. Forget whatever -ism that happens to be ‘in’ right now, for people are too fickle — and their attentions too limited — to celebrate or deride a cause for more than a few decades at a time. Yet simplification is a human constant, splitting, as it does, political spectra into a neat (and illogical) 50/50 divide, corralling ideas into contrapuntals, and apportioning the whole world, really, into the dullness of ‘sides’. To get this to work, you only need one thing: myth. And to get it working for a while, you need to have myths on both sides, as well as people dumb and insecure enough to believe them.

Just think, for a moment, of all the deeper truths such systems occlude: how the vast stores of human ignorance have kept the big picture (whatever it may be) from materializing. This is to be expected, for there’s something in the brain — a survival mechanism, perhaps — that encourages human beings to simplify even when it’s inappropriate. Sure, black and white is great for the jungle, where quick decisions rule, but consciousness did not evolve for higher-order thinking: this is merely our proximate use of something with far more distal causes, thus entangling logic, instinct, and emotion into thinking patterns that have the imprint of none of these things, but share, by being so diluted, all their weaknesses. Thus, in recent decades, there’s been a backlash against the least credible of these innovations. And, unsurprisingly, one of these is the excesses of gender/sexual politics, and the odd, asymmetrical demands this has placed on human conduct.

So what’s the problem, exactly, and what have been the proposed solutions? It’s simple, really- to borrow that abused word. Feminism … Continue reading →

On Countee Cullen’s “Heritage”

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Countee Cullen Harlem Renaissaince

Countee Cullen. Image via FindAGrave.

After a LONG time out of print, Library Of America finally released Countee Cullen’s Collected Poems a couple of years ago. To those who know literature, this was a big deal- mostly because Cullen is one of the 3 or 4 greatest black poets to have ever written, even as (as per all great writing) he was quite free from the stereotypes of ‘blackness’, or whatever other limit artists typically impose upon themselves. An almost Constantine The Great-like Christian- just note the syncretism of the titular poem- he never gave a simple answer on politics, religion, or race, even arguing with Langston Hughes that he was above all a poet, first, and a black man second. In other words, while Hughes would sometimes dip into mere agitprop, Countee Cullen was less interested in canned answers- nor did he think that he necessarily had them in the first place. This made for mysterious sonnets, strange messages, and of course- having modeled himself on the Romantic poet John Keats- great lyricism, witty lines, and memorable inversions:

For John Keats, Apostle Of Beauty

Not writ in stone, nor in mist,
Sweet lyric throat, thy name;
Thy singing lips that cold death kissed
Have seared his own with flame.

Although I’d argue Cullen had a number of truly great poems, it is really “Heritage” that is special- on a deeper level- in my own life. I recall how, as a kid, after I’d decided to start reading with purpose, I first came across Countee Cullen’s work in a Harlem Renaissance anthology. I was 16 at the time and really had no knowledge of what made for good writing. Yet there was the feeling that Cullen’s work was somehow better than most of the pieces being represented. It was more subtle- it took quite a few readings to really know what was going on, even when the poems felt simple. The book featured small pieces, mostly, and while they ranged from good to great, it was really “Heritage” that made me want to UNDERSTAND poetry- as well as learn how to craft my own. My guess is that it simply came at the right time. I was intellectually maturing, I was getting ready to leave my Orthodox Christian faith, and I was- by way of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul On Ice, among other works- diverging from the limits of ‘my’ world into the boundaries of another’s. And while there were many poets greater than Cullen that I’d initially sampled- John Donne, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane- they were completely inaccessible to a child. They are, for lack of a better term, more or less useless when first learning the craft- unless one realizes that their work is something to be conquered in time, and not merely put aside. Yet Cullen didn’t need to be awaited. He was always there:

Heritage

What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed … Continue reading →

“Mattress Girl” Emma Sulkowicz Goes Off The Deep End

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"Mattress Girl" Emma Sulkowicz is now THE dominant narrative, rather than 'a' victim.

Image via Wikipedia.

A few days ago, I was Googling around to find some information on the Emma Sulkowicz (“Mattress Girl”) rape case when I realized that the first result referred to a sex video. Now, I already thought she was psychotic, and entitled, and selfish, and that- despite the overwhelming evidence of Paul Nungesser’s innocence- I’d always be in the liberal minority for such views. Yet if I had even a phantom of a doubt re: Mattress Girl’s inner troubles, it was lifted when she decided to make this video and pass it off as something other than what it is: a re-renewal of the attention she’s craved for well over a year now, waning ever since the two students graduated and went separate ways.

Officially, I guess, the video is called an “art work,” but let’s be real. It’s nothing more than a sex tape. Adding a little history to it- as well as a pinch of psychosis- does nothing to change the fundamentals of what happens when you sit down, push a button, and wait for the pixels to light up. In short, look at it for what’s on screen rather than what you wish to project upon it- what isn’t there. There are 4 frames to show a series of sex acts (some of them violent) filmed from 4 different angles, with a French title- Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol– meant to obscure the hollowness of the actual ‘film’. It’s ridiculous that I even have to argue such a point, but this is little more than a reflection of what people deem to be serious.

It gets worse. The video was time-stamped 8/12/2012 (the date of the alleged rape) to ‘deepen’ her original claims, as well as further needle Paul Nungesser. Of course, given that Nungesser has a lawsuit pending for his gross mis-treatment, the date was promptly removed during a several-hour stretch that Sulkowicz claims was a hacking attack on her website. More likely, however, Sulkowicz wanted to retain whatever bit of plausible deniability that she has left. For the facts of the case have not changed:

1. Paul Nungesser was accused of rape many months after the alleged incident.

2. Nungesser and Sulkowicz continued to exchange pleasantries- including flirtations- into the winter.

3. The accusation came AFTER enough months had passed to ‘establish’ an odd case re: Nungesser’s character. “Josie” claimed he tried to kiss and grope her without permission– then sent fun, sexual e-mails to him later, mirroring Sulkwociz’s own behavior. “Natalie” more or less claimed he was a bad boyfriend rather than abusive– yet had just come out of an abusive relationship, herself, was suffering from depression, and still agreed to meet up/make plans after their breakup.

4. Columbia investigates Nungesser and finds nothing- even though an investigator admitted to really wanting to find fault with him, only to conclude that Sulkowicz was lying.

5. The police might have investigated, but Sulkowicz declined due to the emotional battery … Continue reading →