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Scott Eric Kaufman
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Not quite, Spike -- I just wrote an Internet Film School column about the Thanksgiving episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer for the AV Club. Sample: Thanksgiving is a holiday that allows filmmakers to get back to the medium’s theatrical roots. No elaborate sets are required — just a table and some people who know each other so well they decided to come together once a year rather than interact regularly. It is a chance for film to scale back its visual ambitions and look like a play without stumbling into the stodgy stage direction of an old episode of Masterpiece Theatre. Only unlike those film adaptations of dramatic works, there is a natural quality to the limitations placed upon a film that happens on Thanksgiving. Everyone looks like they’re in the same place not because the theater couldn’t afford better sets, but because everyone is trapped in the same confined spaces by strained familial bonds. Because if ever there were a time and a place for families to fall apart, it’s Thanksgiving. Families fall apart all the time — I consider “families falling apart” to be a genre, and Noah Baumbach the current king of it — but never as spectacularly as they do during Thanksgiving. Perhaps as alluded to above, it is because of the artificially pressurized atmosphere the holiday creates. People who don’t particularly like each other are yet again forced to make extended displays of false joviality in order to please the one family member who actually cares about everyone. Sometimes that character is a doting mother, sometimes a dying father, or in the case of the “Pangs” episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, an empty-nested Chosen One whose surrogate family is on the brink of collapse... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Acephalous
I believe if you start reading here you’ll be able to see exactly what I’ve been dealing with tonight…but that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because some people — who can not be proven to be the people involved in that conversation — are threatening to tell my employers that I’ve been accused of sexual harassment and am therefore an enemy to “true feminists” and “feminism” everywhere. They’re also claiming that I failed to act appropriately in another awful incident and this, I admit, is why I’m angry enough to write this post. All of which tells me everything I need to know about them who would doxx me — I say let ‘em, as I know y’all remember things I’ve done that are far worse or more impolitic. Right? Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2014 at Acephalous
On the Japanese version of Ringu and why she's having so much fun up there. Sample: The most interesting visual element in this shot is the perspective implied by the camera placement. By partially obscuring the view of Reiko Asakawa, Nakata suggests that this might be a point-of-view shot, thereby planting in the minds of the audience the idea that perhaps she’s being watched—and that the audience might be sharing the perspective of whoever (or whatever) is doing the watching. The fact that the camera is perfectly still here adds to the unease, because that lack of movement alone suggests the watcher may (or may not) be in plain sight, yet is undetected and wishes to remain so. In classic horror fashion, Nakata wants his audience to inhabit the mind and perspective of a stalker. And you know what? Being a stalker is dull... Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2014 at Acephalous
COP: Have you noticed anything unusual this morning? SEK: Not to my knowledge. COP: Nothing at all? Not even a…suspicious dump truck? SEK: A suspicious dump truck? I’ve seen a lot of dump trucks across the street, at the construction site, but I don’t know what would make one suspicious. COP: You know, like one that didn’t look like it…belonged with the other dump trucks. SEK: Sorry, they look like a happy little dump truck family to me. COP: I understand. Just keep your eyes peeled, and call me if you see anything suspicious. SEK: Will do. Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2014 at Acephalous
It is 4 a.m. I am alone downstairs, when all of a sudden, in the kitchen, I hear someone saying, “Hello? Is anybody there? Hello?” “Hello,” I reply, and walk in. No one is there — except for my cat, Virgil, who is sitting on the counter. I shoo him away, think it must have been the thunder, or the early hour, that confused me. Then my roommate’s phone rings, and goes to voice mail. Rings, and goes to voice mail. Rings, and goes to voice mail. Finally, I walk into the kitchen, grab his phone off the counter, and say, “Hello, this is my roommate’s phone. Can I help you?” “Is everything OK?” a man asks. “Why wouldn’t it be,” I reply. “I got a call, heard strange noises, then a muffled voice calling for help.” I assure him that everything is OK, and he seems satisfied. As I place the phone back on the counter, I realize: GOD DAMN IT VIRGIL YOUR ASS JUST SCARED THAT POOR MAN HALF TO DEATH. THE END Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2014 at Acephalous
So, as noted yesterday, I went on Graphic Policy Radio and discussed the series of premier of Gotham, which you can listen to here: The more serious discussion concerned how a show whose conclusion is foregone can actually survive -- after all, even though Gotham is going to focus, somewhat Wire-like, on the internal conflicts of the police and various criminal organizations, in the end we all know that the situation's going to deteriorate to the point at which the only answer is a wealthy orphan patrolling the night in a fetish bat outfit. Still, that leaves room for a good 10 or so seasons of watching the city fall apart, and that could certainly be gratifying, but only if the series creators understand what they have and how to use it. Which brings me to the second David Simon reference in this post, because I think the show's ceiling could be something like Homicide: Life on the Street. Consider how that show began, with Tim Bayliss catching the Adena Watson case, and how it haunted him through all six-ish seasons. In a similar fashion, you know the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne are going to haunt Gordon, and you know that he -- like Bayliss -- is going to form an unhealthy attachment to both the case and those left in its wake. Do I think Gotham is going to reach these heights? In all likelihood not. But do I think that it has a higher ceiling than most quasi-procedural cop dramas currently on television? I most certainly do. On a side note, we also established the most appropriate possible context for one of those Internet traditions I started awhile back: SO JUMP OFF THAT BUILDING YOUR THE GODDAMN BATMAN You know -- because he is. Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2014 at Acephalous
I’ll be on Graphic Policy Radio again tonight discussing Fox’s new Batman-related show Gotham. The show begins at 10 p.m. EST and you’re more than welcome to call in, tweet at me, or drop me a line on Facebook if you have something you’d like to add to the program — or if you’d just like heckle or berate me. The choice is yours! Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2014 at Acephalous
If you're interested in what I have to say about Guardians of the Galaxy, I was a guest on Graphic Policy Radio radio talking about it last night. I made a number of claims about the film, foremost among them its indebtedness to mid-period Marx Brothers films. I also said quite about something I kept calling "old-school sci-fi wonder" -- though I have no idea why I became so wedded to that phrase -- and Parks and Rec, because anytime I have the opportunity to discuss Parks and Rec, I will. UPDATE: I forgot many of the interesting tangents we went on, e.g. What would a science fiction film that wasn't anthropocentric actually look like, and would it ever get made? (For example, can you imagine a film version of an Iain M. Banks novel?) AND ALSO: All of the "Bert Macklin, FBI" stuff on Parks and Rec -- his deep commitment to his flights of fancy -- always reminded me of what Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes would've grown up to be like, so Guardians of the Galaxy struck me like a "Spaceman Spiff" serial. Check Out Pop Culture Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with graphicpolicy on BlogTalkRadio Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2014 at Acephalous
Posted Aug 21, 2014 at Acephalous
SEK went to the supermarket to pick up tuna fish for his elderly cat who now only eats food that also contains tuna. As tuna is on sale, he purchases twenty cans of it and is on the checkout line in front of POLITE DRUNK MAN. POLITE DRUNK MAN: You don’t eat all them cans, now? SEK: Wasn’t planning on it. POLITE DRUNK MAN: TV say they full of Menicillin. SEK: Mercury? POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin, bad for the children, real bad. SEK: I promise not to share it with any kids. POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin’s terrible, make ‘em have miscarriages. SEK: The kids? POLITE DRUNK MAN: Ain’t even get a chance to be kids, they born miscarried, or with arms. SEK: I’ll keep that in mind. POLITE DRUNK MAN: Dead babies with arms, that’s what Menicillin do. Best watch out. SEK: I will, promise. Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2014 at Acephalous
SEK takes his car to TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN in order to make sure it won’t explode and kill him when he makes a road trip next week. TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN: You just put a new battery in it? SEK: That I did. TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN: Means your electrical is reset, our computer can’t do a lot of the tests. SEK: So long as its fluids are replenished and it doesn’t have murder in its heart, I’m fine. TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN: So when do you need it by? SEK: I have a meeting at 2 p.m. TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN: I don’t think I can have it done by 1:30. SEK: No a problem, I work online. Just need to be back home and I live around the corner. TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN: What do you do? SEK: I write online. TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN: People do that? SEK: As long as they pay me to. TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN: I thought that was computers did that. SEK: ? TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN: They don’t have that shit programmed out yet? Our computer tells us what happened with a car, figure it was the same with what the President said and shit. SEK: I don’t think they have a computer that can do that. TRUSTWORTHY LOCAL AUTO MAN: Couldn’t be worse than what they’ve got. Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2014 at Acephalous
Being that I’m the kind of person who has his own film school and what-not, I decided to read Esquire’s interview with the now-not-but-soon-to-be-again-retired Stephen Soderbergh. “Could be edifying,” I thought to myself — and it was, especially this passage: A real litmus test for me is how people treat someone who is waiting on them. That’s a deal-breaker for me. If I were on the verge of getting into a serious relationship and I saw that person be mean to a waiter — I’m out. That’s a core problem. You’re being mean to someone who’s helping you. What is that? Everyone knows who the assholes are, and I avoid them. Because it’s a funny story, but in the ’90s I actually waited on Steven Soderbergh quite a bit, and if that’s his litmus test, he didn’t pass it. Not even remotely. Because as memory serves, when Soderbergh was a regular at the used bookstore/coffee shop I worked at, his treatment of me then would’ve been a deal-breaker for him now. One particularly memorable conversation involved his then-obsession with Ambrose Bierce. I’d placed the special orders for the books myself, so I knew they’d just come in the week before Mr. Ambrose Bierce Expert saw me reading Mason & Dixon behind the counter. He proceeded to excitedly tell me, at length and with some volume, that I was wasting my time reading Thomas Pynchon, because Ambrose Bierce was where it’s really at. He went on and on and on, enthralled by his own love of Bierce — which, after I became an Americanist and read him, I believe is totally justifiable. But the point is, Soderbergh wouldn’t just have failed his own criterion for the measure of humanity, he would have done so spectacularly. Which, as a friend on Facebook noted, might be the point. He might have chosen his worst character trait as the defining characteristic of humanity because it’s something he had to overcome, and given the depth of charity to the underprivileged and unvoiced evident in his work, I’m tempted to believe that. Because as much as I despised him as a patron when I had to deal with him, I can’t help but admire — however begrudgingly — what he’s done with himself in the years since, especially Che. I know I’m defending the film against an idiot of an ideologue at that link, but even if I had to defend it against Roger Ebert himself, I’d do so with the same vehemence… …despite how I feel about the man personally. He’s just that talented, damn it. There’s a real humanity to his late-period work, especially in the films that everyone hated because they dealt with unsavory subjects like prostitutes or viral pandemics or Che. So on behalf of all the baristas and book-store employees he berated before he came to understand this truth as being self-evident, I’m just going to go ahead and forgive him. Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2014 at Acephalous
My new column is up! And the title of it references a beloved Internet Tradition! Sample: What had, minutes earlier, been an audition for the role of “child” in a production of “family” has transformed into one for the role of “cog” in “drug enterprise.” The confusion created by placing these scenes back-to-back will resonate throughout the season, as Taystee must decide whether Vee is a caring mother figure or an exacting boss. Initially, at least, she seems to understand the difference—but as the episode progresses, the amount of emotional energy she invests in acquiring a job becomes increasingly excessive, making the stitching of these two scenes together seem increasingly meaningful. Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2014 at Acephalous
My latest Internet Film School column at the AV Club is open for business! Sample: The camera communicates a psychological state, but the logic C.K. follows here isn’t predicated on the uncertainty of dreams so much as the tedium of depression. Everything is the same visually, in terms of the shot selection, but the situation is growing worse. Louie is increasingly a show about the mundane yet fraught experience of depression, and this mood is reflected in C.K.’s direction. Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2014 at Acephalous
But only because the episode demanded it be. I don’t want to raise your expectations going forward too high, after all. Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2014 at Acephalous
Watch the podcast — which, and I’m not overstating it, may well be our best, or at least most entertaining, given that we were both in a state of hyper-informed quasi-delirium when we did it — below: Audio available here. Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2014 at Acephalous
I thought twice about checking in just to argue... You're always welcome here, Rich, and it's good to hear from you. I worry, you know. People read recaps for the same reason they read criticism of a book they've just read, to see if a reading of it by a critic will give them a different way of thinking about it, and point out things they've missed. I guess it's the genre -- a recap isn't really criticism, except in the passive way that all summaries necessarily involve a process of selection, i.e. what plot elements are considered important enough to worth mentioning or lingering on. so are you indicating tension about what you're writing, or what the format is constraining you to write? More the latter than the former. I always taught summary as the first step of criticism, so now that I'm a journalist, I'm starting to feel like I'm writing the first draft of history -- even if it is the history of a television show. Yes, that's all true, but haven't they gotten it already? Eye height and gaze direction, very important, used by directors to produce intended effects. I don't think so, or at the very least, people don't seem want to slow down themselves enough to produce the close-reading of a scene, but are more than happy to read a close-reading of one once I do it. In fact, they're clamoring for it -- my inbox is full of requests for me to break down the Purple Wedding in a Zapruder-like fashion to figure out whose gaze met whose and said what, etc. And I'm about half-way done with it, because it's incredibly complicated -- so on the one hand, yes, this is the sort of basic stuff that people intuitively understand, but on the other, the more complex the scene becomes, the more difficult it is to read intuitively, so breaking it down via eye-lasers becomes an exercise similar to what I did with the Keats almost a decade ago. it also did show that repeated interaction with interested people could lead to some progress in what you could talk to those people about. Writing for Raw Story and the AV Club necessitate thinking about audience differently. It helps that the AV Club is actually called "The Internet Film School," but I'm still being asked to develop the readings very slowly, so that anyone new to it can still understand what's going on. And the Raw Story is journalism, except for the recaps, but the recaps are their own animal, as discussed above. Ideally, I'd have enough time to do the basic breakdowns at Raw Story and the AV Club, then do more complex analyses that assume that people remember what I've written previously here and at LG&M, but I lack the energy at the moment. Doing nothing but sitting at a desk writing for nine or ten hour shifts makes one less inclined to want to sit at a desk and write -- especially when I'm working on a novel at the same time, and want to save some energy for that. And it's possible to have a really long argument about this, especially if you look in detail at what that Ember Island Players episode was trying to do, but it seems that you're writing in a place where that can't happen. I'm not going to say it can't happen, only that it hasn't yet. There have been some great comment threads at the AV Club, for example, ones that rival some of the best I've had anywhere online. I think once people come to expect my recaps at Raw Story, they'll start to understand what I'm getting at and start pushing me more, but that's just a matter of building an audience. That said, as sites as large as Raw Story, you sort of have the audience you have, not the one you deserve (or think you deserve), just as a matter of scale.
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It’s the only Game of Thrones recap worth reading even if you’ve already seen the episode. About which — I’m still not entirely sure why people like to read recaps of shows they’ve already seen, but people clearly do. I must be the outlier here. Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2014 at Acephalous
I suppose you could say Jeff VanderMeer was generous with his time when he agreed to do what turned into a 3,000 word-long interview about his new novel, Annihilation. A sample: SEK: The novel reads very much like the world it describes—utterly familiar, yet slightly off at all points. Was that your intent? (For example, on 59, you describe “Something like a body or a person,” which makes perfect sense, yet is incredibly disturbing. What is like a body or a person that’s not a body or a person?) JV: I hike a lot in North Florida, and from a distance, things look like other things. A bat can metamorph into a bird when seen closer. A creature on a log becomes just a stubby branch. A seeming tree trunk is actually a bear. You think you are going north, but suddenly, through some daydream of lapse of attention, you get turned around. These are, in a sense, reminders to us that the real world is stranger than we usually think. Imagine being able to spy on the processes going on around you while even walking down the sidewalk on your street—the plants employing photosynthesis and speaking to each other in chemical emissions, the ants with their pheromone trails, the fungi with their spores. Why, there’s still crowded and noisy cosmopolitan situation all around you, but you can’t experience any of it because your senses are these stunted, incomplete systems. You’ve got eyes that can’t see the whole spectrum. A cat would laugh at your stupid sense of smell. Your sense of taste is pathetic compared to many creatures. Your sense of touch is put to shame by your average gecko. So the world is in a sense laughing at you anyway, or on some level ignoring you completely, and your sole contribution is the ability to tread too heavily on a dandelion and break its stem. So if we’re honest the world should feel slightly off at times. The world should at times reveal some glint or glimmer of greater processes ongoing. Something like a body or a person. Something like a shadow or a creature. Something like a sudden clue… SEK: On page 111, you note that the pile of journals describing Area X will soon become Area X itself. This strikes me as a literal version of “contact narratives,” in which what an explorer writes about an area he discovers becomes how future generations understand it. (Describing cities of gold in the “New World” leading explorers to “discover” such cities, even though they only ever existed in print.) Are these books [in "the Southern Reach" trilogy] an exercise in, call it, “creative geography”? Re-shaping the world by describing it? JV: I must admit my minor in college was Latin American history, and I’m sure there’s a sedimentary layer in the back of my brain that, in soaking all of that conflicted and difficult chronology, has peeked out through some of the observations in Annihilation. I guess I... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2014 at Acephalous
Child of a blood relative of SEK’s roommate, upon learning that SEK’s not a blood relative of his roommate: CHILD: So, do you have a last name? SEK: No, actually, I was born without one. CHILD: God let you do that? SEK: Yes. CHILD: Can you get him to take mine back? I want mine to be ‘Pouncing Cat.’ SEK: I’ll see what I can do. Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2014 at Acephalous
You can read my full recap here, but just in case you want to know where I come down on the episode’s most controversial issue: Speaking of still being alive, Jaime Lannister is, and he’s a man, and he has needs. In a reversal of the Jaime-is-becoming-a-better-human-being plot, here we have a sex-starved Jaime raping his sister over the body of their dead child — in other words, we have a return to the incestuous relations that make King’s Landing the city we love to hate. As for whether it’s a rape, director Alex Graves told Alan Sepinwall that “it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” Which means, yes, it’s rape. So, there’s that out of the way… My podcast with Steven Attewell on the new episode of Game of Thrones is also available: Audio available here. Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2014 at Acephalous
Posted Apr 10, 2014 at Acephalous
...here. Since I don't actually read re-caps, I had to pretend I knew what kind of information they contain and the imagine the kind of attitude I would have toward it. Meaning, yes, I probably just channeled my not-so-inner asshole and made a sarcastic mess of it. But that's why you love me! Also available now is the Lawyers, Guns & Money podcast Steven Attewell and I did on the first episode. Enjoy! Continue reading
Posted Apr 7, 2014 at Acephalous
This revelation would’ve blown my mind back in 1992, but as it stands, I’m just glad I got to totally nerd-out on a former president. Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2014 at Acephalous
I'm waiting for a copy to arrive in the Onion's backend -- wow, that sounds awful, but you know what I mean -- but I do plan on writing something about it, have no fear.
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