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The relative post for this comment is closed for this and all comments, so I'm posting it here. Just curious if you were going to do one of your breakdown reviews of Noah, especially since it was made on the back of a graphic novel specifically created to sell the film. One of the better takes I've read looks at the film as a Midrashic interpretation of the story. Some of the camera work was interesting and there were a few clever cinematic moments, but some of the film's messages were written on anvils that fell from the ceiling onto your head. I don't know how Aronofsky hooked up those anvils in the theater, but he did. The whole time, though, I kept thinking of Peter Weir's The Last Wave.
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Weir always kinda reminded me of a Sontaran from Doctor Who.
I'm casting back to a 'Narrative Fiction' course I took as an undergrad, the title of which was basically an excuse for a well-tenured Shakespearean to teach Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and George MacDonald. He established a working framework of the genre we were reading at the outset as well: The main thing his definition had that differs from yours is a specific sense of the 'fantastic' (or 'phantastes' in the MacDonald sense of the word) as a thing that is of and arises from nature, yet somehow surpasses nature. It's not so much 'supernatural' as supranatural or extranatural. This is basically a broader conceptual framework for what you get in the land of faerie: For the likes of the Inklings and pre-Inklings like Edmund Spenser, John Milton and even Shakespeare -- and arguably this could work for Martin as well -- the specific sense of the fantastic emerges out of the faerie world, which itself is intrinsic, rooted in the rocks, trees, winds, waters and loam of nature. That's also what sets itself apart from, say, science fiction; the fantastical elements of science fiction are generally constructed by the population of that world or are tapped out of nature, while the fantastical elements of the kind of fiction in question here is more elemental, existing there long before the world was ever populated (hence the Silmarillion). It often does but doesn't necessarily have to be a throwback to arcane historical social context; Neil Gaiman's made a career of dealing with fantastical elements in our own contemporary context. But constituent of that 'rootedness' is what prior narrative traditions (mythic, oral) identified as 'fantastic' and 'extranatural,' and that's where you get your exotic creatures, especially in northern Europe. Dwarves came from inside mountains; trolls from rocks; giants from out of mountains, etc., and if you really start to dig down into them, you find they're broadly metaphoric of different states of the experience of nature. Trolls don't live under rainbows. Check out the connection between the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland and Fingol's Cave in Scotland. (Interestingly, there are many similar creatures in Native American folktales, at least among the Anishinaabe-speaking tribes.) The Green Man of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a great example of this, as are Cane's Clan and the dragon from Beowulf. Its why Christian proselytizers/St. Patrick had to go around blessing and claiming wells in the name of the church; the wells already represented elemental conduits to the faerie world, which Christianity needed to eclipse in order to become established. Yet this rootedness of the fantastic world remains: John Millington Synge went to the west of Ireland to collect old Irish folklore before Gaelic disappeared. At one point while interviewing an old woman, he asked her if she really believed in the faerie folk; she replied she didn't, but that didn't mean they weren't there. And to this day, in Ireland and (IIRC) Iceland, public works like roads will re-route if a faerie-ring pops up in their path. Martin's is a decidedly less exotically fantastic world than Tolkien's, but not because he's trying to make it more recognizable; as is pointed out over and over again, when there were dragons in the world, those other fantastical elements emerged, like the ability to produce wildfire. Dragons are certainly linked to the Targaryens (Dany is immune to fire), and they may also be connected somehow to the Others; as the dragons become stronger -- and hence elemental magic becomes increasingly possible -- the Others north of the wall rise up and begin marching south. Whoever controls the iron throne as a token of power (for a long time the magical Targaryens) also controls the fate of millions in direct confrontation with the Others of winter. And don't forget the weirwoods, Martin's own imaginative take on the Ents (weir comes from the Anglo-Saxon root for man, as in wergild or man-price, or werewolf -- man-wolf). So in short, high fantasy quest narratives have singularly important people going after tokens of power in order to facilitate or forestall wars between anonymous hordes in a world whose nature is comprised of fantastical, extranatural elemental features, all of which can be tracked on maps. If you don't have the elemental, faerie-like fantastical components -- even if they're not used -- then you're not really dealing with fantasy. [I'm already off on a tangent, and almost went off on a tangent-within-a-tangent, a Chinese box of tangents, about myths, literary syncretism, and how the whole concept of 'fantasy' relates to the process of god-like creation through mimesis, but this is long-winded enough.] (P.S. The National Weather Service is naming the next hurricane 'Gandalf,' so you have that going for you.)
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Y'know, what you've done here is show how the opening of "Winter Is Coming" functions like an overture, but with images. If I ever teach this, not only will I shamelessly link here, but will prime them with the overture metaphor.
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There a neat concentration of a larger element from the novel here: Jon is more often than not the focus of the shots he's in, and indeed he becomes a main focus of the narrative. Likewise Bran will disappear in the narrative (spoiler alert?), but always retains a presence through the focus of his other family members on him. Don't know if you've seen this: http://www.afrikislife.net/english/?p=73
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One thing that pops out with this analysis (at least to me) is how similar Van Patten's focalization moves are to Martin Scorsese's in Taxi Driver. The problem Scorsese and Paul Schrader faced was how to represent something like first-person POV without going all Being John Malkovich. They achieved this through some clever use of expressionism, so the mise-en-scene helped expressed how the character of the scene (usually but not always Travis) interpreted the action in front of us. For those who've read the book, we know Catelyn can barely stomach Jon's presence; so the fact that she's so willingly grinning down upon Jon instructing her beloved Bran should be the tell the audience in the know something is off about Catelyn's demeanor. But if as you point out this is all from Bran's naive perspective, it makes all kinds of sense. Catelyn's good humor is part of a mise-en-scene that expresses Bran's perspective in an almost ventriloquist, James Joyce/Hugh Kenner 'Uncle Charles Principle' sort of way. But what if you haven't read the novels and aren't privy to that information? We certainly find out later that Catelyn isn't on Team Snow, and an active viewer might recognize the dissonance between that later disdain and this opening shot. The show's too carefully structured for that dissonance to be an accident, so if the audience recognizes the dissonance as such, it could be taken as the series teaching the audience how to perceive its varieties of focalization. Something else that might be worth exploring: Take these interlocking shot sequences used to introduce the important points of view from the novel. The way they're linked together so seamlessly through the matching shots functions almost like clockwork, which the audience is also visually prepped for through the clockwork Westeros sequence in the opening credits.
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Nope, Hob's right -- there's nothing in the text about the shape of those death-piles, although Ser Waymar Royce asks Will if he noted the "position of the bodies." Thanks for the kudos -- and no worries about responding or not responding. I'm just a lapsed literature/visual rhetoric PhD who's getting my critical fix. Came across your blog years ago via Kugelmass, put it on Google Reader, but never really checked Google Reader until relatively recently. Happy I did. (Had a big response to one of the Louie posts, but it didn't submit. I saved it because my wife wanted to read it; maybe I'll try to post it again.)
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I use this same opening scene whenever I want to just introduce the series/books. There's something else going on in this scene as well: The arrangement of the "Winter is Coming" bodies in the circle is weirdly symbolic, i.e. it seems structured like some kind of symbol. Jump ahead to the end of season one to "Fire and Blood," and Drogo's funeral pyre is reminiscent of that same structure. http://bit.ly/RwGMAi A Song of Ice and Fire: Winter is Coming, Fire and Blood, the land of always winter vs the desert, yet that death symbol links them all. It's an interesting way to visually tie the end of the first season back to its origins.
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The title of this post wasn't always a 'Mats reference, was it? Tommy says so.
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The more I think of it, the more sure I am there's a link being drawn to Michael Corleone and the baptism scene from The Godfather. In both montages, the scenes mark the point where the protagonists consolidate their power and take the final step over the moral line into the world of organized crime lord. By making Breaking Bad's synchronized assassinations recall Godfather's baptism montage, Gilligan/MacLaren are linking their narrative to a cinematic gangster film tradition of the (anti) hero's metamorphosis into a position of power.
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Hank sees himself literally caught with his pants down. I don't recall -- did you have a look at the scene from a few episodes ago where Skyler walks into the pool? (S'pose I could look myself.) Blue pool, she's wearing a blue skirt and white top, and she submerges herself in that blue water. Seemed like a pretty significant moment: blue (meth) underneath her, white (Walter) on top, and she's consigned herself to diving into Walter White's blue world. The green filter also stands out (again I s'pose I could go look to see if you already wrote on this), and it's more prominent in the cooking scenes. Not sure if it's as simple as green for cash, or if they're going for a kind of "sick" vibe, like Fincher does with the house scenes in Fight Club. (Or maybe both.) And with the green, you have the stack of cash on top of a red tarp, right after the synchronized assassinations and the steady shots of red blood pooling on the prison floor. Is it just me, or did the synchronized assassinations recall something of the baptism montage from The Godfather? Beyond just the synchronized murders, there's the significance of water at the center of both montages.
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Just to be clear, you're saying that Walt isn't necessarily a overtly conscious racist (like the thugs he gets to do the jail job for him), but that capitalist structures inherently bring white supremacist tendencies to those who participate in them at the upper levels. And if that's the case, were Gus Fring and the Salamancas also white supremacists, or did they just participate in upholding a white supremacist structure. That's fine, if that's your argument, but such cases always seem to get fuzzy when looking at specific examples. The slave trade as we know it today (last 500 years or so) is definitely a white supremacist thing, but slavery itself existed as an institution long before "white" really existed as a category and white Europeans were even all that connected to the rest of the world. I don't think anyone's arguing for a binary distinction between race and class (that seems a little straw-manny), but how one influences the other is certainly not neatly delineated. Just to step outside of the race equation here, not sure why producing meth at 60% purity doesn't make sense. Lots of coke dealers cut it with baby powder to save on costs. You have Declan who wants a product that has great street value (Walt's), but doesn't have the knowledge how. If he can make a knock-off product and save a little money by defraying the costs to make a better product, he increases his own profit. Walt's argument to him is that Walt brings the knowledge and ability to make a better product, and with Declan's distribution channels they can both make more money than they currently are. Without a Heisenberg, it probably makes perfect goddamn sense for Declan produce a lesser product. It's kind of like selling generic meat-aisle sausage with more byproducts in it because you don't have access to the recipe for the really good stuff that's sold under glass in the deli. If the generic sausage maker could make a better product and not lose on costs/distribution, and if that meant improved sales, why wouldn't that make sense?
Toggle Commented Sep 16, 2012 on Walter White is no White Savior at Acephalous
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The question is -- and I think it's an interesting one -- is what will happen if he tries to redeem himself. To be honest, I kinda hope Walt ends up in a wheelchair having to bang a bell to communicate with people. That'd give the show an interesting balance.
Toggle Commented Sep 15, 2012 on Walter White is no White Savior at Acephalous
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As far as Walt's concerned, his life went to shit after he left Grey Matter This and the subsequent hyper-capitalist system he becomes subject to seems really key to Walter's devolution. He makes overtures toward knowledge for the sake of knowledge and to the importance of teaching. Yet he's keenly aware that he's stuck in an economic structure that cares so little about his profession and the inherent value of his specific knowledge that students who couldn't pass his class will earn more than he will just by slinging meth on the streets; and his profession as a teacher really isn't socially worth more than his side-job at the car wash. That's the same economic structure that neither offered health care options he could afford (this show started before health care reform), nor left him financially prepared for the double-whammy of a baby and cancer (most high school teacher's, especially with families, don't have rainy day funds). His grievances -- his emotional cancer -- seems far more class-based than race-based. But there's probably a couple of other dynamics to consider which complicate race relations in the show (and the Mighty Whitey trope). I wouldn't swear to this, but meth basically took the place of cocaine, and the cocaine cartels as well as BB's chief meth producers/market managers are specifically Latino. There are historical reasons for this -- cocaine grows in South America, and various groups have taken control of parts of that trade route north from its location of production to its main location of consumption. The fact that they're Latino/brown seems to be an accident of ecology and geography, but at the same time they still managed to effectively overtake a chunk of the U.S. black market that was once controlled by mobs (which has its own ethnic issues). Walter White's incursion into that Latino-dominated market seems less of a white thing and more about a person who was put under extreme distress by a ruthless capitalist structure, and then found a way to game that structure. Doesn't that seem to reflect what a lot of drug lords from the Latino world have done by overcoming economic and social pressures that arose largely from a capitalist structure that is primarily driven by U.S. economic policy but the pressures of which are felt more keenly in U.S. spheres of economic influence? Isn't that in a way Gus's story? In other words, it seems like Walter is a kind of local reflection of a more global issue, the point being that the category 'white middle class Americans' are no longer protected from those same pressures (and I guess that arguably means the category 'white middle class American' is losing its meaning). On the other hand, there's also Gomez, Hank's partner. In many ways, he's the one who keeps Hank going when his wife is a clepto basket case while Hank doesn't even realize he's being played by his extended family. The Latino DEA agent Gomez is the pillar Hank leans on to maintain some semblance of "manly cop guy," can absorb Hank's casual racism without hurt, and he's a fairly good at his job, which means protecting all groups including white people. He's arguably a more effective cop than Hank, who has a couple crack-ups. Yet Gomez isn't white-washed; he retains his ethnic identity throughout the show. So if Walter is the Mighty Whitey from a localized drug perspective, what does that make Gomez from a law enforcement perspective? The Brown Touchdown?
Toggle Commented Sep 14, 2012 on Walter White is no White Savior at Acephalous
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For the meme -- Top Image: "I pray for the strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I can't," Bottom Image: "And the incapacity to tell the difference."
Toggle Commented Sep 13, 2012 on Score! at Acephalous
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There's something a little subgenius about Romney... bit.ly/NoDtbS
Toggle Commented Sep 12, 2012 on Score! at Acephalous
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The thing is, the embassy statement Romney claims is "sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt" was put out before the protests began (apparently in anticipation of protests after the online film appeared). Talking Points Memo has been all over this (WSJ has also noted the timeline of events), and it seems the only support Romney's getting is from his own campaign and Reince Preibus. But the original statement was about the U.S.'s stance on religious tolerance -- so he's not only using American deaths in a cravenly anachronistic attempt to score some tone-deaf political points, but he's also wandering backwards into a discussion about how the U.S. should handle religious diversity. Does the first Mormon candidate want to get into a religious tolerance debate based on his own bloody-minded opportunism? If so, does the most prominent face of Mormonism in the U.S. today want his religion to be characterized by such bloody-minded opportunism? ...this can't end well...
Toggle Commented Sep 12, 2012 on Score! at Acephalous
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mxyzptlk is now following Scott Eric Kaufman
Sep 7, 2012
This reminds me of a Lewis Black bit where he talks about having to audition for a role in a sitcom based on himself, and he later got a call that the producers decided to go with someone else -- "Unbeknownst to me, there was a better me out there." Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't George Herriman ("Krazy Kat") also a Creole who passed? From what I remember, he used to pass as Greek, and at one point during the Great Depression, he was earning more off his comics than the POTUS earned as POTUS. ...krazy...
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I wrote a comment on your previous BB post before reading this post; it's almost as if you predicted what my comment was going to be and elaborated on it before my comment was even typed. So question: Do you think this is particularly a Bucksey move, or is this a cinematic ethic established across the series?
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I like the naturalist take, but to be honest I hadn't really come across anyone describing it as realistic (but I wasn't looking, either). But I'm a sucker for shot breakdowns, and another way to look at the dinner table shot is through the rule-of-thirds. Their heads occupy the central plane, and the upper-left and upper-right corners (above Skyler and Walter) both contain plants, while the upper-middle section is the light. Walter's raison-d'etre (at first sincere, now a pantomime) has been "family," a seemingly natural and wholesome and organic concept -- hence the plants hovering above the two family members. However, the light is artificial in every way, and that's what hovers above the outcast who introduced the organic family man to the world of synthesized speed. (But I wouldn't doubt if those plants weren't real.) The empty chair in the bottom-center section? That's for us, the audience who's intruding upon this forced moment. But it also cuts Jesse off; he's the only person in the shot who's literally half a person, while the bottom-left and bottom-right sections allow Skyler and Walter to have full bodies. This is somehow fitting, since one of the operating themes behind the narrative is that "family" is necessary to be a complete person; while Walter and Skyler have seemingly maintained that in the face of crazy odds, Jesse has failed -- with his own parents, then with Jane, and again with Andrea and her son Brock. No family = an incomplete person. However, one of the other hallmarks of BB is the p.o.v. camera located on an inanimate-yet-moving object, often in time-lapse. That camera has been located in places like the bumpers of cars or on pick-axes. It places the audience in a position of near-helplessness; we're simply along for the ride, and any audience choice of what to focus on in the shot is almost violently removed. I've not taken crystal meth, but from what I understand, the tweaker loses control over what to focus on and will hyper-focus on whatever's in front of him -- a game, a conversation, food, etc. The tweaker is in a position of near-helplessness, and is simply along for the ride. I wondered if while writing this post you heard a little Zizek sputtering in the back of your head about how Breaking Bad is real precisely because of its unreality. That the hyper-stylized shots that put the audience into uncomfortable positions forces them confront, consciously or not, the specter of artificiality that hovers over so many of the symbolic social structures, relationships and rituals that we deal with every day -- husband/wife, parent/child, boss/worker, teacher/student, law/criminal, in-laws. We tend to accept them as given and natural because that's how people get through the day. The unrealistic hyper-stylized shots move us outside of those symbolic structures, and that's where the real intrudes. ...or something like that...
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That's more a matter of them not understanding the historical context. After all, most of his contemporary's knew exactly who Swift was satirizing. But this was a grad school class. In Anglo-Irish literature. At Trinity College in Dublin. It was one of the better textual debates I've witnessed -- different factions arguing for the different political, social, academic, religious, and metatextual elements as primary. I prefer my Faulkner uncut. Heh. Touche.
Toggle Commented Aug 8, 2012 on The world's most difficult books? at Acephalous
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Bang-on about the Gaels not being white to his ancestors, Mickmack. The Irish themselves are a mongrel mix of invasions, and up until the mid-19th century, many Irish along with Africans were taken and enslaved in Barbados (and for a while in Virginia). It was called being Bardados'd, and Swift even mentions it in the beginning of A Modest Proposal. But that's neither here nor there. One of the issues in this case is the misappropriation of external symbols when a group has no symbols of its own to convey their beliefs or positions. That in itself is telling, and in part betrays a lack of imagination and lazy thinking -- which may help explain why they're racist in the first place. The swastika is the most famous of the misappropriated symbols, and that's from India. The Celtic cross is another misappropriated symbol (presumably because so many of us Micks are nearly transparent). It predates Christianity: There are standing stone Celtic cross arrangements in Scotland that were there eons before Christianity, and it was most likely was a sun symbol. Thor's hammer is yet another misappropriated symbol to represent whiteness; Snorri Sturlson, the chronicler of Scandinavian myth and history, even suggests in one of the Eddas (or maybe a Saga) that their people originally arrived from an area around Turkey -- the Lake Van region (hence your Vanir, AQ). How many white supremacists would accept an Anatolian origin? FWIW: TG4 (Ireland) and BBC Scotland did a joint documentary on the Celtic descendants of Barbados slaves, called Redlegs (the Scottish one is called Barbadoe'd). It's difficult to find, and much of the TG4 version is in Gaelic, but it's an excellent glimpse into the legacy of slavery (or continuous indentured servitude, which amounted to the same thing). When the British freed the Barbados slaves, they didn't give the Irish slaves the same rights as the African slaves, which resulted in a segregated culture much like the one that existed in the U.S. South for African descendants. Today, a lot of Barbados locals just see the descendants as "poor whites" with a strange accent and spooky folk traditions (imagine the X-Files episode "Theef" in an Irish-Caribbean accent). The problem here is that this legacy has been misappropriated by many white supremacists in the U.S. as their own equal-but-opposite black experience, which they believe gives them the right to challenge African-Americans on civil rights (i.e. 'Where are my reparations?'). Of course the scale and scope of African slavery eclipses the Celtic example, and nobody of Scots-Irish descent is being racially profiled today simply because they're of Scots-Irish descent. The other thing such white supremacists wouldn't cotton to is the history of integration that African and Irish slave descendants shared. Jazz musician Willy Ruff found a great example of this when he was trying to rescue an old hymn form that was sung in southern black churches going back to the slave days. The hymn form was called "lining out," and had almost disappeared. He scoured southern churches for pieces of sheet music, and found a lot of it was in Gaelic. Turned out it was an old form still used in the Gaeltacht regions of Ireland and Scotland, and was adopted into black churches way-back-when because Gaelic-speaking people were living among and worshiping with African slaves.
Toggle Commented Aug 7, 2012 on Dear The Media, at Acephalous
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Might add something like David Markson's This Is Not A Novel. It isn't, but it is, but it isn't -- yet it is. The book reads like a series of disconnected observations (almost stream of consciousness, but a little too aware; stream of supra-consciousness?), but as you read through, you start to pick up on repeated thematic and symbolic details that begin to form a narrative chain. DFW once described Markson as one of the more interesting writers working, someone he looked to for creative inspiration. (I loaned Markson's book to my advisor in grad school and never saw it again.) How about something like Cortazar's Hopscotch, for structural playfulness, or Sam Beckett's The Unnamable? I'm totally down with A Tale of a Tub. I've never seen a class become so confounded while trying to parse a text. Someone who might be a lot more difficult than a first or third reading suggests is Cormac McCarthy. He can be subtly tricky, like in the way he eliminates apostrophes from all negative contractions. There's a reason for it, but it's not readily available.
Toggle Commented Aug 7, 2012 on The world's most difficult books? at Acephalous
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Aug 7, 2012